Fdd's overnight brief

February 10, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration faced a double-dose of bad and not-so-bad news Tuesday on Iran: Iranian leaders hinted they are rethinking their vow to never seek a nuclear weapon, and new Israeli intelligence suggests they are at least two years away from producing one. – New York Times

Iran began its Covid-19 vaccination campaign on Tuesday, starting with front-line medical workers as the government attempts to contain the worst outbreak of the disease in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran is advancing with its nuclear program and could produce a bomb within two years, but its leadership hasn’t decided yet as to whether to break out to weapons-grade enrichment, according to an Israeli Military Intelligence assessment released on Monday. – Haaretz 

The Canadian government and security agencies are reviewing an audio recording in which a man — identified by sources as Iran’s foreign affairs minister — discusses the possibility that the destruction of Flight PS752 was an intentional act, CBC News has learned. – CBC News 

A Revolutionary Court in Iran has sentenced a law professor to seven years in prison after convicting him of “cooperating with an enemy state.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

A member of the armed forces is suspected of involvement in last November’s assassination near Tehran of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s intelligence minister said Monday. – Times of Israel 

Struggling with the region’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus, Iran is marking the anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution on Wednesday on wheels — cars, motorcycles, bicycles — instead of traditional rallies and marches. Tens of thousands are expected to drive through cities and towns as part of the manifestations after the government decided to replace traditional rallies and demonstrations with motorcades. – Associated Press 

Iran on Tuesday summoned Belgium’s ambassador in Tehran over the conviction of an Iranian diplomat in a Belgian court on charges of planning to bomb an exiled opposition rally near Paris, the Iranian state news agency IRNA reported. – Reuters 

Israeli Military Intelligence believes that a new nuclear agreement that prevents Iran from ever enriching uranium up to the 90 percent level needed for a nuclear weapon is both feasible and would alleviate some of Jerusalem’s primary concerns, The Times of Israel has learned. – Times of Israel

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed this week to receive 340 new vessels, mostly the small fast boats it uses in the Persian Gulf and which sometimes harass US ships. The vessels were displayed in Bandar Abbas in Iran. “The exact numbers and status as ‘new’ should be treated with healthy skepticism,” notes H.I. Sutton, an expert on naval issues who writes and maintains a website devoted to this topic. – Jerusalem Post

Iranian Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi spoke about Iran’s nuclear industry and the circumstances that would direct it towards producing nuclear weapons. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Gabriel Noronha writes: As former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously observed in the Youngstown Steel case, the president’s authority is at its maximum when he acts in sync with Congress. A new and comprehensive agreement with Iran that has the strong support of Congress will honor the legislative body’s role in our constitutional system and protect the American people far better than the unfortunate deal that preceded it. – Washington Examiner


The top U.N. envoy for Syria on Tuesday urged the rival international players in Syria to bridge the divides that have blocked any moves toward peace, but the chasm remained too deep for the Security Council to take any action. – Associated Press 

Explosions caused by the military blowing up bombs abandoned by “terrorists” were heard on Tuesday near the Syrian city of Aleppo, state media said. – Reuters

Five years ago, Tareq Alaows crossed the Mediterranean in a flimsy rubber dinghy and trekked north through the Balkans toward Germany, fleeing the civil war in his homeland of Syria to seek a safe haven. Since then, the 31-year-old has learned fluent German, found a steady job — and has just launched a campaign to run for a seat in Parliament in September. – Associated Press


Turkey will discuss withdrawing its forces from Libya if other foreign troops are withdrawn first, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday. – Reuters

On February 5, 2021, a Twitter account called “Boğaziçi Solidarity #10,” which has over 90,000 followers, published a two-page letter and wrote: “Our open letter to the 12th president [i.e., Erdoğan], who has for days been targeting us by intermediary channels.” The letter has over 31,000 retweets and over 65,000 “likes.” – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Clare Busch and Merve Pehlivan write: The increasing number of protests outside the university validate Bagatur’s belief in their wide-reaching effects. Demonstrations are now in other areas of Istanbul and even in other cities. Meanwhile, the deputy interior minister released a statement warning the students against testing the power of the Turkish state. – Foreign Policy 

