Fdd's overnight brief

January 28, 2021

In The News


Iran has threatened to block nuclear inspections next month, and further increased production of fuel that could be enriched for use in bombs. It has seized an American ally’s cargo ship. And it has incarcerated yet another American citizen on spying charges. These are just some of the steps Iran has taken in recent weeks in what is seen as part of an increasingly impatient strategy to pressure President Biden, who has said he wants to reverse many actions taken by his predecessor, Donald J. Trump. – New York Times

Secretary of State Antony Blinken hopes to end the whiplash that has characterized U.S. foreign policy over the previous two presidencies by seeking lawmakers’ blessing for major deals struck with America’s friends and foes. – Washington Examiner

An increase in Iranian oil exports to China has received some unwanted attention in recent days and is now prompting fears of a clampdown. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday stuck to his stance that Tehran must resume complying with the Iran nuclear deal before Washington, which abandoned the pact under former President Donald Trump, would do so. – Reuters

Britain said foreign secretary Dominic Raab spoke with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday and discussed the need to tackle what they viewed as “destabilising behaviour” by Iran, and to hold China to its international commitments. – Reuters

A senior Iranian official has delivered to Newsweek the Islamic Republic’s response to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first official remarks on President Joe Biden’s approach to tensions between Tehran and Washington rooted in the latter’s exit under the previous administration from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. – Newsweek

The Iranian armed forces have threatened to take out two Mediterranean cities should Israel follow through with new military plans announced the day prior by the country’s top general. – Newsweek

Amos Yadlin and Ebtesam al-Ketbi write: For the United States to simply return to the nuclear agreement would be a major strategic blunder. The deal was based on assumptions that ultimately proved flawed and overly optimistic. […] If a future Iran policy is to avoid producing a similar outcome, it must counter Iran’s malign regional activities and resist the temptation to try to game Iran’s political dynamics. At the same time, it should allow for a more intrusive inspections regime and more restrictive and longer-lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. – Foreign Affairs


Bilateral talks between Turkey and Greece to resolve long-standing maritime disputes, which resumed on Monday after a five-year hiatus, were held in a “very positive” atmosphere, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Commercial Bank of Qatar is committed to its business in Turkey for “the long haul” as it looks to build its operations there, according to the top executive at the lender. – Bloomberg

Cinzia Bianco and André Rodrigues Rocha write: It is now clear that both Greece and the UAE view their partnership as a bulwark against Turkish expansionism in the Mediterranean, be it under the “neo-Ottoman” or Mavi Vatan banner. For Abu Dhabi, Greece’s standing as a member of the EU could also be vital to revitalizing its ongoing efforts to get closer to Brussels. The major implication for the EU would be an even more blurred geopolitical border between Europe and the Middle East. – Middle East Institute


The United States reaffirms its firm commitment to Israel’s security and will continue to work closely with it to advance peace in the region, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping to avoid an immediate clash with President Biden over Iran, will give dialogue a chance, Israeli officials say. – Axios

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, during the UN’s annual event commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, highlighted the resurgence of antisemitism brought on by the deadly COVID-19 crisis and urged the world not to stand idly by as the Jewish people are threatened by another genocidal regime: Iran. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council on Wednesday condemned the use of the term “Abraham Accords” to refer to the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared to rebuke IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Wednesday over a speech he made the day before, in which he criticized the White House’s Iran policies and threatened potential military action against Iran. – Times of Israel

The Directorate of International Defense Cooperation, SIBAT, in the Israel Ministry of Defense has sold 29 surplus F-16 aircraft to TOP ACES, a North American company. These will be employed as Adversary Aircraft for US Air Force training. The agreement amounts to tens of millions of dollars. – Arutz Sheva

Israeli officials have cleared United Arab Emirates port operator DP World to move forward in the privatization of Israel’s largest seaport but kept Turkey’s Yildirim Holding AS under further scrutiny. – Bloomberg

