Fdd's overnight brief

December 21, 2020

In The News


Although Iran faces crushing U.S. sanctions, there are still ways for Tehran to obtain coronavirus vaccines as the country suffers the Mideast’s worst outbreak of the pandemic. – Associated Press

Washington is “prepared to react” if Tehran launches an attack to mark the first anniversary of the killing of powerful Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of US forces in the Middle East warned Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

Israel will not publicly oppose U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and his team’s intentions to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, Jerusalem had promised during initial talks that have recently taken place between Israeli and U.S. officials. – Ynet

Iran has completed the merger of six lenders with major links to the military, a move designed to curb the security forces’ role in the economy and shore up the country’s financial industry. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In the end of the day, this doesn’t mean Iran and the US are equals, but it has given Iran’s media something to focus on. Even John Bolton, the hawk, the hardliner, is now palatable to Iran’s regime. He’s a voice of normalcy, they seem to say. At least with him the regime knows what it is going to get. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The missile program is Iran’s game changer in its view, the weapon system that will make it one of the most powerful in the region. That power is built on a relatively weak economy. But in terms of technology its investment has paid off in the missile and drone sphere. – Jerusalem Post

Udi Shaham writes: But the visit showed that it was not only Milley but the entire American military standing with Israel. IDF officers in Israel see this strong bond as a symbol of the moral connection between Israel and the US. They say this partnership is based on shared values, which can also be seen in strategic and tactical agreements regarding possible ways to operate in the region. – Jerusalem Post

Bruce Portnoy writes: The stakes are too high and the risks too great to ignore or minimize Iran’s budding capabilities. The likelihood of Iran accumulating nuclear weapons, including the more versatile dirty weapons, capable of being assembled closer to intended targets, in addition to their long range ballistic missile technology also portend an even higher risk of international destabilization. Should the above challenges be met in a sincere comprehensive manner, President Biden and Vice-President Harris will have not only assured their legacy, but secured our children’s future for generations to come. – Jerusalem Post

Shiri Moshe writes: For the EU, this should include a comprehensive ban on Hezbollah. Such a designation will allow the bloc to maintain relations with Lebanon, as the US, Canada and others have demonstrated, while aligning its policies with stated anti-terrorism commitments. It can also shed further light on the nefarious nature of the Iranian regime, which seeks to depict itself as a victim of unprovoked Western aggression, and signal a much-needed will to stand firm against Iran-backed terrorism. – Jerusalem Post

Reza Vaisi writes: It has been reported that the person in charge of the Israeli desk in the IRGC intelligence service had been identified and arrested as an Israeli spy. While this may bring closure in the case of Fakhrizadeh’s killing, concern over the influence of the Islamic Republic’s most important enemy in its leading intelligence organization remains palpable. The assassination of Fakhrizadeh also raises a bigger question as well: just how wide and deep is the influence of foreign countries in Iran’s intelligence services? – Middle East Institute 

Bobby Ghosh writes: A clearer indication of European thinking about Iran’s behavior should come this week, when diplomats from the remaining signatories to the 2015 deal hold video meetings — amid new signs of construction at an Iranian underground nuclear site. A European reappraisal of Iran’s behavior would be in keeping with the twist to that old Persian fable: The turtle survives the sting, thanks to its impenetrable shell, but is wiser for the experience. – Bloomberg


But Shehroze Chaudhry, the central figure in the 2018 podcast “Caliphate,” by The New York Times, was a fabulist who spun jihadist tales about killing for the Islamic State in Syria, Canadian and American intelligence and law enforcement officials contend.  – New York Times

Syrian fighters backed by Turkey waged battles on Friday against Kurdish forces near the town of Ain Issa in northern Syria, where Russian and Turkish troops jointly patrol a key highway. – Reuters

Turkey has evacuated seven military observation posts in northwest Syria, pulling back troops from territory controlled by the Syrian government to areas held by insurgents and Turkey-backed rebels, a Turkish source said on Friday. – Reuters


A Turkish court on Friday kept in jail the philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has denied charges of involvement in an attempted 2016 coup and has already been detained more than three years without conviction in what critics call a silencing of dissent. – Reuters

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged the incoming Biden administration to take a tougher stance with Turkey, suggesting further punitive steps could be taken against its fellow NATO member following its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. – Haaretz

