Fdd's overnight brief

September 16, 2020

In The News


Two computer hackers have been indicted on charges that they defaced websites across the U.S. in retaliation to the killing of Iran Gen. Qassem Soleimani, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Iran warned the US on Tuesday against making a “strategic mistake” after President Donald Trump threatened Tehran over reports it planned to avenge the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani. – Agence France-Presse

Media freedom watchdogs have condemned the prison sentence handed to Iranian independent journalist Khosro Sadeghi Borojeni and urged the country’s authorities to stop arbitrarily jailing members of the press. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Seth J. Frantzman writes: While Iran wants to downplay the UAE-Bahrain deal in its media and highlight Saudi Arabia, it quietly knows that it has suffered a setback. Five years of trying to dominate Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen have encouraged Israel and the Gulf to work more closely together and have brought a string of successes to the Trump administration’s transactional deal-making foreign policy. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Overall the Iranian coverage indicates that Tehran is paying close attention to the rocket fire on Israel and the deal with the Gulf. It wants to emphasize the role of Hamas. […]In general the narrative seems to be that if Israel and the UAE and Bahrain are increasing their connections, then Iran will at least pretend that its friends and allies, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, are increasing their role. – Jerusalem Post

Maysam Behravesh and Hamidreza Azizi write: All told, the UAE-Israel diplomatic breakthrough is likely to aggravate Tehran’s extant perception of “strategic encirclement” and might provoke it to act more aggressively and with much less restraint in its neighborhood. That’s perhaps what Iran’s chief of staff, Bagheri, means by a “different calculus”—unless a face-saving off-ramp strategy is devised to break the ongoing cycle of confrontation. – Foreign Policy


President Trump claimed on Tuesday that he wanted to assassinate President Bashar al-Assad of Syria early in his presidency, at the height of that country’s bloody civil war, but James N. Mattis, then the secretary of defense, stopped him. – New York Times

Dozens of Syrian nationals have been transferred to Turkey for trial since Ankara’s invasion of Syria last year, according to relatives of those deported and a United Nations report published Tuesday that details alleged abuses in areas under Turkish control. – Wall Street Journal

U.N.-backed investigators pointed Tuesday to signs that Syria’s government continues to perpetrate rape, torture and murder as the country’s nine-year conflict grinds on, while citing possible war crimes by a Turkey-backed coalition of rebel groups and calling on Ankara to do more to help prevent them. – PBS


Turkish and Russian officials will meet in Ankara this week for a new round of talks on developments in Syria and Libya, where the two countries back opposing sides, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday. – Reuters

Turkey said on Tuesday it had extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in disputed Mediterranean waters off Cyprus until Oct. 12, in a move that could stir tension between the Greek Cypriot government and Ankara. – Reuters

Cyprus is ready to engage in dialogue with Turkey to resolve differences but not under threats, the Mediterranean island’s President Nicos Anastasiades said on Wednesday. – Reuters

One of Turkey’s most prominent political prisoners said the European Court of Human Rights had failed to prevent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from abusing the country’s courts, leaving him and thousands of others languishing in jail. – Financial Times

Turkey’s pro-government media cemented the country’s status as an outlier in a new era of Middle East peace as it angrily attacked the historic US-brokered peace accords signed by Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday. – Algemeiner


The United States, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain all signed the Abraham Accords — named for the three Abrahamic religions rooted in what is now Israel and surrounding lands — that lays the ground for diplomatic, economic and other ties between Israel and the Persian Gulf neighbors. The two Arab states then signed bilateral agreements with Israel. – Washington Post

The Israeli military struck Hamas militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in response to rocket fire toward Israel the previous night that coincided with the signing of normalization agreements between Israel and two Arab countries at the White House. – Associated Press

At least two people were wounded in southern Israel by rocket fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza on Tuesday, emergency services said, in an attack that coincided with Israel’s signing in Washington of normalisation deals with the UAE and Bahrain. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “no intention” of discussing peace with the Palestinians, opposition leader Yair Lapid told AFP ahead of the signing of landmark deals with the UAE and Bahrain. – Agence France-Presse

