Fdd's overnight brief

July 28, 2021

In The News


Weekslong Iranian protests over water scarcity present an early test for incoming president Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office next week amid mounting challenges including a grinding economic crisis and stalled nuclear negotiations with the West. – Wall Street Journal 

Classified documents, allegedly from Iran, reveal secret research into how a cyber attack could be used to sink a cargo ship or blow up a fuel pump at a petrol station. – Sky News (UK) 

Iran said Tuesday it had arrested an armed cell working for Israel’s Mossad spy agency that was planning to use a cache of weapons to provoke violence during protests in the country. – Times of Israel  

A 60-year-old Iranian citizen has been charged in Sweden with suspected war crimes committed in Iran in 1988 when around 5,000 political prisoners were executed on government orders, Stockholm prosecutors said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

Former German BND intelligence chief August Hanning opposes a return to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, he has told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. – Jerusalem Post 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a special interview to a BBC journalist originally from Iran on Tuesday that “Iran is close to nuclear weapons when it comes to enrichment, but not so close in other ways.” – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: What Israel can do, however, is to articulate its continued strong opposition to such a deal. To try to get commitments from Washington on how it will act if Tehran crosses certain red lines, to probe whether the US may be willing to “compensate” Israel by providing it with more advanced weaponry to deal with an increased Iranian threat, and make it clear that come what may, Israel’s policy will remain as it has been for the last 25 years: do all it can to ensure Iran never gets the bomb. – Jerusalem Post 


According to a leading human rights group, Israel violated international law during the 11 days of fighting with Hamas militants in the densely packed Gaza Strip in May, in what “apparently amount to war crimes.” – Washington Post  

Israel’s defence minister will on Wednesday share initial findings from a government assessment of NSO Group exports with France, whose president was allegedly among targets of spyware sold by the private Israeli spyware company. – Reuters 

Refusing to compete against Israelis due to their nationality, as Palestinian Olympic Committee chairman Jibril Rajoub encouraged Olympic athletes to do, is racist, Prime Minister’s Office Spokesperson for Arab Media Ofir Gendelman said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Israeli military rebuffed a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday that accused the IDF of carrying out attacks amounting to “war crimes” during the recent Gaza conflict in May. – Algemeiner 

Iran’s nuclear program poses a very serious threat to Israel, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 


A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a resolution on Monday to urge the European Union “to fully designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.” – Jerusalem Post  

Aaron Jacob writes: Hezbollah is a threat to peace and security in the region and beyond. It is the main impediment to the fulfillment of UNIFIL’s mandate. The Security Council must use the powers conferred upon it by the UN Charter, including the power to impose sanctions on rogue organizations and their state sponsors, to uphold its resolutions regarding Lebanon. – Times of Israel 

Lauren Morganbesser writes: The future of Lebanon remains uncertain, especially with Mikati at the helm. For him to be successful, he must overcome significant barriers both politically and economically and bring together a deeply fractured and hurting country. He must also prove critics wrong, showing that his political experience will serve the people instead of further entrenching inefficiencies and corruption. Mikati’s challenges are clear, but he must stand apart from other politicians to usher in a new future for the sake of the Lebanese people. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

A Saudi court sentenced a Sudanese journalist to four years in prison for social media posts critical of the kingdom, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Saudi Arabia affirmed its confidence in Tunisia’s leadership, saying it stands with everything that supports the security and stability of Tunisia, the Saudi state news agency (SPA) reported on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Neil Quilliam writes: The emerging dynamic between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is the new normal—and it applies not only to the two states but to all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The sooner outside countries understand the new transactional dynamic, the better they’ll be able to manage relations with the entire region. – Foreign Policy 

Middle East & North Africa

But the narrative emerging from key players in the Arab world for which Tunisia’s Arab Spring legacy presents a clear challenge — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — was far more univocal: The events in Tunisia marked the death knell for political Islam in democracy. – Washington Post 

Moroccan authorities have arrested a Uyghur activist in exile based on a Chinese terrorism warrant distributed by Interpol, according to information from Moroccan police and a rights group that tracks people detained by China. – Associated Press 

