Fdd's overnight brief

August 10, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration faces the sobering reality that returning to the Iran nuclear deal may no longer be feasible, as the Islamic Republic finds ways to cope with U.S. sanctions and races toward the capacity to build a bomb. – Bloomberg 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday renewed vows to punish Iran for allegedly attacking an Israeli-linked tanker, saying the world cannot allow “impunity.” – Agence France-Presse  

In his first phone call to a Western leader, the new president of Iran asked his French counterpart Monday to help secure Iran’s “rights” in now-stalled talks to revive Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. – Associated Press 

The State Department has urged American allies to rely on diplomacy, not military action or threats, to stop Iran’s nuclear program, following last week’s belligerent remarks from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. – Newsweek 

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, president of the Center for Public Diplomacy, on Monday slammed the UK for its role in investigating the murder of a British citizen on a ship off the coast of Yemen. – Jerusalem Post 

With chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal fading, the US is considering the possibility of easing sanctions on Iran in return for an agreement that the Islamic Republic freeze any progress on its nuclear project, Bloomberg news reported Monday. – Times of Israel 

Nine members of the European Parliament sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, blasting the decision to send a senior EU diplomat to Tehran for last week’s inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. – Times of Israel 

The Iranian-backed Houthis have suffered some setbacks in the battle for Marib in Yemen. Meanwhile, it looks like there is increased attention on their drone attacks and an Iranian drone attack on a ship off Oman. For the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, these will be part of his first moves in the region. He will be shoring up support for Hamas and also may travel to Baghdad. – Jerusalem Post 

The trial of an Iranian citizen accused of committing grave war crimes and murder during the final phase of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s started Tuesday in Stockholm. – Associated Press 

Walter Russell Mead writes: A deepening confrontation with a radicalizing Iran is not what the Biden administration expected from its Middle East policy, but that is the reality with which it must cope. Attempting to placate Tehran through patience and restraint will likely only stoke the regime’s ambitions. The smell of blood in the water rarely inspires feelings of moderation and restraint among sharks. – Wall Street Journal  

Seth J. Frantzman writes: What this shows is a more complex Iranian response and likely an illustration of more to come. Iran wants to put in play this pre-emption doctrine. It wants to distract the US, UK and Israel from the incident off Oman and the emerging reports that Washington and London back a response and that London may respond somewhere. – Jerusalem Post 

Jenny Aharon writes: Yet what we have encountered with Raisi’s inauguration winds up to be a totally different ballgame. Staying silent on the fraudulent election of a man that was personally responsible for the killings of more than 1,500 political prisoners is unfortunate, to put it mildly, but sending an envoy to celebrate Raisi’s election, constitutes outright complicity. By legitimizing this man’s election under the guise of diplomacy, the EU has now lost its credibility not only as a human rights defender but as a reliable partner in all respects. – Jerusalem Post 

Farzin Nadimi writes:  Yet the Mercer attack was seemingly designed to cause casualties rather than just damage, with one suicide drone crashing directly into the manned bridge.  […]As Washington weighs its response and consults with allies, it should consider treating the situation as a broader freedom of navigation issue, which would empower U.S. officials to push for a strong UN Security Council mandate in support of an international naval task force. – Washington Institute  


The Israeli military said soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian woman after she attacked them with a knife in the occupied West Bank late on Monday. – Associated Press 

CIA Director Bill Burns was set to arrive in Israel on Tuesday amid reports that the US is considering alternative ways to get Iran to stop advancing its nuclear program as negotiations to return to the 2015 Iran deal stall. – Jerusalem Post 

The Hezbollah operative who fired a salvo of 20 rockets towards Israel on Friday was identified by the IDF as Ali Kajak, and he had been documented near the border in civilian clothing several times. – Jerusalem Post 

The central threat to Israel and most important for its security must remain Iran, outgoing National Security Council adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat said Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

US Vice President Kamala Harris called President Isaac Herzog Monday to congratulate him on his inauguration as Israel’s head of state. The two discussed the importance of deepening the US-Israel relationship, with Harris expressing the Biden administration’s commitment to Israel’s security, both offices said. – Times of Israel 

Israel has asked the Biden administration to use its bully pulpit to encourage several Palestinian families facing Israeli eviction from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah to accept a compromise proposed by the Supreme Court that would allow them to stay put for the foreseeable future, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Monday. – Times of Israel 