In the wake of an rocket barrage fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel overnight, after the country had just cemented diplomatic relations with two Arab states, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians were trying to set back peace and vowed they would not succeed. – Agence France-Presse

The Israeli government would be better off courting infrastructure investment from the United Arab Emirates than China, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said, hours before the two Middle East nations sign a landmark accord. – Bloomberg

A settlement freeze or two-state solution with the Palestinians are not part of the Abraham Accords Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed on Tuesday instituting peace and diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian protests against the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain could lead to an intifada, Palestinian activists warned on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday that plans to annex parts of the West Bank were still on the table, despite officials from the United States and United Arab Emirates indicating the move has been called off for the foreseeable future as part of the normalization deals Jerusalem signed this week with the UAE and Bahrain. – Times of Israel

Editorial: But Israel’s wider recognition may eventually cause the Palestinians to come to the table in a realistic way. This may seem unlikely now, but Tuesday’s agreement shows that political arrangements that look permanent one day may not be the next. – Wall Street Journal

Lahav Harkov writes: The UAE and Bahrain agreements are important, despite what the naysayers, blinded by their dislike of Trump or Netanyahu, may say. It has broken the paradigm of “peace with the Palestinians before Israel can be treated like a normal country in the Middle East.” It may trigger a domino effect by which several other Arab states normalize ties with Israel, and “end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all,” as Netanyahu put it. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Makovsky and Charles Wald write: The normalization of ties between Israel and UAE is a terrific achievement and a cause for celebration. The prospect of Emirati F-35s should also be a cause for much-needed upgrades to the U.S.-Israel security partnership, which will advance both countries’ interests. – National Interest


Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday no sect had the exclusive right to the ministry of finance or other government portfolios, a reference to an issue at the centre of a dispute over the formation of a new government. – Reuters

Leading Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt said on Wednesday it seemed some people did not understand that French-led efforts to lift Lebanon out of crisis were the last chance to save the country. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday warned France that its efforts to resolve the crisis in Lebanon would be in vain without immediately tackling the issue of Iran-backed Hezbollah’s weaponry. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Adib appears to be unwilling to challenge the entrenched Lebanese elites or demand the reforms that France wants. That leaves open the chance someone else could try to form a government or that he will press ahead with some kind of agreement. The lack of clarity for Lebanon means people wait with more uncertainty ahead. It also means Hezbollah will continue to benefit and profit.  – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

The proposed sale of advanced U.S. fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates is raising concerns among some security experts in Israel that the Middle East could be on the verge of an arms race even as those two countries sign a peace deal Tuesday at the White House. – Washington Post

The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that “the specter of famine” has returned to conflict-torn Yemen and for the first time singled out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait for giving nothing to this year’s $3.4 billion appeal. – Associated Press

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would have “no problem” selling advanced F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates, despite objections from close ally Israel. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations nuclear watchdog has been working in parallel with Chinese officials to help Saudi Arabia exploit uranium — the key ingredient for nuclear power and weapons — despite its inspectors being frozen out of the kingdom. – Bloomberg

As Israel prepared to sign its peace treaty with Bahrain on Tuesday, the Gulf state’s King’s Advisor for Diplomatic Affairs met with the representative of Bahrain’s Jewish community. – Algemeiner

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

The US Justice Department on Monday declared that the Al Jazeera Media Network—the international news organization based in Doha—”is an agent of the Government of Qatar.” The DOJ has ordered the network’s US-based social media division, AJ+, to register as a foreign agent, a step the news outlet says will hobble its journalism. – Mother Jones

Jason Isaacson writes: Normalization of relations between two Gulf states and Israel will begin replacing fear with partnership, mistrust with understanding. It will lay the foundation for enduring peace between the Jewish state and all its Arab neighbors – a dream that a visionary young Bahraini diplomat shared with his American Jewish visitors a quarter-century ago. – Times of Israel

