Fdd's overnight brief

May 18, 2021

In The News


As the United States searches for a path back to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it is tiptoeing through a minefield laid by former U.S. President Donald Trump. The mines are Iran-related sanctions Trump imposed on more than 700 entities and people, according to a Reuters tally of U.S. Treasury actions, after he abandoned the nuclear deal and restored all the sanctions it had removed. – Reuters

The U.S. plans to revive the Iran nuclear deal, and that could undercut efforts to end the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, one analyst told CNBC on Monday. – CNBC

Amnesty International has marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersex-phobia, and Transphobia by renewing its calls on Iran to repeal laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Omer Carmi writes: The campaign does not officially commence until May 28, but candidates started lashing out at each other the moment they left the registration stand this weekend. And although the next president will continue playing second fiddle to the Supreme Leader, one can still expect heated clashes between the final candidates and their supporters, since the winning side could influence the style (if not necessarily the substance) of Tehran’s foreign policy over the next few years. – Washington Institute

Alex Vatanka writes: In the meantime, Larijani and Raisi both need other candidates to drop out in their favor, but it is too early to predict how this process will unfold. […]Both Raisi and Larijani, and anyone else that might be approved to run, will have to have the confidence of Khamenei. That is why the June 2021 presidential election is above all political theater, but it also provides a glimpse into the kind of fault-lines to expect in the post-Khamenei Islamic Republic to come. – Middle East Institute 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran’s point here appears to be to emphasize that China is playing a larger leading role in the Middle East. In a way China’s statements here are an attempt to undermine regional and international confidence in the US. The by-product is that China appears more reliable and consistent. Iran thinks it will win under this China-led system. Russia, which also works with Iran and wants to see the US influence reduced, has sent Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin to critique Israel’s actions. – Jerusalem Post


Turkey’s far-right Yeni Safak newspaper argued on Monday, with a frontpage story, that Turkey might implement a “Libya model” for Israel by signing a deal with Hamas-run Gaza to get access to water and energy rights off Israel’s coast. – Jerusalem Post

Turkish security forces have killed an alleged high-ranking Kurdish militant in an operation in northern Iraq, Turkey’s president said Monday. – Associated Press

A politician who once ran as a presidential challenger to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, formed a new political party on Monday, months after he broke away from Turkey’s main opposition party. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused President Joe Biden of “writing history with his bloody hands” after a report of a $735 million dollar weapons sale from the United States to Israel. – Newsweek


As Israel and Hamas continued to attack each other into the early morning hours Tuesday, despite intensifying diplomacy and President Biden’s call for a cease-fire, half a dozen rockets were fired from southern Lebanon. – Washington Post

A combination of fuel shortages, damage to the electricity supply lines running from Israel and an aerial bombardment that has torn apart local power lines means that many families are receiving at most three to four hours of electricity a day, according to Gaza’s power company. – Washington Post

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel live under different governments and have increasingly developed separate identities. But on Tuesday, Palestinian activists hope to unite people across the three territories in a general strike to protest Israel’s air campaign in Gaza and other measures targeting Palestinians. – New York Times 

President Biden voiced support for a cease-fire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel said airstrikes in the Gaza strip targeted a tunnel network used by Hamas amid rising civilian casualties in the conflict. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. blocked a proposed statement being considered by United Nations Security Council members on Monday that would have condemned the violence in Gaza and called for a cease-fire between warring parties, diplomats said. – Wall Street Journal

The IDF shot down a drone that was approaching the Israeli-Jordanian border on Tuesday, traveling toward the Emek HaMa’ayanot Regional Council in northern Israel, military officials said. – Reuters

The UN General Assembly will meet on Thursday over fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said on Monday as the fiercest hostilities in the region in years entered a second week. – Reuters 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel voices “solidarity” with Israel in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and calls for a swift end to the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years. – Agence France-Presse

The Palestinian Authority on Monday demanded that the US administration exert pressure on Israel to end its military strikes in the Gaza Strip. – Jerusalem Post

The European Union will redouble its efforts to end the surge in violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants, and seek progress during a special meeting of its foreign ministers on Tuesday. – Associated Press

Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week. – Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday he hasn’t yet seen any evidence supporting Israel’s claim that Hamas operated in a Gaza building housing The Associated Press and other media outlets that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Blinken said he has pressed Israel for justification. – Associated Press

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system has intercepted a drone belonging to the Hamas militant group, a first for the platform, according to the country’s defense forces. – Defense News

