Foundation for Defense of Democracies Overnight Brief May 23, 2022

  

FDD's Overnight Brief

May 23, 2022

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Iran

A senior member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps was assassinated in Tehran on Sunday outside his home, according to a statement by the Guards. – New York Times 

In the shadow of a crackdown in Iran this month on demonstrations by ordinary citizens against rising food prices, the authorities there also have gone after a widely celebrated sector of Iranian society: the filmmakers. – New York Times

Iranian activist Farhad Meysami has been taken to the hospital following a two-week hunger strike protesting the threatened execution of Swedish-Iranian doctor Ahmedreza Djalali, according to Meysami’s lawyer. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Iranian government has once again resorted to suppressing dissent and detaining protesters as it looks to quell discontent over rising prices and workers’ rights and low wages. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Qatar’s foreign minister said in remarks cited on Saturday by al Jazeera TV that Qatar had been informed by Iran that matters were “under review” regarding reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. – Reuters 

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Sunday that members of an Israeli intelligence service network had been discovered and arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. – Reuters 

Following meetings with top American defense officials, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday that the US remains hopeful for a deal with Iran, but is standing firm against Iran’s demand to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terror organization. – Times of Israel 

Iran will avenge the killing of a Revolutionary Guards colonel who was shot dead in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi warned on Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

Lawyers for Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali, accused of espionage and threatened with execution in Iran, have demanded a retrial for their client, his attorney Helaleh Moussavian told AFP on Sunday. – Agence France-Presse 

An Australian academic who was imprisoned in Iranian jail for 804 days on spying charges has called her captors ‘blundering and brainwashed idiots’. – Daily Mail 

Over the weekend, Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, reported that the Iranian leadership was ready for some kind of compromise on the “Iranian nuclear file.” However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry then accused the news outlet of mistranslating the remarks as part of some kind of propaganda. This matters because it shows how complex the Iran deal discussions continue to be and concerns in Iran that its position is being perceived as softening. – Jerusalem Post 

The son-in-law of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani regularly smuggles weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the IDF said on Friday. – Jerusalem Post 

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency claims that a fake account was created in Tasnim’s name on Twitter. – Jerusalem Post 

Bobby Ghosh writes: This ought to free up Biden to end the long grace period he has allowed Iran and get serious about imposing sanctions on its exports. If Tehran won’t come to terms over the JCPOA, there is no sense in allowing the regime to fill its coffers. – Bloomberg 

Jonathan Schachter writes: The day is rapidly approaching when the president will have to contend with the most dangerous lie of them all: The JCPOA forces its supporters to pretend that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful when clearly it is not. […]If he fails, either Iran will acquire nuclear weapons or rival powers will try to use force to prevent that outcome, potentially sparking a broader regional war. To avoid these grave outcomes, Biden and his team must stop lying about the JCPOA — not just to Congress, the press and the public, but to themselves. – The Hill 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The latest assassination illustrates Iran’s hollow threats, and the regime has so far shown it has few ways to directly respond. Reports of Israel’s penetration have also grown, giving Israel more of a spotlight than in the past. That can humiliate Tehran – which can cause it to be more chaotic and risky in its response. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The regime likes to boast of its capabilities. However, articles like this about the struggle to produce a new plane show the difficulty Iran has in providing basic necessities for its people and military. Perhaps if the IRGC wasn’t siphoning off resources and running a parallel state, wasting Iran’s resources on propping up militias throughout the Middle East, then Iran might be able to have normal things like transport aircraft. – Jerusalem Post 

Reza Parchizadeh writes: In alignment with Khamenei’s “Look to the East” policy, instead of walking the red carpet in Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Los Angeles, it looks like the next generation of the Iranian regime’s festival filmmakers will have to try their luck in Moscow, Beijing and Shanghai. – Jerusalem Post 

Gabriel Toole writes: Supporters and opponents of sanction relief for Iran both have the same end goal: a pacified Iran and a stable Middle East. In this regard, both sides would do well to weigh the pros and cons carefully before any irreversible decisions are made. – Jerusalem Post 

