Fdd's overnight brief

September 9, 2020

In The News


A revolutionary court in Tehran summoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a Iranian British dual national, to face a new charge Tuesday, state television reported. – Washington Post

Iran is preparing a new exercise that will involve the navy, army and air force. It will take place over a huge area of “millions” of square kilometers and will include the Strait of Hormuz, the shores of Makran, the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean, Iran says. – Jerusalem Post

A global union representing 85,000 athletes called on Tuesday for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executes champion wrestler Navid Afkari whose case has stirred outcry. – Reuters

Iran said Tuesday it is building a sophisticated new building near its underground Natanz nuclear site, state TV reported. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Whether the current Turkey-Iran honeymoon will last, or whether it is a temporary alliance of convenience that will inevitably fall apart as they grow stronger, remains to be seen. However, the old paradigm of seeing the Middle East solely through the sectarian lens has been upended by the realities on the ground. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It now appears that Turkey and Iran, which have sought to boost trade, are continuing to become closer politically. The overall substance of the Tuesday discussions were not yet available to the press. Anadolu, which is a pro-government channel in Turkey, described the talks as the 6th high level discussions. – Jerusalem Post


The Trump administration on Tuesday blacklisted two former Lebanese government ministers it says have aided Iran-backed Hezbollah and are part of systemic corruption that the U.S. says is contributing to the country’s economic and political crises. – Wall Street Journal

Responding to the verdict [of UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon] in his column in the Lebanese Al-Nahar daily, journalist ‘Ali Hamada wrote that, although the tribunal did not convict all four defendants, it is wrong to say that it cleared Hizbullah or the Syrian regime of responsibility for the assassination, because the defendant who was convicted, Salim ‘Ayyash, is a senior Hizbullah official to this day. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Patricia Karam writes: But a roadmap to reform must ultimately tackle Hezbollah and its role in Lebanon. The balance of power can only shift with its disarming. When that happens, not only will the satrapy be unveiled, but Lebanon will finally be handed a chance to thrive. – The Hill


Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Moscow is ready to help ease rising tensions over Turkey’s search for energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, and rejected any actions that could lead to further escalation. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an August 30, 2020 speech in Ankara that was uploaded to his official YouTube channel that Turkey is not a society with an army but a “nation that is an army within itself, […] there is no power that can stand in the way of this country.” He said that Turkey will not hesitate to sacrifice martyrs in the fight against its enemies. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Competition over gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean has combined with bitter regional rivalries to fuel dangerous tensions between Turkey and its neighbours in recent months. […]Here’s what you need to know to understand the stand-off on the EU’s doorstep: – Financial Times

Mehul Srivastava and Laura Pitel write: Mr Erdogan’s popularity with Palestinians reflects his long championing of their struggle for nationhood and comes as their cause has slid down the list of regional concerns, sidelined by Israel’s wooing of the Gulf states. He has stepped into that vacuum, coupling his adventures in Libya and Syria with a desire to wield influence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. […]It also works politically for Mr Erdogan, who has increasingly melded foreign policy with domestic considerations, and strives to cast himself at home as a champion of Muslims across the world. – Financial Times


Israel and the United Arab Emirates will sign their historic deal normalizing relations at a White House ceremony on Sept. 15, officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Israel’s largest lender Bank Hapoalim (POLI.TA) expects to start working with banks in the United Arab Emirates once the two Middle East states sign a normalisation agreement, its chief executive said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Palestinian leadership has watered down its criticism of the normalisation deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates before an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Wednesday at which the accord will be debated. – Reuters

Serbia will not fulfill its promise to move its embassy to Jerusalem if Israel recognizes its enemy Kosovo, a source close to the government in Belgrade warned Wednesday, adding that formal recognition of Pristina’s 2008 declaration of independence by Israel would “destroy” the Jewish state’s relationship with Serbia. – Times of Israel

Palestinian leaders have described plans by Israel to install wheelchair access at the Tomb of the Patriarchs as “tantamount to igniting a religious war in the region and in the world,” and a “war crime,” and have called for a third intifada in response. The changes will make the site more accessible for Jews and Muslims alike. – Jerusalem Post

A US envoy said Tuesday that he hoped to sign a framework agreement in the coming weeks for Lebanon and Israel to start discussing their disputed maritime border. – Agence France-Presse

