Thursday, October 22, 2020

10/22 Links Pt1: Arab Leaders Want the U.S. to Support Israel; Officials: Sudan set to normalize ties with Israel; Albania Becomes Second Muslim-Majority Nation to Adopt IHRA

From Ian:

Walter Russel Mead (WSJ $): Arab Leaders Want the U.S. to Support Israel
As the U.S. has reduced its regional footprint and ambitions, the Middle East has begun to change on its own. Saudi Arabia has opened its airspace to commercial flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai, while the UAE has shifted from not recognizing the Jewish state to building a warm peace and economic partnerships with Israel.

In the new Middle East, the younger generation is turning its back on religious radicalism, and Arab public opinion is moving to accept the presence of a Jewish state. The Palestinians have lost their position at the center of Middle East politics, and it is Turkey and Iran, not Israel, that Arab rulers are most concerned to oppose.

President Trump's peace plan, which many longtime Middle East experts dismissed as a ghastly blunder that would destroy the American role in Middle East peace negotiations, has turned out to be relatively popular on the Arab street. A Zogby survey found majorities in favor of the "Deal of the Century" in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 56% considered America "an ally" of their country, up from a low of 35% in 2018.

U.S. national security adviser Robert O'Brien told me that key Arab leaders have embraced the idea that better relations with Israel are critical to their states' security and even survival.

It is Turkey even more than Iran that keeps some Arab leaders awake at night. President Erdogan has aligned himself closely with the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional Islamist movement. Iran can only call on the minority Shiites for religious support, but Turkey can attract supporters from the Brotherhood's networks within the Sunni majority.

Ironically, the current Arab nightmare is that the next U.S. administration won't support Israel enough.

David Singer: Trump and Biden should debate foreign policy: China, Iran, et al
Trump and Biden need to debate their very different policies on China, Iran and the Middle East.

Long before the recent emergence of Hunter Biden’s alleged email files - whose authenticity still remains undisputed - Biden’s relaxed attitude to China strongly differed from Trump’s no-nonsense confrontational approach to handling China during the last four years.

On 23 October 2019 Biden – vying for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination – said:

“We talk about China as our competitor. We should be helping and benefiting ourselves by doing that. But the idea that China is going to eat our lunch — I remember the debates in the late ’90s, remember, Japan was going to own us? Give me a break.”

The CPD decision will deny intending voters their right to know Biden’s China policy stance and the implications this has for America.

Trump’s 2020 peace plan - providing for an independent Palestinian State in Gaza and up to 70% of Judea and Samaria (aka 'West Bank') to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation - offers a pathway to ending the 100 years unresolved conflict between Jews and Arabs.

Biden’s response:
“A peace plan requires two sides to come together. This is a political stunt that could spark unilateral moves to annex territory and set back peace even more. I’ve spent a lifetime working to advance the security & survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel. This is not the way”

CPD’s political stunt ensures Biden will escape explaining how his “way” will be better than Trump’s.

America’s voters are being taken for a ride by a highly-partisan Presidential Debates Commission.

And this is without eveb mentioning Ukraine and Russia.
Dennis Ross: Saudi Prince Bandar Tells Palestinians: We Won't Cover for You Any Longer
Shortly before we presented the Clinton parameters on peace to the Israelis and Palestinians in December 2000, I briefed Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to America. Once presented, I wanted Saudi Arabia to urge then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to accept our bridging proposal to end the conflict. Bandar’s response is etched in my memory: “If Arafat rejects this, it won’t be a mistake, it will be a crime.”

Bandar said this privately to me.

After Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters, other Arab officials echoed similar, if less dramatic, views to me. But none were prepared to say anything publicly. None were prepared openly to criticize the Arafat decision or counter the Palestinian story misrepresenting what had been offered.

That was then — when the Palestinians could portray the diplomacy one way, and leading Arab figures would not challenge their story, even when they knew it was wrong.

But this is now, and the Middle Eastern landscape is changing when it comes to the Palestinian cause.

What was unthinkable before is no longer; the fear that Palestinians could arouse opposition to Arab leaders by claiming they were betraying Palestinian national aspirations is gone.

