Fdd's overnight brief

June 29, 2021

In The News


Iran said on Monday it has yet to decide whether to extend a monitoring deal with the U.N. nuclear watchdog which lapsed last week, amid Washington’s warning that Tehran’s failure to renew it would complicate talks to revive its 2015 nuclear accord. – Reuters

David E. Sanger writes: To the Iranians, the march toward the capacity to build a nuclear weapon has been in part an effort to demonstrate that Tehran is a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and beyond. […]If that blows into a full-scale crisis, it could imperil the nuclear accord — and pitch the administration into a new cycle of escalation, exactly what it wants to avoid. – New York Times 

Michael Rubin writes: Terrorism is a tactic employed when the gains outweigh the costs. Again, Biden is not alone in his failure to understand this basic fact. Trump did serious harm when he ordered unilateral withdrawals under fire. But there is now nothing in Biden’s strategy that reverses the Iran cost-benefit analysis. If Biden is serious, he must target the leadership and command structures of any group that targets the United States or its personnel. A one-off strike against isolated border facilities will not cut it. – 19FortyFive

Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer write: The latest strikes highlight the growing threat to U.S. forces and their allies from Iran-backed militias in the region and the increased clout that Tehran has built through its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria. They could also throw a wrench into tenuous talks between the Biden administration and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. – Foreign Policy

Andrew England and Najmeh Bozorgmehr write: Preservation of the system is considered the ultimate goal of both reformist and hardline politicians. Where they differ is on what needs to be done. The former believe there is no choice but to open up to keep pace with an evolving society and a changing world. […]Reformers and hardliners are two halves of the same system and both put the regime’s interests before the people. But, in the absence of any credible opposition outside the system, many see no obvious alternative. – Financial Times 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: If the world is finally blind regarding the nuclear program in a moment when Tehran can already enrich uranium up to the 60% level, which is only one rung down from the 90% weaponized level, how come Israel and the West are so calm? […]But it does mean that if Iran needs a bit more time to sulk before offering a face-saving formula for continuing IAEA cooperation, Jerusalem does not yet need to lose any sleep. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran says a new drone it has unveiled has a range of 7,000 kilometers, according to Tasnim News Agency and other reports, making it a challenge to the United States and a clear warning to Israel. Even if the drone has not achieved such a long range in a real flight (easily far enough to fly from Tehran to Reykjavik), Iran is sending a warning message that it can strike Israel with this weapon. – Jerusalem Post


U.S. troops in northeast Syria came under rocket fire Monday night after Iran-backed militias vowed revenge for U.S. airstrikes earlier that day in Iraq and Syria, a sign that fighting may be evolving into sustained confrontation. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden said Monday that he acted within his constitutional authority to order what his administration calls retaliatory airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria, which came as the White House has backed efforts to rewrite congressional authorization for such actions. – Washington Post 

The United States and other nations in a joint statement on Monday reiterated their call for immediate nation-wide ceasefire in Syria and unimpeded delivery of aid to the war-torn country. – Reuters


Reconstruction of Gaza after last month’s fighting between Israel and Hamas is being held up by a dispute over the fate of Israelis long held by the Islamist group and a lack of clarity over how to prevent it from accessing aid funds, officials say. – Reuters

Israel’s new foreign minister took off on Tuesday for a state visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first high-level trip by an Israeli official since the two countries signed an agreement to normalize relations last year. – Associated Press

U.S. President Joe Biden, in a meeting on Monday with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, said his commitment to Israel is “iron-clad” and he looks forward to meeting with new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett soon. Biden, in his first meeting as president with a top Israeli official, also said Iran would not come to possess a nuclear weapon during his time in office. – Reuters

The two Israeli men and the remains of two soldiers held captive in Gaza must be returned, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Palestinian Authority commission of inquiry into the death of political activist Nizar Banat is expected to publish its findings within the next 48 hours, as Palestinians continued to protest his alleged killing by PA security forces. – Jerusalem Post 

The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday ordered an additional week’s delay in the public corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a prior three-week postponement. – Jerusalem Post 

The Prime Minister’s Office and the White House have been holding advanced talks on arranging a trip to Washington by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in July to meet US President Joe Biden, according to a report Monday. – Times of Israel 

Joseph Krauss writes: Israel, the U.S. and the EU all prefer the unelected PA to Hamas — which they consider a terrorist group — or to the chaos that could ensue from the PA’s collapse. They are committed to working with the PA to manage the conflict and reduce tensions until some future time when the peace process can be revived. But after weeks of unrest in Jerusalem, a war in Gaza and now street violence in the West Bank, that approach seems increasingly fraught. – Associated Press


