Fdd's overnight brief

August 3, 2021

In The News


Iran’s supreme leader officially endorsed his hard-line protégé as the nation’s next president on Tuesday, just two days ahead of the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi. The new president’s ascension comes at a sensitive time for Iran and the wider Middle East. – Associated Press 

Israel’s defense minister said Monday that Iran’s alleged attack on a merchant ship in the Arabian Sea last week was “a stepping-up of the escalation” of hostilities by Iran, and called for international action. – Associated Press  

Britain and Iran issued warnings to each other’s diplomats Monday as tensions escalated over a recent attack on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea. – Associated Press 

A senior Iranian official has sought to ease a diplomatic row with the UK that erupted after London blamed Tehran for a fatal drone attack on an oil tanker in the Gulf, cautioning that an escalation “doesn’t help anybody”. – Financial Times 

The United States is confident Iran attacked an Israeli-managed tanker last week, killing two, the top U.S. diplomat said on Monday, predicting a “collective response” but saying he did not think the incident necessarily signaled anything about Iran’s incoming President Ebrahim Raisi. – Reuters 

Iran will respond promptly to any threat against its security, the foreign ministry said on Monday, after the United States, Israel and Britain blamed Tehran for an attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman. – Reuters 

A new report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change unpacks the relationship between Iran’s new hardline Islamist president Ebrahim Raisi and the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). – Jerusalem Post 

Iran, a systematic abuser of human rights, is hypocritical in its criticisms of Israel, the only real democracy in the Middle East, Belgian legislators Michael Freilich and Darya Safai wrote to Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, speaker of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly, on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

The EU is legitimizing Iranian aggression by sending its deputy foreign affairs chief to the inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

On one of his final days in office, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday acknowledged an Israeli operation carried out by Mossad agents who broke into a secret warehouse outside Tehran and retrieved a huge trove of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear files. – Times of Israel 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a television interview on Monday night that French President Francois Hollande told him that a war between the West and Iran had been narrowly averted by Rouhani’s decision to engage in the negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, reported the BBC Monitoring service. – Arutz Sheva 

Jason Rezaian writes: Iran is a powder keg. The population is increasingly restless, and a new president with a past of extreme repression is taking office this week. As the Biden administration hopes to revive nuclear talks with Iran, it would be wise to allow more Iranian journalists like Mosaed into the United States. Their insights have never been more valuable than right now. – Washington Post 

Jon Gambrell writes: Iran’s judiciary, which Raisi led in recent years, remains internationally criticized for its closed-door trials and executions. […]Whatever path he pursues on foreign policy, there is a danger lurking at home for Raisi. With all the levers of government at his fingertips, he will inherit the myriad of problems facing Iran that have sparked nationwide protests over recent years. His response to that may prove just as important to how he handles the West. – Associated Press 

Tom Rogan writes: Bombing a rocket depot on the Iraq-Syria border won’t cut it. If Biden is to deter Iran from killing Americans, he’s going to have to target its drone program directly. That needn’t mean a sustained air campaign but rather a delivery of proportionate education. The next time Iran uses drones to attack Americans, the drone command center involved should be destroyed. If not, expect Khamenei and Raisi to unleash the already emboldened IRGC Quds force commander Esmail Qaani. – Washington Examiner 

Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi write: Having familiarized itself with the inner workings of the IRGC and the competing priorities, the key question the U.S. policy establishment will have to ask itself is whether it is wise to proceed with giving this new external-facing elite up to $90 billion in sanctions relief, and whether a return to the JCPOA is still in its interests and those of its allies who have been the targets of Islamic Republic’s destabilizing foreign policy. A misjudged calculation could end up increasing the threat to U.S. national security, and to stability in the Middle East. – Newsweek 

Simon Henderson writes: Diplomatically, Washington and London may find themselves limited by the reluctance of their Gulf Arab allies to confront Iran. The Biden administration’s coolness towards the use of force already has prompted countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to work on diplomatic channels with Tehran. Their balance between fear of Iran, their new ties with Israel, and dealing with their larger neighbor across the waters of the Gulf will, in all likelihood, be a fudge. – The Hill 

