Fdd's overnight brief

November 16, 2021

In The News


An Iranian navy helicopter came close to a U.S. Navy warship in the Gulf of Oman and circled it three times in an incident that ended without an impact on U.S. operations, the Pentagon said on Monday. – Reuters 

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met Monday with Rob Malley, the US special envoy on Iran, during the latter’s visit to the region, as the Biden administration works to coordinate with Mideast allies before the resumption of indirect talks with Tehran, aimed at reviving their multilateral nuclear accord. – Times of Israel 

General Abdolrahim Mousavi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, said in a November 9, 2021 interview that aired on Channel 1 (Iran) that Iran’s armed forces support Iran’s diplomatic efforts, but warned: “If [our enemies] threaten our interests, we will threaten their interests wherever is necessary.” – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Iranian political analyst Emad Abshenas, the Editor-in-Chief of Iran Diplomatic, said in a November 9, 2021 interview on Alghad TV (UAE) that Iran has the ability to cross the “red line” and acquire everything necessary for the construction of a nuclear bomb, so that final assembly would only take minutes or hours. Abshenas added that Iran’s current government is pleased with the renewal of the nuclear talks because it has a “strong hand,” unlike during the Rouhani governments’ JCPOA negotiations. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Yaakov Amidror writes: The reason Iran is returning to the talks is simple: the present leadership in Tehran has a clear interest in returning to the 2015 agreement because it is a good agreement for Iran, which seeks to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranians understood that the nuclear deal was good for them and that it is now even more so in light of the rapid progress in their enrichment program. – Arutz Sheva 


The Taliban’s new outreach to the Shiite minority goes only so far. Hundreds of Hazara families were displaced by Pashtuns in parts of the Daikundi province in September. The community’s sole representative in Afghanistan’s new government, dominated by Pashtun Sunni clerics, is a deputy minister of health. In Bamiyan province, overwhelmingly populated by Shiites, the most senior Shiite official is Mawlawi Mahdi, the provincial director of intelligence. That is a far cry from the prominent role that Shiites enjoyed in the U.S.-backed Afghan republic. – Wall Street Journal 

Outside a Shiite shrine in Kabul, four armed Taliban fighters stood guard on a recent Friday as worshippers filed in for weekly prayers. Alongside them was a guard from Afghanistan’s mainly Shiite Hazara minority, an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. It was a sign of the strange, new relationship brought by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The Taliban, Sunni hard-liners who for decades targeted the Hazaras as heretics, are now their only protection against a more brutal enemy: the Islamic State group. – Associated Press 

This month, dozens of U.S. service members have notified the Department of Defense about relatives who are still in Afghanistan but want to get out. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged during Monday’s briefing that “60 service members have come forward and expressed concerns about family members in Afghanistan” in the last two weeks. – Washington Examiner 

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are calling for the testimony of dozens of Biden administration officials over how the chaotic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan unfolded. – The Hill 


Turkish authorities have arrested a man considered a suspect of “great interest” in the July assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Claude Joseph said late on Monday. – Reuters 

Turkey’s deputy president said on Monday that his country is “not afraid of anyone” and won’t be deterred from continuing drilling for oil and gas in disputed waters that have been a source of tension between Ankara and ethnically-divided Cyprus. – Associated Press 

The United Arab Emirates’ de facto ruler is expected to visit President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey as soon as next week, a senior Turkish official said, in the highest level visit since relations began to warm earlier this year. – Bloomberg 


Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in court for the first time in over half a year on Tuesday as a one-time confidant prepared to take the stand against him in a high-profile corruption case against the former Israeli prime minister. – Associated Press 

More than 300 former generals and top security officials in Israel on Monday put their support behind the U.S. reopening a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem that was closed by the Trump administration in 2019. – The Hill 

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other senior government officials during her first visit to Israel to discuss cooperation between the two countries at the UN. – Algemeiner  

Egypt is working to achieve a five-year ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Hamas terror group, as well as a prisoner swap and reconstruction in Gaza, Lebanon’s Al Akhbar reported. – Arutz Sheva 

In the last few days, economic and social protests against the Hamas authorities in Gaza have erupted again, led by the “We Want to Live” movement and online campaign. The campaign was first launched in March 2019 to protest the high cost of living and the unemployment in Gaza, and included mass demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by Hamas’ security apparatuses. So far, the renewed campaign is largely confined to social media, but some activists warn it may soon escalate into street protests against Hamas, like the ones in 2019. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Troops from around the world have come to Israel this year to train. […]These new collaborations have many potential uses, from fighting terrorist groups to checking Iran’s attempts at controlling the region. Where belligerent actors once faced a series of isolated countries, they’ll now have to tangle with an organized alliance that is intent on opposing them—even on the battlefield. – Wall Street Journal 

