Fdd's overnight brief

September 25, 2020

In The News


The United States on Thursday blacklisted several Iranian officials and entities over alleged gross violations of human rights, including slapping sanctions on a judge it said was involved in the case of an Iranian wrestler sentenced to death. – Reuters

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened a new naval base along one of the world’s busiest oil transit routes on the Persian Gulf as frictions with the U.S. and its allies in the region loom over security in the waterway. – Bloomberg

For the first time, the United States will sanction foreign judges and a court for gross violations of human rights, as it targets Iran’s Revolutionary Court system for the execution of a 27-year-old wrestler and other abuses, according to a U.S. official. – Fox News 

Iran is thought to have executed between 4,000 and 6,000 homosexuals since the Islamic revolution in 1979. – i24 News

The international community must do everything in its power to stop Iranian authorities from amputating the fingers of four men convicted of robbery following forced “confessions” and grossly unfair trials, said Amnesty International today. – Amnesty International

James Jay Carafano writes: A prosperous, stable Middle East is the ultimate deterrent against Iranian aggression. It would be the heaviest weight possible for pressing the regime to adopt more reasonable policies toward its neighbors and to abandon once and for all its ill-conceived nuclear weapons program. – Fox News

Seth J.Frantzman writes: Zarif’s main goal is to try to coordinate with Russia more closely. This is a relationship of common interests because they both want to weaken the US in the Middle East. However, they do not see the region entirely the same way. They don’t agree on Israel, for instance. Iran’s goal is to circumvent US sanctions and the arms embargo so that it can acquire more weapons. In the past, Russia played a role with Iran in terms of air-defense sales and technical assistance.Jerusalem Post


Four months after the IDF first raised its alertness level in northern Israel, the Navy’s 914 Squadron remains ready to respond to any threat along the border with Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian officials have a feeling that the recent normalization agreements between Gulf states and Israel have led to a sudden decrease in funding from Arab states to the Palestinian Authority. – Jerusalem Post

Fatah and Hamas have reached an agreement to hold elections on the basis of proportional representation, Fatah Central Committee secretary-general Jibril Rajoub said Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

A watchdog group has notified and warned Mastercard and Visa that they should rescind their services to Palestinian Authority (PA) banks that pay salaries to imprisoned terrorists and their families. – Algemeiner

Businesses in the UAE and Israel have been taking full advantage of a historic deal between the two countries signed last week, as previously untapped markets become open for business. – Al Arabiya 

Arabian Peninsula

Nowhere is famine more likely than in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, ravaged by war for nearly six years between the Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led military coalition defending a weak government that exerts little or no control over most Yemeni territory. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia warned the UN Security Council on Wednesday that an “oil spot” had been seen in a shipping transit area 31 miles (50 kilometers) west of a decaying tanker that is threatening to spill 1.1 million barrels of crude oil off the coast of Yemen. – Reuters

The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, France and Germany on Thursday urged Israel and the Palestinians to engage in “credible dialogue” to restore “hope” to the peace process. – Agence France-Presse

Gulf Arab countries are moving toward normalization with Israel, but Iran, Turkey and the Palestinians are “speaking against peace,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Bahrain’s establishment of peace with Israel has not quelled its pursuit of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

While House Democrats grapple with a range of concerns about the Trump administration’s potential sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates — which could reportedly come as soon as December — they expect the sale negotiations to proceed quickly. – Jewish Insider

As part of this attack the Qatari press published numerous cartoons mocking the Arab countries which support normalization with Israel. These countries were portrayed as traitors who serve Israel and the U.S. while stabbing the Palestinians in the back. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The United States has extended a sanctions waiver that enables Iraq to continue importing gas from Iran but this time granting a significantly shorter waiver period, Iraqi officials and the U.S. State Department said Thursday. – Associated Press

The United States said on Thursday it would provide more than $720 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Syria, plus nearly $152 million for Africa’s Sahel region and almost $108 million for South Sudan. – Reuters

His assault on Libya’s capital has collapsed. Foreign powers have tried to sideline him. But military commander Khalifa Haftar still sits astride oil terminals, with enough fire power and political sway to thwart any plans for peace. – Reuters

