Fdd's overnight brief

November 9, 2021

In The News


Iran’s military warned off U.S. drones trying to approach Iranian war games near the mouth of the Gulf, state broadcaster IRIB said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Iran’s judicial authorities reportedly banned a newspaper Monday for publishing a front-page graphic that appeared to show Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hand drawing the poverty line in the Islamic Republic, amid widespread anger over the cratering economy. – Associated Press 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team declined to blame Iran for a recent assassination attempt against Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, citing the need for U.S. officials to “defer to the Iraqis” probing the Sunday assault. – Washington Examiner 

Nearly five months after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of Iran, the Islamic republic and western powers have finally agreed a date on which to resume stalled talks in Vienna about reviving the nuclear deal. But days after last week’s announcement of the November 29 talks, Iranian officials voiced serious doubts that negotiations with representatives from the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China over a deal that US president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 would deliver much. – Financial Times 

Katherine Lawlor and Zach Coles write: Iran likely supported and facilitated a failed attempt by its Iraqi proxy militias to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to retain Iran’s dominant influence in Iraq. Iran likely permitted the attack after Iraqi nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr began to pursue a new government without the participation of Iran’s proxies in the aftermath of Iraq’s October 10, 2021, elections. […]In a less likely but most dangerous scenario, Sadr could deploy his own militias to counter Iranian threats, risking a wider civil war in Iraq. – Institute for the Study of War 

Bobby Ghosh writes: The Islamic Republic is keen to keep up its recent discussions — brokered, as it happens by Kadhimi — with its traditional enemies. The Arabs now have the opportunity to press the Iranians to curb their surrogates or at least stand back while the Iraqi military does the job. – Bloomberg 



The U.S. military has not located a suspected Islamic State safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan, that officials initially said led to an American drone strike on Aug. 29 that mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, according to two senior military officials. – New York Times 

Last month, the family of Mawlavi Ezzatullah, a member of Afghanistan’s Hizb-e Islami party, received a WhatsApp message from his phone: “We have slaughtered your Mawlavi Ezzat, come and collect his body.” Ezzatullah’s killing, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, was one of a steady stream of assassinations and bombings that have undermined Taliban claims that they have brought greater security to Afghanistan after 40 years of war. – Reuters 

The Taliban are carrying out background checks within their ranks as they look to identify and capture infiltrators from rival Islamic State, which has carried out several deadly attacks across Afghanistan since the militant group took power in August. – Bloomberg 

The United States is worried about an uptick in attacks by Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan and remains deeply concerned about al Qaeda’s ongoing presence there, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West said on Monday. – Reuters 

Editorial: This is the result of the Air Force’s investigation last week into the drone strike that President Joe Biden authorized. The strike, one of several measures taken to distract the public from the completely incompetent withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan, turned out to target an innocent aid worker and nine others with no apparent terrorist ties, including multiple children. […]This time, innocents and children were actually murdered in what was supposed to be a careful and well-calculated retaliatory strike. As usual with Biden, it appears that no one will be held accountable at all, not even a little bit. – Washington Examiner 


Security researchers disclosed Monday that spyware from the notorious Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group was detected on the cellphones of six Palestinian human rights activists, half affiliated with groups that Israel’s defense minister controversially claimed were involved in terrorism. – Associated Press 

European members of the United Nations Security Council pressed Israel for answers on its decision to designate six Palestinian non-governmental groups as terror entities. – Jerusalem Post 

Dozens of suspected arms dealers were arrested early on Tuesday as part of Israel’s largest-ever police action against illegal weapons. At least 78 suspects were arrested, based on information provided by a dealer turned informant, in a raid on the Arab sector dubbed “Operation Ocean.” – Ynet 

Schanzer, a Middle East expert, says that the situation might escalate again. “The Israeli officials I spoke to in June suggested that war could easily break out again soon. Between balloon bombs and occasional rockets, another conflagration is entirely possible. I think the determining factor here is Israel, which usually doesn’t respond to provocations until there is a significant “target bank” collected”. – Jerusalem Post 


A drone attack that targeted the Iraqi prime minister on Sunday was carried out by at least one Iran-backed militia, Iraqi security officials and militia sources said, weeks after pro-Iran groups were routed in elections they say were rigged. – Reuters 

