Fdd's overnight brief

December 21, 2021

In The News


A seventh round of nuclear negotiations billed as a “last chance” to rehabilitate the 2015 nuclear deal came to an inconclusive close, as Iranian officials agreed to “an agenda” for negotiations over key impediments to the rehabilitation of the 2015 nuclear deal and then called it a day. – Washington Examiner 

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Tuesday fired cruise missiles during a major military exercise across the country’s south, media reported. – Associated Press 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned of greater action against Iran, adding that it is “ possible and necessary” to put an end to Iran’s “foot-dragging” strategy in talks with world powers on its nuclear program. – Bloomberg 

The seventh round of the nuclear negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the international community on a return to the 2015 JCPOA agreement have concluded with an Iranian victory, after the Iranian regime decided to stop the talks for no apparent reason. – Middle East Media Research Institute  


Flowing from the capital, the highway begins without promise, a long, curving scar stretching across the navel of Afghanistan. Potholes. Ruts. A bridge destroyed in an airstrike, still unfixed. Visible symbols of two decades of war, corruption, and neglect along the artery that connects the nation’s two largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar. – Washington Post 

Hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of Kabul toward the shuttered U.S. Embassy on Tuesday, urging the release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets. – Associated Press 

More than 40 House Democrats on Monday called on President Biden to open up access to economic reserves for Afghanistan in order to prevent “imminent mass starvation.” – The Hill 

Javid Ahmad writes: With its politically-borne Islamic tendencies, Pakistan appears to be headed in the wrong direction. As the Taliban’s whisperers, Pakistani leaders may have calculated that the Taliban is an expensive enemy, but a cheaper partner. But by invoking Pashtun nationalism, which is rooted in the Taliban’s ideology, Pakistan is opening a dangerous Pandora’s box that would be hard to manage. – The Hill 


Israel played a role in the assassination of Iran’s commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January last year, the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence has confirmed. – Jerusalem Post 

Three Israeli companies and 10 suspects were indicted on Monday after they were found to have exported cruise missiles to China without a permit. – Jerusalem Post 

The Israeli military has revised its open-fire policies for the West Bank, officially allowing troops to shoot at Palestinians who had thrown rocks or firebombs at cars, even if the assailants no longer present an immediate threat. – Times of Israel 

Israeli officials believe U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s visit to Israel this week will offer a window of opportunity to reorient the United States’ approach to Iran, ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks this weekend. – Haaretz 

Elie Podeh writes: With the signing of the normalization agreement, Israel saw the Emirates as an ally in the fight against a nuclear Iran, which could manifest itself in quiet support if circumstances require an Israeli attack. […]Thus decision-makers in Jerusalem are learning that integration into the Middle East comes at a cost, one of them being the need to look at the region not only the way it appears from Jerusalem, but also from Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Amman and Rabat. – Jerusalem Post 


An Egyptian court sentenced three prominent activists charged with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news to up to five years in prison, defying international pressure to release them in a case that has drawn scrutiny of the country’s human-rights record. – Wall Street Journal 

The mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, a leading member of Turkey’s political opposition, was recently on the other side of the country, delivering what sounded like a campaign speech in a stronghold of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance. It was one of many places across a suffering Turkey where the opposition senses that Erdogan’s supporters can be swayed. – Washington Post 

An Egyptian security delegation visiting the Gaza Strip ended its talks on Tuesday and is headed to Israel to convey Hamas’ position on the issues of the exchange deal (a release of terrorist prisoners in exchange for the return of missing IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians) and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip from the damage caused by the war in May this year. – Arutz Sheva 

Middle East & North Africa

Three drug busts in quick succession over the last month have revealed the extent of Saudi Arabia’s drug problem. First, in a rare gesture of cooperation, the Syrian government confiscated over 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of addictive amphetamines known as Captagon that had been stashed in a pasta shipment intended for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital. – Foreign Policy 

Libya suspended crude exports from two ports after militias shut down the OPEC member’s biggest field days before an election. – Bloomberg 

Turkey’s lira ended the session up over 20% on Monday after President Tayyip Erdogan introduced a series of steps that he said will ease the burden of the weakened currency on Turks, while vowing to press on with a low-rates policy that led to the lira’s slide in the first place. – Reuters 