Ghaith al-Omari writes: Even so, current political dynamics raise serious doubt about whether the elections will actually be held. The PA and Hamas have offered no guarantees that the conduct of voting would be free and fair or that the outcome would be respected. Thus, instead of focusing on unlikely elections, the PA and other players should prioritize efforts to clarify Palestinian succession, undertake badly needed reforms, and reestablish Palestinian-U.S. relations. – Washington Institute

Udi Shaham writes: Some of Kochavi’s critics claimed that his remarks extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to undermine American policy on Iran. […]However, that kind of analysis is short-sighted and ignores the larger picture, former Air Defense Corps commander Brig.-Col. (ret.) Zvika Haimovich told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Haimovich holds that Kochavi’s speech was just one point in a string of efforts to combat the Iranian attempt to develop a nuclear bomb. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

State-owned companies of Saudi Arabia have sued the country’s former spymaster in a Canadian court, alleging he embezzled billions of dollars, in a case that throws a spotlight on a bitter royal feud. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration has imposed a temporary freeze on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and is scrutinizing purchases by the United Arab Emirates as it reviews billions of dollars in weapons transactions approved by former President Donald Trump, according to U.S. officials. – Wall Street Journal

Ten years after joining an uprising in Yemen against autocratic rule and an economy in shambles, the same activists find themselves on opposite sides of a war that has pushed the country to the brink of famine with dim prospects for peace. – Reuters

The UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, said on Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates anticipated a review of current policies by the new U.S. administration, welcoming joint efforts to de-escalate tensions and for renewed regional dialogue, according to a statement posted on the Embassy Twitter account. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the State Department was taking a “very urgent and very close look” at the Trump administration designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization and wants to make sure aid groups can deliver assistance to the country. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: The Wall Street Journal report said that U.S. forces will be operating from air bases in Taif and Tabuk, in the West of the kingdom, as well as the current Prince Sultan base south of Riyadh.  The Red Sea port of Yanbu would be used for transport ships, avoiding the Strait of Hormuz.  Much of this is reminiscent of the footprint the U.S. had in the late 1990s when Saddam Hussein in Iraq needed to be deterred. Whether the Biden administration knew it was inheriting this strategy is yet to be revealed. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

The Pentagon sent a B-52 bomber across the Persian Gulf region on Tuesday, the sixth such sortie since last fall, in a show of deterrence to Iran. – Wall Street Journal

Amr Adly writes: In Tunisia, Ben Ali’s authoritarian rule meant socioeconomic exclusion combined with intense security and political repression. It is not conceivable that ordinary Tunisians would want that back. It is a testament to the resilience of the evolving democratic system that, for all its weaknesses, none of the major actors — the military, the political elites or the groups storming the public square — seems willing or able to restore authoritarian rule. – Bloomberg

Makram Rabah writes: The successes of Israel, Jordan, and other neighboring countries in vaccinating their populations only further highlights how spectacularly Lebanon is failing at protecting its people. […]Until Lebanon conquers its demons, the international community, and chiefly the Biden administration, should refrain from politically or financially bailing out the Lebanese political elite and Hezbollah, and they should ensure that any form of aid or relief goes straight to the needy Lebanese, while continuing to impose further sanctions on their corrupt political class. – Washington Institute

Natasha Bertrand writes: Whether Biden selects Malley despite opposition from some key lawmakers and stakeholders will also signal how much political capital he is willing to expend on the Middle East. The Obama administration brawled almost continuously with Israel, the Arab Gulf states and their allies over Iran policy during its eight-year tenure, and some participants in those debates now say they wish things had gone differently. – Politico


Treating China as a “strategic rival” of the United States is a misjudgement that could lead to mistakes, China’s ambassador to the United States said in a speech to an online forum. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, his first full day in the job, that he favored cooperation with China on climate change and other issues of shared concern, even as he reiterated that genocide had been committed against Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department is reviewing a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide by repressing Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region to make sure that it sticks, President Joe Biden’s pick for U.N. ambassador said on Wednesday. – Reuters

begrudgingly refreshing for Republicans — and it’s something they wish they saw from Trump. – Politico

China can continue spending money on anti-ship ballistic missiles, but it might not be the capability needed to win if a conflict broke out between the U.S. and China, the admiral overseeing Navy intelligence said Wednesday. – USNI News