Afghanistan

These are perilous times for Afghan women. The Taliban show no sign of easing a crackdown not only on such basic rights as education and jobs for women, but on every facet of public life, from deportment to travel. – New York Times 

The US special envoy on Afghanistan met with the Taliban’s chief diplomat on Saturday and stressed international opposition to the group’s treatment of women and girls. – Agence France-Presse 

Two long lines — one of men, another of women — wind around a World Food Programme (WFP) aid distribution site in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in the heat of the mid-morning sun. – CNN 

Turkey

NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, potentially among the most dramatic shifts in European security policy in decades, now depends largely on the decision of one man: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. ambassador to Ankara has been summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry over a warning to U.S. citizens in Turkey about attending a political rally that referred to police crowd control methods, state-run media said Sunday. – Associated Press 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday discussed his objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO with the two Nordic countries’ leaders, Erdogan’s office said. – Associated Press 

Syrian authorities on Friday rejected plans by Turkey to return one million Syrian refugees to a “safe zone” on the border, state media reported. – Agence France-Presse 

Despite tough talk from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey is likely to ultimately greenlight NATO membership for Finland and Sweden. The military alliance will just have to pay a price first. – Politico 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu wants to visit the Temple Mount during his upcoming trip to Israel, which could occur as early as this week, according to KAN News. – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: NATO’s message to Erdogan should be simple: The security of the group must not be held hostage by one repeat offender. The time to deliver it is now. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Top Swedes and Finns will meet with President Biden to discuss a path forward; greater bilateral cooperation with most of NATO is a sure thing. Too bad Biden lacks the chops to compel a “yes” from Turkey, and so is sending Putin yet another message that the West will never get its act together. – New York Post 

Michael Harari writes: The establishment of a trilateral Israeli, Turkish and European energy working group: Such trilateral dialogue would connect the European Union to the Israeli-Turkish discourse, illustrating Turkey’s central role in the European, energy and diplomatic-political agenda. After all, the EU is the most important player, alongside Washington (and perhaps even more so) vis-a-vis Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean in general. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The creation of a new “group” called Ahrar Sinjar may be the excuse for them to strike at Turkey now, alleging to be responding to other Turkish attacks. That Ankara has mobilized its media to blame the PKK is easier for Ankara than blaming Iran. – Jerusalem Post 

Robert Pearson writes: Mr. Erdoğan has now added the United States to his list of countries to once again attack. […]The longer he holds up approval of Finland’s and Sweden’s applications for membership, the more questions will arise about Turkey’s current role in the Russian war on Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has even said he is not opposed to these new memberships per se. If Turkey asks for too much, Ankara might lose much more than it bargained for. – Middle East Institute

David L. Phillips writes: Putin’s Russia is a lost cause, run by gangsters and kleptocrats. Turkey under Erdogan’s dictatorship is also on the brink of pariah status. Erdogan hopes that war and sanctions will distract Turkish voters when they go the polls in 2023. Turkey is at a fork in the road. Down one path lies reform with tolerance to those who want a truly democratic Turkey, which respects minority and human rights. Down the other lies greater kleptocracy and human rights abuses, as Turkey becomes an outlier in the Euro-Atlantic community. – The National Interest 

Israel

The demolitions have sparked expressions of concern from Washington ahead of a planned June visit to Israel by President Biden, coming at a time of mounting instability in Israel’s coalition government and the recent approval of more than 4,200 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. – Washington Post 

An Israeli lawmaker who quit the government this past week decided to rejoin the ruling, yet shaky, coalition helping Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to stay in power and avoid new elections for the time being. – Wall Street Journal 

An Israeli court on Sunday sentenced six Palestinian inmates to five years in prison for tunneling out of their cell last year and escaping from a high-security facility in the biggest prison break of its kind in decades. – Associated Press 

More than 50 US lawmakers on Friday called on the FBI to investigate the killing in the West Bank of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, despite Israeli promises of a probe. – Agence France-Presse 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned Israel in a Sunday speech against allowing right-wing Israelis to conduct the annual Jerusalem Day “Flag March” in Jerusalem’s Old City next week, a year after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem when the event was last held. – Times of Israel 