President Biden’s quiet diplomacy to end the devastating violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is frustrating international partners and raising concern from Israel’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill. – The Hill

The Israeli military said Monday that it had thwarted an attack by a Hamas cell that intended to use a remote-controlled submarine to disable Israel Navy ships. – Haaretz

Iran-backed forces in Gaza adopted an optimistic tone in the face of Israeli airstrikes, as the militants maintain the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a new phase. – Washington Examiner

Democrats are ratcheting up pressure on President Joe Biden to do more to stop the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza — even if it means going against Israel. – Politico

Editorial: More bombing will inflict only incremental damage on Hamas, which cannot be destroyed by military means. But it could cause harm to Israel’s relations with the United States, and it could tear at the social fabric of the country. Since the fighting began, the worst riots in 20 years have broken out in several Israeli towns, fueled by Jewish as well as Arab mobs. In a week the Israeli military has inflicted, by its account, extensive losses on Hamas, including the killing of numerous leaders and the destruction of miles of tunnels. It’s time to call a halt. – Washington Post

Editorial: As recent wars with Lebanon and Gaza, including the current one, have demonstrated, Israel needs to take the battleground of public diplomacy earnestly and establish an agency that will ultimately be responsible for presenting Israel’s case. […]It’s time to establish an Iron Dome system for public diplomacy, to fight back and defend Israel in the theater of public perception. – Jerusalem Post

Henry Olsen writes: Biden cannot ignore this split as he navigates the conflict — or broader Middle East issues. Presidents have greater leeway on foreign policy than they do on domestic policy, but it’s unwise for a president to take positions on high-profile issues at odds with so many of his party’s voters. […]These simple facts mean that Biden will have to use political capital with his party’s base simply to continue existing policy toward Israel. – Washington Post


Walter Russell Mead writes: Concerns about the declining value of their American alliance—rather than enthusiasm for the statesmanship of Jared Kushner —drove Arab and Israeli support for the Abraham Accords. […]Even fewer Palestinians believe that the U.S. can or will force Israel to make the concessions on Jerusalem and settlements they demand. So don’t expect words from Washington to stay their missiles. The Hundred Years’ War between Israelis and Palestinians, alas, isn’t close to an end. – Wall Street Journal

Liel Leibovitz writes: What we’re seeing right now is the deliberate, methodical, and cynical weaponizing of the press as a tool of political warfare. This isn’t skewed reporting; this is full-on propaganda, the goal of which is to deny Israel the right to defend itself against murderous attacks. […]You can ignore all this as merely some scuffle happening elsewhere to other people, but Americans reading the unconscionably mendacious coverage of the recent war should be afraid. – New York Post


Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister, Charbel Wehbe, made scathing remarks about Gulf countries in an interview late on Monday, blaming them for the spread of Islamic State, comments that could add strain to an already tense relationship. – Reuters

Six shells were fired from Lebanon towards northern Israel on Monday but fell short of crossing the border, the Israeli military said. – Reuters

The Hezbollah terror group has dug a network of tunnels hundreds of kilometers long from Beirut to southern Lebanon, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

Public pressure from the family of a Saudi women’s rights activist who was jailed is emboldening the relatives of other detainees to speak out, swelling the ranks of critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on perceived opponents. – Wall Street Journal

Scenes of devastation in Gaza are likely to make it harder for Israel to win its biggest diplomatic prize: recognition by Saudi Arabia. But so far, the other rich Gulf states that invested in opening ties with Israel last year are showing no public sign of second thoughts. – Reuters 

The United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “ways to reduce tensions and strengthen global efforts to stop the acts of violence in Israel and Palestine,” state news agency WAM said on Monday. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt has asked Israel not to increase its attacks in the Gaza Strip, according to a report by the Al-Arabiya network early Tuesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urged Libya’s new interim government Monday to arrest the son of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi and called for mercenaries and foreign fighters to leave the North African nation without delay, warning that they could face prosecution by the tribunal for atrocity crimes. – Associated Press

Egyptian Islamic scholar Sheikh Ahmed Omar Hashem said in a Friday sermon at Al-Azhar that the Muslims must stand as one “in order to extract noble Jerusalem from the hands of the world’s foreign vagabonds.” – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is hoping to use his first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden this week to revive long-stalled talks with North Korea and urge the White House to embrace the issue with more urgency. – Reuters

The U.S. military has offered to provide some Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) (JNJ.N) coronavirus vaccines for South Korean troops, the defence ministry said on Monday, as South Korea struggles with a shortage of COVID-19 shots. – Reuters 

