Fdd's overnight brief

December 17, 2021

In The News


Talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal will be held in Vienna on Friday before breaking for a “few days”, Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said. – Reuters 

Canada, Sweden, Ukraine and Britain on Thursday said they could consider new steps in line with international law against Iran if it failed to respond by Jan. 5 to demands for reparations after the downing of a passenger airliner last year. – Reuters 

The United Nations atomic watchdog will not be able to examine camera images from a nuclear facility near the Iranian city of Karaj until after sanctions are lifted, an Iranian official said on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse 

Iran will spend on its Revolutionary Guard next year more than double the amount allocated in 2021, according to a budget bill submitted by President Ebrahim Raisi to parliament on Dec. 12. – Defense News 

Iran’s drive for naval modernization and self-sufficiency has had another recent setback the when Iranian Navy’s newest frigate capsized in its dry dock. Last week, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps showed off more than 100 of their latest homegrown fast attack craft – new types of missile boats, unique torpedo boats and other craft – in Bandar Abbas. – USNI News 

With much attention this year on Russian ransomware attacks against the United States, the Iranian threat may come as a surprise. Yet as Russian cybercriminal groups carried out ransomware attacks against a meat-processing company and a major U.S. oil pipeline, causing widespread gas shortages, Iranian ransomware groups were quietly emerging as a global force to be reckoned with elsewhere in the world. – Foreign Policy 

David Ignatius: The United States needs to redraw the line on Iran’s nuclear program. The best way to begin may be an aggressive campaign through the international watchdog, the IAEA. – Washington Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: If that is true, all of the six months of Raisi’s posturing would just have been about seeing if the US might concede something new, or at least getting it to drop its talk of follow-on negotiations to strengthen and lengthen the JCPOA. So the US and the West may also record a victory over Raisi in the medium term, getting Iran to agree to a return to some nuclear limits sometime in 2022. – Jerusalem Post 

Lahav Harkov writes: A different tack would be to try to push Iran into a more tenable position by showing that there are consequences to its intransigence, through condemnations from the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council. This would give world powers even better leverage at the negotiating table, and put them in a better position to act should those talks fail. Instead, it seems that the Vienna negotiators are just treading water, unwilling to take action – as Iran plays for time and advances its nuclear program. – Jerusalem Post 


More than 60,000 Afghan interpreters and others who have applied for visas to seek shelter in the U.S. after working alongside American forces still remain in Afghanistan, a State Department official said Thursday. – Wall Street Journal 

The value of Afghanistan’s currency is tumbling, exacerbating an already severe economic crisis and deepening poverty in a country where more than half the population already doesn’t have enough to eat. – Associated Press 

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Nations resigned on Wednesday, three Afghan diplomatic sources confirmed to Foreign Policy. The diplomat left to take another position within the world body’s bureaucracy just four months after Kabul fell to the Taliban. – Foreign Policy 

Paul Spiegel writes: The international community must continue to put pressure on the Taliban to have an inclusive government that respects the human rights of women and minorities. This can still be achieved while ensuring that existing sanctions and the numerous restrictions on humanitarian funding are immediately changed to save the lives of the same Afghans whose rights we are trying to protect. – Washington Post 


An Israeli air strike killed a soldier in southern Syria on Thursday, Syrian state media reported, in an attack in a frontier area where Israel has expressed concern about deployments of Iran-backed forces. – Reuters 

President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria found an opportunity to get hold of a bit more revenue from an unexpected source. An international agreement that will supply electricity and natural gas from Egypt and Jordan to Lebanon via Syria could now provide Damascus with a new source of petty cash. – Haaretz 

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: The hope that differences between Russia and Iran will emerge with greater clarity as fighting ends is misplaced and reflects wishful thinking more than reality. Putin repeatedly shows that he prefers to compartmentalize and work with all actors, even when they have conflicting interests. […]It is understandable that, from the perspective of the Israeli government, it is better to have Russia in Syria than Iran, but the fact of the matter is, Russia and Iran are integral parts of the same strategic set. – Washington Institute 


The Turkish lira hit new lows on Thursday after the Central Bank reduced interest rates for the fourth successive month in what has become President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly personal battle to turn an ailing economy around. – New York Times 

Anthony Faiola writes: Betting against Erdogan often fails. Over the past two decades, he has repeatedly managed to turn adversity into triumph, successfully navigating geopolitical crises, a murky coup attempt and a Turkish Spring, almost always coming out stronger while maintaining the backing of the Islamic conservatives at the heart of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Unless, as the opposition has urged, early elections are held — a possibility Erdogan has rejected — the next presidential poll won’t take place until 2023. – Washington Post 

