Fdd's overnight brief

December 29, 2022

In The News


The soccer legend had been speaking up for months, telling Iran’s government to respond to its people’s demands, making himself one of the most prominent critics of its crackdown on the protests that have engulfed the country for more than 100 days. – New York Times

The Biden administration has embarked on a broad effort to halt Iran’s ability to produce and deliver drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, an endeavor that has echoes of its yearslong program to cut off Tehran’s access to nuclear technology. – New York Times

Canada, Britain, Sweden and Ukraine on Wednesday called on Tehran to settle a dispute over accountability and reparations for the downing of an airliner by Iranian forces nearly 3 years ago through arbitration under the rules of the 1971 Montreal Convention. – Reuters 

Italy’s foreign minister on Wednesday summoned Iran’s new ambassador to Rome to express his country’s concerns over the Iranian authorities’ crackdown on anti-government protests that have been underway for over three months. – Associated Press

Britain urged Iran on Wednesday to stop detaining dual nationals following the arrest of seven people with links to the United Kingdom, saying the practice should not be used to obtain “diplomatic leverage”. – Reuters 

Israeli officials worry that the U.S. shift away from pursuing the Iran nuclear deal may prove temporary and that the deal remains a key focus for the Biden administration, despite comments to the contrary from officials in the past two weeks, according to a recent report in the country’s media. – Fox News 

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned that the window for negotiations to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal “will not be open forever,” during a visit to Oman on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Executions carried out by the Iranian regime soared by 88 percent in 2022 compared with the previous year, a new report from an Iranian human rights organization has revealed. – Algemeiner

Apparently, according to Karimi-Ghodousi, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.S. have agreed in principle to close Iran’s Potential Military Dimensions (PMD) dossier and to guarantee the foreign investments that will be made in Iran after the nuclear agreement is signed, such that if the agreement fails again, these investments will not be harmed. These, he said, are the two main issues that remain unresolved in the nuclear negotiations. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Jason Rezaian writes: The Islamic Republic of Iran has tried its best to stop this kind of communication between activists inside and outside of the country, but we have to find ways to make these connections stronger, and get the direction from them. – Washington Post

Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Zachary Coles, Johanna Moore and Frederick W. Kagan write: Iranian security officials and entities attempted to declare an end to protest activity on December 28 despite ongoing acts of anti-regime defiance documented throughout the country. Iran’s deteriorating economic and energy conditions have the potential to further inflame anti-regime demonstrations. At least four protests occurred in four cities across four provinces. – Institute for the Study of War

Russia & Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine approaches 2023, Europe has never been as united against Vladimir Putin’s Russia—nor as dependent on the U.S. for holding the Russian leader back. – Wall Street Journal

A senior German intelligence officer arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia had access to a trove of top-secret information about the war in Ukraine as well as knowledge of how it was collected by the U.S. and its allies, Western officials say. – Wall Street Journal

As the battle for Ukraine turns into a bloody, mile-by-mile fight in numbing cold, Ukrainian and Russian officials have insisted that they are willing to discuss making peace. – New York Times

Ukrainian officials are optimistic that rolling power outages will not be necessary around the New Year holidays as crews work to repair the country’s power grid, which has been battered by Russian strikes. – New York Times 

Ship insurers said they are cancelling war risk cover across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, following an exit from the region by reinsurers in the face of steep losses. – Reuters

Ukraine’s recently liberated southern city of Kherson suffered intense mortar and artillery attacks from Russian forces across the Dnipro river, while the Kremlin rejected a Ukrainian peace plan, demanding that Kyiv accept its annexation of four regions. – Reuters

The Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace plan, saying that proposals to end the conflict in Ukraine must take into account what it calls “today’s realities” of four Ukrainian regions having joined Russia. – Reuters

Ukraine reported a fresh Russian missile strike on Thursday morning as blasts were heard in several cities which the authorities said came from air defence systems shooting down incoming missiles. – Reuters

Russia will not use Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s ‘peace formula’ as a basis for negotiations and believes Kyiv is still not ready for real peace talks, Russia’s RIA news agency cited Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Thursday. – Reuters

Italy’s defence minister struck a cautious tone on whether Italy would be able to supply Ukraine with air defence systems, as requested by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a continuation of a partnership with the investment management company BlackRock for rebuilding Ukraine from the ruins of war. He also said Ukraine would participate in next month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. – Washington Examiner 

Ukrainian officials are increasing their calls to establish a special tribunal to criminally prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin and target the core group of advisers and military officials they say are responsible for carrying out the assault on their country. – The Hill  

