Fdd's overnight brief

July 21, 2021

In The News


Iran imposed a one-week lockdown in the capital and a nearby province on Tuesday as daily COVID-19 caseloads hit a record high amid a fifth wave of the pandemic, state television reported. – Reuters 

An Iranian police officer was killed during unrest in the country’s restive southwest amid ongoing demonstrations over water shortages, state media reported Wednesday, raising the death toll in the unrest to at least two people. – Associated Press 

Iran’s government said domestic interference was responsible for stalling President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, highlighting legislation that hardline lawmakers had hoped would pressure the Biden administration into swiftly removing sanctions. – Bloomberg 

 Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has rejected a draft agreement negotiated indirectly with the U.S. over the past three months in Vienna, a government spokesman said Thursday. – Axios 

Faced with a surge of unrest across its border with Afghanistan as the U.S. military withdraws from a two-decade conflict, Iran is seeking to leverage local and regional relationships in an effort to secure the stability of its fellow Islamic Republic. – Newsweek 

After remaining largely silent about death threats targeting the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad in 2020, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists “strongly condemned” last week the alleged plot by Iran’s clerical regime to kidnap Alinejad. – Jerusalem Post  

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement following reports that the Biden administration is continuing to negotiate with the Iranian regime in an attempt to revive the failed 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – House Armed Services Committee  

Kate Woodsome writes: U.S. officials say efforts to free the Namazis, Shargi and Tahbaz will persist if the nuclear deal fizzles. As long as the two issues are separate yet related and U.S. parties remain polarized, the American captives — and their loved ones — will continue to suffer. “It shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but we live in a partisan age,” a senior administration official told me. “Whatever concession or compromise we make will be criticized.” That’s of little comfort to the hostages’ families, who just want their loved ones home safe and alive. – Washington Post 

Navid Mohebbi and Cameron Khansarinia write: The foiled kidnapping plot against activist and journalist Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen living in New York City, has sparked a wave of outrage. The Justice Department’s indictment and detailed court documents indicate the Islamic Republic’s significant investment in the plot. The most troublesome part of this case, however, has been the Biden administration’s weak public response, which invites more malign behavior from Tehran. – Wall Street Journal 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It may be that in the coming months and years we will see more rocket fire from Lebanon ascribed to Palestinian groups. This gives Hezbollah and Iran plausible deniability because they can pretend it is just Palestinians “reacting.” But the reality is that no one fires rockets from Lebanon without Hezbollah’s approval. In the wider context, this may mean approval or orders even came directly from Tehran. – Jerusalem Post  

James Jay Carafano and Stefano Graziosi write: There is a problem with all the Franco-German strategic balancing and economic engagement. None of it takes into account the deep flaws of the Iran Deal, which demonstrably was useless in restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions or Tehran’s destabilizing activities. […] The worst thing that could happen to Europe is if Berlin and Paris get exactly what they ask for. – 19FortyFive 


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Tuesday on a two-state solution in Cyprus and threw his weight behind plans for a coastal resort that was emptied of its original Greek Cypriot residents to be partially reopened. – Agence France-Presse 

Oğul Tuna and Gökhan Çınkara write: At this point, if Turkish or Israeli leadership makes any kind of effort to normalize relations, through any one of these avenues, or others, it will initiate a long and exhaustive process for the two countries. In that case, Azerbaijan could be the mediator needed to instill trust and good will in the process. – Washington Institute 

Ezgi Yazici writes: Ankara’s deployment of Syrian proxies to expand the Turkish footprint and offset casualty risks for the Turkish Armed Forces in Afghanistan would be consistent with recent Turkish military behavior in Libya and Azerbaijan. A long-term Turkish presence in Afghanistan with the risk of Taliban attacks may not serve Ankara’s strategic interests at home or abroad in the long term, however. – Institute for the Study of War 


Unilever PLC was engulfed in controversy Tuesday after its ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s said it would no longer sell its products in Jewish settlements located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested East Jerusalem. – Wall Street Journal  

Though NSO is a private company, U.S. officials have long suspected that some information it collects is also viewed by the Israeli government, said a current U.S. official familiar with the matter. – Washington Post 

The Israeli Army fired several artillery rounds into southern Lebanon early Tuesday in a brief response to rockets fired into Israel hours earlier by militants in the neighboring nation. – New York Times 

 An Israeli politician and former mayor of Jerusalem is urging the Biden administration to abandon its plans to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, calling such a move a mistake. – The Hill 

