Fdd's overnight brief

December 16, 2021

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran has agreed to let the United Nations atomic agency monitor its production of critical centrifuge parts, ending a three-month deadlock and averting a fresh diplomatic clash with the U.S. […]The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has agreed to allow inspectors to replace cameras before the end of the month at an assembly plant in Karaj. – Wall Street Journal  

An Iranian newspaper published a map on Wednesday threatening Israel with missile attacks. The map shows pins representing rocket alerts for dozens of potential targets, including Lebanese territory and Palestinian cities in the West Bank. – Jerusalem Post 

The Tehran Times published a warning to the State of Israel Wednesday morning under the headline “Just one wrong step,” with a map of targets that they claim are within Iran’s reach. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yaron Rosen, former head of the IDF’s cyber headquarters, spoke with Golan Yochpaz and Anat Davidov on 103FM on the subject. – Jerusalem Post 

A hacking group identified with the Iranian regime is using a computer vulnerability called one of the worst ever seen to attack Israeli targets, a cybersecurity firm said Wednesday. – Associated Press 

The IDF has begun preparing for a general war against Iran, including but not limited to an attack on that country’s nuclear facilities, Israel Hayom reported. – Arutz Sheva 

Nicolas Carls writes: Iran’s more repressive governance will affect how it engages the region and Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, requiring the US to recalibrate its policy vis-à-vis Tehran. The US should develop a broader strategy to counter the global spread of digital authoritarianism, manage expectations of the nuclear deal, and highlight the regime’s domestic abuses for the international community to see. – American Enterprise Institute 

Jim Banks writes: To get a lasting deal with Tehran that will truly get them to change their behavior, the Biden administration should abandon their Vienna talks and instead seek bipartisan support in Congress. And, in turn, Congress must return to the maximum pressure strategy that was working just fine before the Biden team abandoned it. – The Hill 


In an Associated Press interview, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered some of the first insights into the secret and sudden departure of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — and how he came to invite the Taliban into the city “to protect the population so that the country, the city doesn’t fall into chaos and the unwanted elements who would probably loot the country, loot shops.” – Associated Press 

There is growing concern at the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, with eight million people at risk of starvation this winter, according to UK aid agencies. – BBC 

The leader of a non-profit group working to extricate Americans and Afghan allies from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan has accused the State Department of hampering its evacuation efforts. – New York Post 


The U.S. military shot down a small drone that was believed to be threatening a U.S. outpost in southern Syria Tuesday, just weeks after the same base was attacked by drones and rocket fire. – NBC 

A Syrian soldier was killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike targeting sites in southern Syria on Wednesday night, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA. Material damage was also reported. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: What is the message? Iran or its friends and allies such as the Syrian regime and pro-Iran militias that are festooned around Iraq and Syria want the US to leave Tanf. They want the US out of Iraq and Syria in general. – Jerusalem Post 

Bente Scheller writes: For democratic states interested in a world order based on international law and norms, Syria should serve as a cautionary tale. Seeking accountability for crimes against humanity and invoking the responsibility to protect should be neither idealistic nor optional. – Foreign Policy 


Turkey’s currency crisis deepened in the lead-up to a central bank meeting Thursday, when officials might bow to pressure to resume interest-rate cuts despite soaring inflation. – Wall Street Journal 

Turkey and the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday they aim to deepen cooperation after talks in Dubai between the Turkish foreign minister and the UAE’s prime minister, as the rivals step up diplomacy to mend ties strained by years of animosity. – Reuters   

A public-private partnership in Turkey claims it has created the world’s first drone armed with a laser weapon. The Eren was on display at the Konya Science Festival on Dec. 9. However, neither Tubitak nor Asisguard would provide information about the system’s technical data and specifications. – Defense News 


The “entire Muslim world” will normalize relations with Israel once it withdraws to the ’67 boundary, Saudi Arabia’s representative to the United Nations, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said in an interview with Arab News on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Biden administration has renewed the US-Palestinian Economic Dialogue group frozen by former president Donald Trump. – Jerusalem Post 

