Fdd's overnight brief

December 9, 2021

In The News


The Biden administration is moving to tighten enforcement of sanctions against Iran, according to senior U.S. officials, the first sign of Washington increasing economic pressure on Tehran as diplomatic efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal falter. – Wall Street Journal 

A growing cadre of former Israeli security officials are publicly faulting their government for opposing the nuclear deal negotiated in 2015 between Iran and world powers, and warning that economic sanctions on Iran are not deterring it from developing a bomb. – Washington Post 

U.S. and Israeli defense chiefs are expected on Thursday to discuss possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities should diplomacy fail and if their nations’ leaders request it, a senior U.S. official told Reuters. – Reuters 

British foreign minister Liz Truss urged Iran on Wednesday to sign up to the 2015 nuclear deal, saying it was “the last chance” to do, just a day before talks were expected to resume. – Reuters 

Russia shares Israel’s view that Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East, former National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat said on Wednesday, adding that Moscow’s position on Iran is closer to Israel’s than “what is publicly exposed.” – Haaretz 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: This doesn’t mean they back Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. They want to build a multi-polar world and Iran is a key to their goals. They want to use Iran to distract the US and use it as a kind of blocking tackle running interference and blackmailing the West. – Jerusalem Post 


In 2017, researchers at Syrian human rights group Mnemonic were faced with a huge mountain to climb. They had more than 350,000 hours of video that contained evidence of war crimes, ranging from chemical attacks to the use of banned munitions, but they could never manually comb through them all. – Financial Times 

Less than 50 civilians have been killed in Syria during Israel’s eight-year-long war-between-wars campaign targeting Iranian military infrastructure, making it one of the most surgical offensives ever, Airwars has found in a new report. – Jerusalem Post 

In an unexpected move on November 15, 2021, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued a decree abolishing the position of Syria’s Grand Mufti, which has always been held by a member of Syria’s Sunni majority, and transferring his powers to the Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Council, subordinate to the Ministry of Religious Endowments. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


Turkey is ready to mediate between Ukraine and Russia to avert an escalation over the massing of Russian troops on the border of the east European nation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. – Bloomberg 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to ignore calls by Europe for the release of jailed businessman Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas. – Bloomberg 

With prices at Turkish grocery chains rising almost on a daily basis, consumers and supermarket workers are venting their anger on social media, as opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan grasp an opportunity to further dent his popularity. – Bloomberg 

Turkey will improve its relations with Israel if it moves toward peace with the Palestinians, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett plans to proceed cautiously when it comes to the possibility of warming ties with Ankara after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly expressed hope for a rapprochement. – Jerusalem Post 

Russia plans to deliver another batch of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Turkey, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week. – Jerusalem Post 

Turkey has chosen an American-made engine for its future fighter jet TF-X, but the country will also work with Russia to locally produce aircraft parts, according to Turkey’s top procurement official. – Defense News 


A significant majority of Jewish Israelis, 58%, would support a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities even without a green light from Washington, according to an Israel Democracy Institute report published Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that Israel should not rely on the US when it comes to Iran, as the nuclear talks falter and Israel more urgently sounds alarm bells about Tehran’s program. – Times of Israel 

The Israel Defense Forces will hold a large-scale exercise over the Mediterranean in the spring with dozens of aircraft simulating a strike against Iran’s nuclear program, the military confirmed Thursday. – Times of Israel 

Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned on Wednesday that the PA would make unilateral diplomatic moves if Israel continues its current policy on the Palestinian issue. – Arutz Sheva 

The Palestinian Authority’s “foreign ministry” on Tuesday welcomed the US pressure to prevent Israeli construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot. – Arutz Sheva 


Lebanese authorities freed Wednesday a freelance American journalist who was detained in Beirut last month. The release came just hours after two international human rights groups called her detention arbitrary and demanded that she be set free. – Associated Press 

Lebanon relaxed labor restrictions on Palestinian refugees on Wednesday, allowing them to work in trade-union regulated professions, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency. – Jerusalem Post 

Zach Coles writes: Saudi Arabia’s accelerating pressure campaign against the Lebanese government threatens to weaken Lebanese Hezbollah’s voter support and influence within the country’s governing coalition prior to the 2022 election. An unfavorable election outcome for Lebanese Hezbollah could fragment the March 8 Alliance political coalition it controls. In addition to buttressing domestic support and consolidating control over the March 8 Alliance, Lebanese Hezbollah may pursue kinetic operations against Saudi targets to erode Riyadh’s resolve. – Institute for the Study of War 