Donald Kirk writes: For that matter, how sure are we of peace in eastern Europe as Putin fantasizes extending Russian power over the former Soviet empire? He has encountered disasters in Iraq, but he’s not giving up the dream of a revanchist Russia under his rule or that of a successor. We’ll have to wait before celebrating victory in Ukraine. – The Hill 

Alexander J. Motyl writes: If 2022 is a guide to what’s to come in 2023, we should expect Ukraine’s battlefield victories to continue and for Russia’s domestic and international travails to increase. Since the Ukrainians have no choice but to fight for their nation’s survival, and the Russians do not, 2023 easily could become a repeat of 1917 — when a losing war, a collapsing economy, popular discontent, the ruler’s incompetence, and elite illegitimacy resulted in the end of Russia. Will Putin see his life’s work come crashing down? – The Hill   

George Barros, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Frederick W. Kagan write: Russian occupation authorities continue to restrict movement out of occupied areas. Ukrainian Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reported that Russian forces are enforcing a 24-hour curfew in settlements of the Vasylivka and Polohy raions of Zaporizhia Oblast. […]Russian occupation officials are continuing efforts to facilitate the bureaucratic, administrative, and economic integration of occupied areas of Ukraine into the Russian Federation. – Institute for the Study of War


Israel’s incoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, completed coalition deals on Wednesday, a day before he is set to return to power as leader of the most right-wing and religious government in the country’s history. – Wall Street Journal 

Senior lawmakers said they would investigate the government’s purchase and use of powerful spyware made by two Israeli hacking firms, as Congress passed a measure in recent days to try to rein in the proliferation of the hacking tools. – New York Times

Israeli forces killed more Palestinians in the West Bank in 2022 than in any year since the United Nations began systematically recording fatalities in 2005, after the last major Palestinian uprising. – Washington Post

Hundreds of U.S. rabbis have signed an open letter protesting Israel’s new hard-line government and pledging to block the most extreme Jewish nationalist members of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet from speaking in their congregations or organizations. – Washington Post

That Likud MK Yoav Gallant will be the next defense minister is not really news, seeing as it was leaked weeks ago. What could be news is whether Gallant entering the defense minister’s chair with a set of 12-year-old demons to exorcise could finally lead to the climactic war with Iran that many have predicted for a long time. – Jerusalem Post

In the eight weeks since the Israeli elections, there has been growing speculation that normalization between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might be back on the table. – Jerusalem Post

More than 100 former Israeli diplomats and ambassadors on Wednesday signed a letter to incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of damage to Israel’s global standing if the new government implements hard-right policies. – Times of Israel

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz told graduating air force pilots on Wednesday that they may participate in a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming years. – Times of Israel

Nadav Pollak writes: The bottom line is this: not far into the future, Iran will receive something in return for its indispensable military generosity toward Iran, and Russia will have many ways to return the favor that could impede Israel’s security. When the day comes, Israel will have limited means to respond to this new regional reality, so it must be prepared to the greatest extent possible. – Washington Institute


The United Nations said on Wednesday that some “time-critical” programs in Afghanistan have temporarily stopped and warned many other activities will also likely need to be paused because of a ban by the Taliban-led administration on women aid workers. – Reuters

Foreign ministers of 12 countries and the EU, including the United States and Britain, urged Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government on Wednesday to reverse its decision barring female employees of aid groups. – Reuters

A new Department of Defense (DOD) report found that the U.S. military bases that housed Afghan evacuees suffered $260 million in damages, with the Air Force saying the damage was “unrepairable.” – Fox News


Turkey’s defense minister and intelligence chief held talks with their Syrian counterparts in Moscow on Wednesday, the first formal, high-level meeting between the two Middle East governments since the eruption of a civil war in Syria in 2011. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Those countries themselves also need to think carefully about their own position. Defending their economic interests and calling out western double standards is fair enough. But unchecked aggression by Russia and China would eventually also threaten the interests of middle powers such as Turkey, Indonesia, India and the Gulf states. That, too, is a lesson that needs to be absorbed. – Financial Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Ankara’s goal is to create demographic and political change along the border. This would then enable Turkey to sign a deal with Damascus and get rid of the Syrian rebel groups, after having used them and sent them back. There are thorny issues. The extremist group HTS occupies Idlib and plays an increasing role in Afrin. How can Ankara hand over HTS areas to the regime without a new crisis? This will be on the agenda in Moscow. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

European investigators will visit Lebanon in January as part of a cross-border probe into alleged fraud by Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh to the detriment of the Lebanese state, three judicial sources said. – Reuters 

Drones are useful for surveillance, targeted pinpoint strikes, harassment and strikes on vulnerable targets or infrastructure; the next era of the drone war awaits. Countries like Israel need to pay attention to developments from these various frontlines to see how countries like Iran may try to use drones in a new way in the future. – Jerusalem Post

