Fdd's overnight brief

August 6, 2021

In The News


For the first time in years, all branches of power in Iran are under the control of hard-liners after a protégé of the supreme leader was sworn in as president, bolstering their power and adding to growing unease that the Islamic Republic’s relations with the West could worsen. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran’s economic weakness, compounded by the pandemic, a water shortage and the severely damaging effects of American sanctions, is considered his most immediate problem. He will need to find a way to end, ease or circumvent those sanctions, which have helped unravel the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani. – New York Times 

The United States on Thursday urged Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi to return to talks on both nations resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, repeating the U.S. stance that the window for diplomacy would not stay open forever. – Reuters  

The head of Iran’s most elite military branch has responded to a warning by Israel’s defense chief, saying the Islamic Republic was prepared to handle any potential aggression from its archfoe. – Newsweek 

A prominent Iranian official warned Israel not to conduct a military operation against Iran, as the rival Middle Eastern powers trade threats following an attack on an Israeli-managed oil tanker. – Washington Examiner  

Israeli officials and human rights activists criticized the presence of a top European Union diplomat seated immediately behind senior leaders of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups at Thursday’s inauguration of hardline Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. – Algemeiner 

Amnesty International says Iran this week executed a man who was 15 at the time of his arrest over a fatal stabbing and spent nearly a decade on death row. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Saeid Golkar writes: In short, front-page plots to kidnap journalists and impersonate universities are just the latest efforts in the long chain of transnational suppression that has defined the Islamic Republic. Western powers should condemn these activities more directly and punish them whenever possible. – Washington Institute 

Ruthie Blum writes: Biden and his European cohorts must not prove him right. The time has come to take advantage of the cracks in the regime’s armor. Khamenei, Raisi and Salami should be put on notice that it is not they, but rather their victims, who warrant bolstering. Since that’s not likely to happen in the immediate future, Israel will have to go it alone. Let’s hope that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is up to the task. – Jerusalem Post 

Michael Rubin writes: The sons of other PUK luminaries who backed Bafel and Qubad’s initial putsch are now backing away from their support for the duo. Lahur, meanwhile, says he will go nowhere. In effect, Bafel and Qubad have overplayed their hand and will likely lose the round. When they do, Lahur will have no choice but to conclude that the Iranian government had his back while the US Embassy and his contacts at Langley showed they did not. Simply put, Iran had just run circles around the CIA whose leadership and Iraq team forgot that loyalty matters. – 19fortyfive 


Rockets were fired towards Israel from southern Lebanon on Friday, a Lebanese security source said, triggering sirens in northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. – Reuters 

Payment of Hamas salaries has delayed the resumption of Qatari funding for Gaza, a senior diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

Lebanese President Michel Aoun accused Israel of “aggressive, escalatory intentions” on Thursday after Israel carried out airstrikes on targets in southern Lebanon in response to rocket fire from across the northern border. – Times of Israel 

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: Israel must realize that the same process is now taking place in the Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon. It must work to combat this before northern Israel experiences the same regular rocket attacks that the southern part of the country has been subjected to for years – if not something worse. – Ynet 

Yudith Oppenheimer writes: It is against this backdrop that Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev stated this week that every decision to demolish a house in East Jerusalem or in the Negev among the Bedouin community should be brought before him prior to being carried out. […]Even if this isn’t enough, these are steps in the right direction and indicates that the Israeli government and the legal system need to and are able to prevent these evictions and demolitions facing the four communities in East Jerusalem. It is in their hands. – Times of Israel 

Reza Parchizadeh writes: No matter what Netanyahu’s current status might be in Israeli politics, the revolution he brought about with regard to Iran was one of the most ingenious political feats in contemporary Middle Eastern history. […]To eliminate the existential threat of the apocalyptic Islamist regime once and for all, the Jewish State needs to actively invest in the Iranian society’s transition from tyranny and totalitarianism to freedom and democracy. – Besa Center 