Anchal Vohra writes: As U.S. President Joe Biden replaces former President Donald Trump and the United States returns to more traditional methods of diplomacy and foreign policy, Tehran and Ankara’s relationship might again witness changes. But like Turkey, Biden too could be accused of double standards if he rejoins the nuclear deal with Iran without holding it accountable for human rights violations. So far, it is not clear whether Biden will seek concessions to protect dissidents before reentering the nuclear deal. – Foreign Policy


The Shinfelds, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in this most religious of cities, are used to being a bit at odds with the rest of Israel. Their community’s tradition of large families — the couple has 10 children and 30 grandchildren — strict observance and exemption from military service have long created friction with the more secular majority. – Washington Post 

The Israel Defense Forces does not anticipate the outbreak of a large-scale war in the coming year, but does expect that Hezbollah and other terror groups will likely initiate more limited rounds of violence, according to its annual intelligence assessment. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces does not anticipate the outbreak of a large-scale war in the coming year, but does expect that Hezbollah and other terror groups will likely initiate more limited rounds of violence, according to its annual intelligence assessment. – Times of Israel 

Rival Palestinian factions agreed on Tuesday on steps aimed at ensuring Palestinian elections are held as planned later this year and pledged to respect their results, a joint statement said. – Reuters

The European Union called on Israel to halt the demolition of the illegal Palestinian herding village of Khirbet Humsa in the Jordan Valley, after the IDF razed it for the fifth time in three months this week. – Jerusalem Post

The Golan Heights will always be part of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken walked back the Trump administration’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel. – Jerusalem Post

The controversy continues in a major legal battle between a Palestinian activist and the IDF prosecution in the military courts over whether he is a defender of human rights or a violent agitator. – Jerusalem Post

“One of those reforms that is necessary [is] the council’s disproportionate focus on Israel and ensuring countries with strong human-rights records serve on the council,” Price said. – Jerusalem Post

Germany and Hungary have voiced their opposition to the International Criminal Court’s ruling that it can investigate Israel for alleged war crimes. – Jerusalem Post

As a gesture of goodwill, Hamas on Tuesday released from prison four members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction. – Jerusalem Post

The head of Morocco’s diplomatic mission to Israel landed at Ben Gurion Airport Tuesday and met with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi before commencing his work in the country, following a normalization agreement between Jerusalem and Rabat. – Times of Israel

David Makovsky writes: In short, it is far from certain that this fourth round will settle the instability of Israeli politics. And even if it does, the forces taking shape could create challenging political math for Washington on Israeli-Palestinian issues once the dust settles. – Washington Institute


Heavy fighting between government forces and Houthi rebels has killed more than two dozen people in the past three days in the central Marib province, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

Ahmed Awad BinMubarak writes: We seek a role in governance for all Yemenis. But getting there will require sustained U.S. pressure on the Houthis and their enablers. We worry about that commitment given the administration’s decision to revoke its designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. It is difficult to see how that will encourage them to choose talks over terrorism, or Iran to stop transferring advanced weaponry or training Houthi militias. – Wall Street Journal 

Nadwa Al-Dawsari writes: Increased U.S diplomatic engagement to address the conflict in Yemen could help pave the way to end the war if it factors in the complexity and power dynamics on the ground. It could also potentially exacerbate the conflict if the administration is too focused on a quick fix that lacks the essential ingredients for sustainable peace. The administration should recognize its limitations and make decisions wisely. – Middle East Institute 

Bobby Ghosh writes: That leaves Lenderking to raise humanitarian considerations, but the warring parties haven’t shown much sympathy for the millions of Yemenis caught in the middle of their conflict. The UN reckons more than 230,000 people have died, mostly from “indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure,” since the Arab coalition’s bombing campaign began. More than 80% of the population is dependent on foreign aid for survival. The reversal of the terrorist designation for the Houthis removes legal hurdles to getting aid into Yemen, but assistance can be distributed only when there’s a sustained cease-fire. – Bloomberg

Gulf States

Amphibious warship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) Amphibious Ready Group and elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit transited the Strait of Hormuz and is now in the Persian Gulf, according to U.S. 5th Fleet. – USNI News 

