Fdd's overnight brief

August 23, 2022

In The News


The US is encouraged that Iran “appears to have dropped some of its non-starter demands,” the State Department’s spokesman said, as the Biden administration continues to review the European Union’s latest proposal to revive the deal curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. – Bloomberg

Israel objects to a return to the Iran nuclear deal and if one is reached, will not be bound by it, Prime Minister Yair Lapid told French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, according to a statement from the Israeli leader’s office. – Reuters

A military officer of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in Syria early Monday, semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. – Bloomberg

President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled progress in the 16-month effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as all parties involved await the U.S. response to Iran’s comments on the final text circulated by the European Union earlier this month. – Newsweek 

The stabbing of novelist Salman Rushdie last week may have been orchestrated by the Mossad, suggested Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, in a Saturday interview with Negar Mortazavi, host of the Iran Podcast. – Jerusalem Post 

Iran must respond to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe against it, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that could complicate a quick conclusion of an Iran deal. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel on Monday urged France and the United States not to cave to Iranian terms for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, as the European Union waited for Washington’s response to Tehran’s demands to clinch the agreement. – Jerusalem Post 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi will host the leaders of Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for a regional summit on Tuesday, as world powers and Iran seek to end 16 months of negotiations over the revival of Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Lapid has vowed to keep under wraps his opposition to President Biden’s desire to renew the 2015 Iran deal. Yet public disagreements keep popping up — including today’s apparent snub of the Israeli national security adviser, who is in Washington to detail Jerusalem’s concerns. – New York Sun

Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet write: Biden and the U.S. no longer can wait to act. Israel will not wait. The time to act is before Putin, standing in Moscow’s Red Square, concocts a recipe for a “Red Armageddon” in the Middle East, or here in the U.S., and tempts Iran’s radicalized theocracy into believing a nuclear holocaust would accelerate the return of Shi’ism’s revered Hidden Imam, Muhammed al-Mahdi. – The Hill

Omer Carmi writes: By preparing the public for a wide set of alternatives, Tehran’s current messaging could enable Khamenei to postpone the decision if he so desires. Yet this strategy might also backfire given the already worn-out state of Iran’s economy. Recent optimism about the fate of the JCPOA has improved the rial’s exchange rate versus the dollar, but failure to reach a deal (or, at least, maintain the talks) could send Iranian markets into yet another downward spiral. – Washington Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The comments by Iran’s presidents are mostly for internal consumption and propaganda. While it is true Iran has made impressive advances, he is also trying to show that his administration is able to get around the sanctions and improve Iran’s standing. This is all about claiming that the advances in the defense field will trickle down as profits to average people in other fields, even as the Islamic Republic faces numerous economic and environmental hurdles. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: If Tehran can get sanctions relief via the Iran deal – and if the IRGC is not sanctioned or US pressure on the missile and drone program ends – then the Islamic Republic believes it could seriously leverage the missile and drone industry for export. – Jerusalem Post 

Eric Lob writes: Time will tell whether Iran and Venezuela can count on China and Russia for stronger support militarily, diplomatically, and economically, in lieu of détente and rapprochement with the United States. If not, then Iran and Venezuela — two middling powers in an increasingly multipolar world — will remain subjected to the whims of Beijing, Moscow, and Washington, perceived and treated by them as regional pawns in a larger geopolitical game. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

For generations, Crimea has anchored Russia’s military power in the Black Sea. Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed that it would remain Russian forever after he annexed it in 2014. But a spate of explosions and drone incursions in recent days also shows the extent of its vulnerability on the peninsula, and how it is now part of Ukraine’s own war goals. – Wall Street Journal

​​The U.S. has imposed a set of powerful sanctions against Russia’s economy to punish it for the invasion of Ukraine. Now, U.S. officials are pushing to ensure they are effective, closing loopholes, lobbying other nations for support, and cracking down on people abetting Russia’s evasion. – Wall Street Journal

Russia blamed Ukraine for a car explosion that killed the daughter of Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist and fervent ideological ally of President Vladimir Putin, prompting Dugin to issue a statement calling for military “victory” as vengeance — an exhortation that could lead to an escalation in the war. – Washington Post 