Anna Ahronheim writes: It is said that no one winks in south Lebanon without Hezbollah knowing about it, so how could it be that Iran’s largest and strongest proxy group was left in the dark about the plans of this Palestinian group? Hezbollah either gave tacit consent to the rocket cell to fire, or the chaos that is raging in Lebanon is also affecting the group, allowing other terrorist cells in the south to do whatever they want with no ramifications. – Jerusalem Post 


Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said on Thursday progress, albeit slow, has been achieved toward forming a Cabinet in Lebanon, noting that donor states would not help the country unless it helped itself. – Reuters 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: What that means is that when we speak of Lebanon and its inability to hold anyone accountable, this is largely a result of having the state hollowed out by Iran over the years. Countries that once had a larger role in Lebanon, such as Saudi Arabia and France, have pulled back. Lebanon’s corrupt and sectarian elite moved its money abroad. The country is tens of billions in debt. Hezbollah has slowly swallowed up industries, and Hezbollah conducts foreign policy, sending forces to fight in Syria, for instance. The situation only gets worse by the day. – Jerusalem Post 

David Billet writes: No society can thrive while murderous terrorists are leading the government. Resolving the economic crisis in Lebanon will be unsuccessful in the long term unless Hezbollah and all Iranian influence is uprooted from Lebanese society. Hezbollah has only brought death and despair to the Lebanese people while ever since its establishment, it has been determined to destroy the State of Israel. – Arutz Sheva 

Middle East & North Africa

Britain will raise a deadly tanker attack off the coast of Oman during a closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday, diplomats said, but the 15-member body is not expected to take any action. – Reuters 

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves his opponents have branded a coup. – Reuters  

Air Force officials confirmed today that the planned sale of MQ-9 Reapers and F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates has yet to be consummated — with the UAE not yet moving to plunk down a deposit of the arms package. – Breaking Defense 

Sarah E. Yerkes writes: This road map should return Tunisia to its democratic path by allowing the elected parliamentarians to serve out their terms and providing for adequate checks on Saied’s power. But it should also outline concrete steps to address Tunisia’s endemic corruption and acknowledge the deep mistrust the Tunisian people feel for their government. Such a plan, if it is inclusive and concrete, could open a path to a negotiated exit from Saied’s emergency measures. That might represent Tunisia’s best hope for preserving its young democracy. – Foreign Affairs  

Intissar Fakir writes: Indeed, Saied’s focus since July 25 has been on the question of corruption, removing constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary immunities following a recently released damning report on political parties for receiving foreign funds. […]Nor can he come up with a viable economic recovery plan without substantial support from a wide range of economic and political actors, including the powerful unions and the international community, given the extent and the gravity of the crisis, the stalled talks with the IMF, and the need for new external inputs and assistance. Kais Saied will soon find that the path he chose is not the way out.   – Middle East Institute  

Oula A. Alrifai writes: Accordingly, as the Biden administration wraps up its ongoing Syria policy review, it should reconsider supporting rebels in the south. Deraa is the cradle of the 2011 uprising, and opposition elements there do not have the same history of jihadist extremism seen in the north. Washington should also coordinate with Jordan on appropriate responses for internally displaced persons and refugees. Perhaps most important, these developments prove what U.S. officials and their foreign partners should already realize: that any attempt to normalize relations with the Assad regime is shortsighted. – Washington Institute 

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: For all of the talk of U.S. energy independence, the U.S. economy remains as dependent on the stable flow of their manufactured goods as it once was on direct imports of Gulf petroleum. Furthermore, U.S. strategic partnerships with Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab Gulf states are both a critical way of minimizing the risk of any major new Arab-Israeli conflict and of giving the U.S. strategic leverage over China. In short, there is no one lynch pin to the U.S. strategic position in the Middle East, but Iraq is a critical part of any future security structure in the Middle East.  – Center for Strategic and International Studies   

Korean Peninsula

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong have discussed efforts to engage with North Korea, including the prospect of humanitarian aid, their offices said on Friday. – Reuters  

