Fdd's overnight brief

December 11, 2020

In The News


Two American B-52 bombers flew a show-of-force mission in the Persian Gulf on Thursday that military officials said was intended to deter Iran and its proxies from carrying out attacks against United States troops in the Middle East amid rising tensions between the two countries. – New York Times 

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are again looming over a new American administration. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to resuscitate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that President Trump unilaterally discarded. But after four years of enduring sanctions and targeted assassinations, the Islamic Republic may no longer be listening. – Wall Street Journal 

Congressional Democrats are collecting signatures on a letter to President-elect Joe Biden backing his plan to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal without renegotiating, as well as push for further negotiations on other issues. – Jewish Insider 

Recent rumours about the health of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have thrown the spotlight on what will happen if he becomes too ill to rule, or dies. – BBC 

Western governments face a growing dilemma over how to secure the release of their citizens and dual nationals detained in Iran, with activists accusing Tehran of engaging in “hostage diplomacy” by seeking exchanges. – Times of Israel 

Iran and Afghanistan have officially inaugurated their first railway link, an achievement the two countries’ presidents said would help enhance trade across the region. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

David M. Weinberg writes: These measures would lend energy and urgency to efforts to bring Iran to heel. Short of this, a new deal with Iran would be perilous and unsustainable. It is certainly the case that abandoning America’s leverage over Iran, and bringing the unctuous Europeans back into Iran policymaking, will lead nowhere good. – Jerusalem Post 


Iran’s entrenchment in Syria is slowing down as a result of ongoing IDF operations which have increased over the past year, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi announced Friday. The IDF chief also revealed for the first time that the military has been carried out cyberattacks. – Jerusalem Post 

At least four people were killed in a Turkish-controlled region of northern Syria on Thursday when a car bomb detonated at a checkpoint in the border town of Ras Al Ain, according to a Turkish official and a war monitor. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: An honest Syria policy is one that recognizes that protecting civilians and mounting a new diplomatic push is both moral and in our strategic interest. Austin is an honorable man who should now chart his own waters and give Biden his honest assessment, not what Obama’s old advisers want him to say. That’s the difference between being a good general and a good secretary of defense. – Washington Post


The U.S. and European Union are applying pressure on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with Washington planning sanctions over Turkey’s acquisition of a Russian air-defense system and the EU targeting people involved in Ankara’s energy exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean. – Wall Street Journal 

President Tayyip Erdogan said that U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian defence systems was disrespectful to an important ally in NATO, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Friday. – Reuters 

Turkish police on Thursday shot and killed a suspected Kurdish militant who was allegedly planning to detonate a bomb that was strapped to his body, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. – Associated Press 

Turkey’s fight to protect jobs amid a spreading coronavirus outbreak is floundering, with signs that many of those without work are directing their anger at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. – Bloomberg

Turkey could open its border gates to Armenia if Yerevan takes positive steps for regional peace, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, adding he discussed forming a six-country regional cooperation platform with his Azeri counterpart. – Reuters


Behind the announcement Thursday that Israel and Morocco will establish their first formal diplomatic ties, there lies almost six decades of close, secret cooperation on intelligence and military matters between two nations that officially did not acknowledge each other. – New York Times

Israel and Morocco have agreed to normalize relations as President Donald Trump, in his final weeks in office, announced the fourth Arab-Israeli agreement in four months on Thursday. In a related major policy shift, the United States agreed to recognize Morocco’s claim over the long-disputed Western Sahara region as part of the deal. – Associated Press 

Morocco’s ruling monarch King Mohammad VI confirmed Thursday that the country intends to establish official relations with Israel for the first time in nearly twenty years, soon after US President Donald Trump announced the breakthrough. – Times of Israel 

Support has dropped slightly at the United Nations for a General Assembly resolution that referenced the most holy site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, as solely the Muslim site al-Haram al-Sharif. – Jerusalem Post 

Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates welcomed the announcement that Israel and Morocco are to establish full ties on Thursday, with all three countries predicting the development will contribute to regional stability. – Times of Israel 

News of an American-backed agreement for Israel and Morocco to normalize ties quickly made headlines around the world on Thursday evening. But viewers of official Palestinian Authority television heard nothing about it on the hour-long nightly news broadcast, as officials in Ramallah stayed mum on the story. – Times of Israel 

