Fdd's overnight brief

February 17, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran has warned it would tear up much of the international monitoring of its nuclear activities next week if the U.S. doesn’t lift economic sanctions, in a fresh bid to pressure the Biden administration to drop the sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

For decades, Iran has built and operated a network of loyal armed groups around the Middle East that seek to expand Tehran’s military footprint and gain political influence in the region. – Wall Street Journal

The Iranian and Russian militaries have kicked off a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean aimed at boosting security of maritime trade in the region, Iran’s state TV reported on Tuesday. – Associated Press

Iran’s millions-strong legion of gamers revel in online worlds, but they have to fight daily real-life obstacles imposed by US sanctions in their quest to level up and keep playing. – Agence France-Presse

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in no rush to blame Iran for a rocket attack on a military base in northern Iraq that left one civilian contractor dead and several others injured, including a U.S. service member. – Washington Examiner

Joe Biden faces his first real test with Iran. A barrage of 15 rockets in northern Iraq that struck a US base, killing a military contractor and wounding a soldier, were likely aimed as much at testing the new president’s mettle as they were at causing damage. – The Guardian

Iran’s armed forces Tuesday slammed the intelligence minister for alleging one of its members was involved in a nuclear scientist’s killing, and said the suspect had been ejected from the force years ago. – Agence France-Presse

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the US was open to diplomacy with Iran and voiced support for the 2015 deal Iran signed with world powers, while asserting that it must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Before Donald Trump ordered the retaliatory attack on Iranian terror chief Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, many warned such a response would lead to a full-scale war. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted that Mr. Trump “can’t do anything.” Mr. Biden doesn’t need to escalate to Mr. Trump’s level, but it’s worth reminding Tehran that he isn’t Barack Obama —and the U.S. can do something. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: Iran is testing whether or not the Biden administration will hold it responsible for its aggression. Early indications suggest that the Biden administration, at least from a U.S. interest point of view, has failed the test[…]. If he wants to send a constructive signal to Khamenei, Biden should respond quickly and resolutely. – Washington Examiner 


Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday dismissed accusations of any links between the group and the killing of researcher and activist Lokman Slim. – Reuters

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah responded to the Israeli show of military threat, saying, “After all the recent threats from Israel, no one can guarantee that it won’t lead to war. Israel will see things it hasn’t seen since its inception,” Israeli media reported on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Hanin Ghaddar writes: The assassination of the Lebanese activist and writer Lokman Slim—who was openly critical of Hezbollah—was in the making for years[…]. Hezbollah knows what that means in the long run. Parliamentary elections are coming in May 2022, and based on the various university and union elections that took place in 2019 and 2020, Hezbollah, its allies, and all political parties in Lebanon are likely to lose a significant part of the Parliament. – Foreign Policy

Patricia Karam writes: The Iranians are testing the waters as they always do. Lebanon is a best-case scenario for them because their proxy is strongest and in control, and because this is where the U.S. seems to have the least interest[…]. The administration has signaled its intentions to return to the negotiating table with Tehran. If so, it is imperative that the question of Iranian meddling in the internal politics of its neighbors also lands on the agenda. If not, there is no hope for the next courageous Lokman Slim. – Middle East Institute


A U.S. judge on Tuesday agreed to dismiss a case against Turkish state lender Halkbank filed by victims of attacks by groups linked to Iran, on the condition that the sides reach an agreement to carry on with the case in Turkey. – Reuters

John Saleh writes: Across the region, Kurds are looking forward to a Biden presidency. Many have high hopes, seeing Biden as potentially the Kurds’ most supportive U.S. president to date.With renewed optimism about cooperation with the United States, openings are appearing for movement in 2021, though understanding the landscape of Kurdish affairs in the region will be critical to any future cooperation. – Washington Institute