Qatar’s foreign minister Tuesday said his country was ready to help kick-start Lebanon’s flailing economy, but only if its deeply divided political class agreed on a new government. – Agence France-Presse

The Israeli pavilion at IDEX is expected to be very large and there is a lot of interest in seeing Israeli technology publicly for the first time in the Gulf. – Jerusalem Pos

Seth J. Frantzman writes: However, the wider picture is that the Middle East’s most successful pioneering states when it comes to advanced technology and space are Israel and the UAE. States linked to them, from India to Greece, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and Jordan, are the stale states of the region. They are the ones offering a greater message of hope for future generations, than the sectarian extremism flowing from Tehran and Ankara. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The U.N. Security Council called the establishment of a transitional government in Libya “an important milestone” Tuesday and urged all countries with foreign forces and mercenaries in the North African nation to withdraw them “without further delay” as the divided North African nation moves toward elections in December. – Associated Press 

Three lawyers are said to be recovering after being assaulted by police in the wake of protests in the Tunisian capital on Saturday. […]Large crowds of young activists and union members negotiated police checkpoints and roadblocks to demonstrate against the security services, as well as mark the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leftist opposition leader, eight years ago. – The Guardian 

Salim Abdullah al-Haj writes: As such, the best thing Biden can do regarding the Middle East and North Africa is to contribute to the rise of a balance—support institutions such as the Arab League and the somewhat reunited Gulf states in their efforts to resist Iranian influence while extending a helping hand to countries in the Maghreb where U.S. involvement could have an outsized influence on governance, economic reform and human rights. – Washington Institute

Francisco Serrano writes: After decades of political paralysis, economic discontent, and increasing repression, Mubarak’s 30-year rule ended swiftly in an 18-day popular uprising in 2011. Judging by the violence Sisi’s regime has unleashed on Egyptians in the past few years, it seems that his biggest fear is that the crowds will fill the streets again. Mubarak and Sisi were both products of the army. For the brass, the events of 2011­—and the short and tumultuous democratic experience that followed—may well seem a mere interruption in the military’s long-term patriarchal command over Egypt and its citizens. – Foreign Policy 

Hussein Ibish writes: If anything, the university is a strong bulwark against the region’s religious fundamentalists, sectarian extremists and violent radicals of all kinds, including Tehran’s Lebanese proxies. Any serious policy of containing and marginalizing Hezbollah has to begin with strengthening and bolstering the institutions of the Lebanese state and society—and there’s no better place to start than the AUB. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by flaunting United Nations sanctions, using cyberattacks to help finance its programs and continuing to seek material and technology overseas for its arsenal including in Iran, U.N. experts said. – Associated Press 

A preliminary United Nations inquiry into the theft of $281 million worth of assets from a cryptocurrency exchange last September “strongly suggests” links to North Korea – with industry analysts pointing to Seychelles-based KuCoin as the victim of one of the largest reported digital currency heists. – Reuters

South Korea’s new foreign minister said on Tuesday he was confident about coordinating North Korea policy with the United States despite earlier signs of differences. – Reuters

An Australian man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to attempting to broker weapons and commodities deals with North Korea, contravening United Nations sanctions. – Reuters


But instead of scorn, the W.H.O. experts on Tuesday delivered praise for Chinese officials and endorsed critical parts of their narrative, including some that have been contentious. – New York Times

A bipartisan group of senior U.S. senators reintroduced a bill on Tuesday to make it easier for people from Hong Kong fearing persecution after joining protests against China to obtain U.S. refugee status. – Reuters

Sino-U.S. ties will stay tense as U.S. President Joe Biden is unlikely to rush into new deals with the world’s second largest economy or reduce tariffs on China, even if he is willing to re-engage with multilateral trade, economists and strategists said. – Reuters

The CEO and founder of Chinese telecom giant Huawei called Tuesday for a reset with the United States under President Joe Biden, after the firm was battered by sanctions imposed by Donald Trump’s administration. – Agence France-Presse

