Fdd's overnight brief

December 28, 2020

In The News


A new policy allowing Iranian women to pass down their citizenship to their children marks a long-sought victory for activists and is raising hopes for an estimated 1 million undocumented children born to foreign fathers in the country. – Washington Post

Swaths of the Iranian economy are retooling in response to more than two years of U.S. sanctions, finding pockets of resilience in the country’s large domestic economy. – Wall Street Journal

Iran is extending a night-time traffic curfew to 330 lower-risk cities and towns in an effort to sustain a recent decline in the number of new coronavirus infections and deaths, state television reported on Saturday. – Reuters

Iran executed an ethnic Baluch militant on Saturday for the shooting death of two Revolutionary Guards five years ago, the judiciary’s official news website Mizan reported. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday dismissed U.S. President Donald Trump’s allegations that Tehran was behind the recent rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. – Reuters

Iran on Thursday warned the US president against any “adventurism” before leaving the White House, after Donald Trump said he would hold “Iran responsible” for any fatal attack on Americans in Iraq. – Agence France-Presse

President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that Washington was demanding Iranian transactions for novel coronavirus vaccines pass through US banks, and expressed fear the money could be seized. – Agence France-Presse

While subjected to years of sanctions and a “maximum pressure” campaign inflicted by the Trump administration, reports indicate that the Iranian regime and its military wing – the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – may have found a crack in their financing system giving them access to millions in funds. – Fox News

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran doesn’t want a conflict on the eve of the Biden administration. It knows the new US administration has hinted at a return to the Iran deal and engagement with Iran. Tehran has no reason to burn those bridges. It does want to show it can strike at the US in Iraq. But its foreign ministry and leaders of Iraqi militias, such as Qais Khazali, claim they didn’t attack the US Embassy on Sunday. This is the dance of messages between Washington, Tehran and Jerusalem. The question is when the music will stop. – Jerusalem Post

Andrew Lövy writes: If the US signs onto the deal and removes sanctions, terrorism across the region and world will increase, as Iran will have the ability to adequately fund its proxies. Moreover, with the influx of cash, Iran would be able to purchase new conventional weapons since the UN arms embargo on it was lifted in October 2020. It is for the reasons listed above that the Biden Administration must not reenter the JCPOA. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: So dealing with Iran will get nowhere before the June elections unless the parties that care most about it get in the incoming president’s face. However, they should be aware that Biden is a more visceral and spontaneous personality than the famously cerebral Obama, and could take offense if pushed too far. Still, with Biden seemingly on the fence about how hard to press for new concessions from the ayatollahs, whoever is loudest and hardest to ignore might make the difference. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Biden has committed not to just be a third Obama term and talked tough about Iran’s missile and precision-rocket programs. Yet, this is a long way from him being ready to stare down the ayatollahs while 150 Democrats in the House of Representatives press him to simply rejoin the deal. If Iran was not on the ropes in 2020, it was certainly on the run. But with no knockout blow delivered, 2021 could be very different. – Jerusalem Post

Amitai Etzioni writes: This is clearly the time to explore what the policy of the United States—and its allies—ought to be toward Iran. […]In short, we need a rather different deal, one that does not merely remedy the several serious defects the current one has, but that also governs ballistic missiles and precision-guided munitions—and a commitment from Iran to stop supporting terrorism. – The National Interest 


A British-based group monitoring the Syrian conflict says least six Iran-backed fighters have been killed in an Israeli rocket attack in central Syria. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Four weapons manufacturing facilities were destroyed in northwestern Syria early Friday morning in a series of airstrikes attributed to Israel, according to satellite images released by a private Israeli intelligence firm. – Times of Israel

Turkey said on Sunday its military killed 15 militants from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it said was preparing to carry out an attack in a region of northeast Syria controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies. – Reuters