In the largest operation of its kind since 2014, the Israeli military on Tuesday arrested more than 50 Hamas members in the West Bank. – Algemeiner

Taiwan will send a military delegation to Israel to learn about its reserve mobilization systems, as the Asian country moves to improve its military preparedness. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli defense delegation left for Berlin on Wednesday morning to hold strategic defense dialogue with Germany as the two countries mark 55 years of diplomatic relations, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis targeted and hit military and sensitive objects in Saudi Arabia’s Abha international airport with drones early on Wednesday, the military spokesman for the group Yahya Sarea announced on Twitter. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said early on Wednesday it intercepted and destroyed an explosive-laden drone launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis towards Saudi Arabia’s southern area, state news agency (SPA) reported. – Reuters

Editorial: The absence of justice in the Khashoggi case won’t prevent Mr. Trump from attending the Riyadh summit. But it ought to give pause to those G-20 leaders who still seek to uphold human rights as a pillar of international affairs. – Washington Post

Iyad el-Baghdadi writes: As we approach the second anniversary of Jamal’s murder, MBS, as the crown prince is known, is eager to put the episode behind him. It’s not very difficult to see why — there seems to be a growing anxiety among Arab dictators that President Trump may not be around to cover up for them for four more years, and Mohammed bin Salman knows that come January, he may face a much more hostile White House. – Washington Post

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write: But before Washington and the chattering class start providing unconditional support to another Arab authoritarian, the United States should be clear about what it wants out of the relationship and how it should use the leverage it has with the UAE to achieve those outcomes. Otherwise, we could be setting ourselves up for yet another Middle East leader to play the United States for a fool, undermining both our values and our interests. – Washington Post

Abdulsalem Mused writes: The United States and other global powers have claimed that Saudi Arabia had the right to build an alliance to keep the Houthi threat away from its borders, and that all nations must defend themselves when under attack. Regardless of these international concerns, the people of southern Yemen have been driven to fight the Houthis by a single goal: to achieve independence for southern Yemen. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

War-scarred Iraq hopes to launch reforms and revive its battered economy, but the drive is being derailed by a wave of violence blamed largely on shadowy pro-Iranian groups. – Agence France-Presse 

The warring parties in Libya and their international backers — the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Jordan vs Turkey and Qatar — violated a U.N. arms embargo on the oil-rich north African country that remains “totally ineffective,” U.N. experts said in a new report. – Associated Press

Jamil Anderlini writes: China’s influence is rapidly growing across the Middle East at a time when American commitment is being questioned by regional allies and US politicians alike. Beijing is the biggest foreign investor in the region and has sealed strategic partnerships with all Gulf states apart from Bahrain. Most investment has gone to traditional US allies, many of them also eager customers of Chinese military technology. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

Kim told a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of “unexpected damage” from a typhoon that hit this week, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday. It was the most recent of three typhoons since late August that have walloped a sanctions-hit economy, indicating a difficult time ahead at home for Kim while he seeks a strategy for nuclear talks with the U.S. – Bloomberg

Kim Jong Un’s dependence on illicit Chinese business networks and aid from Beijing is set to increase as the North Korean leader faces the country’s worst economic crisis in almost a decade, analysts say. – Financial Times

Negotiations with North Korea have been stalled for months, but if and when they resume, the United States and South Korea should ensure the talks incorporate concerns about North Korean human rights abuses, the United Nations’ human rights office in Seoul said Tuesday.  – VOA News


The evacuation of two Australian journalists from China after late-night visits from Chinese security officials has set off alarms at a nerve-racking time for foreign press in the country. – Wall Street Journal

Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps. The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism. – New York Times

China’s repression in Tibet, the status of the exiled Dalai Lama, and its treatment of ethnic minorities spurred violent protests ahead of Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. It could happen again. – Associated Press

The spat between Canberra and Beijing seems to be getting worse by the day: A TV anchor detained, journalists fleeing, key imports banned. But Australians doing business in China say the risks are manageable — so far. – Bloomberg

Foreign reporting in China has historically been difficult, but under the increasingly hardline rule of Xi Jinping and amid growing antagonism against the US, Australia, and other countries, the situation has markedly deteriorated. – The Guardian

