Fdd's overnight brief

February 15, 2022

In The News


Iran is “in a hurry” to strike a new nuclear accord as long as its national interests are protected, its foreign minister said on Monday as Tehran and the United States resumed indirect talks on salvaging Tehran’s 2015 agreement with world powers. – Reuters 

A fire erupted at a military base in western Iran, state-linked media reported on Monday, the latest in a series of blazes and other mishaps affecting the country’s infrastructure in recent months. – Associated Press 

James Stavridis writes: Paradoxically, the exercises may help the on-again-off-again nuclear talks between Iran and the other signatories to the 2015 deal. The negotiations appeared to be dead in the water last fall given the election of the hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as Iranian president. […]Clearly, these war games are not a panacea for facing a growing Iranian threat. But they are a kind of Olympics at sea for a vital coalition led by the U.S. in one of the most turbulent areas of the world. – Bloomberg 

Lawrence J. Haas writes: Nobody knows when public discontent might succeed in toppling a regime, whether in Iran or elsewhere — but with the odious regime in Tehran on its heels, perhaps Washington should slow its push for a nuclear deal and the sanctions relief that it will inevitably bring. – The Hill 

A. Savyon writes: The Iranians are striving to create a nuclear balance of terror based on regional equilibrium. This balance of terror will be based on Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state. For this, they assess that they can win the support of the Biden administration, which is subject to the influence of former top Democratic officials – among them President Obama, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State John Kerry. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Tehran moves drones and drone blueprints and technology to proxies in order to have plausible deniability. That means that each time a group uses drones, it may even invent a new name for the perpetrator, so that it is hard for anyone to hold them accountable. Past efforts to track the gyroscopes and engines used by drones in Yemen or by Iran in other places, have shown how Iran is linked to the drone threat across the region. – Jerusalem Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: The constant and ongoing question of whether Russia will invade Ukraine is delaying the finalization of a nuclear deal with Iran. It has distracted the Biden administration completely from the Iranian nuclear issue and has harmed dialogue between Washington and Moscow in all areas. – Jerusalem Post 


The Taliban on Monday warned that it would reconsider its policy towards the United States if President Joe Biden did not reverse his “unjustified” decision to return only half of Afghanistan’s $7 billion deposited on U.S. soil. – Reuters 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, recently gave an interview to the Afghan media group, Aamaj News, in which he discussed a range of issues concerning the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban jihadi organization which seized power on August 15, 2021. The former president, who is known for his fierce opposition to America and Israel, also warned that the Taliban jihadi group’s seizure of power will have large implications for the entire region involving Afghanistan and its surrounding countries. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Ruth Pollard writes: The problem is, the U.S. doesn’t own that money: Afghanistan does. That Washington doesn’t want to release billions to the Taliban is understandable. No one wants rivers of cash to go a regime that’s simply picked up where it left off two decades ago, restricting girls’ access to schools and universities, preventing women from working, abducting protesters and journalists from their homes and killing opponents. […]Biden’s administration needs to urgently rethink its decision and show some political will to help Afghanistan out of a crisis it helped create. It’s the only right thing to do. – Bloomberg 

Lisa Curtis and Richard Fontaine write: The United States should marshal international efforts to save the Afghan people. We will regret doing otherwise. For two decades, presidents of both parties have reiterated America’s special commitment to the people of Afghanistan. That exceptional bond is a major reason why the thousands of recently arrived refugees have been welcomed into our communities. – The Hill 

Michael Rubin writes: The U.S. should direct Afghanistan’s trust fund to help the Ghani’s vice president consolidate control, support refugees outside Taliban control, fund consular services for those Afghans who have fled abroad, and organize resistance to the Taliban. What Afghanistan faces is a humanitarian disaster, but to release Afghanistan money into Taliban-controlled areas will only strengthen the Taliban, reward their decades of their violence and terror, and compound tragedy. – Washington Examiner 

Sayed Madadi writes: International efforts thus far have assumed that the Taliban are a conventional state apparatus that intends to abide by international law. However, groups like the Taliban derive their legitimacy partly from defying the international order. For such regimes — as we have seen in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and in the old Soviet republics — grim prospects of human suffering and hunger or the attractions of political acceptance are no deterrent to bad behavior. – Middle East Institute 


A bomb attached to a bus carrying Syrian troops in Damascus exploded Tuesday morning, killing one soldier and wounding 11, state TV reported. – Associated Press 

Mohammed Hassan and Samer al-Ahmed write: The prison operation revealed a change in ISIS’s methods in recruiting collaborators within the SDF, as it has become dependent on new members not associated with the group during the 2014-19 period. […]This signifies the degree to which ISIS has penetrated the security apparatus rather than an intelligence failure by the SDF and the international coalition. – Middle East Institute 


Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrived in Bahrain on Monday to meet with the kingdom’s ruler, in the first official visit by an Israeli premier to the tiny Persian Gulf nation. – Wall Street Journal 

On a historic visit to Bahrain, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stressed the two countries’ shared interest in fighting Iran and its proxies in the region ahead of his meeting Tuesday with the king and prime minister in Manama. – Haaretz 

A report in Yedioth Aharanoth Tuesday claims that Israel barred the US from selling Iron Dome missile defense batteries to Ukraine, and ultimately convinced the US to drop the possible sale to Ukraine. – Arutz Sheva 

Israeli security forces arrested a top Hamas official in the northern West Bank city of Jenin in a predawn raid on Tuesday, the Israeli military said. – Times of Israel 