Simon A. Waldman writes: So, barring the possibility that the rumors that Erdogan’s ill-health are true (we’ve heard this before) and regardless of how bad the country’s economy gets, Erdogan and the AKP aren’t going anywhere – now, or in the near future. – Haaretz 


An Israeli man was killed and two others were wounded in a Palestinian shooting attack near a Jewish settler outpost in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesman said, amid an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence. – Reuters 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday night condemned the shooting attack near Homesh in Samaria in which Yehuda Dimentman was murdered and two other people were wounded. – Arutz Sheva 

Attempts to tar Israel as an apartheid state under international law, twist legal tools for political ends, a new NGO Monitor report argues. – Jerusalem Post 

US Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) voted on Wednesday to block another attempt to provide Israel with $1 billion to replenish its Iron Dome system, citing the need to find a financial source to the bill. The vote took place as Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to proceed with the House version of the bill. – Jerusalem Post 

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said Thursday that his country could recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “one and only capital” soon, and hopes to open a branch of its embassy in the city in the coming year, during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. – Times of Israel 

Israel and the United States reconvened their Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG) virtually on Wednesday for the first time under the Biden administration, continuing an annual tradition started in 1985. – Times of Israel 

Israeli security forces arrested two men last month, an Arab Israeli and a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, who are suspected of spying on Israel on behalf of the Hamas terror group, the Shin Bet security service said Thursday. – Times of Israel 

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan led a group of 12 UN ambassadors on a tour of Israel’s northern border with Lebanon on Thursday to show them a Hezbollah tunnel made for carrying out terror attacks in Israel. – Times of Israel 

Ehud Olmert writes: Kazakhstan is much more than that. Today, it stands on its own as an independent and free country that has natural and historical ties with its neighbor, Russia, but that also strives to engage in cooperation with other countries, including Israel. On the anniversary of Kazakhstan’s 30th Independence Day, it’s wonderful that we can celebrate together 30 years of a flourishing relationship between the two countries. – Jerusalem Post 

Mark Regev writes: When Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert adopted proposals that dealt with the post-’67 issues in a highly forthcoming manner, even accepting the redivision of Jerusalem, it was never enough for the Palestinian leadership. […]Contrary to the conventional wisdom, for Palestinians, the real problem is not Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, but Herzliya and Ra’anana. Perhaps the international community needs to appreciate its accepted formula is more convention than wisdom. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

Basra’s Children’s Hospital was meant to be the best. After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, first lady Laura Bush took a personal interest in its establishment as a world-class hospital for children with cancer, and the U.S. government spent more than $100 million toward its completion. Eighteen years later, the hospital is a casualty of an Iraqi health-care system so riddled with corruption and damaged by neglect that World Bank figures put it among the region’s worst. – Washington Post 

Despite a long-standing territorial dispute, Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurds are taking steps to work together to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group. – Associated Press 

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry said on Thursday that it would not allow oil tankers to enter its Red Sea resort of Eilat as planned under a deal with partners from the United Arab Emirates to transport crude from the Gulf to Europe via Israel. – Reuters 

School textbooks in Kuwait are rife with antisemitic tropes ranging from the ancient slander that Jews are inherently treacherous to the denial of the Holocaust, according to new research by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). – Algemeiner 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The wide-ranging discussion looked at the Gulf, how this impacts Jordan and Egypt and then how it can all impact Israel’s immediate neighbors in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza. We also talked about the chances for new peace partners in the region. Rumors have circulated in the past about Oman or even Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen who may come forward to join the Abraham Accords states. – Jerusalem Post 

Amos Harel writes: Along with signing a trade agreement, the sides talked about advancing joint projects for renewable energy (the UAE, as a major oil producer, has a clear interest in improving its image by means of actions that will be perceived as green). Additional possibilities of UAE investments in Israel also came up in the talks, from high tech to the content industry and television. Bennett has already coined a slogan for this: normalization through Netflix. – Haaretz 

David Makovsky writes: The Bennett-MbZ meeting confirmed how eager both countries are to continue the sharp upward climb of their new bilateral economic relationship. The question is how long they can maintain that trajectory if they differ substantially on the best way to avert a nuclear Iran. Perhaps they will continue agreeing to disagree; alternatively, the issue could become a point of complication if Israeli tensions with Iran grow and the UAE begins to feel even more vulnerable. – Washington Institute 