PM thanks Trump and Moroccan king, noting the strong bond between Israel’s Moroccan Jewry and the African nation as ‘living bridge’ between the countries; both nations to open mutual liaison offices and establish direct flights. – Ynet 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to hold a phone call with Moroccan King Mohammed VI and US President Donald Trump Friday to discuss Israel and Morocco’s agreement to normalize ties, according to multiple media reports citing senior Israeli officials. – Times of Israel 

Norwegian lawmakers have voted on Thursday to cut their country’s financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over anti-Semitic content and incitement to violence in its educational materials. – Ynet 

But largely absent from the public discussion of the normalization thus far is the future of around 6,200 Sudanese asylum-seekers in Israel who are worried that Israeli authorities will now aggressively try to deport them, as they did with South Sudanese refugees following South Sudan’s independence in 2011. – Foreign Policy

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Abraham Accords came about as a result of unique circumstances and pathbreaking vision by the UAE and Bahrain, as well as a push from the Trump administration. Israel has always been open for these relations, and average Israelis want to play a greater role in the region and contribute to the success of places like the Gulf. Now it can happen. Credit is due to many people. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Morocco has historic ties to Israel and a historic Jewish community. Although some Jewish and Israeli connections have been controversial in the past, such as references in media or events, Morocco was seen overall as a country that was positive on the peace issue. What that means is it was not hijacked by pro-Iranian elements or pro-Muslim Brotherhood extremists. – Jerusalem Post 


Iran-backed militias in Iraq have adopted a “heightened level of preparation,” raising fears among US officials that Tehran could be preparing an attack to avenge the deaths of its nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last month and of its top general Qassem Soleimani ahead of the first anniversary of his killing, CNN reported Thursday night. – Agence France-Presse 

Excluded, vilified and sometimes simply abandoned: such is the price paid by thousands of children in Iraq born to suspected Islamic State militants. – Reuters

Six years ago Western armies saved the Yazidis from Islamic State (is). The jihadists killed 5,000 of their men and enslaved 5,000-7,000 of their women, mostly to rape. The genocide caused many Yazidis, who number perhaps 1m, to flee abroad. Inside Iraq new pressures are tearing the group apart. – The Economist

Bilal Wahab writes: Regarding KRI-Baghdad disputes over oil and financial matters, Washington refuses to assume its old role of mediating negotiations, but it can still nudge both parties toward productive compromises in the 2021 budget discussions. Technical assistance with auditing their opaque financial systems is a good starting point. For now, though, the KRI is on a fiscal cliff and cannot afford to wait for Baghdad to be friendlier or for oil prices to recover. Its very survival is indeed at risk—and not from the protests. – Washington Institute


An investigating judge named the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, a suspect, a significant step toward holding the top levels of power accountable in the August explosion that killed 200. – New York Times 

Nearly 200 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured in a massive explosion at the port in Beirut on Aug. 4, ravaging the heart of residential areas and the city’s vibrant commercial district. Dozens of people are unaccounted for. Here is what we know so far. – Wall Street Journal 

Lebanon’s Hezbollah group on Friday said recently filed charges were politically targeting the caretaker prime minister and three allied former ministers over this summer’s massive explosion in Beirut. – Associated Press 

A UN-backed tribunal will on Friday sentence a Hezbollah member convicted of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, with prosecutors demanding a life term. – Times of Israel 

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Thursday his conscience was clear over the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast after the judge investigating the explosion charged him with negligence. – Reuters 

Arabian Peninsula

Israelis are traveling in droves to the United Arab Emirates for work and pleasure, filling up the first-ever direct commercial flights between the two countries in pursuit of new opportunities in the Persian Gulf despite heightened tensions in the region. – Wall Street Journal

The United States on Thursday blacklisted alleged human rights abusers in Russia, Yemen and Haiti, including Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and five people linked to Yemen’s Houthi-controlled security and intelligence agencies. – Reuters 

Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul appeared before a special terrorism court in Riyadh on Thursday, her family said, on charges U.N. human rights experts called “spurious” and they called for her immediate release. – Reuters 

The Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen said that implementation of a long-delayed deal aimed at reuniting its Yemeni allies would start on Thursday with a troop redeployment in the south ahead of announcing a new power-sharing government. – Reuters

Israeli-Saudi normalization is an “inevitability,” senior White House adviser Jared Kushner declared Thursday against the backdrop of Morocco’s decision to forge full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state at the Trump administration’s behest. – Times of Israel 

