Fdd's overnight brief

February 10, 2022

In The News


Prospects for a new but diminished Iran nuclear deal are increasing, prompting debate in Washington about whether an accord merits the compromises involved. Fitful negotiations on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Tuesday, with U.S. and Iranian officials saying an agreement could be within reach. U.S. officials are eyeing late February as an unofficial deadline for the talks although that could shift back a few days if negotiators were closing in on a deal, a senior diplomat said. – Wall Street Journal 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged US President Joe Biden not to return to the 2015 JCPOA Iran nuclear deal on their Sunday phone call, saying: “Nothing will happen if you don’t sign the deal with Iran,” a diplomatic source confirmed on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Biden administration believes it has until the end of February to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement, otherwise the US will have to change tack and launch aggressive efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, according to three administration officials. – CNN 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that talks with Iran have reached an urgent point. – Arutz Sheva 

Iran will continue advancing its ballistic missile programme, the country’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri was quoted as saying by Iranian semi-official Tasnim news agency on Wednesday. – Reuters 

The talks between Iran and the world powers that signed the nuclear agreement in 2015 (the JCPOA) entered the final stretch in Vienna this week. While even at this point it is impossible to predict whether the talks will succeed and the United States will return to the deal, one thing is already striking: the near-silence from Jerusalem at the prospect. – Haaretz 

Israeli government experts believe that a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran will set the amount of time Tehran needs to produce the amount of highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear bomb to four to six months, a senior Israeli official told me. – Axios 

Top Biden administration officials warned senators on Wednesday that Iran could produce enough material for a nuclear bomb in as little as two months, bolstering lawmakers’ concerns that the window for a diplomatic solution is rapidly closing. – Politico 

Iran’s oil exports increased 40 percent in 2021 to more than 417.7 million barrels, compared with the previous year. The price of oil almost doubled in that time and is now about $70 a barrel. Conclusion: Iran’s revenues from oil sales soared in the past year to about $25 billion. This wad of cash is one of the reasons it has been procrastinating in recent months during negotiations with the five world powers (and the United States as a behind-the-scenes participant) over whether to proceed with the nuclear deal. – Haaretz 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: There are questions on whether Iran’s name for the missile is meant to conjure up old Islamic battles and influence public opinion in the region. The Islamic Republic may be trying to openly or subconsciously reference an ancient battle between Muslims and Jews, as a way of trying to assert that modern-day Iran is the current incarnation of the early Muslim period, the “true Islam” in this sense, and that it is fighting “the Jews.” It is doing this without openly saying so, because Iran’s regime pretends it is not antisemitic, even when it issues antisemitic dog whistles. – Jerusalem Post 


Conditions placed on aid to Afghanistan in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taliban will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis crippling the country, advocates told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Wednesday. – The Hill 

Alex Zerden and Jacob Kurtzer write: The international community is not going to be able to reach the tens of millions of Afghans who are at risk. Bulk food deliveries will not solve this problem. We should focus our attention on unlocking the power of the Afghan private sector. Despite its challenges, it has been effective in provisioning supplies in a market-based way for decades if not many hundreds of years. This is the route to help most Afghans who are most at risk right now. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Mohamed Mokhtar Qandil writes: Despite the power that the Islamic State demonstrated in Khorasan, it unlikely that the movement will be able to plan or launch attacks on distant targets.  However, if ISIS-Khorasan succeeds in controlling more territories in Afghanistan and recruiting elements who resent Taliban, it will be tantamount to reviving the organization in the Middle East. –Washington Institute  


At a detention camp in northeastern Syria where tens of thousands of family members of Islamic State fighters have been held for years, guards opened fire on residents this week after women and children attacked them with rocks and knives, according to a top security commander for the region. – New York Times 

The Russian army in Syria activated electronic defense systems that interfered with GPS in the region during Israeli retaliatory strikes on Syrian targets, Israeli media reported Wednesday. – Algemeiner 

Russia strongly condemned a retaliatory strike by Israeli forces against Syria Wednesday, after a missile was fired from Syrian territory into Israel overnight. – Arutz Sheva 


Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Turkey normalising relations with Israel would not mean a change in Ankara’s Palestinian policy, ahead of an expected visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog next month. – Reuters 

Turkey’s media watchdog warned three Western news organizations, including Washington-based Voice of America, that they could be banned if they didn’t apply for web broadcast licenses. Foreign websites have become increasingly popular in Turkey as the government tightens its grip on local media. – Bloomberg 

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official secretly visited Turkey last month ahead of a possible visit by President Isaac Herzog, according to a Wednesday report. – Times of Israel 

David Gardner writes: The opposition grows in confidence that it can bring Erdogan down and bin his one-man rule. It will shortly announce plans as to how. It is hard to rig elections in Turkey. Less so to find a pretext for a state of emergency, or a provocation: such as declaring the officially secular state’s official religion is Islam, in the hope of splitting the opposition. This could get ugly. – Financial Times 


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday it was still not clear if reported abuses by Israeli police of a powerful spyware had actually happened, and that he believed a high-level inquiry would clarify matters “soon”. – Reuters 

Israel has no plans to oppose a push by US President Joe Biden to secure congressional support to restore America’s membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel must grant Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza 4G access so their economy can thrive, the World Bank stated in a report issued on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Palestinian Central Council announced on Wednesday the “termination” of the Palestinian leadership’s obligations toward all agreements with Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock embarked Wednesday on her inaugural visit to Israel, Egypt and Jordan, pledging support for Israel’s security and new efforts to revitalize the Middle East peace process. – Algemeiner 

Israel’s Defense Ministry has sent four F-16 fighter planes to the US, completing the shipment of 12 fighter planes. – Arutz Sheva 

Herb Keinon writes: Even if Bennett wanted to speak up on the issue – and apparently he does not – would it even matter? So he, and his government, remain quiet as yet another nuclear accord with Iran – one which Jerusalem believes is a dangerous mistake – is just about to be concluded. – Jerusalem Post 

Amir Tibon writes: In the long run, Israel’s relationship with the United States faces a problem larger than any specific disagreement with Biden: the declining relevance of the Middle East. The region is slipping in priority for Washington and seen as a distraction from more urgent problems, from competing with China to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. – Foreign Affairs 

Shimon Briman writes: 3,000 kilometers separate Jerusalem and Kyiv. And that distance is probably why most Israelis don’t know how much their normal everyday life is already connected to Ukraine, or how much of what they take for granted actually depends on peace and stability in Ukraine. Those who think a large-scale Russian war against Ukraine cannot affect Israel are very much mistaken. – Haaretz 


US envoy Amos Hochstein urged Lebanese authorities Wednesday to settle a maritime border dispute with Israel, saying it was the “last minute” for an agreement that could facilitate hydrocarbon exploration at sea. – Agence France-Presse 

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday claimed Israel was not serious about actually attacking Iran. But if it does, he said, his Lebanese terror group will not automatically retaliate on Tehran’s behalf, but will decide whether or not to get involved. – Times of Israel 

Matthew Levitt writes: Lebanese Hezbollah goes to great lengths to publicize its overt, social, and political activities and to conceal its covert terrorist, militant, and criminal pursuits. In the words of one operative, Hezbollah’s “Golden Rule” is this: The Less You Know, the Better. – Washington Institute 

Arabian Peninsula

Prince William, second in line to the British throne, began on Thursday a visit to the United Arab Emirates at a time when the former British protectorate has faced an unprecedented though mostly foiled string of missile and drone attacks. – Reuters 

U.S. President Joe Biden and King Salman of Saudi Arabia discussed energy supplies in the face of soaring fuel prices and developments in the Middle East, including Iran and Yemen, in a telephone call on Wednesday. – Reuters 

The White House last Friday held an interagency meeting to discuss the possibility of redesignating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, two sources briefed on the issue told me. – Axios 

Middle East & North Africa

Assailants struck Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah’s car with bullets early on Thursday but he escaped unharmed, a source close to him said, amid intense factional wrangling over control of the government. – Reuters 

