Fdd's overnight brief

April 26, 2021

In The News


In a leaked audiotape that offers a glimpse into the behind-the scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guards Corps call the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring advice. – New York Times

The U.S. must remove sanctions designations for some 1,500 individuals as part of efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, said in an interview with the state-run ICANA news agency. – Bloomberg

Members of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard shot dead three militants and dismantled their cell in eastern Iran near the border with Afghanistan, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Saturday. – Associated Press

Iran supplied Yemen’s Houthi rebels with weapons technology that helped the militants to attack Saudi Arabia, according to Rostam Ghasemi, a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s former economy minister. – The National 

Iran’s election to the U.N.’s top women’s empowerment body this week despite having a poor record has drawn outrage from rights activists who criticized the Islamic republic’s treatment of women. The result of the secret ballot also has been met with silence from the U.S. – VOA News

During his two years as judiciary chief in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi has fought hard to bring the corrupt children of the moneyed Iranian elite to justice, a battle that has made him popular with a population weary of graft. – Financial Times

An American doctoral student who spent over three years held in an Iranian prison joined Algemeiner members for a conversation on Wednesday, where he shared details of his captivity and discussed what he saw as a “moral responsibility” to tell the world about the regime in Tehran. – Algemeiner

An Israeli security delegation due to visit Washington on Monday will not change the Biden administration’s position on rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Friday. – i24 News


Syria’s oil ministry said firefighters on Saturday put out a fire on an oil tanker off the Baniyas refinery after a suspected attack by a drone coming from the direction of Lebanese waters. – Reuters

A donation by China of 150,000 doses of its Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Damascus on Saturday, with another batch of the same size planned, Syrian officials said. – Reuters

Jennifer Cafarella, Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, and Kenneth R. Rosen write: Although northeast Syria has enough natural resources to sustain itself, at some point it will need a tax base, which it cannot cultivate without local buy-in. That is the route authorities should take, including more concrete import/export duties. Cross-border aid must be expanded as well; relying entirely on the Peshkhabur crossing is insufficient. – Washington Institute


U.S. President Joe Biden’s declaration that massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide is “simply outrageous” and Turkey will respond over coming months, Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Sunday. – Reuters

Turkey said it has summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest President Joe Biden’s recognition of the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century as genocide. It warned the decision has left a “deep wound” in relations between the two NATO allies. – Politico

Soner Cagaptay writes: Biden, of course, is not being mean. He is simply aware that for the first time in many years, Erdogan needs the U.S. more than Washington needs him. Biden is, accordingly, using this window as a lever, hoping to correct some of Erdogan’s behavior, including his anti-democratic actions and close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. – NBC News

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Whether the Biden administration finally standing up to Ankara will lead it to work with authoritarians more is a question Ankara has to weigh against its own claims of wanting “reconciliation” with countries it has attacked in the last few years. There is no evidence that denying the genocide helped keep Ankara more liberal, tolerant, democratic and open minded and more close to the West. – Jerusalem Post


Militants in Gaza fired more than 30 rockets into Israel overnight, the worst flareup in months amid escalating nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem. – Wall Street Journal

A mysterious blast heard in central Israel appears to have come during a rocket engine test conducted at a secretive military base associated with the country’s missile program, according to an analyst and satellite images. – Associated Press

Hamas and Islamic Jihad sent messages to Egypt on Saturday telling them the Gaza militant group is uninterested in an escalation of hostilities with Israel, after 36 rockets were fired from the Strip at Israel overnight, a Palestinian official in Gaza told Haaretz. – Haaretz

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday ordered all branches of the security establishment to maintain readiness for possible further escalation on the Gaza front after a weekend of rocket fire, while IDF Chief of Staff Avi Kochavi toured the Gaza border area and met with the heads of the Southern Command and local leaders. – Algemeiner

Editorial: The peace agreements recently signed between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan show that Israel has no argument with the Muslim world. It seeks peace, not war. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of terrorist organizations like Hamas. They should not be rewarded for their constant threats and belligerence. – Jerusalem Post

Herb Keinon writes: Iran always has an interest in making Israel bleed, and it has traditionally done this through the actions of its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza. It has an even greater incentive to do this now. As a general rule, it’s safe to say that Iran’s fingerprints can be found somewhere whenever there is a sudden uptick in violence in the neighborhood. – Jerusalem Post

