Fdd's overnight brief

January 15, 2021

In The News


Since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from a multilateral agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s atomic ambitions, Tehran has moved steadily to step up uranium enrichment and, most recently, said it was starting work to produce a key material used in nuclear warheads. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s navy identified a foreign submarine during military drills in the northern Indian Ocean, the semi-official ُTasnim news agency reported, weeks after the U.S. had deployed one to the region as a warning to the Islamic Republic. – Bloomberg 

Days before President-elect Joe Biden is set take office, Iran has said it plans to further reduce its compliance with the nuclear deal aimed at preventing it from getting a nuclear weapon. – NBC News 

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency confirmed Thursday that Iran has informed it the country has begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal, which would be another violation of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers. – Associated Press

Ardavan Khoshnood writes: The current regime does not fear either a foreign or a domestic attempt at regime change after Khamenei´s demise because it knows that no such actors, either within or without the country, have either the resources or the leadership to conduct such a project. What the regime does fear is public unrest following Khamenei´s death. – BESA Center  

Simon Henderson writes: Whatever the current status of Iran’s facilities, the nuclear issue is likely to be the Biden administration’s first foreign policy test. Ultimately, the United States holds the best hand, but Iran may still be able to play the game quite well even with a weak hand. – Washington Institute

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: If Biden does call the Islamic Republic’s bluff, it will show that they overplayed their hand, and a number of their demands and potential future deadlines will be revealed as paper tigers. This would set a tone for the Biden administration to handle Iran differently than the Obama administration, even if it might not check all of Israel’s important concerns. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: When it comes to loitering munitions, Iranian technology helped the Houthis build the Qasef and Samad series of drones, some of which have a long range. These have links to the Iranian Ababil drone series. Iran also has something called the Raad and Karrar, which are more like cruise missiles. – Jerusalem Post 

Ilan I. Berman writes: The end result is nothing short of a game changer in counterterrorism terms. For American allies in the region, who could be targeted by Iran and al-Qaida working in tandem, the implications of this development are undoubtedly dire. But the Iran-al-Qaida partnership also represents a danger to the nascent normalization wave between Israel and the Arab states — the momentum of which could be blunted if al-Qaida, with Iranian backing, takes serious steps to destabilize the region anew. – USA Today


Even though Israel prefers to keep silent regarding these strikes, defense establishment sources say that the attack occurred against the backdrop of Iranian entrenchment on the Syria-Iraq border, and rising tensions in the region ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden taking office. – Haaretz

Amos Harel writes: The move looks like a renewed Israeli effort to disrupt Iran’s efforts to send weapons and Shi’ite militiamen via Iraq into eastern Syria. The raids also send a message to the whole region: Israel will continue to attack based on its operational needs, regardless of the transfer of power in the United States and the Biden administration’s intention to renew talks with Iran on the nuclear deal from which Trump’s team  withdrew in May 2018. – Haaretz 

Avi Issacharoff writes: But with Iran ingratiating itself deeper and deeper within Syria, the question should not be whether Assad wants to remove Iran, but whether it is even possible anymore to disentangle Syria from the Shiite axis and bring it back into the fold. – Times of Israel 


President Trump has ordered that the major U.S. military command for the Middle East be expanded to include Israel, in a last-minute reorganization of the American defense structure that pro-Israel groups have long advocated to encourage cooperation against Iran, U.S. officials said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal 

In recent weeks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has taken several significant decisions aimed at returning to the negotiating table with Israel with a tailwind of support from the incoming US administration. – Jerusalem Post 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top challenger in upcoming elections is promising a tough line toward Iran and the Palestinians, yet expressed confidence he has the tools to avoid what appears to be a collision course with the incoming Biden administration. – Associated Press 

The Israel Defense Forces is drawing up plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israel Hayom daily reported Thursday in a front-page article. – Times of Israel

Israel’s energy minister held a video conference call with his counterparts in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain for the first time on Thursday, according to a statement from his office. – Reuters 

Israel is revising military options for a possible clash with Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government braces for differences with the incoming U.S. administration on Iranian nuclear policy. – Reuters

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which serves Palestinian refugees, admitted on Thursday that its educational materials contain exhortations to violence, hate speech, and terrorism that violate UN regulations. – Algemeiner 

