Fdd's overnight brief

November 17, 2021

In The News


Iran has resumed production of equipment for advanced centrifuges at a site the United Nations’ atomic-energy agency has been unable to monitor or gain access to for months, diplomats familiar with the activities said, presenting a new challenge for the Biden administration as it prepares for nuclear talks. – Wall Street Journal 

An oil pipeline in the Iranian village of Ramis in the Khuzestan Province exploded on Wednesday morning, Iranian news outlet Tasnim reported. – Reuters 

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed U.S. sanctions against Tehran and the future of the 2015 nuclear deal before negotiations to revive the ailing accord resume on Nov. 29. – Bloomberg 

A hacktivist group calling itself Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) has rocked the Iranian establishment in recent months by leaking videos and confidential documents that appear to show the systematic mistreatment of inmates at Iran’s most notorious prison. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 

Iran and its elite Quds Force appear to be behind a recent attempted killing of an Israeli in Colombia, despite original reports that the incident had been plotted by Hezbollah, Israel Hayom has learned. – Arutz Sheva 

Seven decades after the 1953 coup in Iran that toppled the country’s prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, a fundamentally distorted portrait of this highly controversial event continues to cast a shadow on elite judgments about the virtues of American power. For generations of liberal politicians and professors, the coup has provided an upsetting narrative in which a malevolent America strangled a nascent Persian democracy because Iran dared to nationalize its oil. – Commentary Magazine 

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror writes: After several months of uncertainty and delay, Iran has announced its return in November to talks in Vienna regarding a return to the 2015 nuclear deal […]Iran could drag the talks out again and things could end back at square one. Moreover, Iran now openly threatens that the talks will fail unless the United States offers guarantees that would bind future administrations’ behavior. Any such attempt to enshrine the agreement as a formal treaty, however, would require ratification by the Senate; the necessary two-thirds majority is nowhere in sight. – Arutz Sheva 


Facebook revealed Tuesday it had worked to block a hacker group that targeted the accounts of people tied to Afghanistan’s then-government and security forces as the Taliban was moving in to take power.The Pakistan-based group, known as SideCopy, used “romantic lures” from what appeared to be young women on the platform to try to trick the targets into giving the hackers access to their pages. – Agence France-Presse 

Many embassies in Kabul remain closed following the collapse of Afghanistan’s previous government, fuelling a black market for visas sought by citizens desperate to leave the country. The Taliban’s takeover of the capital in August forced thousands of Afghans to flee the strife-torn nation but many remain and are willing to pay exorbitant sums to buy a visa. The new government restarted issuing passports in October. – Financial Times 

In an exclusive interview with Newsweek conducted at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Moscow, Russian special representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, a seasoned diplomat with decades of experience across the region, gave an in-depth view of how he and his nation sought to work with regional partners to reduce the suffering of Afghans by prioritizing humanitarian aid, while at the same time empowering the more moderate elements of the ruling Taliban to take on transnational militants and establish a “normal” country after decades of war. – Newsweek 


Turkey’s foreign minister said Tuesday his country is ready to offer whatever support it can to help mend relations between Lebanon and Gulf Arab nations, embroiled in an unprecedented diplomatic rift. – Associated Press 

Turkish authorities have issued a 40-day temporary custody order for a man considered a suspect in the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and placed him in a prison in Istanbul, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported. – Associated Press 

Turkey’s interior minister claimed on Tuesday that an Israeli couple detained by Turkish authorities was engaged in “political and military espionage,” a charge Israel vehemently denies. – Algemeiner 

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE’s de facto ruler, will visit Turkey for the first time in years as the regional rivals work to repair frayed relations, two Turkish officials said on Monday. – Reuters 

Soner Cagaptay writes: To rebuild his shrinking base, he likely feels compelled to create a narrative of good ties with President Biden and return Turkey to its past record of economic growth—which means allaying market fears over Turkey’s military intentions and jumpstarting financial inflows. A fresh incursion into Syria would undermine this strategy by increasing tensions with Washington and, perhaps, spurring congressional sanctions. Erdogan may therefore opt to delay military action for the time being, or at least keep it small in order to minimize the negative U.S. reaction. – Washington Institute 


