Fdd's overnight brief

April 27, 2021

In The News


On Monday, Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen, was handed a one-year sentence and travel ban on new charges of conducting “propaganda activities” against the Iranian government. – New York Times 

A group of boats from Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps harassed two U.S. Coast Guard ships earlier this month in the Persian Gulf, Navy officials said, the first such incident in a year. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s foreign minister on Monday praised Baghdad’s efforts aimed at bolstering regional stability, saying he hopes they would lead to “more negotiations and understandings” in the region. – Associated Press

Talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear accord will resume on Tuesday, the European Union said on Monday, the latest of several rounds of talks to bring the United States back into the deal and to convince Tehran to end its breaches. – Reuters

John Kerry said he never tipped of the Iranian foreign minister of Israeli military operations in Syria. The former secretary of state posted the denial on Twitter after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed in a leaked audio recording that Kerry told him that “Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria.” – Washington Examiner

It appears that it’s not a regular week in Iran unless the country is showing off more drones and warning about how it can strike at Israel or everywhere else in the Middle East. People are taking notice as well because US Central Command head Kenneth McKenzie has warned that US air superiority has suffered due to Iran’s drone threat. – Jerusalem Post

Dennis Ross writes: Second, the Iranians appear to believe that the Biden administration fears that if it cannot get Iran back into the JCPOA and its nuclear program advances, war will be the only way to stop the program, with either the Israelis acting militarily or the United States having to do so to prevent the advance to a weapon. […]Khamenei’s ideology will always require treating the United States as an enemy, but it does not blind him to seeing risks. He needs to understand that if Iran overplayed its hand now or later, it will put its entire nuclear program at risk. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: The question persists: Why is Russia participating in the nuclear negotiations at all? It only gives the Kremlin another piece of unearned leverage with Biden, who campaigned on taking a hard line against President Vladimir Putin. Iran understands that only America can provide it with the kind of economic relief it believes it is owed. Including Russia in the current talks in Vienna is just an invitation for more diplomatic mischief. If you don’t believe me, just ask Javad Zarif. – Bloomberg

Alex Vatanka writes: China and Iran will inevitably continue to develop closer ties, mainly in the economic field. […]Nonetheless, at a minimum, even the publicity around this agreement is seen by Tehran as undermining Washington’s argument that Iran is isolated because of the “maximum pressure” campaign. At best, the 25-year strategic deal between Tehran and Beijing can be Iran’s “insurance policy” if U.S. sanctions continue and the U.S.-China fight escalates. In short, this deal is not just a piece of propaganda by Tehran. – Middle East Institute  


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged U.S. President Joe Biden to swiftly reverse his declaration that 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, an action he said was upsetting and diminished bilateral ties. – Reuters

Some of Turkey’s biggest banks are reluctant to finance President Tayyip Erdogan’s planned Istanbul canal due to environmental concerns and the investment risks hanging over the massive construction project, four senior bankers told Reuters. – Reuters

The European Union’s first female chief executive vowed on Monday to fight for women’s rights after she was denied a chair during a meeting in Ankara with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan two weeks ago. – Reuters


Explosive balloons were sent from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory late Monday night, according to a Telegram channel reportedly associated with the Palestinian balloon units in Gaza. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told the European Union, Egypt and Jordan of his decision to postpone the upcoming elections, but the EU has asked for a delay to a formal announcement on the matter so that it can pressure Israel to allow voting in East Jerusalem, a Lebanese newspaper reported Tuesday. – Times of Israel 

A day after Israeli police removed barriers from the Damascus Gate plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City, no clashes were reported there on Monday night, capping a week of violence that officials feared might spill into a wider escalation. – Haaretz

Israel’s security cabinet authorized on Monday a harsher military response if rocket fire from the Gaza Strip persists, following days of flare-up between Israel and Hamas. – Haaretz

A growing number of leaders from Israel to Congress are increasing pressure on corporate America and President Biden to avoid making a bad deal with Iran that would lift sanctions or provide cash aid to Tehran without major concessions to end its terrorism, nuclear and other malign activities. – Just the News


Israel prepared to respond to increased demands from Lebanon by claiming more than double the area of the Mediterranean Sea that is currently in dispute, according to a map obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Lebanon said on Monday it hoped Saudi Arabia would reconsider a ban on its produce imposed over what Riyadh called a rise in drug smuggling, and tasked its interior minister to coordinate with the kingdom to uncover the culprits and prevent a repeat. – Reuters

Luna Safwan writes: The only way to change Lebanon lies in deconstructing what the country was made of and then reconstructing it to address the buildup of sectarian and ideological issues. […]With a crisis of missing national identity, there’s no easy or hard win this time, just more losses if we don’t tackle the underlying problem. This problem remains deeper than corruption, an economic crisis and traditional parties. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Qatar is ramping up its lobbying efforts in the U.S., eager to cultivate a closer relationship with the Biden administration and Congress in order to avoid a repeat of 2017, when it was caught off-guard by a Saudi-led boycott in the Persian Gulf. – Bloomberg

A remotely piloted boat packed with explosives targeted the Saudi port of Yanbu in the Red Sea on Tuesday, the kingdom said, with the blast sending black smoke into the sky off the coast. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: By helping broker the U.S.-Iran secret talks, Hussein may now expect as a reward renewed U.S. support for his presidency in Iraq.[…]Biden’s enthusiasm for rapprochement is bad enough. That he feels he must keep the real true negotiations secret does not bode well for his confidence that Congress and regional states will find his compromises wise. – 19FortyFive

Nadwa Al-Dawsari writes: The success of their involvement, or lack thereof, depends entirely on the commitment of the main sides to a cease-fire and de-escalation. Second, tribal mediation is only effective at the local, and not the national, level. Recognizing this limitation is key to design interventions that can engage the tribes to support de-escalation and cease-fire efforts while making sure to do no harm. – Middle East Institute 

Bilal Y. Saab writes: How this all can be squared as the Americans and the Iranians continue to negotiate on nuclear issues in Vienna (albeit indirectly for now) is very much unclear. If and when Washington and Tehran come to an agreement, the U.S. side will realize that whatever promises they made to their regional friends regarding addressing their security concerns will prove to be much more difficult to honor. – Middle East Institute 

Nate Rosenblatt and Naureen Chowdhury Fink write: Such factors also underscore the importance of repatriating foreign fighters and shifting attention to accountability and deradicalization. When states refuse to repatriate, they exacerbate grievances among disaffected populations and enable networks of fighters to organize in places like al-Hawl refugee camp. […]How these former IS adherents are treated by their communities and governments will not only determine their individual reintegration prospects, but also affect where and how future recruitment hubs form. – Washington Institute


A U.S. judge on Monday found that Huawei did not violate a court order by sharing certain information with its chief financial officer, who is using it to help fight her extradition from Canada. – Reuters

An immigration bill on Hong Kong’s legislative agenda for Wednesday would give authorities virtually unlimited powers to prevent residents and others entering or leaving the former British colony, lawyers, diplomats and rights groups say. – Reuters

A U.S. legislative proposal to allocate $112 billion for basic and advanced technology research and science in the face of rising competitive pressure from China will be delayed by at least two weeks, U.S. Senate Republicans and staffers said Monday. – Reuters

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the government could intervene if necessary in the Bar Association, whose chief has been labelled an “anti-China politician” by Beijing’s top representative office in the city. – Reuters

China said on Monday the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) had confirmed it would invite Chinese experts to join the working group carrying out work on Japan’s plan for disposal of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant. – Reuters

China commissioned 60,000 tons worth of major vessels earlier this month, officially putting into service a new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, a guided-missile cruiser and an amphibious helicopter carrier on the 72nd anniversary of its Navy. – Defense News

Mark Gongloff writes: This would seem to be a huge PR victory for China, given Zhao’s place of birth and the movie’s grim critique of American late capitalism. But one time eight years ago Zhao criticized China as having “lies everywhere.” That pretty much describes any country and is arguably preferable to “seniors barely surviving in vans everywhere.” But Zhao remains persona non grata in China, so its people and media weren’t allowed to mention her or her win. – Bloomberg


The clash came as the junta, in an apparent setback for an attempt by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to end Myanmar’s turmoil, said it would “positively” consider the bloc’s suggestions made at a weekend meeting in Indonesia. – Reuters

Chanting in Burmese their readiness to fight “for the people”, around 120 youths jogged around a muddy forest clearing in the morning light in a video released by a group that has proclaimed itself a new fighting force against Myanmar’s military junta. – Reuters

One of Australia’s most senior security officials has said liberal democracies must brace for war while searching for peace amid elevated global tensions. – Reuters