Robert Farley writes: The strike on Syria was probably not decisive in preventing Syria from getting a nuclear weapon; the program was a long-shot from the beginning, and in all likelihood would have ended at the onset of the Syrian Civil War. However, the strike helped to confirm the regional sense of Israeli military power after the failures of the war against Hezbollah, and undoubtedly also convinced both Washington and Tehran that Israel would consider using military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nukes. This, in turn, informed the negotiating strategies of all of the parties to the JCPOA, which continues to govern Iran’s relations with the international community. Whether that legacy will outlast 2018 remains in question. – The National Interest


Turks had been grappling with a falling currency and double-digit inflation for two years when the pandemic hit in March, sharply worsening the country’s deep recession. Nine months in, as a second wave of the virus sweeps through Turkey, there are signs that a significant portion of the population is overwhelmed by debt and increasingly going hungry. – New York Times

Turkey’s parliament passed a law on Sunday that would ramp up oversight of foundations and associations and, according to rights groups including Amnesty International, risks limiting the freedoms of civil society organisations. – Reuters

Turkey would like better ties with Israel but Israeli policy towards the Palestinians remains “unacceptable”, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday. – Reuters

The wife of detained Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas said on Thursday she expected Turkey to comply with a call from Europe’s top rights court to free him, but that the country’s overall legal system still needed to be fixed. – Reuters

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Ankara welcomed the trade deal reached between Britain and the European Union. – Reuters

The U.K. expects to sign a continuity agreement with Turkey on Tuesday to roll over tariff-free trade arrangements worth 18.6 billion pounds ($25 billion) last year. – Bloomberg


A delegation from Morocco will travel to Israel in the coming week to advance newly-normalized relations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday. – Reuters

The hacking group Pay2Key, which has been linked to Iran, said Thursday it hacked the computer systems of the Israeli cyber security company Portnox, days after the same group hacked Israel Aerospace Industries. – Times of Israel

Israel is expected to greenlight settlement construction ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, according to a television report on Saturday night. – Times of Israel

Israel attacked the Hamas terror group in Gaza early Saturday morning in response to rockets fired from the Strip into Israel on Friday evening. – Times of Israel

After an Israel Defense Forces spokesman told a Saudi newspaper on Friday that Israeli submarines were quietly operating “everywhere,” an unnamed Iranian official told Al Jazeera Saturday that “Tehran’s response to any attack on national security will be strong and wide. – Times of Israel

Cypriot air traffic control reached out to an El Al plane en route to Tel Aviv and helped it divert from the Syrian and Lebanese coasts as airstrikes attributed to Israel against Iran-backed militias in the area were taking place early Friday morning. – Times of Israel

The Hamas terror group on Saturday denounced as “barbaric” overnight strikes by the Israel Defense Forces — in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip — that it said damaged a children’s hospital in the Palestinian enclave. – Agence France-Presse

Israel and the United Arab Emirates are working together to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) without solving the issue of Palestinian refugees, the French newspaper Le Monde has reported. – Jerusalem Post

This Christmas season, relations have never been better between Jews and Muslims, between Israel and the Arab nations. – The National Interest

Editorial: The Palestinian leadership has for decades chosen terrorism over peace. It has made a conscious choice on many occasions to go without a state of its own rather than recognize a place for a Jewish state in the region. […] Arab nations are clearly coming around to the view that they have a lot to gain in terms of their economy and security with better ties to Israel. They have also rightly assessed that Iran poses a greater threat. It is time the rest of the world, and the incoming Biden administration, catch up. – Washington Examiner

Jacob Magid writes: Israel’s perceived muscle in Washington’s halls of power was already legion in some circles before the Trump administration’s transactional approach to international relations put it on steroids. Suddenly arms, support for controversial moves, or other types of backing could be had for the price of normalization with Israel, or even just talks. […]With Obama’s former vice president about to enter office, regimes still weighing normalizing with Israel are hoping that influence remains. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: That must enter into Netanyahu’s calculations in the election campaign. Israel will hold its election two months after President-elect Biden takes over the Oval Office. That may throw uncertainties into the air, in terms of regional stability and who the U.S. and Israel’s allies and adversaries might be dealing with after the election. – The Hill


Lebanon’s top Christian cleric urged politicians on Friday to rid themselves of external pressure and form a government to end political deadlock and help resolve a severe financial crisis. – Reuters