Turkish authorities on Friday ordered the arrest of 82 people including members of a pro-Kurdish opposition party, over 2014 violent protests against the siege by Islamic State of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates and Israel share threats to their national online networks, the Israeli cyber-security chief said on Thursday in a rare public discussion of potential cooperation with his counterpart following the normalisation of relations. – Reuters

China is using the prospect of access to technology related to a nuclear weapons program to lure American allies into Beijing’s geopolitical orbit, U.S. officials and lawmakers fear. – Washington Examiner

Hundreds of thousands fled the violence of the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, but this time is different: They are fleeing despair. – Foreign Policy


TikTok’s Chinese owner said it is seeking approval from Beijing for a White House-endorsed plan to turn the short-video app into a U.S.-based company, officially placing the fate of the year’s hottest social-media asset in the hands of Chinese authorities. – Wall Street Journal

The Chinese authorities have in recent years closed and demolished many of the major shrines, mosques and other holy sites across Xinjiang that have long preserved the culture and Islamic beliefs of the region’s Muslims. – New York Times

The United States butted heads with China and Russia at the United Nations on Thursday over responsibility for the pandemic that has interrupted the world, trading allegations about who mishandled and politicized the virus in one of the few real-time exchanges among top officials at this year’s COVID-distanced U.N. General Assembly meeting. – Associated Press

The commander of Andersen Air Force Base on the U.S. Pacific island of Guam on Friday said a Chinese air force video that seemed to show a simulated attack on his facility was “propaganda” designed to coerce and antagonise. – Reuters

Russia was the biggest oil supplier to China in August for a second consecutive month, customs data showed on Friday, with Saudi Arabia trailing after its volumes dropped by one-third. – Reuters

Five Republican U.S. senators have urged Netflix Inc NFLX.O to reconsider plans to adapt a Chinese science-fiction book trilogy into a TV series because they said the author has defended the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. – Reuters

President Donald Trump asked a San Francisco judge to stay an injunction blocking a ban on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, arguing the Chinese-owned messaging app jeopardizes national security. – Bloomberg

An advocacy group for drone manufacturers and developers this week raised serious concerns around a clause in the proposed version of the annual defense spending bill that would ban Chinese and other foreign-made drones, arguing the ban could “hurt the drone industry.” – The Hill

World leaders welcomed China’s new climate target in addresses to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, and said the year ahead would “determine the fate” of the Paris climate agreement. – Financial Times

Rayhan Asat writes: Unequivocal support from celebrities could help end the repression that the Uighurs face every day in Xinjiang. […]So, I search for celebrities and others of influence to join in the rescue not only of my brother, Ekpar, but of millions of other mistreated, detained and imprisoned Uighurs in Xinjiang, China. – The Hill

Andrei Lungu writes: The current confrontational approach, with or without a strategy, doesn’t imagine any endgame. The United States seems to focus only on how to confront and defeat the People’s Republic of China. That’s not the endgame. It will only end if the United States and the world can solve a far more difficult dilemma: How do you change China? If not, welcome to the real forever war and get ready for a disastrous 21st century. – Foreign Policy


At stake in the peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar, are achievements of the past two decades, including the rights of women and the treatment of minorities such as the ethnic Hazaras after a long history of oppression. – New York Times

With a troop withdrawal signed between the United States and the Taliban, who have fought a bloody war for 19 years, many women in Afghanistan worry the militant group may exert its influence through formal political channels. – Reuters

Afghan government forces claim to have killed 65 Taliban militants during a battle in the nation’s eastern provinces as fighting continues to rage between the two sides while they hold peace talks. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has urged the world to help his country achieve peace amid talks with the Taliban aimed at ending nearly two decades of conflict. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

As Taliban militants and the Afghan government meet for a first round of direct negotiations in Qatar, aiming to work out a final peace deal and perhaps a power-sharing arrangement that could see the Taliban return to power, the Islamist group is gaining momentum and recruits—especially in rural areas like Omari’s. – Foreign Policy


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday issued a rare apology for the killing of a South Korean official near the two countries’ disputed border, the South’s presidential office said. – Washington Post