Editorial: Here’s one foreign-policy challenge where President-elect Joe Biden seems set to improve on President Trump: facing the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no friend to the West — or freedom, for that matter. […]Biden has the opportunity to reset Turkey-US relations.  – New York Post


The hacker group Pay2Key claimed Sunday night that it had successfully hacked a range of Israeli defense industry companies, including the largest Israeli airpower defense corporation, Israel Aerospace Industries. – Jerusalem Post

In Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, some residents are preparing weapons for a potential power struggle when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally leaves the stage. – Agence France-Presse

The Palestinian foreign minister on Saturday urged Israel to return to talks based on a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ahead of the transition to a new U.S. administration. – Associated Press

A Palestinian man was arrested Sunday on suspicion of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a soldier at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank on Saturday evening, the army said. The incident has sparked right-wing fury since the soldier didn’t respond to the attack. – Times of Israel

Avi Kumar writes: Israel’s new ties with this relatively isolated kingdom reflect the fact that the new Middle East landscape US President-elect Joe Biden will inherited from US President Donald Trump, is one where Israel’s role in the world at large is bigger and more significant than it has ever been in its 72 year history. – Jerusalem Post

Lawrence J. Haas writes: For decades, America’s close military, diplomatic, economic, and other ties with Israel have generated vast benefits for both sides. At a time of such hopeful change but also serious challenge across the Middle East, it’s a relationship that each should nourish carefully, avoiding the unnecessary missteps that can cause significant damage. – The Hill


Eight rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone late Sunday, Iraq’s military and Iraqi officials said, sparking fears of renewed unrest as next month’s anniversary of the U.S. slaying of an Iranian general draws near. – Associated Press

Iraq’s central bank increased the sale price of U.S. dollars to banks and currency exchanges to 1,460 dinars, from 1,182 dinars, seeking to compensate for a decline in oil revenue due to low crude prices, the bank said on Saturday. – Reuters

The Kurdistan region of Iraq has become the next battle ground between the US and Iran while it experiences its worst economic, social and political times. Lack of monthly salaries for the last six years has angered the population. Despite a costly and still continuing war with ISIS, the region has been stable since the last decade. – Jerusalem Post


More than four months after the largest explosion in Lebanon’s history sent a shock wave of death and destruction through Beirut, not a single official has accepted responsibility for the blast or publicly explained how a stockpile of explosive material was left unsecured in the Beirut port for six years. – New York Times

Lebanon has been experiencing unrest following new discoveries surfacing in the investigation surrounding the explosion at the Beirut port on August 4 that led to hundreds of casualties and thousands of injuries. – Jerusalem Post

For the past four years, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has fought a war in Syria, supported Iraqi forces and stage-managed the politics of its homeland, all the while trying to avoid facing off with Israel. Yet its exhausted leaders fear the last gasps of Donald Trump’s presidency could deliver threats that eclipse everything else. – The Guardian 

Lebanese riot police on Saturday scuffled with students protesting a decision by top universities to adopt a new dollar exchange rate to price tuition — equivalent to a major fee hike. – Times of Israel


The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced on Friday a new power-sharing cabinet that would include southern separatists in the internationally-recognised government, part of a deal to end a power struggle between the nominal allies. – Reuters

The Saudi-Led coalition fighting in Yemen said on Friday it destroyed a marine mine laid by Iran-aligned Houthis in the southern Red Sea, and that the mine is Iranian-made, Saudi state TV reported. – Reuters

Fionna Harrigan writes: It would’ve been foolish to expect a sudden change in Trump administration policy, but even so, the Houthi designation would be a new low. It would only be the latest action the president has taken to remain in league with Saudi Arabia and complicate a devastating war. Biden has made his goals for the region clear—but he’ll be forced to tidy up Trump’s trail before he can accomplish them.  – The National Interest

Gulf States

At least six times between October of last year and this past July, Dridi’s personal iPhone was reportedly turned into a spying device by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware as part of “zero click” attacks probably linked to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, according to a university research lab. – Washington Post

The US Air Force directorate tasked with overseeing Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is soliciting industry solutions for long-range, elevated air defence radar systems, which will be tapped for future foreign sale to Saudi Arabia. – Janes 360

