Fdd's overnight brief

January 7, 2021

In The News


Britain, France and Germany warned Iran on Wednesday that its decision to restart uranium enrichment at 20 percent risked undermining hopes of reviving diplomacy when a new United States administration takes over later in January. – Reuters

Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent this week, well in excess of the threshold set out in its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Experts on the Islamic Republic told AFP Wednesday that the decision to take another step back from the tattered accord has vast-reaching domestic and international consequences for Iran. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian investigators probing the downing of a passenger plane a year ago are deliberately dragging their feet, Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) said on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

A year after Iran’s military mistakenly downed Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 with two surface-to-air missiles, the answers that have emerged from the disaster only seem to lead to more questions. – Associated Press

Iran said it successfully tested long-range unmanned “suicide” aircraft during its first major drone exercises this week, amid a tense standoff with the U.S. – Bloomberg

The FBI is probing the breach of an air traffic control system after a broadcast from an unknown source threatened to fly an aircraft into the US Capitol building late Tuesday as revenge for the assassination of a top Iranian official a year ago. – Jerusalem Post

Iranian parliament members submitted a bill last week which would obligate the government of the Islamic Republic to destroy the State of Israel in the next 20 years, the Iranian news agency ISNA reported. – Arutz Sheva

Nadav Hakham writes: The equation is simple: The West would rather ignore and repress what it knows about the regimes’ atrocities so it can quickly return to some sort of deal with Iran that will give the (false) sense that there is no nuclear threat to worry about – even if this means casting aside the very basics of Western morals regarding human rights. Consequently, unlike the devoted coverage of the Khashoggi affair, there is too little interest in a brutal assassination of the Iranian journalist who was murdered for revealing the truth. – Jerusalem Post


Hundreds of Turkish students ignored police warnings and marched across Istanbul on Wednesday to protest President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a loyalist as the head of a top university. – Agence France-Presse

The European Union will impose tariffs on hot-rolled iron and steel products from Turkey from Friday on the basis of an ongoing investigation into complaints that Turkish exporters are selling at excessively low prices. – Reuters

A January 2, 2021 article titled “Russia Violated The Agreement” by journalist Aybike Eroğlu in Turkey’s Yeni Şafak daily, which is a mouthpiece for the country’s ruling AKP, quotes Azeri experts who accuse the Russian government of violating the terms of the ceasefire agreement signed in November 2020 between the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia, which ended the two countries’ recent fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. – Middle East Media Research Institute


An Israeli military court on Wednesday found a prominent Palestinian activist guilty on six charges related to his participation in demonstrations in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron against Jewish settlements and alleged human rights violations. – Associated Press

The Tel Aviv municipality building will light up with the colors of the US flag following the riot and invasion of the Capitol building on Wednesday afternoon, Tel Aviv Mayor and Israelis Party leader Ron Huldai announced on Thursday morning. – Jerusalem Post

The event, in partnership with Sharaka, a group that promotes coexistence in the wake of the Abraham Accords, discussed the “business of peace” and looked at new Israel relations with the United Arab Emirates. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF has released archived documents, photographs and videos from the Gulf War, 30 years after it took place. – Jerusalem Post

The Israeli military has deployed air defense batteries around the southern city of Eilat in recent days amid concerns of an attack from the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday said it plans to knock down two floors of the building that was home to the Palestinian man suspected of killing Esther Horgen in a terror attack last month. – Times of Israel

A new defense system for armored vehicles, developed in part by a top Israeli defense company, was delivered in full to the US Army on Wednesday, according to an American contractor. – Algemeiner

Israel secretly delivered dozens of COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, Kan 11 News revealed on Wednesday. – Arutz Sheva

Herb Keinon writes: While one strong anchor to the relationship is a planned pipeline to deliver Israeli and Cypriot natural gas through Greece to Italy and further north into Europe, this latest deal is important because it adds another dimension to the relationship. If for any number of reasons the pipeline plan does not get off the ground, it is important that the relationship has other pillars on which to anchor relations as it faces potential storms down the road. – Jerusalem Post

Moshe Dann writes: Palestinianism – promoted in the media, mosques and schools to include anti-Jewish incitement, denial of the Holocaust and Jewish history, and rejection of the right of Jewish national self-determination – is the greatest obstacle to peace. The alternative is a true Palestinianism liberation movement dedicated to meaningful human values and creativity, free of the destructive and self-destructive agenda of terrorist organizations. – Jerusalem Post