Lahav Harkov writes: If Iran sticks to that model for the negotiations, the only option for the US to exit with a deal is what’s called “less for less.” […]For Israel, that option is even worse than the JCPOA, giving Iran massive funds to do what it did last time it got economic relief – ignite proxy warfare throughout the region – and remain closer to the threshold of a nuclear weapon than ever before. It is relieving pressure on Iran without receiving almost anything in return. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

At least three Kuwaiti dissidents returned to the Gulf state on Monday after being pardoned by the ruling emir, part of his efforts to ease tensions with the opposition, which has been locked in a months-long standoff with the government. – Reuters 

Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Mishaal Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah will temporarily take over some responsibilities of the Gulf nation’s ruler, state-run KUNA reported. – Bloomberg 

Michael Rubin writes: Biden’s national security team says the White House is not planning to withdraw from Iraq in the same manner that it did in Afghanistan. U.S. promises, however, are fleeting and are only good until the political mood changes or Washington needs a new scapegoat. Biden took his hit on Afghanistan, but is unrepentant. […]If Kadhimi, who for many in Washington represented a last hope, engages in the same blatant corruption as Barzani and Maliki once did, the chance that the United States will turn its back on Iraq is high. – 1001 Iraqi Thoughts 

Middle East & North Africa

Amid burgeoning relations between Jerusalem and Rabat following the normalization agreement to establish diplomatic relations last year, Defense Minister Benny Gantz will pay a visit to Morocco next week, his office said Monday. – Times of Israel 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The US is backing Palestinian unity again, every time that concept emerges it is Qatar that sees possible gains for itself. Other countries with a role, such as Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan must contend with this issue. Turkey, of course, would like a Qatar scenario in Ramallah. Egypt, the UAE, Jordan and others likely would not want that. Israel and the US may have other calculations as well. Qatar has certainly learned from its success in Kabul: Make yourself indispensable to war-weary Western countries by hosting the extremists that they want to mollify, then swoop in at the end to play peacemaker. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It’s clear that while the US spent 20 years fighting extremists, it largely ended up withdrawing and handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban. It has to partner with governments like Qatar that are authoritarian and also with groups in Iraq that are close to Iran. Meanwhile, US adversaries, who were not engaged in these “endless wars” were building their arsenals and also selling influence around the world. China was moving into Africa and South America, Russia was spreading its weight and so are Turkey and Iran.  – Jerusalem Post 


President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping used a virtual meeting Monday evening to cool tensions between the two powers as the leaders seek to manage issues they disagree on and identify ways to communicate to avert conflict. – Wall Street Journal 

In 2018, a Chinese state-controlled company bought an Italian manufacturer of military drones. Soon after, it began transferring the company’s know-how and technology—which had been used by the Italian military in Afghanistan—to China. The Italian and European authorities had no knowledge of the move, revealing how Beijing is skirting weak investment-screening in Europe to acquire sensitive technology. – Wall Street Journal 

Hu Binchen, a senior public security official in China, is set to seek election next week to the 13-member executive committee of the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol. But some human rights activists, and a group of legislators from around the world, oppose his candidacy, for fear that China misuses the police body’s powers and databases. – Washington Post 

The United States and China are profoundly at odds on how people and economies should be governed. The two powers jockey for influence beyond their own shores, compete in technology, and maneuver for military advantages on land, in outer space and in cyberspace. But they are also major trade and business partners, making their rivalry more complex than those of the Cold War, to which it is sometimes compared. – New York Times 

China Telecom Corp Ltd’s (0728.HK) U.S. subsidiary asked a U.S. appeals court on Monday to block the decision of the Federal Communications Commission to revoke the telecommunication company’s authorization to operate in the United States. – Reuters 

Sebastien Roblin writes: With its nuclear arsenal growing, Beijing cannot keep on justifying its refusal to participate in arms control by ducking behind the excuse that it possesses only a limited-capability nuclear arsenal. Let’s hope the Biden-Xi meeting is just the start of meaningful arms control arrangements like those that helped manage tensions in the Cold War and finally open substantive dialogue between the U.S. and China on avoiding nuclear war. – NBC 

Megan Greene writes: Costs are going up in China and trade tensions with the US persist. And we don’t know how the geopolitics of China will play out. What is more likely than deglobalisation is the developing “China Plus One” strategy: keep factories in China but hedge your bets with suppliers elsewhere. FDI has been growing significantly in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. – Financial Times 