The leader of Tunisia’s Islamist party and speaker of parliament said Tuesday that his party is working to form a “national front” to counter President Kais Saied’s decision to suspend the legislature, fire top government officials and take control of the fragile democracy amid the country’s multi-layered crisis. – Associated Press 

The Biden administration is pulling all American troops out of Afghanistan and formally transitioning to an advisory role in Iraq. But the U.S. military operation in Syria has seen no changes — and officials expect hundreds of troops to remain in the country for the foreseeable future. – Politico 

World Bank President David Malpass met on Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Washington, and emphasized the importance of banking sector reforms and moves to accelerate private sector investment, the bank said in a statement. – Reuters 

Americans would do well to pay less attention to negative propaganda about their country and realize that millions of people around the world, including in Iraq, appreciate the United States as a beacon of democracy and a force for progress in the world. – Washington Times  

Ezzedine C. Fishere  writes: This week, Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the country’s prime minister, suspended its parliament and deployed troops to ensure legislators did not enter the building. This constitutional coup appears a clear effort to replace the fragile democratic regime with strongman rule. It answers the wishes of millions of Tunisians disillusioned with their weak democracy, whose dysfunction is exposed by a rampant covid-19 pandemic. Yet, as the cases of Egypt and Saudi Arabia show, while strongman rule can bring a measure of stability and progress in the short run, it cannot fix the country’s deep-seated problems. – Washington Post 

Sarah Feuer writes: The dramatic developments are putting Tunisia’s fragile democracy under enormous strain, and the coming days will likely determine whether the country is headed for a temporary blip in its democratic transition, a deeper consolidation of power, or violence. – Washington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North and South Korea are in talks to reopen a joint liaison office that Pyongyang demolished last year and hold a summit as part of efforts to restore relations, three South Korean government sources with knowledge of the matter said. – Reuters  

The U.S. offered its support for the move by the leaders of two Koreas to improve relations and reconnect the hotlines cut off for more than a year, saying it might help stalled nuclear talks. – Bloomberg 

Starbucks Corp is exiting its $2 billion worth joint venture in South Korea by selling stakes to local partner E-Mart Inc and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, as it looks to invest more in fast-growing international markets. […]The U.S. company has in recent years been expanding globally especially in China as its largest market – the United States – saturates and grapples with stiff competition. – Reuters 


Satellite imagery appeared to show China building a new network of silos for launching nuclear missiles, a U.S. think tank said, the second such project that American analysts have accused Beijing of advancing in recent weeks. – Wall Street Journal 

The first person charged under a national-security law imposed by Beijing was found guilty of inciting secession and terrorism Tuesday in a verdict that reaffirms new limits on speech in the city and could set a precedent for future trials under the law. – Wall Street Journal 

Lawmakers in China plan to clear remaining legal barriers to encourage couples to have more children, as the country faces another year of fewer births. In a congressional meeting Tuesday, Chinese lawmakers said they would revise the Population and Family Planning Law in sessions scheduled between Aug. 17 and Aug. 20, according to a statement on the legislature’s website. – Wall Street Journal 

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday he was committed to having a constructive relationship with China and working on common challenges as he laid out his vision for ties with Beijing, which have sunk to their lowest point in decades. – Reuters 

China has created new legal tools to retaliate against sanctions imposed by the U.S. and some of its allies over issues ranging from human rights to national security. This arsenal could put global firms in the cross-hairs of a conflict between the world’s two largest economies. So far, however, China has shown a desire to avoid escalation. – Bloomberg  

The Pentagon and Republican congressmen on Tuesday aired fresh concerns about China’s build-up of its nuclear forces after a new report saying Beijing was building 110 more missile silos. – Reuters 

Editorial: Sorry. Under Mr. Xi, earlier rounds of economic reform are proving reversible, and Beijing won’t trouble itself about foreign investors losing money to Beijing’s regulatory caprice. Wall Street is the big loser this week, but the biggest loser will be the Chinese public who are finding that the promise of their country’s economic opening is under threat. – Wall Street Journal  

