Fdd's overnight brief

November 13, 2020

In The News


Iran’s intelligence ministry has arrested an Iranian ethnic Arab separatist leader suspected of involvement in an attack on a military parade in 2018 that killed dozens of people, Iranian state television reported on Thursday. – Reuters

The U.S. special representative for Iran insisted Thursday that a pressure campaign of sanctions targeting Iran would persist into the administration of Joe Biden, even as the president-elect has pledged to potentially return America to Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. – Associated Press

Iran on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 40,000 coronavirus deaths, with the latest 10,000 added in less than a month, as the country struggles to contain its most widespread wave of infection yet. – Associated Press

The U.S. will impose new sanctions on Iran while President Donald Trump remains in office, according to a senior American diplomat who described speculation over military action against the Islamic Republic as “garbage.” – Bloomberg

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is continuing to blacklist Iranian entities in the lame-duck period after the election as Iran hawks urge President-elect Joe Biden to use President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign as “leverage” in expected talks with the regime. – Washington Examiner

Seven Israeli companies and one Italian company were victimized by Iranian hackers who created a new method for hacking into systems and holding their contents for ransom. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: There is a better course. Biden should hold firm and negotiate from strength. Recognizing the 2015 agreement’s shortcomings and the desperate state in which Iran’s regime finds itself today, he should force Iran to the table and give its leaders no more slack than is necessary to advance the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies. – Washington Examiner

Allison Schwartz writes: Biden has attempted to draw a sharp distinction between his own and Trump’s style. But style is little more than changed rhetoric. Actual commitment to alliances demands securing at once a better deal from Tehran and preserving the partnerships in the Middle East that serve American interests. And on that front, there is little reason for optimism. – American Enterprise Institute

Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou writes: Given these realities, the Iranian economy is unlikely to benefit much, if at all, from a Biden presidency. While the rial initially surged by around 20 percent when Biden’s victory was announced, it has since lost half of those gains.[…] At best, President Biden may decide not to impose additional economic or financial sanctions on Iran. At the end of the day, responsibility for addressing the country’s economic crises lies on the shoulders of Iranian officials and they are the ones that hold the key to addressing most of its economic woes. – Middle East Institute

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Andrea Stricker write: After months of delay in granting access to these two sites, the IAEA Board of Governors demanded in a June 2020 resolution that Iran permit access. Unexpectedly, the IAEA did not report on this issue either in this report or a separate safeguards report. It should brief the Board on its findings to date, so the Board can be aware of Iran’s compliance or lack thereof. This issue should be merged with the issues surrounding undeclared uranium at Turquz Abad; after all – they are all linked. – Institute for Science and International Security


The episode could foreshadow what lies ahead under the Biden administration — with a U.S. president opposed to Israeli construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians but seemingly limited in his ability to stop it, particularly when dealing with a changing Middle East and preoccupied by domestic priorities. – Associated Press

Mike Pompeo next week will become the first US secretary of state to visit one of Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, which are considered illegal by most of the world, reports said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

The defense ministers of Greece, Israel and Cyprus agreed Thursday to step up military cooperation they said will keep their armed forces better prepared, help create more jobs and bolster security in a fraught region. – Associated Press

In a webcast hosted by Long Island University’s Global Service Institute yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his hope that President-elect Joe Biden will have the “courage” to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and renegotiate “an even better agreement” that will “deter them from even trying to” advance their nuclear program. – Jewish Insider

Former National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster for the Trump administration said in an interview with Fox News Thursday that President-elect Joe Biden should not rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal upon taking office in on January 20. – Jerusalem Post

The US election is over, and Israelis and Palestinians are on tenterhooks, waiting to find out the incoming president’s policies and whom he will appoint to carry them out. […]Dan Gillerman, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, told The Media Line the Biden presidency will not disavow all the decisions taken by Trump, but it will reconnect with the Palestinians. – The Media Line