Ruthie Blum writes: Israel needs to prepare for this new reality in which its ability to combat Iranian forces and proxy groups is concerned. The Democrats in the White House, State Department and Capitol building are lying in wait to lead the world, as Obama proudly did, “from behind.” – Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz writes: Israel understands that the US relationship is going to change. It knows that what took place under Trump will no longer be the same. Nevertheless, it is trying to influence the process now to get Biden, Blinken and Sullivan to take Israel’s security needs into account. – Jerusalem Post  

David M. Weinberg writes: History will properly credit the Trump administration with a Middle East strategy that brought about the beginning of the end of the Arab-Israel conflict. Scholars of diplomacy ultimately will acknowledge that the administration helped birth a dynamic that makes the Middle East and the entire Western world, and of course Israel, a brighter and more secure place to live. – Jerusalem Post 

Daoud Kuttab writes: Social norms in Palestine are changing. People are increasingly less willing to accept “the other” and more willing to accept fake news as fact without further investigation. The incident also reflected the fragility of a Palestinian government that was unable or unwilling to take responsibility for its decision to allow the concert. Palestinian leadership failed in several ways. […]Whether the leadership erred by giving permission in the first place is another question, one that, if posed to a group of Palestinians, would surely lead to a revealing debate about the state of their society. – Middle East Institute

Arabian Peninsula

U.N. officials say that the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization could choke food deliveries to Yemen, where millions face starvation. – New York Times 

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan on Thursday denounced Iran’s “interventions” in the Middle East region, after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. – Reuters 

Yemen’s Houthi movement will not walk away from peace talks with the United Nations and Saudi Arabia despite the U.S. decision to designate the Iran-aligned group as a foreign terrorist organisation, the Houthi chief negotiator told Reuters. – Reuters

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it feared that the U.S. designation of Houthi fighters in Yemen as a terrorist group would lead to a “chilling effect” on delivering vital aid to sick and starving civilians. – Reuters

Insurers are set to raise the cost of providing cover for merchant ships through the Red Sea after a series of incidents that have hit vessels around Saudi Arabian waters, industry sources said. – Reuters 

In a December 22, 2020 article in the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi journalist Mishaal al-Sudairy wrote that Israeli Arabs are not likely to renounce their Israeli citizenship, since their situation in the country is good: they are part of the Israeli economy, working as doctors, lawyers and artists, among other professions – Middle East Media Research Institute

Jonathan Spyer writes: Tehran is obviously indifferent to such designations. A number of aid agencies expressed concern that the designation might make it harder for the transfer of food and humanitarian aid into Houthi-controlled areas. But perhaps what the move reveals most clearly is concern on the part of Pompeo and his team that much of the momentum built up regarding pressure on Iran and its proxies is now set to go to waste. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

Global appetite for oil will remain subdued in the first quarter of 2021 due to coronavirus lockdown measures and rising infection rates, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

Oman started selling U.S. dollar-denominated multi-tranche bonds on Thursday, a document showed, as the debt-burdened Gulf oil producer seeks fresh funding to cover a large fiscal shortfall. – Reuters 

Qatar has released a bodybuilding champion and two other Bahrainis who had been detained during fishing trips, Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

Wine produced in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and labelled “from the land of Israel” will soon be available for sale in the United Arab Emirates, settler business leaders said. Palestinians have condemned the export deal, saying settlements are illegal under international law, a view shared by many countries but disputed by Israel. – Reuters 

Amr Adly writes: The rulers of the UAE and Qatar have used their advantages to pursue ambitious foreign policies, while the smaller sheikhdoms have been more cautious. Now reconnected by the end of the embargo, the UAE and Qatar may be no closer to reconciling their differences, but their rulers would do well to reflect on what they have in common. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Emirates has shown unprecedented leadership in the region in this regard. Its leadership is also part of a global trend in many non-Western countries, where anti-Jewish attacks are less than in Western countries. The UAE and its approach represent a potentially historic global shift. – Jerusalem Post 

