Fdd's overnight brief

March 8, 2021

In The News

Iran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been detained in Tehran since 2016, had her house arrest orders lifted as her sentence ended on Sunday, but her return to London remained uncertain as she faced new charges. – New York Times

Iran would be ready to resume talks on the nuclear deal with the US and other western powers if they provide a “clear signal” that sanctions will be lifted within a year, a senior Iranian conservative figure and a potential presidential candidate has said. – Financial Times

At least a dozen people and possibly up to 23 have been killed in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province where Revolutionary Guards and security forces have used lethal force against fuel couriers from ethnic minorities and protesters, the United Nations said on Friday. – Reuters

Iran has quietly moved record amounts of crude oil to top client China in recent months, while India’s state refiners have added Iranian oil to their annual import plans on the assumption that U.S. sanctions on the OPEC supplier will soon ease, according to six industry sources and Refinitiv data. – Reuters

In a clear signal to Iran, a United States Air Force B-52H “Stratofortress” bomber flew over the Persian Gulf, before the plane was spotted in Israeli airspace heading back to its base in the US. It was escorted by Israeli Air Force F-15s as it passed over Israel. – Jerusalem Post

The Iranian naval chief has promised to respond to any form of aggression from Iran’s “foes” with a “crushing” return of force, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). – Jerusalem Post

Iran projects strength abroad, often acting like a mafia don running the Middle East, threatening countries to pay for protection or get attacked. But inside the regime’s territory, all is not well. – Jerusalem Post

Iranian drone footage showing an Israeli-owned cargo ship after it was struck by a mysterious explosion was published by the al-Mayadeen news channel Sunday. – Times of Israel

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami on Sunday threatened that his country will give a devastating response to any Israeli attack, and that the Jewish state is aware of the peril, according to Iranian media reports. – Times of Israel

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Friday said authorities disrupted an attempted hijacking of a passenger plane in flight the previous night, though it offered few details on what happened. Media outlets close to the forces later said the hijacker had used a fake gun and explosives belt to stage the attempt. – Associated Press

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday urged Europe to avoid “threats or pressure” in any negotiations with Tehran. – Arutz Sheva

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney is to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Sunday in his role as a U.N. Security Council facilitator of the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 between Iran and major world powers. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: How much is Biden willing to defend the 2015 nuclear deal as his administration seeks to both deter Iran’s regional escalations and lure Iran back to nuclear negotiations? It will be a delicate balancing act — one that was previewed this week in Kahl and Sherman’s confirmation hearings. – Bloomberg

Salem Alketbi writes: The unity of international powers in the face of the Iranian mullahs’ ambitions must go beyond their tactical differences. This is what US President Joe Biden’s administration did when it announced its openness to six-party negotiations (members of the international group that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 2015 with Iran) on the nuclear deal. – Jerusalem Post

Steve Kramer writes: I’m confused by the contradictory pronouncements by PM Johnson. But I am convinced that sitting around a negotiating table with a metaphorically unloaded gun isn’t the best strategy. Nevertheless, it’s the one pacifistic Westerners like to use. One thing is sure: allowing the weak Europeans to let Iran steamroll them isn’t a policy that Israel will accept. Unfortunately, this isn’t a joke. – Times of Israel

Syria

An unusual attack on oil facilities in Turkish-occupied northern Syria occurred on Friday evening. Locals reported large explosions near Al-Bab and Jarablus. Turkey invaded this area in the fall of 2016 in Operation Euphrates Shield. The use of ballistic missiles points to a sophisticated state-backed operation against the oil facilities. Many alleged Russia and the Syrian regime were behind the attack which appears aimed at denying Turkish-backed Syrian groups from trading oil. – Jerusalem Post

Ammar Al-Musarea writes: These proposed steps are practical, requiring the “strategic patience” proposed by Charles Thépaut. It is possible to establish the beginning of a solution that can end with the stability of the region, the expulsion of Iranian militias, and the safe return of refugees. These proposals are not final. They need to be developed, which can only be achieved through transparent dialogue. If implemented correctly, these proposals should help achieve U.S. goals of eliminating the remaining ISIS operatives in the country, protecting oil wells, directing oil profits to help revive the region, and providing security when U.S. forces accomplish their mission. – Washington Institute

