Fdd's overnight brief

November 18, 2020

In The News


President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has promised to move quickly to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran so long as Iran also comes back into compliance. But that vow is easier said than done. – New York Times

Iran has fired up advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges that it had installed underground at its Natanz site, in the latest breach of its nuclear deal with major powers, a report by the U.N. atomic watchdog obtained by Reuters on Wednesday showed. – Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran would fully implement its 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions on Tehran, which Zarif said could be done swiftly through “three executive orders”. – Reuters

Iran’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned Italy’s envoy, who represents Canadian interests in Tehran, to protest what it called Canada’s lack of cooperation in setting up consular services for a large Iranian-Canadian community, state media said. – Reuters

The popular Iranian newspaper Hamshahri ran two commentaries by Professor Fan Hongda of the Middle East Institute of Shanghai Foreign Studies University (SISU). The commentaries, analyzing Sino-Iranian cooperation, were published side by side on September 14, 2020. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The spokesman for the Iranian Ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, has dismissed recent reports that Iran has lost its border with Armenia. Previous reports said that Iran would lose its borderline with Armenia based on the recent Russian-brokered peace deal between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, which ended six weeks of fierce fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. – Radio Farda 

But Iran, like the rest of the world, watched its hospitals fill up quickly in the spring, and it recognized that it was facing a crisis, with uniquely dangerous dimensions. As huge crowds of Muslims gathered at some of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines, officials took a hard look at the science, and they made a radical decision. – CBS News 

Iran’s Vice President, Eshaq Jahangiri, has accused the Speaker of Iran’s Majlis parliament of having the “least possible knowledge of the economy.” During a Majlis meeting on Monday, the parliamentary speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, commented that the government should seek new sources of essential goods, suggesting an increase of customs duties. – Radio Farda

Benny Avni writes: Critics have long accused Mr. Trump of dropping the promotion of human rights as a foreign-policy tool. But his Iran policy, including the forthcoming sanctions, can make the next president’s mission—spreading American values on a global scale—much easier. Assuming that Mr. Biden accepts this mission. – Wall Street Journal 

Fabian Hinz writes: Yet, Iran’s old missile partner North Korea serves as a warning as to what can happen if one fails to address them as long as the window of opportunity is still open. After working on their capabilities in secret for years, in 2017, North Korea tested three ICBMs in rapid succession, surprising the international community and further fueling the flames of an already highly volatile international crisis. – Radio Farda 


Israel’s military said early Wednesday it struck Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria after Iran-backed fighters placed improvised explosive devices on the fence separating Israel and Syria. – Wall Street Journal 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz toured the border with Syria in the Golan Heights on Tuesday shortly after explosive devices were discovered in the area, calling the incident “very serious.” – Algemeiner 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: They have the tools, but they need US sanctions to be tweaked to allow business and investment into this part of Syria and recognition by political forces in Washington. They need official visits and more support. They don’t need more US troops. With recognition they can thrive as part of their own plan for a federal Syria in which they have a role in the postwar reconstruction and administration. Nevertheless, fears persist of a new invasion by Ankara or another zigzag in policy from Washington. – Jerusalem Post

Anchal Vohra writes: Two diplomatic visions of Syrian reconstructions continue to clash. The West insists on linking reconstruction funds to a domestic political process deemed widely legitimate, the release of thousands of political prisoners, and guaranteed safety for all Syrians. Russia, for its part, wants to make reconstruction a precondition for the return of Syrian refugees. It has tried to sell the idea that the country’s 6 million-plus refugees will only be able to go back home if the West is willing to pay to rebuild Syria. – Foreign Policy 


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians on Tuesday during a short trip to Turkey that raised the ire of Turkish officials and included no meetings with any of them. – Associated Press 

Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday approved the deployment of troops to join Russian forces at an observation post in Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal to end fighting over the enclave. – Reuters