Hundreds of Syrian refugees fled their makeshift camp in north Lebanon after their tents were torched when fighting broke out between local youths and camp residents, aid officials said on Sunday. – Reuters

The army said it “arrested two Lebanese nationals and six Syrians over a personal dispute… between a number of Lebanese men and Syrian workers,” according to a statement. – Agence France-Presse

Arabian Peninsula

Gulf Arab foreign ministers held a virtual meeting on Sunday ahead of a summit to discuss steps towards ending a diplomatic row that has undermined regional stability and thwarted Washington’s efforts to form a united front against Iran. – Reuters

United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, in his capacity as the ruler of Abu Dhabi, on Sunday established a Supreme Council for Financial and Economic Affairs that will also oversee matters relating to petroleum and natural resources. – Reuters

Impoverished Yemen would be at risk of a devastating famine should the outgoing Trump administration push ahead with a move to designate the country’s largest rebel group as a terrorist organisation, the UN’s aid chief warned. – Financial Times

A sea mine planted by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck a cargo ship in the southern Red Sea on Friday, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned television channel reported, without providing further details. – Associated Press

A 25-year-old woman was beaten to death in front of her two children by Houthi rebels in Yemen’s Ibb province, a family member said Friday. – Associated Press

The Arab Coalition has said it has found and destroyed give Iranian-made “Sadaf” naval mines during the past 24 hours, according to a statement. – Al Arabiya 


Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned on Sunday that the forces of Khalifa Haftar and their supporters based in eastern Libya would be viewed as “legitimate targets” if they attempted to attack Turkish forces in the region. – Reuters

Egyptian diplomats and intelligence officials arrived in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Sunday, Libyan officials said, the most senior Egyptian delegation to visit the western part of the conflict-stricken country in years. – Associated Press

Libya’s rival leaders kicked off a U.N.-brokered prisoner exchange, United Nations and Libyan officials said Saturday, which was part of a preliminary cease-fire agreement between the warring Libyan groups. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

The US State Department said on Thursday it began the process of setting up a US consulate in Western Sahara, after President Donald Trump’s administration this month recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the region. – Arutz Sheva

An explosion at a key natural gas pipeline in Egypt’s restive northern Sinai Peninsula caused a fire but no human casualties, a senior official said. – Associated Press

Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group has doubled the number of its precision missiles over the past year, the organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview published Sunday. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Nasrallah’s comments appear intended to raise his profile in the region, by suggesting he is as important as Soleimani. He claims Saudi Arabia has singled him out since Riyadh intervened in the Yemen war in which Iran supports the mostly Shi’ite Houthis and has threatened Saudi Arabia and the region from Yemen.- Jerusalem Post


Chances looked good for the resolution of a years-in-the-making investment agreement between China and the European Commission before the end of the year. This week, that changed. – Washington Post

A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a citizen journalist who documented the early days of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison, sending a stark warning to those challenging the government’s official narrative of the pandemic. – New York Times

Chinese regulators on Sunday ordered the financial-technology giant Ant Group to fix what they described as a litany of business failings, escalating a pressure campaign that has been building since the government abruptly halted the company’s plans for a record-breaking share listing last month. – New York Times

China will overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously estimated due to the contrasting recoveries of the two countries from the COVID-19 pandemic, a think tank said. – Reuters

China urged the United States to stop using the Hong Kong issue to interfere with its domestic affairs on Monday, after the U.S. embassy called for the release of 12 Hong Kong fugitives on trial in Shenzhen. – Reuters

China’s finance ministry said on Friday it will extend tariff exemptions for imports of 6 products from the United States including white oil and food-grade petroleum wax, for another year. – Reuters

China will conduct talks on an investment pact with the European Union “at its own pace”, its foreign ministry said on Friday, raising doubts about whether a deal can be sealed by year-end. – Reuters

The United States should stop using Taiwan to meddle in China’s domestic affairs, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday, after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020. – Reuters

The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday said it firmly rejected new U.S. legislation on Tibet signed into law by President Donald Trump over the weekend. – Reuters