Haisam Hassanein writes: Egyptian officials are highly skeptical of Qatar’s commitment to the reconciliation pact and seem convinced that Saudi Arabia will not punish Doha if it violates the agreement. Indeed, a nightmare scenario for Cairo would be Doha stopping its media attacks against the Saudis while continuing its campaign against Sisi. […]Given these concerns, Cairo’s antagonism toward Qatar will likely persist when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood and other regional issues, and could escalate into another crisis down the road if a Gulf state backs Cairo’s claims. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans to appoint veteran diplomat Jan Kubis as his envoy in Libya nearly a year after the last mediator stepped down, according to a letter to the U.N. Security Council seen by Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

Israeli airstrikes in eastern Syria early Wednesday were “extensive, deep in Syrian territory, targeting a wide variety of targets connected to Iran and its proxies,” explained Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin on Twitter after the attacks. – Algemeiner 

Students and lecturers at a top Turkish university have entered a second week of protests against their state-appointed rector, fearing that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s expanding reach onto campuses will crush what remains of academic freedom. – Politico

Andrew England writes: Even the most successful Arab spring experiment underscores how hard it is for countries to emerge from dictatorship. Tunisia has many elements of stability that have eluded others. The military is not powerful enough to meddle in politics. The main Islamist movement, aware of the regional dynamics, was quick to rebrand as a Muslim democratic party and cooperate with secular parties. There is also a vibrant civil society and greater social freedoms. – Financial Times

Jay Solomon writes: Successive U.S. administrations, for more than 70 years and from both parties, have made the integration of Israel into the broader Middle East a cornerstone of American foreign policy. Now that it’s happening, Washington shouldn’t be a barrier to its expansion, but seek to underpin it. President-elect Biden has a unique position to shape this new Middle East in a way that best advances U.S. interests. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea displayed what appeared to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at a parade on Thursday night, state media reported, capping more than a week of political meetings with a show of military might. – Reuters 

South Korea has asked Qatar for “maximum support” to secure the release of an oil tanker seized by Iran this month. Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Kun made the appeal during a visit to Doha, the Qatari capital. He met Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday. – Bloomberg 

Throughout the year of 2020, 5G rolled out across the United States and much of the world, sometimes to great (if unearned) controversy. But in North Korea, however, is still stuck on 3G. – The National Interest 


With its days in power numbered, the Trump administration’s Commerce Department moved ahead Thursday with rules to let the U.S. block purchases of communications technology from China and five other countries deemed foreign adversaries. – Wall Street Journal

National security police in Hong Kong investigating a foiled speedboat escape by fugitives arrested a group of people suspected of helping them, casting a wider net in a case that has already rattled activists in the city and drawn international condemnation. – Wall Street Journal

Two members of a World Health Organization mission to China to study the origins of the coronavirus failed to clear Beijing’s health-screening procedures and were blocked from traveling to the country on Thursday, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal

Smartphone giant Xiaomi Corp. became the latest Chinese technology group to be targeted by the Trump administration, with its surprise addition to a U.S. investment blacklist sending its shares sharply lower. – Wall Street Journal

A new executive order by President Trump attempts to clear up questions about what American investors must do to divest securities of a growing list of companies that the U.S. says help the Chinese military. – Wall Street Journal

A Hong Kong Internet service provider on Thursday said it had blocked access to a pro-democracy website to comply with the city’s national security law. – Fox News 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged nations around the world to maintain a unified front against Chinese detentions of foreign citizens, saying every country was vulnerable. – Reuters 

President Xi Jinping is asking former CEO Howard Schultz of Starbucks to help repair U.S.-Chinese relations that have plunged to their lowest level in decades amid a tariff war and tension over technology and security. – Associated Press 

China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang, a bipartisan commission of the U.S. Congress said in a report on Thursday. – Reuters

Shares in Xiaomi collapsed on Friday after the United States blacklisted the smartphone giant and a host of other Chinese firms as the Trump administration aims to cement its trade war legacy against Beijing. – Agence France-Presse 

On December 14, 2020, the Communist Party of China inaugurated several 法治反邪教主题公园 (“Rule of Law And Anti-Heterodox Teachings Recreational Parks,”) at Qiantang New District in Hangzhou, in a bid to “form a strong atmosphere of consciously resisting the harm of 邪教 [xie jiao, or “heterodox teachings”] and upholding the rule of law.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

