Fdd's overnight brief

April 22, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration has signaled it is open to easing sanctions against critical elements of Iran’s economy, including oil and finance, helping narrow differences in nuclear talks, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Serious differences persist between the United States and Iran over how they might resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal despite making some progress in their latest indirect talks in Vienna, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iran has installed extra advanced centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz that was hit by a blast last week, a report by the U.N. atomic watchdog on Wednesday showed, deepening Iran’s breaches of its nuclear deal with major powers. – Reuters

Iran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi movement is “quite significant and it’s lethal” and there is no real evidence that Tehran wants to support a constructive resolution to the conflict, U.S. special envoy on Yemen Tim Lenderking told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday. – Reuters

A first round of direct talks between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran signaled a possible de-escalation following years of animosity that often spilled into neighboring countries and at least one still-raging war. But few expect quick results. – Associated Press

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is putting his support behind Republican lawmakers aiming to block President Biden’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran. – The Hill

As nuclear talks in Vienna enter a critical stage, the gaps and suspicions over Iran between the Israeli government and the Biden administration are growing. – Axios

Robert Greenway writes: So long as Iran’s ministries, oil industry, and banks remain slush funds for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its terrorist militias at the expense of the Iranian people, we should enforce our sanctions, not abandon them. The latter would be an egregious affront to the memory of 603 US service members killed in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias—amounting to 17 percent of our casualties in Iraq from 2003 to 2011—and to their families. – Hudson Institute


Kurdish security forces said Wednesday that Syrian government-allied fighters killed one of their personnel in an overnight attack on a checkpoint, in a city the two groups share control of in northern Syria. – Associated Press

President Bashar Assad formally announced Wednesday he will run for reelection in war-torn Syria, and was expected to win a fourth seven-year term in the largely symbolic May 26 vote. – Associated Press

Syria on Wednesday was stripped of its voting rights by member states at the global chemical weapons watchdog after its forces were found to have repeatedly used poison gas during the civil war. – Reuters


A missile launched from Syria flew into southern Israel early Thursday, triggering air raid sirens near a nuclear facility, according to the Israeli military, raising fears of an escalation in ongoing tensions between Israel, Syria and Iran. […]The IDF said it responded to the missile with retaliatory attacks against Syrian antiaircraft batteries. The Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Israeli war planes attacked facilities near the capital Damascus shortly after 1:30 a.m. – Washington Post

Israel has dramatically expanded air strikes on suspected Iranian missile and weapons production centres in Syria to repel what it sees as a stealthy military encroachment by its regional arch-enemy, Western and regional intelligence sources say. – Reuters

The Israel Defense Forces launched an investigation to determine why its air defenses failed to intercept an errant surface-to-air missile fired from Syria that landed in southern Israel on Thursday morning. – Times of Israel

A man was killed Wednesday night by IDF fire as a result of his being inside a vehicle moving suspiciously on the Israeli side of the Israel-Egypt border. – Arutz Sheva 

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas claimed he was ready to “remove obstacles” to renewing US-Palestinian Authority (PA) ties. – Arutz Sheva 

David Harris writes: Today, it’s clear that relations between Athens and Jerusalem are blossoming in every sector. Putting the pandemic aside, tourism is booming. And visitors say they feel very much at home in each other’s country. Political and strategic dialogues are now the norm. High-level summits take place regularly. Cooperation in new technologies and energy are expanding rapidly. The devastating legacy of World War II continues to impact both nations. The Jewish community in Greece and the Greek Jews who resettled in Israel form a bridge across the sea. – Algemeiner

Katherine Bauer and Matthew Levitt write: With less than five weeks before Palestinians are scheduled to vote for new legislators, the Biden administration has yet to clarify whether it would support results that enhance the political power of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has ambitions to dominate the West Bank, too. The presence of numerous convicted terrorists on the group’s candidate list—one of thirty-six party lists recently approved by the Palestinian Central Elections Commission—should raise urgent concerns about its participation in the May 22 vote. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

More than a century after the Ottoman Empire’s killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian civilians, President Biden is preparing to declare that the atrocities were an act of genocide, according to officials familiar with the internal debate. The action would signal that the American commitment to human rights outweighs the risk of further fraying the U.S. alliance with Turkey. – New York Times

Islamist parties in Algeria expect to win parliamentary elections in June and take a major role in government, part of a strategy to gradually build clout within a system long dominated by a secular military that regards them with distrust. – Reuters

The House on Wednesday passed legislation restricting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the gruesome killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.  – The Hill

Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) announced on Tuesday that it has finalized the purchase of 15 new 737-8 jets from Boeing in order to expand its 737 MAX portfolio. While DAE has been investing in the 737 MAX for some time by buying jets from existing customers and leasing them back to carriers, this order marks the company’s first direct purchase from Boeing. – Jerusalem Post

Elie Podeh and Ronen Yitzhak write: However, the Hashemites will have to keep heeding public opinion and remain vigilant to external threats. Jordan’s continued stability under the Hashemites is of paramount importance to Israel, which often seems insufficiently committed to preserving this alliance. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Rubin writes: In effect, Biden now puts America last and makes clear not only to Iraqis, but other oil producers across the Middle East that the White House and State Department promises to compete with China are little more than empty rhetoric to cover the fact that America will not stand by its businesses and, in the competition with China simply forfeits. – 19FortyFive


An award-winning Hong Kong journalist was found guilty of a crime on Thursday for using a public database to expose police failings, the first time a member of the press has faced prosecution in the Chinese territory for an act of reporting. – Washington Post

Australia on Wednesday cancelled two deals struck by its state of Victoria with China on Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, prompting the Chinese embassy in Canberra to warn that already tense bilateral ties were bound to worsen. – Reuters

The White House on Wednesday threw its support behind a legislative effort to address Chinese competition, saying U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the bipartisan bill aimed at strengthen U.S. supply chains. – Reuters

Footage posted to Chinese social media this week has captured rare glimpses of a Chinese aircraft carrier conducting operational drills in the South China Sea—while a U.S. Navy destroyer watches from afar. – Newsweek

The data shows that China has sustained a militia presence at Whitsun for more than a year. And the militia has been patrolling Union Banks in general for at least the last two years, as evidenced by the activity of the Yuetaiyu fleet. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Matthew Brooker writes: More than a decade later, Wen is still dreaming of justice and freedom in China, and the government still appears reluctant to let people read his words. If China is as confident as Xi projects, what does it have to be concerned about? – Bloomberg


President Biden has declared that he intends to end the war in Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this year. But it is less clear whether anything will change for detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay that was opened for that war. – New York Times

Germany is mulling withdrawing its troops out of war-torn Afghanistan in early July this year, the country’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday, AFP reports. “The current thinking… is to shorten the withdrawal period. A withdrawal date of July 4 is being considered,” a ministry spokesman told the agency. – Agence France-Presse

An upcoming international peace conference that was meant to move Afghanistan’s warring sides to a power-sharing deal and ensure an orderly U.S. exit from the country has been postponed, its sponsors announced Wednesday. They cited a lack of prospects for meaningful progress. – Associated Press

Jeff Jacoby writes: Despite the talk of a “forever war,” US troops in Afghanistan are not embroiled in warfare. The last American combat death occurred 14 months ago. Only about 3,500 US military personnel are deployed to Afghanistan, and they are involved primarily in training and logistics. Removing those forces will gain America very little. But it will immeasurably benefit the Taliban, who will exult, with reason, at having driven out the Americans. Biden may be tired of the mission in Afghanistan. But is he really prepared to walk away and let Kabul fall to our enemies? – Boston Globe


A search is under way for an Indonesian navy submarine with 53 people on board that went missing in the waters off the island of Bali and may have lost control during a dive, the Indonesian navy said. – Wall Street Journal

A powerful explosion apparently from a suicide bomber struck the parking lot of a luxury hotel in southwest Pakistan frequented by high-level guests on Wednesday, and officials said at least four people had been killed and 12 wounded. China’s ambassador to Pakistan may have missed the blast by mere minutes. – New York Times

The United Nations special envoy for Myanmar will fly to Jakarta on Thursday to meet senior officials of Southeast Asian nations searching for a path to end bloodshed after a coup in Myanmar, according to three sources familiar with her movements. – Reuters

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will not attend a summit of leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries in Jakarta this weekend, his spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protesters has displaced close to a quarter of a million people, a United Nations rights envoy said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

New Zealand said Thursday it continues to have a close and productive relationship with the U.S. and other security allies, despite resisting speaking out in unison with them against China on certain human rights issues. – Associated Press

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha expressed his concerns over the political situation in neighboring Myanmar during a call with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Thursday ahead of the Asean Summit this weekend. – Bloomberg

The State Department announced that it would sanction Myanma Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, two companies that oversee timber and pearl exports from the country. – The Hill


Putin has agreed to take part in a Biden-hosted virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday with others from around the world, including China’s Xi Jinping. The conference is viewed as Biden putting his personal stamp on the U.S. return to global climate initiatives after the Trump administration’s withdrawal. – Washington Post