Rotem Bar writes: The Iranian attack Unit 13 is not working in a vacuum. There are many attack groups for nations, companies, and criminals, with the last two seeking money as an incentive. […]Industrial and building management systems are a key to ensuring safety. With millions of systems globally, those attack groups pose a significant risk to the modern life that we get used to in our daily lives. – Jerusalem Post 

John Hannah writes: Iran and its proxies have picked up the scent of U.S. retrenchment, and as the reaction of the militias to Biden’s announcement makes clear, there’s every chance that the second half of 2021 will be even more dangerous for U.S. personnel in Iraq than the first. Does Biden understand that? Having apparently decided that the benefits to U.S. interests of staying in Iraq outweigh the costs, is he actually prepared to pay the price of making sure that his strategy succeeds? – Foreign Policy 


Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday offered a compromise to delay the eviction of four Palestinian families from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that was the flash point in the most recent bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip. – Washington Post 

IDF flares were launched near Har Dov on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon on Monday night. The background of the incident is unclear, though no infiltration has occured. – Jerusalem Post

Undercover Border Police forces clashed with Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Jenin during a heavy exchange of fire early Tuesday morning, with several of the attackers hit, Israel Police said in a statement. – Times of Israel 

Israeli opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly criticized the Biden administration on Monday, claiming that it might attempt to sabotage Israeli operations against Iran. – Algemeiner 

Lazar Berman writes: Israel has little capacity – beyond submarines — to project power there, while Iran has invested heavily in pursuing hegemony over the seas in its neighborhood, including the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping lane. […]Marshalling a firm international response would be a major achievement by the Lapid-Bennett government. But with the Vienna talks looking increasingly fragile, many world powers have bigger issues on their minds. – Times of Israel 


Hoteit and his wife, Hanan, have built an association of more than 100 families of those killed. They are waging a campaign of protests and rallies trying to shame, pressure and force politicians to allow the truth to come out. A year later, critics say the political leadership has succeeded in stonewalling the judicial investigation into the explosion. – Associated Press 

The Lebanese army detained two men over an attack on Shi’ite mourners at a funeral where three people were killed, a security source said, after the Shi’ite group Hezbollah demanded the perpetrators be arrested to avoid civil strife. – Reuters  

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said on Monday he had hoped for a quicker pace towards the formation of a new government and that his efforts would not be open-ended. – Reuters 

Amnesty International on Monday accused the Lebanese authorities of “shamelessly” obstructing the investigation into last year’s monster Beirut port blast, as victims’ families set a deadline for action. – Agence France-Presse 

The lavish wedding of Hala Al-Sahili, the daughter of former Hizbullah MP Nawar Al-Sahili, sparked a wave of criticism from Lebanese on social media, especially on Twitter. Hala, Al-Sahili’s daughter from a previous marriage who lives in London and, unlike her father, does not lead an Islamic lifestyle, was married on July 24, 2021 to Lebanese businessman Firas Al-Yafi,  also based in London. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Christophe Abi-Nassif writes: As Lebanon approaches the one-year “anniversary” of the Beirut port blast, one thing is certain: the pent-up feelings of loss, trauma, and anger will eventually erupt in the absence of real and systemic accountability. The scenes that will unfold on the streets of Beirut on August 4 of this year will set the stage and tone for the next phase of confrontation with the political establishment. – Middle East Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

Iraqi authorities are routinely denying prisoners of their rights from the point of arrest through prosecution, according to the United Nations, leaving tens of thousands vulnerable to violence and other forms of abuse while in custody. – Washington Post  

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to shortly name Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg as his new Yemen envoy, diplomats said, after China informally gave the greenlight for the appointment following a delay of several weeks. – Reuters  

