Fdd's overnight brief

May 13, 2021

In The News


Iran’s hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday registered to run again in an election in June which is being seen as a test of the legitimacy of the country’s clerical rulers. – Reuters

Fifteen Republican senators have written a letter to three major business and financial groups warning them against engaging with Iranian businesses if the Biden administration lifts sanctions to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – Fox News 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country’s talks with rival Saudi Arabia could spur “greater cooperation” and help end the war in Yemen. – Bloomberg

European companies doing business with Iran could face legal troubles if they have terminated their contracts with Iranian banks or firms solely because of fears about possible U.S. sanctions, according to a legal opinion handed down Wednesday by a top EU court advisor. – Associated Press

Palestinian Islamic Jihad Official Ramez Al-Halabi said that the rockets used by the faction to target Tel Aviv have the signature of Iran and Qasem Soleimani on them. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin discussed in a phone call tensions in Gaza and Jerusalem, Turkey’s presidency said on Wednesday, as Ankara seeks international action against Israel. – Reuters

Muslim countries must show a united and clear stance over Israel’s conflict with the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza, Turkey’s vice president, Fuat Oktay, said on Thursday, criticising world powers for condemning violence without acting. – Reuters

Harun Karcic writes: Turkey has little room for maneuver despite its vast coastline in the Mediterranean. From Ankara’s viewpoint, making any concessions in terms of geopolitics and energy interests would be tantamount to conceding defeat. Turkish media compared the division of exclusive economic zones among its neighbors as a new Treaty of Sèvres, which effectively divided Turkey among neighboring countries, and to the Treaty of Versailles, which cemented the loss of Ottoman territories. So far as Ankara is concerned, what began as a political and economic competition has morphed into an existential struggle. – Newsweek


The Biden administration is urging a de-escalation in deadly clashes between the Israeli military and the Islamist Hamas movement, while some Democratic allies call for stronger support for Palestinians and some Republicans want more forceful backing of Israel. – Wall Street Journal

A senior American diplomat is headed to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to urge de-escalation and to bring calm,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday amid mounting violence. – New York Times

The International Criminal Court’s main prosecutor said on Wednesday that she was closely watching Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, for potential war crimes in the current conflict. – New York Times

The worst violence in years between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip poses the first major foreign policy challenge for President Biden, while exposing a growing divide among Democrats over criticism of Israel and giving Republicans an opening to criticize the president’s approach.” – Washington Post

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians entered its fourth day as rocket attacks on Israeli cities and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip continued early Thursday and casualties climbed on both sides. – Washington Post

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday sent a strong message to Israel and demanded that it end the “occupation” without delay, while pledging to continue the “resistance” until the liberation of all Palestinian lands is achieved. – Arutz Sheva

Tunisia, Norway and China have requested that another emergency UN Security Council meeting be scheduled Friday on the worsening hostilities between Israel and Palestinians, despite ongoing US resistance for the body to take a role in the conflict. – Agence France-Presse

During the current Israel-Gaza clashes, several types of rockets and missiles have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Hamas’s military wing, the ‘Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, announced that missiles of the Sejjil type, as well as SH85, J80, SA120, S40 and Q20 missiles, were fired. – Middle East Media Research Institute

An unprecedented escalation in violence between Israel and Gaza has left many Israelis – especially those living further South – in a constant state of uncertainty, wondering if they will get the chance to see tomorrow. Seven Israelis have already paid the ultimate price as tensions continue to brew. – Jerusalem Post

Former defense minister Naftali Bennett called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to reject international offers to mediate a ceasefire. – Jerusalem Post

As the Israeli military intensifies its strike on Hamas, plans for a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip will be presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi for approval later on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

The US once again blocked the release of a UN Security Council joint statement on the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza, telling member states at the second emergency meeting on the matter in three days that such a public measure would be “unhelpful” in de-escalating the situation, two diplomats involved told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. – Times of Israel

