Fdd's overnight brief

December 29, 2021

In The News


The United States on Tuesday expressed caution over upbeat comments by Iran and Russia about talks in Vienna to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying it was still too soon to say if Tehran had returned to the negotiations with a constructive approach. – Reuters 

Talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal that have resumed in Vienna show some progress but it’s “far too slow,” a U.S. official said Tuesday. “Iran has at best been dragging its feet in the talks while accelerating its nuclear escalation,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a press briefing. “We have been very clear that that won’t work.” – Bloomberg 

Iran for the second time this year ordered a shutdown of authorized cryptocurrency mining centers as part of efforts to ease the strain on the country’s power plants and avoid blackouts, according to Mostafa Rajabi Mashhadi, director of the state-run Iran Grid Management Co. and a spokesman for Iran’s power industry. – Bloomberg 

Iranian officials renewed their demand for the lifting of U.S. sanctions at the outset of the eighth and “presumably final round” of talks to rehabilitate the 2015 nuclear deal. – Washington Examiner 

Nearly two years have passed since the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. […]His successor, Esmail Qaani, has sought to carry on Soleimani’s legacy, ensuring that the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) continues to carry out intelligence operations, terrorist plots, and unconventional warfare outside of Iran. – Iran News 

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration opened big-power talks this week in Vienna to determine whether steady advances to Tehran’s nuclear program render the landmark Iran nuclear deal “a corpse that cannot be revived,” as one senior U.S. official recently put it to reporters, or if there’s still a chance to salvage the accord. – Foreign Policy 

Jason Rezaian writes: For the one quality binding Iran and the U.S. are each government’s sense of exceptionalism. While that hubris has ebbed and flowed, at the moment the ignorance of the other that has been the hallmark of the non-relationship appears to be driving us closer to open conflict than ever before. Four decades of ignorance have led us to this standoff and the opportunities for breakthrough now appear slimmer than ever.  – Washington Post 

Bobby Ghosh writes: With negotiations to revive the JCPOA faltering, it is more than likely 2022 will witness its formal demise. This will leave the Biden administration scrambling to prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear threshold state, like Japan and South Korea, with the ability to quickly weaponize its uranium stockpile. – Bloomberg 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Now, as we approach 2022, the Iranian media is once again heralding Soleimani as a transformative figure who played a key role in the region. […]Clearly in terms of assets on the ground, Iran has a huge role from Lebanon all the way via Syria to Iraq and in Yemen. It also has a role in Gaza with Hamas. But Iran may be suffering from a bit of imperial overstretch, its economy is hungry for a reduction in sanctions and Iran has to decide if it wants to reduce its destabilizing activities and pivot to work with China, or if the Quds Force model is the only one it knows how to promote.   – Jerusalem Post 


Her departure from Kabul reminded her of some “zombie movie,” the young woman said. It was an experience she could describe only as “dehumanizing, terrifying and very traumatizing.” – Washington Post 

Washington and its allies touted the creation of female Afghan police and military units as one of the flagship accomplishments of the West’s effort to empower women in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition repeatedly publicized the achievements of female troops and police, despite the cultural sensitivities that pushed many of those women to keep their profession secret. Before the fall of the Afghan republic, there were around 6,300 women on the payroll of the armed forces and the police, around 2% of the total personnel. – Wall Street Journal 

A crowd of women marched through the Afghan capital on Tuesday, accusing Taliban authorities of covertly killing soldiers who served the former US-backed regime. – Agence France-Presse 

The Taliban has released the director of an Afghan television station two days after he was detained, the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) monitoring group said on December 28. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 



Israel’s continued war-between-wars campaign has led to a decrease in Iran smuggling weapons into Syria, according to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi. – Jerusalem Post 

The Israel Defense Forces believes it significantly curbed Iran’s ability to transfer weapons and equipment through Syria over the past year through its airstrikes, and plans to continue doing so in 2022, The Times of Israel has learned. – Times of Israel 

Firefighters contained a blaze that raged for hours in Syria’s port of Latakia on Tuesday, officials said, hours after Israel launched missiles from the Mediterranean Sea, igniting the fire in the container terminal. It was the second such attack on the vital facility this month. – Associated Press 


Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Monday that he will receive round-the-clock protection following threats of harm from extremist Israeli Jews. The news comes amid a sharp increase in attacks targeting Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, which Barlev had criticized in recent discussions with a visiting U.S. State Department official. His remarks drew the ire of right-wing politicians in the country, including members of the coalition government in which he serves. – Washington Post 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Wednesday that he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to strengthen economic and security ties. – Reuters 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Wednesday that Israel would implement a series of measures intended to prop up the indebted Palestinian Authority and ease Palestinians’ daily life. – Times of Israel 