Tom Rogan writes: We’re about to find a guidepost as to whether China’s not-so-diplomatic rhetoric and its associated economic pressure will succeed. Much depends on whether Britain deploys a warship within 12 miles of an unlawfully claimed Chinese island in August. If it does, Britain will encourage Japan, Australia, and others to take further steps in support of a rules-based international order. If Britain fails to do so, Beijing will gain confidence the U.S. stands alone against it. Regardless, Beijing has at least proved one thing: It remains undeterred in its grand global ambition. – Washington Examiner 

Hal Brands writes: Americans have belatedly awoken to the reality of rivalry with China; the policy community endlessly debates whether Washington and Beijing are contesting a cold war. But outside the Pentagon, Americans have hardly considered a more sobering question: What if a cold war with China is actually the best-case scenario, because the danger of a devastating hot war is far greater than we realize? – Bloomberg 

Joseph Bosco writes: Beijing’s message, reiterated to Sherman, is clear: China’s authoritarian policies will remain unchanged, while America must abandon its interests and ideals — that is, stop being America.  The existential challenge could not be more stark, and it is now the Biden administration’s duty to take it on, more consistently than it has so far. – The Hill 


The U.S. military has launched more than a dozen airstrikes in the past week in support of Afghan government forces in their fight against the Taliban, a sharp spike over the handful that were done in the previous six weeks, according to U.S. officials. – Associated Press 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had spoken to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to reassure him that NATO would continue to support the country, where Taliban advances have piled pressure on the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. – Reuters 

When the Taliban captured a strategically important security checkpoint near Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan last month, it assigned a Tajik militant to raise the Taliban flag on the site. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Candace Rondeaux, Amir Toumaj, and Arif Ammar write: Given that Iran has long positioned itself as the champion and protector of Afghanistan’s marginalized Shiite Hazara population, the internal rifts emerging over Iran’s cultivation of the Taliban suggest that Tehran’s diplomatic dalliances with the group may result only in a temporary marriage of convenience that could easily disintegrate after the U.S. drawdown is completed this summer. For now, how Iranian officials play their cards in Afghanistan is a game of wait and see. – War on the Rocks 

South Asia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting India this week as the Biden administration seeks to reassure a key Asian partner over the U.S. and allied military withdrawal from Afghanistan and works to tighten security ties amid concern about Chinese influence in the region. – Wall Street Journal   

The name Noor Mukadam has ricocheted through Pakistani news and social media since the 27-year-old daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat was found beheaded at home in an upscale part of Islamabad, renewing attention on the country’s paltry record of addressing violence against women. – Washington Post  

Indian shares fell on Wednesday after the International Monetary Fund cut its 2021 economic growth forecast for the country, while weak global cues and concerns ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve policy decision also weighed on investor sentiment. – Reuters  


Lloyd J. Austin III, the American defense secretary, sought on Tuesday to reassure Southeast Asian nations that the United States was still invested in the region despite a monthslong absence by top officials in a part of the world that has been aggressively courted by China. – New York Times  

An Australian man was sentenced to more than three years in prison after attempting to help sell North Korean missile parts and other goods in contravention of United Nations sanctions, authorities said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Taiwan authorities are investigating a former deputy defence minister and several other serving and retired military officers over contacts with what authorities believe to be a Chinese spy, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. – Reuters 


Challenging Vladimir Putin has always been difficult. Now his opponents say it is almost impossible, as the Kremlin launches a full-court press against anyone daring to stand up against the Russian president. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia is ready to provide its ally Tajikistan with any assistance needed amid a worsening conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan, the TASS news agency cited Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters  

President Joe Biden warned on Tuesday that Russia is attempting to use disinformation to interfere in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections. – Bloomberg 

Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate to be chancellor of Germany, is attracting the attention of the Kremlin with her hawkish attitude to Russia and her slip-ups on the campaign trail have left her vulnerable. – Bloomberg 

Russia is reportedly working on two so-called Doomsday planes to carry the country’s senior military and political leadership in case of a nuclear attack. – Defense News 

Peter Brookes and Walker Venable write: Of course, considering the state of U.S.-Russia relations, we should keep our expectations for “progress” on those and other issues low. A thin gruel of a photo op and a joint statement may be all we get. But the opportunity for substantive dialogue is important. At this moment, more predictability, stability, and communications would be welcome in U.S.-Russian relations. – The Daily Signal 