The 14 December attack was the fourth in a series of attacks since the start of November that have targeted Saudi energy infrastructure along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, and the second attack in three weeks targeting an oil tanker at the Jeddah Islamic Seaport . – Janes 360

Dozens of journalists at Al-Jazeera, the Qatari state-owned media company, have been targeted by advanced spyware in an attack likely linked to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a cybersecurity watchdog said Sunday. – Associated Press

Kuwait’s Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al Sabah, the eldest son of the late emir, who emerged as an influential reformer in the oil-rich Gulf sheikhdom, died on Sunday, the country’s state-run news agency reported. He was 72. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat has publicly acknowledged a so-far unexplained ban on visitors from Pakistan, which travel agents say also targets tourists and laborers from a dozen Muslim-majority countries amid the pandemic and the UAE’s normalization of ties with Israel. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

An Egyptian criminal court acquitted three Muslim men accused of stripping naked an elderly Coptic Christian woman and parading her through the streets of a village in southern Egypt in 2016, the state’s official news agency reported. – Associated Press

Two roadside bombs exploded in restive northern Sinai Peninsula killing three members of Egypt’s security forces and wounding 10 others, officials said Friday. – Associated Press

The Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan on Saturday stressed the need to urge Israel to return to negotiations in order to reach a final settlement on the basis of a two-state solution to ensure the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

A mysterious North Korean facility may be producing components for building nuclear bombs, a new report suggests, offering clues to understanding the site near the capital that has perplexed experts and policymakers. – Reuters

Understanding North Korea’s fissile material production capacity is a key factor in assessing risks associated with the North’s ability to expand its nuclear weapons program. – Real Clear Defense

The hawkish North Korean foreign minister has disappeared from public view, amid reports that dictator Kim Jong Un is planning to replace him with a defter negotiator as Pyongyang prepares to face a new American administration. – Newsweek

Michael Auslin writes: Fostering close consultation and action with South Korea and Japan will be vital, and Biden should grasp the nettle of shepherding Tokyo and Seoul into closer working relations, while preparing a set of credible responses to any North Korean aggression. Any impression of indecisiveness vis-à-vis North Korea, as with China, would invite far more destabilizing behavior in the world’s most strategically vital region. – The National Interest


The Trump administration has added prominent Chinese semiconductor and drone manufacturers to an export blacklist, an attempt to continue exerting pressure on Beijing in the final weeks of the Trump presidency. – Washington Post

Such support today is difficult to imagine. China’s relations have soured with many developed countries. The second-largest capital subscriber, India, has been embroiled in a series of commercial and territorial disputes with Beijing this year. – Wall Street Journal

When President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. moves into the White House, he will inherit a relationship with China that is at its lowest point in decades. – New York Times

China has drawn up new rules that will allow authorities to review foreign investment on national security grounds, the country’s state planning agency said on Saturday. – Reuters

The United States should choose dialogue and consultation with China instead of pursuing “unacceptable” unilateral sanctions against Chinese companies, China’s State Councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi said on Friday. – Reuters

The trial of Australian writer Yang Hengjun, detained in Beijing since January 2019, has been delayed by three months, according to his former teacher and a supporter Feng Chongyi. – Reuters

China said on Monday it firmly opposed U.S. President Trump signing a bill that would kick Chinese companies off U.S. stock exchanges unless they adhere to U.S. auditing standards, saying it contains discriminatory provisions against Chinese companies. – Reuters

A Chinese Communist Party official signaled Monday that there would likely be no let-up in its crackdown in the Xinjiang region, but said the government’s focus is shifting more to addressing the roots of extremism. – Associated Press

Top advisers to Joe Biden have argued that it’s important to cooperate with China on space exploration, even as the incoming administration treats Beijing as its top economic and military competitor in virtually every other realm. – Politico

As Americans peruse store aisles and websites in search of Christmas gifts this year, many may not be aware of a sinister and growing problem with the products they are buying: If it was made in China, there’s a good chance that it was produced through slave labor. – The Daily Signal

Taiwan has claimed that China is backing private investment in Pacific undersea cable networks as a way to spy on foreign nations and steal data from its rivals, following a report this week that the U.S. is warning Pacific nations against awarding cable contracts to Chinese state-linked firms. – Newsweek