By the end of the decade, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) could operate three aircraft carriers, two of which were built domestically. Its first operational carrier, Liaoning, actually began life as Soviet Navy Project 11435 Kuznetsov-class heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Varyag in the late 1980s—and it was one of two former Soviet vessels purchased by Beijing to jumpstart a Chinese domestic carrier program. – The National Interest 

Minxin Pei writes: For its part, the Biden administration should undertake a thorough review of the steps taken in the waning days of the Trump administration and consider suspending, modifying or reversing measures that are of questionable utility and difficult to implement (such as bans on WeChat and TikTok and visa restrictions against members of the Chinese Communist Party). Taking such steps would cost each leader a moderate amount of political capital. Avoiding them in hopes that the relationship will stumble along regardless could cost the U.S. and China far more. – Bloomberg

Derek Scissors writes: PRC entities can acquire advanced American technology, which should not be permitted. But there’s been no rush of predatory spending during the pandemic. Policymakers should turn to technology lost through exports and soaring American portfolio investment in China. The latter can support Chinese technology and is in the many hundreds of billions of dollars when routing through the Caymans is included. Export control reform passed in summer 2018 has been largely stalled on illegitimate grounds.7 American policy needs more transparency and enforcement. – American Enterprise Institute


With the US due to complete the withdrawal of another 2,500 troops from Afghanistan, the Afghan vice-president tells the BBC the US made a mistake in conceding too much to the Taliban. – BBC 

Afghan forces killed a provincial council member suspected of ties with the Taliban during a gunbattle in western Ghor province, the Afghan intelligence service said late Thursday. – Associated Press 

Peace talks between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban have been painstakingly slow, bogged down for months by disagreements over minor issues. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

South Asia

A large fire tore through a crowded Rohingya camp in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh on Thursday, destroying hundreds of ramshackle shelters and forcing thousands of displaced Muslim refugees to flee in the winter chill. – New York Times 

The display of unity by the new generation of leaders from Pakistan’s most powerful political families was a show of strength at a time when 10 opposition parties have banded together as the Pakistan Democratic Movement to take on Imran Khan’s government. – Financial Times

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging Pakistan’s government to “disown” a “hate and defamation campaign” against two British media outlets and to prosecute those who have threatened their journalists. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Three Pakistani soldiers were killed on January 14 in an exchange of fire with militants in the country’s North Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border, the military said in a statement. – Radio Mashaal

Regional authorities in northwestern Pakistan say they have sacked or suspended dozens of police officials for failing to protect a century-old Hindu shrine from a mob attack last month. – Radio Mashaal


The Trump administration on Thursday imposed new sanctions on Chinese officials over Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The penalties are yet another Trump administration move that may make President-elect Joe Biden’s diplomacy with China more difficult when he takes office next week. – Associated Press 

A Chinese research vessel has been identified in the waters of Indonesia with its tracking system turned off, authorities said on Thursday, amid concerns in the region about Beijing’s maritime conduct. – Reuters

A high-profile Japanese cabinet minister said on Thursday he was shocked at last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol, urging Washington to resume its global role as a “champion of democratic values” and the rule of law. – Reuters

A Hong Kong internet service provider has for the first time blocked a pro-democracy website under a new security law, raising concerns the financial hub is implementing mainland China-style limits on internet freedom. – Financial Times

Ben Weingarten writes: History ought to shine brightly on the Trump administration for its substantive and symbolic moves with respect to Taiwan, including its calling into question the foreign policy establishment’s sacrosanct concept of “One China” itself. In so doing, the administration rejected the China-accommodating—and therefore China-empowering—status quo. – Newsweek 


Russia’s prison service said Thursday that top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny faces immediate arrest once he returns from Germany. – Associated Press 