China reserves all options against Taiwan, including the use of force, a Chinese official said Wednesday while issuing a veiled warning at the new administration of Joe Biden. – Newsweek

A lawmaker for Taiwan’s ruling party accused Xi Jinping of hypocrisy after the Chinese president declared “the strong should not bully the weak” during a speech addressing world leaders at Davos on Monday. – Newsweek

Eugene Kontorovich writes: China is a trading partner and economic behemoth, and one with which the U.S. has extensive diplomatic contacts. Will the U.S. now reframe all its relations with Beijing? Anything resembling business as usual will make a joke out of genocide. – Wall Street Journal

Jude Blanchette, Bonnie S. Glaser, Scott Kennedy, and Scott Livingston write: While CCP disinformation campaigns pose a clearly identifiable threat to the United States and Taiwan, they are only one part of a larger disinformation problem facing democracies in this era of instant and omnipresent communication technologies. Indeed, the experience of both Taiwan and the United States suggest that rival political parties are incentivized to exaggerate and weaponize charges of “foreign interference” against each other—charges which often are more damaging to underlying trust levels in a democracy than the original foreign disinformation attacks themselves. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Hal Brands writes: Today, Biden’s team is appropriately focused on rallying a multilateral coalition against China. But a truly competitive strategy also requires imposing costs, tolerating diplomatic friction and taking strategic risks that throw Beijing off balance. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Biden should direct U.S. embassies in Europe to offer whatever support these parliamentarians might seek or benefit from. He should also continue to declassify U.S. intelligence reporting on what is actually happening to the Uighurs and ensure that European media outlets receive any evidence that EU officials have been bribed by Chinese officials for their support. If all of these efforts fail, Biden should introduce tariffs on European automobile exports (a policy that will bear primary impact on Germany). The EU must know it cannot kowtow to China without losing American friends. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

Afghan security forces are struggling to hold off an increasingly powerful Taliban as international troops withdraw from the county, with peace talks between the warring sides slow-moving. Fearing the government will collapse and the country descend again into civil war, Hazaras are starting to prepare for the worst. – Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a series of appeals against the acquittal of the British-born militant convicted of masterminding the kidnap and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, paving the way for his release along with three other accomplices. – Agence France-Presse

Pakistan has received five Cai Hong 4 (Rainbow 4, or CH-4) multirole medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from China, according to export-import (EXIM) logs on the Pakistan Exim Trade Info website. – Janes


The United States rejects China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea beyond what it is permitted under international law and stands with Southeast Asian nations resisting its pressure, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday. – Reuters

China said on Wednesday it was seeking details about 25 of its nationals who were among 61 crew on two supertankers seized by Indonesia on suspicion of illegally transferring oil. – Reuters

On Wednesday, Biden told Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that his administration is committed to defending Japan, including the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed both by Japan and China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands. – Agence France-Presse

New Zealand has suggested that its close ally and neighbor Australia should follow its lead in treating China with respect in order to mend strained diplomatic relations with Beijing. – Bloomberg


Police officers raided the apartments and offices of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny and of his allies on Wednesday, increasing pressure on the Kremlin’s loudest critic ahead of more protests planned this weekend in his support. – New York Times

Ten days after opposition leader Alexei Navalny last appeared in a makeshift courtroom at a Moscow police station, Navalny is set to have an appeals hearing on Thursday over the decision to jail him ahead of his trial next week. – Washington Post

Amid international calls for Russia to free jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin took aim Wednesday at the power of Navalny’s biggest weapon: social media. – Washington Post

The case of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny could undermine the possibility of further cooperation between Moscow and the European Union, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported. – Reuters

Russia’s parliament on Wednesday approved a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States, which a senior official said had been agreed on Moscow’s terms at the eleventh hour before it expires next week. – Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. has “deep concern” about Russia’s treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. – The Hill