The Pentagon is sending new weapons and equipment to Ukraine that will better prepare its military to fight Russian troops at closer ranges, potentially signaling that Kyiv and its backers see an opportunity to retake lost ground after weeks of grinding artillery duels along the front lines. – Washington Post 

Estonia, accused by Russia of harboring a Ukrainian woman whom Moscow has blamed for a fatal car bombing over the weekend, said on Monday that it had received no official request for information or cooperation from Moscow in connection with the attack, which killed Daria Dugina, a Russian commentator and the daughter of a prominent ultranationalist. – New York Times 

A superyacht owned by a sanctioned Russian businessman is set to be publicly auctioned off on Tuesday, the first such sale since governments around the world began seizing Russian-owned luxury vessels in the wake of President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. – New York Times 

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine threatened on Sunday to cut off all negotiations with Russia if Ukrainian prisoners of war are paraded in the captured city of Mariupol and put on what he called “an absolutely disgusting and absurd show trial.” – New York Times 

Russia carried out artillery and air strikes in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Tuesday, where fighting near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has raised fears of a catastrophic nuclear incident. – Reuters

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv banned public celebrations this week commemorating independence from Soviet rule, citing a heightened threat of attack as a U.S. official warned of Russian plans to strike Ukrainian infrastructure in the coming days. – Reuters

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already killed some 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers since it began nearly six months ago, a general said, and the fighting Monday showed no signs that the war is abating. – Associated Press 

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded a halt to “nuclear saber-rattling” on Monday, saying the world is at a “maximum moment of danger” and all countries with nuclear weapons must make a commitment to “no first-use.” – Associated Press 

In the war of attrition in Ukraine, U.S. weapons are being effectively employed to degrade Russian positions in both the south and the east, according to a senior U.S. defense official. – Washington Examiner

The US government is urging Americans in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, warning that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch attacks on civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days. – CNN

Russian journalist Igor Korotchenko named three targets Russia would strike if the United Kingdom were to enter the war in Ukraine. – Newsweek 

Three weeks ago, MEMRI published an article by military analyst Viktor Biryukov complaining that unless Russia fully mobilized and put its army on a war footing, it was inviting a World War I type stalemate. In a subsequent piece, Biryukov writes that a World War I war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine that he considered a disaster for Russia, was actually the undeclared policy of the Russian leadership. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Russian government officials, investigators and state media propagandists are airing out their grand revenge plot over the killing of Darya Dugina, daughter of the notorious Alexander Dugin, to a wide array of the Kremlin’s foes. – The Daily Beast 

Russian officials have been hinting at the need to use nuclear weapons throughout the war in Ukraine. But when push comes to shove, a top Russian official claims Russia will only use nuclear weapons in cases of “self-defense.” – The Daily Beast 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Sunday that he told Russian President Vladimir Putin before Russia invaded Ukraine that NATO was not a threat and that Ukraine would not be joining the organization. – Arutz Sheva 

The Turkish government has delivered 50 used mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to the Ukrainian military, government and industry sources told Defense News. – Defense News 

Editorial: The Kremlin will keep this up until Europe develops wider sources of natural gas, including domestic sources, or reinvests in nuclear power. Mr. Putin enjoys this ride, but Europe can choose to hop off at any time. – Wall Street Journal

Andreas Kluth writes: In the standoff at Zaporizhzhia, Putin — no matter what he tells Macron — might willingly incur the risk of nuclear meltdown in a country he wants to subjugate. The whole world, from Paris to Ankara and Beijing, must now steer him away from the brink. Success is not assured. – Bloomberg

Maria Shagina writes: The past success of export controls illustrates that they are well suited for imposing higher hurdles for the target to acquire any given technology. Even if they work slowly, they can be one of the most powerful tools in the West’s toolbox of economic statecraft. But the impacts on Russia’s ability to wage war won’t be automatic—they require constant monitoring, stringent enforcement, and adjusting to Moscow’s evolving adaptation tactics. – Foreign Policy


Several dozen Israeli rights groups on Monday denounced Israel for shuttering the offices of Palestinian advocacy organizations that it has labeled terror groups, saying the allegations were baseless. – Times of Israel 

The Shin Bet has issued “a severe warning” to the Palestinian Authority not to intervene in Israel’s upcoming elections. – Times of Israel 

Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid will visit Germany next month, shortly before his trip to New York to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. – i24 News


Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah that any attack on its gas assets could spark war, after the terror group threatened to “sever” Israel’s hands if it taps a disputed offshore field. – Agence France-Presse

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday evening dismissed remarks by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who said that an attack on the Karish oil rig could lead to war. – Arutz Sheva

Israel and Lebanon are entering one of the most strained periods they have experienced since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 over the location of Israel’s Karish gas rig, close to Lebanon in the Mediterranean Sea. – Arutz Sheva

Amos Harel writes: The main concern, however, is the health of Awawdeh, who is 41. He has been in and out of Israeli jails for the last 20 years, in most cases without trial. He began his hunger strike in March. On Friday, following a deterioration in his health, Israel suspended his detention. But he remains hospitalized at Israel’s Shamir Medical Center. Awawdeh health has already been damaged, perhaps irreversibly. If he dies in the hospital, his death may serve as the detonator that will set off another conflict with the Palestinians. And this time, it could be a high-intensity conflict. – Haaretz


Joni Ernst writes: The Biden administration’s abandonment of Americans, inability to serve justice for our soldiers killed in action, and ignorance of the human rights disaster they precipitated in Afghanistan have substituted sound strategy for an ad hoc response of willful negligence. Every day that passes, more promises go unmet – and threats to America’s national security and stability grow more imminent. – Fox News

Robert Holbert writes: The Biden administration’s decision to abandon Afghanistan once more will lead to similar outcomes. When U.S. forces withdrew from Kabul, and the Taliban took over a second time in 2021, that decision only continued this harmful cycle, creating more misery and threats. To restore Afghanistan and U.S. credibility and ensure greater opportunities for women and girls, the United States and its allies must have a generational commitment to the Afghan people. – The National Interest

Trevor Filseth and Natiq Malikzada write:  Afghanistan’s neighbors, the remnants of its civil society, and the NRF will continue to face a steep uphill battle in confronting the worst consequences of the Taliban takeover. The United States must do what it can to aid them. – The National Interest

Akram Umarov writes: The main attention of the United States and allies in the international coalition should be given to the problem of socio-economic reconstruction and infrastructure development within Afghanistan. Improving the living standards of the Afghan people would help support U.S. policy, reduce the Taliban’s influence, and decrease interethnic struggles. Close cooperation with regional countries would ease the burden of interacting with the Taliban. No one wants to see a new civil war in Afghanistan and the United States has an interest in working to make sure that doesn’t happen. – The National Interest

Arabian Peninsula

The United States has raised “significant concerns” with Saudi Arabia over a 34-year prison sentence imposed on women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab, the State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran said on Monday that talks with Saudi Arabia was a separate matter from talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear pact, adding that cooperation between Tehran and Riyadh could help restoration of calm and security in the Middle East. – Reuters

Yemeni forces backed by the United Arab Emirates seized control of vital southern oil and gas fields after nearly a week of fierce clashes with their rivals, loyal to the internationally recognized government, officials and tribal leaders said Monday. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

As a bitter struggle for power in Iraq nears its 11th month, there is one point that unites its rival Shiite factions: None of them wants to be seen as too close to Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt met Monday with the leaders of Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, his office said, as world powers and Iran seek to end 16 months of negotiations over the revival of Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal. – Associated Press 

A final agreement in the maritime border negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over the dispute surrounding the Karish gas field could be signed as early as next month, Israeli officials assessed on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Ronen Bar traveled to Egypt on Sunday and held meetings in an attempt to calm the crisis between Jerusalem and Cairo. – Arutz Sheva 

Mohammed Soliman writes: The I2U2+2 — India, Israel, the UAE, the U.S., Egypt, and Saudi Arabia — has the potential to coordinate on global and regional security issues and to cooperate in other strategic theaters such as the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Together, these six countries have the diplomatic heft and military muscle to transform the I2U2 mechanism into an effective security architecture that will lessen — not increase — the need for a forward U.S. military presence in West Asia. – Middle East Institute 