Russia’s Armed Forces wield a powerful, and growing, arsenal of road mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that will continue to occupy a prominent plank of the Kremlin’s nuclear modernization strategy. – The National Interest 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says the Russian authorities should repeal the controversial “foreign agents” law and ensure that national telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor is not used to threaten and harass media organizations and censure journalists. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The judges at the trial of a civil rights activist from Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan for mocking President Vladimir Putin and two of his close associates in a YouTube video have banned journalists from attending the proceedings, saying they were adhering to restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The charismatic Navalny has made effective use of the Internet over the years and has a massive following online. Russians naturally took to social media to weigh in on Navalny’s momentous decision — one writer called it “a hellish choice” — and on what could come next. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Editorial: If Mr Navalny goes ahead and is detained, the west should signal a robust stance towards any prison term. It may be too late to stop the egregious Nord Stream II gas pipeline. […]Western capitals meanwhile should make clear they will respond with much tougher sanctions than the paltry measures against a few senior Russians that followed his attempted assassination. – Financial Times

George Barros writes: Belarus’ acquisition of S-400 systems poses a significant threat to US national security. The Kremlin likely seeks to integrate Belarus’ currently independent air defense systems into Russia’s own national air defense system, which would give Moscow control over their employment. The Kremlin likely seeks to deploy new and control existing anti-access/area denial weapon systems in Belarus to contest NATO and Eastern European airspace more than it already does with systems deployed in Kaliningrad.Such integration would degrade NATO’s ability to defend the Baltics—a risk ISW forecasted in September 2020. – Institute for the Study of War

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: Navalny’s poisoning has been a sobering reminder of how little room there is for voices criticizing the president or his elite. That suggests that even a repeat of August’s unfortunate episode isn’t unthinkable for the man Putin prefers to call the Berlin patient. – Bloomberg


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a lot of nice things about Donald Trump over the years, from expressing admiration for the U.S. president to suggesting he might be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. But after a mob of Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Johnson has changed his tune. – Associated Press 

Greek lawmakers approved the purchase of 18 Dassault-made Rafale jets from France for 2.5 billion euros ($3.04 billion) on Thursday, in a deal due to be signed by the Greek and French defence ministers later this month. – Reuters

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear part of a case brought by Ukraine alleging Russian human rights violations in the Crimea peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, the court said on Thursday. – Reuters

The political turmoil in the United States, where Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, has served as an alarm to Western democracies, France’s finance minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Scottish nationalists are on course to win a record majority in elections for Scotland’s devolved parliament that would start a new push for independence, an opinion poll published on Thursday showed. – Reuters

Greece is pushing to return 1,450 people currently in migrant reception centres on Lesbos and other Aegean islands to Turkey, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Thursday, calling on Ankara to respect asylum agreements with the European Union. – Reuters

European leaders are pushing for vaccine passports, like those trialed in the United Kingdom, to standardize a system across the continent. – Washington Examiner 

Despite repeated pledges to create a more balanced economic playing field with China, the EU has ultimately taken a softer approach to Beijing’s subsidies in a trade deal secured at the end of last year than it did toward Britain in the post-Brexit accord. – Politico

Robert Shrimsley writes: It is not that British democracy is suddenly in peril but that stability is being taken for granted. We are further down the US path of polarisation than we might wish — which is why a commitment to the rule book is so vital. The lesson is that the UK needs to step back from the “whatever it takes” carelessness with the constitution and towards the shared restatement of the core principles and institutions of its democracy. The US has offered a vision of a future for countries that lose sight of those values. – Financial Times

Philip Stephens writes: So the reckoning must begin with a touch of humility — how best, in reduced circumstance, can Britain promote its core concerns and objectives. […]Making a difference, though, demands the insight shown by Tizard more than 70 years ago. The days of great power posturing have passed. As for Europe, history as well as geography and geopolitics tells us that sooner or later Britain will be drawn back to its own continent. – Financial Times


Ugandans voted on Thursday amid heightened security and an internet shutdown after a hotly contested and violent race in which a youthful rapper-turned-lawmaker is attempting to unseat one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. – Wall Street Journal

Longtime leader President Yoweri Museveni is facing his toughest challenge ever, and has used all the levers of power at his disposal to try to overcome 10 rivals — including Bobi Wine, a popular lawmaker and musician. – New York Times 

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni took an early lead in the presidential election race, according to preliminary results released on Friday morning by the electoral commission. – Reuters

Forty-six civilians are reported to have been killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a senior provincial official said on Thursday. – Reuters

There have been major violations of international law at two refugee camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United Nations on Thursday called for an investigation after Reuters reported that Cameroonian soldiers opened fire on fleeing civilians during a weekend raid, killing up to nine people. – Reuters

