Fdd's overnight brief

December 14, 2021

In The News


Iran on Tuesday accused Western parties to its 2015 nuclear deal of “persisting in their blame game”, a day after European diplomats warned the pact would soon be an empty shell if not revived. – Reuters 

It is too soon to say whether Iran has returned to nuclear talks with a more constructive approach, the U.S. State Department said on Monday, after Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said progress had been made. – Reuters 

Major powers and Iran have yet to get down to business at talks on rescuing the 2015 nuclear deal, which will very soon become “an empty shell” without progress, senior British, French and German diplomats said on Monday. – Reuters 

Iran on Monday criticized the United Arab Emirates for hosting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the first official visit to the Gulf nation by an Israeli premier, saying that it was betrayal of the Palestinians. – Times of Israel 

Western diplomats on Tuesday morning spoke about the attempts in Vienna to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, saying that the gaps are still large. – Arutz Sheva 

Danny Citrinowicz and Jason M. Brodsky write: If the E3 and the United States want to ensure that any nuclear deal with Iran lasts, they must crack down equally as hard on proxies such as Hezbollah and not allow Iran to use any agreement as a shield to prevent accountability for other malign activity. Blacklisting Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization is one step that the EU and France can take to show they are serious about addressing regional security concerns. – Jerusalem Post 

Farzin Nadimi writes: More broadly, the ongoing JCPOA talks and the specter of renewed pressure on Tehran provide an opportunity for Washington to once again highlight the dangers that Iran’s ever-expanding missile development and proliferation activities pose—not just to regional states, but potentially further abroad if the program continues down the road it has followed for the past three decades. – Washington Institute 

Zvi Bar’el writes: The Iranian issue shows that Israel has no ability to influence either Washington or Abu Dhabi. The latter is following its own agenda, which also includes renewing relations with Turkey as part of the strategic envelope it is building in anticipation of America’s withdrawal from the Middle East. – Haaretz 


No one in the U.S. military will face criminal charges in connection with an airstrike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians in the last days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Monday. – Wall Street Journal 

President Joe Biden defended his withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing that the deaths of 13 service members in the final days of the U.S. exit were inevitable under the circumstances. – Washington Examiner 

The Biden administration on Monday said it has evacuated nearly 500 U.S. citizens from Afghanistan since the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal on Aug. 31 while fewer than a dozen U.S. citizens who want to leave are still stuck there. – FOX News 


Just after midnight on June 8, Israeli warplanes streaked across the country’s northern frontier for a highly unusual airstrike deep inside Syrian territory. The jets fired missiles at three military targets near the cities of Damascus and Homs, killing seven soldiers, including a colonel described in local news accounts as a “hero martyr” and an engineer who worked at a top-secret Syrian military lab. – Washington Post 

The publication on Monday, quoting intelligence sources, was meant to indicate to Assad as well as to Iran – that Israel was determined to prevent their non-conventional capability, be it by chemical or nuclear weapons. – Ynet 

Amos Harel writes: Israel was skeptical at first, but in the end even Israeli intelligence acknowledged that the agreement led to the removal of over 95 percent of the chemical weapons in the Assad regime’s hands. From an Israeli perspective, this was a major turn in the right direction. Weapons held by the regime as a strategic response to Israel’s superiority, which was demonstrated at the end of the Yom Kippur War, were removed from the equation. – Haaretz 

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: The July attack that was reported in the Post, was clearly one of the most important moves Israel has made clandestinely, to interfere in Assad’s ability to produce WMD.  