An Al Jazeera news anchor sued the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly hacking into her phone and stealing and doctoring images to disparage and intimidate her on social media. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Perhaps Mohammed bin Salman calculates that he no longer needs to heed the priorities of the Trump administration. Or maybe he is attempting to project toughness toward Mr. Biden, who has pledged he will withdraw “the dangerous blank check” Mr. Trump granted the crown prince. In any case, the imprisonment of Dr. Fitaihi is an insult to the United States as well as a gross injustice. It should not go unanswered. – Washington Post

Editorial: Diplomatic niceties will not end the discord between the Qatari emir and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And for all the talk of the “brotherly” Gulf states, the blockade has introduced a level of personal animosity in the region, particularly between Qataris and Emiratis. “People had a big shock that disturbed and tortured the social fabric of our region,” says a Qatari official. “To go back to normal, I think we need two or three generations.” Even if Qataris can soon fly over Dubai, they may not be eager to land. – The Economist

James Phillips, Nicole Robinson and John Venable write: In addition to making good strategic sense, the UAE defense package would have important economic benefits. The sales would strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base, help defray the overall costs of the weapons to the U.S. military, and support highly skilled jobs for American workers. The proposed sale would yield considerable strategic, foreign policy, and economic benefits for the United States. – Heritage Foundation


Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Thursday released two Russians it had detained since last year and they are flying back to Russia, Libyan sources and Russian media reported. – Reuters 

The eastern-based Libyan National Army said on Thursday it had released a Turkish ship it seized near the port city of Derna on Monday, an incident that triggered condemnation from Ankara which backs the opposing side in Libya’s civil war. – Reuters 

The U.N. acting envoy on Libya Stephanie Williams will host an economic working group from Dec. 14-15 in Geneva, to discuss policy reforms, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Friday. – Reuters 

Middle East & North Africa

Italy announced on Thursday that four officials with the Egyptian National Security Agency had been charged in connection with the abduction and murder of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo in 2016. – New York Times 

President Trump’s decision to endorse Moroccan control of Western Sahara puts the United States once again at odds with world opinion, as it takes sides for the first time in a decades-long struggle at a moment when that conflict threatens to return to open warfare. – New York Times

The Polisario Front independence movement condemned on Thursday a declaration by US President Donald Trump backing Moroccan rule over the disputed Western Sahara region. – Agency France-Presse 

The United States is negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated large aerial drones to Morocco, according to three U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, and is expected to discuss the deal with members of Congress in the coming days. – Reuters 

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a close ally of President Donald Trump on Thursday blasted the White House decision to declare the contested Western Sahara territory as part of Morocco along with an announcement that the Arab country established relations with Israel. – U.S. News and World Report

Sarah Chemla writes: When it comes to outside threats, it seems unlikely that the Biden administration will radically change America’s Middle East diplomatic policies that have been enforced during the last four years – and he is expected to resist the pressure from his party’s progressive forces to implement a more liberal foreign agenda, explained the authors of the analysis. – Jerusalem Post 

Angus McDowall and Ahmed El Jechtimi write: King Mohammed sought to sweeten the pill by saying in his proclamation that he still backs a two state solution and regards Jerusalem as a sacred city for three religions. But in agreeing Thursday’s deal, he is betting that nationalist fervour over Western Sahara carries more weight than popular support for the Palestinian cause. – Reuters 

Korean Peninsula

Nearly half the 15-member U.N. Security Council plan to raise the issue of rights abuses in North Korea during a closed-door meeting on Friday – a move likely to anger Pyongyang – after Russia and China objected to a public briefing, diplomats said. – Reuters 

As a teenager in North Korea, Lee Soon-keum bitterly resented her prisoner-of-war father as his status meant she would have to toil in coal mines like him. Years later, she says she was forced to watch him and her brother executed by firing squad. – Agence France-Presse

Just 13 days before the armistice that ended the Korean War, Southern soldier Lee Sun-woo was captured. He then spent more than three decades toiling in a North Korean coal mine like thousands of his compatriots. Lee is one of an estimated 50,000 former South Korean prisoners of war who were never returned by Pyongyang after the 1950-53 conflict. – Agence France-Presse 

The U.S. military agreed on Friday to return 12 sites to South Korea, including some in central Seoul, clearing the way for civilian construction projects after years of squabbling over the hand-back. – Reuters


Canada said Thursday that two of its citizens held in China for two years haven’t been tried after news outlets interpreted a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the contrary, highlighting the lack of transparency around the two men’s cases. – Wall Street Journal 