Michael Singh and Sinan Ulgen writes: Turkey, which bridges Europe and Asia, also finds itself straddling the fault line of a seismic shift in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. strategy is consciously moving away from an emphasis on fighting terrorism and nonstate actors to a focus on great-power competition, particularly with Russia and China. Washington and Ankara have clashed on both fronts under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, disagreeing over how to fight terrorism in Syria, for example, as well as how to manage relations with Moscow. – Foreign Policy


The Palestinian Authority said it would resume cooperation with Israel after cutting off contact in May, a move that reflects Palestinian aspirations to restart peace talks with the help of the incoming Biden administration. – Wall Street Journal 

With just eight weeks remaining until US President Donald Trump is replaced in the White House by Democrat Joe Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure to to take advantage of the outgoing administration’s goodwill toward settlements to authorize a slew of illegal West Bank outposts. – Times of Israel 

On November 12, 2020, Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas-Gaza) aired an animation that depicted Palestinians killing Israeli civilians, policemen, and soldiers in Jerusalem. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

In his November 10, 2020 column, titled “Are You Going To Request A Colonial Governor From The US? Will You Call US Troops To Istanbul’s Streets?” in Turkey’s Yeni Şafak daily, which is a mouthpiece for the ruling AKP, the paper’s editor-in-chief İbrahim Karagül accuses the opposition in Turkey of treason for, among other things, its celebration of the victory of Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential election. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Lahav Harkov writes: It took a week and a half, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a congratulatory phone conversation with President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday night […]. Biden called Trump’s refusal to concede the election “more embarrassing for the country than debilitating,” and that characterization could easily describe how he would view Netanyahu’s wavering over the past 10 days. This is a hump that Netanyahu and Biden can get over – easily. The real challenges will be about policy, specifically Biden’s bid to rejoin the Iran deal and Israel’s continued construction in Judea and Samaria. – Jerusalem Post


Three rockets, apparently fired by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, landed in the U.S. Embassy complex within Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone late Tuesday, amid rising tensions with Iran in the waning days of the Trump administration. – Washington Post 

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi received a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, in which they discussed the future of cooperation between Iraq and the U.S.-led international coalition, a statement from his office said. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Just as when Senator Biden learned in the aftermath of his op-ed’s appearance in the New York Times 14 years ago, President Biden should recognize that there are no shortcuts to Iraqi stability or curtailing Iranian inroads into the country. The only solution is the long game: supporting security, stability, and the building of a resilient democratic system throughout the entirety of the country. The choice between Baghdad and Erbil is not either/or, it is both. – 1001 Iraqi Thoughts 

Colleen Scribner writes: These governments must speak out against these attacks—and should also consider providing Iraqi civil society with funds to ensure their safety. These resilient civil society leaders—seeking a more just country even after decades of sanctions, war, intervention, corruption, and poor governance—are the brightest hope for Iraq’s future and their efforts must be protected. – The National Interest 

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs said the kingdom will consider arming with nuclear weapons if Iran acquires them. – Times of Israel

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday voiced “deep concern” over the Israeli authorities’ decision to invite contractor bids to build 1,257 new settlements near East Jerusalem and said it contravened international resolutions. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia has told Yemen’s Houthis in high-level back channel talks it would sign a UN proposal for a nationwide ceasefire if the Iran-aligned group agrees to a buffer zone along the kingdom’s borders, three sources familiar with the matter said. – Reuters

Fierce fighting in southern Yemen between Emirati-backed separatists and the country’s internationally recognized government killed nearly 50 fighters this week on both sides, security officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

In his November 13, 2020 column in the Saudi state daily ‘Okaz, Osama Yamani made striking comments under the headline “Where Is Al-Aqsa Located?”. In the article he questioned the consensus regarding the centrality and sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam, which is based on the belief that it is the “first qibla,” i.e., the direction in which Muslims initially prayed, and the location of the Al-Aqsa mentioned in the Quran. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Editorial: Leaders of G-20 nations, particularly from the democracies, never should have allowed Saudi Arabia to assume the presidency of the group or host a summit while these outrages were ongoing. They will compound the error if they participate in this weekend’s events while remaining silent about the imprisoned activists. They should publicly demand that Ms. Hathloul and other imprisoned activists be freed and make clear that the Saudi regime will not have normal relations with their governments until they are. – Washington Post 

