Fdd's overnight brief

February 25, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Senator Tom Cotton and more than 40 other Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution Wednesday opposing any move to lift sanctions on Iran, underscoring the resistance the Biden administration will face in trying to get back into the 2015 nuclear accord. – Bloomberg

Iran has detained a French tourist for nine months, his lawyer said on Wednesday, the latest in a series of detentions of foreigners at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West. – Associated Press

President Biden must “compensate” the regime in Tehran for former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord in order to rehabilitate the pact, according to a senior Iranian diplomat. – Washington Examiner

It is up to the United States to make the first move in saving the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament on Wednesday. – Reuters

Germany’s foreign minister on Wednesday urged Iran to accept diplomatic overtures coming from the West in order to preserve the 2015 nuclear accord. – Associated Press

Three people were killed over two days in clashes in the southeastern Iranian town of Saravan near the border with Pakistan, the semiofficial ILNA news agency reported. – Associated Press

The United States’ patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is “not unlimited,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iranians overwhelmingly believe President Joe Biden’s administration should first reenter the multilateral nuclear deal abandoned by the United States nearly three years ago before Tehran reinstitutes the full range of its own commitments to the agreement, a new poll has shown. – Newsweek

The United States and Israel have elected to reconvene a strategic working group on Iran, with the first round of talks on intelligence surrounding the Iranian nuclear program expected in the coming days, Axios has learned. – Axios

Wang Xiyue writes: The menace of the Islamic Republic can’t be appeased. It must be countered and restrained. Only the U.S. has the capacity to lead such an endeavor. For 42 years Iran has demonstrated that it changes its behavior only in response to strength in the form of American-led international pressure. If the Biden administration returns to the JCPOA without extracting concessions from Tehran beyond the nuclear threat, it will relinquish all U.S. leverage over the regime. – Wall Street Journal


Three Turkish nationals were found guilty Wednesday of smuggling Carlos Ghosn into Turkey after he fled Japan inside a musical-equipment box, becoming the first people convicted in connection with the former auto chieftain’s escape from Japan in late 2019. – Wall Street Journal

The Turkish lira tumbled amid speculation the central bank may backtrack on policies that fueled this year’s biggest rally in emerging markets. – Bloomberg

Gönül Tol writes: Through a series of policy changes, he sought to construct an Ottoman, Sunni-Muslim nation, which he thought would back the sultan-like powers he sought for himself. Erdoğan’s decision to drop the reform agenda and his use of Islam to legitimize his authoritarian practices made Gergerlioğlu question not just Erdoğan’s democratic credentials, but also the dangers of mixing religion and politics. He decided to break with the AKP. – Middle East Institute


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is giving small amounts of surplus vaccine to several countries that have warming relations with Israel, including two that have moved their embassies to the contested city of Jerusalem, according to his office and local media reports. – Washington Post

A secretive Israeli nuclear facility at the center of the nation’s undeclared atomic weapons program is undergoing what appears to be its biggest construction project in decades, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show. – Associated Press

U.S. President Joseph Biden’s new administration said on Wednesday it would continue its international re-engagement by seeking election to the U.N. Human Rights Council where it will press to eliminate a “disproportionate focus” on ally Israel. – Reuters

The IDF is preparing in case it needs to take action against Iran, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at a graduate ceremony for new IDF officers on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Israeli officials reportedly sent a request last week to the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem Muslim Waqf asking that the Israeli government be allowed to open a coronavirus vaccination station in the Temple Mount area, but the request was rejected. – Times of Israel


Renewed rocket attacks on US targets in Iraq show Iran-aligned factions are heaping pressure on the government while Tehran may be seeking leverage over America’s new administration, analysts say. – Agence France-Presse

Crispin Smith, Michael Knights, and Hamdi Malik write: The February 15 rocket attack on Erbil International Airport was the second such strike on the city and the fourth major rocket attack on coalition facilities in Iraq since September 2020. Following these and other attacks, the propaganda arms of Iran-backed militias have sought to trumpet their successes against the coalition while obfuscating who carried them out. The United States and other coalition partners should therefore invest more effort in forensically linking the online “facade groups” that publicize attacks to major fasail (militias) such as Kataib Hezbollah (KH), Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Hezbollah Harakat al-Nujaba, and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS). – Washington Institute

