Fdd's overnight brief

December 27, 2021

In The News


Iran fired multiple ballistic missiles Friday at the close of five days of military drills that generals said were a warning to arch-enemy Israel. “These exercises were designed to respond to threats made in recent days by the Zionist regime,” Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri told state television. – Agence France-Presse 

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Saturday that his country will not exceed 60 percent enrichment of uranium, even if it cannot agree with world powers on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. – Agence France-Presse 

Negotiators from Iran and five world powers that are trying to revive a tattered 2015 nuclear deal will resume talks in Vienna next week, the European Union said Thursday. – Associated Press 

European negotiators in talks to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers presented no “new practical initiatives” and were not constructive in the last round that paused on Dec. 17, the Iranian foreign minister said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Iran’s main focus in nuclear talks that resume in Austria on Monday will be the lifting of all U.S. sanctions in a verifiable process that guarantees Tehran’s unhindered ability to export its oil, the foreign minister said. – Reuters 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Sunday that he will soon visit Iran at the invitation of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to work on furthering cooperation between their two countries. – Times of Israel 

Iranian politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, former acting Interior Minister, criticized the foreign policy of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his regime in an interview that aired on Didar News on November 14. – Arutz Sheva 


The United Nations is planning an $8 billion program of aid and services in Afghanistan for next year, taking on many government functions at a time when the Taliban regime remains under economic sanctions and lacks diplomatic recognition, according to international officials. – Wall Street Journal 

A British man working in Afghanistan has been detained, the UK foreign ministry told AFP on Friday, following a newspaper report of the arrest of a security consultant by the Taliban. – Agence France-Presse 

The Taliban administration is working to boost exports to save the Afghan economy from collapse, with a government official saying international humanitarian aid alone won’t prevent the country from slipping deeper into poverty. – Bloomberg 

The Taliban dissolved Afghanistan’s two election commissions as well as the state ministries for peace and parliamentarian affairs, an official said Sunday. Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government, said the country’s Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaint Commission have been dissolved. – Associated Press 

A joint Turkish and Qatari delegation is traveling to Afghanistan to discuss plans for companies from their two countries to run Kabul’s international airport in a partnership, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Thursday. – Associated Press 

The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan and the lightning collapse of the internationally recognized government in Kabul in August spelled the end of the West’s nearly 20-year foothold in the war-torn country. Now, with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, other powers that have fallen out with the West or are considered its rivals are vying to fill the void. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 

In a further move restricting women’s freedoms in Afghanistan, the Taliban says that women seeking to travel more than 72 kilometers should not be offered transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty  


Hezbollah has not yet responded to statements that over the past three years, the IDF has attacked dozens of Hezbollah targets in Syria, a senior Israeli security official said on Saturday. – Jerusalem Post 

Mark Regev writes: While the current president’s father, Hafez Assad, knew how to manipulate ties with Iran and Hezbollah to advance Syria’s interests, today it is they who exploit Syria to advance theirs. […]Here’s a cheeky suggestion for Syria’s president: Organize a victory party in Damascus. Have the Iranians and Hezbollah parade through the capital in their finest uniforms. Thank them for their efforts in support of your regime, award them medals for a mission successfully accomplished, and then, send them home. – Jerusalem Post 

Muhammad Bakr Ghbeis and Ahmad Tarakji write: Internal insecurity in Syria is the result of a longstanding conflict in the country and should be addressed as such. Without support from the United States and like-minded nations, Syria’s diverse communities will remain rivals and the prospects for peace will ultimately collapse. The reconciliation of the northeast and northwest regions of the country can turn this tide. Avoiding a strategic approach such as this one will push Syria back into the Assad regime’s grinder. We’ve witnessed that nightmare. It must not be repeated. – The National Interest 


Turkey has frozen the assets of 770 people and a nonprofit organization, citing alleged links to terrorism, according to a ruling published to the country’s official gazette on Friday. – The Hill 

The lira tumbled almost 8% against the dollar on Monday amid persisting investor concern over Turkey’s monetary policy, having surged more than 50% last week after billions of dollars of state-backed market interventions. – Reuters 

Tomer Barak writes: So long as Erdogan is consumed by domestic troubles, he can be expected to continue to show his claws. His occasional demonstration of pragmatism is intended solely to attract funds, and does not fool anyone that he has had a change of heart or that he is willing to let go of his neo-Ottoman aspirations. – Jerusalem Post 


Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said Wednesday that Israel would have no problem if the United States entered a strong nuclear deal with Iran that would permanently limit its ability to assemble a nuclear weapon, and that reaching a resolution with the Palestinians was now a lower priority for his government, behind  the pandemic and the economy. – New York Times 

Israel’s cabinet approved a plan to double the Jewish population in the southern Golan Heights, part of a 1 billion-shekel ($317 million) program meant to cement Israeli control over the territory, captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. –  Bloomberg 

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank in an area that has seen a recent uptick in friction, the Israeli military and Palestinian medics said. – Associated Press 

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday approved an open-ended international investigation into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which was first set up following Israel’s conflict with the Hamas terror group earlier this year. – Times of Israel 

Former Israeli Defense Minister and IDF Chief of General Staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon called for the Biden administration to reconstitute a pressure campaign against Iran, including bringing together a coalition of countries to enforce sanctions. – Jewish Insider 

Israel’s Defense Ministry has expanded its Northern Shield (Magen Hatzafon) program to fortify the homes in communities of Metula, Shlomi, and Shetula that are along the northern border with Lebanon in order to protect civilians from Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets and mortars. – Jerusalem Post 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the possibility of Indonesia normalizing their diplomatic relations with Israel in meetings with officials in Jakarta last week, Israeli officials said on Thursday, Walla reported. – Jerusalem Post 

The so-called “military” wings of several Palestinian factions on Sunday said they have launched a large-scale, joint maneuver in the Gaza Strip. – Jerusalem Post 


The governor of Iraq’s Najaf province resigned on Friday, a day after another governor also quit following demonstrations against living conditions and corruption. – Agence France-Presse 

Iraq’s foreign minister on Thursday called for direct negotiations between Iran and the United States, Iranian media reported, a rare appeal just days before world powers are set to resume talks over the tattered nuclear accord in Vienna. – Associated Press 

Iran’s current strategy in Iraq is based on two main pillars: first, preventing the formation of a majority government, and second, preserving the unity of its allied Shiite groups while dissuading them from resorting to violence to advance their political agenda. – The National Interest 


The Saudi push reflects profound shifts in the creative industries across the Arab world. Over the past century, while the name Saudi Arabia conjured little more than oil, desert and Islam, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad stood out as the Arab cultural beacons where blockbuster movies were made, chart-topping songs were recorded and books that got intellectuals talking hit the shelves. – New York Times 

Lebanese opposition figure Sami Gemayel has said his country has been “taken hostage in the hands of Iran and Hezbollah.” In comments to local media Thursday, the head of the Christian Kataeb party said upcoming parliamentary elections in March were “a choice between life and death,” as the country sinks ever deeper into an economic and political crisis. – Agence France-Presse 

Eric R. Mandel writes: There likely will come a time when Israel feels compelled to act against Hezbollah, and it could be soon. America’s leadership will need to weigh U.S. interests in deciding whether or how to help Israel quickly succeed in its mission. – The Hill 


The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen published footage they say shows instructors from the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group training Houthi militants on how to use UAVs, during a press conference on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post  

The Saudi-led coalition on Saturday launched a “large-scale” assault on Yemen after missiles fired by Iran-backed Huthi rebels killed two people in the kingdom, the first such deaths in three years. – Agence France-Presse 

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said Sunday it struck a Huthi rebel camp in the capital Sanaa, as it intensified an aerial bombing campaign against the Iran-backed insurgents. – Agence France-Presse 

Middle East & North Africa

Israel has turned to the United Nations to protest Lebanon’s issuance of a tender for offshore drilling in disputed maritime waters, over which both governments have claimed sovereignty. – Jerusalem Post 

A Yemeni rebel attack on Saudi Arabia’s southern border town of Jizan killed two people and wounded seven more late Friday, Saudi state-run media reported. – Associated Press 

Western powers said on Friday they would continue to recognise Libya’s interim government after its presidential election was delayed, but called for a new polling date to be swiftly set. – Reuters 

Korean Peninsula

The government of President Moon Jae-in said on Friday that it would pardon former President Park Geun-hye, who is serving a 20-year prison term after she was convicted on bribery and other criminal charges. – New York Times 