Gönül Tol and Yörük Işık write: Mirroring other NATO missions in the Baltic or Mediterranean, Turkey can play a coordinating role to bring in other NATO allies willing to participate and provide support[…]. Although the development of such a multinational unit would require a sustained diplomatic effort, once active, it would boost NATO’s deterrence in a strategic region that has become a springboard for Russia to project power from Georgia all the way to Syria and Libya. – Middle East Institute


In a message posted late Monday night, the International Criminal Court appeared to try to inject a wedge between Israel and allies that support its position in the ongoing conflict with officials in The Hague, such as the US and Germany. – Jerusalem Post

Austria and Lithuania on Tuesday joined the countries speaking out against the International Criminal Court’s ruling that it can investigate Israel, despite the European Union declaring its unwavering support. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority has called on the international community to pressure Israel to allow COVID-19 vaccines to enter Gaza. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli ministerial committee approved the purchase of new jets, aircraft and munitions from US companies, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, in a deal that would be worth billions of dollars. – Reuters

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that President Joe Biden will speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will do so “very soon.” – Algemeiner

U.S. House Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who serves as vice chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed her support for the independence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and said that Israel and senior Israeli officers who are accused of war crimes, should be referred to the ICC. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: While Israeli companies are seeking to take part publicly in a large pavilion for the first time in the UAE, those firms and their subsidiaries abroad have previously sold products in regional markets. Weinberg said the only difference now is that “everything is open and [we can] talk about it[…]. In other words, Israeli firms are looking forward to signing memorandums of understanding and creating partnerships, much like they have done elsewhere, like in India. – Defense News

Avi Gil writes: The US administration’s stated ambition to restore the liberal-democratic character of the world order could create significant points of disagreement with Israel. The severity of this dynamic depends on the intensity of Biden’s resolve in adhering to his goals, but also on the configuration and positions of the next Israeli government and its willingness to risk a confrontation with the American president. – Jerusalem Post


Egyptian security forces raided the homes of six relatives of an outspoken Egyptian American activist, arresting and imprisoning two cousins in defiance of calls by the Biden administration for the Egyptian government to improve its human rights record, rights advocates said Tuesday. – Washington Post

Egypt is planning to reopen its embassy in Libya’s capital for the first time in six years, according to Egyptian sources and Libyan officials, marking a shift to a more conciliatory approach to western Libya-based factions. – Reuters

US President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday approved a nearly $200 million arms sale to Egypt but vowed to press human rights issues after a US activist reported harassment of his family. – Agence France-Presse

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s king, not the younger de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will be the one getting a first phone call from US President Joe Biden, the White House said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The United States urged Yemen’s Houthi movement on Tuesday to halt an offensive on the government-held city of Marib and join international efforts to find a political solution to the more than six-year civil war. – Reuters

President Joe Biden plans to shift U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and will conduct diplomacy through Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz rather than his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the White House said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Gulf States

In new video footage obtained by the BBC, Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, claims that she is being held hostage by her family. – Washington Post

Iraqi and U.S. officials deepened an investigation Tuesday into a deadly rocket attack on a U.S. military base in Iraqi Kurdistan, as they sought to establish how militants managed to strike one of the country’s most heavily guarded facilities. – Wall Street Journal

Britain said on Wednesday that it would like to see proof that Sheikha Latifa, one of the ruler of Dubai’s daughters, is still alive after the BBC published a “deeply troubling” video saying she was being held against her will in a barricaded villa. – Reuters


The Biden administration faces a conundrum as it rethinks the positioning of military forces around the world: How to focus more on China and Russia without retreating from longstanding Mideast threats — and to make this shift with potentially leaner Pentagon budgets. – Associated Press

A U.S. Navy warship sailed by islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday in a freedom of navigation operation, marking the latest move by Washington to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the contested waters. – Reuters

China will pay a price for its human rights abuses, U.S. President Joe Biden warned on Tuesday, responding to queries at a televised event on the Asian nation’s handling of Muslim minorities in its far western region of Xinjiang. – Reuters