China’s relentless crackdown may have succeeded in crushing Hong Kong’s protests and neutralizing the political opposition. But it’s also doing something else: prompting many here to consider fleeing abroad. – Bloomberg

Chinese military activity in the South China Sea has risen “steadily” in recent months, according to the commander of the USS Nimitz. – Financial Times

Editorial: A team of World Health Organization investigators have “found” exactly what Beijing wants the world to believe about the origins of COVID-19: It’s “extremely unlikely” the virus leaked from a Chinese lab. Count it as yet another WHO whitewash. […]It’s been clear from the pandemic’s start that WHO is in Beijing’s pocket, actively working to help cover up the Chinese Communist Party’s misdeeds. And now, per Embarek, discouraging any investigation into whether the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. – New York Post

Eric Sayers writes: For their part, the Biden administration should expect that Democrats in Congress won’t shy away from rigorous and public oversight of their decision-making. Policy differences will not fade away — nor should analysts want them too — but the most successful China policy for the United States will be one where the two parties complement one other’s strengths and find ways to disagree without being disagreeable. – War on the Rocks 

Jonathan E. Hillman writes: The list of areas for cooperation is endless, spanning both defensive and offensive measures, from coordinating export controls and strengthening supply chains to pooling resources for joint R&D and investment funds. But while a foundation is put into place for broader allied cooperation, the Biden administration should put some early points on the board, meaning actual projects, and build further from there. As Acheson was fond of saying, “the best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Joseph Bosco writes: If the new national security team opts instead to continue with strategic ambiguity on Taiwan, it can rely on Beijing proceeding with its military preparations to seize Taiwan when “the circumstances” hypothesized by the Clinton administration are propitious. While ambiguity arguably has deterred an outright Chinese assault on Taiwan so far, it has utterly failed to dissuade China from deploying the missile systems, submarines and surface fleet needed to attack the island and preclude meaningful U.S. intervention. – The Hill

Ryan Tully writes: Furthermore, the CCP is looking to redraw boundaries and address perceived wrongs of the past. This is nothing new. Most don’t recall the PRC’s attempted rewrite of the Treaty of Peking, which led to Chinese forces ambushing Soviet soldiers on Zhenbao Island. This incident almost led to a nuclear conflagration. – Newsweek


Afghanistan and India have signed an agreement to build a $236 million dam that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says will provide residents of the capital, Kabul, with clean water. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

A year has passed since the last US service member was killed in combat in Afghanistan — the first such stretch since the war started almost 20 years ago, a report said Tuesday. – New York Post

James Dobbins writes: If the Biden administration agrees with the Afghanistan Study Group’s recommendation to postpone the May U.S. withdrawal, this could provide the two Afghan sides more time to address the core issues that must be resolved if any settlement is to stick. These issues include modifications to the current constitutional order, arrangements to monitor and enforce a permanent cease fire, procedures to amalgamate the two opposing armies and provisions to reintegrate former fighters back into civilian life. This will not go quickly, but experience with many other peace processes suggests that this is the only way to assure a durable result. – The Hill

South Asia

In early 2018, just months after Myanmar’s armed forces launched a brutal campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority, Nicholas Coppel, then Australia’s ambassador to the country, had an audience with the military commander in chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. – Washington Post 

Twitter Inc. said it is reimplementing restrictions on some accounts in India after the government threatened legal action when the company refused to block hundreds of handles that New Delhi called inflammatory. – Wall Street Journal

In a matter of days, protests against the military coup in Myanmar had swelled to hundreds of thousands of people, from a few dozen. Students, laborers, doctors and professionals had gathered in droves to proudly defend democratic ideals in their country, even as the police fired into crowds, sometimes using live ammunition and sometimes rubber bullets, and deployed water cannons and tear gas. – New York Times

Businesses are just beginning to reassess their investments in Myanmar after the military seized power, detaining civilian leaders and sparking mass protests. – Associated Press 

The United States is continuing to make Myanmar a priority and is conducting a review of assistance to the country to ensure those responsible for the coup face “significant consequences,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has directed regional authorities in northwestern Pakistan to rebuild a century-old Hindu shrine that was destroyed in a mob attack in late December. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