Alon Ben-Meir writes: For the next 12 months, they need to raise at least one billion dollars to prevent mass starvation and minimize the spread of the coronavirus, especially in the province of Idlib which remains the hub of resistance to the Assad regime.Addressing the humanitarian crisis is the one area where potentially all the conflicting parties may agree. […]Innocent children, women, and men should not die from starvation when their only crime is being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. – Algemeiner

Turkey

Turkey is sending its strongest signal yet that it’s ready to mend ties with Arab countries that have been strained by Ankara’s support for Islamist-rooted governments. – Bloomberg

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin spoke with Bloomberg on Saturday, amid lingering tensions with the U.S. over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air-defense system. – Bloomberg

Bobby Ghosh writes: But in West Africa’s Francophone countries, where Erdogan has focused his most audacious African ambitions, struggling governments will likely find more economic succor from Paris than from Ankara. The duel with Macron will have to wait. For now, Turkey has little to offer beyond a quiet photo-op with the president. – Bloomberg

Israel

An Israeli woman who crossed illegally into neighboring Syria and was returned in a Russian-mediated deal last month was charged in an Israeli court on Sunday, prosecutors said. – Associated Press

Three Palestinian fishermen were killed on Sunday when their boat exploded off the Gaza Strip, a blast that a human rights group said was likely caused by errant Palestinian rocket fire. – Reuters

Facing elections for the first time in 15 years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is battling a growing rift within his powerful Fatah party that poses a new threat to his dominance over Palestinian politics. – Reuters

The Palestinian Authority will thwart any Israeli and or the United States initiative for the United Nations Security Council to suspend the International Criminal Court’s probe into Israeli war crimes by 12 months, its Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

Answering questions from his audience on Zoom at a Likud event on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of two reasons four Arab states normalized ties with Israel in the past year, and more want to join them: the economic advantages of cooperating, and shared security aims. – Jerusalem Post

A Palestinian man tried to stab an Israel Defense Forces soldier during an overnight operation in the West Bank, the army said Monday. – Times of Israel

A member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group was sentenced to two years in prison Sunday for failure to prevent a 2019 terror attack in which an Israeli teenager was killed. – Times of Israel

A terrorist attack was foiled in the Binyamin district of western Samaria Monday morning, in the community of Havat Sadeh Efraim. – Arutz Sheva

Robert Williams and Mark Weitzman write: The IHRA definition is a step on a longer path toward developing information-based approaches to countering antisemitism. Taken by itself, it cannot cure a 2,000-year-old social malady, but it is a means by which Jews and non-Jews can understand better how antisemitism appears today. It provides a basis for education and the monitoring of trends, both of which are necessary to create better responses to hatred in its old and new, but always dangerous forms. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Harari writes: Nonetheless, Israel is at a fascinating crossroads with significant room for maneuverability. It must ensure a close relationship with the Biden Administration, a necessary precondition for taking advantage of the maneuvering room it now has. The main obstacle for Israel is clear: to conduct itself in light of US plans to renew the nuclear deal with Iran, and to a lesser extent in light of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a manner that does not place it on a collision course with Biden’s Washington. – Jerusalem Post

Ruthie Blum writes: In an apparent dig to CIS, Avivi said in a statement this week that those who consider the JCPOA beneficial to Israel’s security are “out of touch” with reality. One might – and should – add that any new version of a deal with the devil will be just as perilous. Meanwhile, the military, under orders from the Netanyahu-led government, should be saluted for striking Iranian targets on a regular basis. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Milstein writes: This consensus would stipulate that Hamas could participate in the election only after it convincingly accepts the conditions previously agreed to by Israel, the PA, the United States and the entire Quartet, including Russia, the EU, and the UN. That means recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and accepting all previous Palestinian-Israeli political agreements. […]This is all the more reason to conclude that the sooner these constructive Quartet conditions are reaffirmed and enforced by all players, the better it will be for any prospect of genuine Palestinian democracy and agreement with Israel. – Washington Institute

