Fdd's overnight brief

September 22, 2020

In The News


The Trump administration outlined an array of new measures that are intended to preclude China and Russia from selling weapons to Iran and to block the shipment of goods that might be used for its missile programs. – Wall Street Journal

The United States on Monday slapped new sanctions on Iran’s defense ministry and others involved in its nuclear and weapons program to support the U.S. assertion that all U.N. sanctions against Tehran are now restored, which key European allies as well as Russia and China reject. – Reuters

Iran is ready for a full prisoner exchange with the United States, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a virtual address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday, amid heightened tension between the longtime foes. – Reuters

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari was executed earlier this month for murder, the country’s foreign minister said on Monday, rejecting assertions by rights activists that the death sentence arose from his involvement in street protests. – Reuters

U.S. officials announced new sanctions against Iran on Monday and insisted that a raft of nuclear-related restrictions are back in force, part of a standoff with European allies that’s spurring a crisis at the United Nations Security Council. – Bloomberg

A day after the US triggered a “snapback” of international sanctions on Iran, Israel’s UN envoy wrote an official letter to the international body’s secretary-general urging strong enforcement of the measures. – Algemeiner

Barely a week after Israel signed peace agreements with Arab Gulf states United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Iran is threatening the two Sunni Arab countries and says it could stage attacks in them to let Bahrain and the UAE pay a price for their “treason”. – Arutz Sheva

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran believes it has largely outfoxed the Americans and is almost daring the Trump administration to “bring it on” with the sanctions, so as to prove they won’t bite. Iran’s Supreme Leaders and other regime officials boasted this week about how previous invaders of Iran have suffered grievously. In short the regime is saying it will continue doing what it wants, regardless of the US laser focus on the ballistic missiles and nuclear program and the North Korea cooperation.  –  Jerusalem Post


Greece is close to resuming talks with Turkey over maritime zones, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday, after Ankara this month recalled an oil and gas exploration vessel from disputed Mediterranean waters in a move welcomed by Athens. – Reuters

Turkey’s agreements and cooperation with Libya’s internationally recognised government will continue despite Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s desire to quit, Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin was quoted as saying on Monday. – Reuters

Turkey said on Tuesday the European Union sanctions on a Turkish firm accused of breaking a U.N. arms embargo on Libya displayed the EU’s double standard and biased stance. – Reuters

A former Kurdish parliamentarian jailed in Turkey on terrorism charges has been handed an additional prison term for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan, two of her lawyers said. – Reuters


Palestinian security forces arrested over half a dozen supporters of an exiled Palestinian politician who some have accused of involvement in the United Arab Emirates deal to forge ties with Israel, a spokesman for his faction said. – Reuters

Dozens of NGOs issued a joint statement on Monday calling on the UN Human Rights Council to seek the release of a Palestinian peace activist held by Hamas for holding a Zoom meeting with Israelis. – Algemeiner

Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Washington on Monday for talks with his US counterpart on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East following its historic normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates. – Times of Israel

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas are set to meet in in Istanbul, Turkey for direct talks aimed at ending the 15-year-long rift in Palestinian politics, Fatah said Monday. – Times of Israel

The criminal charges against former prime minister Ehud Olmert were a “political assassination,” PLO Executive Committee secretary-general and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday evening. – Jerusalem Post

Hussein Ibish writes: Palestinians are understandably furious at the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for agreeing to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, but it leaves them with no choice but to formulate their own strategy for ending the occupation.[…] A fresh mandate is essential to restore the credibility that the leadership will need in order to make the Israelis a bold counter-offer. That must perforce contain significant concessions on emotive issues like refugee return and land swaps. – Bloomberg

Gulf States

Sudanese officials will discuss the removal of their country from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terror with U.S. officials during a visit to the United Arab Emirates this week, the ruling council said on Sunday. – Reuters

Bahrain’s move to establish ties with Israel was not directed against any entity or power but aimed to bring about a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said on Monday. – Reuters

The United States and the United Arab Emirates hope to have an initial agreement on the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the Gulf state in place by December, as the Trump administration studies how to structure a deal without running afoul of Israel. – Reuters

The United States issued a security alert for citizens in Bahrain following the country’s historic move to normalize relations with Israel. – Washington Examiner

The UAE ambassador to the US said Sunday that he is not concerned about annexation returning to the national agenda in Israel, given the overwhelming support in the Jewish state for the normalization agreement with his country, which came at the expense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan to declare Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Following the United Arab Emirates’ signing of a normalization accord with Israel last week, the UAE’s first-ever certified kosher restaurant launched Thursday on the ground floor of the luxury Armani Hotel, situated in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