A senior Hamas official on Wednesday said the terror organization is ready to end the current intensive fighting with Israel, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Sadly, Biden is calling on “both sides” to show restraint and intimating that his administration favors the Palestinians in the property dispute. In short, even as he’s supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, he’s signaling that Hamas will be rewarded for what in any other context would count as war crimes. And that, sadly, guarantees that Hamas & Co. will soon be back for more. – New York Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Nevertheless, as was revealed on May 12 the ATGM threat is one that must be taken into account. […]A local security guard warned that as we sat watching Gaza we were under threat from ATGMs. The scene below, with the agricultural fields and houses of the kibbutzim along the border, show how precarious the situation can be if Hamas chooses to use more of these weapons. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The mob violence in Israel has now hit a dozen towns and cities from Rahat and Beersheba to Bat Yam and Ramla, Lod, Haifa, Nasiriyah, Jerusalem and many other places. Attacks and protests have also taken place in Umm al-Fahm, as well as shooting attacks in the South and Center. The question is whether the country is now facing a tipping point in violence. The prime minister has now called for law and order and condemned the attacks, but the widespread violence reveals a society that is deeply divided – and will remain on edge in the future. – Jerusalem Post

Eli Lake writes: In 2021, the Saudis are more worried about nations that support Hamas than about Israel’s response to Hamas. And even a new U.S. administration that seeks a nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t accept the idea of moral equivalence between the sovereigns of Gaza and the Jewish state. That raises again the question of what exactly is Hamas’s strategy. Ismail Haniya’s comments notwithstanding, Hamas is not winning. Nor is it weakening Israelis’ resolve. The only thing Hamas is spoiling is the prosperity and security of the Palestinian people. – Bloomberg 

Tom Rogan writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to show the voters and prospective coalition partners that he offers the best option for their respective security and political interests. With half the nation now under attack, few voters want to see hesitation from their leader. They want decisive action. Increasingly heavy airstrikes on Gaza are likely to continue until at least Friday evening. While dozens of Israeli special operations and intelligence operators will now be on the ground in Gaza, helping to identify targets, a conventional ground force operation into Gaza is unlikely. But more bloodshed is certain.  – Washington Examiner

Terry Glavin writes: Identifying the practice of committing acts of terror from behind human shields and adding that war crime to the roster of obscenities that demand international sanctions might not go very far in restraining gangsters like Ismail Haniyeh. But at least it would clarify something about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian misery, and its ultimate causes. – The National Post

Shoshana Bryen writes: Hamas immediately announced that 20 people were killed, including nine children—this is the part where journalists have to be careful whose press release they quote. Other, non-Hamas reports indicate that the deadly rocket in question was itself launched by Hamas but failed to clear the Gaza border. This war began, in some measure, because of Palestinian miscalculations. As Israel retaliates, the White House and the State Department should ensure that Hamas and Fatah understand their mistake. – Newsweek

Alan Perlman writes: Israel ’s task, like any country’s, is to defend its people, and Israel does so through surgical strikes, not disproportionate response. Large numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza are the direct result of decisions and actions by Gazan leadership, and are likely continue unless Gazan leadership stops using its people as human shields. It is high time to stop conflating “disproportionate response” with a high number of civilian casualties. They are not synonymous. – Arutz Sheva

Middle East & North Africa

As the recent round of escalation is unfolding, the administration finds itself with no ambassador in Israel and with no special envoy to the region, with a limited ability to make an impact. – Jerusalem Post

The European Union is drawing up sanctions on politicians in Lebanon seen as blocking the formation of a government, readying the bloc’s first penalties on its Middle Eastern ally in frustration at the ruling elite’s mismanagement, diplomats said. – Reuters

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Thursday said its forces had launched 12 ballistic missiles and drones towards a site belonging to the Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco, Najran airport and other targets in Najran, in southern Saudi Arabia. – Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed veteran British diplomat Martin Griffiths as the world body’s new aid chief on Wednesday, and said Griffiths would continue as the U.N. Yemen mediator “until a transition has been announced.” – Reuters


Beijing is considering whether to replace Vice Premier Liu He as its top economic envoy with Washington, according to officials with knowledge of the matter, a decision that Biden administration officials say will indicate the depth of China’s interest in economic cooperation. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration announced sanctions on a Chinese official over human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of a Falun Gong practitioner, as it decried the country’s persecution of religious groups from Tibet to Xinjiang. – Bloomberg

Taiwan’s outspoken foreign minister could be first on Beijing’s secretive watch list of independence supporters it wants to sanction, a Chinese official has hinted. – Newsweek

Human rights groups, along with Western nations, accused China during a virtual meeting on Wednesday of crimes against the Uyghur community and demanded they give U.N. experts unimpeded access. China claimed the accusations were “politically motivated” and based on “lies.” – Newsweek

The US has accused the Chinese government of turning Xinjiang into an “open-air prison” by expanding surveillance in the north-western region in an attempt to crack down on freedom of movement for Muslim Uyghurs. – Financial Times