Jeff Mendelsohn writes: When the Palestinians join with human rights violators like Iran, Syria and North Korea to attack Israel on the international stage, it only hurts their cause and the cause of peace. When the Administration and Congress call out political shams like that undertaken by the ICC, they strengthen international justice and the long-term chances for peace. – Times of Israel

Tamir Pardo writes: As Israel approaches the 73rd anniversary of its birth, with unmatched military might and other assets such as technological ingenuity, it is time for the government yo recognize it is leading a mature and powerful nation that can decide its own path, firstly by formulating a strategy to guarantee its future national security. – Ynet

Iraq

From the rubble of a ruined church, Pope Francis led prayers for victims of war in Iraq’s battle-scarred city of Mosul on Sunday as part of a historic visit intended to bring solace to a Christian community that the Islamic State militant group tried to wipe out. – Washington Post

By meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf, Francis threaded a political needle, seeking an alliance with an extraordinarily influential Shiite cleric who, unlike his Iranian counterparts, believes that religion should not govern the state. – New York Times

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has come under fire for his apparent hesitation to link Iran to Shia militias operating in Iraq and launching attacks against U.S. and allied troops, following the latest rocket barrage against Iraq’s Ain Al Asad air base this week. – Newsweek

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday that the U.S. will deliver a “thoughtful” and “appropriate” response to the latest rocket attack on a base housing U.S. troops in Iraq. – The Hill

A militant group implicated in a recent rocket attack on U.S. forces in Iraq has declared a ceasefire during Pope Francis’s visit, a grudging suspension of hostilities that hints at the political importance of the papal tour. – Washington Examiner

The Iraqi government ignored the history of Iraqi Jews during the visit of Pope Francis last week, marring an otherwise unprecedented visit and wasting an opportunity to highlight the Jewish part of Iraq’s history. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The ayatollah knows that Shiites are a minority in most other Muslim nations across the region. Shiites also know what it’s like to be persecuted. Tolerance for ethnic and religious minorities will not come to the Middle East tomorrow. But having Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani uniting around the idea would be a powerful message to the world. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The meeting between the pope and Ayatollah Ali Sistani – one of the most influential Iraqi Shia clerics of Iranian origin in Iraq – is also an important symbol. For too long, sectarian extremism guided the relations between religions. Sistani, however, has been a voice of reason amid the rise of various Shi’ite militias in Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

Bilal Wahab writes: Between Iran and ISIS, Islam’s name and image could use some laundering. Muslims leaders need to categorically condemn violence done in God’s name. Putting God’s name on a banner does not grant any militia or party impunity. We recall the scene from Mosul post ISIS where a Muslims in uniform solemnly returned a cross to a church. In the meantime, like its Christian community, the Iraqi Muslim community’s welcome of the Pope and the Najaf meeting is one major leap in the right direction. – Washington Institute

Michael Knights, Pierre Morcos, and Charles Thépaut write: An increased European footprint in Iraq’s security sector can also be useful at the regional level. Because of their relative neutrality, European forces can help maintain strong international support to Iraq while decreasing the risk of escalation between Iran-backed militias and U.S. troops. To be sure, some degree of U.S. military backing (e.g., force protection, airlift, intelligence, base access) will still be required at first if international security assistance is to be sustainable and credible. But Washington should view this short-term investment as the best way to lighten U.S. commitments in the midterm. – Washington Institute

Lebanon

Protesters closed all major roads leading to the Lebanese capital on Monday, causing traffic jams and triggering a call by the head of the hospitals union who warned that such moves are preventing oxygen supplies from reaching medical centers treating coronavirus patients. – Associated Press

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister warned Saturday that the country was quickly headed toward chaos and appealed to politicians to put aside differences in order form a new government that can attract desperately needed foreign assistance. – Associated Press

Washington denied on Friday that it was considering imposing sanctions on Lebanon’s veteran central bank governor Riad Salameh, whose role in the country’s financial turmoil has come under fresh scrutiny. – Reuters

