Fdd's overnight brief

December 20, 2022

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran’s foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator met with the European Union foreign policy chief and the EU official coordinating nuclear talks with Iran in Jordan on Tuesday, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported. – Reuters

The United States and its allies clashed with Iran and its ally Russia over Western claims that Tehran is supplying Moscow with drones that have been attacking Ukraine — and the U.S. accused the U.N. secretary-general of “yielding to Russian threats” and failing to launch an investigation. – Associated Press

Belgium is urging its nationals to leave Iran, warning that they face the risk of arbitrary arrest or unfair trial, after a detained aid worker was reportedly sentenced to 28 years in prison there last week. – Associated Press

State media said four members of Iran’s paramilitary force were killed Monday in an attack in a southeast province that has been a stronghold of separatist forces opposed to the country’s clerical rulers. – Associated Press

Young men and women run toward clerics in the streets — including old men — knocking off their turbans and running away, giggling as if it is a game. – Financial Times

On his Instagram account, in protest against the Iranian regime’s harsh measures to suppress the unrest in recent months, Hamid Farrokhnezhad, the well-known Iranian actor, writer, and director for the stage, films, and television who has won numerous awards, called on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step down from his position of his own free will. This, he said, will prevent the bloodshed that would accompany his forcible removal from power by the people. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, left Iran on Monday after talks with the head of its nuclear energy organization, without saying whether they addressed an impasse over uranium traces at undeclared sites, Reuters reported. – Arutz Sheva

Nicholas Carl, Zachary Coles, Dana Alexander Gray, and Frederick W. Kagan write: The fact that Mashhad youth may spearhead this effort to reclaim religion is notable given the significance of the city to the Iranian clerical and religious community. Mashhad is the home of the Imam Reza shrine—one of the most significant religious locations in Iran. The Mashhad Friday prayer leader, Ahmad Alam ol Hoda, is an outspoken hardliner and the father-in-law of President Ebrahim Raisi, who himself was born in Mashhad. – Institute for the Study of War

Michael Rubin writes: For too long, the MKO has scammed Western leaders in order to pump up its political Ponzi scheme. The Iranians, themselves, now show the irrelevance of the group. As penance for their greed or naivete, it is time the recipients of MKO funds make amends with ordinary Iranians and assist them in their efforts to resist the Islamic Republic. Simply put, it is the right thing to do. – Washington Examiner

Rebecca Grant writes: Iran’s latest outrage is sending drones and missiles for Russia to use against civilian targets in Ukraine. Still, Biden treads softly. Team Biden will send the president out to rail against puffed up “threats to democracy” here in the U.S. but can’t manage an eloquent speech in support of young Iranians. How does Iran get away with all this? China, of course, is propping up Iran through energy purchases. But what’s really missing is true American leadership. Now is the time to keep maximum pressure on Iran in every way. – FOX News

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Krasnodar is further east than Crimea, across the Kerch Strait. Nevertheless, the flight paths of these drones would likely be similar, depending on how they are programmed. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Iran-North Korea space race is important. The countries are not necessarily racing against each other, but their race to get more satellites into space is a reminder of how the center of power has shifted from the West to these regional powers. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

Concerns are rising in Kyiv that Russia is preparing to launch a new offensive against Ukraine from Belarus amid a spate of high level visits and a slow but steady buildup of Russian troops and military equipment. – Washington Post

Russia attacked Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities in the early hours of Monday with a horde of self-detonating drones — once again bombing critical infrastructure but with a sinister tactical shift that seemed intended to deprive Ukrainians not only of heat, electricity and water but also of sleep. – Washington Post

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia made a rare visit to Belarus on Monday to strengthen his bond with the country’s president and his closest regional ally, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a fellow strongman who has been under growing pressure from Moscow to provide more support for the war in Ukraine. – New York Times

The Pentagon’s Cyber National Mission force has been supporting Ukraine’s digital defense with daily consultations, a collaboration that has helped unearth thousands of warning indicators of potentially compromised Ukrainian computer networks, a top U.S. cybercommander said on Monday. – New York Times

Russia and China are “sharing a toolkit” of strategies to undermine Nato members, a top US diplomat has warned, urging western capitals to step up efforts to defend themselves against both Moscow and Beijing. – Financial Times

A high-ranking Ukrainian official believes that Russia is running out of missiles to target critical infrastructure. – Newsweek

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made a comment on Monday during his most recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that drew some extra attention. – Newsweek

Tom Rogan writes: Considering their doctrinal sympathies, British Army advisers in Ukraine would likely suggest just that. Considering the repeated inability of Russian forces to conduct organized retreats, Putin could quickly face a critical problem. He might even risk losing control over Crimea, something that would directly threaten Putin’s stability in Moscow. Put simply, the potential of a new Russian offensive deserves attention but not exaggerated alarm. – Washington Examiner


Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that now is the time to push Iran towards an improved nuclear deal, but if efforts fail, this is the time to show and exercise force. – Jerusalem Post

Police prosecutors on Monday said they plan to file terror charges against a Palestinian man who rammed a vehicle into a motorcyclist in Tel Aviv earlier this month, after an investigation found the motive for the incident was nationalistic. – Times of Israel

The security establishment was aware for a year that an Iranian hacker group had seized control of dozens of Israeli security cameras, but did nothing to stop it, as the group published several videos from across Israel, including footage of an arms facility last year and of a terror attack in Jerusalem last month, a report said Monday evening. – Times of Israel


A top Turkish prosecutor requested that the Constitutional Court block the bank accounts belonging to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), broadcaster Haberturk reported on Monday, as part of a case seeking a political ban on the party. – Reuters

Asli Aydintasbas writes: Last week’s decision reeks of anxiety and could become a fatal error of judgment for the Turkish government — if the opposition can manage to make the right moves. Whether Erdogan wins or loses in 2023 likely depends on how bold his rivals are. The majority of Turks clearly want change. This election is for Erdogan to win — and the opposition to lose. – Washington Post

Aaron Stein writes: With this in mind, Washington should be candid about employing both carrots and sticks in trying to prevent another Turkish incursion in Syria. Ultimately, though, Ankara’s actions will be shaped by its interactions with Moscow, with whom it must deconflict, and by its broader ideas about how to stage-manage a rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad. More troublingly, they will alos be shaped by a leadership cadre with a very specific worldview that is not friendly to the United States and Europe. – War on the Rocks

Arabian Peninsula

Kuwait has appointed interior minister Sheikh Talal Khalid al-Ahmad as caretaker defence minister, the government media office said on Monday. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The West prefers stability and an aura of peace along with some lip service to the things it claims to care about. Whether worker’s rights, women rights or gay rights improve, tends to be of secondary importance when it comes to state-to-state relations and international events. All Doha had to do was appear to be doing the right thing and not use an openly authoritarian hand. And it largely succeeded. – Jerusalem Post

Sierra Ballard and Jacob Kurtzer write: However, the establishment of a durable ceasefire, halting hostilities, and providing a pathway for settlement will be dependent on the ability of mediators to create value incentivizing sustained cooperation among the parties and on the parties themselves leading and embracing a negotiated process. The future of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis will ultimately depend on the perception that continued conflict offers no hope for the future, as well as a collective endorsement of a way out of the conflict that prioritizes the dignity and safety of Yemen’s civilian population. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Middle East & North Africa

Three police officers were killed in a restive area of southern Jordan on Monday while trying to arrest suspects in last week’s slaying of a police commander. The main suspect was also killed in the gun battle, authorities said. – Associated Press

Tunisia’s anti-terrorism judge decided to imprison Ali Laarayedh, a former prime minister and senior official in the Islamist opposition Ennahda party, after hours of investigation into suspicions of sending jihadists to Syria, lawyers said on Monday. – Reuters

Gunmen shot dead at least eight civilians and wounded seven in Iraq’s northern Diyala province on Monday, police and medical sources said. – Reuters

Israel launched airstrikes against unknown targets near the Syrian capital Damascus late Monday, leaving two soldiers wounded, Syria’s state news agency reported. – Times of Israel

Louis Dugit-Gros, Ghaith al-Omari, and Bilal Wahab write: In 2021, the White House welcomed the Baghdad Conference as a “successful and ground-breaking regional summit.” Indeed, U.S. policymakers seem pleased with the substance and format of both events, which fulfill an overarching goal held by Washington and Paris alike: to encourage further Iraqi engagement with Arab neighbors. – Washington Institute

Bobby Ghosh writes: The IMF’s executive board was meant to rule on the request this month, but has postponed the decision to early in the new year. This gives the US enormous leverage with which to press for democracy, Biden’s oft-stated foreign policy goal. Saied has indicated he can manage without the loan, but the state of Tunisia’s economy suggests otherwise. It would make a nice change for Biden to call a dictator’s bluff. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

North Korea threatened Tuesday to take “bold and decisive military steps” against Japan as it slammed Tokyo’s adoption of a national security strategy as an attempt to turn the country into an aggressive military power. – Associated Press

The United States flew nuclear-capable bombers and advanced stealth jets in a show of force against North Korea on Tuesday, as the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un derided doubts about her country’s military and threatened a full-range intercontinental ballistic missile test. – Associated Press

