Fdd's overnight brief

December 31, 2020

In The News


Two American B-52 bombers flew another show-of-force mission in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, a week after President Trump warned Iran that he would hold it accountable “if one American is killed” in rocket attacks in Iraq that the administration and military officials blamed on Tehran. – New York Times

Iran’s Cabinet on Wednesday allocated $150,000 for the families of each of the 176 people killed when Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian airliner in January, the official IRNA news agency reported. – New York Times

An Iranian government spokesperson had said the world will be a safer place with President Donald Trump out of office, as the regime in Tehran looks ahead to a potential diplomatic thaw with President-elect Joe Biden. – Newsweek 

A top prosecutor in Iran has accused U.K. security company G4S of being involved in the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the state-run Mizan Online reported. – Bloomberg 

Eli Lake writes: This is not to say that the U.S. government should assume the responsibility for transitioning Iran to a democracy. That was, is and should remain a task for the Iranian people. But having a small group at the State Department that follows what Iranian activists say on social media is a useful way to gauge the regime’s legitimacy. Over time, it could be a valuable way to communicate directly with the Iranians who might one day be in charge of the country. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Alongside other intelligence reporting, it now appears likely that an attack plot has been developed and is ready for activation. U.S. concern is focused on the security of U.S. Embassy personnel in Baghdad. This is partly due to the Quds Force’s significant operational reach inside Iraq, but also due to Iran’s hope that any U.S. retaliation might be taken against Iranian interests in Iraq rather than Iran (a perception that the Trump administration should be keen to dissuade). And as an extension, that any U.S. retaliation inside Iraq would undermine the improving relationship between Baghdad and Washington. In short, an imminent Iranian attack on U.S. interests is likely. – Washington Examiner


A US “ninja” missile was used against a truck in Salqin, Syria, locals said on Tuesday. This is the R9X missile which is a modified Hellfire missile that can be launched from US armed drones, such as the Reaper. The US has used it around a half-dozen times in northern Syria against individuals linked to al-Qaeda or extremists. – Jerusalem Post 

Twenty-eight people were killed in an attack on a bus along a main highway in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province that borders Iraq, Syrian state media said on Wednesday, an incident that residents and defectors say was an ambush on an army vehicle. – Reuters

The Israel Air Force carried out 50 strikes against targets in Syria throughout 2020, the IDF revealed in its annual statistics report released on Thursday. The latest attack that was attributed to Israel in Syria took place on Tuesday, in which one Syrian soldier died and three others were wounded. – Jerusalem Post 

New insights into the March 2000 peace summit between then-US president Bill Clinton and then-Syrian president Hafez Assad indicate that the prospects of Israeli-Syrian peace were not as close as believed, according to a new report. – Jerusalem Post 


Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey is “ready for a healthy relationship” with the U.S. despite differences over a wide range of issues, buttressing the conciliatory stance adopted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Bloomberg 

Turkish prosecutors have prepared an indictment against 108 people, including jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, in connection with protests triggered by a militant attack on the Syrian town of Kobani in 2014, state media said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkish police detained people suspected of ties to the Islamic State militant group in an operation targeting a total of 35 foreign suspects in Istanbul on Thursday, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported. – Reuters


The Palestinian Authority announced on Tuesday that it will be closing its airline service – Palestinian Airlines – after 25 years of limited activity, the Palestinian News Network (PNN) reported. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin on Wednesday expressed the military’s lingering ambivalence toward the planned sale of F-35 fighter jets by the United States to the United Arab Emirates following its normalization agreement with Israel. – Times of Israel

Over the past few years, Arab criminal groups have proliferated and taken over spaces vacated by state institutions and police. A new reality has been created in Arab towns and cities, one in which powerful protection rackets have access to an enormous amount of weapons, lend money and collect payments at the barrel of a gun, and open fire at Arab mayors and their family members. – Times of Israel

The IDF today published summary data for 2020, that show that in the Judea and Samaria sector, there was a decrease in the number of stabbing attacks and firebombings, along with a minor increase in rock throwing and a more significant increase in shooting attacks. – Arutz Sheva

Gulf States

An attack on an airport in Yemen killed at least 22 people moments after members of the country’s newly sworn-in cabinet arrived, the latest blow to a country struggling to emerge from a devastating conflict. – Wall Street Journal 

Officials from Yemen’s ruling rebel force have distanced themselves from the deadly attack that struck a southern city’s international airport as a plane arrived bringing new members of the rival government. – Newsweek 

The US is pushing for another Arab or Muslim state to normalize relations with Israel in the three weeks before US President  Donald Trump leaves office, a Trump administration source said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

