Fdd's overnight brief

May 27, 2021

In The News


Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday he wrote the country’s supreme leader to protest a decision by an election watchdog to reject high-profile nominees for the June 18 presidential election. – Associated Press

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported a hardline watchdog body’s disqualification of leading moderate and conservative candidates seeking to run in the June presidential election, state TV reported on Thursday. – Reuters 

Japanese refiners will need at least three months to resume Iranian oil imports even if the Iranian nuclear talks lead to an agreement and a lifting of sanctions, Tsutomu Sugimori, president of the Petroleum Association of Japan (PAJ) said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Iran has banned cryptocurrency mining for four months as the energy intensive industry has triggered electricity blackouts across the country. – Financial Times 

One person was killed and two others injured in an explosion at a petrochemical plant in Asaluyeh in southern Iran along the coast of the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, the third such incident in four days, according to Iranian media. – Jerusalem Post

There is not a moderate of any stature on the list of candidates for the next president of Iran. In this sort of “controlled democracy,” there is usually a sense of tension, suspense and at least limited debate. This time, less than in recent memory. […]And armchair consensus is that there is really only one name to watch: Ebrahim Raisi. Confidante of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Notorious for playing a role in the execution of 7,000 prisoners after the Iran-Iraq War. Chief justice of Iran. – Fox News

Joseph I. Lieberman and Mark D. Wallace write: President Biden can make clear in Vienna that the United States will not tolerate support for terrorist organizations and will economically isolate Iran if the practice continues. Maintaining and strengthening economic pressure on Tehran could even lead to constructive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state resolution of their conflict. That would truly benefit the Israeli and Palestinian people who are now victimized by Iran, Hamas and PIJ. – Newsweek


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said a series of severe allegations made against members of his entourage by a fugitive mafia boss were a plot against Turkey, and vowed to fight criminal gangs. – Associated Press

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan asked several U.S. corporate executives for better ties in a call on Wednesday in which he again criticised the White House’s decision to call the 1915 Ottoman massacre of Armenians a genocide. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Wherever Turkey occupies Syria, it has ethnically cleansed minorities. Inside Turkey, tens of thousands of Kurds have been massacred during Turkey’s various wars against what it says is Kurdistan Workers Party terrorism. […]Every place that Turkish-backed groups control in northern Syria in Turkey’s illegal occupation of Afrin, Idlib and other areas, have no minorities living freely in them. – Jerusalem Post


Gaza’s Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar claimed on Wednesday that Hamas has 500 km. of tunnels in the Gaza Strip and that only five percent of the tunnels had been damaged in recent clashes. – Jerusalem Post

The United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to establish a commission of inquiry into Israeli actions against Palestinians during the period leading up to and including the 11-day Gaza War that ended on May 21. – Jerusalem Post

The Irish parliament on Wednesday night voted down an amendment calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the imposition of sanctions on the Jewish state. – Algemeiner 

Israel’s ambassador to the UAE warned on Wednesday of a “Kristallnacht moment,” with antisemitism on the rise, at a Holocaust memorial exhibition billed as a first for the Middle East. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday fired back at French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who earlier this week warned of the risk of “long-lasting apartheid” in Israel if Palestinian Arabs fail to obtain their own state. – Arutz Sheva 

Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday said 80 militants were killed during the 11-day war with Israel that ended last week, providing the group’s first official tally for losses sustained in the fighting. – Associated Press

The leader of the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, gave an address Wednesday afternoon for the first time since the end of Operation Guardian of the Walls and sent a series of threatening messages to Israel. – Arutz Sheva 

A U.S. national and his father who were working for Hamas as engineers, were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza earlier this month, a source from the group confirmed to ABC News. – ABC News

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar said that the land of Palestine is not suitable for a two-state solution, and that the occupation should end and “each [Israeli] will go his way.” He made his remarks in an interview that aired on Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) on May 25, 2021. Al-Zahar said that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should go live in the U.S. and that former Foreign Minister Lieberman should go live in Russia. He emphasized that Palestine is an Arab and Islamic land. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Nick Wadhams writes: Wrapping up a whirlwind two days of meetings in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, his first to the region as secretary of state, Blinken made clear the U.S. doesn’t think the time is right to get entrenched in the sort of exhaustive push for a two-state solution that has bogged down American presidents for decades. – Bloomberg

