Fdd's overnight brief

December 28, 2021

In The News


A French tourist jailed in Iran since last year has begun a hunger strike to protest against mistreatment in prison, according to his sister and his lawyer. – Associated Press 

Negotiators trying to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal resumed discussions on Monday with the EU chair warning of “difficult” work ahead. – Agence France-Presse  

Negotiations to resurrect the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers are moving toward a state of limbo, meaning the likely outcome of the new round of talks in Vienna could leave the accord neither quite alive nor categorically dead. – Bloomberg 

Andrew England and Najmeh Bozorgmehr write: After Biden’s election, progress was made during six rounds of negotiations in Vienna in the first half of 2021 to salvage the deal. But after Raisi’s election, the talks stalled and with a new team of negotiators in place and Rouhani in the political wilderness, Tehran’s position hardened. […]Whether some form of the JCPOA survives will rest heavily on convincing the supreme leader that the US will stick to it. – Financial Times  

Zalman Shoval writes: Be this as it may, the current Israeli government will be well advised to continue the previous government’s policy of focusing its main security and diplomatic efforts on the campaign against Iran, even at the cost of putting other strategic objectives temporarily to one side – and continue the IDF’s preparations for any eventuality. – Jerusalem Post  


The Taliban have said Afghan women seeking to travel long distances by road should be offered transport only if accompanied by a male relative. – BBC 

Aref Nouri, the head of Afghanistan’s private Nourin television network, has been arrested by the Taliban authorities for unspecified reasons. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Vance Serchuk writes: At a time when many Americans have lost faith in their ability to change the world for the better, Albania’s leadership should be instructive. A quarter century ago, the U.S. successfully rallied the trans-Atlantic democracies to end the genocidal violence tearing apart the former Yugoslavia. Now the Western Balkans can help remind a demoralized West what principled world leadership should look like—and why it is still necessary. – Wall Street Journal 


Turkey has launched an investigation into hundreds of staff at the opposition-run Istanbul municipality accused of links to militant groups, drawing fierce criticism from the city’s mayor on Monday over the handling of the probe. – Reuters 

Turkey’s banking regulator has filed a criminal complaint against more than 20 people, including former central bank governors, journalists and an economist, over alleged attempts to manipulate the country’s exchange rate in a move that could chill criticism of the government’s unorthodox economic policies. – Financial Times  

Laura Pitel writes: Turkey’s soaring inflation means that Erdogan, the tech worker, insists that he is not “getting rich” despite his foreign currency salary. “I am keeping my purchasing power at the same level.” There are downsides to working from home, such as struggling to switch off at times. But he is happy at his company, a New York-based productivity start-up called KosmoTime, where he has worked since May as a product manager. As well as an attractive salary, it offers benefits such as trips to visit colleagues around the world.. – Financial Times 


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that Israel would not automatically oppose a nuclear deal with Iran but world powers must take a firmer position. – Reuters 

Israel is opposed to the re-opening of the United States’ consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset on Monday night. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel will be able to act independently even if world powers reach an agreement with Iran, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday, a day after negotiations for Tehran and Washington to return to the 2015 nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. – Jerusalem Post  

Editorial: As international order frays, the U.N. is focused on enlarging impotent bureaucracies and encouraging malevolent ideological campaigns. This will inflame Israeli opinion and do nothing to solve the conflict. The Biden Administration says it will oppose the new commission, but it ought to use it as a reason to exit the Human Rights Council and stop funding it. – Wall Street Journal 

Arabian Peninsula

Yemen’s Houthi rebels said Tuesday they have allowed the temporary resumption of UN aid flights into the capital Sanaa, a week after a halt due to Saudi-led coalition air strikes. – Agence France-Presse  

Saudi Arabia has delayed the launch of a major development strategy for the city of Riyadh up to 2030 until next year due to some “incomplete elements”, the state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Bobby Ghosh writes: For the Biden administration, any deepening of divisions between the Arab Gulf allies potentially weakens American pressure on Iran, as well as presenting a diplomatic headache in and of itself. And it would bode ill for the next GCC summit, in Oman, next year. – Bloomberg 