The head of the Israeli military has threatened further retaliation to any additional attacks launched from across the northern border with Lebanon, while neighboring Syria has issued a warning to Israel after accusing it of recent airstrikes. – Newsweek 

The government has appointed a special team to handle the fallout of revelations that Israel-based NSO Group sold spyware allegedly used by governments to target politicians, journalists and others worldwide, according to a Tuesday report. – Times of Israel 

Responding to an in-depth investigation that revealed that Israel’s NSO Group has been selling spyware used by foreign governments to target journalists and activists, Defense Minister Benny Gantz asserted Tuesday that Israel operates fully within international law. – Times of Israel 

The head of Military Intelligence on Tuesday said Israel is facing constant cyber threats and will respond to attacks as it does to any other type of aggression. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that Israel would not tolerate rocket fire from Lebanon, warning that terrorists launching projectiles into Israel will “pay a painful price.” – Times of Israel 

Israel gives its full support to Cyprus in its dispute with Turkey over plans to resettle an abandoned town, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. – Haaretz 

Middle East & North Africa

Thomas J. Barrack, a billionaire businessman and longtime friend to former president Donald Trump, was arrested Tuesday in California and charged with violating foreign lobbying laws, obstructing justice and making false statements, officials said. He and two other defendants are accused of acting and conspiring to act as agents of the United Arab Emirates between April 2016 and April 2018, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday afternoon. – Washington Post 

Syria’s air defense forces shot down seven out of eight missiles launched by Israeli warplanes during a raid that targeted the Syrian province of Aleppo, the Russian military said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

ISIS have claimed responsibility for an suicide attack that ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital on Monday, killing 30 people and wounding 50. – CNN 

But at their meeting last Thursday, the two men were unable to reach a deal and Hariri quit as prime minister-designate. Almost one year after the previous government resigned in the wake of a devastating blast at Beirut port, the country — deep in a financial and economic crisis — is back to square one. – Financial Times 

David Ignatius writes: Despite Abdullah’s fraught relationship with the Saudi crown prince, the Jordanian monarch told Biden, “we have to work with MBS,” the source said. Perhaps that’s the sweetest part of being Washington’s favorite again: Abdullah feels strong enough that he can afford to be generous to those, like MBS, who tried to undermine him. – Washington Post 

Abdullah Al-Ghadawi  writes: Russia has no choice but to support Assad, despite all the difficulties and complications in its relationship with him, both politically and militarily, as he has become a card in the hands of both Russia and Iran. Therefore, Russia has no interest in challenging Assad’s military system in order to avoid forcing him to seek support from Iran, which is also trying to tighten its control over Syria’s military, security, and even political decisions. As a result, Russia project to restructure the Syrian army has now irreversibly died. – Middle East Institute 


From China’s perspective, the blows from the United States just keep coming. Sanctions and export controls over the crackdown in Xinjiang. A warning to international businesses about the deteriorating climate in Hong Kong. The rejection of visas for students and researchers suspected of having links to the People’s Liberation Army. – New York Times 

Chinese factories that supply Apple Inc. and Nike Inc. and make other products sold in the U.S. are shunning workers from Xinjiang, as Western countries increase scrutiny of forced labor from the remote northwestern region where Beijing has been accused of committing genocide against local ethnic minorities. – Wall Street Journal 

 China on Tuesday rejected an accusation by Washington and its Western allies that Beijing is to blame for a hack of the Microsoft Exchange email system and complained Chinese entities are victims of damaging U.S. cyberattacks. – Associated Press 

A teenager who says he’s a U.S. permanent resident and his fiancée are once again on the run from the threat of extradition to their homeland, China, in a sign of Beijing’s lengthening reach over perceived dissidents abroad. – Associated Press 

John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, called on China to work in unison with the U.S. to make urgent reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, pointing to the international alliances that came out of World War II as an example for tackling climate change, the Associated Press reported. – Newsweek 

China has warned the governments of Taiwan and Lithuania after officials confirmed on Tuesday plans to establish de facto embassies in each other’s capitals in the coming months. – Newsweek 

Anjani Trivedi writes: The next target for China’s cybersecurity crackdown will be the pools of data collected by the latest generation of cars. This approach risks Beijing shooting itself in the foot, and jeopardizing its ambitious plans to lead the global race for electric and autonomous vehicles. – Bloomberg 

Joseph Bosco writes: Biden can set his own standard if he takes two critical steps as the natural culmination of the transformative measures begun under Trump and mostly continued by his administration, neither of which were on Pence’s to-do list for Biden. First, to deter a fatal strategic miscalculation by China, Washington must make clear that it will defend Taiwan militarily against any Chinese attack or coercion. The “catastrophic” consequences for China would not be limited to the reputational and diplomatic realm, as Campbell recently seemed to imply. – The Hill


Russia views Taliban gains in northern Afghanistan as having a security upside because the group is hostile to what Moscow regards as more dangerous Islamist extremists, a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency. – Reuters 

Turkey’s president said Tuesday his country will talk with the Taliban regarding Turkey’s bid to operate and secure the airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul. – Associated Press 

Russia deployed tanks near Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan on Tuesday as it prepares for military drills next month, according to a Russian state media outlet. – The Hill 

 After at least three rockets hit near the presidential palace in a suspected Taliban attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban has “no intention or willingness” for peace. – Newsweek 

Seth G. Jones writes: Armed overwatch in Afghanistan will not be a panacea. In all likelihood, it will not be sufficient to prevent the Taliban from seizing and holding some cities. But it may be able to minimize the likelihood that Afghanistan will again become a terrorist sanctuary, prevent the Taliban from controlling the entire country, and counter Russian, Iranian, and Chinese influence. It may be, in other words, good enough. – Foreign Affairs 

South Asia

India’s Parliament erupted in protests on Tuesday as opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of using military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists. – Associated Press 

The popular TikTok video-sharing app was blocked Wednesday in Pakistan for a fourth time because of “inappropriate content”, the country’s telecommunication regulator said. […]Freedom of speech advocates have long criticised creeping government censorship and control of Pakistan’s internet and media. – Agence France-Presse 

 Hamid Mir writes: No doubt, Pakistan has an important relationship with China, but it must not cost us our hard-fought constitutional order. The constitution that guarantees the rights of dissenting voices in opposition also set clear limits for those in power. There are many things we can learn from China, but one-party rule isn’t one of them. – Washington Post 


The trial of the first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law wrapped up on Tuesday, with the prosecution seeking to designate a slogan popular during 2019 protests as subversive in a crucial test of the city’s rule of law. – Reuters  

Hong Kong police arrested the former executive editor-in-chief of the now-closed pro-democracy Apple Daily tabloid on Wednesday, local media reported, the latest arrest in a national security investigation of media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s newspaper. – Reuters 

Britain said on Tuesday it would permanently deploy two warships in Asian waters after its Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and escort ships sail to Japan in September through seas where China is vying for influence with the United States and Japan. – Reuters 

The United States, Japan and South Korea are sending a clear message with their coordination on policy towards North Korea, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, despite some recent friction between the two Asian allies. – Reuters 

Staff at Hong Kong’s public broadcaster have been told to avoid “inappropriate terminology” that would imply Taiwan is a sovereign state as the Asian financial hub continues to try to curb dissent. – Bloomberg  

Taiwan will set up its first office in Europe using the name “Taiwan,” drawing a rebuke from China and praise from the U.S. as the island democracy seeks to strengthen its diplomatic presence around the globe in the face of pressure from Beijing. – Bloomberg 

Myanmar’s military rulers are again seeking to replace the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, who opposed their Feb. 1 ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and takeover of the government. – Associated Press 

Japan’s defense minister has confirmed that the U.S. ally will base its Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightning II Short Take off and Vertical Landing or STOVL fighter jets at the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. – Defense News 

Kathrin Hille writes: Still, experts believe that there are limits to the military component of Japan’s new prominence in regional security. “The Japanese public continues to feel a profound discomfort with power projection, and fear of involvement and entanglement,” says Brad Glosserman, deputy director of the Centre for Rulemaking Strategies, a think-tank at Tama University. “Being the spear rather than the shield? Don’t go too far with that.” – Financial Times 

 George Magnus writes: This incremental build-up in decoupling rules and regulations on both sides is going to draw more companies and investors into an awkward space where the contradiction between politics and narrower financial interests will become starker. There is nothing to say that this stand-off cannot continue for some time. As investors and businesses face more conflicts of interest and decisions about whose rules to obey and whose to flout, politics is likely to win out. Valuations don’t even begin to reflect this yet. – Financial Times 


President Vladimir Putin inspected a prototype of a new Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter jet on Tuesday that Russia unveiled at its annual MAKS air show with an eye on export markets. – Reuters 

Editorial: As she works on her crucial domestic agenda, including cleaning up the judiciary, Ms. Sandu will need to attract more foreign investment and aid from the European Union. The United States should step up its engagement as well. President Biden has often spoken about the importance of winning the global contest between liberal democracy and autocracy; Moldova now offers a tangible opportunity to gain some ground. – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: As Biden and Merkel dance with words, Putin is dancing with war. The Russian leader retains massed combined arms formations on Ukraine’s borders. Last week, he wrote a love letter to Russian territorial supremacism and the notion of a Ukraine that can exist only under Russian dominion. Put another way, Biden’s pledge to get tough on Russia isn’t looking too credible. – Washington Examiner 

Yasmin Tadjdeh  writes: Russia — which has made no secret of its artificial intelligence ambitions — is building a cadre of AI-enabled, autonomous weapon systems that could one day threaten the United States. […] However, despite Moscow’s deep interest in AI, the nation faces challenges in developing the most cutting edge platforms, said two authors of the report, Jeffrey Edmonds and Samuel Bendett, who are both Russia experts at CNA and the Center for a New American Security. – National Defense 

Kirill Shamiev writes: Vladimir Putin’s government is a closed and personalistic regime where relationships matter more than bureaucratic hierarchy. This also extends to the military leadership, with certain qualifications. The minister of defense has almost absolute power and is subject to one person’s will: the president of Russia. The Russian command-and-control system is heavily reliant on its officers and vertical command structure. The officers have the highest degree of authority over their subordinates. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


The U.S. and Germany have reached an agreement allowing the completion of a controversial Russian natural-gas pipeline, according to officials from Berlin and Washington, who expect to announce the deal as soon as Wednesday, bringing an end to years of tension between the two allies. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. Commerce Department is still pushing to strike a new deal with the European Union to allow companies to transfer data legally across the Atlantic, an agency official said, but he wouldn’t provide a timeline for an agreement as negotiations with Brussels enter their second year. – Wall Street Journal 

 The French government demanded investigations Tuesday into reports from The Washington Post and other international news organizations that phone numbers for President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders were found on a list that included some people targeted by government clients of the Israeli surveillance giant NSO Group and its spyware tool Pegasus. – Washington Post 

Such is the underlying logic for some of the most tantalizing discoveries for an international investigation that in recent months scrutinized a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that included — according to forensic analyses of dozens of iPhones — at least some people targeted by Pegasus spyware licensed to governments worldwide. – Washington Post 

Poland and Hungary were criticized sharply Tuesday by the European Commission in a set of reports that said recent actions by the countries threatened judicial independence and undermined the rule of law. – New York Times 

Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost will make a statement to parliament on the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wednesday, parliamentary authorities said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The European Commission won’t approve Hungary’s recovery plan until it carries out judicial reform and guarantees that corruption cases are investigated, justice commissioner Didier Reynders said in an interview published on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Tuesday that she asked U.S. officials to impose sanctions on companies in her country’s potash, oil, wood and steel sectors, as she visited Washington seeking stronger action against President Alexander Lukashenko’s government. – Reuters 

In the midst of tense negotiations with Berlin over a controversial Russia-to-Germany pipeline, the Biden administration is asking a friendly country to stay quiet about its vociferous opposition. And Ukraine is not happy. – Politico 

A group of US senators have called on Polish President Andrzej Duda to stymie the passage of a highly controversial bill which would forestall property restitution, or compensation, for people whose property was confiscated by the Polish Communist regime after the Second World War, including Holocaust survivors. – Jerusalem Post 

 The foreign secretary has accused the EU of seeking “to undermine the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar”. Dominic Raab said he was “disappointed” by EU proposals for a post-Brexit deal over the British overseas territory. – BBC 

Michael Kimmage  writes: Whatever the immediate security dilemmas, and however they evolve, they should not stand in the way of a decades-long project of discrediting authoritarian rule in Eastern Europe and of journeying toward a regional order based not on repression and violence but on the consent of the governed. The ultimate power of the West in Belarus — as formidable as it is subtle and gradual — happens to be the power of its example. – War on the Rocks 


The United States conducted a drone strike against Shabab militants in Somalia on Tuesday, the first such military action against the Qaeda affiliate in East Africa since the Biden administration took office in January. – New York Times 

A French Mirage 2000 jet fighter crashed in northern Mali on Tuesday due to a technical problem, the French military said.- Reuters 

A South African court granted former President Jacob Zuma’s request for a delay in his arms deal corruption trial on Tuesday, and adjourned proceedings for three weeks.- Reuters 

Somalia’s Al-Shabaab jihadists have warned politicians against taking part in elections due to kick off this month after months of deadlock and delays. – Agence France-Presse 

Guled Ahmed writes: The U.S. and EU countries should partner with Djibouti, assist in its transition to democracy like Taiwan and Kenya, and help facilitate the diversification of its economy, following the example of the Marshall Plan or the Taiwanese economic miracle. Doing so will enable them to truly compete against China in Africa, rather than merely sounding the alarm about the Chinese debt trap myth like a former colonial power. – Middle East Institute 

The Americas

Haiti’s leaders have called the political truce a new chapter, a historic turning of the page that, in the words of the interim prime minister, shows “that we can actually work together, even if we are different, even if we have different world outlooks.” – New York Times  

Haiti’s national police announced on Tuesday they had arrested three police officers in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, suggesting there may have been an infiltration of their force ahead of the killing. – New York Times 

The United States has blocked former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and his immediate family from any U.S. travel over allegations that he accepted bribes from drug traffickers in exchange for political favors, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Venezuelan business chamber Fedecamaras on Tuesday received Vice President Delcy Rodriguez for the opening of its annual assembly, a sign of easing tensions between business leaders and the socialist government following decades of bitter rivalry. – Reuters  

Eli Lake writes: When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made it a priority to advance internet freedom. Speaking at George Washington University in 2011, after the first hopeful signs of the Arab Spring, Clinton said, “We believe that governments who have erected barriers to internet freedom — whether they’re technical filters or censorship regimes or attacks on those who exercise their rights to expression and assembly online — will eventually find themselves boxed in.” A decade later, Cuba’s regime has found itself in such a box. Biden has an opportunity to try to keep it there. – Bloomberg 

United States

Ned Price, US State Department spokesman, said on Tuesday that the US administration “firmly reject[s] the BDS movement, which unfairly singles out Israel.” – Jerusalem Post 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined critics of Ben & Jerry’s, saying Tuesday that he “will not be eating any more Cherry Garcia for a while,” referring to a popular flavor of the ice cream brand. – Times of Israel 

Jacob Magid writes: The laws appear to have been written with the intention of including boycotts of settlements within the broader framework of Israel boycotts. […]More than targeting the boycotters of Israel proper, Friedman maintained that anti-BDS legislation is designed to go after the relatively more moderate firms that urge targeted boycotts of the settlement enterprise. – Times of Israel 


The Biden administration disclosed previously classified details on Tuesday about the breadth of state-sponsored cyberattacks on American oil and gas pipelines over the past decade, as part of a warning to pipeline owners to increase the security of their systems to stave off future attacks. – New York Times  

The Army is maturing technologies aimed at providing soldiers in tactical environments assurance in their networks and information they receive. – C4ISRNET 

Editorial: The private spyware industry is thriving, largely unrestrained. That must end. […]Countries with a history of turning these technologies against citizens should be prohibited from purchasing them at all. And countries that respect the bounds of the law should refuse to buy from companies that do business with those that don’t. Global leaders must work together to fix a problem that doesn’t care about geography. Luckily, they have an incentive to act: They are targets, too. – Washington Post 

David Ignatius writes: The Internet is the high ground of the 21st century, in terms of economic, political and even military power. But however advanced the technology, the battle for control is trench warfare, fought in obscure meetings and forums and standard-setting bodies. […] The Russians and Chinese have now formed an alliance for control. It’s encouraging that after four years of deference under President Donald Trump, the United States and its allies in the world’s techno-democracies are fighting back. – Washington Post 


The chief of naval operations remains firm that the fiscal 2022 budget request is aligned with the U.S. Navy’s future fleet design plans, which were studied and wargamed in the Future Naval Force Study effort last year, even as lawmakers question the proposal. – Defense News 

The U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding plan doesn’t tell Congress what the service needs, nor does it provide certainty for long-term planning, two House lawmakers say. – Defense One 

President Joe Biden can transfer all eligible detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, but he won’t be able to close the military detention center without reforming the military commissions process, legal experts say. – Defense One 

 A new type of electric, fixed-wing drone last week achieved a world record for time in the air using thrust. The flight shows what combat support by electric drones could look like, as the Defense Department works to connect more hardware under increasingly difficult conditions. – Defense One 

Congress has been asked to make major decisions on the Navy’s funding with limited information on the service’s future, two lawmakers said on Tuesday. – USNI News 

Raymond Smith writes: As I argued five years ago, the United States, Russia, and other nuclear powers should adopt “mutually assured security,” a strategic system dominated by defensive weapons. Mutually assured security would have no greater, and probably less, risk of failure than mutually assured destruction, without threatening the civilization-destroying consequences of any such failure. – War on the Rocks