Aaron David Miller writes: The Biden administration has relegated the Middle East to a secondary place in the hierarchy of U.S. interests. And that’s understandable. […]But history has demonstrated that it’s also a place that can’t be ignored. America may well want to be finished with this broken, angry and dysfunctional region. The question, as always, is whether the Middle East is finished with America. – Politico 

Middle East & North Africa

Eight days before Libyans were meant to cast presidential votes, there is utter confusion over the fate of an election that has not yet been formally delayed but that even an electoral official now says will be impossible to hold on time. – Reuters 

Mike Watson writes: The U.S. took on a larger role in the Middle East after 1945 not to ensure low gasoline prices at home but to rebuild Europe so it could contribute to the struggle against the Soviet Union. […]There is a case to be made for rebalancing some resources, but creating instability in a region vital to the global economy isn’t likely to increase the world’s estimation of Washington’s strategic acumen and won’t help our partners address China’s other threatening behavior. A U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East wouldn’t hurt China, it would empower it. – Wall Street Journal 

Will Todman and Caleb Harper write: Lebanon’s political quagmire will not end any time soon. The elections scheduled for Spring 2022 are unlikely to displace the corrupt political class, which has resisted necessary reforms to end Lebanon’s crises at every turn. […]But needs in Lebanon have changed dramatically over the last couple of years. An independent review of the aid architecture is needed to provide a full understanding of the current challenges in Lebanon and how to optimize the international aid response and ensure it does not exacerbate issues. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea on Friday commemorated the 10th anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death with calls for greater public loyalty toward his son and current leader Kim Jong Un, who is struggling to navigate the country out of deepening pandemic-related hardships. – Associated Press 

The private sector has overtaken state-led agents to become North Korea’s biggest economic actor over the past decade, a sign of booming markets allowed by leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters 

South Korea’s embassy in Myanmar organised a high-level meeting last month between civil servants of the military government and Korean companies including units of Samsung and LG, according to documents seen by the Financial Times. – Financial Times 

North Korea continues to advance its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite UN Security Council sanctions and high-level diplomatic efforts. […]Such an approach likely reinforces a deterrence and coercive diplomacy strategy—lending more credibility as it demonstrates capability—but it also raises questions about crisis stability and escalation control. Congress may choose to examine U.S. policy in light of these advances. – USNI News 


The Biden administration added dozens of Chinese companies and research institutes to blacklists restricting access to U.S. investment and technology for their alleged support for China’s military and the mass surveillance of mainly Muslim ethnic groups. – Wall Street Journal 

The Senate on Thursday approved a bipartisan measure that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless the importer can prove they were not made with forced labor, in a major step toward holding China accountable for its repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority. – Washington Post 

Sitting in their jail cells last week, dozens of Hong Kong opposition leaders received bureaucratic fliers reminding them of their right to vote in a citywide legislative poll on Sunday — and a detailed list of candidates. – Washington Post 

An independent, unofficial body set up by a prominent British barrister to assess evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people concluded Thursday that the Chinese government committed genocide and crimes against humanity. – Associated Press 

The Senate confirmed Nicholas Burns as U.S. ambassador to China, a front-line diplomatic post in President Joe Biden’s administration as the two countries ramp up economic and strategic competition globally. – Bloomberg 

Four decades later, China is now the subject of an Olympic boycott movement. The U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia have joined together for a “diplomatic boycott”—no government officials will attend the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, though athletes from the countries will still compete. Japan said it will also withhold high-level government officials, but will send Olympic officials and athletes. – TIME 

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: The real danger in Mr. Xi’s property-market gambit was never the actual reduction of the bloated housing sector, which has increasingly become an impediment to growth anyway. It was that Mr. Xi would struggle to find a viable alternative focus for China’s economic resources and energies. Beijing still is short of a good plan for this most important of tasks for 2022 and beyond. – Wall Street Journal 

Josh Rogin writes: Once people have experienced freedom, they will never tolerate having it stolen from them. These young Hong Kongers believed us when we told them they deserved these rights. They have sacrificed too much to stop now. Their struggle could last decades. We must show them they are not fighting alone. – Washington Post 