It’s been seven months since US Secretary of State Antony Blinken notified Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem, but Washington has yet to even produce a timeline for when it plans to see the move through. – Times of Israel

Arabian Peninsula

The U.S. Navy said Thursday it rescued five Iranians suspected of smuggling drugs after they apparently set fire to their stash on board a traditional sailing vessel off the coast of Oman, though one remains missing. – Associated Press 

Lebanon’s interior minister on Wednesday ordered the deportation of members of Bahrain’s outlawed Shiite opposition party after they criticized from Beirut their country’s human rights record. – Associated Press 

The United States said on Wednesday it was ready to move forward with the sale of F-35 fighter jets and drones to the United Arab Emirates after Abu Dhabi told Washington it would suspend talks on the $23-billion deal that also includes munitions. – Reuters 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The UAE might consider a scaled-down deal so as to be knitted into the strategic US program, but not lean so heavily on an aircraft that presents it with technical and end-user concerns. So far that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on Tuesday for a meeting of the country’s cabinet, even if it is boycotted by some parties, stressing that the government cannot be held idle as “there are matters that need to be decided on,” according to Lebanon’s National News Agency. – Jerusalem Post 

U.N. humanitarian aid delivery from Turkey to rebel-held northwestern Syria is tightly monitored and remains critical, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in a report that could be key to keeping the effort going. – Associated Press 

David Pollock writes: On the external front, improved economic and diplomatic dealings with Israel, along with wider Arab participation in them, have not enhanced Israel’s popular image in Egypt. And the widespread media meme of “American withdrawal” from the region has not trickled down to the street level; there is no change in the proportion of the public who value ties with Washington. Thus the overall political climate appears stable—probably offering Egypt’s government a comfortably familiar playing field, in both domestic and foreign policy. – Wahington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has publicly executed at least seven people in the past decade for watching or distributing K-pop videos from South Korea, as it cracks down on what its leader, Kim Jong-un, calls a “vicious cancer,” according to a human rights report released on Wednesday. – New York Times 

Ten years after Kim Jong Un assumed power North Korea is better armed but deeply isolated and more dependent on China, despite actions by the young leader that raised – and dashed – hopes of economic transformation or international opening – Reuters 

Duyeon Kim writes: South Korean President Moon Jae-in said this week that the U.S., China and North Korea agreed in principle on declaring a formal end to the Korean War, replacing an armistice agreement that ended hostilities in 1953. However, analysts are not sure it will happen, or if such a step is advisable, given concerns over the security situation in northeast Asia. – Frontline 


The Biden administration plans to ban American investment in the world’s largest drone-maker and seven other Chinese companies for what the U.S. says are their roles in China’s mass surveillance of Muslim ethnic groups. – Wall Street Journal  

Hackers linked to China and other governments are among a growing assortment of cyberattackers seeking to exploit a widespread and severe vulnerability in computer server software, according to cybersecurity firms and Microsoft Corp. – Wall Street Journal 

The Chinese government has been expanding its practice of taking minority stakes in private companies beyond those specialising in online news and content to firms possessing large amounts of key data, two people with knowledge of the matter said. – Reuters 

China and the Solomon Islands must be vigilant against attempts by “a few countries” to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday. – Reuters 

China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that concerns over the safety of Lithuanian diplomats in China were groundless, a day after the country’s diplomatic delegation and their dependents left China in a hastily arranged departure. – Reuters 

A key gauge of Chinese technology stocks is on course for a record low after concerns about new U.S. sanctions on Chinese chipmakers pushed it into a fifth day of losses. […]This came on the heels of the U.S. securities watchdog announcing rules that may force Chinese companies listed in the country — many of which are technology firms — to delist. – Bloomberg 

Chinese authorities are pledging unrestricted internet access for foreign athletes at February’s Beijing Winter Olympics, but rights advocates say athletes will likely be cautious about exploiting the rare crack in China’s “Great Firewall.” – VOA News 

