Fdd's overnight brief

November 20, 2020

In The News


An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader who is a possible 2021 presidential candidate is warning that any American attack on the Islamic Republic could set off a “full-fledged war” in the Mideast in the waning days of the Trump administration. – Associated Press

A fire in a petrochemical factory in southwestern Iran on Thursday led to the death of one worker and injured four others, Iranian state TV reported. – Associated Press

Destabilizing actions by Iran have continued and “increased in scope and severity” since last year, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East. – The Hill

Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman warned on Thursday that the U.S. would go back to a “much worse time” if President-elect Joe Biden moves to quickly rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. – The Hill

President-elect Joe Biden is facing mounting hurdles to reenter the Iran nuclear deal as the Trump administration uses its final days in office to try to cement its so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran. – The Hill

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have added a warship capable of carrying aircraft, missile launchers and drones to its naval fleet, state media said on Thursday, at a time of high tension between Tehran and Washington. – Reuters

One year after protests that were harshly suppressed by the Iranian authorities, grief over the hundreds of mainly young lives lost is matched by anger over the lack of accountability for a crackdown whose scale is only now beginning to emerge. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian state shipping routes are continuing to evade U.S. sanctions by operating via a complex network of companies and subsidiaries registered in Hong Kong, dozens of which are traceable to a purported individual in Shanghai named on publicly available records as Shen Yong, a recent RFA investigation has revealed. – Radio Farda

An Iranian court has sentenced three activists to long prison terms four years after they were arrested for celebrating the birthday of an ancient Persian ruler at a public gathering criticized by Iran’s Islamist rulers, according to a knowledgeable source. – VOA News

Ever since President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Suleimani, Western spies have been alert to clues as to where and how Iran might retaliate. Some think the blow may fall in Africa, where Iran has spent years building up covert networks and where it faces little scrutiny from local governments. – The Economist

Jonathan Spyer writes: Iran policy may soon be subject to significant change under a new US administration. Any attempt to renegotiate an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is likely to include reference to the paramilitary and irregular military activity undertaken in a variety of locations by Iran – in the Mid-East region and beyond. The ongoing Iranian campaign of terror in Europe should form a major part of that discussion. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Islamic Republic may be under tough sanctions, but it continues to increase its uranium-enrichment and weapons programs. Israel’s airstrikes near the Golan are just one example of how the continued “message” to Iran is not being received in Tehran, and assertions that it is isolated are only part of the story. Iran is suffering a setback through Israel’s increase in relations in the region. But Iran’s regime believes it is winning. This presents two narratives – one from Tehran and one from Washington – in which both sides think they defeated the other in the last four years. – Jerusalem Post

Evan Saltzman writes:  Whether or not you agreed with the agreement five years ago, it would be foolish to ignore its shortcomings when negotiating a new deal. Sanctions implemented under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign have weakened the regime. With an economy in shambles, a region putting aside old differences to unite against it and growing domestic unrest, the United States has profound leverage if It plays its cards right. A new agreement must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and eliminate the “sunset provisions”. Otherwise, the Biden administration should sit tight and maintain maximum pressure. – Times of Israel

Alex Vatanka writes: The simple truth is that over the last 20 years or so Iran has chosen to prioritize the Arab world as its regional focus. When the Armenian-Azerbaijani war was raging in the early 1990s, Iran could play a credible role as an independent broker. It cannot do so now because it has lost so much leverage and has opted to let Moscow shape Iranian interests in the South Caucasus. It is a strategy bound to put Iran’s interests in the South Caucasus at the mercy of Russia, and Iran is already paying dearly for it. – Middle East Institute


Although the Islamic State extremist group is battered and scattered, it cannot be fully defeated until the world finds a way to reconcile and resettle the thousands of people displaced by years of war in Iraq and Syria, the general overseeing American military operations in the Mideast said Thursday. – Associated Press

The terrorist cell responsible for anti-personnel mines and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the Golan Heights is being operated by Iran’s Quds Force, according to the IDF. – Jerusalem Post

The Syrian government on Thursday condemned the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Golan Heights, describing it as a “provocation”. – Arutz Sheva


Turkey’s rhetoric on Cyprus is aggravating tensions with the European Union and Ankara must understand that its behaviour is “widening its separation” from the 27-nation bloc, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday. – Reuters

Turkey has to cease provocations in the eastern Mediterranean if it wants to avoid new discussions about European Union sanctions against Ankara at an EU summit in December, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday. – Reuters

The claim is false; the two Indonesian news reports quoted in the video and the original clips do not state Turkey or any Arab countries plan to “crush France”; as of November 20, 2020, there have been no credible reports about such plans.  – Agence France-Presse