China threatened to impose countermeasures after Washington decided to blacklist more than 60 Chinese companies, a sign that tensions between the world’s two biggest economies may further escalate during the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency. – Bloomberg

Editorial: China will continue bullying, stealing secrets and crushing dissent in Hong Kong and elsewhere as long as Mr. Xi thinks it will pay little price. More than Jimmy Lai’s fate is at stake here. If he intends to deal with Mr. Xi from a position of strength, the sooner Mr. Biden lets China know he is no pushover, the better off he will be. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Chinese authorities are coercing hundreds of thousands of rural workers to carry out the grueling labor of handpicking cotton in the heavily Uighur areas of southern Xinjiang province, subjecting them to harsh recruiting, supervision, surveillance and indoctrination. – Washington Post

Gordon G. Chang writes: Now there are signs that Beijing, by withdrawing lending support, is backing away from what has been called the world’s biggest development plan. […]So China’s attempt to take over the entire world is faltering. It sounds like Chinese leaders have just realized they have a severe case of Paul Kennedy’s “imperial overstretch.” – The National Interest

Graham Allison writes: In sum, the challenge posed by China is daunting. But brute facts are impossible to ignore. Having overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to become the forty-sixth president of the United States, Biden will be ruthlessly realistic about the magnitude of this challenge, and unflinching in his determination to do what has to be done. – The National Interest

James Jay Carafano writes: Beijing’s malignant behavior doesn’t stop with the pandemic, of course. Just this month we’ve learned of Chinese spies trying to seduce U.S. lawmakers and other politicians. And we’ve learned of other Chinese Communist Party members who have infiltrated a host of U.S. universities and businesses. – Fox News


A car bombing in Kabul targeting an Afghan lawmaker killed at least nine people, officials said. Lawmaker Khan Mohammad Wardak survived the blast but is among 20 injured including women and children, Afghan Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi said. – Reuters

A bomb rigged to a rickshaw killed at least 15 children and wounded 20 others in a Taliban-controlled area in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, a provincial official said, as violence in the war-weary country continued to surge. – Associated Press

A major US air base north of Kabul was targeted in a dawn rocket attack on Saturday but there were no casualties or damage to the airfield, officials said. – Agence France-Presse

Mariam Banahi and Devon Cone write: The United States and other major donors must remain engaged and work in close collaboration with the Afghan government. They must re-commit to Afghanistan by providing funding for ongoing humanitarian and development needs. Regional stability, the lives of Afghans, and a resolution to the protracted Afghan refugee situation hang in the balance. – The National Interest

South Asia

Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the country’s parliament Sunday at the request of the prime minister, who is in the midst of a intraparty feud destabilizing the country. – Washington Post

Pakistan’s military was on high alert in Kashmir on Monday as its prime minister warned India against carrying out any “false flag” operations in the disputed region after a U.N. vehicle in the Pakistan-held part came under attack. – Associated Press

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied reports of behind-the-scenes efforts to establish ties between his country and Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Indian and Chinese diplomats agreed on Friday to work towards an early end to the biggest confrontation between their troops in decades at their Himalayan border where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in June. – Reuters


Hong Kong’s highest court ruled in favor of the government on Monday, upholding its use of a colonial-era law to unilaterally ban masks at the height of protests last year, reversing a lower court’s ruling. – Washington Post

The sudden brutal killing of a mother and son caught on camera late Sunday in the Philippines has cast a harsh new light on the rampant abuse of authority by police under President Rodrigo Duterte. – Washington Post

Taiwan’s navy and air force were deployed on Sunday as a Chinese aircraft carrier group led by the country’s newest carrier, the Shandong, sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, the day after a U.S. warship transited the same waterway. – Reuters

China’s military tailed a U.S. warship as it passed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Saturday, the Chinese military said, denouncing such missions as sending “flirtatious glances” to supporters of Taiwan independence. – Reuters

The United Nations human rights office called on Thailand on Friday to amend its lese majeste law which it said had been used against at least 35 activists, one as young as 16, in recent weeks. – Reuters

Japan’s Cabinet approved a ninth straight increase in the nation’s defense budget as the government bolsters funding to develop longer-range cruise missiles and stealth fighters to counter potential threats from China and North Korea. – Associated Press

