Fdd's overnight brief

November 18, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran’s stockpile of near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel has jumped significantly, according to a confidential report by the United Nations atomic agency that found Tehran has almost doubled its output of highly enriched uranium in recent months, putting it closer to being able to produce the fuel needed for a nuclear weapon. – Wall Street Journal 

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan raised the prospect of an interim agreement with Iran to allow more time for nuclear negotiations, in talks with his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, according to a Wednesday report. – Times of Israel 

A hacking group “sponsored” by Iran’s government is launching disruptive cyberattacks against a wide range of U.S. companies, including healthcare providers and transportation firms, according to a cybersecurity alert published by the U.S. Homeland Security Department (DHS) on Wednesday. – Reuters  

U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi will visit Iran next week, an Iranian official said on Wednesday, as Tehran and world powers prepare to resume talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal. – Reuters 

A top delegation from the United Arab Emirates will visit Tehran soon as the Gulf state works to de-escalate tensions with Iran, senior Iranian and Gulf officials told Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters  

United States and its Arab allies in the Gulf accused Iran Wednesday of causing a nuclear crisis and destabilizing the Middle East with ballistic missiles and drones. – Agence France-Presse 

Boris Johnson said he would “certainly” consider delivering cash directly to Iran by plane to settle an old U.K. debt, if it meant Tehran would free detained British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. – Bloomberg  

So much news is happening involving Iran that it can be hard to make sense of it. Below are three key takeaways to frame the latest major developments. – Jerusalem Post 


The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday delivered a bleak assessment of the situation following the Taliban takeover, saying that an affiliate of the Islamic State group has grown and now appears present in nearly all 34 provinces. – Reuters  

The Taliban on Wednesday urged the U.S. Congress to ease sanctions and release Afghanistan’s assets as the country faces economic turmoil. – Associated Press 

Russia will evacuate 380 people from Afghanistan, including citizens of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Ukraine and Afghanistan, the RIA news agency cited the Russian Defence Ministry as saying on Thursday. – Reuters 

At least two people were killed and five wounded in a bomb blast that hit a minibus in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, officials said, the latest jihadist-claimed attack in Kabul. – Agence France-Presse 


Turkey released on Thursday an Israeli couple who had been arrested for photographing President Tayyip Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul and suspected of spying, an allegation denied by Israel. – Reuters 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country hopes to increase defense cooperation with NATO ally Spain through the purchase of a second aircraft carrier and possibly a submarine. – Associated Press 

Turkey is acquiring a new drilling ship to search for natural gas in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the country’s president announced Wednesday, amid unresolved tensions with Greece and Cyprus over Ankara’s offshore energy exploration. – Associated Press  

Michael Rubin writes: But there is a difference between recognizing that Erdoğan is not Turkey and denying that he has reshaped the country into something that will never again be a partner like it once was. Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, Kurds, and others want nothing more than Turkey to be a normal country, as peace with itself and its neighbors. To achieve that will take much more than the wishful thinking of exiles and former ambassadors, however; rather, should cancer claim Erdoğan tomorrow, Turkey would still face a long, hard slog back to normality, one which will be measured not in months but in decades. – The National Interest  


An Israeli military court on Wednesday handed down a reduced sentence to a Spanish woman who admitted in a plea bargain to raising funds for a West Bank charity that were diverted to a banned militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. – Washington Post 

Israel has charged a domestic worker employed by the country’s defense minister with espionage for allegedly offering to use his proximity to the minister to relay information to Iran, Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet said Thursday. – Associated Press 

Just over two months before Israel and China celebrate 30 years of full diplomatic relations, the presidents of the two countries, Isaac Herzog and Xi Jinping, engaged in a lengthy telephone conversation on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel is committed to the viability of a two-state resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej told an international donor parley in Oslo. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel and Jordan are set next week to sign a cooperation agreement in the areas of energy and water in the United Arab Emirates, which it helped mediate. – Jerusalem post 