Libya’s fragile peace hangs in the balance as a standoff between parliament and the OPEC member’s interim prime minister threatens plans for ending a decade of chaos and division and boosting oil production. – Bloomberg 

A top U.S. general emphasized “very robust” military assistance to Egypt as he flew into Cairo on Wednesday in the wake of a decision by President Joe Biden administration’s to cut $130 million in military aid to the country over human rights concerns. – Reuters 

Iraq has completed payment of $52.4 billion to compensate individuals, companies and governments who proved damages due to its 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait, the United Nations reparations body said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Korean Peninsula

For the past five months, [Najibullah] and the other Afghans had been under tight South Korean government control, housed together in coast guard dormitories in the southern port city of Yeosu and enrolled in a crash course on the country’s life, economy and language. The program concluded this week. Now, for the first time, the Afghans are getting a taste of South Korean life on their own. – Wall Street Journal  

A resumption of North Korea’s nuclear weapon or long-range missile tests would “instantly” send the peninsula back into crisis, outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in said this week, calling for measures to prevent that from happening. – Reuters 

Commercial satellite imagery shows possible preparations for a military parade in North Korea, a Washington think-tank said on Thursday, amid expectations that the country could display new military advances or launch more missiles on upcoming holidays – Reuters 


China has suspended imports of beef from Lithuania since Wednesday, the General Administration of Customs said, amid a growing trade spat with the Baltic nation and its Western allies centred on Chinese-claimed Taiwan. – Reuters 

China hopes the United States will remove additional tariffs on Chinese goods and end its sanctions and crackdowns as soon as possible to create conditions for trade cooperation, the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Lithuania’s top diplomat called on the world to stand up to China and Russia’s alleged human rights violations during a visit to Australia, while acknowledging there would be a “cost” to taking such actions. – Bloomberg 

Josh Rogin writes: Universities in free and open societies must set up clear standards and processes for building resilience to what NED call’s China’s “sharp power” tactics, Walker said. That work has to be done before, not after, the pressure comes from the Chinese Communist Party, its proxies or other authoritarian forces. – Washington Post 


Even as America’s top diplomat visits the Pacific region seeking to counter China’s growing power and influence, the Washington ambassador of the tiny Marshall Islands said talks aimed at renewing agreements covering access for the U.S. military have stalled. – Reuters 

The United States remains focused long-term on the Indo-Pacific region despite concerns over Russian aggression toward the Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday. – Associated Press 

The foreign ministers of Australia and Lithuania agreed Wednesday to step up cooperation on strategic challenges, in particular pressures from China. – Associated Press 

At a recent press conference, Japanese chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno stated “Russia has issued a warning that it will carry out firing practice from February 8 in the area to the southeast of Kunashir Island.” This statement was corroborated by TASS, a Russian state news outlet. – The National Interest 

Japan is offering Europe part of its liquified natural gas imports over fears supplies will be disrupted by tensions surrounding a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tokyo’s trade minister said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse 

Tom Rogan writes: With Washington committed to its “Quad” partnership with Australia, Japan, and India, to expanded arms exports to India, and to growing military cooperation, it’s not as if Modi lacks an alternative to dealing with Moscow. India should consider the future. Only one nation offers India both the strength and shared democratic values it needs to secure its interests over the long term. That nation is the United States. In the end, Russia cares only about making money on arms sales. – Washington Examiner


Russian forces on Thursday will begin 10 days of military exercises with Belarus, Kyiv’s Moscow-friendly neighbor, in what Western officials fear could be cover for a renewed invasion of Ukraine. – Washington Post 

As he engages in coercive diplomacy with the West, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia faces a stark choice: He can move militarily to control Ukraine or preserve economic links to Europe. But it will be difficult for him to do both. – New York Times 

US officials have warned that Russia has continued to ramp up its military activity around the Ukrainian border, despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis including a high-profile visit to Moscow this week by French president Emmanuel Macron. – Financial Times 

Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the specter of nuclear war over Ukraine this week, a threat that strikes Western observers as both “crazy” and an effort to rig the diplomatic game in his favor. – Washington Examiner 

