Fdd's overnight brief

November 24, 2020

In The News


Iran expects foreign companies to return to the country if U.S. sanctions are lifted under President-elect Joe Biden and some firms have made initial contacts already, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Germany sees a chance to return to a joint transatlantic approach in tackling Iran’s nuclear programme once the new U.S. administration under President-elect Joe Biden takes office, a German official said on Monday. – Reuters 

In a September 23, 2020 column titled “Message to Iran, in Light of the Peace with Israel,” Saudi journalist ‘Abdallah Zayed reacted to Iran’s harsh attack on the normalization agreements between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Activists say Iranian security forces have raided the homes of dozens of Baha’is in several cities across the country, confiscating their personal belongings. – Radio Farda

European foreign ministers from Germany, France and the UK have met to discuss a joint approach with the incoming Joe Biden administration on reviving the Iranian nuclear deal. – The Guardian


Turkey summoned top diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy on Monday after a German frigate that is part of a EU mission enforcing an arms embargo against Libya intercepted a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean sea and carried out what a senior Turkish official dismissed as an “illegal” search. – Associated Press

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed an ally’s proposal to release two dissidents from prison, calling into question his commitment to reforms needed to reset strained relations with the West. – Bloomberg 

The German navy was forced to abandon its search of a Turkish cargo ship suspected of delivering weapons to Libya after Ankara raised objections, in a move that will further exacerbate tensions between Turkey and the EU. – Financial Times


A diplomatic deal signed in September normalizes relations between Israel and Gulf states Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, further isolating Iran and the Palestinians. President Trump, who presided over the signing of the agreement at the White House, described it as historic. Here is a look at what the pact involves and what it means for the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia is constantly weighing whether to normalize relations with Israel, a senior US official visiting Israel said Sunday, arguing that the kingdom’s plans to open itself up to the world would require it join the so-called Abraham Accords. – Times of Israel

Former Israeli officials who had worked with US President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, had overwhelmingly positive things to say about him. – Jerusalem Post

The Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group lashed out Monday at Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia. – i24News

Israel sent a first delegation to Sudan to discuss potential economic and humanitarian cooperation on Monday after the countries announced a U.S.-brokered agreement on Oct 23 to take steps toward establishing relations, a source said. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he would visit Bahrain “soon” at the invitation of the Gulf state’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa. – Reuters

Arab Israeli lawmakers on Monday condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported trip to Saudi Arabia where he met with its crown prince, alleging that it could spark a regional war in the final days of the Trump administration. – Times of Israel

Senior Palestinian Authority officials have begun talks with associates of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, according to Western diplomats who heard this from their Palestinian counterparts and associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. – Haaretz

Henry Olsen writes: That has changed for the oldest of diplomatic reasons: self-interest. The Iranian regime views both Israel and the Sunni gulf kingdoms as illegitimate and has worked tirelessly to bring them down. Tehran also funds terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, and rebel groups such as those in Yemen, to put military pressure on Saudi Arabia and Israel. This alone brings these two together. – Washington Post

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen said it had destroyed five mines laid by the Iran-aligned group in the Red Sea, Saudi state TV reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

Saudi Aramco said on Tuesday its domestic fuel supplies were not affected by an attack from Yemen’s Houthi group on a petroleum products distribution plant in the north of Jeddah city, with operations resuming three hours after the incident. – Reuters

Raphael Ahren writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s not-so-secret meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday evening indeed took place under the radar. But the significance of the fact that Israeli journalists were allowed to write about it is more than a blip in the history of the Middle East and speaks volumes as to where the relationship may be heading. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

The United States this week rapidly deployed several heavy bombers to the Middle East this week in an apparent threat to Iran, amid swirling speculation that US President Donald Trump plans to take military action against Tehran before President-elect Joe Biden enters office. – Times of Israel

An Egyptian court is to hear a case against prominent singer and actor Mohamed Ramadan, after photos emerged of him posing with Israeli celebrities, local media reported Monday. – Agence France-Presse