A drone strike hit a house just inside Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, apparently targeting a senior member of the Pakistani Taliban, but the missile failed to explode, Pakistani Taliban sources said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Hal Brands and Michael Beckley write: Any escalatory moves risk ratcheting up the intensity of a conflict. […]To sweeten the deal, Washington could offer to keep its forces off Taiwan and out of the Taiwan Strait. Xi would be able to tell the Chinese people that he taught his enemies a lesson. The United States would have saved a strategically positioned democracy. That may not be a satisfying end to a hard-fought conflict. But in a long war between great powers, protecting vital U.S. interests while avoiding Armageddon is good enough. – Foreign Affairs 

James Timbie and James O. Ellis Jr. write: The People’s Liberation Army poses a formidable threat to Taiwan. […]While this resistance will be difficult to overcome, we suggest that analytically based and scenario-focused U.S. cooperation and support could encourage the government of Taiwan to give more priority to resilient and effective defenses that could cause the People’s Liberation Army to question its ability to take Taiwan by force. – Texas National Security Review 

Derek Grossman writes: Despite one year of honing an Indo-Pacific strategy, Washington is still no closer to a clear trade agenda that might counteract some of China’s massive economic pull on the region. And as critical as it is to defend democracy at home and abroad, U.S. President Joe Biden’s emphasis on values and democracy promotion will make it difficult to engage a region dominated by autocracies and near-autocracies in the quest to outcompete China. – Foreign Policy 


E.U. leaders are warning Russia that any military move into Ukraine will come at a high cost, with new sanctions from Moscow’s critical trading partner. The stern messages to Russia, however, are the easy part. – Washington Post 

Mr. Biden hopes to have more influence over Mr. Putin through an explicit threat to take more punishing economic action than Mr. Obama did after the annexation of Crimea, and Mr. Putin’s subsequent instigation of a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has since left as many as 13,000 people dead. – New York Times 

A former defense contractor from South Dakota was arrested on Wednesday night on espionage-related charges after an undercover F.B.I. operation in which he tried to provide classified national defense information to someone he believed to be a Russian agent, federal prosecutors said. – New York Times 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday set conditions for working with Russia on its new security proposal and offered to work with Moscow to build fresh confidence between them should the country help to ease tensions with Ukraine. – Associated Press 

A bribery case in southern Russia indicates the country had troops stationed in eastern Ukraine, contradicting a long-held Kremlin position that it has never been a party to the conflict in the region. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Editorial: Given the realistic limits on what can be done to thwart transnational repression, Berlin has done what both democratic values and the rule of law required. It has punished the murderer while naming — shaming may not be possible with Mr. Putin’s regime — the official forces that really called the hit. And Germany has done so at a time when Russia’s threats against Ukraine make it doubly important for Europe’s leading nation to enforce those norms. The new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, should stand firm; and the Biden administration should stand with him. – Washington Post 

Eli Lake writes: Those who continue to insist that the only scandal is a relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign that has been the subject of five years of relentless investigation are in danger of indicting themselves. […]We might then see how much the Russiagate clingers care about norms when it is Trump’s opponents who have violated them. – Commentary Magazine 

Eli Lake writes: For four years, Democrats portrayed themselves as a party of Russia hawks, in contrast to a president they saw as Putin’s lackey. But since Biden came into office, his administration has stopped enforcing major sanctions on Russia’s pipeline to Germany, held off on punishing Russian hacks of critical infrastructure and now seeks to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine with threats alone. – Bloomberg 

Kurt Volker writes: The job of US diplomacy is not merely to engage in talks, but to illuminate a reality that changes Russian assumptions, so that the Kremlin understands that Ukrainian independence is a fire, that it can be fed, and that reaching into the flames will be a painful — and scarring — experience. – Center for European Policy Analysis


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

U.S. and Ukrainian officials for the past month have raised alarm over Russia massing significant forces — and perhaps preparing for a fresh offensive — along its border with Ukraine. Russia dismisses the worries as Western fearmongering but has strongly warned that it would never accept a major region realignment such as Ukraine becoming a NATO member. – Washington Post 

If the conflict between Russia and Ukraine deepens, the United States should send more troops to reinforce its military presence in Europe, the head of Sweden’s armed forces says. – Politico


A freelance video journalist accredited to the Associated Press and two other local journalists have been detained in Ethiopia, according to police and the country’s media regulator. – Reuters 

Armed forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have stepped up killings, mass detentions and expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in neighbouring western Tigray, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday. – Reuters 

An international human rights group on Thursday accused separatist fighters in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions of systematically targeting schools, students and teachers during a civil war that has killed thousands of people – Reuters 