David Ignatius writes: Iran and its militia allies made a predictable attempt to suggest that the United States was somehow to blame for the confrontation and attempted murder. […]But this anti-American spin isn’t likely to gain traction, even among conspiracy-minded Iraqis. And it’s easily rebutted because the drones were recovered. If Kadhimi can stay alive, he has a better chance than a week ago of remaining in power and mobilizing the kind of reforms that Iraq desperately needs. – Washington Post  

Jonathan Spyer writes: The attempted assassination of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his Baghdad home Sunday represents a grave escalation in that strife-torn country. […]What’s happening in Iraq is part of a larger pattern of Iranian assertiveness in the region. The attack on the U.S. base in Tanf on Oct. 20, the continuing intimidation of Judge Tarek Bitar in Lebanon, and the killings of Iranian oppositionists in northern Iraq are all part of the same process of muscle flexing. The attempt to murder the elected Iraqi prime minister sharply raises the stakes. – Wall Street Journal 


A senior Arab League official held talks in Lebanon on Monday in a bid to ease a rift with Saudi Arabia over criticism of its role in the Yemen war, saying the crisis could have been defused if the minister who made the comments had resigned. – Reuters 

Lebanon is to begin the second phase of a two-step process to fill security gaps along its border with Syria, the head of Lebanon’s Joint Border Security Committee has told Defense News. – Defense News 

Neville Teller writes: If disaster is to be averted, Lebanon has to find a way to throw off the chains that shackle it to the proxy of a foreign power. The vital question is, can it rid itself of the oppressive dominance of Hezbollah and achieve a corruption-free, democratic future without descending into a new civil war? – Jerusalem Post 


Gulf States

Kuwait’s government on Monday submitted its resignation to the ruling emir, a move which along with an amnesty pardoning political dissidents could help end a standoff with opposition lawmakers that has hindered fiscal reform. – Reuters 

John C. Hulsman writes: Out of the shambles of Afghanistan, it is imperative that America quickly reassemble working regional policy for the Middle East, the graveyard of a generation’s worth of U.S. presidencies. […]As the U.S. looks at Middle East regional policy anew, through the more grown-up realist prism of viewing nations in a less all-or-nothing manner, it will be important to see that the U.S.-Qatari relationship already has served the United States — and as we seek to more adroitly defend our interests and manage conflict in one of the world’s most challenging regions, we surely will need to make use of Qatar’s good offices in the future.  – The Hill 

Simon Henderson writes: It looks like the future is to head back in history to yet another rerun of an OPEC crisis. Saudi Arabia and others are in an arm-twisting competition with us and other industrialized countries about the price of oil. The cartel, now known as OPEC+ because of the loose addition of Russia, Kazakhstan and a few others, rather likes prices as they are — more than $80 per barrel, with $100 in its sights. They are only increasing production marginally so as not to weaken the price, when most of us here want more oil and we want it cheaper. – The Hill 

Middle East & North Africa

Top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken said on Monday that Egypt had more work to do on human rights amid calls for Washington to take a tougher stance on Cairo’s crackdown on political opponents during meetings in with Egyptian officials. – Reuters 

Two Syrian soldiers were injured and material damage was caused in an alleged Israeli airstrike targeting sites along the coast of Syria and in the center of the country on Monday evening, with Syrian air defenses responding to the strike, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.- Jerusalem Post 

Yossi Melman writes: If Saddam Haftar plays a key role in the unity government (if any such government is indeed established), the chances will increase that Libya will launch diplomatic ties with Israel, with the encouragement of Egypt, the UAE and the Biden administration. – Haaretz 


China appears to have built models with the dimensions of a U.S. aircraft carrier and other warships in a western desert, illustrating how the People’s Liberation Army is focused on increasingly realistic training as tension with the U.S. rises over Taiwan. – Wall Street Journal 

The growing public and private role of the PLA in China’s vaccine diplomacy shows how the country’s soft-power outreach is developing a harder edge in the intensifying contest with the U.S. for global influence. Though military-to-military donations represent only a small portion of the roughly 1.4 billion doses China has sold and donated abroad, they are calibrated to help Beijing achieve strategic objectives it believes are necessary to compete with Washington, defense analysts and international-relations scholars say. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s armed forces are capable of blockading Taiwan’s key harbours and airports, the island’s defence ministry said on Tuesday, offering its latest assessment of what it describes as a “grave” military threat posed by its giant neighbour. – Reuters 