 On October 2, 2020, the government of Pakistan sought to deny media reports that Pakistani soldiers were aiding the Azeri military against Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh war (September 27-November 10, 2020). The Pakistani newspapers of the next morning, October 3, quoted Zahid Hafeez Chaudri, the spokesman of the Foreign Office in Islamabad, as saying that such media reports were “speculative and baseless” and “irresponsible.” – Middle East Media Research Institute   

Pooran Chandra Pandey writes: The pandemic has also led to a large-scale economic disruption across various sectors and in all parts of the country. International multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) are forecasting additional job losses and a sharp economic contraction throughout the world, including in India. – Middle East Institute


Chinese leader Xi Jinping chaired a long-delayed summit with Central and Eastern European countries amid growing division in the region over how to view Beijing’s growing influence. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Prosecutors in Thailand on Tuesday charged four prominent pro-democracy activists with sedition and defaming the monarchy for their protest activities. – Associated Press 

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wished China a happy Lunar New Year on Tuesday, but said she would not yield to Chinese pressure and reiterated a call for dialogue to resume with Beijing, which China rejected. – Reuters

Two U.S. carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, days after a U.S. warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters, as China denounced the United States for damaging peace and stability. – Reuters

The United States is closely monitoring border disputes between India and China and backs their peaceful resolution through direct dialogue, the State Department said on Tuesday, while stressing that it stands with allies and partners like India. – Reuters

They are forming bonds with activists who took on Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong and Thailand’s government and its monarchy, which is accused of enabling decades of military domination. – Reuters

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday ordered her national security team to keep close tabs on relations with the US, as Taipei watches for signs that Washington could retreat from some of the Trump administration’s advances in bilateral relations. – Financial Times


The disastrous Russian hack of federal government networks last year relied on a powerful new trick: Digital spies penetrated so deeply that they were able to impersonate any user they wanted. It was the computer network equivalent of sneaking into the State Department and printing perfectly forged U.S. passports. – Washington Post 

Russia has issued an international arrest warrant for one of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s allies, Leonid Volkov, who is currently based outside Russia, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia is trying to use its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to gain political influence in the embattled territories of eastern Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said. – Politico

Russia’s combative treatment of the EU’s top diplomat during a landmark trip there has triggered a political outcry — but little expectation that the European bloc will end divisions over how to handle the Kremlin. – Financial Times

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said he will propose the bloc’s 27 member states impose sanctions on Russia after Moscow rebuffed his attempts to renew a dialogue. – Agence France-Presse

James M. Roberts writes: As long as the government tolerates the high levels of corruption that the Navalny video exposes, while also pursuing statist, nationalist, and protectionist economic policies and maintaining a cautious approach to inward foreign investment, the index predicts that expansion of economic freedom in Russia will be difficult. – The Daily Signal 

Julian Lee writes: Recent increases in crude prices and the rapid drawing down of visible stockpiles will undoubtedly lead to calls for a more rapid raising of production targets than was envisaged in December. That may well reignite tensions between the co-leaders of the group, Saudi Arabia and Russia, with the potential for more brinkmanship that could undermine the price recovery. […]Moscow may well want to claw back market share relinquished through the supply cuts more quickly than is comfortable for Saudi Arabia and others. The rest of OPEC+ may have little alternative but to accede to its demands. – Bloomberg

Constanze Stelzenmuller writes: A Europe that uses its considerable leverage in this way would be acting on its principles and also in self-preservation. Above all, it would hold out a hand to ordinary Russians. That might in turn give new hope to civil societies under threat elsewhere, such as in Belarus, Myanmar, Hong Kong or China. – Financial Times

Artiom Hildebrandt writes: Though the pictures of peacefully demonstrating children who were beaten up by security services in Moscow and all across the country were truly shocking, it does not necessarily require a lot of violence. Time and again, through the exercise of precedents and the dissemination of propaganda, the Russian people have learned to discipline themselves and behave in ways expected from them by their masters who are hiding behind the Kremlin walls. – Jerusalem Post


A top European Union official traveled to Moscow last week bearing an olive branch. But his experience proved so humiliating that it may have sown the seeds of U.S.-E.U. cooperation on a tougher Russia policy. – Washington Post 