Samir Altaqi writes: The Middle East is once again returning, as it has been throughout the 20th century, an open arena for conflict and big-power rebalancing game. […]And as the United states continues to focus on empowering its capabilities and human power on the Indo-Pacific region, it appears to have managed, with a minimum increase in its own footprint, to provide a competent deterrent to the destabilizing Iranian activities using limited powers and in partnership with friendly regional countries, which has likely created a foundation on which to build in the future. – Washington Institute 


When Mr. Chen landed back at Boston’s Logan airport, Customs and Border Protection agents pulled him aside, seized his laptop and two cellphones and began asking him what he had been doing in China and why. Mr. Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering and an American citizen, told them he had been collaborating with a Chinese university and that all his research had been conducted in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s expanding grip on data about the world’s cargo flows is sparking concern in Washington and among industry officials that Beijing could exploit its logistics information for commercial or strategic advantage. – Wall Street Journal 

China’s foreign ministry spokesman said four people from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom would be banned from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, in response to U.S. sanctions against Chinese people and entities on Dec. 10. – Reuters 

After China’s year of unprecedented crackdowns, roiling markets and halting deals, bankers and lawyers expect tighter scrutiny to continue in 2022 but say clearer rules will give investors some certainty about the regulatory environment. – Reuters 

Pro-Beijing candidates swept to victory in an overhauled “patriots”-only legislative election in Hong Kong that critics described as undemocratic, with turnout hitting a record low amid a crackdown on the city’s freedoms by China. – Reuters 

Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand expressed grave concern over the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong in a joint statement issued on Monday following Legislative Council elections in the former British province. – Reuters 

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will visit Beijing on Dec. 20-23 to brief Chinese leaders on the latest economic, social and political situation in the city, the government said on Monday. – Reuters 

The United States on Monday named five already-sanctioned Chinese officials it said had contributed to undermining Hong Kong’s democracy and warned that foreign financial institutions that conduct business with them would be subject to sanctions. – Reuters 

Editorial: Pro-Beijing candidates won on Sunday, but the government was doing damage control before the election. “There is a saying from the government in the old days that when the administration is doing well and its credibility is high, the voter turnout will decrease because the people do not have a strong impetus to choose different lawmakers to supervise the government,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said this month. “Therefore, I think the turnout rate does not mean anything.” She apparently thinks Hong Kongers are stupid. – Wall Street Journal 

Thomas J. Duesterberg writes: A major slowdown or acute financial crisis in China would certainly have a negative impact on the global economy. But U.S. and allied policy makers do have tools that could both influence the direction of the Chinese economy and help repair some of the accumulated damage to their economies from Chinese mercantilism. A first step is to undermine the narrative of a relentless, unstoppable economic advance under Mr. Xi’s leadership. – Wall Street Journal 

Bonny Lin, Jude Blanchette, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Mvemba Phezo Dizolele write: Regardless of the outcome of the possible PLA base in Equatorial Guinea, China will continue to increase its global military influence. It will almost certainly establish additional overseas military facilities and access points and its ability to project power will expand. A new era of Chinese military capabilities has thus already arrived. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Gideon Rachman writes: The current combination of a crisis in American democracy — and the rising confidence of authoritarian powers — is reminiscent of the 1930s. […]As it turned out, the gleaming images of the authoritarian powers of the 1930s disguised their deep problems, while America’s surface weakness obscured its deeper resilience. Those who still look to the US as the global guardian of political liberty have to hope that history is repeating itself. – Financial Times 


A submerged Russian submarine has successfully launched a Kalibr cruise missile from the Sea of Japan at a target more than 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) away, located at a Russian training ground onshore, the RIA news agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has banned imports from Malaysian glove manufacturer Brightway Group over suspected forced labour practices, the agency said on Monday. – Reuters 

Japan executed three convicts on Tuesday, marking the first time the death penalty was carried out under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government and the first execution in the country in nearly two years, the Kyodo news agency reported. – Reuters 

Taiwan is a “wanderer” that will eventually come home and not a chess piece to be played with, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said on Monday, drawing a strong riposte from the island’s government. – Reuters 


Now the United States and Britain have quietly dispatched cyberwarfare experts to Ukraine in hopes of better preparing the country to confront what they think may be the next move by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as he again menaces the former Soviet republic: Not an invasion with the 175,000 troops he is massing on the border, but cyberattacks that take down the electric grid, the banking system, and other critical components of Ukraine’s economy and government. – New York Times 

But the fragile coalition that has kept the space station going all these years is fraying, as tensions between Russia and the United States, the two main partners on the station, grow to levels not seen in years. And while the countries have kept their alliance on the station going despite geopolitical tensions, the fence that has kept the station and civil space endeavors walled off from other problems is beginning to erode. – Washington Post 