Australia has cancelled the visas of two Chinese scholars because of security concerns, according to reports, adding a new element to the spiralling diplomatic dispute over the treatment of journalists. – The Guardian

More than 130 U.K. lawmakers wrote to Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming to condemn China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority and accuse Beijing of “ethnic cleansing.” – Bloomberg

Chinese science students have accused US border agents of subjecting them to intrusive questioning and pressuring them to hand over electronic devices as they leave the country, heightening concerns they are becoming victims of rising US-China tensions. – Financial Times

US companies are ignoring Donald Trump’s threats to “decouple” from China and repatriate manufacturing, according to a survey of more than 200 companies with operations in the country. – Financial Times

Beijing has alleged Chinese journalists’ homes were raided by Australia’s intelligence services, escalating a diplomatic row that culminated in two Australian reporters fleeing China this week. – Financial Times

China has an edge over the US in shipbuilding, and it could give the country an advantage in a protracted conflict in which both sides see heavy losses at sea, experts told Insider. – Business Insider

David Ignatius writes: The United States and China have an increasingly competitive relationship, but they need each other, too, like conjoined twins. Hasty attempts at separation could harm them both. Open research made U.S. technology great; making it more difficult for the best brains to live and work here would be folly. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: Beijing followed its well-established practice of exploiting as weakness every generous Western opening it now found in trade, investment, technology and intellectual property transfer (licit and illicit).  Chinese companies with ties to the Communist Party and the military even gained special lenient access to the U.S. stock markets. While Vladimir Lenin said capitalists would sell communists the rope to hang them, China proved the West also would provide it the money to buy the rope. – The Hill

Michael Rubin writes: The United States grew to be a superpower based on its embrace of free market capitalism and competition. Congressional regulations and the Pentagon bureaucracy itself now stifle both. […]As the United States faces challenges to its power on the global stage, it behooves both Republicans and Democrats to remember how freedom and capitalism rather than bureaucracy and regulation made the American military the envy of the world. – The National Interest


A roadside bomb in Kabul targeted first Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Wednesday morning but he escaped unharmed, his spokesman said. The attack killed at least six people. – Reuters

China has offered to build a road network for the Taliban if they can ensure peace in Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal, according to two senior tribal leaders in Pakistan with close ties to the militants. – Financial Times

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held a meeting in Doha with the head of the new Taliban team due to open peace talks with a team representing the Afghan government, the Islamist insurgent group said on Tuesday.Reuters


The Republic of Palau has asked the Pentagon to build ports, bases and airfields on the island nation, officials said, offering a boost to U.S. military expansion plans in Asia, as Washington aims to counter China. – Wall Street Journal

The two soldiers’ video testimony, recorded by a rebel militia, is the first time that members of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, have openly confessed to taking part in what United Nations officials say was a genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. – New York Times

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats were holding their annual talks by video Wednesday to discuss the immense crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and rising tensions in the South China Sea amid the escalating rivalry between Washington and Beijing. – Associated Press

Zack Cooper and Jeffrey W. Hornung write: Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership, Japan tightened its alliance with the United States and took on a more proactive role in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world. These developments were in many ways attributable to Abe himself and the strategic influence he was able to cultivate. His resignation, announced last month for health reasons, could very well leave Japan less secure and the U.S.-Japan alliance unstable. – LA Times

Seth Cropsey writes: A bilateral trade agreement (BTA) between the US and Taiwan would be a major step forward in ending the US’s dependence on China for vital strategic goods. It would at the same time invigorate trade relations between the US and Taiwan. – Hudson Institute

Timothy McLaughlin writes: Many Hong Kongers were outraged recently when the police began making arrests over the Yuen Long violence, picking up and charging not the attackers, but those who had been beaten, including a prodemocracy lawmaker left bloodied in the mayhem. Then, more than a year after the incident, officials presented an entirely new narrative of what occurred that night—recasting it as a pitched battle between two evenly matched sides, one of quick action by police in which the victims were actually the instigators. This new version of events marked the most blatant and audacious attempt yet at sweeping historical revisionism of last year’s protests. – The Atlantic


France has postponed a visit to Moscow next week by its foreign and armed forces ministers as European powers seek answers from Russia to Germany’s findings that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned. – Reuters

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s “hideous” poisoning last month represents “another grave blow against democracy in Russia,” according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other leading democratic allies. – Washington Examiner

