Fdd's overnight brief

December 22, 2020

In The News


Nearly a year after the U.S. airstrike that killed a revered Iranian military leader, a senior American general said that Tehran is still considering retaliatory steps, raising the possibility of renewed confrontation with Iran in the Trump administration’s final days. – Washington Post

A U.S. guided-missile submarine passed through the Strait of Hormuz, the Navy said Monday, in a rare disclosure of the movements of one of the United States’s nuclear-powered submarines.[…] Monday’s announcement comes as U.S. officials are on alert for heightened tensions in the Middle East surrounding the upcoming anniversary of the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. – The Hill

European powers are backing president-elect Joe Biden’s suggestion that the US returns to a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in its existing form and leave their more contentious push to expand the accord to curb Tehran’s military and regional policies until later. – Financial Times

An IDF Navy submarine crossed the Suez Canal last week as a direct message to Iran, Kan News reported Monday evening. Arab intelligence officials reportedly confirmed to Kan News that the Israeli submarine crossed the canal toward Iran visibly above water, in an act meant as a message to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei. – Jerusalem Post

Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned the Iranians on Monday that any action against Israel would prompt a harsh response, following threats from Tehran in the wake of the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in late November, a killing that Iran has blamed on Israel. – Haaretz

Tom Rogan writes: Still, what’s really informing this escalated U.S. military activity isn’t so much the traditional Iranian antics such as the rocket strike on Sunday. It’s the intelligence reporting that suggests Iran wants to give the Trump administration a bloody nose before it leaves office. Iran’s desire for action is informed both by the crippling sanctions the Trump administration has imposed on it but also by action such as the January 2020 killing of Qassem Soleimani. – Washington Examiner

Eric R. Mandel writes: With Iranian elections scheduled for 2021, the experts need to end the false distinction between Iranian good guys and bad guys, moderates vs. hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani was declared a moderate by the Obama administration and media, but in reality, he is the most moderate extremist in the Iranian leadership, as he is a true believer in the revolution’s goals. – Jerusalem Post


Bitterly divided Israeli lawmakers failed to agree on a key budget vote early Tuesday, marking the likely end to the 8-month-old coalition government and setting the country on path for its fourth round of national elections in less than two years. – Washington Post

Israeli police said Monday they shot a Palestinian attacker who opened fire at a group of officers in Jerusalem’s Old City. – Associated Press

The Trump administration is concerned Chinese investments in the Israeli tech industry could harm Israeli and U.S. national security, assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs David Schenker said Monday at a conference organized by the SIGNAL think tank, which focuses on Israeli-Chinese academic cooperation. – Axios

Israel sent envoys to Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out an upgrade of ties that was forged by the White House in a parting foreign-policy push by U.S. President Donald Trump. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday announced criminal charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative accused of building the explosive device that was used in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in United States history, stemming partly to a confession that he gave nearly a decade ago while imprisoned in Libya. – New York Times

The United Arab Emirates said there is support for mending the standoff with Qatar, but the media there is “undermining” that effort. – Bloomberg

US lawmakers on Monday backed legislation granting Sudan legal immunity for past militant attacks, a final step in a historic deal removing Khartoum from Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism. – Agence France-Presse

Hundreds of angry Iraqis protested Monday in several cities against a currency devaluation that has slashed their purchasing power amid a pandemic-fuelled economic crisis. – Agence France-Presse

I. William Zartman writes: Like all futures, the impact of the quid pro quo is not clearly indicated. While the “war” has not exploded, Algeria may be heating up relations with Morocco to gather domestic support, although the issue is of greater appeal to the army than to the Algerian people.[…] The Biden administration could undo the executive order with its own executive order, adding to post-Trump policy uncertainty, and it may not want to make a fight in Congress over this one. In the end, the issue, having taken a major step toward normalization, may simply settle down again since it holds little importance for anyone but Morocco, Algeria, and the local Sahrawi people. – Middle East Institute


China firmly opposes any country or individual harbouring criminals, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday after news of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law requesting asylum in the United Kingdom. – Reuters

The United States on Monday imposed additional visa restrictions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses, taking further action against Beijing in the final month of U.S. President Donald Trump’s term. – Reuters

China will take countermeasures against those responsible for hurting the Chinese side, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, in response to additional U.S. visa bans on Chinese officials. – Reuters

China has denied suggestions from Donald Trump that it is behind the massive cyber-espionage operation against the United States, saying it would never do such a thing. – The Independent

Some who do business with China are increasingly worried about the risk of being swept up by security agents and becoming casualties of geopolitical tensions between Beijing and the West. – Bloomberg


The Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law said on Monday that he had applied for political asylum in Britain, a petition that will likely inflame tensions with China if granted. – New York Times