Last week Bandar bin Sultan — in a three-part interview on al Arabiya network, speaking to a Saudi and regional audience — engaged in truth-telling about the historic failures of the Palestinian leadership. From declaring that Palestinian leaders “always pick the wrong side” to bemoaning that “there were always opportunities, but they were always lost,” he debunked the Palestinian narrative. He spoke of the constant divisions among Palestinians and how the Saudi kingdom “had justified to the whole world the actions of Palestinians” even when “we knew, indeed, [they] were not justified.” But Saudi Arabia did so because, in Bandar’s words, they did not “wish to stand with anyone against them, nor did we wish to see the consequences of their actions reflected on the Palestinian peoples.” In other words, Saudi Arabia stood by Palestinian leaders even when they were wrong, producing in Bandar’s words, Palestinian “indifference” and a belief that “there is no price to pay for any mistakes they commit.”

Officials: Sudan set to normalize ties with Israel
After months of deliberations and under US mediation, Sudan is set to announce plans to normalize its ties with Israel, officials privy to the move told Israel Hayom Thursday.

Khartoum is likely to make an official announcement on the issue this coming weekend, the official noted, likely after US President Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, discuss the projected timeline.

As reported in Haaretz daily, a rare direct flight departed from Israel to Khartoum on Wednesday. Israel Hayom learned that it was carrying a high-level Israeli delegation of Prime Minister's Office and Mossad intelligence agency officials, who then met with their Sudanese counterparts in the transitional government.

The delegations were able to then reach a bilateral recognition agreement between Israel and Sudan.

On Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to step away from a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, citing "urgent national needs." It is believed he was called to a briefing on the matter of the official ties with Sudan.

The expected Sudanese announcement of recognizing the Jewish state will join the historic Abraham Accords signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Sept. 15.
Israeli officials said to visit Sudan amid talk of normalization
A high-level Israeli delegation traveled to Sudan this week, amid growing speculation the two countries will soon announce the establishment of diplomatic ties, Army Radio reported on Thursday.

The report did not specify when the trip took place or who visited Khartoum. But it came a day after a business jet was spotted making a highly unusual direct flight from Tel Aviv to Khartoum, and heading back later in the day.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Sudan would soon recognize Israel, as Washington moved to remove the Arab country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Pompeo said that the United States wanted every nation “to recognize Israel, the rightful Jewish homeland, to acknowledge their fundamental right to exist as a country.”

“We are working diligently with them to make the case for why that’s in the Sudanese government’s best interest to make that sovereign decision,” Pompeo told reporters.

“We hope that they’ll do that, and we hope that they’ll do that quickly.”
Overwhelming bipartisan majority support the Abraham Accords
An overwhelming majority of both chambers of Congress have introduced resolutions in support of the Abraham Accords, which normalize ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced Wednesday.

Ninety-one senators co-sponsored a Senate version of the resolution, which congratulates the governments and people of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain on reaching historic agreements. It reaffirms “its strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states – a democratic Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state – living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.”

The resolution also encourages other Arab nations to establish full relations with Israel with the vision of realizing full peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.

The list of cosponsors was not final, and more members might add their names, AIPAC said.

Senate Resolution 709 was introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).

As of Wednesday, on the Democratic side, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had not signed as co-sponsors. On the Republican side, Sen. Ted Cruz had not signed as a co-sponsor.
'We are in negotiations with a few other countries, right now'
US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz, tells Israel Hayom the US is working actively to expand Israel's normalization deals with the Arab world.

Which countries might be next?

That is the question that I get asked most. If I were someone who went to dinner parties, that would be the type of thing that I would be hit with most. Luckily I have been able to avoid meeting too many people. We are in negotiations with a few other countries, right now, time is obviously a relevant component. The beauty of the UAE deal, what was so instrumental about it coming to fruition was the fact that nobody knew about it outside of a very select group of people that worked for Jared and then on the Israeli and UAE side as well. And the surprise factor wasn't just because it allowed us to frame what the actual deal was, in reality, because sometimes what happens is that somebody doesn't like a component of something so that they would just leak out that, which will make it seem like the deal is worse than it actually is, so in addition to that component it also allowed the parties to speak freely amongst each other and if you were to ask us at a specific snapshot it's sort of like us the story I mentioned earlier with Scott, you know we were at 65 percent, you might think that things were going in a bad way, when really, that's just how deals go. They take time and they are up and down and complicated, and I have obviously seen the news stories about Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Oman, and other countries as well, but I prefer to allow whichever countries we may be talking with the privacy to actually really have these free discussions without the fear of things being leaked in ways that could harm the deals.
US, Bahrain to Sign MOU on Combating Antisemitism
The United States and Bahrain are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on combating antisemitism, a senior Trump administration official told JNS.

