Fdd's overnight brief

November 3, 2021

In The News


Negotiations to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers will fail unless U.S. President Joe Biden can guarantee that Washington will not again abandon the pact, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog has compared his agency’s efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear program to flying through dense clouds, warning that the situation can’t continue for much longer. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been unable to access surveillance footage of Iranian nuclear sites, or online enrichment monitors and electronic seals since February. – Associated Press  

Iran’s fuel distribution system resumed full operation on Tuesday, a week after it was paralyzed by a cyber attack, authorities said. “The country’s 4,300 service stations are once again connected to the central fuel distribution system,” the spokesperson of the Iranian National Oil Product Distribution Company, Fatemeh Kahi, said in a statement. – Agence France-Presse  

Iran’s nuclear program came up in almost every meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held with world leaders at the COP26 climate conference this week, a government source said during a briefing to Israeli journalists Tuesday evening. World leaders are searching for a combination of carrots and sticks to urge Iran back to nuclear talks and compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, known officially as the JCPOA, according to the official, who noted that Bennett favors sticks. – Times of Israel 

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal was a top foreign policy goal for President Joe Biden when he entered office. But the landmark agreement appears to be on the verge of irrevocable collapse, as Western leaders grow increasingly impatient with Tehran over the stalled Vienna talks to restore the pact. – Business Insider  

South Korea’s donation of 2,000 coronavirus masks to a private hospital in Iran was meant as a goodwill gesture to ease a dispute over billions of dollars in Iranian funds frozen in Seoul due to U.S. sanctions. […]Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on November 1 called the donation “a joke,” adding that “no nation will tolerate another nation [stealing] from it.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog has compared his agency’s efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear program to flying through dense clouds, warning that the situation can’t continue for much longer. – Associated Press 

Illicit Iranian oil sales to China have soared in recent months as the Biden administration attempts to reenter the 2015 nuclear accord, raising concerns from Iran experts that the United States is turning a blind eye to sanctions violations in a bid to entice Iran back to the bargaining table. – The Washington Free Beacon 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: At the same time, Iran desperately needs revenues for its energy sector. It needs to repair old infrastructure. Iran also wants to send energy supplies to Lebanon to back Hezbollah. It also sends fuel to Syria. But Iran can’t do all this largesse without also getting some funds. Hezbollah, Syria and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq can’t pay Iran much money. So Iran needs China and other places to export. – Jerusalem Post 


The Taliban in Afghanistan declared a total ban on the use of foreign currency Tuesday, a shock move that threatened to rattle an economy already cash-starved and nearing collapse. – Washington Post  

At least 25 people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded during an attack by the Islamic State on a military hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Tuesday, according to local officials, with gunfire and explosions echoing throughout the city into the afternoon. – New York Times 

The last of several Afghan refugee families who had resettled near San Diego only to end up trapped in their homeland during summer visits amid the Taliban takeover in August have made it safely out of the country, school officials said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

Editorial: The United States is still withholding $9 billion in Afghan assets, along with political recognition, as — for now — it should, despite fresh demands from the Taliban to release it. This is leverage to ensure the Taliban lives up to its commitments and respects the needs of its own people. In helping feed the Afghan people, the United States is signaling a measure of good faith after years of bitter conflict. The Taliban’s reciprocation — or lack thereof — could shape the relationship beyond that. –Washington Post  

Annelise Butler writes: Clearly, the retreat from Afghanistan has left Americans vulnerable to Taliban retribution. The Taliban is relying on American companies to strategically communicate with the world. Its reliance on American media is an opportunity. The U.S. should disrupt the Taliban’s soft power operations by isolating the Taliban from social media and other means to communicate with the globe. – The Daily Signal  


Idlib is one of the most vulnerable places in the world for infection: an impoverished rebel-controlled province in northwestern Syria filled with people displaced by war, most of them crowded into tent camps or rickety settlements erected in olive groves or on barren hillsides. – Washington Post  

Turkey knows the SNA are reticent to sacrifice more lives in Syria. Turkey doesn’t want to be seen selling out Syrians. However it also needs a crisis to distract from economic failure at home. It also wants to send a message to Biden that it is Turkey that controls the keys to stability in Syria. – Jerusalem Post 

Syria’s military said Israel has carried out an air raid that hit a military post on the outskirts of the capital of Damascus early Wednesday, causing material damage. It was the second Israeli attack to target areas near the capital in four days. The earlier attack on Saturday activated Syrian defense when missiles were fired during the day toward suburbs of Damascus, wounding two soldiers. – Associated Press 