Paul M. Schneider writes: But Palestinians cannot have it both ways. They cannot enjoy a right of self-determination in their own state while demographically threatening Jewish self-determination in Israel. […]Schwartz and Wilf make a compelling case: It is past time that peacemakers disabuse the Palestinians of any notion of a right of return. Until that happens, not much will change. Therefore, one hopes The War of Return will have a wide readership within the Biden administration. – Jerusalem Post

Leor Sinai writes: We all strive for something greater than ourselves.  Though worlds apart, we share common interests.  Who would have thought that citizens from the UAE, Bahrain, or Morocco, and Israelis would be considered part of the same Social Group and Interest? […]Insha’Allah, may it be Gd’s will, that we strive to build upon this common denominator, learning about each other and writing a new chapter for our peoples who have seen enough darkness to last a generation. – Times of Israel

Gulf States

Qatar’s resolve in the face of the assault showed how little the campaign achieved as the small, but influential U.S. ally holds firm with its ties to Turkey, Iran and Islamists. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia will move faster than its allies to reconcile with Qatar, sources familiar with the matter said, aiming to impress the incoming Biden administration by ending what the West sees as a parochial dispute that benefits only mutual foe Iran. – Reuters

Oil prices rose to their highest levels since February on Wednesday after Saudi Arabia announced a big voluntary production cut and on a steep fall in U.S. crude inventories. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Israel struck targets in southern Syria on Wednesday in the third such attack in nearly 10 days, state TV reported as military defectors said the missiles targeted Iranian revolutionary guard bases. – Reuters

The unveiling of a large statue in Beirut of an Iranian commander killed by the U.S. last year has sparked indignation among many in Lebanon — the latest manifestation of a growing schism between supporters and opponents of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah. – Associated Press

An arrest warrant was issued Thursday for outgoing President Donald Trump in connection with the killing of an Iranian general and a powerful Iraqi militia leader last year, Iraq’s judiciary said. – Associated Press

Following the November 2, 2020 terror attack in Vienna, ‘Adli Sadeq, a former official in the Palestinian foreign ministry and former member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, published an article titled “What Satanic Mind Spawned This Terror?” in the London-based daily Al-Arab. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hezbollah has suffered devastating blows in the last year and could be furthered pressured in 2021, a study by Al-Ain media asserts. The article is interesting due to its optimism about Hezbollah being pressured. – Jerusalem Post

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry spoke with his Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) counterparts on Wednesday afternoon as part of an attempt to prepare for a meeting intended to “advance peace in the region,” according to a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. – Times of Israel

Charles Thepaut and Pierre Morcos write: More broadly, the United States is contemplating a wider military withdrawal from the Middle East in order to focus on competition with China. Holding a serious transatlantic discussion about this strategic shift is therefore urgent, with the goal of formulating a smarter and more balanced model of military cooperation in the region. For some Europeans, promoting a more proactive defense and security role for the continent is still considered detrimental to the transatlantic partnership. Accordingly, Washington would be wise to explicitly encourage a stronger and more militarily credible European approach to the Middle East. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to strengthen his nuclear-armed nation’s military capabilities at a key ruling party meeting, state media reported Thursday, just weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration as US president. – Agence France-Presse

Conspicuous among those at the congress was Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, among 29 people whose promotion to the 39-member presidium of the party, the inner council responsible for carrying out the dictates of Chairman Kim, was revealed in a long list of names at the end of the KCNA dispatch. – The Daily Beast

Already suffering under stringent U.S. and U.N. sanctions, North Korea’s economy faced a double whammy of severe floods and the coronavirus pandemic this year, which prompted Pyongyang to shut its border with China and ditch outside aid. – Reuters


The scientists are undertaking the mission in the middle of a geopolitical standoff between China and the United States, in which the Trump administration has imposed new restrictions on Chinese tech companies and accused Beijing of obstructing the WHO investigation. – Washington Post

China’s most famous billionaire has suffered months of mounting trouble, with regulators turning the screws on his tech empire. And now social media is abuzz with the darkest speculation yet: Is Jack Ma missing? – Washington Post

As democratic governments around the world reacted with horror to President Trump supporters’ storming of the Capitol, China’s official propagandists could barely contain their schadenfreude. – Washington Post

