Fdd's overnight brief

March 9, 2021

In The News


Iran has started enriching uranium with a third cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog told its member states on Monday, further breaching Iran’s 2015 deal with major powers. – Reuters

After Iran last month imposed an internet shutdown lasting several days in a southeastern region during a rare upsurge of unrest, activists say the government is now using the tactic repeatedly when protests erupt. – Agence France-Presse

India has concluded that Iran was behind a blast outside the Israeli embassy in New Delhi in January, with the device planted by a local Shiite cell, an Indian news organization reported Monday. – Times of Israel

BDS groups in Europe and North America took part in an event with the Iranian regime, leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups earlier this year. – Jerusalem Post

Rep. Andy Barr (R-Kentucky) introduced a bill last week seeking to withhold any funds to the State Department or the executive branch for purposes of renegotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action until it is first submitted to the Senate as a treaty, triggering the advice, consent and oversight that come with such a move. – Jerusalem Post


Israel on Monday kicked off its two-week campaign to vaccinate more than 100,000 Palestinians carrying Israeli work permits even as inoculations remain a distant dream for most residents of the West Bank. – Washington Post

The Biden administration moved on Monday to reimpose financial sanctions on an Israeli mining executive who had turned to a team of lobbyists to have the measures eased during President Donald J. Trump’s final days in office. – New York Times

An Iranian-backed war against Israel involving Hezbollah in Lebanon on one end, and a Saudi peace deal on the other, could be in the air, according to author Joel Rosenberg, who has spoken with leaders in the region. – Jerusalem Post

The Israeli Right helped solidify its hold on Area C of the West Bank through the creation of 41 herding outposts during the four years former US president Donald Trump was in the White House, according to a report by left-wing NGOs Kerem Navot and B’Tselem. – Jerusalem Post

The Hungarian and Czech prime ministers will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss policies to fight COVID-19 as a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic sweeps central Europe. – Reuters

The US is committed to a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a State Department spokesperson said Monday. – Arutz Sheva

Alan Dershowitz writes: So good riddance to the ICC as a potential mechanism for preventing and punishing genocide. By ignoring actual genocides in Syria and massive war crimes in many other parts of the world, and focusing instead on a democracy that is trying to defend itself against terrorists who have called for its destruction, the ICC prosecutor has destroyed the credibility of her court. – Jerusalem Post

S. Schneidmann writes: Abbas’s decision to hold elections raised questions in the international community, including the Biden administration, about how Abbas intends to combine two contradictory elements[…]. This paper will review reports about the letter sent by the PLO to the Biden administration and the Quartet, and statements by Hamas officials that contradict the content of the letter. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Pope Francis responded to public-health concerns about his trip to Iraq by saying he had considered the dangers, but ultimately trusted in God to protect Iraqis. – Wall Street Journal

By almost every measurement, Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq was stunning. He went to a country no pope had visited before, at a time when few other global figures were traveling. He led prayer in the very place where, less than seven years earlier, the Islamic State’s leader had proclaimed a caliphate that would “conquer Rome.” – Washington Post

Iraq’s prime minister on Monday called on the country’s rival political groups to use dialogue to solve their differences, a move he said would reflect the “love and tolerance” shown by Pope Francis’ historic visit to the country. – Reuters


Lebanon’s president told the army and security forces on Monday to clear roadblocks after a week of protests over a collapsing economy and paralysed government, but the army chief warned that troops should not get sucked into the political deadlock. – Reuters

The Lebanese army fired at an Israeli drone flying over an army post in Meiss Ej Jabal, Lebanese Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said late on Monday. – Reuters

Lebanon’s army chief warned Monday that soldiers are hurting from the severe economic crisis engulfing the country, voicing rare criticism from the military of a ruling class that has done little to try and resolve a monthslong political deadlock. – Associated Press

Arabian Peninsula

The U.N. migration agency on Monday urged Yemen’s Houthi rebels to allow access to dozens of migrants injured in a fire at an overcrowded detention center in the capital. – Associated Press

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that the Houthis must demonstrate willingness to engage in a political process to achieve peace in Yemen, after the group claimed responsibility for drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. – Reuters