Palestinian Authority security forces have foiled two attempts by Palestinians to set fire to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a PA security official confirmed on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voiced their dismay at last week’s majority vote at the United National General Assembly (UNGA) to fund a permanent, open-ended probe into alleged human rights abuses committed by Israel. – Algemeiner 

The Israeli military has presented the country’s political leadership with several possible scenarios for striking targets in Iran, but emphasized that it would be difficult to determine the outcome of such strikes or assess how it would affect Tehran’s nuclear program. – Haaretz 

Editorial: In the past decade, it has become clearer than ever that the Golan, strategically bordering Syria, must remain in Israeli hands. Its peaceful development is not only vital for Israel, but bolsters hopes for the entire region. – Jerusalem Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: It is one thing for Israel to attack Iranian nuclear facilities to slow down the nuclear program of the ayatollahs when no deal is in place – which may alternately annoy or (privately) please the US, depending on the overall impact on negotiations. But any attack once Iran’s nuclear progress is officially halted would be viewed by the Biden administration and the EU as warmongering, and could lead to actual diplomatic retaliation or even consequences in the areas of military and security sales and cooperation. – Jerusalem Post 

Akiva Eldar writes: As far as is known, the decision makers in Jerusalem, those who declaim that “all options are on the table,” did not consider the possibility that Iran would pull out the doomsday weapon: an overall agreement for nuclear demilitarization of the Middle East – including Israel – and acceptance of all the demands. It’s much sexier on television to show helmeted pilots talking about preparations for war. – Haaretz 

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen’s Houthi movement has detained two staff members of UNESCO and U.N. Human Rights since early November, the UN bodies said in a joint statement on Tuesday, calling for their immediate release. – Reuters 

Lebanon’s prime minister said Tuesday that his government’s talks with the International Monetary Fund are inching closer to a “final formula” for a draft on an agreement before the end of February. – Associated Press 

Police on Tuesday detained a man who wounded one person during a knife attack on a branch of a pro-Kurdish party in Istanbul, Turkish media reports said. – Associated Press 

Iraq’s supreme court upheld the results of the October election of Shiite Muslim cleric and possible U.S. ally Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday, rejecting an appeal filed by pro-Iran factions. – Fox News 

On November 22, 2021, on the periphery of the Expo in Dubai, Jordan, Israel and the UAE signed a letter of intent for cooperation in the spheres of solar energy and water desalination as part of combating climate change. […]The emerging agreement has therefore been dubbed the “Water-for-Energy deal. […]This report reviews the protest in Jordan against the emerging water-for-energy deal with Israel, and the attempts of elements in the establishment to thwart it. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Rebeccah Heinrichs writes: The Saudis and Emirates will not stop defending their interests from an aggressive Iranian regime. […]Further entanglement in the Middle East is something Americans rightly wish to avoid, and with a revanchist China, it is critical that we do avoid it. But the best way to avoid it is not simply abandoning the entire region. We must provide our allies and partners who share our strategic objectives with the necessary arms they need to defend themselves. Progressives and libertarians would do well to learn these lessons. – The Hill 

Jon Gambrell writes: The Mideast hasn’t rushed to embrace Taliban rule in Afghanistan and international recognition is still far off. The grinding civil war rages on in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition battles Iranian-backed rebels. In Lebanon, the Iran-Saudi rivalry threatens to tear the country apart even more as it faces what the World Bank described as the world’s worst financial crisis in 150 years. But the talking, for now, continues. And absent a major crisis that could draw America in again, those conversations likely will be where the deals get done. – Associated Press 


Stand News, one of the last independent news organizations in Hong Kong, was forced to cease operations Wednesday after police arrested six current and former executives in predawn raids, accusing them of a conspiracy to publish “seditious” material and freezing the company’s assets. – Washington Post 

Beijing’s criticism this month of SpaceX satellites is fueling anger against Musk, who had long been one of the most popular Western executives in China. The backlash included calls online Wednesday for sanctions against SpaceX and suggestions to boycott Musk’s electric carmaker, Tesla. – Washington Post 

China will take “drastic measures” if Taiwan makes moves towards independence, a Beijing official warned on Wednesday, adding that Taiwan’s provocations and outside meddling could intensify next year. – Reuters 

