Fdd's overnight brief

June 15, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iranians elect a new president on Friday in a race dominated by hardline candidates close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with popular anger over economic hardship and curbs on freedoms set to keep many pro-reform Iranians at home. – Reuters

Ebrahim Raisi’s record of fierce loyalty to Iran’s ruling clerics helps explain why the senior judge is a front-runner in Friday’s presidential election, a contest the authorities have limited almost exclusively to hardline candidates like him. – Reuters

Official polls suggest record low participation, a prospect critics of the government ascribe to economic hardship and to a lack of choice at the ballot box for an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions. – Reuters

Delegations from Russia and the United States involved in nuclear negotiations with Iran held talks in Vienna on Monday, two days ahead of a summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Associated Press 

“The defense ministry has achieved a major task today in supplying two ships to the Islamic Republic of Iran — the destroyer Dena and a minesweeper,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech. – Times of Israel 

Iran presidential front-runner and Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi has embraced the possibility of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal as long as Iran’s interests are met, Iranian media reported earlier this week. – Jerusalem Post 

The list of challenges facing Iran’s next president would confound the most capable of leaders. […]Amid these tides of change, Iran’s political elite has decided that the next face of the Islamic Republic should be a figure steeped in its conservative roots and directly linked to some of the darkest chapters of its history. – CNN

Jon Gambrell writes: Iran’s presidential election on Friday, though likely more a coronation for a hard-line candidate long cultivated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, still carries implications for a wider Middle East already roiled by years of tensions between Tehran and the West. […]The far different tenures of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, whose administration reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, are a stark reflection of that. – Associated Press

David Albright and Sarah Burkhard write: The administration and the major European powers need to prioritize negotiating Iran’s coming into full compliance with its important commitment to the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy. […]Next, negotiations should establish a timetable for achieving compliance tied to the IAEA’s substantive progress, not just Iran showing up at meetings, and linked to the removal of a set of important US. sanctions. – Institute for Science and International Security

David Albright and Sarah Burkhard write: Those who seek to use our mistake to attack the U.S. government’s or the IAEA’s work demonstrate just how corrupt and desperate the Iranian regime and its government-controlled media have become. In recent years, the IAEA has shown the existence of undeclared uranium or contaminated equipment at up to five Iranian sites and has reported Iran’s refusal to cooperate. We are confident that most will see through the Islamic Republic’s ploy and support the IAEA as it seeks to obtain Iran’s complete and correct declaration. – Institute for Science and International Security


U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sounded upbeat after their first face-to-face talks on Monday, although they did not announce major breakthroughs in the relationship between the two allies, at odds over Russian weapons, Syria, Libya and other issues. – Reuters

 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday his country would need “diplomatic, logistic and financial assistance” from the United States if it were to maintain troops in Afghanistan to protect and run Kabul’s international airport, following the withdrawal of other NATO troops. – Associated Press

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he agreed at a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to continue using channels for dialogue between the two countries. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday that their two countries could work together to tackle conflicts in Syria and Libya. – Reuters


For the past four decades, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties have spent more time in government than out. Now they join their ally Benjamin Netanyahu in opposition, and have already begun taking aim at new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition as they try to preserve some of the hard-won privileges they enjoy in Israeli society. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s new government on Monday approved a contentious parade by Israeli nationalists through Palestinian areas around Jerusalem’s Old City, setting the stage for possible renewed confrontations just weeks after an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Hamas called on Palestinians to “resist” the march. – Associated Press

Israel’s defense establishment is bracing for potential violence in the West Bank as Palestinian groups warn against the controversial flag march set to take place Tuesday in the Old City of Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post 

The United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, discussed on a phone call with his Israeli counterpart “the bilateral cooperation between the two countries, in addition to the Abraham Accords,” the minister’s office wrote in a tweet on Monday. – Reuters

Reentering the Iranian nuclear deal is a “death wish” for Israel and the world, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

It is inaccurate to call the new Israeli government a “government of change, unless the change is intended to remove [former prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” the Palestinian Authority said in a first response to the swearing in of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his cabinet. – Jerusalem Post 

The Biden administration likely will appoint US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr as the US consul-general to the Palestinians, multiple diplomatic sources said Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