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq’s top court endorsed Monday the results of the country’s parliamentary election, in a setback for a powerful pro-Iran faction that paves the way for the formation of a new government. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel launched an air strike on the Syrian port of Latakia on Tuesday, setting ablaze the container storage area and damaging nearby buildings in a second attack on the facility this month, Syrian state media reported. – Reuters 

Syria said Monday that Israel’s plans to double the number of settlers living in Israeli-annexed Golan Heights are “dangerous and unprecedented” and only perpetuate its occupation of the territory. – Associated Press 

Lebanon’s president called Monday for an end to an 11-week deadlock that has prevented the government from convening, further undermining state institutions in the country amid an economic meltdown. – Associated Press 

Libyan lawmakers met Monday to discuss the myriad challenges that forced a postponement of the long-awaited presidential election this month. The postponement was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich North African country. – Associated Press 

Editorial: The Biden administration has held up the release of $130 million in military aid until Egypt ends this dubious proceeding and releases 16 unnamed political detainees. It might be that relative leniency for Mr. Bahgat and Mr. Zaki is Egypt’s way of meeting Washington’s conditions — at least in part. Even so, making a few exceptions to the generally repressive rule simply reinforces the Egyptian system’s lack of a clear and consistent rule of law. No dictator’s “strategy” can ever substitute for that. – Washington Post 

Neville Teller writes: Israel’s concentration on the threat from Iran has not, until recently, swayed US or most world opinion. It was considered more important to eliminate residual ISIS influence and activity in Syria, Iraq and, until its takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan. By reducing ISIS power and status, global terrorist activity that linked itself to ISIS would be inhibited. – Jerusalem Post 


U.S. officials said that Washington’s “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Olympics will remain in place, with no high-level official spectators, though there are plans to send consular and diplomatic security support staffers. – Washington Post  

Walmart Inc., the world’s largest retailer, became the latest Western company to face scrutiny over its handling of business involving Xinjiang, following the passage of a U.S. law that virtually bans all imports from the northwestern Chinese region over forced-labor and human-rights concerns. – Wall Street Journal 

Hong Kong prosecutors on Tuesday filed a “seditious publications” charge against jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai who already faces charges under a tough national security law that critics say has stifled freedoms in the Asian financial hub. – Reuters  

To help make China a self-reliant “technology superpower,” the ruling Communist Party is pushing the world’s biggest e-commerce company to take on the tricky, expensive business of designing its own processor chips — a business unlike anything Alibaba Group has done before. – Associated Press  

Xinjiang’s newly appointed leader pledged to maintain a focus on social stability in China’s far western region, where human rights practices have fed international criticism and boycotts. – Bloomberg  

The problems at the HKBA are common across Hong Kong’s civil society. Once a boisterous mix of interest groups, unions and more sober professional bodies, more than 50 organizations have announced their closure since the national security law’s introduction in June 2020. – Financial Times  

Hugh Hewitt writes: Rallying requires national security realism and a resolute bipartisan approach to the extraordinary challenge China poses. Our policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan needs clarifying. Our defense budgets must shift to sea, air and space more quickly, and we need to hear from a new generation of writers and public intellectuals equal to those who waged the first Cold War. Serious men and women need to lead the two great parties. We should hope our political battling never ends — it’s a central mark of our freedom. But it needs perspective. Now. – Washington Post  


India’s government said it would bar donations from foreign donors to a Christian missionary group founded by the late Mother Teresa, threatening an important source of funding for the group’s programs to help impoverished Indians. – Wall Street Journal 

The United Nations called for an investigation following reports that at least 35 people, including a child, were killed in a massacre by Myanmar’s military on Christmas Eve. Two workers for Save the Children, a humanitarian organization, remain among the missing. – Washington Post  

Japan’s defence minister Nobuo Kishi agreed to launch a military hotline with China next year, Japan’s government spokesperson said on Tuesday, citing recent talks between Kishi and his Chinese counterpart. – Reuters 

North Korea opened a key political conference Monday to review past projects and discuss new policies amid the pandemic and a diplomatic deadlock with the United States. – Associated Press  

