Fdd's overnight brief

February 4, 2021

In The News


A British-Iranian academic who was sentenced in Iran to nine years and three months in prison for “cooperating with a hostile state” has fled the country and is now in Britain, he said on Wednesday. – New York Times

Judges at the highest U.N. court for disputes between states on Wednesday ruled that they can hear a case filed by Iran against the United States seeking to have sanctions against Tehran lifted. – Reuters

An Iranian diplomat accused of planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled opposition group was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday in the first trial of an Iranian official for suspected terrorism in the European Union since Iran’s 1979 revolution. – Reuters

The United States on Wednesday said it was “disappointed” by the top UN court’s ruling that it can take up Iran’s bid to overturn US sanctions reimposed by Donald Trump. – Agence France-Presse

Iran has bought 4.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University coronavirus vaccine, despite a ban on British and U.S.-made shots. – Bloomberg

Iran launched a new satellite-carrying rocket recently, according to reports on February 3.

Forbes has reported that it could carry a nuclear warhead, while other media have pointed out that the launch was done as the new Biden administration is discussing the Iran deal. – Jerusalem Post

President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking to distance itself from the previous White House by pursuing diplomacy with Iran, but the new U.S. leadership has informed Newsweek that a military option remains on the table in the event talks should fail and confrontation arise. – Newsweek


Turkey’s foreign ministry on Thursday dismissed international criticism of its response to the month-long protests at one of the country’s top universities, warning that such criticism could encourage what it called illegal acts. – Reuters

The comments appeared to undermine Erdogan’s efforts to build up a rapport with the new and potentially hostile US administration of President Joe Biden. The US State Department swiftly condemned Erdogan’s “rhetoric” as unacceptable. – Agence France-Presse

Bobby Ghosh writes: Since Bogazici is one of Turkey’s top universities, with the most prominent profile outside the country, the protests have inevitably attracted international attention. Such scrutiny bodes ill for Erdogan’s ambition of attracting more students to Turkey. […]Arguably, it is Erdogan who faces the greater challenge: How to end the crisis without further damaging Turkey’s academic reputation and further alienating young Turks. Never a man to gracefully back down, the president might only do himself, his party and his country harm. – Bloomberg


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he was postponing a trip planned next week to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain due to Israel’s COVID-19 lockdown. – Reuters

Israel has begun demolishing a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank for the second time in three months, in what a rights group called an attempt to displace an entire Palestinian community from the area. – Reuters

Anti-aircraft missiles were fired at an Israeli drone flying over south Lebanon on Wednesday but did not hit the target, the Israeli military spokesman said. – Reuters

Earlier this week, the “Juniper Falcon” joint US-Israel military exercise began. This is the main exercise of the Israeli Air Force Air Defense together with the US military under the authority of the US European Command (EUCOM). – Arutz Sheva 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly wants to fit an official visit to Egypt in to his schedule ahead of the approaching March 23 elections. – Times of Israel

Three Israelis were charged on Wednesday with smuggling air-powered rifles into the West Bank, where they were converted into lethal weapons, the Shin Bet security service said. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh famously pledged to live on “zeit wa zaatar”— olive oil and dried herbs — after he led the Islamic terror group to victory on a message of armed struggle and austerity during 2006 Palestinian elections. But he has since left the impoverished Gaza Strip and, along with some other Hamas leaders[…]. With new elections planned this spring, Hamas will struggle to campaign as a scrappy underdog that is above trading its principles for material comforts. – Times of Israel


A prominent Lebanese Shi’ite critic of Iran-backed Hezbollah was found killed in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, a security source and local media said. – Reuters

Lebanon is set to receive 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Iraq in 2021 for power generation, the Lebanese caretaker energy minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Days after a massive explosion ripped through Beirut’s port and disfigured the Lebanese capital, family members of some of the 211 people killed in the blast demanded an international probe. – Associated Press

Arabian Peninsula

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are holding out the possibility of better ties with Turkey that could benefit trade and security in a volatile region, according to people familiar with the strategy. – Bloomberg

Yemen’s Huthi rebels said Wednesday they are “ready” to allow a UN mission to inspect a long-abandoned fuel tanker which threatens to cause a massive oil spill, denying UN allegations of new delaying tactics. – Agence France-Presse

The surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) found by the US Navy on two dhows smuggling weapons to Yemen are powered by small gas turbine engines made by the company AMT Netherlands, according to a recently released report by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen. – Janes

