Fdd's overnight brief

April 13, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


U.S. negotiators prepared to resume indirect talks with Iran this week in hopes that an attack on a key Iranian nuclear facility, widely attributed to Israel, would not derail the nascent effort at diplomacy. – Washington Post

An intelligence official who asked not to be identified in order to discuss clandestine operations said an explosive device had been smuggled into the Natanz plant, was detonated remotely, and took out both the primary and backup electrical systems. – New York Times

The alleged Israeli attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility destroyed an electrical substation located 40 to 50 meters underground, Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told Iranian media on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Israel made a “very bad gamble” if it believed its alleged sabotage at the Natanz nuclear plant would stop efforts to lift US sanctions on Tehran. – Times of Israel

Iran said on Monday it had identified the person who disrupted flow of power at the Natanz nuclear facility that led to electricity outage in the site, Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Iran has never given up efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and that Israel will not allow Tehran to build them. – Reuters

The European Union has imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia commanders and police chiefs, including the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, over a deadly crackdown in November 2019, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Monday. – Reuters

The White House on Monday denied having played any role in a power outage at an Iranian nuclear site and declined to comment on whether Israeli sabotage was to blame or whether the incident might impair efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – Reuters

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said Moscow expected the Iranian nuclear deal to be saved and condemned EU sanctions against Iran, saying they could undermine sensitive nuclear talks. – Agence France-Presse

A recent series of reports attributing a number of attacks on Iranian targets to Israel has security officials concerned, as well as suspicious that there are political officials who want to exploit tensions with Iran for personal needs and competition for prestige among different security agencies. – Haaretz

Iranian intelligence services used fake Instagram accounts to try and lure Israelis to meetings overseas, with the goal of harming or kidnapping them, the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad spy agency said Monday. – Haaretz

Thanks to a rare glimpse inside the Islamic Republic of Iran’s vast penal establishment in Tehran, Fox News has obtained exclusive information about Iranians condemned to harsh sentences for mere contact with Israelis, including, for one, a betrayal by Turkish intelligence — an alleged ally of the U.S.  – Fox News

The attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear site at the weekend, for which Washington has claimed no involvement, is likely to complicate US-Iran talks but will not sabotage them altogether, experts said on Monday. – The National 

Bobby Ghosh writes: The risk of Iranian retaliation for Natanz is hard to gauge: Tehran has a long list of unavenged affronts. […]Until now, Israel’s attacks have exacted remarkably little collateral damage among the Iranian populace. Nor have Iran and its proxies claimed casualties among Israelis. But as the hostilities escalate, so too will the likelihood that blood will be spilled. That, more than anything else, should be at the top of the minds of the diplomats heading to Jerusalem, Tehran and Vienna this week. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: There is a widespread belief in Western policy circles that Iranian elections matter. While the personality of the president does matter, Iranian elections are not about popular will. The Defense Ministry, for example, issued a statement just two weeks ago explaining that it was permissible for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to intervene in politics “to help realize the system’s strategies in elections.” – The National Interest


The global chemical weapons watchdog has “reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria’s air force dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighbourhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region in February 2018, a report released on Monday said. – Reuters

In Syria’s coastal towns, memorials to dead soldiers mark the sacrifice made by the Alawi minority to defend President Bashar al-Assad, also an Alawi. But, more than a decade since the civil war began, his regime is struggling to keep even the lights on in his heartland. – Financial Times

Diana Darke writes: But once Assad and his dynasty are gone, the Muslim-majority Syrian society will, in time, revert to its natural state of tolerance and co-existence with religious minorities, given the chance. It is the default position of every Syrian I know. All of them mourn the current triumph of Assad’s mock-secular sectarianism and pray collectively for its speedy passing. – Middle East Institute


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey and Libya were committed to a 2019 maritime demarcation accord in the eastern Mediterranean, after meeting Libya’s Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh in Ankara. – Reuters

Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, said Foreign Minister Marc Garneau. – Reuters

A lawyer for Halkbank told a U.S. appeals court on Monday that the state-owned Turkish lender was immune from U.S. prosecution and that an indictment accusing it of helping Iran evade American sanctions should be thrown out. – Reuters


Mansour Abbas controls four seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament through his Islamist party, Ra’am. He is the first leader of an Arab-Israeli party to declare he would support any government ready to help the country’s disadvantaged Arab minority and, after March’s close-fought election—the country’s fourth in two years—again left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggling to cobble together a ruling coalition, he could make an unlikely kingmaker. – Wall Street Journal

