Fdd's overnight brief

January 13, 2021

In The News


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran on Tuesday of expanding its ties with al Qaeda by allowing senior operatives from the terrorist group to establish a new headquarters on its territory. – Wall Street Journal

Iran and Cuba have begun trials of a joint Covid-19 vaccine, as Tehran fights the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East while pledging not to use vaccines from the U.S. and U.K. – Wall Street Journal

The United States on Tuesday imposed counter terrorism sanctions on five people it tied to Iran, designating them each as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), according to the U.S. Treasury Department’s website. – Reuters

Iran must reverse its decision to enrich uranium at higher levels and give international diplomacy a chance to save the 2015 nuclear accord, the European Union said in a statement. – Reuters

Iran demands the removal of the so-called snapback mechanism in its nuclear accord, which could revive all U.N. sanctions against Tehran, in the event of new talks with world powers, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. – Reuters

Iran’s military launched a short-range naval missile drill on Wednesday, Iranian state TV reported, at a time of high tension between arch foes Tehran and Washington. – Reuters

General Hossein Salami, commander-in-Chief of the IRGC spoke about Iran’s ballistic missile capability on Al-Manar TV (Hizbullah-Lebanon) on January 7, 2021.  – Middle East Media Research Institute

Facebook has deleted Iran’s state media Press TV page off its platform Tuesday without any warning or explanation, according to the broadcaster.  – The Hill

Between the US, IDF Intelligence, the Mossad and others, the length of time it would take Iran to break out to a nuclear weapon if it wanted to now ranges from three months to two years. – Jerusalem Post

Arash Azizi writes: Abductions and executions seem to be aimed at complicating the resumption of talks under the Biden administration. President-elect Joe Biden must press Iran on its appalling campaign of kidnapping and execution, its policy of using arrested dual nationals as hostages while also keeping up the diplomatic engagement that could help sideline the hard-line factions in Tehran. – New York Times

Farzin Nadimi writes: Expected to pass the Majlis and be ratified by the Guardian Council in its entirety, the new bill is a good example of Iran’s continued terrorist, anti-American, and anti-Israeli intentions. Although the legislation does not signal anything new about the government’s activities or goals, it confirms and formally enshrines Tehran’s hostile policy orientation in clear, undeniable terms. Hence, the regime needs to be held accountable for the bill’s contents if it becomes law. With regard to Iraq, the United States needs to remind its local partners that—per Iran’s legislation—any money that Tehran makes from trading with its neighbor will partly finance efforts to kill Americans. – Washington Institute


Massive Israeli airstrikes after midnight Tuesday targeted a number of sites in Syria near the Iraq border, an area with a major Iranian military presence that is believed to be used by Tehran to move weapons throughout the region, Syrian media reported. – Times of Israel

The defense minister went up to the observation post on the Syrian front, where he was presented with a review of the IDF’s planned strategy of action from the division commander, and held a dialogue with the brigade commanders. – Jerusalem Post

Daphne McCurdy writes: To be sure, U.S. policy in Syria has been plagued by myriad contradictions and obstacles. To draw conclusive lessons from this case alone would be to overlook the many barriers to effective stabilization assistance that were present from the start. […]For U.S. policymakers looking to the future, and positioning for gray-zone competition elsewhere, reconciling the lessons of stabilization in eastern Syria, alongside other case studies, is imperative. – Center for Strategic and International Studies



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday his country is ready to put its frayed relationship with the European Union “back on track” and called on the 27-nation bloc to display the same determination. – Associated Press

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he hoped the resumption of talks between Turkey and Greece over maritime disputes would herald a new era, and he urged Athens not to escalate tensions in the region. – Reuters

Michael Peel and Laura Pitel write: A big moment will come later this year when Ms Merkel steps down from the premiership she has held since 2005 — the year the now-dormant EU accession talks with Ankara began. The question is whether her successor and other European leaders will still feel that the bond with Mr Erdogan’s Turkey is too strategic to break. – Financial Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Turkey’s leader counted on having unfettered access to the Trump administration. Now there are shifting policies in DC. […]Turkey fears that President-elect Joe Biden and his incoming team may not take orders from Ankara and may not welcome its threats. Turkey has stopped its aggressive behavior since learning of Biden’s victory, sensing the blank check to attack others has been reduced. – Jerusalem Post