U.S. officials are considering prohibiting Americans from investing in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , a potential escalation of the Trump administration’s efforts to unwind U.S. investors’ holdings in major Chinese companies. – Wall Street Journal

With tensions between the U.S. and China rising on many fronts, President-elect Joe Biden will take office aiming to align Western democracies to broadly pressure Beijing, a clear break with President Trump’s go-it-alone approach. – Wall Street Journal

British supermarket chain Marks and Spencer vowed Wednesday not to use cotton from China’s Xinjiang region in its clothes in response to the country’s alleged treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority. – Agence France-Presse

China should give access to World Health Organization (WHO) officials investigating the origins of COVID-19 “without delay”, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday. – Reuters

China said on Thursday that the United States will pay a “heavy price” for its wrongdoing, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it may sanction those involved in Hong Kong arrests and that the U.S.’ U.N. ambassador would visit Taiwan. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department plans to release as soon as Wednesday a fact sheet urging U.S. investors to comply with an executive order banning investments in alleged Chinese military companies, according to three people familiar with the matter and a copy of the document seen by Reuters. – Reuters

China said on Wednesday it would make a “necessary response” to a planned military dialogue between the United States and Chinese-claimed Taiwan, saying it firmly opposed the event. – Reuters

In its second reversal in three days, the New York Stock Exchange reinstated its decision to delist three Chinese state-owned phone carriers. – Washington Examiner

China seized upon the chaos at the U.S. Capitol as an opportunity to drive home a narrative of American hypocrisy, with state media casting the incident as “karma” and “retribution” for Washington’s support of global protest movements including those in Hong Kong. – Bloomberg

South Asia

A court in the northern city of Lahore in Pakistan has abolished so-called virginity tests, which women are subjected to in sexual assault cases, setting a precedent for the practice to be potentially outlawed nationwide. – New York Times

Shells and bullets are hurtling thicker and faster than ever between Indian and Pakistani forces across Kashmir’s ceasefire line, killing and maiming at a rate not seen in the entrenched conflict for two decades. – Agence France-Presse

Under a policy started in 2020, Indian authorities have buried scores of Kashmiri rebels in unmarked graves, denying their families proper funerals. The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger in the disputed region. – Associated Press

Tens of thousands of soldiers from India and Pakistan are positioned along the two sides. The apparent calm is often broken by the boom of blazing guns, with each side accusing the other of initiating the firing. – Associated Press

Negotiating teams representing the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents held a preparatory meeting on Wednesday in the Qatari capital Doha, with talks on a peacemaking agenda to begin on Saturday, both sides said. – Reuters

The question of whether the “accelerated rise” in military cooperation with India – from exercises like Malabar to sharing sensitive satellite targeting intelligence – will continue under the Biden administration remains open, two experts in Indian strategy said Wednesday. – USNI News


The mass arrests signaled that the central Chinese government, which once wielded its power over Hong Kong with a degree of discretion, is increasingly determined to openly impose its will on the city. – New York Times

Hong Kong activists say this week’s mass roundup shows that Beijing’s tolerance for democracy in the city is quickly narrowing, by branding dozens of opposition lawmakers who participated in political primaries as suspects in a plot to paralyze the city. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is considering sanctions and other restrictions on those involved in the arrest of over 50 people in Hong Kong and warned it could target the territory’s economic and trade office in the United States. – Reuters

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn does not need a visa to re-enter Germany, where the monarch has spent much of his time since taking the throne in 2016, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Hong Kong authorities awoke to a chorus of international condemnation on Thursday following the mass arrest of pro-democracy opposition figures under a draconian national security law that Beijing imposed on the finance hub. – Agence France-Presse

An American human rights lawyer who was detained in Hong Kong with scores of democracy activists and supporters as part of a sweeping crackdown was granted bail, his associate said Thursday. – Associated Press

Members of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism police squad on Wednesday shot and killed two suspected militants who they believe were connected to a deadly suicide attack at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines, and arrested 18 others, officials said. – Associated Press

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is threatening to scrap a key agreement with the U.S. military in an attempt to force Washington to provide his country with Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: China threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday with the arrest of dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists in Hong Kong, and not only to those who value freedom in the territory. It was also an insult to the European Union just days after it approved a new investment and trade pact with China, and a direct challenge to President-elect Joe Biden. All of them must respond forcefully to China’s rapid and wrenching destruction of liberty in Hong Kong. – Washington Post

