Fdd's overnight brief

May 20, 2021

In The News


World powers met Wednesday for a new round of high-level talks on bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran amid growing hopes that an agreement might soon be within reach. – Associated Press

The EU official leading talks to revive Iran’s nuclear deal said on Wednesday he was confident a deal would be reached as the negotiations adjourned, although European diplomats said success was not guaranteed with very difficult issues remaining. – Reuters

Former President George W. Bush warned of an “aggressive” Iran and said the Arab world must decide on peace with Israel to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Fox News

An Israel Defense Forces official speaking to Newsweek has warned that the country’s Arab neighbors and Iran-aligned militias operating from within these nations and across the region are studying how the IDF wages its war in Gaza in the event these forces become engaged in their own conflict with Israel. – Newsweek

Major General Hossein Salami, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, on Wednesday hailed the terrorists from Gaza who have peppered Israel with rocket fire in recent days. – Arutz Sheva


The conflict between Israel and Hamas stretched into an eleventh day Thursday with the former launching airstrikes on Gaza and the militant group firing rockets at Israel despite mounting demands for a cease-fire. – Washington Post

A cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas could come as early as Friday, according to people involved in the discussions, as pressure mounts from Washington and other foreign capitals to bring an end to airstrikes and rocket fire that have claimed a rising number of civilian casualties. – Wall Street Journal

The ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip has unleashed a chorus of voices across Gulf Arab states that are fiercely critical of Israel and emphatically supportive of Palestinians. – Associated Press

The United States said Wednesday it opposes a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, reiterating that it could interfere with the Biden administration’s efforts to end the hostilities. – Associated Press

Companies that boycott Israel amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza could be met with legal roadblocks due to a majority of U.S. states having passed laws against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. – Newsweek

Hamas has been dealt a heavy blow after severely miscalculating the Israeli response to its rocket attacks, analysts believe. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have so far lobbed nearly 4,000 rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory in less than two weeks. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully managed to intercept the majority of these in midair. – Jerusalem Post

 As fresh fighting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claims more lives, President Joe Biden is missing a key player who could help calm the volatile situation: a U.S. ambassador in Jerusalem. – Politico

During the present round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, there was a shift in the Saudi media’s coverage of the conflict. While at first the Saudi media focused on the issue of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, while largely ignoring the events in Gaza and refraining from criticism of Hamas, in the recent days it began publishing articles harshly critical of Hamas and of the other armed organizations in Gaza. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The civil rights organization Shurat Hadin Law Center filed a war crimes complaint last week against Hamas to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The complaint, filed on behalf of residents of southern Israel, charges the terrorist group with intentionally targeting Israeli civilians with the intent to kill and maim them. – Jerusalem Post

Rocket fire from Gaza abated overnight Wednesday-Thursday with no alarms sounding in Israeli communities from 1 a.m. until after 9 a.m., when the tense calm was broken with multiple waves of attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border, including an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas operatives at an empty military bus north of the enclave. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Israel’s fight against Hamas is the most legitimate that exists. The IDF is fighting a genocidal terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction that needs to be stopped. But the state cannot ignore the need for a realistic exit strategy. It needs to work now to find one. – Jerusalem Post

Eli Lake writes: Israel is in no position to drive Hamas from Gaza. It has the military power to do so, but there is no political will to reoccupy the strip of land that Israel vacated unilaterally in 2005. So Israel fights for a longer period of quiet, all the while bracing for the war to come. These limits on Israeli strategy, however, need not constrain U.S. diplomacy. Biden needs to think creatively about how to rid Gaza of Hamas. This is not just a priority for Israel — it is a necessary condition for Palestinians to achieve prosperity and dignity. – Bloomberg

Yoni Michanie writes: Every rocket directed at Israeli civilians brings us further away from peace and into an abyss of miscommunication, resentment, and fury. It is time that we recognize the agency of Palestinian leaders and hold accountable all those who condone and justify terrorism in their pursuit of an anti-Israel agenda. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: It is racist for the international community not to acknowledge that Palestinians have agency. They and the international community should hold Palestinian leaders to account. If the international community truly wants to break the cycle of violence, let Hamas fail so that a new, better leadership might emerge. The tragedy Gaza faces is not its neighbors but international condescension and poor governance. – Washington Examiner

Lee Smith writes: If a former Obama administration official without a Middle East portfolio knew the AP shared a building with Hamas intelligence services, then the Obama alumni who now staff the Biden administration also know it. […]It gives the impression that the Biden team is coordinating with media operatives to lay down cover for a terror regime, which is probably why the Israeli government leaked to the press that it briefed Biden and his colleagues on the “smoking gun” evidence showing that the AP and Hamas worked out of the same building. – Tablet

