Fdd's overnight brief

February 11, 2022

In The News


Talks between Iran and world powers over revitalizing the Iran nuclear agreement have reached their final stage and are expected to conclude one way or the other by the end of this month, according to participants. – Washington Post  

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday there was still a long way to go before a 2015 deal restricting Iran’s nuclear advances could be revived. – Reuters 

Iranian oil exports have risen to more than 1 million barrels per day for the first time in almost three years, based on estimates from companies that track the flows, reflecting increased shipments to China. – Reuters   

US President Joe Biden is in a tough spot as the Iran nuclear talks resume in Vienna, gambling on a successful outcome but facing growing bipartisan concern that even if a deal is reached it may be insufficient to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. – Agence France-Presse  

Germany’s foreign minister said Thursday that nuclear talks with Iran are entering a “final phase” and that, despite Israeli reservations, a return to a nuclear agreement would make the region safer. – Associated Press 

Iran is clashing with three Western countries and Ukraine over reparations for the Iranian military’s missile attack against a Ukrainian passenger jet in January 2020 that killed all 176 passengers and crew on board. – Associated Press 

Thousands of cars and motorbikes paraded in celebration of the 43rd anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution on Friday, although fewer pedestrians were out for a second straight year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. – Associated Press 

The Biden administration will not commit to submitting a new Iran nuclear deal to Congress for approval, as is required by U.S. law. – The Washington Free Beacon 


President Biden will start to clear a legal path for certain relatives of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to pursue $3.5 billion from assets that Afghanistan’s central bank had deposited in New York before the Taliban takeover, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. – New York Times  

President Biden on Thursday said he is “rejecting” the accounts of senior U.S. military commanders who told Army investigators that administration officials did not grasp the rise of the Taliban last year or how quickly the United States needed to prepare to launch an evacuation operation in Afghanistan. – Washington Post

The United Nations aims to kickstart this month a system to swap millions of aid dollars for Afghan currency in a plan to stem humanitarian and economic crises and bypass blacklisted Taliban leaders, according to an internal U.N. note seen by Reuters. – Reuters  

A senior Swiss diplomat who met Thursday with a visiting delegation from Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders in Switzerland said they showed an interest in dialogue with the international community. He also noted that they realize “that they must take the first step” to unblock more aid desperately needed in the war-battered country. – Associated Press 

A top Washington lobbying shop has agreed to represent the U.S. parent company of a major Afghan telecom alleged by three former employees and four former senior Afghan government officials to have paid money and extended other favors to the Taliban as they fought a bloody insurgency over the last 20 years. – Politico 


At least five children were killed during a raid by U.S. commandos last week on the home of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State militant group, according to a review of video footage and witnesses who saw the aftermath of the operation. – Washington Post  

Last week’s raid was the culmination of a two-year search that began with Qurayshi’s promotion to leader of the Islamic State. His elevation to “caliph” followed the death of his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself with a bomb during a similar raid by U.S. commandos in October 2019. Baghdadi’s dramatic end occurred just 15 miles from the three-story cinder-block house in the farming community of Atma, Syria, that became Qurayshi’s headquarters and final residence. – Washington Post  

Tens of Syrian protesters gathered on Thursday in the mainly Druze city of Sweida to protest against worsening economic conditions and subsidy cuts that came into force last week, residents, activists and local officials said on Thursday. – Reuters  


Turkey’s intelligence organization has foiled an Iranian-led action to assassinate Yair Geller, an Israeli businessman who also holds Turkish citizenship, Sabah reported. – Arutz Sheva 

Francesc Balcells writes: Turkey was a very attractive destination for foreign lenders — a double-B rated, high-growth economy, with five percent dollar yields, at a time the rest of the world was at zero. This context has changed for the worse. Whether the new creditors in town as well as the locals will take enough comfort from the existing economic setup remains an open question. But unless there is a change in policy direction, the government will be testing its limits. – Financial Times 

Mendy Chitrik writes: All the while, there is increasing chatter about an upcoming visit to Turkey by Herzog – which for me as a rabbi, is certainly good news – as Turkey, where Jews have lived for 2,600 years, extends a hand of increased friendship toward a country that is home to so many of my fellow Jews. But it shouldn’t end there. Bilateral relations, should not be solely limited or dependent on relationships between elected governments or diplomats. It should permeate every level of society. – Jerusalem Post  