Sarunas Liekis writes: As long as Russia refuses to recognize its neighbors’ international choices by reverting to power policies aimed at imposing its vision on the world, Russia‘s European neighbors will continue to be reluctant for the EU to foster closer relations with Russia. […]This problem has never been addressed seriously by the big European players who are seen continuously supporting decisions based on their own interests and go against values and normative issues carried by the weak EU members on the Russian frontier. – The National Interest 


President Biden intends to nominate a longtime adviser to serve as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, the White House said Tuesday. The White House said Mr. Biden would nominate Mark Gitenstein, a former ambassador to Romania in the Obama administration, to serve in the important European post. – Wall Street Journal 

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has replaced the head of Ukraine’s armed forces — a move that comes as Kyiv presses for deeper NATO ties while its seven-year war against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine grinds on. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

A Lithuanian court has sentenced politician Algirdas Paleckis to six years in prison after finding him guilty of spying for Russia. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 


Some 24,000 Eritrean refugees are trapped in two camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, cut off from humanitarian aid, and their food rations may have run out, the United Nations said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure on the continent. – Reuters 

Unidentified attackers killed five Cameroonian soldiers and one civilian during a raid on a military outpost in the far north of the country, local authorities said on Tuesday, the second deadly raid in the area in the past week. – Reuters 

William Shoki writes: An uneasy calm has settled. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess. Yet the past few weeks have conclusively dispelled many illusions about the country, none more so than the myth of South African exceptionalism — of a South Africa more peaceful than its African neighbors, more developed and with a future that bends inevitably toward good and triumph. The reality, as we await the next outbreak of violence, is much uglier. – New York Times 

The Americas

A top security official of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise was arrested by police on suspicion of involvement in the assassination plot, his lawyer said on Tuesday, as another aide’s apparent account of the event was leaked on social media. – Reuters 

The United States said on Tuesday it was pausing some cooperation with Guatemala’s criminal prosecutor after last week’s ouster of the head of an anti-corruption prosecution unit. – Reuters 

Police in Nicaragua arrested on Tuesday academic José Antonio Peraza, the leader of the opposition alliance White and Blue National Unity. Peraza, a political science professor, was the 22nd opposition leader arrested, in addition to seven potential presidential candidates detained in a crackdown that started two months ago. Almost all were detained under broad accusations of treason. – Associated Press 

Editorial: There is no way for Haiti to pull itself out of the current morass without elections that would certify and legitimize a new government and legislature. That requires at least a short-term international intervention. – Washington Post 

North America

In 2013, Daniel Hale was at an antiwar conference in D.C. when a man recounted that two family members had been killed in a U.S. drone strike. The Yemeni man, through tears, said his relatives had been trying to encourage young men to leave al-Qaeda. – Washington Post 

President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that if the United States ended up in a “real shooting war” with a “major power” it could be the result of a significant cyber attack on the country, highlighting what Washington sees as growing threats posed by Russia and China. – Reuters  

A bipartisan Congressional panel blasted U.S.-based corporate sponsors of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Tuesday, including Coca-Cola, Visa Inc. and Airbnb, accusing them of putting profits ahead of accusations of genocide in China. – Reuters 

A former air force intelligence analyst was sentenced to 45 months in prison on Tuesday for leaking top secret information about the US government’s drone strike program to a journalist. – The Guardian  

John Bolton writes: Ironically, on issues where Mr. Trump closely followed traditional Republican lines—Iran, Venezuela and Cuba—Mr. Biden is having trouble reverting to the Democratic norm. Despite frantic efforts to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the president may be realizing how abject his surrender to Tehran would be, and may be backing off. And if he wants a prayer of carrying Florida in 2024, Cuba and Venezuela policies that look like Mr. Obama’s are sure losers. Only six months into Mr. Biden’s term, politics are reverting to familiar contours. – Wall Street Journal 


Officials from the U.S. and China met on Monday to discuss ways to set terms for responsible management of the relationship between the two countries, but the meeting turned testy over cybersecurity and other issues, The Wall Street Journal reports. – Wall Street Journal  