The three-year MOU, which would be eligible for renewal, will be between the US State Department and the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence to develop and facilitate programs to combat antisemitism and promote peaceful coexistence, according to the official.

The two-page MOU is slated to be signed on Thursday evening in a Washington ceremony that will include US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism Elan Carr and Dr. Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, chairman of the board of trustees of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence in Bahrain.

“The spirit of this cooperation is intended to be guided by the principles of the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration of July 3, 2017,” the MOU states, according to the senior administration official.

That 2017 document states, “For hundreds of years, different religious groups have lived harmoniously, side by side, in the Kingdom of Bahrain, fully practicing the tenets of their respective faiths in blessed, peaceful coexistence with each other. We humbly offer the centuries-old traditional Bahraini way of life as an example to inspire others around these principles.”
Albania Becomes Second Muslim-Majority Nation to Adopt International Antisemitism Definition
Albania’s parliament unanimously approved on Thursday a resolution to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

This made Albania the second Muslim-majority nation to adopt the definition, after neighboring Kosovo.

The US-based Combat Anti-Semitism Movement (CAM) hailed the “landmark” decision and called on other countries to follow suit.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is increasing across the world, the IHRA definition has never been more important,” the director of CAM, Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, stated. “Not only does it spell out exactly what Jew-hatred looks like, but adopting IHRA’s definition makes clear that anti-Semitism has no place in free, democratic and tolerant societies such as Albania.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog commented, “I congratulate the Albanian government on the significant step it has taken in the fight against anti-Semitism. The adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is the most important and effective tool currently in place in the international arena to take practical action against the scourge of anti-Semitism.”

The speaker of the Albanian parliament, Gramoz Ruci, said, “It is good news that we, the Albanians and the peoples of the Western Balkans, a region that has suffered more than any other part of the world, the consequences of ethno-centrist and religious-centrist views and attitudes, join this emancipatory action of contemporary civilization: the fight against anti-Semitism.”
Israel and UAE Open Talks over Oil Pipeline
Israel and the United Arab Emirates have opened talks over an oil pipeline linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, whose operations Israeli officials treat as top secret.

Europe Asia Pipeline Co., controlled by Israel’s government, and UAE-based MED-RED Land Bridge Ltd. signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the transportation of crude and oil products between the Persian Gulf and Western markets, according to an EAPC statement on Tuesday.

The agreement comes after the UAE, OPEC’s third-biggest oil producer, and Israel announced in August they would normalize ties. The two have since discussed establishing embassies, starting direct flights and business deals.

EAPC operates the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, built by Israel and Iran in the 1960s. It has a capacity of 600,000 barrels a day and almost 23 million barrels of storage space. Most oil sent from the Gulf to Europe is either shipped through the Suez Canal or via Egypt’s Sumed pipeline, which can pump 2.5 million barrels daily.
Israel, Bahrain ink agreement for weekly direct flights
Israel and Bahrain signed an aviation agreement on Thursday for weekly direct flights between Tel Aviv and Manama, following the normalization deal inked between the countries last month.

The agreement calls for the two countries to operate up to 14 weekly flights between the airports, as they seek to establish bilateral trade and tourism ties.

The agreement will also enable five weekly cargo flights along with an unlimited number of flights between Manama and Israel’s Ramon Airport, near Eilat, according to a statement from the Israeli Transportation Ministry.

“The historic peace agreements we have brought are advancing rapidly and by huge strides,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement, saying that the aviation deal would “greatly strengthen tourism and trade between [our countries] and all Israeli citizens will benefit from it.”

“This is what real peace looks like: peace for peace, economy for economy,” Netanyahu added, using an oft-repeated slogan to describe the normalization agreement as a paradigm shift from peace deals in exchange for concessions.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev said that the agreement will lead to the eventual formation of “express routes” between the two countries that will allow passengers to travel from Ben Gurion Airport to Manama in roughly three hours.
Gulf media speculates on Israel-Sudan relations, secret Lebanese talks
UAE media is speculating on Israel’s possible relationship with Sudan amid widespread rumors across the Middle East.

An Israeli delegation visited Khartoum on Wednesday to discuss signing a peace agreement between the two countries, “informed Sudanese sources” told Al Ain News, an online news portal based in the UAE.

