Fdd's overnight brief

July 20, 2021

In The News


The U.S. is considering tighter sanctions on Iranian oil sales to China as a way to encourage Tehran to conclude a nuclear deal and raise the costs of abandoning stalled negotiations. – Wall Street Journal 

A pause in negotiations to salvage Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers has placed the International Atomic Energy Agency in an “uncomfortable position,” its boss told AFP on Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

Iran has launched one of its new stealthy catamaran “missile corvettes” according to open-source intelligence analyzed by expert H.I. Sutton, who runs the Cover Shores website. He noted that this took place as many have been distracted by monitoring the Iranian Makran warship which is sailing close to the UK this week. – Jerusalem Post 

Anti-regime protests have been underway in the Iranian Khuzestan Province because of extreme water shortages in the area. Activists have also cited marginalization by the regime because of ethnic differences, as the Ahwaz are Arab and primarily speak Arabic. – Jerusalem Post 

Iran will continue the Vienna talks to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement after President-elect Ebrahim Raisi and his cabinet take office in August, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, according to the Xinhua news agency. – Arutz Sheva 

Emily Schrader writes: It is unrealistic to expect that Iran is suddenly going to change its tune with a newly-brokered Iran deal, especially when it has spent the last few months carrying out targeted military action via proxy against US troops in Iraq and Syria. Others may be shocked by Iran’s brazen kidnapping attempts, but these actions confirm what we already knew: Iran is not to be trusted. It’s time to recognize the obvious for the sake of Iranians, Iranian dissidents, and civilians throughout the world who are being impacted by Iran’s violence and human rights violations. – Jerusalem Post 

Salem AlKetbi writes: The military escalation can only show Iran’s desire to maximize pressure on Washington. The US is well aware that bowing to this pressure puts the Biden administration in a difficult and complex position. It makes negotiation with the mullahs on issues other than the nuclear program, such as the missile program and regional influence, totally unlikely. – Arutz Sheva 

Farzin Nadimi writes: In addition to diplomacy, Tehran has been bolstering its military deployments on the Afghan frontier. Cellphone videos recently posted on social media show columns of equipment from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and national armed forces (Artesh) being transported to the border, including main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, surveillance systems, and support assets. Moreover, the air force has reportedly put some of its eastern-based fighter jets on high alert. – Washington Institute 

Blaise Misztal and Jonathan Ruhe write: European officials recently expressed grave concern about Iran’s July 6 announcement that it would begin using its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to produce enriched uranium metal. But it is another, earlier, and mostly unremarked on Iranian announcement that should be much more alarming. […]If this rate of growth were sustained, Iran would be on course to accumulate enough 20 percent enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, thereby dropping its breakout time to as little as 6 weeks, by mid- to late-July. – Jewish Institute for National Security of America 


A decision this month by the U.N. Security Council to continue the flow of humanitarian aid to the province for another year did little to ease the sense of precariousness here. The vote came a day before the relief deliveries were to be cut off. It was hailed by the United States and Russia as a rare example of cooperation. Russia had earlier threatened to veto any aid resolution. But the vote left Idlib stuck where it was: seething, fragile and a riddle unsolved. – Washington Post 

Israel carried out an aerial attack southeast of Syria’s northern Aleppo province late Monday, a Syrian military official said. – Associated Press 

Syria has accused Israel of launching a new attack on the country shortly after China pledged additional support for the war-torn Arab nation that Beijing views as important for its economic footprint in the Middle East. – Newsweek 

It is time to recognize the status of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, say a chorus of voices who have supported or observed the region’s progress for years. The autonomous region, sometimes abbreviated as AANES, is the same area that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces helped liberate from ISIS and represents one of the most diverse areas of Syria, with Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Muslims and Yazidis. It is an area that supporters say guarantees women’s rights and minority rights and is in contrast to the authoritarian chauvinist nationalist trend in the region.  – Jerusalem Post 

David Pollock writes: While these Syrian refugees do tend to see the nuclear negotiations in their newfound home as a likely win for Iran, Assad’s essential backer, they nevertheless point to other possible ways of undermining his regime from within. […]These elements, they claim, might be willing to make deals with Russia, with Alawi elites, with Syrian Kurds, and even with neighboring countries or other outside powers—all in order to get rid of Assad and his Shiite foreign friends. But they will not move without some sort of signal from abroad, preferably from Washington. – Washington Institute 


Ben & Jerry’s, the iconic Vermont-based brand, announced Monday that it would no longer sell ice cream in the West Bank. In a statement, the company said it was “inconsistent with our values” for the ice cream to be sold in Palestinian territory that was occupied by Israel. Ben and Jerry’s said it would not be renewing an agreement with a local licensee when it expires at the end of next year. – Washington Post 