Yemen

A fire broke out Sunday in a detention center for migrants in Yemen’s capital, Sana, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 170 others, scores seriously, the United Nations migration agency said. – Associated Press

Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iran-backed Huthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours, government military sources said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

Yemen’s internationally recognized government said on Sunday it had restored diplomatic ties with Qatar after four years of boycott led by Saudi Arabia and joined by other Arab countries. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed that they hit an Aramco oil facility in eastern Saudi Arabia on Sunday, the first time the group has reached the company’s facilities in that area. – Washington Post

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen said Sunday that it had launched a new air campaign on the country’s capital and other provinces, in retaliation for a series of missile and drone strikes targeting key military and oil facilities across Saudi Arabia. – Associated Press

Oil prices jumped above $70 a barrel for the first time in 14 months after Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, said its energy facilities had been attacked on Sunday, targeting “the security and stability” of global supplies. – Financial Times

A Saudi royal advisor says “all indications point to Iran” in the drone and missile attack by Houthi forces on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Sunday, including a Saudi Aramco facility at Ras Tanura vital to petroleum exports, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The overall message of the attacks is that the Houthis can escalate this conflict as Iran did in September 2019. Iran senses that Saudi Arabia is isolated. It knows the US is trying to forge a peace agreement in Afghanistan, potentially working with Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey to do so. It also knows that it is pressuring the US in Iraq and potentially doing so in Syria. […]The expanded attacks on Saudi Arabia show that even though Riyadh has improved its air defenses, the Houthis can continue to seemingly target areas of the country at will. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt’s president visited Sudan on Saturday, his first visit to the country since a popular uprising led to the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019. – Associated Press

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Saturday against Ethiopia continuing to fill its Nile dam, on his first visit to Sudan since the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir nearly two years ago. – Agence France-Presse

Scores of Libyan parliament members from both sides of the divided country arrived in the frontline city of Sirte on Sunday for a session this week to debate a proposed unity government. – Reuters

The Biden administration issued a warning to its allies in the Middle East not to oppose US policies and not to seek military solutions to the region’s problems. – Jerusalem Post

Victoria Coates writes: Minister Al-Mullah’s and Ambassador Al Khaja’s trail-blazing visits to Jerusalem points the way to a brighter future in which the arrival of the Egyptian petroleum minister and an ambassador from a Gulf nation in Israel for high-level consultations and cooperation will be routine events in a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East. It is only to be hoped that the United States will have a seat at this new table as well. – Jerusalem Post

Tilak K. Doshi writes: Obama’s visceral distancing from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and its allies in the Gulf while “normalizing” Iran was perceived by the Gulf Arab monarchies as nothing short of betrayal. For them, the likely state of affairs under a Biden presidency would seem a terrible case of déjà vu. In their deliberations of statecraft, the moderate Gulf Arab leaders – along with their key allies in Egypt and Israel – may well ponder the words attributed to Benjamin Franklin on the eve of declaring independence for the Continental Congress in 1776 when he and his colleagues were putting their lives on the line: “we must all hang together, or… we shall all hang separately.” – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. and South Korea have reached agreement on a new accord that would resolve a yearslong dispute on how to share the cost of American troops based on the Korean Peninsula, officials from the two countries said Sunday. – Wall Street Journal

The South Korean and U.S. militaries are scaling back their annual exercises this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to support diplomacy focusing on North Korea’s nuclear program, officials said Sunday. – Associated Press

Korea Aerospace Industries and Israel Aerospace Industries have signed a memorandum of understanding that aims to pair helicopters with loitering munitions and offer the drones to the South Korean military. – Defense News

China

Party observers say the drive for centralization in a sprawling nation too often fosters bureaucratic inertia, duplicity and other unproductive practices that are aimed at satisfying Beijing and protecting careers but threaten to undermine Mr. Xi’s goals. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. officials blacklisted Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi Corp. as a company with military ties partly due to an award given to the company’s founder for his service to the state, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a legal filing. – Wall Street Journal

China’s foreign minister warned the Biden administration on Sunday to roll back former President Donald Trump’s “dangerous practice” of showing support for Taiwan, the island democracy claimed by Beijing as its own territory. – Associated Press