Saudi Arabia

The arrest of a man previously believed to have been a suspect in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Wednesday. The man was released from detention after “thorough checks,” authorities said. – Washington Post 

Editorial: The Senate vote was 30-67 against the resolution by Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Bernie Sanders, who seem to think the world will be a kinder, gentler place if the U.S. abandons its friends in a fight. The truth is that it’s sure to get worse, and in very bloody ways, if the U.S. won’t even supply its friends with the ammunition to defend themselves. – Wall Street Journal 

Nikolay Kozhanov writes: Riyadh’s stance reflected the usual approach of the Saudi leadership, which is traditionally particularly sensitive to oil prices and reacts strongly to any threat that they might fall or destabilize. However, this time around OPEC+ ended up making a decision that the Saudis might not have initially wanted: to stick to its policy of gradually increasing production and the planned January rise. – Middle East Institute 

Gulf States

Iraq’s national security adviser Qasim al-Araji said on Thursday the U.S-led international coalition has ended its combat mission in Iraq and withdrawn from the country, according to the state news agency INA. – Reuters 

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia stressed the need to ensure that Lebanon “will not be a starting point for any terrorist acts,” pointing specifically to Hezbollah, and expressed support for a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem, in a joint statement at the end of a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is in Qatar on Thursday for the first time since the kingdom rallied other Arab states to end their yearslong rift and embargo on the small Gulf state. – Associated Press 

James M. Dorsey writes: In the final analysis of a values-driven US foreign policy, hard-line realists will argue that backing down on rights produces tangible results. Yet, the United States’ selective and opportunistic emphasis on rights and values in Iran may have been one factor that inspired the Islamic Republic to engage with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. – Algemeiner 

Middle East & North Africa

After years of looking abroad for answers, countries in the Middle East now appear to instead be talking to each other to find solutions following two decades defined by war and political upheaval. – Associated Press 

France’s top diplomat sought to smooth over a months-long crisis with Algeria that stirred up colonial-era tensions, paying a visit Wednesday to Algiers, where the countries agreed to resume cooperation toward peace in Libya and on other international issues. – Associated Press 

Libya is set to hold its first ever presidential election on Dec. 24 as the OPEC member tries to turn the page on almost a decade of conflict since the overthrow of strongman Moammar Al Qaddafi. – Bloomberg 

Ben Fishman writes: To address these contradictions and the Middle East’s general democracy gap, the United States should develop consistent messages on reform objectives over the next year, helping its regional partners focus initially on protecting free speech, dissidents, and civil society. Washington should also evaluate democracy assistance programs and expand them appropriately. And when the second Summit for Democracy convenes, the goal should be to include more than one Arab state. – Washington Institute 


The People’s Bank of China has never been politically independent like a Western central bank, but it has nonetheless enjoyed a special status in the nation’s economic hierarchy. Now, President Xi Jinping’s shake-up of China’s financial sector is stripping that away. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.K. and Canada on Wednesday joined a widening diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing concerns over China’s human rights record. – Wall Street Journal 

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to ban most imports from the Xinjiang region in China over concerns that goods were made there through the use of forced labor, as Western nations continue to confront Beijing’s crackdown on ethnic minorities in the area. – Washington Post 

China’s factory-gate inflation ebbed in November after hitting a 26-year high, which economists say will give policy makers more room for easing to bolster a slowing economy. – Wall Street Journal 

A Hong Kong court found three prominent pro-democracy activists guilty on Thursday over an unauthorised assembly on June 4 last year to mark Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square. – Reuters 

With President Joe Biden hosting leaders of democratic nations this week for a summit that includes Taiwan, China has gone into overdrive seeking to convince the world the Communist Party actually operates a superior democracy. – Bloomberg 

Australia, Britain and the United States will pay a price for their “mistaken acts” after deciding not to send government delegations to February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters 

China has told multinationals to sever ties with Lithuania or face being shut out of the Chinese market, a senior government official and an industry body told Reuters, dragging companies into a dispute between the Baltic state and Beijing. – Reuters 

The United States will on Friday put Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime on an investment blacklist, the same day it prices its Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO), the Financial Times reported, citing three people familiar with the decision. – Reuters 