France on Tuesday condemned Israel’s plan to advance construction of 800 more Jewish settler homes in the occupied West Bank in a move to cement the projects shortly before pro-settlement U.S. President Donald Trump leaves office. – Reuters

Working in close quarters, surrounded by maps of the Middle East, a small team based in Israel’s foreign ministry are focusing their sights on the Arab world. Their mission: using social media to convince Arabs to embrace the Jewish state. – Reuters

The rally was part of a series of steps the Young Settlements Forum, the Yesha Council and the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus has taken to press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to authorize the outposts. – Jerusalem Post

A Palestinian man tried to stab an Israeli policeman outside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs and was shot and wounded by the officers early Wednesday, police said. – Times of Israel

A Palestinian man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of trying to stab Israeli guards with a screwdriver at a West Bank crossing. – Times of Israel

Senior Hamas terror group official Moussa Abu Marzouk announced on Tuesday that Qatar will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip for another year. – Times of Israel

Days before US President Donald Trump’s term ends and under pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, a Jerusalem Municipality committee will convene Wednesday to grant approval to two different locations that could potentially become the home of the permanent US Embassy in Israel, according to a report Tuesday. – Times of Israel

As it does every year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) marked Palestinian Martyr Day (January 6) with events and activities glorifying the ethos of armed resistance against Israel and the actions of the “martyrs,” including terrorists who killed Israeli civilians and soldier. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: Israel’s diplomatic goals for the weeks and months ahead should be to cement the new relationships forged by the Abraham Accords, make sure concerns about Iran are heard by the new US administration and further strengthen the US-Israel strategic relationship. That is how Israel can best ensure its interests during this very delicate time. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

Kuwait’s cabinet ministers resigned after just a month in office, following a dispute with opposition lawmakers over issues including the re-election of parliament’s speaker. – Bloomberg

Britain spent £2.4m over the last four years to help Saudi Arabia’s military comply with international humanitarian law – during which time the Gulf state has been accused of indiscriminately bombing and killing Yemeni civilians. – The Guardian

Bobby Ghosh writes: If Haitham’s first year on the throne was bedeviled by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, his second is unlikely to provide much breathing room. Weak oil prices will be a constant reminder of the need to wean the Omani economy from its overwhelming dependence on a single commodity, a task made that much harder by increasingly fierce competition for investment and bond issuance across the GCC. For now, the sultan can only hope that the prospect of more rights and freedoms, and transparency about the monarchy’s future, will give his subjects some cause for optimism about their own. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt reopened its airspace to Qatari flights on Tuesday and will allow the resumption of air traffic between the two countries as part of a thaw in relations with the Gulf state, officials said. – Reuters

Lebanon will file an urgent complaint with the United Nations against what it calls “Israel’s daily violations of its airspace amid intensifying drone reconnaissance and mock raids around the country”, the president’s office said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Patricia Karam writes: Democracy is still fragile in Tunisia and challenges loom large. Prime Minister Mechichi must navigate tensions between the presidency and parliament. […]The collegial-adversarial model adopted by secular and Islamic-based political formations and unique in creating a common space is facing serious strain. Without addressing this rupture, Tunisia risks heading down, for the first time in its 10 years of democratic existence, a path of no return. – The Hill

Przemysław Osiewicz writes: The election of Biden has given EU officials reason to believe that in 2021, European and American interests in the Middle East will once again converge, recalling the hopes with which Europe welcomed the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and its support for his policies toward Europe and the Middle East. Now Europeans are counting on another positive change and the restoration of transatlantic unity, both more broadly as well as in regard to Middle East policy. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

During the party meeting, the first of its​ kind since 2016, Mr. Kim doubled down on his nuclear arms buildup, offering an unusually detailed list of weapons that ​the North was developing. – New York Times

Along the border with North Korea is a town where the sad legacy of war is perhaps best understood by looking at the crops in the field. – New York Times

What has happened to Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s influential sister? That is a question many who watch the cloistered, nuclear-armed country are wondering after she failed to appear in absolute leader Kim Jong Un’s newly released lineup for the country’s powerful Politburo in recent days. – Associated Press

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened a new rhetorical attack on their neighbor, slamming South Korea for spying on its actions during a rare party congress that included a military parade in Pyongyang. – Bloomberg

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview published Monday said President Trump’s summit meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea.”  – The Hill 


China’s economy has come roaring back from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, and its currency has joined the ride. – New York Times