Gulf States

President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, will lead a U.S. delegation to Bahrain and Israel this week to discuss expanded economic cooperation between the two countries, a senior White House official said on Monday. – Reuters

Bahrain’s first official government delegation to Israel set off on Wednesday on the first Gulf Air commercial flight to Tel Aviv, as the two countries look to broaden cooperation after establishing formal ties in September in a U.S.-brokered accord. – Reuters

Karen E. Young writes: Attacking Iran in the twilight of his presidency would wreak havoc on the Biden administration’s objective of re-entering the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), but it would also wreck the potential growth and recovery of the Middle East from its long-term structural economic malaise worsened by the current impact of the pandemic and the collapse of oil prices. A regional war with Iran does nothing for the future stability and prosperity of the Middle East. – Al-Monitor

Oliver B. John writes: In addition to COVID-19 related job losses, low-education expatriates face active pressure from the government and Kuwait’s National Assembly (parliament) to reduce the demographic imbalance. These measures, combined with xenophobic remarks by some Kuwaiti parliamentarians and citizens also make the country an unwelcoming environment for the kinds of high-skilled workers Kuwaitis claim to want. – Middle East Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan submitted on Tuesday an official letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) demanding it take immediate action against Hezbollah’s military buildup and continued activity in southern Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post

Morocco has finished building a sand barrier in a U.N.-monitored buffer zone in Western Sahara, Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Otmani told Reuters on Tuesday, after the Polisario Front independence movement withdrew from a ceasefire. – Reuters

Former US president Barack Obama offers a bleak portrait of much of the Middle East’s leadership in his new memoir, as he reveals his views on how he still agonizes over where he applied pressure during the Arab Spring. – Agence France-Press

Sarah Feuer writes: Now that the Western Saharan roadblock has reportedly been lifted, Washington should urge Morocco to exercise restraint while asking Algeria to prevent any further Polisario mobilization. A personal appeal by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could go a long way toward defusing the situation, as could other elements of U.S. leverage[…]. Washington should therefore make clear that continued violence will kill any chance for eventual American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Germany accused Russia and China on Tuesday of preventing a United Nations Security Council committee from determining whether North Korea has breached a U.N. cap on refined petroleum imports by the isolated Asian state. – Reuters

Darcie Draudt writes: On the surface, North Korea’s response to the Biden administration may look a lot like its tactics with Obama, with the possible addition of high-level summits. But the strategic challenges are rather different. Unlike his predecessors, presumptive President-elect Biden has inherited a nuclear North Korea. Formerly taboo to even mention this in conversations with the foreign policy establishment, it’s now considered a strategic reality that requires serious thought. And savvy North Korea knows it could most certainly use this to its advantage. – The National Interest 

Richard Javad Heydarian writes: And following the historic Trump-Kim summits, the prospect of direct negotiations to facilitate a long-term solution to the crisis in the Korean Peninsula is no longer a strategic taboo. Make no mistake, Pyongyang is still a hermit kingdom with a brutal regime that boasts nuclear weapons. But now, North Korea is led by a less atavistic millennial leadership that is not obsessed with isolation, seeks a measure of economic prosperity, and seems intent on breaking out of its long held status as a Stalinist dystopia. – The National Interest 

Mitch Lerner writes: How the Biden team responds to a likely North Korean test in early 2021 may be decisive. A calm and reasonable response to what will likely be a fairly mild provocation might just prove to be a significant step on the admittedly difficult path towards progress. A hawkish response likely means a return to the same rigid stalemate that has marked a half-century of difficult U.S.-North Korean relations. – The National Interest 