With the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad seemingly being reaccepted into the Arab world, Israel and Russia are seeking to remove Iran and its proxy Hezbollah from the county. – Jerusalem Post 


Bulgaria is deploying 350 troops and 40 army vehicles along its southern border with Turkey to help border police deal with a growing migrant influx, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

In recent days, Turkish authorities have accused Syrians of “inciting hatred” for eating bananas in a “provocative” way. Several Syrians have been arrested and face deportation. In a climate of increasing hostility towards Turkey’s large Syrian community, bananas have became a symbol of division. – BBC 

Selcan Hacaoglu writes: For years, one dispute after another has strained ties between the U.S. and Turkey. The two, which possess the largest armies in NATO, affirm the need to maintain their seven-decade alliance. But they have quarreled over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system, U.S. support for a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a mortal threat, the rule of law in Turkey, and a U.S. prosecution of one of Turkey’s biggest banks, among other things. Now, Turkey has posed a critical test for the relationship by asking the U.S. to sell it new F-16 warplanes after it was barred from working on the more advanced F-35s – Bloomberg 

Boris Zilberman writes: Indispensable allies don’t behave like President Erdogan. Ankara’s antagonism far outweighs its pseudo-friendship. If the Biden administration wants to improve relations with Turkey, Flake will need to recognize Turkey as it is today, not as he wishes it to be, Congress will have to keep pushing back on Turkey’s bad behavior and President Biden will have to take personal ownership of a strategy to address the threats and challenges the so-called indispensable ally presents. – Newsweek 


A group of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem whose looming eviction led to an 11-day war in Gaza rejected a compromise on Tuesday that would have allowed them to stay in their homes for several decades if they agreed to pay nominal rent to a Jewish settler group that courts have ruled are the buildings’ real owners. – New York Times 

The IDF and US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) on Monday began mutual exercises in Israel, involving an elite unit of the US Marines. The exercises involve the participation of Israeli commando units, and are directed toward preparations for a possible confrontation with Iran. – Algemeiner  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke on the phone Monday night to discuss Iran and the Palestinians. – Jerusalem Post  

Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Tuesday blocked an attempt to approve Tom Nides, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, after an attempt to confirm him by unanimous consent. – Haaretz  

The Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) in the Directorate of Defense R&D of the Israel Ministry of Defense, commenced inflation of a High Availability Aerostat System (HAAS) and initial testing for deployment of an Elevated Sensor (ES) system in Northern Israel at facilities established by the MOD. – Arutz Sheva 

Two hundred House Republicans signed a letter Monday urging US President Joe Biden not to go forward with plans to reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem, which historically served as the de facto representative office to the Palestinians. – The Times of Israel 

Yossi Melman writes: Moreover, the offensive cyberwarfare that Israel is encouraging attests to the fact that it is finding it difficult to understand the codes that guide the Iranian leadership. Like a stubborn mule, Israel is entrenching itself and insisting on repeating its past mistakes, at the same time as it is experiencing cybersecurity failures in protecting its own facilities. – Haaretz 


Lebanon’s foreign minister said Saudi Arabia was dictating impossible terms by asking the government to reduce the role of Iran-backed Hezbollah, adding Beirut’s row with Riyadh could be resolved if the kingdom agreed to a dialogue with the new Lebanese cabinet. – Reuters  

Bahrain’s foreign ministry on Tuesday urged citizens in Lebanon to leave immediately, the state news agency reported, amid a deepening row over comments by a Lebanese minister that were critical of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. – Reuters  

In a recent column in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Nadim Koteich, a Shi’ite Lebanese journalist and media figure known for his opposition to Hizbullah, wrote that this organization is holding Lebanon hostage and is beggaring the country, for instance by preventing it from reaching an agreement with Israel that would enable it to exploit its natural gas resources. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Gulf States

Having a chief rabbi in Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s two holiest cities, might not be as far-fetched as it seems. Since Israel established diplomatic relations with a number of Arab states—although not Saudi Arabia—some Jewish communities in those countries have been more public. – Wall Street Journal  

Expecting a possible siege, pro-government forces in central Yemen are preparing to defend Marib city, their last northern stronghold, against advancing Houthi fighters bent on taking full control of one of Yemen’s key energy-producing regions. – Reuters  

