Fdd's overnight brief

May 14, 2021

In The News


A jailed Iranian women’s right activist who has campaigned against the country’s strict Islamic dress code has reportedly gone on a hunger strike to protest against the imprisonment of her mother. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is urging Iran to stop its imprisonment and harassment of Kurdish journalists amid what human rights groups have denounced as a crackdown on members of the minority group. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran’s upcoming June 18 presidential election is shaping up as a race among hard-liners on who can demonstrate the most loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to an Iran expert. – Jerusalem Post

A group of 43 Republican senators called on President Joe Biden on Wednesday to end negotiations with Iran and deny any sanction relief to the Islamic Republic, citing its ties with Hamas. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps today often uses the Ababil drones, and this makes sense because the IRGC’s Quds Force oversees support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. It is believed that pro-Iran militias in Iraq have now used drones several times against US facilities. This points to a wider drone war being waged by Iran against Israel, Saudi Arabia, the US and others. – Jerusalem Post


Images of buildings exploding in Gaza from Israeli airstrikes and the country’s police storming Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, have catalyzed a wave of pro-Palestinian protests across the Middle East and beyond, testing the limits of Arab governments’ relationships with Israel. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli jets, tanks and troops conducted a large operation early Friday aimed at destroying Hamas’s tunnel system in Gaza as rockets rained down on Israel overnight, diplomats scrambled to negotiate a cease-fire and street clashes continued between Jewish and Arab Israelis. – Washington Post

The confrontation, sparked by tensions old and new, threatens to deepen the region’s turmoil. A full-blown war could force the U.S. to shift attention to the Middle East when it has been focused on Russia, China and battling the coronavirus. Here’s a quick primer on what’s going on. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza “will continue as long as necessary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated early Friday morning as the IDF pummeled Gaza and Palestinians barraged the south with rockets throughout the night. – Jerusalem Post 

The Foreign Ministry had a positive view on world responses to Operation Guardians of the Walls, as it worked to preserve Israel’s international legitimacy to continue fighting against Hamas. – Jerusalem Post

The Muslim Brotherhood’s official online mouthpiece offered praise this week to Democratic members of Congress who are publicly criticizing Israel as it defends itself against an onslaught of terrorist rockets. – Washington Free Beacon 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday jointly called for an end to fighting between Israel and Palestinians. – Agence France-Presse

The U.N. Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said, reaching a compromise over U.S. objections to a meeting on Friday. – Reuters

Individuals involved in a new eruption of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed may be targeted by an International Criminal Court investigation now under way into alleged war crimes in earlier bouts of the conflict, its top prosecutor said in an interview. – Reuters

Three rockets were launched from Lebanon toward northern Israel on Thursday but landed in the Mediterranean Sea, causing no damage or casualties, the Israeli military said. – Reuters

US President Joe Biden has been loath to get sucked into a protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict, preferring instead to rely on regional partners to end the worst violence since 2014. – Financial Times 

Saleh Al-Arouri, Deputy Chairman of Hamas’s Political Bureau said that Jewish immigration to Palestine was based on myths, like the myth that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews or that Palestine is the Jewish Promised Land. He said Jews invented these myths “out of thin air.” He made his remarks in an interview aired on Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas-Gaza) on May 12, 2021. – Middle East Media Research Institute

In the past few years, Iranian regime officials have been boasting that Iran built up the military capabilities of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that enable them to target Israel’s strategic depth. Iranian officials and commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) praised the military aid extended by Iran to the Palestinians resistance organizations in the past and present – Middle East Media Research Institute

Editorial: If the rocket attacks continue, Israel will have to make difficult decisions about how to stop them. Israel also needs to send a message to Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon on its northern border, which has tens of thousands of missiles. Meanwhile, Israel’s missile defenses are saving lives and perhaps reducing the chances of wider escalation. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: No democratic civil society can accept existence on these terms, let alone flourish as Israel has since its birth. Proportionality of response is important in any military operation, but Israel has a right and responsibility to defend itself. The Democratic Party’s equivocation against that truth is unseemly. As a candidate, Biden pledged that he would stand with allies. It’s time for the president to look in the mirror. – Washington Examiner