The Democratic and GOP leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday called on President Trump to investigate Russia’s use of chemical weapons related to the poisoning of leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. – The Hill

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday night called on Russia to bring to justice “those responsible” for the suspected poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. […]“My G7 counterparts and I strongly condemned the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with a chemical nerve agent,” Pompeo – New York Post

European countries have threatened sanctions on Russia over the alleged nerve agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but a concerted decision will be tough to reach given the interests at stake. –  Agence France-Presse

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: The attack on one of Putin’s loudest critics has yet to prompt significant popular protests, perhaps in part because assailing opponents is hardly uncommon in Russia. […]There is a risk that tactics that worked in 2019 will be countered by the Kremlin’s latest tinkering. Yet the efforts will also be amplified by underlying problems in the regions, including increasingly strained relations with Moscow. That’s particularly true in the Arctic and the Far East, two vast swathes of the country that are supposed to be Russia’s future, but have felt little benefit. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It appears Russia is in Cyprus partly relating to signing agreements but also because the US has ended an arms embargo and Russia may be concerned about Cyprus becoming too close to Washington. Russia claims to want to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean that have pitted an aggressive Turkey against Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, the EU, France and others. Turkey has also sent arms to Libya and signed a deal designed to take over part of the sea. Israel has a pipeline deal with Cyprus and Greece. Russia would like to play the mediator and thus gain influence. – Jerusalem Post


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit negotiations fell into disarray on Tuesday, as the government’s top lawyer resigned over Mr. Johnson’s plan to override a landmark agreement with the European Union, and one of his own ministers admitted that the changes would break international law. – New York Times

Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent opposition leader in Belarus who vanished on Monday in what her supporters said was a kidnapping by security agents, reappeared overnight at her country’s southern border with Ukraine. – New York Times

The European Commission on Tuesday named Valdis Dombrovskis, a former Latvian prime minister and senior European Union official, as its new trade chief[…]. Mr. Dombrovskis, whose gentle manner will be a departure in style from Mr. Hogan’s more blunt-talking persona, will be tasked with handling difficult trade talks with the bloc’s biggest partners and competitors: China, Britain in a post-Brexit world, and the United States. New York Times

The United States is considering “targeted sanctions” on people involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on September 8 that also expressed deep concern over the reported abduction of Belarusian Coordination Council member Maryya Kalesnikava. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Britain will on Wednesday unveil legislation that it admits breaks international law by rewriting parts of its Brexit divorce treaty relating to Northern Ireland, sparking widespread criticism and clouding the latest round of fraught EU trade talks. – Agence France-Presse

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko acknowledged that he may have remained in power “for a bit too long” following weeks of mass protests against his regime. – Washington Examiner

Therese Raphael writes: There’s no reason the U.K. shouldn’t be allowed to build its own set of state aid rules that establishes an equivalency with the EU and includes some kind of dispute settlement mechanism. Britain might even incorporate the EU’s “balancing” concept, where negative effects on competition are balanced against other goals such as regional development and reducing climate impact. – Bloomberg

George Barros and Mason Clark write: Belarusian authorities are holding Belarusian opposition leader Kolesnikova after a failed attempt to expel her to Ukraine following her abduction on September 7. Ukrainian officials confirmed Belarusian authorities “forcibly expelled” Ivan Kravtsov and Anton Rodnenkov – two of Kolesnikova’s staffers – to Ukraine on September 8. – Institute for the Study of War


South Africans are angry about comments that U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made in private about South African icon Nelson Mandela, the nation’s first black president and Nobel Peace laureate. The alleged comments — which Trump denies — are full of profanity and include Trump saying of Mandela, “he was no leader,” and are part of a tell-all book by indicted former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. – VOA News

Lawyers for Paul Rusesabagina have called on a UN investigator to immediately intervene in the case of the human rights activist – and inspiration behind the film Hotel Rwanda – who is being detained in Rwanda and is alleged to face a “serious risk of torture”.  – The Guardian

Israel and a Chadian envoy discussed a possible upgrading of relations on Tuesday that would include a mutual exchange of ambassadors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. – Reuters

The Americas

New York State Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James denounced a recent Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) questionnaire on Tuesday that asked New York City Council candidates to agree “not to travel to Israel if elected… in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation.” – Jewish Insider

