Fdd's overnight brief

December 15, 2022

In The News


Iran was kicked out of the United Nations women’s agency on Wednesday in a U.S.-led vote that came months into Tehran’s brutal crackdown on uprisings driven by women and young people who are demanding an end to the Islamic Republic’s rule. – New York Times

Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele has been sentenced to 28 years in prison in Iran for a “fabricated series of crimes”, Belgium’s Justice Minister said on Wednesday, adding the government was doing everything possible to secure his release. – Reuters

A hard-line newspaper close to Iran’s ruling clerics on Wednesday suggested authorities close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway for global energy supplies, in response to alleged foreign support for the nationwide protests gripping the country. – Associated Press

Amnesty International currently confirms 11 cases of death sentences issued against individuals over the protests, and another nine cases where individuals have been charged with crimes that could see them given the death penalty. – Agence France-Presse

An upcoming report to the UN Security Council obtained by Axios about Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal does not accuse Iran of supplying Russia with drones for the war in Ukraine, despite pressure from the U.S. and its allies to do so. – Axios

Against the backdrop of the Iranian regime’s inability to put down the civil protests against it that have been continuing for three months, Iranian regime authorities have begun executing young protestors. A December 9, 2022 op-ed titled “The Terrorists’ Commotion About Lawful Punishment” in the online daily Javan, which is affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), defended the regime’s decision to execute imprisoned protestors. It also warned of many more executions of detained protestors and of punishment for Iranian celebrities who express support for them. – Middle East Media Research Institute

The ongoing protests in Iran could tear the country apart and lead to chaos, former Mossad director Tamir Pardo said Wednesday during a conference. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The Biden administration needs to wake up. What’s happening in Iran is neither morally complex nor fraught with political risk for the United States. Biden must take a stronger stand for basic American values. If not, his administration should abandon any pretense that its Iran policy is anything greater than appeasement. – Washington Examiner

Benny Avni writes: Iranian protesters may be encouraged by the removal of their oppressors from a UN commission. But only once the West stops validating the regime by dangling diplomatic carrots to it, would the people know that we support their struggle to overthrow the regime. – New York Sun

Seth J. Frantzman writes: That is why all the authoritarians voted to keep Iran – because they know Iran will protect them in other forums. Sometimes countries that are not particularly authoritarian will end up backing countries, such as Russia or Iran, because they also want something in return. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

The Biden administration is planning to send Ukraine advanced electronic equipment that converts unguided aerial munitions into “smart bombs” that can target Russian military positions with a high degree of accuracy, according to senior U.S. officials familiar with the matter. – Washington Post

Two months of relentless missile and drone attacks by Russia have decimated Ukraine’s critical infrastructure and blown a hole in previous economic forecasts. Before those strikes, Kyiv expected to need at least $55 billion in foreign assistance next year to meet basic expenses — more than the country’s entire annual prewar spending. – Washington Post

A U.S. Air Force veteran captured by Russian forces in Ukraine this year has been released from occupied territory as part of a prisoner swap between Moscow and Kyiv, a senior Ukrainian official and the detainee’s family said Wednesday. – Washington Post

Military experts assess the risk of a nuclear strike as small, and Pentagon officials have said they see no evidence Russia is making preparations to carry one out. The threat may have receded further after Putin told Russian journalists on Wednesday that Russia had not “gone mad” on the issue of nuclear weapons and was aware of the serious implications of their use. – Washington Post

The Kherson-based group of Ukrainian partisans made spying on the Russians part of their daily routine, playing a key role in guiding the Ukrainian precision strikes that ultimately forced Moscow to abandon Kherson last month, according to Ukrainian military officials. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian air defenses repelled a wave of Russian strikes in Kyiv on Wednesday, knocking at least 13 drones out of the sky, with explosions reported in the historical center of the city. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. is moving to impose sanctions on one of Russia’s wealthiest men, Vladimir Potanin, as well as on some of his financial companies, U.S. officials said, as Washington looks for ways to further clamp down on Russia amid the war in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Russia launched a swarm of Iranian-made explosive drones at Kyiv on Wednesday, the second such assault on Ukraine in a few days, ending a three-week lull in attacks with waves of drones. – New York Times