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, who championed engagement with Myanmar’s military while in office to promote democratic change, said on Monday he was “appalled by heartbreaking violence” it had used against civilians after retaking power in a coup. – Reuters

China’s top spy agency announced measures to fight infiltration by “hostile forces” in companies and other institutions, state media said, in the latest sign of businesses getting caught in the competition between Beijing and Washington. – Bloomberg

Ongoing fighting between the Taliban and the government could further erode the morale of Afghanistan’s 300,000-plus security forces who sustain heavy casualties daily and are plagued by widespread corruption. It’s unclear how the troops can be a bulwark against new terrorist threats. – Associated Press

The largest fleet of Royal Navy warships to deploy internationally since the 1982 Falklands War is heading to the Indo-Pacific region next month as the British government seeks to raise its presence in the Far East. – Defense News

Editorial: The United States is right to offer aid to India amid disaster. Yet restricting the free flow of information doesn’t help public health; it only hurts. The White House should speak out against this encroachment on expression for an additional reason: India is teetering toward authoritarianism, but it isn’t there yet. The path it takes regarding the Internet could set the course for countless other, smaller countries that haven’t yet decided where to walk. – Washington Post

Kenneth I. Juster writes: The United States should therefore indicate now its intention to grant a waiver in this case, while starting a constructive dialogue with India on the impact of future purchases of Russian military equipment. […]It is possible, however, that India’s decisions will eventually affect the degree to which Washington will be able to provide special access for New Delhi to its most sophisticated technology. The consideration of all of these sensitive and important issues should not be clouded by the threat of secondary sanctions. – War on the Rocks


Although Russia and Turkey have backed opposite sides in Syria and Libya and Turkey played an important role in Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia and had turned the Hagia Sophia church from a museum to a mosque, the Russian leadership was able to swallow it. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Editorial: On the contrary: Mr. Putin’s regime is now moving to adopt repressive measures more sweeping and severe than anything seen in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. […]But Mr. Putin cannot tolerate peaceful dissent; he fears it would lead to one of the “color revolutions” that have toppled dictators in Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics. His regime is founded on massive looting of resources, by himself and a circle of cronies, which Mr. Navalny’s investigations have done much to expose and thereby endanger. – Washington Post

Oleg Kashin writes: When Mr. Putin agreed to allow Mr. Navalny’s evacuation to Germany for treatment, he in all likelihood felt sure that the man would not come back. […]Now, after getting rid of all his opponents, real and imaginary, Mr. Putin finds himself alone. Like the queen in a Russian fairy tale, who every day asks a magic mirror who’s the fairest of them all, he desperately craves supremacy. But when he asks the mirror who Russia’s true leader is, it answers: Aleksei Navalny. – New York Times 

Rebekah Koffler writes: Understanding Putin’s mindset and anti-American motivation is a prerequisite to devising a viable U.S. counterstrategy. Regrettably, the Intelligence Community today is deficient in Russian language and culture expertise. […]Without these skills, it is impossible to decode Putin’s intentions in Ukraine or stabilize poor U.S.-Russian relations. It also becomes tragically easy to bumble our way into the war Russia thinks inevitable. – The Hill


The French government plans to introduce a bill aimed at closing a legal loophole that allowed the man who killed a Jewish woman in an anti-Semitic frenzy in 2017 to escape trial because a court found that he was in a delirious state brought on by cannabis. – New York Times 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron discussed Ukraine and jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in a phone call on Monday, the Kremlin said. – Reuters

Rival leaders from the island of Cyprus meet on Tuesday to see if there’s any common ground on which to pursue reunification after nearly 50 years of bitter division and a recent deterioration in ties. – Bloomberg


Tuesday’s unrest underscores the tense atmosphere in Chad following Deby’s death, where the military transition is already struggling to win over a population exhausted by 30 years of monolithic rule. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday pressed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for troops from Eritrea involved in the Tigray conflict to be withdrawn “immediately, in full, and in a verifiable manner,” according to a statement. – Reuters 

Some fear that a protracted conflict in Chad could force the diversion of Chadian soldiers elsewhere, weakening the regional fight against militants linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Soldiers angry over the president’s extended stay in power took up key positions across Somalia’s tense capital on Monday, but there was none of the gunfire that shattered the previous night in Mogadishu. – Associated Press

The French energy firm Total announced Monday that it has halted all operations on its $20 billion investment in a liquified natural gas project in northern Mozambique as a result of the extremist rebel insurgency there.- Associated Press