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday with the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. – Arutz Sheva

Omran Salman writes: In conclusion, the Muslim Brotherhood remains the key issue of contention in relations between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. In 2014, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE classified the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also waged war against the Brotherhood in political, religious, and security arenas. It will be up to Qatar to find an alternative solution to official support for the Brotherhood if it wants to ensure continued reconciliation with Gulf countries. – Washington Institute

Karen E. Young writes: Global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be uneven and complex. For emerging markets in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, recovery in 2021 will have to work along with ongoing efforts to diversify economies from the revenues of oil and gas, as well as the financial support that oil and gas revenues have enabled. Understanding the interconnections of financial investment and politically motivated support across the region will require up-to-date information, which these two trackers seek to provide. – American Enterprise Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday dropped sexual assault charges against an enlisted SEAL in a case involving a female sailor at a Fourth of July party in Iraq that had prompted the rare withdrawal of the special operations unit from the Middle East in 2019. – Associated Press

Possible delays in distributing vaccines could bring back social unrest in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and obstruct a speedy economic recovery, according to the International Monetary Fund. – Bloomberg

Tunisia’s finance minister said he’s fully committed to taking unpopular steps to salvage the economy before resuming loan talks with the International Monetary Fund, just weeks after protests over entrenched unemployment and poverty showed the depth of public anger. – Bloomberg

Syria’s air defense systems confronted Israeli missiles in the southern region late on Wednesday, state news agency SANA said. – Reuters

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: What holds this seemingly heterogenous cabal of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and China together? In my view, both Azerbaijan and Pakistan – important countries – are junior partners in this constellation. Both are principally concerned by immediate challenges – their neighbors. […]Losing their great benefactor, President Trump, Turkey’s rulers seem to feel, in late January 2021, that they may have gone a bit too far in expressing their Turkic and Islamist ambitions and are furiously signaling wanting to improve relations with the EU, Israel, and even some Arab states. But the dreams of the Ottoman Empire and far beyond – the alliance of Turkic nations – remain. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in pledged on Thursday to upgrade the country’s alliance with the United States and prepare a comprehensive North Korea strategy in a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden, Moon’s office said. – Reuters

The United States should flexibly enforce sanctions aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes to revive denuclearisation talks, South Korea’s point man on North Korea said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Cheol Hee Park writes: South Korea will have no choice but to pursue its own nuclear program if North Korea’s denuclearization becomes impossible through negotiations and if U.S. troops are withdrawn from South Korea and the ROK-U.S. alliance consequently disintegrates. To avoid this situation, South Korea and the U.S. must not give up on the goal of North Korea’s complete denuclearization until the very end, and we must do our best to enhance our negotiating leverage and build a deterrent through the ROK-U.S. alliance. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Uighurs have traveled to Turkey for decades in search of refuge from political and religious repression, but recent arrests and a proposed extradition treaty with China are making many fear the country is no longer a haven. – Wall Street Journal

The United States is “deeply disturbed” by reports of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region and there must be serious consequences for atrocities committed there, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United States and its Western allies are increasingly concerned about growing cooperation between Russia and China in areas of common interest, NATO’s top general said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Australia has called for a United Nations investigation into allegations of human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing’s treatment of minority Muslim Uighurs has drawn sustained international criticism. – Bloomberg

John Bolton writes: Beijing will obfuscate the stakes and trade-offs of its demands. Mr. Xi won’t propose substantially reducing carbon emissions in exchange for Mr. Biden recognizing the mainland’s sovereignty over Taiwan. But Chinese planners are certainly contemplating how to slice and dice their policy choices to achieve precisely that and other objectionable goals more subtly. Beijing’s negotiators could, say, be stubborn about climate-change issues with Mr. Kerry until Uighur sanctions are scaled down—then stay stubborn until the U.S. acknowledges Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea. – Wall Street Journal

Robert S. Spalding writes: While China continues to shovel its ever-growing carnage out of view in the name of a superficial “harmony,” the U.S. Congress rebuffed violence and returned, together, to carry out their duties as representatives of the people. American institutions still have the potential to be made better because of the trials they have faced, not in spite of them. As long as China remains under the totalitarian rule of the CCP, there is no such option for course correction — and no hope of freedom for the Chinese people. – Washington Examiner


