Fdd's overnight brief

November 30, 2020

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


A top Iranian nuclear scientist was killed near Tehran, according to Iranian state television, the latest blow to Iran’s controversial atomic program. – Wall Street Journal

Friday’s killing of one of Iran’s most important nuclear scientists has dealt a setback to the country’s nuclear program, which had staged a partial rebound after the 2015 nuclear deal brokered under President Obama unraveled. – Wall Street Journal

European powers are looking to the incoming Biden administration to swiftly reduce nuclear tensions with Tehran but won’t press Washington to re-enter the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran quickly, according to senior diplomats. – Wall Street Journal

Iran on Wednesday released a British Australian academic who was tried in secret two years ago and sentenced to 10 years in jail for crimes she said she never committed. – Washington Post

The raid alone was brazen enough. A team of Israeli commandos with high-powered torches blasted their way into a vault of a heavily guarded warehouse deep in Iran and made off before dawn with 5,000 pages of top secret papers on the country’s nuclear program. – New York Times

An Iranian diplomat based in Vienna and three other Iranians went on trial on Friday in Antwerp, Belgium, over the alleged plot, which the Belgian and French authorities say was organized by Iran’s intelligence services and which was tipped off to them by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. – New York Times

The Trump administration plans to tighten sanctions on Tehran during its final months in power, the top U.S. envoy on Iran said on Wednesday, as he urged President-elect Joe Biden to use the leverage to press for a deal that reduces the regional and nuclear threats posed by the Islamic republic. – Reuters

Iran will give a “calculated and decisive” response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, said a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, while a hardline newspaper suggested Tehran’s revenge should include striking the Israeli city of Haifa. – Reuters

Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed on Friday, led a life of such secrecy that even his age was under wraps but much about the clandestine nuclear weapons programme he is believed to have run has long been known. – Reuters

A 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is being eroded and efforts to revive the pact face a new challenge with the killing of Tehran’s top nuclear scientist. – Reuters

Iran held a funeral service Monday for the slain scientist who founded its military nuclear program two decades ago, with the Islamic Republic’s defense minister vowing to continue the man’s work “with more speed and more power.” – Associated Press

The Iranian parliament approved a plan on Sunday to withdraw further from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, including removing supervisory access to its nuclear facilities and releasing itself from all obligations and restrictions concerning enrichment and research, among other measures, according to Iranian media. – Jerusalem Post

Iranians responded with awe and surprise as a key Iranian nuclear scientist was gunned down east of Tehran. – Jerusalem Post

Iran may wait to react to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the father of its nuclear program, with any kind of military force until the end of the Trump era, former IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

A London-based Iranian journalist claimed late Sunday that Iran has distributed pictures of four suspects in the killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. – Times of Israel

On November 27, 2020, Fars TV (Iran) aired a propaganda video showcasing the IRGC’s military capabilities. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Sweden’s latest attempt to secure the release of the Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali was rebuffed by Iran this week, heightening concern that his execution could be imminent and underscoring the strained diplomatic relations between European capitals and Tehran. – Politico

Editorial: The Obama crowd’s continuing illusions about their Iranian diplomacy shows that they have learned nothing in exile. Yet if Israel did plan the assassination, it surely did so because it fears that the same illusions about Iran are returning to U.S. power with the Biden Administration, and so it must act on its own. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: We understand the emotional attachment that Mr. Sullivan and other Biden advisers have for the 2015 nuclear deal. But time and Iranian behavior have exposed that deal as even worse than it looked at the time. Mr. Biden’s foreign-policy team should be thankful for the stronger hand Mr. Trump is leaving them. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The many flaws of the JCPOA are glaring, and rather than return to that poor deal, Biden must take the opportunity to introduce significant improvements. It would be better to have no deal than the agreement that has enabled Iran to continue to threaten the entire world with its nuclear weapons program. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: If it prefers appeasement, the Biden administration must be cautious. Asking Iran for little while giving it much, Biden may find a quick arrival of more unpleasant realities. We note, after all, that the apex of a Shiite nuclear weapon is not one that the Saudi Arabian monarchy will quietly tolerate. Nor, for that matter, is Israel likely to accept Iran’s ability to deliver a second Holocaust. Biden should seek a strong Iran nuclear deal or no deal at all — and certainly not a return to failure. – Washington Examiner

David E. Sanger writes: The assassination of the scientist who led Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon for the past two decades threatens to cripple President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s effort to revive the Iran nuclear deal before he can even begin his diplomacy with Tehran. […]If the response to the killing of Mr. Fakhrizadeh is a cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation, the nuclear program will go deeper underground — quite literally — where bombs and saboteurs cannot reach it, and cyberstrikes may be ineffective.  – New York Times

Kamran Bokhari writes: Tehran’s response will be tied to its need to try to extract a new agreement from the U.S. that can relieve a harsh sanctions regime. The Biden administration will be dealing with a weak regime and should negotiate from a position of strength to avoid the mistakes of the Obama nuclear deal. – Wall Street Journal

