Fdd's overnight brief

October 6, 2020

In The News


Iran’s coronavirus crisis worsened on Monday, with a record numbers of deaths and new infections, as the capital, Tehran, went into partial shutdown for a week. – New York Times

A U.S. judge has ordered Iran to pay $1.45 billion to the family of a former FBI agent believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic Republic while on an unauthorized CIA mission to an Iranian island in 2007. – Associated Press

Armenia accused Azerbaijan of firing missiles into the capital of the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday, while Azerbaijan said several of its towns and its second-largest city were attacked. Iran, which borders both countries, said it was working on a peace plan for the decades-old conflict, which reignited last month and has killed scores of people on both sides. – Associated Press

The final tanker in a flotilla of three Iranian fuel tankers docked at eastern Venezuela’s Guaraguao port on Sunday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and a person familiar with the matter, as President Nicolas Maduro promised to normalize fuel supply in the gasoline-starved country. – Reuters

Iran warned that it would take reciprocal measures if fighting between its neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan spills over and endangers security across their borders with Iran. – Bloomberg

Iranian stocks have plunged more than a quarter since their August peak, threatening losses for retail investors who had flocked to the market. – Financial Times

In a rare acknowledgement of past divisions within Iran’s armed forces, a senior commander in the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has shone further light on a decade-old dispute that reached the highest echelons. Speaking on state television, Mohammad Jafar Assadi said the late Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, failed a decade ago to convince a fellow officer to abandon support for the country’s opposition Green Movement. – Radio Farda

In the summer of 1988, Iran executed thousands of its opponents who were serving their sentences behind bars.[…] Responding to the activists’ statement in Mousavi’s defense, hundreds of the relatives of the 1988 massacre’s victims have stepped forward, demanding justice. – Radio Farda


Authorities in northeastern Syria said Monday that they were preparing to release thousands of Syrian families from a detention camp holding civilians displaced during the final battle to defeat the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate. – Washington Post

After months of pressure and criticism, the Canadian government said on Monday that it had rescued a 5-year-old orphan who had been marooned in a squalid detention camp in northeastern Syria. – Washington Post

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan of being the main instigator in the deadliest fighting between Armenian and Azeri forces for more than 25 years. – Reuters

Oman has sent an ambassador to Syria after an eight-year hiatus, the state news agency reported, the latest sign of deepening engagement between Gulf Arab states and Syria’s President Bashar Assad. – Associated Press


Canada has suspended the export of some drone technology to Turkey while it probes allegations the equipment was used by Azeri forces involved in fighting with Armenia, a senior official said on Monday. – Reuters

Canada’s decision to suspend exports of some military technology over allegations the equipment was used by Azeri forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict shows a double standard, Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday – Reuters

A Turkish drill ship has left the area where it was operating southwest of Cyprus and reached Turkey’s coast for maintenance in a move the European Union said would help ease tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. – Reuters

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said in an interview Monday on the Turkish state broadcaster that Turkey must be involved in the peace process for the Nagorno-Karabakh region after a potential future ceasefire. – 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

The indications that Turkey activated the radars of its Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft systems in order to detect US-made Greek F-16 fighter jets on their return from the Eunomia exercise on August 27 off Cyprus apparently sounded the alarm in Washington about the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and reportedly prompted the visits by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Cyprus on September 12 and Greece on September 27-29.  – Kathimerini

Mehmet Cetingulec writes: Whether the government investigation over private armament will be limited to Salafi organizations or not remains an open question. Police operations against Salafi groups might have alleviated the concerns of the religious orders in Turkey, but the presence of millions of unregistered firearms and rifles still continues to be a concern for the social peace and security in Turkey. – Al-Monitor


Fractured by internal political conflicts, confusing instructions and a lack of public trust in the government, Israel seems to be fraying further under a second national lockdown as the country struggles to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths that, relative to the size of the population, are among the worst in the world. – New York Times

An Israeli aircraft struck what the army said was a Hamas military target in the southern Gaza Strip late Monday, shortly after Gaza militants fired a rocket into Israel. – Associated Press

A top Palestinian business executive said on Monday that new Gulf Arab ties with Israel, condemned by Palestinian leaders, could also be an opportunity to apply fresh pressure to halt Jewish settlement in occupied land. – Reuters

The Czech Republic is ready to take further steps towards moving its embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, a spokesman for Czech President Miloš Zeman said on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Israel may halt commercial weapon sales to Azerbaijan, Armenian Ambassador to Israel Armen Smbatyan told The Jerusalem Post, as fighting intensified for the ninth day between the two countries. – Jerusalem Post

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will meet his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Berlin on Tuesday, according to Hebrew media reports. – Times of Israel