An armed group attempted to storm Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) headquarters in Tripoli but was stopped by guards, the company said on Monday, underscoring the security risks that the North African nation’s energy industry continues to face. – Reuters

Charles Thepaut writes: France’s foreign policy in North Africa and the Middle East is therefore regularly updated but remains driven by five main factors: security interests, socio-economic relations, diplomatic activism, cultural outreach and the strengthening of Europe’s capabilities to protect itself. – Washington Institute


China on Monday claimed extreme poverty has been eliminated nationwide, the capstone of a Communist Party policy to reduce inequities in society. – Wall Street Journal

It’s globalization with Communist characteristics: The Chinese government promotes the country’s openness to the world, even as it adopts increasingly aggressive and at times punitive policies that force countries to play by its rules. – New York Times

China’s latest trip to the moon is another milestone in the Asian powerhouse’s slow but steady ascent to the stars. – Associated Press

The World Health Organization (WHO) has had assurances from China that an international field trip to investigate the origins of the new coronavirus will be arranged as soon as possible, its top emergency expert said on Monday. – Reuters

In a new book, Pope Francis for the first time calls China’s Muslim Uighurs a “persecuted” people, something human rights activists have been urging him to do for years. – Reuters

China urged Britain on Tuesday to curb its colonial mindset, hypocrisy and double standards, in a response to its series of six-monthly reports on the former colony of Hong Kong. – Reuters

China on Monday pledged a “legitimate and necessary response” to a reported visit of a U.S. Navy admiral to Taiwan. – The Hill

China is tightening its grip on livestreaming sites as it steps up efforts to rein in big tech companies and strengthen online censorship, in a move that could curb growth in the booming sector. – Financial Times

Joshua L. Freeman writes: Even as intellectuals in the Uighur diaspora chronicle the atrocities, most prominent Uighur intellectuals in Xinjiang — liberals and conservatives, devout Muslims and agnostics, party supporters and party critics — have already vanished into the camps as China escalates its campaign to extinguish Uighur identity. […]The world has much to learn from a culture that has made art its antidote to authoritarianism. From behind the barbed wire and guard towers, my old professor has reminded us that we must not stand silently while that culture is annihilated. – New York Times

Fu Ying writes: To refresh the relationship, each side must accurately assess the other’s intentions. China does not want to replace U.S. dominance in the world. Nor does China need to worry about the United States changing China’s system. […]To tackle these challenges, China and the United States should join hands and cooperate with all other concerned parties. Only then can multilateralism continue to bring hope for the betterment of humankind.  – New York Times

Richard Hanania writes: The rise of China creates new economic and geopolitical realities that cannot be wished away. In the coming years, American leaders will have to realize that the days of unilaterally isolating rogue regimes at will are over, and the future of East Asia will depend more on what happens in Beijing than in Washington. – NBC News


President Trump has made cultivating closer ties with Taiwan a critical part of his efforts to counter China’s rising influence. He has significantly increased weapons sales to Taiwan’s military, vowed to step up economic cooperation, and generally bolstered relations with the self-ruled democratic island — even in his waning days. – New York Times

India on Monday handed a dossier to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council about a major attack that it said militants from Pakistan had attempted in the Indian part of Kashmir last week, government officials said. – Reuters

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday vowed to defend the democratic island’s sovereignty with the construction of a new fleet of domestically-developed submarines, a key project supported by the United States to counter neighbouring China. – Reuters

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is set to visit Tokyo on Tuesday marking the first such high-level trip since Japan picked a new leader in September and amid mounting concerns over Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region. – Reuters

Britain is considering pulling its judges out of Hong Kong’s highest court, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday, in its latest response to what it considers China’s breaches of its international obligations in the territory. – Reuters

China’s embassy in the Philippines has denounced the United States for “creating chaos” in Asia, after a visiting White House envoy backed countries in disputes with China and accused Beijing of using military pressure to further its interests. – Reuters