Dastan Jasim and Winthrop Rodgers write: Stories like these rarely break out beyond the local press, and analysis about the KRI is all too often driven by elite-centered narratives that do not properly account for the opinions and social realities of the broader population. This does a disservice not only to the ostensible subjects of reporting and analysis about the Kurdistan Region but also reinforces misperceptions about Kurdistan that have major policy implications. – Middle East Institute

Arabian Peninsula

The recovery in oil prices has boosted investor appetite for Saudi Arabian government debt abroad, allowing the kingdom to borrow at negative interest rates for the first time. – Wall Street Journal

As a candidate, President Biden left no doubt what he thought about how the United States should deal with Saudi Arabia. […]Now, as president, Mr. Biden must deal with that government, whether it has redeeming value or not. And he must navigate a series of campaign promises to cut off arms shipments and make public the American intelligence conclusions about the role of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and the de facto leader of the country, in the killing of the dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi. – New York Times

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he’ll soon have his first call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman as the U.S. works to re-evaluate relations with the world’s largest oil exporter amid tensions over its human rights record. – Bloomberg

The two private jets used by a Saudi Arabian assassination squad that killed and allegedly dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi were owned by a company that less than a year prior had been seized by the Kingdom’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, according to recently filed court documents seen by CNN. – CNN

The United Nations said Wednesday that new requests by Yemen’s Houthi rebels will further delay U.N. experts from examining an oil tanker moored off the war-torn country’s coast loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil that is at risk of leaking. – Associated Press

Explosive-laden drones that targeted Saudi Arabia’s royal palace in the kingdom’s capital last month were launched from inside Iraq, a senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and a U.S. official said. – Associated Press

A Saudi defense industry conglomerate has signed separate agreements at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference with an Emirati economic group and a Belarusian government organization with the aim of creating joint ventures. – Defense News

In two Gulf countries focused on advancing artificial intelligence to boost their economies, experts expect military AI technology to progress quickly and extend the reach of the nations’ armed forces. – Defense News

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalize arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile. – Associated Press

Thousands of images of dead Syrians smuggled out of the country by a photographer known as “Caesar” showed the world the horrors detainees allegedly suffered at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. – Agence France-Presse

Prominent Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni, released after almost a year in prison following a presidential pardon, has vowed to keep up the fight for the “sacred, untouchable” freedom of the press. – Agence France-Presse

Ekaterine Meiering-Mikadze writes: Throughout 2020, the geopolitics between the Middle East and its northern frontier have converged further. Russia, Turkey, and Iran not only compete for influence (as states and through non-state actors) in core countries of the Middle East and North Africa like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and beyond in the Gulf. […]All three possess sprawling power ambitions underpinned by various interests, ideologies and imperial nostalgia, meaning even a minor move in one place can land any of them in tensions or conflict with another in a different area. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea used South Korean prisoners of war and their descendants through several generations as slave labour in a vast network of coal mines, a rights group said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un chaired a Central Military Commission meeting, state media KCNA said on Thursday, where he called for more control and discipline within the military. – Reuters

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) announced on 23 February that work on the Republic of Korea Navy’s (RoKN’s) future next-generation light aircraft carrier is slated to officially start in 2022 and be completed by 2033. – Janes

South Korean company Hanwha Defense has completed delivery of a third batch of K56 automatic ammunition supply vehicles to the Republic of Korea Army (RoKA), according to a 23 February announcement by the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). – Janes

Bruce Klingner writes: The United States and South Korea are on track to resolve deadlocked negotiations over military cost-sharing but face challenges in bridging policy gaps on North Korean and regional issues. The Biden Administration has described some parameters of its North Korea strategy, but much remains uncertain. However, it is already clear there will be significant differences with the Moon Jae-in administration, which is eager to resume U.S. and South Korean dialogue with Pyongyang. U.S. policymakers will need to balance maintaining resolve against North Korean transgressions with preventing discord with critical ally South Korea. – Heritage Foundation


Australia’s barley farmers were China’s first target in a trade dispute that has since broadened out to commodities including coal, wine and rock lobsters. China was angered by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an international investigation into the first outbreak of Covid-19 in central China, which it saw as meddling by a foreign government. – Wall Street Journal

China hit back on Wednesday at growing criticism by Western powers of its treatment of ethnic minorities in the regions of Xinjiang and Tibet and of citizens in the former British colony of Hong Kong. – Reuters