In a near-unprecedented decision, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled Monday in favor of three Jewish teenagers who were temporarily barred from the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem after they bowed down and recited the “Shema Yisrael” prayer at the flashpoint site. – Times of Israel 

Jordan on Sunday panned an Israeli court’s dramatic ruling in favor of three Jewish teenagers who bowed down and recited the “Shema Yisrael” prayer at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, warning that it flew in the face of international law. – Times of Israel 

Tens of thousands marched in New York City’s Celebrate Israel parade on Sunday, in a significant and long-delayed affirmation for the area’s Jewish communities and Israel supporters. – Times of Israel 

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly offered at one time to nominate the billionaire Arnon Milchan for the role of Israeli president, in order to resolve issues regarding the latter’s entry visa into the US. – Times of Israel 

Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, landed in Israel on Sunday afternoon for a three-day visit, the first by an EP president since 2014. – Times of Israel 

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has moved into a new home in Jerusalem and his embassy has filed a request to the Foreign Ministry to recognize the building as the envoy’s official residence, a US official confirmed to The Times of Israel on Sunday. – Times of Israel 

The White House reportedly informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office on Saturday that US President Joe Biden still plans to visit Israel next month, despite the political turmoil in Jerusalem. – Times of Israel 

New Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is a self-declared critic of Israel whose Labor Party has called for recognition of a Palestinian state. – Jerusalem Post 

Manu Pineda, a Spanish communist Member of the European Parliament who lived in Gaza and associates with Hamas and PFLP terrorists was banned from entering Israel last week. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel and the European Union have been in negotiations for the past month to export gas to Europe via Egypt, Energy Ministry Director-General Lior Schillat said on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post 

In a surprise move, the armed wing of Fatah in the Gaza Strip, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, announced on Friday that it has elected a new commander-in-chief, drawing sharp criticism from the group’s members in the West Bank. – Jerusalem Post 

Overnight, IDF, ISA and Israel Border Police forces conducted counterterrorism activity to apprehend terror suspects in Judea and Samaria, including the towns of Ni’lin, Zababdeh, Rumana, Bayt Liqya, Tuqu’ and Balata Camp. – Arutz Sheva 

Editorial: More than ever, Israel needs to strengthen its diplomatic service and boost its image abroad. Her appointment is an example of how not to do that. How many more MKs will issue personal ultimatums? And how many will be rewarded with what they want? If Rinawie Zoabi’s appointment as consul-general goes through, it will be a dangerous step politically and a disgrace diplomatically. – Jerusalem Post 

Jared Stone writes: It is evident that proponents of BDS will distort reality to claim victory. When Jewish and Zionist students band together with courage and tenacity in the face of BDS, as has been done twice at Princeton within the past eight years, we emerge triumphant. In doing so, we uphold the legitimacy of our people, our heritage, and the State of Israel, which has been disproportionately targeted by radical actors around the world. – Jerusalem Post 

Asher Stern writes: Anyone who cares about the rule of law and advancing true peace in the Middle East must call out this commission over its inherent bias and must not lend it any kind of credibility or authority. – Jerusalem Post 

Yossi Shain writes: I truly hope that Metsola’s visit to Israel will provide another stone in strengthening EU-Israeli relations, and enlarging the alliance of free and thriving democracies. – Jerusalem Post 

Mark Lavie writes: That’s why it doesn’t matter who killed Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in the Jenin refugee camp. These days, truth doesn’t matter. Saying that “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts” used to be a joke. Today, it’s reality. – Jerusalem Post 

David M. Weinberg writes: Against such twisted, iniquitous, ugly degradation of Israel we must fight – with conviction – in the essential justice of the Zionist cause and the resplendence of Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

Yedidia Stern writes: In the Declaration of Independence, which designates Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, we promised the world and ourselves that full civil equality would prevail here. The time has come to make good on that promise. All citizens, including non-Jewish Israeli heroes, are entitled to equality in Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