Coercive policies in China’s far western region of Xinjiang have led to a sharp decline in birth rates for Uyghurs and other minorities, which could add to evidence of genocide, an Australian think tank said in a report released on Wednesday. – Reuters

Walter Clemens writes: Xi’s actions at home and abroad pose the same challenges in the 21st century as totalitarian states posed in the last century. Dangers loom even as the world needs great power collaboration to tap the best of modern science and cope with nuclear weapons, climate change and pandemics. The United States walks a tightrope between the imperatives of global interdependence and the need to contain aggression. […]Reiterating the Stimson Doctrine would provide a constructive response to the expansionist claims of Vladimir Putin as well as Xi Jinping. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The Biden administration is debating how to get thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. out of the country before American forces withdraw in a few months, amid fears that time is running out ahead of a potential Taliban takeover. – Bloomberg

Former senior U.S. officials have urged the U.S. secretaries of state and defense to do more to provide visas to Afghans who worked for the United States in Afghanistan before U.S. forces withdraw, according to letters seen by Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters

Afghan security forces mounted an operation to recapture a Taliban-held district outside the capital Kabul on Wednesday just before the start of a three-day ceasefire at midnight, a local official said. – Reuters


South Korea’s struggle to boost coronavirus vaccine supplies is threatening to overshadow President Moon Jae-in’s first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, with pressure mounting on Moon to secure more and faster deliveries of U.S.-made shots. – Reuters

Taiwan condemned China on Wednesday for seeking to use vaccines for political gain after Taipei’s diplomatic ally Honduras said it was considering opening an office in China in a bid to acquire much needed COVID-19 shots. – Reuters

Hong Kong is in talks with China to expand cross-border testing of the digital yuan after the first phase proceeded smoothly, another step toward wider adoption of the currency. – Bloomberg

China has deployed more ships in a disputed area of the South China Sea even after the Philippines’ repeated protests, according to President Rodrigo Duterte’s top diplomat who’s pledged to take up the issue with his Chinese counterpart. – Bloomberg


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that a meeting of four international mediators for resolving the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict is urgently required. – Reuters

The European Union says Russia is trying to gradually absorb parts of eastern Ukraine, according to a document the bloc shared this week with member states. – Bloomberg

The Biden administration is worried that a Silicon Valley space start-up backed by Russian founders could be helping Moscow make off with U.S. technological secrets, a U.S. official briefed on the matter told Foreign Policy. – Foreign Policy

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden won’t waver in responding to aggression from Moscow in the United States or elsewhere. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian opposition politician and former mayor of the Urals city of Yekaterinburg Yevgeny Roizman has been sentenced to nine days in jail for his online posts about a January 31 rally to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Editorial: Republicans ought to demand a more commensurate response, including the sanctioning of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. Covert action to confront and disrupt those carrying out these attacks is a must. This may seem like an overreaction, but if Russia is indeed carrying out these assaults, their seriousness and scale might reasonably see them described as acts of war. Republicans might now be in the minority, but with Americans seemingly under sustained attack, their oversight duty is clear. – Washington Examiner


The French prime minister and the chief of staff of the army have condemned an  anonymous letter signed by people claiming to be active-duty troops warning about impending “civil war” in France. – New York Times

A European Union court on Wednesday ruled in favour of litigants seeking to ban the import of goods from Israeli settlements on occupied land, rescinding a decision by the bloc’s executive in 2019 not to register a citizens’ petition they had submitted. – Reuters

France aims to delay access to the European single market for U.K. financial firms until it considers that the British government is honoring its post-Brexit commitments on fishing rights, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Britain said on Wednesday it had agreed former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, convicted of war crimes during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, should be transferred to a British prison to serve the rest of his sentence. – Reuters

German police have detained more than a dozen men in three cities suspected of damaging a synagogue with stones, burning Israeli flags and starting a fire at a memorial for a Jewish house of prayer destroyed during the Nazi pogroms of 1938. – Reuters

Katrina Manson writes: For the UK, in the wake of Brexit, the absence of a swift trade deal with the US and tensions over the Northern Irish border, London wants to be seen cementing its relationship with the US and deploying global heft. For the US, the Biden administration’s multilateral mantra needs buddies to bear out its claims it is supporting values associated with its longed-for concert of democracies, such as protecting human rights and fighting corruption. – Financial Times