Xi Jinping, long distrustful of the private sector, is moving assertively to bring it to heel. China’s most powerful leader in a generation wants even greater state control in the world’s second-largest economy, with private firms of all sizes expected to fall in line. The government is installing more Communist Party officials inside private firms, starving some of credit and demanding executives tailor their businesses to achieve state goals. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese authorities have detained Haze Fan, who works for the Bloomberg News bureau in Beijing, on suspicion of endangering national security. – Bloomberg 

China will strengthen fiscal support in key areas including food, energy, and technology in order to ensure the country’s economic security, the finance minister said. – Bloomberg

Beijing sent a top official sanctioned by the U.S. to an AmCham China dinner, in a show of defiance that could feed criticism of the business group in Washington. – Bloomberg

Global fund managers are reducing their holdings in U.S-listed Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Netease and JD.com as risks grow they will be forced off American exchanges, switching instead into shares of the companies listed in Hong Kong. – Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday named Katherine Tai, a trade lawyer with a history of taking on China, as his incoming administration’s pick for the United States’ top trade representative. – CNBC

On November 30, 2020, the top decision-making body of the Chinese Communist Party convened to review regulations to improve China’s “combat effectiveness”. Without explicit mention of China’s strategic capabilities, the meeting emphasized Xi Jinping Thought and loyalty to the Party as guiding tenets in strengthening its armed forces. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

John Venable and Lora Ries write: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a bad actor, and the fact that it successfully lobbied legislators to strip the drone text from the NDAA that the House passed this week and the Senate will vote on over the next few days will only encourage similar efforts. […]But time is growing short. In all likelihood, it is now up to President Trump to restrict the federal purchase and operation of Chinese drones and the threat they pose to America. – The Hill


The following report compiles all significant security incidents confirmed by New York Times reporters throughout Afghanistan from the past seven days. It is necessarily incomplete as many local officials refuse to confirm casualty information. – New York Times 

The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution over Russian objections Thursday commending progress in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban while urging stepped-up efforts to tackle terrorist attacks by the Taliban, al-Qaida, the Islamic State extremist group and their affiliates. – Associated Press

Afghan government negotiators and the Taliban have agreed to have Islamic law and teachings guide them in peace talks now underway in Qatar, according to a document obtained Thursday. – Military Times 

Optimism among Afghans regarding the country’s peace process has decreased significantly in the past few months amid a spike in violence, according to a survey released Friday. The Institute of War and Peace Studies found optimism had dropped to 57% when the survey was conducted from Sept. 29 to Oct. 18. That’s down from 86% of those surveyed according to the previous assessment conducted over the summer and released in August. – Associated Press 


Jimmy Lai, a publishing tycoon and a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party, was charged with colluding with foreign forces under Hong Kong’s national security law, the police said on Friday, as Beijing intensified its efforts to smother the city’s faltering pro-democracy movement. – New York Times 

Taiwan commissioned the first of a new fleet of coastguard ships on Friday, an advanced catamaran that can be armed with missiles during war, as the island bolsters its defences in the face of what it sees as a growing threat from Beijing. – Reuters 

Britain and Vietnam said on Friday that they had concluded talks to negotiate a new free trade agreement, just weeks before Britain completes its transition out of the European Union on Dec. 31. – Reuters 

An Australian man from China’s Muslim Uighur community was reunited with his family, including a three-year-old son he had never met, after Beijing agreed they could depart Xinjiang. – Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be careful about going for a no-trade deal Brexit on so-called “Australian” terms because Australia faces very large barriers to trading with the European Union, former Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull said. – Reuters

With Joe Biden having beaten Trump in last month’s presidential election, the Taiwanese are anxiously waiting to see if the new administration will follow Trump’s lead. – Reuters

A joint sitting of both houses of Bhutan’s parliament approved a bill on Thursday to legalize gay sex, making the tiny Himalayan kingdom the latest Asian nation to take steps towards easing restrictions on same-sex relationships. – Reuters 

Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have approved a draft concept on further developing cooperation in several areas, including the coronavirus pandemic. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Sadanand Dhume writes: Moreover, Mr. Modi, with his penchant for addressing massive televised rallies of overseas Indians, is hardly in a position to complain about Mr. Trudeau bringing domestic politics abroad. Many Canadian Sikhs have friends and families touched by the protests. The Canadian prime minister is only doing what democratically elected leaders do—pay attention to their constituents. As the Indian government struggles to inspire confidence in a catastrophic year, it should consider which appears stronger: shrugging off Mr. Trudeau’s words or throwing a tantrum. – Wall Street Journal

