Fdd's overnight brief

August 11, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


A senior Iranian security official urged Iraq on Tuesday to expel Iranian rebels from Iraqi Kurdistan, or expect Tehran to take “preventative measures” against the armed groups, Iranian state media reported. – Reuters 

Iranians are suffering through yet another surge in the coronavirus pandemic — their country’s worst yet — and anger is growing at images of vaccinated Westerners without face masks on the internet or on TV while they remain unable to get the shots. – Associated Press 

 Israel hosted US Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns Tuesday for talks focused on Iran, with Jerusalem reportedly attempting to snooker any American rapprochement with Tehran by presenting Iran’s new president as a deranged misfit. – Times of Israel  

A fire broke out in an Iranian petrochemical factory on Khark Island in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday morning, according to Iranian news agency Irib. – Jerusalem Post  

 “Israel will not stand by while Iran advances its nuclear program,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday and vowed to respond further. – Jerusalem Post 

New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been invited to a planned regional summit in Baghdad, his office said on Tuesday during a visit by Iraq’s top diplomat. – Agence-France Presse 

Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl write: Iran is recalibrating its campaign to expel US forces from Iraq following the results of the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, during which the United States announced a mostly symbolic withdrawal of all its combat forces from Iraq. Proxies may continue larger-scale attacks on US forces in Syria before October and may also expand their attacks to target US aircraft, bases, and allies throughout the Middle East. – Institute for the Study of War 


Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid departed for Morocco on Wednesday in what will be the first visit by Israel’s top diplomat since the two countries upgraded ties last year. – Reuters  

Hamas prevented a UN team of experts from working near a tunnel that was found in May near one of the schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), KAN News reported on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post  

As tensions with Iran continue to rise, Bahrain’s Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Political Affairs, H.E.  Dr. Shaikh Abdulla bin Ahmed Al Khalifa met with the IDF’s point man on Iran during his visit to Israel. – Jerusalem Post   

Israeli Air Force pilots flew alongside their counterparts from the United States Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) in the first-of-a-kind aerial drill Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post  

The Palestinian Authority welcomes the decision of the Biden administration to dispatch CIA director William Burns to Israel and the West Bank, a Palestinian official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel is in direct contact with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states combating the influence of Iran in the region, Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej said on Tuesday. – Times of Israel 

A coordinated cyberattack, which most likely originated in China, hit dozens of Israeli government and private organizations, according to an announcement Monday by the international cybersecurity company FireEye. – Haaretz   

The recent weeks have seen ongoing protests in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the killing of opposition activist Nizar Banat by the PA’s security apparatuses. The PA has faced intense criticism, both for the killing of the activist and for the harsh suppression of the public protests that erupted in its wake, measures which were in flagrant violation of freedom of expression and of the press. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Bret Stephens writes: What we really have is a feckless political gesture, a corporate fiasco, a de facto boycott of the Jewish state, an enraged Israeli government, and a handful of customers who won’t get their Chunky Monkey cravings satisfied. Just how any of this translates into peace or justice, much less ending “the occupation,” is anyone’s guess. […]To have to write a whole column about the Ben & Jerry’s founders’ personal political views shouldn’t be necessary. Too bad their sanctimonious, inept, and dishonest attempt at foreign policy makes it so. – New York Times


President Michel Aoun on Tuesday condemned criticism of Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch after he expressed opposition to the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, warning that insults must be avoided to safeguard national unity. – Reuters

 A group of Hezbollah militants launching rocket attacks at Israel have been released, and the rocket launcher returned to the Shiite group. – Algemeiner 

Blaise Misztal, Charles B. Perkins, Jonathan Ruhe, and Ari Cicurel write: The United States should not allow the Lebanese state and international community to escape responsibility for restraining Hezbollah and holding the group accountable for destabilizing rocket fire. But Washington should also understand that the most effective means for deterring a broader conflict remains ensuring that Israel has the capabilities it needs to prevail in any war as quickly as possible and protect its population and critical infrastructure from incoming munitions. – JINSA 

Middle East & North Africa

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Tuesday forming a new government under Prime Minister Hussein Arnous, the Syrian Presidency said on Twitter. – Reuters  

Syrian media reported an explosion and fire on a ship at the port in Latakia on Tuesday, with initial reports indicating that the affected vessel had been used to transfer Iranian oil to Syria in the past. – Jerusalem Post 

The Biden administration is voicing support for the U.S. and Egyptian security relationship as Congress debates restricting funds over concerns about human rights abuses and the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society. – The Hill 