Seth J. Frantzman writes: All this looks like complex timing for Iran. Iran must consider what to do next as some elements in the regime will demand retaliation, angry that they didn’t get to retaliate in January. In Iraq Iran has been ordering its proxies to attack US forces. However it has been cautious after the US threatened to close its embassy in September. Iran must weigh a response as it also wonders about angering the new US administration. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The killing comes days after Iran’s IRGC lose personnel in airstrikes in Syria. This means Iran is under pressure from setbacks. It illustrates how vulnerable Iran is despite Iran’s claims that it is a strong power in the region. On the one hand Iran seeks hegemonic power, controlling or blackmailing Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon through militias and influence. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: What is clear is that like so many well-known assassinations, the full details of this one may never be known. That they are suddenly presented in a blow-by-blow just 48 hours later appears to be a message to Tehran. It’s about showing Iran how easily it was to do. That means the stories and details are messaging, not necessarily connected to reality. It feeds into the regime’s sense of failure – and feeling that its highest members are vulnerable. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Fakhrizadeh does not appear to have been an Oppenheimer type. He was more like a Soleimani, a key military figure at the heart of the military industrial nuclear complex of Iran and Iran’s threats against the region. Iran has built increasingly precise missiles, with longer ranges. It has also built more drones. Iran is seeking to present a real threat to its neighbors and the region and continues to warn the US and others of “revenge.”  – Jerusalem Post

Herb Keinon writes: But if the reports are true that Israel was involved in Fakhrizadeh’s killing, the manner in which it was carried out – in broad daylight and without anyone being caught – shows again Israel’s tremendous capabilities, including the ability to smite the head of the snake in its nest. And that is something Iran would be wise to take into consideration while weighing its next moves. – Jerusalem Post

Anna Ahronheim writes: Any retaliatory attack by Tehran, especially if it causes casualties, might be the catalyst for Trump to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, destroying their nuclear program and their greater strategic plans. – Jerusalem Post

Tom Rogan writes: After all, Iran is already in overt breach of that accord, having stockpiled 12 times as much enriched uranium, albeit low-concentration, as is allowed under the deal. Were Biden to ignore these breaches in a desperate effort to preserve the pretense of a deal, he would risk unilateral Israeli military action against Iran, or Saudi Arabia’s rush to develop its own nuclear weapon. One thing is for sure. Iran just embraced a new brinkmanship strategy. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: If Iran moves toward uranium enrichment levels that would allow it to construct a nuclear weapon, Israel will take military action against its nuclear and ballistic missile program. At that moment, Israeli concerns over retaliation and global outrage will evaporate amid fears of a second Holocaust. But we’re not there yet, and the complications of succeeding in any such military operation make it very unlikely. […]Top line: This was a very risky and highly significant Israeli intelligence operation. Some folks are getting promoted. – Washington Examiner

Bobby Ghosh writes: At the same time, the Iranians are acutely aware that if they can keep their cool through the last weeks of the Trump administration, they might get a better response from Joe Biden. […]But the election campaign, in which hard-liners are expected to dominate, makes that well-nigh impossible. Fakhrizadeh, like the proverbial genie, will not go back into obscurity. – Bloomberg


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is sheltering in place amid fears that he may be next on a US-Israeli hit list, according to an Israeli television report on Sunday. – Times of Israel

The deputy leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said on Friday that the response for the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was in Iran’s hands. – Reuters

Belgium must act to ban Hezbollah in its entirety, lawmaker Michael Freilich said, submitting a bill to that effect this week. – Jerusalem Post


British women and children captured after the collapse of Islamic State in Syria are being held in “barbaric” conditions and deprived in a “systematic way” of their UK citizenship, according to a report on their conditions. – The Guardian

Army chief Aviv Kohavi on Sunday said the military planned to continue fighting Iran’s presence in Syria amid heightened tensions in the region following the killing of Iran’s top military nuclear scientist two days prior. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces dropped leaflets in the Syrian Golan Heights on Wednesday warning the country’s military to halt its cooperation with Iran and the Hezbollah terror group, Syrian media reported. – Times of Israel


As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wages a widening military campaign for influence from North Africa to the Caucasus, his forces have relied on a potent weapon to gain a battlefield edge while drumming up domestic support for foreign interventions: homemade armed drones. – Washington Post

Turkey on Friday rejected a call by the European Parliament for sanctions against Ankara over President Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus, calling the demand “disconnected from the realities”. – Reuters

Turkey does not expect ties with the United States to be strained under President-elect Joe Biden and does not anticipate sanctions over its purchase of Russia S-400 defence systems, a senior official in President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party said. – Reuters

Turkey’s seismic exploration vessel Oruc Reis returned to port on Monday from disputed Mediterranean waters, less than two weeks before a European Union summit where the bloc will evaluate possible sanctions against Ankara. – Reuters

A Turkish court sentenced leaders of a 2016 attempted coup to life in jail on Thursday, convicting hundreds of army officers, pilots and civilians over a failed bid to topple President Tayip Erdogan directed from an air base near the capital Ankara. – Reuters