Elliot Abrams writes: The United Nations is supposedly going to lead the effort to assist Gazans while preventing any of that aid from assisting Hamas. One wonders if those who voted for this resolution ever stop to wonder how such actions affect Israelis’ confidence in the UN system’s ability to do its work reliably, honestly, and courageously in the teeth of a terrorist group that will seek to intimidate it. – Council on Foreign Relations

Michael Rubin writes: Blinken may luxuriate in the approval of progressives who place an autocratic Hamas and Palestinian Authority above a democratic Israel, and he may confuse popularity in European capitals with strategic wisdom. He should make no mistake, however. He is not performing a humanitarian service but rather planting the seeds for the next round of Hamas and Iranian terror. – Washington Examiner


Egypt and the United States said they would work together to reinforce a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Cairo and Amman on Wednesday on a regional tour. – Reuters

Egypt has invited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to Cairo for a summit to discuss a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, Israeli broadcaster Kan reported on Wednesday. – Times of Israel 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is heading to Djibouti, a small country on the horn of Africa, an important first visit for the leader that is part of a network of regional relationships he is building. He is expected to meet the president of Djibouti; planes of humanitarian aid are also coming from Egypt. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

Police in Oman fired tear gas Wednesday at demonstrators in a flashpoint city amid unrest over the sultanate’s floundering economy and mass layoffs. – Associated Press

Israel’s top diplomat to the United Arab Emirates attended a ceremony in Dubai on the grounds of the Arabian Peninsula’s first permanent exhibition to commemorate the Holocaust. Hours earlier, he’d attended an event establishing a joint venture between an Israeli and Emirati company. – Associated Press

Qatar will provide $500 million to help rebuild Gaza, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, following a ceasefire that ended the worst fighting in years between Israel and Palestinian militants. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Syrians voted Wednesday in a presidential election whose outcome is not in doubt. Such is the extent of President Bashar al-Assad’s control over the electoral process that the poll is certain to deliver him a comfortable victory, a fourth seven-year term that will affirm his survival in the face of the 10-year-old rebellion against his rule. – Washington Post

Tensions mounted in Iraq’s capital on Wednesday after the arrest of a militia commander on terrorism charges, prompting a dangerous showdown by the detainee’s paramilitary supporters and the Iraqi government. – Associated Press

The leader of the Western Sahara independence movement at the heart of a diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco will appear before an investigating judge in Spain on June 1, representatives of the Polisario Front in the country said Wednesday. – Associated Press

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met on Wednesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman and discussed the recent conflagration between Hamas and Israel, and Jordan’s role in the matter. – Jerusalem Post

Lebanon’s army chief Joseph Aoun warned France on Wednesday that an economic crisis had put the military on the verge of collapse and Paris offered emergency food and medical aid for troops in hopes of preserving law and order, sources said. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: ISIS, an Islamist extremist group, specifically targeted the Yazidis as a non-Muslim minority community, using theocratic concepts akin to Nazism that portrayed them as sub-humans to be traded as slaves. They numbered them, like the Nazis did to Jews, and transported them to centers to be photographed and traded. Most horrific, they sold them to men to be raped, with the videos of the men cheering the “right” to rape slaves often being posted online at the time. – Jerusalem Post


President Biden ordered a U.S. intelligence inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, following renewed scrutiny of the possibility that the outbreak of the virus might have started with a laboratory leak in China. – Wall Street Journal 

China put on trial an Australian writer and academic accused of espionage Thursday in a case that could damage already deteriorating relations between the two countries. – Washington Post

China said on Wednesday it had blocked an American evangelical leader and businessman and his family from visiting following the U.S. sanctioning of a Chinese official for alleged religious persecution. – Reuters

Trade officials from the US and China have held “candid, pragmatic” talks, China’s commerce ministry said Thursday, their first discussions under the Biden era as Washington scrutinises whether Beijing is holding up its end of a trade pact. – Agence France-Presse