Russia’s most senior uniformed military officer arrived in Belarus on Wednesday for a large-scale war game with its neighbor amid fears the Kremlin will use the military exercise as cover for an invasion into Ukraine. – The Hill 

In their frenzied diplomatic effort to dissuade Russia from a new invasion of Ukraine, Western leaders are pinning renewed hope on the long-stuck Minsk peace accords. The Minsk agreements, first negotiated in 2014 and 2015, were intended to bring an end to the war with Russian-backed separatists, then raging in eastern Ukraine. But the pact is fiercely disputed and flawed, with ambiguous provisions open to conflicting interpretation and serious contingencies unplanned for. – Politico 

David Ignatius writes: Think of this communique as a Russian-Chinese version of George F. Kennan’s famous containment strategy against the Soviet Union. The two nations are digging in for a long war, mostly cold, but with some possibly hot episodes such as Ukraine. Biden’s retort should be to stress the one thing that Putin and Xi don’t have and America does have — good allies. History also teaches that such partners could be crucial in the coming battle for the “new era.” – Washington Post 

Luke Savage writes: The situation, in short, is one that demands diplomacy and de-escalation rather than the further ratcheting up of tensions. […]As a bipartisan chorus seeks to pressure the Biden administration into ever more confrontational positions, it’s the type of thinking that’s urgently needed — and the kind that’s been sorely lacking as war hawks instead opt to risk the unthinkable. – Washington Post 

Tom McTague writes: Putin is trying to bury the old world, not re-create it. And the very fact that he feels he can suggests that we have already arrived somewhere new. The question is who will have the tools—and imagination—to shape it. – The Atlantic 

Lawrence J. Korb and Stephen J. Cimbala write: Russia will likely try to combine diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and political-psychological measures to keep the United States and its allies off balance, politically confused, and militarily underprepared. Even as Russian troops continue to amass on the Ukrainian border, that is the real threat to the United States and its NATO allies. – National Interest 


European shuttle diplomacy over the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s demands for an overhaul of the continent’s security rules has intensified in recent days, with Europe seeking to carve out a leadership role in resolving a conflict looming on its own turf. – Wall Street Journal 

The White House has approved a Pentagon plan for U.S. troops in Poland to help thousands of Americans likely to flee Ukraine if Russia attacks, as the Biden administration tries to avoid the kind of chaotic evacuation conducted in Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday pledged more military support to NATO allies amid the Russian buildup surrounding Ukraine, placing an additional 1,000 British troops “at readiness” to respond to a possible humanitarian crisis. – New York Times 

United States troops relocating to Romania from Germany will reach the country on Wednesday night, Romania’s defence ministry said, and will shield NATO’s eastern flank from potential spillover from the Ukraine crisis. – Reuters 

Slovakia’s parliament and president on Wednesday approved a defense military treaty with the United States. – Associated Press 

The EU is ready to continue formal talks over Russia’s massive troop build-up along the Ukrainian border, the bloc said in a letter for Moscow, calling once again on the Kremlin to pull back its military. The letter, a draft of which was seen by POLITICO, represents the EU’s collective response to a recent memo Russia sent to EU countries. It was signed by the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell. – Politico 

With Western leaders in a whirl of shuttle diplomacy seeking to defuse tensions with Russia, a push to revive peace accords for Ukraine after years of inaction is gathering some tentative momentum. Whether France and Germany can unlock the process in a way that is acceptable to the Kremlin remains uncertain. It could also place Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy under intense political pressure at home and abroad. – Bloomberg 

An increasing number of French Jews believe that anti-Semitism is widespread in their country, according to a new survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee. – JNS 

Lithuania will ask the United States to permanently station troops in the country to help boost security, the Baltic nation’s president said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Mexico’s populist, nationalist leader has engaged in periodic quarrels with Spain, but relations reached a new low Wednesday when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the two countries’ relations should be put on “pause.” – Associated Press 

Editorial: The West might have no diplomatic way to stop Mr. Putin from acting on those threats, but if there is one, it requires unity among European allies and between Europe and the United States. That unity, in turn, must rest on nonnegotiable principles of territorial integrity and respect for sovereignty. – Washington Post 

