Fdd's overnight brief

April 14, 2021

In The News


Iran will start enriching some of its stock of uranium to 60% for the first time, one of Iran’s leading nuclear negotiators said Tuesday, after an attack on its main nuclear facility. – Wall Street Journal

Iran has in recent months stopped adhering to several key provisions in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, reducing the time it would need to produce a nuclear weapon. These steps away from the deal, a response to U.S. sanctions, have put at risk the survival of an agreement that helped remove sanctions on Iran and open it to business with the West. – Wall Street Journal

With Iran nuclear talks, albeit indirect, once again underway, some of the faces at the bargaining table remain the same, but circumstances have changed drastically since the 2015 nuclear deal came into force. – Washington Post

Iran’s position in nuclear negotiations with the US and the world powers is being heavily influenced by the expectation that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will die soon, former Trump administration national security advisor Lt.-Gen. H.R. McMaster told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that a bomb that caused severe damage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility was likely placed there more than a decade ago, waiting for the right time to be detonated. – Times of Israel

A senior Iranian official confirmed Tuesday that the blast at the Natanz nuclear facility, which Tehran blames on Israel, destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. – Times of Israel 

France said on Tuesday it was coordinating a response with world powers, including the United States, after Iran said it would begin enriching uranium at 60%. – Reuters

The White House says it remains committed to nuclear negotiations with Iran despite Tehran’s “provocative” statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment. – Agence France-Presse

The Biden administration won’t say whether Washington had advance notice of an attack on Iran’s underground nuclear fuel-production center at Natanz that some experts say is a major setback for Tehran. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: Don’t count on the Europeans to push Mr. Biden in the right direction. Desperate to do business in Iran and not as threatened as Israel and Saudi Arabia—countries that oppose the deal—they’re likely to accept a flawed accord to open Tehran up to European firms. Once Iran gets sanctions relief, it has little reason to negotiate new limits on its behavior. As the rush to return to a bad deal continues, expect Israel and the Gulf Arabs to do more to protect themselves from what they rightly judge is a flawed deal that will eventually allow a nuclear Iran. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The Biden administration should resist overreacting to the prospect of an authoritarian alliance. […]Indirect talks between Washington and Tehran in Vienna last week were a good start. Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal under acceptable terms should be a priority. But the Sino-Iranian agreement is a timely reminder for America that the end of its longest wars will not — and should not — mean the end of its involvement in the region. – Financial Times

John Bolton writes: The Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS remain dangerous threats, but Iran is today’s main source of terrorism, both direct and through proxies, compounded by the Quds Force’s extensive conventional military presence around the Middle East. Equally important, the Biden administration’s dangerously visible yearning to renew the Iran nuclear deal highlights why the relevant intelligence testimony warrants careful scrutiny. […]This week’s hearing should be lengthy, and will provide the measures to score the Biden administration’s attitudes toward intelligence. I for one am nervous. – Wall Street Journal

Jon Gambrell writes: The debate over how much power the Guard should wield in Iran’s politics is as old as the Islamic Republic itself. Yet the force has been able to portray itself as the country’s defender through mass media on Iranian state television. Private local channels don’t exist. […]The election may soon see more people soon asking that question publicly. – Associated Press

Emil Avdaliani writes: But focusing on China’s agreement with Iran does not reveal the full picture. Beijing has set its sights on the entire Middle East. The Iran agreement does not mean cooperation only with the Islamic Republic. For Beijing, Iran is but one piece on the chessboard. […]For the US, the effects of the agreement are not yet entirely clear. What is undeniable is the fact that China has acted at a time when the US is winding down its presence in the Middle East and America’s ties with Arab states have come into question. – Algemeiner

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Iran clearly, however, has the capability to develop genetically advanced biological weapons, and its UCAVs and drones can easily be adapted to create highly effective and advanced line source systems for dispensing chemical and biological weapons. Covertly testing and weaponizing such agents is at least possible, and advanced biological weapons do have nuclear levels of lethality and could present major problems in detection until the results become apparent as mass casualties. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Peter Brookes and James Phillips write: Stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a clear national security imperative for the United States—and others. So, too, is preventing Iran from developing the means to deliver these weapons to potential targets in the region—or beyond, including the United States. […]Iran’s missile programs are an increasing threat to America’s national interests and those of U.S. allies and other partners in the Middle East. Failing to deal with Iran’s growing missile arsenal will only elevate the risk of crisis and conflict. – Heritage Foundation

