Fdd's overnight brief

September 22, 2021

In The News


Iran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported. – Reuters 

Iran’s new president slammed U.S. sanctions imposed on his nation as a mechanism of war, using his first U.N address since his swearing-in to forcefully call out Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America. – Associated Press 

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded to the speech given by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday. – Arutz Sheva 

US President Joe Biden called on Iran to return to the nuclear deal and said Israelis and Palestinians were still a “long way” from two-states, when he delivered his first high-level address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post  

Several eye-catching trucks carrying billboards drove around New York City on Tuesday, with messages calling out Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his administration ahead of his address at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), for their human rights abuses. – Jerusalem Post  

Iran has “built power” to confront the United States, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Tuesday, while dismissing Israel’s regional clout. – Times of Israel  

Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim write: Even as it plays apparent hardball over resumption of the talks, Iran has tried to expand its economic and security horizons to the East and within its own region. It has continued to fortify traditional allies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which it recently sent shipments of diesel fuel, while also trying to bolster or repair ties with neighboring Arab countries and other Asian nations. […]Iran’s strategy to blunt the impact of American sanctions has also included stepping up outreach to Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that are allied with the United States, following years of abysmal relations that have destabilized the region. – Washington Post  

Ali Vaez and Vali Nasr write: None of the concessions required to get the negotiations out of the doldrums will be easy. But if the United States and Iran hope to salvage the nuclear accord, they will have to show a willingness to explore new ideas. Diplomacy should be aimed at seizing the moment, based on the understanding that the Vienna talks could be their last chance to save a deal that—despite all its shortcomings—is far preferable and less costly than the alternatives. – Foreign Affairs 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Nothing in Biden’s comments about Iran indicated any urgency or any specific determination to thwart these new potential threats even as he repeated the constant generic US commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. […]But Raisi has exposed how unlikely it is that Biden will act decisively unless Tehran is beyond weaponizing enrichment and close to being ready to actually deploy a nuclear weapon. – Jerusalem Post  

Ali Fathollah-Nejad and Hamidreza Azizi  writes: In sum, Tehran hopes to benefit from the Taliban takeover in geopolitical and economic terms. The new geopolitical landscape, Iran hopes, will provide it with a chance to enhance its relations with China and Russia by presenting itself as the Middle East’s indispensable power. […]That said, there are numerous uncertainties regarding how the Taliban will actually govern and these will prevent Iranian officials from fully relying on the ideological and geopolitical gains they seem to have achieved in Afghanistan, at least for now. – Middle East Institute 


The Taliban refused to bow to the demands of the United Nations and the international community to include women in their cabinet, announcing the completion of an interim government with a lineup that was entirely male and kept members of the Taliban’s old guard in the top echelon of the leadership. – New York Times  

The Taliban administration in Afghanistan is working towards reopening high school education for girls, who were left out of a recent return to school for boys and younger girls, although a Taliban spokesman speaking on Tuesday gave no time frame for action. – Reuters 

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers announced several senior appointments on Tuesday, naming two veteran battlefield commanders from the movement’s southern heartlands as deputies in important ministries. – Reuters 

Afghanistan’s Taliban government bolstered its economic team on Tuesday, naming a commerce minister and two deputies as the group tries to revive a financial system in shock from the abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign aid. – Reuters 

The Taliban nominated Mohammad Suhail Shaheen to be Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Nations and requested that their foreign minister be allowed to address the UN General Assembly taking place this week in New York. – Bloomberg 

John Calabrese writes: One can envision several possible scenarios for Afghanistan’s immediate future. But China “filling the vacuum” and quickly emerging as the predominant external actor is one that seems unlikely not only because other regional stakeholders would presumably seek to thwart that outcome but because Beijing may not be keen to pursue it. Chinese involvement in Afghanistan is primarily animated by security concerns. – Middle East Institute 


Progressive Democrats on Tuesday successfully pressured the party to remove $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from a bill to keep the United States government funded. – Times of Israel 

Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip announced on Tuesday that they are opposed to the Palestinian Authority’s intention to hold municipal elections in December. – Jerusalem Post   

A new poll has found that nearly 80% of Palestinians want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, reflecting widespread anger over the death of an activist in security forces’ custody and a crackdown on protests over the summer. – Associated Press 

Israel on Wednesday reopened a crossing with the West Bank for the first time since six prisoners tunneled out of a nearby Israeli prison, a rare escape that triggered a massive nationwide manhunt before they were all recaptured. – Ynet 