The Biden administration is continuing to work behind the scenes to advance the opening of a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, and according to a report in the Israel Hayom newspaper, the issue is likely to be raised during the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the United States at the end of the month, in the premier’s talks with President Biden. – Arutz Sheva 

On this day, 20 years ago, a suicide bomber killed 15 civilians, including four children, and injured 130 others at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem in 2001. On August 9, 2001, Palestinian terrorist Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi led the suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant during lunchtime, when the restaurant was packed with customers and pedestrian traffic near the pizzeria was at a peak. – Jerusalem Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: But at key moments when risky action may need to be taken or might be avoided by sufficient understanding, the Burns-Barnea meeting and connection will have fateful consequences for Israel, the US and the Middle East. – Jerusalem Post 

Dan Diker writes: Clearly, Israel should be judged by the same principles and standards as other nations to prevent the current international obsession of defaming, delegitimizing, dehumanizing, demonizing and denying Israel’s existence and its citizens’ collective rights, as former Canadian Justice Minister Professor Irwin Cotler has argued. Respectful civil discourse on Israel including well-reasoned contextualized, balanced and rationally considered policy debate must now be embraced as the new universal moral standard in the international diplomatic, media and public dialogue. – Jerusalem Post 


Three Lebanese men died in altercations on Monday related to scarce fuel supplies, an army statement and security source said, as the country reels from a long-running economic crisis. – Reuters  

Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi called on Sunday for the Lebanese army to take control of the southern part of the country, Hezbollah’s stronghold, and strictly implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, after recent clashes between Israel and Hezbollah. – Jerusalem Post 

Neville Teller writes: Given the likely composition of the new administration, there seems no chance of Lebanon freeing itself any time soon from the dominance that Hezbollah has managed to acquire in the nation’s political life and the consequent malign influence on Lebanese affairs that Iran is able to exercise through its puppet. […]It is no wonder that some commentators, like the UK’s policy institute Chatham House, are coming to regard Lebanon as a state controlled by Hezbollah. – Jerusalem Post 

Arabian Peninsula

More aid from the U.S. is on its way to stave off famine in Yemen, where a six-year conflict reached an impasse as international peace talks continue to falter. – Newsweek 

Bahrain’s ambassador to the US said Monday that the Abraham Accords helped end the recent Gaza war and mitigate damage from the fighting. – Times of Israel 

US Central Command (CENTCOM) has indicated that Iran has an anti-ship version of the long-range delta-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that has previously been used to attack Saudi oil facilities. CENTCOM released a statement on 6 August identifying the UAV that was used to attack the tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman on 30 July as the same type that was used against Saudi Arabia in 2019 and has been supplied by Iran to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. – Janes 

Saudi Arabia

The Biden administration, under pressure from families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, said on Monday that it intended to disclose some long-classified documents that the families think could detail connections between the government of Saudi Arabia and the hijackers who carried out the attacks. – New York Times 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Monday and repeated a call for progress on human rights. – Reuters  

Saudi Arabia’s air defenses have intercepted and destroyed two explosive drones launched by the Iran-backed Houthi militia towards Khamis Mushait, the Arab Coalition said early on Monday. – Alarabiya News 

Middle East & North Africa

Russian flights landed in the Egyptian resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada for the first time in nearly six years on Monday after Moscow had banned them following a deadly plane crash. – Reuters  

Gideon Rachman writes: “Autocracy” can sound tolerable in the abstract but it usually means torture, murder and injustice. Previous generations of Arab autocrats were able to try and buy some legitimacy with subsidised food and services, and plentiful government jobs. But that option may now be closed off because so many governments are highly indebted. Experiments with democracy have failed to solve the Middle East’s problems. Renewed autocracy is unlikely to be any more effective. – Financial Times 

Michael Rubin writes: Erdoğan may have charmed Musk in the same way he once charmed George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump; or perhaps Musk simply looks at the launch as a good business opportunity for SpaceX. […]Perhaps it is time for the Biden administration—and Republicans—to join and tell SpaceX to scrap its business with Türksat or risk its more lucrative contracts with the U.S. government. –  The National Interest 

Korean Peninsula

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned Tuesday that Pyongyang could move to bolster its nuclear and conventional weapons program in response to a major joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea set for this month. – Washington Post  

South Korea and the United States should pay a price for going ahead with annual joint military drills due to begin this week, Kim Yo Jong, a powerful North Korean official and sister of leader Kim Jong Un, said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Jaejoon Kim writes: North Korea has more or less gotten away with a dangerous series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests that increasingly gives them the edge against U.S. extended deterrence. Waiting for Kim to come crawling to the table is little more than wishful thinking; the onus is on Washington to reach out first, reach out often, and continue to gauge interest. […]But in a world in which there appear to be no good solutions to the North Korean nuclear threat, she and jaded South Koreans everywhere may want to be careful of what they wish for. – The National Interest  


A Chinese court reaffirmed the death penalty for a Canadian national convicted of drug smuggling in a case that has taken on increased geopolitical significance, given Canada’s detention of a prominent Huawei Technologies Co. executive at the behest of the U.S. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States and China clashed over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea at a high-level U.N. Security Council meeting on maritime security Monday that also put a spotlight on attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and drug and human trafficking in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean. – Associated Press 

Canada condemned a Chinese court’s decision to uphold the death sentence of a Canadian national convicted of drug trafficking, a decision that came as a Huawei Technologies Co. executive’s extradition battle enters its final stages in Vancouver. – Bloomberg  

Chinese and Russian military forces are engaged in joint exercises in northwestern China as ties grow between the two autocratic states amid uncertainty over instability in Afghanistan. – Associated Press 

Editorial: China’s plans underscore the need to modernize the U.S. nuclear deterrent. […]That would leave Americans exposed as the global threat landscape darkens. It would also push arms control further out of reach as China would have even less incentive to cooperate. Let’s hope the Pentagon’s political leadership takes Mr. Blinken’s observation seriously. Congress can help with persuasion. – Wall Street Journal  

Editorial: To be sure, a boycott would probably not change China’s behavior, while athletes who have worked their whole lives for a shot at Olympic gold would pay a heavy price. But if there is to be no boycott, then countries and companies must deny China the unchallenged showcase it craves. The United States and its fellow democracies should devise appropriate condemnations and time for them at the Olympics. […]No government, company or individual should be complicit in the glorification of the Chinese regime’s crimes. – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: Beijing’s strategic rationale is twofold: ensuring that it can hold U.S. military centerpieces at risk during conflict and retaining credible nuclear strike options. On the stealth side, China is developing assets that would better allow its evasion of U.S. satellite-killer capabilities. […]Top line: China is innovating with a mind to winning a war against America. Recognizing China’s strategy, the U.S. must adapt accordingly. – Washington Examiner  

Anthony B. Kim and Cora Wack write: Put simply, China is working aggressively to spread its influence and promote its interests throughout the globe, exploiting nations and flaunting individual rights and sovereignty as it does so. And it’s doing a pretty good job. […]It is time to hold China accountable for such abuses. It is vital, however, that the U.S. and other Western nations not fall into the trap of countering the growth of Chinese influence by replicating authoritarian Chinese actions. – Heritage Foundation  


The Taliban captured the capital of the strategic Samangan province on Monday after a prominent pro-government commander switched sides, nearly completing their sweep of northern Afghanistan and intensifying a political crisis in Kabul. – Wall Street Journal  

After grueling years of watching United States forces fight and die in a faraway land, the president appealed to growing war weariness among voters and brought the troops home. Not long after, an extremist group stormed through areas the Americans had left, killing civilians, seizing power and sweeping away billions of dollars’ worth of American efforts to leave behind a stable nation. […]It is also now a possible scenario in Afghanistan, where President Biden’s order to shut down America’s longest war has led to swift advances by the Taliban, the same extremist group the United States invaded Afghanistan to topple after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. – New York Times 

And he’s not alone. Romal is one of about 20,000 Afghans, along with more than 50,000 of their immediate family members, who have applied to move to the United States through a special visa program known as Special Immigrant Visa. The program was created by Congress as a quick way to bring Afghan interpreters and contractors to safety in the United States, but stringent vetting requirements have trapped many in bureaucratic limbo for years. – New York Times 

The United States said it was up to Afghan security forces to defend the country after Taliban militants captured a sixth provincial capital on Monday, along with border towns and trade routes. – Reuters  

A U.S. peace envoy was back in the Middle East on Tuesday to warn the Taliban not to pursue a military victory on the ground and deliver a blunt message: A Taliban government that comes to power through force in Afghanistan will not be recognized. – Associated Press 

The United States showed no sign Monday of stepping up airstrikes in Afghanistan despite accelerating Taliban gains there. A Pentagon spokesman emphasized that Americans now see the fight as one for Afghan political and military leaders to win or lose. – Associated Press 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani views peace talks with the Taliban as dead, and is looking to both arm civilians and cooperate with warlords to prevent the militant group from overrunning his administration in Kabul. – Bloomberg  

Ruth Pollard writes: Along with women’s rights, democracy is perishing. It is clear the Taliban cannot win Afghanistan at the ballot box. […]Unless the international community acts, these courageous actions will be pointless and the U.S. and its allies will have made martyrs of the very women and children they had promised to protect. – Bloomberg

Chris J. Dolan writes: While the collapse of the Afghan government is not guaranteed, there is tremendous instability and unpredictability for both Afghanistan and the region. The Taliban does not possess the heavy firepower required for a full-out assault on Kabul. The Taliban may simply consolidate its holdings and wait for the Afghan government to buckle under the pressure or strike a diplomatic deal with China, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran. That would be a major loss for the U.S. But do not expect any of these players to step into the graveyard of empires with their militaries anytime soon. – The Hill  


The shift in a region where China vies with the United States for influence underscores the limits of Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy. Countries such as Indonesia and Thailand once bet heavily on China’s Sinovac, despite warnings from medical experts, but their health systems have come under intense strain as the delta variant tears through towns and cities. – Washington Post 

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she supports the implementation of a mainland Chinese law in the former British colony to respond to foreign sanctions, the strongest signal yet that the city is set to adopt the legislation. – Reuters  

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden held talks over the phone on Tuesday morning, according to Kyodo. – Reuters  

A protracted war in neighboring Afghanistan is Pakistan’s “nightmare scenario,” the country’s national security advisor said Monday. He also slammed relentless blaming of Islamabad for the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. – Associated Press 

Myanmar’s foreign ministry said on Monday that an alleged plot in New York against United Nations ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, an opponent of the ruling junta, had nothing to do with the country and was a US domestic case. – CNN 

Primrose Riordan writes: As tensions between the US and China have ratcheted up, multinational companies in Hong Kong have struggled not to stumble on the tricky diplomatic path of keeping both powers onside. […]Either way, western companies must be aware they are in uncharted waters. As the past few weeks have shown, China is much less hesitant to disrupt financial flows for both regulatory and political reasons. – Financial Times 

Wes Martin writes: Instead of standing firm against human rights abuses, the United States seems to be trying to appease Modi and further gain his allegiance in an effort to curb China’s growing influence in the region. […]Concerning Modi actions, the United States has failed to examine the past, observe the present and predict the future. Today, it is the citizens of IIOJK who are paying the price of these failures. – The Hill 

James Clad writes: Kazakhstan retains a role it assumed thirty years ago when moving against the cold war nuclear nemesis. Careful political footwork balancing two powerful neighbors since then has helped it retain a nonproliferation focus, working also with Japan and other countries in the UN. […]In this context, monitoring Kazakh civil liberties and post-Soviet governance has its place. But it may also run the risk of weakening an important moderating voice restraining the development of de-stabilizing nuclear weapons delivery systems. – The National Interest


Russia is finding that keeping the peace in Syria is harder than fighting its civil war, as a fierce assault by Syrian forces on a rebel-held town erodes Moscow’s aim to cement itself as a major power broker in the Middle East. – Wall Steet Journal  

At Russia’s premier expo for military aircraft in July, Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected a prototype jet that is designed to take on more than enemy fighters. The lightweight stealth plane also is meant to cause geopolitical headaches for the U.S. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday it had introduced sanctions on several representatives of Great Britain in response to earlier measures by London targeting Moscow. – Reuters 


President Biden signed an executive order enhancing his ability to impose costs on the government of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko along with new sanctions targeting individuals and business entities, including the country’s Olympic committee. – Wall Street Journal  

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukaskenko struck a defiant note at an hourslong televised briefing a year after claiming victory in a disputed election, scoffing at Western sanctions and vowing never to cede power to his political opponents, whom he dismissed as foreign-backed agents. – Wall Street Journal  

The Lithuanian parliament will on Tuesday debate whether to build a high metal fence topped with razor wire on its border with Belarus to stop migrants who have been crossing in record numbers. – Reuters  

As cases of COVID-19 once more begin to rise in Germany, a study released Monday detailed how the pandemic has fueled antisemitic conspiracy myths, holding German Jews responsible for the spread of the virus and for government measures to contain it. – Algemeiner 