To narrow the gulf between China’s urban rich and rural poor, he is trying to populate rural towns with entrepreneurs and consumers. Mr. Xi has pledged to eradicate extreme poverty this year ahead of the Communist Party’s centenary in 2021, a goal he considers critical to legitimizing his top-down approach to governance. – Wall Street Journal 

President Donald Trump’s directive barring U.S. investments in Chinese companies linked by Washington to China’s military is unlikely to deal the firms a serious blow, experts said, due to its limited scope, uncertainty about the stance of the incoming Biden administration and already-scant holdings by U.S. funds. – Reuters

On November 6, 2020, the most circulated Chinese-language Singaporean daily United Morning Paper, published an op-ed by Chinese Middle East scholar Zou Zhiqiang (邹志强), an associate professor of the Middle East Studies Institute (MESI), Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), regarding Turkey’s interferences in the geopolitics of the Middle East, North Africa, and Transcaucasia. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Joseph Bosco writes: If Biden does appoint Flournoy and adopts her no-nonsense approach to the security threat from China, it will provide bipartisan steel to Trump’s recent deterrent message to Beijing. In a tone laden with meaning, he declared “China knows what I’m gonna do” if it attacks Taiwan. Biden can reinforce Washington’s emerging strategic clarity by declaring with certainty that America will defend Taiwan. – The Hill 

Mike Rogers writes: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is working to ensure this equipment is removed and carriers are supported. The Ensuring Network Security Act would support the “rip and replace” of such equipment. This is the kind of leadership we need and action we must take to ensure that we define our economic and national security future. So to confront the challenge that China represents, it is critical that we reach across the aisle. We have to make smart investments, fuel economic growth, and build the strongest foundation of our future. We cannot do that if we are divided. – The Hill

Jacob Kurtzer and Grace Gonzales write: Having established more robust spending levels, China could seek to accelerate its current humanitarian spending. Yet, internal pressures to focus attention on domestic development priorities may constrain the government’s ambitions. Either way, traditional donors and humanitarian agencies should continue to engage with Chinese authorities to promote transparency and best practices to ensure that Chinese humanitarian assistance is coordinated with traditional donors, achieving the best humanitarian outcomes. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Pentagon on Tuesday formally announced those troop cuts, stopping short of the full withdrawal by Christmas that Mr. Trump had mused about publicly and ensuring that the war in Afghanistan will transition to a fourth American administration over almost 20 years of conflict. – New York Times 

The U.N. ‘s top official for refugees said Tuesday that if the Afghan peace process collapses and violence continues, there will be a humanitarian disaster as thousands of displaced people struggle to survive the coronavirus pandemic and the harsh winter. – Associated Press 

Speaking to reporters soon after Miller’s briefing, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien confirmed that Trump wishes to have all troops of out Afghanistan by May. Those conditions are a bit of a moving target. Pentagon officials have been saying for months that they include a reduction of violence against U.S. troops and a demonstration on the part of the Taliban that they are committed to preventing Afghanistan from becoming an al-Qaida safe haven again, in turn assuring that no further terrorist attacks against the U.S. will come out of that country. Military Times

Arif Rafiq writes: America has far greater policy challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has not abated. The economy is reeling. The nation is divided along partisan, geographic, and racial lines not seen in recent times. And the rise of China is now the paramount national security challenge of this era. With these policy priorities in mind, the Biden administration should see the Trump administration’s Taliban deal as its least bad option. It should not hesitate to fully withdraw from Afghanistan if the Taliban hold up their end of the bargain. – Middle East Institute

South Asia

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden by telephone to congratulate him on his election victory, which he said showed the strength of U.S. democracy, and he vowed to deepen strategic ties. – Reuters

Thousands of supporters of a radical Islamic scholar on Tuesday ended their sit-in in the Pakistani capital over the republishing in France of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which they deem blasphemous. – Associated Press 

China is seeding a “fake news” story about using microwave weapons to defeat Indian forces in an alleged border clash, according to Indian officials. “It’s pure and poor psyops from China,” an Indian official told the Washington Examiner. – Washington Examiner