Senior South Korean diplomats held talks with Chinese counterparts on Thursday after a diplomatic spat with Taiwan over Seoul’s cancellation of an invitation to a senior Taipei official to take part in a business forum last week. – Reuters 

The Department of the Treasury announced this week that it has reached a settlement with a major American bank after the bank committed violations against America’s sanctions on North Korea. – The National Interest 


President Biden on Thursday signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bipartisan bill that bans imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless the importer can prove they were not made with forced labor. – Washington Post 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a year-end interview with local media said Western democracies must stand together against a China he says has been “playing us off each other.” – Agence France-Presse 

China’s commerce ministry said on Friday it expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to a U.S. ban on imports from Xinjiang region. – Reuters 

China plans to tighten rules for overseas listings for the country’s fast-growing start-ups as part of a months-long regulatory campaign to reign in the tech sector. – Financial Times 

Japan won’t send any government representatives to the Beijing Winter Olympics, effectively throwing its support behind the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of the games that start in February. – Bloomberg 

Universities in Hong Kong are removing memorials to the bloody suppression of the 1989 Chinese pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. – Associated Press 

Policy analyst Stephen Semler on Thursday argued that the current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) marks a significant increase in spending from last year and puts the U.S. “back to starting an arms race with another major power.”  – The Hill 

Robert C. O’brien writes: Congress should instead undertake a serious, reasoned examination of the challenges and opportunities facing American tech. For example, narrowly tailored legislation to deal with abuses, especially by content companies, is needed to avoid situations where the ayatollahs in Iran and the Taliban have a platform, but the former president of the United States does not. – Wall Street Journal 

Keith B. Richburg writes: China has recently renewed its promise to eventually allow Hongkongers to elect their top leader through universal suffrage. But whatever the authorities have in mind is very likely to resemble the last such proposal, in 2014, in which candidates would be pre-vetted and approved by Beijing. – Washington Post  

Robert Bryce writes: By forcing electric vehicles into the market, the U.S. will trade reliance on domestically produced gasoline and diesel fuel for reliance on Chinese neodymium, terbium and dysprosium. – Wall Street Journal 

Josh Rogin writes: The best way to demonstrate to China that tantrums and bullying won’t work is to continue apace with our efforts to build up our alliances and capability to keep the region free — including readiness to come to Taiwan’s defense, if necessary. The risk of escalation is real, but we can’t let that paralyze us. In the face of aggression, inaction is the most dangerous course of all. – Washington Post  

South Asia

Hundreds of right-wing Hindu activists and monks rose in unison at a conference this week to take an oath: They would turn India, constitutionally a secular republic, into a Hindu nation, even if doing so required dying and killing. – New York Times 

The grisly incident highlighted a dangerous streak of radicalization that is spreading among ordinary, lower-income and nonmilitant Muslims, according to observers in Pakistan. Some say this trend is a greater threat to Pakistan’s stability than the armed, pro-Taliban militias that have been challenging state security forces for years. Unlike the militants’ agenda, the anti-blasphemy cause enjoys wide support in this majority-Muslim nation of 220 million. – Washington Post  

Militants targeted an army post in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt near the Afghan border, killing a soldier in a firefight overnight, Pakistan’s military said. – Associated Press 

Two members of the international humanitarian group Save the Children were missing Saturday after Myanmar government troops rounded up villagers, some believed to be women and children, fatally shot more than 30 and burned the bodies, according to a witness and other reports. – Associated Press 

Madiha Afzal writes: Pakistan is simultaneously important and complicated. There is no magic bullet when it comes to reimagining a new policy, but the United States now has an opportunity to steer the relationship in a potentially more productive direction. Washington should give it a shot. – New York Times 


An international aid group and opponents of Myanmar’s ruling military have accused soldiers of killing at least 35 villagers who were fleeing combat on Christmas Eve and of then burning their bodies. The aid group said that two of its staff members may have been among those killed. – New York Times 

Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved the country’s biggest increase in military spending in decades, as officials expressed growing concern about the possibility of being pulled into a conflict over Taiwan. – New York Times 

A Myanmar junta court on Monday again postponed giving its verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial for illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, a source with knowledge of the case said. – Agence France-Presse 

Myanmar’s military carried out more airstrikes on a rebel-controlled area near the Thai border, the rebel group said on Friday, in the latest escalation of violence that has sent hundreds fleeing into Thailand. – Reuters 