Sam Olsen writes: The question now is what the Biden administration can do about it. Recapturing U.S. economic leadership in Asia will be tough, given the emergence of RCEP and the lack of any firm commitment by Biden to re-join the TPP or its successor. […]Time is running out, however. For all its popularity and military strength today, unless America assertively looks to reclaim its position as the dominant trade partner for Asia and the Pacific, then, to paraphrase Biden, it is likely to find that its influence in the region has been made permanently historic. – The Hill 

Yun Jiang and Jordan Schneider write: Finally, Biden should consider visiting Australia in his first overseas trip after the inauguration. Australia is one of America’s most steadfast allies; it has fought alongside the United States in every major conflict for more than 100 years—even in Vietnam. Jumping Australia to the front of the line at this moment would send a clear message both to China and U.S. allies in the region that in the face of Chinese aggression, the United States has its friends’ backs. – Foreign Policy

Tanner Greer writes: However, the crisis forced upon the United States by China’s actions last month require more immediate solutions. A coalition must be built. Australia must be bolstered. The Chinese are testing this new administration’s commitment to its allies on its very first month in office. The United States must show the world that Biden means what he says: The American people are willing to stand with their friends when it matters. – Foreign Policy

James Holmes writes: And second, make clear to all protagonists what the United States is prepared to do in Taiwan’s defense. For decades Washington has pursued “strategic ambiguity” in the Taiwan Strait in hopes of deterring both an attack from the mainland and a declaration of independence from the island. That approach made sense as long as the PLA threat remained modest and Taiwanese mariners and airmen ruled sea and sky. It has outlived its usefulness now that the threat has taken shape and CCP officials utter words that are more menacing by the day. – 19fortyfive

South Caucasus

More than 3,000 troops took part in a military parade in Azerbaijan on Thursday to celebrate reclaiming control over broad swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding lands in a conflict with Armenia. – Associated Press 

International human rights groups are urging both Azerbaijan and Armenia to urgently conduct investigations into war crimes allegedly committed by both sides during weeks of recent fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

On November 12, 2020, the Russian media outlet Vz.ru published an article, titled “‘Who Were The Turkish Generals That Led The [Azeri] Attack On Nagorno-Karabakh?” describing the role of Turkish officials in the recent Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli writes: Internal political stability and full mobilization of intellectual, organizational, economic, military, political and diplomatic resources are essential pre-conditions for successful planning of Georgia’s national security for several very difficult years to come. – Middle East Institute


Russia has set a new record for the number of maritime trips passing along its Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Circle, where melting sea ice—a result of manmade global warming—has set off a new strategic contest between the world’s largest military powers. – Newsweek 

Moscow has said it would hit back against the move by the Netherlands to expel two Russian diplomats it has accused of spying in an incident that will further strain ties between the countries. – Newsweek 

Two Russian spies have been caught targeting the Netherlands’ science and technology sector, according to a Dutch intelligence agency. – Sky News (UK) 

A Kremlin decree published December 4, 2020, announced that “Anatoly Borisovich Chubais will be appointed as special representative to the President of the Russian Federation for relations with international organizations to achieve sustainable development goals.” The Chubais appointment aroused controversy in Russia. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The Russian-controlled Supreme Court in Crimea has sentenced the owner of the ATR Crimean Tatar television channel, Lenur Islyamov, to 19 years in prison in absentia. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

European Union leaders on December 10 gave the green light for a six-month extension of the economic sanctions that were imposed against Russia over its role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Editorial: Who aimed those invisible beams at the Americans? Who offered to pay for the killing of U.S. soldiers? Like a good veteran KGB officer, Mr. Putin offers denials. But it is time for these black operations by the Kremlin to be seen for what they are and called out by the new U.S. president. – Washington Post

Editorial: Russia, through its engagement in Syria – where it is essentially camped out on Israel’s front porch – is now very much an active player in the Mideast. As such, coordination and understanding between Moscow and Jerusalem is critical in ensuring that Russia does not intercept Israeli planes or missiles reportedly hitting Iranian assets in Syria from time to time, and that there is no accidental clash between Israeli and Russian pilots in the skies above Damascus. – Jerusalem Post 


