Fdd's overnight brief

January 27, 2021

In The News


Iran urged U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday to lift sanctions which it said were hampering Tehran’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. – Reuters

Iran threatened on Tuesday to block short-notice inspections of its nuclear facilities, demanding Washington reverse economic sanctions before it returns to compliance with a nuclear deal that President Joe Biden aims to restore. – Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani mocked statements by Israel’s army chief of staff, and threatened to respond to any attacks. – Arutz Sheva

Iran warned the Biden administration on Tuesday that it will not have an indefinite time period to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. – Associated Press

An Iranian-American has been sentenced by Iran to 10 years in prison on spying charges, despite his family alleging he never had a trial or an opportunity to defend himself. – Associated Press

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday criticized Iran’s hard-liner dominated judiciary over last week’s prosecution of the countrys telecommunications minister. – Associated Press

Israel’s military chief Tuesday warned the Biden administration against rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, even if it toughens its terms, adding he’s ordered his forces to step up preparations for possible offensive action against Iran during the coming year. – Associated Press

Two Americans and a U.S. permanent resident whom Washington says were held hostage by Iran for years until it freed them during the term of former President Donald Trump have urged his successor Joe Biden not to make gestures toward Tehran until it frees other U.S. hostages. – VOA News

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain called on Tuesday for a coordinated effort with Israel to press the new US administration on Iran. – Times of Israel

Michael Rubin writes: If Biden is to succeed where Obama and President Donald Trump did not, it is time to construct a common strategy at home and address, rather than dismiss, the Iran deal’s critics. Success will never come when negotiators and envoys treat adversaries with more deference than political opponents. – Washington Examiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran’s nuclear program is largely a bogeyman designed to get the US to beg Iran to do things. It is a kind of blackmail. No other country does this, but Iran’s use of this blackmail is only because it was able to get its friends in the West to push a narrative of “we need a deal or there will be war.” Iran can’t afford a war so the story of a “war” was entirely a myth. The real story of Iran’s demands are wrapped up in sanctions relief and demand for more of a role with militias and proxies throughout the region. It seeks regional dominance, while its own country is largely bankrupted. –  Jerusalem Post


Turkey has for decades been the first refuge for many Iranians who either cross the border illegally or use the no-visa policy for visitors. Thousands have arrived as refugees since a crackdown against democracy protests in 2009. – New York Times

President Tayyip Erdogan’s top deputies and allies have accused Turkey’s pro-Kurdish political party of militant ties and called for a ban after a police raid on its offices, prompting the HDP to denounce what it called a government plot. – Reuters

Gonul Tol writes: The domestic balance of power makes it very difficult for Erdoğan to make concessions on the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, topics that are considered a national cause. And without concessions, the tensions between Ankara and Athens will only rise. After Monday’s meeting in Istanbul, the two parties said that they agreed to continue discussions. But no one is holding their breath. – Middle East Institute


U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday it was restoring relations with the Palestinians and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees, a reversal of the Trump administration’s cutoff and a key element of its new support for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. – Associated Press

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration supports a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and will overturn several Trump administration decisions, the acting U.S. envoy to the United Nations assured the Security Council on Tuesday. – Reuters

Israeli troops on Tuesday shot and killed a Palestinian suspected of trying to attack soldiers at a West Bank intersection, the military said. – Associated Press

Israel should not take a publicly oppositional approach to the Biden administration, but should always maintain a military option to counter the Iranian nuclear threat, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan — widely seen as a key rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — will not be allowed to run in the upcoming Palestinian presidential elections, a senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel. – Times of Israel

The United Nations has called on Israel to help make vaccines available to the Palestinians, but has stopped short of asking it to distribute the vaccines to the Palestinians. – Jerusalem Post

In a speech to the United Nations Security Council, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on Tuesday criticized Israel for failing to provide coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinians. – Times of Israel

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday backed a Palestinian proposal for a Middle East peace conference, saying at the UN that it could be held at ministerial level in the spring or summer. – Times of Israel