The libel case has caused alarm among Jewish groups and scholars around the world, who worry that Poland’s nationalist government, led since 2015 by the conservative Law and Justice party, wants to curb independent research into the Holocaust. The government has denied any involvement in the case. – New York Times

In doing so, they have inverted the bloc’s usual power equation. Bigger, richer countries like Germany and France — which could have afforded to sign contracts directly with drugmakers, as the United States and Britain did — saw their vaccine campaigns delayed by the more cumbersome joint effort, while smaller countries wound up with better supply terms than they were likely to have negotiated on their own. – New York Times

French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister. – New York Times

An environmental and consumer protection group says the German government offered U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration financial support of up to 1 billion euros ($1.21 billion) in a bid to prevent Washington from imposing sanctions on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The United States is deploying long-range B-1 bombers to Norway to train in the strategically important High North in a new show of force unseen in the region since the Cold War. – Agence France-Presse

China’s divide-and-rule tactics in Eastern Europe are running into trouble. The “17+1” platform created by Beijing in 2012 to build ties with 17 Central and Eastern European countries looked decidedly like the 11+1 on Tuesday, when half of the 12 EU national leaders invited to the club failed to show up to pay homage to Chinese President Xi Jinping. – Politico

Battered by the bloc’s torpid Covid vaccine rollout and a sudden unforced error over export restrictions that handed the U.K. the political upper hand for the first time since Brexit began, von der Leyen was in a tough spot even before the embarrassment in Moscow. – Bloomberg

The U.K. government said its relations with the European Union have been “problematic” since Brexit, following disputes over issues including vaccines, trade and Northern Ireland. – Bloomberg

Port staff in Northern Ireland charged with implementing contentious new post-Brexit customs arrangements will return to work on Wednesday — a week after they were temporarily withdrawn because of security fears. – Financial Times

The Army is concentrating this year’s major European Defender exercise on training for high-end warfare in the Balkans and the Black Sea, the service’s top general there said last week. – USNI News 

Daniel Baer writes: After having suffered a president who treated America’s oldest allies with contempt while embracing autocrats and adversaries, Europeans are looking forward to a more cooperative Washington under a Biden administration. Now it’s time for the United States to send a message to its friends in Europe: The window of opportunity for reinvesting in the trans-Atlantic relationship is not indefinite. It is time, dear allies, to get your act together. – Foreign Policy 

Philip Blenkinsop writes: Hardened by the pain of Brexit, clashes with the Trump presidency and a new realism over China, a bruised European Union is due next week to set out a future trade policy designed to help it deal with partners it does not trust. – Reuters


Haiti plunged deeper into a constitutional crisis on Monday, with rival claims to the presidency, allegations of a coup attempt and police deployed to the Supreme Court. – Washington Post 

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. A transitional military-civilian government is now in power, trying to end decades-long rebellions in various parts of the country. – Associated Press 

Sudan’s prime minister has appointed veteran Darfur rebel group leader and Islamist Jibril Ibrahim as finance minister in a cabinet overhaul announced in a press conference on Monday. – Reuters

Senegal’s army said Tuesday it has captured three rebel bases in the southern Casamance region with support from neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, after fighting flared up in a long-dormant independence conflict. – Agence France-Presse

Pro-government forces in the Central African Republic have retaken a strategic town northwest of the capital Bangui that had been partially held by rebels since December 27, a government spokesman said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

On January 31, 2021 the independent Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar published a fatwa (religious ruling) banning normalization with Israel. The fatwa is signed by over 200 Mauritanian clerics, headed by Sheikh Mohamad Hasan Al-Dido, who is a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS). – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The U.N. Security Council called on Somalia’s federal government and regional states Tuesday to urgently resume talks and agree on arrangements to hold elections as soon as possible. – Associated Press  

Guled Ahmed writes: In December 2020, rather than utilizing the Somalia National Army (SNA) and security funding to fight against al-Shabab, Farmaajo instead chose to turn his fire on Kenya, accusing it of meddling in Somalia’s affairs and cutting off diplomatic ties. Skirmishes broke out along the border in an episode reminiscent of Somali dictator Siad Barre’s 1977 conflict with Ethiopia, as Farmaajo manufactured an international border crisis to cover up his attempt to plot a silent coup. – Middle East Institute