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan and NBA player Enes Kanter met on Tuesday and discussed joining forces to combat anti-Semitism and raise awareness of alleged human rights violations in the Boston Celtics center’s native Turkey. – Times of Israel

Turkish procurement and military officials as well as teams from a private manufacturer have been negotiating with a South Korean company to recover a program riddled with delays for the production of the country’s first indigenous new-generation main battle tank. – Defense News


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday visited a West Bank Israeli settlement, a capstone to the Trump administration’s support for Israeli settlements in Palestinian-populated territory that President-elect Joe Biden views as an obstacle to peace. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday issued new guidelines to label Israeli goods made in settlements in the West Bank as “Made in Israel,” a move likely to draw cheers from the pro-settlement community and criticism from human rights groups that condemn Israeli settlements as infringing on the rights of Palestinians.  – The Hill

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is launching a review of State Department assistance to foreign entities to cut U.S. funding where it indirectly supports the boycott, divest, and sanctions movement targeting Israel. – Washington Examiner

Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian leader, activist and member of the PLO Executive Committee, condemned US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the West Bank Thursday, saying in a press release that it entrenches the occupation. – Jerusalem Post

Israel is set to send a delegation to Sudan to discuss cooperation in agriculture and trade. Israeli media reports say the two sides have also discussed a plan to send some of the migrants back to Sudan. – Jerusalem Post

A trade delegation from Bahrain is expected to arrive in Israel in the near future. Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani led the first-ever official delegation from his country to Israel on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The Hamas tunnel that stretched several meters into Israel and was discovered by the IDF last month near Kissufim forest was the deepest tunnel ever dug. – Jerusalem Post

An IDF investigation has reportedly determined that a pair of lightning strikes were responsible for setting off a pair of rockets that were launched into Israel from Gaza over the weekend. – Times of Israel

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials tasked with handling coordination between the two sides held their first public meeting Thursday since Ramallah severed ties in May, the Palestinian Authority official tasked with managing relations with Israel said in a statement. – Times of Israel

The Israeli military is increasingly confident that rocket fire at the greater Tel Aviv and Ashdod areas from Gaza last week was due to extraordinary weather conditions and faulty Hamas maintenance of its rocket launchers. – Haaretz

David M. Weinberg writes: The Left should be pressing PA President-for-life Mahmoud Abbas to cease his rabid anti-Israel rhetoric and dial-down his expectations. There will be no reverting to stale and unworkable formulas based on maximalist Palestinian demands (and minimalist regard for Israeli security needs and national-historic claims). […]That ain’t going to happen, no matter how fiercely Abbas attacks Israel in international forums or how impolitely Biden presses Israel – to left-wing applause. – Jerusalem Post

Jerold S. Auerbach writes: In his waning days in office, Trump may yet have a farewell gift for Israel: recognition of its sovereignty over Jewish settlements. If delivered, it will be revealing to see whether President Biden resolves his ambivalent relationship with Israel. Will he embrace Barack Obama’s hostility or Donald Trump’s generosity? Time will tell. – Times of Israel

Amos Harel writes: Perhaps, after everything that’s being said about the disastrous impact that Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are having in their respective countries, this will be the positive legacy of their joint era in the Middle East. The normalization that’s becoming routine in record time is a tectonic shift in the region. It makes public the relations that Israel forged with some Sunni countries and weakens the bargaining power of the Palestinian leadership, which has seen no reason to retreat from its tough demands in the negotiations with Israel. – Haaretz


President Michel Aoun on Thursday specified Lebanon’s starting point for demarcating its sea border with Israel under U.S.-mediated talks, in the first public confirmation of a stance sources say increases the size of the disputed area. – Reuters

Lebanon has signed a deal with a German company to dispose of 49 containers of flammable chemicals from Beirut’s port, months after a deadly and devastating blast, officials said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

Mona Alami writes: While a Biden presidency and the return of support for the JCPOA might appear like a godsend for Hezbollah, this is not 2015. Lebanon and its people are not in the same situation, nor is Hezbollah, or even the region. Five years have passed and a lot has changed — and not necessarily in the party’s favor. – Middle East Institute

David Daoud writes: Peace with Lebanon gripped Israel’s imagination even before the Jewish state’s independence, underpinned by the erroneous belief in an organic Jewish-Maronite alliance. […]The intervening decades—with Hezbollah’s rise and Israel’s brutal military reprisals against the country—should have put the lie to Sharett’s prediction. After all, even the moderate Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora declared Lebanon would be the “last Arab country to make peace with Israel.” But, as the unjustified excitement over purely technical border demarcation negotiations suggests, old dogmas die hard. – Newsweek


