Fdd's overnight brief

March 25, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration and President Hassan Rouhani’s government in Tehran both want to revive the JCPOA. But their window is closing. The U.S. and Iran have spent the first months of the year stuck in a stalemate, waiting for the other to blink first. – Newsweek

Iran has complained about International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi’s recent interview with Newsweek, terming the IAEA chief’s remarks “non-constructive” and urging him to focus on his responsibilities related to the beleaguered Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. – Newsweek 

Iran continues to improve its air defenses, citing the use of the Bavar-373 system and other capabilities. Iran says it has overcome the difficulties of the pandemic and continues to focus on its armed forces. – Jerusalem Post

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ naval arm and its leader, Adm. Alireza Tangsiri, bragged about its current abilities on Wednesday. The IRGC says that its naval units deal with a variety of threats, including smuggling of goods and fuel. – Jerusalem Post

Bruce Portnoy writes: So as to not recreate the mistakes of the past US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley are well advised to incorporate in upcoming discussions input from Israel and her new (Sunni) nation friends, combined with our pre-established common interest forces. Together a practical message that regional destabilization will not be tolerated may serve as the optimal starting point for effective nuclear negotiations to follow. – Jerusalem Post

Simon Henderson writes: Opinions vary on how close Tehran is to such capabilities or whether it has made the relevant policy decisions. Some suggest it would need two years to assemble a bomb. Others assume it may have already completed most of the weaponization work, and that breakout will be possible once it produces the necessary amount of 90% enriched uranium hexafluoride, converts it to uranium metal, and casts and machines the uranium metal bomb parts. – Washington Institute


Turkey’s economy is facing fresh turmoil after the surprise ouster of the central bank governor by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added another chapter to years of unpredictable economic policy, spooking foreign investors and possibly sowing the seeds of a financial crisis. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday, urged Ankara not to retain Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. – Reuters

Turkey on Wednesday rejected French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestions that Ankara could seek to interfere in France’s next election by manipulating public opinion. – Associated Press


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not be able to form a government, according to preliminary results from 97% of the regular polling stations reported by the Central Elections Committee unless he gains support from the Arab-Islamist Ra’am Party. – Jerusalem Post

The Chinese government plans to invite Israelis and Palestinians to hold talks in China, Al-Arabiya TV channel quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday as saying in an interview. – Reuters

The US State Department has acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has not “terminated payments for acts of terrorism,” according to a non-public report to Congress seen by The Algemeiner, as the Biden administration has said it intends to restart aid to the PA cut by former President Donald Trump. – Algemeiner

The United National Human Rights Council passed a total of four anti-Israel resolutions condemning Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and other policies, as it wrapped up its forty-sixth session on Wednesday. – Algemeiner 

Israel should not expect the Biden administration to delay resumption of US talks with Iran until Israel has a new government in place, despite its fourth deadlocked election, according to Dan Arbell, a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Israeli Studies at American University. – Jerusalem Post

Border Police Yamam officers shot a Palestinian man near Ramallah on Thursday during an operation designed to capture him for being an alleged known militant. – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, spoke on Wednesday with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and discussed the visa waiver program. – Jerusalem Post

In a recent conversation with Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Brad Bowman, the director of US Air and Missile Defense Brig.-Gen. Brian Gibson praised the Iron Dome system. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF struck targets belonging to terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday night in response to a rocket that was fired from the Strip towards Israel earlier in the evening and fell in an open area near Beersheba, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. – Jerusalem Post

Israel on Wednesday harshly condemned the UN Human Rights Council over a series of resolutions condemning the Jewish state, calling the international body “obsessive, biased, and anti-Israel.” – Times of Israel

Mohammed Shihab, one of the leaders of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, claims that Israel is sending messages threatening to arrest Hamas leaders in Judea and Samaria if they decide to run in the Palestinian parliamentary general election. – Arutz Sheva

Sandra Parker writes: The Biden administration’s stated desire to exercise moral leadership is admirable. But undermining the Taylor Force Act achieves the opposite result. If necessary, Congress should intervene and protect U.S. taxpayers from their dollars being directed to entities that support terrorism (though it shouldn’t have to). Certainly, that is neither controversial nor too high a bar. The Taylor Force Act passed with widespread bipartisan support and reflects the will of the public. Attempts to evade the law’s restrictions are shameful. – Washington Examiner

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led coalition has cleared four fuel ships to dock at Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah, two sources familiar with the matter said, after Yemen’s internationally recognised government said on Wednesday it had approved entry of some vessels. – Reuters

Dubai Multi Commodities Center executive chairman Ahmed Bin Sulayem is an enthusiastic supporter of new trade ties with Israel. In a recent discussion he talked about the opportunities he sees and also his background meetings with Israeli colleagues in various industries. Prior to the Abraham Accords, he met Israelis in commodity fields that he deals with, such as diamonds. – Jerusalem Post

Officials from Persian Gulf countries have expressed concern to Israel over far-right candidates being elected to the Knesset, according to a Wednesday report. – Times of Israel

Saudi Arabia

The head of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission on Thursday denied media reports that a senior Saudi official had threatened the U.N. expert who led the investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. – Washington Post

The U.N. human rights office said on Wednesday it confirmed the accuracy of published remarks by the independent expert who led an investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi alleging that a senior Saudi official had made a threat against her. – Reuters

In his December 28, 2020 column in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, liberal journalist ‘Ali Al-Sharimi proposed ways to prevent young people from being recruited by extremist organizations like ISIS. The primary need, he said, is to reform the curricula, especially in the field of religious studies, which currently offer no ideological protection and in fact radicalize the youth and turn them into potential recruits for terror organizations. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Middle East & North Africa

A skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal further imperiled global shipping Thursday as at least 150 other vessels needing to pass through the crucial waterway idled waiting for the obstruction to clear, authorities said. – Associated Press

The new U.N. special envoy for Libya urged foreign forces and mercenaries Wednesday to leave the conflict-stricken country as demanded in last year’s cease-fire agreement. – Associated Press

Libyan officials said armed men Wednesday shot dead a military commander wanted by the International Criminal Court in an eastern city. – Associated Press

Jordanian riot police on Wednesday broke up protests in Amman and other cities called to mark the 10th anniversary of Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations, and authorities detained tens of activists, witnesses said. – Reuters

Hezbollah said on Wednesday a new cabinet was needed to pull Lebanon out of financial crisis, after a standoff over government formation between its president Michel Aoun and prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri worsened. – Reuters

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: Russia for its part has been using Syria since September 2015 not only to expand its influence in the country and prop up al-Assad, but also as a springboard for operations and power projection throughout the entire Middle East. Syria may not be a priority for the Biden administration, but it is a priority for Putin. A growing Russian presence in the country will only further hurt American, and more broadly Western, interests. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea launched two ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday, the U.S. and Japanese governments said, as the Kim Jong Un regime’s frustrations with the Biden administration have begun escalating. – Wall Street Journal

South Korean defence company LIG Nex1 has developed an electronic warfare (EW) self-protection system for integration with the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) fighter aircraokft being developed for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF). – Janes

The future of the world’s biggest producer of synthetic rubber is under threat as a chaebol princeling grapples with his estranged uncle in a shareholder battle in South Korea. – Financial Times


Over the past week, Beijing got a taste of President Biden’s new China strategy: First came the dressing-down over human rights by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a meeting in Alaska. Days later, the European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States joined to censure China’s abuses in Xinjiang with coordinated sanctions. Australia and New Zealand chimed in with statements of condemnation. – Washington Post

China’s ruling Communist Party is lashing out at H&M and other clothing and footwear brands as it retaliates for Western sanctions on Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. – Associated Press

The United States and European countries are closing ranks to respond to what the U.S. calls “aggressive and coercive” behavior by China, days after the U.S. and its allies launched coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials accused of rights abuses in the far-western Xinjiang region. – Associated Press

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has adopted a measure designed for stricter regulation of Chinese firms from U.S. stock exchanges. The commission said in a press release on Wednesday that it has adopted interim final amendments to implement disclosure requirements under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable (HFCA) Act that will require firms to establish that they are not owned or controlled by a foreign governmental entity. – The Hill

China has issued a new report analyzing the human rights record of the United States throughout the past year, looking specifically at reports of racial injustice, gun violence and the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. – Newsweek

On March 22-23, 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Guilin City in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Notably, this meeting took place soon after the March 18-19 U.S.-China meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, with the intent of demonstrating that Moscow and Beijing are coordinating their response to Washington. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Hugh Hewitt writes: If, as seems likely after the exchange of insults between Chinese and American diplomats in Anchorage on Thursday, confrontation continues and indeed escalates between the Chinese Communist Party and the United States, American politics will return to contours not seen since the end of the Cold War. – Washington Post

Joshua Eisenman and Haley Grizzell write: For them, the events of Jan. 6 not only provide some welcome schadenfreude at the United States’ expense, but they also give them political cover to express their fears about the long-term implications of Xi’s power grab. In this way, China’s response to the Capitol Hill insurrection, which at first blush appeared to be merely a show of national strength and confidence, actually belies heartfelt concerns among tens of millions of Chinese elites that, someday, their country too will face its own messy and prolonged power transition. – Foreign Policy


The Biden administration is looking to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past a May 1 deadline while exploring a deal in which the Taliban would allow a U.S. counter-terrorism force to remain as they confront their Islamic State foes, a top U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Robin Wright writes: One option for Biden is to extend the U.S. military presence for weeks or months, without a specific deadline. The U.S. deal with the Taliban pledged an American withdrawal if four conditions, including a permanent ceasefire, were met. The opposite has happened. But a delay carries its own dangers. The Taliban would almost certainly interpret it as a violation of the deal with Washington—and almost certainly end its ceasefire with American forces and intensify attacks on the Afghan government. – New Yorker


The Hong Kong government has told some foreign consulates to stop accepting a British travel document that many of its young people use to apply for working holiday visas in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, diplomats say. – Reuters

Strung across remote mountain settlements, a secret network of activists and volunteers is helping spirit hundreds of defecting Myanmar policemen away from the military’s brutal crackdown on dissent and into relative safety in a small northeastern Indian state. – Reuters

Taiwan has begun mass production of a long-range missile and is developing three other models, a senior official said on Thursday, in a rare admission of efforts to develop strike capacity amid growing Chinese pressure. – Reuters

China’s embassy in the Philippines has blamed “some external countries” for stoking tensions in the region, in remarks aimed at Japan after its ambassador stressed the need for peace and stability and in the South China Sea. – Reuters


Canada’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it is imposing new sanctions on nine Russian officials over “gross and systematic violations of human rights in Russia,” prompting the Kremlin to vow a response against Canada. – Reuters

The West must engage with Russia to promote mutual interests but remain “very clear-eyed”, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, at the Biden administration’s first cabinet-level meeting with the NATO alliance scorned by Donald Trump. – Reuters

Russia has issued a warning against a repeat of the NATO Western military alliance’s bombing campaign of Yugoslavia on its 22nd anniversary, as Washington’s top diplomat seeks to rally the alliance for the first time under the banner of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration. – Newsweek

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report confirming what social media companies already knew: Moscow has outsourced its influence operations to Mexico, Ghana and Nigeria. – Roll Call


The U.K. and European Union said they were working on steps to defuse a fight over vaccine supplies after the EU set out a plan that would make it easier for the bloc’s governments to block Covid-19 vaccine exports. – Wall Street Journal

EU lawmakers should reject a proposed law that forces Google, Facebook and Twitter to remove terrorist content within an hour of publication because of the risks to fundamental rights, 61 civil rights groups said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States and the European Union have agreed to relaunch a bilateral dialogue on China and work together to address Russia’s “challenging behavior,” according to a joint statement on Wednesday. – Reuters

Poland accused Belarus on Wednesday of persecuting its Polish minority, calling on its government to stop “taking hostages”, after Polish and Belarusian media said the head of a group representing the Polish diaspora had been arrested. – Reuters

The U.N. top human rights body agreed on Wednesday to set up a team of investigators to gather evidence about the alleged excessive use of force and torture by authorities in Belarus during their post-election crackdown on protesters. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday he had told his German counterpart that sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline were a real possibility and there was “no ambiguity” in American opposition to its construction. – Reuters

The European Union is one of the United States’ closest partners and it is up to China to make good on its promises to the bloc to open up its economy to Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Richard Pater writes: While Israel feels the Iranian threat far more acutely due to its relative geographic proximity, it shares with Britain a desire to prevent Iran achieving a nuclear capability, to curb its advanced ballistic missile programme and to counter Iranian proxies, particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the shipping lanes of the Gulf. – Times of Israel

Anthony B. Kim and Timothy Doescher write: While the future success of Albania will rest in large part on the shoulders of Albanians themselves, Washington’s continuing strategic support and encouragement for more decisive reforms remain essential for ensuring the country’s ongoing development as a reliable partner of the U.S. in a critical region of the world. – The Daily Signal


Kenya says it has given the United Nations 14 days to come up with a plan to close refugee camps in the country that host hundreds of thousands from war-torn neighboring nations. – Associated Press

A Kenyan official says four passengers were killed and dozens wounded when a bus hit an improvised bomb on a main road in the northern county of Mandera, near the border with Somalia. – Associated Press

At least 10 people were killed on Wednesday in attacks on two villages in the Tillaberi region of southwest Niger, a senior security source said. – Reuters

Armed groups on Wednesday attacked the northern Mozambique town closest to gas projects worth some $60 billion, two sources told Reuters, striking ever closer to developments that have already stalled due to security problems. – Reuters

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday its staff had been attacked, and had witnessed Ethiopian soldiers executing at least four men in the war-torn northern Tigray region. – Agence France-Presse

Eritrean forces are present inside disputed territory that straddles the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, according to the United Nations. The deployment in the so-called al-Fashqa triangle comes amid escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan over control of the area of fertile farming land. – Bloomberg

Judd Devermont and Marielle Harris write: President Biden’s recent Interim National Security Strategic Guidance makes clear it is a U.S. priority to “partner with dynamic and fast-growing African economies” as well as to “ensure that the growth we promote through [its] international commercial, trade, and investment policies is durable and equitable.” […]The Biden administration should seize the opportunity to align Prosper Africa with its trade and investment priorities and set the stage for more durable success. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Americas

President Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Harris will become the point person for the administration in seeking to stem the flow of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. As part of that role, she will work with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as the administration grapples with an influx of asylum seekers. – Washington Post

Several Caribbean island nations have issued a plea to the United States to share its stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines with the region as it has said it would with Mexico and Canada, calling on it not to neglect its “third border.” – Reuters

Argentina said on Wednesday it would withdraw from the “Lima Group” of Latin American nations, blasting the regional bloc’s policy of isolating Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro and noting it has “led to nothing.” – Reuters

Deadly clashes between Venezuelan security forces and illegal armed groups have sent thousands of civilians fleeing over the border into Colombia for safety. – Bloomberg

The Canadian Border Services Agency did not participate in a conspiracy involving the FBI or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police when they detained a senior executive for Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies, a Canadian justice department lawyer told an extradition hearing Wednesday. – Associated Press

George F. Will writes: It might discomfit the president and secretary of state to be told that their excellent first steps in foreign policy are reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 40 years ago, so instead let’s call them Trumanesque. Even before last week’s admirably acrimonious meeting between senior Chinese and U.S. officials in Anchorage, Joe Biden and Antony Blinken seem to be adhering to the principle that in diplomacy it is generally wise to know your own mind and to make sure that the other side knows it too. – Washington Post

Ryan C. Berg and Jorge González-Gallarza write: European leaders often claim to care about the fate of freedom, democracy, and human rights in the world. Yet, their foreign policy choices occasionally ignore it—and rarely is that misalignment starker than in European Union policy toward Venezuela. […]The stated agenda of renewed multilateral engagement by the Joe Biden administration offers a chance to convince the EU to change course and become the indispensable actor in Venezuela’s struggle to restore democracy. – American Enterprise Institute


Facebook has disrupted what it says is a China-based espionage campaign against Uyghur Muslim journalists, dissidents and activists living overseas, including in the United States, the social media giant announced Wednesday. – Washington Post

Stuart Force says he found solace on Facebook after his son was stabbed to death in Israel by a member of the militant group Hamas in 2016. […]But only a few months later, Mr. Force had decided that Facebook was partly to blame for the death, because the algorithms that power the social network helped spread Hamas’s content. – New York Times

A second senior Australian government minister has revealed his mobile phone was hacked through the Telegram messaging app, with a media report saying the phishing scam was aimed at revealing contact details of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. – Bloomberg

Andrei Soldatov writes: Russia’s SolarWinds digital hack, and a similarly huge and significant intrusion by China, has sent shockwaves through the U.S. and its Western allies. But the seeming absence of clarity on a response — what is appropriate and what’s not — was met with a feeling of relief in Moscow. In the long run, the Kremlin’s cyber strategy seems to be working surprisingly well. […]President Putin and his aides wait to see whether the Biden administration has any new strategy to counter its behavior. So far, every U.S. strategy has failed or was so languid that it was devoid of credibility, even for American allies. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Christopher Cytera writes: China has invested heavily in strategic sectors for purposes beyond the usual ones of wealth-creation and greater economic clout. Its activities in social media, electronics, and semiconductors should be particular causes for concern, as they are a means of infiltrating Western societies and economies in order to surreptitiously gather data for both economic and geopolitical advantage. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sought to smooth alliance feathers ruffled by the previous U.S. administration on a trip to NATO and the European Union this week, but his diplomatic calm did not completely mask deep-seated issues. – New York Times

Republicans on the House Armed Services committee cast doubt Wednesday that extremism in the military is as severe as Democrats and outside experts say it is. – Politico

A U.S Navy guided-missile destroyer and guided-missile cruiser left the Black Sea this week following drills with NATO allies. The Navy announced cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61) and destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) moved into the Mediterranean Sea following a multinational drill organized by Romania. – USNI News

The U.S. Army’s multidomain task force might have started out as an experimental unit, but a new plan to operationalize it puts the unit front and center in competition, crisis and conflict against adversaries. – Defense News

Long War

Spain’s National Police says it has briefly detained and questioned the highest-ranking representative of the Muslim community in Spain as part of a terrorism investigation. – Associated Press

The Philippine military said Wednesday that its troops have killed at least 16 Muslim rebels aligned with the Islamic State group in a series of clashes over the last week that have displaced thousands of villagers in a southern province. – Associated Press

A German woman accused of taking her son to Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria and fighting for the extremist group there was arrested Wednesday after landing in Berlin. – Associated Press

Matthew Levitt writes: In a new study outlining what a rationalized and sustainable counterterrorism posture should look like 20 years after 9/11, I argue that convincing partner nations to form burden-sharing alliances with the United States will only be possible once the United States has taken tangible action to restore its credibility as a reliable long-term partner, both at home and abroad. – Washington Institute