Editorial: One goal of Brexit was for an independent U.K. to play a more decisive role on the world stage. As the window closes for Ukraine diplomacy, London can prove its willingness to hit Mr. Putin and his cronies where it hurts. – Wall Street Journal 

Boris Johnson writes: We are not going to conclude a grand bargain heedless of our allies in central Europe. We are not going to treat the nations at the heart of our Continent as pawns on a chessboard, to be haggled over or sacrificed. Every independent state, including Ukraine, has a sovereign right to decide its own foreign policy and seek its own alliances. – Wall Street Journal 

Tom Rogan writes: Macron says he will deploy forces to Romania if needed but appears yet to have done so. […]Similarly, while Germany is sending an additional 350 troops to Lithuania, its existing deployment in that Russia-bordering NATO state appears to center on just one combat company — not, in short, a force designed to withstand Russian combined arms forces. Where does this leave us? Well, facing Russia’s threat to annihilate a supposedly sacred principle of the European political project, democratic sovereignty, America is once again holding down the EU fort. – Washington Examiner 

Elisabeth Braw writes: German and Dutch troops have deployed a binational battle-ready unit to Lithuania. More EU countries should follow their example. – Foreign Policy


The International Court of Justice has ordered Uganda to pay $325 million to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the prolonged conflict that erupted between the two countries in the 1990s. – Wall Street Journal 

The government of Ethiopia’s Afar region says more than 300,000 people have been displaced by warfare there since December and it accused Tigrayan forces of killing civilians and looting. – Reuters 

China’s development banks provided $23 billion in financing for infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa from 2007 to 2020, more than double the amount lent by such banks in the United States, Germany, Japan and France combined, a new study showed. – Reuters 


In early 2021, India was jolted by revelations that a jailed human rights activist and vocal government critic was targeted by hackers who planted incriminating evidence on his laptop before he was arrested on terrorism charges. Now, a year later, a report by U.S. experts says the activist, Rona Wilson, was targeted by two separate groups, including one group that has been linked to widely documented cyberespionage campaigns against military targets in China and Pakistan, India’s top foreign adversaries. – Washington Post  

Cyber criminal gangs are getting increasingly adept at hacking and becoming more professional, even setting up an arbitration system to resolve payment disputes among themselves, according to a new report by the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom that paints a bleak picture of ransomware trends. – Associated Press 

Australia’s national security agency foiled an attempt by a foreign government to interfere in a domestic Australian election, the country’s spy chief said, highlighting the need for protection against such action as the country heads to the polls within months. – Bloomberg 


Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been named chairman of the Defense Innovation Board, which is part of the latest tranche of Pentagon advisory boards Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is restarting. – Defense News 

Software deficiencies prevented the U.S. Army from beginning its critical initial operational test of its Integrated Battle Command System last fall, but it is now underway ahead of a full-rate production decision due at year’s end, the service’s program office told Defense News. – Defense News 

Jan Kallberg writes: Establishing a civilian federal asset response is necessary. The civilian response will replace the military cyber asset response, which returns to the military’s primary mission: defense. The move will safeguard military cyber capabilities and increase uncertainty for the adversary. Uncertainty translates to deterrence, leading to fewer significant cyber incidents. We can no longer surrender the initiative and be constantly reactive; it is a failed national strategy. – Defense News 

Long War

The only surviving key suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people testified Wednesday that he “didn’t hurt anyone,” even as he proclaimed support for the Islamic State and defended the motivations of the attackers. – Washington Post 

The U.N. counterterrorism chief said Wednesday it’s crucial to build on the momentum following last week’s death of the leader of the Islamic State extremist group and address the grievances that terrorist groups exploit to attract new followers. – Associated Press 

Rare interviews with captured members of a jihadist group terrorising northern Mozambique point to low morale in their ranks and to an insurgency that is losing steam in the face of Rwandan forces. The Rwandan army late last month let journalists interview some of the fighters that it had captured since launching operations in the troubled region last July. – Agence France-Presse 

The National Counterterrorism Center has a new mobile app that lets users access the latest unclassified intelligence on potential terrorist activities. – Defense News