Contacts have begun between Russia and the United States on the issue of security guarantees demanded by the former and there is a possibility that the sides will reach an understanding, the RIA news agency quoted on Tuesday a Russian diplomat as saying. – Reuters 

The State Department advised Americans on Monday to avoid travel to Ukraine because of “increased threats” from Russia amid its military buildup along the country’s border. – Associated Press 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government raised the specter of a military conflict in a series of statements reinforcing their demanded rollback of NATO military presence in Eastern Europe after U.S. lawmakers denounced the Kremlin proposal as a “pretext for war” against Ukraine. – Washington Examiner 

A submerged Russian submarine has successfully launched a Kalibr cruise missile from the Sea of Japan at a target more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away, located at a Russian training ground onshore, the RIA news agency said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Russia on Monday expelled two German diplomats in response to a spat with Berlin over a German court’s ruling that Moscow had ordered the 2019 assassination of an ex-Chechen commander in a Berlin park. – Agence France-Presse  

Tim McMillan writes: Suppose NATO and the U.S. hold firm in their promises to support Ukraine and impose severe sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine. In that case, Putin could be backing himself into a corner. […]History has shown that once an authoritarian determines they can no longer maintain public favor, they can become unpredictable and dangerous. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem Putin is there just yet. Unfortunately, depending on what he decides to do in Ukraine, that could change. – Washington Examiner 

Sean Durns writes: The Sino-Soviet split did not have its basis in territorial disputes but in ideological rivalry. […]The Russia that has emerged from its ashes is no longer communist. And the China of today, while Leninist politically, has discarded Mao’s adherence to communism as an economic model. Both, however, remain fervently anti-Western in action and thought. This is the basis for their pledges of “shared cooperation” — and it looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future. – Washington Examiner 

Tom Rogan writes: The Polish, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians recognize something that the French and Germans don’t really care about and that Biden has apparently forgotten. Namely, that history proves you cannot negotiate with Russia from a position of weakness. Only from a position of clarity, respect, and resolve. Putin is going for the European jugular not because he is somehow inherently destined to do so. But rather because Biden is serving not as leader of the free world but as a butler to Putin’s aggression. – Washington Examiner 


A longtime Bundesbank official with a record as an inflation hawk has been appointed as Germany’s new central-bank governor, just as the European Central Bank moves away from its ultra-easy-money policies amid a surge in eurozone inflation. – Wall Street Journal 

UBS has filed an appeal with France’s Supreme Court against last week’s decision by a Paris court that upheld the Swiss bank’s conviction for money laundering, while slashing its penalty for allegedly helping wealthy clients evade taxes. – Reuters 

Ukrainian authorities placed former president Petro Poroshenko under formal investigation for high treason on Monday, accusing him of links to financing separatist forces in the eastern Donbass region. – Reuters 

The U.S. State Department on Monday said American citizens should reconsider travel to Ukraine amid increased threats from Russia and that it continues to advise against to travel to the country due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. – Reuters 

Western sanctions are squeezing Belarus’ economy and limiting its financing options, International Monetary Fund staff said on Monday, recommending that Minsk cut fiscal expenditures to reduce its foreign-currency borrowing. – Reuters 

Belarus said on Monday that a group of people damaged the facade of its embassy in London and physically attacked some of its diplomats, badly hurting one of them in an incident on Sunday evening. – Reuters 

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she would speak to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Tuesday about post-Brexit difficulties over trade between Britain and Northern Ireland. – Reuters 

The aggressive cellphone break-ins of a high-profile lawyer representing top Polish opposition figures came in the final weeks of pivotal 2019 parliamentary elections. Two years later, a prosecutor challenging attempts by the populist right-wing government to purge the judiciary had her smartphone hacked. – Associated Press 

Diplomats from European Union member states and other countries helped their Lithuanian colleagues evacuate their embassy and leave China last week in an unexpected departure after Beijing demanded the return of their passes. – Bloomberg 


On Sunday, the streets of cities across Sudan thrummed with hundreds of thousands of protesters for the ninth time in eight weeks. – Washington Post 

After Ethiopia’s embattled prime minister pulled off a stunning military victory earlier this month, reversing a rebel march on the capital that threatened to overthrow him, he credited the bravery of his troops. – New York Times 

The International Monetary Fund will start discussions next month on an extended credit facility with Mozambique, the fund said on Tuesday, its first potential programme with the country since suspending support in 2016. – Reuters 