Jordanian King Abdullah II has warned the incoming Israeli government not to cross Jordan’s “red lines” with regard to Jerusalem’s holy sites, while expressing concern over the potential for a massive outbreak of Palestinian unrest. – Times of Israel

Roudi Baroudi writes: For parties to maritime disputes worldwide, the Lebanon-Israel agreement offers proof that even sworn enemies can find mutually acceptable outcomes on at least some of the issues that divide them. – The Hill  

Following the revelation of the bomber’s identity, jihadis on Telegram commented. Supporters of ISIS highlighted the attacker’s affiliation with the organization and noted the deadliness of the operation, claiming that only ISIS, and not rival Palestinian and Iran-backed groups, perpetrates such lethal attacks against Israel. A pro-Al-Qaeda channel similarly accused Iran-backed Palestinian groups of having falsely appropriated the attack, while refraining from mentioning Froukh’s support for ISIS. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Korean Peninsula

But this week, North Korea was able to shake the steely nerves of many South Koreans using a weapon much cheaper and less sophisticated than a nuclear warhead. – New York Times

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered a revamp of the military’s response to objects violating its airspace, his office said on Thursday, after an intrusion by North Korean drones exposed its difficulty in shooting down small aircraft. – Reuters

Kim Jong Un in 2022 fired off missiles at a record pace, lowered the threshold for using nuclear weapons and thumbed his nose at global sanctions. He’s likely to turn up the heat even more in the coming year. – Bloomberg 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) this week announced it has banned imports from three companies the agency said use North Korean labor in their supply chains. – The Hill  


The U.S. is concerned about the rapid spread of the virus that causes Covid-19 in China, which increases the potential for new variants, health officials said Wednesday. […]Countries including Japan and Malaysia have also recently imposed restrictions on travelers from China. – Wall Street Journal

While the U.S. has sought to persuade countries to reduce their dependence on China, trade ties between the world’s second-largest economy and the rest of Asia are deepening as economies grow and companies refashion supply chains. – Wall Street Journal

Will 2023 be the year America finds ways to break the unholy alliance between Communist China and revanchist Russia? On the face of it, undermining the Sino-Rus axis seems like a mission impossible. Both countries are ruled by authoritarian strongmen, and they are united by their desire to replace the American-led world order with their own model. – New York Sun

China’s government criticised Taiwan on Wednesday for seeking to use the Taiwanese people as “cannon fodder” by extending compulsory military service from four months to one year starting in 2024. – Reuters 

Editorial: The Administration’s testing mandate for Chinese travelers won’t take effect for another week, by which time tens and perhaps even hundreds of millions more Chinese will be infected, some of whom will already have flown to the U.S. or other countries. A Shanghai hospital predicted that half of the city’s 25 million residents will be infected by the end of this week. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Beijing had nearly three years to prepare for the inevitable end of zero-Covid, and it could have done so by buying Western vaccines, antivirals and even basic fever medicines that are also now in short supply in China. This month’s Chinese protests questioned President Xi’s zero-Covid lockdowns. The next protest should question why so many Chinese are needlessly dying because the Party followed Mr. Xi’s blinkered nationalism. – Wall Street Journal


Australia has approved a request to extradite former U.S. Marine Corps pilot Daniel Duggan to the United States where he faces charges of money laundering and breaking U.S. arms control laws, the Attorney-General’s Department said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Japan, the world’s top liquefied natural gas (LNG) importer, is facing its latest challenge in securing vital gas supplies from Russia after Western reinsurers said they would halt marine war insurance for ships travelling in Russian waters from Jan. 1. – Reuters 

The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of an anti-tank mine-laying system to Taiwan amid the rising military threat from China. – Associated Press

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will raise the territorial dispute in the South China Sea and pursue energy cooperation when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing next week.  – Bloomberg 

Pakistan’s army said it will act against terrorists and eliminate the “menace,” signaling a military operation against the local offshoot of the Afghan Taliban that has resumed attacks across the South Asian nation. – Bloomberg 

With China refusing to rule out military force to take control of Taiwan and with the cross-strait military balance tilting toward Beijing, the islands are in an increasingly precarious position. – Business Insider 

Ethan Kessler writes: But if Taiwan is to follow up with further progress—including more investments in asymmetric weapons and a well-trained reserve force—it must continue chipping away at its longstanding aversion to thinking about war. For peace to prevail, Taiwan’s interest in meeting its defensive needs must exceed America’s. – Wall Street Journal

