Fdd's overnight brief

October 14, 2021

In The News


Secretary of State Antony Blinken and two of his Middle Eastern counterparts on Wednesday discussed potential alternatives for addressing Iran’s nuclear program should diplomacy founder, as Tehran expands uranium enrichment and delays the resumption of negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. – Washington Post

Israel’s foreign minister said Iran draws closer every day to having a nuclear weapon and warned his country will use force if it must to keep that from happening, a blunt threat that underscored his government’s growing frustrations as world powers seek to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. – Bloomberg 

Azerbaijan freed two Iranian prisoners, suggesting the bordering countries are trying to reduce tensions and avoid a possible conflict over critical transit routes and Israel’s presence in the region. – Bloomberg 

At a recent summit  in Tajikistan, Iran was accepted into the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an economic and political alliance. In the short run, Iran’s membership in the SCO will not guarantee economic gains. However, amid a U.S. retreat from vital areas of interest, Iran’s acceptance into the organization is a harbinger for closer cooperation between Iran and China, as well as China’s bid for greater international prominence. – Washington Examiner

US President Joe Biden’s administration hinted Wednesday it could resort to force if diplomacy fails on Iran’s nuclear program, rallying more closely than ever behind warnings by Israel. – Agence France-Presse

Azerbaijan said Wednesday it has agreed with Iran to resolve their diplomatic crisis through dialogue, weeks after ties soured over allegations that Israel’s military was active in Azerbaijan. – Agence France-Presse

The EU envoy charged with coordinating talks on reviving a troubled nuclear deal between Iran and major powers is to visit Tehran on Thursday, the Iranian foreign ministry said. – Agence France-Presse

The Iranian military said on Wednesday it has successfully tested anti-missile defenses for “sensitive” sites during war games in central Iran. – Arutz Sheva

Yochanan Visser writes: So, if the reports about the Israeli presence near the border with Iran are true, Israel is now essentially doing the same thing as Iran in its attempts to encircle Israel – that is, also trying to encircle the Islamic Republic through its proxies and waging constant psychological warfare to make its arch-enemy feel vulnerable. At the same time, Iran has stepped up its cyber attacks against Israeli targets and is feverishly working to expand its fleet of attack drones, according to opposition sources inside Iran. – Arutz Sheva

James Phillips and Peter Brookes writes: The JCPOA nuclear negotiations provide a historic opportunity to redress the shortcomings of the agreement. But the Iranian regime must be convinced that its nuclear brinkmanship not only threatens Iran’s national security and economic interests, but also undermines the narrow ideological interests of the regime itself, threatening its survival. A failure of the Biden Administration to halt Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs would make an Iran armed with nuclear-tipped ICBMs inevitable. – Heritage Foundation


The Biden administration is planning to allow some Afghan civil servants who were employed by the 1996-2001 Taliban government to be exempt from terror-related bans on entering the United States, according to a draft document obtained by Fox News. The administration continues to bring in tens of thousands of Afghans as part of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. – Fox News

Leaders of the world’s top economies failed to agree on how to deal with the Taliban at an extraordinary summit, pledging only to channel aid through the United Nations as a humanitarian crisis looms. The group’s track record since taking power helps explain the reluctance. – Bloomberg

Multiple individuals aboard one of the evacuation flights leaving Kabul, Afghanistan , “intended” on hijacking the plane, the Air Force revealed. – Washington Examiner

Afghanistan’s new Taliban government has warned US and European envoys that continued attempts to pressure them through sanctions will undermine security and could trigger a wave of economic refugees. – Agence France-Presse

Ask almost anyone in the Afghan capital what they want now that the Taliban are in power, and the answer is the same: They want to leave. It’s the same at every level of society, in the local market, in a barbershop, at Kabul University, at a camp of displaced people. – Associated Press

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban jihadi organization that now controls Afghanistan) had twice threatened clearly that it would execute Ashraf Ghani whenever it takes power. Anticipating victory soon after having signed the Doha agreement in February 2020 with the United States, the Islamic Emirate had revealed that it would execute President Ashraf Ghani. This was a solemn commitment that the Afghan Taliban made to their own ranks. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The Army’s security force assistance brigades have revamped how they deploy soldiers since their first major deployment to Afghanistan. Now, its about small teams, regionally aligned to different parts of the world. – Defense News


Syria’s defense ministry said on Thursday that one of its soldiers has been killed and three injured in an overnight Israeli airstrike on a telecommunication tower in the central province of Homs. – Associated Press

The United States does not intend to support any efforts to normalise ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or rehabilitate him until there is irreversible progress towards a political solution in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iran-backed forces in Syria said on Thursday they would respond forcefully to an Israeli strike over Syria’s Palmyra area in the province of Homs on Wednesday evening in the second such strike within a week. – Reuters


Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday Turkey would “do what is necessary for its security” after what it said was a rise in cross-border attacks by Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. – Reuters

A high-level delegation from Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers has arrived in Turkey for talks with Turkish officials, the Foreign Ministry announced Thursday. – Associated Press

Turkish authorities have detained eight people, including two alleged Iranian agents, who attempted to abduct a former Iranian soldier back to Iran, Turkey’s state-run agency reported Wednesday. – Associated Press

Laura Pitel writes: The situation creates a bind for the Biden administration. Pressing for a green light to the F16 sale without any conditions would be seen by Turkey’s critics as unwarranted appeasement. […]Deeper Turkish defence co-operation with Moscow would not serve Ankara’s interests. Not only would it be likely to trigger further US sanctions, it would also be damaging for the expanding domestic defence industry Erdogan himself has championed. – Financial Times


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday the Biden administration intends to press ahead with its plan to reopen the Jerusalem consulate that traditionally engaged with Palestinians, despite Israeli opposition to such a move. – Reuters

A Palestinian driver struck and moderately wounded a member of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police at a major checkpoint north of Jerusalem overnight, the police said Thursday. – Associated Press

Nearly a year after former US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan agreed to make peace with Israel, with little progress toward an actual agreement signed between the countries, a senior Israeli delegation met with Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The spokesman for an anti-Zionist Haredi cult was recorded praising the IDF in a clip retrieved by The Times of Israel Wednesday, in what could threaten the extremist group’s ongoing efforts to seek asylum in the Islamic Republic of Iran. – Times of Israel

Palestinian sources say Hamas kept suspect in protective custody for weeks and imposed a sweeping gag order on his identity before being released for fear of Israeli retaliation. – Ynet

Givat Hamatos, E1, Atarot and Pisgat Ze’ev – these are all areas in or around Jerusalem that lie beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, where the state is currently advancing extensive building plans for Jews. The Biden administration is so far refraining, at least publicly, from pressuring Israel so that it freezes these construction plans. Given the composition of Israel’s government, such pressure could turn into a political crisis. – Haaretz


Lebanon is enduring a humanitarian catastrophe created by a financial meltdown. The World Bank has called it one of the worst financial crises in centuries. “It really feels like the country is melting down,” Ben Hubbard, a Times reporter who has spent much of the past decade in Lebanon, told us. “People have watched an entire way of living disappear.” – New York Times

Unknown gunmen in Lebanon’s capital opened fire, killing at least three, at a protest Thursday over a judge leading an investigation into a blast that tore through Beirut last year. Gunfire has convulsed the heart of the city for hours afterwards. – Washington Post

A Lebanese court on Thursday dismissed a legal complaint brought against the lead investigator of last year’s Beirut port blast probe, allowing him to resume work, court documents showed. – Reuters


More than 100 Yemeni rebels have been killed south of Marib, the Saudi-led coalition said on Wednesday, reporting a heavy toll for the third straight day in fighting for the strategic city. – Agence France-Presse

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen has destroyed two explosive-laden boats used in an attempted attack by the Iran-aligned group in the south of the Red Sea, Saudi state TV said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Gulf States

Just over a year ago the sight of Bahrainis touring Jerusalem’s Old City would’ve been unimaginable. But last week, the unimaginable happened as nine Bahraini activists toured the Jewish Quarter with the first Bahraini delegation organized by the NGO Sharaka. – Jerusalem Post

David Gardner writes: Kadhimi wants to continue as prime minister. What Sadr thinks about that is unclear. What has been abundantly clear until now, though, is that while ordinary Iraqis are scrabbling to live and demanding decent government, their leaders have been unwilling or unable to share power and resources. – Financial Times

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah Bin Zayed, said on Wednesday that he would visit Israel soon, adding that his country was impressed with the growing bilateral relationship. – Reuters

Simon Henderson writes: Afghanistan has thrown all the previous assumptions up in the air. Once again, the degree of support a Gulf country can expect from Washington is being questioned. […]And Saudi Arabia has seemingly abandoned its traditional role as leader of the Gulf states, effectively allowing little Qatar to take the most credit for tricky diplomacy with the Taliban and temporarily hosting evacuees. Riyadh has been “missing in action,” offering zero explanation for not handling a single evacuation flight. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Algerian security forces foiled a plot to carry out an armed attack by separatists aided by “the Zionist entity” (Israel) and a North African country, Ennahar TV said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Four senior members of Egypt’s security services will stand trial in absentia in an Italian court on Thursday over their suspected role in the disappearance and murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016. – Reuters