Latin America

Venezuelan migrants in Colombia welcomed a historic decision by that country to grant them protection for the next 10 years and are hoping the measure will make it easier to get jobs and access social services. – Associated Press 

Ryan C. Berg writes: Supporting Guyana’s adherence to international mechanisms such as the ICJ is a great start, but the Biden administration should make it a point to acknowledge the controversy in any public statements on Venezuela and Maduro. Indeed, before long, Biden should deliver a speech outlining his Venezuela policy and plan to address the region’s gravest humanitarian crisis — an excellent opportunity to reiterate support for Guyana and its sovereignty against a predatory Maduro. – Real Clear World 

Jeffrey Sachs writes: The Biden administration should help Venezuela to move back to democracy and recover from economic disaster. The key is temporary power-sharing among the country’s contending political factions, thereby creating conditions to stabilize the economy, contain the COVID-19 pandemic, end extreme hunger, adopt democratic reforms, and then progress towards national elections. […]A stabilization and recovery plan, backed by the U.S., European Union, Russia and China through the IMF and World Bank, would serve as a crucial step toward the political transition to future elections. – The Hill

John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco writes: The problem with this approach is that it assumes U.S.-Cuban politics is the primary issue for these voters. The result is a failure to see the complexity of this electorate today. The FIU poll also disclosed that respondents heralded Trump’s anti-immigration stance, courting of religious evangelicals and his tough handling of China. In short, Cuban Americans are faithful to the right for a range of reasons beyond their contempt of the Cuban government alone. – The Hill

North America

Now, President Biden is preparing to undo much of Mr. Trump’s immigration legacy, while also facing differences with the Mexican populist over a range of other bilateral issues like security cooperation and climate change. – Wall Street Journal 

The virus that causes Covid-19 most likely jumped from one species to another before entering the human population and is highly unlikely to have leaked from a laboratory, a leader of a World Health Organization investigative team said at a press conference here. – Wall Street Journal 

China poses a serious strategic threat to Canada, both through attempts to steal secrets and a campaign to intimidate the Chinese community, the head of Canada’s spy agency said on Tuesday in a rare public appearance. – Reuters

Opposition lawmakers in El Salvador on Tuesday proposed starting a process that could lead to the removal of President Nayib Bukele from office just two weeks before his party is widely expected to win a majority in legislative elections. – Associated Press

United States

The Senate voted on Tuesday to proceed with the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, after an afternoon of arguments on whether it was constitutional to try a former president. – Wall Street Journal 

The Senate on Monday voted to confirm Kathleen Hicks as the deputy defense secretary. Hicks, who also worked in the Pentagon under the Obama administration, is the first woman confirmed to the Defense Department’s number-two position. – USNI News 

Rep. Jim Jordan said former President Donald Trump must be acquitted after he indicated the impeachment trial starting on Tuesday is deleterious to “important constitutional rights.” – Washington Examiner

Michael Regan is one step closer to confirmation as President Biden’s top environment official, after bipartisan approval by a Senate panel. – Washington Examiner  

President Joe Biden is set to announce that the US will rejoin the UNHuman Rights Council , which Donald Trump left in 2018, to fight “injustice and tyranny” around the world. – Independent


China’s Huawei Technologies Co. filed a lawsuit in the U.S. disputing its designation as a national security threat by the Federal Communications Commission, stepping up legal challenges in the country despite a change of administration in Washington. – Wall Street Journal 

European Union lawmakers are reportedly seeking to force Big Tech companies such as Facebook and Google to pay for news displayed on their platforms, signaling a win for the news industry. – Washington Examiner

Worried about a “disjointed” response to what some experts say could be the biggest hack in American history, two congressional leaders urged the government to name a person to head the cleanup. – C4ISRNET 

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Tuesday criticized the “disorganized” federal response to the recently uncovered Russian hack of IT group SolarWinds, calling for agencies to designate a leader. – The Hill