North Korea could hit almost anywhere on earth with a ballistic missile, analysts say, a capability it has honed alongside a wide variety of shorter-range weapons with comprehensive testing that includes a record-setting number of launches in 2022. – Reuters

North Korea’s boast that it has just “made a crucial test for the development of reconnaissance satellites” is in essence saying: We can spy on you from way up there just like you spy on us. The brief English-language dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency quotes a spokesman saying “the test was aimed at assessing the capability of the satellite photographing and data transmission system and the ground control system.” – New York Sun

Donald Kirk writes: As long as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un threatens tactical nuclear strikes, Japan may be expected to develop its own nukes, regardless of memories of the horrors of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The nuclear issue is an element not covered in the fast-rising defense budget — at least, not yet. – The Hill


Russia said it would hold joint naval drills with China, highlighting the close partnership between the two nations as the Kremlin seeks to bolster support among partners to offset Western isolation for its war in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

The southwestern city of Chongqing was the latest frontline of Xi Jinping’s “zero Covid” war, until it came to epitomize China’s potentially devastating about-face that has cracked the Communist Party’s edifice of absolute control. – New York Times

Wang Yu, hailed by the U.S. as an International Woman of Courage, has already been arrested, imprisoned and harassed by the Chinese Communist Party for her work as a human rights lawyer representing activists, Uyghur scholars and Falun Gong practitioners. This year, her movements within her home country also have been restricted by a color-coded app on her phone that’s supposed to protect people from COVID-19. – Associated Press

Hong Kong leader John Lee said on Tuesday he will meet China’s President Xi Jinping to report on the city’s political, economic and COVID-19 situations during his maiden duty visit in Beijing this week. – Associated Press

Editorial: The JCER report is no cause for U.S. complacency. But it is a reminder that America retains important strengths rooted in private innovation and free-market competition. Imitating Chinese industrial policy and protectionism isn’t the path to remaining number one. Staying true to ourselves is. – Wall Street Journal

William W. Newmann writes: For both domestic and foreign policy reasons, Beijing will vent at what it sees as provocations or interference in its internal affairs. For similar reasons, as well as for the reassurance of allies, the United States will feel compelled to respond. This means that while additional strategic clarity is essential in today’s environment, it should not be so rigid that it ties the hands of both sides. Preserving flexibility helped Cold War presidents to reduce the pressure of escalation and communicate intentions, allowing Beijing and Washington to avoid a war they did not want. – War on the Rocks


Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been chosen as the nation’s next ambassador to the United States. – Associated Press

​​Myanmar’s army on Monday accused opponents of the military-imposed government of responsibility for an explosion that injured 17 people on a ferry boat in the country’s largest city, Yangon. – Associated Press

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday he supports plans to scale back the presence of troops in the eastern region of Papua, where the country’s military has been accused of human rights abuses in tackling a long-running independence movement. – Reuters

Taiwan wants progress to be accelerated on a long-stalled bilateral investment agreement with the European Union, the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Tuesday she will push China to lift trade sanctions and for consular access to two detained Australians during a trip to Beijing that’s aimed at mending strained diplomatic ties. – Reuters

Japan’s plan to undertake its biggest military build-up since World War Two without increasing headcount is flawed, former and serving officers told Reuters, casting doubt over the country’s efforts to deter regional rivals China and North Korea. – Reuters

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Liaoning Carrier Strike Group is now operating in the Philippine Sea, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense. – USNI News

One of Pakistan’s most high-profile politicians defended comments about Indian leader Narendra Modi that sparked an uproar between the long-feuding neighbors, as rhetoric heats up ahead of national elections coming soon in both countries. – Bloomberg

Editorial: In dangerous parts of the globe, the U.S. relies on locals to translate and perform other critical tasks. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan was a national disgrace, and abandoning Afghan partners will compound the shame and deter others from working with the U.S. – Wall Street Journal


European energy ministers reached an agreement Monday to impose an emergency limit for natural-gas prices, which have been sent soaring by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

A Greek national is under investigation in Austria for allegedly spying for Russia for years, the Austrian government said Monday. – Associated Press

Matthew Brooker writes: The EU and China have a $700 billion trade relationship. Such a vast economic entanglement makes it necessary to talk and cooperate, where possible. The tone of some European leaders, though, hints at a view of Beijing that is looking distinctly outmoded: a regime that, nominally, is an ideological rival, but one that can be kept onside and coaxed through trade and investment links. It’s reminiscent of how Germany once viewed Putin’s Russia. We know how that worked out. There would be no excuses for repeating the mistake. – Bloomberg


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was resoundingly re-elected as the leader of the ruling African National Congress on Monday, shrugging off a parliamentary investigation that found he may have violated the country’s constitution, as well as a forceful challenge by allies of his disgraced predecessor. – Wall Street Journal