The Biden administration should slow the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, abandon the May 1 exit deadline and instead reduce American forces further only as security conditions improve, a congressionally appointed panel recommended Wednesday. – New York Times

Half of Afghans need humanitarian aid but rising violence is preventing deliveries, a senior European Union humanitarian official said on Wednesday, reiterating calls for a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban. – Reuters

Frequent bombings have everyone on edge. It’s not just dramatic attacks like one that killed dozens at a university last year. There’s also been a string of targeted killings, like the bomb planted on the car of a prominent cleric that detonated Tuesday in the middle of busy morning traffic, killing him and his driver — one of four such bombings that day. – Associated Press

South Asia

India threatened to punish Twitter if it doesn’t comply with a government request to restore a block on accounts connected to tweets about farmers’ protests that the government says are inflammatory. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. has criticized India’s moves to block internet access at protest sites around the capital and called on the government and farmers to resolve their differences through talks ahead of planned nationwide demonstrations against new agriculture laws on Saturday. – Bloomberg

Pakistan on Wednesday successfully test-fired a short range surface-to-surface ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads up to 290 kilometers (about 180 miles), the military said. – Associated Press


But the ordeals facing the lawyers who sought to represent the “Hong Kong Twelve,” who were arrested by mainland Chinese authorities in August while fleeing Hong Kong by speedboat, were designed to send a message and pointed to the very heart of Hong Kong protesters’ fears about Beijing. – Washington Post

Myanmar blocked access to Facebook after some users in the country in recent days shared material challenging a Monday military coup that ousted the elected civilian government. – Wall Street Journal

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged on Wednesday to mobilize enough international pressure on Myanmar’s military “to make sure that this coup fails” as the U.N. Security Council tries to negotiate a statement on the crisis. – Reuters

Foreign and defence ministers from Japan and Britain said in a statement on Wednesday they had serious concern about the situation in the East and South China Seas and that they strongly opposed any unilateral attempts to change the status quo. – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed how they can work together to deal with China and a recent military coup in Myanmar, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday its support of a “one-China” policy over Taiwan has not changed. – Reuters

A former Cook Islands prime minister was on Thursday named the new Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum after marathon talks that threaten to fracture the grouping that promotes regional peace, harmony and security. – Reuters

Addressing the coup in Myanmar is a priority for the United States and a review of possible sanctions in response is ongoing, the White House said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Myanmar’s coup has left its younger generation bunkered down at home, obsessively tracking arrest rumours on social media and weighing whether to defy the military on the streets. – Agence France-Presse

Canada, Britain and the United States have expressed alarm after Ottawa revealed authorities in Hong Kong forced a dual citizen to choose one nationality, enforcing what they said was a little-used regulation for the first time in decades. – Agence France-Presse

Some of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians have begun offloading long-held properties as China steps up its control over the city. – Bloomberg

The military coup in Burma is posing a critical early test for the Biden administration over how it will respond to the crisis amid its promise to coordinate with international allies and consult more closely with Congress on foreign policy concerns. – The Hill

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: That doesn’t mean a quick return to previous improvements. Can the West help? For Myanmar, even targeted sanctions will take time to cause real pain where needed. Such measures would likely be blunted by China, which under President Xi Jinping has extended its influence throughout Southeast Asia. […]To keep growing, every country in the region needs to allow more freedoms. Freer education to create better entrepreneurs, free speech to attract large-scale capital. That’s the hope.- Bloomberg

Dan Blumenthal writes: In the short term, moves by the Biden administration to further sanction Burma will push it further into the CCP’s hands, much to the consternation of Japan and India. However, over the longer term it would be a strategic mistake to treat the junta as if there wasn’t a coup. Instead, Washington needs to work with its democratic friends and Burma’s anti-coup leaders to restore a better government more in keeping with the promises of the initial 2009 rapprochement. – American Enterprise Institute

Natia Seskuria writes: In light of Russia’s growing ambitions to reaffirm its political and military dominance in the region, Georgia cannot be left on its own to deal with such large-scale regional challenges. Recent developments, including Erdogan’s proposed cooperation platform, indicate the willingness of both Ankara and Moscow to block Western engagement and mark the region as their sphere of influence. The deployment of a U.S. military base in Georgia, increased cooperation with the Black Sea security framework, and a greater push for Georgia’s NATO accession are measures that would signal a much-needed push from Washington. – Middle East Institute