One year after US forces assassinated Iran’s most storied commander, tensions are boiling between Iraq’s Washington-backed premier and pro-Tehran forces that accuse him of complicity in the Baghdad drone strike. – Times of Israel

Tunisian President Kais Saied will launch in coming weeks a national dialogue that will include political parties and youth from all regions “to correct the revolution that has deviated from its goals a decade after its outbreak”, the presidency said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Egypt’s public prosecution told investigators on Wednesday to exclude Italian prosecutors’ accusations against four Egyptian policemen from case documents on the 2016 killing of an Italian student in Cairo. – Reuters

Britain opposed a bid by US president Bill Clinton to expand UN sanctions on Libya under dictator Muammar Gaddafi, while seeking to extradite the Lockerbie bombers, previously secret government papers showed on Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Michael Knights writes: If missile defense does not become cheaper, safer, and more effective, then the United States and its regional partners may soon lose the ability to put up a meaningful defense against Iran—let alone broader global threats from China, North Korea, and Russia. This could lead to many negative developments: costly and failed efforts at unilateral missile defense improvements; forced U.S. withdrawal from important deterrent points of presence; regional states kowtowing to Tehran; and a tendency toward offensive options and nonconventional weapons in dealing with Iranian threats. – Washington Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: This was a momentous year in the region. It is difficult to unpack all the major Middle Eastern events. In no particular order we have the US decision to assassinate IRGC Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani in January; the coronavirus pandemic; new Israeli relations with the Gulf; Turkey’s aggressive behavior targeting Syria, Armenia, Libya, Greece, Egypt and other countries; the end of the Trump era; and continued frozen conflicts in Yemen, Libya and Yemen.  – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

A U.S. reconnaissance plane flew near North Korea Tuesday as Washington, D.C., watches for any indication of Kim Jong Un’s next moves ahead of a major regime summit and President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. – Newsweek 

Most Americans would likely not be planning a trip to North Korea this year, even if there wasn’t a global pandemic in progress. But the U.S. government is warning travelers not to make a trip to that country. – The National interest 

The case is viewed by some as a test of the government’s resolve in taming South Korea’s powerful chaebol, the family-owned conglomerates that dominate business. A decision is expected as early as next month. On the final day of hearings on Wednesday, prosecutors said that Samsung, the country’s biggest and most important company, needed to set an example rather than evade responsibility. – Financial Times 

The South Korean Army is set to deploy European amphibious bridging vehicles under licensed production to boost its operational capability across water obstacles. The M3 Amphibious Rig, developed by General Dynamics European Land Systems, is to be locally produced by prime contractor Hanwha Defense, according to sources at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration. – Defense News 


Chinese and European Union leaders agreed on Wednesday to make it easier for companies to operate on each other’s territory, a significant geopolitical victory for China when criticism of its human rights record and handling of the pandemic have left it increasingly isolated. – New York Times

Today, China is embarked on another campaign to re-educate its young people. The message is more blatantly nationalistic than anything in recent decades, with President Xi Jinping’s image often at the center. And it is far more sophisticated than anything Beijing has attempted in the past. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong’s highest court sent tycoon Jimmy Lai back to jail as he fights national security charges, reversing for now a lower court’s decision to release him that Chinese state media had called “unbelievable.” – Bloomberg 

The United States called on Wednesday for the release of a Uighur Muslim medical doctor whose relatives say she was sentenced to 20 years in jail in China because of family members’ human rights activism in the United States. – Reuters

China on Thursday urged U.S. politicians to stop using issues in its Xinjiang region to interfere in its affairs, after the United States demanded the release of a Uighur doctor. – Reuters

This month Xi called on Communist Party officials in the 25-member Politburo to build a “holistic national security architecture” that would extend to “all aspects of the work of the party and the country.” He listed 10 components, including “safeguarding” China’s one-party political system and focusing more on “forestalling and defusing national security risks.” – Bloomberg

According to a detailed report published by the Chinese media outlet Sina.com, 40 statistical indicators show a wide gap remaining between China and the U. S. as world powers. While Beijing says it is closing some of those gaps, overall they remain great, and “the gap between China and the United States in science, technology, and education indicators is even greater.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Eugene M. Chudnovsky writes: Responding to a request to join forces in combating discrimination and internment of China’s Muslim population, the regional co-chair of the Committee of 100 in Washington, D.C., told the executive director of the Committee of Concerned Scientists that he had no knowledge of it. This was after the topic dominated the news about China for two years. It prompted resolutions by Congress in 2019 and 2020. – Washington Examiner 

Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Shui-Yin Sharon Yam write: Around the turn of the millennium, Beijing had a story to tell about Hong Kong’s past, present, and future that connected the local, the national, and the global in an appealing way. It was, moreover, a narrative that was comforting to the Davos set and easy for Hong Kong’s government spokespeople to present to international audiences. – Foreign Policy

South Asia

The unverified intelligence echoes a similar report, deemed credible by the C.I.A. but dismissed by the president, that Russian military agents had offered payments for attacks on Americans in Afghanistan. – New York Times 

An Indian state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party on Wednesday passed a law abolishing all Islamic schools, saying they provided substandard education. – New York Times

Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir said Wednesday that government forces killed three suspected militants in a gunfight in the disputed region’s main city, but families of the slain men alleged they were killed in a staged gunbattle. – Associated Press

Alarmed that a political crisis in Nepal could endanger China’s strategic interests and Belt and Road projects, a Chinese Communist Party emissary has held days of talks to try to stop the Himalayan country’s ruling communist party from tearing itself apart. – Reuters


Two U.S. warships sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Thursday drawing protest from Beijing, the second such mission this month and coming almost two weeks after a Chinese aircraft carrier group used the same waterway. – Reuters 

A Beijing court sentenced 29 people from Taiwan who had been deported from Spain to up to 14 years in jail on Thursday for telecoms fraud, state media said, part of a series of deportations decried by Taiwan as an abuse of human rights. – Reuters

An Indonesian fisher has found what experts say is likely to be a Chinese submarine drone in waters on a strategic maritime route from the South China Sea to Australia. – The Guardian

Azerbaijan has started commercial natural gas supplies to Europe via the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the energy ministry said on Thursday, beginning its push into the lucrative energy market dominated by Russia. – Reuters


Russia has decided to expand the number of British nationals barred from entering the country in response to the “unacceptable and unfounded” U.K. sanctions over the poisoning of top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday. – Associated Press 

Even from Germany, where he is recovering from an assassination attempt using the nerve agent novichok, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has remained a thorn in the Kremlin’s side. Now, the Russian government appears to want him to stay there. – Financial Times 

Russia is accusing the West of maligning its achievements in the global race to defeat Covid-19 as its attempts to win key markets for its Sputnik V vaccine run up against the demands of regulators. – Bloomberg

The Russian Navy is massively arming up its fleet of attack submarines through a weapons modernization effort intended to add as many as forty-eight new undersea-launched cruise missiles. – The National Interest 

Russian officials favor the development of a viable “popular alternative” to YouTube, as Moscow moves to restrict media platforms beyond the Kremlin’s control[…]. A major state-run energy company hopes to provide an alternative, executives announced as Russian lawmakers moved to empower the central government’s ability to block access to foreign sites. – Washington Examiner


The U.S. government on Wednesday said it would raise tariffs on certain European Union products, including aircraft components and wines from France and Germany, the latest twist in a 16-year battle over aircraft subsidies between Washington and Brussels. – Reuters

Ireland will intensify police patrols along the land border with Northern Ireland as the end of the Brexit transition looms, in a bid to prevent organised crime groups exploiting the new trading regime. – Financial Times

Ukraine’s president has ordered the suspension of the country’s chief justice, escalating a power struggle between the government and the constitutional court that has threatened anti-corruption reforms and derailed multibillion-dollar financing from the IMF and western backers. – Financial Times

Noah Barkin writes: Instead, the diplomat talked about Merkel’s admiration for China’s economic achievements and her appreciation of the role Beijing had played during Europe’s financial crisis a decade ago, when China bought the bonds of ailing eurozone member states and provided a market in which German firms could continue to thrive. – Foreign Policy 

Raf Casert and Jill Lawless write: Brexit marks the end of an awkward relationship. Britain joined the then-European Economic Community in 1973, but never fully embraced the bloc’s project of ever-closer integration. The EU was born out of the ashes of World War II and its delusional, destructive nationalism. […]Sealed on Christmas Eve, it satisfies major demands on both sides. It protects the EU market by making tariff-free trade conditional on Britain continuing to meet high social, workplace and environmental standards. It allows Britain to claim it regained “sovereignty” because it is no longer part of EU structures like the European Court of Justice. – Associated Press

Tom Rogan writes: European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen might be smiling, but the European Union has quite literally sold its soul to Communist China […]. In turn, and considering what’s at stake for U.S. and global interests, the U.S. government, whether the Trump administration or the Biden administration come Jan. 20, should recall the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and the U.S. ambassadors to each of the 27 EU member states. – Washington Examiner


Sudan’s hybrid United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur is set to end its 13-year peacekeeping operations in the conflict marred region Thursday, even as recent violent clashes leave residents fearful. – Agence France-Presse