Ambassador Kurt Volker writes: Despite all the differences that have emerged with Erdogan’s Turkey over the past several years, at a fundamental level, U.S. and Turkish interests remain strategically aligned. With new leadership in the United States, and eventually perhaps in Turkey as well, there may be an opportunity for a fresh, “everything on the table” dialogue among new interlocutors that can benefit both countries — as well as the EU, NATO, and the wider region around Turkey. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert on Saturday after Iranian threats of retaliation following the killing of a nuclear scientist near Tehran, Israeli N12 news reported on Saturday. – Reuters

Israeli security forces fatally shot a Palestinian driver who tried to ram his car into them at a checkpoint on Jerusalem’s outskirts on Wednesday after he raised suspicions by presenting apparently fake identification papers, police said. – Reuters

Officials in Israel have declined to comment on the attack near Tehran, which Iran said was carried out by assailants who opened fire on Fakhrizadeh’s car before engaging his bodyguards in a gunfight. – Agence France-Presse

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is pushing back elections in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, dashing Palestinian hopes they would get to vote for the first time since 2006 and fuelling Israeli fears of further conflict with the Islamist group Hamas. – Financial Times

The Israel Defense Forces have apparently begun preparing for the possibility that the United States might strike Iran before President Trump finishes his term in office. – Washington Examiner

Yisrael Beytenu chairman and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman claimed that Hamas has developed advanced weapons including cruise missiles and cluster munitions. – Jerusalem Post

Rwanda told Israel that the relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was under consideration, the spokesperson for Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz) told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night. – Jerusalem Post

Simon Henderson writes: In terms of significance, the killing of Fakhrizadeh is on par with the January killing by U.S. forces in Baghdad of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander who coordinated Tehran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Tehran has sworn to avenge that attack but has yet to do so. Iran’s habitual preference to wait for an opportunity now has to be balanced against an urge to lash out in revenge. – The Hill


The Iraqi government is on edge as the Trump presidency enters its final weeks, fearing that a last-minute confrontation between the United States and Iran could erupt on Iraqi soil. – Washington Post

The Iraqi military is training a former member of an Iran-backed militia, who is under U.S. sanctions for killing protesters, to become a high-ranking officer in the army, according to six government, security and militia officials. – Reuters

Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed an anti-government protest camp in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya on Friday, and at least three people were killed and dozens wounded in the clashes, a Reuters witness and a medical source said. – Reuters

Iraqi officials have stepped up efforts to evict tens of thousands of people with perceived links to Islamist militants Isis from sprawling camps that military officials warn could become breeding grounds for extremism. – Financial Times

Arabian Peninsula

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen carried out a series of air raids on barracks used by the Iran-aligned group in and around the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Friday, according to local residents. – Reuters

An explosion damaged a Greek-managed tanker at a Saudi Arabian terminal on the Red Sea just north of the Yemeni border, the ship’s manager said on Wednesday, in an attack confirmed by Saudi Arabia. – Reuter

Elana DeLozier writes: The Houthis often point to the Taliban in Afghanistan as a model, arguing that the United States waited two decades before agreeing to talk to the group. Given this long view of history, they seem willing to wait it out, while neither side of the U.S. political aisle nor the Saudis are similarly dispositioned. Thus, to stave off potential famine, keep communication lines open, and avoid entanglement, the Trump administration should not designate the Houthis. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia transferred the case of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to a terrorism court, raising fears among supporters that she could remain in prison longer despite international pressure to release her. – Wall Street Journal

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew into Saudi Arabia last weekend for a secret nighttime rendezvous with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he and his allies in Washington hoped to win assurances that a normalization deal between the two longtime Middle East rivals was in reach, Saudi advisers and U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Kevin L. Schwartz writes: The extent to which the Biden administration and Congress make good on this agenda will signal whether the U.S. is ready to move forward in the region and to enact a new vision that values lives and livelihoods over autocracy and repression, government accountability over government malfeasance. A return to foreign policy normalcy in the Biden administration need not apply to all policy norms. It may be time for the U.S. to forget Saudi Arabia. – The Hill

Gulf States

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is heading to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week in a last-ditch attempt to secure more diplomatic agreements in the Middle East before the Trump administration leaves office in January, according to U.S. and Gulf officials. – Wall Street Journal

Qatari media published many reactions to the November 27, 2020 assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist and the father of the Iranian nuclear program. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

On November 28, 2020, Al-Jazeera Network (Qatar) aired a report, stating that Qatari Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has condemned the November 27 assassination of senior Iranian nuclear scientist IRGC Brigadier General Mohsen Fakhrizadehh. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The foreign minister of the Gulf state of Oman expressed his condolences to Iran’s foreign minister by phone over the killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist on Friday, Oman state television said on Sunday. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates condemned the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, describing the attack as a “crime” that could increase tensions across the region. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: After all, that presence gives Putin the means to allow or restrict Iranian arms flows, to bomb or not to bomb Sunni civilians, and to undermine perceptions of U.S. strategic credibility in the region. Perceptions of power and reliability matter as much as and help shape realities of power in the Middle East. The simple point is this. If Biden returns to an unreformed Iran nuclear deal, long-standing U.S. allies will gravitate closer to our two top global strategic adversaries. – Washington Examiner