China on Monday labelled the charges against a Chinese citizen convicted in the United States of stealing trade secrets as “pure fabrication”. The U.S. Justice Department said on Friday that Xu Yanjun had been convicted by a federal jury of plotting to steal trade secrets from several U.S. aviation and aerospace companies. – Reuters 

The Biden administration looks to launch a global infrastructure financing program, intended to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative, with between five and 10 flagship projects announced as soon as January, a senior U.S. official said Monday. – Bloomberg 

China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has begun using the new electronic warfare (EW)-capable variant of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-16 fighter aircraft in combat training. – Jane’s 360 

China continues to pursue both aviation and maritime capabilities to counter the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday. – USNI News 

Editorial: China’s quest for a stronger nuclear force could be intended to deter the United States from coercion if a conventional or nonnuclear conflict breaks out in the South China Sea — say, over Taiwan. China’s leaders also no doubt are taking note of the intensifying cooperation among the United States, Japan, Australia and India. President Xi Jinping seems determined to demonstrate China’s great power status, and that includes a great-power-sized nuclear arsenal. – Washington Post 

Walter Russell Mead writes: But for now, the world must deal with a Chinese government simultaneously puffed up by triumphalism and haunted by fears of the future. In response, the U.S. and its allies must make resolute and robust preparations to deter Chinese aggression while conveying a genuine desire to work cooperatively with a China willing to uphold the basic framework of international order. – Wall Street Journal 

Michael Cunningham writes: Those in Washington wondering how long they will have to put up with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his hardline policies are about to get a hint that they probably won’t like. […]While China’s lack of concrete regulations around leadership succession and the full year between the plenum and the expected date of the party congress make it premature to jump to conclusions, Xi does not appear likely to retire anytime soon. U.S. officials and policymakers should get used to the idea of continuing to deal with him for the foreseeable future. – The Hill 


A delegation led by the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi will visit Pakistan tomorrow to discuss bilateral ties, meeting with officials there for the first time since the militant group swept to power in Afghanistan in August. Issues related to economy, Afghan migrants, transit will be discussed, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the minister said on Twitter. The delegation will include the Taliban’s acting ministers of finance and trade. – Bloomberg 

Taiwan laid out plans to challenge what it described as China’s “gray zone threats” to shift the balance of power in the region and possibly take the democratically ruled island without fighting a battle. The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense outlined in a biennial military strategy report on Tuesday how it aims to counter what it describes as Beijing’s pressure campaign. It cited warplane incursions as well as speedboats ramming its coast guard vessels, and accused China of engaging in “cognitive warfare” to sway Taiwanese public opinion. – Bloomberg 

Thorsten Benner writes: Last Wednesday, for the first time ever, an official delegation of members of the European Parliament arrived in Taiwan. During the three-day visit, the delegation from the Parliament’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference received a high-level welcome. The program has included meetings with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the premier, and the speaker of the Taiwanese parliament. Two weeks ago, in what was also a first, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu held meetings in Brussels with members of the European Parliament from nine countries as well as undisclosed European Union officials “at a non-political level.” – Foreign Policy 



For the second time this year, Russia has massed thousands of troops and their armored equipment near its border with Ukraine, and again appears to be using its energy supplies as a weapon to stop any westward drift by Ukraine’s government. In response, the Biden administration dispatched William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a former ambassador to Russia, to Moscow to let the Kremlin know the U.S. is watching. Meantime, Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped the two most important international gatherings of the year—the Group of 20 summit meeting in Rome and the big international climate-change conference in Scotland – Wall Street Journal  

Russia is moving more tanks near the border with Ukraine, defense-intelligence firm Janes said, reinforcing western concerns about reports of a build-up of Russian military forces close to its neighbor. – Bloomberg 

On November 4, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Anna Borshchevskaya, Lester Grau, and Michael McFaul. Borshchevskaya is a senior fellow at the Institute and author of the new book Putin’s War in Syria: Russian Foreign Policy and the Price of America’s Absence. Grau is the research director for the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and one of the Army’s leading experts on Russia. McFaul is director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and former U.S. ambassador to Russia. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks. – Washington Institute 