Deputy Hamas leader Zahar Jabarin said his organization presented Egyptian mediators with proposals for a prisoner swap with Israel, Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper reported on Tuesday. – Ynet 

Editorial: The funding was shot down because a growing number of Democrats oppose anything that would help Israel, even if it promotes peace. Supporters of Israel should take note. If Iron Dome can lose Democratic Party support, then there is nothing pro-Israel that won’t be in jeopardy in Congress. – Wall Street Journal 


Lebanese pro-Iranian TV channel Al Mayadeen said on Tuesday that a convoy of diesel tankers brought by Hezbollah from Iran crossed the Syrian border towards Lebanon. – Reuters 

Hanin Ghaddar writes: Waiting for Hezbollah and the Lebanese political class to change has proven a waste time and time again. But Lebanon itself is changing. Washington has an opportunity to take advantage of these changes by investing in the civil society groups that are already emerging as a viable alternative to Hezbollah. Lebanon’s people are ready, and the opportunity is ripe. – Washington Institute 

Michael Rubin writes: The Biden administration has quietly waved sanctions to allow Lebanon to import oil from Iran, both by sea and overland through Syria. Hezbollah already claims victory with its banners. […] The net result is both Hezbollah’s empowerment and Lebanon’s failure. It is time for Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and Congress to realize that with Lebanon, they now do more harm than good. – Washington Examiner 

Arabian Peninsula

Turkey is in talks with the United Arab Emirates over investment in its energy sector, Turkey’s deputy energy minister said on Tuesday, after the sides called a truce on their bitter rivalry. – Reuters 

Thousands of supporters of Yemen’s Houthis rallied in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the ousting of the government, as the group’s fighters pushed through frontlines in oil-producing regions of the country. – Reuters 

The UN, EU, US and UK have strongly condemned the execution of nine men by the rebel Houthi movement in Yemen. The men, one of whom was reportedly a minor when he was arrested, were shot by a firing squad in Sanaa on Sunday. – BBC 

The ruling emir of Qatar, whose nation has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, urged world leaders gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday against turning their backs on the country’s Taliban rulers. – Associated Press 

Mohammad Bazzi writes: The Biden administration should not reward the UAE’s destabilizing activities, aggressive foreign policy and internal repression with a massive sale of dozens of F-35 fighter jets, long-range armed drones and $10 billion worth of missiles and bombs. […]Biden missed the chance to fix one of his predecessors’ final mistakes: turning the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries into an arms race that could fuel new conflicts in the Middle East. If Biden continues down this path, he will be complicit in a fresh wave of regional instability and bloodshed. – Washington Post  

Middle East & North Africa

A Tunisian military judge on Tuesday jailed two lawmakers from the Islamist Karama party, a lawyer and the judiciary said, amid growing concerns for human rights after the president seized governing powers in July. – Reuters  

Libya’s eastern-based parliament said on Tuesday it had withdrawn confidence from the unity government, though it would continue to operate as a caretaker administration, signalling a threat to the months-long peace process. – Reuters 

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former head of the military council that ruled Egypt temporarily after its 2011 popular uprising, has died at the age of 85, Egypt’s presidency said on Tuesday, declaring three days of national mourning. – Reuters 

Turkey has sent more troops to northwestern Syria as it prepares for a critical meeting with the leaders of Russia and Iran next week, signaling its determination to carry on blocking an assault on one of the Syrian war’s last front lines. – Bloomberg 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Western powers to provide aid to Afghanistan “regardless of the political process” in Kabul, in an apparent break with trans-Atlantic attempts to use foreign aid as leverage to restrain the Taliban’s human rights abuses. – Washington Examiner 

Chloe Cornish writes: Sadr’s group has, in recent years, emerged as one of the biggest political forces in Iraq and he is determined to use October’s election to cement this growth. For some western policymakers, worried about Iranian influence in Iraq, the man once dubbed the most dangerous in Iraq by US news media may prove an attractive alternative to more pro-Iran groups. […]But over the past decade, Sadr has reinvented himself as an anti-establishment defender of the downtrodden and has a broad following among working-class Shia Iraqis. – Financial Times 


Moscow and Beijing have clearly relished the humiliating, tail-between-its-legs retreat as a dramatic example of American weakness and unreliability. China, predictably, has warned Taiwan not to depend on America when the chips are down. – The Hill