The United States unilaterally blacklisted Libya’s Kaniyat militia and its leader on Wednesday after Russia last week prevented a U.N. Security Council committee from imposing sanctions over human rights abuses by the group. – Reuters

In Libya’s frontline city of Sirte, parts of which still lie in ruins, the commission set up to oversee warring rivals’ recent ceasefire has put its name on a large downtown conference centre – an outward sign of its commitment to peace. – Reuters

Libya’s oil industry, trampled by civil war and chaos, is roaring back. – Bloomberg

Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation Friday into the search of a Turkish commercial freighter by the crew of a German frigate participating in a European Union mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

In Saudi Arabia, prosecutors sent a group of women’s rights advocates imprisoned for their activism to a court that hears terrorism cases. In Egypt, authorities rounded up three members of a leading human rights organization, interrogated them and sent them to prison. – Washington Post

The case of Father Isaiah, the monk on death row, fits a pattern identified by human rights groups. Death sentences are typically imposed on the basis of confessions obtained under torture and an absence of due process, both violations of international law. – Washington Post

A historic meeting between Israel’s prime minister and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has sent a strong signal to allies and enemies alike that the two countries remain deeply committed to containing their common foe Iran. – Reuters

Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and both leaders set high hopes that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will revive peace talks over a two-state solution to the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict, officials said. – Reuters

The Trump administration is shoring up policy changes long sought-after by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shifting the ground in the Middle East that will create challenges as well as opportunities for President-elect Joe Biden. – The Hill

Iranian media on Sunday highlighted Turkey’s support for Palestinians with the headline “Palestine is our dream” and quoting the Turkish foreign minister. – Jerusalem Post

Larbi Sadiki writes: The 11th Congress is still hanging. This means that the duo of institutions (structure) and practices (agency) still have to find a sustainable democratic rhythm. An explicit “blessing,” as it were, by Ghannouchi for a new president to take the helm, if it does indeed stick, will be only the beginning. Stay tuned for more in the evolution of Ennahda’s internal democratization. – Middle East Institute

Michael Sexton writes: The cyber threat landscape may be more dangerous in the Middle East than elsewhere, but it is not overwhelmingly so — the higher risk level is only a matter of degrees. It is both possible and imperative that companies and cybersecurity specialists in the region acclimate to the threat environment to prevent serious and potentially catastrophic attacks. This will only become more salient over time as the world adopts and adjusts to new, web-connected technology like 5G, automated machinery, driverless cars, the internet of things, and more. – Middle East Institute


Korean Peninsula

Under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and an ailing economy, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is responding with fury, allowing at least two executions in the past three months, South Korea’s intelligence agency told a parliamentary briefing on Friday. – Washington Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has asked his government’s officials to refrain from provoking the U.S., an effort that is likely aimed at preserving the possibility of engaging with the incoming U.S. administration, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea said its sensors had malfunctioned, allowing a North Korean to defect undetected, in the military’s most embarrassing border security breach in years. – New York Times

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressed the need to carry out economic policies with responsibility, as he presided over a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers Party, state news agency KCNA reported on Monday. – Reuters

South Korea and China agreed on Thursday to prepare for a visit to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping and to cooperate on stalled talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme and on tackling the novel coronavirus. – Reuters

A United Nations Security Council sanctions committee is considering a U.S. proposal to streamline and lengthen exemptions from U.N. sanctions on North Korea for humanitarian aid groups working in the isolated Asian state. – Reuters


China’s withering trade war with Australia is escalating sharply, prompting several of Australia’s allies to express support for a country that is heavily reliant on its giant Asian trading partner and vulnerable to political pressure. – Washington Post

While China’s Communist Party has long punished people seen as threats to its rule, government authorities under Chinese leader Xi Jinping have engaged in the most relentless pursuit of dissenters since the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, according to academics and activists. – Wall Street Journal

President Xi Jinping congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on his election victory, marking the Chinese leader’s first formal outreach to the incoming administration weeks after many other world leaders sent well wishes. – Wall Street Journal

Beijing is expected to target Hong Kong’s independent judiciary as it tightens control over the territory’s institutions, according to Philip Dykes, head of the city’s bar association. – Financial Times

The World Health Organization’s top emergency expert said on Friday it would be “highly speculative” for the WHO to say the coronavirus did not emerge in China, where it was first identified in a food market in December last year. – Reuters

China said on Thursday it has lodged stern representations with the United States after Washington announced fresh Iran-related sanctions on four entities. – Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser nominee Jake Sullivan said the incoming administration will come down on China after how it handled the coronavirus outbreak. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: The democratic world is hardly going to stop buying Chinese products; the aim is to cooperate where possible and to separate where the alternative is complicity in cultural genocide and other repugnancies. Any degree of decoupling will also involve more than one couple: The United States must band with its allies to build a freer alternative to the dystopian world of thousands of watching cameras and nowhere to hide. – Washington Post

Editorial: When China attacks Trump and praises Biden, it does so with an eye on its own benefit, not ours. Thus, there is reason for alarm about the new custodians of America’s national interests. What is at stake in U.S. relations with China is much more than the form of climate, economic, human rights, and security dialogue. Under Xi, the Chinese Communist Party is determined to supplant America as the global superpower. If given space and deference, China will rush forward to take advantage. Biden seems set to give it precisely that space. – Washington Examiner

Henry Olsen writes: A China that feels strong enough to threaten U.S. allies is a different China than the Obama administration ever faced. Coming to grips with this reality is the largest and most complex task Biden’s foreign policy team will face. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: The Biden team will never be hawkish enough on China to satisfy some Republicans, but the emerging team should appeal to Asian allies who liked Trump’s enthusiasm but not his style. A competition-based approach is not a panacea — it’s simply the prerequisite to meeting the generational challenge of managing China’s rise. – Washington Post

James A. Warren writes: Instead of fretting over China’s startling gains in various strategic industries, the United States, says Biden, must up its own game. The Democrat has called for a government-sponsored program to enhance American innovation in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the next generation of the 5G network. Biden hasn’t outlined his China strategy in any great detail yet, but compared to Trump’s incoherent ranting about China, what he has said so far sounds like a promising start. – The Daily Beast

Sophie Richardson writes: Raise human rights in meetings with senior Chinese government officials. Speak publicly and clearly about abuses instead of only to diplomats behind closed doors. Put the rights of China’s 1.4 billion citizens on the agenda in all major interactions with Chinese policymakers, whether these concern trade, climate change, or anything else. – Foreign Affairs

Tom Rogan writes: Highly successful American capitalists, investors, and political operators (and, in Dalio’s case, philanthropists), lend credibility to the idea that China is an obvious economic partner rather than an evil communist authoritarian imperium. […]Of course, this juxtaposition of the influencers’ pretense and reality is exactly why elites should be wary of China’s easy gifts. They might look good, but they’re only fuel in the engine of a dedicated enemy. – Washington Examiner

Paul Wolfowitz writes: As more and more Hong Kong democracy activists are arrested in the pursuit of liberty, the free world must continuously call attention to the despotic actions of the PRC — not just with concern, but with targeted actions that hold perpetrators to account. [..]As the PRC picks off increasing numbers of democracy’s heroes, we must decide if we will let them become mere statistics, or take to heart their sacrifices and support them in their fight for a better future. – American Enterprise Institute


The United States has closed at least 10 bases across Afghanistan since the signing of a deal with the Taliban in February, according to Afghan and U.S. officials, part of a drawdown process so murky that many here say they are uncertain of what’s to come despite a fast-approaching deadline. – Washington Post

A Humvee laden with explosives and backed by gunmen struck a government base in central Afghanistan on Sunday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 24, according to local officials. Most of the casualties were members of the Afghan security forces, local media reported. – Washington Post

One week after the release of a damning report that revealed Australian special forces had unlawfully killed helpless Afghan civilians and waged a campaign to cover up the slaughter, the military has begun proceedings to dismiss 13 soldiers serving in the force. – New York Times

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has refused to let peace talks move forward even though the Taliban and government negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on the talks’ guiding principles, Afghan officials say, further stalling the process despite nearing an apparent breakthrough after months of effort. – New York Times

South Asia

China is poised to start building a $13 billion city on Sri Lanka’s seafront, as the island nation located near some of the world’s most important shipping lanes deepens its ties with Beijing despite U.S. efforts to gain influence. – Wall Street Journal

Three international human rights groups on Thursday denounced recent attacks on Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi community and asked Islamabad to “urgently and impartially investigate a surge” in violence. – Associated Press

More than 200 Chinese apps have now been blocked from the Indian market, with New Delhi adding another 43 apps to its blacklist on Tuesday. – Financial Times

Sadanand Dhume writes: None of this is to deny that Islamism is a real threat to India and the world. The enslavement of Yazidi women by the Islamic State, and kidnappings and forced marriages of Hindu and Christian girls by Muslim landlords in Pakistan, have added to a general sense of unease among some Indians.  […]The best weapon against Islamism is not demonization but a sense of fairness that distinguishes between extremists and ordinary Muslims. – Wall Street Journal


Australia is preparing to take action against China at the World Trade Organization over tariffs on barley imports, the latest salvo in a trade dispute that has disrupted the supply of commodities from coal to wine. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam keeps “piles of cash” at home and is unable to open a bank account after being targeted by U.S. sanctions, according to an interview the top official gave on Friday evening. – Washington Post

Chinese authorities said on Friday they were set to charge 12 people from Hong Kong with border violations after they were detained in China more than three months ago while trying to flee from the city by speedboat. – Reuters

Canberra has accused Beijing of sharing a “repugnant” and fake image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodstained knife to the throat of an Afghan child in a considerable escalation of diplomatic tensions. – Financial Times

A senior State Department official voiced support for “Taiwan’s freedom and independence” in an unusually emphatic sign of disregard for Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over the island democracy. – Washington Examiner

Thousands of democracy activists blocked a major junction in Bangkok for several hours on Friday to rehearse “coup prevention” strategies in the latest round of Thailand’s anti-government protests. – Agence France-Presse

Thailand confirmed Thursday it had returned three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Bangkok, in an announcement that came after Tehran freed an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned for alleged spying. – Agence France-Presse

Taiwanese lawmakers threw pig guts on the Parliament floor and got into fist fights to protest an expected policy change permitting U.S. pork and beef imports. – The Hill

Editorial: Hong Kong’s new pro-democracy movement may be small, but it is critically important, fighting on the front lines against an aggressively expanding China. It is also full of life and ingenuity: Even with all those Chinese big guns trained on it, it will survive. – New York Times

Editorial: Yet as with Humpty Dumpty, it is hard to see how all the king’s men can put the untouchable monarchy back together again. That is a message democratic leaders of the world — and especially the United States, which has a long and multifaceted diplomatic, security and commercial relationship with Thailand — should strongly reinforce by urging Prime Minister Prayuth and the generals to avoid a needless crackdown, and instead to heed their young people and undertake long-overdue reforms. – New York Times

Zack Cooper writes: On the political side, Washington will need to construct a message that elevates Southeast Asia and ASEAN without de-emphasizing cooperation with other key partners. America needs Japan, Australia, and India to play larger roles in Southeast Asia. This will help to dispel the idea that the United States sees Southeast Asians as pawns in a “great power competition” with China. – Fulcrum

South Caucasus

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the possibility of involving other countries in efforts to maintain a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. – Reuters

President Emmanuel Macron faces a major challenge to retain France’s influence over resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, needing to take account of the large Armenian minority in his country and accused by Azerbaijan of bias. – Agence France-Presse

Michael Rubin writes: Israel need not break ties with Azerbaijan; there is still much about which the two countries can cooperate. […]Rather than be partisan in the dispute, Israel’s goal should be to have cordial relations with all parties. So long as Jerusalem supports Baku uncritically, however, not only will Israel bring a lasting moral shame upon itself, but it will also create precedents corrosive to its own long-term strategic interests. – The National Interest

Michael Rubin writes: While Erdoğan and Aliyev might celebrate ridding the region of Christians, replacing them with mercenaries will be a ticking time bomb for the southern Caucasus. They not only will create tension within majority Shi’ite Azerbaijan, but if they try to link up with jihadists in the northern Caucasus, they could both destabilize the region and trigger greater Russian intervention in the region. – The National Interest


Russia’s holdout diplomacy is becoming so awkward that it risks being interpreted as a pointed message that Putin is siding with outgoing President Trump and his baseless claims that the election was rigged and apparent attempts to delegitimize the president-elect. – Washington Post

For the past year, U.S. officials and Russia hawks on Capitol Hill have closely watched the peregrinations of a Russian ship, as it sailed from Russia’s Far East around Africa to the Baltic Sea. – Wall Street Journal

Russia should consider revising the terms of its participation in the International Space Station, a Russian space industry executive said on Thursday, because it wants to focus on forming its own orbiting outpost after 2024. – Reuters

Arms control advocates are urging Joe Biden to extend the last U.S.-Russian treaty limiting deployed strategic nuclear arms for five years, but some experts argue the U.S. president-elect should go for a shorter period to maintain leverage over Moscow. – Reuters

Congress and the executive branch continue to consider responses and countermeasures to malicious Russian activities. – USNI News

Richard Weitz writes: Yet, Moscow has employed other tools to manage these crises. The CSTO has simply backed the Russian position that Turkey, not being a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, should not serve as a mediator in the conflict. When the Kremlin made the decision to deploy thousands of peacekeeping troops to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian leadership acted without any evident consultations or consideration of the other CSTO allies, further weakening the institution’s claim to be Eurasia’s premier security organization. – Middle East Institute


President-elect Joe Biden told NATO’s secretary-general in a recent telephone call of the U.S.’s “enduring commitment” to the military alliance—a relief for European allies after President Trump’s browbeatings and threats to leave. – Wall Street Journal

A year later, the EU has approved the sanctions regime, set to be formally launched in early December, ending a decade of fighting that has divided the region’s governments, parliaments and political parties. – Wall Street Journal

Britain’s foreign minister said Sunday there is only about a week left for the U.K. and the European Union to strike a post-Brexit trade deal, with fishing rights the major obstacle to an agreement. – Associated Press

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday declined to rule out a new vote for Scottish independence next year, saying that she wanted to see a referendum held in the early part of the next Scottish parliament. – Reuters

A leading Hungarian opposition party joined calls on Sunday for Prime Minister Viktor Orban to sack the head of a state-funded museum for making extreme anti-Semitic comments likening U.S. financier George Soros to Adolf Hitler. – Reuters

Montenegro on Saturday declared Serbia’s ambassador persona non grata for interfering with the country’s internal affairs, the ministry of interior said in a statement. – Reuters

President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that images showing Paris police beating up a Black music producer were shameful for France, and that government would have to find a way to restore public confidence in the force. – Reuters

German authorities have uncovered a group of soldiers suspected of organising a chat group relating to anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism and pornography, according to a Defence Ministry document seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that he would step down as president once a new constitution is adopted and proposed curbing presidential powers as part of the reforms, though he gave no timeline for those moves. – Reuters

Poland and Hungary reiterated on Friday that they will block a new European Union budget and coronavirus recovery fund if rule-of-law conditions are attached, raising the risk of a prolonged standoff with Brussels. – Reuters

The EU will call on the US to seize a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to forge a new global alliance, in a detailed pitch to bury the tensions of the Trump era and meet the “strategic challenge” posed by China. – Financial Times

British plans to crack down on the use of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and other “high-risk” equipment run the risk of economic retaliation, according to senior Chinese officials. – Washington Examiner

Germany on Saturday called for calm after the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist which Tehran has blamed on Israel. – Agence France-Presse

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said he is concerned about the situation in Iran and the wider region after the assassination of one of the country’s top nuclear scientists. – Sky News (UK)

The French Army will test key parts of its new strategic vision, which emphasizes readiness for high-intensity conflict, in a major exercise this April with key allies, the United States and United Kingdom. – USNI News

The recent Polish threat to veto the EU’s budget has ignited a discussion about the country’s future in the bloc. – Politico

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias accused Germany of failing to live up to its leadership role in the EU by rejecting pleas from Athens to impose an arms embargo on Turkey. – Politico

EU politicians who say they want to get tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin should stop coddling Kremlin-connected oligarchs and welcoming their wealth, Alexei Navalny and three other leading Russian opposition figures told the European Parliament on Friday. – Politico

European Council President Charles Michel is confronting one of the trickiest problems yet in the era of pandemic politics: how to cancel an in-person summit with African leaders scheduled for December 9, while insisting that an EU leaders’ summit should be held in person the very next day. – Politico

A year on, Zahradil’s group has come under fierce scrutiny over concerns that it is too close to Beijing, and could be giving China an edge in ongoing trade talks with Brussels. – Politico

The Polish government is getting increasingly upset with European Union efforts to add conditions to budget funding, but the issue isn’t enough for them to consider quitting the bloc, a deputy minister said. – Bloomberg

Armand Gosu writes: The scheduled elections of 2023 would mean a trench war with a reform-hostile parliamentary majority kowtowing to Moscow, and a government of Dodon socialists whose main objective would be election retaliation in two years’ time. […]In order to regain credibility with the EU, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, Moldova needs a new government, supported by a reform-oriented coalition in Parliament in Chișinău. Neither can emerge unless early elections are held. – Middle East Institute

Sammy Wilson writes: If the whole country does not leave the EU as one, many laws made in Westminster will not apply to Northern Ireland if they conflict with EU laws. […]Laws covering 60 percent or more of life in Northern Ireland will be made in Brussels rather than London.Such a situation would leave our part of the U.K. in a constitutional no man’s land. That is not taking back control. That is abandoning the citizens of our own country. – Politico


Ethiopia’s military launched an assault on the capital of the northern Tigray region Saturday after last-minute diplomatic efforts by three former African presidents failed to persuade the fighting sides to reach a truce. – Washington Post

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller met with American troops and diplomats in Somalia on Friday, the first Pentagon chief to visit the strife-torn East African nation. He may also be the last. – New York Times

A veteran C.I.A. officer was killed in combat in Somalia in recent days, according to current and former U.S. officials, a death that is likely to reignite debate over American counterterrorism operations in Africa. – New York Times

Tensions between Tigray and the government reached a flashpoint when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed national elections due to the coronavirus pandemic and the TPLF held its own local vote, despite the central government deeming it illegal. – Wall Street Journal

Long-simmering tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government, led by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and defiant authorities in its northern Tigray region have erupted into a military confrontation. – Wall Street Journal

The leader of Ethiopia’s rebellious northern forces said on Monday he was still fighting close to the regional capital of Mekelle after it was captured by government troops following nearly a month of battles and air strikes. – Reuters

The head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Sunday he hoped humanitarian access to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region would be granted soon by the Ethiopian authorities. – Reuters

Six rice farmers were killed on Thursday near the central Mali village of Farabougou, the mayor of a nearby town said, taking the death toll to 23 since the siege of the village by suspected jihadists began in October. – Reuters

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, on trial on terrorism and other charges in the central African country, said on Friday he had been kidnapped from abroad before being detained and charged. – Reuters

But some analysts say reforms meant to unify Ethiopia have inflamed simmering ethnic and political divisions and risk unravelling Africa’s second most populous nation. – Reuters

Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore has won re-election by a comfortable margin, preliminary results showed on Thursday, after an election marred by insecurity that prevented swathes of the West African country from voting. – Reuters

Four soldiers in southwest Chad were killed and dozens injured in an explosion on a boat thought to have been caused by an improvised bomb, a local official said on Wednesday, suggesting it was the work of Islamist group Boko Haram. – Reuters

Suspected members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram killed at least 40 rice farmers and fishermen in Nigeria as they were harvesting crops in the country’s northern state of Borno, officials said. One said the death toll could rise to about 60 people. – Associated Press

No country has been involved in Somalia’s future as much as the United States. Now the Trump administration is thinking of withdrawing the several hundred U.S. military troops from the Horn of Africa nation at what some experts call the worst possible time. – Associated Press

Journalists and citizens in the Central African Republic (CAR) have increasingly become targets for Russian mercenaries in the country, according to an investigation by The Daily Beast. – The Daily Beast

Eritrea’s capital came under fire from Ethiopia’s breakaway Tigray region Friday, raising fears that Ethiopia’s internal conflict could spread as leader Abiy Ahmed resisted calls for dialogue. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

Mexican security forces captured the alleged mastermind of a 2019 massacre that killed nine members of a breakaway Mexican-American Mormon community, an attack that shocked the U.S. and Mexico and strained bilateral relations. – Wall Street Journal

El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have brought criminal charges against more than 700 members of cross-border criminal organizations, primarily the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, in a U.S.-assisted effort, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday. – Reuters

Six American oil executives held for three years in Venezuela were found guilty of corruption charges by a judge Thursday and immediately sentenced to prison, dashing hopes of a quick release that would send them home to their families in the United States.. – Associated Press

Mexico is considering requesting the extradition of a former federal police chief facing drug charges in the U.S., government officials said. – Bloomberg

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: Plaintiffs have collected affidavits, board-of-elections records, and other documentary evidence and under the law they are entitled access to the courts to present their grievances. Far from undermining American democracy, this demonstrates its strengths—and sets it apart from the likes of Venezuela, where elections are stolen with impunity. […]Venezuelans never got their day in court, but Americans still get theirs. In the interest of securing the confidence of the electorate, court challenges ought to be allowed to play out. – Wall Street Journal

Eric R. Mandel writes: Americans of all political stripes should hope that the new administration creates a foreign policy that listens to voices across the political spectrum, doesn’t succumb to petty politics, and is one that reflects what most Americans believe America should project to the world. If America is to remain a beacon of hope, we must come together in respectful dialogue. Our unity is the missing ingredient to advance our foreign policy interests. – The Hill

Andreas Kluth writes: The era of MAD and mutual vulnerability was terrifying but in a surreal way also stable. The coming era of questionable deterrence and asymmetric vulnerabilities will be less stable and therefore even more frightening. Biden will have much in his inbox come January. He better make sure arms control isn’t at the bottom. – Bloomberg 


The European Union wants to take control of its own data, part of a broader effort to wrest digital influence from large companies in the U.S. and China. – Wall Street Journal

Cyberattacks on America’s health systems have become their own kind of pandemic over the past year as Russian cybercriminals have shut down clinical trials and treatment studies for the coronavirus vaccine and cut off hospitals’ access to patient records, demanding multimillion-dollar ransoms for their return. – New York Times

The top U.S. cybersecurity official fired by Republican President Donald Trump for saying the Nov. 3 election was the most secure in American history said on Friday voter fraud allegations made by Trump and his allies are “farcical”. – Reuters

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog agency, recommended this week that policymakers consider creating cybersecurity standards to ensure a safe rollout of fifth generation, or 5G, wireless networks. – The Hill

Long War

Norway will extradite a man to France who is suspected of taking part in an attack that killed six people in a Jewish restaurant in Paris 38 years ago, the government said on Friday. – Reuters

U.S. federal prosecutors have charged a New Jersey woman with concealing multiple efforts to transfer money to Islamist militants in Syria connected to the Nusra Front, a onetime al Qaeda affiliate based in Syria’s Idlib province. – Reuters

The number of deaths around the world caused by terrorism hit a five-year low in 2019, falling 59 percent since 2014, according to a new report by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). – The Hill

Federal authorities arrested a former U.S. Army service member and Army National Guardsman in New Jersey on Wednesday on charges of supporting a foreign terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. – The Hill

The Moroccan gunman on trial for an attempted terror attack on a Paris-bound train five years ago said Wednesday he had aimed at the heads of American soldiers but could not shoot. – Agence France-Presse

As two Islamic State militants faced a judge in Virginia, Diane Foley listened from home through a muffled phone connection. She strained to make out the voices of the men prosecutors say kidnapped her son before he was murdered. – Associated Press

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. – Reuters

A former Trump campaign associate who was the target of a secret surveillance warrant during the FBI’s Russia investigation says in a federal lawsuit that he was the victim of “unlawful spying.” – Associated Press