Lifting the travel ban was one step toward a larger goal of easing tensions. “It was a bone that Biden could throw to the Europeans,” Mr. Alden said. Another, he said, was the deal recently announced to roll back the tariffs on steel and aluminum that had been imposed during the Trump administration. – New York Times 

Warsaw has accused Belarus of trying to spark a major confrontation, with video clips showing hundreds of migrants walking towards the Polish border and some trying to breach the fence using spades and other implements. – Reuters 

One of the world’s oldest communist parties bucked the hard left pro-boycott Israel trend, declaring in October its opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign targeting the Jewish state. – Jerusalem Post 

U.S. officials have descended on Bosnia and Herzegovina, trying to defuse a combustible moment in the country amid regional frustration with the EU’s own efforts. Gabriel Escobar, the U.S. special envoy to the Western Balkans, arrived Sunday for a two-day visit amid a backdrop that, to many, resembles the leadup to the war that overtook the country from 1992 to 1995. – Politico 


A new round of deadly attacks and forced conscription has begun against ethnic Tigrayans in an area of Ethiopia now controlled by Amhara regional authorities in collaboration with soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, people fleeing over the border to Sudan tell The Associated Press as the yearlong war intensifies. – Associated Press 

The U.S. State Department on Monday said Washington believes there is a small window of an opening to work with the African Union to make progress on peacefully resolving the conflict in Ethiopia as a special envoy returned to Addis Ababa. – Reuters 

Sudan’s military tightened its grip on state institutions and arrested hundreds of opponents, dampening hopes the African nation’s democratic transition can be put back on track after last month’s coup. Despite international outcry over the putsch, military chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has pressed ahead in overseeing a shakeup at government-owned media and the central bank. – Bloomberg 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed angrily complained in a phone call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Ethiopians brought to Israel in recent months during an intensifying war in the African country have included officers involved in war crimes, a report said Monday. – Times of Israel 

Editorial: Any interim government would have, as a matter of urgency, to try to settle the issue that has eaten away at Ethiopia at least since the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. That is how to reconcile the claims for autonomy by different ethnic nationalities within the structure of an Ethiopian state. Abiy’s attempt to resolve that issue has gone irreparably wrong. The next must succeed if Ethiopia is to avoid the fate of Yugoslavia. – Financial Times 

Christopher Rhodes writes: But even if sympathies for the TPLF wane, this is unlikely to translate into support for Abiy. The Ethiopian leader has shown himself to be a weak and overly ambitious leader at best, and a duplicitous war criminal at worst. Abiy’s meteoric rise in Ethiopia and the effusive praise of the global community — to which I contributed at the time — created a hubris that has proved disastrous for Abiy and for Ethiopia as a whole. – Washington Post 

Cameron Hudson writes: As the crises in Sudan and Ethiopia begin to spiral out of control, U.S. officials must acknowledge where diplomacy has come up short and apply pressure to not only influence but also actively shape the peaceful and democratic outcomes the Biden administration has been calling for. Imposing a regional arms embargo, suspending debt financing, and issuing targeted sanctions on government-owned entities and military leaders in both countries would be an overdue start. – Foreign Policy 

Rida Lyammouri writes: Events in the Sahel, and Mali especially, are taking an uncertain and worrying turn. Mali witnessed two coups d’état in less than a year, while the West African Sahel went through its most violent year yet and there are no signs that the violence is slowing down. […]Strategic and political shifts in the Sahel have exacerbated the decade-old security threat presented by violent extremism, political instability, and domestic conflicts in the region. The transformation, according to Macron, of Operation Barkhane makes the future of counterterrorism in the Sahel uncertain. – Middle East Institute 

The Americas

As expected, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega had an overwhelming lead on his way to winning his fourth consecutive term, in an election that both the opposition and the U.S. said was a sham, completing his transformation into a 21st century version of the dynastic dictator he helped to overthrow over 40 years ago. – Wall Street Journal 