The executive director of one of Egypt’s leading human rights organizations was arrested Thursday night, the group said, joining two staff members detained earlier this week and thousands of opposition figures, protesters and activists already in prison. – New York Times

A pair of bipartisan Senators are pushing the Egyptian government to take action on the case of an imprisoned Egyptian human rights and religious freedom activist on charges that have been criticized as arbitrary, allegations of torture and amid increasing health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  – The Hill

A blast hit the Al Arish-Al Qantara natural gas pipeline in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, witnesses and local authorities said. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

Humanitarian agencies say a possible U.S. designation of Yemen’s Houthi group as a foreign terrorist organisation would prevent life-saving aid to the conflict-riven country, where fears of famine are rising. – Reuters

UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said on Thursday that his country has always been a committed member of OPEC and that it has demonstrated this commitment through its compliance to the current OPEC+ oil supply reduction agreement. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain voted against an Israeli sponsored resolution on entrepreneurship for sustainable development, even though both countries are themselves in the midst of promoting joint business ties with the Jewish state. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

A virtual summit does spare Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the possibility that some leaders may have stood him up in Riyadh, two years after Western intelligence agencies said he bears ultimate responsibility for the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by Saudi agents — a slaying he’s denied any involvement in. – Associated Press

The G20 presidency “helped” create impetus for human rights reform, a senior Saudi official said, stressing that they were already part of Prince Mohammed’s plans to overhaul the kingdom. “No question, hosting the G20 has enabled us to have an anchor to push things through,” he said. – Financial Times

Saudi Arabia and Russia are in a tight race to become China’s top oil supplier in 2020, with both countries boosting crude exports to the economic powerhouse even as the coronavirus pandemic hit global demand for oil this year. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: This week, the Arar border crossing opened. It is part of a gradual process of Saudi Arabia and Iraq seeking to rebuild ties in the last four years. […]There are major questions, however, because pro-Iranian militias in Iraq continue to threaten the Gulf states and often slander Saudi Arabia. This is part of broader regional tensions. The militias tend to blame Riyadh for extremist groups in Iraq, arguing that years ago it was Saudi Arabia that backed Iraqi Sunni insurgents. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Jordan will open a consulate in Western Sahara, Morocco said on Thursday, in an apparent show of support for Rabat after the disputed territory’s Polisario independence movement said it was returning to an armed struggle. – Reuters

The acting United Nations Libya envoy pressed the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to blacklist anyone who obstructs peace efforts after the warring parties agreed a ceasefire and Libyan participants in political talks set a date for elections. – Reuters

Bobby Ghosh writes: The worst outcome would be a return to the old authoritarian playbook of political repression. Happily, this result is unlikely: The military leadership may guard its privileges, but it has shown no appetite for putting down a popular uprising by force. It would be nigh impossible to persuade the men in brass that Hirak represents an existential threat to the Algerian state on the order of the Islamic Salvation Front (better known by its French acronym, FIS) in the 1990s. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzaman writes: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also paying a visit to these same countries: Israel, Bahrain and the UAE. This showcases how all these recent movements from Greece to the UAE, and Egypt with its military drills, are linked as part of a broader regional paradigm. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

The United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on two new companies it accused of being involved in exporting forced labor from North Korea and warned countries to send home any remaining North Korean workers. – Reuters

China’s foreign minister will visit South Korea next week for talks that will include North Korea and the novel coronavirus, the South Korean foreign ministry said on Friday, as the region prepares for possible changes under a new U.S. administration. – Reuters

If there’s one thing approaching consensus among North Korea experts, it’s that the likelihood that Kim Jong Un will eventually give up his nuclear weapons ranges somewhere between slim and slimmer. – Washington Examiner


U.S. companies are more optimistic about doing business in China under President-elect Joe Biden, believing that bilateral relations will be more stable than in the last four years, a postelection survey by a Shanghai-based business chamber showed. – Wall Street Journal

For the diaspora, Dr. Yan and her unfounded claims provided a cudgel for those intent on bringing down China’s government. For American conservatives, they played to rising anti-Chinese sentiment and distracted from the Trump administration’s bungled handling of the outbreak. – New York Times

China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday spurned suggestions that his country might decouple or separate itself from the U.S. and other trading partners amid tension with Washington and Europe over technology and security. – Associated Press

China has lashed out at the Five Eyes intelligence alliance after it urged Beijing to reverse the disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong’s de facto parliament. – Financial Times