A roadside bomb tore through a vehicle in the Afghan capital of Kabul Tuesday, killing at least five people, four of them doctors, police said. – Associated Press

The political head of Tibetans in exile welcomed on Tuesday the passing of legislation by the U.S. Congress that reaffirms the rights of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. – Reuters

The Indian government on Tuesday appealed to farmers to hold further talks to break a nearly month-long deadlock over their demand for the repeal of agricultural reform laws, but farmers’ leaders declined to relent unless these laws are withdrawn. – Reuters

Indonesia could unlock billions of dollars in additional U.S. financing if it joins President Donald Trump’s push for Muslim countries to establish relations with Israel, according to a U.S. official. – Bloomberg

South Korea said on Tuesday it had scrambled fighter jets in response to an intrusion into South Korea’s air defence identification zone by 19 Russian and Chinese military aircraft. – Reuters


Mr. Navalny and Bellingcat, the open-source investigative outlet that published a report on Monday alongside the video, identified the man as Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a chemical weapons specialist at Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B. – New York Times

The Kremlin on Monday, December 21, denied any role in recent cyber attacks on the United States, saying American accusations that Russia was behind a major security breach lacked evidence. – Agence France-Presse

Attorney General William Barr said he agreed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Russians were behind the global cyberattack that affected numerous federal government agencies, even as President Trump has speculated China may have been culpable. – Washington Examiner


A white supremacist who live-streamed his efforts to blast his way into a synagogue in Germany last year on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, failing to cause widespread bloodshed only because he could not breach a heavy wooden door, was sentenced on Monday to life in prison. – New York Times

Britain and the EU moved closer to a compromise on fisheries on Monday, night as MPs were told to prepare to vote on a potential trade deal on Wednesday next week. – Telegraph

Turkey is selling four locally made stealth corvettes to its littoral Black Sea neighbor Ukraine as part of a larger framework agreement to enhance bilateral cooperation in defense procurement. – Defense News

Mehmet Efe Caman and Nikos Michailidis write: We believe that the EU can do more to help the real democratic forces of Turkey, who live either in the country or abroad, by creating specific funding, educational, diplomatic, and journalistic tools. This will be good for both the EU and for the citizens of Turkey, whose children deserve to live in a geography of peace and democracy. – Jerusalem Post


Victims of the 1998 bombings of two United States Embassies in East Africa will soon receive up to $485 million in compensation as part of a wide-ranging settlement to remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism and, in turn, foster peace with Israel. – New York Times

For the past month, the Navy cruiser San Jacinto had sailed off the West African island nation of Cape Verde on a secret mission aimed at helping deal a major blow to President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, an avowed adversary of the Trump administration. – New York Times

U.S. forces departing Somalia will move to other bases in East Africa instead of departing the continent, according to the head of U.S. Africa Command. – The Hill

Rwanda has deployed what it called a “protection force” to the Central African Republic after its peacekeepers there were attacked by rebels advancing to the capital, Bangui. – BBC


Tech giants including Microsoft and Google on Monday joined Facebook’s legal battle against hacking company NSO, filing an amicus brief in federal court that warned that the Israeli firm’s tools were “powerful, and dangerous.” – Reuters

Systems at the U.S. Treasury Department used by senior officials were accessed by hackers in a widespread cyberattack on federal agencies, according to Senator Ron Wyden. – Bloomberg

Christopher Krebs, the former top cybersecurity official in the U.S., says Russia is to blame for a massive breach that’s affected the State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other departments and agencies. – NPR

With limited resources and increasing threats, experts at U.S. Cyber Command cannot conduct operations for everyone and protect everything. As a result, the Marine Corps is spreading expertise and resources from high-end cyber warriors to the fleet as it builds prowess in the domain, with new cyber-focused careers for Marines and first-time tactical cyber forces. – C4ISRNET


The Trump administration on Monday published a list of Chinese and Russian companies with alleged military ties that restrict them from buying a wide range of U.S. goods and technology. – Reuters

More than 70 cadets training at the U.S. Military Academy to be Army officers have been accused of cheating on a math exam taken online when they were studying remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press

Citing a disconnect between the Missile Defense Agency’s fiscal 2021 budget request and what it would need to meet national defense strategy goals, Congress has injected $1.3 billion into the organization’s budget in order to properly meet missile defense priorities, according to the FY21 appropriations bill that has emerged from conference committee on Dec. 21. – Defense News

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs writes: The Biden administration will inherit the Trump administration’s dilemma: the need to quickly improve homeland missile defense while also committing to programs like the Next Generation Interceptor to ward off increasingly complex missile attacks. The way out is clear, if politically challenging: it must do both. – Defense One