Israel has still not provided evidence that six Palestinian civil society organizations are terrorist entities nearly a month after it declared them as such, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said Wednesday. – Haaretz 

Herb Keinon writes: So, according to this way of thinking, rather than banging its head against a wall and trying to stop the unstoppable, Israel should actively and discreetly engage with the Americans so as to influence the terms as much as it can, agree on a course of action if Iran violates the terms of the deal, and come to an understanding with the US as to how it can enhance Israel’s military capability in the event that Iran does break out to a bomb. – Jerusalem Post  

Anshel Pfeffer writes: In recent weeks, senior representatives of Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have been meeting with their Syrian counterparts and even visiting Damascus. President Bashar Assad is still persona non grata in the Arab capitals, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. But his regime, after long years of isolation during the Syrian civil war, is slowly being brought in from the cold.- Haaretz 

Arabian Peninsula

Prosecutors in Kuwait have detained 18 people suspected of financing Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, the newspapers Al-Qabas and Al-Rai reported on Thursday. – Reuters 

Qatar and Egypt have signed agreements to supply fuel and basic building materials to the Gaza Strip, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

Emirati and Israeli state-owned weapons makers on Thursday signed a strategic agreement in Dubai to jointly design unmanned vessels capable of carrying out anti-submarine warfare. – Reuters

United Nations on Wednesday demanded the release of two U.N. staffers detained earlier this month by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. – Associated Press 

Middle East & North Africa

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has received a significant boost in recent weeks, with key Arab countries indicating they are prepared to reengage with his regime after ostracizing it for a decade, raising hopes in Damascus for an influx of investments to help rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure and economy. – Washington Post 

Egypt is on the verge of passing a law that would allow people to be prosecuted if they publish something deemed to be fake news during an epidemic, an ostensible attempt to control disinformation in the coronavirus era. But critics fear the law could instead be used to repress those who challenge government policies during public health crises. – New York Times 

Lebanon’s central bank governor said Wednesday that he asked for an audit of transactions and investments during his tenure and the results showed no public money has been misused. – Associated Press 

Libya’s influential speaker of parliament announced late Wednesday that he will be running for president, making him the latest candidate to join the race for the country’s highest office after years of civil war. – Associated Press 

Anwar al-Zamani and Michael Knights write: The Ababil report is an example of realistic-looking disinformation that seems “authoritative enough” to be echoed by Iraqi mainstream media and across social media. This approach plays into both a societal openness to accept conspiracy theories and a willingness among Kadhimi’s competitors for the premiership to use their media organs to amplify the disinformation effort. Once in the public and elite’s information “bloodstream”, such disinformation can quickly cement conspiracy theories that are hard to later dislodge from the collective imagination. The only anti-body is rapid provision of high-quality technical intelligence by the Iraqi government itself, amplified by popular and reformist figures and media outlets. – Washington Institute 


Washington is pushing for arms-control talks with China as the country, long an atomic also-ran, has rapidly expanded its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and more weapons to carry them. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s Communist Party has issued a rare new accounting of its history that seals Xi Jinping’s place in the pantheon of the country’s greatest leaders. The document’s repercussions go beyond just rewriting the past: It sets up Mr. Xi to wield lasting influence over the country’s future as he seeks a precedent-breaking third term next year. – Wall Street Journal  

U.S. House and Senate leaders said on Wednesday that lawmakers would negotiate to try to reach final agreement on a bill to boost U.S. technology competitiveness with China and semiconductor manufacturing. – Reuters  

China needs to realize that Western countries don’t view the self-ruled island of Taiwan in a similar way to the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said. – Bloomberg  

China is releasing some oil from its strategic reserves days after the U.S. invited it to participate in a joint sale. – Bloomberg  

China is not seeking to usurp the United States on the world stage, a Chinese official said on Wednesday, amid growing concerns about Beijing’s ambition to upend the existing rules-based international order. – Newsweek 