China’s top diplomat will seek to shore up ties with two U.S. allies next week, as the countdown to the end of President Donald Trump’s administration prompts a recalibration of Beijing’s relations with close neighbors. – Bloomberg

The State Department has a plan for confronting the rise of China and sustaining the United States’s place as the world’s leading superpower. – Washington Examiner

Talks aimed at creating new rules to discipline the activities of government export credit agencies like the U.S. Export-Import Bank and its counterparts in China, the European Union and Canada have broken down and may not resume for a year or longer, according to a joint statement from 11 of the 18 participating governments. – Politico

Josh Rogin writes: The Biden team should make clear early that it won’t accept China’s increasing external aggression and internal repression in exchange for smoothness. Falling back into that pattern would allow serious problems to fester, raising the long-term risk of just the kind of serious conflict both countries would like to avoid. – Washington Post

Bradley A. Thayer and Lianchao Han write: With Joe Biden’s election, appeals for U.S. accommodation of the People’s Republic of China are likely to be prominent. […]Accommodation will only embolden China. Pursuing such an approach would be a strategic mistake and, sadly, will not defeat the communist party’s grand ambitions. – The Hill

Mihir Sharma writes: This is what really scares leaders in Beijing. While China is happy to bully smaller countries one by one, it takes umbrage when others get involved in those disputes. The only way that the world can deal with a China that weaponizes its economic power is by standing together and thinking two steps ahead. – Bloomberg

John Dizard writes: And China has, to a degree, internally consolidated its international financial negotiating authority within its Ministry of Finance and development bank. That makes it easier for its counterparts to strike global deals. China shares a fundamental interest with the legacy financiers. Both sides are threatened by populists demanding a reversion to capital and trade controls. Remember how that worked out in the 1930s? Three-body systems are inherently chaotic. – Financial Times

Michael Schuman writes: Even if Xi changes course, it may be too late. A well-known and well-liked president in Biden is likely to repair relations with America’s traditional allies in Europe and Asia, and even worse from Beijing’s perspective, he has already pledged to forge an international coalition to take on China. […]And an unpopular Xi and his band of angry diplomats have left the world wide open for America’s return. – The Atlantic

Jim Banks writes: While Citiking’s purchase of Eclipse warrants closer inspection by CFIUS and the White House, the deal also represents a broader trend of IP transfer to the CCP that must be addressed and halted. China is working tirelessly to control U.S. assets, and Congress must recognize this threat now by passing my bill (H.R. 6706) to halt these types of risky transactions. – Defense News


Even before President Trump’s drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan goes into effect, there are clear signs the national government is losing its grip. […]Taliban insurgents have stuck letters on shop fronts, warning that the Islamic Emirate, as the movement calls itself, will arrest or summarily execute kidnappers, looters and robbers. – Wall Street Journal

Australia will consider whether there is enough evidence to lodge prosecutions against 19 current and former special forces soldiers after a report said there was credible information that 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians were unlawfully killed. – Reuters

Britain will likely follow the United States in reducing troop levels in Afghanistan but it will continue to work with its government and the U.S. to protect the country’s security, Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday. – Reuters

A squadron of Australian special forces operators unlawfully killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan, according to a war crimes investigation that has prompted the disbanding of the unit. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

Pakistan is all set to roll out new internet rules that critics say will give the government wide powers of censorship after rejecting requests from social media companies for consultation. – Reuters

Pakistan will do everything it can to help reduce violence in Afghanistan following an upsurge in Taliban attacks, Prime Minister Imre Khan said on Thursday on his first visit to Kabul since taking office more than two years ago. – Reuters

The first ever meeting between the leaders of India and Luxembourg in 20 years has yielded fruitful results with three new bilateral agreements signed between the two countries. And, since Luxembourg is a founding member of the European Union (EU), discussion around the India EU trade and investment agreement were also initiated. – Business Insider

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid writes: But a big question mark remains over the prime minister’s fate. He would likely need all-out army support to dodge the Israel normalization-Palestine betrayal bullet. But the army might calculate that to gain the objective of normalization, without having to accrue direct blame, it might be much more convenient to scapegoat Imran Khan. – Haaretz


These were the first words that the families of some of 12 young Hong Kongers heard from them on Thursday, three months after they were detained by Chinese authorities while trying to flee the crackdown in their home city. – Washington Post

Leaders from Japan and New Zealand on Friday warned countries against the temptation of retreating into trade protectionism, saying that keeping markets open is the way to restore a global economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. – Associated Press

Japan’s foreign minister announced Friday that his Chinese counterpart will visit Tokyo next week as the two Asian powers discuss ways to resume bilateral visits to revive their pandemic-hit economies. – Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will attend a virtual summit of Asia Pacific leaders on Friday to discuss the coronavirus and global economic recovery, with lingering trade differences likely to cloud the meeting. – Reuters