White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Wednesday for the swift release of Americans detained in Russia, after the two countries agreed to extend the New START arms control treaty. – Reuters

The German government said on Wednesday further sanctions against Russia cannot be ruled out after a Moscow court jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and police used force against opposition protesters. – Reuters

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell jets to Moscow on Thursday under pressure to confront the Kremlin over the jailing of Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters. – Agence France-Presse

Polish freedom icon Lech Walesa on Wednesday called for international cooperation to bring about “system change” in Russia following the jailing of opposition figure Alexei Navalny. – Agence France-Presse

US President Joe Biden’s administration Wednesday extended the New START nuclear treaty with Russia by five years, saying it hoped to prevent an arms race despite rising tensions with Moscow, including over its imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. – Agence France-Presse

Russia on Wednesday defended its crackdown on protesters demanding the release of the jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny as his allies vowed to keep up pressure on the Kremlin. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: A productive relationship with Russia is in the interests of Europe and the world — but not at the expense of Europe’s democratic values, the rule of law and the rights of Russian citizens. Europe’s leaders should make it clear whose side they’re on. – Bloomberg

Maryia Sadouskaya-Komlach writes: It’s for these reasons that the fight over Navalny and the fate of democratic protests in Russia has tremendous symbolic weight — and the reason we can expect Moscow to redouble its efforts to strengthen its narratives. The Biden administration can and should be forthright in its own policies, while backing voices within the transatlantic alliance calling for a stop to the spiral of repressions in Russia and its neighborhood. Failing to do so will have long-term repercussions. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Ambassador Kurt Volker writes: That is why U.S. and European harsh words, combined with signals of willingness to “work with” Russia where possible, even when we disagree on issues like Navalny, only play to Putin’s hand.   Without a tangible consequence – sanctions against Kremlin insiders, diplomatic shut-downs, cyber-push-back – Putin will not take Western admonitions seriously. […]Joe Biden needs to be the President who finally indicates to President Putin that it is Russia’s turn to re-think its policies, rather than the West’s turn to – yet again – rethink its own. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi on Wednesday set about trying to form a government to end Italy’s political crisis, tackle the coronavirus emergency and overcome deep economic recession. – Reuters

The European Union believes issues around trade between Britain and Northern Ireland can be resolved using the flexibilities included in last year’s Brexit deal, Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Plans to draw down thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, pushed by the Trump administration, are on hold as President Joe Biden’s team reviews the decision, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe said Wednesday. – Politico

Editorial: Why Italy wants Mr. Draghi is easy enough to see. His tenure as president of the European Central Bank makes him one of Europe’s most respected politicians, a reputation he has bolstered in retirement by avoiding raucous domestic Italian politics. His gravitas might help him build support among Italian politicians for a new coalition, and it will reassure markets and European leaders that a responsible adult is steering the ship in Rome. – Wall Street Journal

General (Ret.) Philip Breedlove and Iulia-Sabina Joja write: We have made important steps to support our strategic allies in Eastern Europe, but this administration needs to stay the course and increase its focus and commitment to the Black Sea region. Russia must understand the costs of their adventurism in order to prevent further reckless behavior. – Middle East Institute


A conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region could trigger broader destablization in the country, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday as he warned that a dire humanitarian situation in the north was set to worsen. – Reuters

Ugandan former rebel commander Dominic Ongwen was convicted on Thursday of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual enslavement, abducting children, torture and pillaging. – Reuters

The trial of a suspected warlord accused of atrocities during Liberia’s civil war begins in Finland on Wednesday, the first such case to be partly heard on Liberian soil. – Agence France-Presse

Ethiopian authorities have arrested 15 people over a plot to attack the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) reported Wednesday. – Arutz Sheva

Latin America

Taiwan has opened a representative office in Guyana, the island’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, drawing praise from the United States which has worried about deepening Chinese influence in Latin America. – Reuters

The Biden administration on Wednesday reaffirmed U.S. recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president and ruled out negotiations anytime soon with President Nicolas Maduro, branding him a “dictator” and calling for free and fair elections. – Reuters

Eleven semi-automatic rifles and 12 magazines of ammunition seized in two Colombian police raids last month were destined for leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas in Venezuela, a high-ranking police source said on Wednesday. – Reuters

United States

A military coup in Myanmar and major street demonstrations against Russian strongman Vladimir Putin are presenting an early, double-pronged test of President Biden’s vow to put promoting democracy and human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy. – Washington Times