Japan and Australia cleared the way for their militaries to work more closely together, the latest sign of coordination between U.S. allies in response to China’s rising assertiveness. – Wall Street Journal 

Three ex-Hong Kong lawmakers were arrested in connection with a disruptive protest in the legislative chamber, as the Beijing-backed government ramps up pressure on the city’s beleaguered opposition. – Bloomberg

Taiwan has grounded all of its F16 fighter jets for safety checks as rescuers continue to search for one that went missing during a training exercise, authorities said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Police in Thailand’s capital braced for possible trouble Wednesday, a day after a protest outside Parliament by pro-democracy demonstrators was marred by violence that left 55 people injured, including as many as six with gunshot wounds. – Associated Press 

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien will visit Vietnam this week, an American official and a Vietnamese source said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Taiwan refused on Wednesday to renew the license of a news channel widely seen as pro-China, effectively shutting it down, citing evidence of interference from a Beijing-friendly tycoon amid fears over China’s campaign to win support on the island. – Reuters

Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists expressed alarm over reports that China was compiling a global watch list of those who have voiced views deemed separatist, a move that would mark a major escalation in Beijing’s pursuit of its critics. – Bloomberg

Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite called for the Navy to establish a new numbered fleet closer to the border of the Indian and Pacific Oceans – perhaps out of Singapore – to more fully address the naval challenges in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of the world. – USNI News 

Josh Rogin writes: The incoming Biden administration is expected to resume high-level engagement with multilateral organizations and resume sending high-level officials to attend key multilateral events. But that will not solve the United States’ credibility and trust problems in the region overnight. Showing up is just the first necessary step. – Washington Post 

Robert A. Manning writes: Barely noticed in the U.S., China and 14 Asian nations have just signed the world’s largest trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), representing 30 percent of the world’s economy […]. To compete with not just China but a rising, increasingly integrated Asia-Pacific, any successful strategy for U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific needs to do so in all domains — military, technology, diplomacy and economics. – The Hill

South Caucasus

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States welcomed the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, but urged the warring sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan, to move ahead in pursuing a lasting political solution to the conflict. – Reuters

French and American diplomats will hold talks with Russia on Wednesday in Moscow to lift ambiguities linked to a ceasefire between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday unveiled a six-month action plan he said was designed to ensure his country’s democratic stability even as the make-up of the government was in flux. – Reuters

Thousands of Georgians unhappy over the way a recent parliamentary election was held took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi on Wednesday as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with politicians and a church leader. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Russia prefers its partners to be weak and subservient. That is why the Donbass republics, poor and incapable, like Abkhazia and other areas, are preferred. But that does not add to Russia’s strength; it means it has to prop up a bunch of poor countries. Turkey has preferred a strong Azerbaijan, while Russia preferred a weak Armenia. Time will tell if Russia played this conflict right. – Jerusalem Post


In an article for Rosbalt media titled “Covid: The Second Wave of Failures by the Authorities”, columnist Sergey Shelin advises his readers to ignore the official Covid statistics that are already contradicted by Russia’s statistical service and to focus on the excess mortality of 2020 over 2019 to view the true picture. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

While Russia, took satisfaction over the ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, because only Russia would provide the peace keeping forces and Turkey would be excluded, the result and Moscow’s hands-off policy that preceded it have come in for criticism. Kommersant’s observer Maxim Yusin thinks that the detached position that Moscow took until recently in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict undermined its prestige in the eyes of potential partners and allies. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Russia plans to establish a military base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast to serve as a logistics center for the Russian navy, according to a draft agreement between Moscow and Khartoum signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and released publicly Nov. 11. – Al-Monitor