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that the Biden administration remains alarmed by escalating attacks on Saudi Arabia, and that Saudi Arabia faces “genuine security threats” from Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi movement and elsewhere in the region. – Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi group intercepted an armed drone launched by the Iran-aligned movement towards Khamis Mushait in southern Saudi Arabia, Saudi state media reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Scott Krane writes: The Saudis (specifically Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS) have been found by US intelligence to be the murderers (or political assassins) of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. After 73 years, Saudi Arabia refuses to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, and will probably not be signing onto the multilateral and ever-growing Abraham Accords anytime soon. Nevertheless, now is not the time to impose sanctions on Riyadh as a punishment, even if it is in the name of ‘human rights’. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Half a year after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain established diplomatic relations with Israel, discreet Jewish communities in the Gulf Arab states that once lived in the shadow of the Arab-Israeli conflict are adopting a more public profile. – Associated Press

Libyan lawmakers began consultations Monday aimed at confirming a newly appointed government that would lead the war-wrecked country through elections by the end of the year. The U.N. called the session “historic.” – Associated Press

Ibrahim Karagül, former editor in chief of the Yeni Şafak daily, which is a mouthpiece of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP, wrote a March 1, 2021 column titled “A New Wave Of Terrorism Approaches. Preparations Are Being Made In Turkey To Counter This. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: A single, half-hearted strike at Iranian pawns won’t do a thing. Rather than play games with calibrated force, Biden needs to use imagination, as Team Trump did in taking out Tehran’s terror chief, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, back in January 2020. Then again, Biden’s current top advisers warned then that the Trump strike could start a regional war, just as they insisted that actually moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would bring disaster. – New York Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Israel, Turkey and others on the sidelines also likely want Iran’s role reduced. How that might come about is not yet clear because the US administration has been in close contact with Israel but has done less with Russia or Turkey. It is not clear what the Biden game plan is for Syria. An Iranian-backed militia attack on US forces at Al-Asad Base in Iraq in early March illustrates that pro-Iranian groups will continue to target US forces in Iraq. The US has been careful not to blame Iran for the attacks. – Jerusalem Post


U.S.-China political tensions remain the top concern for American companies in China despite some optimism about the relationship improving under President Biden, according to companies surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in China. – Wall Street Journal

The official news outlet of the Communist Party of China’s Xinjiang region said unidentified companies from the area have filed a domestic civil lawsuit seeking unspecified compensation from a U.S.-based human rights researcher whose reports alleged forced labour is used in the region’s cotton industry. – Reuters

Joining hundreds of women in Istanbul to protest at China’s treatment of Uighurs, Nursiman Abdurasit tearfully thinks of her jailed mother in Xinjiang and fears that Uighurs like her in Turkey may one day be sent back under an extradition deal. – Reuters

The World Health Organization has still not ruled out the theory that the novel coronavirus had escaped from a Chinese laboratory. – Business Insider

Beijing’s plans to change Hong Kong’s electoral system will protect the city’s international role, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday, as critics decry the move as an end of democratic hopes in the former British colony. – Reuters

Editorial: The United States, Britain and some other democratic countries have responded to the events in Hong Kong with condemnations and limited sanctions; more usefully, Britain has opened its doors to what could be hundreds of thousands of refugees from its former colony. Last week, the Biden administration acknowledged that the international response to the Xi regime’s abuses in Hong Kong and against Muslims in Xinjiang province had been unsatisfactory; the State Department said it was “galvanizing collective action.” It will take creative diplomacy to muster an adequately robust international response to a regime that regards itself as immune to pressure. – Washington Post

Peter Elstrom and Coco Liu write: In barely 40 years, China has dramatically opened up its economy and become one of the world’s primary growth engines. Now, President Xi Jinping is making ambitious plans to pull ahead of rivals by turning his country into a digital powerhouse. But Xi’s drive toward tech dominance is being threatened by an unexpected speed bump: China’s forceful crackdown on Jack Ma’s business empire.” – Bloomberg


Frustrated by a stalled peace process and escalating violence, the U.S. has presented an eight-page draft peace agreement to Afghanistan’s warring sides for review. – Associated Press

The U.S. State Department said on Monday that it is too early to say how Afghan peace talks are going, but the United States believes this is a moment when progress is possible. – Reuters

A U.S.-drafted peace plan for Afghanistan, reviewed by Reuters on Monday, calls for the current government to be replaced with an interim administration until a new constitution is agreed and elections held, while a joint commission monitors a ceasefire. – Reuters