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine weighed in on Wednesday, urging the International Olympic Committee to prohibit those athletes’ participation regardless of what flag they carry, days after the committee’s top official expressed a new tone of openness about easing restrictions. – New York Times

As Russian tanks were stuck in the mud outside Kyiv earlier this year and the economic fallout of war with Ukraine took hold, one part of Russia’s government hummed with precision: television propaganda. – New York Times

After months of the Russian Army’s trying to capture the city, the fighting around Bakhmut, which had a prewar population of around 70,000, has devolved into two main sectors: the south and east. Russian troops were pushing from both sides to try to strangle the city’s supply lines. – New York Times

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that U.S. Patriot missile defence systems would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes against Ukraine, should the United States authorise them to be delivered to support Kyiv. – Reuters

Two U.S. lawmakers heading up an independent U.S. government human rights watchdog have introduced a resolution that calls on President Joe Biden to boot Russia from the United Nations Security Council, just days before the Kremlin’s flagging full-scale invasion of Ukraine is set to hit its 10-month mark. – Foreign Policy

Many Russians, meanwhile, have finally found themselves feeling the effects of Putin’s war after he announced a military call-up in September. With more than 300,000 called up, many draftees have spoken out publicly to complain of shoddy military equipment, dysfunctional command, and a general lack of provisions. – The Daily Beast


Israel’s military chief of staff strongly suggested on Wednesday that Israel was behind a strike on a truck convoy in Syria last month, giving a rare glimpse of Israel’s shadow war against Iran and its proxies across the region. – Associated Press

Israel on Wednesday called on the United Nations to stop turning a blind eye at UN officials who use the antisemitic phrase the “Jewish Lobby.” “The lack of accountability and impunity for comments made by UN officials only works to legitimize antisemitism and endangers the Jewish people,” it said. – Jerusalem Post

Tucked into the middle of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s 50-minute speech Wednesday on the IDF’s challenges and capabilities was an admission that the IDF hit an Iranian convoy on the Syrian-Iraqi border in November. – Jerusalem Post

The incoming Israeli government must affirm its support for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the European Union Parliament said in a wide-ranging resolution it approved in Strasbourg on Wednesday that called for a European to lead the peace process. – Jerusalem Post

Israel helped oust Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in a 29-8 vote, with 16 abstentions, in what was seen as a stinging condemnation of Tehran’s treatment of women. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF on Wednesday exposed three new school locations that Hamas has been recently using as rocket launch sites, violating the laws of war about keeping war-related issues away from civilian areas. – Jerusalem Post

Seventy-two percent of Palestinians support the creation of additional armed groups in the West Bank akin to the Lion’s Den terror group that operates against Israel, according to a new poll. – Times of Israel

Officials from Israel and the US on Wednesday decried antisemitic comments by a UN Palestinian rights investigator, with some questioning whether she should remain in her position. – Times of Israel

The family of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat will submit a case Thursday to the International Criminal Court accusing top Palestinian officials of his death in custody, relatives told AFP. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: Israel and the IDF need to realize that the continued deaths of innocent Palestinians – as well as the rising death toll of not-so-innocent Palestinians – is taking its toll on world opinion and the international community. – Jerusalem Post

Itamar Marcus writes: Tragically for Palestinian children, PA leaders seem to have identified the cautions of the UN Secretary-General as another opportunity to libel and defame Israel in the international arena, and have been very “successful” in sending Palestinian children to die. – Algemeiner

Yair Lapid writes: Israel and the UAE may not be LM countries when it comes to our methods of governance or our stances on the Palestinian issue, but we are undoubtedly CS partners thanks to our shared economic worldviews, our mutual concerns about Iran, and our ability to pool resources to advance global goals. – Foreign Affairs