US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield toured Israel’s northern and southern borders on Tuesday, with IDF officials briefing the envoy on the diverse array of security challenges posed by Iran’s influence in the region. – Times of Israel 

New Shin Bet security service chief Ronen Bar met last week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, according to Hebrew media reports Tuesday. The two reportedly discussed security coordination in the West Bank and efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. – Times of Israel 

Top Israeli officials on Tuesday called on world powers to take action against Iran, ahead of the scheduled resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna later this month, while warning that Jerusalem was prepared to act alone if necessary against the Islamic Republic. – Times of Israel 

Middle East & North Africa

The United States is moving forward with the $23 billion sale of 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a State Department official said Tuesday. – The Hill 

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. The report also noted that Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel is expected to visit Israel soon. – Arutz Sheva 

Syria’s state-run media said Israel carried out an attack on the country’s south early Wednesday with two missiles targeting an empty house and causing no casualties. The missiles came from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and aimed at the building south of the capital Damascus, the state-run news agency SANA said. It said Syria’s defense systems intercepted one of the incoming missiles. The attack caused no losses, the agency said. – Associated Press 

Saudi Arabia is no longer considering purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense system following the kingdom’s deal for an American alternative. – Defense News 

Powerful Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter on Tuesday announced his bid to run for president, submitting his candidacy as next month’s long-awaited vote faces growing uncertainty. The candidacy of Hifter, a divisive figure in Libya, had been widely expected. He filed his candidacy papers in the eastern city of Benghazi and announced in a video that he is seeking the country’s highest post on Dec. 24 to “lead our people in a fateful stage.” – Associated Press 

Mohammed Ahmed Gain writes: Countries in the Sahel are increasingly saddled with debt and must use their resources to service foreign loans, while Europeans are reluctant to collaborate on building infrastructure and development projects. Multilateral collaboration between Western powers and Sahelian countries is necessary to ensure development and security in one of the poorest regions of Africa; without it, all initiatives will likely prove futile. – Middle East Institute 


China and the United States reached an agreement to loosen restrictions on journalists operating in each other’s countries, marking one of the first diplomatic breakthroughs between the Biden administration and Beijing as leaders from both countries met on Monday to keep tensions from spiraling into conflict. – Washington Post 

President Biden and President Xi Jinping of China have agreed to explore talks on arms control, a top White House official said, a day after the two used a virtual meeting to emphasize the need to avoid conflict on regional security and economic matters. – Wall Street Journal 

China and the world must work together to boost global economic growth, Vice President Wang Qishan said, vowing that Beijing will continue opening up more to foreign investment at a time when more countries are raising barriers over national security concerns. – Bloomberg  

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he made clear to China’s Xi Jinping that his administration stands firmly behind the United States’ longstanding “One China” policy but he also noted that the self-ruled island of Taiwan ultimately makes its own decisions. – Associated Press 

Biden is facing bipartisan pressure from Congress to snub China at the 2022 games as some senators seek to force a diplomatic boycott as part of annual defense policy legislation hitting the Senate floor this week. – Politico 

David Ignatius writes: This crucial exchange between Biden and Xi was outlined Tuesday by a knowledgeable senior U.S. official. While the two leaders didn’t endorse a specific follow-up plan to discuss strategic stability, the conversation could signal a new phase in what has become an increasingly antagonistic relationship. And it could reduce the risk of an accidental stumble into a military crisis over Taiwan or other issues. […]Monday night’s discussion touched the bedrock of what matters most in the U.S.-China relationship, and it was at least a beginning of something that could reduce the risk of a global catastrophe. – Washington Post 

Joseph Bosco writes: With his new stature as “emperor for life,” Xi may well believe his time to end the generations-long delay on incorporating Taiwan has arrived. Hopefully, Biden emphatically disabused him of that temptation by making clear that war with Taiwan means (a) war with the United States and its allies and (b) instant U.S. diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. […]Nevertheless, the president should follow up their conversation by demanding that Xi publicly renounce China’s use of force to take Taiwan, or Biden will publicly announce America’s intent to use force to defend Taiwan. – The Hill 


Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on Tuesday to a ceasefire at their border, the Armenian defence ministry said, after Russia urged them to step back from confrontation following the deadliest clash since a war last year. – Reuters 

Australia’s prime minister on Wednesday said more than 60 areas of technology were critical to the national interest and promised millions of dollars in funding to keep strategic rivals from controlling industries from cyber security to medicine. – Reuters 

President Joe Biden reignited confusion about his administration’s approach toward Taiwan hours after a lengthy virtual summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, providing an early test of whether the countries can move past the issue after a generally positive meeting. – Bloomberg 

The U.S. intends to initiate a new economic framework for the Indo-Pacific in 2022, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said, as the Biden administration aims to reinvigorate America’s standing in the region. – Bloomberg 

Australia will need to be able to conduct ministerial discussions with China as part of a process for the world’s second-largest economy to join a regional trade agreement, Trade Minister Dan Tehan said. – Bloomberg 

Seven Azerbaijani service members were killed and 10 more were wounded in clashes with Armenia on the border between the two ex-Soviet nations, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday. Armenian officials reported one casualty and said 13 of their troops were captured during Tuesday’s hostilities, while 24 more have gone missing. – Associated Press 

Armenia has asked Russia to help defend its territorial sovereignty against Azerbaijan after a reported heavy border clash, Russia’s TASS news agency said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

The People’s Liberation Army has deployed at least one long-range strategic H-6K bomber to its borders with India in a move meant as a warning to the Indian military not to escalate tensions over winter, analysts said. – Business Insider 

Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi is facing more charges, having been accused of “election fraud and lawless actions” by the military government. – BBC  

Editorial: Democracies should be working as hard as autocracies to steer countries with nascent Internets to their ways of doing business. Central Asia might, by virtue of geography and history, be especially hostile territory for this endeavor. But the United States and its allies should nonetheless embrace and prioritize a policy of vigorous digital diplomacy, instead of sitting back as China and Russia attempt to export repression. – Washington Post 

Charles Sullivan writes: Central Asia’s elites recognize that the ties which bind them to Russia are stronger and more plentiful than their links to America — for example, each country benefits from remittances from a significant number of migrant workers earning a living in Russia. […]Thus, America’s future involvement in Central Asia will be limited to a diplomatic presence and some business ties, while Russia works to sustain its hegemony. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Russian officials on Tuesday rejected accusations that they endangered astronauts aboard the International Space Station by conducting a weapons test that created more than 1,500 pieces of space junk but a White House official said the move by Russia would threaten activities in space “for years to come.” – Associated Press  

US intelligence assessments suggest a “high probability” that Russia may be planning further military aggression against the country, according to Ukraine’s deputy defence minister. While Ukraine and other western allies have yet to reach a definitive conclusion, Washington’s warning has raised the level of alert to its highest since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Kyiv. – Financial Times 

Editorial: Vladimir Putin is on a roll. Moscow is massing troops along Ukraine’s borders while Russian ally Belarus launches a refugee attack on NATO’s eastern flank. Now the emboldened Russian leader has opened a new front with a provocation in space. […]President Trump created the new Space Command that is supposed to counter these threats, though it isn’t clear what it has been doing that the Air Force wasn’t. There’s no time for bureaucratic dawdling, as the threats in space are growing as much as they are on land and sea. – Wall Street Journal  

Peggy Hollinger writes: Russia’s deliberate destruction of a failed satellite this week was rightly condemned by the US as reckless, dangerous and irresponsible. […]As traffic accelerates, more investment is urgently needed in better infrastructure and regulation. This requires the support of all nations and commercial actors. If a civil regime has been developed for international aviation, it should be possible in space. Moscow may not have intended to spur better governance with its test, but it should be a wake-up call. There will be no prosperous global space economy if the environment is trashed before most of the world gets off the ground. – Financial Times 

Emil Avdaliani writes: The ground is now prepared to seek a reversal of the West’s geopolitical gains and cast aside the wishes of the people of Ukraine and Georgia. The push against aspiring liberal democracies is now gathering pace, timed to coincide with a wider geopolitical shift, namely the recalibration of US foreign policy to east Asia. – Center for European Policy Analysis  