The United Nation’s envoy for Afghanistan is due to arrive in Qatar on Tuesday to meet with Afghan government and Taliban representatives this week in a fresh push on the fractious Afghan peace process, two sources familiar with the talks said. – Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team is attempting to “accelerate” negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan central government, but Afghan officials regard the latest effort as a proposal for “coerced” peace that leaves them vulnerable. – Washington Examiner

Madiha Afzal and Michael O’Hanlon write: Thus, Biden will still likely have to decide: Do we stay or do we go? We believe that the correct answer is to stay. As difficult as it is to remain in this longest war, the most likely outcome of pulling out of Afghanistan would be very ugly, including ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter and the ultimate dismemberment of the country. – Washington Post

Nasir Shansab writes: This is not a country to be abandoned. This is a country in urgent need of an honest and functioning government. This is a country in urgent need of the rule of law and strong institutions. It needs to be supported for a few years with foreign funding and controlled economic planning and investments. That is the challenge. It’s something America has done before and can do now, not only for the sake of the Afghan people but also for the sake of America’s reputation and credibility. – Middle East Institute


The United States, Japan, Australia and India plan to hold the first meeting of their leaders this week under the so-called Quad framework, three government sources in Japan said. – Reuters

Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said on Monday that the detention of an Australian financial adviser to Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi had led to the discovery of secret financial information, according to state-run MRTV television. – Reuters

India is mulling a new national strategy to strengthen the country’s cybersecurity amid allegations that Chinese intrusions may have affected operations at a key stock exchange and supply of electricity in the country’s commercial capital. – Bloomberg

As developed countries buy up stocks of Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese vaccines are helping out those left out of the loop. And, India is calling on its allies to counter its rival’s vaccine diplomacy and growing soft power. – Business Insider

Anthony B. Kim writes: Such a practical, more institutionalized economic partnership would reinforce other vital diplomatic links between the two partners. More than ever, in fact, Washington needs to pursue and capitalize on every opportunity to promote free-market principles with like-minded and willing partners. America cannot go it alone in effectively addressing other countries’ non-market, unfree activities. Clearly, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is one worth investing further in over the next decade. – The Daily Signal


The Biden administration said Monday it is taking steps to combat Russian disinformation aimed at undermining confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer Inc. and other Western companies. – USA Today

Russian authorities are suing five social media platforms for allegedly failing to delete posts urging children to take part in illegal protests, the Interfax news agency cited a Moscow court as saying on Tuesday. – Reuters

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: In this context, the Biden administration should look at the big picture when it comes to Russia in the Middle East—at Moscow’s overall aims and how they fit with its activities in Europe and the Middle East, as well as Russia’s relationship with China, a country which presents the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century” for the U.S. according to Blinken. – 19FortyFive


Facebook said Monday that Albanian political parties should be transparent on how they finance their political advertising on its pages before next month’s election. – Associated Press

The husband of a British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran for five years held a vigil outside Iran’s embassy in London on Monday demanding she be allowed home after serving her sentence. – Agence France-Presse

Tony Barber writes: For all these reasons, Orban may struggle to continue his double act of snuggling up to Moscow and Beijing while expecting all the rewards of membership of the west’s main alliance systems. If this act stops, the next 10 years may indeed go well for Hungary, though probably less so for Orban himself. – Financial Times


Deep in the Sahara, the C.I.A. is continuing to conduct secret drone flights from a small but steadily expanding air base, even as the Biden administration has temporarily limited drone strikes against suspected terrorists outside conventional war zones, such as Afghanistan, while it weighs whether to tighten Trump-era rules for such operations. – New York Times

Child soldiers and other victims of convicted Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda should get a total of $30 million compensation, International Criminal Court judges ruled on Monday, in their highest ever reparation order. – Reuters

Riot police in armed personnel carriers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds in Senegal’s capital on Monday hours after authorities freed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from custody following days of violent protests in one of West Africa’s most stable democracies. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Stability in Somalia depends upon such consensus. But true consensus cannot be reached only in Mogadishu; rather it mandates true respect for both Somalia’s federal states and Somaliland. […]If the World Bank, State Department, and other donors continue business as usual, then Somalia will not be able to recover; instead, it billions of dollar will be wasted and the country will be condemned to civil war. – The National Interest