Opponents, including the moderate Islamist Nahda, the country’s largest party, have accused Saied of bringing back one-man rule. But many Tunisians consider him a saviour delivering them from a fractious coterie of inept and corrupt politicians. More than 84 per cent of those surveyed by local pollster Emrhod said they approved of the president’s moves. – Financial Times  


China’s top market watchdog said it is investigating auto chip dealers that it suspects are driving up prices during the global chip shortage. On Tuesday, the State Administration for Market Regulation said it would enhance market scrutiny and crack down on illegal practices like hoarding, price gouging and collusion. The regulator didn’t name any companies that were being investigated. – Wall Street Journal  

China has welcomed Russian troops to hold joint strategic drills for the first time next week on the territory of the People’s Republic as part of growing ties between Beijing and Moscow. – Newsweek 

The military’s top officer on Monday warned of the first “fundamental change to the character of war” since the period preceding World War II, citing new widely available technologies like drones and artificial intelligence and the rise of China as a superpower. – US News 

David Rothkopf writes: This policy shift is creating a void. And in some cases, particularly for China in its own neighborhood or in regions upon which its future growth will depend, it is finding itself drawn into filling that void. As the US pivots out of the regions that have cost it so dearly for so long, China is cautiously, gradually, but seemingly inevitably pivoting in. China’s involvement does not and likely will not look like America’s sometimes gargantuan past errors. But for every area in which it gains influence, it will also gain headaches. – The Daily Beast  

Edward Lucas writes: Do we really want this huge country to concentrate on getting richer quicker? At least Xi’s policies are wasteful and counterproductive. Maybe NATO-style containment is the answer. But we don’t have NATO-style allies. Are we aiming for Article 5 alliances with communist Vietnam? With fractious Indonesia? With the Philippines? The bleak truth is that China (for all its problems) is rising, while we are floundering. Defeat is visible, while victory is not. That’s bad. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Stefan Vladisavljev writes: China has come to the Western Balkans to stay. Western efforts to limit Chinese influence and provide sustainable alternatives should continue, especially in countries like Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina that could be vulnerable to external pressure. China may someday translate its growing involvement in the digital infrastructure of the region into geopolitical influence. The West has an interest in preventing that from happening. – War on the Rocks 

Jordan Link and Laura Edwards write: Xi believes the current political order has an expiration date. The CCP will therefore seek greater levels of engagement with foreign political parties. Beijing clearly sees its best path forward as building a new political consensus that is not centered around a U.S. or liberal democratically led order. Liberal democracies need to be aware of where this message strikes home. – Foreign Policy 


The Afghan president on Monday blamed the American troops’ speedy pullout for the worsening violence in his country and said that his administration would now focus on protecting provincial capitals and major urban areas in the face of the rapidly advancing Taliban. – Associated Press 

Taliban fighters pushed deeper into the southern Afghan provincial capital of Lashkargahon Monday and closed in on government buildings, a senior official said, as the insurgents pressed a rapid advance. – Reuters 

The U.S. and British embassies in Kabul said on Monday the insurgent Taliban may have committed war crimes in southern Afghanistan by carrying out revenge murders of civilians, a charge denied by the insurgents. – Reuters 

The Taliban have taken over a TV station in Afghanistan’s strategic Helmand province, a source at the TV and radio station told CNN on Monday, marking the latest of a series of advances by the militant group in the country. – CNN 

Afghanistan will give pay rises to motivate its troops to halt the Taliban’s offensive against strategic cities as US forces withdraw from the country. – Financial Times 

Michael Rubin writes: The Taliban appear on the verge of capturing Lashkar Gah. If they succeed, it will mark the fall of the first provincial capital to the group since they last controlled the country in the pre-September 11-era. Nor is Lashkar Gah the only city under siege. Three hundred miles away, the Taliban also threaten Herat; they approached the gates of the airport and, in a move reminiscent of their capture of Kabul in 1996, attacked the UN compound in the western province, although local forces appear to have fought them off. – 19FortyFive 