“The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end,” Kurt Campbell, the U.S. coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, said Wednesday at an event hosted by Stanford University. U.S. policy toward China will now operate under a “new set of strategic parameters,” Campbell said, adding that “the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.” – Bloomberg

On a still evening this month, the deep rumbling of a Chinese commercial sand dredger could be heard across the water from Nangan, the largest of Taiwan’s Matsu Islands. – Financial Times 

Editorial:  Even if U.S. funding didn’t go directly to research that potentially caused the pandemic, it’s still problematic. […]This scrutiny should have started a year ago, but media partisanship derailed fair discussion. Many “experts” made political calculations and fell prey to groupthink rather than following the science. This isn’t merely a score-keeping exercise. The Wuhan origin story is vital to understanding how to prevent the next pandemic; how to better run dangerous labs; and how to defend humanity. The world still needs an honest and open investigation. – Wall Street Journal 

Adam Taylor writes: What has clearly changed, however, is the political debate. Most obviously, a new U.S. administration that is not so openly anti-China has led some former skeptics to reconsider the existing evidence. […]The United States would continue to partner with “like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation,” Biden said. – Washington Post

Issac Stone Fish writes:  China has supplanted Russia as the most influential nation in Central Asia — Moscow’s traditional geopolitical backyard — and has uncomfortably large influence over Russia’s economy. […]Chinese frustrations with Russia — most Chinese alive today came of age in an era of frosty relations between the two nations, from the Sino-Soviet split in the mid-1950s to the 2001 Sino-Russian strategic and economic treaty — could easily push China’s foreign policy to be more aggressive toward its northern neighbor. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: It’s China’s government that has failed to grant researchers and scientists unfettered access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the blood samples of those who were first infected. It’s China’s government that first targeted the doctors, nurses and journalists who tried to warn their own country and the world about the outbreak. […]It’s really that simple. China’s government can complain all it wants about the lab-leak theory. But it has the power to quiet its critics. All it has to do is open its lab and share its data. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: The Chinese Communist Party is increasingly agitated. It feels the need to distract us from the facts and, perhaps, to dilute the power of truths yet to be unveiled. In turn, the Biden administration has a responsibility to stop dragging its feet. Alongside U.S. allies, it should demand international access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That’s the least that the victims of this virus, which is to say the entire human population, deserve. – Washington Examiner

Rep. Kat Cammack writes: As a nation, we must identify weaknesses in the ability of the public and private sector to recover from disaster events and overcome domestic scarcity of goods in the case of a crisis. Florida and our municipalities must be honest about the threats we face from China via partnerships, financial transactions, or business acquisitions. Most importantly, we need to recognize that the decisions we make now will have effects down the road. China is playing the long game. We need to play the long game, too. – Washington Examiner

Michael Singh writes: As great-power competition heats up—and grand diplomacy falters—there are few issues or regions not at risk of being drawn into the fray. In the Middle East, undermining the United States is an increasingly important component of Chinese policy, contributing to Beijing’s evolution from a quiet regional actor to a more vocal and confrontational one. […]Washington’s real concern should be if Beijing’s newfound aggression will eventually leave the confines of social media trolling and move on to more dangerous battlefields. – Washington Institute


Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces, meant to be the bulwark against advancing Taliban insurgents, are rife with corruption, demoralized and struggling to keep territory. The government says the army can hold its own, but military experts warn of a tough fight ahead for poorly trained, ill-equipped troops whose loyalties waver between their country and local warlords. – Associated Press

The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday warned nearby nations against allowing the United States to use their territory for operations in the country after they withdraw from Afghanistan. – Reuters

Afghan activists and former US national security officials are asking President Joe Biden to make a concerted effort to help thousands of vulnerable people, including those who worked with the American military, flee Afghanistan ahead of a planned US withdrawal this September. – Business Insider