Japan’s years-long effort to end a longstanding territorial dispute with Russia has been fruitless, the US’s top commander in Japan said this month, an assessment underscored by simultaneous military moves by Moscow. – Business Insider

South Caucasus

Thousands of Armenians marched through the capital Yerevan on Saturday to commemorate the soldiers killed in a six-week conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in which Azerbaijan made significant territorial gains. – Reuters

A Russian serviceman was killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh region when he was demining a road, the defence ministry said on Friday, Russian news agencies reported. – Reuters

Mark Episkopos writes: With the cease-fire, Armenia has finally disentangled itself—albeit violently and haphazardly—from a prolonged territorial conflict that it could never win. The fresh scars of war will fade in time and Yerevan, whether under Pashinyan or any other administration, can hopefully rededicate itself to the many domestic needs of the roughly three million people living within Armenia’s current borders. Baku, on the other hand, is poised to pay a steep price for “victory” as it navigates existential questions of statehood and sovereignty in the coming years. – The National Interest


The Trump administration has notified members of Congress that it plans to close the last two remaining United States consulates in Russia. – New York Times

Bulgaria has given a Russian diplomat 72 hours to leave the country after prosecutors alleged he had been involved in espionage since 2017, the foreign ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Russia said Saturday it will return an Orthodox icon presented to the Russian foreign minister in Bosnia, a gift that has triggered a protest from Ukraine. – Associated Press

Alan Riley writes: Developing and implementing an energy security strategy that finally relieves central and eastern Europe of overbearing Russian energy influence is a great prize. It is now within the capacity of the United States and EU to deliver it. With EU willingness to boost cooperation with the incoming Biden administration, now may be the time it is delivered. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Finally free of the shadow of President Trump, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is looking to put relations with the United States back on a sound footing with the incoming administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. – New York Times

Far-right extremism is resurgent in Germany, in ways that are new and very old, horrifying a country that prides itself on dealing honestly with its murderous past. – New York Times

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 11th-hour reversal on a Christmas lockdown on Saturday so rattled Britain that it managed to overshadow the other down-to-the-wire drama he was staging: the trade negotiations in Brussels between his country and the European Union. – New York Times

It was a routine European Parliament session in late November, with lawmakers discussing growing tensions between the European Union and Turkey, when the speaker of the house casually gave the floor to a Greek deputy, Ioannis Lagos. – New York Times

In the neverland of post-Brexit trade talks, where every deadline seems notional and the extensions endless, there is nonetheless a sense that Britain and the European Union are — really and truly — coming to the end of the road. – New York Times

Britain and the European Union will continue post-Brexit trade talks on Monday, but the negotiations remain difficult and significant differences remain, a senior British government source said on Sunday. – Reuters

Germany has organized the return of three women and 12 children from camps in northeastern Syria for humanitarian reasons, its foreign minister reported Sunday. – Associated Press

China has increased its influence in Belarus in recent years, but it has done so against expectations and without challenging Russia’s interests in the regions, according to the study published on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

France won’t try to get a Brexit deal through by Sunday at any cost as the parties are negotiating the biggest accord in the European Union’s history and such agreements are known to take many years of discussions, French European Affairs Junior Minister Clement Beaune said in an interview on France Inter radio on Saturday. – Bloomberg

George Barros writes: If Putin gains even partial freedom of movement and operations in Belarus, he can significantly increase the risk to NATO and Ukraine. The West should support Belarus’s full independence as a sovereign state and should not recognize any agreements subverting that sovereignty that Putin may coerce Lukashenko into. It must also couple full-throated support for complete Belarusian sovereignty with its already-articulated support for the protest movement. – Institute for the Study of War


Three senior Somali military officers, including a commander with an elite American-backed commando force, and several other people died in a suicide attack on Friday that was aimed at the country’s prime minister, the Somali police said. – New York Times

Formally easing tensions between Israel and its regional neighbors is a success, to be sure, that past Republican and Democratic presidents alike have long sought to foster. – New York Times

Almost a third of the Ethiopian refugees are children, with at least 361 of them arriving unaccompanied, according to the United Nations refugee agency — a stark sign of the sudden nature of the violence that sent them running. – New York Times