The Philippines signed a deal to purchase two corvettes from Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., beefing up its defense capabilities in a region that has become more militarized due competing claims in the South China Sea. – Bloomberg  

Taiwan is bracing for more Chinese military patrols in 2022, after People’s Liberation Army incursions more than doubled this year, fueling concern about a clash between the region’s big powers. – Bloomberg 


Russia’s Supreme Court Tuesday ordered the liquidation of the country’s most prominent human rights organization, the International Memorial Society, in a decision that dismayed rights advocates. – Washington Post   

Russia has detained two allies of jailed Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny, a prominent opposition activist said on Tuesday, adding that they could face extremism charges that carry lengthy prison terms. – Reuters 

U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks on Jan. 10 to discuss concerns about their respective military activity and confront rising tensions over Ukraine, the two countries said. – Reuters 

An investigative journalist for the BBC’s Russian-language service in Moscow said on Monday that he had felt compelled to leave Russia for what he called “exile” in Britain due to what he said was unprecedented surveillance. – Reuters 

Moscow considers the threat of a new missile crisis as serious, the RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Monday amid a standoff between Russia and Western powers over Ukraine. – Reuters 

Russia will not drop a demand that NATO “be rolled back” to its 1997 boundaries, according to a senior Russian envoy, a requirement backed by the threat of “a large-scale conflict in Europe” arising out of Ukraine. – Washington Examiner 

Joey Roulette writes: Although cooperation on the space station could be extended, it would likely codify the final chapter in the civil U.S.-Russia space relationship, Mr. Weeden said. NASA is aiming to stimulate a market for privately built orbital research outposts that would eventually replace the space station, a move that could pluck one of the last strings binding the two partners together. – New York Times  

Tom Rogan writes: First, to prepare the Russian people for a new war in Ukraine and ensuing Western sanctions. Second, to warn that unless President Joe Biden accedes to concessions that Putin has demanded in relation to NATO and Ukraine, Russia will launch an attack. Russia has set an effective end of January deadline for acquiescence to these demands. Put another way, Putin is readying for war. – Washington Examiner 

Mark N. Katz writes: Russian intervention in Ukraine, then, is a high-risk, high-reward proposition for Putin. While he appears to appreciate what the rewards might be, he may not be paying sufficient attention to the risks. And even if he is right that the Western response likely would be ineffectual, Putin still may be underestimating the strength of resistance from inside Ukraine — and how this could negatively impact his own political strength inside Russia.  – The Hill  

Dmitri Trenin writes: Putin’s actions suggest that his true goal is not to conquer Ukraine and absorb it into Russia but to change the post-Cold War setup in Europe’s east. That setup left Russia as a rule-taker without much say in European security, which was centered on NATO. If he manages to keep NATO out of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and U.S. intermediate-range missiles out of Europe, he thinks he could repair part of the damage Russia’s security sustained after the Cold War ended. Not coincidentally, that could serve as a useful record to run on in 2024, when Putin would be up for re-election. – Foreign Affairs 

Ivana Stradner writes: As it was at the beginning of the Yugoslav wars or in the run-up to World War I, it can be difficult to persuade the world of the Balkans’ importance. In the 1990s, European countries failed to respond with sufficient urgency to the crisis, and the United States was forced to step in. This time around, however, it is the United States that has turned inward and is unlikely to intervene. So the burden will likely rest on the EU. Nothing less than Europe’s stability, and the continued vitality of the EU and the NATO alliance, is on the line. – Foreign Affairs 


Under pressure from the United States, the Polish president on Monday vetoed a controversial media law that was widely viewed as targeting an American-owned media outlet. – Washington Post  

Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, did not have to wait long after taking office to be asked about Nord Stream 2. An undersea Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, the project has inflamed anger in Washington and European capitals at a time when tensions with Moscow are running high. – New York Times   

Belarus’ authorities on Monday released a draft document proposing amendments to the country’s constitution that may allow authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to further cement his grip on power after months of mass protests and remain in office until 2035. – Associated Press 