 The head of an Arab party in Israel who made history last year by joining the governing coalition said Thursday he would not use the word “apartheid” to describe relations between Jews and Arabs within the country. – Associated Press 

Israel should stop striking targets in Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post  

The CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters that the Israeli Air Force has purchased from Lockheed-Martin might have automated flight capabilities, allowing for unmanned flights deep behind enemy lines. – Jerusalem Post 

The Chinese Communist Party has asked Chinese students in Israel to collect information on local media, part of a global trend of Beijing using students around the world to promote its interests. – Jerusalem Post  

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened on Thursday to “get back at [Israel] twice as hard,” after Israeli undercover police killed three Palestinians in the West Bank who allegedly carried out a string of recent shooting attacks. – Times of Israel  

Mark Regev writes: In the national psyche, Tami Arad is uniquely positioned to make such a point. Bringing home IDF MIAs who, sadly, are no longer among the living, is not an objective that validates jeopardizing additional Israeli lives. Not in ending the 36-year-long Ron Arad saga. And not in dealing with the agonizing MIA cases of recent years. – Jerusalem Post 

David M. Weinberg writes: The bottom line: It is high time to impose more obligations and responsibilities on this country’s minority populations, while investing in their advancement too. Not to punish them, but to encourage their good citizenship and better integration, and to rule effectively. This will be a painful but long overdue, process. Get started now. – Jerusalem Post   

Benny Morris writes: The Amnesty report makes a series of recommendations to improve the lot of Palestine’s Arabs, both in Israel and in the occupied territories. The most far-reaching of these is to allow the mass return of Palestinian refugees—there are now some six million on the U.N. rolls. If implemented, such a return would create instant anarchy and an Arab majority and would result fairly quickly in the dissolution of Israel. The world would then have 23 Arab states and no Jewish state. – Wall Street Journal  

Meir Javedanfar writes: Israel is concerned that a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would allow Iran to maintain and expand its presence in the region through its proxies. This is a logical concern. However, should the U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal, this time around Israel will be able to count on its new and improving diplomatic, economic, and military relations with regional countries, especially the UAE and Bahrain. – Middle East Institute 

Arabian Peninsula

Protests erupted among thousands of Afghan refugees who complain of prisonlike conditions at a facility in Abu Dhabi, where they have been held for months since being evacuated from Afghanistan awaiting resettlement in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States will help the United Arab Emirates replenish interceptors it uses to knock down incoming missiles following a spate of unprecedented attacks by Houthi fighters in Yemen, the U.S. general overseeing Middle East operations told Reuters. – Reuters 

Twelve people were injured at Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport by shrapnel from an explosive-laden drone intercepted by air defences on Thursday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said. – Reuters  

Prince William, second in line to the British throne, on Thursday visited 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  

An Israeli Navy officer will be permanently stationed in Bahrain, Channel 13 reported on Thursday evening. – Jerusalem Post  

Robert Mason writes: Given Saudi and Emirati preoccupation with the Iranian threat, a historical lack of engagement with Indonesia, and past disagreements over labor practices, the speed of their economic engagement has been surprising but consistent with the timelines of their respective Vision strategies. There are no clear US or Chinese influences on these bilateral relations per se, but instead a series of scenarios which could advance or undermine them, including Chinese commercial strategy in the Gulf. – Middle East Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

Libya hurtled deeper into political chaos on Thursday when its Parliament voted to install a new interim government over the objections of the current prime minister. – New York Times 

The time has come for Israel and Lebanon to move toward an agreement on demarcating their maritime border, US Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post  

The Israel Space Agency published a joint call with their counterpart in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday calling for research groups in Israel and the UAE to submit joint proposals based on data collected from the Vegetation and Environment monitoring on a New Micro-Satellite (VENµS) satellite. – Jerusalem Post  

Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah on Friday promised to draft a new election law to solve the political crisis in the North African country. – Reuters  

The Western Sahara issue continues to ruffle feathers in Washington. Although Morocco is part of the Abraham Accords and is important to US policy, these issues relating to Western Sahara will continue to overshadow Morocco-US relations. – Jerusalem Post  


Geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China has at times threatened to boil over and scorch the Winter Olympics. Now, Beijing appears to be trying to dial down the heat. – Wall Street Journal 

Tonga and China held a signing ceremony on Friday for construction equipment that will be used to build infrastructure in the tsunami-hit Pacific island, a day before the top U.S. diplomat arrives in the region to discuss development aid. – Reuters  

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Thursday she hopes China will urge Russia to “do the right thing” on Ukraine, prompting her Chinese counterpart to quickly respond with a call for diplomacy and an end to “hyping up the tension.” – Reuters  

China has arrested the former Communist Party boss of Hangzhou city on suspicion of taking bribes, the latest development in a case that has been linked to Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: The Biden Administration should push Interpol for a public response. If not, Hong Kongers might find out they’re a target only after it’s too late. Meanwhile, they will be living in fear, which is exactly what China wants. – Wall Street Journal  

Josh Rogin writes: The Biden team says China is welcome to become a responsible leader in the current international system. But its actions are meant to cement a bipartisan consensus that can last for several presidencies — and disprove the contention that autocracies are better at long-term planning than democracies. If the competitors succeed, they could help preserve allied security, prosperity and public health. – Washington Post  

Gabriel Scheinmann writes: The U.S. should highlight the totalitarian nature of the Chinese Communist Party and demonstrate that there is a better way for Chinese citizens to live. The U.S. remains an attractive place for ordinary Chinese people. More than half of China’s top-tier researchers end up moving to the U.S., which has the highest-ranked universities and the highest-grossing technology companies. China may be able to keep up with the U.S. militarily, but it can’t compete in a broad and sustained competition for hearts and minds. – Wall Street Journal

Jane Perlez writes: Xi and Biden have known each other for more than a decade. Will either be able to work up the nerve of Nixon? It was one minute to midnight with the Soviets when Nixon went to China. Will Xi or Biden rise to the new reality 50 years later? – Financial Times  

Craig Kafura writes: Per Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the Biden administration’s approach to China is “competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be” — a line of repeated by administration officials. Space issues, both civil and security, are and will continue to be a mixture of collaboration and competition. But both the United States and China should engage with one another to ensure that that competition does not lead to space becoming an adversarial arena. Given the outstanding space issues in the Sino-American relationship, it’s time to re-launch both the Civil Space Dialogue and the Space Security Exchange. – War on the Rocks 

South Asia

A request by a group of high school girls to wear the hijab in class has snowballed into dueling protests between Hindu and Muslim students in India, deepening religious polarization as regional elections approach. – Washington Post

South Korean automaker Hyundai faced controversy this week in India, sparking diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Delhi. – CNN 

Abdul Basit writes: A cursory look at Pakistan’s erstwhile laws and policies reveal that they aptly encapsulated the challenges confronting Pakistan along with proposing their solutions. However, their implementation always remained less than desirable. It seems that the PTI government has passed the NSP in a hurry to tick a box before being ousted from power. Finally, without addressing the elephant in the room, i.e., the civil-military imbalance which lies at the heart of Pakistan’s lopsided security priorities, the mere mention of expanding the economic pie in the NSP to complement traditional and non-traditional security is wishful thinking. – The National Interest  


On Friday, Mr. Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Australia, Japan and India at a summit in Melbourne of the four-nation coalition called the Quad. His message was clear: Despite crises in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world, the United States is committed to bolstering its presence across Asia and presenting a different vision of the future than the one offered by China. – New York Times  

A Myanmar army officer who defected and fled the country has detailed battlefield losses to rebels in the southern part of Chin state, with at least 50 soldiers killed and 200 badly wounded in 2021 by opposition fighters with homemade weapons. – Reuters  

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev thanked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday for helping end violent unrest in the Central Asian nation last month, which both leaders blamed on international “bandits” and “terrorists.” – Reuters  

Indonesia on Thursday ordered 42 Rafale fighter jets from France and may acquire two French submarines, as Paris and Jakarta seek to strengthen military ties in the face of growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific. – Agence France-Presse

A number of reports have emerged about a cache of fifteen boxes of documents that the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. – The National Interest  


Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union before it collapsed at the end of the Cold War in 1991, and it borders Russia to its east. The disintegration of the Soviet Union left Russia with a vastly depleted population, territory and economy. It also diminished Russia’s superpower status. Now Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to reclaim some of that glory and undo some of what Russia lost in the Cold War. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia kicked off large-scale military exercises in Belarus on its western borders with Poland and Lithuania and along its southern flank near Ukraine, an escalation of the standoff between Moscow and Western powers and a possible precursor to a Russian invasion of a smaller neighbor. – Wall Street Journal 

Russian troops are continuing to build up on the Ukrainian border, but investors are piling into bets that there won’t be a war. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia’s foreign minister accused his British counterpart on Thursday of grandstanding and refusing to listen, at a rancorous encounter that highlighted the gulf between them over the Ukraine crisis. – Reuters  

Amy Knight writes: This disconnect between the anti-Western rhetoric of Putin’s wealthy cheerleaders and their privileged Western lifestyles could well prove dangerous if ordinary Russians begin to pay closer attention. In a recent interview, Russian pollster Lev Gudkov suggested that they are taking an increasingly skeptical view of the “militaristic, aggressive anti-Western rhetoric” of their leaders, who are using it “as a means of diverting public attention from the inability of the authorities to solve real problems at home.” – Washington Post 

Michael McFaul writes: The negotiations could also succeed even if they fail to yield a major agreement. Putin may hold off on invading Ukraine while diplomats confer, if only to see what he can get out of a deal. This delay may not comprehensively solve the issues surrounding Ukraine or Europe as a whole, but with thousands of lives at stake, kicking the can down the road would still be a tremendous service. Three years of peace is, after all, far better than three years of war. – Foreign Affairs 


Diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis remained at a stalemate Thursday, prompting a stark warning from NATO’s top official that Europe was facing a “dangerous moment” as Russia prepares to kick off a second day of major military exercises near Kyiv’s borders that analysts fear could be cover for an attack. – Washington Post  

Authorities in Paris and Brussels said Thursday that they will try to stop convoys from entering both cities, potentially thwarting plans for staging in Europe the type of demonstration that has paralyzed Ottawa and closed Canada’s busiest border crossing into the United States. – Washington Post  

Mr. Zelensky and his government may be under pressure from both Ukrainians and Russia, Mr. Hudymenko said, but in the final analysis, “they fear the Ukrainian people more than they fear the Russian army.” – New York Times  

Unionists complain that the protocol, which requires border checks on goods passing between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, has driven a wedge between the North and the rest of the United Kingdom. – New York Times  

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a plan to build six new nuclear reactors, betting on a technology that produces electricity with almost zero greenhouse gas emissions but faces questions about the high cost of new projects. – Wall Street Journal  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday the Ukraine crisis has grown into “the most dangerous moment” for Europe in decades, while his top diplomat held icy talks with her Moscow counterpart who said the Kremlin won’t accept lectures from the West. – Associated Press 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned Russia of “serious” economic and political consequences should it ramp up military aggression toward Ukraine, while adding that Germany and its allies were ready for dialogue with Moscow and wanted peace. – Reuters  

U.S. F-15 fighter jets have arrived in Poland as America and its NATO allies seek to bolster defenses along the alliance’s eastern flank ahead of a potential military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. – The Hill 

Liz Truss, UK foreign secretary, is to make new proposals to break the deadlock over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland on Friday, saying that resolving the row with the EU was “an absolute priority”. – Financial Times  

Anthony Faiola writes: Few things in geopolitical crises are more sensitive than intelligence. And yet, from the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, the Biden administration has been extraordinarily vocal about U.S. knowledge of Russian movements, tactics and planning. One analyst dubs it “Biden’s megaphone strategy.” Others say you need to go back years to find a similar crisis where a U.S. administration has shared this much information with this level of specificity this quickly. – Washington Post


France is considering withdrawing its troops from Mali, but adapting its strategy to prevent Islamist militancy spreading south may prove complex and contribute to uncertainty in the region. – Reuters  

Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said on Thursday that three people previously arrested by U.S. authorities for drug trafficking were behind an attempted coup last week. – Reuters  

Thousands of Sudanese took to the streets Thursday in the latest mass rally protesting against last year’s military coup that upended a transition to civilian rule, witnesses said. – Agence France-Presse 

The U.N. Security Council has refused to condemn the military takeover in Burkina Faso last month or call it a coup, instead adopting a weak statement expressing “serious concern about the unconstitutional change of government” in the West African nation. – Associated Press  

The Americas

Canada should use federal powers to ease the growing economic disruption caused by the blockage of a vital U.S.-Canada trade route by protesters opposed to coronavirus mandates, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Thursday. – Reuters  

The United States is seeking the first-ever consultations with Mexico over its environmental obligations under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, including protection of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise, U.S. trade officials said Thursday. – Reuters  

Philip Bump writes: Even before then, though, Biden needs legislators to join him in votes. If embattled Democrats from swing districts think that allying with Biden is toxic to their reelection chances, as he may be, they’re going to be less likely to provide the last few votes to pass controversial legislation. Or they may be perfectly comfortable not having that legislation come to a vote. – Washington Post 

Joe Bauer writes: The United States can further help its cause by investing in critical infrastructure across the region. Building on the administration’s Build Back Better World (B3W) to compete with China’s BRI, the B3W can offer Latin American countries a wider array of options in economic development by emphasizing transparency and exposing potential corruption in BRI deals. – The National Interest  


A secret program at the Central Intelligence Agency relied on a form of mass surveillance activity that involved the collection of an unknown data set and included the gathering of some records belonging to Americans, according to a newly declassified letter from two Democratic senators. – Wall Street Journal  

Britain’s competition regulator said on Friday it had accepted a revised offer from Google of commitments relating to its plan to ban third-party cookies that advertisers use to track consumers. – Reuters 

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Cynthia Lummis, a Republican, introduced a bill aimed at addressing addiction to social media platforms like Meta Platform’s (FB.O) Facebook or Twitter (TWTR.N). – Reuters 

In an open letter to the Israeli government, three top civil servants have spoken of the anguish of having their “personal and professional worlds” exposed by one of the country’s most powerful cyberweapons, Pegasus. – Financial Times 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is stalling the proceedings aimed at establishing a state commission of inquiry into the use of NSO’s Pegasus spyware by Israel’s police, a Labor Party lawmaker said on Thursday. –  Arutz Sheva 

Cyber attackers who hold a victim’s system hostage by encrypting its data until their demands are met may be laying off “big game” in the U.S., but they’ve been working on code that could threaten a lot more real-world damage against those they do choose to target, according to a joint advisory from the FBI and domestic and international partner agencies. – Defense One

Farhad Manjoo writes: The big question about Facebook’s massive V.R. bet is whether it can rekindle the company’s early innovative spirit. Facebook has coasted so long on other people’s inventions that it’s really hard to see where it goes now that its mimeograph machine is jammed. Perhaps it’s time for a new inspirational corporate slogan: Move fast — and make things. – New York Times  


Learning from the fielding of the first iteration of its modernized network kit, the U.S. Army is maturing the way it tests its tactical network. – Defense News   

A key Russia expert and two other defense experts are being blocked from joining the Pentagon by GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, as the Biden administration struggles to solve the deepening Russia-Ukraine crisis and deploys thousands of U.S. troops to bolster European allies. – Defense News  

The Pentagon’s innovation hub is working with industry to identify satellite spoofing operations using commercially available data. – Defense News  

Huntington Ingalls Industries is planning an investment in its submarine-industrial base to help stabilize production as demand for sub-components increases. – Defense News

The Army Aviation Branch faces a multitude of challenges both in the air and on the ground. High costs associated with flight hours, maintenance of aircraft and aging equipment makes every taxpayer dollar count. Aviation fleets are an expensive asset for the Army that requires an exceptional return-on-investment. The ROI applies to not only physical assets, but the aviators too. – Military Times  

Long War

The man’s physical disability stood out. He was missing his right leg. It matched precisely the description of the man who was the subject of the intensive search: Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, leader of the Islamic State. – Washington Post 

The building in northwest Syria where U.S. forces found the Islamic State’s leader was probably rigged to explode, according to four U.S. officials with detailed knowledge of the operation, but it remains unclear who inside the home detonated the blast and why the Pentagon’s tally of those killed during last week’s raid differs from that of aid groups that sifted through the rubble in its immediate aftermath. – Washington Post 

A U.S. government review panel on Thursday approved the release with security guarantees of a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo Bay who was captured in Pakistan and held as a suspected bomb maker. – New York Times