Chinese state media has hit out at President Donald Trump’s administration for its politicization of the coronavirus pandemic, as the commander in chief again blames Beijing for the precarious financial position of many Americans. – Newsweek

Editorial: The costs of continuing on this course — moral, economic, and strategic — are simply too high. Voters and consumers must demand that basic moral and legal ethical standards be applied as a fundamental element to any corporation doing business with China. They would not support neo-Nazis, or neo-Confederates, and they should not support Xi’s regime for exactly the same reasons. – Washington Examiner

Josh Rogin writes: Some of Biden’s advisers will surely tell him Tibet is just one more uncomfortable issue to be avoided in his effort to manage a complex and already rocky U.S.-China relationship. But ignoring Tibet helped embolden Beijing to expand its repression scheme to Xinjiang in the first place. That sickness is still spreading. Biden must not allow it to further metastasize. – Washington Post

Scott Trail writes: The Chinese understand the importance of logistics in the Western Pacific. Extending their reach in the South and East China seas is an attempt at increasing their logistical advantage in the region. The seas will provide food to feed their people, oil and gas to fuel their machines, and control of approximately 20 percent of the world’s trade. If Chinese expansion in the South China Sea remains unabated, China could exert influence well beyond its borders, undermining the international law of the sea. – Defense News

Kishore Mahbubani writes: In short, if the Biden administration were to attempt a complete reboot of American strategy towards China, it could chart a new path, demonstrating public toughness and firmness, where necessary, while picking up concrete benefits for the American economy and chipping away at Trump’s political base. In the process, it will also find a more intelligent and thoughtful strategy towards China that would bring back many of America’s allies and friends. – The National Interest

Gideon Rachman writes: The United States and its allies should also work to strengthen international rules on trade and the rule-of-law, which will help to shape the way China has to behave. In the current political climate in America, it is probably impossible for the United States to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership—negotiated by the Obama administration but abandoned by the Trump administration. But this is the kind of open, norm-setting arrangement that the United States and its allies should work on together, as they cope with the power of a truculent China. – The National Interest

James Siebens writes: It remains to be seen whether President Biden will renew America’s commitment to its past agreements and joint communiques with China or maintain the more confrontational, and arguably provocative course set by the Trump administration. What’s most important is that the next administration sets a clear, realistic line on terms with China, and sticks to it. If recent history has taught us anything about how to use the military to advance objectives while avoiding war, it’s this: Washington must be crystal-clear about where its lines are, then communicate them, then stand by them, and show up when lines are crossed. – The National Interest

Gordon G. Chang writes: Because Xi has accumulated almost unprecedented political power, he now has almost unprecedented accountability. […]China’s ruler, therefore, has a very low threshold of risk. We may think he should be cautious, but Xi Jinping now has incentives to lash out and start a crisis that is unimaginable. At this moment, free societies do not appreciate the danger posed by an incredibly arrogant and deeply insecure China. – Newsweek


Since January, 11 Afghan journalists and media workers have been killed, making this one of the deadliest years for the country’s rapidly growing domestic media corps since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. Recently the pace has increased, with five journalists killed in the past two months. – Washington Post

On the barren high plains of western Afghanistan, along a roadway south of Herat city, is a collection of sturdy earthen huts known as Qala-e-Biwaha, or “village of widows.” Most of the village’s men have disappeared — killed while trying to smuggle opium across the desolate frontier into neighboring Iran. – New York Times

A series of explosions hit the Afghan capital on Saturday morning, killing at least four people including two police officers, officials said. – Associated Press

The next round of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government will be held in Qatar from next month, a top official said Sunday, despite President Ashraf Ghani’s recent calls for them to be moved home. – Agence France-Presse

An Afghan women’s rights activist was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in northern Kapisa province Thursday, an Interior Ministry official said. – Associated Press

In September, just a few weeks after the attack, the US embassy in Kabul warned that Afghan women in public roles were at increasing risk of being targeted by extremist groups, particularly women working for the government and armed forces. This year eight policewomen have been targeted in similar attacks. Six have died. – The Guardian