China has approved plans to build four mega clusters of data centres in the country’s north and west with the aim of supporting the data needs of Beijing and major coastal centres, according to the country’s top state planner on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Charles Lane writes: What’s really hurting the Olympics is continued cooperation with legitimacy-hungry repressive governments, greased by the billions of dollars from multinational corporations. – Washington Post 

Joseph Bosco writes: The world is left to hope during this holiday season that Beijing and Moscow are not planning a nightmare scenario with coordinated moves against Taiwan and Ukraine. As in the last century, only the likelihood of a serious Western military response can avert a worse scenario now or somewhere down the road. – The Hill 

James Stavridis writes: Despite all the tension and turmoil embedded in the U.S.-China relationship, it’s possible that 2022 may turn out to a bit of a breather. Over the next 10 months, President Xi Jinping has other fish to fry. […]Naturally, the underlying conditions in this relationship pose challenges. But given the confluence of the Olympics and the 20th Party Congress, a small window of opportunity will be open. The imminent arrival in Beijing of Ambassador Nicholas Burns, a top career diplomat (and former American ambassador to NATO), is propitious. He can help ensure that the next year is spent setting the conditions for better relations. – Bloomberg 

Carisa Nietsche writes: While the Digital Markets Act is not wrong to keep U.S. tech companies accountable, it is an opportunity for Europe to use antitrust and competition policy to recalibrate an approach to the China challenge that fits European perceptions and strengths. Europe shouldn’t miss this opportunity to address China’s market distorting behavior and to add another tool to its toolbox to push back on China’s anti-competitive behavior. – TechCrunch 


Imran Khan’s government is set to present Pakistan’s parliament with a series of unpopular austerity measures in an effort to resume a stalled $6bn IMF loan programme, risking a fierce political backlash at a time of deep economic pain. – Financial Times  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday condemned attacks by the Myanmar military last week that killed at least 35 people, including women, children and two staff members of the international aid organization Save the Children. – The Hill 

Kathrin Hille writes: Proponents of a clearer US commitment to Taiwan’s security see the new language as a sign of those changes and an attempt at deterring Beijing more effectively. Whether that will work is an open question: both countries have stepped up military activity around Taiwan as they exercise for a conflict and try to warn each other off. Chinese observers like Wu believe Ratner is stirring up new trouble in bilateral relations. Washington and Beijing therefore now bear immense responsibility in navigating the course ahead. – Financial Times 

Riley Walters writes: Many of the initiatives under the new Indo-Pacific economic framework are worth pursuing, such as coordinating the development, deployment and restricting of new technology, standardization and digitization, new infrastructure projects, energy diversification, and so on. And of course, our Asian partners will welcome as much U.S. spending in the region as they can get. But don’t expect those in Asia to get excited over a framework that is merely recycled and rebranded projects already ongoing in government. Asia wants more. America wants more. Trade liberalization must be a bigger component of any comprehensive economic framework. – The Hill 


A Russian judge dissolved one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious organizations dedicated to human rights on Tuesday, a move that government critics say furthers President Vladimir Putin’s assault on dissent. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia believes that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will get the necessary certification and eventually start working, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told RBC media on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Wednesday that OPEC+ group of largest oil producers has resisted calls from Washington to boost output because it wants to provide the market with clear guidance and not deviate from policy. – Reuters 

Abubakar Yangulbaev, a lawyer with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, told The Daily Beast that he had been “worried sick” by Christmas Eve as he struggled to get in touch with more than 30 members of his own family. – The Daily Beast  

Editorial: The dark past is returning. Mr. Putin’s security forces in 2020 attempted to assassinate the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who survived, and who is now approaching the first anniversary of his unjust imprisonment. Journalists, lawyers, activists and all of civil society in Russia are being crushed.[…]But what Mr. Putin underestimates is the resilience of ideas. He can try to knock down the walls of Memorial, but he cannot extinguish the memory of Soviet crimes, nor of today’s unfortunate return to despotism. – Washington Post 

William A. Galston writes: Now it is President Biden’s turn to be tested by the Russian leader, and the stakes are even higher. Russia’s troops are massed at the Ukrainian border, and they appear ready to invade as soon as the order is given. – Wall Street Journal  

James B. Foley writes: The irony for Republicans is that Vladimir Putin’s calculations likely lie closer to their own doorstep. Taking the extraordinarily risky step of invading Ukraine and threatening NATO would have to have been “Plan B” for the Russian leader. “Plan A” was Donald Trump’s reelection, which would have given him all that he covets without his having to lift a finger. […]Joe Biden thwarted Putin’s Plan A by getting himself elected president. To successfully counter Plan B, he would certainly benefit from bipartisan support. – The Hill 