Mohammed Dajani writes: In the short term, the Biden administration will be busy in its first hundred days addressing disastrous Trump policies for managing the Covid-19 pandemic, building the economy, mending ties with allies, and polishing U.S. global image. The PA should take advantage of that period to get its house in order and come up with new fresh ideas to get back on the negotiation table. – Washington Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Russia and France’s role is important as both are historic key players in the region. In addition, Israel’s growing relations with the Gulf matter to Saudi Arabia, which has signaled support for these relationships. How, exactly, anything can manifest itself in the Palestinian arena is unclear. The divided Palestinian authority, Hamas in Gaza, talk of elections – and the tenuous nature of Ramallah’s control of an autonomous statelet – all leave serious questions.  – Jerusalem Post


Stepping in where the state and financial institutions have failed, Hezbollah is providing a vital lifeline for some Lebanese. In the country’s wrecked economy, everyone is desperate for hard currency and liquidity as the local currency plummets in value. – Associated Press

The United States under new President Joe Biden needs to adopt a more realistic attitude towards the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement to help break the political and economic impasse in Lebanon, a French presidential official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Overnight clashes in northern Lebanon between security forces and demonstrators angered by a coronavirus lockdown injured at least 45 people, the Lebanese Red Cross said on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Middle East & North Africa

The United Nations is still hearing concerns that companies are planning to cancel or suspend business with Yemen despite a U.S. decision to allow all transactions with the Houthi movement “given this move does not resolve underlying uncertainties,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Tunisia’s parliament on Tuesday approved a Cabinet reshuffle that deepened the conflict between the prime minister and the president, as hundreds protested outside the heavily barricaded parliament over social inequality and police abuses. – Reuters

The Israeli Liaison Office in Morocco reopened on Tuesday when former ambassador to Egypt David Govrin arrived in Rabat. It had been closed for 20 years. – Jerusalem Post

Bahrain is taking a lead in combatting antisemitism and also commemorating the Holocaust. The Kingdom, which has a small Jewish community and has played a key role in pushing tolerance, coexistence and peace with Israel, is at the forefront of these recent efforts. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Knights writes: The best way for the Biden administration to keep Iraq off the front pages is to sharpen up Baghdad’s defenses. Fortunately, Washington and its partners can do a great deal along those lines with very little investment of money and no added security risks to their personnel. – Washington Institute

Haisam Hassanein writes: The reshuffling of parliament confirms that the pro-government Nation’s Future faction is Egypt’s new ruling party. Sisi’s circle is presenting a democratic, pluralistic picture of this outcome, but in truth the legislature will be dominated by one major party surrounded by small parties that serve as window dressing, thereby mimicking an opposition just enough to occasionally channel the public’s frustration at socioeconomic conditions. This is straight from the Mubarak playbook. – Washington Institute


In a Senate confirmation hearing, President Biden’s nominee to run the Commerce Department said she plans to be “very aggressive” in combating China’s “unfair” trade practices, but she declined to detail how she would handle issues such as Chinese tech giant Huawei or the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed under President Donald Trump. – Washington Post

China said on Wednesday that the Indian government’s decision to keep a ban on 59 Chinese apps was a violation of the World Trade Organization’s fair rules of business and would hurt Chinese firms. – Reuters

Clyde Russell writes: Overall, Australia’s exports to China were A$13.34 billion in December, the highest since June, reflecting strong demand for iron ore, liquefied natural gas and some agricultural commodities. Since China started its trade actions against Australia, the numbers seem to be tilting heavily in favour of Canberra. This supports the lesson from the U.S.-China trade dispute: if you still need the products you are targeting for tariffs or import bans, it will cost more to source them from other suppliers. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: All in all, the initial signals from the Biden administration offer hope that a reversion to the China policies of the Clinton-Bush-Obama administrations is not imminent. The sound, forward-looking approach of the Trump team — if not necessarily of the former president himself — likely will be retained and strengthened, at least in the short term. The long-term prospects will be known only when China, or North Korea, precipitates a serious national security crisis and the Biden administration finds itself looking into what it may regard as “the abyss.” – The Hill