South Caucasus

Turkey and Russia are at odds over Ankara’s wish to set up an independent military observation post on Azeri territory, a Turkish source said, after the two agreed this month to monitor a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: The Minsk Group should reinforce that Aliyev’s triumphalism is both premature and inappropriate. Azeris may have been taught to hate Armenians, but it is time to remind Baku that they must nevertheless live with them and that the world will ensure that the erasure of Armenian heritage begun more than a century ago by Ottoman and Turkish troops cannot continue under Aliyev’s watch. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: In short, the United States and France have more leverage in the Minsk Group than their leaders now realize. At first glance, the new status quo appears a defeat for Armenia and the idea of self-determination for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. But Aliyev’s miscalculations, mistakes, and triumphalist rhetoric may have just opened the door to a new status quo. It is time for the State Department and Quai d’Orsay to seize the opportunity. – The National Interest

Ketevan Murusidze writes: The absence of international organizations further removes even formal procedures holding Russian forces accountable for their actions in the field. The trilateral ceasefire agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh, a defining moment for Moscow’s peacekeeping role, left the OSCE Minsk Group without any lever to balance the Kremlin’s interests in the conflict. The Georgian experience shows that Russian peacekeeping may take a different turn.  – Middle East Institute


Ruslan Mamedov, the program coordination at the Russian International Affairs Council, and the coauthor of the book The Army and Security in the Middle East and North Africa wrote an analysis for Kommersant about the week-long Russian-Egyptian naval exercises, codenamed Bridge of Friendship, that started on November 17, 2020.  – Middle East Media Research Institute

Noah Rothman writes: All this must be discomfiting for Joe Biden. He will be the first new president since 2001 to enter office without a plan to “reset” American relations with Russia under the predicate that his successor had needlessly antagonized Moscow. If that wasn’t revealing enough, the president-elect’s foreign-policy priorities quietly communicate what Democrats cannot say aloud. When it comes to America’s relationship with Russia, despite four years of liberal apoplexy, there is nothing to “reset.”. – Commentary Magazine 

John Rossomando writes: Modernizing America’s land-based nuclear deterrent offers a substantial chip of deterrence to play to get the Russians to decommission their tactical nuclear arsenal. The next administration must compel Russia to forswear the use of tactical nuclear weapons in a conventional future conflict. – The National Interest


The trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and influence peddling was suspended Monday less than two hours after it started, to allow a medical report on one of the defendants. – Associated Press

European Union chief Charles Michel is inviting Joe Biden once he is U.S. president to come visit and patch up trans-Atlantic relations that have suffered over the past four years under President Donald Trump. – Associated Press

Ireland’s premier said he is hopeful the outline of a post-Brexit deal trade deal between the U.K. and European Union will be clear by the end of the week as negotiators race to seal an accord. – Bloomberg

Negotiators are exploring the idea of review clauses to break the deadlock in EU-UK trade talks, with the possibility that parts of the deal could be revisited several years after they take effect. – Financial Times

Ludovic Orban, Romania’s centre-right prime minister, has chastised his Hungarian and Polish counterparts for blocking the EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund, warning that their stance threatens economic assistance that the continent sorely needs. – Financial Times

Gideon Rachman writes: Even so, badly-governed states with corruption problems are well-represented around the EU table. European leaders pose together at summits for what is called the “family photo”. There are quite a few crooked uncles and dodgy cousins smiling for the camera.  – Financial Times


Tigrayan forces said on Tuesday they had destroyed an Ethiopian army division in battles to control the northern region where a three-week-old war has killed hundreds and spread global alarm. – Reuters

Votes are being counted in Burkina Faso after Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections, where threats of extremist violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State prevented parts of the country from casting ballots. – Associated Press

Hailemariam Desalegn writes: For its part, the federal government must seek to avoid any civilian casualties and protect all civilians affected by the current conflict. Access to humanitarian assistance must be allowed in Tigray. […]Ethiopia should be a place where the constitution and the rule of law prevail so democratization can progress rather than letting our beloved country slide into chaos. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

President-elect Joe Biden announced a diverse set of nominees for top diplomatic and foreign policy posts Monday — including the first Latino and first immigrant as homeland security secretary and the first woman as director of national intelligence — as he sought to convey momentum and inevitability in building his administration. – Washington Post