Russia hopes the success of extending the last remaining U.S.-Russia arms control treaty will give a new boost to re-starting a strategic dialogue between Moscow and the Biden administration, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Adam Taylor writes: In President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first call as counterparts on Tuesday, there were signs of the distance between their outlooks. The readouts from the White House and the Kremlin differed significantly, with Moscow’s account of the call omitting any mention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other hot-button issues, such as the alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. tech firm SolarWinds. The two accounts of the calls show what is in store for an increasingly rocky period of U.S.-Russia relations. – Washington Post


Frontex, the European Union agency responsible for monitoring the bloc’s external borders, announced on Wednesday that it was suspending operations in Hungary, which has ignored a court order to bring its asylum practices in line with European Union law. – New York Times

Hundreds of survivors of the Holocaust are set to be vaccinated this week in Austria and Slovakia as part of vaccine drives organized in observance of the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, a day known as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. – New York Times

The European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca sparred Wednesday over a delay in coronavirus vaccine deliveries amid a deepening dispute that raises concerns about international competition for limited supplies of the shots needed to end the pandemic. – Associated Press

Early signs of disruption caused by Britain’s shift to its new, less open trading relationship with the European Union are emerging in economic data. – Reuters

Germany’s foreign minister questioned whether transatlantic sanctions are appropriate even if Washington and Berlin have policy differences following a constructive first phone call with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday. – Reuters

The foreign ministers of Hungary and Ukraine were expected to meet in Kyiv on Wednesday for talks on repairing badly strained relations but Budapest said its diplomatic missions in the ex-Soviet republic had received threats of “bloodletting” violence. – Reuters

The European Union and the United States must be “braver and stronger” in their response to helping end the disputed rule of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Wednesday. – Reuters

New U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised Germany for hosting U.S. troops in a call with his German counterpart on Wednesday, fueling speculation that President Joe Biden could overturn a drawdown ordered by his predecessor Donald Trump. – Reuters

Alan Riley writes: Team Biden would clearly like to avoid having a battle with Chancellor Merkel over NS2. Equally, however, the new administration does not want to leave its allies, including Ukraine, vulnerable to Russian energy leverage. The truth is that the opponents of NS2 have a strong hand to play. They must not be distracted from this fundamental reality. Some kind of negotiated compromise with NS2’s boosters in Germany may be possible, but only if the European energy market is fundamentally reformed to ensure a level playing field. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Nikos Tsafos writes: It might help, as a starting point, for both the United States and Germany to adopt a different tone. For the United States, telling Europeans how they should pursue their energy security tends to be counterproductive—no German needs a lecture on what “Russia is really about” or “what Europe really needs.” By the same token, the German retort, often repeated, that Nord Stream 2 is a “commercial project” and that the government has nothing to do with it is nonsense. Any compromise would benefit from a change in tone. –  Center for Strategic and International Studies


What happened on the afternoon of Jan. 3 is hotly disputed. The French military took responsibility for an airstrike near Bounti in the Mopti region, saying in a Jan. 7 statement that a pair of Mirage 2000 fighter jets had dropped three explosives on “a gathering of armed terrorist group members” in an area known to be rife with them. The French armed forces said the airstrike killed about 30 men — all militants. – Washington Post

Four former U.S. ambassadors to Ethiopia wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed voicing concern over the conflict in the northern Tigray region, rising ethnic tension in the country and the reported presence of Eritrean troops. – Reuters

Kenya’s military has ordered 118 four-wheel drive personnel carriers from Turkish armored vehicles manufacturer Katmerciler. – Defense News

Mirette F. Mabrouk writes: Ethiopian-Sudanese relations are currently complicated; theoretically, Sudan could allow TPLF soldiers over its borders, giving them access to the only channel to food and supplies, a potential bargaining chip with Ethiopia. However, Ethiopia could just as easily encourage Sudanese rebel groups, threatening Sudan’s security and stability. – Middle East Institute

United States

President Biden’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations defended her record of speaking out against China’s global ambitions on Wednesday after Republicans pressed her over a speech to a Chinese organization at a Georgia university. – Wall Street Journal

An Iraqi-born British national has been criminally charged in New Jersey with involvement in a bribery scheme to obtain millions of dollars of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reconstruction contracts in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations stressed on Wednesday the importance of U.S. re-engagement with the 193-member world body in order to challenge efforts by China to “drive an authoritarian agenda.” – Reuters