South Asia

The Trump administration has significantly invested in its relationship with India over the past four years, seeing the country as a crucial partner in counterbalancing the rise of China. – New York Times

The Pakistani authorities were seeking new legal means to continue to detain the man convicted in 2002 as the mastermind of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, officials said, after a court Thursday ordered the man’s release. – Wall Street Journal

India’s government detained at least 75 Kashmiri political leaders and activists to forestall political unrest after an alliance of Kashmir’s regional political parties won a local election, leaders and a police official said on Saturday. – Reuters

Bangladesh is set to move a second batch of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar to the remote island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal this month, officials said on Sunday, despite calls by rights groups not to carry out further relocations. – Reuters

A senior Chinese official arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday to assess the political situation, local party officials said, a first diplomatic step by the neighbouring power after Nepal’s Prime Minister dissolved parliament a week ago. – Reuters

Neha is one of nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities who are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, largely to pave the way for marriages that are under the legal age and non-consensual. – Associated Press

Patrick Mendis and Antonina Luszczykiewicz write: For the United States to counterbalance an increasingly assertive China, President Biden has to push the India policy envelope conceived by the Trump administration while championing America’s founding values of freedom and democracy. By upholding these values on the world stage, Biden would at least be remembered as an authentic U.S. president who re-established the American narrative as the “shining city upon a hill” for the rest to emulate.  – The National Interest


Crews on an estimated 70 ships loaded with seven million to 10 million tons of Australian coal have not been allowed to disembark in China, according to commercial tracking data. – New York Times

A top Japanese defence official on Friday urged U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to “be strong” in supporting Taiwan in the face of an aggressive China, calling the island’s safety a “red line.” – Reuters

Hong Kong’s preparations for a coronavirus vaccine have become the latest battleground between its government and part of the public sceptical about Beijing’s rising influence in the city. – Financial Times

Mr Bilash, a China-born activist, said he was forced to flee the Central Asian country after a campaign of intimidation and harassment stemming from his work on the plight of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang province. – Financial Times

As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un grapples with the toughest challenges of his nine-year rule, he’s set to open a massive ruling Workers’ Party congress next month to try to muster stronger public loyalty to him and lay out new economic and foreign policies. – Associated Press

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) conducted its second freedom of navigation operation this week, this time challenging excessive maritime claims by Vietnam. – USNI News

Editorial: The Hong Kongers who would take advantage of a legal path to the U.S. are decent, hard-working people like Rafael Cruz. The Republican Party spoke up for Soviet refuseniks and dissidents during the Cold War. But now some want a new Cold War with China while shunning its victims. At a moment when many Biden appointees want to reset relations with China, conservative Republicans shouldn’t be working against an effort that would keep the heat on Beijing while giving Hong Kong people hope. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph Bermudez, Victor Cha and Dana Kim write: Following Kim Jong-un’s ascension to power in December 2011, he instituted widespread changes throughout the KPA emphasizing realistic training, demonstrable capabilities, and increased operational readiness. […]At the Kal-gol missile operating base, these changes were reflected by infrastructure developments including the construction of a second hardened drive-through missile checkout facility, construction of a specialized clearstory missile maintenance and training building, and the excavation of what appears to have been four TEL revetments for training. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

John Reed writes: Although it is not yet clear how the arrival of the Biden administration will affect this investigation, Washington used the same process to place tariffs on Chinese exports to the US, launching the trade war. […]Analysts say multinationals in Vietnam are now building up their supply bases, in a move that promises to take manufacturing closer to a level where — with time — it can truly be seen as China’s rival. – Financial Times

South Caucasus

Human rights groups say hundreds of videos showing atrocities by troops on both sides have been posted online in the month since a cease-fire deal halted the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders but under ethnic Armenian control. – Washington Post

Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said on Monday that one serviceman had been killed in an attack in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. – Reuters

Israel and Turkey both offered the government of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev military support during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. Now Baku suggested to Jerusalem and Ankara it could help build new bridges between its two allies, Walla! reported on Wednesday.  – Jerusalem Post

Armenia’s beleaguered prime minister has for the first time signaled a willingness to hold early parliamentary elections as opposition groups mount pressure for his resignation over the handling of a six-week war with Azerbaijan. – Radio Free Europe / Radio liberty


The police on Friday arrested a top ally and two employees of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who over the summer narrowly survived a nerve-agent poisoning. – New York Times

As the Kremlin awaits what it fears will be a hostile Biden presidency, President Vladimir Putin is shifting course on two fronts — accelerating a drive to full-blown authoritarian control at home and escalating his defiant rhetoric against the West. – Washington Post

An ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was detained in Russia last week over trespassing accusations was released from detention on Sunday. – Associated Press

Russia has reopened a Soviet-era laboratory to test weapons in extreme Arctic conditions, the military-industrial company which will run the facility said on Thursday, amid a push by the Kremlin to beef up its defences in the resource-rich region. – Reuters

Blake was the last in a notorious line of British spies who were secretly working for the Soviet Union, and whose betrayals rocked and humiliated the intelligence establishment at the height of the Cold War. – Reuters

Israel was too sensitive about Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov’s insinuation that Israel was the destabilizing factor in the Middle East, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Friday – Jerusalem Post

Russia has accused the U.S. of starting a “visa war” with Moscow, resulting in severe staff shortages at the only remaining American diplomatic mission in the country as President-Elect Joe Biden prepares to take office and officials continue to investigate the SolarWinds hack. – Newsweek

The Russian couple who played a major role in exposing the nation’s sports doping scandal said in an interview published on December 27 that they no longer consider Russia their home and have no plans to return to the country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Kremlin has said it does not rule out delays to the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in light of the threat of new U.S. sanctions. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russia has said the blame it faces for the cyber attack that targeted U.S. federal institutions could be a ploy by the Trump administration to sabotage ties between the Kremlin and President-elect Joe Biden. – Newsweek

The extension of military confrontation into the cyber sphere and space raises the risks of incidents involving nuclear weapons, Russia’s top general warned Thursday, highlighting concerns about growing tensions. – Bloomberg

Russia has stepped up the development of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). – The National Interest


For weary Brexit negotiators on both sides of the English Channel, a Christmas Eve trade agreement sealed 11 months of painstaking deliberations over Britain’s departure from the European Union, encompassing details as arcane as what species of fish could be caught by each side’s boats in British waters. – New York Times

Earlier this month, 271 former members of Spain’s armed forces used the anniversary of the country’s Constitution to issue a manifesto criticizing the left-wing coalition government and warning that Spain’s unity was under threat. – New York Times

Instead, as the U.K. prepares to leave the EU’s economic orbit Jan. 1, the EU has regained confidence, helped partly by a revived Franco-German partnership and encouraged by the anticipated arrival of the Biden administration in Washington. – Wall Street Journal

Since Britain’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, the U.K. government has said its aim is reclaiming sovereignty—the ability to set its own rules for its own benefit. – Wall Street Journal

Britain on Saturday published the text of its narrow trade agreement with the European Union just five days before it exits one of the world’s biggest trading blocs in its most momentous global shift since the loss of empire. – Reuters

With Britain and the European Union having clinched a deal, the United Kingdom is now pursuing trade deals with Australia, the United States and countries in the Indo-Pacific region, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote in The Telegraph late on Sunday. – Reuters

Britain on Monday urged businesses to prepare for Brexit, just days before a transition period designed to smooth the UK’s departure from the European Union comes to an end. – Reuters

Four people were injured in a shooting in the German capital Berlin in the early hours of Saturday, police said. – Reuters

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Madrid and London would continue to negotiate an agreement on the British territory of Gibraltar on the Iberian peninsula after the Brexit trade deal clinched with the European Union on Thursday. – Reuters

China’s long-serving envoy to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, a staunch defender of closer UK-China economic ties and the imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong, is standing down, marking the end of an era in relations between the two countries that hit a high in 2015 but has since worsened markedly. – The Guardian

Members of the European parliament will start belated scrutiny of the post-Brexit trade agreement on Monday, after EU and UK negotiators finally struck a deal on Christmas Eve. – The Guardian

Steven Erlanger writes: In the end, this is a narrow free-trade deal, but one that grants Britain more trading rights within the European Union than any other third country. […]It has been a satisfying end to a difficult year for Ms. von der Leyen and the European Union as a whole. The bloc was buffeted by serious challenges ranging from the pandemic to securing a new seven-year budget and a sizable virus recovery fund to help those countries most badly hit. That fund embodies a collective European debt for the first time. – New York Times

Dominic Green writes: The agenda contains no EU commitment to reducing ties to Russia, China or Iran. It expects the U.S. to support European powers as they subvert American interests and undermine America’s global position. This is known as having your gateau and eating it. The Biden administration will claim that it has restored the old amity with Europe, but the EU’s new world is what it is: a growing strategic problem for the U.S., in which historic partners claim to be allies but act as they choose. – Wall Street Journal

Yasmeen Serhan writes: For years, Lukashenko’s rule has been predicated on presidential contests that were never really contests at all. His loss of legitimacy at home and abroad means the only certain outcome for the country, as Tsikhanouskaya told me, is that life in Belarus cannot return to what it was before the election. The scale of the protests, paired with the brutality of the government’s response, all but ensures that at least. This doesn’t make the prodemocracy movement’s success a given. Even the most promising campaigns have faltered as a result of fatigue, division, and fickle media attention. – The Atlantic


The deployment of Eritreans to Tigray is the newest element in a melee that has greatly tarnished Mr. Abiy’s once-glowing reputation. – New York Times

Sudan will deploy “large numbers” of troops to South Darfur state after the killing of 15 people in tribal violence recently, the state news agency cited the state governor as saying on Sunday. – Reuters

Sudan has taken control of most of the land it accuses Ethiopians of encroaching upon near the border between the two countries, the Sudanese information minister said on Saturday. – Reuters

A Reuters cameraman, Kumerra Gemechu, was arrested in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Thursday and will be kept in custody for at least two weeks, his family said. He has not been charged. – Reuters

Niger began counting the votes on Sunday from an election that is expected to lead to the West African nation’s first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents. – Reuters

Central African Republic residents turned out in huge numbers for presidential and legislative elections on Sunday, the head of the U.N. mission said, despite rebels opening fire in some areas to try to scare away voters. – Reuters

Three United Nations peacekeepers were killed in Central African Republic, the U.N. mission there said on Saturday, as the government and its allies tried to fend off a rebel offensive ahead of Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections. – Reuters

Ethiopia will hold a parliamentary election on June 5, the electoral board said on Friday, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to quell political and ethnic violence in several regions. – Reuters

One survivor arrived on broken legs, others on the run. In this fragile refugee community on the edge of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict, those who have fled nearly two months of deadly fighting continue to bring new accounts of horror. – Associated Press

Homes were torched in the massacre that took place on Wednesday in Bekoji, a village in the western region of Bulen that borders Sudan, amid rising ethnic tensions. – Sky News (UK)

The Americas

A court said Wednesday it has cleared the only Argentine still facing charges in the 1994 bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish cultural center in the nation’s capital. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s opposition-held National Assembly on Saturday approved a statute extending its term into 2021, after a disputed Dec. 6 election in which allies of President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialist party won 91% of the seats in Congress. – Reuters

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: The Citgo Six may be destined to become mere footnotes in an old-fashioned purge. But an attempt to use the Americans as bargaining chips in future negotiations with the Biden administration cannot be ruled out. – Wall Street Journal

United States

Nashville residents were jolted awake by a loud explosion in the city’s historic downtown district on Christmas morning. – Washington Post

Anthony Quinn Warner was responsible for the Christmas morning explosion that rocked downtown Nashville, officials said Sunday, and he was killed in the blast. – Washington Post

Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is fighting Republican attacks over his business ties to China as the Georgia runoff election nears, but the Hunter Biden and Eric Swalwell scandals involving Beijing aren’t making it any easier. – Washington Times

Authorities have charged a 37-year-old active military member in connection with a deadly shooting at an Illinois bowling alley on Saturday night. – Reuters