Editorial: The decision to boycott such an important sporting event would not be easy on the athletes who have spent years in preparation for the Olympics. But their feelings cannot be put before the reality of genocide. China’s atrocities cry out to heaven, and it keeps committing them without any signs of regret or hesitation. – Washington Examiner 

Dennis Kwok and Charles Mok write: Under Chinese security laws, the definition of national security is broad and vague. The laws purport to cover all key industries, culture, infrastructure, cybersecurity and data. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the country is increasingly obsessed with national security. Even a film or a children’s textbook could be a threat to national security. – Wall Street Journal 

Adam Minter writes: China is likely to take a similarly symbolic approach to the diplomatic boycott. For now, it can’t afford to alienate American broadcasters and global sponsors. It certainly can’t risk cutting off its athletes from world-class training and competition. For China, the games must go on. – Bloomberg 

Minxin Pei writes: Alternatively, China could try to improve its international standing with strategic retrenchment. A dramatical curtailment of its controversial activities in the South China Sea, including harassment of Vietnamese and Philippine fishermen, might help repair its tarnished image. Replacing “wolf warrior” rhetoric with a diplomatic charm offensive might also send a positive signal to the rest of the world. – Bloomberg 

Clara Ferreira Marques and Matthew Brooker write: Democracy’s flaws have always been there. Winston Churchill called it the worst system except for all the others. What China is proclaiming, though, is not an alternative form of democracy, but an autocratic alternative to democracy. And one that must be countered with action. – Bloomberg 

Robert Zoellick writes: Proponents of disengagement in Washington may get their wish because of China’s reactions. Biden will have to decide whether such a course best serves US interests as a world leader and makes America safer. – Financial Times 

Desmond Lachman writes: Further clouding China’s long-term economic growth prospects are President Xi’s recent clampdown on the country’s high-tech sector and the pursuit of his Common Prosperity Program. Those measures appear to be rolling back at least in part Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of the late 1970s that underpinned the country’s economic miracle. And they appear to be doing so at precisely a time that China’s earlier one-child policy is causing a secular decline in the country’s labor force. – The Hill 

Peter Brookes and John Venable writes: The United States could—and should—quickly catch up with Chinese and Russian advances in offensive hypersonic weapons. It is an important undertaking for both conventional and strategic stability in a time when there are growing questions about U.S. leadership in the world. – Heritage Foundation


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lost an appeal against his conviction last year on charges related to his role in one of the world’s largest financial scandals, dealing a setback to the disgraced ex-leader amid a resurgence of his political clout. – Wall Street Journal 

A top American defense official said strengthening Taiwan’s ability to defend itself is an “urgent task” for the U.S. as China engages in destabilizing and “intentionally provocative” actions toward the self-governing island. – Bloomberg 

The U.S. has ordered an arms embargo on Cambodia, citing deepening Chinese military influence, corruption and human rights abuses by the government and armed forces in the Southeast Asian country. – Associated Press 

The Philippines’ Supreme Court said on Thursday parts of a anti-terrorism law passed last year were unconstitutional, in a decision hailed by one of its opponents as a “partial victory”. – Reuters 

One of the most prolific Russian-speaking ransomware gangs has claimed credit for a weekend attack on an Australian electric utility serving millions of people. – Reuters 

Representatives from Turkish and Qatari private sectors will hold talks to run the airport in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said. – Hurriyet Daily News 

Nearly 100 former British Council staff employed to teach British values and the English language remain in hiding in Afghanistan after having so far been refused the right to come to the UK by officials. – The Guardian 

The United States and Japan are already close military allies, but those ties could become even tighter in coming years as the two nations explore more opportunities to cooperate on defense research and development. – National Defense 

Azeem Ibrahim writes: If democracy is to have a future in Myanmar, it is this new generation that will bring it to the country. If they succeed, they will go down in history as the architects of a new era in the life of Myanmar — while Aung San Suu Kyi’s term in office will quietly fade into history as a brief and failed experiment in collaboration with tyrants. – Washington Post 

Joel Gehrke writes: Ratner’s comments underscore the possibility that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would bring People’s Liberation Army forces into conflict with the U.S. military, but he opined that an explicit pledge to intervene “would not meaningfully strengthen” American efforts to deter China from launching such an assault. Nevertheless, the hearing showcased bipartisan agreement that the conquest of the island by China would “significantly damage vital U.S. interests and alliances in the Indo-Pacific,” as a senior Republican put it. – Washington Examiner 