At least 51 people were killed when Islamist militants raided three villages in central Mali near the border with Niger, a district administrator said on Monday. – Reuters 

Nigerian security forces searched Monday for a Swiss man and his Nigerian colleague after the pair were abducted by gunmen in the country’s southwest. – Associated Press 

Claire Jones writes: If one country cannot finance the building of infrastructure, then how can it hope to prosper from trade? In the case of poorer areas in Africa and elsewhere, the answer is often to seek support from foreign governments including China. The Belt and Road Initiative, coupled with loans from Beijing’s development banks, mean China has usurped western nations as the continent’s biggest government creditor. – Financial Times 

Joshua Meservey writes: The restructuring of France’s approach comes at a time of increased instability in the Sahel, as Mali’s two recent coups and the death of Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby in April have further unsettled the region. This should concern any American: Sahelian terrorist groups feed off such instability and are growing in strength. Nearly a decade into the insurgency, however, a reevaluation may be in order. – Heritage Foundation  

Latin America

President Biden’s presidency raised expectations among many Cubans of a return to the Obama days, when the United States sought to bury the last vestige of the Cold War by restoring diplomatic relations with Havana and calling for an end to the embargo. – New York Times 

Nicaragua has recalled its ambassadors to Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica for “consultations,” the government said on Monday, deepening the Central American country’s international isolation over its crackdowns on the opposition. – Reuters  

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised concerns about Huawei (HWT.UL) equipment in Brazil’s 5G telecoms network during his visit to the country last week, a White House official said on Monday, but Brazil made no promises about whether it would use products from the Chinese company. – Reuters  

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Monday that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has crushed any prospect of free and fair elections in November by arresting dozens of opposition figures. – Associated Press 

Mike Gonzalez writes: The administration has also done nothing to expand Cubans’ internet connectivity, something else that needs to happen if the Cubans’ march for freedom is to have any success.  […]One thing delaying a rapprochement with the Cuban regime is that it would be a clear betrayal of the brave Cuban protesters, and that it would have a clear impact in elections in Florida, a key state on the Electoral College map. – Heritage Foundation  

United States

A bipartisan amendment to redefine who would be subject to new cryptocurrency regulation requirements under the Senate infrastructure bill was blocked Monday after Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) tried to attach his untreated proposal to boost military spending by $50 billion. – The Hill 

Eli Lake writes: Now imagine if foreign dissidents had to make the same kinds of calculations as British publishers. It would be a tragedy. Dissidents have historically helped correct and inform U.S. foreign policy. Their ability to play that role will be hampered if they have to hold their tongue so as not to provoke or offend their oppressors. – Bloomberg 


China has hacked dozens of Israeli public and private sector groups as well as doing the same in Iran, Saudi Arabia and a variety of other countries, the international cybersecurity company FireEye announced Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Beijing’s regulatory assault on China’s technology industry has lopped $87bn off the net worth of the sector’s wealthiest tycoons since the start of July, hitting the fortunes of magnates such as Tencent’s Pony Ma and Pinduoduo’s Colin Huang. – Financial Times  

Lucian Neimeyer writes: The federal government alone cannot make our society more cyber resilient and safe. More laws and regulations will have limited effect. Securing our critical infrastructure and all aspects of the technology in our environment requires a whole-of-nation effort that harnesses the ingenuity and innovation of markets and the private sector. […]It is time to stop admiring the cyber threat and to support a national program run by the private sector for cyber performance goals and incentives across the entire built environment. – The Hill 


The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is examining the possibility of building a layered ballistic missile defense architecture for the homeland that would bolster the current ground-based system in Alaska, all while a next-generation capability is developed and fielded. – Defense News 

The Navy and Marine Corps have bet big that they have locked into a workable vision on how they’ll fight in the future, kicking off a massive exercise last week to prove their concepts. – USNI News 

The US Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) is developing a new software application designed to help facilitate teaming unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) with advanced, manned combat platforms, such as the service’s Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV). – Janes 

Kris Osborn writes: An F-35 might be better positioned to respond quickly to enemy force movement. In the event that enemy air threats emerge in a firefight, an F-35 could address them in a way an A-10 could not, obviously. An F-35 would be much better positioned to locate enemy long-range fires points of combat significance and destroy hostile artillery, mortar or long-range-fires launching points. Finally, while the A-10 has a surprisingly wide envelope of weapons, an F-35 could travel with a wider range of air-ground attack weapons—armed with advanced targeting technology. – The National Interest