Annie Pforzheimer writes: At this moment, the situation in Afghanistan is extremely fragile. A poorly managed withdrawal of U.S. troops that does not ensure continued support for the constitutionally mandated Afghan government would have severe consequences. In the absence of proper planning and consideration on the part of the Biden administration, and with crisis looming on the horizon, Congress should use the tools at its disposal to effectively address the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Pentagon is expected to move the only aircraft carrier currently based in the Asia-Pacific region toward the Middle East to support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, defense officials said. – Wall Street Journal

A Chinese deal to manage an Australian port near where thousands of U.S. and local troops train has become the latest fault line in a worsening diplomatic and trade relationship between Canberra and Beijing. Australian defense officials are reviewing whether a 99-year lease granted to Shandong Landbridge Group in 2015 to operate Darwin Port—in exchange for 506 million Australian dollars, or about $392 million—is a potential national security threat. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday moved closer to amending electoral laws that would drastically reduce the public’s ability to vote and increase the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city. – Associated Press

Azerbaijan on Wednesday accused Armenian forces of firing at its troops across the two countries’ international border on May 24-26. – Reuters

Azerbaijan captured six Armenian servicemen in the early hours of Thursday morning, the defence ministries of both countries said, the latest twist in a simmering border dispute. – Reuters

The United States is looking to convene an in-person fall summit of leaders of the Quad countries – Australia, India and Japan – with a focus on infrastructure in the face of the challenge from China, President Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy coordinator said on Wednesday. – Reuters

An Indonesian court was set to deliver its verdict on Thursday in the trial of a hardline Muslim cleric accused of breaching coronavirus curbs and inciting followers to attend mass gatherings after his return last year from self-imposed exile. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to media tycoon Jimmy Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank this month threatening up to seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city, according to documents seen by Reuters. – Reuters

The leaders of Japan and the European Union are set to refer in a joint statement to the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, according to the Yomiuri newspaper, in a move that may anger China. – Bloomberg

Editorial: The Journal reported Wednesday that the Pentagon plans to dispatch the USS Ronald Reagan, the only aircraft carrier operating in the Asia-Pacific theater, to the Middle East to cover the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. This may seem like no big deal, but it highlights the U.S. Navy’s dearth of ships to meet its military missions. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Whether the Philippines will continue its current pace of patrols, and how China might react, is unclear. But while Manila’s combination of more public protest and greater presence seems to have had some success in dispersing Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef and Sabina Shoal, it hasn’t impacted the overall number of Chinese vessels operating in disputed waters. […]Still, the Philippines is drawing greater attention, and international condemnation, to China’s activities, particularly on the militia front. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Nicholas Eberstadt writes: Mr. Biden’s and Mr. Moon’s approach to the North Korean nuclear crisis is doomed to failure because it effectively places Mr. Kim in charge of nonproliferation negotiations. Thirty years of dealing with the Kim family should have taught us that Pyongyang uses talks only for diplomatic cover in its race to build an ever more powerful arsenal. – New York Times


Several European influencers say they have been offered money to use their social media presence to discourage their millions of followers from receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by a suspicious agency that French officials reportedly think could be linked to Russia. – Washington Post

The Kremlin sought Wednesday to temper expectations for next month’s summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden but noted the meeting’s importance amid soaring tensions between their countries. – Associated Press

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is accusing government officials of censoring the newspapers delivered to him in prison as he serves a more than two-year sentence imposed earlier this year over parole violations. – The Hill


Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko struck a defiant tone on Wednesday, saying the interception of a Ryanair flight was not a way of arresting a dissident but was necessary to protect passengers from a possible bomb and his citizens from any harm befalling the country’s nuclear power plant. – Washington Post

Spain’s prime minister on Wednesday appeared to be gearing up to grant a pardon to Catalan separatists convicted over a failed 2017 independence bid, a risky move for his minority leftist government which is facing a resurgent right. – Agence France-Presse

Europe’s aviation regulator on Wednesday urged all airlines to avoid Belarus airspace for safety reasons, saying the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight had put in question the country’s ability to provide safe skies. – Reuters