Farhang Faraydoon Namdar writes: Traditionally, Palestinian armed groups have tried to defeat Israel from without by waging war against it. However, Hamas’ recent strategy has shifted its target from without to within. This includes domestic and international pressure to change the political landscape within Israel; a fresh and radical new strategy that relies on increasing the scale of Israeli attacks on Palestine. By exploiting tweets and updates on social media to undermine Israel’s image, Hamas is changing the narrative behind the conflict to achieve victory. – The National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

As the fighting winds down across much of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s two main backers, Iran and Russia, have been competing for influence and the spoils of war. Both countries have promoted their respective languages, Farsi and Russian, for instruction in Syrian schools. Both have signed contracts to construct flour mills amid a dire shortage of bread. Both are building power plants. – Washington Post

Syrians expatriates and those who fled the war began casting their votes at embassies abroad Thursday ahead of next week’s vote inside the country that is all but guaranteed to give President Bashar Assad a fourth seven-year term as president. – Associated Press

Lebanon’s foreign minister said he had quit his post on Wednesday, after his comments in a television interview strained ties with traditional Gulf Arab allies and donors. – Reuters

Elana DeLozier and Adam Baron write: The international community has significant resources to aid those working to ameliorate the devastating effects of the war, which will ultimately help underpin any future political agreement. If international political will to end the war is channeled into creating the conditions for sustainable peace, it may create incentives for peace among the domestic parties to the war and thus buttress efforts to get to and maintain a ceasefire and political agreement. – Washington Institute

Asli Aydintasbas writes: In the long run, Turkey’s independent foreign policy will persist with or without the current president. Ankara will likely continue to assert its sovereignty in the eastern Mediterranean, devote its resources to defense development, and expand its reach into regional affairs. […]Turkey has claimed the role of heir to an empire, and it will pursue its separate path—its Sonderweg. – Foreign Affairs

Korean Peninsula

President Biden will privately pressure South Korean President Moon Jae-in to sign on to a strong statement critical of China when Mr. Moon visits the White House on Friday, but he will likely face resistance over South Korean fears that it would trigger an economic backlash from Beijing. – Washington Times

Rep. Young Kim writes: Biden’s meeting with Moon this week will set the tone for his administration’s true desire to support South Korea. There is great potential to strengthen the U.S.-South Korea relationship and our shared response to the challenges posed by North Korea. And we must. To truly counter North Korea, we must not only be unwavering in our commitment but also promote a steadfast alliance to present a united front in confronting Kim Jong Un. – Washington Examiner

Bruce Klingner writes: The U.S.–South Korean summit is an opportunity for both sides to affirm the importance of the bilateral relationship, as well as to prioritize the significance of the Indo–Pacific region to both countries. Public events should underscore the long-standing friendship and common values of the two nations—but doing so should not prevent frank private discussions to overcome policy differences on crucial issues. – Heritage Foundation

Eli Fuhrman writes: North Korea will almost certainly resume missile testing and return to a strategy of probing the limits of U.S tolerance as it looks to continue to develop its ballistic missile capabilities, particularly if it does not see what it perceives as favorable conditions for diplomacy with the United States. But for now, North Korea remains likely to continue to assess the Biden administration’s approach before it does so. – The National Interest


China has highlighted an unlikely series of videos this year in which Uyghur men and women deny U.S. charges that Beijing is committing human rights violations against their ethnic group. In fact, a text obtained by the AP shows that the videos are part of a government campaign that raises questions about the willingness of those filmed. – Associated Press

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin joined Wednesday in a videoconference to initiate a series of nuclear energy projects, an event intended to display warming ties between two nations that have paired up as the chief geopolitical rivals to the United States. – Associated Press

China said on Thursday a U.S. warship had illegally entered its territorial waters in the South China Sea, the latest salvo in the two nations’ dispute over Beijing’s territorial claims in the busy waterway. – Reuters

China’s position as head of the United Nations Security Council gives it a powerful perch to help ease the bloodshed in the Middle East. So far, its strategy appears more focused on scoring points in its geopolitical battle with the U.S. – Bloomberg

The PLA Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) are now the world’s largest, but China’s military modernization is not only focused on equipment. The PRC appears to be  developing new strategies and doctrines. – Breaking Defense


The top U.S. commander for the Middle East said Wednesday he will make recommendations to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in early June on how to monitor and fight terrorist groups in Afghanistan from beyond its borders after all American forces withdraw. – Associated Press

Tribal elders in eastern Afghanistan have achieved something that has long eluded world leaders – a ceasefire between the Taliban and the Afghan government. – Reuters

Bipartisan support is growing in Congress to expand the program to bring Afghans who helped American troops to the United States, but advocates say it’s too late to rely on the visa program to save allies threatened by the Taliban. – Defense One