David Ignatius writes: The Abraham Accords were good for the Middle East. But as a solution to the Palestinian problem, they failed utterly. The Palestinians might have lost disastrously at the bargaining table, often through their own mistakes, but they weren’t going to ratify defeat and give up their sole remaining asset, which was their defiant sense of dignity. […]The only way out is Israeli and Palestinian leaders who, like Rabin, have the guts to try the seemingly impossible. – Washington Post

Steven A. Cook writes: The proposals, plans, and roadmaps for resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can fill a room from floor to ceiling. Yet, for all the time and effort that went into these ideas, they have never come close to bringing peace. Why? There has been bad faith and politics on all sides that have made it more difficult, to be sure, but the broader problem is connected to identity. […]In this context, it is hard to take seriously the idea that the United States can mediate the conflict––though there are certainly those who will insist that it try. – Foreign Policy


Austria banned Hezbollah in its entirety this week, going beyond the European Union policy of outlawing the Lebanese terrorist group’s so-called military arm. – Jerusalem Post

 A Turkish company that provides electricity to Lebanon from two power barges shut down its operations on Friday over delayed payments. The move is expected to increase outages in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country. – Associated Press

Michael Rubin writes: Rather the issue is that for all Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei talks about the end to Israel and for all Nasrallah parrots his language, the reality is that a Hezbollah barrage would do far more to further the end of the Islamic Republic than it would Israel. It is that fear in Tehran that will lead Hezbollah to stand down. – 19FortyFive

Middle East & North Africa

A group of rights groups including Amnesty International asked Qatar on Thursday to disclose the whereabouts of a Kenyan man who has written about migrant rights in the Gulf state and who was detained last week. – 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

Johnnie Moore and Saud al-Sarhan write: There are many examples of Christians, Jews and Muslims sharing their lives, worshipping alongside one another, and showing respect to each other’s communities — all without fear, enmity or compulsion. […]Believers, confident in their faith, have nothing to fear from their neighbors. In fact, we have so much to gain by learning from one another. Fear and distrust should no longer be a barrier. – Arab News

Noah Rothman writes: That is the genius of the Abraham Accords. By decoupling these Sunni Arab state’s relations with Israel from the state of its intractable conflict with the Palestinian territories, the accords paved the way for a more stable, predictable, and peaceful region. This conflict might have slowed progress toward full normalization of diplomatic and security relations between Israel and the Gulf states, but it has not reversed it. The violence we’re witnessing today doesn’t disprove the thesis that yielded those accords; the conflict and the lackluster regional response only reaffirm its logic. – Commentary Magazine 


A high-school student’s death in southwestern China has set off a wave of public outrage on social media over control of information in a country subject to some of the world’s heaviest surveillance. – Wall Street Journal

Muslim leaders from the Xinjiang region rejected Western allegations that China is suppressing religious freedom, speaking to foreign diplomats and media at a reception at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. – Associated Press

The Jiaman mosque in the city of Qira, in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, is hidden behind high walls and Communist Party propaganda signs, leaving passersby with no indication that it is home to a religious site. – Reuters

For global commercial lawyers, advising on cross-border deals between local investors and foreign capital raisers is difficult at the best of times. But when the deal involves US and Chinese interests in the middle of a trade war, risk rises to a new level of complexity. – Financial Times 

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 

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee is urging Congress to not boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s treatment of the country’s Uyghur Muslim population. – The Hill


Western spy agencies are evaluating and courting regional leaders outside the Afghan government who might be able to provide intelligence about terrorist threats long after U.S. forces withdraw, according to current and former American, European and Afghan officials. – New York Times

At least 11 civilians were killed and 13 others wounded in four separate bombings in Afghanistan on Thursday, hours after a three-day ceasefire began across the country to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, local officials said. – Reuters