A judge delayed the sentencing of a former FBI lawyer ensnared in special counsel John Durham’s criminal inquiry into the Russia investigation until after Inauguration Day. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: The promotion of Trump-Russia conspiracies by the likes of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan will undermine those agencies’ credibility with tens of millions of Americans for years. If the President is persuaded to give Mr. Snowden a reprieve, their behavior will have helped create the political cover for him to do so. Yet the responsibility for betraying the security of the American people would rest on his shoulders alone. – Wall Street Journal

John O’Sullivan writes: If countries in the mostly free world don’t respond warmly to whatever U.S. foreign policy Joe Biden offers them, they will be showing gross ingratitude, since ending the unpredictable and impolite oscillations of Trump’s foreign policy has been the constant theme of their complaints for the last four years. Biden should be able to manage that easily enough, as he’ll be surrounded by people with advanced Ivy League degrees in making things run smoothly. – The National Interest

Robert W. Merry writes: This also suggests that the United States must clear the decks of its own geopolitical thinking so as to not get distracted from the primary challenge through counterproductive diplomatic and military actions elsewhere around the world. The country thus should extricate itself from “forever wars” in the Middle East and from unnecessary tensions with Russia and India, two nations that have been traditional Chinese adversaries. – The National Interest


Russian government hackers have compromised Microsoft cloud customers and stolen emails from at least one private-sector company, according to people familiar with the matter, a worrying development in Moscow’s ongoing cyberespionage campaign targeting numerous U.S. agencies and corporate computer networks. – Washington Post

Britain is as vulnerable to a devastating Russian cyber attack as the United States, John Bolton has warned. – Telegraph

Foreign hackers, who some top US officials believe are from Russia, were able to use the hack to spy on private companies like the elite cybersecurity firm FireEye and the upper echelons of the US Government, including the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury Department. – Business Insider

If Russian hackers suspected of a vast cybersecurity breach slipped into the Pentagon or military’s computer systems, the strength of protective network blockades is key to keeping them from burrowing in to try to access increasing amounts of information. – C4ISRNET

New Yorkers remain on edge following the antisemitic cyberattack that took place at a Jewish high school in Great Neck on December 14. As the FBI continues its investigation, Jewish leaders are speaking out about proactive ways to mitigate further incidents. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The United States and its allies should be building norms against the corruption of the Web, not turning sovereign states’ social media landscapes into irrealities full of false personas making farcical claims. Acting otherwise sends a message around the globe that has never been especially effective: Do as we say, not as we do. – Washington Post

Douglas Schoen writes: In order to confront the threat from Russia and China, we must bolster our alliances with our partners in Europe, a task that Trump often approached with disinterest or outright scorn. Biden enters office with the mandate to gather countries in favor of democracy to a stalwart resistance to counter the militaristic belligerence and aggression from Russia and China. This is a difficult feat that we must not and cannot achieve alone. – The Hill

George Beebe writes: We need to weaken the perilous link between cyber espionage and cyber sabotage by old-fashioned hardening of our critical infrastructure and reducing our dependency on digital networks. […]Building such resilience and redundancy will be expensive. The alternative, however, could be catastrophic. – The National Interest


Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin’s four-decade military career was defined by breakthroughs: He was the first Black general to lead a division in combat, to command a theater of war, and to lead U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump on Saturday defended his veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, calling it a “travesty” and again claiming it is a “gift” to China, Russia and Big Tech companies. – Fox News

Congress boosted the research and development budget of the Defense Innovation Unit by more than $20 million in its fiscal 2021 spending package sitting on the president’s desk – C4ISRNET

The new Army Combat Fitness Test officially became the service’s test of record this past October, but lawmakers are poised to hold off any further implementation, pending an independent study to determine how it will impact deployed soldiers, recruiting and retention. – Army Times

Kris Osborn writes: In the event of some kind of major power warfare on the open seas, allied combat support for U.S. Naval forces at war is something which could not be understated as it would not only massively expand the size and reach of a collective force engaged in combat but also share node-to-node information across vast, seemingly unpassable distances and domains. – The National Interest