Editorial: Whether deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan, fighting Beijing’s mercantilist trade manipulations or standing up for the rights of oppressed people in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the United States will be most effective acting in concert with other like-minded nations. The president was correct to characterize relations with China as a “competition,” though it is less likely to be simple and straightforward than protracted and risky. To manage it, the United States will, at times, need to hold dialogues with its Chinese rival. To prevail, it will need to keep faith with its allies. – Washington Post 

Editorial: The rivalry between the US and China remains wide-ranging and dangerous. The Biden-Xi talks have not altered that underlying reality. But the two leaders have begun a dialogue that they can now build on. This week’s summit meeting should become the first of many. – Financial Times 

John Bolton writes: Neither Taiwan nor strategic arms are a hot campaign topic, and China is not yet at the forefront of public consciousness. Nonetheless, issues reminiscent of China’s 1958 attacks on Quemoy and Matsu and John F. Kennedy’s 1960 drumbeat about a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union could soon again be top of mind. To ensure America’s eventual strategy is workable, political leaders need to debate the challenges so citizens can appreciate the implications of the choices they will have to make. If Mr. Biden doesn’t use his Presidency’s bully pulpit to launch that debate, his potential opponents should. – Wall Street Journal  

Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell write: One conundrum facing both presidents is their different visions about what constitutes a more stable bilateral relationship. While Washington says Beijing’s behavior on a range of issues is not that of a responsible international actor, China’s focus is on stopping what it sees as US interference in “core” interests such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, where Xi has used a tough national security law to crush the territory’s pro-democracy. – Financial Times 


The United States and Malaysia plan to sign a cooperation agreement by early next year towards improving transparency, resilience and security in the semiconductor and manufacturing sector supply chains, the two countries said on Thursday. – Reuters  

The Philippines on Thursday condemned “in strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea. – Reuters 

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen lauded military cooperation with Washington on Thursday as she commissioned the first combat wing of F-16 fighters upgraded with U.S. help to bolster the island’s defences during rising tensions between Taipei and Beijing. – Reuters   

Urgent measures are needed to strengthen the credibility of U.S. military deterrence of any potential Chinese aggression against Taiwan, according to a report from a bipartisan advisory body to the U.S. Congress published Wednesday. – Reuters  

Taiwan’s bids to join an 11-nation trade pact come with clear “political complications,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said. – Bloomberg  

A U.S. effort to show unity between two of its closest allies backfired, after Japanese and South Korean officials walked out and left the No. 2 American diplomat to face reporters on her own. – Bloomberg  

Australia’s Prime Minister today unveiled a major commitment to develop some 60 critical technologies, hours after the country’s ambassador to the US told reporters here that America’s antipodean ally is also focusing on the high-tech, non-submarine parts of the AUKUS partnership. – Breaking Defense 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged democratic nations to cooperate in regulating private virtual currencies failing which they could land up in the “wrong hands”. – Bloomberg 

Michael A. Hunzeker writes: As the United States talks more and more of defending Taiwan from an attack from the mainland, Taiwan’s military seems to be taking its defense preparations less and less seriously. […]Storm clouds are gathering, and the stark reality is that one day soon Washington might find it necessary to send Americans into harm’s way to defend Taiwan. Washington, therefore, has a profound moral obligation to do everything in its power to make sure that Taiwan is doing everything in its power to provide for its own defense. – War on the Rocks  


Russia said on Wednesday it would deploy a new paratroop regiment on annexed Crimea by the beginning of December and complained about a British deal to boost Ukraine’s navy which it said showed British military activities were expanding near its borders. – Reuters  

American officials are unsure why Russian President Vladimir Putin is building up military forces near the border with eastern Ukraine but view it as another example of troubling military moves that demand Moscow’s explanation, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.- Associated Press 

Russia’s decision to make the Dubai Airshow the international debut of its Su-75 Checkmate is no coincidence, with Moscow actively positioning its fighter as an alternative for those who are having trouble buying the American-made F-35. – Breaking Defense 

Russia’s direct ascent anti-satellite launch Monday is adding urgency to the U.S. Space Force’s efforts to better defend U.S. space assets, and has left the Pentagon questioning the implications of Russia’s decision to launch, even when it put its own cosmonauts in danger. – Defense One 

The U.S. State Department has officially added Russia to its register of the world’s “worst violators” of religious freedom, a list that includes Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and five other countries. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Rebekah Koffler writes: Alarmingly, Washington is as unprepared for Mr. Putin’s star wars as it was for Russia’s determination to wage cyberwarfare. Monday’s test executed only a single page out of Mr. Putin’s playbook, which includes lasers, jammers and other satellite killers. Before the situation in Ukraine escalates into war, the Pentagon had better develop a strategy to counter Mr. Putin’s plan for Space Armageddon. – Wall Street Journal 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Putin’s response to the recent jump in European gas prices and the subsequent pleas that Russia alleviate the crisis was pointedly lukewarm. Nor was he eager to slap Lukashenko on the wrist when he threatened to cut off gas transit in response to European Union sanctions. […]While the process runs its course, Putin needs to walk the thin line between keeping up the pressure and alienating the German government — and that means he will likely refrain from any abrupt moves in the coming months. In a way, he’s on the hook — at least as long as Nord Stream 2’s coming online remains a highly likely outcome. – Bloomberg 

Mathieu Boulègue writes:  In the meantime, the military foot-stomping reminds Ukraine and its Western allies that Russia retains so-called escalation dominance, the ability to dial up or dial down the political temperature at will. This makes Western policy especially hard to calibrate, but also requires increased vigilance. In the coming weeks, it will be crucial to look out for the more covert Russian signals of potential renewed aggression, for instance, troop movements by local proxies in Donbas. – Center for European Policy Analysis  

Alexander Gabuev writes: If one day, for example, Beijing wants Russia to stop arming India and Vietnam, how will Moscow refuse if the Chinese market is the major source of revenues filling the Kremlin’s coffers? […]Those Russian policymakers who voice caution are likely to lose the internal battles in the Kremlin’s corridors of power. The winners will be the people whose overriding goal is to build a pipeline through half of Eurasia at an inflated price. – Financial Times 

Ivana Stradner writes: As Putin continues to defend traditional values in Russia, the U.S. might invest in a group of Russian-speaking social media influencers (much as the CIA created the image of a modern artist Jackson Pollock during the Cold War) to promote liberal values and freedoms to young Russians. The U.S. should also provide online platforms to young Russian artists who have been silenced by the Kremlin. – Defense One 


Lukashenko’s regime is now struggling over what do with thousands of stranded people he lured from the Middle East and beyond — and the man often called Europe’s last dictator is trying to save face after trying to punish his neighbors over sanctions. – Washington Post 

European Union foreign ministers have adopted new sanctions on the government of Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the Belarus leader, who has already been sanctioned for fraud in claiming a sweeping re-election victory in August and for a subsequent harsh suppression of dissent. – New York Times 

Britain’s top Brexit official lowered the temperature in the U.K.’s trade feud with the European Union on Wednesday, saying he believes it is possible to reach agreement with the bloc. – Associated Press 

President Emmanuel Macron hosted former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for a meeting at the Elysee palace on Wednesday, a rare honour signalling support for a rival of Brazil’s far-right incumbent with whom the French leader has traded barbs. – Reuters  

Germany may at first have been naive in some areas of cooperation with China, but should not sever all connections in reaction to growing tensions, Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Reuters. – Reuters  

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. […]The fuse on the Balkans’ powder keg has been lit. It must be stamped out before the region, and even Europe itself, is engulfed in fire. – New York Times 

Max Bergmann and Benjamin Haddad write: Over the last two years, the EU has proved that it can undertake massive policy initiatives. While the U.S. Congress struggles to pass climate legislation and regulate Big Tech, the EU is leading the way globally with its European Green Deal and its digital markets and services acts. The European Union can do big things, and the United States should encourage the EU to think big and act boldly on defense, because European security is badly in need of an overhaul. Now is the time for Europe to step up and launch the defense effort the European Union and NATO need. – Foreign Affairs  


Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that the civil war in Ethiopia was risking the stability of Africa’s second-most populous nation, and said that regional allies such as Kenya were critical to ending the conflict and other regional crises. – Wall Street Journal 

Thousands of people have been detained in Ethiopia’s capital since the government declared a state of emergency over the country’s intensifying war, the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission estimated Wednesday, as ethnic Tigrayans report being targeted for their identity alone. – Associated Press 

A pro-military minister in Sudan says time is running out for the country’s deposed prime minister to agree to take a post in a military-led government after top generals seized power last month.- Associated Press 

The U.N. special envoy for Somalia urged the country’s political leaders to redouble efforts to ensure that the entire Federal Parliament is elected before the end of the year so that presidential elections can be held “as soon as possible.” – 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 

Security forces shot dead at least 15 people and wounded dozens as thousands of Sudanese took to the streets on Wednesday on the deadliest day in a month of demonstrations against military rule, medics said. – Reuters  

Washington on Wednesday removed Nigeria from its list of countries with religious freedom concerns, just a day before Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in the country as part of a tour of Africa. – Reuters 

At least 43 people have died following raids by gunmen in Nigeria’s Sokoto state this week, three times more than the initial death toll given by officials, a spokesman for the state governor said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

The United States is warning pilots that planes operating at one of Africa’s busiest airports could be “directly or indirectly exposed to ground weapons fire and/or surface-to-air fire” as Ethiopia’s war nears the capital, Addis Ababa. – Associated Press

The Americas

A federal jury in New Jersey convicted three El Salvadoran nationals in the international criminal gang MS-13 of murder and racketeering offenses, the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

Mexico’s economy minister rebuked the United States ahead of a North American leaders summit for pursuing what she described as protectionist policies that were liable to backfire and spur immigration. – Reuters  

Earl Anthony Wayne writes: Getting U.S.-Canada-Mexico cooperation right would give a big boost to all three countries. […]With a robust action agenda blessed by the leaders, the three governments could then work with private and citizen stakeholders who are so essential to success in achieving concrete advances for North America. This work between leaders’ meetings will be vital for building and sustaining progress. The moment is ripe for the summit to create a robust North American work plan and help all three countries rebound from the pandemic and demonstrate the promise of cooperation. – The Hill 


The Senate could consider the annual defense authorization bill as soon as Thursday after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., abandoned a controversial push to merge it with sweeping China-focused legislation. – Defense News 

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s chief information officer detailed today the extensive modernization initiative underway for the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, or JWICS, which is the top-secret network for the entire federal government and probably the DIA’s most recognizable brand. – Breaking Defense 

Kris Osborn writes: Retiring the Block 30 aircraft would leave the Air Force with a performance gap in an already “surveillance starved” military. By adjusting tactics though, such as flying at altitudes less vulnerable to enemy air defenses, large unmanned aircraft like the Global Hawk could continue to add unique value to the battlefield. In contrast, U-2 surveillance planes are manned and therefore require greater risks. Also, unlike manned spy planes, the Global Hawk can operate for more than twenty-four hours without the interference created by the needs of a flight crew. – The National Interest 

Long War

Fifty-three people were killed in a weekend attack on a gendarmerie post in Burkina Faso, an updated government toll showed on Wednesday, as President Roch Kabore responded to a public outcry over the worst strike on security forces in years. – Reuters 

Indonesia’s counter-terrorism police have arrested a member of a top Islamic council on charges of raising funds for the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group blamed for deadly bombings, police said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

Indian troops have killed seven suspected militants in Kashmir this week, including a district commander, in an offensive following recent killings by militants, police said on Wednesday. – Reuters