Vietnam has threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it does not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on its platform, a senior official at the U.S. social media giant told Reuters. – Reuters

The U.S. and Taiwan are in talks on a visit to the island by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in what would be the third trip by a senior American official this year. – Bloomberg

Hong Kong police are investigating a campus protest over suspected violations of a security law imposed by China’s central government, fueling growing concerns about curbs on freedom of expression in the Asian financial center. – Bloomberg

Vietnam is looking to reset its volatile relationship with the U.S. after finding itself caught in the middle of President Donald Trump’s economic confrontation with China. – Bloomberg

Hong Kong police were wrong to hide identification badges during last year’s democracy protests while the city’s watchdog was “inadequate” for investigating complaints against officers, a senior judge said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

As the Pentagon warily eyes a Chinese military with increasing naval capability, U.S. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite called this week for the establishment of a U.S. 1st Fleet, a new numbered command that would sit at the vital crossroads of the Indian and Pacific oceans. – Navy Times

Riley Walters writes: A regular, and therefore reliable, U.S.-Taiwan economic dialogue is important. A one-off meeting will signal to the world that the U.S. isn’t as invested in building its partnerships, especially Taiwan, as it claims to be. The U.S.-Taiwan economic dialogue should also be robust, and there are lessons to be shared between Washington and Taipei. – The Hill

South Caucasus

Units of the Azerbaijani army have entered the Aghdam region, a territory ceded by Armenian forces in a cease-fire agreement that ended six weeks of heavy fighting over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said Friday. – Associated Press

France wants international supervision to implement a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict amid concerns in Paris that Russia and Turkey could strike a deal to cut out Western powers from future peace talks, the presidency said on Thursday. – Reuters

The European Union has welcomed the end of fighting in and around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and called on all sides to “strictly respect” the Moscow-brokered cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to prevent further loss of life. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

On November 14, 2020, Russian media outlet Vzglyad journalist Dmitry Bavyrin published an article, titled “Turkey has not accepted the end of the war in the Caucasus,” commenting on Turkey’s attitude toward the Russia-brokered truce in Nagorno-Karabakh. – Middle East Media Research Institute


Russia has sentenced a man to 13 years in prison for trying to pass military secrets about Russia’s Northern Fleet to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Friday. – Reuters

Lawmakers in Russia’s parliament presented draft legislation on Thursday that, if passed, would enable the government to restrict internet access to U.S. social media giants deemed to have discriminated against Russian media outlets. – Reuters

Amnesty International has slammed a bill circulating in the lower house of Russia’s parliament that would identify individuals receiving funds from abroad as “foreign agents,” saying the proposed legislation signals a “new witch hunt of civil society groups and human rights defenders.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly had a coughing fit during a televised coronavirus conference with top officials, though the Kremlin denied the episode. – Fox News

Janusz Bugajski writes: Biden must also avoid any “reset” traps with Moscow in the fruitless hope that America’s chief adversary can be transformed into a genuine partner. A more assertive U.S. policy can spotlight Russia’s vulnerabilities, including its economic weaknesses and growing domestic turmoil. […]Russia’s offense against the trans-Atlantic alliance can be turned into a more difficult defense. – The Hill

Philip Stephens writes: Much as it makes sense for Mr Biden to explore the possibility of warmer ties, too many Europeans have been ready to bow to Mr Putin’s terms. In truth, a reset would have a useful chance of success only if Moscow committed to an enduring change in its behaviour. The way to persuade Mr Putin is to be implacably tough from the outset. – Financial Times


Prime Minister Boris Johnson rolled out ambitious, back-to-back initiatives on military spending and climate change this week, which have little in common except that both are likely to please a very important new person in Mr. Johnson’s life: President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. – New York Times

French President Emmanuel Macron has championed his country as a leading defender of free expression, but French journalists and advocates condemn what they see as a government crackdown on press freedoms here. – Washington Post

As if the Brexit trade negotiations were not tortuous enough, the coronavirus added a twist at a crucial stage on Thursday when top-level talks had to be suspended because an EU negotiator tested positive for COVID-19. – Associated Press

Hungary has agreed to purchase NASAMS air defense systems from U.S. arms manufacturer Raytheon Technologies and Norwegian defense company Kongsberg, a Hungarian official said Thursday. – Associated Press

Czech President Miloš Zeman said Thursday that President Trump should acknowledge losing the presidential race to Joe Biden and end his legal challenges. – The Hill