Brad Lips writes: My New Year’s wish is that in 2021 the Biden administration will win honors for providing the world an example of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law. The president-elect could begin by calling out the illiberalism of the Chinese government. Then he could follow the lead of the U.K. by offering asylum to Hong Kong’s people, including those arrested under the national-security law—especially democracy’s hero, Jimmy Lai. – Wall Street Journal

Timothy Mclaughlin writes: Though unofficial, the primaries may well have been Hong Kong’s last free vote, an act of resistance that—while lacking the violent flourishes of Molotov cocktails or water cannons that helped garner worldwide attention for much of 2019—showed both the potential power of an organized opposition wielding even limited clout in a system tipped steeply against it, and the authorities’ extreme fear of it. – The Atlantic


The Navy is eyeing a tougher posture in the Arctic to push back against Moscow, and top Pentagon officials said this week that the U.S. could launch “freedom of navigation” operations near Russia’s Arctic coastline. – Washington Times

Russian officials on Thursday pointed to the storming of the US Capitol as evidence of America’s decline, with one saying it showed US democracy was “limping on both feet. – Agence France-Presse

Jalel Harchaoui writes: Cognizant of the discrepancy between Little Sparta’s exigencies and vulnerabilities in Libya, Russia has implemented a new modus operandi by combining skillful soft-power maneuvering with the use of force through an unacknowledged semi-state actor. This low-cost strategy has enabled Moscow to become an impossible-to-circumvent power broker in a country where it had lost all sway in the wake of the U.S.-led intervention in 2011. In all cases, the war is not over — and the Russian pendulum is not done swinging in Libya. Time is on its side. – War on the Rocks


The European Union embarked on a trade deal with China believing that engagement with Beijing was the best way to alter its behavior and make it a committed stakeholder in the international system. But that was seven years ago. – New York Times

A judge in London on Wednesday declined to release Julian Assange on bail while he awaits a final resolution in the case to extradite him to the United States to face charges of violating espionage laws. – New York Times

Henry Olsen writes: China’s behavior also shows that they will use this influence to displace America’s. It has economically threatened Australia for that country’s tough stance toward Chinese power grabs. It has bullied U.S. companies when employees exercise free speech to criticize Chinese government acts, forcing them to bow to Beijing even when doing so violates democratic norms. It’s inconceivable that Beijing will suddenly reverse course and not use its economic leverage in Europe to advance its geopolitical aims. – Washington Post

Dalibor Rohac write: If the EU-China investment deal is an indication, many in the EU are keen to resume their pre-2016 modus operandi: doing business with all regimes around the world, no matter how unsavory, pontificating about multilateral causes du jour but letting the U.S. deal with the day-to-day maintenance of the rules-based order and the work of addressing acute geopolitical crises. Whether the Biden administration will acquiesce to such an arrangement remains an open question. Yet, betting that it will is not necessarily naive — just a bit craven. – Politico

Philip Stephens writes: Mr Macron can fairly argue that this was not the deal struck at the outset of European integration. In return for political legitimacy and economic access, the then West Germany offered France Europe’s political leadership. “Europe will be your revenge” then chancellor Konrad Adenauer promised French prime minister Guy Mollet when the British scuttled back to Washington after the 1956 Suez debacle. The role is no longer vacant. Berlin now calls the shots. Mr Macron deserves to succeed in his ambition for an internationally credible Europe but it will still need the US. – Financial Times


A top-ranking member of Ethiopia’s army confirmed that troops from neighbouring Eritrea entered the northern Tigray region during the conflict there, in a video seen by AFP on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Sudan on Wednesday quietly signed on to the Abraham Accords, U.S.-brokered agreements which have ushered in public rapprochements between Israel and several Arab states. – Reuters

About 2.2 million people have been displaced within Ethiopia’s Tigray region since fighting erupted there in November with about half fleeing after their homes were burned down, a local government official said. – Reuters

Deadly violence and repressive measures have alarmed observers as Uganda prepares to vote on Jan. 14, with longtime President Yoweri Museveni challenged by young singer and lawmaker Bobi Wine, who has captured the imagination of many across Africa in a generational clash. – Associated Press

Days after attacks on two villages killed more than 100 civilians in his African nation, Niger’s president said Wednesday that tackling the growing fragility of nations must be a top priority of the 21st century. – Associated Press