European Union leaders reached a landmark budget agreement Thursday after weeks of fraught negotiations, unblocking $2.2 trillion in funds crucial to some of the bloc’s weakest economies that have been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. – New York Times

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a strong possibility that negotiations over a new trade agreement with the European Union would fail as the European Commission set out contingency plans to maintain basic rail, air and freight links between the U.K. and the bloc in case talks collapse. – Wall Street Journal 

Guido Goldman, a Swiss-born scholar, community builder and art collector who leveraged his wealth and connections to forge closer ties between Europe and the United States, died Nov. 30 at his home in Concord, Mass. He was 83. – Washington Post

The European Union is set to call for a ban of electricity imports from Belarus, after Lithuania warned the bloc’s leaders of growing risks from a newly built nuclear-power plant plagued with safety mishaps. – Bloomberg

Entire migrant families are on the move in cold winter weather in Bosnia while trying to reach the West as the European Union urged the Balkan country to act to prevent a humanitarian crisis. – Associated Press

President-elect Joe Biden’s impact on the NATO alliance could be immediate, with a series of significant decisions and meetings in early 2021 that could determine the fate of the war in Afghanistan and set new strategic priorities for the 71-year old alliance, including countering China, according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. – Defense One

Jill Lawless and Raf Casert write: With or without a deal, Jan. 1 will bring major change. Citizens of Britain and the EU can no longer move freely to work and settle in each others’ territories, while importers and exporters face new checks on goods and customs declarations. A no-deal exit will mean vastly more disruption, with tariffs and other trade barriers that would hurt both sides — but especially Britain, which is much smaller and does almost half of its trade with the 27-nation bloc. – Associated Press 

Iulia-Sabina Joja writes: Romania’s far-right electorate may seem small. After all, how much influence can 9 percent of the population have? But in a parliamentary system as unstable as Romania’s — and with a deteriorating health and economic crisis — the vagaries of coalition politics suddenly make darkening skies a troubling possibility. The presence of far-right AUR in opposition will further add trouble and harden the government’s path towards much-needed national reform. – Middle East Institute

Josep Borell writes: Of course, there are many other foreign-policy issues and priorities. But let us focus on these three, using them to kick-start the engine of trans-Atlantic cooperation. The further we go, the more ambitious we can become. – Foreign Policy

Nicolae Reutoi writes: Such electoral dividends will play well with many Moldovans who are fed up with the long-running East-West geopolitical debate that has dominated the country’s politics for so long. Their priority is better living conditions and economic prospects. If Sandu can start delivering on those, then Moldova has a chance of finally starting to reform itself 30 years after independence. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Savannah Modesitt and Paisley Turner write: Sandu’s election limits the Kremlin’s opportunity to expand its influence toward the eastern Balkans and presents the United States with an opportunity to reverse the Kremlin’s recent gains. […]The United States and its allies should support Sandu’s efforts to expand, strengthen, and intensify cooperation agreements with Western countries as well as Sandu’s stated objective to end Russia’s military presence in the breakaway region of Transnistria to limit a dangerous Kremlin position in the eastern Balkans and on Ukraine’s western border. – Institute for the Study of War


People in rural areas of northeast Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, have largely been left at the mercy of Boko Haram by a government whose security forces have mainly retreated from the countryside to protected garrison towns. – New York Times 

Long-simmering tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government, led by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and defiant authorities in its northern Tigray region have erupted into a military confrontation. – Wall Street Journal 

An international aid group said Friday that a staff member has been killed in Ethiopia’s conflict in its Tigray region. – Associated Press

The United States believes reports of Eritrean military involvement in the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are “credible,” a State Department spokesperson told Reuters on Thursday, despite denials by both nations. – Reuters 

Two U.S. senators have called on their government to consider imposing sanctions on any political or military officials found responsible for human rights violations during a month of conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. – Reuters 

Britain said on Thursday it was imposing sanctions on 11 individuals, including the former President of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, in a coordinated move with the United States on human rights violations. – Reuters 

Ghana’s opposition candidate John Mahama on Thursday rejected as “fraudulent” the results of the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections in which President Nana Akufo-Addo won a second term. – Agence France-Presse 

Kenya signed an agreement with the U.K. to ensure continued preferential trade terms with its biggest European partner after Brexit, Trade Secretary Betty Maina said. – Bloomberg