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 


A standoff between Belarus and the European Union over refugees stuck at the border between them is exposing cracks within the bloc, with eastern countries on the front line saying Germany is sidelining them in the confrontation. – Wall Street Journal 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday and said bilateral ties had made their armies stronger. – Reuters 

Polish security forces fired water cannon at rock-throwing migrants on the border with Belarus on Tuesday, and NATO reiterated its support for Warsaw in a crisis that has left thousands stranded on the frontier in icy temperatures. – Reuters  

The United States is paying very close attention to Bosnia’s political crisis and has tools it can use against the divisive nationalist leaders in the war-scared, multiethnic Balkan country who would try to “tear it apart,” a senior U.S. official said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

Germany’s network regulator said Tuesday that it has suspended its procedure to certify the operator of a new pipeline that would bring Russian gas to the country under the Baltic Sea because of an issue with the company’s status under German law. – Associated Press 

Srecko Latal writes: A Serb strongman, who for years exploited ethnonationalist feelings to claim more power, publicly pledges to break his country apart, threatening to set off cascading conflict. The West, distracted by its own problems, barely notices. […]They should revive their “carrot and stick” strategy — combining sanctions, concessions and financial resources — they successfully wielded in the Balkans in the past. That way, Western officials can bring key local and regional leaders to the negotiating table where differences can be thrashed out, checking the pernicious influence of other countries in the process. – New York Times 

Constanze Stelzenmüller writes: The nuclear ban treaty is seen by Washington, Paris and London — and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s outgoing government, in which the SPD is a junior partner — largely as a distraction from arms control talks that actually include nuclear powers. But Norway, a Nato founding member, also wants to be an observer. If Germany does the same, the critics fret, other western European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy might follow. The result: an east-west split in the alliance, and quiet satisfaction in the Kremlin. – Financial Times  

Pierre Morcos writes: Stronger Franco-American ties must also be embedded in a larger effort to increase transatlantic cooperation through NATO and EU-U.S. channels. This is all the more important as both organizations are developing forward-looking strategies. A final condition for success will be revived relations between France, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Restoring strong defense, security, and economic cooperation between these countries will be critical. This is a challenging but essential task, as proved by the France-U.S. experience. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


For the past year, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been waging a grisly war against Tigrayan rebels in the country’s northernmost region. Tigrayans had dominated the Ethiopian government and army for decades until Mr. Abiy took power in 2018 and sidelined their leaders. But since the war began, the Tigrayans have routed the Ethiopian army in Tigray, swept south, recently captured two strategic towns and threatened to advance toward the capital. – New York Times  

Israel’s normalization of ties with Sudan, announced last year, had raised fears among the migrants that they would lose their migrant status and be forced to return. Now, weeks after a military coup derailed Sudan’s transition to democracy, they dread being forcibly returned to a country under the full control of generals blamed for past atrocities. – Associated Press  

Climate change and security in Ethiopia, Sudan and the Sahel are set to top the agenda as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Nairobi on Wednesday to visit three of the continent’s major players: Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal. – Reuters 

Gunmen have killed at least 15 people in Nigeria’s northwest, the Sokoto state governor said, the latest incident in a spiral of violence in Africa’s most populous country. The gunmen stormed communities in Sokoto state and raided houses from Sunday night into Monday morning, Gov. Aminu Tambuwal said in a statement, just days after nearly 30 people were shot dead across remote communities across Nigeria’s troubled north. – Associated Press 

The U.N. human rights office is citing reports that authorities in Ethiopia have detained at least 1,000 people, most of them of Tigrayan origin, under a state of emergency the government declared earlier this month after a brutal yearlong war with rival Tigray forces. – Associated Press 

Islamic extremist violence is ravaging Burkina Faso, killing thousands and displacing more than 1 million people. And people are going missing. Reports of missing relatives quadrupled from 104 to 407 between 2019 and 2020, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which defines a missing person as someone whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for and requires state intervention. – Associated Press 

Michael Rubin writes: As Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes his first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa and as Jeffrey Feltman, his Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, continues his efforts to pull the region back from the brink, there could be no better policy prerogative than ending state-sponsored slavery in Africa once and for all. – 19FortyFive 