The Taliban militant movement gave its backing on Tuesday for a coronavirus vaccination campaign in Afghanistan that has received a $112 million pledge from the World Health Organization’s COVAX programme. – Reuters

Roya Rahmani writes: Afghanistan must make the bold decision to build a better future for all of its people. We cannot choose to focus on the pain of our past over the hope of our future. It is imperative to remember that we are building a future to uplift generations to come. Afghanistan’s democracy will serve as the foundation upon which we build our future, and continuity is critical. Strengthening a country requires building institutions up and building upon our achievements, not tearing things down when they are imperfect. On top of our nascent democracy, we rest our hopes and build our future. – Washington Post

Seth G. Jones writes: The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 is instructive. By 2014, U.S. forces were back in Iraq to fight an Islamic State that eventually controlled territory the size of England, attracting foreign fighters from across the globe. The Biden administration should not make the same mistake in Afghanistan. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

South Asia

Thousands of Indian farmers protesting against agricultural reforms on Tuesday overwhelmed police and stormed into the historic Red Fort complex in New Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks. – Reuters

The UN human rights chief has called for an International Criminal Court investigation into Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist conflict and sanctions on military officials accused of war crimes, according to a report obtained by AFP. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Rubin writes: Put another way, Biden may talk like an internationalist, but should Pakistan again avoid FATF blacklisting without actually addressing its core problems will determine whether the FATF can continue to be a credible body. China rescued Pakistan in October 2020, but Biden should not allow it to do so again. Should that happen, then Biden will signal that America’s re-embrace of multilateralism has less to do with enhancing international security and rule-of-law, and more to do with shirking responsibility and glossing over the decline of international security. – The National Interest


The defection of a high-level North Korean diplomat represents an embarrassment for Kim Jong Un and exposed the mounting pressure on Pyongyang’s foreign diplomats to generate revenue for the regime, experts said. – Financial Times

Myanmar’s army warned on Tuesday it would “take action” if an election dispute was not settled and declined to rule out staging a coup if its demands were not met, just days out from the convening of a new parliament. – Reuters

Hong Kong authorities are scrutinizing the financial records of pro-democracy activists as they crack down on political opposition, according to some activists and a senior bank executive. – Reuters

Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party chief, has been nominated for a rare third term, a Party official said, according to several state media articles that were published on Wednesday then subsequently amended, removing the comments. – Reuters

Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, the commanding general of the Philippine Army, will be the next chief of the nation’s armed forces, President Rodrigo Duterte’s office said Wednesday. – Bloomberg

Hong Kong’s Department of Justice hired Senior Counsel Benjamin Yu to replace British lawyer David Perry in prosecuting media tycoon and activist Jimmy Lai, local media including Apple Daily and Now TV reported, citing unnamed sources. – Bloomberg

Fund managers and bankers leaving Hong Kong for alternative financial centres have been asked to explain their decision to a range of government agencies amid concerns that Beijing’s national security law could cause departures from the Asia finance hub to multiply. – Financial Times

Elbridge Colby writes: Firm and resolute U.S. action is necessary to prevent Asia from falling under Beijing’s hegemony. Cutting Taiwan loose would undercut Washington’s precious credibility in the region while uncorking Chinese power projection. Ensuring that the U.S. can defend the island will take focus and heavy investment from both America and Taiwan. But it can be done. And that will be a small price to pay to make sure China doesn’t get the wrong idea—with catastrophic results. – Wall Street Journal


Foreign ministers from the G7 called on Russia to release protesters detained on Saturday following the arrest of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. – Reuters

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is being used by the West to try to destabilise Russia, a prominent hardliner and ally of President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, saying he must be held to account for repeatedly breaking the law. – Reuters