Dozens of civilians have been joining Ukraine’s army reserves in recent months, as fears have mounted that Russia — which Kiev says has massed around 100,000 troops on its side of the border — is plotting to launch a large-scale attack. – Agence France-Presse  

The supreme commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, Gen. Micael Bydén, recently met in person with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief’s of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, to discuss the threat posed by Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border. – Defense News


A power struggle erupted in already volatile Somalia on Monday, with the president suspending the prime minister and the latter announcing he would assume the president’s duties, a battle that threatens to undermine the country’s fight against Islamist extremists. – Wall Street Journal  

Chinese lending stemming from President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative transformed economies across the developing world. Now, as bills are coming due in Uganda and elsewhere, attention is turning to how aggressively Beijing is enforcing contractual obligations even as it sometimes extends repayment periods. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States has said an attempt to suspend Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble was alarming and that it supported his efforts for quick and credible elections. – Reuters 

Authorities in eastern Congo announced an evening curfew and new security checkpoints Sunday, fearing more violence after a suicide bomber killed five people in the first attack of its kind in the region. – Associated Press 

Mali’s military-dominated government on Monday launched a four-day national forum on returning the country to civilian rule following the country’s August 2020 coup. – Agence France-Presse  

Ivory Coast will lay charges against all those who contributed to deadly civil unrest over the 2020 presidential election period, Public Prosecutor Richard Adou said. – Bloomberg

The Americas

The Nicaraguan government has seized the former embassy and diplomatic offices of Taiwan, saying they belong to China. – Associated Press 

Venezuela says it’s pumping the most oil since harsh U.S. sanctions strangled state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA more than two years ago. Not everyone believes it. – Bloomberg 

Carolina Jiménez Sandoval writes: Colombia’s international friends, especially the United States, should provide greater financial assistance for rural development and give more support to find the killers of social leaders and ex-combatants, and hold them accountable. […]Colombia’s many victims need to be able to stop feeling “tired and sad.” They deserve the chance to have their hopes fulfilled. – New York Times 

Salem Alketbi writes: Taking into account the military balance of power and other numerical indicators, as well as the gap between the US and its strategic adversaries, one can convincingly conclude that the intense struggle between the major international powers to set the new rules of the game in the post-coronavirus world may have already begun. In any case, its end is not in sight. – Jerusalem Post 


Crypto has been many things in its short history. 2021 was the year it became part of the mainstream. – Wall Street Journal  

Photography company Shutterfly announced this week that it had been hit by a ransomware attack that had impacted some services, making it the latest in a string of companies to be targeted by hackers looking for a payout. – The Hill 

Google was dethroned as the world’s most popular website in 2021. The tech giant was pushed into second place as TikTok took the No. 1 spot as the most popular website in 2021, according to cybersecurity company Cloudflare. – The Hill 

Editorial: Meta’s report tells regulators worldwide one thing they should already know, which is that spyware is a crisis demanding an international response — with know-your-customer rules and civil liberties assessments required of companies that want to hawk their services all over the globe. Legislation passed by Congress this month to require a State Department list of purveyors with a history of abetting human rights abusers is a start. Yet the investigation also tells these leaders something else: Stopping a hack also involves stopping everything that comes before it. – Washington Post 


President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, authorizing $768.2 billion in military spending, including a 2.7% pay raise for service members, for 2022. – Associated Press  

Even as Raytheon Missiles and Defense is building and installing its first SPY-6 radars, it’s also working with the U.S. Navy to add new functions to the radars with a software tool that would connect ships’ radars for an enhanced view of potential threats on the ocean. – Defense News  

Jonathan Falcon and Jonathan Panter write: The LCS program promised to do more and cost less. It ended up doing less and costing more, precisely because its operational premise did not appreciate the human element enough. Sailors are an organic part of a ship, not a cost burden. Until equipment can learn on its own, and repair itself, that will remain the case. – War on the rocks 

Peter Huessy writes: In that case, the ICBMs the United States maintains would be fully available for retaliation in a measured and considered action. The entire basis for the United States having a nuclear triad is that the United States has sufficient retaliatory capability to continue to deter Russia even if it rides out an attack and loses some of its ICBM forces. – The National Interest