Micah Halpern writes: That’s not to say that those who did not sign are necessarily anti-Israel. But it does tell us that these members of Congress want the paradigm to shift, they want the relationship between Israel and the United States changed. […]Israel can take care of itself. That is something else I have firmly maintained for years. But in politics as in diplomacy, it never hurts to have powerful friends in high places. – Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz writes: Sending Israel’s top intelligence and military officials to Washington all at once definitely sends a message of urgency – but it also sends a message of dysfunctionality. […]But what about talks on a political level? Those seem to be missing, and it is no secret why. As seen over this past week, Israel does not have a functioning government. The Americans know this, as do the Iranians. To assume that neither side is taking advantage of this situation would be naïve. – Jerusalem Post

Nimrod Novik and Gadi Shamni write: There is a real need for all three parties – the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Americans – to draft a blueprint for cooperation that takes into consideration respective political limits but does not risk regional stability or human lives.This blueprint must be based on preventing further conflicts in a reality where Israel controls huge chunks of the West Bank, allow for gradual separation measures based on security considerations, and preserve and improve the conditions for a future peace settlement. – Ynet

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen’s Houthi movement said on Sunday it had attacked and hit a military air base in southern Saudi Arabia with a drone, but the Saudi-led coalition fighting the group said it had intercepted and destroyed an armed drone fired into the kingdom. – Reuters

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have made major gains in the battle for the government’s last northern stronghold, advancing close to the center of Marib city despite heavy casualties, military sources said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday called on Israel to reduce tensions in Jerusalem and condemned a recent march by an extremist Jewish group in the city. – Times of Israel

Gabby Deutch writes: As the White House attempts to reassert America’s global leadership, its actions on Western Sahara could offer an important signal to the rest of the world — on whether the U.S. will keep its promise, or whether it will opt to support international institutions. – Jewish Insider

Mehmet Alaca and Bekir Aydoğan write: This series of reformist changes in Komal—the KRI’s fifth largest party overall—might not seem highly consequential for Iraqi politics, but they represent a significant question for the KRI’s Islamist parties. As a result, the reforms are facing serious challenges from both inside and outside the party. – Washington Institute


The 100th anniversary of the party’s founding in July 1921 offers Mr. Xi a timely opportunity to reaffirm those values, and historical red sites such as Jinggangshan and Zunyi, in southwestern China, are being harnessed for the cause. – Wall Street Journal

The United States will urge its Group of Seven allies to increase pressure on China over the use of forced labor in its northwestern Xinjiang province, home to the Muslim Uighur minority, a top White House official said on Friday. – Reuters

China will hold discussions on building a defence system against near-Earth asteroids, a senior space agency official said on Saturday, as the country steps up its longer term space ambitions. – Reuters

The European Union’s stance on China is hardening, and that should go down well in Washington. – Politico

A leading contender to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor this fall has called for “dialogue and toughness” toward China when it comes to defending democratic values and human rights. – Associated Press

A spokesperson for the Xinjiang region called accusations of genocide “counter to the facts” as China came under more pressure this week over its treatment of the Uyghur ethnic group in the remote border area. – Associated Press

Editorial: But Beijing’s bullying has consequences, especially in democracies that must respond to public opinion, unlike China’s ruling Communist Party. The world is better when investment flows without political interference. But China’s predatory behavior presents a special challenge. Australia is showing that China’s economic coercion isn’t cost-free. – Wall Street Journal

James Stavridis writes: How great are the chances of such a multi-ocean military conflict between the two superpowers and their allies? Far, far lower than the likelihood of a flare-up in the Taiwan Strait or East China Sea. But much as Europe stumbled into World War I because of extensive networks of alliances, it is entirely possible a war in the western Pacific could bring conflict to Indian waters. – Bloomberg


The U.S. military has begun its complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, the top American commander there said Sunday, marking what amounts to the beginning of the end of the United States’ nearly 20-year-old war in the country. – New York Times

The Pentagon is sending B-52 bombers to the Mideast alongside an aircraft carrier as a signal to Taliban militants that the U.S. intends to ensure a peaceful withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration’s vow to withdraw troops from Afghanistan without conditions has left the fate of a Taliban-held American hostage uncertain. – Washington Post

CIA Director William Burns made a recent unannounced visit to Kabul, a senior politician and a well-placed public figure told The Associated Press, as concerns mount about Afghanistan’s capability to fight terrorism once the U.S. has withdrawn its remaining troops by summer. – Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has decided to keep an aircraft carrier in the Middle East to help provide protection for American and coalition troops during their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in coming weeks, his spokesman said Friday. – Associated Press