On the issue of Israel, multiple sources involved in the campaign said that all of Biden’s picks will be closely aligned with the position of the president-elect. Biden does not see eye-to-eye with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on West Bank settlements and the need for a two-state solution, but views safeguarding the security of the Jewish state as an issue of utmost importance in the region. – Times of Israel

On Thursday, Walla News correspondent Amir Bohbot revealed that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is concerned about the incoming Biden administration for various reasons, namely how it might deal with Iran and its hostile actions in the region. – Jerusalem Post

The death of chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Tuesday leaves a huge gap in the Palestinian leadership team, at a time when the prospect of a new administration in Washington has revived hopes of renewed talks after three years of diplomatic impasse. – The Media Line

Yaakov Katz writes: The reason is because of a fear. Not a fear that the call with Biden will not go well, but rather concern over the retribution Netanyahu could face from Trump, who still has 69 days left in office. With Netanyahu likely on the verge of another election of his own in the coming weeks, the last thing he needs is Trump to be upset with him. If the president can fire his secretary of defense on Twitter – “Mark Esper has been terminated” – imagine what he can write about an Israeli politician whom he feels is no longer loyal. – Jerusalem Post

Ruthie Blum writes: Only those who view Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as joint forces of evil are rejoicing at such a prospect. The rest of Israeli the public is not looking forward to the scenario and are hoping, along with Trump supporters across the ocean, that recounts and lawsuits will reverse Biden’s fortune and keep the incumbent in place. Netanyahu is among the latter, though he cannot admit it publicly. As a pragmatist and savvy politician with elections of his own potentially around the corner, he cannot appear to favor Trump at Biden’s expense. – Jerusalem Post

Shmuel Sandler writes: With that said, he most certainly does not support Israel’s settlement enterprise. Thus it can be presumed that “Obama-style” clashes will occur between the Biden administration and Israeli governments headed by right-wing parties. It is highly likely that Biden will repeat the mantra of his former boss in the Oval Office, who said that being a friend of Israel does not require one to be a Likud sympathizer. – Algemeiner

Amos Harel writes: There’s a certain edginess in Israel over the attempt to grasp his intentions concerning Iran during the transition period. If Trump is sharing his thoughts with Netanyahu, the prime minister so far is not updating the defense establishment. It appears unreasonable, in these circumstances, that Netanyahu will seek to impose on his coalition allies from Kahol Lavan (and on the Israel Defense Forces high command, which has reservations) a unilateral Israeli move in Iran. But it’s hard to completely rule out an American operation, with Israel getting some of the ricochets of the Iranian response to it. – Haaretz


Iraqis who have worked closely with the U.S. military in their country have grown increasingly alarmed that they could be targeted for attack, fearing their personal identifying information has been obtained by Iranian-backed militias. – Washington Post

Iraq has started closing camps housing tens of thousands of people, including many who fled their homes during the final battle against Islamic State, but aid groups warn this could create a second wave of displacement with dire consequences. – Reuters

Iraqi lawmakers on Thursday passed an emergency spending bill to allow the cash-strapped government to borrow abroad as the economy reels from low oil prices, although they approved less than a third of the original amount requested. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will strike those who threaten the kingdom’s security and stability with an “iron fist”, the crown prince said on Thursday, one day after an attack on a Remembrance Day ceremony injured two in the kingdom. – Reuters

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Thursday for an attack on a non-Muslim cemetery in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah which wounded several people, although it did not provide any evidence to back up its claim. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia said early Friday it thwarted an attack by Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels that sparked a fire near an Aramco oil distribution center, involving unmanned boats loaded with explosives dispatched into the Red Sea. – Associated Press

Riyadh’s hesitancy to accept the shifting sands in Washington may reflect concern that the new administration’s policies will be far less friendly. After four years of close ties with President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia and its regional allies wonder whether Biden will upend those relations and draw closer to Iran. – The Media Line

Karen Attiah writes: The Biden administration has an opportunity to reset the relationship with Saudi Arabia to one that builds in more safeguards against the rampant impunity that has festered in the past five years. But as long as the international community continues to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s worst impulses, the so-called guardians of the liberal world order have blood on their hands, too. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