Ugandan authorities arrested opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi and his campaign team just two weeks before elections, the pop star-turned-politician said on Twitter. – Bloomberg 

The leader of Ghana’s main opposition party filed a petition to the nation’s Supreme Court challenging the outcome of the Dec. 7 presidential elections. – Bloomberg

A Dutch aid group said Wednesday that one of its staff members was “murdered” at a refugee camp during the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, bringing the number of humanitarian workers killed during the nearly two months of unrest to five. – Associated Press 

Tom Rogan writes: However, the basic point is the simplest. There is no greater testament to an alliance than a nation’s willingness to support a friend who is under fire. In Operation Barkhane, France is under fire in a fight for all our interests. It deserves America’s continued support. – Washington Examiner

Latin America

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on a Venezuelan judge and a prosecutor over their roles in the trial of six former executives of U.S. refiner Citgo sentenced to prison by a Venezuelan court last month. – Reuters 

Oilfield services provider Halliburton Co has reduced its workforce in Venezuela as a result of U.S. sanctions limiting its operations in the crisis-stricken OPEC nation, a spokeswoman for the company said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Mexican soccer club Santos Laguna are suing U.S.-based global entertainment giant Walt Disney Company, alleging millions of dollars in damages due to contractual violations stemming from Disney’s acquisition of Twenty-First Century Fox last year. – Reuters

Dozens of Cubans protested at the U.S. border in the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday night, demanding they be allowed to cross and claim asylum in the United States. – Reuters

United States

President-elect Joe Biden has picked Kathleen Hicks, a former Pentagon official under President Obama, to serve as deputy secretary of defense. If confirmed, she would make history as the first woman to hold the No. 2 Pentagon job. – Politico

A U.K. judge will rule Monday on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges after weeks of talk about a possible pardon from Donald Trump. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was sued by an independent New York policy research group seeking to block the Trump administration’s $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates. – Bloomberg


The unprecedented cyber attack on U.S. government agencies reported this month may have started earlier than last spring as previously believed, a U.S. senator involved in cybersecurity said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The research and development organization tackling future capabilities for the Army’s tactical network team has several efforts underway with millimeter wave technology, a frequency channel that could allow for improved communications in the future. – C4ISRNET 

Kaylee McGhee White writes: What makes this moral failure so much worse is the fact that the private sector has more power to check China than any other institution, including the government. China needs the U.S.’s business, and if our corporations were to withhold that business, China would more than likely be forced to act. But because this ultimatum would result in massive profit losses, our corporations remain silent. – Washington Examiner 

Les Buday writes: And remember that as a member of the DIB, you are not alone. Seek guidance, confirmation and assistance from government (e.g., the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, your DoD customers), industry (e.g., the CMMC Accreditation Body), and companies in the private sector specializing in helping companies develop a cybersecurity and data protection capability. The time to act is now. – C4ISRNET


The Senate moved Wednesday toward a vote to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a $740.5 billion defense policy bill, setting up a clash with the White House that may not culminate until the final hours before a new Congress begins on Sunday. – Bloomberg

The surface navy continues to expand and evolve its use of virtual trainers, as it looks to train and certify individual sailors and watch teams ashore so they can make best use of their time at sea. – USNI News

The following is the Dec. 23, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. – USNI News 

The Air Force is preparing to station its first permanent F-35 squadrons in the UK, and planners are already looking to a sister service for insights on how to train and operate in new ways with European allies. In 2021, the first of roughly 54 F-35As is set to land here, about 80 miles northeast of London. Construction is underway on two hangars and a six-bay simulator, as well as other infrastructure for training and maintenance on the stealth fighter. – Military.com

Like the U.S., international navies grappled with not only the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but regional security concerns from China’s naval expansion and operations in the Pacific to Iranian and Russian operations in the Middle East. – USNI News

Long War

The US warned Wednesday it won’t allow a Pakistani man who was convicted and later acquitted in the 2002 murder of American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl to evade justice after a provincial court in Pakistan ordered his release. – Times of Israel

Tom Rogan writes: The loss of three French soldiers in Mali this week is a solemn reminder of that nation’s commitment to Western security. France’s counterterrorism effort, codenamed Operation Barkhane, deserves continued U.S. military support. – Washington Examiner

Oded Tyrah writes: The heinous murder of Esther Horgen of Tal Menashe once again raises the question of our future in Judea and Samaria. This question gains further significance in light of Benny Gantz’s interview with a Saudi newspaper in which the former IDF chief of staff said Israel could relinquish most of the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria, and that there is room for a Palestinian capital within Jerusalem’s boundaries. – Jerusalem Post