S. Nathan Park writes: It is important for Washington to take a long view on the alliance. China will remain the primary challenge for the United States for decades, and it needs South Korea by its side through those decades. As the main theater of U.S. diplomacy moves from Europe to Asia, a prosperous Asian democracy like South Korea is as important to the United States as any European ally. With the right approach, the Biden-Moon summit could be remembered as a moment when the United States won the 21st century. – Foreign Policy


The United States and the European Union issued a joint statement on Monday saying that they can partner to “hold countries like China that support trade-distorting policies to account”. – Reuters

American businesses are bearing most of the cost burden from the elevated tariffs imposed at the height of the U.S.-China trade war, said Moody’s Investors Service. – CNBC

In late 2020, Saudi Telecom, the Gulf state’s largest telecoms group, announced a partnership with China’s Alibaba Cloud to help the kingdom build its cloud computing infrastructure. It was the latest in a series of deals made by Chinese companies to expand their cloud reach abroad — and part of China’s broader national push to become a world leader in high tech – Financial Times 

A coalition of groups that represent Hong Kong residents, Tibetans, Uyghurs and others, issued a statement Monday to call upon “all governments and people, including all National Olympic Committees and Olympic athletes” to boycott the 2022 Winter Games. – Newsweek 

Ben Sasse writes: In less than a year, American physicians, scientists and pharmaceutical companies confronted an extremely potent virus, created multiple effective vaccines, and produced enough of them to inoculate the majority of our 330 million citizens. […]The Chinese alternative—a system of state-sponsored mismanagement, deception and coercion—has shown itself to be not only a failure, but a failure big enough to infect the globe. The message is simple: Americans are here to help. Uncle Sam, not Chairman Xi, can end Covid-19. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

Heavy fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents resumed on Monday after a three-day ceasefire announced by both sides for the Muslim holiday of Eid, officials said. – Reuters

Bryce Loidolt writes: Of course, such efforts are not substitutes for surveilling and striking terrorist operatives in Afghanistan, and their inclusion in the U.S. toolkit will not eliminate the risk that a resurgent al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan could pose. […]Rather, these measures will add more obstacles between the planning and successful execution of external terrorist plots hatched in Afghanistan, the risks of which will likely never reach zero. – War on the Rocks

Ro Khanna writes: This perilous moment calls for American scientific, technological, humanitarian, and foreign policy leadership. The United States must urgently respond to India’s ghastly COVID-19 surge and demonstrate that it has learned a fundamental lesson from the past pandemic year: none of us are truly safe until all of us are safe. - Foreign Affairs


Emboldened by last year’s national-security law, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing politicians want art they say insults China kept out of a new museum in the city. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong government’s suspended on Tuesday operations at its representative office in Taiwan in a sign of escalating diplomatic tension between the global financial hub and the democratically ruled island that Beijing claims. – Reuters

A 193-member U.N. General Assembly vote on Tuesday on a draft resolution calling “for an immediate suspension of the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of all weapons and munitions” to Myanmar has been postponed, diplomats said. – Reuters

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in separate calls on Monday with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, expressed concern over recent tensions between the two countries, the White House said in a statement. – Reuters

A journalist in Bangladesh known for her strong reporting on official corruption was arrested on charges of violating a colonial-era official secrets act which carries a possible death penalty, authorities said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The U.S. placed more members of Myanmar’s ruling military junta on a financial blacklist Monday for the deadly attacks against civilians following the February coup in the southeast Asian nation. – Associated Press

The U.S. and British embassies in Burma expressed concern about reports of fierce government attacks on a town in western Chin state, where the ruling junta declared martial law because of armed resistance to military rule. – Associated Press

Kathrin Hille writes: Business has hardly ever been this political for technology companies. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is pouring $100bn into new fabrication plants, or fabs, over the next three years. In doing so, the world’s largest contract chipmaker is carefully balancing the demands on that capacity from the geopolitical rivals that are driving its growth: the US and China. – Financial Times


Switzerland is the most likely venue for a potential summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in June, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday, citing government sources. – Reuters

In an exclusive interview with BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service has denied that his agency was linked to a massive cyber-attack in the US last year. – BBC

The European Union has called on Russia to repeal its controversial “foreign agent” law, which has been used to target a growing number of Russian-language media outlets, including Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russia’s northernmost military base is bristling with missiles and radar and its extended runway can handle all types of aircraft, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers, projecting Moscow’s power and influence across the Arctic amid intensifying international competition for the region’s vast resources. – Associated Press