The Syrian government hosted a lavish conference in the capital, Damascus, this week aimed at trying to get the more than six million refugees who fled the country’s civil war to come home. – New York Times

Five U.S. service members on a peacekeeping mission in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula were killed when a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed off the Egyptian coast Thursday, officials with the Multinational Force & Observers said. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey is ready to discuss U.S. concerns about the technical compatibility of Russian S-400 defences and U.S.-made F-35 jets, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Thursday, repeating Ankara’s proposal for a joint working group with Washington on the issue. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded the immediate release of a Jewish man in Yemen who has been held hostage by Iran-backed Houthi rebels for the last four years. – Algemeiner

Libya’s warring sides will immediately reopen the main coastal road connecting the vast country’s east and west across front lines, the United Nations said on Thursday, as part of a ceasefire deal agreed last month. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

Before fleeing authoritarian North Korea in 2009, Kang Mi-Jin was regularly mobilized by the state for military-like productivity campaigns that were a source of both pride and pain. She was happy to be chosen to give a speech pledging loyalty to the ruling Kim family; less so when a tunneling construction project left her with a head injury. – Associated Press

Korea Aerospace Industries is considering adding military transport planes to its product line with the goal of partnering with foreign aircraft manufacturers, Defense News has learned. – Defense News

Evidence is emerging that the North Korean regime is training dolphins for military purposes, according to new satellite imagery. While the U.S. Navy pioneered the training of dolphins and other marine mammals for naval purposes and has a program based in San Diego, it’s not a capability most navies can afford. To date, only the Russian Navy, with bases in the Arctic and Black Sea, has followed suit. – USNI News


President Trump issued an executive order Thursday barring Americans from investing in a list of companies with ties to the Chinese military, arguing that such investments pose a risk to national security. – New York Times

After days of silence, China on Friday congratulated Joseph R. Biden Jr. on his election as president of the United States, signaling a start to its relations with the incoming administration after years of hostility and distrust under President Trump. – New York Times

Britain on Thursday said China had broken its main bilateral treaty on Hong Kong by imposing new rules to disqualify elected legislators in the former British colony, cautioning that it would consider sanctions as part of its response. – Reuters

China is urging the United States to stop its arbitrary suppression of investments, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Friday, when asked about the ban on U.S. investments in firms linked to the Chinese military. – Reuters

Trade frictions between the United States and China may not ease in the near term even if Joe Biden becomes president, former Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei said on Friday. – Reuters

Australia expects that “technical” issues disrupting trade with China will be resolved as soon as possible, deputy foreign affairs and trade secretary Christopher Langman said on Friday. – Reuters

The European Union called on Beijing on Thursday to immediately reverse new rules to disqualify elected legislators, saying the decision was a “severe blow” to the former British colony’s autonomy. – Reuters

China will strike back against any moves that undermine its core interests, its foreign ministry said on Friday, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Taiwan “has not been a part of China”. – Reuters

China said the actions and words of Australia’s government and some people in the country are to blame for the worsening relations between the two nations. – Bloomberg

Hal Brands writes: The nature of the regime, as much as the nature of the international system, drives Beijing’s conduct. This dynamic, in turn, will make the competition between America and China more fundamental and more protracted than it would be if it were “merely” driven by realpolitik. The United States doesn’t need a strategy of regime change vis-à-vis China. But it does need a sense of regime realism to understand the behavior of a potent rival. – American Enterprise Institute


Three U.S. presidents and 19 years later, it is President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s turn to inherit the American war in Afghanistan. The question that is leaving Afghans hanging is just how quickly he will remove troops. – New York Times

A suicide car bomb exploded at the western entry gate of the Afghan capital Friday killing at least two government security troops and wounding four others, an Afghan official said. – Associated Press

The Taliban had threatened an Afghan reporter who was killed in a car bomb attack this week for investigating their attacks, Human Rights Watch said. – Agence France-Presse