The German defence minister’s warning against the “illusions” of pursuing European defence autonomy rattled French President Emmanuel Macron so much that her comments became a topic of discussion at a cabinet meeting this month in Paris. – Reuters

Five people were injured in a stabbing attack in the western German town of Oberhausen on Thursday and a suspect was arrested in what police said appeared to be a family dispute. – Reuters

European Union leaders clashed briefly on Thursday over a veto by Poland and Hungary of the bloc’s 1.8 trillion euro plan to recover from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but agreed in a virtual summit to allow more time for an agreement. – Reuters

European Union foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to push ahead with a new round of sanctions on Belarus including on Belarusian companies, in response to state repression of pro-democracy protests, the EU’s top diplomat said on Thursday. – Reuters

The European Union aims to draw up a master military strategy document to define future threats, goals and ambitions in defence while focusing on six new areas of joint weapons development including tanks, officials and diplomats said. – Reuters

The leaders of France, Belgium and the Netherlands urged the European Union to step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year in case negotiations with the U.K. fail to yield a last-minute breakthrough. – Bloomberg

Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban distanced himself from his nationalist Hungarian namesake and counterpart Viktor Orban on Thursday after Hungary and Poland vetoed the EU budget and coronavirus rescue plan. – Agence France-Presse

The European Commission is recommending the EU scale back cooperation with Belarus, including in trade and security, but that support for civil society and environmental protection be maintained or even boosted. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Fresh off a pair of frigate and submarine cruise missile tests, the French Navy is readying for high-intensity conflict by adapting its exercises and training programs, according to Vice Adm. Xavier Baudouard, commander of the surface fleet. – Defense News

In Belarus, government security forces continue to abuse, arrest, and torture pro-democracy protesters as mass demonstrations became an almost-daily feature of life in the country after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won his sixth term in a widely disputed election more than 100 days ago. – Fox News

But Biden’s Irish roots and Catholic faith are a cornerstone of his self-identity, an embrace that the Emerald Isle has enthusiastically reciprocated—setting nerves on edge in London that Brexit Britain could find the special relationship with the United States a little less special. – Foreign Policy

Tom Rogan writes: Regardless, NATO’s confrontation of any attack in Poland, even if against non-Polish citizens, would be necessary. While a Russian invasion of Europe remains a remote possibility, it cannot be ruled out, especially in relation to the Baltic frontier states. Belarus takes on added importance to NATO’s security, here, in that Putin’s dominion over the former Soviet state gives him a geographic means to compress the Baltics and operate in the gray zone (no pun intended) against NATO. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Britain understands that alliances must be sustained by shared endeavor and sacrifice, and that where that doesn’t happen, those sharing most of the burden get just a little bit frustrated. This stands in increasingly stark contrast with the European Union. The political bloc remains caught between arrogant demands that America must do what Europe bids and delusional arguments of security independence. […]Top line: Britain has doubled down on the special relationship. Americans should take note. – Washington Examiner

Stephen F. Szabo and Jason Bruder write: Biden can and should deepen ties with this anchor state in areas where the United States can benefit from its experience, and should generate a more robust symbiotic relationship that is relevant to the new generations in both countries. While German public confidence in the United States has plummeted, the American public remains positive about Germany. There is also bipartisan support for the transatlantic relationship in Congress. […]The United States can and should be judged by the allies it makes and keeps on the world stage. It should endeavor to rebuild ties to Germany, a partner worth having. – War on the Rocks

Gina S. Lentine writes: The international community, particularly the United States, must not ignore what is at stake. As President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, 2021, he will have many demands on his attention. He and his team should note that the success of a country like Moldova can have a major impact on its neighbors. Biden promised to restore the United States’ reputation as a democratic world leader and reliable partner for its allies in Europe. Encouraging and supporting Moldova will demonstrate that this promise is real. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Cities across Uganda erupted into deadly violence on Thursday, a day after the government arrested the main opposition candidate ahead of presidential elections in January. – Wall Street Journal

This past week, Mr. Bushiri, 37, appeared to perform another remarkable feat: spiriting himself out of South Africa, where he faces charges of fraud and money laundering, and back to his home country of Malawi, without a passport and undetected by law enforcement officials. – New York Times

Violence is escalating in Ethiopia, where a leader once lauded internationally for his reform agenda and forging peace with neighboring Eritrea now faces the specter of civil war. – Washington Post

In a televised address Wednesday night, Ethiopia’s army chief of staff, Gen. Berhanu Jula, called Tedros a criminal and said he should step down from his position as director general of the WHO for seeking to procure weapons for the Tigray region, where the Ethiopian military is fighting local forces. – Washington Post