Border Patrol agents arrested 11 Iranians Monday after they snuck across the border into Arizona. – Washington Times

David E. Sanger writes: In the very different cases of Myanmar and Russia, Mr. Biden is about to discover how years of sanctions fatigue — exacerbated in the Trump administration — and a decline in American influence will make delivering on the promise much harder than when he served as vice president. But, especially in the case of Russia, he may also see some new opportunities. – New York Times

Adam Taylor writes: Some critics have asked, fairly, how the United States and its allies can expect to lecture anyone on democracy when their own systems are under strain. Autocratic leaders, meanwhile, suggest[…]. But no nation can exist in a bubble, spared from the broader shifts in geopolitics. And in the battle between democracy and autocracy, it looks like the latter is gaining ground. – Washington Post

Kenneth C. Brill writes: But for many of the most difficult national security challenges facing the U.S. in the decades ahead, American diplomacy must marry diplomatic art with scientific knowledge to successfully build the collaboration and produce the agreements that lead to meaningful actions that are in America’s interests and promote sustainable global prosperity and stability. Secretary Blinken will leave a constructive legacy if he succeeds in fully embedding science and technology within American diplomacy. – The Hill


President Joe Biden’s nominee for Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo said she knows of “no reason” why Huawei Technologies Co., ZTE Corp. and other Chinese companies shouldn’t remain on a restricted trade list. – Bloomberg

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) on Wednesday announced the establishment of a new cybersecurity-focused subcommittee on the panel. – The Hill

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the key federal group responsible for election security, is reevaluating its role in countering disinformation and misinformation after the agency stood up a web page to address misleading election claims last year. – The Hill


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday ordered a U.S. militarywide “stand-down” to address extremism in the ranks, an issue that has long stumped Pentagon leaders but came to the forefront after the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol. – The Hill

The Navy already has models of the Constellation-class frigate and the upcoming DDG(X) destroyer in the water at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock in Maryland and is using a new set of engineering best practices to guide the development of both programs, several Navy officials explained last week. – USNI News

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered hundreds of Pentagon advisory board members to resign this month as part of a broad review of the panels, essentially purging several dozen who were appointed last-minute under the Trump administration. – Associated Press

The U.S. Space Force is still in its early days, but leaders are already considering adding a new mission for Guardians: providing tactical satellite imagery for beyond-line-of-sight targeting. – C4ISRNET

The European theater “absolutely” needs a multidomain task force, according to Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who is in charge of U.S. Army Europe and Africa. But while the intent to deploy such a unit has existed for several years, little progress has been made. – Defense News

David Wright and Cameron L. Tracy write: Fears that a country might fall behind its adversaries in the hypersonic arena are exacerbating tensions between the United States, Russia and China and spawning a hypersonic arms race. This dynamic could add new weapons to global arsenals and prevent progress on serious nuclear arms control. Moreover, unsubstantiated beliefs about the military utility of hypersonic weapons are stifling arms control efforts to limit these systems before they proliferate.  – The Hill

Ben Kassel and Bruce Kaplan write: Operationalizing the DoD strategy requires work in other areas as well, particularly in removing intra- and inter-organizational stovepipes, and securing the data’s transmission and storage. But the first step toward a model-based sustainment enterprise is ensuring the availability of modern technical data. This need will only grow more crucial. Today’s sustainment practices too closely resemble those of 30 years ago, not what they should be 30 years from now. We’re already playing catch up. It’s time to view sustainment with 3D glasses. – C4ISRNET

Long War

With the group’s self-declared caliphate ousted from Iraq and then Syria, the need for U.S. airstrikes and ground troops has diminished, and Iraqi security forces are taking the lead on the next phase of the battle. – Washington Post

Canada on Wednesday declared the Proud Boys a terrorist entity, adding the far-right group to a list that includes al-Qaeda, ISIS and al-Shabab in an effort to crack down on “ideologically motivated violent extremism,” described by the country’s public safety minister as the “most significant threat to domestic security.” – Washington Post 

Ten troops were killed in Mali’s troubled central region early on Wednesday when their camp came under attack from jihadists, security sources said. – Agence France-Presse

An improvised explosive device killed four Tunisian soldiers patrolling in a mountain region near the Algerian border, Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zekri said on Wednesday. – Reuters