Demetri Sevastopulo writes: Over the last two decades, China has stunned Washington with the relentless pace of its conventional military build-up, ranging from fighter jets and bombers to submarines and warships. Its navy is now by far the largest in the world. But the combination of the hypersonic test and the warhead warning has now focused attention on a potentially dramatic shift taking place in Beijing’s nuclear posture. – Financial Times 

Dimon Liu writes: Now that the West faces a territorially expansionist China, willing to seize and fight for land from the South China Sea to the Himalayas, it is critical to understand what is meant by the United Front and how it is being used to burrow under the skin of targeted countries. If politics is war by other means, to paraphrase the Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, then the United Front is the waging of war by stealth; and it is both consequential and lethal. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Michael Schuman writes: It’s important, though, to realize that Xi isn’t likely to see things this way. The West is convinced that political and social freedoms and economic progress are inseparable. Xi and his Communist cadres do not agree, and, in their minds, they have China’s four-decade record of triumphs to prove their point. China’s leader appears to believe that greater top-down control will ensure his country’s continued ascent, not derail it. – The Atlantic 


Myanmar’s military authorities are adding new electoral fraud charges to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her administration for abuse of power, according to a state media announcement on Tuesday. – Reuters 

American journalist Danny Fenster said he was healthy and happy to be going home after he was freed from prison in Myanmar and flew to Qatar on Monday, following negotiations between former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson and the ruling military junta. – Reuters 

Japan on Tuesday distanced itself from a visit to Myanmar by its special envoy during which, according to military-run media in Myanmar, he played a role in the release from jail of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster. – Reuters 

A group of Republican lawmakers were getting ready for a three-country swing of U.S. military partners in China’s geographic backyard last week when they got an alarming message from Beijing’s embassy in Washington. Chinese diplomats had been given a heads up about the trip that would take four senators and two members of Congress around the region, from Hawaii all the way to the embattled island of Taiwan, and they had a stern démarche: It said, in effect, don’t go. – Foreign Policy 

Anthony B. Kim writes: The United States and its allies in the region have made the strategic choice to defend the principles of the free-market, rules-based order in the region over the past several decades. However, that choice must be reinforced with stronger commitment and concrete action now more than ever. Tai’s visit to the three key countries in the Indo-Pacific region should be a practical and substantive step toward that. – The Daily Signal 


Russia conducted a strike against a Soviet-era satellite in space on Monday, creating more than 1,500 pieces of debris that U.S. officials said posed a reckless risk and showed Moscow’s insincerity when it says it doesn’t want to weaponize space. The test marked the first time that Russia has demonstrated an ability to strike a satellite using a missile launched from Earth. – Washington Post 

Editorial: Experience from 2014-15, when Russia and its proxies considered going further into Ukraine but stopped as sanctions mounted and the going proved unexpectedly tough, suggests Putin will push on until he is challenged. It is time to make clear that if he presses forward again, he will quickly meet resistance — in multiple forms. – Financial times 

David Ignatius writes: The Russian test this past weekend underlines that need for better consultation about space — the equivalent of the “hotline” that Russia and the United States adopted after the near disaster of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The idea of space as a contested domain, without common rules or communication, is chilling. – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: Unfortunately, Putin and his inner circle have a voracious appetite for weakness. They do, however, respect strength. The Kremlin would, for example, respect the new deployment of even a small number of U.S. military personnel to Kyiv. […]But the Biden administration’s current Ukraine deterrence strategy is utterly unserious. Indeed, it’s an invitation for Putin to go for the jugular. If he does so, Biden will have no one to blame but himself. – Washington Examiner 

Tom Rogan writes: The U.S. remains Vladimir Putin’s main enemy. Russia will want to leverage this success, and the ensuing debris field, to pressure the U.S. into a more concessionary stance in arms control negotiations. This test puts the Biden administration under pressure, forcing it to choose between escalation or concessionary compromise. […]This is just another wake-up call for the new era we have entered. Space is a central war-fighting domain. The Space Force has its work cut out for it. – Washington Examiner 

Ben Dubow writes: Russian dominance of atomic energy is surely no cause for celebration in its own right. When Western alternatives win tenders, as American provider NuScale just did in Romania, that meets both the goals of promoting clean energy and reducing Russian reliance. […]But by recognizing nuclear power as clean energy, the world gives Russia the leeway to take an active approach in reaching carbon neutrality. If played correctly, the end result could also stymie Russia’s future attempts at climate and energy blackmail. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


The European Union agreed to broaden its sanctions regime against Belarus over the migrant border standoff, brushing off threats by President Alexander Lukashenko to cut gas flows to the continent. – Wall Street Journal 