John O’Malley writes: The more ambiguous language is incredibly beneficial for would-be partner states who would like to engage in high-stakes security diplomacy in a more discreet fashion. It also enables the Pentagon to be more selective in its outreach, avoiding doomed attempts at convincing certain countries to take part in an agreement that upsets valuable domestic and regional political considerations. Establishing a regional security framework in the Middle East would be a breathtaking sign of progress, and the Senate cannot afford to trip out of the starting blocks. – The National Interest


China has gained a major foothold in oil-rich Iraq, shaking up Western domination in fields from energy to construction, even as some warn that infrastructure projects could leave Baghdad in debt. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: Europe must recognize that communist China isn’t a friend. Mr. Xi’s regime represents an ambitious authoritarian adversary, which wants to have its European cake while also helping Russia eat it. This threatens the fundamental principle of the European project: the right of its peoples to live in freedom and peace after thousands of years of wars. European leaders should be outraged at China’s Vostok adventurism and reject deeper cooperation with Beijing. – Wall Street Journal

Rahul Gupta writes: Beijing has yet to take these steps. Without its engagement, shipments of precursor chemicals to illicit drug producers in Mexico will continue, and traffickers will keep moving these drugs into America. China’s decision to refuse cooperation on this issue will result in more American deaths and more deaths world-wide. – Wall Street Journal

Michael Walsh writes: Third, the U.S. government needs to systematically exploit the vulnerabilities that exist in China’s strategic partnerships. For that to happen, the U.S. not only needs to possess the defense, democracy, development, and diplomatic capabilities required to exploit those vulnerabilities. It also needs the domestic and international political will to risk using them, especially in times of crisis. – The Hill

Michael Auslin writes: The implications of a Taiwan war are enormous, but no US leader should blithely commit to defending the island without understanding that a conflict with China could be like no other fought in history. How far the US is willing to go must be openly debated and the risks of action as well as inaction equally assessed. We must think the unthinkable or we might wind up paying a tragic price. – Financial Times 

Christopher P. Twomey writes: Whatever happens, the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis will be regarded as another important milestone in the deterioration of Sino-American relations. We have already crossed a number of worrisome thresholds, and the two main actors continue to posture for various strategic and domestic reasons. China, in particular, seeks to prevent a slow but steady shift in Taiwan’s status, while the United States seeks to reassure Taiwan and other allies. With careful statesmanship and a little luck, outright war can be avoided — but neither of these is ever guaranteed. – War on the Rocks

South Asia

A Chinese military survey ship that docked at Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built port of Hambantota despite opposition from neighbouring India left on Monday after a week-long stay, the port company told Reuters. – Reuters

Sri Lanka’s new government came under international censure Monday over the use of tough anti-terror laws to detain protesters who forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down from the presidency last month. – Agence France-Presse 

Pakistan opposition leaders warned Monday that authorities would cross a “red line” if they arrested former prime minister Imran Khan after he was reported under the anti-terrorism act for comments he made about the judiciary. – Agence France-Presse

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif travelled to Qatar on Tuesday in the hope of generating trade and investment for his cash-strapped country, his office and aides said. – Reuters

Christina Goldbaum and Salman Masood write: The charges intensified the showdown between the government and Mr. Khan, and added to a wave of reports of harassment, arrest and intimidation aimed at journalists and allies of Mr. Khan in recent weeks that many view as a coordinated effort by the authorities to dampen his political prospects. But the crackdown appears to have heightened Mr. Khan’s popularity, analysts say, bolstering his claims that the military establishment conspired to topple his government in April. – New York Times


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed his cabinet ministers to continue diplomatic responses, including sanctions, against Russia, while backing Ukraine, by keeping close coordination with the Group of Seven nations, the finance minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Taiwan saw off China’s military six decades ago when its forces bombarded offshore Taiwanese islands and that resolve to defend the homeland continues to this day, President Tsai Ing-wen told a visiting group of former U.S. officials on Tuesday. – Reuters

Indiana’s Republican governor met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, following two recent high-profile visits by U.S. politicians that drew Beijing’s ire and Chinese military drills that included firing missiles over the island. – Associated Press

Derek Grossman writes: Although China is finding most of the Indo-Pacific supportive of its cause, there are several countries—certainly Australia and Japan and perhaps to a lesser extent India—that have become increasingly concerned over Beijing’s behavior and are thus directly or indirectly backing Taiwan. Normally, Beijing could simply write this group off as a few objectors in a sea of loyalty. But the problem is that these three nations, along with the United States, comprise not only the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue but also the key powers in the region besides China itself. – Foreign Policy