The Americas

Three months after Mexico’s former defense minister was arrested in Los Angeles on drug-trafficking charges — a shocking move that would strain U.S.-Mexican relations — the case came to a close on Thursday night, after Mexican authorities decided not to pursue charges against Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos. – Washington Post 

The Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, wanted by the United States on fraud charges, has already been leading a cushy life in her gated, seven-bedroom mansion in Vancouver, out on $8 million in bail and awaiting the outcome of her extradition hearing. – New York Times 

Haiti braced for a fresh round of widespread protests starting Friday, with opposition leaders demanding that President Jovenel Moïse step down next month, worried he is amassing too much power as he enters his second year of rule by decree. – Associated Press 

For more than 60 years, Cuba supplied at least some rice, milk, beans, sugar, chicken, electrical power and even cigarettes to its people nearly free of cost regardless of whether they worked, allowing many to survive without a job or depend solely on remittances. – Associated Press 

To talk to Maduro or not: That’s the vexing question facing the incoming Biden administration as it re-evaluates a U.S. policy that has rallied exile hardliners in Miami but done little to cleave Maduro’s grip on power or ease the suffering of regular Venezuelans. – Associated Press 

Lawyers for Venezuela’s central bank on Thursday said opposition leader Juan Guaido rejected a proposed deal to buy coronavirus vaccines in Britain, an assertion the opposition dismissed as false. – Reuters

The Colombian government said on Thursday that it was pressing ahead with the reintegration into society of demobilized FARC guerrillas, and that they should not be dissuaded from continuing in the process by attacks on former rebels. – Reuters

Mexico on Thursday published rules implementing a new law on foreign agents, such as U.S. drug-enforcement officials, watering down legislation that caused major friction with the United States and raised fears it could block counter-narcotics cooperation. – Reuters

The US International Development Finance Corporation has struck a deal that will help Ecuador repay billions of dollars in loans to China and boost development in exchange for excluding Chinese companies from its telecom networks. – Financial Times

United States

Dozens of people on a terrorist watch list were in Washington for pro-Trump events Jan. 6, a day that ended in a chaotic crime rampage when a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, according to people familiar with evidence gathered in the FBI’s investigation. – Washington Post 

President Trump’s incitement of his supporters before their attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 has galvanized a nationwide extremist movement and fueled those determined to disrupt the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden and violently challenge the legitimacy of the election for months — and possibly years, according to U.S. officials and independent experts. – Washington Post 

Federal prosecutors charged a high-profile Massachusetts Institute of Technology mechanical engineering professor with fraud Thursday, alleging he failed to disclose extensive ties to and funding from the Chinese government in grant applications to the U.S. Department of Energy. – Wall Street Journal

A rehearsal for Joe Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed because of security concerns, according to two people with knowledge of the decision. – Politico 

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist has been asked to serve as the acting secretary of defense for President-elect Joe Biden until a permanent Pentagon chief can be confirmed by the Senate, U.S. officials said Thursday. – Associated Press 

The United States has charged 14 leaders of the international criminal gang MS-13 on terrorism charges, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday, part of an intensified crackdown on the group. – Reuters

The FBI director has warned of the risk of “potential armed protests” surrounding Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration next week, saying government buildings and officials in Washington and in state capitals appear to be the targets for extremist groups. – Financial Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is pushing through last-minute foreign policy decisions ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration as part of an effort to cement his and the Trump administration’s legacy in their final tumultuous and violent days in office. – The Hill

A trove of documents related to the origins of the “Russiagate” probe, the U.S. intelligence community’s widely scrutinized investigation of alleged collusion between members of the Trump administration and Russia, will be declassified on Friday, a Senate source with knowledge of the situation told Fox News. – Fox News 

Fred Fleitz writes: I am hopeful that the new director will resist such pressure, and will instead commit the CIA to hiring the best and brightest to address legitimate national-security threats, especially China.Mr. Burns’s most important responsibility as CIA director will be speaking truth to power on national-security matters. Given his many years of service across administrations, he’s well-prepared to fulfill this responsibility, telling President Biden what he needs to know as well as what he does not want to hear. – Wall Street Journal

