Fdd's overnight brief

December 23, 2021

In The News


The United States and its partners are discussing time frames for nuclear diplomacy with Iran, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday, adding that current talks with Tehran may be exhausted within weeks. – Reuters 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said talks on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which were paused at Iran’s request last week, would resume before the end of this year. – Reuters 

The U.S. Navy said it seized a large cache of assault rifles and ammunition being smuggled by a fishing ship from Iran likely bound for war-ravaged Yemen. – Associated Press 

Iran is to mount an anti-missile system on the turrets of T-72M tanks to protect them from attack, the Fars news agency reported on Wednesday. The report came during Iranian military exercises, and after the United States said it was preparing “alternatives” in case negotiations to revive a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme collapse in Vienna. – Agence France-Presse 

Iran must be stopped from obtaining a nuclear weapon, with or without a deal in Vienna, President Isaac Herzog said on Wednesday at the Israel Air Force’s 183th flight course graduation ceremony. – Jerusalem Post 

In a November 28, 2021 interview with the ISNA news agency, Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Gen. Abollfazl Shekarchi set out his ideological doctrine regarding Iran’s view of the West, Israel, and the regional order that Iran is trying to instill in the Middle East. Notably, his statements framed the call for the annihilation of Israel as an ideal and as a major goal towards which the Iranian regime was working. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Efraim Inbar writes: Washington must instill fear in the hearts of its enemies if it is to leave the Middle East with as little damage as possible to U.S. standing and security. The American military still has enough punch to punish regional opponents and generate fear if necessary. There may come a time soon when the Biden administration has to demonstrate a willingness to use force with Iran, to send a clear message that America is still serious about being a superpower. – The Hill 

Farzin Nadimi writes: Given the continuing uncertainty over the nuclear negotiations and the growing threat of military action against Iran, the IRGC and proxy forces can be expected to increase the tempo of their military and paramilitary activities in the region as a means of boosting deterrence. This could raise the temperature in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman in the coming weeks, reminiscent of the events of 2019. As Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami put it after Iran struck al-Asad Air Base with missiles in January 2020, the IRGC might choose to “wage a war in order to prevent a much bigger war.” – Washington Institute 

Tal Beeri writes: It is not possible to stop the development, production, and deployment of Iran’s UAV Army, but the U.S., Israel, and pragmatic Arab-Sunni states can work together to disrupt and challenge these processes. This involves utilizing advanced protection systems and initiating attacks on targets linked to the UAV army. Iranian UAVs have already become an inseparable aspect of regional conflict, and this trend will only increase with time. – Arutz Sheva 


The Treasury Department on Wednesday issued new licenses to loosen sanctions restricting assistance to Afghanistan, following a wave of appeals from aid organizations, lawmakers and others to prevent economic collapse and mass starvation. – Washington Post 

Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan disrupted the erecting of a security fence by the Pakistani military along the border between the two countries, Afghan officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Jayson Harpster writes: The special immigrant visa (SIV) for interpreters excludes Afghan soldiers like my friends. The Refugee Admissions Program is backlogged. And now Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) is blocking Afghans from accessing humanitarian parole, their only remaining lifeline. Director Ur M. Jaddou of CIS and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas need to fix humanitarian parole for our Afghan allies. […]For my friends and other Afghan allies, it is humanitarian parole or eventual deportation and death. If we won’t do it for the Afghans, then we should do it for our veterans. – Washington Post 


Russia and Turkey pressed Syria’s Kurds on Wednesday to engage with the Damascus government and abandon separatist ambitions after discussing the future of Syria together with Iran. – Reuters 

According to figures compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 1,505 of them were civilians and among those 360 were children. The figure is by far the lowest tally since the start of the war in Syria and confirms a downward trend that saw 6,800 people killed last year and just over 10,000 in 2019. – Agence France-Presse 

A vital border crossing between Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and Syria’s northeast remains closed one week after violent clashes broke out between supporters of a major Syrian Kurdish party and border guards on the Iraqi side. – VOA News 


U.S. authorities have taken issue with Turkey over its sales of armed drones to Ethiopia, where two sources familiar with the matter said there was mounting evidence the government had used the weapons against rebel fighters. – Reuters 

Within hours of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcing a new scheme that promised to guard savers from volatility in the value of the Turkish lira, the state-owned Halkbank began urging its customers to put their faith in the national currency. – Financial Times 

Leaders from more than a dozen African countries attended the Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in Istanbul last week, reflecting the country’s growing clout on the continent. – Foreign Policy 


Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned Wednesday that Iran is a “ticking time bomb” and called on the international community to recognize the urgent need to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, independently of the outcome of ongoing negotiations in Vienna. – Algemeiner 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hosted visiting US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for talks in Ramallah on Wednesday night, telling him that obstacles to closer American-Palestinian ties “must be surmounted,” according to a readout from Abbas’s office. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is frustrated with top IDF officers’ constant talk about their ability to attack Iran, a senior diplomatic source said on Wednesday. […]The remark came after incoming Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Tomer Bar said Israel could successfully strike Iran’s nuclear program tomorrow if necessary. – Jerusalem Post 

In a December 18, 2021 interview with the Iranian news agency Tasnim, Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouq said that “the Palestinian resistance today resembles a regular army, with thousands of soldiers willing to die as martyrs, who are well trained and whose morale is high.” […]He praised Iran for its role in arming and developing the arsenal of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, and supported the statement of Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah regarding the possibility of uniting the fronts against Israel in the case of a war with it. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

The Biden administration has affirmed its commitment to the two-state solution and the importance of joint action by all parties to move forward to achieve peace and stability in the region. The commitment was relayed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during a meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday, according to the PA’s official news agency WAFA. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

Iran is intervening in Iraq to quell destabilising internal unrest stirred up by Iranian-backed militias. The actions come as Tehran seeks to preserve its deep influence in the country while also navigating tense negotiations over its nuclear ambitions with the United States. – Reuters 

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said on Wednesday that two of its patrol coastal ships seized a cargo of illicit weapons from a stateless fishing vessel during a flag verification boarding in the North Arabian Sea on Monday. – Reuters 

Michael Rubin writes: As Iraq’s population fast approaches the 50 million mark and Iraqi youth take to the streets again, they will not again accept that the problem was personality rather than system. The next revolution will be violent and will not differentiate much between parties. It will lead to a migration crisis, much like Iraqi Kurdistan’s kleptocracy faces, and a wholesale ouster of Iraq’s current political leadership into early graves or exile. The Biden White House can continue to approach Iraqi politics like a game of musical chairs, but it is today missing the big picture. – The National Interest 

Middle East & North Africa

A Tunisian court on Wednesday issued a verdict in absentia sentencing former president Moncef Marzouki to four years in prison after he criticised President Kais Saied and called for protests. – Reuters 

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen said it launched air strikes against a Houthi security forces camp in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, state TV reported early on Thursday. – Reuters 

Morocco, Israel and the United States on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the US-sponsored resumption of diplomatic relations between the North African kingdom and the Jewish state. – Agence France-Presse 

Libya’s parliament said Friday’s planned presidential election would not go ahead, leaving the internationally-backed peace process in chaos and the fate of the interim government in doubt. – Reuters 

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised outgoing Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun for helping to improve relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, state media reported on Thursday, as the envoy left office after seven years in the post. – Reuters 

Senior South Korean diplomats will hold talks with Chinese counterparts on Thursday following a diplomatic spat with Taiwan over its cancellation of the attendance by a senior Taipei official for a business forum in Seoul last week. – Reuters 

Donald Kirk writes: Under South Korea’s 1987 democracy constitution, Moon cannot run for a second five-year term. It will be interesting to see how he and his aides go on pursuing their fantasy of peace until the election on March 9 of Moon’s successor. […]Basically, it would be a good idea if all sides would accept the sad truth. No one’s gotten anywhere in what would be a sellout of South Korean democracy to North Korean dictatorship. – The Hill 


Aversion to China’s Communist government has pushed many in Taiwan to stop seeing themselves as Chinese. Now, increased pressure from Beijing is helping fuel a movement on the self-ruled island to speak differently, too. – Wall Street Journal 

The governing body of the city’s oldest university ordered the removal of a statue commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, felling one of the most prominent monuments to the incident on Chinese soil. – Wall Street Journal 

China hopes the United States could create conditions for both sides to expand trade cooperation, the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday, when asked about the latest in the implementation of the Phase 1 trade deal. – Reuters 

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Wednesday she will continue to work to restore normal travel between Hong Kong and China. – Reuters 

China Telecom’s U.S. unit said Wednesday it plans to continue providing some services in the United States in 2022 after a U.S. regulator revoked its authorization to operate telecommunications in the country, citing national security. – Reuters 

The European Union will place extra tariffs on aluminium foil coming from China after the European Commission found that producers there benefited from excessive and unfair subsidies, the EU official journal said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday endorsed Hong Kong’s first legislative elections held under new laws ensuring that only “patriots” who have shown loyalty to Beijing could run as candidates. – Associated Press 