The U.S. military is mulling how to position its aircraft throughout the Middle East and Asia to continue airstrikes and intelligence-gathering missions in Afghanistan, as American forces prepare to leave key installations like Bagram Air Base behind, the head of U.S. Central Command said this week. – Air Force Times

South Asia

The Biden administration, under increasing pressure to address a devastating surge of the coronavirus in India, said on Sunday that it had partially lifted a ban on the export of raw materials for vaccines and would also supply India with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear. – New York Times

The Indian government asked social media platform Twitter (TWTR.N) to take down dozens of tweets, including some by local lawmakers, that were critical of India’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, as cases of COVID-19 again hit a world record. – Reuters

Pakistan’s parliament on Friday again deferred debating the fate of the French ambassador, with the government seemingly putting a lid on bloody anti-France protests that rocked the country for a week. – Agence France-Presse


An Indonesian navy submarine that disappeared off the island of Bali last week with 53 people on board was discovered cracked into three parts deep under the ocean, leading the military to conclude the entire crew had perished. – Wall Street Journal

The army general who has ruled Myanmar since leading the overthrow of its civilian government met on Saturday in Indonesia with leaders of other Southeast Asian nations who expressed concern about the army’s killing of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters. – New York Times

Armenians refer to the mass killings as the Armenian genocide — a term that Turkey rejects and which the United States had for decades refrained from using. That changed Saturday, when President Biden recognized it as a “genocide” in an annual Remembrance Day declaration. – Washington Post

Conflict with China over Taiwan “should not be discounted,” but Australia will work with its allies in the region to try and maintain peace, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday. – Reuters

The Philippines said it conducted maritime exercises in the South China Sea, a move that could escalate tensions in the disputed waters. – Bloomberg

Armenia’s leader is praising President Joe Biden’s recognition of the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide, calling it “a powerful step.” – Associated Press

A fleet of British warships and military aircraft billed as the “largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the U.K. in a generation” will depart next month for visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, in a display of Britain’s ambition to exert a much stronger presence in Asia. – Associated Press

Wai Wai Nu writes: Holding Myanmar’s murderous military to account isn’t just about protecting the rights of certain groups. […]ASEAN has declared that it seeks to build a “people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN Community, where our peoples enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This, too, is what protesters are fighting for. We are asking ASEAN member states to end their indecision, which is endangering safety throughout the region, and stand with us in solidarity instead. – Washington Post

Aaron Blake writes: President Biden just went where no Oval Office holder since Ronald Reagan has gone — and where many have been scared away from venturing: recognizing the Armenian genocide. […]In other words, it makes sense to finally do what top American politicians have been threatening to do for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a bold step that couldn’t reverberate in the region and in U.S. foreign policy. And it’s one of the biggest early subplots in Biden’s emerging foreign policy agenda. – Washington Post

Pavin Chachavalpongpun writes: Whether one calls the similarities between the rhetoric, methods and goals of the military governments in Myanmar and Thailand echoes, reciprocal inspiration or a feedback loop, they suggest more action in tandem to come — and less chance for a return to political liberalization in either country any time soon. – New York Times


State television images on Friday showed Russian forces that had massed near Ukraine, sparking fears of an imminent full-scale war in Europe, being loaded onto trains and ships to be pulled back. – New York Times

Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, ended a three-week hunger strike on Friday that had embarrassed the Kremlin abroad and incited protests at home. – New York Times

A closed-door Moscow court hearing Monday is expected to officially ban the political and anti-corruption networks of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a ruling that would mark the most sweeping attempt to crush the Kremlin’s greatest political threat. – Washington Post

A Russian court ordered opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s three organizations to suspend their activities while it considers whether to ban them as extremist, according to the lawyers for his team. – Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday to limit the number of local staff working at foreign diplomatic missions and other agencies, and ordered the government to draw up a list of “unfriendly” states that will be subject to the restrictions. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden may meet in June, RIA news agency reported on Sunday, citing a Kremlin aide, amid simmering tensions between Moscow and the West. – Reuters

“Reckless” Russia’s actions are worrying but Moscow’s power is in decline, according to the new chief of Britain’s foreign intelligence service. – Politico

Pressure is growing on President Joe Biden to take action to prevent the completion of a Russian gas pipeline to Europe that many fear will give the Kremlin significant leverage over U.S. partners and allies. – Associated Press