Tony Barber writes: As the tsarist takeover of central Asia proceeded by leaps and bounds in the 1860s, Prince Alexander Gorchakov, Russia’s foreign minister, observed in a minute circulated to other European powers that “the greatest difficulty consists in knowing how to stop”. These days, Russia’s greatest problem may be how to maintain the regional influence it has enjoyed for well over a century. – Financial Times


Exxon Mobil Corp. said Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit against European Union authorities over the bloc’s decision to impose a windfall levy on energy companies’ high profits triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Kosovo Serbs who have been blocking roads in northern Kosovo for 19 days have agreed to start removing barricades from Thursday morning, bowing to calls by the United States and European Union to defuse tensions. – Reuters

The Kremlin on Wednesday said it supported Serbia’s attempts to protect ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo but denied Pristina’s accusation that Russia was somehow stoking tensions in an attempt to sow chaos across the Balkans. – Reuters

The US and the European Union called for an immediate end of tensions in northern Kosovo, where local Serbs have confronted predominantly ethnic Albanian authorities with road blockades and protests for more than two weeks. – Bloomberg 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an annual address to his parliament on Wednesday pushed for the country to join the European Union. – The Hill  

 Alan Baker writes: By the same token, it is high time that Israel’s government take a far more assertive role in clarifying to the EU and its member states that the anti-Israel fixation of its staff and its actions in undermining Israel’s legitimate authority and jurisdiction in Area C will no longer be tolerated and must cease. – Jerusalem Post


It’s been more than a year since jihadis first stormed Igor Kassah’s town in northern Benin but the priest still lives in fear. His once peaceful life is now marked by threatening phone calls and Islamic extremist diatribes tacked on church doors demanding that people leave. He is haunted by the bodies he has seen of those killed in the attacks. – Associated Press

Rwanda’s government said on Wednesday that a fighter jet from Democratic Republic of Congo briefly violated its airspace, the latest accusation to fly between the two countries whose relations have frayed this year. – Reuters

Eleven people were sentenced to life in prison in Ivory Coast on Wednesday after being convicted of carrying out an Islamic extremist attack that killed 19 people and injured dozens more on a tourist beach nearly seven years ago. – Associated Press

The two opposing sides signed a peace agreement last month, which includes the restoration of services to Tigray, and the resumption of flights on Wednesday is the latest in tht process. – Reuters 

Latin America

Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is at the end of his rope, leaving Washington with no alternative in its bid to find a suitable alternative to the country’s dictator, Nicolas Maduro.  Mr. Guaido’s colleagues in the opposition’s legislative caucus voted to end his interim government last week. A second session, likely to confirm the vote, is scheduled for Thursday. – New York Sun

The armed forces of Colombia and Ecuador on Wednesday signed an agreement to implement a plan to contain drug trafficking and organized crime on their shared border, authorities in both countries said. – Reuters

The Spanish government has appointed a new ambassador to Venezuela, signalling a thaw in relations that comes two years after Madrid vacated the post to protest over what it said was the absence of free elections in the Caribbean country. – Reuters  

Pankaj Mishra writes: In reaction, a cornered right is likely to become even more intransigently radical, ramping up its culture wars. Those celebrating the return of the West in 2022 ought to turn their focus to what’s likely to be the main event of next year: how, after years of ideological confusion and stalemate, the real battle for hearts and minds will be led by a freshly reconstructed left. – Bloomberg


Twitter Inc suffered a major outage on Wednesday, leaving tens of thousands of users globally unable to access the popular social media platform or use its key features for several hours before services appeared to come back online. – Reuters

The U.S. military is paying tens of millions of dollars each year above set compensation rates to keep sought-after cyber experts onboard and engaged on the digital front lines, according to a federal watchdog. – Defense News

Reid Blackman writes: So I am not convinced we are really getting more freedom and “for the people by the people” by way of our technology overlords. Instead, we have a technologically driven shift of power to ideological individuals and organizations whose lack of appreciation for moral nuance and good governance puts us all at risk. – New York Times


The Army plans to field in 2023 a rifle and light machine combination that will replace the standard issue M4 carbine and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon for its close combat force. – Defense News

The next year could prove pivotal for the Army’s most elite forces, as ongoing experiments with force structure and how to best integrate technical expertise at the tactical level could reshape the way the service’s special operations look and fight. – Defense News

The US military will have a “transformative” year in Asia in 2023, a top defense official said this month, continuing the Biden administration’s efforts counter what US officials say is China’s destabilizing influence on the region’s security. – Business Insider

Michael Rubin writes: Indeed. It is hard to imagine what the Greatest Generation or, indeed, nearly anyone who fought to preserve the liberal order would think of such reticence to win. – American Enterprise Institute