David Ignatius writes: A final setback for MBS is diplomatic, not legal: Biden’s refusal thus far to meet or speak with him. Other senior U.S. officials have met the crown prince, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan last month, and U.S. officials say they want to maintain friendly relations with the Saudi government, if possible. But the snub from Biden clearly annoys MBS, who had enjoyed strong support from Donald Trump. – Washington Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran looks to want to pressure Saudi Arabia in Marib perhaps as part of a much larger ploy to strike at Saudi Arabia from Yemen as Riyadh tries to pressure Hezbollah in Lebanon. That means that Riyadh faces a regional agenda of Iranian threats stretching thousands of kilometers from Yemen via the Gulf of Oman to Kuwait and through Iraq and Albukamal and then through Syria to Lebanon. Israel also sees this arc of threats as a serious concern. – Jerusalem Post  

Middle East & North Africa

More than three weeks after Iraqis voted in parliament elections, pro-Iran Shiite militias that emerged as the biggest losers are still rejecting the outcome of the vote, thrusting the country into uncertainty and political crisis. – Associated Press 

The movement fighting for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco picked a war-hardened former prime minister as its army chief, vowing to step up the struggle to end the kingdom’s control over the disputed territory. – Bloomberg  

State leaders will then assemble in the early fall to ratify the plan for implementation, capping a period of intensive work by the Eastern Mediterranean & Middle East Climate Change Initiative (EMME-CCI), launched in 2019 by the Cypriot government. – The Times of Israel 

Tasnim Abderrahim writes: However, the scale of collaboration with the EU varies across the three Maghreb countries, with Morocco and Tunisia engaging intensively with the EU while Algeria remains generally reluctant to do so. To reinforce their cooperation, countries on both sides of the Mediterranean need to consider the interests and priorities of the other, with a view to building sustainable and balanced collaboration that does not reduce migration to merely a security issue. – Middle East Institute  

Korean Peninsula

A deep sense of shared identity between citizens of North and South Korea remains alive and well, and the potential for at least some reconciliation should be at the center of America’s diplomatic efforts, former top U.S. officials and regional experts said Tuesday. – Washington Times  

Foreign businesses in South Korea have warned that a new workplace safety law due to come in force next year will undermine the country’s appeal as a destination for overseas companies. – Financial Times  

No matter the status of diplomacy or the lack of diplomacy, the United States has been clear that it does not want North Korea to have access to nuclear weapons. Over the weekend, North Korea pushed back on that, accusing the United States of “double standards.” – The National Interest  


Yahoo Inc. said it was pulling out of China, citing an increasingly challenging business and legal environment, the latest foreign company to be caught up in Beijing’s toughening rules for businesses. – Wall Street Journal  

American universities and research institutes say the U.S.’s dominance in science and technology could be undermined by toughened U.S. visa requirements that are squeezing the flow of talent from China. – Wall Street Journal 

At the height of the trade war in 2019, China all but cut off imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas. Today, China is buying more gas from the U.S. than ever. The turnabout is one consequence of the global energy shortage that has sent prices soaring. And it is a result of China’s effort to cut carbon emissions by reducing how much coal it burns. – Wall Street Journal  

China’s listed internet-technology companies are reeling from this year’s regulatory crackdown. But that hasn’t stopped the action in the private markets: Investors are still charging into many of the country’s technology startups. – Wall Street Journal  

China’s Communist Party has long policed dissent, severely restricting public discussion of topics it deems to be politically incorrect, from Tibet to the Tiananmen Square protests. The new law goes further. It has criminalized as slander topics that were once subjects of historical debate and research, including Mao’s rule itself up to a point. Since March, the law has been used at least 15 times to punish people who slight party history. – New York Times 

China “resolutely opposes” Washington’s revocation of China Telecom Corp Inc’s license to operate in the United States, the information ministry said on Wednesday, urging a reversal of the move. – Reuters 

China on Tuesday accused the U.S. of a “lack of transparency and responsibility” regarding an accident in the South China Sea involving a Navy submarine last month. At a daily briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. should provide full details of the incident that has revived a dispute between the two countries over the strategic waterway. – Associated Press 

Chinese state media have sought to quiet online speculation that a conflict with Taiwan may be imminent, in a sign of how heated rhetoric between Washington and Beijing was feeding public concern about the risk of war. – Bloomberg  

A Hong Kong court ruled on Wednesday that the former leader of pro-independence group Student localism was guilty of secession under the city’s sweeping national security law, as well as money laundering, following a plea bargain with the prosecution. – Reuters 