Banks in Lebanon will close on Tuesday in solidarity with the Lebanese Swiss Bank after it said staff at its headquarters had been assaulted by individuals seeking access to closed accounts, the Banks’ Association said in a statement on Monday. – Reuters 

Lebanon’s government raised fuel prices on Tuesday, after agreeing last week to effectively cut fuel subsidies, a move aimed at alleviating crippling shortages but which will increase the pressure on impoverished consumers. – Reuters  

A Russian business delegation met Lebanese officials on Monday to discuss plans to rebuild the grain silos destroyed last year in a massive explosion at Beirut’s port, a Lebanese Cabinet minister said. – Associated Press

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that the recent U.S. seizure of web domains used by Iran-affiliated media outlets proves the falsehood of American claims of championing the freedom of expression, opinion, and belief. He made these remarks in a public address which aired on various media outlets on June 25, 2021. Nasrallah said that it is “no coincidence” that the websites that were seized belonged to parties and media outlets that “played a major role” in the recent “Sword of Jerusalem” war with Israel and opposed the “Zionist entity” and “American hegemony in the region.” – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Turkey and Azerbaijan began joint military drills in Baku on Monday, deploying tanks, helicopters and drones in an effort to improve the two countries’ combat interoperability, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said in a statement. – Reuters

As the U.S. works on its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, members of the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group met Monday to chart future steps against the extremist group. – Associated Press

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that strikes on pro-Iran fighters in Iraq and Syria should send a “strong” message of deterrence not to keep attacking US forces. – Agence France-Presse

Iraq on Monday condemned overnight US airstrikes against Iran-backed armed groups on the Syrian-Iraqi border that killed at least seven fighters and sparked calls for revenge from Iraqi armed factions. – Times of Israel 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Egypt, Jordan and Iraq sought an increase in security and economic cooperation at a recent summit. […]That is a big deal. It shows that Cairo and Baghdad are repositioning themselves as important regional centers after years of crises, conflict and the weakening of major states saw power shift to Turkey, Iran, Israel and Gulf nations. – Jerusalem Post 

Mohammed Soliman writes: Amid the growing tensions over the GERD, Cairo developed a Nile strategy that is centered around full alignment with Sudan and the development of a web of economic and military alliances in Central and East Africa and the Horn of Africa. These provide Cairo with the ability to maintain geopolitical forward pressure and project power and influence in the Nile Basin in parallel with its pursuit of the diplomatic track to reach a binding agreement with Ethiopia over the GERD. – Middle East Institute

Michael Knights writes: The nighttime strikes appear to have hit drone storage and testing facilities, causing material damage and up to five fatalities. Yet the Biden administration needs to do much more if it hopes to repair U.S. deterrence—thus far, it has struck back just twice in response to twenty-four rocket and drone attacks over the past five months. If this response ratio continues, militias will simply keep escalating, and American lives will be lost. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea approved plans on Monday to pursue a $2.6-billion artillery interception system, similar to Israel’s “Iron Dome”, designed to protect against North Korea’s arsenal of long-range guns and rockets, the defence acquisition agency said. – Reuters

A former South Korean prosecutor-general launched on Tuesday a bid to become president in an election next year saying the administration of President Moon Jae-in was corrupt and had to be defeated. – Reuters

Robbie Gramer writes: All the while, U.S. diplomacy toward North Korea seems to be stuck in the mud, with no clear opportunities on the horizon for Biden to curtail North Korea’s nuclear weapons program—a national security problem that has vexed many of his predecessors. Like them, Biden faces the same problem: how to convince the world’s most insular and recalcitrant regime to give up its nuclear weapons program when that regime appears to base its very survival on having the bomb. – Foreign Policy


U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans said on Monday they opposed Democratic-led legislation intended to boost competitiveness with China and push Beijing on human rights, meaning the panel will likely advance the bill this week with only Democratic support. – Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged Chinese Communist Party members to remain loyal and continue to serve the people as he awarded a new medal of honour to 29 members as part of the ruling party’s 100th anniversary celebrations this week. – 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 crosshairs of a conflict between the world’s two largest economies. – Bloomberg 

Tom Mitchell writes: For the Chinese Communist party, opacity is a virtue and transparency a vice. This approach to governance has worked well for the party, which will celebrate the centenary of its founding on Thursday. Unfortunately, it does not work so well when you are running a Chinese nuclear power plant, especially in partnership with a foreign investor that cannot so readily embrace party principles. – Financial Times 