China’s high-profile crackdowns on property developers, technology firms and other private enterprises are starting to weigh on business activity and add to financial risks in the country, raising the potential that Beijing’s campaigns could harm the broader economy. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said Beijing would stop building coal-fired power plants abroad, in a public commitment to redirect the country’s huge engineering industry away from adding to a source of global pollution. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese markets fell on their first day of trading this week after a public holiday as concerns grew in global markets over a possible default by property developer Evergrande on an international bond repayment. – Financial Times  

David Ignatius writes: Xi’s unabated hunger for power is evident in his drive for a third term as party leader. That would break the two-term rule that has prevailed in China’s modern history and provided the checks and balances of group leadership. […]Xi is animated by what he has called his “China Dream,” of a nation of unparalleled wealth and power — and also the egalitarian ideals of socialism. His problem is that, like Mao and other visionaries, he has a messianic streak that could prove destabilizing for the world and downright toxic for China. – Washington Post  

Thomas L. Friedman writes: Beijing applying to join the TPP is the diplomatic equivalent of the U.S. asking to be a member of China’s “belt and road” trade and investment initiative in Asia, or Russia applying to be a member of the new NAFTA because it controls part of the Arctic north of Canada. In other words, a deliciously mischievous ploy. But it’s a ploy that exposes a real weakness in U.S. foreign policymaking toward China, which has become the biggest challenger to American pre-eminence in setting the rules of today’s international system in both trade and diplomacy. – New York Times  


Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations, a holdover from the country’s deposed civilian government, will sit out a series of high-level meetings in New York this week, averting for now a potential clash between the U.S. and China over who should represent the country on the world stage. – Wall Street Journal 

Never once mentioning missiles, South Korean President Moon Jae-in again pushed for peace and reconciliation with North Korea at the United Nations on Tuesday, a week after recent missile testing on both ends of the peninsula renewed tensions between the two rivals. – Associated Press 

The popular mayor of the Philippine capital said Wednesday he will run for president in next year’s elections, the latest aspirant in what is expected to be a crowded race to succeed the controversial Rodrigo Duterte. – Associated Press 

An Australian-EU trade deal would be mutually beneficial and allow EU members a greater presence in the Indo-Pacific, said Australia’s trade minister, as Canberra tries to repair ties with Paris after the scrapping of a $40 billion submarine deal. – Reuters 

Hong Kong has quietly broadened the language it uses to describe national security violations, a shift lawyers said could expand the reach of a government crackdown on dissent in the Asian financial hub. – Reuters 

Malaysia will seek China’s view on a security pact that helps Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines amid concerns of regional instability, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in parliament. – Bloomberg 

Australia’s decision to turn to Washington and London for nuclear-powered submarines to bolster its security was a “no brainer” for Canberra, but it is a decision that “went terribly wrong” with NATO partners, an expert in European defense matters said Tuesday. – USNI News 

Robert D. Kaplan writes: The sale of the nuclear submarines to Australia also puts into more dramatic relief the qualitative difference between the United States’s alliance systems in Asia and Europe. Asia lacks a single and storied alliance structure such as NATO. But because our Asian allies are nationalistic, believe in robust defense postures and are more threatened by China than our European allies, they are more dependable, even while China is their largest trading partner. – Washington Post 

Chris Buckley writes: China is swelling into a military superpower. India, Vietnam and Singapore are spending more on defense. Japan is leaning to do the same. Now Australia, backed by the United States and Britain, has catapulted the military contest with Beijing in Asia into a tense new phase.Their deal last week to equip Australia with stealthy, long-range nuclear-powered submarines better able to take on the Chinese navy could accelerate an Asian arms buildup long before the submarines enter service. – New York Times  


Russia’s covert operations against its former agents were thrown back in the spotlight with new developments Tuesday in a pair of high-profile incidents that took place on British soil. – Washington Post  

The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected as “unsubstantiated” a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that found Russia was responsible for the 2006 killing of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. – Reuters 

Russia accused Britain on Tuesday of using the poisoning case of former double agent Sergei Skripal as a tool to deliberately sabotage UK-Russia ties and stoke anti-Russian sentiment in the media and among the British public. – Reuters 