A university official says the latest airstrike by Ethiopia’s military has struck the school in the capital of the defiant Tigray region and caused major damage, while the United States says neither side in the conflict is heeding calls for de-escalation. – Associated Press

Forces from Ethiopia’s rebel Tigray region fired rockets on Friday into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region but caused no casualties or damage, the Amhara government said, as federal forces moved towards the Tigray capital. – Reuters

Once a pocket of calm in a turbulent region, landlocked Burkina Faso has been sucked into a security crisis that has overwhelmed much of West Africa in recent years. – Reuters

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy aide on Thursday urged an end to fighting in north Ethiopia, where federal troops are battling rebels and pushing towards the regional capital. – Reuters

Nigeria dismissed an investigative report by CNN alleging that its security forces killed unarmed protesters last month in the country’s largest city of Lagos, accusing the news organization of disinformation. – Bloomberg

From spearheading the struggle against dictatorship to dominating government and then withdrawing from the national stage, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has shaped Ethiopia’s history for decades. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: The prime minister, it should be recalled, worked for the security apparatus while the TPLF was running the country. To the extent that there are law-and-order issues, these should be addressed by the police and the courts. Yet, above all, this is a political crisis for which a political settlement is ultimately the only solution. Both sides need to step back from the brink. Whatever the underlying issues, tanks and bombs will not solve them. – Financial Times

Kassahun Melesse writes: That dominance is something the TPLF is willing to fight to preserve, as evidenced by the decision to carry out what a top TPLF official described as a “preemptive strike” against the federal army’s Northern Command, triggering the current conflict. The risk now is that the TPLF’s persistent and increasingly audacious actions could make Abiy’s peaceful reforms impossible and thereby make a violent transition inevitable. – Foreign Policy

Alex De Waal writes: If Biden’s foreign policy transition team can’t get working with the outgoing Trump officials to reorient U.S. policy in the coming days, then Congress needs to send a bipartisan message to Abiy: Halt this needless war. Or else Biden’s term will open with an insoluble quagmire in the Horn of Africa that will drag down his administration’s foreign policy and quite possibly destroy Ethiopia. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

After years of failed U.S. and Mexican efforts to curb arms trafficking, groups such as the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels are showcasing the military-grade weapons in slick propaganda videos and using them to defeat security forces in battle. – Washington Post

Mexico’s foreign secretary said Thursday the country no longer wants officials accused of corruption to be put on trial in the United States, a move that could scale back a tradition that saw most of Mexico’s corruption cases tried north of the border. – Associated Press

León Krauze writes: Menendez is right. The onus is now on Mexican authorities, who must prove that while politics might have made the Cienfuegos repatriation possible, justice will still be served. In a country where impunity is the law of the land, odds do not favor a fair, just and transparent outcome. – Washington Post

Latin America

After having crushed the political parties opposed to his version of socialism, Mr. Maduro’s critics say, he has trained the state’s security apparatus on disillusioned ideological allies, repeating the path taken by leftist autocrats from the Soviet Union to Cuba. – New York Times

Communist-run Cuba plans to convert most state-run eateries into cooperatives and private-run businesses in the coming months and stop subsidizing them as soon as next year, according to local reports and a government source. – Reuters

Venezuelan authorities arrested oil workers’ union leader Eudis Girot, other union officials said on Thursday, as the government’s crackdown on dissent at troubled state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela continued. – Reuters

North America

When the criminal trial of the man who drove the van began earlier this month, many hoped it would finally provide some closure for the attack, which shocked a country where mass killings remain relatively rare. – New York Times

Canada’s ambassador to China has visited two Canadians detained for almost two years amid a dispute over the arrest of an executive of Chinese technology giant Huawei. – Associated Press

The Trump administration on Thursday proposed to loosen Obama-era safety regulations for the oil industry in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska to ease the way for petroleum extraction in the region, an effort that President-elect Joe Biden will likely throw out once in office. – Reuters

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s main rival in an election that could come as early as next year on Thursday said he would toughen the country’s stance on China, including potentially boycotting some goods produced there. – Reuters

Britain and Canada are very close to agreeing the terms of a free trade deal and the agreement could be announced in the coming days, a Canadian government source said on Thursday. – Reuters

United States

President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede to President-elect Joe Biden has resulted in an unusual national security predicament: how to navigate a presidential transition when the vice president-elect is privy to classified information that she cannot discuss with the future commander-in-chief. – Politico

Senate Republicans issued a supplement Thursday to their recent report on Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings — and said $6 million in wire transfers further ties the son of President-elect Joe Biden to China’s communist government. – New York Post

