Fdd's overnight brief

October 15, 2021

In The News


Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud met U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington and exchanged views on Iran’s nuclear program and international talks on the matter, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has said the kingdom is “serious” about talks with Iran, signalling Riyadh’s desire to repair relations between two rivals that accuse each other of stoking tensions and instability across the Middle East. – Financial Times

An advocacy group dedicated to preventing Iran from gaining nuclear capability has raised questions over a recent decision by US Treasury Department to lift sanctions on two companies heavily involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. – Algemeiner

Iranian and European Union diplomats ended a meeting on the nuclear deal without setting a timeline for the resumption of negotiations with the U.S., committing only to further talks in Brussels in the coming days. – Bloomberg

New short-range air-defence (SHORAD) systems featured in Exercise ‘Defenders of the Velayet Skies 1400′ , which was held by Iranian air-defence forces on 12–13 October, reflecting a growing emphasis on countering low-altitude threats. – Janes

Masih Alinejad writes: If there’s one thing that rattles Iran’s ayatollahs, it’s the revelation of torture and abuse in the country’s prisons. Gholian has paid an enormous price exposing the flagrant abuse of human rights in Iran’s places of detention. The world needs to recognize her bravery and pressure the Islamic republic for her release. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: The Biden team must quickly decide — and then announce — what it actually intends to do to prevent Iran from ramping up its nuclear program. The United States needs to act before Iran reaches the point where Israel responds and draws the United States into a conflict. This new strategy will surely have diplomatic components, require European buy-in, necessitate security adjustments and include measures to enhance regional deterrence. All these things take time and can’t wait any longer. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: The good news for Blinken, Biden and Malley is that there is another way to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In fact, it’s been in effect for several years now. Israel’s Mossad has waged a remarkably successful intelligence war of sabotage and assassinations against Iran’s nuclear program with real success. […]If Biden is serious about a plan B if Iran diplomacy fails, he should instruct his spies to enhance that partnership. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Biden must recognize reality and seize the moment. He should give Iran a finite deadline of not more than one month to return to credible negotiations. Failing that, he should hold firm on Trump-era sanctions. – Washington Examiner


A key route out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was cut off Thursday when Pakistan canceled its national carrier’s flights between Islamabad and Kabul, citing disagreements with the Taliban. – Washington Post

Initially, it was used to smuggle out priority cases for the CIA, including intelligence assets, local agents and their families and a list of high-importance cases sent from the White House. Later, the entrance was expanded to become the main conduit for State Department efforts in the final 48 hours of the civilian evacuation mission to help vulnerable Afghans who worked at the U.S. Embassy and others who could not make it through Taliban checkpoints blocking access to the airport. – Wall Street Journal

The State Department plans to resume regular evacuation flights from Afghanistan before the end of the year to help U.S. citizens, residents and some visa applicants leave the country, a senior State Department official said, an effort that will require coordination with the Taliban and other governments. – Wall Street Journal

The Taliban is struggling to govern a drastically changed country in Afghanistan, the nation’s ambassador to the United States said Wednesday. – C4ISRNET

Amira Jadoon and Andrew Mines write: Regional coordination and intelligence sharing could allow governments to better track the movement of foreign fighters between conflict zones. Cooperation could also focus on tracking and disrupting cross-border alliances, which are a key source of the Islamic State in Afghanistan’s attack capabilities. […]Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran have all put considerable stock in their future relationship with the Taliban. Washington can leverage this to make sure they all give the Taliban the support it needs to defeat the Islamic State in Afghanistan. – War on the Rocks


Turkey has sealed a three-year,11 billion cubic metres (bcm) natural gas accord with Azerbaijan and is making “significant” progress in securing additional natural gas supply, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said on Friday. – Reuters

Afghan Taliban leaders said they would do all they can to help Afghan migrants in Turkey wanting to return home, the Turkish foreign minister said on Thursday after talks in Ankara, adding that both sides discussed how to prevent another “migrant wave”. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: There is a tendency within the White House and State Department to want to offer Turkey a consolation prize after it lost access to the F-35 program. This is the wrong approach. Biden should calibrate his administration’s Turkey policy to the reality of its actions. By any such standards, Turkey neither needs nor deserves upgraded aircraft. Only when Erdogan is gone from power, or dead, should Washington reconsider. – Washington Examiner

Ari Cicurel and Blaise Misztal write: Turkey has resumed its naval harassment of another NATO ally of the United States, Greece, in an attempt to force concessions in a territorial dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean. … To encourage a diplomatic solution, and forestall the possibility of escalation, the United States should condemn Turkish actions, work with other NATO partners to apply coordinated political and, if necessary, economic pressure on Turkey to encourage good-faith negotiations, strengthen its deterrent posture in the Eastern Mediterranean, and expand security cooperation with Greece and other partners safely navigating these critical waters. – JINSA