 A British watchdog group said Twitter allowed antisemitic statements to remain on its platform, including tweets saying “Hitler was right,” even after the posts were brought to the attention of its staff. – Times of Israel 

Google said on Tuesday that it was taking legal action over an expanded version of Germany’s hate-speech law that recently took effect, saying its provisions violated the right to privacy of its users. – Reuters 

Witnesses from key federal agencies could not give an answer why the United States hasn’t sanctioned China for its cyberattacks against Microsoft and other U.S. companies, responding to Sen. Ted Cruz’s question on Tuesday with silence. – Washington Examiner 

The Pentagon’s Silicon Valley outreach arm awarded Anduril Industries a five-year contract worth up to $99 million that makes the company’s counter-drone artificial intelligence technology available across the military, the company announced Tuesday. – C4SIRNET 

Patrick Mendis and Hon-Min Yau write: These American-friendly, democratic countries are leading members of the World Trade Organization and have a strong semiconductor industrial base. By further enhancing U.S. relationships with economic entities in the areas of investments and technological joint ventures, the Biden White House would be able to better build back a stronger and more sustainable economic foundation with these like-minded democratic countries to take on Beijing’s totalitarian challenges. – The National Interest 

Balwan Nagial writes: Information Warfare was first developed in the military and political domain but has become highly aggressive and widespread due to technological development. Furthermore, is this day and age utilised as an instrument to realize goals in all spheres of society. Leading countries even mix this technique into their national policies and strategies for achieving their political goals. – Times of Israel 


In their search for a new approach to arms control, Moscow and Washington are likely to soon encounter an old bugaboo: Russia’s demand that the U.S. stop resisting limits on its missile defenses, which the Russians view as a long-term threat and the Americans see as a deterrent to war. – Associated Press 

Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi showed off its new Checkmate jet during the MAKS 2021 aviation show last week, presenting it as a fifth-generation fighter. – Defense News 

The commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, officially retired during a July 27 ceremony at Los Angeles Air Force Base. The change comes ahead of a major organizational shakeup for SMC, with the U.S. Space Force planning to replace SMC with a new field command called Space Systems Command. The new organization will take over SMC’s roughly $9 billion budget while restructuring its various enterprises. – C4SIRNET 

Consensus is building on Capitol Hill that the Missile Defense Agency needs to provide more clarity on its plans for a missile defense architecture to protect Guam. – Defense News 

The pair of Ghost Fleet ships the Navy and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office are using as testbeds to prove large autonomous vessels can operate effectively at sea are slowly moving toward completely unmanned operations. – USNI News

John Koszewnik and John Luginsland  write: Since World War II, the U.S. Army has used approximately 20 times more energy per soldier while reducing the number of soldiers deployed. This undoubtedly will continue in the future as new capabilities with higher-power weapons, novel sensors and robots, and advanced computing are envisioned. This highlights the importance of energy supply and management for the future battlefield. – Defense News 

John Rossomando writes: The Biden administration’s decision to spend trillions on pet projects in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which the CCP let proliferate globally, killing four million worldwide, shows it has little excuse not to provide similar defense against a nuclear attack by a hostile peer like China. Although the chances of a nuclear exchange are statistically considered remote, there isn’t an excuse not to put defenses into place now instead of waiting until later. – The National Interest 

Long War

The conviction of a New Yorker charged with providing material support to Hezbollah by seeking targets in New York City for terrorist attacks was upheld Tuesday by an appeals court, though one of three judges questioned the 40-year prison sentence, saying it was too long because nobody was harmed directly by the crimes. – Associated Press 

A security expert has been appointed to assess whether coronavirus has had any impact on how well the capital would cope with another major terror attack. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said extremists had used the lockdowns to “spread disinformation” and “radicalise the vulnerable”. – BBC 

The U.S. decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 2021 is provoking a victorious narrative among Salafi-jihadi clerics and some Shi’ite militants in Iraq as both groups exploit the withdrawal not only to motivate fighters to never abandon jihad or, in the case of the Shi’ite militias, to continue targeting the U.S. interests in the region, but also to discredit rival groups. – Middle East Media Research Institute