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Wednesday delivered an annual address replete with threats against the West but, despite intense tensions with Ukraine, stopped short of announcing new military or foreign policy moves. Russia’s response will be “asymmetric, fast and tough” if it is forced to defend its interests, Mr. Putin said, pointing to what he claimed were Western efforts at regime change in neighboring Belarus as another threat to Russia’s security. – New York Times

Police rounded up more than 1,700 protesters on Wednesday as Russians in dozens of cities took part in rallies organised by allies of hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny over his failing health in jail. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a law allowing to call up reservists for military service without announcing a mobilization, his office said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Ukraine on Wednesday urged Western allies to show they were prepared to punish Moscow with new sanctions, including kicking Russia out of the global SWIFT payments system, to deter the Kremlin from resorting to more military force against Ukraine. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military deployments around the borders of Ukraine suggest “an invasion is imminent,” according to a senior British lawmaker. – Washington Examiner

Alexis Mrachek writes: The fact that Russia considers the actual employment of nuclear weapons to achieve its ambitions should be a major concern to the U.S. If Russia feels threatened by the U.S., a nuclear strike in the future cannot be definitively ruled out. […]The United States should respond in three ways: Keep supporting its NATO allies and international partners. Beef up its own nuclear weapons to provide a credible deterrent to future Russian nuclear calculations. Never trust Putin to be a trustworthy partner. – Newsweek

Anna Borshchevskaya, Raed Wajeeh, Daniel Rakov, and Li-Chen Sim write: Russia is aware of its material constraints, especially relative to the US and China. Yet, it feels the inexorable pull of derzhavnost—a feeling of being entitled to great power status. The interplay of these regional and endogenous contexts implies scope for conflict among the Great Powers but equal room for cooperation on selected issues. – Atlantic Council

James S. Robbins writes: President Barack Obama put it another, more definitive way: “We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine.” In other words, goodbye Crimea. We know what Putin stands to gain by attacking Ukraine. The White House has to figure out what to tell him he has to lose, and quickly. – USA Today


Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen led her Social Democrats to victory in 2019 by championing left-wing economic politics — and a hawkish anti-immigration stand. Now her government is facing growing international scrutiny over its efforts to force out some Syrian refugees by revoking their residency permits, as it argues that some parts of Syria are safe to return to. – Washington Post

U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of NATO member countries plan to discuss tense ties with Russia and China, the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the future of the 30-nation military alliance at a summit in Belgium on June 14. – Associated Press

The Czech government on Wednesday warned Moscow it might expel more Russian diplomats unless the 20 Czech nationals ejected from Russia were allowed to return to work within a day. – Agence France-Presse

European Union candidate Montenegro is seeking to expand ties with the bloc, including possibly refinancing a Chinese loan it took to build its first highway that once threatened to wreck its public finances. – Bloomberg

A “comprehensive strategy” to combat antisemitism was unveiled by the European Union on Tuesday as part of a broader program to counter rising racism and intolerance on the continent. – Algemeiner

As the Middle East tracks Iranian and Turkish efforts to expand their impact in the region, the IAF completed a joint exercise with foreign air forces in Greece. The exercise, “Iniohos,” was a two-week drill that included practicing various scenarios. – Jerusalem Post


The son of Chad’s slain leader Idriss Deby took over as president and armed forces commander on Wednesday as rebel forces threatened to march on the capital, deepening the turmoil in a country vital to international efforts to combat Islamist militants in Africa. – Reuters

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said on Wednesday the government will work to restore peace in the country after a deadly militant attack last month near multi-billion-dollar gas projects backed by global oil companies. – Reuters

Sudan is caught in the middle of a decade-long row between Ethiopia and Egypt over the dam Ethiopia is building on the River Nile and in recent months it has undergone a major shift in attitude, as Zeinab Mohammed Salih reports from Khartoum. – BBC

The Americas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will arrive for President Biden’s climate summit on Thursday with an outsize reputation for being a warrior in the global fight against climate change. But one facet of Canada’s economy complicates his record: the country’s insistence on expanding output from its oil sands. – New York Times

A Canadian judge on Wednesday adjourned Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s extradition hearing until August, giving her team time to review newly obtained documents from investment bank HSBC they say are key to her defense. – Agence France-Presse

Vice President Kamala Harris will speak with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday to discuss the migrant surge at the southern border, Harris’s office said Wednesday night. – Bloomberg

Congress is moving with increasing urgency on bipartisan legislation to confront China and bolster U.S. competitiveness in technology and critical manufacturing with the Senate poised to act within weeks on a package of bills. – Bloomberg