The U.S. Defense Department is newly concerned about China’s further military buildup near the demarcation line across its Himalayan border with India, a senior defense official told Foreign Policy, after Beijing deployed long-range strategic bombers to the area last month in another apparent warning to New Delhi. – Foreign Policy 

According to the US Department of Defense annual report on China’s military, released in November, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) now “constitute the largest aviation force in the region and the third largest in the world.” – Business Insider 

Editorial: As the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics approach, the host nation continues to display its true colors. The latest evidence that the world will gather in China under the auspices of a ruthless dictatorship comes from the former British colony of Hong Kong, restored to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. There, the communist regime has been busily stamping out freedom’s last vestiges. – Washington Post 

Editorial: Slowing growth for now could be healthy if it’s the result of a transition to more balanced investment. But it’s not a good sign that Chinese officials of late have been talking about a new round of financial stimulus. As Mr. Xi moves to consolidate even more power in 2022, he may be even less willing to risk an extended economic slowdown. – Wall Street Journal 

Liam Denning writes: If European dependence on Russian gas is destined to diminish, then waiting only weakens Putin’s leverage. Whatever else the energy transition means, it won’t end energy geopolitics. – Bloomberg 

Anthony B. Kim writes: Without any further delay, Washington must better, more realistically understand China’s economy and expose its grave lack of transparency and accountability, particularly as U.S. policymakers and other like-minded partners around the world focus on the challenges China poses more than ever. Countering China’s growing illiberalism must continue to be a priority for Congress and the administration. – Heritage Foundation 


President Biden will nominate Caroline Kennedy to be U.S. ambassador to Australia, the White House said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal 

Over the past year, as China has carried out ever more overt displays of military force around Taiwan, Japan has grown increasingly concerned about the possibility of being drawn into a superpower conflict in its own backyard. – New York Times 

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

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration is weighing tough new sanctions on Myanmar to pressure the country’s military leaders to restore a democratic path interrupted by a February coup. – Associated Press 

Taiwan will deepen economic ties with Lithuania in a “cycle of goodwill” as it faces pressure from Beijing, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday, after Lithuania’s diplomatic delegation hastily departed China. – Reuters 

Taiwan hopes for progress on trade talks with the European Union next year when France takes over the bloc’s presidency, and democracies must work together in the face of authoritarianism, President Tsai Ing-wen told French lawmakers on Thursday. – Reuters 

Blinken’s trip, like those of Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this year, comes as the US seeks to counter Beijing’s increasing influence across the Indo-Pacific. In addition to visits, US officials, including President Joe Biden, have met virtually with Southeast Asian leaders and organizations. – Business Insider 

Michael Mazza writes: Two recent pieces of legislation in particular—the Arm Taiwan Act of 2021 and the Taiwan Deterrence Act—include provisions that could be effective in helping Taiwan to defend itself. As currently structured, however, these bills could be counterproductive if they were ever to become law. – American Enterprise Institute 


Russia announced it has won Chinese support for its demand of new security guarantees from the United States after a warm 90-minute video conference on Wednesday between President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. – Washington Post 

Ukraine was ready for any format of talks with Russia but would like to see a strong western sanctions policy against Moscow to avoid further escalation, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told a summit in Brussels on Wednesday. – Reuters 

The current tension between Russia and Ukraine is playing out together with the thirtieth anniversary of the Soviet Union’s collapse, an event that Vladimir Putin calls a tragedy. Many in Russia view the passing of the empire and the attendant territorial losses as the product of treachery. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Editorial: The rising entente between Beijing and Moscow underscores the growing threats to the U.S.-led international order. The new reality means the U.S. needs to shore up its own alliances while also moving more quickly than it has to build military and cyber defenses that can meet this more dangerous world. – Wall Street Journal 