Raphael Ahren writes: But the fact that they agreed to sign written agreements — in the UAE’s case a full treaty that needs to be ratified by its parliament — without any of the aforementioned parameters is noteworthy. That the agreements don’t even mention the two-state solution — a concept endorsed by the US, which sponsored the agreement — is little short of astounding. – Times of Israel


The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Tuesday demanding that all countries enforce the widely violated U.N. arms embargo on Libya, withdraw all mercenaries from the North African nation. – Associated Press

Libya’s east-based army claimed on Tuesday that its troops killed at least seven Islamic State militants, including foreign fighters, in a raid on their hideout in the country’s south. – Associated Press

Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj plans to announce his resignation soon but will stay on in a caretaker capacity through negotiations for a new government in Geneva next month, according to officials familiar with his thinking. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Israel’s DoverTower has a signed a series of agreements with DP World [DPWRD.UL] of the United Arab Emirates to cooperate in shipping and port activities, the companies said on Wednesday – Reuters

Editorial: Only those blinded by ideology will argue that the accords signed Tuesday are not good because they solve only some problems but not all of them. The enemy of the good is the perfect. – Jerusalem Post

Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen Hadley write: Although Palestinian groups generally have been unhappy with these deals, we believe they could eventually benefit other Arab states and the Palestinian cause as well. The next U.S. administration, whoever leads it, should encourage these developments, but the nations of the Middle East will need to take the central role. – Politico

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has told Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, that he was willing to sit down anytime in a bid to improve ties strained by historical and economic disputes, Moon’s office said on Wednesday. – Reuters

South Korea said on Tuesday none of its joint military action plans with the United States include any use of nuclear weapons, after a book by a U.S. journalist sparked debate over whether scenarios of a full-blown war with North Korea would entail a nuclear attack from either side. – Reuters

North Korea may soon conduct its first underwater-launched ballistic missile test in about a year, a South Korean military official said Wednesday, amid long-stalled nuclear talks between the North and the United States. – Associated Press


Long-simmering tensions between the United States and China have hit boiling point at the United Nations over the coronavirus pandemic, spotlighting Beijing’s bid for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to Washington’s traditional leadership. – Reuters

Chinese military drills off Taiwan’s southwest coast last week were a “necessary action” to protect China’s sovereignty, Beijing said on Wednesday, after Taiwan complained the large-scale air and naval exercises were a serious provocation. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday blacklisted a Chinese developer of a port, airport and resort complex in Cambodia, saying it was built on land seized from local people and there were “credible reports” it could be used to host Chinese military assets – Reuters

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that a ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) proved the United States had been breaking international trade rules. – Reuters

The U.S. Justice Department is poised to announce “charges and arrests related to a computer intrusion campaign tied to the Chinese government,” the department said in a statement on Tuesday. –  Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday he is confident there will be effective 5G competitors to China’s Huawei from Western vendors at comparable costs, adding that he believes Western technologies will come to dominate telecommunications – Reuters

A World Trade Organization panel ruled Tuesday that Trump administration tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods are illegal, vindicating Beijing even if the United States has all but incapacitated the WTO’s ability to hand down a final, binding verdict. – Associated Press

The U.S. ambassador to China will step down early next month, ending a three-year tenure marked by a trade war and increasingly bitter relations between the world’s two largest economies. – Associated Press

The World Trade Organization’s ruling that the U.S. violated international regulations by imposing tariffs on more than $234 billion of Chinese exports failed to dissuade Washington of its ‘America First’ trade policy and will do little to alter the current trade environment. – Bloomberg

China’s southern and eastern reaches are ringed with anxiety, raising fears of conflict sparked by miscalculation or even by design. – Financial Times


The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday welcoming the start of negotiations between Afghan representatives and the Taliban, encouraging the warring parties to engage in good faith and aim for a permanent cease-fire and political settlement to their 19-year conflict. – Associated Press