Alexey Kovalev writes: It would be calamitous if the pressure campaign on Mr. Lukashenko — targeted sanctions, boycotts and condemnation — were to fade away. […]Even by Mr. Lukashenko’s brutal standards, this week was an escalation. On Monday, he signed a sweeping anti-press law that effectively criminalizes reporting from “unauthorized” — that is, all — protests and allows the authorities to shut down any news outlet without even a perfunctory court decision. For those who wish to pursue independent information, the choice is between exile and a prison cell. – New York Times 

Philip Stephens writes: Flagrant violations of international law may sometimes stir the EU into action. But sanctions invariably fall short of the real economic pain that would change the Kremlin’s cost-benefit analysis. […]The EU is never going to find it easy to reach agreement on sanctions. Its 27 members have different interests and different histories. Germany, Italy and France pay close attention to the economic opportunities in Russia. For Poland and the Baltic states, security is uppermost. Germany’s Angela Merkel, however, has also dealt the autocrats a trump card. – Financial Times 

Alan Riley writes: These actions by Lukashenka are not merely a breach of international flight rules. The effect is to undermine the rules-based international order, so that even the commonly accepted rules of global travel can be set aside at the whim of an autocrat. Such a Western response would send a broader message to all authoritarians. – Center for European Policy Analysis


French President Emmanuel Macron made a key visit to Rwanda on Thursday as his country tries to mend relations with the central African country 27 years after the genocide. – Associated Press

Sudan’s transitional government and the main rebel group kicked off a new round of peace talks Wednesday, officials said, the latest effort to end a decades-long conflict in the East African country. – Associated Press

Rebels have killed 22 officials of the war-hit Tigray region’s interim administration, Ethiopia’s government said Wednesday. – Associated Press

South Africa’s former leader Jacob Zuma pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering charges relating to a $2 billion arms deal when he was deputy president. – Reuters

Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 22 civilians with knives and machetes in an overnight raid on villages near the town of Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Mali’s interim president and prime minister resigned on Wednesday, two days after they were arrested by the military, an aide to the vice president said, deepening a political crisis and potentially setting up a standoff with international powers. – Reuters

Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 22 civilians with knives and machetes in an overnight raid on villages near the town of Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Americas

The past several weeks have seen an outbreak of anti-Semitic threats and violence across the United States, stoking fear among Jews in small towns and major cities. – New York Times 

Latin America’s development bank has become the latest battleground in the fight for global influence between the US and China, after its chief warned the lender had helped Beijing boost its presence in the region. – Financial Times 

A former Bolivian minister and four others have been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for bribery and money laundry, the department said Wednesday. – The Hill


A Facebook report released Wednesday says that Russia is still the largest producer of disinformation, a notable finding just five years after Russian operatives launched a far-reaching campaign to infiltrate social media during the 2016 presidential election campaign. – Washington Post

Google on Wednesday built on its push to modernize the medical system with a deal to put cloud computing power to work for US-based HCA Healthcare. – Agence France-Presse

Germany, France and the Netherlands have complained that the EU is not tough enough on Big Tech and called on regulators to make it harder for the likes of Google and Facebook to pursue killer acquisitions. – Financial Times


A battle is brewing over the fate of the MQ-9 Reaper, with a letter from the U.S. Air Force’s top civilian signaling that the service will again seek to curtail procurement of the General Atomics-made drone in the upcoming fiscal 2022 budget. – Defense News

As the Army builds its cyber and electromagnetic spectrum forces and capabilities, it has leaned heavily on lessons from operations in Ukraine and other theaters. – C4ISRNET

The Army used a series of exercises to prove out and mature its forthcoming aerial jamming pod, drawing lessons for senior leaders to make more informed funding decisions. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. military needs to focus on building interoperability into its future weapons and IT systems to enable joint war fighting, Special Operations Command’s top data official said Wednesday. – C4ISRNET

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate recently opened a space research and development lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. – C4ISRNET

A command investigation into the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit – the Camp Pendleton, Calif.,-based force that lost nine members when their amphibious assault vehicle sank training at sea last July – has been completed and is pending review by the acting Navy secretary, the Marine Corps commandant said Wednesday. – USNI News