Turkey’s currency has lost as much as 45% of its value this year, largely triggered by Mr. Erdogan’s own economic policies, economists and former Turkish officials say. The crisis has sparked outrage among poor- and middle-class Turks who have made up Mr. Erdogan’s power base for nearly two decades but are now turning against him in record numbers, opinion polls show. – Wall Street Journal 

Turkey will work to normalize ties with Armenia and start charter flights to its capital city of Yerevan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, according to state-run TRT TV. – Bloomberg 

Steven A. Cook writes: The allure of power is strong, presidential systems tend to be resistant to change, and for a presidential system to sustain democracy and produce good governance its leaders need to embrace, internalize, and govern in accordance with certain basic democratic norms and principles. Perhaps the Good Party’s Meral Aksener or Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas—or his Istanbul counterpart, Imamoglu—would. If so, that is good news. Under those circumstances, Turkey would likely be better off with whichever system its people chose. – Foreign Policy 


The Israeli prime minister met the crown prince of Abu Dhabi on Monday on the first official visit by an Israeli leader to the United Arab Emirates, a historic encounter that would have been unimaginable a few years ago and showcased the rapid realignment of the Middle East, driven by shared fears of a nuclear Iran. – New York Times 

Israel asked the Biden administration last week to speed up the delivery of refueling tankers that could prove critical to striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it was told that the aircraft were back-ordered and it was unlikely that its first one would be ready until late 2024, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. – New York Times 

The Biden administration has rejected Israel’s request to expedite delivery of two KC-46 refueling jets out of four purchased, which would facilitate IAF flight to attack Iran, Ynet has learned. – Ynet 

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi turned to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice in 2019 seeking money to put together a plan for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, and was turned down both times, Channel 13 news reported. – Times of Israel 

Editorial: Nevertheless, there is a lot of work to do on other projects. Hooking Israel and the UAE together as part of a partnership of countries of moderation in the region can expand stability beyond our neighborhood to other friends, partners and allies further abroad, such as India, the United States, Greece, Cyprus, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan. It is also important for showing a strong front against Iran. Bennett’s landmark trip should be built upon to create lasting bonds with our friends in the Gulf. – Jerusalem Post 

Eric R. Mandel writes: So can containment work as a legitimate strategy? No one knows, but it could be the least bad choice, if Israel decides not to strike Iran’s nuclear program. But for it to even have a chance, maximal secondary sanctions need to be increased with convincing determination, and the Western impulse for quick solutions ended. – Jerusalem Post 

Gil Hoffman writes: Perhaps Trump thought he was getting revenge against Netanyahu by cursing him and telling Israelis that he had not spoken to him in nearly a year. But Trump actually helped Netanyahu out politically one last time. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

The first-ever official meeting Monday between Israel’s prime minister and the United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader is the latest in a flurry of diplomacy reshaping the geopolitics of the Middle East amid fear that the Iran nuclear talks will collapse and worries over the shrinking U.S. role in the region. – Wall Street Journal 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit the United Arab Emirates late on Monday to discuss bilateral ties and hold talks with Turkish businesspeople in Dubai, Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Monday, as the regional rivals ramp up diplomacy to mend strained ties. – Reuters 

Simon Henderson and Elana DeLozier write: For observers wanting to know the implications of the Bennett-MbZ meeting, the GCC Summit will provide an early reading. For the United States, the overarching issue to monitor is what council members have to say about tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, though the parameters of that discussion may well be changing as Tehran continues to make notable advances. – Washington Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Monday he would call a constitutional referendum next July, a year to the day after he seized broad powers in moves his opponents call a coup, and that parliamentary elections would follow at the end of 2022. – Reuters 

Jon B. Alterman writes: How the Middle East manages the global energy transition for the next three decades will profoundly affect U.S. national security, whether the United States wants it to or not. Aligning U.S. strategy in the Middle East with this process does more than merely give the United States a positive agenda in the region and flesh out a less military-heavy set of tasks. As an animating principle, it helps the United States invest in its own future, as well as the future of its allies and partners. – Center for Strategic and International Studies  

Zine Labidine Ghebouli writes: President Tebboune has finalized his institutional reforms, demonstrating the complexity of Algeria’s system and society. His term seems to be an informal transition period, which suggests that his continuation as head of state is not guaranteed. While Algeria may have achieved some stability since 2019, there are still worrying signs of an unsustainable situation that could blow up well before Tebboune’s term ends in 2024. – Middle East Institute 

Korean Peninsula

Friday marks 10 years since Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, took power after his father’s sudden heart attack. – Associated Press 

South Korea broke from its U.S. ally and won’t be joining the American-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing a need for China’s help in denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. – Bloomberg 