Taliban leaders told their government counterparts at the Afghan peace talks they wouldn’t seek to seize power and that their struggle was to free the country from foreign forces and establish an Islamic system. – Bloomberg

Editorial: The chance for an Afghan peace will depend on the willingness of the U.S. president to maintain U.S. forces in place until the Taliban shows a genuine will to settle. Agreement on a comprehensive cease-fire, along with a definitive break with al-Qaeda, should be preconditions for a full withdrawal. The Taliban has incentives to settle, including a desire for international recognition and aid for future governments. If the United States stands firm, then the peace process it has initiated will have a chance to succeed. – Washington Post

South Asia

India’s defense minister accused China on Tuesday of violating past border agreements and expanding its troop deployments along a disputed mountainous frontier in the Ladakh region where the two countries have been locked in a military standoff for months. – Associated Press

India left a meeting of national security advisers of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to protest a map presented by rival Pakistan. – Bloomberg

The rare recognition of a secretive Indian military unit with Tibetan soldiers by itself threatened to escalate a border dispute that has killed dozens since May and tanked economic ties between the world’s most-populous nations. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: The U.S. State Department and Pentagon must recognize the import of Pakistan’s shifting alliances. Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror against India and Afghanistan is already problematic, and the U.S.-Taliban deal only empowers radical Islamists further and formalizes their de facto safe-haven. – The National Interest


The United States is warning citizens of the risk of arbitrary “police and security power” in Hong Kong and urging Americans to reconsider travel to the city now that the Chinese government has imposed a sweeping security law there. – New York Times

A U.S. official accused China on Tuesday of bullying and insincerity in its dealings with Southeast Asian nations, but said Washington isn’t forcing the region to choose sides between the two world powers. – Associated Press

China warned the United States on Monday of potential “serious damage” to their relations if it does not withdraw from an upcoming economic meeting with Taiwan that is expected to be attended by a senior American official. – Associated Press

Hong Kong has filed a formal objection with the United States over its demand for “Made in China” labels on goods exported from the Chinese semi-autonomous city, the commerce secretary said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Australia has formally named China in a court document as the foreign state under investigation by police in the nation’s first foreign interference investigation. – Reuters

The United States plans to sell as many as seven major weapons systems, including mines, cruise missiles and drones to Taiwan, four people familiar with the discussions said, as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on China. – Reuters

Protesters greeted Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on a visit to Ulaanbaatar on Tuesday, as Mongolians gathered in the capital to speak out against Beijing’s controversial language policy in its ethnic minority regions. –Agence France-Presse

But when a foreign ministry spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a recent press conference, it was just the next phase in an extraordinary campaign against the 21-year-old that has fuelled concerns over China’s targeting of critics overseas. – Agence France-Presse


Top officials at the State Department have been shuttling back and forth from Europe, asserting a firm U.S. stance in response to two watershed political moments in Russia: the historic uprising in neighboring Belarus and the poisoning of Russia’s foremost opposition figure. – Washington Post

Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is recovering in Berlin after being poisoned, posted a photograph on Tuesday showing him in the hospital, looking gaunt but very much alive, and telling followers that he was breathing on his own. – New York Times

The Kremlin said Tuesday that a $1.5 billion loan it offered to Belarus carried no political conditions, despite claims by the Belarusian opposition that Russia was trying to shore up the nation’s authoritarian president amid post-election protests. – Associated Press

Jeffrey Gedmin and Gary Schmitt write: The correct position would be for the United States government to demand an equal playing field. RT gets to operate here if U.S.-funded enterprises are permitted equal access and opportunity in Russia. Short of that, we’re playing a suckers’ game, with the information dice loaded in the Kremlin’s favor. – The Hill


When Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, arrives in Washington for a visit this week, he will carry some extra baggage as an emissary: His country is eager to reach a trade deal with the United States, but his government just introduced a bill that would renege on a landmark treaty with the European Union. – New York Times