Paul Stares writes: Biden and his team must keep an eye on these and other concerns on the horizon. They are easy to dismiss or discount as potential threats, as has happened so often in the past to our cost. The government does not have a routine system for monitoring potential hotspots. The main focus of the intelligence community is on political and military needs in the short term. – The Hill

Michael Masters writes: Wearing a sweatshirt with a scurrilous anti-Semitic message, while offensive, may not be a crime. But it should be a signal that we have more work to do. When anti-Semitism proudly marches through the doors of Congress, we must realize the potential for violence is real. These individuals often are part of hate-groups that can and should be targeted by the government, because 6 million Jews was 6 million too many. – The Hill

Thomas G. Mahnken, Jack Bianchi, Regan Copple, Madison Creery, Jan van Tol and Josh Chang write: Policymakers must therefore carefully weigh downward pressure on defense spending. Sharp near-term spending cuts will likely curtail the joint force’s ability to implement U.S. defense strategy, safeguard America’s interests, and uphold the stable geopolitical balance of power the United States and its allies have enjoyed since 1945. – Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments


Some of the biggest names in tech have taken aggressive steps against the inflammatory rhetoric of President Trump and some of his allies that culminated last week with a mob of his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol while Congress was attempting to certify the election of Joe Biden as the nation’s 46th president. – Washington Post 

President-elect Joe Biden is set Thursday to roll out a sweeping COVID-19 relief plan that includes more than $10 billion in funding to boost the nation’s cybersecurity and information technology after a massive Russian cyberattack. – The Hill

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued civil investigative demands into some of Big Tech’s power players after companies such as Google and Apple dropped Parler, a social media app popular among conservatives, from their platforms. – Washington Examiner 

For the fourth year in a row, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester recommended Thursday that components stop migrating to a fraught network security system until the department proves that the system can effectively help defend against cyberattacks. – C4ISRNET

The Department of Defense weapon tester wants to improve the way the Pentagon assesses tools and capabilities for offensive cyber operations that disrupt or destroy enemy data systems. – C4ISRNET

Online supporters of US President Donald Trump are scattering to smaller social media platforms, fleeing what they say is unfair treatment by Facebook, Twitter and other big tech firms looking to squelch misinformation and threats of violence. – Times of Israel

The popular encrypted messaging app Telegram has begun removing far-right American extremist content from its platform, according to an NBC News report. – Jerusalem Post 

Brad Polumbo writes: Political polarization and hyperpartisanship are tearing America apart. Big Tech’s purge of President Trump and other right-wing voices will only make this problem worse. – Washington Examiner 

Editorial: No one so far has come up with a politically salable answer to stop the web’s spiral toward political balkanization and control. But as Mr. Dorsey recognizes, the last week has accelerated the erosion of a free and open internet that is one of America’s great achievements. – Wall Street Journal

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: Entirely legal procedures taken by private corporations implementing their terms of service can both be completely understandable given the circumstances, and still problematic. Removing overt incitement to violence is a must, but deciding what that is, who does it, and under what rules of the game it is done is a discussion worth having – and one not to be left solely to the Big Tech plutocrats. If there is any policy that needed a bipartisan (or Atlanticist) political dialogue, it is this one. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Satya Marar writes: While the goal of curbing misinformation or violence is a good one, that doesn’t make Apple and Google’s actions very wise. Parler already prohibits content that explicitly incites violence. It has also created a temporary taskforce to bolster moderation efforts, and has taken down posts such as Trump surrogate Lin Wood’s call for Vice President Mike Pence to be hung for disloyalty to the president. – Washington Times 


The Pentagon’s internal watchdog announced Thursday that it will investigate whether the Department of Defense (DOD) has adequate procedures in place to prevent white supremacists and other extremists from joining and remaining in the military. – The Hill

John Kirby will return to his former role as Pentagon press secretary under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration in the coming weeks, according to The New York Times. – The Hill

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is calling on the Pentagon and Justice Department to go after any active duty and retired military service members who participated in last week’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. – The Hill

A bloc of House conservatives is opposing a waiver that would allow President-elect Joe Biden’s Defense secretary nominee to bypass a law barring recently retired generals from holding the civilian job. – The Hill 