In addition Kuwait’s Al-Jarida claimed to reveal secret talks between Israel and Lebanon that may predate the recent discussions about demarcating water boundaries.

The anonymous sources quoted by Al Ain News said the delegation, whose composition was not known, “met with the head of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. “The meeting discussed the issue of signing a peace agreement between Tel Aviv [sic] and Khartoum, at a time when the United States announced its intention to remove Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.” The article said the Sudanese government did not confirm the meeting as of press time.

Al Ain News also reported on Israeli media reports about an “imminent peace agreement” between the countries. The agreement would be the third after the UAE announced normalization in August and Bahrain in September. Both agreements have now been signed, and an Israeli delegation visited Bahrain this week and a UAE delegation traveled to Israel. Sudan would be the fifth Arab country to make peace with Israel, Al Ain News said.
MEMRI: Lebanese Journalist Nadim Koteich: The Palestinians Are Foolishly Continuing Their Resistance
Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich mocked a statement by Palestinian ambassador to France in an October 14, 2020 show on Sky News Arabia (UAE). The ambassador had said that the Palestinian resistance has gone on for 100 years, and it will go on for 100 years more. He said that the ambassador is free to pledge another 100 years of resistance because he doesn’t actually have to live in Palestine. Koteich added that the Palestinians received an opportunity to establish a prosperous state in Gaza, after Israel withdrew from the Strip in 2005, however, they destroyed it. Koteich said that the UAE succeeded in turning warring tribes and chiefdoms into a prosperous union, while the Palestinians have done the exact opposite, creating warring factions upon factions. He said that the Palestinians could stand to learn from the UAE, and should not criticize it.

Palestinians: ‘Big disaster’ if we lose Sudan
The possible normalization of relations between Israel and Sudan will have a negative impact on the Palestinian issue, Palestinian officials said on Thursday.

The officials, responding to reports that Sudan may become the third country in recent weeks to establish relations with Israel after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, warned that such a move would serve as another severe blow to the Palestinians.

They claimed that Khartoum has been facing heavy pressure and “blackmail” from the US administration to normalize its relations with Israel in return for removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terror.

“If Sudan joins the train of normalization with Israel, it will be another setback for the Palestinian issue,” a Palestinian Authority official told The Jerusalem Post. “It won’t come as surprise, but Sudan will become the third Arab country to stab the Palestinians in the back and act in violation of Arab consensus and resolutions.”

Earlier this year, Palestinians condemned a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda.

PA officials said that the meeting was held in the context of US President Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”

IDF: Gaza attack tunnel found this week was dug by Hamas
The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday said it determined that an attack tunnel discovered earlier this week from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was dug by the Hamas terror group.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced it had uncovered what it called a “terror tunnel” that had been dug from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis across the border toward the Israeli community of Kibbutz Kissufim.

At the time, the IDF said it was not yet sure which terror group in the Strip had constructed the passage, though Hamas was seen as the likely culprit, having dug the majority of the attack tunnels out of Gaza. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has also been known to construct such passages.

Though the tunnel penetrated dozens of meters into Israeli territory, it remained on the Gaza side of the underground concrete barrier around the Strip. IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the sensor-studded barrier, which is due to be completed in the coming months, first identified an anomaly on Monday and military engineers confirmed that it was in fact a tunnel the following day.

The military said Wednesday night it had determined that Hamas was behind the tunnel based on the manner in which it was constructed. It did not offer any details.

Gaza nurses protest loss of Israeli permit, layoffs
A group of nurses from the Gaza Strip staged a protest in a public square on Wednesday, saying an Israeli travel ban has led the Jerusalem hospital where they worked for many years to fire them.

The seven nurses gathered at a public square in Gaza City, wearing lab coats and holding banners that said: "Firing us is a death sentence on our profession and families."

They directed their anger at both Israel, which restricts the entrance of Palestinians from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip over security concerns, and at the decision by the Makassed hospital to lay them off. Each had worked there for at least 20 years.

"We never expected that Makassed would dismiss us arbitrarily," said Baher Lulu, 53, a critical care nurse who said he joined the hospital 30 years ago, when travel from Gaza to Jerusalem did not require Israeli permission. "This has hurt us and our families, which rely heavily on this income."

The workers said they used to receive renewable three-month permits that allowed them to spend the week at Makassed and return home to Gaza each weekend.

But starting in 2016, they say Israeli authorities gradually stopped issuing permits. By 2019, all of them had lost the permits. The medics say Israel cited security concerns.