India’s border conflict with China is pushing New Delhi to look for an asymmetric response: flexing its naval might as it deepens cooperation with other democracies that seek to counter Beijing’s global ambitions. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations makes a point of welcoming all nations, regardless of political persuasion. But in many ways, there’s a love-hate relationship between the North and the U.N. And it raises a lingering question: What, exactly, does North Korea get out of membership in the United Nations?  – Associated Press

Concerns a Taiwan bird group was bent on promoting the Chinese-claimed island’s independence drove a British charity to ditch ties with them, according to letters published on Friday, as a complex geopolitical tangle entered the world of conservation. – Reuters

Taiwan’s armed forces have held anti-landing drills on one of its offshore islands close to China amid rising tensions with Beijing, the island’s defence ministry said on Friday, showing images of a cannon firing and soldiers loading the guns. – Reuters

TikTok executives sought to reassure Australian lawmakers on Friday about the security of its data and said Chinese Communist Party links to parent company ByteDance shouldn’t be a concern. – Bloomberg

The Marine Corps needs to spread out its forces in the Indo-Pacific region if it wants to be successful in deterring Chinese aggression in the coming decades, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said during an appearance at the virtual Modern Day Marine conference on Wednesday. – USNI News

Palau’s recent offer to permit the United States to build bases and airfields could provide a model for Washington to use to counter China’s territorial claims in the Pacific, a senior security expert told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. – USNI News

Editorial: Is China preparing to prosecute these 12 young people on more serious charges, and without any of the legal rights that Hong Kong’s system once afforded? A former British colony handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong once was considered an outpost of freedom and rule of law. And now? The fate of the democracy dozen will be closely watched.  – Washington Post


Russian authorities froze the assets of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader poisoned last month, at the behest of a Kremlin-allied businessman known as “Putin’s chef,” Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman said on Thursday. – New York Times 

Russian President Vladimir Putin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the Kremlin confirmed on Thursday. – The Hill

A Russian military court has sentenced a prominent opposition activist from the Bashkortostan region to nine years in a high-security prison on extremism charges. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

George Barros writes: Russian airborne troops currently in Belarus will likely return to Russia as scheduled on September 25, but fresh troops—likely airborne but possibly including motorized rifle forces from the WMD—will likely return to Belarus in October for the next round of now-monthly exercises. Putin likely intends to desensitize NATO to the nearly-continuous presence of Russian troops in Belarus under the pretext of exercises, shifting to a continuous presence within a few months. – Institute for the Study of War


Given the depredations of the leader of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko — the fraudulent election, the crackdown on opposition leaders, the beatings and arrests of peaceful protesters — the European Union seemed poised to respond quickly with economic sanctions, something more tangible than just words. – New York Times

After a series of scandals involving far-right extremists in the German military, the government on Thursday dismissed the head of its military counterintelligence service, the body tasked with monitoring extremism inside the armed forces. – New York Times 

The European Commission’s plan to fence off the EU’s industrial crown jewels from state-backed foreign buyers may breach WTO rules, while its ambiguous standards create legal uncertainties, lobbying group the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU said in its feedback on the proposal. – Reuters

The European Commission launched an investigation on Thursday into imports of optical fibre cable from China, which EU manufacturers believe are being sold in Europe at artificially low prices. – Reuters

There is a window of several weeks for Britain and the European Union to reach a breakthrough in trade talks before Britain’s upper house of parliament considers the contentious Internal Market Bill, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

A special international court said Thursday that a former commander of the separatist fighters in Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war has been arrested on charges including torture of detainees and the murder of one prisoner held at a compound in Kosovo during the conflict. – Associated Press

Britain is preparing sanctions on individuals allegedly involved in human rights violations in Belarus, working with the United States and Canada to hold President Alexander Lukashenko and his government accountable. – Associated Press

Hundreds of lawmakers from Europe and North America have written to Alyaksandr Lukashenka to demand he release Belarus’s political prisoners — a move underscoring widespread outrage in the West over the violent repression of protests in the country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


The escalating extremist insurgency in northern Mozambique has displaced 310,000 people, creating an urgent humanitarian crisis, the World Food Program said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Sudan’s acting foreign minister said Thursday that a compensation agreement for the families of victims of two 1998 attacks on US embassies in Africa is within sight. – Agence France-Presse 