South Korea will begin the application process to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the country’s finance minister said on Monday, after China’s bid to the regional trade pact assuaged Seoul’s fears of upsetting its biggest trade partner. – Financial Times 


While researchers in the U.S. and other nations have studied the isotope, China’s renewed pursuit is part of a decadeslong plan to establish itself as a leading space power, mirroring the country’s rising economic and strategic influence on Earth. Since being shut out of working with the U.S. space agency by law a decade ago, the country has invested heavily in its own program. China is still playing catch-up technologically but is seeking to gain an edge through its moon missions. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese artificial-intelligence company SenseTime Group Inc. said it would postpone its Hong Kong initial public offering, days after it was added to an investment blacklist of companies that the U.S. government says are supporting Chinese military development. – Wall Street Journal 

A Hong Kong court on Monday sentenced the former media mogul Jimmy Lai and seven other prominent pro-democracy activists to prison for their roles last year in trying to commemorate Beijing’s June 4, 1989, crackdown on peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. – New York Times 

Lithuania’s foreign minister said on Monday he would not attend the 2022 Olympic Games in China as France and the Netherlands sought a common position on a European Union responseto highlight Chinese human rights abuses. – Reuters 

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are close to agreement on legislation aimed at punishing China for the alleged oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, according to two people familiar with the discussions. – Bloomberg 

China Mobile Ltd., the country’s largest wireless carrier by revenue, has received approval from regulators to list in Shanghai after being removed from the New York Stock Exchange due to an investment ban ordered by former President Donald Trump. – Bloomberg 

China needs to step up its carbon reduction plans, according to U.S. officials at the Chinese Embassy. While the United States’s and China’s collaborations on climate change have been good, one diplomat said China needs to “step up its ambitions.” – Washington Examiner 

Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping thinks the United States and its allies could deprive China of food in a crisis, an assessment underpinning a frank call for self-sufficiency. – Washington Examiner 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday to discuss international issues as Russia faces condemnation from the West for its military aggression at the Ukraine border. – The Hill 

Anthony Faiola writes: This isn’t the first time a world leader has sat out an Olympic event hosted by China to make a point, but the effort this year is the most far-reaching. Since the United States announced its diplomatic boycott last week, New Zealand, Britain, Australia, Canada and Kosovo have followed suit. Days before the U.S. announcement, representatives of top Lithuanian officials reportedly said the officials would not attend. – Washington Post 

John Bolton writes: Washington should not tolerate Beijing’s UN obstructionism, however manifested. […]Although President Joe Biden wants America to remain a WHO member and rejoin the Human Rights Council, he has done nothing to reverse China’s malign influence in the United Nations. We will suffer for this failure of US leadership. – New York Post 

Li Yuan writes: They put Ms. Peng on a video call with members of the International Olympic Committee, a global sports organization that for years has turned a blind eye to Beijing’s human rights record. […]Perhaps no international organization has a more symbiotic relationship with Beijing. The Chinese government treats its growing success in sports as symbolic of the country’s rise as a global power. The 2008 Beijing Olympics helped transform the world’s image of China, a feat the government hopes to replicate next month when the Winter Olympics begin near the same city. – New York Times 

South Asia

Militants fired on a police bus in the Indian region of Kashmir on Monday, killing at least two officers and wounding more than a dozen, the police said, just three days after a similar attack left two policemen dead. – New York Times 

Indian troops killed a suspected militant during a gunbattle in the federally-controlled Jammu and Kashmir region on Tuesday, two officials said, as violence escalated in the territory at the heart of the decades of tensions with Pakistan. – Reuters 

Tufail Ahmad writes: A surging wave of protests by ordinary women led by a Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan leader is increasing in the coastal Pakistani city of Gwadar, where China is building a strategic port, is threatening the future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It has the potential to alter the course of geopolitical relations that Pakistan and China have sought to build in recent years with the goal of undercutting Western influence. If the protests swell and succeed, China’s debt-trap diplomacy will lose in a big way right in its own neighborhood. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