Judd Devermont writes: With Vice President Biden’s election, there is an opportunity to learn from and build on Albuquerque’s ties to sub-Saharan Africa. The measure of Africa’s importance to the United States should come from a community’s political, professional, and personal connections to the region. In the case of Albuquerque, it is evident that Africa matters. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Latin America

More than 1,000 Honduran migrants headed toward Guatemala on Thursday, seeking to reach the U.S. southern border after two hurricanes brought economic devastation to the country’s poor. – Wall Street Journal 

Cuba said late on Thursday it would scrap its dual currency and labyrinthine multiple exchange rate system in January, effectively devaluing the peso heavily to administer bitter medicine for its crisis stricken economy. – Reuters 

Two key U.S. senators are set to back a capital increase for the top Latin America development bank, seeking to build momentum for a lending boost to fight Covid-19 and climate change in the hard-hit region. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Brazen electoral fraud would invite tough sanctions from the incoming Biden administration. Full pariah status would further alienate the tycoons who run much of the economy. For these reasons Mr Ortega may offer olive branches. They could include the release of the 100-odd remaining political prisoners and electoral reform. The crafty president will need to strike the right balance. Too little fairness may provoke isolation and another uprising. Too much may lead to his defeat. The opposition hopes to exploit any miscalculation. – The Economist

Moise Rendon and Claudia Fernandez write: After January 5, the regime is also expected to strip President Guaidó and other lawmakers of parliamentary immunity, making them even more susceptible to being detained or harassed by the regime. The interim government, which is mostly in exile already, will increasingly be forced to flee. This may make it more difficult for the opposition—at least in its current structure—to galvanize local support from a population that is growingly distrustful of all political actors. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

North America

A Canadian border official on Thursday admitted to giving “incomplete” testimony in court the previous day and having breached a judge’s instruction not to discuss the case as witness cross examination in Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou’s U.S. extradition hearing resumed. – Reuters

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled unanimously in favor of three Muslim U.S. residents who say FBI agents wrongly placed them on the government’s no-fly list as punishment for their refusal to spy on fellow Muslims. – The Hill 

The U.S. federal prosecutors handed a jail term to a 21-year-old neo-Nazi from Arizona over a plot to target Jewish and African American journalists in a fear campaign. – I24 

This is one of several examples of alleged religious discrimination offered by the Department of Justice in its lawsuit against Airmont. – The Economist


The U.S. Federal Communications Commission moved against marquee Chinese companies Huawei Technologies Co. and China Telecom, continuing a series of rulings aimed at protecting national security from the Beijing government. – Bloomberg

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday U.S. claims about risks to national security were completely false, following a U.S. decision to halt China Telecom U.S. operations. – Reuters

The Department of Defense is in danger of failing to meet its goals to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum battle space due to poor oversight and lack of leaders assigned to implement its recently updated strategy, the government’s watchdog asserts. – C4ISRNET 

Kirk Thompson writes: Now there is an effort to get H.R. 4189 passed by attaching it as an amendment to the coronavirus relief bill. That makes perfect sense: Without this essential national security measure to protect the U.S. government, our healthcare system, and U.S. citizens from the continuing cyberthreat, our virus response remains crippled and our national security compromised. – Washington Examiner 


The Trump administration is considering whether to pull back military support for the C.I.A., including potentially taking back much of the drone fleet the C.I.A. uses, according to current and former officials. The shift could sharply curtail the agency’s counterterrorism efforts that were greatly expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. – New York Times 

Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for defense secretary, may have to stay out of decisions on the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, because of his ties to its engine-maker, Raytheon Technologies Corp. – Bloomberg

A dispute over President Donald Trump’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan without congressional consent is delaying the passage of a massive defense bill. – Bloomberg

The following is the Dec. 9, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. – USNI News 

Boeing’s prototype for its naval unmanned aerial tanker proved this week it can operate with the refueling system that will give gas to the carrier air wing, the company announced. – USNI News 

The Marine Corps’ first carrier-capable F-35C Lightning II squadron demonstrated, for the first time, the capability to quickly rearm and refuel at expeditionary land bases, a mission key for future island-hopping operations that top leaders envision the U.S. military will face. – USNI News 

The administration today released a long-range Navy shipbuilding plan that is likely to set up a fight for resources between the Navy and its sister services and between the Pentagon and Congress over how quickly to pursue these changes. – USNI News 

The Army is taking its final steps before starting a competition to acquire a Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, and has done so by issuing an intent to solicit bids using means “other than full and open competition,” according to a Dec. 9 post on on the government contracts website Beta.Sam.Gov. – Defense News 