Paul Niland writes: It is true that Minsk is not a mechanism to hold Russia responsible for the war. But it could never be that because Putin had to sign it. The biggest flaw in Minsk (along with the notion that Russia would respect it) is that it could not contain any mechanisms for failure to uphold the provisions. The only mechanism to force Russia to accept the protocol is already available to the civilized world. It is time to impose a price on the Kremlin for its open disregard of an international agreement, and that means the imposition of painful new sanctions. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Meghan Murphy writes: Russia has yet to show that it can leverage its version of vaccine diplomacy into achieving its goals of becoming a truly influential player in Southeast Asia. But Moscow’s efforts could be key to improving its standing and advancing its interests in a region where 7 out of 10 ASEAN countries continue to lag behind the world average vaccination rate. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Boris Johnson has long dreamed of “Global Britain,” his vision for a free-trading, swashbuckling world power, unleashed by Brexit. And this week, in New York and Washington, he has been doing his mightiest to get the world’s attention. – Washington Post 

With some powerful NATO allies at odds over a submarine sale, the alliance’s leader suggested Tuesday that members need to focus on “the big picture” and not let the dispute between France and the U.S. and Britain open an ongoing rift. – Associated Press 

The Kosovo-Serbia border was blocked again Tuesday by ethnic Kosovo Serbs protesting a decision by Kosovo authorities to start removing Serbian license plates from cars entering the country. The traffic chaos raised fears that it may unleash much deeper tensions between the two Balkan neighbors. – Associated Press 

Poland and Hungary face a new threat to EU regional aid as the European Commission prepares to wield powers linking billions of euros of funds to human rights standards in member states. – Financial Times  

Progress on the development of a new cruise missile for the British and French militaries could become a victim in the row over the nuclear submarine pact announced by Australia, the U.S. and U.K. last week. – Defense News   

Katia Glod writes: Lukashenka has succeeded in fending off, for now, a closer political union with Russia. He has also seemingly persuaded Putin to drop constitutional reform from the agenda, which the Kremlin arguably hoped would enhance its influence in Belarus. On the military side, however, Lukashenka’s resistance appears to be buckling. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Natia Seskuria  writes: Building greater societal resilience to deter Russia’s hybrid aggression will take time and require a whole-of-society approach. Western support will be crucial in countering the Kremlin’s use of a myriad of tools aimed at reversing the democratization process in Georgia. Even 13 years after the war, the Georgian experience shows that the Kremlin pursues its aggressive policies without ever paying significant costs for its behavior. Imposing red lines by holding Russia accountable and accelerating Georgia’s NATO membership would not only bring greater stability to Tbilisi, but to the whole Black Sea region. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Max Bergmann writes: The United States needs to do something big to reset relations with France. It should use this opportunity to offer its unreserved support for E.U. defense initiatives. Doing so would represent a sea change in America’s approach to Europe. It would also lay the groundwork for European defense integration, strengthen the European Union, and hopefully reestablish a strong Franco-American partnership. – War on the Rocks 


Explosions killed at least five people and injured 50 in Burundi’s largest city Bujumbura on Monday night, the prime minister and a health worker said after the latest in a string of attacks in the east African country. – Reuters 

Around 300 protesters stormed Namibia’s parliament on Tuesday, as the National Assembly was due to vote on a $1 billion compensation offer from Germany to atone for its 1904-1908 genocide against the Herero and Nama people. – Reuters 

The President of Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, asked for United Nations Member States to “materialize all the promises made to Africa in compensation for the sacrifices agreed to protect humanity against global warming.” – UN News 

The Americas

The United States is preparing to nearly double the number of Haitians being deported to this Caribbean state from Texas, raising alarm that thousands of cash-strapped migrants will add a new dimension to the humanitarian crisis in a country torn apart by violence, natural disaster and political strife. – Washington Post  

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hung onto power on Monday as his main rival conceded defeat, saying he had won a clear mandate to govern although he fell short of his goal for a majority win. – Reuters 

Venezuela on Tuesday said a Colombian military drone violated its airspace in what it called a “blatant threat” to its national security that took place during a visit by a U.S. military commander to the neighboring nation. – Reuters 

United States

President Biden, fighting mounting doubts among America’s allies about his commitment to working with them, used his debut address to the United Nations on Tuesday to call for “relentless diplomacy” on climate change, the pandemic and efforts to blunt the expanding influence of autocratic nations like China and Russia. – New York Times   

Editorial: President Biden’s first speech as Commander in Chief to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was full of the high-minded internationalist sentiment that defines his rhetoric. If only those words reflected the reality of the world he and America will have to navigate over the next four years. […] Nowhere was Mr. Biden’s rhetoric more divorced from reality than on women and Afghanistan. In his speech he highlighted “the expectations to which we will hold the Taliban when it comes to respecting universal human rights. We all must advocate for women—the rights of women and girls to use their full talents to contribute economically, politically, and socially.” – Wall Street Journal 