Since at least October, Russian military movements near the Ukrainian border have been prompting worries among U.S. and European officials about the possibility that Moscow is preparing to launch a large-scale offensive in Ukraine early next year. The White House believes Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t made up his mind but is preparing his forces for the possibility of an operation — a suggestion the Kremlin has denied. – Washington Post 

President Biden said Wednesday he hoped to convene meetings between Russia and NATO allies to discuss Moscow’s troop buildup along the Ukrainian border, and ruled out the unilateral use of U.S. force if Russia invades its neighbor. – Wall Street Journal 

Now, with Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s border, the White House national security adviser has declared that President Biden looked Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in the eye this week “and told him things we didn’t do in 2014 we are prepared to do now.” – New York Times 

Moscow will host an inaugural meeting of a six-way South Caucasus peace platform on Friday, an idea proposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan following last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Germany would consider halting Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Europe, as part of a package of sanctions imposed on Moscow if it invaded Ukraine, according to people with knowledge of Berlin’s position. – Financial Times 

William Schneider Jr. writes: Finally, NATO should provide the frontline states with modern military capabilities. This modernization needs to go beyond Poland’s acquisition of F-35 aircraft and M1 Abrams tanks. NATO frontline allies need to be integrated into an effective deterrent. The future of the postwar security system could be at risk. The U.S. must act urgently to protect the states on the front line and restore deterrence in Europe. – Wall Street Journal 

Franklin D. Kramer writes: Deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine might be accomplished by the ongoing threat from the United States and allies of economic sanctions against Russia. But a military dimension that makes Russian success improbable could be the critical requirement in assuring that Ukraine remains a free and democratic nation. As the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance provides, “work[ing] together with our democratic partners, with strength and confidence, we will meet [that] challenge.” – The Hill 

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: In short, important as the measures President Biden and others have already taken to deter immediate Russian action in the Ukraine are, the U.S. and NATO need to look at the broader picture and see a potential strategic challenge that goes far beyond a single crisis. It is the broader patterns in Russian strategic competition that count, and continued political and gray area warfare with Russia now seem all too likely. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Ukraine presents NATO with a dilemma many years in the making — one the alliance, itself, helped create. […] With Ukraine a NATO partner but not a member, it does not benefit from NATO’s core principle, the commitment to collective defense, though Ukraine has sent troops to fight in NATO missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. – New York Times 

Germany’s new government is promising a tougher stance toward Russia and China, a change in mood music that will affect the rest of Europe, where Berlin has traditionally been the moderating voice and defined the center ground. – New York Times 

Two French warplanes and a refueling aircraft were being tracked on Thursday by two Russian fighter jets in international air space over the Black Sea, the second such interaction this week, the French army said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Israeli diplomats and Jewish groups on Wednesday welcomed the election of Olaf Scholz as Chancellor of Germany, officially marking the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure. – Algemeiner 

Editorial: Mr. Biden’s disavowal Wednesday of a “unilateral” U.S. troop deployment to Ukraine was true and not entirely new — aides had said it before — though it might have been better left unsaid by the president just now. The United States continues to arm Ukraine with defensive weapons and, together with European allies, still has enough leverage to keep the peace and to deny Mr. Putin tangible benefit from his threats. They must make smart and forceful use of it. – Washington Post 

Editorial: German industry — and, it should be noted, its European suppliers — have benefited enormously from China, not just its fast growth but increasingly its innovation. Nobody in Europe thinks decoupling is a good idea. But Merkel’s persistent faith in Wandel durch Handel — change through trade — proved to be misplaced. China has changed in the wrong direction. The new German government must adapt its foreign policy accordingly. – Financial Times 


Seven U.N. peacekeepers were killed and three critically injured when their vehicle was blasted by an improvised explosive device in central Mali on Wednesday, bringing the death toll of U.N. soldiers in the troubled west African nation to 19 so far this year. – Associated Press 

Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore fired his prime minister on Wednesday amid an escalating security crisis that has killed thousands and led to street protests calling for his ouster. – Reuters 

Joe Biden has nominated former Hewlett-Packard chief Meg Whitman to be US ambassador to Kenya, a high-profile diplomatic posting for the longtime technology industry executive and once-Republican candidate for governor of California. – Financial Times 

Three United Nations staff members were injured when their vehicle came under fire in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, their agency said. – Reuters 