Ethiopian officials said the security situation in the country is stabilizing after at least 160 people died in unrest following the June 29 death of a popular singer. – Bloomberg

Cameron Hudson writes: The question that remains is whether this deal can be sold to the Sudanese people, who died for their own chance at democracy and who today suffer from the benign neglect of well-intentioned friends who claim, without the slightest hint of irony, to want nothing more than to see Sudan’s transition succeed. The best way to demonstrate that commitment is to put forth a deal that recognizes Sudan’s efforts to change and offers its people a path forward to survive and prosper. – Foreign Policy

Ola Owojori writes: Finally, the Nile dam dispute has been a long protracted process, and arriving at a mutually beneficial solution will not only benefit riparian countries, but will also lend more credence to the AU itself. If the international community begins to play a reduced role in settling disputes across the continent as countries begin to prioritize their own domestic affairs, the AU’s strength and capability will become critical to Africa’s future. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

President Trump on Wednesday announced a series of new sanctions against Cuba that prohibit Americans from importing Cuban cigars and rum and staying in hotels funded by the Cuban government. – New York Times 

A sub-source used to compile the so-called Steele Dossier, a controversial opposition research document against then-candidate Donald Trump, was previously the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation, Attorney General William Barr disclosed in a letter released on Thursday. – The Hill

The Department of Justice’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigation is also looking into how the FBI handled allegations of political corruption at the Clinton Foundation, sources told The New York Times. – The Hill

A European Union mission has arrived in Venezuela to talk with political leaders about ensuring fairer conditions for Dec. 6 congressional elections, as some opposition groups weigh whether to participate. – Bloomberg

Protests are intensifying across Venezuela over worsening shortages of everything from fuel to medicine as the pandemic aggravates the world’s longest recession. – Bloomberg


A day after informing customers that it had been hacked by an unknown intruder, a major U.S. provider of software services to state and local governments —including posting election data online— said the impact appeared limited and there is no reason to believe its customers were affected. – Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge in San Francisco early on Friday to allow the government to bar Apple Inc AAPL.O and Alphabet Inc’s Google GOOGL.O from offering WeChat for download in U.S. app stores pending an appeal. – Reuters

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday said Chinese hackers are continuing to target U.S. companies involved in COVID-19 research and described China as the nation’s “greatest counterintelligence threat.” – The Hill

Facebook on Thursday announced it has removed three networks consisting of hundreds of accounts, pages and groups tied to Russian malign influence efforts, including accounts with ties to past efforts by the Russian government to target U.S. elections. – The Hill

A district court judge on Thursday said that the Trump administration must either delay a ban on TikTok from American app stores or file legal papers defending the move by Friday afternoon. – The Hill

U.S. authorities said Thursday that hackers could slow — but not prevent — voting and vote-counting in the Nov. 3 election, adding to the potential for a chaotic election day and its aftermath. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon’s upcoming recommendation for a future Navy is expected to call for a significant increase in the number of ships, with officials discussing a fleet as large as 530 hulls, according to documents obtained by Defense News. – Defense News

The way the United States military has had forces arrayed in the Pacific for the last 70 years must change to meet a new threat environment, the US Marine Corps’ top general said Wednesday, arguing that the force must be in more places and spread across a wider area. – Defense News

Next year, the most advanced carrier air wing in history will sail to the Pacific aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). – USNI News

John Garner said in a Sept. 23 panel presentation that the Commandant’s Planning Guidance and the National Defense Strategy call for the Marines to focus on integrated air and missile defense and protected combat mobility, which encompasses most of PEO LS’s major acquisition efforts today. – USNI News

Long War

Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security raised concerns at a Senate hearing Thursday about violent threats from extremists across the ideological spectrum. – Wall Street Journal

Two men were arrested on Monday for allegedly planning a ‘Netflix worthy’ terrorist attack on American soil looking to carry out violence on behalf of ISIS, according to KSAT. – Fox News

Jonathan Spyer writes: The slow-moving contest over the ruins of Syria thus looks set to continue. The Russians like to try to convey a sense of their own inevitability. The US appears keen currently not to concede the matter. The six Bradleys that rolled across the border this week are a small but notable move in this ongoing contest of wills. – Jerusalem Post