Fdd's overnight brief

September 15, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran on Monday summoned Germany’s ambassador following his embassy’s criticism of the execution last weekend of a wrestler after President Donald Trump asked for the 27-year-old man’s life to be spared. – Associated Press

Bahrain’s interior minister said on Monday that normalising ties with Israel protects Bahrain’s interests and strengthens its strategic partnership with the United States, amid an ongoing threat from Iran. – Reuters

US President Donald Trump on Monday vowed that any attack by Iran would be met with a response “1,000 times greater in magnitude,” after reports that Iran planned to avenge the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani. – Agence France-Presse

The head of the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency told board members on Monday he is hopeful Iran’s decision to let inspectors in to two disputed sites could lead to greater trust with Tehran. – Associated Press

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said on Monday that inspectors would “in a few days” visit the second of two sites in Iran where undeclared nuclear activity may have taken place in the early 2000s, AFP reports. – Agence France-Presse

Lawyers for the United States on Monday asked judges at the United Nations’ highest court to dismiss a case brought by Iran seeking to lift sanctions. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: That is a good rule of thumb for both Biden — and for Trump, who has expressed an eagerness to negotiate with Iran’s leaders. A deal with a regime that executes a popular wrestler for protesting its misrule is not a step toward peace. It only puts America on the wrong side of Iranian history. – Bloomberg 


Turkey accused the U.S. of stoking tensions in the eastern Mediterranean by planning to establish a new military training center on Cyprus. – Bloomberg

For weeks, Greece and Turkey have been facing off in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, raising fears that a dispute between two NATO allies could turn into a full-blown regional crisis. – CNN

Turkish and international lawyers’ groups have voiced concern over the arrest of dozens of lawyers, saying they had been doing their job when representing clients accused of links to the network Turkey blames for an attempted coup in 2016. – Reuters

The European Union’s relationship with Turkey is at a turning point, the bloc’s top diplomat said on Tuesday, urging Ankara to back down from conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean and uphold basic human rights in the country. – Reuters


The defence ministers of Bahrain and Israel held their first publicly acknowledged phone call on Monday since their countries agreed to normalise ties. – Reuters

Israel’s largest bank announced on Monday that it had signed an agreement with the biggest bank in Dubai ahead of the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. – Associated Press

A senior Emirati diplomat pushed back Monday against Palestinian claims that his country’s normalization with Israel would come at Ramallah’s expense. “They need to want to help themselves as well, and perhaps instead of using the traditional criticisms and curses, they actually look at what we are trying to do,” said Assistant Minister for Cultural and Public Diplomacy Omar Saif Ghobash in an interview. – Times of Israel

Mexico said Monday that it had asked Israel to detain a former top investigator into the murky disappearance of 43 students in 2014 in a case that shocked the country. – Agence France-Presse

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to freeze settlement activity in exchange for the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, Meretz Party head Nitzan Horowitz told his Knesset faction on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

The agreements Israel is set to sign with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, respectively, will not go into effect until after receiving government approval, Israeli media reported on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday called on the Arab states to boycott the signing ceremony of the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, scheduled to take place at the White House on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

A high-level meeting between officials from the U.S. and Qatar this week offers a chance for the Middle Eastern country to heal a rift with its neighbors and could solidify one of Washington’s relationships in the volatile region. – Wall Street Journal

The United Arab Emirates has already begun including mention of the recent agreement between the UAE and Israel in the 2020 Islamic Studies curriculum and textbooks, according to an IMPACT-se report. – Jerusalem Post

Qatar won’t join Gulf Arab neighbors in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel until its conflict with the Palestinians is resolved, the Qatari assistant foreign minister said. – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner gave the King of Bahrain a Torah scroll during their meeting last week, ahead of a historic peace accord between Bahrain and Israel. – Arutz Sheva

Dozens of Western countries voiced concern on Tuesday at Saudi Arabia’s continued detention of women activists and called for those behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to be brought to justice. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Tuesday will become the latest Arab states to break a longstanding taboo when they sign agreements toward normalizing relations with Israel in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.Reuters

The U.N. migration agency said Tuesday that a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, leaving at least two dozen people drowned or missing and presumed dead, the latest shipwreck off the North African country. – Associated Press

Ibrahim Jalal writes: In view of the fluid dynamics at play in Socotra and beyond, the UAE-Israel normalization deal seems likely to increase and further complicate the threats Yemen faces on many levels and this looks set to continue as long as the conflict remains unresolved, militarily or politically. – Middle East Institute


The Trump administration has banned the import of certain apparel and computer parts from China, saying they are made by forced laborers from the Xinjiang region. – Washington Post

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that U.S. import bans on some products from China’s Xinjiang region were sabotaging global supply chains. – Reuters

Nearly two dozen activist groups said on Tuesday that crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place against Uighurs in China’s remote Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million people are held in camps. – Reuters

China said on Tuesday that one of its vessels was patrolling normally in waters under its jurisdiction, in response to Indonesia reporting that a Chinese coast guard vessel had entered its exclusive economic zone. – Reuters