The World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food distribution in Ethiopia’s Kombolcha and Dessie towns after looting of supplies that staff were unable to stop due to intimidation, including being held at gunpoint, the United Nations said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Sudan was unable to access $650 million in international funding in November when assistance was paused after a coup, the finance minister of the dissolved government said – a freeze that puts in doubt basic import payments and the fate of economic reforms. – Reuters 

Nosmot Gbadamosi writes: African governments have willingly accepted loans from Beijing because no accountability was required in return. African leaders could win elections thanks to the roads, ports, and railways promised to citizens. A white paper published before the forum reaffirmed China’s commitment to “no interference in African countries’ internal affairs.” But locals are increasingly protesting Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects because of resulting environmental problems in their communities. – Foreign Policy 

The Americas

President Biden is hosting a virtual gathering of more than 100 democratic governments meant to showcase the benefits of democracy over authoritarianism, though the list of invitees is already straining the effort. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States accused El Salvador’s government Wednesday of negotiating a secret pact with leaders of MS-13 and another gang under which the armed groups would cut back on bloody street killings and support the president’s party in midterm elections. – Washington Post 

American college campuses experienced anti-Israel activity and inflammatory rhetoric at the “highest rate in recent memory” during and after Israel’s May conflict with Hamas, according to a new report by Anti-Defamation League (ADL). – Algemeiner 

Jan-Werner Müller writes: Anxious for the gathering not to turn into a photo-op plus three-minute pontifications by a hundred leaders, Mr. Biden is asking invitees to make specific commitments to be checked on at another summit in a year’s time. Even if it’s hard to imagine Iraq, Angola or, for that matter, Poland taking steps to make current rulers feel more uncertain, the United States should lead the way by strengthening voting rights and making political power less dependent on money. – New York Times 

Edward Luce writes: For many foreign policy experts, pursuing more tangible goals such leading an urgent charge to vaccinate the world, could lift democracy’s brand and boost America’s leverage without needing to highlight democracy at all. Biden often says that democracy delivers better results than the alternatives. Detractors and supporters alike agree that the way to prove that would be by example. – Financial Times 


Congress has cut requirements for companies to share cyber threat information with the government from its must-pass defense bill, which passed the House last night and is expected to pass the Senate shortly. – Washington Post 

Chinese hackers, likely state-sponsored, have been broadly targeting government and private-sector organizations across Southeast Asia, including those closely involved with Beijing on infrastructure development projects, according to a report released Wednesday by a U.S.-based private cybersecurity company. – Associated Press 

Israel’s National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi) said on Wednesday that its website crashed because of a cyberattack. – Jerusalem Post 


The Biden administration is planning to award Medals of Honor to three U.S. soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to people familiar with the matter, a group that includes the first Black service member to be recognized with the nation’s top combat distinction for either conflict. – Washington Post 

The Army on Wednesday said it has approved Purple Heart awards for an additional 39 soldiers wounded in an Iranian ballistic missile strike nearly two years ago in western Iraq, a significant victory for troops whose brain injuries were downplayed by their commander in chief at the time, President Donald Trump. – Washington Post 

Although Saturday’s Reagan National Defense Forum had no shortage of concerned statements from senior military officials about potential Russian or Chinese aggression, details — or even hints — on what the Pentagon might do to deter or respond were hard to find. – Defense News 

The U.S. Defense Department is creating a new position to oversee its digital and artificial intelligence activities, with the hope the office will be able to drive faster progress in those areas and meet threats posed by China, according to a senior defense official. – Defense News 

Fear of failure is keeping the U.S. from developing weapon systems to keep up with China and Russia, the nominee for the number two job on the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Senate panel on Wednesday. – USNI News 

Dispatching the Navy’s Japan-based forward-deployed aircraft carrier to the Middle East earlier this year to bolster the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a major strategic error, a top lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee said today. – USNI News 

Long War

A court in Indonesia has sentenced an Islamic militant to life in prison after finding him guilty of making bombs for a 2005 market bombing that killed 22 people. – New York Times 

The trial of 10 men accused of involvement in bombing attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people in 2016 will begin in October next year, a Belgian court said Wednesday. Six of the suspects, including French-Moroccan Salah Abdeslam, are already on trial in France over the November 2015 Paris attacks. – Agence France-Presse 

France has charged two men aged 23 with terror offenses after arresting them over a jihadism-inspired plot to attack crowded public spaces with knives during the Christmas period, sources said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse