Fdd's overnight brief

December 29, 2020

In The News


An unidentified group of U.S.-based philanthropists plans to send 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iran in the coming weeks, Iranian media reported Monday, in a step that could bring the hardest-hit country in the Middle East closer to inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus. – Associated Press

Iran’s state gas company said on Monday it had slashed supplies to neighbouring Iraq over arrears of more than $6 billion, after the Iraqi electricity ministry said the cuts placed Baghdad and other cities at risk of serious power shortages. – Reuters

The former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt says the UK “is beginning to look weak” over its failure to protect citizens imprisoned in Iran, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. – The Guardian

Iran has denied U.S. allegations that it played any role in recent attacks targeting Washington’s embassy in Baghdad, accusing President Donald Trump of instilling further instability in Iraq with increased military movements at a crucial time for all three nations. – Newsweek

An Iranian cleric who was allegedly behind the 2016 attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran has been appointed as the head of the cultural committee of Iran’s Judo Federation. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Herb Keinon writes: Biden’s hints of where he is taking US policy toward Saudi Arabia are an indication that he may swing US policy back to the idealist school. Or, at least, that may be how it is being portrayed. But this is contradictory. Because how can taking steps that will essentially move toward the rehabilitation of Iran – an abusive regime with hegemonic designs on the Mideast and which wants to wipe Israel off the map – be considered an “idealist” foreign policy? – Jerusalem Post


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday evening spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and congratulated him and the citizens of Russia on the occasion of Novy God, the Russian New Year. – Arutz Sheva

Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday and warned that they would respond to all Israeli action with “full force and unity” as they held a joint military exercise throughout the Strip. Iran had requested that the Gazan terrorist groups carry out the joint exercise in order to send a message to Israel that any attack would be met with force on all fronts, according to KAN news. – Jerusalem Post

For the first time, Israel will rely on its own natural gas supplies, without needing external suppliers, starting in 2022, the Energy Ministry said. – Jerusalem Post

Terrorists in Gaza fired a rocket toward Israel shortly after midnight on Monday. The rocket did not cross into Israeli territory. – Arutz Sheva

An arms deal worth billions of dollars between the Defense Ministry and the United States for new fighter jets and helicopters remains stuck as Israel goes to a fourth round of elections within two years. – Jerusalem Post

A video posted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on social media over the weekend caused an uproar in the Arab and Moroccan media. – Arutz Sheva

Elie Podeh and Bosmat Yefet write: Israel is facing two types of normalization: the one with the Gulf states (and perhaps with Morocco and Sudan) and the one with Egypt and Jordan. It will be interesting to follow which type will affect the other, if at all, and whether a progress or a solution to the Palestinian conflict may warm the cold type of normalization. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates, to a prison term of five years and eight months after convicting her on terrorism-related charges, her family said in a statement. – Washington Post

The United Nations human rights office called on Monday for the “early release” of Saudi women’s activist Loujain al-Hathloul, hours after she was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison in a trial that has drawn international condemnation. – Reuters

The United States voiced concern Monday over Saudi Arabia’s imposition of a prison sentence on prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul, in a low-key response as US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration vowed a firm stance on human rights. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: The crown prince has rejected U.S. demands that his aide be brought to justice, and Saudi authorities this month hastily reviewed and dismissed Ms. Hathloul’s charges of torture. The Biden administration should apply sanctions to all those found to be involved in this and other human rights cases — and the crown prince should not be immune. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The body of one of seven missing crew members of a capsized Iranian transport vessel was found in the Gulf waters on Monday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The campaign against the peace has had its effect, either by downplaying the importance of the new peace or by sniping at it from various angles. An unprecedented level of new engagement between Israel and the UAE, in particular, has not received the attention it deserves partly because of ingrained biases against both states. Understanding the reasons for this is important because it helps explain some of the challenges that these countries – and their allies – face in the region and globally. – Jerusalem Post

Patricia Karam writes: Is it possible for the Sahrawi culture to survive within Morocco? Algeria has supported the Sahrawi cause. But these recent events may provide an opportunity to settle on a plan where Sahrawi society can survive within the context of a pluralistic Morocco. If the Western Sahara is to become part of Morocco, it does not need to dissolve itself. The true test will be for Morocco to show that it can transfer government duties and enable local administration of the Western Sahara territory that shows its identity and people as part of a Morocco that is diverse and inclusive. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign to cut North Korea’s economy off from the world worked. But it also may have accelerated Kim Jong Un’s efforts to build a military less reliant on foreign support. – Bloomberg

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

The star of the younger sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has risen so fast and high in the country’s ruling firmament in 2020 as to make her appear as a stand-in for big brother if not his rival for power. – The Daily Beast


Inside China, Mr. Xi’s authority is increasingly seen as absolute. He has sidelined rivals, silenced dissidents and bolstered his popularity by promoting a resurgent China unafraid to assert its interests. The biggest challenge to his vision for China comes not from within its borders but from other parts of the world, in nations whose views of Beijing have dramatically changed in just a few years. – Wall Street Journal

China has built more than 100 new facilities in Xinjiang where it can not only lock people up, but also force them to work in dedicated factory buildings right on site, BuzzFeed News can reveal based on government records, interviews, and hundreds of satellite images. – Buzzfeed News

The Trump administration on Monday strengthened an executive order barring U.S. investors from buying securities of alleged Chinese military-controlled companies, following disagreement among U.S. agencies about how tough to make the directive. – Reuters

The United Nations human rights office voiced concern on Monday at the four-year prison term imposed by a Chinese court on citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who reported from Wuhan early in the pandemic and reiterated its call for her release. – Reuters

China hopes lengthy negotiations for an investment deal with the European Union can wrap up at an “early date”, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

President Donald Trump has signed a law that authorizes US sanctions on Chinese officials if they interfere in Tibetan Buddhists’ selection of the next Dalai Lama. – Agence France-Presse

Beijing has ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that human rights groups warn could endanger Uighur families and activists fleeing persecution by Chinese authorities if it is adopted by Ankara. – The Guardian

Ivana Stradner and Bill Drexel write: The Trump sanctions offer an opportunity to both the Biden administration and the ICC. Biden must make clear to the ICC and our allies that the first step toward any improvement in U.S. relations with the court must be the institution’s thorough investigation of the world’s largest ongoing atrocity. Biden has a chance to help restore the ICC’s credibility and deliver some small hope for justice to China’s Uighurs. He would be foolish not to take the opportunity. – Washington Post

Gordon G. Chang writes: Any pledges from Beijing about its intentions in space will, in all likelihood, be as worthless. The space advisers to Biden have gotten the process backwards. Cooperation does not necessarily lead to a better relationship with militant regimes. There must be a basis of cooperation first, and unfortunately that does not exist with China. – The Hill


At least five people were killed in separate attacks across Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, raising further concerns about the fate of peace talks that have been suspended until at least next month. – Associated Press

Reporters without Borders (RSF) says 50 people were killed this year in connection with their journalistic work, with Afghanistan and Pakistan being among the most dangerous countries for media professionals. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Relatives of the 10 Hong Kongers accused of fleeing the city by speedboat during a government crackdown on dissent say they’ve been informed that their family members pleaded guilty, according to a support group. – Reuters

Bangladesh started moving a second group of Rohingya Muslim refugees to a low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, despite opposition from rights groups worried about the new site’s vulnerability to floods. – Reuters

Editorial: The Trump Administration significantly stepped up U.S. armament of Taiwan, including missiles, mines and drones. Yet China is likely to pressure Mr. Biden to return to President Obama’s accommodating policy, perhaps using climate promises as sweeteners. China will also be watching to see if Mr. Biden continues the current Administration’s trend of allowing visits to Taiwan by higher ranking U.S. officials, which signal America’s interest in the island’s autonomy. Mr. Biden is unlikely to commit the U.S. unequivocally to Taiwan’s defense, but China’s threats and military maneuvers near the island are increasing. If Mr. Biden wants to reassure U.S. allies in Asia, Taiwan is his first big test. – Wall Street Journal


Austerity measures are gripping the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with management facing up to a 20 percent salary hit and staff layoffs predicted. What’s more, the Russian business daily Kommersant reported this month that top officials were fired at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a vast spaceport being built in Russia’s Far East. Accusations of corruption have surrounded the spaceport’s construction since the release of a report last year by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s now-defunct Anti-Corruption Foundation. – Washington Post

Russia’s prison service on Monday gave Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny a last minute ultimatum: Fly back from Germany at once and report at a Moscow office early on Tuesday morning, or be jailed if you return after that deadline. – Reuters

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Tuesday it had worked with U.S. authorities to seize large quantities of cocaine and break up an international drug smuggling ring. – Reuters

Russia’s Ministry of Justice added five people, including veteran rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, to its list of media “foreign agents” on Monday, the first time individuals have been targeted under legislation used against media outlets. – Reuters

Two assailants armed with knives killed one policeman and injured another on Monday in the capital of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, the local leader said. – Reuters

A Russian court on Monday found a conscript guilty of murdering eight people at his base last year, but said his prison term for the spree, which he alleged was triggered by bullying, should be less than normal for such a serious crime. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday expelled a Bulgarian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move after the expulsion of a Russian diplomat by Sofia. – Reuters


The ruse, prosecutors say, was part of a far-right plot to carry out one or several assassinations that could be blamed on his refugee alter ego and set off enough civil unrest to bring down the Federal Republic of Germany. – New York Times

So far, the large majority of British and EU citizens have not felt the realities of Brexit. Though the U.K. left the European Union on Jan. 31, it follows the bloc’s rules until the end of this year as part of a transition period to the new economic relationship. – Associated Press

European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday the trade deal struck with Britain was a relief and provided stability for people and companies. – Reuters

Email accounts belonging to some Finnish lawmakers were compromised during a cyberattack on parliament, the authorities said on Monday. – Reuters

NATO says it scrambled its air forces across Europe more than 400 times this year to intercept unknown aircraft — mainly from Russia — approaching the alliance’s airspace. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Editorial: All the months of quarreling leading to this agreement — negotiations casting Britain as a puny supplicant, not an equal partner — have ended with a deal, but certainly not with Britain’s liberation. This grim, exhausting process has been just a foretaste of what’s to come. – Bloomberg


Three French soldiers were killed in Mali on Monday when their vehicle hit a bomb during operations under France’s counterterrorism mission in the West African nation, the French government said. – Wall Street Journal

Attacks by gunmen suspected to be from Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist rebels have killed at least 10 people in Borno state in northern Nigeria, according to local residents. – Associated Press

More than 14% of polling stations in the Central African Republic failed to operate during Sunday’s presidential and legislative election due to armed rebels who attacked voters and barred electoral staff, the electoral commission said on Monday. – Reuters

 Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Kabore vowed on Monday to bring together the West African nation torn by violent Islamist militant attacks as he embarks on his second and final five-year term. – Reuters

The aircraft carrier Nimitz and its carrier strike group are providing operational and close-air support off the coast of Somalia as part of Joint Task Force-Quartz and Operation Octave Quartz as U.S. troops are relocated from Somalia to other areas of Africa. – Navy Times

The Americas

Investigators on Monday were hunting for a motive behind the Christmas morning blast that shook downtown Nashville, taking the life of the bomber and leaving behind a tangle of debris and questions. – Washington Post

When the United States and Canada agreed in March to close their border to asylum seekers at unauthorized entry points, Canadian officials said they had received assurances from their U.S. counterparts that the asylum seekers they turned back wouldn’t be deported. Now at least one has been. – Washington Post

The U.S. is slashing foreign military aid to El Salvador despite staunchly pro-American President Nayib Bukele’s intense lobbying in Washington to counter criticism he has taken his country down an authoritarian path. – Associated Press

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday said a move by the opposition-controlled National Assembly to extend its term into next year was “unconstitutional,” and called on the South American country’s justice system to “do its work.” – Reuters

A Mexican court has lifted a sanction against a company owned by the son of a close ally of the president, opening the door for the company to resume business with public entities, according to a notice in the government’s official gazette on Monday. – Reuters

Cuba announced on Monday it would allow fewer flights from the United States and several other countries beginning Jan. 1, due to a surge in coronavirus cases since opening its airports in November. – Reuters


The Christmas Day bombing in Nashville hit a weak point in telecommunications infrastructure, disrupting phone and internet service for days and underscoring a key risk for increasingly digitized businesses. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration on Monday appealed a federal court ruling which allows TikTok to keep operating in the United States despite a move to block the popular social media application on national security grounds. – Agence France-Presse

The SolarWinds breach points out the importance of having both offensive and defensive cyber force experience. – C4ISRNET

This year, the Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence office kicked off its first joint war fighting initiative, realigned the organization to meet new department needs and got a new director. – C4ISRNET

The Air Force Research Laboratory issued 17 grants to scientists and engineers around the world in an attempt to accelerate innovation in quantum information science that can help the U.S. military. – C4ISRNET



The House voted on Monday to override President Trump’s veto of the annual military policy bill, mustering bipartisan support to enact the legislation over the president’s objections and handing him a rare legislative rebuke in the final days of his presidency. – New York Times

The U.S. Navy and federal environmental agencies have agreed to the cleanup and environmental remediation of the former Carr Point shooting range in Rhode Island. – Associated Press

President-elect Joe Biden says his transition teams have “encountered obstruction” from President Trump’s political leadership at the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget. – Fox News

The global war on terrorism is hitting a drawdown milestone on Jan. 15, when U.S. troop levels hit 2,500 each in Iraq and Afghanistan, after nearly two decades of war in both countries. – Military Times

Commercial drone use for deliveries and services cleared a major hurdle in the U.S. with new rules allowing the devices to fly over populated areas for the first time and requirements for tracking them to address safety and security concerns. – Bloomberg

The Coast Guard’s newest national security cutter is setting out on its first operational patrol to the Southern Atlantic to counter illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing off South America. – USNI News

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee expressed his concern Monday with President-elect Biden’s defense secretary pick needing a waiver. – New York Post

Boeing says their F/A-18 Super Hornet currently flown by the U.S. Navy also would be suitable for India, even though their Navy uses an entirely different type of aircraft carrier. – Washington Times

Patty-Jane Geller writes: Ultimately, if Joe Biden wants to value alliances as a pillar of U.S. strength, then he needs to prioritize extended deterrence. That means fully resourcing the nuclear modernization programs that assure our allies and avoiding bad ideas like implementing a No First Use policy. Strengthening relationships with allies is a worthy goal. To fully demonstrate that commitment to our allies, the next administration must prioritize extended deterrence. – The National Interest