The Americas

A review of security at the U.S. Capitol commissioned after the deadly riot on Jan. 6 found that Capitol Police are too “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained” — and woefully lacking in intelligence capabilities — to protect Congress from a similar future attack. – Washington Post

The Biden administration on Monday declared an estimated 320,000 Venezuelan migrants in the United States eligible for temporary protected status, a category of legal residence that would open a path to U.S. citizenship for them under the immigration bill President Biden sent to Congress last week. – Washington Post

The FBI is expecting white supremacists and other extremists to step up their “affiliation with military and law enforcement entities” to further their far-right ideologies, according to a confidential intelligence assessment released late last month, ABC News reported Monday. – Huffington Post


Former President Donald J. Trump called multiple times for repealing the law that shields tech companies from legal responsibility over what people post. President Biden, as a candidate, said the law should be “revoked.” – New York Times

Victims of a massive global hack of Microsoft email server software — estimated in the tens of thousands by cybersecurity responders — hustled Monday to shore up infected systems and try to diminish chances that intruders might steal data or hobble their networks. – Associated Press

Instagram’s “suggested” posts feature recommended anti-vaccination content to users, even as parent company Facebook intensified efforts to combat false and misleading statements about COVID-19, according to new research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate. – USA Today

The CNMF is responsible for tracking and disrupting specific nation-state actors in foreign cyberspace in defense of the nation. These teams are separate from those that support specific combatant commands. – C4ISRNET

The Biden administration is grappling with two major cyber incidents in its first 50 days in office, underscoring the challenge the new White House faces from foreign actors. – The Hill

A group of bipartisan House lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation that would allow Americans to hold foreign governments and their employees accountable in court for malicious cyber activity.  – The Hill


USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) has crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and is operating in the Mediterranean Sea, about two weeks after departing its homeport in Virginia on its latest deployment. – USNI News

The Pentagon’s complicated and time-consuming acquisition process impedes the United States’ ability to innovate and keep up with China’s technology development, several experts said last week. – USNI News

The Army National Guard has seen three UH-60 L-model Black Hawk utility helicopter crashes on U.S. soil in just over a year. Two of those happened within the first five weeks of 2021. But despite the pattern of incidents involving Guard Black Hawks, the Army’s aviation director in charge of operations, plans and training told Defense News in a recent interview that he did not believe there was a systemic problem across the fleet. – Defense News

The stealth destroyer Zumwalt aced its rough seas testing, leaders from Naval Sea Systems Command said in a recent release. – Defense News

Editorial: Democratic administrations lean more on diplomacy and soft power than Republican administrations, and that’s clearly team Biden’s preference. But with the State Department stacked with liberal internationalists, and John Kerry as a cabinet-level climate envoy, it’s important for the Pentagon to provide a counter-perspective. Mr. Kahl’s nomination is in jeopardy for bombastic tweets like his claim that “every Republican Senator” who supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia “shares ownership of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” – Wall Street Journal

Robert Levinson writes: What is clear, though, is that since the passage of the Budget Control Act in 2011 both defense and non-defense spending have been driven not by debate about what the nation needs, but by how much can be squeezed into an artificial cap because of a misapplied and antiquated focus on debt. Arguments about how big a Navy or an Air Force the United States should have, or how much to spend on defense overall, can be grounded in an assessment of what the nation needs for its security, rather than simply what it can afford, because it may be able to afford much more spending on defense and much else. – War on the Rocks

Robert C. Rubel writes: Wargaming can be a powerful tool for exploring complex problems and for education, but it is easy to miss some important messages that wargames send. If the Defense Department is to fully realize the value of games, it must become sensitive to their deeper, more subtle signals. As an example, we will examine how games provided advanced but mostly unheeded warning of what has become known as “gray zone” warfare. – War on the Rocks

Long War

An Islamist preacher has been charged with complicity in murder and his teen daughter with slander over the Islamic beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty. – Arutz Sheva

Italian police said Monday they had arrested a 36-year-old Algerian on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic State group and helping the authors of the November 2015 Paris attacks. – Agence France-Presse

The Haifa District Court on Monday sentenced an Israeli man to five years in prison an Israeli man for supporting Hezbollah by providing the Lebanese terror group with photos and videos from sites in the country, which were then published as part of its propaganda efforts against the Jewish state. – Times of Israel