Secretary of State Antony Blinken touted on Tuesday a U.S. strategy to deepen its Asian treaty alliances, offering to boost defence and intelligence work with partners in an Indo-Pacific region increasingly concerned over China’s “aggressive actions”. – Reuters 

The U.S. ambassador to the Solomon Islands has warned Pacific Islands against “aid that benefits one person, one party and one bank account” – remarks that come after the Solomons were beset with riots last month blamed in part on discontent with China. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated on Tuesday a strong American commitment to its strategic partnership with Indonesia and to their engagement on the South China Sea. – Reuters 

The U.S. made an offer to Japan aimed at resolving disputes over tariffs imposed on Japanese steel and aluminum under former President Donald Trump in 2018, people familiar with the situation said. – Bloomberg 

Shortly after a Taiwanese minister displayed a map depicting her country as separate and independent from China during the U.S. democracy summit, her feed was cut. – Washington Examiner 

Stuck in the middle is Taiwan, one of the most valuable pieces on the geopolitical chess board — and one many worry could be the flashpoint for war between the United States and China. – Military.com 


Russia on Monday blocked a United Nations Security Council draft resolution, under negotiation for many months, that for the first time would have defined climate change as a threat to peace. – New York Times 

Russia said on Monday it may be forced to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in response to what it sees as NATO’s plans to do the same. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday that members of the NATO military alliance were threatening Russia by expanding activity in Ukraine, the Kremlin said. – Reuters 

European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday that any Russia aggression against Ukraine would trigger economic sanctions on Moscow, trying to keep up the pressure after similar statements by NATO and the Group of Seven nations. – Reuters 

Russia-NATO ties began to worsen in 2002 after Washington opted out of a Cold-War-era treaty banning defenses against ballistic missiles, a move Moscow saw as a potential threat to its nuclear deterrent. – Associated Press 

The military men and women in the eastern city of Avdiivka are on high alert as consternation over an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine spreads through Europe and beyond. Leave has been canceled and the troops are bracing themselves to spend the holidays huddled in the cold. – NBC 

The Russian military has been conducting combat training exercises of the upgrade MiG-29K (NATO reporting name: Fulcrum-D) from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the arctic. The goal of the operations has been to increase the zone of controlled airspace over Russia’s northern sea routes, including those in the Barents Sea. – The National Interest 

Rep. Michael Waltz and Sen. Marsha Blackburn write: Instead of fly-swatters, the Biden-Harris administration must send Ukraine bear traps in the form of lethal military assistance.  We should offer defensive weapons systems in addition to the anti-tank Javelin missiles already on the way. […]We must also provide incentives to our European allies and partners that include reliable, clean energy supplies from the U.S. and additional military aid to bolster defenses against Russian prowling. Inaction will welcome serious consequences. – FOX News 


President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday France was willing to “work together for Europe” with Hungary despite the countries’ political differences, striking a conciliatory note as Paris prepares to take over the European Union’s presidency. – Reuters 

Geneva’s chief prosecutor said on Monday he had closed a criminal investigation into allegations Spain’s former king Juan Carlos laundered “illegal commission” payments from Saudi Arabia, due to insufficient evidence. – Reuters 

A Swiss court dismissed an appeal by a Kremlin-linked Russian businessman to block his extradition to the United States, rejecting his argument that he was a victim of a U.S. political campaign to snare him on trumped-up insider trading charges. – Reuters 

Germany has suspended the certification of a controversial gas pipeline linking the European power to Russia, according to a senior member of Germany’s newly formed government. – Washington Examiner 

Bulgaria’s new prime minister has signalled that Sofia will end its obstruction of North Macedonia’s bid to join the EU once his new government takes office in the coming weeks. – Financial Times 

The case of Anne Sacoolas, the US national charged over the death of motorcyclist Harry Dunn, is to be heard by a UK court, prosecutors have said. – BBC 

A group of prominent Austrian public figures have joined with the country’s Jewish student union to demand the resignation of the newly-appointed interior minister who once accused a rival political party of working for its “American and Israeli masters.” – Algemeiner 