Chinese officials are fuming about a Canadian-led condemnation of hostage diplomacy, an initiative that highlights widespread distaste for a human rights abuse favored in Beijing. – Washington Examiner 

President Joe Biden is filling out his China policy team with staff whose past writing and speeches align with the tough tone toward Beijing that emerged under his predecessor Donald Trump, adding to evidence that the new administration won’t revert to an earlier era of conciliation. – Bloomberg


The Pentagon, uncertain what the new commander in chief will do, is preparing variations on a plan to stay, a plan to leave and a plan to withdraw very, very slowly — a reflection of the debate now swirling in the White House. The current deadline is May 1, in keeping with a much-violated peace agreement that calls for the complete withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American forces. – New York Times

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday in favor of Germany in a dispute with Afghan civilians who challenged the country’s investigation into a 2009 attack on oil tankers in Afghanistan that killed as many as 90 civilians. – New York Times

Unusually intense fighting in the winter by Taliban insurgents has spurred Afghan government preparations for more violence in the warmer spring, which international players fear will further endanger the nation’s fragile peace process. – Reuters


Authorities in Myanmar filed a new charge against Aung San Suu Kyi, who was ousted and detained in a military coup this month and appeared before a court on Tuesday, adding to a case that has been cited to keep her locked up in her home since Feb. 1. – Wall Street Journal

Demonstrators in Myanmar gathered Wednesday in their largest numbers so far to protest the military’s seizure of power, as a U.N. human rights expert warned that troops being brought to Yangon and elsewhere could signal the prospect for major violence. – Associated Press

The Philippine president has approved an amnesty program for Muslim and communist rebels who would agree to surrender their weapons as they return to normal life in the latest such attempt to tame rural insurgencies that have raged for half a century. – Associated Press

A South Korean woman who was sexually enslaved by Japan’s World War II military called for the leaders of both countries to settle an impasse over the issue by seeking judgment from the International Court of Justice. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s military junta promised on Tuesday that there would be an election and it would hand over power as police filed an additional charge against toppled former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. – Reuters 

Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai, while in jail, has been arrested again on suspicion of assisting one of the 12 fugitives captured by China at sea last year, local newspaper Oriental Daily reported on Wednesday, without citing a source. – Reuters 

Hong Kong’s government is considering introducing legislation that would prohibit insulting public officials, local media reported, as concerns grow about China’s erosion of basic freedoms in the city. – Bloomberg

Securing the first Asian customer for its latest product, Czech aircraft maker Aero Vodochody has signed a contract to sell 12 L-39NG jet trainers to Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence. Deliveries are scheduled for the years 2023 to 2024, and Czech arms exporter Omnipol is acting as an intermediary for the deal. – Defense News

Alexander B. Gray writes: The Biden administration has an opportunity, working closely with Australia and New Zealand and other interested partners like Taiwan, Japan, and France, to signal America’s unwavering support for a PIF that represents the voices of all Pacific islanders, including those from the Micronesian countries[…]. The U.S. is a Pacific power; acting swiftly in response to the PIF crisis will reaffirm this truth, reassure allies and partners, deter competitors, and leave no doubt about Washington’s commitment to its vision of a free, open, and prosperous Pacific. – The Hill


France’s National Assembly approved a bill Tuesday that aims to strengthen government oversight of mosques and religious schools and crack down on other practices—from online hate speech to forced marriage—that President Emmanuel Macron says are rooted in Islamist separatism. – Wall Street Journal

Europe has a “non-functioning” telecoms market, according to the chief executive of Ericsson, leading to a lack of investment and problems for manufacturers in competing with the US and China. – Financial Times

Luke Coffey, Thomas W. Spoehr, and Daniel Kochis write: The U.S. military presence in Europe deters American adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests[…]. Reducing this capability will only make America weaker on the world stage. America’s economic and security interests require a stable Europe, and it is the U.S. military presence in Europe that helps to maintain European stability. – Heritage Foundation