Naheed Farid gets a threatening letter at least once a week, often purporting to be from ISIS. […]But Farid, who has been a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament since 2010, is vowing neither she nor the women of Afghanistan will surrender the rights they have gained in the last 20 years. – The Hill

Sen. Joe Manchin is worried about the military’s wasteful destruction of equipment in Afghanistan, but analysts say troops are on such a tight timeline to leave, that they don’t have any other options. – Defense One

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: While it is impossible to know the future, it is clear that a counterterror posture on Afghanistan’s periphery is likely to be more complicated and expensive than boots on the ground inside the country. The Secretary of Defense would be wise to rein in expectations now about the potential for a pot of gold at the end of the Afghan pullout rainbow. It just ain’t gonna happen. – American Enterprise Institute


The most powerful U.K. fleet to be assembled in decades is preparing to set sail this month on a tour of 40 countries, focused on the Indo-Pacific, in an effort to show British military muscle in a region where the U.S. is seeking to counter Chinese influence. – Wall Street Journal

Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on comments that Australia’s Taiwan policy was guided by China’s “one country, two systems” framework, prompting his office to clarify that the government’s stance hasn’t changed in a way that would’ve been seen as a concession to Beijing. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that the United States would not leave Australia alone in the face of economic coercion from China, and that such behavior toward U.S. allies would hamper improvement in U.S.-Sino relations. – Reuters

Armenia’s prosecutor general on Thursday opened a criminal case into “an infringement of territorial integrity” by Azerbaijan, Russia’s news agency RIA said, after Armenia’s defence ministry accused Azerbaijan of moving forces into its territory. – Reuters

The top Democrat with oversight of U.S. foreign policy on Thursday called for the Biden administration to put its support behind Armenia in the face of rising tensions with Azerbaijan. – The Hill

A Japanese journalist who was arrested in Myanmar last month and later charged with spreading fake news will be released, state media said Thursday. – BBC

Towns across Japan are cancelling plans to host athletes before the Tokyo Olympics, leaving competitors with little chance to acclimatise and threatening to distort competition at the world’s biggest sporting event. – Financial Times 

Myanmar’s interim national unity government has cautioned foreign banks against lending to General Min Aung Hlaing’s junta, saying it will not recognise the debt once it regains power. – Financial Times  

Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia, newly released from prison on bail with the help of the European Union, has said that he plans to speak soon with self-exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who Melia said should be allowed to return to the country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

French President Emmanuel Macron has demanded that Azerbaijan immediately withdraw its troops from Armenia’s border areas, which he said were occupied by them. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The United States, Japan, France and Australia began their joint training exercise Jeanne D’Arc 21 in the Indo-Pacific region this week. – USNI News 

Charles Crabtree and Kiyoteru Tsutsui write: Only with domestic political stability and economic prosperity can Tokyo and Washington take the next steps in projecting strength vis-à-vis China, and that is the best deterrent against China’s expansionist ambitions and toward ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific area. – The Hill

Donald Kirk writes: Biden and his team have the skills to appear understanding and empathic as Moon battles for his own legacy as the leader who brought about reconciliation. Both sides are keenly aware that Moon has less than a year to go in his presidency, thanks to the South’s single five-year terms. Modern Korean presidents have a habit of bad ends, and Biden offers Moon a chance to avoid that. – Foreign Policy


The United States and Russia are lowering expectations for big breakthroughs at a superpower summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the adversaries in no mood to make concessions on their bitter disagreements. – Reuters

An ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Thursday his team could no longer organise formal street protests after a Russian state crackdown, but that “spontaneous” protests would take their place. – Reuters

European Union officials are calling for a stronger response by the bloc to Russian aggression toward Ukraine, warning that Moscow’s ultimate aim is to absorb parts of eastern Ukraine where a war has raged for seven years. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the need for strict observance of a ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan during a phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the Kremlin said on Friday. – Reuters


Forty years later — espousing a foreign policy generally in sync with the Biden administration — she hopes to lead the much-transformed Greens to an election win in September as Germany begins a new political era without Angela Merkel at the helm. – Washington Post