China is battling its biggest coronavirus outbreak in months, imposing lockdowns on hard-hit areas, quarantining more than 20 million people and urging citizens to forgo unnecessary travel as the Lunar New Year holiday approaches in February. – Wall Street Journal

Canada joined Britain on Tuesday in announcing steps to ban the import of goods it said were made by Chinese forced labor in the Xinjiang region, a move likely to exacerbate tension with Beijing. – Reuters

The Trump administration declassified its strategy to ensure continued dominance over China, which focuses on accelerating India’s rise as a counterweight to Beijing and the ability to defend Taiwan against an attack. – Bloomberg

The stand-off, which has sparked rampant speculation about Mr Ma’s whereabouts, could become a defining moment for the future of private business in Mr Xi’s China. – Financial Times

Joseph Bosco writes: Biden’s challenge will be to lead from the front — America’s normal place — in the same cooperative spirit that carried the West to victory in World War II and the first Cold War, but not to allow an individual government or two veto power over the common effort. […]If the test of Biden’s multilateralism, and its commitment to human rights, is “stability” and “calm” in China’s relations with the West, it will be doomed to fail. For actual change to occur in Beijing’s approach to the world, and in its domestic rule, constantly resisting the former and stirring the pot on the latter will be essential to progress. – The Hill

Adam Minter writes: The best thing China could do to change that dynamic would be to ease its control of Covid-19 research and give the country’s talented scientists an opportunity to solve the pandemic’s mysteries. The short-term politics might be uncomfortable, but the benefits to global public health, and China’s reputation, could be historic. – Bloomberg

Jesse Fried writes: Going forward, Trump’s no-buy order should be applied only when it actually stands a chance of affecting China’s military capabilities — which may well be never. […]This more nuanced approach does not send as strong a message to China, making it less politically attractive. But it is likely to better advance US interests, which are currently being sacrificed for anti-China grandstanding. – Financial Times

Michael Rubin writes: The danger for the United States and the broader international community is that a dictator like Xi might lash out militarily to distract from his and the Communist Party’s failures. Certainly, this is something for which the Biden administration should prepare. In the meantime, however, make no mistake: Time is on America’s side. There is no substitute for freedom.  – The National Interest

Marco Marsans writes: Where exactly China’s fintech revolution will lead is not yet wholly clear. What is clear, in the words of Dr. Julian Gruin, is that “the image of China’s financial system as deeply repressed and dominated by a few large state-owned commercial banks is rapidly becoming outdated.” In its place, a new, decentralized fintech ecosystem is emerging — one better poised to unlock the economic potential of China’s banked, unbanked, and foreigners alike. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Some officials worry that at least some of the attacks are being committed by political factions outside the Taliban to settle old scores, a disturbing trend harking back to Afghanistan’s civil war a generation ago. – New York Times

A White House campaign to tighten ties with Taiwan is set to culminate in an 11th-hour visit to the island by a senior U.S. diplomat this week, forcing Beijing into a tricky balancing act as it seeks improved ties with the incoming Biden administration. – Wall Street Journal

A cancellation of all travel by the U.S. State Department this week includes a planned visit to Taiwan by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, a State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

One of the Hong Kong people detained in China last year for illegal border crossing appeared in one of the city’s courts on Wednesday to hear charges of arson and possession of offensive weapons related to the anti-government protests of 2019. – Reuters

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it “understood and respected” a decision by the U.S. State Department to cancel a visit to the island by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft. – Reuters

Australia’s treasurer on Wednesday declined to comment on whether he had intended to block a Chinese state-owned company’s takeover of an Australian-based construction company in a development likely to increase strain on bilateral relations. – Associated Press

Chinese state media urged action to keep Hong Kong elections from becoming a “tool for anti-China and trouble-making forces,” raising the prospects for more measures to curb dissent in the Asian financial hub. – Bloomberg

Joe Biden is poised to name Kurt Campbell, a veteran foreign policy expert, to serve in the newly created role of Asia tsar, in a move designed to reflect the growing importance of US-China relations. – Financial Times

The first expatriate to be arrested under Hong Kong’s new national security law has appealed to local democracy activists not to give up hope, comparing their movement with Ireland’s struggle for self-rule.- Financial Times

Australia’s acting prime minister on Tuesday doubled down on his comments comparing last week’s pro-Trumb mob attack on the Capitol to last summer’s Black Lives Matter racial justice protests across the U.S.  – The Hill