Britain has issued new a travel advisory for China, warning that its nationals may be at risk of arbitrary detention, after several foreigners were held on various charges including cases involving state secrets and national security.Reuters

Meghan L. O’Sullivan writes: The rapidly deteriorating U.S.-China relationship should be a cause of major concern. This linkage between energy and great power relations was evident well before the pandemic.[…] It can be easy to conclude, then, that such strained relations between Washington and Beijing will sink the prospects for a successful global energy transition. However many the differences between Trump and Biden, neither will significantly retreat from a confrontational posture with Beijing. – Bloomberg


To get the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government into one room for direct negotiations took months even after the insurgents agreed to it in February as part of an agreement with the United States. – New York Times

Afghanistan and Taliban peace talk negotiators will hold their first direct session on Tuesday in Doha, officials said, as the warring sides try to work out an agenda and schedule for how to negotiate a peace deal as the United States withdraws troops. – Reuters

After weeks of investigations into the allegations, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan said that he remains unconvinced by intelligence suggesting that Russians had offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. – Washington Examiner

As peace negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul continue, Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, which operates from Afghanistan, has announced the reunification of various breakaway factions. Analysts believe this will cause internal security problems for Pakistan and also raise threats to projects linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the country’s north-west. – Financial Times

The US envoy for peace in Afghanistan has told the BBC he was “not happy about” a controversial deal to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in order to secure historic peace talks. – BBC


Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party elected 71-year-old Yoshihide Suga to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday in a landslide vote billed as ensuring continuity in economic and foreign policies. – Washington Post

Two Indian officials said Chinese troops were laying a network of optical fibre cables at a western Himalayan flashpoint with India, suggesting they were digging in for the long haul despite high-level talks aimed at resolving a standoff there.Reuters

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday denied reports that Chinese troops are laying fibre optic cables at a flashpoint at the border with India. – Reuters

The Vatican has asked Taiwan not to worry about the extension of a deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops as it was a religious matter and not a diplomatic one, the island’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.Reuters

The 12 Hong Kong people arrested at sea by mainland authorities were not “democratic activists being oppressed”, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, with 10 of them on bail for offences in the Asian financial hub. Reuters

As Japan’s next prime minister, Yoshihide Suga will face an early, and difficult, leadership decision: whether to call a general election before his honeymoon with voters fades or wait and risk seeing ratings slide. – Reuters

Indonesia will increase maritime security operations near some of its islands in the South China Sea after a Chinese coastguard vessel was spotted nearby, raising suspicions about its intentions, a senior security official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

It took a bombshell resignation before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heard anything nice from South Korea. The rare praise came after years of diplomatic rows and testy confrontations between Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and only after the Japanese prime minister announced at the end of last month that he was stepping down after eight years in office because of ill health. – Associated Press

The U.S. State Department updated its travel advisory on Hong Kong based on China’s implementation of a national security law widely seen as eroding freedom in the once-autonomous city. – Bloomberg


The preliminary election results demonstrated Navalny’s capacity to damage members of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party with scathing corruption exposés on his popular YouTube channel. It was also evidence of his growing capacity to draw voters throughout Russia, not just in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where opposition support is highest. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged financial and military support for Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, signaling Moscow’s intention to bolster its embattled junior partner—support that could ultimately bind Minsk more tightly to Russia – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin bestowed a $1.5 billion loan on Belarus on Monday in a gesture of support for its leader Alexander Lukashenko, who flew to entreat his patron for help after five weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation. – Reuters


Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Monday for their first encounter since anti-government protests erupted in Belarus a month ago, in a sign that the two leaders have drawn closer amid the crisis after months of strain over bilateral ties. – Washington Post

Albanian family members protested Monday, demanding that the government bring back 52 children who have been stuck in Syria because their parents were extremists. – Associated Press

Neighbouring Lithuania violated international law when it recognised opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as Belarusian leader on Sept. 10, Belarus’ upper house of parliament said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lashed out at the European Union on Monday as he won initial approval for a plan to breach the Brexit treaty, saying the move was needed because the bloc had refused to take a “revolver off the table” in trade talks. – Reuters

The European Union stepped up demands on China to open its market further to foreign investors, seeking to keep alive a goal for a far-reaching agreement this year even as disagreements over human right issues could fuel uncertainty. – Bloomberg

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has told his officials to work carefully to manage relations with the U.S. and China — and avoid the U.K. becoming trapped in a new “Cold War” between the two countries. – Bloomberg

A controversial bill that would rewrite elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement passed its first parliamentary hurdle in the U.K. House of Commons Monday, despite a small Conservative rebellion. – Politico

Boris Johnson was on Monday night hit by a Conservative revolt over his plan to break international law on Brexit, as a number of high-profile Tory MPs refused to back a bill that overrides his own exit deal. – Financial Times


