Fdd's overnight brief

December 15, 2021

In The News


Iran said it won’t allow United Nations nuclear inspectors to access a centrifuge workshop which was sabotaged earlier this year, as diplomats warn that time is running out to save a landmark deal that had capped the Islamic Republic’s atomic activities. – Bloomberg 

Iranian officials continue to demand wholesale sanctions relief from the United States, a posture that portends a final collapse of talks billed as a “last chance” to rehabilitate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – Washington Examiner 

The door to resuscitating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is open for now but “we are rapidly reaching the end of the road” to revive a pact that is being gutted by Iran’s nuclear advances, France’s ambassador to the United Nations said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog warned Tuesday that the restrictions faced by his inspectors in Iran threaten to give the world only a “very blurred image” of Tehran’s program as it enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels. – Associated Press 

Iran’s state-affiliated Tehran Times issued a threat to Israel on Wednesday, publishing a map of the country riddled with markers as a reminder that Iranian forces can ostensibly strike anywhere they want. – Times of Israel 

Savyon and Yigal Carmon write: It should be noted that the only restriction stressed by the Biden administration concerning Iran is Iran’s obligation never to gain nuclear weapons. Such a demand is ostensibly compatible with the Iranian regime’s proud promotion of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons. Based on the assumption that the Iranian regime is truly not interested in nuclear weapons, the sides should have found a common basis for future understandings. […]But the fact is that neither side is even capable of conducting honest negotiations. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Patrick Clawson writes: The implications for U.S. policymakers are clear: the Raisi government sees no economic urgency to making substantial nuclear concessions, nor does it fear the punitive economic measures that the Biden administration has threatened to apply in the absence of a deal. Perhaps Washington can shake this confidence—for instance, by finding effective measures to reduce the Chinese oil purchases that make up the bulk of Iran’s exports. Yet this will be no easy task given Raisi’s strong ideological conviction that self-reliance and trade with neighbors are more fruitful than chasing after normalization with the West. – Washington Institute 

Michael Rubin writes: If the Biden team truly believes in the power of human rights, it should do what Trump, Obama, and Bush did not: Truly put the promotion of the Iranian people’s rights at the center of policy advocacy. After all, the problem with Iran has never been the Iranian people but rather the regime that oppresses them. Should Biden’s team put principle above politics, they may find they can achieve their elusive breakthrough on Iran regardless of what the Iranian regime may want. – Washington Examiner 

Marie Abdi writes: We do not know how long the Islamic Republic will last in Iran, especially given the growing social, economic, security, and political challenges of recent years. But even if the regime survives for a considerable time after Ayatollah Khamenei, internal dissension and a weakened power base among the clergy will make its structure more vulnerable to collapse. This possibility poses an existential threat to the Iranian regime, especially as none of the supreme leader’s potential successors enjoys a significant degree of influence with the authorities. – Middle East Institute 

Yoram Dori writes: We can inflate our chests every day with platitudes, but in the face of Chinese and Russian interests in the game against Iran, it is difficult and almost impossible for Israel to cope alone. […]Government policy must also be based on the organizational memory stored in government ministries. Since all the minutes of the foreign minister’s talks are in the Prime Minister’s Office and in the Foreign Ministry, the current prime minister and the foreign minister should review them, learn from them and act in the best way to keep unconventional weapons away from Iran. – Jerusalem Post 


The Taliban didn’t take the Afghan capital — they were invited, says the man who issued the invitation. – Associated Press 

Afghanistan’s envoy from the former government on Tuesday accused the Taliban of committing a wide range of human rights abuses including targeted killings and enforced disappearances since seizing control in August. – Reuters 

Almost all Afghans do not have enough to eat and a failing economy could tip Afghanistan’s increasingly dire situation under Taliban rule into catastrophe next year, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Thousands of Afghans who assisted the United States government and military during the two-decade-long war against the Taliban are still stuck in the country — along with thousands more of their family members, advocates tell The Post. – New York Post 

The Afghan survivors of an errant U.S. drone strike that killed 10 members of their family in August said Tuesday they are frustrated and saddened that U.S. troops involved in the attack will not face disciplinary action. – Associated Press 

Michael Rubin writes: If the United States disengages with the last Afghan group that seeks democracy, then the United States will lose credibility not only among Afghans but also across the broader region. Simply put, peace in Afghanistan, credible diplomacy and leverage, and America’s own national security require not blind support for the Taliban, but rather partnership with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan. – The National Interest 


Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group is exploring a potential sale of business or the closure of its controversial spyware unit, according to a person familiar with the matter. The move follows a recent U.S. decision to blacklist the company over allegations that NSO’s surveillance software, called Pegasus, has been used inappropriately. – Wall Street Journal 

A group of U.S. lawmakers is asking the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction Israeli spyware firm NSO Group and three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses. – Reuters 

Israel’s intelligence minister said Tuesday that Syria cannot be allowed to obtain chemical weapons, after a report emerged that Israel targeted the country’s chemical weapons facilities. – Associated Press 

The Biden administration has put the issue of settlements on the same level as the Iranian nuclear threat in its discussions with Israeli officials, multiple Israeli diplomatic sources said in recent days. – Jerusalem Post 

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is set to visit Israel in the next three weeks to discuss Iran, Walla reporter Barak Ravid said, citing three Israeli officials. – Jerusalem Post 

Tehran’s approach to talks on its nuclear programme in Vienna has become so uncompromising according to Israel’s lead diplomat on Iran, Joshua Zarka, that they “have reached the last stretch of diplomacy”. – The Guardian 

Israel may have to wait several years before receiving the KC-46A tanker aircraft that would be crucial for long-range airstrikes. This news comes amid Iran tensions, and reports emerged about the slow delivery of the key aircraft as Defense Minister Benny Gantz was flying back to Israel from his trip to Washington. – Jerusalem Post 

Like several other things from the Netanyahu era that are no more, the cybertechnology diplomacy of the former premier is now facing a hopeless situation. In his final years in office, Netanyahu boasted about his policy’s three-pronged accomplishment: renewing the economic pressure on Iran thanks to his friend U.S. President Donald Trump; a significant breakthrough in relations with Arab and Muslim countries; and an expansion of Israel’s circle of friends around the world, to a great extent thanks to Israel’s advanced high-tech sector. – Haaretz 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It would appear that any strikes on nascent programs designed to rekindle Syria’s chemical weapons programs would involve joint discussion as well. The message may be to alert the Assad regime to the fact that it should not continue down the road of chemical weapons procurement and to show how important Israel is in the region in terms of neutralizing these kinds of threats. – Jerusalem Post  

Gulf States

The United Arab Emirates is threatening to pull out of a multibillion-dollar deal to buy American-made F-35 aircraft, Reaper drones and other advanced munitions, U.S. officials said, in what would be a significant shake-up between two longtime partners increasingly at odds over China’s role in the Gulf. – Wall Street Journal  

A Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia urged Iran on Tuesday to take concrete steps to ease tension while reiterating a call to include the region in talks between global powers and Tehran aimed at salvaging their nuclear agreement. – Reuters 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted Wednesday the US was still prepared to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which has threatened to scrap the deal over stringent conditions. – Agence France-Presse 

Middle East & North Africa

The signs of Turkey’s disastrous economy are all around. Long lines snake outside discounted bread kiosks. The prices of medicine, milk and toilet paper are soaring. Some gas stations have closed after exhausting their stock. Angry outbursts have erupted on the streets. – New York Times 

Libya’s presidential election, meant to help unify the nation after a decade of civil war, is supposed to take place in just over a week, but calls are mounting for a delay. Either scenario — holding the vote on time or postponing it — could turn into a destabilizing setback. – Associated Press 

Crispin Smith and Hamdi Malik write: It is also possible that militias could act primarily in Syria as they respond to ongoing U.S. and coalition presence in Iraq in early January after the militia’s withdrawal deadline of December 31. (Militias could also strike in Syria to mark the upcoming anniversaries of the killing of militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muqandis and Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3, and he January 5 non-binding motion of a minority of Iraqi MPs to evict foreign forces). Erbil could also be seen by militias as a relatively low-cost target location. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

Kim Yong Ju, who was the oldest surviving member of North Korea’s ruling family and once considered a potential candidate to lead the country, has died. He was 101 years old. – Wall Street Journal 

As Kim Jong Un marks 10 years in power this week, the world still doesn’t quite know what to make of the North Korean leader. – Associated Press 

The North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the isolated state’s rubber-stamp parliament, will convene on Feb. 6 to discuss government budgets and other issues, state media said on Wednesday as the country faces mounting economic woes. – Reuters 


The Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies has long brushed off questions about its role in China’s state surveillance, saying it just sells general-purpose networking gear. A review by The Washington Post of more than 100 Huawei PowerPoint presentations, many marked “confidential,” suggests that the company has had a broader role in tracking China’s populace than it has acknowledged. – Washington Post  