David L. Phillips writes: A multilateral approach would limit Russia’s role in the post-Soviet space. It also presents an opportunity for the United States and Russia to work together on a regional conflict where their interests overlap. – The National Interest 

James Robertson and Andy Lin write: Despite the setbacks, Taipei and Washington retain some support in the Pacific. This year, the Federated States of Micronesia, which recognises China, agreed to host a US military base on its territory. In addition, more than six Pacific territories, including American Samoa and New Caledonia, have defence or political ties with the US or France. – Financial Times  


The appearance of his more-than-50-year-old vessel — aptly named Donbas, for the eastern region locked in an eight-year conflict between Ukraine’s armed forces and Moscow-backed separatists — dominated Russian broadcasts one night this month. With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border, the near-confrontation between Russian forces and the Donbas in the Sea of Azov could have been the spark for war on the ground. – Washington Post 

A Russian court fined Google nearly $100 million Friday for “systematic failure to remove banned content” — the largest such penalty yet in the country as Moscow attempts to rein in Western tech giants. – Washington Post 

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 

Russian forces have held a military exercise to practise repelling a massive air strike by an adversary, Interfax cited Russia’s Western Military District as saying on Monday, amid a standoff between Moscow and the West over Kyiv’s NATO ambitions – Reuters 

Senior German and Russian government officials have agreed to a rare in-person meeting next month in an effort to ease political tensions over Ukraine, a German government source said on Saturday. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday to discuss concerns about Russia’s military build-up on the borders of Ukraine, the U.S. State Department said. – Reuters 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he would ponder a slew of options if the West fails to meet his push for security guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. – Associated Press 

The United States grew “arrogant and self-confident” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to the expansion of the NATO military alliance, former leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Friday. – Agence France-Presse 

Russia has blocked the website of a rights monitor tracking political persecution, saying it promoted terrorism and extremism, amid an unprecedented official crackdown on dissent. – Agence France-Presse 

The Kremlin said Friday that it expects the United States to respond next month to Moscow’s request for security guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. – Associated Press 

Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen write: How the West responds now will define the trajectory of our relations with Russia and Putin for the next decade. Standing with our allies alongside Ukraine will help ensure a free and stable Europe, which is in the best interest of the people of democracies and American allies around the globe. – Washington Post  

Eli Lake writes: So does Putin really believe that the country whose territory he has annexed is the real aggressor? Probably not. Does he really believe the U.S. would provide Ukraine with some of its most advanced military technology? Again, probably not. But Putin clearly benefits from the perception that he is volatile enough to make good on his latest threats. If Biden believed Putin was rational, he would likely call Putin’s bluff. Instead, he is attempting to coax Putin into defusing a crisis that the Russian leader himself has created. – Bloomberg 

Deganit Paikowsky writes: This time, it is more likely that the international community will develop and approve more stringent regulations of space weapons. The genuine concern about a worsening space debris problem due to similar actions by other countries—in addition to an increase in the use of space for defense, civil, and commercial activities—is likely to push the great powers to ban actions and experiments of the type carried out by Russia last month. – Foreign Policy 


All of the Afghans evacuated in August have already received permits to stay, sparing them the bureaucratic headaches they endure in some other countries. But the uncertainty about housing has been extremely destabilizing for the Afghans in the camp, who, while grateful to the Netherlands for having taken them in, have been struggling to reconcile themselves with their new lives. – New York Times 

The Pentagon is working on a plan to provide Ukraine with battlefield intelligence that could help the country more quickly respond to a possible Russian invasion, senior administration officials said. – New York Times 

Nations have chosen their leaders from among many fields, including the military and academia, but Ukraine’s government might be the first to draw heavily from television and film comedy. – New York Times 

There is no indication that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has made up his mind whether to launch an attack. But if one should come, even Ukraine’s own generals say their regular military stands little chance in a full-fledged invasion. So Ukraine has drawn a lesson from the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan of the past two decades, when guerrillas provided enduring resistance in the face of vastly superior American firepower. – New York Times 

Germany and France called on both the Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to respect the restoration of a full ceasefire, their foreign ministries said in a joint statement on Thursday. – Reuters 

A French-Syrian man has been detained by French police on suspicion of supplying components for the manufacture of chemical weapons in Syria through his shipping company, sources briefed on the case told AFP Sunday. – Agence France-Presse 