The Americas

President Biden on Tuesday began selling his $1 trillion infrastructure law, making the case that the money would do more than rebuild roads, bridges and railways. The law, he said, would help the United States regain its competitive edge against China. – New York Times 

American allies remain, on average, more democratic than the rest of the world. But nearly all have suffered a degree of democratic erosion since 2010, meaning that core elements like election fairness or judicial independence have weakened, and at rates far outpacing average declines among other countries. – New York Times 

Senator Marco Rubio placed holds on President Joe Biden’s ambassador picks for China and Spain, a procedural move that will add to the delays the White House has faced getting its envoys to embassies around the world. – Bloomberg 

The Chilean Senate late Tuesday rejected an opposition-initiated impeachment process to remove President Sebastian Pinera over allegations that he favored the sale of a family property that hinged on the government not declaring the land a nature reserve. – Associated Press 

The United States on Tuesday imposed an entry ban on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, his vice-president wife and his government, after elections that were internationally dismissed as illegitimate. – Agence France-Presse 

Alexander William Salter writes: A foundational principle of space law is that space “shall be free for exploration and use by all States.” That principle has no force if rogue nations can litter in orbit without consequence. The U.S. should make mitigating space debris a priority. This means leading the charge in curbing tests of antisatellite weapons. – Wall Street Journal 


Cybersecurity researchers say they have uncovered evidence that Belarus has been involved in a hybrid hacking and disinformation campaign against Eastern European NATO members since 2016 that aimed to sow discord in the military alliance, steal confidential information and spy on dissidents. Associated Press 

Technology sold by Israeli spyware company Candiru appears to have been used for a campaign of cyberattacks targeting high-profile Middle Eastern websites, an analysis by cybersecurity firm Eset said Tuesday. Agence France-Presse 

Lennart Maschmeyer  writes: In short, cyber operations do not enable a new strategic space but rather offer new tools to pursue strategies of subversion. As such, explaining and prevailing in cyber conflict does not require new strategic theory. Rather, building on existing knowledge on strategies of subversion and their limitations promises key insights. Cyber operations share not only the strategic promise, but also the operational challenges, of subversion. – War on the Rocks 


In an exclusive interview with CBS News, General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the No. 2 person in the U.S. military, revealed new details of last summer’s Chinese hypersonic weapons test, which sent a missile around the world at more than five times the speed of sound. – CBS News 

Satellite imagery provider Planet Federal says the National Reconnaissance Office has once again extended its contract with the company, giving the intelligence agency access to new commercial capabilities. – Defense News 

Japanese and U.S. fleets met this week for a first-ever anti-submarine warfare exercise in the South China Sea, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force said today. – USNI News 

David Barno and Nora Bensahel write: The U.S. military has grown accustomed to fighting battles where it holds almost all the cards, and the enemy is the underdog. Those days are now almost certainly over. Unexpectedly, our class last month taught us that today’s military forces may not fully understand how much future U.S. wars will differ from their experiences in the most recent ones. – War on the Rocks 

Long War

Twin blasts in the busy heart of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Tuesday killed at least three people and wounded another two dozen, a Health Ministry spokesman said. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blasts and said that three of its operatives died in the attack. Washington Post 

British authorities are scrambling to understand the motives of the suspected bomber in a Liverpool taxi explosion who died in the blast, but that hasn’t stopped them from quickly declaring the incident a terrorist attack. – Washington Post 

A Syrian man who allegedly supported the Islamic State group’s ideology has been charged with making preparations for an attack in Germany, prosecutors said Tuesday. – Associated Press  

Sarit Zehavi writes: The radical Shiite axis is working tirelessly to strengthen and increase its offensive power from Syria and Lebanon. The Iranians, through their Quds Force, are working closely with Shiite militias and Hezbollah to place advanced weapons of war on Syrian and Lebanese soil. Precision guided surface-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles and UAVs constitute a weapons arsenal that is an increasing challenge for the enemies of the Shiite axis […]As far as Hezbollah is concerned, the drug industry is also a vital economic business that contributes to the organization’s budget, as well as a religious decree against various peoples, religions, and communities. – Arutz Sheva