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis writes: As America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan picks up speed, reports are emerging about massive amounts of military equipment being destroyed in place. Some blame the president for ordering a “precipitous” exit. Others claim it as an unfortunate but required military necessity. There is one culprit, however, who has thus far escaped notice, and this offender may shoulder the most blame: the Pentagon. – Newsweek


In the months before the Myanmar military’s Feb. 1 coup, the country’s telecom and internet service providers were ordered to install intercept spyware that would allow the army to eavesdrop on the communications of citizens, sources with direct knowledge of the plan told Reuters. – Reuters

People displaced by an upsurge of fighting in Myanmar’s Chin State voiced concerns over shelter and supplies, as more flee the conflict between the army and insurgents opposed to the junta that seized power in February. – Reuters

The first person charged under the national security law in Hong Kong will face a trial without jury, the city’s High Court ruled on Thursday, in a landmark decision which marks a departure from the global financial hub’s common law traditions. – Reuters

Samoa’s expected new prime minister has pledged to shelve a $100 million Beijing-backed port development, calling the project excessive for the small Pacific island that is already heavily indebted to China. – Reuters

The Philippines protested China’s fishing moratorium in the South China Sea and asked Beijing to stop actions infringing on the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty. – Bloomberg

The Biden administration is believed to be pursuing a ‘normalised’ approach to high-profile military sales to Taiwan, similar to the methods applied under former president Donald Trump. – Janes


The State Department cited the parent company and chief executive of a Russian natural-gas pipeline for sanctions but waived the penalties, clearing a hurdle for the completion of a project that U.S. officials say will increase Moscow’s influence in Europe. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) filed a legal case at the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday to challenge the “foreign agent” label imposed on it by Russian authorities. – Reuters

Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, and U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan plan to meet in a European city in coming weeks, the Kommersant daily reported on Wednesday without disclosing sources. – Reuters

Top diplomats from the Biden administration and Russia in their first in-person meeting on Wednesday stressed that the former Cold War foes have serious differences in how they view world affairs but struck an optimistic tone for the talks, saying the two sides can still find ways to work together. – Reuters

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has ‘more or less’ recovered his health following a hunger strike and has the possibility of communicating with his family, the head of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, has voted to withdraw the country from an international treaty allowing surveillance flights over military facilities following the departure from the accord by the United States late last year. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Natan Sharansky writes: It is therefore crucial that we remember dissidents who are today in prison — Alexei Navalny in Russia, Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong, Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia and many others. The world’s democratic leaders might not know it, but if they keep these names at the forefront of their discussions with autocratic rulers, they will be doing their part in helping deploy the second of Andrei Sakharov’s unconventional weapons. In doing so, they will further the cause of freedom that he embodied. – Washington Post


Rocks thrown at doors of a synagogue in Bonn, Germany. Israeli flags burned outside a synagogue in Münster. A convoy of cars in North London from which a man chanted anti-Jewish slurs. As the conflict in Israel and Gaza extended into a 10th day on Wednesday, recent episodes like these are fanning concerns among Jewish groups and European leaders that the latest strife in the Middle East is spilling over into anti-Semitic words and actions in Europe. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday barred former Albanian president and prime minister Sali Berisha and his family from entering the United States due to “corrupt acts” and abuse of power. – Reuters

The defense ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt said Wednesday that emerging regional threats and challenges necessitate even closer cooperation and will seek to invite more countries to take part in joint military drills that aim to sharpen their preparedness levels. – Associated Press

Authorities in Copenhagen argue that parts of Syria are now safe enough for refugees to return. But the issue has proved divisive and activists and community groups have planned protests in several cities on Wednesday in support of the refugees. – BBC 

The European Union has slammed Belarus for its closure of the country’s biggest independent online news publication, Tut.by, as one of its reporters left prison after serving six months for her reporting on the death of a protester killed during a crackdown on demonstrations against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Legislation has been reintroduced in the U.S. Congress to increase funding for 5G telecommunications and digital infrastructure development in Eastern European countries. The sponsors of the legislation said on May 19 it was important to fund such projects in countries with “infrastructure deficits” remaining from the Soviet era that make them “especially vulnerable to malign Chinese influence.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Andreas Kluth writes: Germans have no problem denouncing their native-born anti-Semites, but the imported strain presents new problems. For a long time, the German mainstream didn’t know how to label or discuss the prejudices and misogyny that some Muslim immigrants brought with them. […]If anything good is to come out of this latest round of conflict, it may be that Germans of all faiths will now renew their collective effort against prejudice, but with more honesty — and that people in other countries do exactly the same. – Bloomberg

Philip Stephens writes: For all that, in lending the authority of his office Biden has the chance to give a badly-needed political jolt to negotiations. The biggest obstacle to a breakthrough is the lack of trust. To adopt a more flexible approach to border controls, the EU needs absolute assurance that the UK will keep its word. Johnson has been careless of promises made to Brussels. He could not be so cavalier in jettisoning pledges to Biden. – Financial Times