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s priorities are paving the way for it to pursue goals laid out in the Navy’s new Navigation Plan, the combatant command’s chief said Tuesday. – USNI News

Jillian Kay Melchior writes: Messrs. Rohden, Storgaard and Elbæk are discovering firsthand what Mr. Hui means. Under the national-security law, the Communist Party asserts the authority to go after foreigners, including for speech or activities that occur outside Chinese territory. In one of the first tests of these claims of extraterritorial jurisdiction, Beijing’s puppets are threatening to go after the Danes who helped Mr. Hui escape. – Wall Street Journal

Patricia Pan Connor writes: The Biden administration would be wise to consolidate its bargaining power with Europe. It should prevail upon the EU not to ratify its new investment agreement in light of recent events. The U.S., Europe, and other democratic countries account for over half of the world’s GDP. Acting in unison, they can curb China’s human rights violations and protect the precious civil liberties of a democratic people. Indeed, by supporting Hong Kong, we act to preserve our own precious way of life. – Washington Examiner 


Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who has been in Germany for months recovering from a nerve-agent attack that Western officials say was carried out by the Russian state, said on Wednesday that he would return to Russia this weekend despite the threat of being jailed upon arrival. – New York Times

The Nord Stream 2 subsea gas pipeline to Germany will be completed despite pressure from the United States, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia is “militarizing” its Northern Flank and heavily investing in defenses and resources specific to the Arctic region as part of a transparent effort to increase its strategic position, influence and economic advantage along its heavily trafficked Northern Sea Route which borders large portions of the region. – The National Interest

Retired Brig. Gen. Peter Zwack writes: While arguing the necessity for keeping consulates open within important regions, in the case of Russia, the new Biden foreign policy team should early-on re-address this Trump administration decision, as it develops its initial policy positions regarding a difficult, challenging Kremlin. – The Hill


Europe’s top digital enforcer said Tuesday that she didn’t understand why Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks had waited so long to bar President Trump from their platforms — but she also said that a broad proposal in Europe to rein in digital giants would give banned users the opportunity to appeal such decisions. – Washington Post

French prosecutors are investigating complaints by Jewish groups in the eastern city of Strasbourg that one or more delivery drivers refused to take orders of kosher food. – Associated Press

Estonia’s prime minister has handed in his resignation to the Baltic country’s president after a corruption scandal investigated by the police and prosecutors in his Center Party led to key party officials resigning overnight. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled his Europe trip at the last minute on Tuesday after Luxembourg’s foreign minister and top European Union officials declined to meet with him, European and U.S. diplomats familiar with the matter said. – Reuters

Hungary has ignored complaints about its practice of escorting undocumented immigrants back across the border to Serbia without due process, a watchdog group said on Tuesday after it raised the alarm about the ongoing human rights violations. – Reuters

The European Union will pursue a more aggressive European space strategy to prevent being muscled out by U.S. and Chinese launcher technology, setting up an European alliance with industry this year, a EU official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Greek lawmakers will vote this week on a bill opening the way for the purchase of 18 Dassault-made Rafale fighter jets from France for a total of 2.5 billion euros ($3.04 billion). – Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to host a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next month as he starts his presidency of the wealthy nations’ forum at a pivotal moment for the U.K. and the global economy. – Bloomberg

Joshua B. Spero writes: PfP gives policymakers and leaders practical tools to resolving confounding problems. The 1995-96 NATO-United Nations coordination included U.S., Russian, German, and French forces, and finally stopped the Bosnian war in former Yugoslavia. Given the early 21st Century’s myriad challenges, PfP’s foundation can bridge both the transatlantic and the British-European divides. Creatively employed, PfP might reinforce peaceful competition for better crisis management. – The Hill


When Ugandans head to the polls Thursday, 76-year-old Mr. Museveni will face the gravest threat to his rule from Bobi Wine, a 38-year-old musician whose campaign has struck a chord with many of the 18 million voters in one of the world’s most youthful nations. – Wall Street Journal

Ethiopia warned Sudan on Tuesday it was running out of patience with its neighbour’s continued military build-up in a disputed border area despite attempts to diffuse tensions with diplomacy. – Reuters

Abdou was one of six rangers killed on Sunday in an ambush in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas that is also home to dozens of armed groups. – Reuters