China urged the United States on Sunday to remove “unreasonable” curbs on cooperation as soon as possible and work together on issues like climate change, while accusing Washington of bringing chaos in the name of spreading democracy. – Reuters

China will take steps toward ratifying International Labor Organization rules against forced labor, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday, stopping short of presenting an immediate action plan as demanded by some EU lawmakers. – Politico

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith warned Friday that any notion of building a military force to rival China’s should be replaced with a strategy based on deterrence and dialogue in order to avoid war. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: China’s elites think they’re winning the global competition as they see an America wracked by division and self-doubt. They are overestimating American weakness, but their invocation of woke ideology shows they realize its threat to American confidence and purposes. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Defaults are reaching into the sensitive property industry and foreign-denominated bonds, as when China Fortune Land Development this week defaulted on a $530 million overseas bond issue. The aim is to discipline markets, but not too much. Beijing also is leaning on defaulting firms to reach repayment agreements with creditors, perhaps to discipline corporate managers while limiting creditors’ losses. Against all these challenges, 6% may be a realistic GDP growth target this year, and China has exceeded expectations before. But a global economy laid low by Covid-19 can ill afford for the second-largest economy to catch a debt flu. – Wall Street Journal

Henry Olsen writes: Demography is not destiny, but it does create inescapable pressures. In China’s case, falling population will force it either to curtail or rapidly intensify its expansion of global power. The United States should bet on the latter, and prepare accordingly. – Washington Post

Rana Foroohar writes: As Biden told the Munich Security Conference last month, the US will “work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so”, but “compete from a position of strength by building back better at home”. The west isn’t going to reshape China. But it should change how it responds to the challenge. – Financial Times

Minxin Pei writes: Indeed, China could even propose that G-20 countries negotiate a new treaty to facilitate the trade, investment and transfer of clean-energy technologies. With strict protections for intellectual property, such a pact would benefit both China, a manufacturing superpower, and the U.S., a leader in innovation. This strategy might not win Xi any quick victories over the U.S. But it’s the more realistic approach — and one that promises substantial long-term benefits for China. – Bloomberg

Matthew Brooker writes: The National People’s Congress, now in session in Beijing, is  already moving on the legislature,  introducing electoral reforms that will extinguish the last vestiges of independent opposition and end the system practiced in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover. […]It is fanciful for officials to imagine that such changes can be pushed through without any consequence to Hong Kong’s standing as an international financial center. Trust in the legal system was established over many decades; it may be lost rather more quickly. – Bloomberg

Afghanistan

Worried that Afghan peace talks are going nowhere, and facing a May 1 deadline for the possible withdrawal of all U.S. troops, the Biden administration has proposed sweeping plans for an interim power-sharing government between the Taliban and Afghan leaders, and stepped-up involvement by Afghanistan’s neighbors — including Iran — in the peace process. – Washington Post

Reduced U.S. military support in battles against the Taliban is frustrating efforts by Afghanistan’s elite forces to roll back the militants’ advances here, with decreased airstrikes and a shortage of advanced technology slowing their ground operations. – Washington Post

Prominent activist Sima Samar has been fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan for the past 40 years. She believes her struggle is far from over — especially at a time when violence is on the rise, peace talks between rival Afghan groups are stuck and the U.S. mulls a May departure from her country. – Associated Press

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Saturday, in a bid to push forward peace talks with the Taliban, that his government was ready to discuss holding fresh elections, insisting that any new government should emerge through the democratic process. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: A new conference will do nothing to resolve the problems afflicting Afghanistan. It will not solve Afghanistan’s Pakistan problem, for example, although there remains many levers of coercion that Biden could bring to bear on Islamabad. Neighboring states are no substitute for intra-Afghan dialogue and bring agendas that betray Afghan aspirations. Until the Taliban are willing to sit with Afghans across the political, sectarian, and ethnic spectrums, there will be no solution. – 19FortyFive

South Asia

India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Facebook Inc. its WhatsApp unit and Twitter Inc. as it seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms, people familiar with the warnings say. – Wall Street Journal