Jordan’s main opposition Islamist party said on Monday it will run in its November parliamentary election to prevent a packing of the assembly with pro-government deputies and advance demands for democratic reform and a crackdown on corruption. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The context of the conversation and Egypt’s discussions about stopping terror and working with partners in the Mediterranean is Cairo’s desire to play a larger role in the region and especially regarding the concept of stability. Although this is unstated, Egypt’s main goal is to prevent what it sees as the destabilizing conflicts that have occurred over the past decade. – Jerusalem Post

Hussein Aboubakr writes: Much has changed in the past decade, however, and we are now entering the age of a post-Palestine Middle East. And as the region moves on to its post-Palestine reality, the world will move on to post-Islamism, and Islam itself will exert an ever-smaller influence over international politics. For the ideological forces that once caused terror in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, London, Madrid, and New York are slowly shrinking in history’s rearview mirror. – Commentary Magazine


China on Tuesday sentenced an outspoken critic of President Xi Jinping to 18 years in prison on graft charges, signaling Beijing’s determination to crush dissent. – Washington Post

Beijing has sped up development of a blacklist that could be used to punish American technology firms, but officials say leaders are hesitating to pull the trigger, with some arguing a decision on the list should wait until after the U.S. election. – Wall Street Journal

China is pushing growing numbers of Tibetan rural laborers off the land and into recently built military-style training centers where they are turned into factory workers, mirroring a program in the western Xinjiang region that rights groups have branded coercive labor. – Reuters

Beijing downplayed on Tuesday the significance of Sweden’s decision to deny Beijing the use of its antenna at a satellite station in Australia, saying China’s space programme and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region remained intact. – Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping took a veiled swipe at the U.S. in a strongly worded speech, saying no country should “be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world.” – Bloomberg


At least 57 members of the Afghan security forces were killed and dozens injured in overnight clashes with Taliban fighters across Afghanistan, security officials said on Monday, in the bloodiest day of fighting since government and insurgent forces began peace talks in Doha over a week ago – Reuters

Hong Kong has no legal basis to demand that any particular rights be extended to 12 Hong Kong people detained in China as they tried to flee by boat and they will have to face the law there, the city’s chief executive said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen praised on Tuesday the “heroic performance” of air force pilots who have been intercepting Chinese jets that have approached the island, as Beijing steps up military pressure on democratic Taiwan. – Reuters

The military funeral for Nyima Tenzin, a Tibetan fighter killed in an August skirmish along the Sino-Indian border, was a provocative spectacle. A leader of the Special Frontier Force — a secretive, Indian-controlled paramilitary group of Tibetan refugees — the 51-year-old’s coffin was draped in both the Indian tricolour and the Tibetan “snow lion” flag, which is banned in China. – Financial Times


Russia sees minimal chances of extending the New START treaty with the United States – their last major nuclear arms pact – as it does not accept conditions set out by Washington, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Monday. – Reuters

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny wants Russia to turn over the clothes he was wearing the day he is thought to have been poisoned. – Washington Examiner

Russia will spend more on supporting its economy than funding its armed forces next year for the first time since 2014, as the Kremlin ramps up borrowing to pay for increased social spending ahead of critical parliamentary elections. – Financial Times


Support is growing in Europe for targeting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko with sanctions, as the European Union looks to toughen its response to the political crisis in the former Soviet republic. – Wall Street Journal

The British government on Monday won over some domestic political opponents of its plan to breach part of the Brexit divorce deal it agreed upon with the European Union — but not former Prime Minister Theresa May, who warned that the move would do “untold damage” to the U.K. – Associated Press

Britain hopes never to need to use proposed powers to break its Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, Northern Ireland Office minister Robin Walker said on Monday as the government pressed ahead with legislation to create such powers. – Reuters

The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on a Turkish shipping company accused of breaking a U.N. arms embargo on Libya and whose vessel was involved in a naval incident between NATO members France and Turkey in June. – Reuters

Sweden’s state-owned space company, which provides ground stations that help fly Chinese spacecraft and transmit data, said on Monday it would no longer renew contracts with China or accept new Chinese business, because of changes in geopolitics. – Reuters

EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Tuesday the next EU-UK joint committee meeting will be held on Sept. 28 in Brussels. – Reuters

Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth urged Britain on Tuesday to drop plans for a bill that would break the country’s obligations to the European Union under its withdrawal treaty as time was running out to clinch an EU-Britain trade deal. – Reuters

Lithuania’s defence minister said on Tuesday a new battalion of U.S. troops, including tanks and armoured vehicles, will be deployed in Lithuania in November and will stay until mid-June 2021. – Reuters

European Union efforts to put pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko are on hold, as a separate crisis in the bloc’s backyard lays bare its struggles to reconcile competing national interests. Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday failed to make good on their promise to sanction dozens of Belarusian officials involved in a contested election and the violent suppression of protests because of disagreements over how to deal with Turkey’s energy claims in the eastern Mediterranean. – Bloomberg

Cyprus has blocked action by insisting the EU should also agree sanctions on Turkey before it gives the green light, European diplomats said, after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday ended in deadlock. – Financial Times