Individuals linked to Russia and the French military used fake Facebook and Instagram accounts to wage a covert disinformation campaign in the Central African Republic ahead of elections there this month, Facebook announced this week. – Associated Press

Gunmen in Nigeria abducted more than 80 Islamic school students in northwestern Katsina state Saturday night, but the pupils were quickly rescued by security forces after a fierce gun battle, police announced Sunday. – Associated Press

Five Nigerian soldiers were killed by Islamic State-aligned jihadists and dozens of civilians were kidnapped in a separate attack, military sources said Sunday, in the latest violence to grip the north of the country. – Agence France-Presse

Central African Republic’s main opposition coalition on Sunday demanded the Dec. 27 general election be postponed due to violence by armed groups outside the capital Bangui, while the government insisted the vote would go ahead. – Reuters

Three people were killed when an abandoned bomb exploded in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on Sunday, a state news agency reported. – Reuters

Thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets of the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman on Saturday, demanding an acceleration of reforms on the second anniversary of the start of an uprising that ousted Omar al-Bashir. – Reuters

Clashes along Sudan’s eastern border and the influx of tens of thousands of refugees from neighbouring Ethiopia have added to the challenges faced by a country already navigating a fraught political transition and protracted economic crisis. – Reuters

Addressing federal troops last weekend in the captured capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray province, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory and asked locals to turn in their fugitive leaders so he could focus on “development.” Not everyone’s convinced the bloodshed’s over. – Bloomberg

American forces under the U.S. Africa Command will begin removing troops from Somalia to an undisclosed location within East Africa, according to a statement on its website. U.S. President Donald Trump this month ordered most U.S. forces to leave Somalia by early 2021. – Bloomberg

The European Union pledged an additional 23.7 million euros ($29 million) in aid to deal with the fallout of fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. – Bloomberg

Sudan’s prime minister met his Ethiopian counterpart Sunday, as Sudanese forces continued their advances to reclaim territories controlled by Ethiopian militias along the two countries’ shared border. – Associated Press

Latin America

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Saturday committed to work on a humane strategy to regional migration by addressing its root causes in Central America and southern Mexico. – Reuters

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two people and a company it says played a role in fraudulent elections in Venezuela, keeping up pressure on socialist President Nicolas Maduro even as U.S. President Donald Trump’s term nears a close. – Reuters

Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, a pro-government legislature created in 2017 that was widely criticized for undermining democracy, will cease operations at the end of 2020, President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday. – Reuters

North America

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state is set to face intensive questioning from GOP senators concerned that a Biden administration will return to policies they opposed during the Obama administration. – Wall Street Journal

Joe Biden’s foreign policy in-tray is only looking more difficult as he approaches inauguration day – even as the US still confronts the pressing issue of record coronavirus deaths and infections. – The Guardian

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said China undermined its own interests and alienated other nations when it detained two Canadians almost two years ago, after Canada had arrested a Chinese executive on a U.S. arrest warrant. – Reuters

Jackson Diehl writes: Biden shouldn’t deal. Instead, he ought to take the lesson that emerges from Trump’s experience: The only way to prevent Americans from being taken hostage abroad is to adopt a strict policy of no tolerance, especially with supposed U.S. allies. Sissi and MBS should get the message that high-level relations with the new administration won’t begin until the Americans they hold are freed. Biden could make that clear by reversing Trump’s stance and inviting the families of those imprisoned to the White House. – Washington Post

Dimitri K. Simes writes: Understanding the complexity of Chinese and Russian actions does not amount to any expectation that Beijing and Moscow could become American friends. Nor does recognizing the danger in NATO’s reckless misuse imply that we need to abandon NATO altogether and reject the demonstrable benefits of a global network of alliances. Instead, we must recognize that world affairs are rarely black and white, that alliances should serve as instruments of U.S. policy rather than as ends in themselves, and that—like it or not—history as we always knew it has returned. Those who resist accepting this essential fact risk finding themselves on the wrong side of history. – The National Interest


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Russia for the SolarWinds hack that compromised numerous federal agencies and U.S. corporations, while President Trump said he was skeptical of a growing consensus in Washington about the country’s role. – Wall Street Journal