Former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was elected to be head of the Palestinian Islamist group’s office in the diaspora, a spokesman said on Monday. – Reuters

A new report by Israel’s National Cyber Directorate shows that most cyberattacks on Israeli targets in 2020 were in the fields of technology, energy and government agencies and lays out a plan for addressing a massive attack on the country. – Haaretz

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar asked whether the “Neo-Arab-Zionist” regimes ask themselves about the reasons for the Holocaust. […]He said that the Holocaust was not an “extraordinary” case, because all European countries deported the Jews and killed them, because they spread corruption, controlled their money, and collaborated with the enemy. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hosting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at his office in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel and the US agree on never allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. – Times of Israel

Days after resuming US funding for the troubled UN agency that administers to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, the Biden administration says it has the commitment of UNRWA to “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism, racism or discrimination. – Times of Israel

The attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility is casting a major shadow over Tuesday’s resumption of indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran over resurrection of the international accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Israel Mohamed al Khaja visited the Start-Up Nation Central headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Emily Schrader writes: For many of the Israeli participants, they were surprised to find just how comfortable they felt in Dubai – a stark contrast to traveling to other Arab countries. […]This peace, at its core, is successful because there is a people-to-people connection. But it’s important to note that there is people-to-people connection only because the UAE has fostered an environment that is completely different from what we’ve seen with previous peace agreements, and that is precisely the reason it’s working so well. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Monday approved a draft decree expanding the country’s claims in a dispute with Israel over their maritime border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area. – Reuters

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement said on Monday it had fired 17 drones and two ballistic missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia, including Saudi Aramco facilities in Jubail and Jeddah. – Reuters

Libyan authorities released one of the country’s most wanted human traffickers less than four months after his arrest in Tripoli, security officials said Monday. Abdel-Rahman Milad, who was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, walked free Sunday, following a decision by prosecutors late last month, they said. – Associated Press

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Russia discussed trade and other ties between the two nations Monday, with Egypt’s top diplomat urging Moscow to help settle Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam project. – Associated Press

Jordanian King Abdullah II’s half-brother Prince Hamzah, allegedly involved in a plot to destabilize the country, will not face trial, the prime minister told a closed session of parliament Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to provide Jordan with additional water in a sign that Israel’s crisis with the Hashemite Kingdom has ended. – Jerusalem Post

Sadik Rddad writes: With a popular anti-normalization movement unlikely to arise, Morocco now has an opportunity. It is a sort of neutral actor in the Arab-Israeli conflict, given that it is located thousands of kilometers away from the real site of conflict. Along with the presence of the large Moroccan Jewish community in Israel, Morocco could build on its current decision and work towards serving as a mediator to play some role in reaching a fair, lasting, and comprehensive solution between Arabs and Israelis. – Washington Institute


China’s fast-moving campaign to curb the power of internet giants has hit its latest mark: Ant Group, the fintech sister company of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba. Ant announced on Monday that it would undertake a sweeping, government-ordered overhaul of its business to allay regulators’ concerns about the way it competes with rivals, its large-scale collection of user data and the risks its business may pose to the wider financial system. – New York Times 

China told the United States on Tuesday to stop playing with fire over Taiwan and lodged a complaint after Washington issued guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from the island that China claims as its own. – Reuters

Michael Chertoff and N. MacDonnell Ulsch write: A failure by the United States and its allies to act could allow the Chinese party-state to continue to improve its repressive AI-based technology, persecuting religious and ethnic minorities, and exporting homegrown methods of repression even more aggressively than it does now. Such a scenario can and must be avoided. – Washington Post

South Asia

International efforts to broker a peace settlement in Afghanistan suffered a setback on Monday after the Taliban backed out of participating in a U.S.-backed summit that was slated to start later this week in Turkey, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Two demonstrators and a policeman were killed Tuesday in violent clashes between Islamists and police in Pakistan, hours after authorities arrested the head of an Islamist party in the eastern city of Lahore, a senior official and local media reported. – Associated Press

A Pakistani court Monday granted bail to a civil rights activist and teacher more than two months after he was arrested on charges of terror financing and sedition, his lawyer said. – Associated Press


The Japanese government said Tuesday it had decided to release into the sea more than 1 million tons of water that has collected at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, despite opposition from fishermen, nearby countries and environmental groups. – Washington Post

Myanmar’s detained government leader Aung San Suu Kyi asked a court on Monday to be allowed to meet her lawyers in person when she appeared at a hearing via video link to face charges brought by the military junta that could see her jailed for years. – Reuters