Mohammed Baharoon writes: The prospect of creating a direct trading link between Iran and China seem likely either to force the U.S. to increase the intensity of sanctions on both Iran and China or to flip the other way and expedite the lifting of “maximum pressure” on Iran rather than trying to increase the pressure on China to comply. […]As vague and non-specific as the Chinese new diplomatic approach to Middle East may seem, it could offer a new approach to addressing the chronic challenges of Iran. – Middle East Institute

Farzin Nadimi writes: Ultimately, the extent of the damage to the Saviz might require substantial shoreside repairs and possible withdrawal to Iran. If so, Tehran may decide to maintain the station by deploying one of its new, more heavily armed floating sea bases such as the Shahid Roudaki (IRGC Navy) or Makran (Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, or IRIN). That would mean a substantial, formal Iranian military presence in the Red Sea—a scenario that Israel and other regional powers would find very hard to swallow. – Washington Institute


An Israeli-owned ship called the Hyperion was attacked near the shores of the Fujairah emirate in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, according to reports in Lebanon. The attack came a day after Iran vowed to avenge the explosion at its Natanz nuclear facility, which it blamed on Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas will not withdraw from the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary election despite the arrest of some if its members and candidates in the West Bank by the IDF, officials of the terror group said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Following the release of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam’s killer, a bill has been signed on Wednesday by 42 Knesset members to strip citizenship from Israeli residents or citizens who have served in prison for an act of terrorism and have received monetary support from the Palestinian Authority, The Jerusalem Post’s sister newspaper Maariv reported. – Jerusalem Post

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed in a letter revealed Tuesday that the United Kingdom opposes the International Criminal Court investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel. – Algemeiner

However, since the January 2021 announcement of the election dates, concerns have been raised that this time Israel will not allow them to be held in East Jerusalem, on the grounds that this constitutes a violation of its sovereignty over the city and due to its objection to Hamas’ participation in the elections. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Amos Harel writes: What’s happening now is somewhat reminiscent of what happened in Gaza seven years ago. Then, like now, Israel didn’t set goals, examine alternatives or prepare exit plans. Now, too, it is being dragged toward conflict by constantly escalating the blows it deals the enemy. Later, people will talk about a miscalculation in which neither side actually wanted war. […]The deal’s other signatories support the Biden administration’s position. Thus Israel may once again find itself isolated, with the Iranian nuclear threat downgraded from a global problem to an Israeli one. – Haaretz

Gulf States

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Japanese space company iSpace will transport a United Arab emirates rover to the moon in 2022, the company announced on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House are calling for the Biden administration to tell Saudi Arabia to lift its sea blockade of Yemen, saying the embargo on key ports of entry is a direct cause of the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

The Kurdistan Regional Government released an official statement Wednesday denying reports in pro-Iranian media that “unknown forces” had attacked a Mossad facility and killed Israelis in northern Iraq. – Times of Israel

Egypt has seized the container ship that last month blocked the Suez Canal, the vessel’s owner said Tuesday, amid a dispute over how much compensation the country is owed following the weeklong shutdown of the waterway. – Wall Street Journal

Greece and Libya have agreed to hold talks on marking out their maritime zones in the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said on Wednesday, after a meeting with the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed al-Menfi. – Reuters 

Stefano Graziosi and James Jay Carafano write: There are at least three reasons Draghi could be the catalyst to turn U.S.-Italian cooperation into practical results. First, Washington is likely to consider him more reliable on this matter than French President Macron, especially because of the past French support of Haftar. Second, Washington appears to be taking a harder line toward Moscow. Meanwhile, relations between Moscow and Rome are frostier. […]It needs a strong European voice to help build momentum in addressing the challenges of the Great Middle East. Now is the time for the United States and Italy to accelerate their dialogue on how to help the people of Libya. – The National Interest