Chinese authorities said they have fined social-media giant Weibo Corp. millions of dollars for a string of infractions, the second time in two weeks that Beijing has announced the punishment of a major internet platform amid a further tightening of controls online. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s economic activity decelerated in November amid a prolonged property slump and sluggish consumption recovery, adding urgency for Beijing to step up efforts to support the world’s second-largest economy. – Wall Street Journal 

Singapore released a citizen from detention more than a year after he pleaded guilty in a U.S. court of spying for Beijing with the city state’s government saying the threat he posed as a foreign agent has now been “effectively neutralized.” – Bloomberg 

Britain has scolded China for its broadening use of a national security law in Hong Kong, detailing attacks on the city’s vaunted judiciary, civil society groups and foreign diplomats. – Reuters 

A German warship sailed into the South China Sea on Wednesday for the first time in almost 20 years, a move that sees Berlin joining other Western nations in expanding its military presence in the region amid growing alarm over China’s territorial ambitions. – Reuters 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday to ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, part of Washington’s continued pushback against Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority. – Reuters 

The Biden administration will place eight Chinese companies including DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer, on an investment blacklist for their alleged involvement in the surveillance of the Uyghur Muslim minority. – Financial Times 

Lithuania has pulled its remaining diplomats out of China over concerns for their safety, in a sharp escalation of bilateral tensions as Beijing retaliates against the Baltic nation’s efforts to strengthen ties with Taiwan. – Financial Times 

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a new version of a bill banning imports made in Xinjiang region of China, where the Uighur minority community has reportedly been subject to human rights abuses. – FOX News 

The Chinese Embassy in France released a mock children’s song about “Ameri-cracy” via social media last week. The video depicts a lip-synching Chinese woman in a top hat singing alongside several angry animals playing instruments. The song is set roughly to the tune of “The Wellerman,” a New Zealand sea ballad that became explosively popular at the beginning of the year on video site TikTok. – New York Post 

Editorial: Diplomacy alone won’t be enough to maintain America’s Pacific position against China’s surging military reach. But small victories like this one show the U.S. has recognized the strategic implications of China’s Pacific-island inroads, and is taking steps to answer them. – Wall Street Journal 

James Stavridis writes: The U.S. is understandably putting pressure on Equatorial Guinea to reject Beijing’s overtures. But either way, China is going to expand its already impressive fleet and broaden its naval power globally through bases, friendly relations and logistical arrangements. Alfred Thayer Mahan would recognize Beijing’s approach. He would counsel the U.S. to focus on increasing forward deployments in the Pacific and elsewhere, maintaining key bases and logistics nodes, and preparing for real competition on the high seas. – Bloomberg 


President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Tuesday ended his bid for a Senate seat in next May’s elections, one day after promising a peaceful transition of power. – New York Times 

Downplaying direct confrontation between the United States and China, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Tuesday pledged to strengthen relations with Indo-Pacific nations through billions of dollars in American investment and aid and, in doing so, counter Beijing’s regional pull. – New York Times 

Pham Doan Trang, a Vietnamese activist known for her writing on women’s empowerment and environmental issues, was sentenced to nine years in prison Tuesday for disseminating anti-state propaganda. It was the latest crackdown on dissent in the Southeast Asian country and drew condemnation from rights groups. – Washington Post 

A group of six French lawmakers arrived in Taiwan for a five-day visit on Wednesday, following a similar trip led by another group of French parliamentarians in October that China sought to discourage. – Associated Press  

US lawmakers across party lines on Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to meet with the Dalai Lama in a bid to ensure that Tibetans’ rights remain high on the agenda. – Agence France-Presse 

The U.S. is exploring additional ways to pressure Myanmar’s ruling junta, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, as civilian strife escalates in the Southeast Asian country. – Bloomberg 

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned China that an invasion of Taiwan would incur incalculable costs as the senior Japanese politician and U.S. officials spoke up for the island democracy’s autonomy. – Washington Examiner 

Arif Rafiq writes: The cries of Gwadar protestors should serve as a wake-up call for Islamabad. While terrorist attacks, including a 2019 assault on Gwadar’s only major hotel, serve to deter foreign investment, a heavy security crackdown will only further alienate locals and compound the problem. Islamabad needs to break out of the cycle of violence by developing a new strategy to win the peace in Balochistan. […]Above all, any path to success for Gwadar requires Pakistani leadership to understand that success cannot be achieved without centering the city’s native population. – Foreign Policy 


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced that he would attend the Opening Ceremonies of Beijing’s Winter Olympics in February during a video talk with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday, sending a message of solidarity amid rising global tensions. – Washington Post 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will discuss tensions in Europe and “aggressive” U.S. and NATO rhetoric during a video call on Wednesday, the Kremlin said. – Reuters 