Twenty-five Chinese air force aircraft including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday, the island’s government said, the largest reported incursion to date. – Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reappeared in public on Monday after an absence of nearly two weeks which had fuelled concerns about his health that the government insists are unfounded. – Reuters

The United States on Tuesday said Japan “appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards” in its decision to release water contaminated at the wrecked Fukushima atomic power station following treatment. – Reuters

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s legislative elections will take place in December, more than a year after they were postponed by authorities citing public health risks from the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

The Philippines has deployed extra vessels to patrol the South China Sea where Chinese ships had been spotted at a disputed reef as tensions deepen between the two nations. – Bloomberg

Wallace C. Gregson Jr. and Jeffrey W. Hornung write: While it is still unknown what results the posture review will bring, the recent 2+2 meeting in Tokyo demonstrated that the alliance is stronger than ever given the common positions shown on China and the need to find ways to bolster the alliance. That strength, combined with an increased proactiveness by Japan, means that it is possible that Japan could see an uptick in U.S. military presence after this review is complete. – War on the Rocks

Michael Rubin writes: All indications are that the Biden administration will recognize the Armenian genocide more than a century after it occurred. […]Genocide recognition is important but it is not enough. With dictators to both Armenia’s east and west, it is essential to recognize that the threat of a century ago continues to the present day. Empty rhetoric can carry a huge cost. – The National Interest

Seth Cropsey and Harry Halem write: Besides destroying a flourishing democracy, the fall of Taiwan would end the U.S.’ pre-eminence as the great Pacific power as other American partners and allies shifted reliance on security and economic arrangements to China. Now is the time to increase U.S. deterrence in the West Pacific, not diminish it. – RealClear Policy


Staff at the Russian prison holding hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny are threatening to force feed him, his allies said on Monday, warning he had lost 15 kg since he arrived at the facility last month. – Reuters

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg discussed the Russian military buildup near Ukraine and other issues on Monday before the top U.S. diplomat’s trip to Brussels this week. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight on Monday with a pledge that Moscow would remain a key space and nuclear power. – Reuters

Kyiv has accused Moscow of blocking attempts to begin talks aimed at calming military tensions sparked by the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border. – Financial Times

The Group of 7 foreign ministers on Monday released a statement calling on Russia to “cease its provocations” on the Ukraine-Russia border. – The Hill

Editorial: Most Americans haven’t noticed, but the world is becoming a more dangerous place by the day. The hottest current spot is Russia’s border with Ukraine and the Black Sea, where the Kremlin has amassed more forces than any time since its invasion of the Donbass region when Joe Biden was Vice President. Vladimir Putin’s ambitions aren’t clear, though some think he wants to control the entire Black Sea coast, further squeezing Ukraine. An invasion to grab more Ukrainian territory is also possible. – Wall Street Journal

Ben Hall writes: The Ukrainian leader needs the Americans more involved, says Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the New Europe Centre think-tank in Kyiv. Biden has offered Ukraine “unwavering” US support. But what that means is also unclear. Further economic sanctions seem likely, military aid less so. – Financial Times


Adding to the world’s sectarian flash points, the British territory of Northern Ireland has roared back into the news, its relative calm punctured by violent rioting among groups that had made peace 23 years ago. The reasons for the breakdown are intertwined with Britain’s exit from the European Union and the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Brussels on Tuesday to join Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in consulting with NATO allies and partners on range of priorities, the Department of State said on Monday. – Reuters

Britain and the European Union are slowly working to overcome differences regarding trade flows between Northern Ireland and the British mainland after a month-long legal dispute and more than a week of rioting in the province. – Reuters

U.N. prosecutors told judges Monday that two former Serbian security officials who served under Slobodan Milosevic helped train and equip ethnic Serbs to conduct brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns against non-Serbs in the 1990s Yugoslav conflict. – Reuters

Ukraine accused the Kremlin on Monday of ignoring its request for talks between the two countries’ presidents over a build-up of Russian troops near its border, but Moscow said its soldiers were on its own territory, unlike U.S. forces in the region. – Reuters

Officials close to Angela Merkel are worried that her conservative bloc risks losing the German chancellery in September’s election with the two contenders to lead the ticket heading for a potentially damaging showdown on Tuesday afternoon. – Reuters

The Irish and British governments have demonstrated a “hands-off” approach to Northern Ireland down through the years, Michelle O’Neill has said. The deputy first minister said it is time for both governments to re-engage, saying the peace process needs to be “nurtured”. – BBC

The foreign minister of Germany was criticized on Monday after he expressed disapproval of the sabotaging over the weekend of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which has been widely attributed to Israel. – Associated Press