Seth Cropsey writes: There is no articulated plan for the U.S. to defend our allies while conducting offensive operations against China. We build ships, buy aircraft and tanks, and train soldiers with no strategy in mind, lumbering forward under institutional inertia, guided by policies 10 to 30 years out of date. In Iraq, it took the U.S. military three years to grasp the nature of the conflict, another year to implement a new strategy, and another year for the country to stabilize. We won’t have five years from China’s first missile launch. We may not have five months. – Wall Street Journal 

Joseph Bosco writes: At some point, as has been true in all recent administrations, the president will have to take control of his own policy and remove obstacles to its effective implementation. Experts differ on whether the danger from climate change will reach its calamitous peak within the next decade or by mid-century, but the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party are here, now, and existential. – The Hill  

South Asia

One of the main crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan has reopened after being closed for almost a month, officials said on Tuesday, offering hope for an end to a standoff that has caused heavy losses to traders and left thousands stranded. – Reuters  

 A year after deadly high-altitude clashes with Chinese soldiers, India is ramping up its border defences along a treacherous mountain range that has long been a flashpoint between the two countries. – Agence France-Presse 

A roadside bomb injured 13 people Tuesday when it exploded near a vehicle carrying security forces in a bazaar in southwest Pakistan, police said. – Associated Press 

Authorities in Pakistan released hundreds of detained supporters of a banned Islamist party on Tuesday after a deal was struck with the group to end clashes that left seven policemen dead. – Agence France-Presse 

Myanmar’s ruling military on Wednesday stood by its decision to deny a Southeast Asian envoy access to detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, resisting growing international pressure to comply with a regional peace plan agreed in April. – Reuters 


The first official delegation of European lawmakers landed in Taipei, defying warnings from China that the bloc’s support for the democratically ruled island would have dire consequences. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: Mr. Biden’s comments raised fears that whatever Washington says about an Asia strategy, its European partnerships are the priority. The Aukus initiative is a valuable signal of Western solidarity, even though the first submarine likely won’t be delivered before 2040. In the meantime, the U.S. needs to show that the alliance has teeth, and Mr. Biden sent the wrong message last week. – Wall Street Journal  

Frank Hoffman writes: To succeed in the Pacific, the United States should expand on the initial move and establish a maritime center of excellence for undersea warfare where U.S. submariners can train in advanced undersea tactics alongside submariners from allies and partners. Submarine warfare is an area of naval competition where the United States presently holds an edge and where it should devote considerable effort to retain its comparative advantage. It is also an area that is capital intensive and where quality professional education and training can pay off. – War on the Rocks  


William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, met with a top adviser to President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, leading a delegation of American officials on a two-day visit to the Russian capital that served as the latest evidence of heightened engagement between two global adversaries. – New York Times 

The arrival of U.S. warships in the Black Sea in support of NATO allies has once again sparked the anger of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said one of the ships was in the “crosshairs” of the Russian military. – Stars and Stripes 

Russian President Vladimir Putin will provoke “sanctions from hell” if the frozen conflict in Ukraine turns hot, according to a prominent Republican. “I’m hoping that they understand that the Russian economy, as weak as it is … they invade parts of the Ukraine, it will get weaker,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Washington Examiner. – Washington Examiner  

Mason Clark and George Barros write: This recent series of Russian redeployments and rhetorical escalations is unlikely to be preparation for an imminent Russian offensive against Ukraine. It does, however, set conditions for increased pressure on Kyiv and also on Belarus and merits continued close but sober observation. – Institute for Study of War 


France on Wednesday doubled down on its anger with Australia for tearing up a $67 billion submarine deal, with Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault accusing the nation of intentionally deceiving Paris and of worsening the diplomatic rift with “low” tactics. – Washington Post 

“Broken” military procurement practices at the UK Ministry of Defence have repeatedly resulted in billions of pounds of taxpayer money being wasted, a parliamentary committee has claimed. […]The UK signed a contract with US defence contractor General Dynamics in 2014 for 589 vehicles. Deliveries of Ajax should have started four years ago but so far none has entered service. – Financial Times 

UK environment secretary George Eustice on Tuesday welcomed a “big de-escalation” in the dispute between Britain and France over post-Brexit fishing rights, after Paris pulled back from immediately imposing sanctions. – Financial Times 