A Turkish court sentenced Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to jail on Wednesday and imposed a political ban on the opposition politician who is seen as a strong potential challenger to President Tayyip Erdogan in elections next year. – Reuters

​​The U.S. State Department is “deeply troubled and disappointed” by a Turkish court handing a jail sentence to Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Timothy Ash writes: Economic sunshine (or at least the absence of a storm) will help Erdoğan, as will his claim that in a region of instability and insecurity, Turks need his acumen in managing a complex geopolitical mix to Turkey’s advantage. Vote for experience, he will say, and shun my inexperienced rivals. – Center For European Policy Analysis

Aura Sabadus writes: However, the short-term benefit of securing cheap Russian imports that could further consolidate President Erdoğan’s stay in power is a strong enough reason to expect Turkey to push ahead with the Russian gas plan. The EU cannot prevent this gas from entering the bloc, but it can take measures to protect eastern Europe from Russia’s stranglehold. – Center For European Policy Analysis

Arabian Peninsula

The White House has mobilized to derail a Senate resolution that would end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, creating an unusual rift among Democratic allies and forcing the bill’s sponsor to pull the bill before a scheduled vote earlier this week. – Washington Post

The investigation has not only also thrown a spotlight on rampant corruption in the unofficial capital of the European Union but has also badly marred Qatar’s public image, at least in Europe. Speculation is growing that Qatar in effect bought off officials not only to gain influence but possibly in order to host the World Cup itself — and the scope of the probe may have jarred some politicians from their past reticence to voice their concerns. – New York Sun

Spencer Bokat-Lindell writes: For Qatar, the desire to burnish its reputation may owe to its regional vulnerability. In 2017, Qatar’s neighbors — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — and Egypt severed diplomatic ties and mounted a blockade against the country, accusing its government of supporting terrorism and becoming too friendly with Iran. The blockade ended only last year. – New York Times

Brian Carter writes: Saudi Arabia is committed to peace in Yemen according to both UN and US officials. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Yemeni government have demonstrated their commitment repeatedly by conceding to Houthi demands . U.S. disengagement from Saudi Arabia and the UAE will not end the war in Yemen, but it will damage U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. – American Enterprise Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Record numbers of Tunisians are leaving the country after a decade of economic turmoil and the government’s turn toward authoritarianism, dimming hopes that a younger generation can build a future in the nation that sparked the Arab Spring. – Wall Street Journal

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Wednesday rejected U.S. criticism of his consolidation of power, making a defiant defense of moves the Biden administration and others say threatens a fledgling democracy that once stood out as the Arab Spring’s sole success. – Washington Post

An Irish soldier was killed on a UN peackeeping mission in Lebanon on Thursday morning when a convoy of two armored utility vehicles carrying eight personnel traveling to Beirut came under small arms fire, Ireland’s defense forces said in a statement. – Reuters

In the fifth essay in the series, Ben Fishman probes the conundrum of U.S. democracy and governance assistance, wherein billions of dollars have failed to improve outcomes on a range of measures since the Arab Spring uprisings. The former regional National Security Council director traces U.S. support for democratic movements from its Cold War origins to the present day, concluding that a more effective approach must better align policy and spending priorities, account for the challenges facing individual countries, and focus on supporting local governing bodies, independent media, and anti-corruption efforts. Otherwise, the region could well become less free and more prone to fiercer future uprisings. – Washington Institute

“Mahan Air” is a complete proxy of the Quds Force. This report indicates an incredible volume of activity for the Quds Force. How does Mahan Air, a seemingly civilian airline, meet such a volume of activity unless this is its primary purpose? – Israel Alma