Israel Defense Forces soldiers thwarted an attempt by Palestinian assailants to attack troops near Einav checkpoint in the West Bank on Monday night, the IDF said. – Times of Israel


Hawra al-Nadawi writes: In the Republic of Fear that Saddam Hussein created, ordinary Iraqis were split between those who mindlessly defended the dictator’s absurd whims and those who kept silent and survived by trying to make themselves invisible. And then there were people like my father, the rebels, who opposed the regime actively and at great risk — not just to themselves but also to everyone they loved. – New York Times Magazine

Munqith Dagher writes: What may make matters worse is the possible response of the militias and their military supporters to the American attacks, which may compel the United States to send more troops, thus creating major complications for a potential incoming Democratic White House. Consequently, the prospects for fixing the situation with America after Biden’s victory (for which the Iranians and their proxies in Iraq hope) will be very complex and difficult in practice, which heralds the prospect of a long military and political confrontation between America and Iran on Iraqi soil; Iraq will enter a long, dark tunnel. – Washington Institute

Hamdi Malik: No other Iraqi militia has gained enough credits to be given these missions. Kata’ib Hizballah is Iran’s preferred militia and it is evolving as the main force belonging to the resistance in Iraq. Unlike Lebanon or Yemen, where one major militia facilitates Iran’s expansionist policies, several smaller militias function as the Islamic Republic’s proxies in Iraq. But one militant group more than others has the potential to dominate the scene, and that is Kata’ib Hizballah. – War on the Rocks

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen foiled an “imminent terrorist attack” by Iran-aligned Houthis in the south of the Red Sea, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV said on Monday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, on Monday slammed the leadership of the Palestinian Authority for criticizing the decision of some Gulf states to normalize ties with Israel. – Arutz Sheva

Michael Rubin writes: What Biden and his aides may not realize is how differently many Saudi elites, both those in favor of the crown prince’s agenda and those opposed, frame Khashoggi’s murder. What is described in the U.S. as nothing more than a gratuitous assault on press freedom is often discussed in Saudi circles as the outcome of a dispute between Saudi intelligence officials and a former agent. This by no means excuses Khashoggi’s murder. Bin Salman should, at the very least, be persona non grata in Washington, but the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia should be about more than one man. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged world powers and others with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war to stop sending arms to its rival governments and keep working toward a lasting cease-fire, warning that the country’s very future “is at stake.” – Associated Press

Kuwait’s new emir has asked the Gulf state’s cabinet to carry on its duties and prepare for an election after Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah handed in his government’s resignation, state news agency KUNA reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

The U.S. is working to find American bidders for Israel’s largest port to counter China’s clout in the Middle East, adding drama to a deal that’s drawn interest from regional heavyweights including the UAE and Turkey, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Elana DeLozier writes: Indeed, Kuwait’s commitment as a U.S. partner and its importance to U.S. interests in the region should not be undersold. As the potentially perilous process to choose a new crown prince commences, Washington would be best served by expressing how much it values the moderation that Kuwait’s emir has traditionally brought to this quarrelsome region. – Washington Institute


The U.S. is quickly ramping up oil sales to China, the world’s biggest importer, forcing traditional suppliers in the Mideast to look for new markets or hold on to their crude in an already oversupplied world. – Wall Street Journal

For decades, Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, was reliably one of Washington’s toughest critics when it came to China and its trade practices. But since brokering a trade deal with Beijing in January, he has become one of China’s biggest defenders within the administration, emerging as an obstacle to lawmakers and other top White House officials who want to punish China over its treatment of ethnic Muslims and begin trade talks with Taiwan. – New York Times

Chinese propaganda is rarely subtle or particularly persuasive, but the torrent of bombast online and in state media in recent weeks is striking and potentially ominous. The targets are China’s main adversaries: the United States and Taiwan, which are moving closer and closer together. – New York Times

More than 3,500 companies have filed lawsuits against the US government over its tariffs on China in recent weeks, demonstrating the extent of unhappiness among businesses over Donald Trump’s trade wars. – Financial Times

If future historians are ever looking for a speech that marked the beginning of a second cold war — this time between America and China — they may point to an address by Mike Pence delivered at Washington’s Hudson Institute in October 2018. – Financial Times

Pointing to the US trade war with China, he said many companies were having second thoughts about maintaining operations in the Asian country. – Financial Times

Austin Doehler writes: However, perhaps the real danger in China’s global influence is not the policy outcomes it achieves, but its promotion of an authoritarian model of economic and political development that autocrats around the world can emulate. […]The world’s democracies need to get their houses in order, and soon, or else the new world order will in fact be one made in China’s image. – The Hill

Anja Manuel writes: Coordinating among allies is the most effective way to counterbalance China. Initiatives such as Made in China 2025 and China Standards 2035 aim to end the technological lead of the west and its allies by dominating market share, controlling international standards, and hollowing out industrial capacity. It is time for like-minded nations to unite. It is time for a Tech 10. – Financial Times

Carisa Nietsche, Jim Townsend and Andrea Kendall-Taylor write: In a worst-case scenario, China could hobble NATO mobility in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, China could use its increased presence in Europe to undermine NATO cohesion, gather information for Russia, corrupt information and network security, fracture interoperability, and erode U.S. and European competitiveness. To address these challenges, the U.S. Department of Defense should recognize the clear threat that China poses to NATO and work through NATO to address these vulnerabilities. – Center for a New American Security

Michael Schuman writes: What becomes clear from an examination of China’s history is that the Chinese don’t just want to be a great power—they believe they deserve to be. In centuries past, the Chinese thought their sovereign had a right to rule “all under Heaven.” Due to the realities of technology and distance, China’s reach usually remained regional. But now, in the age of globalization, Beijing’s influence may achieve that lofty goal. – The Atlantic

Anna Mahjar-Barducci writes: In the last decade, the main leitmotif of China’s and Russia’s policy has been the creation of a multipolar world order. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during his September 11, 2020 meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, stressed again that the multi-polarization of the world is an inevitable trend in the development of human society. – Middle East Media Research Institute


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

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Qatar for a bilateral meeting with top leaders but will not hold a meeting with Taliban officials even as peace talks are under way in the country’s capital Doha, officials said on Monday. – Reuters

Taliban and Afghan peace negotiators have agreed on a code of conduct to safeguard against the risk of any breakdown in talks that began last month in Qatar to bring an end to decades of war, three official sources told Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

Almost two decades after the United States launched air strikes against Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime and started what would become America’s longest-ever war, the hardline group are in a stronger position than ever. – Agence France-Presse


But this conflict is distinct, analysts and former diplomats say, for the more direct support that Turkey has offered to Azerbaijan and for the scale of the fighting. Both sides have been using armed drones and powerful, long-range rocket artillery, they say. Turkey has denied offering anything more than training, weapons sales and political support to Azerbaijan. – New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India on Tuesday in an attempt to bolster a nascent alliance of democracies to counter China’s growing assertiveness. – Washington Post

North Korea launched its first productivity campaign in four years to funnel workers and resources to major projects in a bid to revive an economy walloped by sanctions and flooding from typhoons. – Bloomberg

Taiwan’s military has launched aircraft to intercept Chinese planes more than twice as much as all of last year, the island’s defence ministry said, describing Taiwan as facing severe security challenges from its huge neighbour. – Reuters

Taiwan hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump can get better from the coronavirus soon so that he can continue to lead the free world in resisting China’s “outrages”, the speaker of the island’s parliament said on Monday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, discussed on Tuesday shared concern over China’s “malign activity” in the region, a state department official said. – Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that like his fierce critics, he has also suspected that extrajudicial killings may have happened under his drug crackdown that has killed thousands of people. – Associated Press

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday at a meeting with the U.S. and other diplomats that their “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” initiative, a concept to counter China’s growing assertiveness, is more important than ever amid challenges from the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

Cambodia’s government denied that its demolition of a U.S.-funded facility at one of its naval bases is a signal that China will be granted basing privileges there, saying the work only involves planned infrastructure improvements. – Associated Press

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended disciplining teachers for promoting anti-China views, after the Asian financial center for the first time revoked an educator’s registration over the content of their lessons. – Bloomberg

Police in Kyrgyzstan used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters in the capital, Bishkek, who had gathered to denounce the results of elections dominated by pro-presidential parties, the Interfax news service reported Monday. – Bloomberg

Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun on Monday spoke separately with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia and urged an immediate cease-fire and return to negotiations amid escalating fighting between the two sides that erupted over the contested area of Nagorno-Karabakh. – The Hill

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has inducted the first of a new intelligence-gathering aircraft into service, following a two-year flight test program. – C4ISRNET

Edward Lucas writes: Decisions that were once made in Washington, London, Berlin, and Brussels, within at least the semblance of a multilateral rules-based framework, are now being made in (and between) Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran  and on the basis of ruthless power politics. Armenians and Azeris are both fighting, unwittingly, on the same side, supporting Vladimir Putin’s Neo-Yalta world vision, where the big powers make the decisions and the small ones eat what they are told. – Center for European Policy Analysis

William D. Hartung writes: In the midst of a pandemic, a severe economic recession and a bruising presidential race, there is a danger that crucial issues like the need to stop arming the Duterte regime will get lost in the shuffle. But Congress needs to make time to consider and pass the Philippine Human Rights Act, and the sooner the better, both for the Filipino people and to set the stage for a more effective, morally defensible arms sales policy on the part of the United States. – The Hill


U.S. and Russian negotiators made progress Monday on a new framework accord that would freeze each side’s nuclear arsenal and outline the parameters for a detailed treaty that would be negotiated next year, a senior Trump administration official said. – Wall Street Journal

Russia has invited the leading international chemical-weapons watchdog to help with the case of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who German authorities said was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent, in the latest development in an incident that has drawn international condemnation. – Wall Street Journal

Russia called on Monday for an evaluation of the legal and financial repercussions of the Trump administration announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) next July. – Reuters


Britain must take a hard-headed, transactional approach to its relationship with China, British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday. – Reuters

European Union governments will support the Nigerian and South Korean candidates to lead the World Trade Organization as the race enters its final month. – Bloomberg

The House Armed Services Committee has again registered its displeasure with what many members decry as an ill-conceived plan to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Germany as the threat of Russian aggression lingers. – Washington Examiner

The defense lawyer of an 87-year-old Rwandan genocide suspect arrested in France has appealed to an international court not to send him to Tanzania to face trial, but instead to transfer him to the Netherlands for health reasons, according to a written request filed Monday. – Associated Press

A British court on Monday threw into question who controls nearly $2 billion in Venezuelan gold stowed in a London bank vault amid a power struggle between President Nicolás Maduro and his leading rival. – Associated Press

A 29-year-old Algerian man went on trial Monday in Paris accused of killing a woman and trying to blow up a church near Paris, a failed 2015 attack that investigators say was orchestrated by Islamic State extremists in Syria. – Associated Press

George Barros writes: Self-declared Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is adopting tactics for passing constitutional amendments similar to those that Russian President Vladimir Putin used to pass Russian constitutional amendments in early 2020. The Lukashenko regime began soliciting constitutional amendment proposals from Belarusian citizens on October 3 with a deadline to submit all proposals by October 25. Lukashenko likely seeks to create the impression among Belarusian citizens that they possess political agency. Lukashenko, however, likely has predetermined which constitutional amendments to adopt. – Institute for the Study of War


China said at a World Trade Organization meeting that restrictions by the United States on Chinese mobile applications TikTok and WeChat are in violation of the body’s rules, a trade official said. – Reuters

Facebook has decided to defy a new law in Turkey requiring social media companies to establish a formal presence in the country, setting the stage for a showdown with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan that could culminate in the platform being blocked. – Financial Times

David J. Teece writes: Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, recently critiqued what he says he believes is Google’s naïveté as it conducts A.I. research with China while simultaneously refusing to do business with the U.S. Department of Defense. Chief executives and boards that take corporate social responsibility seriously must recognize their duty to protect and enhance the health of the open societies in which they flourish and the democratic processes and the rule of law on which they depend. – New York Times

Shane Tews writes: We need to make sure we’re on the leading edge of cybersecurity for hardware through a multilayered approach that accounts for architectures at the chip level, further along in the manufacturing process, then further along in the network. I think resiliency and trust are really important. In terms of follow-on impacts from supply chain actions, the reality is that we live in a multipolar world. China is a rising power, and it is also a huge buyer of chips. (They import more chips than oil in China.) So, access to that market is crucial for the US semiconductor industry, because access will fuel the R&D of the future. – American Enterprise Institute


Elon Musk’s SpaceX won a $149 million contract to build missile-tracking satellites for the Pentagon, the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA) said on Monday, in the company’s first government contract to build satellites. – Reuters

President Trump’s slow motorcade ride Sunday evening around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he is a COVID-19 patient, had “deterrence value” to adversaries like Russia, China, and North Korea, according to the National Interest security expert Harry Kazianis. – Washington Examiner

Few weapons have made an impact on warfare like the aircraft carrier. Just a few decades after the first purpose-built carrier was commissioned by the Japanese in 1922, they became essential instruments of naval warfare. US carriers played pivotal roles in World War II naval battles and in nearly every war or conflict the US has been involved in since. – Business Insider

The U.S. Navy’s aging surface fleet is getting harder to maintain, and overall is showing declining health in several key areas, such as its main propulsion systems, electrical systems and Aegis combat systems, according to an annual report of the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey submitted to Congress earlier this year. – Defense News

The U.S. Army and Air Force signed a two-year collaboration agreement to develop a concept for joint all-domain operations, the services announced last week. – C4ISRNET

SpaceX and and L3 Harris will contribute satellites to track hypersonic weapons to the Space Development Agency’s planned mega-constellation, with the nascent agency announcing it had selected the two companies to build its first wide field of view satellites Oct. 5. – C4ISRNET

Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell formally began his role as the Navy’s ninth Air Boss last week, the service recently announced. – USNI News

The Navy is getting closer to operating the new and larger MQ-8C Fire Scout variant on its Littoral Combat Ships, with two squadrons taking possession of their first aircraft and working towards safe-for-flight certification. – USNI News