The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli defense body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, said it is forced to restrict access because Hamas "does not hesitate to promote terrorism by cynically exploiting the Gaza Strip's population." It said its rules for entry are available on its website, and every permit request "is thoroughly examined by the relevant professionals, subject to security considerations."
Khaled Abu Toameh: Palestinians: What Failure Looks Like
The leaders did not travel to Syria to find ways to help the Palestinians living there.

It is one thing to fail your people by stealing the money that the international community sends to them. But it is another level of unacceptable indifference to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed against your own people by an Arab country.

By praising the Syrian government for "achieving security and stability," the Fatah leaders are actually sending the message to Assad that he can continue to kill, imprison and torture Palestinians by the thousands.

By holding meetings in Damascus without discussing how to help their beleaguered people in Syria, Palestinian leaders are sending the message that thwarting peace plans and condemning Arabs for making peace with Israel take precedence over the safety of their people. In short, this visit marks another star "failure" of the Palestinian leadership.
Israeli MKs: Palestinians Must Make Concessions for Erekat's Treatment

Hariri, Designated Lebanon’s PM Again, Vows to Halt Collapse
Lebanese veteran politician Saad al-Hariri was named prime minister for a fourth time on Thursday and pledged to form a new government that can tackle the country’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

After his nomination, Hariri said he would quickly form a cabinet of specialists “with a mission to enact the economic and financial reforms” set out in a French roadmap to unlock foreign aid.

But he faces major challenges to navigate Lebanon’s sectarian politics to agree a cabinet, which must then fix a mounting list of woes: a banking crisis, currency crash, rising poverty and crippling state debts.

A new government will also have to contend with a COVID-19 surge and the fallout of the huge August explosion at Beirut port that killed nearly 200 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.

At 50, Hariri has already served three terms since 2009 as premier — a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s power-sharing system. His last coalition cabinet was toppled almost exactly a year ago as protests gripped the country, furious at the ruling elite for decades of state graft and waste.

Hariri, the sole candidate in Thursday’s talks, was backed by a majority of parliamentarians.
AJC ad promotes labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization
In a full-page ad in the Oct. 21 edition of the Wall Street Journal, American Jewish Committee (AJC) is calling again on the 27-member European Union (EU) to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The ad is the latest effort in a multi-year, broad-based campaign by the global advocacy organization to raise awareness about the reality of Hezbollah.

"Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, armed and supported by Iran. It has a global – and deadly – reach from Europe to North and South America, from Africa to Asia, and across the Middle East … Yet, defying all logic, the European Union insists there are actually two Hezbollahs – one 'political,' the other 'military,'" the ad reads.
Estonia imposes sanctions on Hezbollah
The Baltic country of Estonia imposed sanctions on the Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist organization Hezbollah, following a proposal of the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in response to acts of terrorism committed by the group, according to a government press release on Thursday.

“Hezbollah poses a considerable threat to international – and thereby Estonian – security. With this step, Estonia stands by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania as well as other countries who have concluded that Hezbollah uses terrorist means and constitutes a threat to the security of many states,” Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said.

The sanctions will entail restrictions of entry to anyone associated with the terrorist group, on the basis that there are reasonable grounds to believe that their activity supports terrorism, and pose a threat to Estonians as well as international security.

A detailed list of persons affiliated with Hezbollah is expected to be subjected to Estonian government sanctions, which will be determined by the foreign minister after coming into force on Thursday.

Iran to Import North Korean Long-Range Missiles
Following the end of the UN embargo on Iran buying or selling weapons, the military component of a 25-year deal between China and Iran may now feature the deployment in Iran of North Korean weaponry and technology, in exchange for oil, according to sources close to the Iranian government.

This would include Hwasong-12 mobile ballistic missiles, with a range of 4,500 km., and the development of liquid propellant rocket engines suitable for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

As recorded in Jane's Intelligence Reviews, over the first five-year period from the onset of Iran's ballistic missile program in 1987, Iran bought up to 300 Scud B missiles from North Korea.

Pyongyang was also instrumental in helping Iran to build a Scud B missile plant that became operational in 1988. Iranian personnel traveled to North Korea for training in the operation and manufacture of these missiles.

In addition, up to 130 officers from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps receive training every year at various military institutions in China.
US intelligence says Iran sending emails, trying to intimidate American voters
US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for US President Donald Trump.

The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.

The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.

“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.

“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”

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