Nigerian criminals have killed two more student captives abducted from a northern university last week, said a state official on Monday, bringing the total number of executed hostages to five. – Reuters

The political crisis in Somalia is causing fault lines within its security ranks that could play into the hands of al Qaeda-linked militants looking to further destabilize the nation. – Bloomberg

Samuel Ramani writes: After Déby’s assassination, officials across the MENA region set aside their differences and presented a united voice of solidarity with Chad. This suggests that MENA countries will rally around Mahamat Déby’s leadership and refrain from the proxy rivalries that have subsumed other African states, such as Sudan and Somalia. The MENA region’s united support for “authoritarian stability” in Chad dovetails with the views of France, Russia, and China, and could thwart faint hopes for a democratic transition resulting from Déby’s unexpected demise. – Middle East Institute

The Americas

With his country in tatters, Venezuela’s authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro, has long denied the presence of Colombian insurgents on his soil. But by some estimates, guerrilla fighters from across the border now operate in more than half of Venezuela’s territory, according to the Colombian military, rights activists, security analysts and dozens of interviews in the affected Venezuelan states. – New York Times 

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether the government can block a detainee at Guantánamo Bay from obtaining information from two former C.I.A. contractors involved in torturing him on the ground that it would expose state secrets. – New York Times 

The United States and United Kingdom on Monday both imposed sanctions on a member of Guatemala’s Congress over alleged corruption, as Washington presses a number of Central American governments to crack down on graft. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is intensifying efforts to court the Biden administration as the new U.S. president weighs whether to risk a political backlash in Florida and ease up on sanctions seeking to isolate the socialist leader. – Associated Press

Erielle Davidson writes: While our allies in Israel have taken a tough stand against the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Biden administration is granting concessions to what many believe to be a highly biased court — and such weakness could have real national security implications for the United States. […] It is time to use the leverage accumulated by the Trump administration — not squander it — in order to compel meaningful reform within the ICC. It starts with resuming a robust sanctions regime. – Algemeiner


Apple is following through on its pledge to crack down on Facebook and other snoopy apps that secretly shadow people on their iPhones in order to target more advertising at users. – Associated Press

The German Advertising Federation filed an antitrust complaint on Monday against Apple over the tech giant’s rollout of its App Tracking Transparency feature. – The Hill

A pair of House lawmakers are urging legislators to appropriate more funding for a key federal cybersecurity agency after a year in which cyber threats skyrocketed. – The Hill

Sarah O’Connor writes: There is now a booming market in cloud systems which promise to keep remote workers in line. […]But the EU regulations as currently drafted might not be equal to this challenge. The onus will initially be on the providers of the AI systems to assess their own compliance with the rules. Member states, meanwhile, will be expected to designate a national authority to “supervise the application and implementation” and provide “market surveillance”. – Financial Times 

Tina Ramirez and Lena Abboud write: Imposing limitations or restrictions on expression in the public cyber-square to avoid division or disagreement can encourage the very siloed thinking and association fueling tension across the country and more broadly, around the world. History has proven time and again that controlling what people think and believe always ends badly for freedom loving people.  – The Hill


The Army will replace the head of its Criminal Investigation Command, moving the official less than a year after assigning her to the role. – The Hill

The U.S. State Department on Friday approved a $1.6 billion foreign military sale of MQ-9B drones for Australia. – Defense News

The National Reconnaissance Office launched a classified payload from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on April 26, marking the agency’s first launch from the site since NROL-71 in January 2019. – C4ISRNET

The Marine Corps’ second round of changes to how it fights shows moves in command, aviation, logistics and ground combat and shifts that might see stateside Marine reservists operating drones for active units overseas, ditching weapons companies from infantry battalions, and a host of other moves. – C4ISRNET

Using a blend of information from unmanned and manned ships and aircraft, a guided-missile destroyer launched an anti-surface missile from over-the-horizon to hit a target more than 250 miles away without using active sensors as part of the Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21, Navy officials said on Monday. – USNI News

Simone Askew, Jack Lowe, Nette Monaus, and Kirsten L. Cooper write: Finally, the most important lesson is that policy updates alone are ineffective without continued commitment from military and civilian leadership. It takes more than words. New, centralized bureaucratic structures, robust strategies, and better processes are needed to create a standardized mechanism for reporting and recording incidents of extremism within the military. […]The military can learn from its own history to make this call a reality. – War on the Rocks