Japan will support the African Union’s entry to the Group of 20 (G20) forum of the world’s largest economies, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday. – Reuters

Howard W. French writes: The West has a choice between bemoaning African migration—which, given demographic trends, will inevitably grow significantly in the decades ahead—or trying to get ahead of the curve by forming educational partnerships on a continent desperate for more and better schools and universities and the knowledge-based jobs that can flow from them. So far in this scramble, with countries driven by their search for influence, nobody has emerged looking very good. Maybe it is time to be driven by something else. – Foreign Policy

Justice Malala writes: This is incredibly good news. South Africa needs to move beyond a hope that is linked to the ANC. For that to happen, the ANC must wither, die and make way for a more contested political terrain. Ramaphosa’s woes may be his greatest gift to the country. – Financial Times

Mark Kennedy writes:  To help them achieve vendor diversification through Open RAN, a flexible and cost-competitive alternative to Huawei, America and its allies should provide financial support for the procurement of technology from trusted vendors in telecommunications and cybersecurity. Actions the United States takes today will shape its relationship with a continent whose population will rival Asia’s by the end of the century. America must embrace Africa with mutual respect to capture the mutually beneficial opportunities it holds. – The Hill

Latin America

Colombia’s last recognized rebel group, the ELN, on Monday announced a “unilateral ceasefire” for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden met Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso on Monday to discuss efforts to stem the flow of migrants to the United States as the White House faces increased pressure over its immigration policies. – Reuters

Peru’s foreign ministry Monday called Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s recent and repeated statements about the political crisis in Peru an “unacceptable interference” in its domestic affairs. – Reuters

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday doubled down on his offer of asylum for ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo and his family, and backed calls for the South American nation to move forward its general elections. – Reuters

United States

Walter Russell Mead writes: Two years into the Biden era, the report card is mixed. To the frustration of our rivals, the inherent strengths of the Anglo-American strategic approach to world affairs continue to bolster American power and support American interests. Yet confidence in America’s leadership continues to decline, and the political and economic foundations of the Pax Americana continue to erode. – Wall Street Journal

Gerard Baker writes: Economic-policy makers were also disabused of disastrous convictions this year. If 2021 was Team Transitory’s year in the inflation debate, 2022 was a rout for Team Entrenched. Now we have to hope that the losers haven’t overlearned the lessons of their defeat and don’t drive the economy into a deep recession in 2023. – Wall Street Journal

John P. Walters and David W. Murray write: Congressional action can implement sanctions until the flow of fentanyl stops. For example, Congress can prevent China from accessing US capital, stop PRC businesses from listing on US stock exchanges, and block visas for CCP members and their families. Congress can apply sanctions progressively and reduce them only when overdose deaths stop. – Hudson Institute


The European Union charged Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. META with antitrust violations for allegedly distorting competition by tying its online classified-ad service to its social network. – Wall Street Journal

The Defense Department on Monday elevated the status of a key digital warfighting force, the latest sign of the maturation in U.S. cyber warfare as it grapples with hacks from foreign adversaries and other actors. – The Record

U.S. lawmakers early Tuesday included a proposal to bar federal government employees from using Chinese app TikTok on government-owned devices in a key spending bill. – Reuters


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is touting the year-end deal on an omnibus spending package as a victory for the GOP due to an expected boost to defense spending above the rate of inflation. – The Hill

Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Hannah Dennis write: As Ukraine’s valiant fight has shown, wars against great powers are rarely won quickly and the price of freedom is high. If we’re to be victorious, we must pay as much attention to the weapons that destroy enemy forces as to the submarines, aircraft and tanks that fire them. Multiyear procurement of munitions would allow the U.S. to become the arsenal of democracy once again, and to bolster the defenses of the free and open liberal order. – Wall Street Journal

Erik Lin-Greenberg writes: The war in Ukraine has highlighted the growing significance of drones to international security. To maintain an advantage, the United States and its allies should limit rogue states such as Iran from exporting drones through sanctions and export controls. At the same time, the United States should export more drones and antidrone systems to allies to help them build their own drone programs, limiting the likelihood that these states will turn to other suppliers. Drones are no longer just a battlefield weapon but also a diplomatic tool. – Foreign Affairs

Long War

Pakistani security forces on Tuesday launched an operation to free hostages from local Taliban militants at a highly fortified counter-terrorism centre in the northwest of the country, three sources told Reuters. – Reuters

A Libyan court sentenced 17 former members of the Islamic State group to death, a statement from the country’s Tripoli-based top prosecutor said on Monday. – Associated Press

A Kurdish-led group in Syria said Monday that its fighters alongside U.S. forces have arrested a wanted militant with the Islamic State group that continues to stage attacks in the region. – Associated Press