Despite its size, a sprawling computer hack blamed on Russia could leave President Trump and the incoming Biden administration struggling to find the right response, former U.S. cybersecurity officials and experts said. – Wall Street Journal

A security executive with the video-tech giant Zoom worked with the Chinese government to terminate Americans’ accounts and disrupt video calls about the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Justice Department prosecutors said Friday. – Washington Post

Confronted with a vast cyberattack believed to have been carried out by Russia, the Trump administration is suddenly reviving an old idea: Strip the general who leads the United States Cyber Command of his second title as the director of the National Security Agency, the country’s largest spy operation. – New York Times

The Justice Department’s examination of the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has cleared the C.I.A. of suspicions that it targeted President Trump and his associates, Attorney General William P. Barr said in an interview published on Friday. – New York Times

Suspected Russian hackers who broke into U.S. government agencies also spied on less high-profile organizations, including groups in Britain, a U.S. internet provider and a county government in Arizona, according to web records and a security source. – Reuters

US lawmakers on Sunday called for a “strong response” to a huge cyberattack on government agencies and criticized President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to point the finger at Russia, which has been widely blamed for the hack. – Agence France-Presse

There is no evidence so far that the UK government has been hacked during a sweeping cyber espionage campaign that targeted US federal agencies and critical infrastructure, a British security official has said. – Financial Times

Editorial: Vladimir Putin denies Russian involvement, which he always does. But if the Russians are behind the hack, the U.S. will have to respond with more than a tut-tut protest or by indicting a few hackers in Moscow who will never be extradited. Adversaries in the digital age have the ability to extend their malevolent reach deep into the American homeland. Like hijackings in the 1980s and terror attacks in the 1990s, cyber attacks like this will keep happening as long as there is no cost to their state sponsors. – Wall Street Journal

Mike Rogers writes: The government can’t do it alone. Cooperation with the private sector on cyber defenses is urgent and necessary. This goes beyond contracts and purchasing agreements, and must include recognition that the nation—private and public sectors—are under attack. We need to craft a truly whole-of-nation and whole-of-government approach to collective cyber defense. – Wall Street Journal


A Pentagon proposal to put the nation’s top electronic spy agency under civilian leadership drew bipartisan criticism from lawmakers who said the idea was ill-timed and against the law. – Wall Street Journal

The United States Space Force, the newest branch of the American military, created to protect the country’s galactic interests, has given its members an official name: Guardians. – New York Times

The U.S. acting defense secretary has canceled planned meetings between Defense Department officials and the Biden transition team. It’s a move the department is categorizing as a temporary delay rather than a wholesale blockade of the incoming administration. – Defense News

Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force embarked on a hotly anticipated test: Could it use a semiautonomous drone, in this case a Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie equipped with a special payload, to stealthily translate and send data between F-35 and F-22 fighter jets? – C4ISRNET

The U.S. military recently came within inches of successfully retrieving three unmanned air vehicles in flight with a C-130 aircraft, bringing the Gremlins program tantalizingly close to a significant milestone. – C4ISRNET

Volleys of networked munitions, drone attacks, undersea maneuvers, long-range missile fires, hypersonic weapons and 5th-Generation fighter aircraft, supported by aircraft carrier strike groups will bring new dimensions to offensive maritime warfare, according to a recently released tri-service sea combat strategy called “Advantage at Sea.” – The National Interest

Representative Mike Gallagher writes: I admire Gen. Austin for his lifetime of honorable service. But that service doesn’t make him the best fit for defense secretary during a moment of profound geopolitical change and challenges. When Congress decides whether to make an exception to the law for Gen. Austin, I will vote no.  – Wall Street Journal

Long War

An Austrian of Afghan descent whose genetic material was allegedly found on the weapon that a jihadist used to kill four people in Vienna last month has been arrested, prosecutors said on Sunday. – Reuters

Four people have been arrested in France as part of an investigation into a knife attack in Paris on Sept. 25, a judicial source said on Friday. – Reuters

A court in Denmark on Friday ordered a Danish national facing terror charges on suspicion of having fought alongside the Islamic State group in Syria held in pre-trial custody until Jan. 6. – Associated Press

The number of children being arrested for terrorism offences is rising as the pandemic creates a climate for lonely young people to be drawn in, police have warned. – The Guardian