With hair dye streaming down his cheeks and Donald Trump watching on television, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani unleashed eyebrow-raising claims Thursday that George Soros, China and a dead Venezuelan dictator conspired with Democratic “crooks” to hand America’s election to Joe Biden. – Agence France-Presse

Edward Luce writes: The aim, as Ben Judah and Erik Brattberg write in Foreign Policy, would be to update the British quip about the original purpose of Nato “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and Germany down”. The goal of Mr Biden’s club would be “to keep China in check, India close and the United States steady in the turbulent years to come”. The framing is sharp. In practice, however, Mr Biden’s priority should be to revive democracy in America. – Financial Times

Jonathan Tepperman writes: What all this means for Biden is that he’s unlikely to make much progress on what was one of the key foreign policy positions he took during the campaign—one that became very popular with his supporters. […]The national-security risks of retrenchment may be grave—but so could be the political risks of not doing so. – Foreign Policy


The EU’s efforts to rein in the power of big tech companies such as Google and Facebook through antitrust investigations have taken too long, dulling their effectiveness, a report said Thursday. – Associated Press

The White House has suggested to House Democrats that President Trump could drop his objection to renaming Confederate-named military bases if they agree to repeal a legal shield for internet companies, a Democratic House aide confirmed to The Hill. – The Hill

Britain’s GCHQ spying agency ignored evidence and broke its budget in choosing an expensive central London headquarters for a newly created cyber security centre, a report by a committee of lawmakers said on Thursday. – Reuters

Microsoft Corp. vowed to challenge all government requests to access its customers’ information in an effort to address increasing European Union scrutiny on the security of data sent to the U.S. – Bloomberg

The UK has launched a new National Cyber Force run by spies and military personnel which will block terrorists’ phone signals, disrupt servers being used by hostile states and hack enemy weapons systems. – Financial Times

U.S. Cyber Command’s vison for developing its core cyber platforms and capabilities lacks clear goals and guidance, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office. – C4ISRNET

John Thornhill writes: The EU commission should be making as much effort to nurture new ways of building the future as to regulating what already exists. Bash Big Tech by all means. But to make Europe truly fit for the digital age, Ms Vestager needs to be as inventive as she is defiant. – Financial Times


An annual defense policy measure that has passed Congress every year since the Kennedy administration is in danger of cratering next month over a move by Democrats to rename military bases, such as Fort Benning, that are named after Confederate officers. – Associated Press

Six locations have survived the first round of cuts and are still in under consideration to become the new headquarters for U.S. Space Command, the Air Force announced Thursday. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is preparing for the possibility of defense budget top lines dropping, which would mean some modernization priorities could take a hit to save the most critical future capabilities in development, according to the Army’s G-8 chief, who is in charge of planning, developing and resourcing programs. – Defense News

The Navy and Marine Corps are eyeing a 200- to 400-foot Light Amphibious Warship that would carry about 75 Marines, store as much as 8,000 square feet of kit and cost not much more than $100 million apiece, a naval official. – USNI News

Editorial: Nuclear anti-proliferation efforts are vital, especially against Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups. But arms-control promises are too easily broken to trust without intrusive verification, and even then countries will cheat, as Russia shows. Progress on missile defense makes Americans and the world safer. – Wall Street Journal

Long War

A new review by a civil-liberties watchdog has revealed the extent to which European governments have come to rely on a U.S. surveillance program that monitors global financial transactions for ties to terrorism. – Wall Street Journal

But in the past six months alone, more than 200 people have been murdered or kidnapped on the four main highways that head into a town now more famous as the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency, according to analysis from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, interviews with soldiers and state officials. – Wall Street Journal

When the bare-chested gunman suddenly appeared aboard the speeding Paris-bound train, laden with weapons and his mind allegedly filled with Islamic State group propaganda, passengers at first were stunned. Then, they sprang into action. – Associated Press

Greek police arrested a Syrian Islamic State suspect on Thursday after a brawl at a migrant camp where he has been staying with his wife and children and said he was believed to have been involved in a number of killings. – Reuters

A Pakistani court on Thursday sentenced Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group blamed by the United States and India for the 2008 Mumbai siege, to 10 years in prison on two charges of terrorism financing, his lawyer said. – Reuters

Haroro J. Ingram and Omar Mohammed write: Given its long history of hypocrisy and double standards, this should not come as a surprise. With the Islamic State on the ropes but still demonstrating its ability to inspire and direct attacks from Kabul and Vienna to Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, it is time for a rejuvenated international campaign to degrade the Islamic State brand, expose the duplicity of its leaders, and ruin morale within its ranks. – Foreign Policy