China’s effort to expand its growing influence represents one of the largest threats to the United States, according to a major annual intelligence report released on Tuesday, which also warned of the broad national security challenges posed by Moscow and Beijing. – New York Times

A former U.S. senator and two former U.S. deputy secretaries of state are traveling to Taiwan, leading the first unofficial delegation dispatched by the Biden administration, amid heightened tensions with Beijing over the future of the self-ruling island. – Wall Street Journal

China described its military exercises near Taiwan as “combat drills” on Wednesday, hours before the arrival of senior former U.S. officials in Taipei on a trip to signal President Joe Biden’s commitment to Taiwan and its democracy. – Reuters

China’s record imports of Iranian crude in recent months has squeezed out supply from rival producers, forcing sellers of oil from countries such as Brazil, Angola and Russia to slash prices and divert shipments to India and Europe. – Reuters

US climate envoy John Kerry will visit China this week in the first trip there by the Biden administration, which says it will find areas of cooperation with Beijing despite soaring tensions on multiple fronts. – Agence France-Presse

China’s tech companies have been given a month to fix anti-competitive practices and publicly pledge to follow the rules or risk suffering the same fate as ecommerce group Alibaba, which was fined $2.8bn at the weekend. – Financial Times

China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges — the world’s largest power station — stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India. – Agence France-Presse

Joseph Bosco writes: President Biden has put Beijing on its back foot by adhering rigorously to the Trump administration’s historic shift to a policy of defiance against China’s onslaught on Western interests and values. Since the inauguration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have embraced, and greatly expanded, their predecessors’ sporadic efforts at multilateral cooperation and emphasis on human rights in meeting the China threat. – The Hill


President Biden will withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively winding down the war there two decades after it began, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The easy, obvious and probably inevitable legacy of America’s two-decade-long war in Afghanistan is the recognition that there are limits to U.S. military power, especially when it comes to altering the culture and internal politics of other countries. – Washington Post

Editorial: After a brief and seemingly halfhearted effort at diplomacy, Mr. Biden has decided on unconditional withdrawal, a step that may spare the United States further costs and lives but will almost certainly be a disaster for the country’s 39 million people — and, in particular, its women. It could lead to the reversal of the political, economic and social progress for which the United States fought for two decades, at a cost of more than 2,000 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. – Washington Post

Editorial: Mr. Biden’s advisers say that while the Taliban is a problem, the U.S. can still strike terrorists with standoff weapons and can better use limited resources to deter China and Russia. The U.S. will maintain some counterterrorism capabilities. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq showed the limits of what can be done without a physical presence. Congress should ask some hard questions of U.S. military leaders, who need to level with Americans about the security risks of withdrawal. – Wall Street Journal

David Ignatius writes: Biden decided this week that Afghanistan’s fate, in the end, will be determined by its people. Those who suspect that the country will quickly tumble back into the Middle Ages and a primitive version of Islam are wrong, I suspect. […]The real test of Biden’s policy is whether the core national interest he has embraced — of limiting U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to preventing another 9/11-type attack on the homeland — can be achieved without U.S. troops on the ground. – Washington Post

Max Boot writes: Beyond the strategic risk to the United States of a precipitous withdrawal, there is the undoubted risk to all of the Afghans who have risked life and limb to build a new country since 2001. […]If Biden pulls out as planned in September absent a binding peace settlement, he will be consigning them to the same fate as our abandoned South Vietnamese allies. The fall of Kabul could be as ugly as the fall of Saigon. – Washington Post

Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt write: Now President Biden’s decision to withdraw military forces has prompted a central question: Will the threat of terrorism against America re-emerge from Afghanistan? The answer is no, at least not right away. But over the longer term, the question is far more difficult to answer. The United States could find itself pulled back into Afghanistan much as it was in Iraq, some current and former officials warned. – New York Times 