A new BBC investigation has revealed the scale of operations by a shadowy Russian mercenary group in Libya’s civil war, which includes links to war crimes and the Russian military. – BBC 

Fathi Bashagha writes: To be sure, free and fair elections are just the beginning of a process that will take years — and one that will require leaders who can secure and unify a country that has been marred by deep divisions. But I know from my time as the minister of interior in Libya’s Government of National Accord that Libyans are ready to challenge corruption, stamp out terrorism, attract foreign investment and rebuild our country’s healthcare system. – Financial Times 

 Kenneth M. Pollack and Dennis B. Ross write: The Biden administration seems to have learned the lesson that while the U.S. may not want to make the Middle East a priority, it cannot afford to ignore it, either. Without a comprehensive strategy for the region, however, Washington runs the risk of having the region explode in ways that will force the U.S. to make it a priority. And that is the last thing that President Biden needs. – The Hill 

Fadil Aliriza writes: But the popularity of Saied or his decisions — and faith in his willingness or capacity to solve the multiple crises Tunisia is facing — is likely to wane over time. At the moment he enjoys significant political capital, but every day that the pandemic continues to ravage the country, that public services remain inadequate or inaccessible, that security forces retain their repressive powers and disproportionately practice them against the poor, that the cost of living remains out of reach for many, is a day his capital is diminished. – Middle East Institute  

Korean Peninsula

North Korea did not answer routine calls on inter-Korean hotlines on Tuesday, South Korea said, hours after a senior official in Pyongyang warned Seoul and Washington over annual joint military drills set to begin this week. – Reuters  

North Korea on Wednesday repeated a threat to respond to U.S.-South Korean military exercises it claims are an invasion rehearsal, while the United States insisted the drills were “purely defensive in nature” to maintain the South’s security. – Associated Press 

Joseph Bosco writes: The Biden administration’s emphasis on human rights would be a natural follow-up to Trump’s early speeches in Seoul, at the United Nations, and his 2018 State of the Union address calling the Kim regime unfit to govern. Complementing targeted sanctions, the strategy would separate the odious Pyongyang government from the victimized North Korean people. Trump initially was on the right track with North Korea. Biden should get back to it. – The Hill 


When sexual assault accusations by a female employee at Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. began circulating on the Chinese internet over the weekend, thousands of the firm’s employees—and many more online—felt a spark of familiarity around the details of the incident. – Wall Street Journal 

A Chinese court on Wednesday sentenced Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison, in a case widely seen as retribution against Canada’s arrest of a senior Huawei executive wanted by the United States. – Washington Post  

President Joe Biden’s administration is attempting to block China’s efforts to establish a military base in the Middle East by warning regional powers that such a partnership with Beijing would jeopardize their security relationship with the United States. – Washington Examiner 

China on Tuesday demanded Lithuania recall its envoy to Beijing after the EU member allowed Taiwan to set up an office under its own name in a move seen as provocative by the Chinese government. – Agence-France Presse  

Katherine Hille writes: But military experts posit that Beijing’s pursuit of a naval force centred on such massive ships makes it vulnerable to the same threat China is mounting against the US Navy in Asia: missiles that can hit moving aircraft carriers or the large bases they need, making it dangerous for them to access or freely move around in certain waters.  […]But as Beijing’s economic interests grow around the globe, it may need to deploy carriers farther and farther from its shores. Financial Times  

Patrick Tucker writes: Much has been made about the emerging relationship between China and Russia, two countries that the National Defense Strategy recognizes as near-peer competitors to the United States. They’re already collaborating on research, both are run by autocratic regimes, and neither has much affinity for the United States. But the marriage may not be as steady as Russia, especially, would like others to believe. A new report out of Russia accuses the Chinese government of hacking Russian state targets.  – Defense One  

Klon Kitchen and Bill Drexel write: Housing the AI research labs of America’s cutting-edge tech companies in authoritarian China was never a good idea. But given that the Chinese government uses foreign tech companies to help find and exploit security vulnerabilities, and that it is claiming ever more control over tech companies’ operations and data, it looks more objectionable than ever. – Defense One  


Afghanistan’s foreign minister called for international sanctions to be reimposed on Taliban leaders as the insurgent movement seized three more provinces, tightening their grip on the country and preparing for a push on Kabul. – Wall Street Journal 

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office told Al Jazeera TV on Tuesday that the group is committed to the negotiation path in Doha and does not want it to collapse. – Reuters 

The United States is evaluating the threat environment around its embassy in Kabul on a daily basis, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday, when asked about a potential further drawdown from the mission amid a Taliban takeover of seven regional capitals in Afghanistan. – Reuters 