Jorge G. Castañeda writes: Mr. Biden inspires Latin America by advocating the values the United States should stand for: human rights, democracy, fighting corruption, managing climate change. […]And finally, he can inspire Latin Americans who have always embraced multilateralism by returning to multilateralism whether it be to institutions or to values. A mouthful? Yes: Latin America should expect nothing less. – New York Times

Eli Lake writes: It’s still very early days to assess what a Biden foreign policy will look like. When Barack Obama became president, no one was predicting the Arab Spring and its tragic aftermath in the war in Syria. […]Nonetheless, Biden’s early signals show that, for now at least, he is charting a centrist course. And if his choices for national security positions are disappointing to his party’s progressives, they are sure to be reassuring to his country’s allies. – Bloomberg


President-elect Joe Biden’s intention to nominate Avril D. Haines as the next director of national intelligence marks a historic turn — she would be the first woman to hold the country’s top intelligence position — and a stabilizing one, installing a national security expert who is expected to restore rigor and independence to an office that has been beset by political intrigue and mismanagement, current and former officials said. – Washington Post

Sailors and Marines aboard three amphibious warships operating off the coast of Hawaii are now officially ready for national tasking after months of training and quarantine, two defense officials confirmed to USNI News on Monday. – USNI News

Destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) moved into the Black Sea on Monday, U.S. 6th Fleet announced. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer’s arrival in the Black Sea marks the seventh trip for an American warship to the waters this year, the service said in a news release. – USNI News

 The Air Force is collapsing some of its groups within the 688th Cyberspace Wing to build a network and security operations cell. – C4ISRNET

The U.S. Army is developing a new tool to gain an advantage in the cat and mouse game that is the electromagnetic spectrum mission. – C4ISRNET

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are hoping to provide more clarity and structure to the armed services’ individual efforts to develop Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control with a new 60-page campaign plan, according to a U.S. Air Force official. – C4ISRNET

Israel Klein and Brian Greer write: Even as military budgets are reduced, there are opportunities for more efficient ways to enhance U.S. national security. From embracing innovation and base consolidation to retiring dated platforms and battling China, there is a good chance that there will be extensive activity in the defense sector in 2021 and beyond. And we expect that Republicans and Democrats will need to unite to curb any imperial overstretch and ensure that our economic priorities will reflect aligned national defense and domestic health for the good of the nation.  – The Hill

Long War

Russia said on Monday it had detained a police colonel from the southern region of Dagestan and charged him with offences including terrorism after accusing him of aiding a suicide bomber in a 2010 attack on the Moscow metro. – Reuters

Scotland’s High Court will begin hearing an appeal on Tuesday against the conviction of a Libyan man found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing, the deadliest militant attack in British history. – Reuters

Kris Osborn writes: The most effective series of solutions or approaches to this predicament, broadly speaking, could fall within the scope of one word . . . intelligence. Electronic intelligence in the form of drones, SIGINT and surveillance planes and human intelligence gathered on the ground in Afghanistan. What this means is, should training Al Qaeda-affiliated training camps, safe houses or small force concentrations be found, or operational plans uncovered, long-range air-ground precision strikes, or Special Operations raids, can destroy them. – The National Interest

Trump Administration

President Trump’s government on Monday authorized President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to begin a formal transition process after Michigan certified Mr. Biden as its winner, a strong sign that the president’s last-ditch bid to overturn the results of the election was coming to an end. – New York Times

But some foreign policy experts, ex-diplomats and even Trump’s harshest opponents concede that for all of his “America First” nationalism and unorthodox style, Trump’s various overseas initiatives have produced limited, qualified successes. – USA Today

Two Senate Republicans want newly released notes from a May 2017 FBI briefing on the Trump-Russia inquiry to be more fully declassified and are particularly interested in partially redacted mentions of apparent interviews with “Anonymous” author Miles Taylor in relation to the FBI’s investigation into retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. – Washington Examiner