Eli Lake writes: President Joe Biden has chosen to finish what his predecessor started in Afghanistan and surrender to the Taliban. Unlike former President Donald Trump, however, Biden may not even have the so-called peace process in Afghanistan to point to as an excuse for abandoning an elected Afghan government made possible by American blood and treasure. […]In practice, that means the Biden administration expects to base an arsenal of drones, sensors and counterterrorism personnel in Pakistan, from where it can launch strikes on al Qaeda in Afghanistan. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Biden’s decision is a terrible mistake. Don’t expect the editorial pages to lament Biden’s choice as they did Trump’s. Regardless, what the president has done will seriously damage America’s moral authority and our security. The paper tiger has finally been crumpled. NATO partners just waiting for an excuse to walk away now have it. Xi Jinping will surely take note of this new proof that America has limited staying power in a multigeneration struggle such as the one he is pursuing. – Washington Examiner

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: The U.S. needs to make it clear that its aid and support will now be ruthlessly conditional on the competence and integrity with which it is used. […]The key issue in allocating U.S. aid is never how many people or nations need help. It is always what nations and how many people will actually benefit from U.S. help. Conditionality is the core tool in providing U.S. support, and it is the key way of sending the message that failed and corrupt governments will be treated accordingly. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


A small but growing contingent no longer believes peaceful resistance is tenable, and they are turning to the many armed groups in the nation’s borderlands for help. These groups belong to Myanmar’s ethnic minorities and have fought the military in long-running civil wars in their quest for greater autonomy. – Wall Street Journal

On Tuesday, when Japan officially announced that it would put the plan into action, the knives came out. South Korea denounced it as “utterly intolerable” and summoned the Japanese ambassador. China cited “grave concerns.” Taiwan also raised strong objections. – New York Times 

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar splashed the colour red on Wednesday, the second day of the traditional new year holiday, in the latest phase of their campaign to restore democracy. – Reuters

Taiwan said on Wednesday its chip companies will adhere to U.S. rules after Washington added seven Chinese supercomputing entities last week to an economic blacklist and after a Taipei-based chipmaker halted orders from one of the entities named. – Reuters

Former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday, on a trip that has angered Beijing. – Reuters

The Philippines filed fresh diplomatic protests to China on Wednesday after accusing its giant neighbor of undertaking illegal fishing and massing more than 240 boats within the Southeast Asian country’s territorial waters. – Reuters 

Hong Kong’s electoral reform bill was introduced in the city’s legislature on Wednesday, setting in motion changes that will give Beijing greater control over the process while reducing the number of directly elected representatives. – Associated Press

The UN rights chief warned Tuesday of possible crimes against humanity in Myanmar and said it seemed to be heading towards a massive conflict like the one ravaging Syria. – Agence France-Presse

North Korea could resume nuclear tests this year as a way to force President Joe Biden’s administration to enter into dialogue, US intelligence experts said in a report released Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The operator of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant has been prevented from restarting its only operable atomic facility after a series of safety breaches, dealing a significant blow to Japanese attempts to resume nuclear power generation. – The Guardian 

The US is urging Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga to issue a joint statement of support for Taiwan amid rising Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region when he becomes the first foreign leader to meet President Joe Biden on Friday. – Financial Times

Kenneth R. Weinstein writes: The U.S. should deepen defense industrial cooperation further to meet the China challenge through co-development of next-generation defense capabilities. […]Japan has found its voice with its blunt criticism of Xi’s increasingly aggressive and repressive actions. There is no better moment for Japan to move toward greater security engagement on its own behalf. – Dallas Morning News


President Biden on Tuesday proposed that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a summit in a third country in the coming months, a personal invitation that came in the midst of a conversation addressing deep differences, including Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s defense minister said Tuesday that the country’s massive military buildup in the west was part of readiness drills amid what he described as threats from NATO. – Associated Press

When war between government troops and Russian-backed separatists erupted in eastern Ukraine seven years ago, Ukrainian soldiers fought in tattered sneakers and donated flak jackets while their inexperienced commanders often waffled —sometimes with deadly consequences. Today, the military is battle-hardened and better equipped, thanks to years of low-intensity conflict and increasing domestic and foreign support. – Politico

President Joe Biden’s administration is “utterly senseless” to seek any new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program or military apparatus, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. – Washington Examiner