Indian police have detained more than 150 Rohingya refugees found living illegally in the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir and a process has begun to deport them back to Myanmar, two officials said on Sunday. – Reuters

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

Asia

A left-leaning human rights organization accused the Philippine security forces of killing nine activists on Sunday in coordinated raids in four provinces. – New York Times

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Monday the city’s government “fully welcomes” changes to the city’s electoral system that will substantially increase central government control over Hong Kong politics and exclude Beijing’s critics. – Associated Press

The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on protests against the Feb. 1 coup is raising pressure for more sanctions against the junta, even as countries struggle over how to best sway military leaders inured to global condemnation. – Associated Press

Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen. – Associated Press

Myanmar has asked India to return several police officers who crossed the border following a coup in their country. – Associated Press

The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar called Friday for urgent Security Council action to reverse Myanmar’s military coup, saying about 50 peaceful protesters were killed in the military’s worst crackdowns this week and scores more were seriously injured. – Associated Press

Myanmar security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to break up a protest in Yangon on Saturday, just hours after a United Nations special envoy called on the Security Council to take action against the ruling junta for the killings of protesters. – Reuters

An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s junta said on Saturday that the generals are keen to leave politics after their coup and seek to improve relations with the United States and distance themselves from China. – Reuters

The Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi on Sunday said the electoral system in Hong Kong must be improved for long-term stability, saying reform would bring about a “brighter future” for the city. – Reuters

China is willing to engage with “all parties” to ease the crisis in neighbouring Myanmar and is not taking sides, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said on Sunday. – Reuters

Beijing announced plans on Friday to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system to weaken the pro-democracy camp, paving the way for what could be the first big test of whether U.S. President Joe Biden can muster an international alliance to tackle human rights abuses in China. – Politico

The chief executive of SBI Holdings, the financial conglomerate that owns Japan’s biggest online brokerage, said he plans to pull his company’s operations out of Hong Kong because “without freedom, there is no financial business”. – Financial Times

The United States should provide “consistent arms sales” to Taiwan to deter Chinese aggression in the Pacific region, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Thursday. – Defense News

Second Secretary at the Myanmar Embassy in Tel Aviv resigned on Friday, protesting the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in his country. – Jerusalem Post

Russia

Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer Inc.’s and other Western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the vaccines’ development and safety, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Germany has called for greater co-operation with Russia on climate change in a contentious new effort to restore frayed EU ties with Moscow. – Financial Times

Russia is signaling a willingness to open a new page in relations with the US as the new administration settles into power in Washington. TASS state media in Moscow said that Russia’s foreign ministry would respond constructively to US signals. – Jerusalem Post

Europe

From the genocide of Iraq’s Yazidis to Syrian state-sponsored torture and the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the German legal system is increasingly a place to seek justice for crimes committed far outside Germany’s borders. – Washington Post

Swiss voters narrowly supported a ban on burqas and other full-face coverings in one of the most contentious referendums yet in the country’s unique system of direct democracy, and a further sign that a pushback against Islam is gaining ground in Europe. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. and the European Union agreed Friday to suspend tariffs on wine, luggage, produce and other goods related to a longstanding dispute over government subsidies to Boeing Co. and Airbus SE, in a sign of easing trade tensions. – Wall Street Journal

The United States placed sanctions Friday on a Ukrainian business tycoon seen as the most powerful figure in the country outside of the government, signaling an aggressive new approach by the Biden administration to dealing with corruption in Ukraine. – New York Times

A German court on Friday suspended the right of the country’s domestic intelligence agency to conduct surveillance of the Alternative for Germany, the leading opposition in Parliament, pending the outcome of a legal challenge by the far-right party. – New York Times

The Home Office has lifted a ban on access to public funds for Hong Kongers settling in the U.K. who might be at risk of falling into poverty, following pressure from campaigners and the Labour party. – Politico

Yet today, Stockholm is emerging as a forceful advocate for deepening Western military partnerships in the face of growing threats from Moscow and Beijing. So even as Skoog Haslum, chief of the navy since January 2020, oversees the biggest expansion of the marine defenses since the Cold War, she is keeping tight ties with the U.S. and Brexit Britain. – Politico

A top Norwegian general insists that basing two US B-1B bombers in Norway isn’t meant as a threat to Russia. Instead, he argued, the new basing agreement at the country’s main F-35 base is simply a new opportunity to train in the Arctic. – Breaking Defense

Jewish organizations warmly praised security guards at a Jewish school in the city of Marseille in southern France after they prevented a man from engaging in a possible knife attack on Friday. – Algemeiner

Editorial: Germany’s behavior stands in contrast to America’s two other major allies in Europe, Britain and France. The French have recently and repeatedly deployed attack submarines to the South China Sea to conduct war exercises alongside the U.S. Navy. The British will send their new aircraft carrier to the South China Sea for its inaugural deployment and embark with a U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadron. – Washington Examiner

Philippe Benoit writes: China is one of the most important and pressing foreign policy challenges for the Biden administration, with many analysts pointing Washington to Asia- and Pacific-oriented strategies.  The European Union, however, has now emerged as a critical partner for any successful U.S. effort to manage China because of the EU’s new investment deal with Beijing. The deal also strengthens the EU’s position relative to the United Kingdom and Russia. – The Hill

Tsvetan Tsvetanov and Pavel Valnev write: Members of the Three Seas Initiative will deepen their economic and political integration, and cement their partnership through investments connecting highways, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure. By attracting investment from the United States, the EU, and European capitals, the Initiative will bring transparently sourced, Western investment to infrastructure projects. This will encourage additional foreign direct investment (FDI) from transatlantic institutions and investors, a process that will perpetuate adherence to the rule of law, transparency, and good governance practices. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Africa

A series of explosions attributed to mishandled explosives at a military base rocked a city in the central African nation of Equatorial Guinea on Sunday, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 500, the authorities said. – New York Times

The most widespread demonstrations in Senegal in years continued for the third day on Friday, an expression of anger at the president, Macky Sall, and outrage at the arrest of the country’s leading opposition figure, who has been accused of rape. – New York Times

An attempt to get U.N. Security Council approval for a statement calling for an end to violence in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region and to spotlight the millions in need of humanitarian assistance was dropped Friday night after objections from India, Russia and especially China, U.N. diplomats said. – Associated Press

A car packed with explosives rammed into a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital on Friday night, and police said at least 10 people were killed and more than 30 wounded. – Associated Press

South Africa’s chief justice has been ordered by a judicial oversight committee to apologize publicly for criticisms he made last year of his government’s hostile stance toward the State of Israel. – Algemeiner

The Americas

After decades of civil war, Colombia has created a historic postwar court designed to reveal the facts of a conflict that defined the nation for generations, morphing into the longest-running war in the Americas. – New York Times

Administration officials will brief President Joe Biden after traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border for operational briefings and to tour immigration facilities, the White House said. – Bloomberg

More than a hundred murders of Mexican officials and candidates in recent months point to the country’s midterm elections becoming the most violent in decades, local consulting firm Etellekt said in a report. – Reuters

United States

President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the Pentagon’s top policy adviser faced relentless Republican criticism on Thursday over his support for the Iran nuclear deal, in a confirmation hearing that could foreshadow bigger fights over Biden’s national security agenda. – Reuters

A political appointee of former US President Donald Trump was arrested by the FBI on Thursday in connection with the January Sixth US Capitol riots, US media reported. – Jerusalem Post

Anders Aslund writes: As Biden put it, “The lack of transparency in our campaign finance system, combined with extensive foreign money laundering, creates a significant vulnerability. We need to close the loopholes that corrupt our democracy.” Corruption and dark money facilitate not only tax evasion but also corruption, national security violations and many crimes. Russia and many other authoritarian kleptocracies master corruption both at home and abroad. The West must change the game to win. – The Hill

Samuel Brannen and Riley McCabe write: The U.S. government should think creatively about public-private partnerships that can expand its toolkit to defend the legitimate rights of political protestors globally, including preserving the digital rights of peaceful democratic activists while muting harmful mis- and disinformation from violent state and nonstate actors seeking to tip the balance in various countries. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Cybersecurity

Just as it plans to begin retaliating against Russia for the large-scale hacking of American government agencies and corporations discovered late last year, the Biden administration faces a new cyberattack that raises the question of whether it will have to strike back at another major adversary: China. – New York Times

China upped the stakes in its tech race with the U.S. as leaders laid out plans to speed up development of advanced technologies from chips to artificial intelligence and quantum computing over five years. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration is moving to address a global compromise by Chinese government-sponsored hackers of Microsoft email servers affecting at least 30,000 public and private entities in the United States alone, according to U.S. officials and people familiar with the matter. – Washington Post

The Department of Defense needs to do more to align cyberspace and emerging operations within the larger information environment, according to a former top cyber official. – C4ISRNET

David C. Gompert writes: The Biden administration should declare that the U.S. intends to achieve cybersecurity with a quantum internet. To make this happen, it should double spending on quantum research from $1 billion to $2 billion annually, demolish barriers to defense work for private quantum firms, assign agencies and departments to plan for quantum, and urge the North Atlantic Treaty Organizaiton to pursue collaboration with an eye to the Russian threat. – Wall Street Journal

Orit Frenkel writes: The United States must launch a comprehensive global digital strategy to prepare for the post-pandemic future. […]A global digital strategy, with the right policies, will allow the U.S. to counter these negative impacts and harness the potential of this revolution. It will enable us to create a more inclusive and growing American economy, establish digital governance to protect democracy, support inclusive economic growth in developing countries, and position the U.S. as a global digital leader. – The Hill

Defense

Nuclear weapons are emerging as one of the top political brawls in the brewing battle over next year’s defense budget. – The Hill

For decades, the US has had the most sophisticated arsenal of cyberweapons in the world. But America’s focus on building up its cyber offenses — and lack of focus on defensive measures — has increasingly become one of its biggest weaknesses, The New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth argues in a new book. – Business Insider

Four US Air Force B-1B bombers arrived at Ørland Air Station in central Norway on February 22 for what officials say is a “historic” deployment meant to familiarize US airmen with new terrain. – Business Insider

The U.S. Army’s new extended-range version of its Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System had a successful 80-kilometer flight demonstration at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on March 4, according to a Lockheed Martin announcement. – Defense News

The House Armed Services Committee chairman railed at the expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on Friday, saying he wants to “stop throwing money down that particular rathole,” ― just days after the Air Force said it too is looking at other options. – Defense News

Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is shifting the focus of its Golden Horde program from testing its own swarming weapons to developing a digital environment, nicknamed Colosseum, to test vendors bringing their own concepts. – Breaking Defense

Northern Command is prototyping and testing a set of AI tools to support Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) implementation, NORTHCOM officials tell Breaking Defense. Most importantly, they said, the new artificial intelligence will instantly pull together all sorts of data to give commanders a clear picture of the battlefield, enabling good, fast decisions. – Breaking Defense

After decades of arming some of the Middle East’s least responsible states, there are tentative indications Washington may finally be rethinking its approach. – Defense News

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Adm. Philip Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, will testify before the congressional armed services committees on threats and challenges in his command’s region of responsibility. – Military Times

Long War

The Biden administration has imposed temporary limits on drone strikes targeting suspected terrorists outside the battlefields of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, tightening a Trump-era policy while officials review how much leeway to give the military and the CIA in counterterrorism operations. – Washington Post

President Biden wants to work with Congress to repeal and replace a war authorization law passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, White House officials said on Friday. That law has been stretched across four administrations to permit open-ended combat against Islamist militant groups scattered across the world. – New York Times

Pope Francis urged Iraq’s Christians on Sunday to forgive the injustices against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild as he visited the wrecked shells of churches and met ecstatic crowds in the community’s historic heartland, which was nearly erased by the Islamic State group’s horrific reign. – Associated Press

Since the loss of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate two years ago, ISIS supporters have been grappling with their diminished relevance online, reinventing their propaganda through a range of bizarre strategies, from pornographic ultraviolence to meme-based shitposting. – The Daily Beast