The Supreme Court appeared divided at arguments on Monday over whether Muslim Americans who allege the FBI targeted them in 2006 because of their religion can proceed with a lawsuit that the government argues must be dismissed to protect state secrets. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel has used it to intercept thousands of Palestinian rockets and mortars. Now the Iron Dome missile-defense system is being tested in Guam by U.S. military planners concerned about possible Chinese attacks. – Wall Street Journal 

Oscar Rene Vargas, a Nicaraguan political analyst, said Nicaraguans can only expect more repression from a victorious Ortega, saying the president “has the mindset of power or death.” Vargas added: “He’s not going to leave power, because leaving power is his death.” – Associated Press 

Michael Rubin writes: Nicaraguans increasingly say that both the Russians and the Chinese have established a military presence in their country. […]Should Russian and/or Chinese forces support instability elsewhere in Central America, the ripple effects on American security would be significant. Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have said they hope to address the root cause of instability in the region in order to stem the migrant flow northward. They have yet to do so, but Russian or Chinese forces seeking to undermine or stymie their plans will hamper any solution they might propose. – 19FortyFive 


Law enforcement in the U.S. and Europe announced a series of actions aimed at a Russia-linked criminal group behind ransomware attacks that crippled critical infrastructure and businesses, aiming to strike a blow at a scourge the Biden administration has identified as a prime national-security threat. – Wall Street Journal 

European officials are seizing on disclosures from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to accelerate and sharpen their plans to impose sweeping new restrictions on big technology companies. – Wall Street Journal 

Hacking software sold by the NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, has been used to spy on journalists, opposition groups and rights activists. […]But the company’s biggest backer, the government of Israel, considers the software a crucial element of its foreign policy and is lobbying Washington to remove the company from the blacklist, two senior Israeli officials said Monday. – New York Times 

A suspected Ukrainian hacker has been arrested and charged in the United States in connection with a string of costly ransomware attacks, including one that snarled businesses around the globe on the Fourth of July weekend, U.S. officials said Monday. – Associated Press 

Representatives from EU countries have agreed that the European Commission will be the sole enforcer of new tech rules, with a limited role for national antitrust watchdogs instead of the wider powers sought for them, officials said on Monday. – Reuters 

Law enforcement agencies around the world have made a series of arrests in the past five days that together constitute one of the largest law enforcement crackdowns on suspected ransomware hackers to date. – NBC 

As part of a sweeping crackdown on ransomware on Monday, the Biden administration sanctioned a virtual cryptocurrency exchange called Chatex, accusing it of facilitating financial transactions for hackers. An analysis of Chatex’s known transactions indicates that more than half are “directly traced to illicit or high-risk activities such as darknet markets, high-risk exchanges and ransomware,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department statement. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: Cryptocurrency lobbyists have come to Washington to ask Congress for “guidance.” New laws, however, should not be permission to evade old ones that apply to banking and other traditional financial operations. Meanwhile, federal regulators already can guide the industry by letting it know they’re prepared to enforce the laws that currently exist. – Washington Post 


Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said Monday that she has discussed the Pentagon’s research and development priorities with her counterparts in Australia, Japan, Latvia, Germany and the U.K. in an effort to establish monthly teleconferences with U.S. allies. – Defense News 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Dynetics proved they can catch an X-61A Gremlin drone in flight and bring it aboard a C-130A mothership. But the next step will be more difficult. – Defense News 

The US Air Force (USAF) is moving headlong into the prototype phase of the service’s new, open architecture-based signals intelligence (SIGINT) programme, tapping Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems to develop the sensor hardware and networking backbone in support of the effort. – Jane’s 360 

Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC) has delivered two Beechcraft King Air 350ERs integrated with Mission Enhancement Kits (MEKs) to the US Army for its fleet of Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) aircraft, according to a 3 November company statement. – Jane’s 360 

Walker Mills, Collin Fox, Dylan Phillips-Levine, and Trevor Phillips-Levine write: No single emerging technology or novel tactic can solve the challenge of long-range, submarine-launched antiship cruise missiles. ASW platforms will have to not only detect launches but also get to them in time to prosecute them. The speed and range of fixed-wing, carrier-based aircraft equipped with sonobuoy launchers, mobile sensors, and advanced ASW weapons could help recover much of the S-3 Viking’s capability. Weaving a variety of these emerging tools and techniques into new operational concepts can do that and more. – Military.com