Bret Stephens writes: Israel’s new government must be a puzzle for anyone who thinks of the Jewish state as a racist, fascistic, apartheid enterprise. […]A new government, even one as fragile and fractious as Israel’s, is always an opportunity for a course correction. But the course correction Israel most needs is not the one its critics generally suppose. – New York Times 

Shmuel Rosner writes: Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid begin their partnership much more amiably, and they seem intent on making it work. Still, they have decided to keep the power-sharing system developed by their predecessors. […]At a time when polarization is such a grave social and political threat, Israel might have awkwardly stumbled into a remedy: an enforced regime of compromise. If this government is a success — as any Israeli would hope — the result may be the civility and consensus we have been waiting for. – New York Times 

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib writes: Regardless of Israeli, international, Arab, and even some Palestinians’ desire to see Hamas relinquish its armaments, the group will continue its pursuit of more rockets and more tunnels. Connecting Gaza’s reconstruction and long-term prosperity to disarmament is a repetitive mistake which has failed time and again to stabilize the Strip and prevent confrontations with the Israeli military. – Washington Institute

Amos Harel writes: Bennett will soon have to make two senior appointments: first, a new national security adviser and then, towards September, a new Shin Bet chief. But the new government heralds an opportunity to repair the prime minister’s relations with top security officials. The fact that Netanyahu managed to quarrel with almost all the security agency heads who served under him, most of whom came out against him publicly after retiring, indicates the depth of the rift. Bennett begins from a completely different starting point, one that is far more positive. – Haaretz

Arabian Peninsula

Early on the morning of Oct. 2, 2018, a Gulfstream jet carrying a team of Saudi assassins on its way to Istanbul made a quick stopover in Cairo. The purpose: to pick up a lethal dose of “illegal” narcotics that was injected a few hours later into the left arm of Jamal Khashoggi, killing the Washington Post columnist within a matter of minutes, according to notes that summarize secret Saudi interrogations of the murderers. – Yahoo News

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Monday welcomed the new Israeli government, indicating that the historic normalization deals forged by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Trump administration would flourish beyond the change in leadership. – Times of Israel 

Yemen’s Houthis said on Monday they had launched a drone at Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, according to a post on Twitter by a spokesman of the Iran-aligned group. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

In a country that has become no stranger to crisis, the fuel shortage is the latest in a series of catastrophes, ranging from an economic collapse that has shrunk the currency to a tenth of its earlier value, a pandemic that has shuttered the doors of many businesses and a blast last summer that killed over 200 people and devastated much of central Beirut. – Washington Post

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday it supported an effort in the U.S. Congress to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that allowed the war in Iraq, boosting lawmakers’ push to pull back the authority to declare war from the White House. – Reuters

The United Nations human rights office in Tunisia said on Monday it is concerned about repeated allegations of serious violations by the Tunisian police, amid violent protests against police abuse that rocked the capital for six nights. – Reuters

Egypt’s highest criminal court Monday upheld the death sentence for 12 people involved in a 2013 protest by Islamists, including leaders of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, state media reported. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden will seek to stave off another surge of civilian suffering in the devastating war in Syria when he meets President Vladimir Putin this week, appealing to Putin to drop a threat to close the last aid crossing into that country. – Associated Press

A large weapons exchange on the Jordanian border was thwarted by the IDF and Israel Police on Monday night. – Jerusalem Post 

Lebanon’s military has received 60 B80VJ and 40 Sinotruk Howo vehicles as part of military assistance from China. – Defense News 


Major democracies rallied together this week to issue extraordinary back-to-back rebukes of Beijing, marking a shift toward collective action and pushing back against President Xi Jinping’s strategies to position China as a global leader. – Wall Street Journal

Unusual activity at a nuclear power reactor in China has drawn international attention, as two French companies involved in the plant acknowledged problems on Monday but said they could be handled safely. – New York Times 

A U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan has entered the South China Sea as part of a routine mission, the U.S. Navy said on Tuesday, at a time of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, which claims most the disputed waterway. – Reuters

China’s mission to the European Union urged NATO on Tuesday to stop exaggerating the “China threat theory” after the group’s leaders warned that the country presents “systemic challenges”. – Reuters

Editorial: Under the guise of counterterrorism and anti-extremism, China has forcibly incarcerated more than 1 million Uyghurs in brainwashing camps intended to wipe out their culture, traditions and language. It has subjected them to forced labor conditions. […]All of these atrocities taint the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing and should be a reason for corporate sponsors to pull out. – Washington Post 

Hal Brands writes: The U.S. could conceivably seek to end a protracted war with China through severe economic and technological sanctions, or through a maritime blockade that shuts off oil shipments and other key imports. But it may also need, through a mixture of firmness and restraint, to discourage an adversary from launching crippling cyberattacks or resorting to nuclear escalation. In America’s post-Cold War conflicts with weak enemies, the threat of escalation was mostly a one-way street. That won’t be the case in the future. – Bloomberg

Rich Lowry writes: We should be spending more on defense — and spending differently. With an eye to deterring conflict with China, we need to comprehensively recalibrate to focus on advanced technologies and weapons systems for the US Navy and Air Force, and in space. Hypersonics, directed energy and control of the electromagnetic spectrum should be particular priorities. – New York Post

Pedro Gonzalez writes: Business ties between Hollywood, sports teams, and corporations in the United States are increasingly bringing a wide array of interests under the thumb of the Middle Kingdom. Accompanying this essentially colonial project is censorship that stifles even mild criticism of Beijing. Now it appears that the United States government is subsidizing that censorship. – The National Interest


The Biden administration is not planning to carry out airstrikes against the Taliban after the U.S. military withdrawal in Afghanistan is complete, but the policy may need to be revisited if militants threaten security at key U.S. and allied diplomatic facilities in Kabul, U.S. officials said. – Washington Post 

The United Nations is preparing for a likely further displacement of civilians in Afghanistan after U.S. and international troops leave the country in September, U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Gunmen on Tuesday targeted members of polio teams in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least four staffers, officials said. – Associated Press

Editorial: Even a functioning visa program is insufficient at this point. President Biden can save lives by doing more, such as the evacuation of applicants to a temporary third country as the process plays out. Or he could provide them with humanitarian parole, which grants temporary permission to enter the U.S. The Afghan translators risked their lives helping the U.S.—following the rules and earning a chance at the American dream. Abandoning them now is unconscionable. – Wall Street Journal

Lynne O’Donnell writes: One alternative is to offer “over the horizon” air support; although the United States has yet to find a neighboring country willing to host a military base that could enable timely air support to Afghanistan’s fighting forces. Washington does not have basing agreements with Pakistan, Iran, China, or the Central Asian states that fall into Russia’s sphere of influence, though some Afghan officials believe Uzbekistan remains an outside possibility. – Foreign Policy


The International Criminal Court prosecution has requested authorization to open an investigation of killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. – Washington Post

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with an investigation into the country’s bloody war on drugs planned by the International Criminal Court (ICC), his spokesperson said on Tuesday while defending the administration’s record on human rights. – Reuters

Japan on Tuesday denied a media report that South Korean President Moon Jae-In is arranging a visit to Japan timed with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as well as talks with Japanese Prime Minister Suga. – Reuters 

South Korean’s military began annual drills on Tuesday around a set of islands also claimed by Japan, days after planned talks between the two countries’ leaders were called off amid a spat over an Olympics map. – Reuters

Britain and Australia have agreed on a free trade deal that will be released later Tuesday, Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, who has refused to leave his post despite being fired after the February coup, has called for “effective collective measures” against the junta, ahead of expected Security Council talks on the situation. – Agence France-Presse

The Philippines will keep in place a key military deal with the U.S. that President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to terminate. Duterte is extending for another six months the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement “while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a video. – Bloomberg

Amy Kazmin and Demetri Sevastopulo write: India’s catastrophic Covid-19 wave has not only battered its ambitions to become the “pharmacy of the world”, but it has also undermined a US plan for New Delhi to play a leading role in countering Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. […]But India’s coronavirus crisis and subsequent vaccine export ban have overshadowed the quartet’s first attempt to prove it can provide practical help to the region and is not just an anti-China military alliance. – Financial Times


A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in Geneva on Wednesday is unlikely to yield concrete deals but the talks will still be useful, a Kremlin aide said. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is to meet President Joe Biden at a summit Wednesday, has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested for rioting at the U.S. Capitol are being subjected to “persecution for political opinions.” – Associated Press

The parents of an American imprisoned in Russia are pushing for a prisoner swap for his release ahead of President Joe Biden’s summit with Vladimir Putin Wednesday, after the Russian president said he was open to a possible exchange. – Washington Examiner

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to announce a new arms control dialogue this week, U.S. and European sources expect, as the Cold War-era rivals try to manage their nuclear arsenals before the last remaining pact expires in 2026. – Washington Examiner

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: It’s difficult to know where to start the conversation with Putin on human rights. Elections have been reduced to prearranged rituals without real competition. Freedom of the media has been stifled as major news outlets were closed or fell under state control. […]All these issues should, and hopefully will, be raised by Biden in Geneva — no doubt, without much progress on any of them. But there is one item on the long list of Putin’s human rights abuses where Biden can actually expect a result — as shown by past American presidents in their own meetings with Kremlin leaders. – Washington Post 

Eli Lake writes: It’s fair to ask why the fate of a largely exiled political movement is any of America’s business. The answer can be found in Putin’s smug and defiant interview. […]The best the U.S and its allies can do is to help keep the Russian opposition alive until Putin is no longer in power. Right now, that means helping U.S. internet companies resist Putin’s efforts to exile his opposition from the web. – Bloomberg

Michael McFaul writes: Biden is right to test whether Putin might embrace a more stable, predictable relationship with the United States. […]At the same time, the Biden administration must swiftly develop the other dimensions of its strategy for containing and deterring Putin’s belligerent behavior while also supporting democratic forces in Russia, Europe, and around the world. After Geneva, in other words, the hard work begins. – Foreign Affairs

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: The list of legitimate grievances against Russia is a mile long and Biden has been consistent in his rhetoric. But to date, it has yet to translate into a strategic approach and a coherent foreign policy. Actions speak louder than words and Putin of all people knows this. As Biden meets with Putin he ought to remember that historically the Mediterranean has been key to the global US position and that if he cedes it to Russia it will surely hurt his efforts to confront China. – Washington Institute

Leon Aron writes: Even under a cursory examination, the ostensible goals of the summit — “cooperation” on arms control, terrorism, climate change, and cyber warfare — are but a silly mantra. […]Bottom line: This represents a big, legitimizing, cost-free political win for Putin. And expect future complications for the US, as Putin concludes that aggression — or a threat of aggression — is the best way to get America’s attention and “respect,” which he so craves. – American Enterprise Institute

Peter Rough and Tim Morrison write: Instead of offering concessions in “areas where our interests align or certainly overlap,” as Secretary Blinken likes to say, Biden should use the summit to counter Russian posturing with American strength. Better to rebuild American credibility by standing with our front-line allies, targeting Nordstream 2, and confronting Russia than to pursue an illusory agenda of bilateral cooperation underwritten by U.S. concessions. To date, the Biden administration hasn’t settled into the tough policies it promised during the presidential campaign last year. Let’s hope that changes before it’s too late, beginning in Geneva this week. – National Review

Alexander Gabuev writes: The list of mutual grievances runs much longer, but with some dialogue on these elements in place, competition between the United States and Russia could become more predictable and manageable while avoiding abrupt and dangerous escalation. But putting this vision into practice may be challenging for at least three reasons. […]Finally, the idea of de-escalation between Moscow and Washington will be hostage to the Russian political calendar. – Foreign Policy


NATO leaders on Monday expanded the use of their all for one, one for all, mutual defense clause to include a collective response to attacks in space. – Associated Press 

U.S. President Joe Biden will intensify his post-Trump push to renew transatlantic relations on Tuesday, meeting with European Union leaders to cool trade tensions and join forces to beat COVID-19, uphold democracy and hold back climate change. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday he wants a clear “yes” or “no” from U.S. President Joe Biden on giving Ukraine a plan to join the NATO military alliance. – Reuters 

French European Affairs junior minister Clement Beaune said on Monday that current tensions over Brexit between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government and the European Union were “a test” for Europe. – Reuters

President Biden on Monday said Ukraine must root out corruption before it can become a full member of the NATO alliance, something Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pushed for. – The Hill

The soon-to-be-completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany, has long divided European capitals and fuelled tensions with Washington. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: NATO is the most successful alliance in history. It has kept peace among the great powers since the end of the Second World War. In a nuclear age in which the capacity for mass destruction is nearly limitless, the value of this success should not be discounted. But where, as now, this once-proud alliance exists as a pretense by many and excess efforts by a few, its survival is at risk. If Biden truly cares about upholding a democratic international order, he must deliver more stern words and fewer glowing smiles to Brussels. – Washington Examiner

Jonathan S. Tobin writes: The first thing Biden did when he crossed The Pond was to send a message that the “special relationship” between the US and Britain was history. Biden’s tour is the work of an administration in love with multilateral institutions like the European Union and the UN, not America’s allies. Rather than reassure the world that “America is back,” Biden’s obvious confusion on the world stage is undermining alliances and strengthening America’s foes. – New York Post


Top development banks from the world’s richest countries made a landmark joint pledge on Monday to pump $80 billion into African companies and projects over the next five years. – Reuters

Sudan is open to a partial interim agreement on Ethiopia’s multi-billion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile, with specific conditions, Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas said on Monday. – Reuters

Russian mercenaries, supported by at least one combat helicopter, attacked the neighborhood as they hunted for rebels known as the Seleka. […]All sides in CAR’s conflict have been accused of human rights violations, but the Russian role on the front lines has become deeply problematic for the UN peacekeeping force in CAR. – CNN

Ethiopia is preparing to hold crucial and twice-delayed elections across the country on June 21, despite growing concern over the credibility of the vote as well as a famine in war-torn Tigray. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, 75, who is running for a fourth consecutive term, has launched a broad campaign of repression since early June aimed at decimating the opposition ahead of November elections, according to analysts, human-rights activists and Western governments. – Wall Street Journal

The United States will grant $115 million in cooperation aid to El Salvador to slow migration from the Central American country, Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said on Monday. – Reuters

Walter Russell Mead writes: As President Biden travels across Europe from one summit to the next, the memory of Donald Trump’s disruption is starting to fade, and the soothing pageantry of diplomacy is resuming its stately course. […]Mr. Biden is right to point out that the world’s democratic societies face an unprecedented challenge from well-armed, hostile autocracies. He is right to insist that strengthening America’s alliances is a key to renewing its strength. But that is only the start. – Wall Street Journal


A cyberespionage campaign blamed on China was more sweeping than previously known, with suspected state-backed hackers exploiting a device meant to boost internet security to penetrate the computers of critical U.S. entities. – Associated Press

The United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations endorsed a new cyber defense policy Monday as part of the NATO summit in Brussels. – The Hill

Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected the notion of his country’s involvement in cyberattacks on elections and other economic infrastructure in the United States, calling accusations put forward by U.S. officials “farcical.” – Washington Examiner

The Air Force is expected to provide the lion’s share of new cyber mission force teams to U.S. Cyber Command proposed in the fiscal 2022 budget, the first such increase in almost a decade. – C4ISRNET


The U.S. Space Force launched an experimental space situational awareness satellite June 13 from a rocket aboard a plane in flight — readying the payload for launch in record time. – Defense News

Historically, modern presidential transitions have been rocky, to say the least. That is why many of us in the defense community breathed a sigh of relief at the Biden administration’s embrace of the Next Generation Interceptor missile defense program, even though its genesis occurred under the Trump administration. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is launching a new effort in fiscal 2022 to design and develop a long-range precision munition for its future aircraft and will choose industry-born designs to move forward into a roughly five-year development program in fiscal 2023, according to FY22 budget documents. – Defense News 

Difficulty sustaining the engine on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is contributing to a higher cost per flying hour than originally anticipated, a former programme official and a government auditor have noted. – Janes 

U.S. aircraft carriers are already facing risks from hypersonic weapons that are now entering the inventory of American adversaries and the Navy has developed early defenses for the threat, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said last week before the Senate. – USNI News

Long War

Canadian prosecutors said Monday they would pursue terrorism-related charges against a 20-year-old man who police allege used a pickup truck to plow down a family, killing four members, because of their Muslim faith. – Wall Street Journal

At least 15 people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide bombing at an army camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu, a Reuters witness who counted the bodies at Madina Hospital said. – Reuters

Ten people who had been held captive by Islamist militants were freed this week in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, three security sources and two close associates of those released told Reuters. – Reuters