Max Boot writes: Counterterrorism operations are more effective if the United States has eyes on the ground — i.e., intelligence and military personnel working with local forces to track terrorist targets. That’s why, for all of Biden’s talk of ending “forever wars,” the United States can’t actually afford to withdraw all of its personnel from the front lines. […]As the U.S. military likes to say, the enemy gets a vote — and militant Islamist organizations are still fighting. So the United States and its allies are fighting back. That means that, contrary to what Biden said on Tuesday, we remain at war. – Washington Post  

Eli Lake writes: In his first speech as U.S. president to the United Nations General Assembly, Joe Biden promised the world that this period of “relentless war” was giving way to “a new era of relentless diplomacy.” In this new era, he explained, the U.S. would be working with other nations to lift people out of poverty, defend and renew democracy, address climate change and shore up traditional alliances such as NATO. – Bloomberg 


Big Tech companies that operate around the globe have long promised to obey local laws and to protect civil rights while doing business. But when Apple and Google capitulated to Russian demands and removed a political-opposition app from their local app stores, it raised worries that two of the world’s most successful companies are more comfortable bowing to undemocratic edicts — and maintaining a steady flow of profits — than upholding the rights of their users. – Associated Press 

Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck,” or cross check, system following an investigation by The Wall Street Journal into the use of this internal system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules. – Associated Press  

Facebook Inc (FB.O) has told Australian publishers it has stopped negotiating licensing deals, an email to the industry seen by Reuters showed, a move which came just six months after the passing of a law designed to make tech giants pay for news content. – Reuters  

Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Tuesday it has invested more than $13 billion in safety and security measures since 2016, days after a newspaper reported the company had failed to fix “the platform’s ill effects” researchers had identified. – Reuters  

The Defense Department has increased spending on Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2)-related technologies significantly from fiscal year 2017 to 2020, which reflects DoD’s progress in fielding the critical tech. But a deeper dive into the spending trends reveals ongoing hurdles to fully integrating Joint All Domain Operations as DoD envisions, according to a new research report by decision science company Govini. – Breaking Defense 


Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown’s directive to airmen to “accelerate change or lose” is gaining momentum after a year in practice, but the work to revamp the service’s culture has only just begun. – Defense News  

A contract award for new engines for the venerable B-52 bomber is “imminent” and could occur as early as this month, the U.S. Air Force’s top acquisition officials said Tuesday. – Defense News  

House progressives will have a few chances to hold down the defense budget this week, but it’s going to be an uphill fight. – Defense News  

The head of the U.S. Space Force said the new service has successfully put the various space organizations in the Department of Defense and beyond on the same page, ensuring they are avoiding duplication and working together. – Defense News 

The Air Force’s information warfare entity is focusing more attention toward defending weapon systems from adversary probes. – Defense News  

The Navy and the Pentagon are crunching numbers on two separate sets of studies that will map out the size of the service’s future fleet as defense budgets are set to stay static for the foreseeable future, officials familiar with the studies told USNI News. – USNI News  

Five hundred Navy civilian employees on the East Coast will be cut and port operations will be restricted to a daylight Monday to Friday schedule to meet Navy Region Mid-Atlantic’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget goal. – USNI News 

Long War

New Zealand’s parliament took a step closer on Tuesday to making it easier to arrest and prosecute terrorists planning attacks, just weeks after an Islamic State-inspired assault by a knife-wielding assailant wounded seven people at a supermarket. – Reuters  

Eric Schmitt writes: U.S. military officials have insisted since the last American troops withdrew from Afghanistan last month that they would be able to detect and attack Islamic State or Qaeda threats in the country from afar. […]U.S. commanders concede that the missions will be more difficult without a military presence in the country. But new details about the drone strike, which the Pentagon initially said was necessary to prevent an attack on American troops, show the limitations of such counterterrorism missions even when U.S. forces are on the ground. – New York Times   

Ayesha Ray writes: The judicial processes of nations convicting Islamic State foreign fighters leave a lot to be desired. The differential treatment and sentencing of Western versus non-Western foreign fighters, inconsistencies in methods and procedures for prosecution, and the absence of convictions not just for membership in a terrorist organization but for crimes against humanity and genocide present the most immediate challenges. In the long term, this means that Islamic State members who either serve light sentences or no sentence at all will be released back into society while remaining a threat to the public while actual victims of Islamic State war crimes and genocide, the Yazidis, will never see justice served. – War on the Rocks