Senior Chinese officials branded the mass resignation of opposition Hong Kong lawmakers a farce, rejecting foreign criticism even as the walkout cleared Beijing’s path to further bend the city’s institutions to its will. – Wall Street Journal

The collapse of the legislative opposition was just the latest blow to Hong Kong’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement, after China imposed a new national security law this summer that helped silenced mass anti-government protests and set off widespread uncertainty about the fate of the city. In the months since, the Legislative Council had been one of the last bastions of formalized, legal dissent in the city. – New York Times

Seeking to end a dangerous military standoff in the western Himalayas, India and China are formulating a plan that involves creating no-patrol zones, pulling back tanks and artillery, and using drones to verify the withdrawal, Indian officials say. – Reuters

Political parties are trying to sway voters in Gilgit-Baltistan, an impoverished, remote and rugged mountainous part of the larger Kashmir region that is also claimed by India. The country’s top politicians have turned up here to stump, vowing to build multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects, and end decades of disenfranchisement. – Reuters

Rana Ayyub writes: As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as vice president, Biden advocated a stronger relationship with India. In 2006, he said, “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.” But Modi might complicate this goal.[…] Now Indians will wait to see if Biden will emulate Obama’s moral clarity and will extend his promised healing touch against division and demonization to India. – Washington Post

South Caucasus

France on Thursday said it was ready to help build a lasting and balanced solution for all sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict after a Russia-brokered ceasefire deal appeared to catch Paris by surprise. – Reuters

France and the United States are expected to send diplomats to Moscow soon to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia said on Thursday, two days after the Kremlin deployed troops to the ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan to secure a truce. – Reuters

Armenia’s airspace remains open to civil aircraft, the Civil Aviation Committee head said on Thursday, denying a report by Russia’s Interfax news agency that Armenia had declared a no-fly zone over its territory and Nagorno-Karabakh. – Reuters


The Russian military operations in August inside the U.S. economic zone off the coast of Alaska were the latest in a series of escalated encounters across the North Pacific and the Arctic, where the retreat of polar ice continues to draw new commercial and military traffic. – New York Times

Russia’s Supreme Court has eased the detention terms for U.S. investor Michael Calvey and six others from house arrest to a restriction on “certain activities.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Moscow has adopted sanctions against a number of German and French officials in response to the European Union’s sanctions over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russia’s foreign minister said Thursday – Associated Press

Russian security services have detained a London-based executive of flagship airline Aeroflot on suspicion of passing state secrets to Britain, Russian news agencies reported, citing sources. – Reuters


Several shots were fired at Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in The Hague early on Thursday, leaving bullet holes across the building’s facade, a day after a bomb blast hit a World War I commemoration ceremony attended by Western diplomats in the kingdom. – Wall Street Journal

During the height of the U.S. campaign, Britain’s former ambassador in Washington Kim Darroch revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government were expecting — if not hoping — that President Trump would be reelected. – Washington Post

European leaders mostly focused their attention on Biden, offering congratulations and setting up phone calls, as opposed to President Trump’s refusal to concede, which few have acknowledged head-on. But European media outlets have remained centered in large part on concerns over Trump’s denial of the election result. – Washington Post

France will make clear to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Paris next week that it opposes a unilateral American withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq given the fight against Islamist militancy, its foreign minister said on Friday. – Reuters

Poland joined Hungary in threatening to veto the European Union’s 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) budget over the bloc’s efforts to make sure funds only go to countries that adhere to democratic standards. – Bloomberg

President Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany may come to a screeching halt when President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but experts believe that some elements of the Trump administration’s proposal should stay. – Washington Examiner

Defense and space industries are among nearly twenty sectors named by the British government in the introduction of new legislation Nov. 11 aimed at tightening regulations allowing it to block potentially hostile direct foreign investment. – Defense News

Airbus is trying to make hay out of its $6.5 billion sale of 38 Eurofighter aircraft to Germany for other procurement competitions in Switzerland and Finland. – Defense News