Alberto M. Fernandez writes: It would seem to be a great tragedy if, coming out of three decades of Islamist dictatorship, a democratic process would give birth to still another Sudanese experiment in illiberal Islamist politics. But in a true democracy, results should be respected. Regardless of what the ground rules are, the coming political process leading to 2022 elections (and after) will be complicated. […]This is the last of the three great challenges – economic crisis, civil-military relations, and the political process leading to elections – that Sudan, and those in the international community who care about Sudan, must overcome in the next two years. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The Americas

The European Union can no longer legally recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament, the bloc’s 27 governments said on Wednesday. – Reuters

International critics of Venezuela’s socialist government have united in rejecting the country’s newly chosen congress as illegitimate, but used notably different language Wednesday in referring to the opposition leader they have long recognized as the country’s rightful president — hinting at potential divisions. – Associated Press

Two Canadian parliamentarians have been accused by a leading Jewish organization of adding “fuel to the fire of antisemitic conspiracy theories” after they shared misleading claims on social media that Israel was excluding Palestinians from its coronavirus vaccination roll-out. – Algemeiner

Ryan Berg writes: If the next administration has any hope of Central America rising above the chaos and another migration crisis, it should bring sanctions and indictments down on Merino, his Salvadoran collaborators, and many others in the region like him. The “Engel List” may prove to be just the nudge the Treasury Department needs to set Central America on a path toward the prosperity and rule of law for which it longs. – The Hill

United States

Leaders and citizens around the world reacted with alarm to images of a mob supporting President Trump forcing its way into the U.S. Capitol, calling it a shocking development in one of the world’s most stable democracies. – Wall Street Journal

The chaos unleashed on the US Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters dominated front pages across the world Thursday, with headlines such as “Trump sets fire to Washington”, “Democracy under siege”, and “The Coup of Madness”. – Agence France-Presse

Anthony H. Cordesman and Grace Hwang write: Finally, the U.S. will need to develop plans, programs, and budgets that actually implement a practical and cost-effective strategy to counter the Chinese and Russian challenge, and one tailored to addressing the new issues raised by the new emerging industrial age and the lasting repercussions from the Coronavirus. The U.S. needs to be smarter in utilizing its current resources and allies at their highest potential, but it is also clear that if the U.S. does act more wisely, it has the strategic partners and the domestic resources in its civil and economic sector to compete successfully with both China and Russia. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Justice Department has become the latest known victim of Russian hackers, who are engaged in an ongoing campaign of cyberespionage that has afflicted federal agencies and the private sector. – Washington Post

The Trump administration formally accused Russia of “likely” being behind the most devastating hack of U.S. government agencies in years. – Washington Post

The FBI is investigating whether the hackers behind a series of intrusions at U.S. federal agencies and companies also broke into project-management software created by the Czech-based company JetBrains in order to breach its customers, two people familiar with the investigation told Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters

The U.S. Department of Defense must determine the national security threat posed by quantum computing, as part of the new annual defense policy law. – C4ISRNET

Rob Knake writes: The challenge for the incoming administration will be to devise a response to the SolarWinds hack that is in some way proportional but that does not replicate Moscow’s bad behavior. Such a response will have to telegraph to the Russians which aspects of its hacking campaign were acceptable and which the United States is declaring out of bounds. But no matter what signals it sends or actions it takes, the Biden administration will struggle to shield federal agencies and private businesses from future hacking campaigns unless it implements the cyberstrategy first articulated more than two decades ago. – Foreign Affairs


US lawmakers have made it more difficult for the US Air Force (USAF) to retire its Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. – Jane’s 360

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has delivered the final Trophy active protection system (APS) to the US Army for integration on its line of M1 Abrams main battle tanks. – Jane’s 360

The U.S. Defense Department must be allowed to press forward with replacing its Cold War-era Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, the head of U.S. Strategic Command said Tuesday. – Defense News

Trump Administration

Donald Trump’s top National Security Council officials and a deputy White House chief of staff are considering resigning over the president’s encouragement of protests that led to his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

President Trump has signed an executive order asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to determine if the far-left group Antifa can be classified a terrorist organization — and to bar its members from entering the country. – New York Post

President Trump is “entirely unfit to remain in office,” a junior State Department official argued after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to oppose the affirmation of President-elect Biden’s victory in the 2020 campaign. – Washington Examiner