The West must be ready to send air defense systems and anti-ship missiles to Kyiv while preparing to slap harsher sanctions on Moscow to deter the Kremlin’s bullying of Ukraine, five experts in European security said this week. – USNI News 

Kris Osborn writes: It would not be difficult for NATO forces to mass along the Ukrainian-Russian border. NATO member states Poland and Romania both border Ukraine. Perhaps if a sizable contingent of U.S. and NATO forces began training in Ukraine along the Russian border, Russia might pause to prevent a larger-scale great power war. – The National Interest 

Wes Martin writes: The future of NATO and U.S. security policy in Eastern Europe; and the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine and of other U.S. allies in the region are at stake. We must do our best to avoid a major conflagration in Europe. – The National Interest 

Valbona Zeneli writes: The EU and the United States should do a better job at communicating their existing development programs in a coherent narrative to compete with China. […]The West needs a comprehensive transatlantic plan to entice private investment and capitalize on financial resources from both sides of the Atlantic while working closely with multilateral development banks and international financial institutions. – The National Interest 


Desmond M. Tutu, the cleric who used his pulpit and spirited oratory to help bring down apartheid in South Africa and then became the leading advocate of peaceful reconciliation under Black majority rule, died on Sunday in Cape Town. He was 90. – New York Times 

Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of several cities in Sudan on Saturday, activists and pro-democracy groups said, denouncing the October military coup that imperiled the nation’s fragile steps toward stability and its attempt at a democratic transition after decades of military rule. – New York Times 

Somalia’s nearly year-long constitutional crisis escalated toward outright conflict Monday as the president attempted to sideline his main rival, the country’s prime minister, by suspending his powers. – Washington Post  

Mali’s government has denied the presence of Russian mercenaries in the West African country after 15 Western powers accused Russia of providing material support to a deployment of private military contractors. – Reuters 

Russia will continue providing Mali with military assistance through state channels, the RIA news agency cited a senior Russian diplomat as saying on Monday, days after Bamako denied the presence of Russian mercenaries. – Reuters 

Ethiopia’s duty-free export access to the U.S. has been revoked by President Joe Biden due to its failure to meet the requirements, according to the White House. The action comes after 13 months of civil war in the country. – Bloomberg 

Gambia’s former dictator, Yahya Jammeh, should face prosecution for murder, torture and sexual violence, according to a new report by a truth, reconciliation and reparations commission established after he fled into exile five years ago. – Associated Press 

The Americas

President Nayib Bukele’s government has freed three Salvadoran women who were sentenced to 30 years in prison under the nation’s strict anti-abortion laws after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to abortion rights groups. – Associated Press 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday he will soon visit Iran to finalize new agreements on cooperation with the Middle Eastern country, which has become Venezuela’s top ally in boosting oil output amid U.S. sanctions. – Reuters 

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller writes: But U.S. policy has pushed Russia and China together on an issue where the two countries do not see eye to eye. Outsiders are not privy to all information and intelligence, but the United States has neglected an opportunity to exploit their dissimilar interests. In the future, as Russia and China work in a more concerted fashion to oppose the United States’ global position, America will have to do better. – The National Interest 


NASA sent $10 billion worth of delicate hardware screaming into the skies above French Guiana on Saturday, when it launched the James Webb Space Telescope at 7:20 a.m. ET. – Business Insider 

Airbus should be suspended from bidding for years, at least. Meanwhile, American companies will keep playing by the bidding rules and will keep delivering the made-in-America systems our country needs to keep citizens safe. – Washington Examiner 

The coming year will see the U.S. Air Force’s most anticipated new aircraft rollout in recent memory as the service debuts its next stealth bomber. – Defense News 

The U.S. Army awarded Northrop Grumman a $1.4 billion contract for both low-rate initial production and full-rate production of its future battle command system, according to a Dec. 23 Pentagon contract announcement. – Defense News 

The U.S. Space Force has awarded GEOST a $32 million contract modification for prototype space domain awareness payloads which will be hosted on a number of different satellites. – Defense News 

Long War

Burkina Faso’s government declared two days of mourning starting on Sunday after 41 people died in an attack by suspected jihadists in the troubled north. – Agence France-Presse 

The death toll from the suicide attack in the eastern city of Beni, on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern border with Uganda, has risen to seven, officials said Sunday. – Agence France-Presse 

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility for a blast that took place near the gate of a passport office in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on December 23. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty