Fdd's overnight brief

March 3, 2021

In The News


An armed separatist group in Iran’s restive southeast assaulted a vehicle carrying members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard paramilitary force Tuesday, state TV reported, as unrest continues to roil the impoverished region. – Associated Press

France and its Western allies plan to lodge a protest with the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to criticise Iran’s decision to curb cooperation with the agency, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Tehran must make clear and immediate gestures to allow dialogue to resume on the 2015 nuclear deal, the Elysee palace said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Iran used commercial satellite images to monitor Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq as it prepared to launch more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. and coalition forces, 60 Minutes reported. – C4ISRNET

U.S. President Joe Biden’s quick January repeal of his predecessor’s travel ban on Iran has not yet revived Iranian arrivals to the United States, but it has reignited a debate about which Iranians the U.S. should allow to enter and whether existing methods for vetting them are effective. – Voice of America

Hamdi Malik writes: Indeed, the foreign activities of IRTVU and related entities merited U.S. government attention long before this designation, and for much broader reasons than election interference. Tehran’s media strategy in the Middle East is an integral part of its effort to justify and advance its regional expansionism project among a widespread audience. Countering this strategy will require more than just designating individual entities, even ones as extensive as IRTVU. – Washington Institute


The United States demanded Tuesday that the status of tens of thousands of civilians detained in Syria during the country’s 10-year conflict be made public, and that the bodies of those who died be returned to their loved ones. – Associated Press

Lawyers representing survivors of a chemical weapons attack in 2013 in Syria have filed a criminal complaint against Syrian officials whom they blame for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a rebel-held area. – Reuters

Democrats are ramping up pressure on President Joe Biden after he ordered airstrikes in Syria without consulting Congress, saying they aren’t satisfied with the White House’s rationale for the strikes and its lack of engagement with lawmakers. – Politico


An Israeli-owned cargo ship that suffered a mysterious explosion last week has left Dubai’s port and was transiting the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, satellite tracking data showed. The suspected attack has raised tensions in the region. – Associated Press

Israel’s defence minister said on Tuesday it intends to develop a “special security arrangement” with new Gulf Arab allies, who share common concerns about Iran. – Reuters

Israel estimates that hundreds of its citizens might be subject to war crimes probes by the International Criminal Court, whose jurisdiction it rejects, and is working on how to protect them, the Defence Minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations filed a letter of complaint to the UN Security Council Tuesday over a recent attack on an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman, calling for the body to “hold the Iranian regime responsible for this attack and for destabilizing the region.” – Algemeiner

US President Joe Biden has sent a congratulatory letter to The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv to commemorate its reopening. The letter, addressed to former US Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses, who also sits on the board of the museum, congratulates him on the reopening and praises the facility as a “necessary message in a time when so much seeks to divide us, and so many are struggling to connect. – Jerusalem Post


Ten rockets struck a military base used by U.S. forces in Iraq amid heightened tensions between Washington and Iran-backed militant groups in the country. – Wall Street Journal

Pope Francis this week begins a visit to Iraq, choosing for his first international trip since before the pandemic a country struggling with terrorist attacks and a spike in Covid-19 cases. – Wall Street Journal

Rogue militia groups threaten to thrust Iraq into civil war, senior U.S. military officials are warning in increasingly stark language. – Defense One

Saudi Arabia

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since her provisional release from prison last month, as she appealed restrictions including a five-year travel ban, her family said. – Agence France-Presse

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the slaying of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi. – The Hill

David Ignatius writes: Khashoggi might be alive today if the U.S. government had penalized foreign governments that harass journalists and dissenters. He was a victim of a world where autocrats and their stooges seemed to have the upper hand, and the United States didn’t speak out in his defense. News organizations and human rights activists should be vigilant to make sure the Biden administration delivers on its new promise to protect the brave men and women who follow Khashoggi’s example. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The United States imposed sanctions Tuesday on two rebel leaders in Yemen, citing their alleged roles in cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and shipping vessels in the Red Sea. – Associated Press

An Australian citizen facing potential extradition from Morocco to Saudi Arabia was detained just hours after meeting his newborn child, his wife says. – The Guardian

A Turkish drone maker has begun the conceptual design phase of what it hopes will become the country’s first combat drone. – C4ISRNET

Lazar Berman writes: The new US approach to Saudi Arabia — human rights sanctions on one hand and security cooperation on the other — appears to be an indicator of how it will handle its relationship with other key US allies in the Middle East. In Egypt, the administration approved the sale of nearly $200 million worth of missiles and, days later, stressed its commitment to human rights there. – Times of Israel

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Many MENA states have focused on acquiring advanced ballistic and cruise missiles, a wide range of precision-guided weapons, integrated mixes of land-based air and missile defenses, and a wide range of other developments in military technology and tactics. Gray area operations and hybrid warfare have become added sources of change in the military character of the region, as has the support of rebel and other separatist factions in neighboring states. Many U.S. strategic partners have generally needed added security assistance in restructuring; equipping; intelligence; and operations for their counterterrorism, counterextremism, and counterinsurgency forces. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


China on Tuesday rejected an allegation by a cyber intelligence firm that a state-backed hacking group targeted the IT systems of two Indian coronavirus vaccine makers. – Reuters

President Joe Biden took office promising to move quickly to restore and repair America’s relations with the rest of the world, but one major nation has yet to see any U.S. effort to improve ties: China. – Associated Press

China is expected to unveil new political controls on Hong Kong at this week’s meeting of its rubber-stamp parliament, which is also likely to showcase President Xi Jinping’s further consolidation of power. – The Guardian

William A. Galston writes: To improve the research pipeline, the federal government should increase its support for graduate students pursuing advanced STEM studies. […]In recent decades, the U.S. has failed to invest in the country’s future. Now Washington must do better before it is too late. – Wall Street Journal

Patrick M. Cronin writes: Beijing’s One Belt One Road project is an aggressive attempt to expand Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific. […]But for Washington to respond head-on, trying to match it port-by-port or road-by-road, would simply allow China to set the agenda. Instead, the United States should compete on its own terms with an asymmetric foreign assistance strategy that draws on its natural strengths. This means preventing the rise of an illiberal world order by promoting open commerce, fair rules for the digital space and freedom of the seas. With such an approach, the Biden administration can make good on its vow to “out-compete” China. – War on the Rocks


According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group based in Thailand and Myanmar, around 30 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup and more than 1,200 arrested. – New York Times

Three women who worked at a local news outlet were gunned down in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, according to local officials, adding to the bloody tally of Afghan media workers and journalists who have been killed at alarming rates in the past year. – New York Times

Britain has requested a new United Nations Security Council meeting on coup-hit Myanmar for Friday, diplomatic sources told AFP on Tuesday, as security forces have stepped up their use of violence against demonstrators in the Southeast Asian nation. – Agence France-Presse

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets again Wednesday to violently disperse protesters against last month’s military takeover. Multiple reports from several cities and towns, difficult to independently confirm, said police also used live ammunition, causing at least one death. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, who strongly opposed the military coup in his country, insists he remains the permanent representative to the United Nations, but the foreign ministry has informed the U.N. that the ambassador has been terminated and his deputy is now in charge. – Associated Press

Taiwan will not be beaten by China’s ban on pineapple imports and will rally round its farmers to turn crisis into opportunity with new markets and more sales at home, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, offering a defiant rebuke to Beijing. – Reuters

Hong Kong has made its 100th arrest under a national security law imposed on the former British colony by China last year, while dozens of pro-democracy activists return to court for a mass bail hearing before their trial on subversion charges. – Bloomberg

The Royal Australian Air Force on Tuesday signed a $115 million contract to buy three more autonomous “Loyal Wingman” drones from Boeing, raising its total order to six aircraft just days after the first system made its inaugural flight. – Defense News

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is seeking $4.68 billion in the upcoming fiscal year for the year-old Pacific Deterrence Initiative, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

After the Pakistani military helped Azerbaijan’s armed forces defeat Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh War (September 27-November 10, 2020), it appears that Azerbaijan is seeking, in an act of reciprocity, to assist Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir. – Middle East Media Research Institute


The Biden administration on Tuesday announced punitive sanctions against senior Russian government figures for the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the first of what is likely to be a series of actions designed to signal a tougher approach to Moscow than that taken by President Donald Trump. – Washington Post

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late on Tuesday that new sanctions imposed by the United States were evidence of a “hostile anti-Russian lunge” and said it would retaliate to what it described as another blow to U.S.-Russia ties. – Reuters 

Editorial: Most major Western governments have called for Mr. Navalny’s release from prison; on Tuesday, the Biden administration reiterated that demand and, to drive home the point, imposed sanctions blocking top Kremlin officials from accessing assets in the United States. There should be no pause in the crusade to secure his freedom. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: Responding to the Biden administration’s imposition of new sanctions on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry pledged retaliation on the principle of “reciprocity,” though “not necessarily symmetrically.” […]The Kremlin is referencing reciprocity? Fine. Let the United States apply that same rule back with interest. If the Kremlin wants to mess around with U.S. diplomats, the FBI should do the same to Russia’s personnel in Washington. If the Russians want to launch cyberattacks, the U.S. should introduce Putin to some of its more boutique cybertools. – Washington Examiner


Tom Rogan writes: Putin could leverage Nord Stream II to win the EU’s acquiescence to his foreign policy priorities. Considering that the EU is already highly deferential toward Moscow, reluctant even to wave the flag against Putin’s intimidation, the pipeline’s completion is a looming disaster. It will weaken NATO and empower Putin. Killing off Nord Stream II should be, and was for the Trump administration, a no-brainer. These sanctions are better than nothing. But if Biden wants to strengthen NATO and undermine Putin’s security interests, he’ll have to go under the Baltic Sea. Washington Examiner

Philippe Marlière writes: The Sarkozy trials may be heralding a change of political culture in France. The era of arrogant and aloof presidents who seem untouchable and above the law may be about to end. This criminal conviction is happening at a time when the French have grown exasperated at the lack of accountability of their president. With presidential elections taking place next year, and the left and the far right eager to capitalise on public discontent with the system, who knows what the political consequences might be? – The Guardian

Leon Hartwell writes: Finally, the mediators need to recognize that a comprehensive agreement between Serbia and Kosovo may not be forthcoming in the short to medium term, which means the U.S. should return to playing the long game in the Balkans. That would require maintaining the special envoy for the Western Balkans position created during the Trump administration and, more importantly, once again taking a bipartisan approach that would mark a return to the three main pillars of U.S. foreign policy on the Serbia-Kosovo dispute: protecting Kosovo’s independence, supporting liberal democracy in the Balkans and acting in tandem with the EU and U.K. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Gunmen released hundreds of girls who were kidnapped from a boarding school in Nigeria, bringing to an end four days of captivity that underlined the perilous security situation in the northwest of the country. – Wall Street Journal

The Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Ethiopian authorities to free journalists and media workers detained in the Tigray region, where government troops and their allies are battling forces loyal to the local administration. – Associated Press

Nearly 27 years have passed since the genocide in Rwanda, but the children born of rape perpetrated during the country’s torment are still struggling with trauma, even as the country works towards national reconciliation. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday pressed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to end hostilities in the northern Tigray region, citing a “growing number of credible reports of atrocities and human rights violations and abuses. – Reuters 

A pregnant woman and five other people died when an ambulance carrying them hit a land mine in northern Burkina Faso, in an area that has come under repeated militant attacks, the government said. – Reuters

Latin America

The chief European Union diplomat in Venezuela left the country on Tuesday, a week after the government of Nicolás Maduro ordered her expulsion following the EU’s decision to impose sanctions on several Venezuelan officials accused of undermining democracy or violating human rights. – Associated Press

A $4 billion commitment from U.S. President Joe Biden to promote development in Central America will include help for southern Mexico, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday, after a call with his counterpart. – Reuters

Ten former members of Colombian guerrilla group FARC were killed and three were captured during a bombing in southeastern Guaviare province, the defense minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

United States

“We have significantly grown the number of investigations and arrests,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee, his first testimony since the riot involving supporters of President Donald Trump. The FBI director testified in September that the number of such cases was about 1,000. By the end of 2020, there were about 1,400 such cases, and after Jan. 6 the figure ballooned again, the director said. Domestic terrorism “has been metastasizing around the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray said. – Washington Post

More than a dozen voters had already cast ballots for a school district election inside a community center in Ankeny, Iowa, on Tuesday when a pair of dog walkers strolling through the parking lot spotted a suspicious-looking package. When police responded, they found a live pipe bomb. – Washington Post

The Pentagon acted as quickly as possible when asked to help respond to rioting at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the top U.S. military officer said, calling the turnaround “sprint speed” in his first public comments about the Pentagon’s reaction to the lethal siege. – Washington Post


China-based government hackers have exploited a bug in Microsoft’s email server software to target U.S. organizations, the company said Tuesday. – Associated Press

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday hinted at the planned federal response to what has become known as the SolarWinds hack, stressing that confronting foreign attacks in cyberspace would be “a long, hard slog.” – The Hill

Federal cybersecurity has “regressed” since 2019 due to factors including the lack of centralized cyber leadership at the White House, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Tuesday. – The Hill

A congressionally mandated artificial intelligence report released Monday called for billions of dollars of U.S. investment, warning that China “possesses the might, talent, and ambition” to topple the U.S. as the global AI leader. – C4ISRNET


The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee by a unanimous voice vote on Tuesday backed veteran diplomat William Burns to become President Joe Biden’s Central Intelligence Agency director, Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic committee chair, said. – Reuters

U.S. defense officials want to be admitted to an internal European Union project aimed at easing the flow of military forces across the continent. – Defense News

Despite previously reported delays from the Government Accountability Office and the Missile Defense Agency, a key U.S. Air Force radar designed to detect ballistic missile threats appears to be on track to reach initial operational capability in fiscal 2021, according to an MDA announcement. – Defense News

BAE Systems secured a $58 million contract to begin low-rate initial production of an electronic warfare system for F-15s to protect pilots from advanced threats coming over the electromagnetic spectrum, the company announced Tuesday. – C4ISRNET

USS Gabrielle Giffords’ (LCS-10) recently completed 17-month deployment to the Pacific will refine how the Navy thinks about operating and maintaining the Littoral Combat Ship forward, the ship’s gold crew captain told USNI News. – USNI News

Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets have flown off the flight deck of a Navy aircraft carrier for the last time. – Military.com

Long War

War crimes have been committed by all sides fighting in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, including jihadi rebels, government forces and a South African mercenary outfit that provides helicopter support to government troops, according to international rights group Amnesty International. – Associated Press

Indonesian security forces killed two militants in a shootout that also resulted in the death of one soldier, police said Tuesday. – Associated Press

Jihadis linked to the Islamic State group attacked the northeastern Nigerian town of Dikwa and humanitarian posts there, security officials said. – Associated Press

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the killing of three women working for a local radio and TV station in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a spike in targeted killings across the war-tor country. Dozens of people gathered Wednesday for the funerals of the three media workers. – Associated Press