Hal Brands writes: There are good reasons, moral and prudential, for the U.S. to advocate for Navalny and others seeking a freer, less corrupt Russia. That’s one lesson Cold War history teaches clearly. Another, however, is that even sharp outside pressure won’t cause significant changes in Russian politics — or make life much easier for Putin’s opponents — in the near future. – Bloomberg

Tobin Harshaw writes: But Russia is an unusual autocracy. It is better educated and wealthier than one would expect given its level of autocracy. We don’t have a good sense of how these deep structural factors promote political liberalization; but it does suggest that Putin’s increasingly autocratic ways are bucking deep tides in Russian society, particularly among young people. – Bloomberg

Mikhail Khodorkovsky writes: In the third decade of President Vladimir Putin’s rule, trust between Russia and western governments is at zero. The prospects for political reform and economic modernisation in Russia are not much higher. This is bad for the wellbeing of the Russian people. It also tarnishes Russia’s attractiveness as a destination for western investment. – Financial Times

Andras Toth-Czifra writes: September’s legislative election in Russia is extremely awkward for the Kremlin. Its two goals —legitimizing the political system and ensuring a solid parliamentary majority for the last years of Vladimir Putin’s fourth term – may be at odds. This is what makes Alexey Navalny and his organization uniquely dangerous for the Kremlin. – Center for European Policy Analysis


President Emmanuel Macron of France flew to the central African nation to join African leaders for the ceremony in a show of support for an ally long criticized for stifling dissent at home even as he joined the fight against Islamist insurgents in the region. – New York Times

An unidentified man Friday surprised a police worker in the entranceway of the police station some 25 miles southwest of Paris as she returned from her car, French officials said. The attacker stabbed the worker in the throat and yelled “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before police stationed inside shot and killed him, police union officials said on French television. – Wall Street Journal

Days after the Czech authorities accused the assassination team, known as Unit 29155, of being behind a series of 2014 explosions at weapons depots that killed two people, Mr. Gebrev acknowledged that his supplies were stored at the depots. And according to Czech officials, Mr. Gebrev’s stocks were the target. – New York Times

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Friday joined a fast-growing list of NATO and EU members demanding the removal of Russian diplomats for alleged spying, in actions that have infuriated Moscow and look certain to provoke further retaliation. – Reuters

The European Union on Saturday rejected Russia’s labelling of independent news site Meduza as a “foreign agent” media organisation, saying its media restrictions contravene its international obligations and human rights commitments. – Reuters

The European Union called out China on Saturday for endangering peace in the South China Sea and urged all parties to abide by a 2016 tribunal ruling which rejected most of China’s claim to sovereignty in the sea, but which Beijing has rejected. – Reuters

Thousands of protesters gathered in several French cities and Israel on Sunday to denounce a court’s refusal of a trial for a man who killed a 65-year-old Jewish woman, after experts determined he acted in a “delirious fit” due to heavy marijuana use. – Agence France-Presse

European Union leaders will hold a face-to-face summit in Brussels on May 25 to discuss the coronavirus crisis, the battle against climate change and tensions with Russia, a spokesman said. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden’s first foreign trip will be to the G7 summit in Britain this June, followed by NATO and EU summits in Brussels, the White House said Friday. – Agence France-Presse

Czech President Milos Zeman said his country shouldn’t be quick to punish Russia over allegations of a 2014 sabotage involving a warehouse explosion, which triggered the worst diplomatic conflict between Prague and Moscow for decades. – Bloomberg

Albania’s president has accused the U.S. ambassador of intervening in the small European country’s internal affairs by supporting its prime minister in an upcoming parliamentary election. – Associated Press

French authorities detained a fifth person Sunday in an anti-terrorism investigation seeking to identify potential accomplices and motives after a police official was fatally stabbed at a police station outside Paris. – Associated Press

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a revamp of the 2015 accord intended to bring peace to the war-torn Donbas region with a bigger diplomatic role for the US, UK and Canada in ending the conflict. – Financial Times


Gunfire erupted across the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday as security forces loyal to the president clashed with units that appeared to have sided with his rivals, stoking fears that Somalia’s simmering political crisis is spilling over into violence. – New York Times

The leaders of France and several African nations gathered Friday in Chad for the funeral of President Idriss Déby, whose sudden death this week ended a three-decade grip on power and triggered a battle for control of the country. – Washington Post

