Fdd's overnight brief

September 1, 2020

In The News


The signatories to the faltering Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Tuesday as the US is urging international sanctions on the Islamic republic to be reimposed and an arms embargo to be extended. – Times of Israel

The United Arab Emirates has betrayed the Islamic world and the Palestinians by reaching a deal toward normalising ties with Israel, Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran’s Ministry of Defense has showcased a variety of new achievements with unmanned aerial vehicles. – Jerusalem Post

Patricia Karam writes: But change is happening, and it is led by Iraqis themselves. What began as unorganized protests expressing discontent about corruption, unemployment and services has become a grassroots movement reflective of a genuine desire for independence, freedom and dignity. Because Iraqi decisions will ultimately be the deciding factor in countering malign foreign influence, activists will need to enhance coordination and messaging reflecting their aspirations. […]Political change, and indeed justice for Yacoub and other activists, will only happen if Iran’s role is confronted. – The Hill

Joseph M. Humire writes: If the U.S. were to use military force to intercept an Iranian arms shipment to Venezuela, effectively enforcing sanctions, this could be perceived by the international community as an act of war. If the Trump administration were to do nothing, and Iranian missiles arrived at a location only 1,600 miles away from Florida, it could cost the president votes in a key swing state in November. – The Hill


Eleven people were killed in alleged Israeli airstrikes near Damascus on Monday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). – Jerusalem Post

Recently, in an unusual step, pro-regime elements also agreed that the figures released by the regime do not reflect the reality on the ground, due to insufficient testing for COVID-19. This claim was voiced by doctors and healthcare officials in regime-controlled areas, as well as by pro-regime journalists and media outlets. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The US may have undermined its own successful anti-ISIS partners to appease a Turkey and ended up not getting anything out of it, losing eastern Syria, losing regional confidence in US policy, losing the Iran arms embargo and also letting Turkey get Russia’s S-400s. But in all this some US officials may feel they won because they defeated other US officials’ pet projects. Meanwhile Russia’s Lavrov has not spent the last half decade working against his own defense officials. – Jerusalem Post


Turkey demanded that Greece pull its soldiers off a tiny island between them, intensifying the two NATO members’ showdown over energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea. – Bloomberg

Turkey said on Monday that its Oruc Reis exploration vessel will carry out seismic surveys in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean until Sept. 12, provoking an angry response from neighbouring Greece. – Reuters

Turkey is rapidly expanding its rocket-engine capabilities in an effort to build its weapons industry. – Jerusalem Post

Edy Cohen writes: Despite this, Turkey will likely plow ahead regardless of heightened tensions down the road. While efforts are being made elsewhere in the region to strike peaceful alliances, Erdoğan is seeking scapegoats and external opposition in order to maintain his dwindling power. He is stoking irresponsible military conflict and championing a misguided political Islam in an effort to distract from a worsening economic position at home. It therefore suits him to avoid de-escalation and diplomacy, no matter the cost. – Jerusalem Post

Micah Halpern writes: Despite serious economic troubles at home, Erdoğan is a leader on the move. Invoking images of the Seljuk Empire and Ataturk, coupled with his unabashed defiance of the United States and Israel, strengthens his position within his own country. Erdoğan makes Turks proud of their heritage, proud to be Turkish and the progeny of once great heroes and warriors. – Jerusalem Post


As looters tore through Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Kanan Makiya heard they were heading toward a memorial for a founder of the political organization that produced Saddam Hussein and became a major force of disruption in the Middle East. He and Mustafa al-Kadhimi, both human-rights activists, raced to the building, where they discovered a trove of official records in a waterlogged basement that provided an inside look at the Baath Party. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq plans to develop a petrochemicals complex and is putting in place legal and contractual measures to help it become the biggest producer for such products in the region. – The National

Joseph Stieb writes: To understand the narrow “menu” of strategies that the Bush administration and other players in the Iraq debate constructed for themselves, scholars should refocus on the 1990s when debates about containing Iraq churned. Whether or not the policy was deemed adequate depended heavily on one’s goals and ethics. For regime change enthusiasts, containment was too limited in its goals and too willing to accept Saddam’s evil presence as permanent. In contrast, containment’s defenders viewed it as a way to manage a thorny problem in lieu of realistic alternatives and the limits of U.S. power. – War on the Rocks

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: It is not that Moscow is about to descend upon Iraq and supplant the United States, or Iran for that matter. Rather, the Kremlin is quietly building influence in key sectors and is propping up anti-American forces in the country. And even as Moscow faces competition, it has grasped the importance of the geopolitical struggle for Iraq, at a time when Washington’s commitment has been ambivalent. At the same time, Moscow not only shows no signs of splitting up from Iran despite tactical disagreements but also continues to move closer to China, another actor making inroads in Iraq. – The National Interest


A little-known diplomat was designated as Lebanon’s next prime minister on Monday through a rushed process aimed at showing official progress in addressing the country’s many crises since a massive explosion destroyed parts of Beirut. – New York Times

The World Bank has estimated that a huge explosion at Beirut port caused as much as $4.6 billion in damage to homes and infrastructure, and the bank’s regional head said this should be a catalyst for reforms to unlock reconstruction funds. – Reuters

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he would press for reforms aimed at dragging Lebanon out of a financial abyss as he began a visit to Beirut hours after Lebanese leaders named diplomat Mustapha Adib new PM on Monday under French pressure. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron will mark Lebanon’s centenary on Tuesday by planting a cedar tree, the emblem of the Middle East nation that is collapsing under the weight of a crippling economic crisis. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

Israeli and U.S. diplomats, taking a chartered airliner on a symbolic first direct flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Monday to hammer out details of a recent agreement to establish regular relations between Israel and the UAE. – Washington Post

The United Arab Emirates argued on Monday that the World Court lacks jurisdiction to hear a case filed against it by neighbouring Qatar accusing Abu Dhabi of violating a U.N. anti-discrimination treaty. – Reuters

Three people were killed and several others were injured on Monday in two separate explosions in the United Arab Emirates’ capital Abu Dhabi and its tourism hub Dubai, the police and local media said. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates accused Qatar on Monday of backing “terrorism and extremism” as the three-year-old Gulf diplomatic crisis returned to the UN’s top court. – Times of Israel

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will discuss economic, scientific, trade and cultural cooperation during a visit starting Monday. – Reuters

The Abu Dhabi crown prince said on Monday that the United Arab Emirates is committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV reported. – Reuters

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have started discussions to open embassies in each other’s countries, during a high-level government meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi in 2018, two years before the historic El Al flight to the UAE that occurred on Monday, according to a report by Yediot Aharonot. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinians from across the political spectrum on Monday reacted with fury to the first official visit of an Israeli delegation to the United Arab Emirates and again accused the Gulf state of “stabbing the Palestinian people in the back.” – Jerusalem Post

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat joined a quickly organized morning prayer service Tuesday morning at the hotel of the Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi. – Times of Israel

In two recent articles, Pakistan’s major liberal newspaper Dawn examined the implications of the United Arab Emirates’ establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sacked two royals and referred them along with four military officers for investigation into corruption at the defence ministry in a royal decree issued early on Tuesday and carried by state media. – Reuters

High above a vast expanse of desert the Israeli pilot’s voice broke through the passengers’ chatter on Monday to announce that the plane had just crossed into Saudi airspace. – Reuters

Ghaith al-Omari writes: The UAE-Israel deal has exposed the limitations of the old approach adopted by the API. Rather than abandoning this potentially useful tool, however, the parties should adopt a new approach of gradual, reciprocal moves that balance keenly felt interests on all sides. […]The two Arab states that reached individual peace deals with Israel in the past—Egypt and Jordan—have proved more effective in mediating Palestinian-Israeli disputes than states who chose not to engage, so the potential peace dividends of gradual normalization should not be underestimated. – Washington Institute

Mohammed S. Dajani writes: The deal will positively affect the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations only if the entities concerned allow. This agreement appeared without direct progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or consultation with Palestinian officials, but the Palestinian leadership’s policies have played a part in isolating itself from sitting at the table with the UAE, the United States, and Israel. The impulsive PA reaction has further isolated the Palestinians from powerful regional allies like the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. – Washington Institute


Unusually widespread protests have broken out in ethnic Mongol communities in northern China as Chinese authorities prepare to introduce new measures requiring classes in primary and secondary schools to be taught in the Chinese language. – Washington Post

Chinese authorities have detained an Australian TV anchor working for a Chinese state-run broadcaster, Australia’s Foreign Ministry said Monday. The move could strain increasingly fraught Chinese-Australian relations. – Washington Post

China has demanded India withdraw troops that Beijing said had illegally crossed their shared border, its military spokesman said on Monday. – Reuters

China is able to make India suffer more severe military losses than in the past if it wants to engage in competition, state-backed newspaper Global Times said on Tuesday, after a fresh border flare-up between the two nuclear-armed countries. – Reuters


The attacks aren’t planned to inflict mass casualties or grab international headlines. Instead, a wave of assassinations that has swept through the Afghan capital and elsewhere in the country is designed to silence and intimidate. The victims are mostly Afghan civilians working for peace — advocates, members of civil society and mid-ranking government officials — whose killings many say are even more unnerving than the once-common large-scale attacks that have dropped off since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal in February. – Washington Post

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to provide witnesses for a hearing on Afghanistan policy, and threatened to issue subpoenas if their departments did not comply. – Reuters

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: There also are many other governments in a COVID-19 world who desperately need U.S. aid, who have demonstrated the capability to use outside aid effectively, and where a limited amount of money might well make a far greater difference in providing stability and ending a terrorist threat. More broadly, the U.S. has few strategic interests in Central Asia, and leaving the region would force China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan’s other neighbors to deal with Afghan instability. – Center for Strategic & International Studies


India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said on Monday a U.S. visa policy that supported Indian talent would be beneficial for both countries. – Reuters

The United States said on Monday it was establishing a new bilateral economic dialogue with Taiwan, an initiative it said was aimed at strengthening ties with Taipei and supporting it in the face of increasing pressure from Beijing. – Reuters

The Philippines will not halt infrastructure projects involving Chinese firms blacklisted by ally the United States and will make its own decisions, not those of a foreign power, the president’s spokesman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told U.S. President Donald Trump that the strengthening of their two nations’ alliance would be maintained even after Abe’s departure from office, a Japanese government spokesman said on Monday. – Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte publicly ordered the country’s top customs official to shoot and kill drug smugglers in one of his most overt threats during a deadly four-year campaign that has been the centerpiece of his presidency. – Associated Press

Guam’s importance was underscored Saturday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s visit to the Micronesian island, part of a regional island hop that included a meeting with the Japanese defense minister on Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, which would play an outsize role in any future conflict with China. – Washington Examiner


Prominent Russian blogger Yegor Zhukov was beaten near his Moscow home late Sunday in the latest attack on a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post

The U.S. ambassador to Russia visited on Monday a former U.S. Marine who has just started a nine-year sentence in a Moscow jail, and said the United States was pushing for his release. – Reuters

A Russian Su-27 fighter jet violated NATO airspace by entering “well into Danish airspace” on Friday after intercepting a US Air Force B-52 bomber in international airspace, according to NATO’s Allied Air Command. – Jerusalem Post


British government ministers in August inaugurated a gleaming new office building in the center of Scotland’s capital that they touted as a key piece of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to quiet rising calls for Scottish independence. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union’s executive called on Monday for dialogue with Turkey and demanded that Ankara refrains from unilateral steps that stoke tensions in eastern Mediterranean. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold talks with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei in Moscow on Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported, in the wake of a disputed election that has sparked protests and strikes in Belarus. – Reuters

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) requested Monday that the White House withdraw its nomination for the ambassador of Germany over his past inflammatory comments. – The Hill

Even before the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus ended, a poll worker in Minsk said she was asked to sign a document summing up its result, with the vote totals left blank. Another worker who pointed out violations during the vote-counting was fired on the spot. – Associated Press

The Baltic states on Monday banned embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as he cracked down further on the opposition movement following another huge rally at the weekend. EU members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced entry bans against Lukashenko and 29 other high-ranking officials, citing human rights violations. – Agence France-Presse

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: What is clear is that living at Putin’s pleasure will not make for a stable future for Lukashenko. He’ll be buffeted by inevitable economic stagnation, possibly becoming too much of a drag for Moscow. Belarus’s protesters will get the change they voted for on Aug. 9. It may just take time. – Bloomberg


Paul Rusesabagina, whose bravery in saving more than 1,200 fellow Rwandans from genocide inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” has been arrested by the authorities in Rwanda who are holding him there on charges that include terrorism, arson and murder. – New York Times

Dock workers in this West African coastal city raised the alarm, port staff said, after news of the massive blast in Beirut, which killed around 200 people and injured at least 6,500. Soon Senegal was scrambling to transport more than 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — slightly more than exploded in Beirut — out of Dakar, its densely populated capital. – New York Times

Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace agreement with key rebel groups on Monday, a step towards resolving deep-rooted conflicts from the long rule of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir. – Reuters


The industry titans have been caught in an escalating tit-for-tat between the United States and China over the sale of the U.S. operations of TikTok, the viral social media app owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance. The sale was ordered in early August by President Trump, who said TikTok posed a national security threat because of its Chinese ties. – New York Times

Facebook threatened Tuesday to block users and media organisations in Australia from sharing news stories in an escalating challenge to government plans to force digital giants to pay for content. – Agence France-Presse

The Army says it is investigating an officer who reportedly made a joke about Jews being killed in the Holocaust in a video posted to TikTok. – The Hill


Two Navy pilots and two crew members were forced to bail out of an E-2C Hawkeye plane before it crashed Monday during a training flight over the Virginia coast. – The Hill

With stagnant budgets on the horizon, the U.S. Air Force is hurtling toward “the most difficult force structure decisions in generations” and must cancel programs and sacrifice some of its existing aircraft inventory to prepare for a potential fight against Russia or China, the service’s top general said Monday. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy’s new ship-to-shore connectors are coming off the production lines, with the second being delivered last week, Naval Sea Systems Command announced Friday. – Defense News

The Space Development Agency has selected Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems to build the satellites for the first tranche of its transport layer ― an on-orbit mesh network that is key to the Pentagon’s plans to connect on orbit sensors with terrestrial shooters ― the agency announced Aug. 31. – C4ISRNET

The first satellite in Capella Space’s planned constellation was successfully deployed to orbit Aug. 31, bringing the company one step closer to its vision of offering global on-demand synthetic aperture radar imagery — a capability in which the U.S. government has expressed increasing interest. – C4ISRNET

The Pentagon’s top research agency named a new director with significant experience in artificial intelligence and microelectronics Monday. – C4ISRNET

Editorial: The fact that Russia’s fingerprints are all over the 2020 campaign on Mr. Trump’s side, or that to a lesser degree China and Iran are mucking around social media against Mr. Trump, are outrages about which the American public and their representatives must have full, reliable and up-to-date information. Secret briefings for a handful of legislators, as Mr. Ratcliffe suggested, and written statements potentially vetted by Trump loyalists are insufficient. – New York Times

James Hasik writes: What would we do with an empty Pentagon? We have options. Arlington National Cemetery is running out of space. Perhaps a professional sports team will eventually want a centrally located venue. Northern Virginia could always use another park. What really matters is dispersing that concentration of leadership beyond one building in northern Virginia, lest we someday lose it all at once. – Defense News

Long War

The United States on Monday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on foreign militants fighting with groups like Islamic State because it did not address repatriation, an issue that has long pitted Washington against its European allies. – Reuters

Palestinian militant groups and Israel agreed to end a weeks-long escalation of unrest along the Israel-Gaza border, Gaza’s ruling Islamist group Hamas and Israel said on Monday. – Reuters

Turkish police have arrested Islamic State’s top figure in Turkey along with plans for attacks by the militant group, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The stabbing that killed a rabbi in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva last week was a terrorist attack, the Shin Bet internal security agency confirmed on Monday. – Algemeiner

Trump Administration

President Trump is weighing restricting Chinese students from studying in the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview Monday, adding that the administration is likely to announce new actions against Beijing in the coming weeks and months. – The Hill

Robert Mueller’s “pitbull” rejected key portions of a New York Times story claiming the Justice Department secretly blocked the special counsel’s team from conducting a Trump-Russia counterintelligence investigation without informing the FBI. – Washington Examiner

In a written response to two Democratic members of Congress, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley firmly rejected any suggestion that the military would intervene if an election dispute were to prevent a peaceful transfer of power in January. – Washington Examiner

If an appeals court does not grant Congress access to President Donald Trump’s financial records quickly, lawmakers will “almost certainly” miss their chance to review them before the end of Trump’s term, House Counsel Doug Letter argued Monday. – Politico

The House Oversight Committee is preparing to issue a subpoena for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, accusing him of ignoring the panel’s demand for documents related to Postal Service mail delays and contacts with White House officials or the Trump campaign. – Politico