Mathieu Boulègue writes: The current political upheaval in Belarus does not center on geopolitics, but whatever the outcome of the protest movement, Moscow will have a say, and a stake, in the looming transition of power. The Kremlin’s negative drivers of influence are heavily undermining state cohesion and societal stability through a well-known set of tools. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Afghanistan could once again become a haven for international terrorist organizations that seek to harm Western countries if foreign forces leave too abruptly, the head of NATO said Tuesday in a rare rebuke of U.S. policy, following reports that the Trump administration would withdraw thousands of troops from the country. – Washington Post 

European leaders, who have reacted enthusiastically to President-elect Joe Biden’s win, now face the challenge of following up their congratulations with action. – Wall Street Journal 

Europe will not be able to provide for its own security without U.S. and NATO help for decades to come, Germany’s defence minister said on Tuesday, rejecting French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for an independent European defence strategy. – Reuters

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden may revise plans for a major troop drawdown from Germany announced by the administration of President Donald Trump over the summer, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hungary vetoed the European Union’s 2021-2027 budget and post-coronavirus recovery fund because they would have forced it to accept immigration, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Wednesday. – Reuters

In the latest allegation that Greek authorities are illegally expelling refugees , lawyers will this week file a case at the UN human rights committee on behalf of a Syrian man living in Germany, who says he was picked up and sent to Turkey while he searched for his brother in Greece. – The Guardian

Bulgaria has blocked the start of accession talks between North Macedonia and the European Union over a history and language dispute with its neighbor. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Dimitar Bechev writes: Today’s block is not the end of the story. Talks will continue and pressure from Berlin will increase. After the March 2021 Bulgarian elections and the inevitable reshuffle of the governing coalition, there will perhaps be greater room for maneuver. Whether Zaev will still be there in Skopje by then, however, is an open question. In the meantime, nationalism and grievance will fester. For this, Bulgaria will bear the main responsibility. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Eugene Kogan writes: But without US military presence in Georgia, any idea related to the expansion of the Vaziani military airfield, the establishment of the logistic centre, or any other US military initiative in Georgia remains futile. It should be emphasized that Russia disregards soft power or instruments of diplomacy and only understands hard power. – Middle East Institute


Even before fighting started in November between the Ethiopian government and powerful military forces in the country’s northern region of Tigray, the area was home to as many as 200,000 refugees and displaced people, according to United Nations agencies. – New York Times

Abiy Ahmed left Ethiopians breathless when he became the prime minister in 2018, introducing a wave of political reforms in the long-repressive country and announcing a shocking peace with enemy Eritrea. – Associated Press 

Around three dozen people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled east, local officials said Tuesday, blaming the notorious ADF militia which has slaughtered hundreds of civilians over the past year. – Agence France-Presse

Ethiopian forces pushed towards the capital of the rebel Tigray region on Wednesday, ignoring international appeals for talks to end the conflict and denying it was targeting any ethnic group. – Reuters

President Donald Trump may withdraw nearly all U.S. troops from Somalia as part of a global pullback that includes reductions of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. officials said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday condemned the forces of Ethiopia’s rebellious Tigray region for firing rockets at the capital of neighbouring nation Eritrea over the weekend in a major escalation of a two-week conflict. – Reuters

Kyle Murphy writes: These acute conditions are common across several complex global emergencies, but the Sahel’s uniquely fragmented security environment distinguishes it from other humanitarian disasters. The proliferation of armed state and non-state actors exacerbates some of the predictable obstacles that restrict humanitarian access in other warzones. These include but are not limited to security and logistical barriers, decreased capacity of humanitarian actors, and the escalating challenge for aid organizations to navigate partnerships with regional and international stakeholders. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Americas

The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to drop drug trafficking and corruption charges against a former Mexican defense minister to allow Mexican officials to investigate him, Attorney General William P. Barr announced Tuesday in an abrupt reversal a month after the official was arrested in Los Angeles. – New York Times 

The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday issued a new license to Chevron Corp the last major U.S. oil company still operating in Venezuela, giving it until June 3 to wind down its joint ventures in the OPEC member nation. – Reuters 