A split among Senate Democrats threatens to derail a U.S.-brokered deal to help Sudan establish a stable civilian government and resolve terror victims’ claims against the former regime of Omar al-Bashir, which harbored al Qaeda in the 1990s – Wall Street Journal

Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood movie about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, declined to plead on Monday to all the 13 charges facing him, demanding he be allowed to plead to each separate count in a case that has also thrust a spotlight on to President Paul Kagame’s government. Reuters

Mozambique’s army has condemned the apparent execution of a naked woman by men wearing military uniforms, shown in video footage, where she is beaten with a stick before being shot in the back as she tries to flee. – Reuters

The United States on Monday imposed additional visa restrictions on Nigerians over election-related activities in the African nation, the State Department said, accusing them of being responsible for undermining the democratic process. – Reuters

The Americas

Venezuela’s authoritarian government claimed Monday that it had dismantled a covert operation to blow up power plants and oil facilities to destabilize the socialist state, saying it had detained eight plotters including an American traveling with heavy arms, explosives, surveillance footage and cash. – Washington Post

Unrest has simmered for months over U.S. demands that Mexico pay off a shortfall of more than 100 billion gallons by Oct. 24 to meet its five-year water-delivery quota. Local farmers say the extra payments are emptying reservoirs that store water they need. The crisis erupted in violence this month when about 2,000 protesters swarmed over La Boquilla dam on the Conchas River and a national guard unit was sent in to stop them. – Washington Post

Prosecutors in Brazil’s sprawling Car Wash corruption investigation on Monday charged former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with money laundering, less than a year after the country’s top court ordered him freed from jail while he appealed his conviction in another case.- Associated Press


Those digital crumbs, along with millions of other scraps of social media and online data, have been systematically collected since 2017 by a small Chinese company called Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology for the stated purpose of providing intelligence to Chinese military, government and commercial clients, according to a copy of the database that was left unsecured on the Internet and retrieved by an Australian cybersecurity consultancy. – Washington Post

The Treasury Department said it would review an agreement for Oracle Corp. and others to revamp TikTok’s U.S. operations with the aim of avoiding a ban of the popular video-sharing app because of its Chinese ownership. – Wall Street Journal

After more than six weeks, two White House executive orders, new Chinese regulations and multiple bidders, a deal for the social media app TikTok has boiled down to one main strategy: mitigation. – New York Times

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced Monday that the personal information of around 46,000 veterans was accessed in a recent data breach. – The Hill

The UK’s defence secretary has admitted Britain’s military is racing to catch up with its adversaries’ successes in technological warfare, as he warned: “our enemies have studied our vulnerabilities and adapted far more quickly than us”. – Financial Times

Aircraft, satellites and other weapons that are designed using digital engineering will be designated as part of the Air Force’s new “eSeries” and receive the prefix “e,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced Monday. – Defense News


As the U.S. Air Force considers how to follow orders to move assets away from Germany, the head of U.S. Air Forces Europe is pledging a “deliberate” plan that includes transparency for both European allies and the military members involved. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is working to improve the reliability of the new aircraft launch and recovery systems as the service pushes its newest and most expensive aircraft carrier toward its first deployment, the head of Naval Air Forces Atlantic said Sept. 12. – Defense News

Derek Chollet and Andrew J. Shapiro write: The question of how normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel will impact its QME has already sparked considerable controversy. For years Emirati officials have wanted to buy the F-35, a fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft of which Israel is the only regional partner (and only among six globally) to procure. The idea of an Arab state acquiring the F-35 was a complete non-starter absent normalization. It’s possible now, but only marginally more so. Defense One

Long War

The Lebanese military killed a wanted militant leader during a raid in the country’s north that also left four of its troops dead, the army said Monday. – Associated Press

Swiss federal prosecutors took charge of a homicide investigation, saying on Monday they could not exclude a terrorist motive for the fatal stabbing of a Portuguese man in the western town of Morges at the weekend. – Reuters

Ilan Berman writes: In fact, against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic, the extremist message may be gaining more resonance than ever before. Counterterrorism experts worry that captive audiences trapped at home as a result of national lockdowns and social distancing measures now have greater opportunity (and time) to imbibe radical messaging online. At the same time, deteriorating economic conditions in countries hard hit by the pandemic could lead to social instability and provide greater fuel for extremist causes in the near future. – The Hill

Trump Administration

The Trump administration can end humanitarian protections that have allowed hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan to remain in the United States, a divided appeals court ruled Monday. – Associated Press

The Trump administration is hoping to capitalize on agreements to be signed this week between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain by pressing for an end to a dispute that has roiled relations between the Gulf Arab countries. – Associated Press

President Donald Trump is set to preside over the signing of historic diplomatic deals between Israel and two Gulf Arab nations that could herald a dramatic shift in Middle East power dynamics and give him a boost ahead of the November election.Associated Press

The Justice Department’s independent watchdog opened an investigation into the events surrounding the sentencing of longtime Trump associate Roger Stone following an intervention by Attorney General William Barr, a new report claims. – Washington Examiner