Britain said it would push back at what it casts as attempts by Russia and China to establish national sovereignty over the communications arteries and emerging technologies which will shape the 21st Century. – Reuters 

New German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Tuesday Russia would face “massive consequences” if it invades Ukraine, after a phone call with her Russian counterpart in which she said Kyiv’s territory integrity must not be violated. – Reuters 

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled that Russia had not done enough to curb domestic violence and ordered it to pay substantial compensation to four women who were victims of brutal attacks. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Tuesday that Moscow wanted immediate talks with Western countries to prevent NATO’s expansion further east, the Kremlin said. – Reuters 

NATO is not planning to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, the Western military alliance said on Tuesday, rejecting Russian accusations and a call by Moscow for a moratorium on this kind of weapons in Europe. – Reuters 

Russia investigators said Wednesday they had detained tycoon Mikhail Fedyayev after a blast at a coal mine in Siberia that killed 51 people last month. – Agence France-Presse 

A group of US lawmakers on Tuesday called for pre-emptive sanctions on Russia and expanded arms shipments to Ukraine, fearing that action so far may not dissuade President Vladimir Putin from invading. – Agence France-Presse 

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto on Tuesday that he wants “immediate” talks with the United States and NATO over security guarantees, the Kremlin said, as tensions mount over Ukraine. – Agence France-Presse 

The United States and Russia have completed two rounds of strategic stability talks and have agreed to a basic plan of work on arms control and related issues. While this dialogue with Russia is an important pillar of the bilateral relationship, Moscow’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border threatens to derail any nascent progress. – Center for a New American Security 

Andrew A. Michta writes: In the case of U.S. strategic competition with China and Russia, the risk of war has grown not because of their rise but because of how China and Russia assess the real near-term implications of Washington’s decision to refocus its defense strategy on the fundamentals of great-power competition and conflict instead of counterterrorism and nation building. Whether war breaks out will depend on how badly Beijing and Moscow fear the global power shift in the next decade and how eager they will be to exploit their perceived current relative advantages to remake the world. – Wall Street Journal 

Tom Rogan writes: Indeed, it is absolutely critical to recognize how deeply Putin’s policy choices are shaped by his sense of any opportunity to manipulate and intimidate. The Russian leader is a graduate of the KGB Red Banner Institute, after all. And like the Foreign Intelligence Academy that has now replaced it, the Red Banner Institute’s curriculum prioritized the education of psychological manipulation and the aggressive seizure of opportunity. Putin and his security cadre respect strength and loathe weakness. Indeed, they devour it. – Washington Examiner 

Leon Aron writes: But from now until at least March 2024, expect Putin to draw newer and ever more scarlet “red lines” and to deploy troops to confront NATO’s imaginary encroachments on the motherland. Get used to Russia’s military lunges to, and pullbacks from, its borders. Get used also to the West’s hand-wringing and vague threats of sanctions instantly devalued by an ardent desire to seek “diplomatic solutions” to deal with Putin’s wartime presidency. – The Hill 


The husband of Belarus’s most prominent opposition leader was sentenced Tuesday to 18 years in prison, the latest move against increasingly beleaguered opponents of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. – Wall Street Journal 

Inger Stojberg, Denmark’s former immigration minister, was found guilty Monday of illegally separating couples seeking asylum in the country and handed a two-month sentence. – Washington Post 

Bruised by haphazard pandemic border controls and an ongoing crisis with Belarus over migrants on its eastern frontier, the European Union is proposing changes that could chip away at one of its crowning achievements — the unfettered movement of people within the bloc. – New York Times 

Karen Donfried, the United States assistant secretary of state, met top Ukrainian officials on Tuesday to offer support in the face of a build-up of Russian troops near the border. – Reuters 

Moldova aspires to join the European Union and the former Soviet republic has told Russia that this is its choice, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The UK said on Tuesday that the “free and open internet” was at risk from censorship by China and Russia, with western allies in a race to write the rules governing cyber space. – Financial Times 

France’s interior minister announced on Tuesday that he had begun the process of shuttering a mosque where sermons promoting antisemitism, anti-Christian hatred and homophobia are frequently preached, he claimed. – Algemeiner 

Five members of Congress traveled to Ukraine over the weekend to witness the country’s tension with Russia. – Washington Examiner 


Pirates took six hostages during an attack on a Greek-operated container ship in international waters in the Gulf of Guinea on Monday, a spokesperson for the Danish military said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