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

The United States during talks this week made clear its opposition to Israel’s building of Jewish settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians want for a future state, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States has concerns with the United Nations Human Rights Council and will oppose its “disproportionate” attention on Israel, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday after the U.S. was elected back to the council. – Reuters

Mousa Abu Marzouq, a member of the Hamas political bureau and a senior member of the movement’s leadership, accuses Israel of failing to agree on an exchange deal in which IDF soldiers and missing Israelis will be returned in exchange for the release of Palestinian Arab security prisoners. – Arutz Sheva

A new computer game centering around the murder of Israeli soldiers has been removed from Facebook, following an outcry among pro-Israeli groups and Israeli lawmakers. – Arutz Sheva

Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin write: If the Biden administration converts the Agron Street complex or any location in Jerusalem into a de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority, complete with a consul-general who reports not to the U.S. ambassador but directly to the State Department, America would be resurrecting from the grave a dangerous fabrication that it finally buried three years ago. – Newsweek

Meir Javedanfar writes: However, on balance, Azerbaijan is militarily and economically smaller than Iran. Its relations with Israel that anger Iran were partly established because of the threat it feels from the Iranian regime. Iran wants Azerbaijan to distance itself from Israel, but its recent military muscle-flexing is only likely to push Azerbaijan in the opposite direction, toward Israel. – Middle East Institute

Dr. Salem AlKetbi writes: However superficial this pretext may be, it provides Israel with a strong reason to convince the international community of the extent of Iran’s provocations. The mullahs, who repeat day and night that they will not tolerate Israel’s presence in their neighborhood, in return unintendedly give Israel the same right: the right not to tolerate any Iranian military presence in its neighborhood either. – Arutz Sheva


Gunmen opened fire in Lebanon’s capital Thursday, killing at least six people at a Hezbollah-led demonstration calling for the removal of a top judge investigating last year’s deadly explosion in Beirut. For hours, more clashes — involving gunfire and small explosions — spread fear across the city. – Washington Post

The United States will offer an additional $67 million to support the Lebanese army, U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in Beirut on Thursday. – Reuters

Lebanese President Michel Aoun vowed that those who were responsible for the violence that erupted on Thursday in Beirut will be held accountable. – Reuters

Iran condemned the killing of protesters in Lebanon, describing Thursday’s shootings as seditions backed by Israel, state-run Press TV said on Twitter on Friday. – Reuters


The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government said more than 150 Huthi rebels were killed Thursday in air strikes south of Marib city, where the insurgents are pushing on the government’s last northern stronghold. – Agence France-Presse

Yemen’s economy is collapsing, its humanitarian crisis is worsening, and the conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation is growing more violent, the U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief said Thursday. – Associated Press

Hundreds of Yemenis are trapped by fierce fighting between government and Houthi forces in the northern Marib governorate, residents and a local official said, after battles for control of the gas-rich region displaced some 10,000 people last month. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia’s president on Thursday called one of his predecessors, Moncef Marzouki, an enemy of the country and withdrew his diplomatic passport after he demanded that France end its support for Tunisia under Kais Saied’s leadership. – Reuters

Turkey has expanded its exports of armed drones by negotiating sales deals with Morocco and Ethiopia after their successful use in international conflicts, according to four sources familiar with the agreements. – Reuters

Fareed Zakaria writes: The senior official cautions that Iraq’s democracy remains fragile. Corruption is undermining the legitimacy of the state and political system. […]The losers should accept their loss and all parties must compromise. Who could have imagined a decade ago that Iraqi politics might provide some useful lessons for U.S. democracy? – Washington Post


Chinese President Xi Jinping will speak with European Council chief Charles Michel, the latest indication that Beijing and Brussels are seeking a way forward following a spat over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. – Bloomberg

China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan in recent weeks, flying dozens of warplanes near the self-ruled island in a show of strength that has put the entire region on edge. – CNN 

China is preparing to send three astronauts to live on its space station for six months — a new milestone for a program that has advanced rapidly in recent years. – Associated Press

China’s top national security decisionmakers are stunned by a devastating suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan last week reportedly carried out by a Uighur Muslim, sources say, provoking Beijing to either disrupt its march toward greater investments in the Taliban government or to commit further to the quagmire that has stymied other superpowers for decades. – US News & World Report

Tom Rogan writes: This mixture of Orwellian “whole process” language and soaring rhetoric reflects the ultimate truth of contemporary China: first, the quite obvious truth that China is not actually a democracy; second, the Communist Party’s paranoid need to remind itself that it is very special. This paranoia flows from the party’s recognition that where its citizens pursue actual democracy, the all-knowing party doesn’t do so well. Sorry, Xi, you might be the ruler of China. You might be immensely powerful. But Xi, you’re no democrat. – Washington Examiner

Chris Li and Eric Rosenbach write: To call for dialogue and communication with China’s military leadership is not to condone its aggression or Beijing’s repression at home. Even at the height of the Cold War, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, while denouncing the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” hosted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for arms control negotiations. […]The United States and China are on a dangerous path in the Indo-Pacific. Both sides must seize the opportunity to prevent a wider conflict before it is too late. – Foreign Affairs

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Given these trends, the strategic importance of the MENA region and the Gulf is at least as important as it was during the peak period of U.S. dependence on petroleum imports – and may well be higher now. So are America’s ability to deter conflicts and threats to and within the region as well as its ability to protect and work with its strategic partners. U.S. strategic partnerships in the MENA region have become a critical tool in maintaining U.S. countervailing power against China, in aiding America’s partners in Asia as well as in addressing the continuing threat of instability – and terrorism and extremism – in the MENA region. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Ben Noon and Chris Bassler write: Even if the PLA can overcome its internal challenges, success in war will remain uncertain. Ultimately, victory on the battlefield depends on where the battle is fought and against whom. China is increasingly becoming a formidable military adversary in the Western Pacific. Although the possibility of the PLA becoming “world class” by Xi’s own criteria seems unlikely, the U.S. military and key allies will have their hands full in a contingency inside the first and second island chains of the Indo-Pacific. Perhaps only opening Schrodinger’s box, with real combat experience, will reveal the PLA’s actual progress in achieving its modernization goals. – War on the Rocks


Southeast Asian foreign ministers will discuss excluding Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit at a meeting on Friday, sources told Reuters, as pressure builds on the ruling military to comply with an agreed peace roadmap. – Reuters

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the United States’ commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid,” as tensions rise between Taiwan and China. – Reuters

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres asked to postpone a virtual meeting with Southeast Asian ministers at the last minute to avoid signaling recognition of Myanmar’s junta by being in the same online room as the military’s envoy, U.N. diplomats said. – Reuters

The head lawyer representing Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday authorities in the military-ruled country had imposed a gag order on him because they said his communications could cause instability. – Reuters

South Korea will hold its biennial defence fair in Seoul next week, just days after North Korea opened a highly unusual military exhibition that analysts said may be partly aimed at stealing some thunder from Seoul amid a growing arms race. – Reuters


Russia’s foreign minister said he discussed the Russian media situation in Belarus during a visit to the country on Thursday following the arrest of a journalist who worked for a top Russian newspaper. – Associated Press

China and Russia are holding joint naval drills off the Russian Far East in the latest sign of their growing political and military alignment. – Associated Press

Natalia Antonova writes: Today, the Kremlin spokesperson practically foams at the mouth when he insists that Russia is a modern democracy, with every citizen’s rights enshrined by a relatively progressive constitution. But there are lofty words, and then there is reality. All of this is especially sad when you recall just how many brilliant, extremely dedicated people work in the Russian space program. […]And it is only possible because Russia remains committed to space—at this point, in spite of, and not because of, its rapacious ruling class. – Foreign Policy


Poland’s parliament passed legislation on Thursday that human rights advocates say aims to legalise pushbacks of migrants across its borders in breach of the country’s commitments under international law. – Reuters

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who advocates the secession of the Serb-dominated region from Bosnia, announced on Thursday that the Serb Republic leadership will soon take measures aimed at unravelling key institutions of the Bosnian state. – Reuters

Leading EU member states are pressing Brussels to draw up tough retaliatory measures should the UK carry out its threat to suspend trading arrangements for Northern Ireland enshrined in the Brexit deal. – Financial Times

The U.S. and European Union are not on the same page when it comes to dealing with China and must discuss their strategic approach, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said. – Bloomberg

The bow-and-arrow rampage by a man who killed five people in a small town near Norway’s capital appeared to be a terrorist act, authorities said Thursday, a bizarre and shocking attack in a Scandinavian country where violent crime is rare. – Associated Press

There has perhaps been no greater diplomatic crisis between the United States and France in modern history than last month’s so-called AUKUS deal. Washington announced a strategic partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia to provide Canberra with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as a bulwark against China. – Foreign Policy


President Biden on Thursday announced the donation of millions of coronavirus vaccines to a group of African countries during a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, which is contending with the pandemic and an unfolding humanitarian disaster in neighboring Ethiopia. – New York Times