The EU and Israel are in talks to reinstate the body strengthening their bilateral ties, after the government suspended plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, The Jerusalem Post has learned. – Jerusalem Post


A military officer who helped depose the president of Mali in a coup last month has announced that a retired colonel will lead the West African country as interim president until elections are held in 2022. – New York Times

“The act of mutiny in Mali is strongly condemned,” U.S. Africa Command’s Air Force Col. Chris Karns told the Washington Examiner in confirming that military coup leader Assimi Goita received U.S. training as part of the multinational exercise called Flintlock. – Washington Examiner

A leading Ethiopian opposition politician and media entrepreneur has rejected charges of terrorism brought against him as politically motivated. – Financial Times

Paul Melly writes: The final shape of Mali’s promised transition to new elections is yet to be settled several weeks after soldiers seized power in Bamako, forcing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign, although former Defence Minister Ban Ndaw has been named as interim leader. […]But from the outset, the putchists sent a clear message to the international partners who have thousands of troops deployed to tackle the decade-old security crisis that sees northern Mali continuing to suffer jihadist attacks while central areas are scarred by inter-communal tensions and violence. – BBC

The Americas

Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a New York City police officer with acting as an illegal agent of the Chinese government, accusing him of providing intelligence about Tibetans living in the United States to officials at the Chinese consulate. – New York Times

Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the risk of another 9/11-style attack on the country is “very high.” – Washington Examiner

Canadian police on Monday searched a home in the Montreal area in connection with a letter addressed to US President Donald Trump that is believed to have contained the poison ricin. – Agence France-Presse

The United States is offering a reward of up to $5 million (£3.9m) for information leading to the arrest of a leader of the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group in Colombia. – BBC

Retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) expressed hope on Monday that her recent legislation on Middle East peace would be passed by the Senate and signed into law before she leaves office in January 2021. – Jewish Insider


After months of maneuvering over the future of TikTok, it took a pair of 11th-hour phone calls with two of America’s most powerful executives to persuade President Trump to agree to a tentative deal. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeChat messaging app has seen a surge in downloads in the United States since Friday after Washington confirmed it would push ahead with a planned ban of the app, data showed on Tuesday – Reuters

 U.S. President Donald Trump plans to meet on Wednesday with a group of Republican state attorneys general about revising a key law that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts. – Reuters

President Donald Trump said on Monday that he would save a deal to boost American control of Chinese-owned popular social media app TikTok if possible, but would “cut it off” if not. – Reuters

A deal to restructure ownership of the popular video app TikTok was thrown into doubt Monday when President Donald Trump vowed to block any deal that allows its Chinese parent firm to retain any control. – Agence France-Presse

Two days after the White House gave its blessing to a deal to keep TikTok alive in the US, confusion over who would own and control the popular short video app threatened to derail the already tortuous process. – Financial Times

Chinese companies aim to hoover up massive troves of data on other countries to train AI applications and gain a technological edge over Western rivals, warned Ciaran Martin, the U.K.’s departing chief of cybersecurity. – Politico

Yuan Yang writes: They may be geopolitical opponents, but Presidents Xi and Trump have done a lot for the other’s approval ratings. For nationalist, authoritarian presidents, having an external enemy is a must. But in forcing the Chinese internet company ByteDance to find an American partner in order to keep its short-video app TikTok alive in the US, Trump has gone further in advancing Xi’s agenda. Unwittingly, he has helped Xi export China’s vision of cyber-governance. – Financial Times


Army Futures Command has given the green light to the Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate to move forward on developing a plan to equip tactical and combat vehicles with electric power, according to a Sept. 21 statement. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is seeing improvements in anti-jam capabilities in new radios crucial to securing manned-unmanned communications at its annual Network Modernization Experiment. – C4ISRNET

The Army has signed a cooperative research and development deal with Estonia focused on cyber defense and other technologies. – C4ISRNET

John R. Kroger writes: stead of mindlessly repeating past acquisition mistakes, we need to empower a high-level expert panel to review recent ship design and purchasing failures in order to identify the weaknesses of our system and initiate reforms. This should include implementation of more sophisticated risk analysis and management procedures, so we can avoid the problems that have plagued the Ford, LCS, and Zumwalt programs. – Defense One

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump, who prefers speaking to boisterous crowds, is set to give a prerecorded address to the U.N. General Assembly as he grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, chilly relations between the U.S. and China and ongoing threats from North Korea and Iran — all during a heated campaign for reelection. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he was rebuffed when he asked officials to adjust the exchange rate of the dollar to counteract what he described as repeated currency manipulation by China of its yuan. – Reuters

New York City was among three cities labeled “anarchist jurisdictions” by the Justice Department on Sunday and targeted to lose federal money for failing to control protesters and defunding cops, The Post has learned. Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., were the other two cities on the list, which was approved by US Attorney General William Barr. – New York Post