Veteran US diplomat William Burns, nominated to lead the CIA, pledged Wednesday to keep the agency free of politics and said China would be his main focus if confirmed. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden’s nominee for trade chief is pledging to work with allies to take on China while also embarking on a pragmatic approach to the Asian nation, saying it’s both a rival and partner whose cooperation the U.S. needs to address global challenges. – Bloomberg

President Biden’s pick for CIA director voiced suspicion of Chinese state-run Confucius Institutes during his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner

William J. Burns, the veteran diplomat tapped to be the next CIA director, says he will follow through with the agency’s plans to adopt artificial intelligence technology to counter the large and aggressive activities of Chinese spies. – Washington Times

The Chinese military criticised the United States on Thursday for undermining regional peace and stability after a U.S. Navy warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait a day earlier. – Reuters

James M. Roberts writes: The biggest concern that emerged from the brief confab, though, was the lack of any in-depth focus by the leading Western democracies on the rising threat from communist China. […]The president should continue to push the G-7 to join the U.S. in standing firm against China’s aggressive mercantilism and its many ongoing efforts to exploit the pandemic and otherwise undermine the economic and political health of Western market democracies. – Heritage Foundation

South Asia

India is establishing new rules to govern internet firms like Facebook Inc. WhatsApp and Twitter Inc. a fresh challenge for the American giants in a huge market that is key to their global expansion. – Wall Street Journal

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday he expects “some extension” of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond May, when a deal with the Taliban calls for a full U.S. withdrawal. – The Hill

The militaries of India and Pakistan said in a rare joint statement on Thursday that they had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the disputed border in Kashmir, having exchanged fire hundreds of times in recent months. – Reuters

Hal Brands writes: The opportunity for the U.S. in South Asia is that a powerful new alignment is coalescing. A state that is pivotal not just regionally but globally, India, has been gradually shedding its Cold War tradition of neutralism and embracing greater cooperation with America.[…] A progressively deeper U.S.-Indian partnership represents a prize of surpassing strategic value in U.S.-China competition. Accepting the limits of that relationship may be the best way of exploiting its potential. – Bloomberg


Massive protests have swept Myanmar in opposition to a Feb. 1 coup that ended the country’s decadelong shift toward democracy and returned it to military rule. The takeover has pit citizens, who have poured into the streets in the hundreds of thousands, against a powerful military that has used lethal force to crush democracy movements in the past. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. government has sold an exclusive Hong Kong property for $332 million, after a holdup while it sought permission from Beijing for the deal. […]The deal was originally set to conclude on Dec. 30. However, the Chinese government stepped in, saying its approval was needed because the deal wasn’t an ordinary commercial transaction but involved foreign affairs between the U.S. and China. – Wall Street Journal

Facebook said on Wednesday that it had banned Myanmar’s military and military-controlled state and media entities from its platforms, weeks after the military overthrew the country’s fragile democratic government. – New York Times

But the reality is very different for some of the most vulnerable. While affluent Hong Kongers can make the move relatively easily — cash-rich buyers from Hong Kong snapped up almost one in 10 homes in London’s wealthiest areas last year — some of those who took part in the protests are falling through the cracks. – Bloomberg

A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced 14 political leaders to jail, including three incumbent cabinet ministers, after finding them guilty of insurrection during anti-government protests that culminated in a 2014 military coup. – Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he has not made a decision yet on the future of the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, leaving the fate of the pact hanging in the balance. – Reuters

Japan is finalising plans to halt new development aid to Myanmar, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported on Thursday, as Western allies impose sanctions and threaten further action over the Southeast nation’s military coup. – Reuters

Armenia’s armed forces called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government in a statement on Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

Philippine lawmaker Sarah Elago faces a daily barrage of Facebook posts linking her to communist rebels trying to overthrow the government. She says the claims are false, but they could get her killed anyway. – Agence France-Presse


Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation on Wednesday beefing up fines for offences committed during street protests after thousands were detained at unsanctioned rallies in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted the newly elected president of Kyrgyzstan, voicing hope for political stability in the Central Asian nation that recently saw a violent change of government for the third time in 15 years. – Associated Press

Tom Rogan writes: French President Emmanuel Macron must increase the EU’s pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to abandon her Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline. Chizov’s referencing of that pipeline on Wednesday shows just how pivotal its demise is to the EU’s strategic credibility. President Biden should also act. […]Putin has taken notice and is escalating against Western interests in Ukraine. More resolution is needed. To deter Putin, the Russian leader must know his aggression will meet excessive counterforce. – Washington Examiner