A new natural gas discovery off Cyprus’ southern coast that is estimated to contain around 2.5 trillion cubic feet of the hydrocarbon bolsters Europe’s efforts to secure alternative energy sources, the Cypriot energy ministry said Monday, as a supply crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to trouble the continent. – Associated Press

A pair of U.S. Air Force B52 strategic bombers on Monday flew low over the Croatian resort of Dubrovnik and three other NATO-member states in the region as a sign of support amid the Russian aggression in Ukraine. – Associated Press 

Poland’s justice minister lashed out at the European Union — and took a swipe at Germany — for “stealing” billions in EU funds, as a standoff between Brussels and Warsaw over financing escalates.  – Bloomberg

Woolly socks and thermostats turned down a notch: Europeans are preparing for a difficult winter without gas supplies from Russia, part of the fallout from the war in Ukraine. – Agence France-Presse

Russia is well aware that the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are very hostile to Russia and are leading the charge against Russia within the EU. Columnist Dmitry Popov compiles an indictment sheet against the Baltic states that is reminiscent of the accusations leveled at Ukraine prior to the invasion. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Max Bergmann writes: To avert this future, the United States must acknowledge that it wants Europe to be an indispensable partner that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. Pursuing such a strategy and building a European pillar within NATO would be a generation-long process that will require intensive U.S. engagement, pushing European allies and partners in a new direction. The time to start the transformation is now. – Foreign Affairs

Dalibor Rohac writes: At a time when inviolability of national borders is being challenged by Russia so brutally in Ukraine, complacency and business as usual will no longer suffice. The world is watching. If the EU, the United States, and their allies prove unable to put a revanchist Serbia in its place, what is one to make of the prospects of sustained efforts to repel Russia from Ukraine or, worse yet, to respond effectively to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? – The Dispatch

Bledar Feta writes: All in all, there is no doubt that China’s structured strategy in the context of the 16/17+1 initiative has played a central role in building closer contacts between Tirana and Beijing. It has made headway among specific societal groups in Albania, providing alternative versions of political, economic, and geopolitical realities. However, China still sells better in other countries of the region, such as Serbia and North Macedonia, than in Albania. Albania remains anchored in its traditional pro-Western orientation, trying to avoid any kind of political penetration that could lead to overreliance on Beijing. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Soldiers from Burundi have deployed to troubled eastern Congo as the first part of a recently created East African regional force to respond to crises. – Associated Press 

Somalia’s prime minister pledged that the government will be held accountable over the deadly Mogadishu hotel siege by Al-Shabaab jihadists, whom he branded “children of hell”. – Agence France-Presse

Somali forces have ended the siege at an upscale hotel in the country’s capital Mogadishu, police told CNN, following an attack from unidentified gunmen that left dozens dead. – CNN

The Americas

Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would like to see free elections in Venezuela and a democratic alternation of power like his country enjoys, the former President and current leftist presidential candidate said on Monday. – Reuters

Colombia’s national police force will launch a training program with the help of the United States and United Nations meant to prevent abuses and human rights violations by cops, the head of the force said on Monday. – Reuters

Harlan Ullman writes: “Dangerous coexistence” must replace “Cold War 2.0” and “great power competition” in our thinking. And within this new paradigm, containing and preventing the new MAD should become foundational. The sooner these necessities are fully understood, the sooner we will become safer, more secure and more prosperous. – The Hill


As China and Russia develop advanced stealth fighters, the US Air Force faces two problems. The first is how to defeat cutting-edge aircraft — such as China’s J-20 and Russia’s Su-57 — that are designed to minimize detection by radar. In turn, this raises another problem: How do US military pilots test weapons and tactics against these aircraft without a realistic target? – Business Insider

The US Army selected AeroVironment’s Jump 20 medium unmanned aerial system (UAS) for its first Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) programme, a pathway designed to replace the runway-dependent RQ-7B Shadow fleet. – Janes 

In the next couple of years the Navy hopes to have six Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships operating in the Western Pacific at a given time, the service’s top surface warfare officer said this week. – USNI News