Henry Olsen writes: Ayuso is quick to squelch any talk that she harbors national ambitions. When I asked her what’s next for her, she responded, “Madrid, only Madrid.” But she is only 43. It took Reagan eight years as governor and six more years in the political wilderness until he reached the White House. She’d only be 57 if it takes her that long to reach the Moncloa Palace, the Spanish White House. That’s only slightly older than Margaret Thatcher was when she reached No. 10 Downing Street. More than enough time to remake Spain, and perhaps inspire the world. – Washington Post 


The United States has imposed visa restrictions on eight individuals it said were wildlife traffickers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in an effort to disrupt the illicit trade, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. – Reuters 

Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi said on Monday he would ensure that the presence of Ugandan troops in Congo, where they are fighting an Islamist militant group alongside Congolese forces, was for a strictly limited period. – Reuters 

Security forces fired tear gas Monday to disperse protesters in Sudan’s capital in the latest street demonstrations against the October military coup and subsequent deal that reinstated deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. – Associated Press 

West African leaders are threatening further sanctions against Mali within weeks unless the country’s junta makes “concrete progress” toward holding democratic elections in February as promised. – Associated Press 

Burundi’s government has signaled that it won’t allow a recently appointed United Nations special rapporteur on human rights into the East African nation. – Associated Press 

Latin America

Colombia’s national police were responsible for the deaths of 11 people during two days of protests of police brutality last year, according to an independent investigation requested by the mayor of Bogotá and supported by the United Nations. – Washington Post 

Nicaragua’s decision last week to cut ties with Taiwan was part of a deliberate move by China to target the island’s diplomatic allies after it was excluded from a democracy summit hosted by Washington, Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Michael Albertus writes: Chile’s presidential runoff election on Dec. 19 is the country’s most important election since its return to democracy in 1990. The bruising campaign has polarized the country and cemented a new identity politics. Mimicking trends in other Latin American countries and the United States, the struggle over national identity and what it means to be Chilean now overshadows traditional bread-and-butter issues. – Washington Post 

North America

Canada on Monday issued a formal apology to former and current military members who were victims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct over decades, acknowledging the government’s failure to eradicate a toxic culture that harmed and destroyed thousands of lives. – Wall Street Journal 

Canada has proposed aligning its electric vehicle tax policy with that of the United States to settle a dispute over proposed U.S. credits for American-made vehicles, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Monday. – Reuters 

A U.S. appeals court on Monday rejected a renewed attempt by the Biden administration to end a policy put in place by former President Donald Trump that forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico for the resolution of their U.S. asylum cases. – Reuters 

The four former State Department special envoys to monitor and combat antisemitism agreed on Friday that the U.S. needs a domestic official tasked with monitoring and combating domestic antisemitism, in addition to the current position that handles antisemitism abroad. – Jewish Insider 

Editorial: The BBB trade dispute highlights how climate subsidies are going to become new vehicles for protectionism. The Canadians want the U.S. to extend the EV subsidies to Canadian vehicles, but then U.S. taxpayers would be subsidizing foreign production. Better to drop the subsidies and let EV auto makers compete on their own merits. – Wall Street Journal 


A newly discovered vulnerability in a widely used software library is causing mayhem on the internet, forcing cyber defenders to scramble as hackers rush to exploit the weakness. – Reuters 

The lead committee in the European Parliament passed measures Monday that could set major restrictions on the way giant technology companies handle content. – Bloomberg 

A Virginia legislative branch agency was struck by a ransomware attack, according to the office of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. – FOX News 

Tim Culpan writes: A few hacks of Twitter has proven to the rest of the community that this is a target with vulnerabilities, and others — possibly with state backing or terrorist links — will think of better ways to abuse that weakness than promoting crypto scams. And clearly Twitter itself continues to drop the ball on the fundamental task of keeping its system robust as it balances usability with security. – Bloomberg 


The United States is testing satellite resiliency to threats from China and Russia miles above the earth’s surface, just weeks after Russia shot down an aging communications satellite. – Reuters 

A Senate whistleblower report released on Monday alleges a number of oversight problems involving safety in the aerospace industry. – The Hill 

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet is testing a Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) at Jordan’s Aqaba Naval Base. – Jane’s 360