Anders Aslund writes: U.S. sanctions on Russia could benefit from some streamlining, but by and large its principles are clear and sound. The three main U.S. concerns should be to revive coordination with the EU, to greatly improve enforcement and to force Russia out of eastern Ukraine by threatening more sanctions. Right now, the United States should impose personal sanctions in defense of Navalny. – The Hill


The privacy regulator overseeing Facebook Inc. Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. in the European Union expects to boost its tally of big tech decisions this year—and rejects complaints that its enforcement has been too slow. – Wall Street Journal

A court in Germany convicted a former Syrian secret police officer on Wednesday of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for his role in arresting and transporting protesters to an interrogation center known for torture nearly a decade ago. – New York Times

The United Nations announced plans to hold an informal meeting concerning the divided island of Cyprus in April to look at the prospect of resuming reunification talks amid a growing gap between positions of Turkish and Greek Cypriots. – Bloomberg

His premiership comes with German Chancellor Angela Merkel preparing to step aside, French President Emmanuel Macron facing a difficult election next year and the EU as a whole shaken by the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic. – Bloomberg

Italy on Wednesday pressed the United Nations for answers about the attack on a U.N. food aid convoy in Congo that left a young ambassador and his paramilitary police bodyguard dead. – Associated Press

The German government is preparing the way for the country’s troops in Afghanistan — the second-biggest contingent in a NATO force — to stay in place until next year if needed. – Associated Press

There was no breakthrough at a “hugely disappointing” meeting between the European Commission and the British government on Wednesday over post-Brexit trade issues in Northern Ireland, the region’s first minister, Arlene Foster, said on Wednesday. – Reuters


Western countries have been criticized for buying up large stocks of Covid-19 vaccines, often enough to immunize their populations multiple times over as they wait for different shots to pass clinical trials and be cleared by national regulators. Meanwhile, many developing countries—dozens of them in Africa—have yet to start administering any Covid-19 vaccines at all. – Wall Street Journal

At least 10 people were killed and about 60 others injured in an attack by suspected jihadist rebels on the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has required foreign diplomats to inform it of their movements outside the capital Kinshasa following the killing of the Italian ambassador. – Reuters

Judd Devermont writes: If a reset is in the offing, Africans and their international partners need to be clear-eyed about the trends reshaping the region. It is also necessary to manage expectations: there almost certainly will be tensions and trade-offs about what is needed, what is wanted, and what is possible in a post-Covid-19 world. Building new relations will take foresight and persistence; African and international governments will need to tackle pressing challenges with an eye toward addressing and resolving enduring threats and systematic barriers to peace, prosperity, and equitable partnerships. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Americas

Across Latin America, governments are desperate for coronavirus vaccines as the only way out of a pandemic that has ravaged economies and left hundreds of thousands of people dead. But instead of looking to the U.S. for help, Latin America is so far relying on Washington’s global rivals: China and Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Venezuela on Wednesday expelled the European Union’s ambassador to Caracas in response to new sanctions, giving the Portuguese envoy 72 hours to leave the country and raising the bloc’s renewed ire. – Agence France-Presse

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández says that antinarcotics cooperation with the United States could “collapse” if U.S. authorities believe “false testimony” accusing him of cooperating with traffickers. – Associated Press

Anthony B. Kim writes: As a practical matter, it’s imperative to remove uncertainty caused by lingering protectionism in order to spur economic growth and reinvigorate supply chains in the region. The removal of protectionist policies would not only benefit both countries’ economies in the long term, but also help speed the recovery by stimulating entrepreneurial economic dynamism in the two allies. […]Further enhancing the longtime bilateral relationship is vital for Washington and Ottawa at the best of times. However, that’s even more essential now as a practical means to ensure an economic rebound, led by the private sector, on both sides of the border. – Daily Signal

United States

Member countries of the World Trade Organization are aiming to resurrect a dormant system for resolving trade disputes that has been a point of friction between the U.S. and other nations. – Wall Street Journal

A majority of Americans have confidence in President Biden’s ability to handle foreign policy, but more are confident in his ability to improve relations with U.S. allies than they are in his ability to deal effectively with China, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. – The Hill