Sihem Bensedrine writes: Tunisians have clearly and irrevocably disproved this prejudice by starting a revolution that brought down a dictator. They will never be ruled by one again. Even Saied must understand that there is no healthy state without legitimate institutions. Tunisia needs a stronger democracy, not a return to autocracy. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s most vulnerable are “at risk of starvation” with the economy worsening due to a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, and UN sanctions imposed over the country’s nuclear programmes should be eased, a UN human rights expert said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

North Korean defectors in Tokyo symbolically summoned Kim Jong Un to court on Thursday over a repatriation programme they describe as “state kidnapping”. – Agence France-Presse

A Japanese court on Thursday is hearing from five people who say they were promised “paradise on Earth” in North Korea but suffered human rights violations instead and now want the country and its leader Kim Jong Un to compensate them. – Associated Press

North Korea routinely criticizes South Korean culture and its capitalist system, contrasting it with its false depiction of itself as an egalitarian society. – NBC


A senior member of the International Olympic Committee said that holding China to account over its human rights record ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing is not within the committee’s remit, and that they have to respect the host country’s sovereignty. – Washington Post

Editorial: Mr. Xi is running out of time to abandon the quiet bailout in favor of a more explicit plan. Greater clarity carries risks. Households and investors could react badly if they conclude that Beijing’s plan is insufficient. But silence is growing more dangerous as the uncertainty spreads to other companies. Beijing isn’t the first government to deviate from normal bankruptcy rules, as Americans can attest after the 2008 financial panic. But if that’s not the plan, authorities should tell households and investors what is. – Wall Street Journal

Hal Brands writes: If Beijing does manage to enter the transpacific pact while Washington remains on the outside, it is hard to envision any package of American measures, economic or otherwise, that will prevent a steady erosion of U.S. influence. The politics of trade have never been simple. But if Biden is serious about rebuilding American leadership, he may find that those politics are not as deadly as they seem. – Bloomberg

Philippe Benoit writes: Can Beijing succeed in re-activating trade and other discussions with the EU notwithstanding U.S. concerns? Yes, the pivot to Asia and the Indo-Pacific makes sense, and Australia is an important U.S. ally, but managing China also requires the EU. Following the Australia submarine deal, Washington has much more to do in Europe to protect its efforts on China. – The Hill


Chinese officials accused Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of promoting a “two-state theory” of relations between Beijing and Taipei, as the mainland communist regime uses a surge in fighter jet sorties to assert sovereignty over the island democracy. – Washington Examiner

After sending a record number of military aircraft to harass Taiwan over China’s National Day holiday, Beijing has toned down the saber rattling but tensions remain high, with the rhetoric and reasoning behind the exercises unchanged. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s ruling military has not blocked a special Southeast Asian envoy from visiting the country but will not allow him to meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, because she is charged with crimes, the junta’s spokesman said. – Reuters

Taiwan will not start a war with China but will defend itself “full on”, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Thursday, amid a spike in tensions across the Taiwan Strait that has raised concern internationally. – Reuters

Newt Gingrich writes: Finally, Taiwan could work with the United States Space Command to develop 100 percent situational awareness of any Chinese Communist action. Long, persistent unmanned vehicles can orbit for 40 hours with coverage from low earth satellites. New combat information centers can integrate and process huge volumes of data and transmit it by laser in virtually real-time. Taiwan could have deeply detailed knowledge of exactly what Communist China is doing. – Fox News

Eli Lake writes: What is happening right now in Hong Kong is not that different from the Taliban destroying two Buddhas carved in limestone off the cliff of a mountain. Today, the Chinese regime is using the cover of Hong Kong’s once-independent legal system to airbrush an image and an idea that it believes — for good reason — is dangerous. – Common Sense with Bari Weiss


A Taliban delegation will arrive in Moscow next week for the so-called Moscow format talks on Afghanistan, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Thursday. – Reuters

U.S. suspicions are rising that a Russian GRU-led attack cell is conducting pulsed radio frequency or microwave attacks against U.S. personnel, which is resulting in the so-called Havana Syndrome. – Washington Examiner

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia was ready to boost natural gas supplies abroad, after Europe accused Moscow of curbing flows and pushing prices to new records. – Agence France-Presse

Iulia-Sabina Joja and Ryan Olson write: The report reveals three key takeaways. The first is the long-term costs imposed by Russian aggression — costs which are felt by the aggressed countries for many years, even after the end of violence. Second, the costs of Black Sea conflicts are multi-faceted in that the region (and beyond) has suffered losses economically, politically, militarily, and societally. And third, local conflicts in the Black Sea are wide-ranging, meaning countries outside the Black Sea, particularly the U.S. and its allies, have borne a significant share of the costs of regional conflict. – Middle East Institute