Intel Corp. apologized after its opposition to Xinjiang labor sparked a backlash against the U.S. chipmaker in China, highlighting how multinational companies are increasingly getting caught up in a geopolitical spat between two global powers over issues such as human rights. – Bloomberg 

When the trade deal between China and the U.S. was signed in January 2020, there was some hope it would lead to a reduction in bilateral tensions and restore some balance to trade, but those goals are proving elusive as 2021 comes to a close. – Bloomberg 

Chinese Communist officials have branded the constraints imposed on Hong Kong’s electoral system as “the new practice of democracy” in the former British colony — a vocabulary for the ideological competition between Washington and Beijing. – Washington Examiner 

Editorial: China isn’t content merely to stifle dissent internally. It is using its economic power to impose its will around the world. Today Lithuania is the target, and the issue is Taiwan. But tomorrow it could be any country or business—and over anything from Covid-19 to Hong Kong, Tibet, or the Uyghurs. China needs to see that such bullying doesn’t work. – Wall Street Journal 

Editorial: Nevertheless, Xi’s autocratic leadership style makes assessing Beijing’s true intentions difficult. The huge build-up in China’s military capabilities, which include a newly-developed hypersonic missile and what the Pentagon estimates will be a quadrupling in China’s nuclear arsenal, may embolden hawks in Beijing. […]All of this adds up to a highly perilous phase in world history. The chances of superpower conflict in the coming years are very real. The US and its western allies need to engage in some heavy lifting to decide — in a unified sense — how and to what extent the west should accommodate China’s expanding power and ambition. – Financial Times 

Suzanne Nossel and James Tager write: For now, the WTA has taken the strongest action to date by suspending competitive tennis in China — while the IOC has appeared to play directly into the CCP’s ham-handed attempt at censorship, an embarrassing bow to the host of the Winter Olympics. Governments and international sport organizations must not be fooled. China has played this propaganda card before. Human rights defenders, governments and the WTA are right to demand China answer for Peng’s safety and liberty. Anything less is naive to the point of negligence. – Washington Post 

Becket Adams writes: It’s remarkable Potomac Media Group has been in business with communist China for as long as it has without apparently even the slightest bit of remorse or introspection. Think about it. You’re a U.S.-based newsgroup, and you’re accepting bribes, er, payments from the Chinese Communist Party to air commie propaganda? […]If you’re a news organization, and the Department of Justice says you need to register as a foreign agent, it may be time to take stock of whether journalism is right for you. – Washington Examiner 


The son of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos has emerged as the clear favourite for next year’s presidential election, taking more than a 20-point lead over his closest rival in a poll published on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Myanmar will start accepting Renminbi as an official settlement currency next year for trade with China, it said on Wednesday, as it looks to restart several joint projects and forge closer economic ties with Beijing. – Reuters 

China will provide police anti-riot equipment and send an “ad-hoc” police advisory group to the Solomon Islands “very soon,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a regular press conference Thursday in Beijing. – Bloomberg 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week discussed with senior Indonesian officials the possibility of the world’s largest Muslim country establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, although no immediate breakthrough is expected, according to a report Thursday. – Times of Israel 


Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to outline why the Kremlin considers Ukraine’s Westward turn an urgent security threat during his annual news conference on Thursday, which marks an opportunity for Putin to convince skeptical citizens that the situation on the border may require military action. – Washington Post 

The United States has marshaled support from its European allies for significant sanctions against Moscow should Russian President Vladimir Putin proceed with a new invasion of Ukraine. But the strategy of relying heavily on the sanctions threat to shape Russian behavior faces challenges and limitations. – Washington Post 

President Vladimir V. Putin focused on domestic issues like the economy and the coronavirus on Thursday in the early minutes of his annual news conference, which was being closely watched because of rising military tensions in Eastern Europe. As reporters held up signs asking for comment on Russia’s deployment of troops near the Ukrainian border, Mr. Putin began his appearance by asserting that Russia had handled the economic challenges of the virus better than other major economies. – New York Times 

Russia is not preparing a military invasion of Ukraine, its ambassador to the European Union was quoted as saying on Thursday, after Moscow unnerved the West with a massive troop build-up on its territory close to the Ukrainian border. – Reuters 

The pipeline is built and being filled with natural gas. But Russia’s Nord Stream 2 faces a rocky road before any gas flows to Germany, with its new leaders adopting a more skeptical tone toward the project and tensions ratcheting up over Russia’s troop buildup at the Ukrainian border. – Associated Press 

Russian and U.S. negotiators will sit down for talks early next year to discuss Moscow’s demand for Western guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine, Russia’s top diplomat said Wednesday. – Associated Press 

Several western countries on Wednesday accused Russia of “escalating” the tense situation at the border with Ukraine, and promised to present a united front when talks with Moscow begin in January. – Agence France-Presse 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday spoke with his Russian counterpart amid heightened tensions over Moscow’s military presence at its border with Ukraine. – The Hill 

Hundreds of Russian paratroopers will hold drills near the Ukrainian border this week, the Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying on Thursday, amid a standoff between Moscow and the West over Kyiv’s NATO aspirations. – Reuters 

Ukrainian military forces have conducted combat drills with U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles in a conflict area with separatists in eastern Ukraine as tensions run high with Russia, Ukrainian Dom television channel said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Editorial: To be clear, Mr. Putin has no legitimate casus belli regarding Ukraine. What he seems really to fear is not Ukraine-based NATO missiles, as he claims, but the growth and development of a successful, Western-oriented democracy in Kyiv, the exemplary existence of which would destabilize his own kleptocratic regime. His conduct, and the rationale for it, are false and unacceptable. Washington Post 

John R. Deni writes: If Russian forces enter Ukraine yet again, Kyiv is likely to lose the war and the human toll will be extensive. The long-term damage suffered by Moscow, however, is likely to be substantial as well. The seemingly impetuous Mr. Putin has maneuvered his way into a strategically risky position, and the West ought to leverage the Kremlin’s mistake and drive a hard bargain in any diplomacy. – Wall Street Journal 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: The Soviet Union’s lasting power doesn’t lie in Putin’s post-imperial ressentiment; rather, it rests on the continued attractiveness of the theories it implemented, wore out and, inevitably, turned into evil mockeries of themselves. The more the USSR’s practice is lived down and forgotten, the more likely history is to repeat itself in an inevitable “Animal Farm” re-enactment. When that happens, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov may rise from his bulletproof glass casket and walk again, an all-too-well-preserved zombie bearing a virus that has yet to die. – Bloomberg 

Anatol Lieven writes: The Biden administration has stated that while confronting Russia on certain issues, it wants to work with Russia where U.S. and Russian interests converge. The history of the Middle East over the past 20 years suggests that, in this area at least, a strong basis for cooperation does in fact exist. To develop such cooperation will, however, require U.S, policymakers to acknowledge—at least to themselves in private—the number of times that Russia has been proved right, and America wrong. – Foreign Policy 


With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s eastern border, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has chosen this moment to pick internal battles — an approach that risks dividing the country amid what Western officials warn could be a full-scale military attack by Moscow. – Washington Post  

Bosnian officials and religious leaders on Wednesday denounced suggestions voiced by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his spokesman that the integration of Bosnia into the European Union will be challenging because of its large Muslim population. – Associated Press 

The EU said Wednesday it was launching legal action against Poland for ignoring European Union law and undermining judicial independence, prompting a sharp rebuke from Warsaw. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the EU’s decision reflected a trend towards “bureaucratic centralism” in Brussels that “has to be stopped”. – Agence France-Presse 

European satellite operator Eutelsat on Wednesday stopped broadcasting the German-language channel of Russian state broadcaster RT, German regulators said, in the latest escalation of a media spat between the countries. – Agence France-Presse 

Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi has admitted that Europe has few tools to deter Russia from a military confrontation with Ukraine, as tension mounts over Moscow’s intentions towards Kyiv. Speaking at an end-of-year press conference in Rome, Draghi drew attention to the EU’s lack of its own military force and also pointed to weaknesses in any sanctions that might be directed at the Kremlin. – Financial Times 

The Belgian government has reached a deal confirming that its existing nuclear power plants will close in 2025, while keeping up investment in nuclear power technology, public broadcasters RTBF and VRT said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Ukraine has charged former President Petro Poroshenko—who is described in Moscow as “Washington’s puppet”—with state treason and financing terrorism. The longtime enemy of Putin faces as much as 15 years in prison if convicted. – The Daily Beast 

Editorial: Germany is now pushing to keep nuclear power off the European Union’s list of “environmentally sustainable economic activities,” a designation that could lower the cost of financing nuclear projects. It’s bad enough that the Germans have undermined their own energy security, but they shouldn’t foist their self-destructive policy on the rest of the Continent. – Wall Street Journal 