The United Nations on Monday called the Myanmar military’s election delay and extension of the state of emergency a move in the wrong direction from international calls for the restoration of democracy. – Associated Press 

Indonesia’s foreign minister urged Myanmar on Monday to approve the appointment of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) special envoy and said little progress had been made on a plan to promote talks between Myanmar’s rival sides. – Reuters 

India and China will continue dialogue aimed at easing tensions on their disputed border, the two countries said on Monday, amid concerns over a broader conflict as troops from both economic giants continue to face off at the disputed area. – Reuters  

Members of a shadow government set up by opponents of Myanmar’s coup condemned on Monday the country’s military ruler for taking on the role of prime minister in a caretaker government and said the move was designed to try to win legitimacy. – Reuters 

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats have tentatively chosen a special envoy to help deal with the violent political crisis gripping Myanmar but must wait on approval from the military-ruled nation’s leaders before announcing it, two diplomats said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

Germany on Monday sent a warship to the South China Sea for the first time in almost two decades, joining other Western nations in expanding its military presence in the region amid growing alarm over China’s territorial ambitions. – Reuters 

North Korea wants international sanctions banning its metal exports and imports of refined fuel and other necessities lifted in order to restart denuclearisation talks with the United States, South Korean lawmakers said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

South Korea said on Monday no decision has yet been made on its joint military exercises with the United States but they should not create tension, after North Korea warned the South against holding the exercises amid signs of a thaw in relations. – Reuters 

India is sending a task force of four warships into the South China Sea on a two-month deployment that will include exercises with Quad partners the United States, Japan and Australia, India’s Defense Ministry announced Monday. – CNN 

Michael Mazza writes: The fundamental question is whether China, Taiwan, and the United States can find a new modus vivendi in the Taiwan Strait. Can a new arrangement secure Taiwan’s functionally independent existence, avoid creating regime-threatening domestic political difficulties for the Chinese leadership, and safeguard the U.S. position in Asia? Strategic clarity could ultimately help create the conditions for such a settlement to emerge. – War on the Rocks 


The Russian ambassador to the United States says Washington has ordered 24 Russian diplomats to leave the country by Sept. 3, a move that comes shortly after the U.S. said it had laid off nearly 200 local staffers working for its diplomatic missions in Russia. – Associated Press 

Russia is seeking to exploit the change of government in Israel to assert some control over military operations against targets on the territory of its ally Syria. – Reuters 

The U.S. State Department has rejected a claim by Russia’s ambassador to the United States who said Washington had asked 24 Russian diplomats to leave the country by September 3 after their visas expired. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

A court in central Russia has sentenced a Ukrainian citizen to more than three years in prison after convicting him of trying to smuggle parts from a Russian missile system to Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 


Federal prosecutors in Germany have charged a German-Italian woman with espionage, alleging that she worked with her husband to feed information to Chinese intelligence for years. – Washington Post 

European Union officials on Monday pledged millions of euros to help Lithuania tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on the government of neighboring Belarus and its authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko. – Associated Press  

A Belarusian activist was found dead in a park near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday, a day after he was reported missing, Ukrainian police said. – Reuters 

 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted Belarus’ attempt to send home a sprinter from the Tokyo Olympics against her wishes as intolerable “transnational repression”. – Reuters  

A court in Belarus convicted a journalist of insulting the president in messages in a deleted chat group and sentenced him to 1 1/2 years in prison, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said Monday. – Associated Press 

Western nations need to tighten sanctions on Belarus to put pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko to restore democracy and end worsening repression, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told the Financial Times ahead of a visit to the UK. – Financial Times  

Editorial: Poland showed good judgment and stepped forward to offer Ms. Tsimanouskaya a visa and a chance to continue her athletic career. The words of Mr. Moisevich — “we should obey” — speak volumes about Mr. Lukashenko’s despotism. […]It should not be a crime to express an opinion. Ms. Tsimanouskaya has reminded us that in Belarus, as in too many places, it is. – Washington Post  