Álvaro Vargas Llosa writes: The new political crisis has unmasked the country’s larger problems. Despite the commendable efforts of a group of prosecutors and judges who have had the courage to send some high-ranking politicians and business executives to jail, Peru continues to lack a criminal and civil justice system worthy of the name. And as we see at every turn, the political process continues to hinder, rather than foster, the social and economic lives of the people. – Washington Post

Ryan C. Berg writes: Reforms to consolidate and reduce the number of political parties could be achieved by raising the barriers to party formation and representation in the congress, and new laws should enforce greater transparency in campaign finance to reduce the possibility of parties serving as vehicles for corruption. While it may be comforting to know that Peru has finally settled on an interim president to shepherd the country into 2021, if Sagasti is unable to advance any political reforms, an inability to think long-term and a congress that looks out only for itself both augur poorly for Peru’s recovery. – American Enterprise Institute 

Moises Rendon, Claudia Fernandez and Estefania Perez Cuellar write: R2P is already at play in the case of Venezuela, and will continue to be relevant so long as there is a continued pattern of atrocity crimes perpetrated by the Maduro regime. The international community should continue to leverage regional organizations to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime, investigate and monitor violations, and bring to international justice those who have already committed human rights violations. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

United States

President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday he would work to rebuild international institutions he said were damaged during Donald Trump’s presidency and that his message to world leaders is that “America is back.” – Bloomberg

US President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday held his first talks since his victory with the prime ministers of Israel and India, allies of Donald Trump who has not conceded defeat. – Agence France-Presse

Tuesday’s announcement of upcoming sharp drawdowns of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in Iraq drew mixed reaction from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with Republican and Democratic critics both warning that too abrupt changes could lead to instability in the regions. – Defense News 

In an October 6, 2020 sermon at the Islamic Center of Detroit, Michigan, the imam, Dr. Achmat Salie said that both U.S. presidential candidates are Zionist puppets, and that all the decision-making in the world is done by tech companies in Silicon Valley and Israel. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Hal Brands writes: Today, leading an ambitious global vaccination program would be an investment in U.S. influence. It may seem crass to think of the fight against Covid-19 in terms of power politics, but that is the cold reality of a competitive world. If the incoming Biden administration is looking to restore American prestige, and save lives in the process, an invigorated vaccine diplomacy might be the place to start. – Bloomberg


The chief executives of Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. told lawmakers they did better in fending off election interference in 2020, while acknowledging mistakes and signaling an openness to more regulation. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. Air Force is gearing up for its first information warfare-focused exercise next year. At a newly created information warfare training facility in Playas, New Mexico, the Air Force is planning what it calls an information warfare flag in spring 2021, Lt. Gen. Chris Weggeman, deputy commander of Air Combat Command, said during a virtual conference Nov. 17 hosted by AFCEA’s Alamo chapter. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems is looking to expand its partnership with industry in several areas, including its “as a service” opportunities, an Army official said Tuesday. – C4ISRNET 

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced he had fired a Department of Homeland Security official who has publicly contradicted the president’s unfounded claims about widespread election fraud. – Bloomberg


U.S. House and Senate conferees will meet Wednesday to wrangle over the massive 2021 defense authorization bill, but they still face potentially bill-derailing fights over whether to keep plans requiring the retitling of Confederate-named bases and regarding an Afghanistan drawdown. – Defense News 

The Navy’s and Marine Corps’ capability, capacity and readiness to counter major powers like China and Russia or regional threats like Iran and North Korea was graded as “marginal” in a new survey of military power. – USNI News 

U.S. President Donald Trump will leave office with a marginally stronger military than when he entered, but he is also leaving President-elect Joe Biden with a set of more potent threats. – Defense News 

The U.S. Air Force plans to create a new wing focused on electromagnetic spectrum warfare come springtime. While plans for the new wing — the 355th Spectrum Warfare Wing — have previously been discussed, officials Tuesday provided the most in-depth details regarding its creation, functions and timeline. – C4ISRNET 

A new monument dedicated to the U.S. Navy’s F-14 Tomcat fighter, made famous by the movie “Top Gun,” will be unveiled in Pensacola, Florida, on Wednesday. – Military.com 

The U.S. Air Force is spending tens of billions of dollars every year to buy new aircraft, including F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, KC-46 tankers, the T-7A trainer jet and more. But none of those platforms makes the list of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown’s top three modernization priorities. – Defense News 

Ten winners have emerged from the first International Space Pitch Day, a joint venture between the U.S. and the U.K. designed to encourage and reward innovation that could benefit the two nations’ military endeavors in space. – C4ISRNET 

Governments in Germany and other NATO states are alarmed by reports of a significant U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during the final weeks of the Trump administration. Fears of a hasty retreat in the middle of unfinished peace talks were stoked on this side of the Atlantic by reports that new Pentagon leaders, seen as loyal to President Donald Trump, could announce a redeployment of thousands of troops this week. – Defense News 

Martin UAV is developing a new version of its V-Bat mini vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will feature increased endurance and payload capacity, according to a company official. – Jane’s 360 

Alexandra Bell writes: There is no doubt that Biden will face a slew of arms control and nonproliferation challenges, but few presidents have been better prepared for the task. To make progress, he will need to take some risks, make some difficult choices, and, at times, personally steer the work that needs to be done with foreign leaders, congressional leaders and his own staff. But if protecting the country — and the world — from nuclear risks is the goal, nothing less will do. – Defense News

Missile Defense

The Navy is on track to field a hypersonic strike weapon on submarines by 2025, the head of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs said today. Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe said the hypersonic weapon, which will be used as a conventional prompt strike (CPS) alternative to long-range nuclear weapons, “is very much a priority within the Navy.” – USNI News 

The U.S. Navy has shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean with an SM-3 Block IIA missile in a milestone test that demonstrated a potential scheme to defend Hawaii, the Missile Defense Agency announced Tuesday morning. – Defense News 

The Navy and the Missile Defense Agency proved that an Aegis ballistic missile defense ship could effectively take down an intercontinental ballistic missile and serve as a backup to a ground-based homeland defense interceptor, the MDA announced on Tuesday. – USNI News

Long War

The Trump administration is slapping new sanctions on Somalia’s al-Shabab extremist group, an al-Qaida-linked organization responsible for multiple terrorist attacks in East Africa. – Associated Press 

Six people died on Tuesday in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a restaurant near a police academy, a police spokesman and a witness said. – Reuters

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Thursday in an appeal by victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks, in one of several cases posing the question of when banks can be sued for aiding and abetting terrorism by providing financial services. – Reuters

Itamar Lifshitz and Ayal Meents write: We have already seen a glimpse of the potential damage of precision-guided systems in the hands of nonstate actors. Just as these systems have revolutionized the way conventional militaries operate, they are game-changers in the hands of nonstate actors. While arms control regimes are inherently imperfect, they help mobilize states to face significant threats. An arms control initiative could help tackle some of these challenges and move the international community to adopt a new paradigm to deal with these emerging, but very concrete, threats. – War on the Rocks 

Tom Rogan writes: Yet, where American intelligence and aviation assets are reduced, so also will the military’s ability to target the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other Salafi-Jihadist elements efficiently. Making matters worse, these withdrawals will only fuel the Taliban’s belief that it can engage with terrorist groups without American riposte. Simply put, I see no credible argument for how these withdrawals make America and Afghanistan safer. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

President Trump fired the top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, Chris Krebs, who oversaw efforts to safeguard the presidential election from foreign interference and in recent weeks disputed unsubstantiated claims of fraud advanced by Mr. Trump. – Wall Street Journal 

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday named several White House staff members amid a continued standoff with the Trump administration over cooperating with his transition effort. – Wall Street Journal 

House Republicans re-elected their top leaders in Tuesday’s internal races, keeping in place a team that largely championed President Trump, who lost his bid for a second term but was credited with boosting GOP turnout. – Wall Street Journal