Ethiopia’s government said on Wednesday its soldiers had recaptured a city in southern Tigray from Tigrayan fighters, marking its first major advance inside the war-torn region in many months and dashing hopes for peace following a rebel retreat. – Agence France-Presse 

Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC has declared force majeure on exports of Nigerian Forcados crude oil after the obstruction of a tanker path by a malfunctioning barge, the company said in a statement. – Reuters 

The man who led a 2008 coup in Guinea and whose brief rule was marked by a stadium massacre against peaceful demonstrators returned to the West African country Wednesday after more than a decade in exile. – Associated Press 

Latin America

El Salvador’s Congress on Wednesday re-elected Rodolfo Delgado to serve for three more years as attorney general, despite U.S. concerns about his appointment and his decision to end a U.S.-backed anti-corruption accord. – Reuters 

Some 30 properties were burned on Tuesday in an arson attack in a part of southern Chile shaken by a long conflict between the government and members of the Mapuche ethnic group, authorities said. – Reuters 

The International Monetary Fund said that a record $56 billion program for Argentina didn’t succeed “in improving confidence” and was “fragile from its inception” despite the size of the loan, and that both capital flow management and a private debt reprofiling might have been addressed back in 2018. – Bloomberg 


Uber Technologies Inc.’s former chief security officer Joseph Sullivan faces a new wire fraud charges in addition to earlier charges related to covering up a 2016 data breach that compromised the personal information of 57 million drivers and users. – Bloomberg 

Federal agencies in the United States, as well as top cybersecurity agencies in the other countries that make up the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, warned Wednesday that hackers are “actively exploiting” a recently uncovered vulnerability in Apache logging library log4j. – The Hill 

Vice President Harris is calling for a “cyber doctrine” and greater international coordination to address cybersecurity concerns after a year of mounting attacks. – The Hill 

Jacquelyn G. Schneider and Erica D. Lonergan write: As the Biden administration makes the final edits on its National Defense Strategy, it should learn from the U.K. Cyber operations can complement and augment existing foreign-policy options. The U.S. should lean in to cyber power while also clearly stating what actions are off the table. – Wall Street Journal 


Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood told Army Times sister publication Defense News in November that the first Army hypersonic missile unit will be based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Soldiers there were already developing tactics, techniques and procedures to employ the weapon system at that time, Thurgood said. The missile design allows for more maneuverability to avoid missile defense systems. The Russian and Chinese militaries have been publicly claiming hypersonic advancements that could defeat U.S. defense systems. – Defense News 

A six-ship People’s Liberation Army Navy carrier group led by aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) is currently operating in the Pacific Ocean, according to releases from the Japanese military. – USNI News 

The United Kingdom and Japan have agreed to the joint development of engine technology for the both the Tempest and F-X future combat aircraft programmes. Announced by the UK government on 22 December, the agreement covers joint work on a jet engine demonstrator for the UK-led Tempest, which is being developed under the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme, and the Japanese F-X (unofficially referred to as the F3) programme. – Jane’s 360 

Long War

Hezbollah has some 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, many of them advanced UAVs from Iran and others manufactured independently by the Lebanese terrorist group, a new report by the ALMA Research Center has found. – Jerusalem Post 

The Biden administration is ignoring a congressional mandate to impose sanctions on the Iranian-backed terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah for their use of human shields in combat, according to a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers. – The Washington Free Beacon 

An explosion took place close to the gate of the passport office in the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday, an Afghan official said. The nature of the blast was not immediately clear, nor were any casualty numbers, an official of the ministry of interior told Reuters on the condition of anonymity. – Reuters 

One of the two security Arab guards who attacked MK Itamar Ben Gvir earlier this week has been revealed as a Hamas terrorist, Israel Hayom reported. – Arutz Sheva 

The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday designated three men in Brazil as being affiliated with al-Qaida and having given support to the terrorist group. The Treasury said the action targets the international financing of al-Qaida. It said all property and interests in property of the three men and any entities that they own in the United States or that are in the possession or control of U.S. residents must be blocked and reported to the Treasury. – Associated Press 

Marc Hecker, Elie Tenenbaum, and Louis Dugit-Gros write: Whatever the case, nonmilitary tools are an important component of a successful counterterrorism strategy, as seen in the evolution of French operations in the Sahel and the emphasis on local capacity-building. In the future, counterterrorism must also be considered in the context of new priorities rather than as a separate, lower priority. For example, climate change will have a serious impact on population flows, so decisionmakers need to consider how this and other unprecedented phenomena might strengthen terrorist groups in the future. – Washington Institute