A telecoms blackout will be maintained in large swathes of northwest Nigeria because it is helping the armed forces crack down on bandits responsible for a wave of abductions and attacks, the country’s top general said on Thursday. – Reuters

Katherine Tai, U.S. global trade representative, said Washington would “soon” decide on Ethiopia’s status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), an agreement which gives it duty-free access to the United States. – Reuters

South African security forces freed two cabinet ministers held hostage by war veterans demanding reparations for their involvement in the fight against White-minority rule a quarter century ago. – Bloomberg

A mob lynched a military police officer after he killed a five-year-old girl when he fired on a car at a checkpoint in the capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking South West Region on Thursday, the defense ministry said. – CNN

When France pulls its troops out of Timbuktu, the city will still be protected by Malian forces and some 800 U.N. peacekeepers, mostly from Burkina Faso. French bases in Tessalit and Kidal will also be shuttered, the French military has said. Timbuktu Mayor Aboubacrine Cissé does not hide his unease with France’s decision to end its Operation Barkhane. – Associated Press

Latin America

The U.S. State Department on Thursday called for an independent examination to determine the true cause of death of former Venezuelan defense minister and retired general Raul Baduel, considered a political prisoner by the opposition. – Reuters

Several bags with human remains have been exhumed from a mass grave in Panama amid searches for the victims of the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

The killing of two Venezuelan boys in Colombia is rapidly escalating into a diplomatic row with neighboring Venezuela. – CNN

United States

The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday elected the United States to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, more than three years after the Trump administration quit the 47-member body over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform. – Reuters

The United States and Greece signed a deal Thursday expanding their defense cooperation agreement to grant U.S. forces broader use of Greek bases, as that nation deals with tensions between it and neighboring Turkey. – Associated Press


Microsoft said it will shut down its LinkedIn site inside China, days after facing public criticism for censoring the posts of several U.S. journalists. – Washington Post

YouTube’s stricter policies against election misinformation was followed by sharp drops in the prevalence of false and misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter, according to new research released on Thursday, underscoring the video service’s power across social media. – New York Times

A group of world-leading cryptography and security experts has warned that scanning images on smartphones, like a scheme proposed by Apple in August, should be treated like mass surveillance and prohibited by law. – Financial Times


Cat Zakrzewski writes: State attorneys general played a critical role in curtailing the power of the tobacco industry. Now lawyers representing Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen are targeting attorneys general in states like California and Massachusetts in the hopes they could play a similar role in imposing limits on the social network. – Washington Post

Chris C. Demchak and Michael L. Thomas write: In effect, the U.S. maritime industry should extend the 2020 National Maritime Cybersecurity Plan and the proposed bills in the current negotiations behind the SHIPYARD Act beyond ports alone to include container ships as an urgent first step. New policies need to require proof of and enable funding for cyber security upgrades in all container ships delivering cargo to U.S. ports. This is a strategic and national response that ought to be in concert with and cooperatively implemented with the other established seafaring nations. – War on the Rocks


President Joe Biden plans to nominate Ravi Chaudhary, a former Federal Aviation Administration official who served in the Air Force for more than 20 years, as the Air Force’s next assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy on Thursday, a White House official tells Air Force Times. – Defense News

The U.S. Army’s Precision Strike Missile broke its distance record in a flight test at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, Oct. 13, according to an Oct. 14 Lockheed Martin statement. – Defense News

Saab officially opened the West Lafayette production facility in Indiana from where it will build its share of the T-7A Red Hawk advanced jet trainer aircraft on which it is partnered with Boeing. – Janes

Kaman Air Vehicles unveiled its Kargo unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), an autonomous heavy-lift quadcopter capable of carrying approximately 363 kg payload, with a full-scale model at the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA’s) annual convention. – Janes

The US Army has postponed plans to field Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 augmented reality (AR) system to soldiers while it ‘matures’ the technology, the service has confirmed. – Janes

The Army is still experimenting with the right command-and-control mechanisms for information advantage capabilities across various echelons and regions, a service official said this week. – C4ISRNET

Long War

A bow-and-arrow attack in which a Danish convert to Islam is suspected of killing five people in a Norwegian town appears to have been an “act of terror”, police said on Thursday. – Reuters

Nigeria’s military claimed Thursday that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the leader of an Islamic State-linked extremist group blamed for killing hundreds in the northeast, had died. There was no immediate confirmation from the militants. – Associated Press

Terrorism is the Cyprus Police’s leading theory for the motive behind the attempt to murder Israeli businessmen on the European Union island, consistent with Israel’s allegation that it was an Iranian plot. – Jerusalem Post