Daniel Hegedus writes: On a bilateral level, the U.S. should renew its commitment to supporting democracy in central and eastern Europe, making financial resources available for the support of critical civil society and free media, and calibrating priorities in a way that will allow for grants to have real impact on the ground. If Washington would like to preserve the credibility of its democracy agenda, it must address the autocratization of its Central European allies in a convincing way. However, it can only succeed if the Biden administration is ready to meddle in European politics in unprecedented ways. – The Hill


The Ugandan and Congo armies are setting up an operations centre in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo for a joint offensive against Islamist rebels who have killed hundreds of people in the last year, Congo’s government said. – Reuters

An African Union mission recommended on Wednesday that Chad’s military share power with a civilian president, as one of three options towards restoring constitutional order following last month’s killing of president Idriss Deby. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates has committed to supplying Sudan’s full requirements of petroleum products through a contract by the UAE’s state oil producer ADNOC, Sudan’s cabinet affairs minister Khalid Omer Yousif told Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

Guled Ahmed writes: In the run-up to the election there are very real worries that Farmaajo may try to manipulate the electoral process through intimidation, bribery, or even outright rigging to stay in power. It’s one thing for Somalia’s donors to insist on the need for transparency, but it is impossible to have that unless steps are taken to build trust and accountability, like having Farmaajo hand over control of the security apparatus. Anything else will just delay the inevitable return to violent clashes. Holding Farmaajo and his enablers accountable and demanding his prompt exit is the only guarantee of a free and fair election and an eventual peaceful transfer of power in Somalia.  – Middle East Institute

The Americas

A Canadian company on Wednesday defied an order to shut down an oil and gas pipeline that passes through Michigan, flouting a directive from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a contest of wills that threatens to aggravate U.S.-Canada relations. – New York Times

The Senate Commerce Committee advanced legislation aimed at ramping up federal support for U.S. research and development in the aim of better competing with China. – Bloomberg

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) plans to introduce an anti-BDS amendment on Wednesday to a bipartisan bill aimed at countering China through federal investment in technological development, Jewish Insider has learned. – Jewish Insider

Twenty-five House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday calling on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to condemn the looming evictions of Palestinians from homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that are on land claimed by Jewish nationalists. – Times of Israel

The Pentagon has failed to give Congress a legally required report on Chinese companies with military ties, as US president Joe Biden neared a decision on whether Americans could invest in such groups. – Financial Times


A Facebook Inc.-backed digital currency project is being revamped in a bid to address concerns among U.S. officials that it could be used for money laundering and other illicit purposes. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order aimed at improving federal cybersecurity, with the order coming on the heels of multiple major and damaging cyberattacks, including the one on the Colonial Pipeline. – The Hill

Britain said on Wednesday it would invest 22 million pounds ($31 million) to help vulnerable countries in Africa and the Indo-Pacific build up their cyber defences to prevent China, Russia and others from filling a cyberspace vacuum. – Reuters

The U.S Defense Department will remove China’s Xiaomi Corp from a government blacklist, a court filing showed, marking a reversal by the Biden administration of one of Donald Trump’s last jabs at Beijing before exiting office. – Reuters

Instagram flagged mention of al-Aqsa as being associated with organized violence, meaning that even some posts using the #alAqsa hashtag referring to the mosque located in the Old City of Jerusalem were affected by the company’s sweeping policy to moderate violent content. – Business Insider


The Biden administration will seek $11 billion to buy 85 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jets in the coming fiscal year, tracking a plan outlined last year by the Trump administration, according to a U.S. official. – Bloomberg

The U.S. Army is scrapping its Stryker Mobile Gun Systems in favor of new lethality upgrades for its fleet of combat vehicles, the service announced in a May 12 statement. – Defense News

The U.S. Army’s Precision Strike Missile ranged 400 kilometers — roughly 250 miles — in a test shot at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on May 12, Lockheed Martin announced. – Defense News

The head of the U.S. Space Force wants the new service to take on a new mission: providing tactical satellite imagery to the joint forces. He didn’t explain whether that means the service would try to build its own satellite constellation. – Defense News

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Howard “Dallas” Thompson writes: Commitment to the NGI program may, in fact, facilitate a shift of the delivery time line to the left, providing this much-needed capability to the field even sooner. Competition within the program, as far into the process as a developmental test, substantially reduces technical and budgetary risks. However, most importantly for now, the bottom line remains: stay the course. – The Hill