Danielle Pletka writes: One thing that would strengthen Biden’s hand would be a genuine hand across the aisle; China and Iran aren’t Republican or Democratic problems, they’re American ones. But that’s not going to be easy with Biden’s left nipping at his heels and Republicans still furious at their treatment over the last twelve years. Indeed, only one thing is really sure for President Biden: America divided will make our enemies’ job that much easier. – The National Interest

Mohammed Soliman writes: America is no longer living in a post-9/11 era. Today’s national security threats look vastly different than those it faced from transnational terrorist groups almost 20 years ago. America is long overdue in opening a new chapter with Muslims living in the United States and around the world. Now more than ever, the Biden administration needs an inclusive foreign policy toward the Muslim world that draws upon the talents of Muslim Americans, who are better situated to be a trusted bridge between Washington and Muslim capitals. – Middle East Institute


A team of international law enforcement and judicial groups on Wednesday announced they had disrupted infrastructure used by cyber criminals to spread what authorities described as the “world’s most dangerous malware” and attack organizations around the world. – The Hill

Apple released a new iOS and iPadOS update that addresses three security flaws located in the previous version that “may have been actively exploited” by hackers. – Jerusalem Post

Top military leaders signified a new level of cooperation on joint war fighting in an all-day meeting Jan. 26 to hash out data standards to connect the services’ largely disparate projects to work together to compete against Russia and China. – C4ISRNET

The Air Force is looking into flipping the cost curve when it comes to defeating adversaries by focusing on electronic or nonkinetic capabilities as opposed to missiles. – C4ISRNET


The Maritime Administration has inked a deal for two more training ships for its prospective Merchant Marine officers in a move that could provide the Navy with a suitable hull for special mission auxiliary ships in the future. – Defense News

But with a new administration in Washington, the Air Force is stepping up its case for adopting what it calls a long-range standoff weapon to replace the aging air-launched cruise missile in order to maintain the strategic bomber leg of the nuclear triad. – Washington Times

The U.S. Army is dealing with excessive rotor blade vibrations in its latest variant of the Boeing-manufactured Chinook cargo helicopter as it heads into a limited-user test during the first half of the calendar year, according to a report by the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester. – Defense News

The Pentagon will begin incorporating climate analysis into its war-gaming and analysis efforts as well as featuring the issue as part of its future National Defense Strategy. – Defense News

The U.S. Army’s Joint Assault Bridge struggled in its first initial operational test and evaluation but saw drastic improvement in a second attempt in late 2020, opening up the program to begin conditional fielding to units, the bridging product manager within the Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support, told Defense News. – Defense News

The Maritime Administration has inked a deal for two more training ships for its prospective Merchant Marine officers in a move that could provide the Navy with a suitable hull for special mission auxiliary ships in the future. – Defense News

With the Jan. 27 announcement of a new $275 million charge on the KC-46, Boeing has now paid as much in cost overruns for the troubled program as the U.S. Air Force invested in the tanker’s development. – Defense News

Long War

The Department of Homeland Security issued its first-ever national terrorism bulletin about violent domestic extremists, warning they could attack in the coming weeks, emboldened by the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. – Wall Street Journal

Singapore has detained a 16-year-old for intending to attack two mosques, plans authorities said were inspired by the killing of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019. – Reuters

Turkish authorities detained 126 people suspected of ties to the Islamic State militant group in nationwide operations, state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Vera Mironova writes: The U.S.’s obsession with prosecution and incarceration, and the existence of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in particular, has been a major Islamist propaganda tool that has generated widespread anti-U.S. sentiment among Muslims around the world and helped drive recruitment for groups like ISIS. This new policy will likely yield more of the same. – Middle East Institute

Steve Israel writes: Biden realizes that we face a new battle that needs new tactics. We have learned that right wing militia camps in Michigan can be as dangerous as terrorist training camps abroad. But drones firing missiles will not work in the battle against domestic violent extremists. The mantra “we must fight them there so we do not have to fight them here” became irrelevant when citizens of this country went to invade the Capitol. – The Hill