Kathleen Parker writes: The United States, meanwhile, has clung to the embargo largely out of habit. It has given hard-line Cuban Americans some measure of revenge against the regime that drove the capitalists and landowners out of Cuba, and enabled the United States to complain about the Cuban government’s disregard for basic freedoms. But it has changed nothing. Two generations post revolution, it is a propitious time to end the madness. Open the gates, flood Cuba with U.S. goods and goodwill, and trust that freedom will speak for herself. – Washington Post

Joshua Gleis writes: The threats against the American Jewish community are real. […]While statistics alone should not dictate who is protected and how they are treated, more must be done to protect the Jewish community in the United States, and it cannot just come from politicians and actions such as the target hardening of Jewish facilities; it must come from the mainstream community and silent majority, who need to speak up more vocally in support of their Jewish brothers and sisters. – Algemeiner

Hassan Mneimneh writes: Instead, what is needed is the moral leadership of the United States as the potent partner or ally that will not remain silent on infringements of universal values and human rights. Reframing U.S. partnership as such may provide the spirit lift for activists, refocus the attention of the acquiescing majority towards seeking its interests instead, and derail the converging efforts of Arab media narratives to present China as an alternative model. – Washington Institute


European officials want to limit police use of facial recognition and ban the use of certain kinds of AI systems, in one of the broadest efforts yet to regulate high-stakes applications of artificial intelligence. – Wall Street Journal

A sophisticated China-linked hacking group infiltrated dozens of U.S. government agencies, defense contractors, financial institutions and other critical sectors, according to a private firm working with the federal government. The intrusions are ongoing, FireEye said, and exploit weaknesses in popular Pulse Secure virtual private networks. […]The hack is just the latest in a string of high-profile software breaches hitting victims in the United States. – Washington Post

A Canada judge has agreed to delay Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou’s U.S. extradition hearings for three months, according to a ruling read in court on Wednesday, handing her defense team a win. – Reuters

Facebook says it has disrupted a long-running cyberespionage campaign run by Palestinian intelligence which features spies posing as journalists and the deployment of a booby-trapped app for submitting human rights stories. – Reuters

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation calling for $100 billion in government spending over five years on basic and advanced technology research and science in the face of rising competitive pressure from China. – Reuters

The Justice Department is taking new aim at ransomware after a year that officials say was the costliest on record for the crippling cyberattacks. – Associated Press

China has deflected claims that its government was behind a series of hacks that reportedly attempted to infiltrate networks linked to the U.S. defense sector, instead accusing the United States of conducting an unrivaled global campaign of cyber attacks and espionage. – Newsweek

Speaking at the C4ISRNET Conference on Wednesday, top data strategists from the two branches stressed the importance of breaking down siloes so components have access to “authoritative” data that can provide strong insights for future war-fighting under the Defense Department’s concept of a connected force across domains. – C4ISRNET

Washington seems likely to take steps requiring the defense industrial base to better harden against cyberattacks, two veterans of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission said Wednesday. – C4ISRNET

Anjani Trivedi writes: The chip shortfall is persisting and spreading. Makers of cars, phones and computers still can’t get their hands on the semiconductors they need. Their suppliers don’t have the components to produce chips either. And it doesn’t look like solutions will emerge anytime soon. Such makeshift fixes only stand to make the problem worse. Meanwhile, few companies are using the crisis to prepare for future shortages. – Bloomberg


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that final rules announced in December took effect on Wednesday allowing for small drones to fly over people and at night, a significant step toward their eventual use for widespread commercial deliveries. – Reuters

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger has revealed plans for shifting the Corps’ mission to prepare for a future conflict with China: scouting and screening operations. – Washington Times

The Senate today voted to confirm Adm. John Aquilino as the new head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. – USNI News

Amphibious assault vehicle crews at Camp Pendleton, Calif., recently put their amtracs back in the water, the first operational unit to do so after the Marine Corps lifted a suspension that has been in place since last year’s deadly mishap off Southern California. – USNI News

A guided-missile cruiser that has been sidelined since February for emergency repairs is back underway for a shakedown cruise, the Navy confirmed to USNI News on Wednesday. – USNI News

Long War

Italian media say a 28-year-old Albanian wanted in connection with a 2016 truck attack in the French city of Nice that killed 86 people has been arrested in southern Italy. News agency LaPresse said police arrested the suspect, identified as Endri Elenzi, on Wednesday in Sparanise about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Naples. – Associated Press

A federal judge in California refused Wednesday to allow the extradition to Iraq of a man accused of committing a killing for the Islamic State, saying cellphone evidence shows he was in Turkey at the time of the slaying. – Associated Press

A German woman accused of joining the Islamic State group in Syria after traveling there with her young daughter was convicted on Wednesday of participating in a terrorist organization and other offenses. – Associated Press