Candace Huntington writes: Russia’s expanding Arctic presence has Western leaders concerned that they may lose out on the largely untapped economic and military potential of the region. As the ice continues to melt, competition over resources and influence is inevitable. It’s time for NATO to develop a comprehensive strategy for the Arctic or risk Russian domination. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Brennan Deveraux writes:  Therefore, the successful integration of Romanian and Polish High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems is vital to NATO’s future. Particularly, if made part of the Baltic contingency plan, rocket artillery will facilitate rapid reinforcement across the European theater and strengthen the alliance. Overall, rocket artillery is a combat multiplier in Europe. If successfully integrated, European-owned rocket-artillery launchers provide NATO a unique tool that changes the battlefield calculus and strengthens the Alliance’s strategic deterrence posture. – War on the Rocks


Ethiopian soldiers armed with machine guns, sniper rifles and grenades raided a hospital in Ethiopia’s war-torn northern Tigray region earlier this week in retribution, doctors say, for a CNN investigation that revealed Ethiopian and Eritrean troops were blocking humanitarian aid to patients there. – CNN

Rising conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to an increase in violence against the local Catholic population, including “killing the sick as they lie in their hospital beds” says Catholic Bishop Paluku Sekuli Melchisédech. – Newsweek

John Lechner writes: Russia’s role in Africa is by no means benign, and Washington would do well to counter some Russian activities on the continent. But to do so effectively, policymakers should understand that relations between Russians and Africans are far from monolithic and that no single Kremlin “playbook” for Africa exists. Certain Russian individuals, often with ties to government, help undermine good governance, rule of law, and human rights in certain states. – War on the Rocks

The Americas

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the U.S. must defend open and safe sea lanes in the Arctic and South China Sea as nations including Russia and China seek to assert greater control over the maritime regions. – Bloomberg

A controversial Palestinian American activist linked to anti-Semitic social media posts praised a “great successful fundraiser” with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., earlier this year — years after she appeared to distance herself from him over his claims. – Fox News

Leon Krauze writes: López Obrador has no such qualms. A president who publicly berates and exposes his critics or who can accuse the United States of interventionism with absolute impunity is no laughing matter. On June 6, Mexican voters will decide whether to grant him even more power. – Washington Post


The U.S. government was not behind the disruption last week of a Russian hacker ring’s computer network in the wake of the devastating cyberattack on a major U.S. fuel pipeline, four U.S. officials said, while experts said the group’s disappearance could be a ploy. – Washington Post

The hackers who carried out the massive SolarWinds intrusion were in the software company’s system as early as January 2019, months earlier than previously known, the company’s top official said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Companies and the federal government do not share information about cyber incidents well enough, and defense contractors need to be held accountable for security blunders, lawmakers said. – Breaking Defense

US companies have urged President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to release Samsung chair Lee Jae-yong from prison, arguing that the billionaire executive could boost Joe Biden’s efforts to shake off American dependence on computer chips produced in foreign countries. – Financial Times

Editorial: There are some red lines of anti-democracy that Apple shouldn’t cross — and those that China hasn’t asked the company to cross already, someday it surely will. Apple can reduce the cost of saying no by diversifying its supply chain, as it has begun to do for some products. Whatever the cost of resisting tyranny remains, Apple ought to be willing to pay. – Washington Post


President Joe Biden singled out competition with Russia and China as part of his vision for the military branch’s role in national security as he addressed the United States Coast Guard Academy’s 2021 graduating class on Wednesday. – CNN

The U.S. Army is on a path to choose an enduring system that will counter both drone and cruise missile threats by releasing a solicitation to industry for a prototyping effort and by hosting a shoot-off for two teams at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. – Defense News

Exercise ‘Atlantic Trident 21’, which will also feature F-35B aircraft from the United Kingdom, is being conducted out of Mont-de-Marsan Air Force Base from 17 to 28 May. “The [first joint] flight was a part of the ‘Atlantic Trident 21’ exercise which is a joint, multinational exercise involving service members from the US, France and the UK, and is aimed at enhancing fourth and fifth generation integration, combat readiness and fighting capabilities, through conducting complex air operations in a contested multinational joint force environment,” the USAF said. – Janes

Long War

Police raided sites in seven German states on Wednesday as German authorities announced a ban on three groups linked to the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah. – Associated Press

Suspected Islamic extremists attacked a baptism party in northern Burkina Faso, killing at least 15 people and sending terrified civilians fleeing to other towns, authorities said Wednesday. – Associated Press

A Kenyan police official says that seven soldiers have been killed and one is missing in Lamu county after a bomb and ambush by Islamic extremist al-Shabab rebels from neighboring Somalia. – Associated Press