Steve Weisman writes: While many computer systems were not designed with security built in, but rather focus on security as an add-on, there are many basic steps that companies, individuals and agencies can take to protect themselves from ransomware, yet too many institutions fail to take these necessary steps, leaving all of us in danger and feeling the consequences. – The Hill


Britain wants to see progress soon in talks with the European Union on solving the post-Brexit Northern Irish border riddle, with its minister in charge of ties with the bloc urging member states to meet their obligations. – Reuters

The U.K.’s environment minister said an internal debate is ongoing in the government over completing a trade deal with Australia, and Britain would only sign a final accord on the right terms. – Bloomberg

Confronting multiple unrelated international crises, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought Monday to revive strained ties with Denmark, pledging renewed cooperation with the country over climate change, Arctic policy and Russia. – Associated Press

The Council of the EU on Monday extended a tool allowing the bloc to slap asset freezes and travel bans on foreign hackers, including those imposed on Russian, Chinese and North Korean state-backed groups last year. – Politico

Iulia-Sabina Joja writes: Blinken’s and Nuland’s visit to Kiev is a show of the support desperately needed by Ukraine and Black Sea allies. But it is a temporary fix in what should be a strategic American approach to deter future Russian aggression and bring security to the Black Sea. Only with regional understanding and a clear outlook of Russia’s strategy can the U.S., with the help of willing Western allies, prevent Moscow’s attempts to escalate conflicts and continue to project power into the Black Sea and beyond. – Middle East Institute


France’s acceptance in a report this year that it bore a responsibility for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda marked a “big step forward” in repairing relations between the two countries, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said on Monday. – Reuters

President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said France would cancel almost $5 billion in debt owed by Sudan, hailing the African nation as an “inspiration” in its transition after years of authoritarian rule. – Agence France-Presse

Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region is facing a horrifying situation with people dying of hunger, health services destroyed and rape “rampant”, the WHO chief, himself from the region, said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Rubin writes: President Joe Biden has repeatedly promised to stop “endless wars.” In Rwanda and Congo, he has the ability to end a latent conflict that has festered for decades by eliminating the remnants of the former racist and genocidal Rwandan regime sworn on return. Indeed, a relatively small investment could pay huge dividends by solidifying regional stability and turning the tide against terrorists whose ideologies might differ but who often coordinate in order to further their broader aims. – The National Interest

The Americas

A U.S. State Department report on Central American officials “credibly alleged” to be corrupt includes a member of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s cabinet and a former minister, according to an extract of the document leaked on Monday. – Reuters

An enhanced counternarcotics program initiated by former President Donald Trump in the Caribbean and western Pacific netted back-to-back cocaine busts in April that pushed its year-over-year tally to $7.5 billion, according to U.S. Southern Command. – Washington Examiner

Latin America has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and as countries there scramble to vaccinate residents, two leaders are looking to gain geopolitical leverage. Presidents Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras and Nayib Bukele of El Salvador have both been criticized by US officials and civil society[…]. While the US government has said it will continue to work with both governments, their leaders appear to be trying to fend off further scrutiny. – Business Insider

Joel Martinez writes: The United States will help, and López Obrador will not view such support as foreign meddling in domestic affairs, but rather as a benefit for all. Mexico needs the United States as much as the United States needs Mexico’s cooperation. López Obrador would be wise to believe in that relationship now and be a fair partner to the Biden administration in its time of need before the tables turn on him. – The National Interest

Michael Stott writes: The prophecy several years ago of Maurice Armitage, a former mayor of Colombia’s third-biggest city, Cali, could apply to much of Latin America: “In the coming years Colombia will undergo a social convulsion which if we are not prepared for it . . . will see this country go to hell,” he said. “We know very well how to kill each other . . . but what we don’t understand is how to distribute income”. – Financial Times

United States

The United States and the European Union said Monday they had begun discussions to resolve a conflict over steel and aluminum imports that was a major front in the Trump administration’s trade wars and a serious burden on trans-Atlantic relations. – New York Times 

The United States will send millions more COVID-19 vaccines to other countries to help those struggling to get their populations vaccinated, President Joe Biden has announced. Biden said the move is also aimed at restoring U.S. leadership in the global fight against the pandemic, noting efforts by China and Russia to use their donation programs to gain influence around the world. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Barry Ziman writes: It’s time for the curtain to be pulled back on the nature of antisemitic hate and media and political hypocrisy. Those who stand against terrorism, racism, and intolerance need to speak out and condemn its existence in every manifestation, regardless of political expediency, whether emanating from the far Left or the far Right. – Washington Examiner