The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was premature to talk in tangible terms about a possible meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, who has proposed the two leaders meet. – Reuters 

James Stavridis writes: Will Putin actually invade again? The good news is that it seems less likely than in 2014. The Ukrainian armed forces are better armed and trained, largely with U.S. assistance. But with Putin, you never know — and he may believe the U.S. domestic turbulence and division, coupled with the obvious challenges of the pandemic on both sides of the Atlantic, are sufficient distractions. He’s made similar bets before — in Syria and Georgia as well as Crimea — and is willing to take a chance and deal with the consequences later. – Bloomberg


The United States and NATO, anxious about a major Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, signaled strong support for the Kyiv government on Tuesday. – New York Times

Russia tried for the first time Tuesday to prevent Kosovo’s representative from speaking at the U.N. Security Council with the country’s flag in the background, saying the majority of council members don’t recognize its independence from Serbia. – Associated Press

The EU’s defence chief has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has weakened the ability of militaries to respond to security threats, calling for a greater focus on technology and expanding international maritime co-operation. – Financial Times

The United Kingdom’s plan to increase its nuclear warhead stockpile will not be impacted should the U.S. scrap a new submarine-launched nuclear warhead, a British Ministry of Defence official said Tuesday. – Defense News

The 500 additional Army personnel the Pentagon ordered to Europe on Tuesday will make up two new units designed to bolster the long-range offensive capabilities of U.S. forces on the continent. – Military.com


The United States is “deeply disappointed” by Somalia’s approval of legislation that extends the terms of the president and members of parliament by two years, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

Almost one million people face severe hunger in northern Mozambique, where hundreds of thousands have fled Islamist militant attacks, the United Nations food agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hal Brands writes: The situation in Africa is a warning that the global war on terrorism may not be done with America, even if America wishes to be done with it. – Bloomberg

The Americas

The government of Guatemala on Tuesday pushed back against claims from the White House earlier this week that it had signed an agreement with the U.S. to increase security at their border. – The Hill

Venezuela’s government wants funds frozen in the United States to be put toward paying for coronavirus vaccines and will keep working with the opposition to negotiate this payment, the head of the government-controlled legislature said on Tuesday. – Reuters


The global semiconductor shortage hammering the auto industry and other manufacturers is going to take “a couple of years” to abate, as demand soars alongside limited manufacturing capacity, the chief executive of chipmaking giant Intel said. – Washington Post

The organization that oversees Sweden’s national sports federations was hacked by Russian military intelligence in 2017-18, officials said Tuesday, in a data-breaching campaign that also affected some of the world’s leading sporting bodies, including FIFA and the World Anti-Doping Agency. – Associated Press

A court in Texas has authorized the FBI to fix malware in hundreds of hacked servers in the U.S. running certain versions of Microsoft Exchange Server software. – The Hill


The stealthy F-35 jet may not complete its most critical stage of combat testing until about September 2022, the latest in a series of delays that has set America’s most expensive weapons program back by years, Pentagon officials were told last month. – Bloomberg

When U.S. companies build military weapons systems, electric vehicle batteries, satellites and wind turbines, they rely heavily on a few dozen “critical minerals” – many of which are mined and refined almost entirely by other countries. Building a single F-35A fighter jet, for example, requires at least 920 pounds of rare earth elements that come primarily from China. – PBS

Lockheed Martin’s efforts to acquire Aerojet is an initiative that, not unlike Northrop’s acquisition of Orbital ATK several years ago, is generating clearly unfair comments and criticisms on the basis that it will somehow raise antitrust issues and compromise needed competition from within the defense industrial base. – The National Interest

The U.S. Army’s Requirements Oversight Council has approved the requirements for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, a service spokesman confirmed to Defense News. – Defense News

The Space Development Agency is providing valuable and rapid electronic warfare capabilities in the tactical sphere, a top Pentagon official said. – C4ISRNET

The Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville on Monday defended the service’s efforts to develop long-range precision missiles after an Air Force general in charge of global strike missions recently criticized the effort as a “stupid idea.” – Military.com