Yemen

The head of Yemen’s Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat, on Sunday said the group was not against extending a U.N.-brokered truce, despite describing it as “not encouraging enough”. – Reuters 

Amnesty International has urged Yemen’s Huthi rebels to free four journalists facing the death penalty for “espionage” in the war-torn country, ahead of an appeal court hearing on Sunday – Agence France-Presse 

A Hong Kong-flagged racing sailboat that led its skippers to win multiple contests around the world came under attack Thursday off the coast of war-torn Yemen, with its crew reportedly targeted by militants who fired warning shots and threatened them with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. – Associated Press 

Gulf States

But an examination of the two men’s travels toward the end of the Trump presidency raises other questions about whether they sought to exploit official relationships with foreign leaders for private business interests. – New York Times 

Saudi Arabia has signalled it will stand by Russia as a member of the Opec+ group of oil producers despite tightening western sanctions on Moscow and a potential EU ban on Russian oil imports. – Financial Times 

Editorial: Elections are coming in this country, gas prices are at all-time highs and Mr. Biden may be about to give MBS the face-to-face recognition he craves — with more oil to follow. […]In fairness, the war in Ukraine, unanticipated at the beginning of Mr. Biden’s term, has unsettled global energy markets, imposing costs on our European allies as well as the United States. If Mr. Biden makes concessions — we grope for a better word — to MBS, it would be on behalf of others as well as himself. – Washington Post 

Korean Peninsula

President Biden on Saturday held bilateral talks with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, speaking of the “shared sacrifice” that unites the two countries as he sought to bolster the United States’ influence in the Indo-Pacific region and blunt the threat from North Korea. – Washington Post 

Eleven months ago, South Korea’s top prosecutor launched his presidential campaign, making his first run at politics. This weekend — just over a week into his presidency — Yoon Suk-yeol made his debut on the global stage alongside the world’s most powerful leader. – Washington Post 

Love letters are out. Military exercises are back. In his first visit to South Korea since taking office, President Biden restored America’s strategy toward the Korean Peninsula to the traditional approach that prevailed before his predecessor upended generations of relations by romancing North Korea’s dictator. – New York Times 

When President Biden arrived on his inaugural mission to Asia on Friday, the first place he headed from the airplane was not a government hall or embassy or even a military base, but a sprawling superconductor factory that represented the real battleground of a 21st-century struggle for influence in the region. – New York Times 

US President Joe Biden said Sunday that he wasn’t concerned about the possibility of North Korea holding a nuclear test while he’s in Asia. – Bloomberg 

President Biden is repudiating the legacy of President Trump in a swing through America’s Northeast Asian allies in which one message is indelibly clear: No more love-ins with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and no more backsliding on America’s commitment to defense of the region. – New York Sun 

Sung-Yoon Lee writes: Once Biden meets his South Korean counterpart and sees that Yoon is — besides being an unpretentious, dogs- and cats-loving baseball fan — a leader with empathy for the well-being of his compatriots in the North who is committed to protecting the human rights of all Koreans, it could very well mark the start of a close relationship. – The Hill 

China

President Biden opened the second chapter of his Asia tour Monday with several moves — some choreographed, others apparently not — signaling a more confrontational approach to China in matters of both the economy and national security as his administration looks to curb the influence of the world’s most populous nation. – Washington Post 

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations’ top human rights official, will next week visit China, including its troubled western region of Xinjiang, on a trip that rights activists say holds significant risks for the credibility of her office. – New York Times 

China spends much more in helping favored industries with state-directed funds, cheap loans and other government incentives than other major economies, according to a new study expected to intensify the debate in Washington and elsewhere over Beijing’s use of industrial policy. – Wall Street Journal 

China is intensifying its drive for influence in the Pacific by negotiating security deals with two additional island nations following a pact with the Solomon Islands, according to officials in the US and allied countries. – Financial Times 