The British government raised its terrorism threat warning to its second-highest level on Monday, after police labeled two attacks in the past month — a car explosion outside a Liverpool hospital and the fatal stabbing of a British lawmaker — terrorist incidents. – Washington Post 

Amid a rapidly escalating border row with Poland, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he has renewed his request with Russian President Vladimir Putin to acquire Iskander missile systems for his country’s armed forces. – Defense News 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has assured Ukraine of the alliance’s backing amid what he called an “unusual concentration” of Russian forces in the area. – Defense News 

France told Russia on Monday NATO would be prepared to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine, near where NATO says Moscow has been staging a troop buildup, while Western leaders sought to tackle a migrants crisis on the eastern borders of the European Union. – Reuters 

The resurgent risk of military invasion in the heart of Europe underlines the failure of diplomatic Franco-German efforts under the so-called Normandy format to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that has been raging in eastern Ukraine over the past seven years. – Financial Times  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday there is a choice coming soon on whether to mainline more Russian hydrocarbons or to back Ukraine, peace and stability, amid rising tensions between Moscow and the West. – Reuters 

The European Union urged Switzerland on Monday to set out a clear timetable for resolving issues over its place in the EU internal market by January after breaking off talks with its biggest trading partner in May. – Reuters 

The European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic said on Monday he is “absolutely convinced” Britain and the European Union can break their impasse over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland if London engages on outstanding issues. – Reuters 

Belarus is forcing migrants to breach its borders with the European Union, and the government of President Alexander Lukashenko must be held accountable for human trafficking, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said on Monday. – Reuters 

The U.S. and its European allies are discussing potential responses if Russian President Vladimir Putin takes military action against Ukraine, including fresh sanctions on Moscow and further security assistance for Kyiv. – Bloomberg 

Boris Johnson said it would be “perfectly legitimate” for the U.K. to suspend part of the Brexit deal with the European Union, though his government still wants to negotiate a solution to their escalating trade spat. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: With its forthrightness, France has invited a conversation. There’s a perfect place to continue it. President Biden’s Summit for Democracy in December will bring together nations invested in openness, honesty and human rights. Defense against disinformation is sure to be on the agenda, but disinformation as offense ought to be, too. The answer may be to proceed with care, or the answer may be not to proceed at all. But the United States and its allies can’t find out without asking the question in the first place. – Washington Post 

Andreas Kluth writes: If Putin and Lukashenko wanted to escalate the conflict, doing so would be easy. Belarusian and Polish soldiers along the border have already fired warning shots, apparently with blanks so far. But one bullet — stray or aimed — hitting anybody in this tense situation could set off a barrage. Belarus would formally call on Russian reinforcements, Poland would invoke NATO’s treaty obligations. […]The entire Western alliance — including the U.S., NATO, the EU and their friends elsewhere — must now prevail on Moscow not to up the stakes. – Bloomberg 


Twin explosions ripped through locations in the center of Uganda’s capital during morning rush hour on Tuesday in a suspected terrorist attack targeting a police facility and a building complex housing commercial offices. – Wall Street Journal 

Despite its importance in the U.S.-China rivalry, Africa has often been overshadowed amid more pressing issues in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and even Latin America. Thus, Blinken’s trip is aimed in part at raising Washington’s profile as a player in regional and international initiatives to restore peace and promote democracy as it competes with China. – Associated Press 

Kenya’s High Court on Monday jailed four policemen found guilty of the manslaughter of Alexander Monson, the son of a British aristocrat who was found dead in a police cell in the beach town of Diani in 2012. – Reuters 

S Ovwata Onojieruo writes: However, this new attack by the South African government in line with the Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, targeted, not on the economy, but on entertainment, depicts an obvious lack of understanding about the very basic constituents of individual freedom, inter-state cooperation and international peace. It is an obvious reflection of hate, brewed in the very pots of a country whose history of hatred requires a concentration more on internal healing, than an external venting of spills. The South African government have slidden down the path of a new low, an obvious new low, worst than the apartheid. – Times of Israel  

The Americas

Cuba’s government deployed security forces in large numbers to repress a planned protest demanding democracy that has unsettled the regime, in the latest sign of rising social discontent fueled by an economic crisis. – Wall Street Journal 

Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has pleaded not guilty to a U.S. charge of conspiring to launder money, according to a court document filed on Monday, in a case that has strained already frayed relations between Washington and Caracas. – Reuters 

Guatemala on Monday extradited a son of former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli to the United States, where he and his brother face bribery and money laundering charges linked to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. – Reuters 