Following the recent series of terror attacks in Europe, Hamed ‘Abdel-Samad,  a liberal Egyptian writer living in Germany, published an article in the liberal Egyptian newspaper Al-Maqal and on the Moroccan news website Al-Kanat, in which he harshly criticized Europe for allowing extremist political Islam to run rampant on its soil in the name of tolerance and cultural pluralism. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Ethiopia is widening a military offensive against the restive regional government of Tigray and arresting thousands across the country, dashing hopes of a quick, negotiated end to the conflict and feeding fears of a full-blown civil war. – Wall Street Journal

Fourteen soldiers in Burkina Faso were killed on Wednesday in an ambush by suspected Islamist militants, the government said, close to a week before a presidential election. – Reuters

Unidentified attackers killed scores of civilians in a massacre in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray area, Amnesty International said, as the government began replacing the administration of the dissident region. – Bloomberg

French forces have killed Bah ag Moussa, a military leader of al Qaeda’s North Africa wing, during an operation in northeastern Mali, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Friday. – Reuters

Jacob Kurtzer, Judd Devermont, and John Goodrick write: Inflation has reached over 200 percent, reducing purchasing power for the average Sudanese, and complicating humanitarian agencies’ ability to respond. The cost of food is rapidly rising while availability declines due to Covid-19 containment measures. While the removal from the SST is an important step, its pairing with an agreement to normalize relations with Israel has been costly politically for the transitional government. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Americas

The European Union said Thursday that it is prolonging sanctions against dozens of Venezuelan officials for another year over allegations that they are undermining democracy in the crisis-wracked country or are linked to rights abuses there. – Associated Press

The Canadian government said on Thursday it would make it easier for Hong Kong youth to study and work in Canada in response to new security rules imposed by China on the former British colony, a move likely to heighten already strained relations with Beijing. – Reuters

Paula J. Dobriansky and David B. Rivkin Jr. write: Domestically, a strong stand against the modern slave trade that underpins Havana’s statecraft should draw bipartisan support. Internationally, given Britain’s indispensable role in eradicating the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th Century, London should be a U.S. partner in cracking down on Cuba-driven slave trade and corruption. By strategically employing GloMag, the U.S. can curtail Cuba’s malign activities and push the Cuban regime toward major reforms. – Wall Street Journal


Cybersecurity experts say cybercriminals are spreading malware through email spam that alleges interference in the recent U.S. election. – Washington Examiner

The U.S. Space Force has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to build a new anti-jamming communications satellite prototype, bringing the number of companies working on that program to three. – C4ISRNET

Cyber-attacks are one of Russia’s most well-known exports, with many of the most brazen hacks globally attributed to its security services. Its military intelligence unit known as the GRU has been accused of crimes ranging from hacking U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign to to knocking out Ukraine’s power grid. – Bloomberg


The United Arab Emirates is now the closest it’s ever been to getting choice American weapons it has wanted for several years: lethal drones and F-35 joint strike fighter jets. – CNBC

For the second year in a row, Congress is poised to bolster the CH-47F Chinook Block II program as the Army holds steady on its decision to scale back and only buy the latest variant for special operators. – Defense News

BAE Systems was awarded two task order contracts to provide and integrate an information warfare platform aboard five U.S. Navy vessels, the company announced Nov. 11. – C4ISRNET

The Navy continues to make improvements on its overall ship maintenance performance, but the cruisers undergoing modernization overhauls are running behind schedule and contributing to expected delays this fiscal year, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command told reporters today. – USNI News

The unprecedented removal of top Pentagon officials during a presidential transition has left the national security community reeling, wondering who will be the next to go and struggling to understand why it is happening at all. – Defense News

With a new American administration coming in January and the United Kingdom departing the European Union, France could be America’s new “bridge partner” to the continent in countering high-end military challenges from Moscow and Beijing and meeting reinvigorated terrorist threats, top security experts said Thursday. – USNI News