Israel’s Defence Ministry said on Monday that the export of cyber products, like spyware sold by NSO Group, was for lawful use and with the sole purpose of fighting crime and countering terrorism. – Reuters 

A group of ambassadors who represent their countries at the United Nations in New York and at embassies in Washington met on Monday with President Isaac Herzog. – Jerusalem Post 

Former Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman will be Israel’s next ambassador to Canada, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke on the phone Monday evening with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to wish him a happy Eid al-Adha, in the first conversation between a high-ranking Israeli minister and the PA leader in four years. – Times of Israel 

The head of the NGO Human Rights Watch faced a storm of criticism on Monday for pinning a rise in antisemitic violence targeting British Jews on Israeli policy. – Algemeiner 

Former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley spoke on Sunday at the annual summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). In her remarks, Haley pointed out that it is not Israel which is responsible for Palestinian Arabs suffering but rather the Hamas terrorist organization, which hides behind innocent civilians when it fires rockets at Israeli cities and towns. – Arutz Sheva 

Attorney Ahmad al-Rawidi, an adviser to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, says the “invasions” of Jews into the Temple Mount compound over the past two days show that Israel’s “occupying power” is seeking exclusive sovereignty over the al-Aqsa Mosque. – Arutz Sheva 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that those who try to harm Israel will pay “a painful price,” after two rockets had been launched at Israel from Lebanon overnight into Tuesday. – Haaretz 


At least 31 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad on Monday, local officials said, when an explosion ripped through a market filled with families doing their shopping ahead of the Islamic Eid al-Adha celebration. – Washington Post 

This summer will be followed by an election, Iraq’s sixth since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Despite the government’s failures during the scorching-hot summer, many Iraqis do not see voting as a way to bring about change. Many even call for a boycott of the election. – Washington Post 

ISIS have claimed responsibility for an explosion that ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital on Monday, killing at least 27 people and wounding 32. – CNN 


President Biden on Monday praised King Abdullah II of Jordan as a “loyal and decent friend’ as the two leaders met at the White House, a critical visit for a Mideast leader who found himself sidelined under former President Donald J. Trump. – New York Times 

US President Joe Biden met King Abdullah at the White House Monday afternoon, with Jordan set to play an important role in America’s changing posture in the region. It is no coincidence that Abdullah is the first Arab leader to visit Biden. As the contours of the Biden administration’s approach to the Middle East begin to take shape, the US will look to Amman — a reliable ally — to support key American priorities. – Times of Israel 

Jordan is hoping that King Abdullah’s meeting with US President Joe Biden will pave the way for the kingdom to return to center stage in regional developments, particularly the Israeli-Arab conflict. Jordan is also hoping that the meeting will put an end to the talk about transforming the kingdom into a Palestinian state. – Jerusalem Post 


The Israeli military said its artillery shelled southern Lebanon early Tuesday after two rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory. – Associated Press 

Lebanon’s presidency said parliamentary consultations to choose a new prime minister will begin on July 26, in another attempt to push Lebanon’s fractious political class to form a government to rescue the country from financial meltdown. – Reuters 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday that Israel will hold Lebanon accountable for the recent rocket attacks from southern Lebanon, and vowed to take action against “any threat” to Israel’s security. – Arutz Sheva 

David Schenker writes: If it were necessary to further convince Washington’s European partners of Hezbollah’s role in the murder, the Biden administration might consider passing on some of the intelligence regarding Ayyash’s position in Hezbollah’s assassination squad. […]If the Biden administration can’t convince its European partners to act, perhaps it could persuade these states to at least direct their tribunal contributions to a cause that would better help Lebanon—such as that of the World Food Program, which (along with the World Bank) is currently feeding a considerable portion of the Lebanese population suffering, in large part, due to Hezbollah. – Washington Institute 

Anchal Vohra writes: Together, the tweets seemed to suggest the expansion of a war between Israel and Iran that had until now mostly taken place in the shadows. For years, Iran and Israel have engaged in tit-for-tat attacks on each other’s ships in, and beyond, the Mediterranean. The conflict has mostly concentrated on Iranian oil tankers bound for oil-starved Syria. Now it seems the fight is spreading to involve a Lebanon that increasingly seems on the verge of economic collapse. – Foreign Policy 

Gulf States

The United Arab Emirates’ de facto ruler held talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Monday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at a time of tensions between the two Gulf allies that led this month to an open standoff over oil policy. – Reuters 

The state-owned Europe Asia Pipeline Company on Monday dismissed concerns of opponents of its deal to pipe Gulf oil through Israel on the way to European markets, telling the High Court that a petition filed by green groups to declare the agreement invalid had “no factual foundation” and that a risk survey found the threat of environmental damage to be “negligible.” – Times of Israel 

The world’s leading oil producers agreed on Sunday to continue to modestly boost output from August, after the United Arab Emirates blocked a deal earlier this month. – Agence France-Presse 

Middle East & North Africa

President Tayyip Erdogan called on the United States on Tuesday to meet “conditions” including financial, logistical and diplomatic support, so that Turkey can run and guard Kabul airport after other foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan. – Reuters

Security forces in eastern Turkey have conducted a major operation against people traffickers bringing migrants across the Iranian border, the provincial governor’s office said Monday. – Associated Press 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday peace talks on the future of ethnically divided Cyprus can take place only between “the two states” on the Mediterranean island. – Reuters 

Ahmed Marwane writes: In the last two years, Algeria’s Hirak movement has instigated a radical development in the political culture of Algerian youth. And while some critics may correctly argue that the movement has become frayed, or that the Algerian political system remains exclusive to young people, the impact of the movement is still significant. […]In order to understand the meaning of that change, it may be necessary to understand the story of the movement and its successive challenges since its beginning in 2019. – Washington Institute 

Jacob Dayan writes: I don’t rule out a tactical narrowing of differences. Israel also has weighty interests in such closer relations, but we need to go there with our eyes open, and know that the man who provided a base for Hamas activists and permitted the Mavi Marmara to sail to Gaza will not suddenly turn into Anwar Sadat or King Hussein. Erdogan is an ideological leader with a clear view of the world, and while we come with a clear willingness and intention to improve relations, we always need to remember that. – Haaretz 


The United States, the European Union, NATO and other world powers on Monday accused the Chinese government of a broad array of malicious cyber activities, blaming its Ministry of State Security and hackers allegedly linked to it for a sophisticated attack on Microsoft’s widely used email server software earlier this year. – Washington Post 

Nearly a decade ago, the United States began naming and shaming China for an onslaught of online espionage, the bulk of it conducted using low-level phishing emails against American companies for intellectual property theft. – New York Times 

China on Tuesday sharply denied US allegations it carried out a massive Microsoft hack, countering that Washington was the “world champion” of cyber attacks while raging at American allies for signing up to a rare joint statement of condemnation. – Agence France-Presse 

The Biden administration has been debating internally whether and how to impose sanctions on China for its malfeasance in cyberspace, according to people familiar with the matter, as experts question why the White House has not gone further in penalizing China for its alleged hack of Microsoft’s email system in the spring. – CNN 

President Joe Biden rejected the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments on Monday when he explained why he won’t introduce sanctions against China in response to its Microsoft Exchange hack. – Washington Examiner 

China’s sweeping regulatory action against internet giants such as ride-hailing firm Didi Global Inc, which has sent chills through the industry, is part of a broader national project to create a domestic marketplace for the country’s vast troves of big data. – Reuters 

Editorial: The White House statement, which blames the Chinese government for the massive hack of Microsoft Exchange servers this year and other attacks since 2011, reads like self-parody: It sternly (and rightly) scolds Beijing — but doles out no consequences to make the Chinese pay or to deter future attacks. – New York Post 

Kara Swisher writes: In other words, it’s a hot mess — not unlike the one that Mr. Zuckerberg will still be facing domestically with increasing regulatory scrutiny. He certainly still has a lot of important controversies to answer for, which President Biden underscored last week when he accused social media of “killing people” by hosting vaccine misinformation. But Mr. Zuckerberg was right back then that we might want to start spending more time thinking about China. – New York Times 

Gideon Rachman writes: But that expansion, while plausible, has not yet happened. Even if China were to develop a naval presence in ports such as Gwadar in Pakistan or Hambantota in Sri Lanka, it seems unlikely that Beijing would offer the security guarantees that have made so many countries willing to welcome American troops and bases. […]If China is unwilling or unable to achieve a global military presence that rivals that of the US, it may have to find a new way of being a superpower — or give up on the ambition. – Financial Times 

Jude Blanchette and Richard McGregor write: There are, of course, other possible scenarios. For one, Xi may choose to retire in 2035, the midpoint between the CCP’s centenary this year and the 2049 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. […]In the decades after Mao’s death in 1976, the country’s political system seemed to be steadily stabilizing, despite occasional turmoil at the top. Today, however, China’s political future is shrouded in uncertainty. The succession issue is not one that Chinese officials discuss in public, but they cannot ignore it, either. It is a problem that will need a solution sooner or later. – Foreign Affairs 


At least three rockets hit near the presidential palace on Tuesday shortly before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was to give an address to mark the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. – Associated Press 

Russia and Uzbekistan will hold joint military drills in Uzbekistan near Afghan border from July 30 to Aug. 10, Interfax news agency cited Russia’s armed forces as saying on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The United States will use a military base in Virginia to temporarily house Afghan interpreters fleeing their home country due to the withdrawal of US forces after 20 years of war, officials said Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

More than a dozen diplomatic missions in Afghanistan on Monday called for “an urgent end” to the Taliban’s ruthless military offensive, saying it was at odds with claims they want a negotiated settlement to end the conflict. – Agence France-Presse 

As President Joe Biden nears the August deadline he set to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, one critical feature of the drawdown has become clear: he now owns the precarious situation there, and there’s no turning back. – U.S. News & World Report 

On February 29, 2020, The Islamic Emirate and the United States signed an agreement in Doha requiring the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan while the Taliban ensured that no terrorist group launched attacks against the U.S. and its allies. The Doha agreement did not require the Taliban to either agree to a permanent ceasefire or abide by the democratic constitution of Afghanistan and the rights it offers, such as women’s rights, individual liberties, a free press, or the rights of non-Muslim minorities. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

South Asia

Washington’s point man in talks aimed at ending decades of war in Afghanistan made a brief visit Monday to Pakistan as relations between Islamabad and Kabul reached a new low. – Associated Press 

Islamabad has rejected accusations levelled by a senior Afghan government official that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been “providing close air support to the Taliban in certain areas” after the group captured a key border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. – Janes 

Prominent Indian politician Rahul Gandhi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan were selected as potential targets of the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware program by clients of the NSO Group cyberespionage firm, a global investigation can reveal Monday. – Haaretz 


Asia is sliding into a dangerous arms race as smaller nations that once stayed on the sidelines build arsenals of advanced long-range missiles, following in the footsteps of powerhouses China and the United States, analysts say. – Reuters 

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Southeast Asia later this month, the Pentagon said, a trip that will include stops in the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the U.S. embassy in Hanoi. – Reuters 

A Tokyo court handed down prison terms for the American father and son accused of helping Nissan’s former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, escape to Lebanon while awaiting trial in Japan. – Associated Press 

U.S. businesses operating in Hong Kong should reassess their operations and decide if the risks of operating there are worth the reward, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. – Associated Press 

The US has reached a deal with Vietnam to resolve a dispute over the south-east Asian nation’s currency that had soured economic relations between the two countries during Donald Trump’s presidency. – Financial Times 

William McGurn writes: So 20 years after one Vietnam-generation president took us into Afghanistan, another is taking us out. It’s not the first time for Mr. Biden. […]Today Mr. Biden boasts to the world that “America is back.” But to vulnerable Afghans facing down the Taliban, America is gone. – Wall Street Journal 

Jennifer D.P. Moroney and Alan Tidwell write: A vital part of the strategy that the U.S. government should consider would include a clear statement of its commitment to work together with allies in the region in a combined planning approach. […]The Defense Department could consider taking a backseat where appropriate and playing a supporting role to allies’ initiatives. This approach would allow the United States and its allies to gain influence in the Pacific island countries and better compete with China. – War on the Rocks 


Russia and the United States have agreed to hold their first round of nuclear strategic stability talks on July 28 in Geneva, the Kommersant newspaper reported on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Walter Russell Mead writes: Mr. Putin can reasonably hope that time is on Russia’s side. Ukraine shows few real signs of overcoming the corruption and stagnation that keep it weak and poor. The EU continues to dither, the Western world order continues to erode, and Washington’s intensifying rivalry with Beijing both distracts U.S. attention and weakens its hand when it comes to Russia policy. If these trends persist, many things about our world will change, and the political balance between pro- and anti-Russian forces in Ukraine might be one of them. – Wall Street Journal 

John Herbst writes: Overall, Kremlin revisionist foreign policy remains a major challenge to the United States. And we must push back hard against this challenge in Ukraine, the cybersphere and elsewhere. But that does not prevent us from working with Moscow where our interests overlap, and such cooperation may help the Kremlin understand over time that ultimately its efforts to undermine the international order do not serve Russian interests. – The National Interest 


Migrants from Iraq and Africa have faced rapacious traffickers and perilous land and sea crossings as they tried to make their way to the European Union to seek asylum. Now some are finding themselves caught in a geopolitical battle between the European Union and Belarus’s strongman, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, which has intensified since his government forced down an international flight to drag off a young opposition activist, drawing worldwide condemnation — and E.U. sanctions. – New York Times 

In communist-era Hungary, citizens were recruited to spy on their neighbors and report any potential threats to the secret police. In the Hungary of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a spyware tool has been deployed to similar effect, monitoring people with technology that can turn smartphones into troves of information. – Washington Post 

The United States and Germany are expected to announce in coming days a deal resolving their long-standing dispute over Russia’s $11 billion Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday. – Reuters 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Monday with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who urged greater pressure on the regime that she says rigged last year’s elections. – Agence France-Presse 

France said it was outraged on Monday over allegations that Morocco’s intelligence services used Israeli malware to spy on dozens of French journalists, calling revelations in the media “extremely shocking”. – Agence France-Presse 

The European Commission is set to warn of increasing threats to judicial independence and to the fight against official corruption in Hungary and Poland, underscoring deep concerns within Brussels as the two countries seek EU approval for their recovery plans. – Financial Times 

Editorial: Rarely will there be a clearer place or time for President Biden to put muscle behind his pro-democracy rhetoric. He should meet with Ms. Tikhanovskaya, who is simply asking that the world’s democracies press the regime to enter negotiations leading to new elections. Then Mr. Biden should act. – Washington Post 

Latin America

Claude Joseph, who has nominally led Haiti as acting prime minister since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, has agreed to step down and hand over power to challenger Ariel Henry, who has been backed by the international community. – Washington Post 

Pedro Castillo, a far-left union activist whose rise has jarred Peru’s political establishment, was declared president-elect Monday night amid deepening social unrest in a country battered by the coronavirus pandemic. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States is expected to soon announce initial steps as part of the Biden administration’s review of Cuba policy and in response to Havana’s crackdown on the biggest street protests in decades, State Department officials said on Monday – Reuters 

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s inner circle, politicians from every party, dissidents and journalists were potential targets for surveillance by a government client of the Israeli spyware company NSO Group, The Guardian reported on Monday. – Reuters 

Sharon Nazarian writes: Twenty-seven years ago, 85 Argentinean women, men and children were killed simply because they were present at the center of Jewish life in Buenos Aires. Let’s do everything we can to dignify their memories by ensuring their killers are finally brought to justice. – Times of Israel 

United States

The Biden administration on Monday repatriated a detainee from Guantánamo Bay to Morocco, the first transfer of an inmate from the high-security prison since the Trump administration mostly halted the resettlements when the former president took office in 2017. – Washington Post 

For the Washington think tanks and foundations that work to control the spread of nuclear weapons, the Doomsday Clock is inching closer to midnight. That’s because a leading financial backer of their efforts to reduce nuclear proliferation is ending its support, sending shockwaves through arms control institutions that are already struggling to remain influential. – Politico 

Hal Brands write: Right now, there is no hope for a near-term improvement in US-China relations. The search for a major diplomatic breakthrough could actually be dangerous if it distracts Washington from urgent measures to shore up its defenses in the military, technological and economic realms of the competition. But the Kissinger-Nixon opening to China is, if nothing else, a reminder that the bitterest enemies do occasionally reconcile — even if it takes many years and a lot of turmoil for that to happen. – Bloomberg 


U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford completed its second in-water shock trial on July 16, after an attempt earlier in the month failed due to technical issues. – Defense News 

Matt Donovan writes: Of the many lessons in this poor first performance for America’s military in the struggle against the Axis powers, most prominent for airmen were the consequences of not having a single independent air commander directing limited air assets to achieve air superiority, and the assigning of airpower units to land force commanders as “auxiliary” forces. America cannot afford to repeat these mistakes when it comes to command and control of space power and maintaining space superiority in a future conflict with a peer adversary. – C4ISRNET 

Jacquelyn Schneider and Julia Macdonald write: Military revolutions were never just about chasing the next technology. They were always about experimentation and response. It’s time for the United States to adapt to the counter revolution, not simply update to the newest version of an already antiquated system. – War on the Rocks 

Patty-Jane Geller writes: For three years, air and missile defense for Guam has appeared on U.S. Indo–Pacific Command’s (INDOPACOM) list of unfunded priorities, yet efforts to begin work on this project have not progressed. Both former and current INDOPACOM commanders have stressed the importance of Guam’s strategic location in great-power competition with China, whose offensive capabilities that threaten Guam continue to improve. – Heritage Foundation