Heavy rains in northeastern North Korea have destroyed or flooded 1,170 houses and forced 5,000 residents to evacuate to safety, North Korea’s state TV reported. – Associated Press  

Josh Rogin writes: Meanwhile, North Korea’s pause in testing has provided a false sense of security, while Kim Jong Un continues to roll out new, more dangerous weapons that threaten the entire world. Ignoring the fact that the North Korean threat is growing is not pragmatic — it’s dangerous. Engaging North Korea may be politically perilous, but it’s a national security imperative. – Washington Post 


Nearly three dozen of the nation’s most influential business groups—representing retailers, chip makers, farmers and others—are calling on the Biden administration to restart negotiations with China and cut tariffs on imports, saying they are a drag on the U.S. economy. – Wall Street Journal   

In recent months, China has blown up what would have been the world’s largest initial public offering, launched probes into some of its biggest technology companies, and wiped out more than $1 trillion in market value while investors scramble for cover. – Wall Street Journal  

President Biden on Thursday granted special protections to Hong Kong residents in the United States, offering them a temporary deferral from deportation in response to an escalating crackdown by Chinese officials on democratic institutions and political dissent in Hong Kong. – New York Times 

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has warned investors that years-long government tax breaks for the internet industry will start to dwindle, adding billions of dollars in costs for China’s largest corporations as Beijing extends its campaign to rein in the sector. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: Washington can’t stop President Xi Jinping from turning his wrecking ball on Hong Kong. But opening America’s doors, as the British have done, would give desperate Hong Kong people another escape route—and the United States the benefit of their talents and enterprise. – Wall Street Journal  

Kevin Rudd writes: Ultimately, the biggest question may be what all of this means for Xi, especially in the run-up to the 20th Party Congress, in the fall of 2022, where Xi hopes to secure his own long-term political dominance. There is some chance that the Quad’s progress will offer Xi’s detractors additional evidence of his inclination to strategic overreach. More likely, however, is that Xi will ultimately manage to strengthen his own hand by pointing to the Quad as proof that China’s adversaries are circling the Motherland, thereby further consolidating his hold on power. – Foreign Affairs   


As Taliban fighters make startlingly swift advances across Afghanistan, Biden administration officials continue to pin their hopes on a peace deal that would halt the country’s relentless violence with a power-sharing agreement. – New York Times 

Taliban militants have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities, in response to increased U.S. air strikes after the United States said it was ending its longest war, three militant commanders said. – Reuters  

The Taliban offensive in Afghanistan is “gradually running out of steam” as the group lacks resources to take over major cities, Interfax news agency quoted a senior official at Russia’s foreign ministry as saying on Thursday. – Reuters  

Millions of Afghans are struggling to put food on the table as prolonged drought disrupts supplies in a country reeling from a surge in violence as U.S.-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal. – Reuters  

The Afghan Air Force on August 5 resumed air strikes against Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan as militants made additional gains in the country’s north. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Sadanand Dhume writes:  Is Afghanistan destined to return to barbarism? Some hope that the hasty and haphazard U.S. withdrawal won’t lead to Taliban rule or that the jihadist group will govern more gently than before. That optimism is misplaced, and the disaster likely to come will have global consequences.  […]After two decades of fighting, you can see why the Biden administration—like the Trump administration before it—wants out. But we should be clear-eyed about what this means. Afghanistan will return to brutality, and the world will have to cope with the consequences. – Wall Street Journal  

Dr. Salem AlKetbi writes: Another scenario is for Afghanistan to relapse into civil war much like the one that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Taliban have denied their intention to militarily take the capital Kabul, while claiming that the Afghan government is “dying,” all of which place Afghanistan’s future beyond the US withdrawal in the face of scenarios open to any possibility. – Arutz Sheva 


Leading U.S. senators said on Thursday they plan to reintroduce legislation that would provide for sanctions to freeze assets of senior Cambodian officials who undermine democracy, engage in corruption, or otherwise violate human rights. – Reuters  