Grace Melton writes: And the U.S. government should promote human rights and defend all victims of human rights abuses wherever and whenever possible. But this new Biden policy will go much further than that. It will have a substantial impact on our foreign aid, diplomacy, and military interactions with other nations and cultures. And it will have potentially far-reaching consequences for religious freedom and conscience protections for American faith-based organizations that operate around the world, as well as for religious believers of all creeds in other countries. – Heritage Foundation



A sprawling online network tied to Chinese businessman Guo Wengui has become a potent platform for disinformation in the United States, attacking the safety of coronavirus vaccines, promoting false election-fraud claims and spreading baseless QAnon conspiracies, according to research published Monday by the network analysis company Graphika. – Washington Post

Russian authorities on Monday backed away from threats to block Twitter, saying that the social media platform deleted most of the banned content identified by Moscow and expressed “readiness and interest in building a constructive dialogue.” – Associated Press

Allen Gwinn writes: The security approaches that existed before “industry best practices” really do work. Ask the next hacker who breaches security. We can only hope the information security industry will undergo a renaissance. Until we realize that “industry best practices” continue to enable legions of hackers, we are doomed to more disruption. – The Hill

Simon Handler, Emma Schroeder, and Trey Herr write: Despite overwhelming investments in security and decades of political rhetoric, there are no impregnable cyber castles and no practical guarantees of perfect cyber security. […]These cyber realities match the operational and strategic realities of counter-terrorism, defined by low-intensity conflict, dynamic intelligence contestation, and the centrality of private non-combatants. Recognizing and building upon the lessons of counter-terrorism is essential, therefore, if America hopes to improve its average and get more marginal wins going forward. – War on the Rocks


The Biden administration has approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, raising red flags for some House Democrats who are part of the shifting debate over the U.S. government’s support for the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. – Washington Post

After a years-long fight to reclaim Congress’s war powers from the presidency, supporters say they are in talks with the White House for a potentially game-changing “green light” from the Biden administration. – Defense News

An IT system prototype built by Perspecta to manage mass amounts of security clearance background checks will transition to production under another transaction agreement from the Pentagon’s background investigation agency. – C4ISRNET 

The outlook for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract—the Pentagon’s $10 billion general purpose cloud project—looks gloomier after a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss political interference allegations made by Amazon Web Services. – Defense One

As the wait for the fiscal year 2022 budget request continues, discussion in defense policy circles is filled with expectations and predictions for the Biden administration’s first defense budget. – Defense One

The US Air Force’s (USAF’s) Skyborg Vanguard team has completed initial flight tests of the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) aboard a Kratos Unmanned Systems Division UTAP-22 Mako tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). – Janes 

The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) is looking to develop a new class of subminiature radio frequency (RF) signal processor payload for the sea service’s growing arsenal of unmanned platforms, according to a 13 May industry solicitation. – Janes 

The Navy will decommission the service’s first two Littoral Combat Ships later this year, USNI News has learned. – USNI News 

U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, announced Friday it has awarded contracts totaling $19.2 million to five companies to produce prototype aircraft for its Armed Overwatch program. – Military.com

The U.S. Navy will request funding for eight new vessels in the next fiscal year budget, down from the 12 originally sought in a Trump administration blueprint meant to build a vastly larger fleet of ships and submarines, according to budget data and officials. – Bloomberg

In the final months of the Trump administration, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper quietly moved to let the military run influence campaigns — often called “psyops” — more quickly and with less time for input from the State Department. […]And now, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is weighing whether to maintain the change in policy, according to a senior defense official. – Politico

Frederico Bartels writes: None of this means that the Defense Department should be exempt from improving management and financial systems. Quite the opposite—the American taxpayer deserves a Pentagon that is getting the most out of every dollar. It is why the department should pursue a new round of base closures, allow private-public competitions, allow rollover operations funds to reduce use it or lose it, simplify the reprogramming process, and concentrate on actual military missions. – The Daily Signal

Mike Benitez writes: These are all valid questions to be answered in time, but first the Air Force must come to the realization that it doesn’t need another innovation organization or technology accelerator. It needs a customer-centric capability accelerator — it needs to revive the battle lab. – War on the Rocks