Gasoline shortages have returned to Venezuela, sparking mile-long lines in the capital as international concerns mounted Tuesday that Iran yet again may be trying to come to the South American nation’s rescue. – Associated Press

Michael Anton, a former senior National Security Council official in the Trump administration, is “amazed” by what the administration has achieved in the president’s first term — but warns in a new book that the U.S. could careen into disaster if Donald Trump loses his reelection bid in November. […]he writes that the current international world order, with America at its helm, is “a voluntary alliance of neoliberal elites across nations to work together in their own interests.” Jewish Insider


A ransomware attack forced Hartford, Conn., to call off the first day of classes. A website crash left many of Houston’s 200,000 students staring at error messages. And a server problem in Virginia Beach disrupted the first hours back to school there. – New York Times

Huawei Technologies revealed in late August that procurement from Japanese suppliers grew by more than 50 per cent last year while the US tightened trade restrictions on the Chinese telecom equipment maker. – Financial Times

Susan M. Gordon writes: Though foreign actors have been trying to advance their interests and manipulate our decision-making forever, the digital world we now live in — and its lack of clear governance — exacerbates the threat and amplifies the effect in some unexpected ways.[…] We need to keep exposing adversaries’ actions and intent, organize defenses at every level, pursue effective deterrence, commit sufficient funds so no one has to sacrifice security, recognize responsibility that comes with capability, and be discerning about the pedigree of the information we receive. – Washington Post


Northrop Grumman has captured a $13.3 billion award for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent competition and will build the Air Force’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles, the service announced on Sept. 8. – Defense News

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday introduced and set up a floor vote for a leaner Republican coronavirus relief bill, but it does not contain the billions of dollars the defense industry has sought to diffuse the economic impact of the pandemic. – Defense News

A new joint Israeli and U.S. program aims to develop an augmented reality based control for unmanned systems to engage in small drone-on-drone warfare. – Defense News

After President Donald Trump said Monday that military leaders in the Pentagon “want to do nothing but fight wars” to line the pockets of defense firms, the Army’s top officer said Tuesday that senior military leaders recommend sending US troops to war only as a “last resort.” – Business Insider

Brian R. Green writes: Integrating strike with air and missile defense is the proper and necessary goal. Recent efforts point in the right direction, but organizational inertia and technological development may defy rapid advancement. The threats, however, are quite real and increasingly complex. Offense-defense integration will not be a panacea, but it will be critical to a realistic and cost-effective way to contend with the threat. – C4ISRNET

Long War

The Charlie Hebdo caricaturist who was forced at gunpoint to open the satirical newspaper’s door to two al-Qaida extremists described on Tuesday the moments of sheer terror from the attack in January 2015, and the feelings of guilt and powerlessness she endured long afterward. – Associated Press

Australian women and children have been snatched from the al-Hawl refugee camp in north-east Syria, where families of Islamic State fighters are detained, according to reports from inside the camp. – The Guardian

Israeli security forces arrested large numbers of suspected Hamas members in predawn raids in the Hebron area on Tuesday, in an apparent show of strength to the terror group amid an uptick in Palestinian violence in recent weeks. – Times of Israel

A Texas man is facing charges of threatening an attack on the University of Houston after he “Zoom-bombed” an online class and praised the Islamic State group, the Justice Department said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Katherine Zimmerman writes: A new generation within al Qaeda is coming of age and will soon assume leadership. The original al Qaeda we knew is transforming, stepping away temporarily from the global jihad to grow, broaden its reach and deepen its grip before it returns stronger than ever and targets the West. – Newsweek

Trump Administration

Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was fired from the bureau during the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign, said Tuesday that he believes the president is “compromised,” and would protect his own interests over those of the U.S. – The Hill

US President Donald Trump will announce further troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in the next few days, a senior administration official said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Eli Lake writes: This is the wrong way to look at what Trump calls “endless wars.” The reason America keeps supporting weak, corrupt governments in Baghdad and Kabul is because their collapse would lead to more war, more terrorism and more suffering. Nineteen years ago this week, when a plot hatched in war-ravaged Afghanistan felled the World Trade Center and destroyed part of the Pentagon, the U.S. learned this lesson. Trump’s foreign-policy message for 2020 is an attempt to persuade Americans to forget this history. – Bloomberg