Rebekah Koffler writes: Russian troops are primed to fight in the cold, as they always have been, and Putin likely believes the West won’t wade into the snow to help Ukraine. Emboldened by his ability to blindside the West, such as by previously invading Georgia and taking Crimea, and by extorting concessions from Joe Biden, Putin is positioning to outmaneuver Washington. Regretfully, the Biden administration’s “experts,” like Obama’s before them who fecklessly sought a “reset” with Russia, are likely to fall into Putin’s trap. – Fox News 

Chuck DeVore writes: America’s opponents – authoritarian Russia and a China ruled by the Chinese Communist Party – are both revanchist, that is, they seek to regain lost territory and status. And, if possible, to do so at a minimal cost. […]But the biggest immediate danger isn’t from a sidelined America pressed into an era of decline, but rather that Russia and China, seeing weakness and confusion, will overreach, miscalculating that the violence of their actions will cow America into inaction. – Fox News 


Turkey is ready to act as a mediator in Bosnia’s crisis and will do what it can to ensure stability, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday, amid concerns over separatist moves by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. – Reuters 

Poland hopes to make progress in negotiations with the new Czech government over the open-pit lignite Turow mine near the border, Poland’s prime minister said on Tuesday, referring to the most serious spat between the two European Union members in decades. – Reuters 

The European Union’s relationship with Switzerland could fall apart if negotiations over Switzerland’s place in the EU internal market fail, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, told Der Spiegel magazine. – Reuters 

The United States will finance projects including surveillance and monitoring equipment to strengthen Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus, amid continuing escalation with Moscow, Ukraine’s border service said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The EU’s trade commissioner has urged Chile’s incoming leftwing government, led by president-elect Gabriel Boric, to sign a deal with the bloc negotiated by the country’s rightwing predecessor. – Financial Times 

France is mad at America — and buying a US electromagnetic catapult for its new aircraft carrier: France is angry at the US over Australia’s decision to scuttle a $66 billion deal to buy French submarines. Instead, Australia opted to work with America and Britain to develop its own subs. Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped France from asking to buy a US electromagnetic catapult to launch aircraft from France’s next aircraft carrier. – 19fortyfive 

Editorial: Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed a controversial media law Monday following protests around the country and criticism from the U.S. This was the right call on economic and security grounds. […]The U.S. State Department deserves credit for making its opposition to the law clear without going overboard. This episode also provides a lesson for Poland’s Western European critics, whose attacks on Warsaw are often tinged with cultural condescension. Democracies can be more fragile than they appear. But reports about the death of Polish democracy have once again been greatly exaggerated. – Wall Street Journal 

Karolina Wigura and Jaroslaw Kuisz write: But it comes at a cost. The country’s growing isolation — which the government believes is a sign of Poland’s independence — is in fact opening it up to the influence of Russia, something officials are loath to admit. The situation in Ukraine hints at where that may lead. To stave off invasion, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has demanded, among other things, that NATO limit the deployment of troops in post-Communist countries, including Poland. The prospect of falling once again under Russian tutelage is grimly possible. – New York Times 

Tod Lindberg and Peter Rough write: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis recently described his country as a “canary in the coal mine.” America’s allies and partners around the world will study the U.S. commitment before choosing their own paths. As Vilnius feels the heft of Russian and Chinese power, U.S. and European credibility is on the line, in the form of an alliance guarantee. To back down under pressure would prove disastrous for Lithuania, and for the West’s global reputation. – Wall Street Journal 

Claude Barfield writes: The Biden administration kept Trump-era tariffs on steel and aluminum for a number of US allies, based on the false claim that US security was in danger. […]Though denied by both sides, a US government memo leaked to the Financial Times revealed that the US (i.e., Biden) was irritated at the UK government’s refusal to compromise with the EU on border and trade issues related to Northern Ireland. In particular, the US is supposedly concerned that the UK’s post-Brexit trading rules with Northern Ireland would “undermine peace in region.” – American Enterprise Institute 

Michael Shurkin writes: Americans should welcome a European awakening. First, unless we really are up for “dying for Kyiv,” Kyiv’s fate, and Europe’s, should not be up to us. Second, a strong Europe would make it easier for all of us to deter Russia. We would not have to commit as much of our own force, and Moscow would know it has to contend with more than one major power. – The Hill 


Gambia’s Supreme Court dismissed an opposition challenge of President Adama Barrow’s reelection earlier this month. Ousainou Darboe, who garnered 27.7% of the vote for the United Democratic Party, filed a legal petition accusing Barrow’s party of inducing voters with gifts ahead of the December vote. – Bloomberg 