Australia will not accept Chinese demands to change policy in order to restart bilateral talks, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said. – Reuters  

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has repatriated $452 million in misappropriated funds from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), it said in a statement on Thursday, bringing the total amount recovered from the corruption scandal to $1.2 billion. – Reuters  

Indonesia’s foreign minister said on Thursday her nation had entered a “new era of bilateral relations” with the United States, as the countries’ armed forces launched their biggest ever joint training exercise this week involving 3,000 troops – Reuters  

Hiroshima on Friday marked the 76th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing, as the mayor of the Japanese city urged global leaders to unite to eliminate nuclear weapons, just as they are united against the coronavirus. – Associated Press 

Timothy McLaughlin writes: As the military’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic compounds the instability caused by the coup, these diplomats have been left watching an almost entirely preventable disaster play out from afar, while grappling with the limitations of pushing for change from abroad. […]Unable or unwilling to go home, the Burmese diplomats have redirected their skills to aid the efforts of Myanmar’s National Unity Government, a parallel administration set up by opponents of army rule, to raise its profile in America. – The Atlantic  


A Russian court found American private-equity investor Michael Calvey guilty of embezzlement more than two years after he was arrested in a case that shook the foreign business community and exacerbated U.S.-Russia tensions. – Wall Street Journal 

Russian and Uzbek forces have completed the active phase of joint military maneuvers near the Afghan border as scheduled, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday, citing the command headquarters of the exercises. – Reuters 

Jailed Russian opposition activist Andrei Pivovarov has registered as a candidate for next month’s parliamentary election, his team said on Thursday, even though multiple other Kremlin critics have been disqualified. – Reuters  

Russia has planned two back-to-back military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops across its eastern and western borders alongside China and Belarus. – Newsweek 

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: Targeted sanctions provide personal accountability for those who break the rules of civilized society at home while enjoying its benefits abroad. […]Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was slain in front of the Kremlin in 2015, called the Magnitsky Act “the most pro-Russian law in the history of any foreign parliament” as it “finally ends the impunity for those who violate the rights and steal the money of Russian citizens.” Western policymakers have a powerful and effective tool at their disposal. It is time they began using it properly. – Washington Post  

Kurt Volker writes: Despite the inherent problems, strategic stability talks with Russia may yet serve a good purpose, provided they are used to clarify U.S. determination to maintain robust nuclear capabilities and the will to use them if attacked, and that a focus in discussions is placed on Russian short- and medium-range forces. […]Meanwhile, even as the U.S.-Russia dialogue continues, other, more risky nuclear threats continue to grow. In addition to China’s unconstrained arsenal, there is a growing list of states seeking to obtain nuclear weapons, not least of all Iran and North Korea. This is where the most urgent U.S. and Western attention must be applied. – Center for European Policy Analysis  


Two coaches involved in the attempt to force an Olympic athlete home to Belarus against her will have been stripped of their credentials and expelled from the Olympic Village, Games organizers said Friday. – New York Times 

Poland should not remain a member of the European Union at all costs, the justice minister said in an interview published on Friday, as he railed against what he called “blackmail” from the bloc over Poland’s judicial reforms. – Reuters  

The partner of a Belarusian activist who died in Ukraine under suspicious circumstances has told the BBC she does not believe he took his own life. – BBC 


Amid allegations that Ethiopian troops and their allies have committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing and have driven parts of Tigray into famine, the United States has already withheld security assistance and effectively banned travel for top officials. – Washington Post 

Forces from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have taken control of the town of Lalibela, home of 12th- and 13th-century monolithic churches designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, Reuters reported Thursday. – Washington Post 

Security forces killed at least 115 people in southeast Nigeria this year and arbitrarily arrested or tortured scores of others, in response to violence from separatists agitating for autonomy, Amnesty International said on Thursday. – Reuters  