The Americas

Haitian kidnappers released the remaining 12 missionaries who were abducted two months ago, the U.S. missionary group and Haitian officials said Thursday, ending a long hostage drama that brought to light an epidemic of kidnappings in Haiti by powerful criminal gangs. – Wall Street Journal 

More than half of House Democrats urged President Biden on Thursday to implement promised changes in Cuba policy, such as removing Trump-era restrictions on travel and remittances to the island by U.S. citizens and residents and loosening impediments to humanitarian assistance. – Washington Post 

Amid escalating trade tensions with the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday directed his Cabinet to address rising fears about President Joe Biden’s America-first policies. – Politico 

President Joe Biden’s administration said Thursday it was still reviewing Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism even as an annual report offered no new evidence. – Agence France-Presse 

Editorial: The only realistic option is for the US and the EU to negotiate a political solution for Venezuela. Not with the regime but with its backers: Russia, China, Iran and Turkey. This would be challenging, given broader tensions in the world. But it would recognise the reality that Venezuela has ceased to be a Latin American regional issue and now forms part of a broader global calculus. Without a great-power bargain, Venezuela’s suffering will only increase. – Financial Times 


The phone of a prominent Egyptian opposition figure in exile was hacked by two separate pieces of government-operated spyware, internet security watchdog Citizen Lab said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O) is calling out half a dozen private surveillance companies for hacking or other abuses, accusing them in a report published Thursday of collectively targeting about 50,000 people across its platforms. – Reuters 

The U.S. government has warned for years that products from China’s Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s biggest maker of telecommunications equipment, pose a national security risk for any countries that use them. As Washington has waged a global campaign to block the company from supplying state-of-the-art 5G wireless networks, Huawei and its supporters have dismissed the claims as lacking evidence. – Bloomberg 

Facebook parent company Meta announced Thursday the shutdown of some 1,500 accounts tied to “cyber mercenary” companies accused of spying on activists, dissidents, and journalists worldwide on behalf of paying clients. – Agence France-Presse 

Erica Lonergan and Jacquelyn Schneider write: Assumptions matter because they guide strategy development and implementation, even if not explicitly. […]Specifically, policymakers should set aside truisms about cyber escalation and instead focus on more granular discussions about a set of plausible scenarios that could give rise to different forms of escalation risks, and the mitigation strategies that follow from them. – War on the Rocks 

Jacquelyn Schneider writes: The United States has not so far experienced a “cyber 9/11,” and a cyberattack that causes immediate catastrophic physical effects isn’t likely in the future, either. […]As people’s digital dependencies grow and the links among technologies, people, and institutions become more tenuous, this cyberthreat to trust will only become more existential. It is this creeping dystopian future that policymakers should worry about—and do everything possible to avert. – Foreign Affairs 


President Biden on Thursday awarded the Medal of Honor to three U.S. soldiers for battlefield actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the first Black service member to be recognized with the military’s top combat distinction for actions occurring since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. – Washington Post 

Nearly 700 scientists and engineers, including 21 Nobel laureates, asked President Biden on Thursday to use his forthcoming declaration of a new national strategy for managing nuclear weapons as a chance to cut the U.S. arsenal by a third, and to declare, for the first time, that the United States would never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. – New York Times 

A U.S. Air Force mission defense team demonstrated the ability to conduct near real-time cyber threat analysis aboard an for the first time earlier this year. – Defense News 

The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is now operating in the Mediterranean Sea after deploying earlier this month from the East Coast, Navy officials confirmed to USNI News on Thursday. – USNI News 

Long War

Iqbal is accused of passing confidential information on CAIR to an anti-Muslim organization for at least 13 years, CAIR’s national leadership said in a news conference Thursday. Citing the results of an investigation by a forensic expert and an outside law firm, CAIR officials said Iqbal secretly recorded conversations and collected “strategic plans and private emails” to share with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which is run by the vocal anti-Muslim extremist Steven Emerson. – Washington Post 

The U.S. State Department reported Wednesday that terrorist attacks and fatalities were on the rise last year. The 2020 Country Reports on Terrorism, an annual document prepared by State Department officials for Congress, said “terrorist groups remained a persistent and pervasive threat” globally as they continue to spread. – Newsweek 

Tens of thousands of former Islamic State members held in detention in north-east Syria need to be put on trial or repatriated and deradicalised, a security thinktank has said. – The Guardian