The Marine Corps has awarded BAE Systems with a $184 million contract to deliver Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACV) at full-rate production, according to a Dec. 10 company announcement. – Defense News 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is directly, and without hesitation, saying that a much larger 500-ship U.S. Navy will be necessary to contain Chinese expansionist ambitions.  – The National Interest

The Air Force hopes to persuade skeptical lawmakers to accept its space acquisition reform plans, promising increased transparency in exchange for more budgetary freedom. – Breaking Defense 

Just days before the first anniversary of the U.S. Space Force, the White House has issued a new national space policy. – C4ISRNET 

The final look at the $11 billion Defense Enclave Services contract, central to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s plans for the next decade, was unveiled Tuesday. – Breaking Defense

As the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the globe from early this year there was at least a reminder to civilian society that national armed forces can always be a force for good. From the establishment of emergency field hospitals and testing facilities to the production of personal protective equipment, defence establishments across the world weighed in to contain the virus. – Jane’s 360  

President-elect Joe Biden has selected former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as his pick for the next Veterans Affairs secretary, Military Times has learned. – Military Times  

Weeks after the U.S. Air Force proved it could mount an advanced stealth cruise missile externally on the B-1B Lancer for the first time, it has taken the next step, test-firing an inert missile from under the B-1’s fuselage. – Military.com 

In recent years, as pressure has mounted against the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent—the replacement program for the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missiles—ICBM advocates have deployed a familiar refrain. Relying primarily on nuclear-armed submarines for deterrence is too risky, they say, because “new technology and enemy efforts” will likely make U.S. submarines suddenly vulnerable to attack. – Defense One 

Christopher Chyba and Ethan Magistro write: It would now be as unwise to exclude the science advisor from the NSC as it would be to exclude the director of national intelligence. Relevant technical issues permeate even geopolitical topics that might superficially seem not to concern the science advisor, as the role of hypersonics, space, and AI in the Sino-American and U.S.-Russian relationships indicates. It is long past time for the president’s science advisor be a full member of the NSC and its Principals Committee. – War on the Rocks

Long War

It’s been nearly a year since her husband, son and brother-in-law were beheaded by Islamist militants waging a brutal insurgency in northern Mozambique. “I managed to escape,” she told AFP, struggling to speak about her loss. – Agence France-Presse 

Terror groups are expanding operations and scaling up attacks in Africa, straining governments ill-prepared to battle extremism as the coronavirus pandemic drains much-needed resources, Verisk Maplecroft said. – Bloomberg

European Union member states and lawmakers reached a provisional deal Thursday to take down terror content online within an hour of its being posted. – Associated Press

An article in the latest issue of the Urdu-language jihadi magazine Mujalla Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (“Journal Of The Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan”), published by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (the Movement of the Pakistan Taliban, TTP) – blames “the Jews and their puppets” for the coronavirus epidemic and for harassing Muslims during the pandemic. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

U.S. aircraft carried out two strikes Thursday against a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab rebels in Somalia, days after President Donald Trump ordered a withdrawal of the estimated 800 U.S. troops in the East African nation, according to U.S. Africa Command. – Military.com

Security forces arrested here on Wednesday an Arab national and his Filipino wife for their alleged links to the ISIS terror group. – Manila Bulletin 

A convicted Islamic State recruiter made illicit calls from prison to a friend of the Manchester Arena bomber in the days before the attack, the inquiry has heard. – Sky News (UK) 

Tajikistan is preparing to bring home hundreds of its citizens from refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria — mostly Tajik wives and children of slain or imprisoned Islamic State (IS) fighters. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Trump Administration

The Trump administration on Thursday sanctioned dozens of current and former foreign officials accused of political repression through killings, torture, rape and other human rights abuses in Russia, China, Yemen and other nations. – Wall Street Journal 

President Trump and his supporters have pinned their hopes of reversing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory on a lawsuit filed by the Republican Texas attorney general that election-law specialists say has almost no chance of success. – Wall Street Journal 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he is asking the FBI to brief the GOP on Rep. Eric Swalwell’s relationship with a Chinese spy. “I’m asking for an FBI briefing now,” the California Republican told reporters outside the Capitol on Thursday. – Washington Examiner 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a vote of confidence Thursday to Rep. Eric Swalwell after revelations of his interactions with a suspected Chinese spy set off a furor among Republicans in Congress. – Politico