Smooth sailing is expected in the Senate confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the CIA after a Wednesday hearing in which William Burns, a well-respected longtime senior diplomat, pledged he would present non-politicized intelligence findings to the president, protect the safety and health of agency personnel, counter China’s influence, and fight cyber espionage operations. – Roll Call

David A. Cooper writes: President Biden stands at a crossroads as he seeks to restore the health of America’s alliances. He is moving smartly to repair the damage done by President Trump’s “America first” stance. However, he needs to think twice about reverting to President Obama’s denuclearization agenda. If the Biden administration embraces no-first-use, or begins canceling or curtailing nuclear programs, then it will give America’s allies understandable cause for doubt. There may come a time for deemphasizing extended nuclear deterrence. This is not that time. – The Hill

Conor M. Savoy writes: This means greater attention to supporting local actors and building a country’s capacity at all levels to generate long-term, sustainable development. Throughout his campaign, President Biden promised to renew U.S. leadership in the world in a mutually beneficial way. Pushing for a new Financing for Development Conference and making these clear commitments will help achieve those goals while elevating development as a matter of national interest. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Twitter announced on Wednesday that it had removed hundreds of accounts linked to Iran, Russia and Armenia for violating its platform manipulation policies. – The Hill

North Korean hackers attempted to breach the servers of the US-based vaccine manufacturer Pfizer, and its German partner BioNTech, in hopes of gathering scientific data that could be used to manufacture bootleg copies of a COVID-19 vaccine to sell on international black markets, according to intelligence officials in Europe. – Business Insider

Britain’s cyber spies at the GCHQ eavesdropping agency say they have fully embraced artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover patterns in vast amounts of global data to counter hostile disinformation and snare child abusers. – Reuters


But the battlefield balance of power has changed radically over the ensuing three decades. With the U.S. military now preparing to contend with more powerful and sophisticated rivals such as China and Russia, keeping the Abrams moving and its crew safe is becoming more of a challenge. – Washington Times

Operational test Marines have begun flying the new CH-53K ahead of this summer’s planned test event to bring the heavy lift helicopter to initial operational capability, the Navy’s program manager said today. – USNI News

The Pentagon is performing a “budget relook” of the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 proposal, with Navy shipbuilding topping the list of items for reassessment, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

China, Russia, North Korea and Iran’s continued investment in modernizing cruise, ballistic and hypersonic missiles has left the United States “not in a very good position,” the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs said Tuesday. – USNI News

Lockheed Martin is pitching the Defense Department on a performance-based logistics contract for the F-35 joint strike fighter that company officials say will help improve the availability of spare parts and accelerate repair times. – Defense News

The Air Force Research Laboratory wants to add more Vanguard programs in the coming year while accelerating development of its existing programs, said AFRL Commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Air Force is preparing to offer some new KC-46 tankers for operational use as early as this year, although continued technical issues will keep the aircraft from combat missions. – Defense News

The best way to defend the United States from a cruise missile attack may be to focus on where adversaries are keeping the ships and aircraft that could fire such a weapon and not take a broader approach to counter any possibility, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Feb. 23. – Defense News

The Army will conduct field-testing of a new microwave weapon designed to protect military bases from incoming drones as early as 2024, following an on-site demonstration at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, officials said. – Associated Press

For the first time, the Defense Department’s emerging technology acquisition arm made a product available to the entire federal government — small drones as a more secure alternative to dominant Chinese suppliers. – C4ISRNET

The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Centre (AFLCMC) has awarded Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control a USD428.4 million contract for Lot 19 production of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) precision standoff missile for the US Air Force (USAF). – Janes

Editorial: As the nation recovers from COVID-19 and a new Administration settles in, it is important to address several misconceptions and myths influencing thinking about the future of the Navy. Left unaddressed, they will have a caustic effect on the years-long effort to rebuild Navy readiness and capacities. – Heritage Foundation

Mark Voyger writes: The organization must continue to play an active role in tackling hybrid threats emanating from state and non-state actors, and it must do so efficiently and decisively, for the sake of preserving the international order and the trans-Atlantic security architecture. As an alliance of many nations, each with its “fortés” and special skills, contributing to the common transatlantic security, NATO can tackle not only the various hybrid domains taken separately but also rather provide “a synergy platform” aimed at strengthening the “hybrid defense” of our democratic societies. – Center for European Policy Analysis