An armed group in northern Burkina Faso killed 30 civilians, army soldiers and pro-government militiamen in a series of attacks near the border with Niger, the defence ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters  

At least 26 Chadian soldiers were killed in the early hours of Thursday by suspected Boko Haram assailants following an attack on their patrol around the Lake Chad area, army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa said. – Reuters  

The Americas

Haiti’s government has requested help from the United Nations to conduct an international investigation into the killing last month of President Jovenel Moise, the country’s embassy in the Dominican Republic said on Thursday. – Reuters 

In his first week in office, Peru’s new left-wing administration under President Pedro Castillo has been quick to extend a friendly hand to China, the Andean nation’s most important commercial partner and the main buyer of its copper, a crucial source of tax revenue. – Reuters 

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met on Thursday with Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on a visit focused on democracy and regional security, climate change and cooperation in response to COVID-19. – Reuters 


The U.S. government is enlisting the help of tech companies, including Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp and Google, to bolster the country’s critical infrastructure defenses against cyber threats after a string of high-profile attacks. – Wall Street Journal  

The cartoon appears to be an example of the latest effort in Russian-aligned disinformation: a campaign that taps into skepticism and fears of coronavirus vaccination to not just undermine the effort to immunize people but also try to falsely link the Biden-Harris administration to the idea of forced inoculations.  – New York Times 

The aggressive plan to thwart child predators and pedophiles and prohibit them from utilizing Apple’s services for illegal activity pitted the tech giant against civil liberties activists and appeared to contradict some of its own long-held assertions about privacy and the way the company interacts with law enforcement. – Washington Post 

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would sanction countries involved in state-sponsored ransomware attacks.  – The Hill 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Thursday kicked off a new effort to help defend the U.S. against cyberattacks, which have multiplied in recent months.  – The Hill  

Justin Sherman writes: Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister recently advocated for the U.S. and Russia to broaden their cyber talks beyond cybercrime, likely an attempt to distract from the ransomware issue by bringing espionage, military cyber operations, and other topics into the fray. But if the U.S. is going to continue addressing cyber threats from within Russia, it must prioritize a comprehensive analysis of Russian cyber policy amidst all these incidents. – C4SIRNET


Top Senate Republicans are looking to add more than $50 billion in defense funding to bipartisan infrastructure legislation to tackle overdue repairs and upgrade efforts at shipyards, depots, test ranges and defense laboratories. – Politico  

Electronic spoofing, jammed communications and navigation systems, armed drone attacks and pirates are challenges American crews on U.S.- flagged ships in the Ready Reserve Force and Military Sealift Command already face, a panel of maritime experts said Wednesday. – USNI News 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has signed off on the implementation plan for the department’s 2020 Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy, the Pentagon announced today. – Breaking Defense 

Stuart Russell writes: The Red Cross proposal for an immediate moratorium on autonomous anti-personnel weapons is an essential first step, because small anti-personnel weapons are the easiest to deploy in large numbers. A treaty should include agreements on weapon identification and tracking to prevent unattributable remote attacks, and on communication protocols to prevent accidental escalation and ensure that weapons can be recalled or disabled by their owners. – Financial Times 

Todd Harrison writes: The battle networks of the future are also not composed exclusively of new systems built to a new set of standards. While new systems and new standards are an important part of enabling new capabilities, the vast majority of the platforms, sensors, radios, and other payloads that will comprise future battle networks are already in service—and these existing systems will continue to be a significant part of the force for decades to come. – Center for Strategic and International Studies  

Kris Osborn writes: Using the F-35 in this capacity during the Red Flag exercise introduces a wide sphere of advantages, as it can not only help blue forces identify and refine defensive tactics against F-35s representing a potential enemy force, but can also help F-35 pilots themselves sharpen offensive operations. […]While many of the exact combat circumstances or specific scenarios entertained during Red Flag are likely not available for security reasons, the exercise is dedicated to very closely replicating exact and highly intense combat circumstances likely to unfold in the event of a major power confrontation. – The National Interest