Chad’s military said on Saturday it has bombarded northern rebels “to the verge of despair” to stop an advance on the capital N’Djamena, following the funeral of President Idriss Deby who died of battlefield injuries. – Reuters

Three abducted Nigerian students have been shot dead by their kidnappers, a local official said on Friday, three days after they were snatched by gunmen from their university in the northwest of the country. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Rubin writes: Certainly, there is no easy solution to the region’s problems, but the success of Somaliland and increasingly Puntland reinforce the point that the first step to success is understanding that there is no substitute for a strong, healthy, and democratic system. – 19FortyFive

The Americas

Vice President Kamala Harris and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have set a date to talk about the surge at the U.S.-Mexico border. – Washington Examiner

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said he would have no qualms about deploying the military into the streets and that they would follow his orders in the event of unrest. – New York Post

US Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spearheaded a letter by 20 senators to Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressing concern” over the Biden administration’s decision to renew funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). – Jerusalem Post

A Long Island resident pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support and resources to Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Nusrah Front terrorists, the US Justice Department announced in a statement. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: To be sure, differences within Nicaragua’s opposition could make Mr. Ortega’s job easier; no fewer than 10 prominent figures have already declared their interest in running for president this November. There is still time, however, for them to forge the united front needed to take advantage of the political space even a tilted election could create. […] To the contrary, Nicaragua’s democrats deserve U.S. and regional encouragement and support. Given their country’s election-year calendar, the sooner they get that backing, the better. – Washington Post

León Krauze writes: López Obrador’s systematic attacks on the country’s institutions have always justified concern. But these recent developments are far beyond the pale. López Obrador himself doesn’t seem to mind. When asked whether he would abide by some of the INE’s recent decisions, he seemed unfazed. […]While the country’s institutions and constitutional order could yet withstand López Obrador’s assault, one thing seems clear: In the battle against democratic institutions, Mexico’s president has crossed the Rubicon. – Washington Post


Artificial intelligence is helping to broker peacekeeping deals in war-torn countries, underscoring how the tech with a bad reputation can have a positive impact, too. – Washington Post

But buried in the data was evidence of sensitive U.S. military operations by American special-operations forces in Syria. The company’s analysts could see phones that had come from military facilities in the U.S., traveled through countries like Canada or Turkey and were clustered at the abandoned Lafarge Cement Factory in northern Syria, a staging area at the time for U.S. special-operations and allied forces. – Wall Street Journal

Western countries risk losing control of technologies that are key to internet security and economic prosperity to nations like China and Russia if they don’t act to deal with the threat, one of the U.K.’s top spy chiefs warned Friday. – Associated Press

A technology provider says a malware attack triggered a dayslong outage that has caused reservations systems to crash at about 20 low-cost airlines around the world. – Associated Press

The sprawling hacking campaign deemed a grave threat to U.S. national security came to be known as SolarWinds, for the company whose software update was seeded by Russian intelligence agents with malware to penetrate sensitive government and private networks. – Associated Press

In two years’ time, if everything goes to plan, EU residents will be protected by law from some of the most controversial uses of AI, such as street cameras that identify and track people, or government computers that score an individual’s behaviour. – Financial Times

Matthew T. Cornelius writes: As DoD moves the Cloud Computing Program Office from the Pentagon to the Defense Information Systems Agency, now is a perfect time to examine the role of cloud software marketplaces, establish software-as-a-service pilots consistent with Section 834, and remove friction to allow easier procurement and integration of ISVs into the DoD’s agile acquisition framework. This approach will save time and money on procurement, create opportunities for small businesses, and enable DoD to deliver the best solutions for the war fighter faster. – C4ISRNET


The Biden administration continues to flesh out its national security team, with four new Pentagon nominees and a pair of top state nominees named Friday afternoon. – Defense News

The cost of the F-35′s engine is set to increase by 3 percent due to Turkey’s removal from the program in 2019, the head of Pratt & Whitney’s military engines division said Thursday. – Defense News

Recognizing the importance electromagnetic warfare will play, the Marine Corps plans to make big investments in new systems. – C4ISRNET

The debate over the naval future of the United States should center on strategy rather than how many of what kinds of ships will make up the fleet, four authors who published pieces on the future of the Navy said on Thursday. – USNI News

In the next decade, the Army hopes to use robotics and other technologies to make a single infantry platoon 10 times more effective on the battlefield than they are today. – Army Times