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Russia has been increasing its military alliance with Iran in recent months and this could involve technology and defense transfers, which could impact Iran’s calculations about Lebanon and Hezbollah and make it more reckless in supplying the terrorist group. The maritime deal will also potentially create restraint by Israel in terms of confronting Hezbollah’s arms imports.  – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The next question that will need to be asked is how this has influenced foreign policy. Getting visa-free travel or deals for national airlines may be one aspect of the current scandal, but bigger questions relate to how this might influence coverage of human rights in the Middle East and also arms sales or technology transfers as well as how it might impact the critique of Israel. – Jerusalem Post


China’s leader Xi Jinping has in recent months tried to put public distance between Beijing and Moscow as Russia has suffered defeats in its war on Ukraine. Behind the diplomatic appearances, however, Mr. Xi is deepening his long-term bet on Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Six Chinese diplomats left the U.K. ahead of a deadline to submit to local police questioning over a violent mid-October clash with protesters outside the country’s consulate in Manchester that further strained bilateral relations between the nations. – Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration plans to remove some Chinese entities from a red flag trade list, a U.S. official told Reuters on Wednesday amid closer cooperation with Beijing. – Reuters

The United States is prepared to help China deal with a surge of COVID-19 infections if Beijing requests assistance, the White House said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A Chinese diplomat blamed recent widespread protests against Covid Zero on outsiders seeking to spark “color revolutions,” an attempt to shift blame away from the harsh rules that dominated urbanites’ lives for nearly three years. – Bloomberg

China sent an official who was recently removed from the top echelons of power to meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a sign Beijing is keeping its distance from the Middle Eastern nation as it deals with widespread unrest. – Bloomberg

China’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO) called the U.S. a “destroyer to the multilateral trading system” during a closed-door meeting with trade officials on Wednesday. – The Hill

The World Health Organization said Wednesday it hoped that Covid-19 would no longer be a public health emergency in 2023, as it urged China to share information that could pinpoint how the pandemic started. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: China is a formidable economic competitor, but the key to its success is the energy and ingenuity of its people, not central planning and state subsidies. The strength of the U.S. system is free-market competition and a rule of law that allow innovation and the private allocation of capital. Washington won’t subsidize any more wisely than Beijing does. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

A decision on whether the Afghan Taliban administration and the Myanmar junta can send a United Nations ambassador to New York has been postponed for a second time, but could be reconsidered in the next nine months, according to a U.N. credentials committee report. – Reuters

Pakistan will take a dossier to the United Nations alleging its neighbour India has backed incidents of terrorism, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, a day after Islamabad said India was behind a high-profile bombing. – Reuters

Twenty people were lashed in public on Wednesday in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as punishment for alleged adultery, theft, and other crimes, a provincial official said. – Associated Press

Mihir Sharma writes: At the same time, the Indian public will need to be told why some of that money will be spent on weapons from the US and other countries — why we can’t wait decades for our own military-industrial complex to be up to spec. Modi and his ministers have spent much time telling Indians their moment in history has arrived. It’s not certain they will be as effective explaining why we have to wait a bit longer before we can be as assertive as we want. – Bloomberg


Vietnam has conducted a major expansion of dredging and landfill work at several of its South China Sea outposts in the second half of this year, signaling an intent to significantly fortify its claims in the disputed waterway, a U.S. think tank reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Philippines’ defence chief on Wednesday said the reported presence of dozens of Chinese vessels in disputed waters in the South China Sea was an “unacceptable” action that violates the country’s sovereignty. – Reuters

Indonesia is confronting challenges overhauling its aging military despite a spending splurge to face down threats that include a long-running territorial dispute with its biggest trading partner, China. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: Indeed, if Biden wishes to correlate historical reality to U.S. policy, then it is time to recognize Artsakh historically an Armenian territory. – 19FortyFive

Anne Applebaum writes: By shoring up democracy, by smoothing polarization, by bringing more people into an active engagement with public life, all of them hope to convince China that an invasion is too costly and risky. Taiwan’s future depends on whether they are right. – The Atlantic