Yuan Yang writes: China’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration, aims to promote patriotic speech. But the line between fervent patriotism and aggressive nationalism is difficult to manage. […]While that’s true, both government and company censors have an uneasy hold on China’s new online nationalists. After all, they don’t always do what’s in Beijing’s best interests. – Financial Times 

Hal Brands writes: Biden hasn’t always seen the world this way. In 2019, he mocked the suggestion that China was a serious competitor, let alone the leading edge of an epochal ideological challenge. But his claim that the central clash of our time is the contest between democratic and authoritarian systems of government appears genuine—and has profound implications for U.S. foreign policy and geopolitics. […]Give Biden this much: he has correctly identified the overarching challenge of the era. Now comes the hard part. He must make his strategy real, and make it work. – Foreign Affairs


Taliban militants have taken over a district, launched attacks on checkpoints and cemented control over a border trade crossing, officials said on Monday, as clashes intensify in Afghanistan’s central and northern provinces. – Reuters

For nearly 20 years, Bagram Airfield was the heart of American military power in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls just an hour’s drive north of Kabul. Initially, it was a symbol of the U.S. drive to avenge the 9/11 attacks, then of its struggle for a way through the ensuing war with the Taliban. In just a matter of days, the last U.S. soldiers will depart Bagram. They are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American or Afghan, considers a mixed legacy. – Associated Press

The United Kingdom has withdrawn the Westland-Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC2 medium-lift helicopters that have been operating in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul since 2015. – Janes


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday that Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao should name corrupt government offices to prove that the boxer-turned-lawmaker is not just politicking ahead of a presidential election next year. – Reuters

Japan’s deputy defense minister on Monday warned of the growing threat posed by Chinese and Russian collaboration and said it was necessary to “wake up” to Beijing’s pressure on Taiwan and protect the island “as a democratic country.” – Reuters

The military takeover in Myanmar has given the junta full control of the country’s lucrative and conflict-ridden jade mining, providing it with profits and leverage for consolidating power, researchers said Tuesday. – Associated Press

China’s national security law for Hong Kong has shaken the city’s legal foundations in the year since it was imposed, lawyers say, with court decisions and sweeping new powers for prosecution fuelling concerns about rights and the rule of law. – Agence France-Presse

Indonesia and the United States have broken ground on a new $3.5 million maritime training center in the strategic area of Batam, in the Riau Islands, Indonesia’s maritime security agency said. – CNN


Russia has successfully test-launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in the country’s northwest, the TASS news agency reported on Monday, citing a source in the defence industry. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday announced the extension of a 20-year-old friendship and cooperation treaty between their countries, both of which have strained ties with the West. – Reuters

Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Monday it was monitoring the movements of international ships participating in ‘Sea Breeze’ military exercises in the Black Sea, the RIA news agency reported. – Reuters

Russia tested the readiness of its air defence systems in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as Ukraine and NATO countries held military drills in the Black Sea, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

A Russian appeals court on Monday upheld a nine-year prison sentence for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who was convicted last year of endangering the lives of two police officers in August 2019, charges he denies. – Reuters

The United States hopes for more stable and profitable relations with Russia but if the latter continues to “attack”, then Washington will respond, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday. – Reuters

Russia’s state-owned Almaz-Antey Concern unveiled its latest range of shipborne air-defence systems at the International Maritime Defence Show 2021 (IMDS 2021), held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 23–27 June. – Janes


Ukraine and NATO on Monday launched Black Sea drills that will involve dozens of warships, an exercise that follows last week’s incident with a British destroyer off Crimea. – Associated Press

Belarus on Monday retaliated to the European Union sanctions by halting cooperation on stemming illegal migration and denying entry to EU officials. – Associated Press

James McAuley writes: Moreover, a string of Islamist terrorist attacks and constant culture wars have pushed Macron’s government to the right, but this seems an uncertain gamble. The leftists who supported Macron in 2017 feel betrayed. Meanwhile, those on the traditional right, who may be pleased with some of Macron’s policies, appear confused as to why his party would be a better bet than the traditional conservative party they’ve been with all along. – Washington Post

Mallie Kermiet writes: With the U.S. government now detailing the consequences for corrupt Bulgarian businessmen, it is reasonable to see these measures as a warning to Europe’s growing circle of wealthy miscreants that citizenship in a NATO or EU member state does not provide a free pass. While the sanctions can be seen as a warning shot, they may also motivate the EU to work more closely with the U.S. in identifying the meeting point between criminality and government. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Katia Glod writes: Yet the details of the EU decision reveal that it has opted for a more cautious approach than initially appeared, intending to intensify the sanctions gradually, and thereby send a “last warning” to the regime in Belarus, rather than exposing it to concrete coercive action now. […]Belarus’ state-owned media have quickly switched to mocking the EU’s “powerlessness and inability to inflict any serious damage.” The reserved approach will certainly grant the regime time to prepare — expect new gray schemes and smuggling avenues to the EU to emerge, whilst also widening domestic corruption. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Ethiopia declared a unilateral cease-fire in its eight-month war in the northern Tigray region on Monday, hours after separatist fighters entered the provincial capital in a blow to the government of Africa’s second-most populous nation. – Wall Street Journal

Seven months after they were dislodged by Ethiopia’s military, the former leaders of Ethiopia’s Tigray region claimed to have regained control Monday over the regional capital, marking what could be a significant — and unexpected — turning point in a deadly civil war. – Washington Post 

Congo on Monday banned public gatherings for two days in Beni, after the eastern city was hit by two explosions. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an 83-member alliance against Islamic State to step up its focus on operations in Africa, while working to prevent a resurgence of the militant organization in Iraq and Syria. – Bloomberg

King Mswati III of Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has allegedly fled his country as pro-democracy protests turned violent, according to the South African Broadcasting Corp. – Bloomberg

United States

United Nations peacekeeping missions globally are preparing for a possible shutdown on Thursday if the 193-member U.N. General Assembly is unable to agree a new $6 billion budget for the year to June 30, 2022, officials and diplomats said on Monday. – Reuters

Francis J. Gavin writes: Will the Biden administration’s efforts to link economic and national security succeed? While a commendable goal, accomplishing it may not be as easy or simple as one might think. To do so, U.S. officials would be wise to recognize the complex, often contradictory factors shaping economic and security goals, calculating how best to resolve the tension while advancing both. Foreign economic policy is about a lot more than trade policy, for example, and the most effective long-term policy toward China likely eludes simple binaries. – War on the Rocks

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Washington is currently in the middle of a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Iran wants to pressure the US in Iraq. In addition, Turkey and other players may want to pressure the US’s role in Syria as well. […] The US is not prepared to do what the Trump administration did, which was to target Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, key leadership figures of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Popular Mobilization Forces, respectively. – Jerusalem Post 

Rajan Menon writes: The Quad won’t disappear; it will hold summits, issue statements, and stage naval exercises. But those who want to become central to Washington’s neo-containment strategy are deluding themselves. – Foreign Policy


Google took down two Google Maps documents on Monday that had listed the names and addresses of hundreds of Thai activists who were accused by royalists of opposing the monarchy, the technology company said. – Reuters

The UN Security Council on Tuesday will hold its first formal public meeting on cybersecurity, addressing the growing threat of hacks to countries’ key infrastructure, an issue Joe Biden recently raised with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. – Agence France-Presse

A judge on Monday dismissed a blockbuster antitrust suit against Facebook filed last year by federal and state regulators, saying the lawsuit failed to “plausibly” establish that the social network had created a monopoly. – Agence France-Presse

The United States ranks as the world’s top cyber superpower, according to a new study published June 28. – C4ISRNET


In the upcoming budget debate, a group of moderate Democrats are trying to set a floor for 2022 defense spending before progressive Democrats try to push it lower. – Defense News 

Northrop Grumman has delivered a bus for Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3), ensuring that the experimental positioning satellite is on track for launch in 2023. – C4ISRNET

The Navy will have six Littoral Combat Ships deployed by the end of the year – a record for the program, several Navy officials have confirmed to USNI News. – USNI News 

The U.S. Air Force has a new unit devoted to competing in electromagnetic spectrum, or EMS, warfare. – Military.com

The USS Mustin is sailing back to the United States after an eventful 15 years of Western Pacific service that included multiple disaster-relief missions and frequent freedom-of-navigation operations in the South and East China seas. – Stars and Stripes 

Andrew Gonzalez and Stephen Rodriguez write: The defense-industrial base supply chain is barely able to keep pace today, in peacetime. Failure to act, well intentioned or not, is a de jure policy itself. The result will mean an American defeat, particularly in operational conflict scenarios in the Baltics or Taiwan, where the enemy can flow and reinforce its forces quickly. Surge capacity is needed, and the effectiveness of suppliers to meet DoD demands take precedence over the efficiency by which the supplier can do so. – Defense News 

Brian Burton writes: Continuing the current approach to allied future fighter programs will hinder the development of U.S. allies’ defense capabilities at a time when the United States needs them to be stronger than ever. Ultimately, if the U.S. government is serious about the importance of its allies fielding capable military forces in the future, it needs to be a serious partner in their future fighter programs. – War on the Rocks