The two largest rebel groups fighting Ethiopia’s government have “linked up” on a front line about 230 miles north of the capital this week, according to their spokesmen, both of whom said that as the war nears its one-year mark, a peaceful solution to the conflict was off the table. – Washington Post 

President Joe Biden on Tuesday booted Ethiopia from a vital trade pact due to rights concerns as the historic US ally declared a state of emergency over rebel advances north of the capital. – Agence France-Presse 

Just over a week after Sudan’s top general locked up political leaders and seized power sparking mass protests and a deadly crackdown, mediators are seeking to restore the transition to civilian rule.But experts warn that Sudan’s military and civilian leadership are deeply divided, senior figures remain under military guard, and rebuilding trust between rival factions is a mammoth task. – Agence France-Presse 

The Americas

President Biden criticized the leaders of China and Russia for not joining other heads of state at the climate summit in Glasgow, arguing they were ceding their global influence. – Wall Street Journal  

Climate negotiators from nearly every country are meeting this week and next in Scotland to hammer out a new agreement aimed at cutting emissions to a level scientists hope will limit global warming. World leaders from the G-20 industrialized nations ended talks last week without a deal on specific emissions cuts—something many had hoped would boost discussions at COP26 in Scotland. – Wall Street Journal  

A man once considered Colombia’s most wanted drug lord pleaded guilty on Tuesday to U.S. charges of narcotics distribution and supporting a terrorist group as part of a billion-dollar cocaine empire. – Reuters 


Facebook plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system this month, deleting the face scan data of more than one billion users and effectively eliminating a feature that has fueled privacy concerns, government investigations, a class-action lawsuit and regulatory woes. – New York Times 

A hacker group called Moses Staff claimed on Tuesday that it had successfully conducted a cyberattack on three Israeli engineering companies, less than two weeks after the same group leaked files it claimed it obtained in an attack on the Defense Ministry. – Jerusalem Post  

A hacking group affiliated with Iran leaked online on Tuesday the entire database of popular LGBTQ dating site Atraf. The hacker group, known as Black Shadow, released the database after a 48-hour ultimatum to pay $1 million elapsed, announcing the leak in broken English on instant messaging app Telegram. – Ynet 

For months, officials have set the ground stage to launch a new Defense Innovator Accelerator — nicknamed DIANA — and establish an innovation fund to support private companies developing dual-use technologies. Both of those measures were formally agreed upon during NATO’s meeting of defense ministers last month in Brussels, said Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. – C4ISRNET 


The Navy is taking its sole ship assigned to U.S. Africa Command to places the service hasn’t been in almost a decade – including a key chokepoint that’s become a major opioid drug trafficking route. Following a stop in Maputo, Mozambique, Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB-4) moved through the Mozambique Channel late last month for the second time this year. – USNI News 

Capella Space recently provided USNI News images of selected Russian airbases. One of the targets chosen was a base with Russian Tupolev Tu-142 Bear maritime reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft has been the subject of intercept reports off Alaska, Japan or Europe. – USNI News 

A group of close U.S. military allies worried a legislative proposal to boost to “Buy American” requirements will upend longstanding defense trade pacts is asking Senate lawmakers to scuttle the measure — or at least make it friendlier. – Defense News 

There is bipartisan support to expand the Navy, but limited budgets and early retirements—“divesting to invest”—make achieving that goal difficult. The Biden administration’s emerging fleet plan incorporates smaller ships and large numbers of unmanned systems, as proposed by many strategists, but high costs, production limitations, and congressional opposition may prevent full implementation. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Long War

A man wielding a knife and shouting “Allah Akbar” was shot and seriously wounded by guards at the Saint-Lazare metro station in Paris overnight Monday. According to BFMTV, the man also shouted: “France is ruled by the Islamic State.” – Agence France-Presse  

Daniel Byman writes: With the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this August, the post-9/11 era seems to be ending. Challenges such as climate change, a bellicose China, and the crisis of liberal institutions have crowded out jihadi terrorism as the primary American foreign-policy concern. Even in the narrow counterterrorism realm, white supremacist violence and anti-government extremism are the flavors of the day, and the occasional jihadi attack doesn’t seem to change things. – Foreign Policy  

Stig Jarle Hansen writes: The Islamic State’s West African Province is no longer on the rise. It has been checked by its own factionalism and its involvement in local conflicts, including Fulani fights in the Tri-border area, and ethnic conflicts around Lake Chad. But the Islamic State will almost certainly rebuild, particularly as locals continue to seek sources of protection in the absence of state-provided security. – War on the Rocks