The alleged leader of a suspected far-right terrorist cell that German authorities dismantled last week met with Russian diplomats in what investigators believe was a failed bid to obtain support for his plot to overthrow the government, German officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed at their first summit on Wednesday a need for deeper economic ties and a respect for the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Put simply, if Britain separates itself from U.S. efforts to constrain Chinese imperial aggression, the special relationship will no longer be very special. […]Put simply, if Britain separates itself from U.S. efforts to constrain Chinese imperial aggression, the special relationship will no longer be very special. – Washington Examiner


President Biden sought to revitalize America’s listless relationship with Africa on Wednesday, promising a grab bag of economic initiatives to make up for a predecessor who had denigrated the continent and catch up with strategic competitors like China that have expanded their influence. – New York Times

Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Wednesday criticized the United States over the concerns it has raised in the case of Paul Rusesabagina, a U.S. permanent resident jailed in Rwanda who was portrayed as a hero in the film “Hotel Rwanda.” – Reuters

President Joe Biden told dozens of African leaders gathered in Washington that the United States is “all in on Africa’s future,” laying out billions in promised government funding and private investment Wednesday to help the growing continent in health, infrastructure, business and technology. – Associated Press

The Americas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is revoking the waiver that exempted Nord Stream pipeline turbines from Canadian sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas industry. – Bloomberg

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak met on Wednesday with Venezuela’s oil minister in Caracas, where they discussed oil market volatility and the status of Venezuela’s outstanding debts to Russia. – Reuters

Honduras said it will sign a preliminary agreement with the United Nations on Thursday to establish an anti-corruption commission, delivering on one of President Xiomara Castro’s key campaign pledges. – Reuters

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said on Wednesday that the country is on the verge of closing a free trade agreement with China, a deal that would increase exports and boost employment in the South American country’s manufacturing industry. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was not invited to a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in June. But by October, he traveled to Egypt for a conference where he joked with French President Emmanuel Macron and shook hands with John Kerry, the U.S. government’s climate envoy. – Associated Press


Internet services provider TPG Telecom Ltd (TPG.AX) became the latest Australian company to fall victim to a high-profile cyberattack, announcing on Wednesday that the emails of up to 15,000 of its corporate customers had been accessed. – Reuters

The Israel National Cyber Directorate has moved relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco to new highs, announcing that the cyber chiefs of all four countries appeared in public at a conference in Bahrain. – Jerusalem Post

An Iranian hacking group previously thought to mainly focus on compromising academics, journalists and human rights workers now appears to have included U.S. politicians, critical infrastructure and medical researchers to its target list, according to the cybersecurity firm Proofpoint. – CyberScoop


Patriot missile systems have long been a hot ticket item for the U.S. and allies in contested areas of the world as a coveted shield against incoming missiles. In Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific, they guard against potential strikes from Iran, Somalia and North Korea. – Associated Press

German government leaders on Wednesday announced a deal to buy 35 F-35 fighter jets from the United States, a package pegged at $8.4 billion by the Pentagon in its offer from the summer. – Defense News

The Navy’s civilian leader has announced that one of the future America-class amphibious assault ships will be named USS Fallujah — an honor that has been quietly discussed in Navy circles for years. – Military.com

John Boozman writes: We have already witnessed the CCP’s efforts to extract intellectual property from our country and test our commitment to our allies abroad. We must show no hesitance to shield our national defense apparatus from those who, using any means necessary, would seek to supplant our position atop the international order. – FOX News

John Venable writes: The demands on the F-35 have outpaced the capabilities of the jet’s current engine, and the weapons system will need more thrust, range, thermal management, and electrical power than the F135 can deliver. The potential for squeezing more capability out of the F135’s engine core that was designed in the late 1990s will fall well short of what will be required to support Block 4, and the Defense Department should move immediately to acquire and field an adaptive engine than can meet F-35 system demands through at least 2040. – Heritage Foundation