Tony Barber writes: In other words, no matter how unpalatable the PiS-led government is for the EU, it still commands political legitimacy at home. This makes it less vulnerable to legal and even financial pressure from the EU. Until there is a change of government in Warsaw, the battle between the EU and Poland seems destined not to produce a clear winner. – Financial Times 


A Sudanese official says local authorities in Kassala province have found around 50 bodies, apparently people fleeing the war in neighboring Ethiopia’s Tigray region, floating in the river between the countries over the past week, some with gunshot wounds or their hands bound. – Associated Press 

Rwandan soldiers have joined the fight against Islamist insurgents in Mozambique’s far north, as Maputo turns to regional armies for help in a conflict that has imperilled its development of multibillion dollar gas reserves. – Financial Times  

But with the arrest of a high-profile opposition leader on terrorism charges, critics are now openly brandishing the term “dictator” to describe Tanzania’s first woman president. – Agence France-Presse 

The Americas

A judge and two court clerks who collected evidence for the investigation into the killing of President Jovenel Moïse said in interviews and in formal complaints to the prosecutors’ office that unknown callers and visitors had pressured them to modify witnesses’ sworn statements. If they failed to comply, they were told, they could “expect a bullet in your head.” – New York Times 

A conservative coalition registered a former leader of the 1980s Contra rebels Monday as a presidential candidate to challenge the re-election bid by President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 elections. – Associated Press 

 The European Union on Monday slapped sanctions on Nicaraguan first lady and Vice-President Rosario Murillo and seven other senior officials accused of serious human rights violations or undermining democracy, amid a crackdown on opposition politicians in the Central American country. – Associated Press  

Brazil’s top electoral court, the TSE, decided on Monday that it will open an investigation into far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for his statements claiming that there will be fraud in next year’s elections. – Reuters 

Mexico has barred the United States from sending migrant families back across the border, using emergency measures put in place at the start of the pandemic, the Washington Examiner has learned, a development that threatens to exacerbate the border crisis. – Washington Examiner 

Just weeks after its launch, the pro-Trump social network GETTR is inundated with terrorist propaganda spread by supporters of Islamic State, according to a POLITICO review of online activity on the fledgling platform. – Politico


A US Navy carrier strike group deployed Monday, the Navy said in a press release, revealing that the carrier is deploying with the service’s most advanced fighter jets. – Business Insider 

Enhancing presence and cultivating partnerships in the Arctic are vital to ensuring the region does not become a contested space, according to 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis. – Defense News 

An influential congresswoman has said the Navy needs a proper maritime strategy that defines its role in the world, but that a reorganization at the Pentagon must be the first step. More specifically, said Rep. Elaine Luria, if China is America’s top threat, then the Navy needs to identify how it can prevent war against the country or win in a fight if one arises. – Defense News 

The U.S. Navy’s ship-based electronic countermeasure system will provide an unlimited supply of ammunition against incoming threats, allowing the service to be more dynamic, and will open up new concepts for other capabilities, the system’s contractor said. – Defense News 

The US Navy (USN), in association with Northrop Grumman, conducted the first live fire test of an AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER) over the sea test range at Naval Air Station Point Mugu in southern California on 19 July. – Jane’s 360  

The head of the Navy said defense contractors directly lobbying Congress to buy certain defense systems is taking attention away from the service’s spending priorities. – USNI News 

A U.S. naval and amphibious exercise billed as the largest of its kind in 40 years begins Tuesday, in a globe-spanning effort that analysts say aims to send a message to Russia and China that America can simultaneously answer aggression on multiple fronts. – Stars and Stripes  

Philip Potter, George W. Foresman, and Michael C. Horowitz write: Space began as a relatively slow-moving arena heavily controlled by governments. It is easier for norms to form in such an environment. But space is now evolving to look more like cyberspace: fast-moving with lots of private actors. This is a much more challenging environment, one that policy makers need to get in front of. The United States can no longer cling to the old approach given how much is at stake. – War on the Rocks