Thomas L. Friedman writes: Fast forward to today. Cyberspace is starting to resemble a sovereign nation-state, but without borders or governance. It has its own encrypted communications systems, like Telegram, outside the earshot of terrestrial governments. It has its own global news gathering and sharing platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It even has its own currencies — Bitcoin and others — that no sovereign state has minted. […]We need to project our democratic values into cyberspace as effectively as China has injected its own, and we need to do it fast. Please, Europe, show us the way! – New York Times

Salvatore Babones writes: Amid the growing backlash against the all-powerful digital giants, Australia has become ground zero: a test case for how far lawmakers will go, how the internet corporations will fight back, and whether Washington will defend them as it has in the past. – Foreign Policy


As U.S. Central Commander, Gen. Frank McKenzie has a lot of challenges in his area of responsibility, which stretches from Israel to Afghanistan and everything in between. That includes wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and of course, Afghanistan. – Washington Examiner 

President Joe Biden is making his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief, taking stock of a military as it pivots from the turmoil of the Trump years and focuses to an unusual degree on domestic and internal issues. – Associated Press 

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to create an air-launched drone that carries its own smaller weapons, a concept that brings to mind a lethal Russian nesting doll packed with missiles. – Defense News 

The U.S. Army expects to deliver — in a little more than 200 days from start to finish — the first hypersonic weapon capability to a unit, a service official said. – Defense News 

The following is the Feb. 4, DoD Inspector General report, Evaluation of the Navy’s Plans and Response to the Coronavirus Disease-2019 Onboard Navy Warships and Submarines. The report was released on Feb. 8. – USNI News 

The U.S. Army has chosen California-based drone manufacturer Skydio to continue in a final prototyping phase, which should lead to the company supplying the service’s first tranche of short-range reconnaissance unmanned aircraft systems. – Defense News 

The Defense Department’s emerging technology research arm will invest in new materials and processes that could enable manufacturing in space and on the moon’s surface. – C4ISRNET

As China and Russia forge ahead with a slew of sixth-generation fighter projects, is the U.S. Air Force (USAF) lagging behind in efforts to develop similar capabilities? The U.S. military’s nascent sixth-generation fighter ambitions harken back to the late 2000s, just as Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II was entering a turbulent testing and production stage. – The National Interest  

In the future, Marine Littoral Regiments could dot the western Pacific and target threats on land, air, and at sea. Like the Marines of World War II renown, Marines in the near future may have to hop from island to island in remote areas in the western Pacific Ocean. – The National Interest 

Caroline Baxter writes: There are two sides to the Army’s CCFC experience. On one side is the story of Army ingenuity — of finding ways to stay within the lines of the system while simultaneously bending it into efficiency. On the other side is a story of how, even when faced with a clear and present threat, these systems can only bend so far and so fast. This presents us with a choice: Change the system or scope the threat list. One of these is easier than the other and can be accomplished if civilian leaders choose that path. The lives lost behoove them to do so. – Defense News 

Elaine McCusker writes: Rather than using pejorative and inaccurate terms like “slush fund” to describe the way the administration and Congress have chosen to fund defense requirements, both branches of government should partner to establish a budget agreement that increases the base budget to provide sufficient funding for these requirements, and use contingency funds only for unforeseen wartime costs that are not projected to continue. – The Hill

Long War

Australia’s highest court on Wednesday upheld a law that can keep extremists in prison after they have served their sentences. Five of the seven High Court judges dismissed a constitutional challenge by convicted terrorist Abdul Benbrika who remains in a Victoria state prison despite his 15-year sentence expiring in November last year. – Associated Press 

Attackers killed around 10 people in an overnight raid on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities and the army said on Tuesday, blaming fighters from a Ugandan Islamist armed group. – Reuters

Islamic State group militants killed at least six Bedouins on Tuesday in an ambush over their alleged collaboration with the Egyptian military in the restive part of the country’s Sinai Peninsula, security officials said. – Associated Press 

Iraq on Tuesday hanged five people convicted of terrorism charges, local security officials said. – Reuters

Five government employees were killed in two separate attacks in Afghanistan’s capital on Tuesday, officials said, the latest in a series in which civilians have been targeted. – Reuters