The trial of 11 suspected members of a far-right “terror” group opens in the German city of Stuttgart on Tuesday. The suspects, aged between 32 and 61, were arrested in February last year. – BBC

Politicians in Berlin are calling for an outright ban on this year’s “Al Quds Day” March and rally currently scheduled to take place in the German capital on May 8. Sponsored by the Iranian regime, the annual event calling for Israel’s destruction takes place in Tehran and several other cities, prominently featuring the flag of Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy Shi’a terrorist organization in Lebanon, which is banned in Germany and other European nations. – Algemeiner


Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a high-level review of an initial military investigation into an attack on a Kenyan base by Islamic extremists in January 2020 that left three Americans dead, the Pentagon said on Monday. – New York Times

Advanced talks are underway between Khartoum and Jerusalem for a Sudanese security delegation to visit Israel in the near future, the Kan public broadcaster reported. – Times of Israel

Mogadishu’s police chief announced he had suspended parliament on Monday, saying he was acting unilaterally to prevent lawmakers from extending the president’s term, only to be fired moments later by the police commissioner. – Reuters

Both Taiwan and Somaliland are basically fully functioning territories which proudly declare their independence but neither is recognised internationally and now, as Mary Harper reports, they are moving closer together. – BBC News

Alex de Waal writes: It is not too late to turn the country back from its track towards famine, protracted conflict and impoverishment. […]The directors of the World Bank and IMF cannot shy away from these hard issues when they consider Ethiopian requests for additional funds over the coming weeks. They should not fund Ethiopia’s self-destruction, but instead use their leverage to insist on an end to war and starvation. – Financial Times

The Americas

The election of a market-friendly banker to Ecuador’s presidency will provide a new ally for the U.S. in Latin America, a region awash with populist leaders whose priorities often don’t align with Washington’s. But Guillermo Lasso, who on Sunday handily beat his leftist rival, will also need to court the Biden administration’s biggest rival, China. […]Ecuador is now so saddled with debt to Beijing that public coffers are nearly empty, forcing the country to restructure debt with private creditors and take a $6.5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. – Wall Street Journal

Foreign spying and interference in Canada last year hit levels not seen since the Cold War, in part because of vulnerabilities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the main Canadian spy agency said on Monday. – Reuters

The White House on Monday said it had reached agreements with Mexico and other Central American countries to step up military presence at their borders in an effort to stem migration to the U.S. – The Hill


President Biden said on Monday that he would nominate Chris Inglis, a 28-year veteran of the National Security Agency, to be the first national cyber director, choosing a longtime proponent of doing more to harden government and industry computer systems against hacks and other online intrusions. – New York Times

President Joe Biden used a virtual meeting with corporate leaders about a global shortage of semiconductors to push Monday for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, telling them that the U.S. should be the world’s computer chip leader. – Associated Press

U.S. intelligence chiefs will testify together publicly for the first time in more than two years as the Biden administration confronts early tests of its approach to evolving threats, from Russia’s SolarWinds attack and Chinese espionage to the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. – Reuters


The submarine community honed a tight spiral development process for bringing in new hardware and software every few years, which other communities have tried to emulate – but today, the surface community is ditching the development cycle altogether, with the standup of The Forge software factory that promises solutions to the fleet’s problems in months or weeks instead of years, one admiral told USNI News. – USNI News

French-led exercise La Pérouse was “notable” because ships from the U.S., France, Japan, Australia and India “were able to quickly aggregate into a multi-national, maritime force,” said Cmdr. Dave Kurtz, who commands San Diego, Calif.-based Somerset. “Out here at sea, it is truly an honor to work alongside each of these partner nations as we learn to be stronger together as a force.” – USNI News

Destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) pulled into Naval Station Rota, Spain over the weekend as it officially becomes part of the Forward Deployed Naval Force-Europe (FDNF-E). – USNI News

A new set of mechanical issues are extending repairs on an almost 30-year-old guided-missile cruiser that has been sidelined since February, USNI News learned on Monday. – USNI News

Paratroopers testing the Army’s latest communications equipment jumped into a sprawling field surrounded by dense woods and moved north upon landing in an effort to secure the area. – C4ISRNet

As it gears up for its 2022 budget battle, the Navy has signaled it is time to move on and phase out the cruisers to make room for the next-generation Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, even if it means shrinking the fleet in the near term. The Flight III doesn’t solve the Navy’s missile problem, but it does have enough space onboard (it’s about 400 tons heavier than its Flight IIA counterparts) to house the air warfare command role that currently belongs to the cruisers. – Defense News