Sudanese authorities said at least 38 people were killed Tuesday when a defunct gold mine collapsed in West Kordofan province. – Associated Press 

The biggest fear for the city’s residents is the approach of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab, which has long terrorised the country and wants to overthrow the government. Al-Shabaab fighters are just 70km from Guriel, say local and humanitarian officials, and have made gains in the semi-autonomous central state of Galmudug for the first time in a decade. – Financial Times 

Rebels from Ethiopia’s Tigray region are drawing on early Islamic history in an Arabic-language propaganda push to rally solidarity among Muslims online for their battle against the government. – Agence France-Presse 

Taciana Rusesabagina writes: If the U.S. relationship with Rwanda is strong enough to be deserving of financial and trusted cooperation, then it is strong enough to push for the release of my husband on humanitarian grounds. When searching for strength in quiet moments, I can’t help but recall watching my husband rise from his seat on the White House stage to approach President Bush, as the announcer said: “His life reminds us of our moral duty to confront evil in all its forms.” – Washington Post  

Bronwyn Bruton and Ann Fitz-Gerald write: Through his ambitious regional integration agenda, and with new electricity generated by the GERD, Abiy may be able to produce economic dividends great enough to not only rebuild the shattered north—including Tigray if its people choose to stay (and they may not)—but also satisfy the young population’s unmet hunger for opportunity. U.S. support will be needed to chart this difficult path. With economic growth based on inclusion and not ethnic segregation, Ethiopia may become a real bulwark of stability—one whose peace is based on inclusive prosperity, not bloody repression. – Foreign Policy 

United States

James Jay Carafano writes: The most interesting lesson from the last year may be that Biden’s fecklessness has made a case—not just to Americans, but to the free world—that maybe America First wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The U.S. is a global power with global interests and responsibilities. When we look after our own stuff, the whole world really is better off. People can debate whether they want Donald Trump back, but many folks at home and around the world would like to have his policies back. – Fox News 

Robbie Gramer writes: “The Biden administration, which is currently mulling over the best policy for managing this situation, must act now. At stake is the future of the Nile, a lifeline for millions of Egyptians and Sudanese,” Zahran writes.[…]Middle East policy experts Faysal Itani and Azeem Ibrahim warned that a financial collapse in Lebanon would fuel a new political and refugee crisis at Europe’s gates. […]It seems like all the legal and political drama surrounding the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union will never end. – Foreign Policy 


U.S. aviation regulators on Thursday expanded their warning about 5G service set to launch Jan. 5 on new frequencies, saying potential interference could have a broad impact on aircraft safety systems. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a Safety Alert for Operators warning that “a wide range” of aircraft safety devices could malfunction and laid out the process it will follow in coming days to potentially issue specific restrictions on flights. – Bloomberg 

In February, with the images of the violent insurrection in Washington still fresh in the minds of Americans, newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took the unprecedented step of signing a memo directing commanding officers across the military to institute a one-day stand-down to address extremism within the nation’s armed forces. – Associated Press 

A squadron from Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho has became the first operational unit to use the GBU-53/B StormBreaker smart bomb — a major step forward for the long-delayed small diameter bomb. – Defense News 

Several years ago, the U.S. Army embarked on a journey to modernize its tactical network using a multiyear strategy involving the incremental development and delivery of new capabilities to its integrated tactical network. Those capability sets now provide technologies to units every two years, each building upon the previous delivery. – Defense News 

Small business Platform Aerospace continued to set records in 2021 with its Vanilla Unmanned family of drones, but the company says it’s working to ensure it’s building a relevant warfighting platform, not just an aerospace novelty. – Defense News 

A U.S. carrier strike group is lingering in the Mediterranean Sea rather than journeying to the Middle East on orders from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, USNI News learned on Tuesday. – USNI News 

Long War

Turkish police detained 16 people accused of links to Islamic State on Tuesday after protesters used sticks and stones against security forces trying to shut down an unlicensed religious bookshop, the governor’s office said. – Reuters 

An explosion rocked the outskirts of a town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Tuesday which two sources familiar with the matter said was caused by Hezbollah detonating old munitions. – Reuters 

Hezbollah is reportedly deploying air defense systems in Syria, where it would be able to defend against Israeli airstrikes in Syria as well as Lebanon. According to the ALMA Research Center, the group is deploying the systems to the Qalmoun Mountains region northwest of Damascus which borders Lebanon’s Bekaa which is home to Hezbollah’s logistical and operational rear base. – Jerusalem Post