A top Ukrainian opposition politician with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin was placed under house arrest Thursday, days after being charged with treason. – Associated Press

Germany’s leading Jewish group on Thursday sharply condemned protests in front of a synagogue in the western city of Gelsenkirchen as “pure antisemitism.” – Associated Press

France’s interior minister on Thursday asked police to ban a pro-Palestinian protest in Paris this weekend over the military conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terrorists, fearing a repeat of clashes during a similar situation in 2014. – Times of Israel

A French move to delay a European Union financial services deal with Britain over fishing access is another example of the bloc issuing threats at any sign of difficulty, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday. – Reuters

A Ukrainian court ordered the prominent pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk to be put under house arrest on Thursday while he faces allegations of treason in a case that could ratchet up tensions with Russia. – Reuters

Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced his choice of Elisabetta Belloni as head of the Department of Information Security (DIS) on Wednesday. – BBC

Formal charges filed against Belarusian opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava are “an outrage,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on May 13. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ivanka Barzashka writes: U.S. assurances assume Moscow would attack Ukraine — and Russia’s recent military buildup on Ukraine’s border has highlighted this concern. But what if Ukraine sparks the war? [..]Ukraine and the West have different interpretations of what support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity means in practice. In a deepening crisis, there are logical reasons Ukraine’s leaders might launch a military attack, and see this as fighting back. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: By rubber-stamping a second term for Guterres, the United Nations would be bypassing a free and fair democratic process and undermining its own supposed commitment to promote gender equality and youth inclusiveness. The depressing message this would send is that U.N. politics will remain with the old guard and that the U.N. will drift further away from the modernization and reforms it so badly needs. – Washington Post


Six months into the war in Tigray, where thousands have died amid reports of widespread human rights abuses, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia has sought to quell critical coverage of the conflict with a campaign of arrests, intimidation and obstruction targeting the independent news media, according to human rights campaigners and media freedom organizations. – New York Times

As South Sudan approaches 10 years of being an independent country, many challenges remain for the world’s youngest state. A 2018 peace deal ending a five-year civil war has faced delays in implementation. A government of national unity was formed only last year. Millions of people remain in need of humanitarian assistance ahead of the anniversary of independence in July. – Associated Press

Robbie Gramer writes: Most experts agree that Chad is in a precarious position after Déby’s death, as is its role as the linchpin of stability in a region wracked by violence and a growing footprint of deadly terrorist organizations. […]The controversy points to an existential debate in U.S. foreign policy: whether, and when, to press autocratic governments on democracy and human rights when Washington is partnering with them on pressing military and security issues. – Foreign Policy

Latin America

Venezuelan Electoral Council President Pedro Calzadilla said on Thursday that the country would hold regional and local elections on Nov. 21, despite the opposition’s call this week for presidential and parliamentary votes as well. – Reuters

Colombia’s Foreign Minister Claudia Blum has resigned, according to a letter from her shared by the ministry of foreign affairs on Thursday. – Reuters 

Black Brazilians demonstrated in the country’s two largest cities on Thursday to protest against racism and police violence toward their communities in a local version of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, with some accusing the country’s president of genocide. – Reuters

United States

The Justice Department and a House committee reached an agreement that will allow former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn to offer testimony about events described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 Russia report. – Wall Street Journal

A former Army Green Beret who admitted divulging military secrets to Russia over a 15-year period is scheduled to be sentenced on espionage charges. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden’s election was greeted with waves of relief among United Nations diplomats, but a series of tense discussions over the rampant violence in Israel and Palestine this week signals the honeymoon is over. – Politico

David Miliband writes: Forging a coalition for accountability and against impunity will be hard work. But if values are to inform U.S. foreign policy once again, as Biden has promised, then the fate of civilians in conflict zones must be central to the administration’s definition of success. There is no better test of whether America is really “back” than turning the tide of impunity—and that will take a commitment to building countervailing power piece by piece, sector by sector, issue by issue. – Foreign Affairs