Latin America

The Cuban government accused Washington of hypocrisy, and called the label an act of “political opportunism” by President Trump to obstruct relations between Cuba and the incoming administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. – New York Times

However, the socialist leader’s much-anticipated fall from grace never really happened and two years on, Maduro remains firmly inside the Presidential Palace, presiding over a grave humanitarian crisis and dizzying economic degradation. – Fox News

Editorial: Outside the Western Hemisphere, Havana’s allies include Syria, Iran and North Korea. In May 2020 State certified Cuba, under the Arms Export Control Act, as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Cuba will attempt to coax Joe Biden to resume Mr. Obama’s courtship, but the regime never honored its promises at home or abroad. Cuba belongs on the terror list. – Wall Street Journal

North America

The nation’s military leadership on Tuesday denounced last week’s storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob as a plot to overthrow the government, while federal prosecutors said they were examining more than 160 cases and weighing sedition charges in some of them. – Wall Street Journal

Vice President Mike Pence rejected a push from Democrats to invoke the 25th Amendment to oust President Trump over his role in the Capitol riot, setting in motion a House vote Wednesday to impeach the president during his final week in office, this time with the support of some Republicans. – Wall Street Journal

A day before rioters stormed Congress, an FBI office in Virginia issued an explicit warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and “war,” according to an internal document reviewed by The Washington Post that contradicts a senior official’s declaration the bureau had no intelligence indicating anyone at last week’s demonstrations in support of President Trump planned to do harm. – Washington Post

Federal authorities arrested a Chicago resident Tuesday who is accused of threatening to commit violence at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. – The Hill

The FBI said Tuesday it has arrested a Georgia man in Washington, D.C., who allegedly threatened to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). – The Hill

An executive for Chinese tech giant Huawei, facing extradition to the United States on fraud charges, on Tuesday asked a Canadian court to ease her bail conditions, citing Covid-19 fears. – Agence France-Presse


A breach at email security provider Mimecast Inc. underscores that Russia-linked hackers appear to have targeted victims along multiple avenues of attack in what is shaping up to be one of the most successful cyber campaigns of U.S. government and corporate systems. – Wall Street Journal

SolarWinds Corp. SWI -0.67% said a computer breach tied to Russia-linked hackers who accessed U.S. government systems and corporate networks after manipulating some of the software provider’s code began at least a month earlier than first disclosed. – Wall Street Journal

While intelligence officials said Jan. 5 the hack is an espionage campaign, confirming Russia as the likely source, the two recent reports alerted the community that hackers could disrupt weapons systems by attacking through the supply chain. – C4ISRNET

Northrop Grumman announced an Air Force award to complete a project for the electronic warfare suite for the F-16 fighter jet. The goal of the prototyping is to protect pilots from increasing radio frequency-guided weapons by detecting, identifying and defeating them, a Jan. 11 announcement from Northrop said. – C4ISRNET

But if the platforms hoped to stave off the threat of regulation from Democrats — who last week secured control of the Senate to add to the House of Representatives and the White House — they look to have been unsuccessful. – Financial Times

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on Tuesday announced the establishment of a National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Office as part of an effort by the Trump administration to prioritize AI.  – The Hill

Efforts to boost election security are likely to gain traction in the new Congress, as Democrats who have pushed for election reform take control of both chambers and the White House. – The Hill


But over the next few weeks, Air Force leaders are aiming to finally answer looming questions about ABMS and transition it into more of a traditional defense program, all in the hopes that both Congress and the Biden administration carry it forward. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Navy’s next-generation frigate, the Constellation class, is a do-or-die effort for the service and a critical test of its return to building ships around existing technologies rather than designing them around technologies in development. – Defense News

The chief of naval operation’s new call to focus on sea control and power projection could lead the service to shed other non-core missions the Navy conducts today, such as manning Aegis Ashore missile defense sites. The biggest problem is, no one else has agreed to take over that mission yet. – USNI News

Long War

The U.N. counter-terrorism chief warned Tuesday that terrorists are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and appealing to new “racially, ethnically and politically motivated violent extremist groups.” – Associated Press

Jordan on Tuesday sentenced a man to death by hanging for a 2019 stabbing attack at a popular tourist site that wounded eight people, including foreign tourists and their guide. – Associated Press

Mozambique and Tanzania are strengthening their relations to fight cross-border terrorism ahead of a regional summit on the insurgency that threatens almost $60 billion of natural gas projects. – Bloomberg