In an eyebrow-raising statement, the acting undersecretary of the Navy complained about congressional oversight of Navy programs, suggesting that current leaders shouldn’t be held responsible for previous administrations’ failures. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy’s new Long Range Anti-Ship Missile must go through more rigorous and realistic testing, according to the 2020 annual report from the director of operational test and evaluation. – Defense News

The Missile Defense Agency awarded L3Harris Technologies a $121 million contract to build a prototype satellite capable of tracking hypersonic weapons, the agency announced Jan. 14. – C4ISRNET

The intelligence arm of the Space Force is an official part of the U.S. intelligence community. – C4ISRNET

The Government Accountability Office released a new report that warns Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine cost and schedule plans are at risk due to problems with a new digital design tool and cascading effects stemming from the design challenges. – USNI News

Thomas Harker, who for the last few years has served as the Department of the Navy’s chief civilian financial official, will assume the role of acting Navy secretary once President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News. – USNI News

The Navy’s Future Large Surface Combatant (LSC) program, also known as the 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

Introduced in 2005, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor was—and remains—one of the world’s best air superiority fighters. But despite the Raptor’s inarguably impressive performance, the F-22 program encountered no shortage of controversy during its lifespan. – The National Interest 

When the Navy is ready to deploy a new 60kw ship-fired laser weapon from a Destroyer later this year, maritime attack strategy and tactics will enter new dimensions of massive warfare on the open seas. – The National Interest 

An emerging, high-tech and promising new Navy surface drone boat just sailed 4,700 miles autonomously, mostly without any kind of human intervention, a development which marks a new significant milestone in the service’s multi-year Ghost Fleet Overlord program. – The National Interest 

Kevin Bilms writes: Recent history exemplified the importance of non-standard (i.e., non-military) security partners to consolidate strategic gains, and the ability to manage complex and non-traditional security relationships could yield even greater impact in great-power competition. Concerted security engagements before conflict help align U.S. efforts with allies and partners, provide invaluable access and placement in event of crisis, and facilitate U.S. campaign and contingency plans. – War on the Rocks 

Thomas Spoehr writes: In the parable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” after the elephant moved on, the six men proceeded to sit by the roadside for the remainder of the day and quarrel about their different perceptions. Each called the other hard names because they did not agree with him. The United States, however, is not in a position to endlessly debate. American lives depend on leaders making their best assessments and acting on them accordingly. – War on the Rocks

John Rossomando writes: Instead of enabling ISIS as Kahl predicted, President Trump succeeded at destroying the ISIS caliphate and the number of ISIS-inspired attacks against the United States dissipated. Kahl’s new position will require him to take a sober view of reality. He must take a firm stance against Hezballah and Iran’s other Shiite militias and not appear to favor Iran over America’s regional allies. – The National Interest

Kenneth C. Brill writes: Long-term challenges to America’s national security cannot be dealt with successfully if American foreign policy is riven by partisanship. Managing constructively U.S. relations with China will take a long-term strategy that can only be sustained if it has bipartisan support. The same is true of Russia, Iran, North Korea, and nuclear arms control. […]America faces hard and complex foreign policy challenges in the decade ahead, but the Biden administration and Congress can tackle them successfully — if they follow the lessons learned from America’s success in producing two COVID-19 vaccines. – The Hill


Long War

Bipartisan American legislation directing the US president to sanction international individuals and agencies tied to the Gaza-based Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups was re-introduced in the House on Thursday. – Times of Israel 

An Uzbek national was sentenced Thursday in Brooklyn federal court to 12 1/2 years in prison for supporting a wannabe ISIS fighter. – New York Post

The commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces paramilitary collective has issued a defense of a senior militia official who headed an Iran-aligned group that fought the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) but was mistakenly accused by the U.S. Treasury of supporting the jihadis. – Newsweek 

Yahya Cholil Staquf writes: The recontextualization of Islamic orthodoxy is crucial to the welfare of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is a prerequisite for any rational and humane solution to the multidimensional crisis that has plagued the Muslim world for more than a century. Leaders throughout the world can best contribute by examining the understanding of Islam that flourishes in Indonesia and urging other Muslim nations to consider a similar path. – Wall Street Journal