Taliban fighters took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an official said, the eighth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in six days as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal. – Reuters  

The Taliban seized three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday, putting nine of the nation’s 34 in the insurgents’ hands amid the U.S. withdrawal from the country. – Associated Press  

Taliban conquests in Afghanistan are challenging the Biden administration’s hopes that a desire for international respect — and for international aid and cash — may moderate the fundamentalist militia’s worst behaviors when the U.S. ends its war there. – Associated Press 

President Biden on Tuesday said he does not regret his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan amid reports of rising civilian casualties as the Taliban make gains in the country. – The Hill 

Yun Sun writes: In anticipation of prolonged conflict in Afghanistan, Beijing is trying to strike a balance in its diplomacy toward the Afghan government and the Taliban. Chinese officials’ recent recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political force is significant. However, the prospects for that relationship remain uncertain as the Taliban’s future policies are unclear. China has the capacity to play a bigger role in the country economically, but a willingness to do so will only emerge when there are signs of sustainable stability. – War on the Rocks 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The US has said it can use some airpower to support the Afghan government, but the reality is that the airport has been slow and airstrikes are few and far between. This is not how battles are won. […]When an adversary knows you won’t resort to force and the most you can do is tell them they will be isolated, and they aren’t isolated, then the adversary will continue moving forward and call your bluff. – Jerusalem Post  


Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union said on Tuesday it would disband, days after it was criticised by Chinese state media and the city’s Education Bureau severed ties, accusing the group of helping to infiltrate schools with politics. – Reuters 

Police in Thailand fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who took to the streets of Bangkok on Tuesday amid anger over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government. – Reuters 

India sent a military plane to northern Afghanistan on Tuesday to pull out its citizens, officials said, as fighting raged between Afghan security forces and the advancing Taliban. – Reuters  

The United States said on Tuesday it was giving Myanmar more than $50 million in aid as surging COVID-19 infections worsened a humanitarian crisis in the Southeast Asian country already reeling after generals overthrew a democratically elected government earlier this year. – Reuters 

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government needs to treat China with more caution after relations with its largest trading partner hit new lows. – Bloomberg 

Claude Barfield and William Rau write: The constant pace of innovation in the cyber realm means that preventing a Chinese attack on Taiwan becomes more challenging each day. Because China’s motives and abilities already pose a clear threat, the U.S. should act now to secure Taiwan’s cyberspace. – The Hill 

V. Arianti and Nodirbek Soliev write: However, the return of Indonesian fighters who fought under Nusra Front/HTS, especially those who return undetected and with a long-term violent agenda, is a key security concern for the Indonesian government. In recent years, Detachment 88 has arrested some of the 55 JI members who had returned from Syria. – Middle East Institute 


Soldiers from Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan used new Russian firearms, flamethrowers and surface-to-air missile launchers in military drills which concluded on Tuesday just 20 km (12 miles) from the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. – Reuters 

Facebook (FB.O) said on Tuesday it had removed a network of accounts from Russia that it linked to a marketing firm which aimed to enlist influencers to push anti-vaccine content about the COVID-19 jabs. – Reuters  

Editorial: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken and prominent opponent, and Mr. Navalny’s organization has been gutted by the Russian authorities. With a steady tightening of the screws, Mr. Putin is decimating what is left of Russia’s civil society. […]Russia used a chemical weapon to poison Mr. Navalny. President Biden is overdue in imposing mandatory sanctions for it. – Washington Post  

Tom Rogan writes: Recognizing Russia’s priority strategic interest in extricating U.S. forces from Syria, the president should warn that any attack on U.S. personnel in Syria, even if carried out by Russian proxies, will see active defense and military retaliation. – Washington Examiner 


Germany police arrested a British man on Tuesday who worked at the British embassy in Berlin on suspicion of passing documents to the Russian intelligence service in exchange for cash, prosecutors said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

 The European Commission will analyse Poland’s decision to scrap a disciplinary system for judges which critics say is a tool to pressure judges, the European Commission said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Six EU member states have warned the bloc’s executive against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe despite major advances of Taliban militants in their country. – Reuters  

Poland’s ruling right-wing coalition fell apart on Tuesday after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed the head of a junior coalition party, putting the government’s future in doubt. – Agence –France Presse  

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would keep a close eye on “hybrid activities” by Belarus against alliance member Lithuania, as the former teams up with Russia for the Zapad 2021 military drill next month. – Defense News 

Tom Rogan writes: That matters because China ultimately intends to displace the democratic international order with its own feudal authoritarianism. Democratic governments cannot accept that outcome. Lithuania should call a NATO meeting. NATO should then send China an equally clear message that its bullying will be costly. – Washington Examiner 

Alessio Patalano writes: As the United States continues to recognize the need to work more and more closely with allies, a longer reaching British arm should be seen as most welcome assistance. Still, what is certain is that post-Brexit Britain has entered a new phase in security policy, one in which the use of its maritime posture as a tool of national statecraft will determine the global nature of its international standing. – War on the Rocks 


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged “all capable Ethiopians” to join the army, special forces and regional militias to support the fight against rebel Tigrayan forces, a call for total mobilization in a civil war that is tearing Africa’s second most-populous nation apart. – Wall Street Journal 

Chad’s transitional president on Tuesday invited opposition armed groups to participate in a national dialogue to determine the future of the country, reversing previous statements that the government would not negotiate with rebels. – Reuters 

 Fresh from recapturing a strategic northern Mozambican port held by Islamic extremist rebels for a year, Rwandan and Mozambican troops say they are pursuing the insurgents into the surrounding areas. – Associated Press  

The Nigerian army says 335 Boko Haram extremists, including two top commanders, have laid down their arms and withdrawn from the sect in response to a military offensive in the northeast. – Associated Press 

The Americas

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed on Tuesday to protect a prominent journalist after a powerful drug cartel threatened to kill her, in the latest instance of serious violence facing reporters in the country. – Reuters  

Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted down a plan by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to alter the country’s voting system on Tuesday, despite on an unusual display of military hardware by the armed forces. – Reuters 

Top Mexican and U.S. officials discussed increasing bilateral cooperation to address immigration during a meeting in Mexico City, the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday evening. – Reuters 

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a Chinese court’s sentencing of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage on Wednesday was “absolutely unacceptable” and called for his immediate release. – Reuters 


Facebook said Tuesday that it has removed hundreds of accounts linked to a mysterious advertising agency operating out of Russia that sought to pay social media influencers to smear COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca. – Times of Israel  

 The Senate included more than $1.9 billion in cybersecurity funds as part of the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package approved Tuesday. – The Hill   

The National Security Agency has awarded a secret cloud computing contract worth up to $10 billion to Amazon Web Services, Nextgov has learned. – Defense One  

David Ignatius writes: Cyberattacks on U.S. targets have, if anything, escalated since Biden took office. […]The countermeasures sound bureaucratic, but they have teeth. A May executive order mandated better commercial security standards within six months and created a Cyber Safety Review Board to assess malware attacks the way the National Transportation Safety Board investigates air crashes. – Washington Post  

Eric Rosenbach, Juliette Kayyem, and Lara Mitra writes: These attacks and others like them are a sobering reminder that U.S. critical infrastructure is rife with vulnerabilities—and that criminals around the world are more than capable of exploiting them. The attacks have also prompted a growing chorus of calls for the Biden administration to not only shore up U.S. cyberdefenses but also to go on the cyberoffensive—to “hit Putin with a serious cyberattack,” as Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, put it. – Foreign Affairs 


The Marine Corps needs increased diversity to fully implement the force design changes required to face off against China, Russia or other potential threats, said Marine Brig. Gen. A.T. Williamson, director of manpower, plans and policy, in early August. – Marine Times  

The U.S. Army has ordered 83 more Stryker combat vehicles equipped with 30mm cannons from Oshkosh Defense worth $99 million to outfit another brigade combat team. – Defense News  

The air wing the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is hauling around not only includes the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter for the first time in history but also a beefed-up complement of EA-18G Growlers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes for an “air wing of the future” leaders think can defeat high-end adversaries before they even spot the U.S. Navy coming. – Defense News   

President Joe Biden will announce White House national security official Sasha Baker as his pick for deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, Defense News has learned. – Defense News  

The U.S. Army’s critical missile defense system will play a small role at the service’s major campaign of learning this fall — Project Convergence — in order to focus on the system’s progress through a challenging initial operational test, the head of Army Space and Missile Defense Command told Defense News. – Defense News  

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday rejected a Republican proposal to add $50 billion in defense infrastructure spending to Democrats’ budget plan. – Defense News  

San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet relocated its command-and-control hub to Hawaii to support the Navy’s Large Scale Exercise 2021 and join an integrated exercise that’s combining live ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), and new technologies with simulated forces designed to synchronize the joint force. – USNI News  

The Defense Department’s Space Development Agency (SDA) today plans to launch an experimental payload, developed jointly with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), to study the infrared background created by the Earth. – Breaking Defense