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was weighing cutting tariffs on Chinese goods while increasing calls on OPEC to raise oil production as he grappled with a politically damaging wave of inflation. – Reuters 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy is “doomed to fail,” making his remarks while President Joe Biden is in the region to increase engagement with allies and counter China’s rise and influence. – Bloomberg 

Joe Biden talked at length as a presidential candidate about the need to focus on China’s rising global power. Yet 17 months after taking office, Asian leaders are still waiting for details on a strategy for more US economic engagement in the region. – Bloomberg 

Beijing hit out Friday at Canada for banning two Chinese telecoms giants from Canadian 5G networks, calling Ottawa’s security concerns “groundless”, while Huawei said barring its services was a “political decision”. – Agence France-Presse 

The UN rights chief came under fire Friday for announcing a visit next week to China’s Xinjiang, with the United States saying she was failing to stand up for the region’s Uyghur community. – Agence France-Presse 

South Asia

Recently ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan asked his supporters to march on Islamabad, the nation’s capital, for a sit-in on May 25 as a way to press the government to quit and call new elections. – Bloomberg 

Mihir Sharma writes: Nevertheless, that’s what needs to be done. If Indian leaders want a reliable and affordable pipeline of weapons of decent quality that arrive quickly enough to deter an aggressive China, they are going to have to fund homegrown defense companies, convince voters of the need for big military budgets, suffer through failures and scandals, and field less powerful weapons until they can develop better ones. – Bloomberg 

Husain Haqqani writes: Pakistan must revise its approach to the Taliban. Successive Pakistani leaders who supported the Taliban in the hope of making Pakistan more secure clearly misunderstood the real challenges facing their country. […]For decades, Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has stoked pan-Islamism, jihadism, and paranoia about India. That toxic brew has prevented Pakistani leaders from treating India and Afghanistan as trading partners, instead transforming Pakistan’s neighbors respectively into a permanent enemy and a strategic threat. Helping the Taliban win has only added to Pakistan’s problems, not solved any of them. – Foreign Affairs 

Vasabjit Banerjee and Benjamin Tkach write: It is in the interest of the Quad member states, India’s non-Russian partners, and America that India become a capable arms exporter over the coming decade. If Washington and New Delhi both take the right steps, India will be able to fill Russia’s position in the value market, thus, preventing China from doing so. – War on the Rocks 

Asia

Australia delivered a stinging defeat to the country’s ruling conservative coalition on Saturday in what amounted to a personal rebuke of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s abrasive brand of leadership. – Washington Post 

President Biden indicated on Monday that he would use military force to defend Taiwan if it were ever attacked by China, dispensing with the “strategic ambiguity” traditionally favored by American presidents and repeating even more unequivocally statements that his staff tried to walk back in the past. – New York Times 

President Biden has enlisted a dozen Asia-Pacific nations to join a new loosely defined economic bloc meant to counter China’s dominance and reassert American influence in the region five years after his predecessor withdrew the United States from a sweeping trade accord that it had negotiated itself. – New York Times 

Japan is asking universities for greater scrutiny of foreign students and scholars to prevent technology leaks to places like China, partly for its own national security but also to safeguard exchanges with U.S. and European universities. – Reuters 

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday that he supports Japan becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, NHK public television said on Monday. – Reuters 

Representatives of seven nations, including those who walked out of an Asia-Pacific trade ministers meeting in Bangkok to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said on Sunday they support the organization and host nation Thailand. – Reuters 

The leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed in a Brussels meeting on Sunday to work further on a peace plan for Nagorno-Karabakh that has stoked a wave of protests in Yerevan over opposition claims that Pashinyan is being too soft. – Reuters 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will visit the United States this week in a bid to boost exports and lure more tourists as the Pacific nation looks to fully reopen its border after more than two years of restrictions. – Reuters 

President Joe Biden on Monday is expected to come out with a list of nations that will join a long-anticipated Indo-Pacific trade pact, but Taiwan won’t be among them. – Associated Press 

US President Joe Biden on Sunday called Australia’s incoming prime minister Anthony Albanese to congratulate him on his election victory and underline the strength of their countries’ alliance, the White House said. – Agence France-Presse

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