Megan Greene writes: The Ukraine issue is a difficult one. Biden and Putin failed to resolve their differences in a two-hour phone call last week. It’s not clear what inducements the US and its allies can offer Putin to back off. Yet the threat of more sanctions may not accomplish much. They would impose a cost, but, to paraphrase Richard Nephew, former principal deputy co-ordinator for sanctions policy at the state department, “One can’t blame the [hammer] if it fails to perform the work of a screwdriver.” – Financial Times 


Facing a building threat from Russia, Ukraine’s president sought security guarantees from the NATO chief in a meeting on Thursday and came away with a renewed commitment that his country could eventually join the Western alliance despite stiff objections from its Russian neighbors. – New York Times 

A court in Berlin on Wednesday convicted a Russian national of the murder of a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity in broad daylight in 2019 and sentenced him to life in prison. – Washington Post 

Britain’s foreign minister criticised what she called the “unacceptable pressure” by China after Lithuania’s diplomatic delegation left the country on Wednesday in a hastily arranged exit. – Reuters 

Russia has made no move to withdraw troops it has amassed at the border with Ukraine but there is no sign that a Russian invasion is imminent, a senior Ukrainian security official said on Wednesday. – Reuters  

The European Union is ready to scale up its sanctions and take “unprecedented measures” against Russia if it shows further aggression towards Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

The president of Ukraine on Wednesday hailed the State of Israel as “an example” for his country during a wide-ranging speech to Jewish and international leaders. – Algemeiner 

Shimon Samuels and Alex Uberti write: European governments struck “deals” – as deniable as possible, but also quite concrete and detailed – namely with Palestinian terrorists, in exchange for what was deemed “limited” concessions and collateral damage; In many cases, those “concessions,” de facto, meant facilitating criminal cooperation, arms trafficking, exchange of intelligence with terror groups, legitimizing hate and violence; In too many cases, that “collateral damage” meant Jewish lives as expendable. – Jerusalem Post 


The United States is “alarmed” by a possible deployment of Russia-backed Wagner Group forces in Mali, saying the private military contractor’s operations would destabilize the region, a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday. – Reuters 

The Israeli government on Wednesday said it was donating 1 million coronavirus vaccines to the U.N.-backed COVAX program. The Foreign Ministry said the AstraZeneca vaccines would be transferred in the coming weeks, a decision that was part of Israel’s strengthening ties with the African countries. – Associated Press 

David Del Conte writes: The United States and G7 countries should also consider withdrawing or pausing non-humanitarian financial support to the country until the conflict parties enter negotiations, the humanitarian blockade is lifted, and humanitarian access is ensured. As evidenced by the steady flow of expensive weapons systems into the country, the government of Ethiopia is spending resources and procuring arms rather than providing essential domestic services. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Latin America

U.S. President Joe Biden signed two new executive orders intended to fight drug trafficking and criminal networks on Wednesday, allowing for new sanctions on Chinese companies trading ingredients of the opioid drug fentanyl and on criminal gangs in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. – Reuters 

Michael Mazza writes: As Xiomara Castro settles into the presidential palace next month, she should consider the very real, very negative repercussions that will come with embracing China. Washington should do all it can to clarify those ramifications for her. – American Enterprise Institute 

James M. Roberts, Mateo Haydar, Celina B. Realuyo, and Joseph M. Humire write: Colombia is a regional leader and has been very generous in welcoming over 1.8 million Venezuelans fleeing the Maduro regime—and providing economic and security assistance to its Latin American neighbors. As Colombia faces increased instability, the U.S. must stand by its trusted partner and its democratically elected government under President Iván Duque to ensure continued security and prosperity in Colombia and across the region. – Heritage Foundation 


The Senate on Wednesday approved a record-setting $768 billion defense authorization bill, readying it for President Biden’s expected signature. – Washington Post 

The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday it tested a laser weapon and destroyed a floating target in the Mideast, a system that could be used to counter bomb-laden drone boats deployed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. – Associated Press 

Hal Brands writes: Accepting a higher likelihood of homeland attacks, and developing the economic and societal resilience necessary to absorb them, may be the price of global influence in a world where geography doesn’t provide immunity. – Bloomberg