One was a former member of Parliament sometimes known as “Rambo.” The other was a former top African soccer executive. Both appeared before the International Criminal Court on Tuesday charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, the first alleged perpetrators the court has ever tried from the long-running and ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic. – New York Times

He was lauded as a hero during the grim days of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people he sheltered at his hotel, but when he mysteriously reappeared back in his home country late last year, he was in handcuffs. Now Paul Rusesabagina, who angered the Rwandan government with his pointed criticism from exile in the years after the blood bath, is about to go on trial in a prosecution that has drawn broad international condemnation. – New York Times

Two alleged leaders of a predominantly Christian rebel group in the Central African Republic were key players in a campaign of atrocities against Muslim civilians intended to restore to power to the country’s ousted president in 2013 and 2014, an International Criminal Court prosecution lawyer said Tuesday as their trial opened. – Associated Press

Emmanuel Macron has decided against an immediate reduction of France’s 5,100-stong military force fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region of west Africa, but has confirmed that the long-term goal is to cut back Operation Barkhane to avoid “infinite war”. – Financial Times

United States

Jones Day, in a statement, disputed that its network has been breached. The statement said that a file-sharing company that it has used was recently compromised and had information taken. Jones Day said it continues to investigate the breach and will continue to be in discussion with affected clients and appropriate authorities. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Department of Defense is forging ahead with IT projects despite the absence of a Senate-confirmed chief information officer, grappling with cybersecurity after a government hack and a cloud infrastructure with an uncertain future. – C4ISRNET

Jared Genser writes: The Biden administration should cut off aid to Egypt until it stops wrongfully imprisoning, injuring and killing U.S. citizens[…]. The State Department can’t always get Americans released from unjust imprisonment abroad. But by identifying, tracking and advocating for the release of unjustly detained citizens—and doing so in a highly coordinated and strategic manner—the U.S. can do much to fulfill its most sacred obligation: Protecting the life and liberty of Americans against tyranny. – Wall Street Journal

Lloyd J. Austin III writes:I am a firm believer that the United States is strongest when it works as part of a team. Our alliances and partnerships are strategic advantages none of our competitors can match. They lend to the mission-unique capabilities and credibility that sometimes each of us alone might lack[…]. Under the president’s leadership, the United States is ready again to make that commitment. We are ready to consult together, decide together and act together. We are ready to revitalize our alliances. We are ready to lead.” – Washington Post


As Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attends his first NATO ministerial this week, he will carry a message seeking a “revitalized” relationship between America and its European allies — but will not back down on pushing for greater military spending, two senior defense officials said Monday. – Defense News

Air Force Special Operations Command plans to conduct flying demonstrations of multiple armed overwatch aircraft this year, paving the way for procurement to start in fiscal 2022, its top general said Tuesday. – Defense News

Under a recent contract award with a $30 million ceiling, Lockheed Martin will begin integrating and formally testing its open-architecture processor designed to control the U.S. Army’s future combat vehicle protection system, the company announced Feb. 16. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is working on a new tool to provide a much needed visual of the signals that command posts and units leak into the electromagnetic spectrum, possibly giving away their location. – C4ISRNET

Late last year Northrop Grumman took its unmanned helicopter, which is designed to keep an eye on the ocean’s surface, for a test to look deeper under the water, company officials recently told USNI News. – USNI News

Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) is in Virginia as part of its effort to become certified to operate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. – USNI News

The Navy’s DDG(X) program, also known as the Future Large Surface Combatant program or DDG Next program, envisages procuring a class of next-generation guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) to replace the Navy’s aging Ticonderoga (CG-47) class Aegis cruisers – USNI News

The U.S. Air Force will call its first U.K.-based F-35 Lightning II fighter squadron the Valkyries. – Military.com 

The Navy is shopping for a new armored vest for helicopter pilots and crew members — and is asking manufacturers to submit their best design proposals. – Military.com