A Russian woman who has become a symbol of the heavy-handed way the authorities cracked down on anti-Kremlin protesters at the weekend after being kicked to the floor by a baton-wielding policeman says she wants justice. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone on Tuesday after the two countries struck a deal to extend the New START arms control treaty, the Kremlin said in a statement. – Reuters

Russian authorities “deliberately targeted” journalists for beatings during the protests in support of dissident activist Alexei Navalny, according to an international media organization. – Washington Examiner

Russia said Tuesday it was up to Washington to take the first steps if US President Joe Biden wants to salvage the landmark Iran nuclear deal. – Agence France-Presse

Europe’s top human rights court on Thursday found Russia responsible for a swath of violations in Georgia’s breakaway regions after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. – Associated Press

Russia and the United States traded documents Tuesday to extend their last remaining nuclear arms control treaty days before it is due to expire, the Kremlin said. – Associated Press


With shops boarded up and riot police out in force, it was relatively calm in Dutch cities on Tuesday night after three days of violence during which nearly 500 people were detained. – Reuters

The threat of Russian gray zone activity in Northern European waters makes at-sea presence and information-sharing all the more important, the chief of the Swedish Navy said today in an online event. – USNI News

The EU official tasked with overseeing the post-Brexit deal with the UK has warned that London’s refusal to grant its ambassador full diplomatic status has stoked concern in European capitals. Maros Sefcovic told the Financial Times that the snub was “very important politically” and meant the UK “would treat the European Union delegation in worse terms than any other country on the planet”. – Financial Times


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday replaced the country’s top military commanders in a sudden overhaul after months of pressure over deteriorating security. – Agence France-Presse

Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine, who was freed after 11 days under house arrest, demanded that the authorities also release hundreds of his jailed supporters. – Bloomberg

Israel and Sudan will finalise a diplomatic deal to normalise relations at a signing ceremony in Washington in the next three months, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said on Wednesday. – Reuters

United States

The Biden administration will “thoroughly review” U.S. sanctions on International Criminal Court officials imposed over investigations into U.S forces in Afghanistan, a State Department spokesman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

More than 150 people have been charged with federal crimes so far over the January 6 rampage at the US Capitol by supporters of then president Donald Trump, the Justice Department said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Canadian, Korean, Japanese and Mexican counterparts over the phone Tuesday, his first conversations with foreign dignitaries since he was confirmed to his office Tuesday. – The Hill

President Biden spoke Tuesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and emphasized the United States’s commitment to the alliance, the White House said. – The Hill


In the past, intelligence analysts have only had access to classified government satellite data when assessing radio frequency use all over the world. Now, a pilot program with HawkEye 360 is feeding those analysts commercial RF data, potentially opening the floodgates to a torrent of new unclassified data. – C4ISRNET

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday urged the United States under President Joe Biden to work with Brussels on regulating the tech giants. – Agence France-Presse

North Korean hackers have been masquerading as cybersecurity bloggers in order to target researchers in the field, according to Google. They’re doing so by exploiting mysterious weaknesses in computers running the most up-to-date versions of  Microsoft Windows and Google Chrome, the tech giant warned Monday. – Forbes

YouTube has reportedly extended its suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account indefinitely. Trump’s associate Rudy Giuliani has also been barred by YouTube from monetizing his channel for at least 30 days, according to Reuters. – Washington Examiner


The Senate approved President Biden’s choice to lead the State Department, Antony Blinken, in a fast-tracked vote to round out the top ranks of the new president’s national security team. – Washington Examiner

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin offered a clue at his nomination hearing on where he stands on liberal Democrats’ efforts to curtail nuclear modernization, questioning the current pace of modernization even though military commanders have said any further delays would undermine America’s ability to retain all three legs of the nuclear triad. – Washington Examiner

Sen. Jim Inhofe writes: China and Russia will be the primary focuses, but not the only ones. I believe Congress and the Biden administration share the goal of sustaining the progress we’ve made against ISIS and al-Qaida. This will require maintaining an effective global counterterrorism posture, including in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, to prevent the resurgence of terrorist organizations and to limit their ability to attack us. – Defense News