For months, a battle over the status of Northern Ireland has been the thorniest legacy of Brexit, even sparking a conflict known as the “sausage wars.” Now, Britain has upped the ante by demanding that post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland that it agreed to two years ago be scrapped and replaced. – New York Times

Right-wing extremist groups in the United States have been influencing French groups, spreading antigovernment conspiracy theories in Europe, the top French intelligence official said on Wednesday. – New York Times

A man armed with a bow and arrows killed five people and wounded two others in southeastern Norway on Wednesday, police said, adding that they had arrested the suspect. – Agence France-Presse

The United States is hopeful it can resolve its trade dispute with the European Union over tariffs on steel and aluminum before the end of October, a source familiar with the discussions said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Hungary’s nationalist government has given its full backing to Poland over a confrontation with Brussels over the rule of law, saying Warsaw is the victim of a “political witch-hunt” and that the EU has “no business” interfering in how member states exercise control over their judiciary. – Financial Times


Matt Hancock, the former U.K. health secretary whose handling of the pandemic was criticized in a Parliament report this week, was named as the United Nations’ special representative for Africa. – Bloomberg

Fighting has resumed in northern Ethiopia’s Afar region after a month-long lull, humanitarian and rebel sources told AFP Wednesday, as the government appeared to be pressing a new offensive. – Agence France-Presse

Kenya has rejected a top U.N. court ruling that decided mostly in favour of Somalia in a maritime row, saying it was profoundly concerned by the boundary it set in a part of the Indian Ocean believed to be rich in oil and gas. – Reuters

The Americas

Two men who have been held for years without charges at Guantánamo Bay — a Yemeni and an Afghan whose repatriation would most likely require reaching an agreement with the Taliban — have been approved for transfer, according to documents released on Wednesday. – New York Times

The United States is returning to the UN Human Rights Council three-and-a-half years after its dramatic walk-out — time seized upon by China to assert wider influence. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Thursday affirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that reforms were possible as the body readies for a major ministerial conference next month. – Reuters


The U.S. has convened a summit of more than 30 nations starting Wednesday to discuss methods to combat ransomware. Russia wasn’t invited. – Wall Street Journal

Representatives from Facebook and YouTube pledged to contribute to reducing the spread of online hate speech at a Holocaust remembrance conference in Sweden amid claims that social media was increasing antisemitism globally. – The Hill

Lawmakers and national security experts said Tuesday that the U.S. needs to take bigger steps at the government level and in the private sector to guard against ransomware attacks. – The Hill

The Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera was targeted by a ransomware attack that affected its computer systems, the hospital announced on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

About three years ago, in response to the growing convergence of cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum operations within the military, Lockheed Martin underwent an internal reorganization to adjust to the new demands. – C4ISRNET


The U.S. and the Philippines are planning to return to full-scale military drills in 2022 after two years and will invite Australia and the U.K. as observers, in another sign of the Biden administration’s push to deepen ties in the Indo-Pacific and counter China’s assertiveness. – Bloomberg

The U.S. Army is using digital engineering to develop its next-generation ground combat vehicles, including the optionally manned fighting vehicle. – Defense News

The director of the Pentagon agency in charge of foreign military sales is stepping down after 15 months in the role. – Defense News

US Army officials have halted plans to field a militarised version of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 augmented reality (AR) system to soldiers, placing a contract worth up to USD21.9 billion in jeopardy, Janes has learned. – Janes

Senior US Army leaders are in the midst of incorporating the lessons learned from data management shortfalls that plagued the US withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this year, saying anticipated advances in the service’s combat networking construct will close those gaps. – Janes

Long War

Al Qaeda has been “strategically patient” and successfully “played the long game” in Afghanistan through its close relationship with the Taliban and Haqqani network, according to two key international security officials from the FBI and the United Nations. – Washington Examiner 

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday leaned toward reinstating convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence for his role in the 2013 attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. – Reuters

Suspected jihadists killed 10 villagers in an attack on a mosque earlier this week in western Niger’s Tillaberi region, local sources said on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Spanish police said Wednesday they arrested five suspects — four in Barcelona and one in Madrid — believed to be part of a jihadist group that sought to recruit others to its cause and was attempting to acquire weapons. – Associated Press

Lina Raafat writes: Together, evidence presented in this section clearly demonstrates that the schism between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State did not emerge in isolation, but rather is part of a broader trend of enmity and contestation as the two groups battle to paint themselves as the dominant and legitimate representative of the jihadist movement worldwide. This, in itself, is a lesson learned and should be factored in when devising counterterrorism responses to curb their expansion and neutralize the threat they pose. – Middle East Institute