Tigrayan forces fighting the central government have withdrawn from neighbouring regions in Ethiopia’s north, a Tigrayan spokesman said on Monday, a step towards a possible ceasefire after major territorial gains by the Ethiopian military. – Reuters 

A police officer and at least two civilians were killed during protests in the city of Goma in eastern Congo on Monday over worsening security, police and civil society said. – Reuters 

Nigerian security forces are searching for armed gangs who killed 47 people in attacks in recent days in rural areas of the country’s northwest, the latest killings in the troubled region. – Associated Press 

Latin America

The election of a leftist politician as president in Chile caused markets to tumble on Monday as investors fear an  economic overhaul in Latin America’s most successful model of free market orthodoxy and the home to the world’s biggest copper mines. – Wall Street Journal 

Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is currently leading in the polls ahead of next year’s election, said if reelected he would seek to build a broad range of alliances in a bid to unite a deeply polarized country. – Reuters 

Editorial: An hour after the polls closed Sunday, Mr. Kast tweeted:“From today [Mr. Boric] is the elected President of Chile and he deserves all our respect and constructive collaboration. Chile is always first.” Note to Mr. Boric: Such tolerance has made Chile a stable destination for capital since it returned to democracy in 1989. The world is watching closely to see if the new president will honor that tolerance or take Chile in the direction of such failing Latin states as Argentina or Peru, or worse. – Wall Street Journal 

Geoff Ramsey writes: On the campaign trail Biden criticized Trump for being, in his words, “more interested in using the Venezuelan crisis to rally domestic political support than in seeking practical ways to effect democratic change in Venezuela.” […]But continuing to make the same mistake as his predecessor and leaving Venezuela policy on autopilot would violate Biden’s campaign promises and fail the Venezuelan people.  Washington Post 

United States

The U.S. extradited from Switzerland a Russian national with close ties to the Kremlin on charges that he participated in a scheme to hack and steal corporate earnings information about Tesla Inc., Roku Inc. and others, making tens of millions of dollars in illegal profits, prosecutors said Monday. – Wall Street Journal 

U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended a suspected terrorist from Saudi Arabia in western Arizona late last week after he attempted to enter the United States illegally from Mexico. – Washington Examiner 

A Washington state man who pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer during the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Monday received a sentence of almost four years in prison, one of the longest yet for Jan. 6 defendant. – Reuters 

Ash Jain and Jonas Parello-Plesner write: Biden’s call to action with his Summit for Democracy could help propel the idea of an alliance forward. The administration’s plan for a follow up summit next December could provide the building block for a sustainable cooperative network of democracies. […]An Alliance of Democracies would provide a signature initiative that is directly responsive to this challenge — one that demonstrates leadership and can help align the democratic world in a common direction for will likely be a multi-decade era of strategic competition. – The Hill 


On Dec. 9, word of a newly discovered computer bug in a hugely popular piece of computer code started rippling around the cybersecurity community. By the next day, nearly every major software company was in crisis mode, trying to figure out how their products were affected and how they could patch the hole. – Washington Post 

Belgium’s Ministry of Defense was recently hacked by attackers exploiting the massive vulnerability in Apache logging library log4j that has become a worldwide security concern, according to multiple reports. – The Hill 

Meta shareholders are pushing the Facebook and Instagram parent company to take a harder line against “harmful content” targeted at teens on its site, as well as coronavirus-related misinformation. – New York Post 

A newly discovered cybersecurity flaw is affecting vast swaths the internet from Google and Amazon to the systems used to run militaries and hospitals, with US Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official calling it the most serious vulnerability in decades. – New York Post 

Cyber attacks on the global maritime transportation system – like last month’s breach at the port of Houston – should not be considered a digital Pearl Harbor surprise, a leading security expert said last week. – USNI News 



The Pentagon is updating its personnel policies to address a concerning rise of extremism within the military and hold service members accountable for the views they express on social media, officials said Monday. – Washington Post 

Two Next-Generation Interceptor designs under development as part of a competition to replace ground-based interceptors in the U.S. homeland intercontinental ballistic missile defense system have both passed a key review. – Defense News 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has issued a $5.8 million contract to a team building an artificial intelligence system able to scan instruction manuals and convert that data into instructions for augmented reality systems. – Defense News 

Two lynchpin aircraft of the future air wing of the US Navy (USN) achieved recent milestones during at-sea operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush (CVN 77) while the ship is under way in the Atlantic Ocean, USN officials reported. – Jane’s 360