Editorial: Though the Cuban regime may portray the suffocation of the planned march as evidence of its strength and the freedom movement’s weakness, the opposite is true. No, its opponents were not able to carry out a more organized reprise of the sudden uprising in the streets that shook Cuba on July 11. […]That is a disastrous failure for a government whose legitimacy rests on its claim to speak not only for the Cuban people but also for downtrodden masses everywhere. – Washington Post 

Patrick J. Griffin and William Danvers write: It has been over a decade since the U.S. has had an ambassador in The Bahamas. This sends a negative signal that the relationship is not important to the U.S., playing into the hands of China. The U.S. needs an ambassador who not only knows The Bahamas but also understands the complicated political environment of Washington, and those in the Senate holding up nominations must cease and desist. Our national security is at stake. The Biden administration has an opportunity to continue with its policy toward the PRC by engaging The Bahamas as a counter to China’s efforts to expand its influence in the backyard of the U.S. – The Hill 

United States

After a federal jury convicted a Chinese spy boss of espionage earlier this month, counterintelligence officials told The Daily Beast that the case could be a seminal moment for the United States, as it works to combat a problem that has the FBI opening a new counterintelligence case into China every 12 hours. – The Daily Beast 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set up a vote this week to advance a major defense funding bill and said it will include a provision to repeal decades-old Iraq war powers. – Washington Examiner 

U.S. Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday he will add legislation to boost U.S. competitiveness with China to a massive defense policy bill the Senate is due to begin considering this week, a boost for a measure that has been stalled for months in the House of Representatives. – Reuters


In an era when extremist groups commonly organize online, the legal showdown highlights a tension between the pressure digital platforms face to remove problematic accounts and content, on the one hand, and authorities’ interest in accessing that information for real-world prosecutions, on the other. And it raises questions about what privacy protections, if any, those platforms — from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube and others — owe to people and organizations they’ve banned. – Washington Post 

Google will spend A$1 billion ($736 million) in Australia over five years, the internet giant said on Tuesday, resetting ties months after a threat to pull its services to avoid tougher government regulation. – Reuters 

Oliver Noyan writes: The West feeds this Russian “great cyberpower” narrative by failing to respond with force. European strategy in countering Russian cyberattacks often consists of naming and shaming, without any concrete countermeasures. […]It remains to be seen whether Europe will succeed in enforcing its cyber defense. But, as the German electoral experience shows, it is possible to beat back Russian hacking, provided strong, rapid measures are put in place. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Sergio Restelli writes: Pakistan has now moved its strategy of using terrorism as a tool for foreign policy to the cyber world. Already being ‘grey listed’ by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), it now fears the lurking threat of international isolation and sanctions and has now resorted to changing the nature of its warfare. Moving from proxy wars to Information warfare seems to be its current strategy of state craft. Although the players remain the same, terrorists and radical Islamists, the theatre of war is now undergoing a radical addition of cyber. – Times of Israel 


German powertrain specialist RENK Group has put down roots in the U.S. through its acquisition of L3Harris Technologies’ combat propulsion systems business, and it’s now making a play to partner with potential prime contractors who are designing replacements for the U.S. Army’s Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. – Defense News 

A new report from a Ronald Reagan Institute task force aimed at revitalizing U.S. manufacturing to compete with China recommends reskilling workers using federal education grants, investing in sectors vital to national security and boosting tech development with allies. – Defense News 

The U.S. military’s aerial refueling capability has become “brittle” and aged, placing the nation at risk of being unable to sustain combat against a major adversary, a new report from the Hudson Institute said. – Defense News 

Encouraged by the improvements in ship handling and combat systems operations after the U.S. Navy fielded virtual trainers, the surface community is hoping to further improve its readiness with a virtual maintenance trainer for the Aegis Combat System. – Defense News 

NATO is to analyse the results of its first fully-fledged technical exercise to locate, identify, and counter hostile unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) – particularly from swarm attacks. – Janes 

The Navy is taking parts from an aircraft carrier currently under construction and placing them on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) so the lead ship is ready to deploy next year, USNI News has learned. – USNI News 

Timothy A. Walton and Bryan Clark write: The US military’s aerial refueling enterprise is a critical component of its ability to project power globally in defense of American interests. As the US military adopts new concepts to enhance its lethality and gain decision advantage, aerial refueling is increasingly necessary to enable a more distributed and dynamic force. However, with an aging inventory of tanker aircraft and stiff budgetary headwinds, it is an open question whether the US Air Force is capable of fielding the aerial refueling force that the nation needs. – Hudson Institute