A major East Coast fuel pipeline lurched back to life Thursday as the nation continued to deal with the fallout from the biggest known cyberattack on U.S. energy infrastructure, but the Biden administration warned it would take time for fuel shortages to ease and pledged to take additional action to prevent a similar crisis. – Washington Post

President Biden’s executive order on Wednesday to shore up U.S. cybersecurity will force many companies selling software to the government to report attacks on their systems, sharing information that officials and cyber experts say is increasingly important to U.S. security. – Wall Street Journal

Facebook Inc. FB 0.90% and other tech giants are awaiting an Irish ruling that could help determine whether, and how quickly, they have to suspend the flow of data about European Union residents to computer servers in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Ireland’s health service has temporarily shut down its IT system after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack”. – BBC 

Cryptocurrency fans have counted Tesla boss Elon Musk as among their champions, but this week he rocked their world by questioning the future of the digital assets and singling out carbon emissions from bitcoin mining for particular criticism. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden said a ransomware hack that shuttered the largest American petroleum pipeline between Texas and New York is not attributable to Russian President Vladimir Putin, nor his government, but he intends to call on his counterpart to crack down on cybercriminals. – Washington Examiner

Thomas Ayres writes: We haven’t had a cyber Pearl Harbor, but today’s threat from hackers could become as dangerous as enemy submarines. Congress should rally behind a nonpartisan initiative and begin issuing letters of marque now. Enlist private corporations to serve as our cyber scouts just as the Resolute searched for hidden dangers in an earlier time of global upheaval and uncertainty. – Wall Street Journal


A sweeping overhaul of the military justice system has earned the backing of 61 senators from both parties, clearing a critical threshold needed to advance the legislation after years of resistance from the Pentagon. – Wall Street Journal

The F-35 Joint Program Office is still evaluating when the fighter will formally clear its 20-year development phase after a new expert study of testing requirements, says JPO Director Lt. Gen. Eric Fick. – Breaking Defense 

President Joe Biden’s first full budget request, including long-awaited details about the Pentagon, will be released May 27, the White House announced Thursday. – Defense News

Army leaders are growing concerned the service won’t be able to continue to protect its priority programs and key enabling capabilities in the upcoming budget, especially as military officials and national security observers expect the Army’s overall budget could shrink in fiscal 2022. – Defense News 

The Missile Defense Agency will deorbit two experimental missile warning satellites in the next couple years, the director announced this week. – C4ISRNET

Top Air Force officials are now convinced the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor lacks the magazine depth and range needed to carry it into the next decade as the service’s air superiority fighter of choice. – Defense News 

The Pentagon is working on a pair of software changes to its fleet of Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotors that will have the aircraft better display existing information to pilots. – Janes 

The chief of naval operations and commandant of the Marine Corps say they are increasingly clear on how they’d want to fight a peer adversary, what attributes would make their forces successful and what platforms they need to equip that force. Now, they just need help from Congress turning that into a budget everyone can agree upon, they say. – USNI News

The Marine Corps took out a moving ship by firing a Navy missile at it from the back of an unmanned vehicle on land — a new weapon the service’s top general says will make “an adversary think twice.” – Military.com

Kris Osborn writes: Senior leaders are reluctant to draw any premature conclusions, yet they are optimistic and do seem to operate with the clear recognition that, should a major mechanized joint U.S. military force be able to find, track and destroy enemy targets across unprecedented ranges in an unprecedented multi-domain way exponentially faster than major power rivals, it could lead to a much sought after and needed advantages – The National Interest

Long War

The Islamic State used Iraqi prisoners as human test subjects in experiments with chemical and possibly biological weapons, United Nations investigators conclude in a report that sheds new light on the terrorist group’s forays into making a weapon of mass destruction. – Washington Post

A detainee at Guantánamo Bay has agreed to a deal intended to lead to his release in the next few years in return for giving up the right to question the C.I.A. in court about its torture program, United States government officials said. – New York Times

A man who believed he was giving instructions to the Islamic State on how to create a bomb-making video and then posted it online pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge Thursday, federal prosecutors said. – NBC