Third countries may be invited to talks aimed at easing a dispute between Greece and Turkey over energy rights that has brought warships to the eastern Mediterranean, a top European Union official said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The Greek government on Tuesday urged the European Union to jointly run new refugee camps on Greece’s eastern islands as part of an overhaul of the EU’s migration policies. – Associated Press

European Union states must be quicker in their foreign policy to support pro-democracy protests in Belarus or to stand up to Russia and Turkey, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Italy is pledging to march in line with European Union allies as the bloc toughens its stance on China, after the U.S. and EU took Rome to task for cozying up to the Asian power early last year. – Bloomberg

The EU does not recognize Alexander Lukashenko as the president of Belarus, the bloc’s top diplomat said Tuesday. – Politico

Martin Sandbu writes: Because much of the digital space is unregulated, issues such as cyber security, threats to democracy and platform regulation will “fundamentally be decided” in the coming decade, Ms Schaake said. “Europe must accelerate [policymaking] at the intersection between geopolitics and technology — and this can’t be done without German leadership.” – Financial Times


The U.S. military’s Africa Command is pressing for new authorities to carry out armed drone strikes targeting Qaeda-linked Shabab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, potentially expanding the war zone across the border from their sanctuaries in Somalia, according to four American officials. – New York Times

West African leaders on Tuesday appeared to give in to the military junta’s timeline for holding new elections in Mali, signaling that they would now accept an 18-month delay after earlier saying that democracy had to be restored to Mali within a year. – Associated Press

Pulling an M-36 Puma MRAP, a mine-resistant vehicle, out of desert sand is a safe enough practice for U.S. Army soldiers such as former logistics commander Maj. Mike Pachucki, but for African militaries, every second counts, and it could be deadly. African peacekeepers are frequently targeted by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists on the far-flung roads of northern Mali. – Washington Examiner

The Americas

A top American Muslim group expressed its opposition to peace with Israel on Tuesday, calling on its followers to protest outside the White House during the signing of the historic peace agreements between the Jewish state, the UAE and Bahrain. – Algemeiner

Mike Gonzalez writes: The threat of foreign interference in our domestic affairs is a serious matter, whether the suspects are rivals such as Russia or friendlies such as Mexico. This is especially the case if a foreign power were abetting unrest that aims to topple our constitutional order. Well, the scenario described above is happening, though not with Russia or the far right, but with China and the leftist disturbances upending America and seeking to transform it. – The Daily Signal

Joseph Bosco writes: In American politics, demonizing an opponent is fair game, and sometimes deserved. But the devil — to many, that would be Donald Trump — should be given his due when it comes to judging the effectiveness of his foreign policy and national security team, and the policies he has directed or enabled. What was said about Wagner’s music also applies to the Trump foreign policy record: It is better than it sounds. – The Hill


The U.S. Air Force has secretly designed, built and flown at least one prototype of its enigmatic next-generation fighter jet, the service’s top acquisition official confirmed to Defense News on Sept. 14. – Defense News

The U.S. Space Force confirmed that its Space Based Infrared System satellites were used to detect more than a dozen Iranian missiles aimed at U.S. war fighters in Iraq in January, giving Americans and their partners crucial warning. – C4ISRNET

Steven Pifer writes: However, the change could help defuse the current situation, in which both Washington and Moscow believe that the other seeks to lower the nuclear threshold and thus is adjusting its own nuclear policy accordingly. It is not in the U.S. interest that the Russians believe America might go nuclear first and develop (or further develop) a posture to beat Washington to the nuclear punch. That fosters conditions that could be very dangerous in a conventional crisis or conflict and make nuclear use more likely. – The National Interest

Long War

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

The UK has rescued a British child from Syria as part of efforts to return unaccompanied minors stranded amid the fallout of the Islamic State conflict. – BBC

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that there are fewer than 200 al Qaeda left in Afghanistan today. – Reuters