South Africa’s High Court ordered former President Jacob Zuma to return to jail after setting aside the decision to release him on medical parole, a court judgement showed on Wednesday. – Reuters 

French forces left the city of Timbuktu late Tuesday, the latest sign that the former colonial power is drawing down its presence in northern Mali nearly nine years after driving Islamic extremists from power there in a military intervention. – Associated Press 

A human rights watchdog urged the United Nations on Wednesday to deploy monitors to Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where a surge in tribal clashes has killed more than 180 people since October. – Associated Press 

Latin America

A son of the former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a U.S. money laundering charge linked to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, becoming the second of his children to admit wrongdoing. – Reuters 

A former Brazilian defense minister who was appointed by President Jair Bolsonaro will be the secretary-general of the nation’s top electoral court during the country’s presidential election in October, two sources said. – Reuters 

The United States wants to see more action against corruption in Guatemala, a senior U.S. diplomat said Tuesday, expressing worries that anti-graft efforts there are stalling, and also signaling concern over alleged deals with gangs in El Salvador. – Reuters 

North America

One of former president Donald Trump’s major evangelical backers Monday condemned recently reported attacks by Trump on former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warned that he risked alienating his Christian base by distancing himself from the Israeli leader. – Washington Post 

Mexican Finance Minister Rogelio Ramirez de la O discussed proposals to support Peru’s economy that also benefit Mexico with Peruvian President Pedro Castillo and his cabinet during a visit to the country, Mexico said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Mexico is not ruling out the possibility of appealing to an international panel over tax incentives proposed by the United States for some U.S.-made electric vehicles, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The Washington, DC city government filed suit Tuesday against two right-wing extremist groups for their role in the violent January 6 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of president Donald Trump. – Agence France-Presse 

Joseph Bosco writes: When the White House announced its plans for a Summit for Democracy, it not only fulfilled a Biden campaign pledge but also helped to bring America back to its place as democracy’s leading exponent. It stated as the first objective of the summit: “Strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism.” Beyond the eloquent messages delivered prior to and during the meeting, U.S. action to defend Ukraine — and Taiwan — will prove the ultimate demonstration of that commitment. – The Hill 


Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google hold a “vise-like grip” over how people use mobile devices, Britain’s antitrust regulator said Tuesday, adding it was assessing whether to try to loosen what it said was their control over smartphone ecosystems. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. agency charged with defending the country against hacking said on Tuesday the majority of attacks it has seen using a recently disclosed flaw in widely used open-source software were minor, with many of them seeking to hijack computing power to mine cryptocurrency. – Reuters 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a new program Tuesday in which the agency will pay outside hackers to find vulnerabilities in its computer systems, a type of incentive popular in the cybersecurity industry that is known as a “bug bounty.” – Bloomberg 

The EU published a list of the 39 companies signed up to become part of the its Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud, after the region moves to lessen its reliance on U.S. technology firms. Nokia Oyj, Ericsson AB, OVH Groupe, SAP SE and X-Fab Silicon Foundries SE are among the list of companies, which includes no American or Chinese companies at this stage, with the rest coming from industries such as telecom, aerospace and defense. – Bloomberg 

NATO is moving into 2022 determined to increase its cyber defense posture, investing in new capabilities, refreshing its policies, and learning from recent exercises to do so. – Defense News 


The U.S. Army’s multidomain task forces will serve as primary test beds for the service’s emerging data and cloud initiatives, top service officials told reporters. – Defense News 

The fast-attack submarine involved in an undersea collision in October completed a trip from Guam to San Diego entirely on the ocean’s surface, a media report said. – Stars and Stripes 

Reagan Mullin writes: To achieve the desired personnel performance, the focus needs to shift from solely developing future senior leaders to developing the total force, and the technology exists to accomplish this lofty goal today. The reality is that there are no late bloomers, only risk-adverse gardeners. The effective application of technology can help incentivize members to meet the requirements that the services actually value and need. This will help right the wrongs of poor personnel management that has resulted in retention issues and enabled peer competitors to close the performance gap with the U.S. military over the last few decades. – War on the Rocks 

Long War

More than 100 former Afghan national security forces and others have been killed since the Taliban takeover in August, most at the hands of the hardline Islamist group which is recruiting boy soldiers and quashing women’s rights, the UN said on Tuesday. – Reuters  

Burkina Faso’s armed forces killed about 100 militants in a joint operation with Niger between Nov. 25 and Dec. 9 in the two countries’ border zone, the Burkinabe army said. – Reuters 

Two explosions hit the airport in the Colombian border city of Cucuta on Tuesday, killing two policemen and a person believed to be carrying an explosive. – Associated Press