Clashes between Palestinians, right-wing Israeli Jews and police reignited in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Monday as far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir returned to his makeshift “office,” declaring that he will not budge from the flashpoint area. – Times of Israel 

Israel urged its citizens to evacuate Ukraine in a drastic change of policy after receiving American intelligence that a Russian invasion would likely occur as early as Wednesday, Israeli news site Walla reported Monday. – Algemeiner 

Simon Henderson writes: Most of Bahrain’s population is unlikely to be happy about the uptick in Israeli diplomacy either, though perhaps for a different reason: the perceived economic and political discrimination that the Shia Muslim majority faces from the Sunni rulers who facilitate this outreach. Yet the more significant politics to watch probably lie within the royal family itself. – Washington Institute 

Arabian Peninsula

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Monday as the countries pivot toward economic cooperation with a flurry of agreements during his first visit to the Gulf state since 2013. – Reuters 

Javier Blas writes: One should never let a crisis go to waste — and Saudi Arabia isn’t. The kingdom is using the Ukraine-Russia tension to re-establish itself not only in energy markets but global politics. […]Furthermore, despite the global fight against climate change, oil demand isn’t going away. Saudi Arabia — and its ruling dynasty — will remain a force in decades to come. – Bloomberg 

Tara Sepehri Far writes: The administration also should prioritize re-establishing a UN accountability mechanism to hold all parties in Yemen accountable for violations of international law, with a focus on criminal accountability for rights violations and possible war crimes. By taking these bold but essential steps now, the U.S. can finally recognize the war in Yemen for what it is: a conflict with all parties committing serious violations and, as the UN has said, one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. – The Hill 

Middle East & North Africa

Ramy Shaath, who was released from an Egyptian jail last month, is an outspoken opponent of Arab dictatorships and Israeli rule over the Palestinians, and is part of a generation of activists who see them as two sides of the same coin. – Associated Press 

Ben Fishman writes: Finally, Washington should push for broader international acceptance of an agreed transitional roadmap by taking advantage of the thaw in relations between Turkey, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates—key actors that have been on opposite sides of Libya’s recent conflicts. Although the post-Qadhafi legal vacuum has produced yet another legitimacy crisis, each of the above diplomatic interventions can help steer the transition back on course. – Washington Institute 

Jonathan M. Winer writes: Absent elections, the legitimacy of any Libyan government remains justifiably contested. The good news in the ongoing drama is that Libyans, rather than internationals, are now taking the lead in determining who will govern Libya. The bad news is that the current turmoil risks a renewal of armed conflict in Tripoli, pending a resolution of the political, security, and financial competition of yet one more period of dueling Libyan governments competing for the mantle of legitimacy. – Middle East Institute 


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called on the Chinese government to condemn Russia’s “threats of violence against Ukraine” for the third time this week, urging Beijing to “denounce” Moscow’s actions. – Bloomberg 

Anthony Faiola writes: There’s some reason to believe in limits to the Chinese-Russian partnership, especially in the event of serious Western sanctions with knock-on effects for any Chinese companies that violate them. The Chinese show little distaste for authoritarian behavior — doing easy business with nasty regimes. But in general, China dislikes foreign invention, prioritizes economic interests and tends to hedge its bets. – Washington Post 

Michael Beckley writes: The core of such an order is being forged in the crucible of competition with China and could be built out into the most enlightened order the world has ever seen—a genuine free world. But to get there, the United States and its allies will have to embrace competition with China and march forward together through another long twilight struggle. – Foreign Affairs 


As his term comes to an end, South Korean President Moon Jae-in made a final plea last week to resume diplomatic talks with North Korea — the defining ambition of his presidency, and one that feels more out of reach than ever.- Washington Post 

Myanmar will not participate in this week’s meetings in Cambodia of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, spurning an invitation to send a non-political representative instead of its chief diplomat, its government said Monday. – Associated Press 

Pakistan is allowing nuclear rival India to deliver tons of wheat to Afghans struggling through intensifying food shortages, two Foreign Ministry officials said Monday. Associated Press 

The son of Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader will run in an early presidential election next month, a move that lays the foundation for a political dynasty in the gas-rich Central Asian republic. – Associated Press 

Anthony Kim and Eric Hontz write: America’s strategic partnership with Uzbekistan is more relevant than ever. As Uzbekistan continues to improve its record on economic reform, Washington should seek out more and greater opportunities for practical bilateral trade and investment engagement. By pursuing more decisive structural and institutional reforms that can boost economic freedom and long-term competitiveness, Uzbekistan can continue to build a brighter economic future and go beyond what the country has achieved so far. – Heritage Foundation 


As fears grow of potential Russian aggression against Ukraine, a “Tiger Team” led by the White House is quietly gaming out how the United States would respond to a range of jarring scenarios, from a limited show of force to a full-scale, mass-casualty invasion. – Washington Post  

Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled he remains open to a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis, even as the Kremlin forges ahead with a military buildup that Western leaders warn could lead to a full-scale attack within days. – Washington Post 

The Minsk peace agreement, reached in 2015 between Russia and Ukraine, was supposed to end conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out a year earlier when Russian-backed separatists took up arms. It did not stop the fighting or solve the crisis. – Washington Post 

Russian legislators will Tuesday consider proposals urging President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states, in a move that could justify Moscow’s incursion into an area it no longer considers to be Ukrainian territory. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia moved ahead with its massive military buildup near Ukraine, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz began shuttling between the two nations seeking to stave off a conflict, and Moscow left the door open for talks. – Wall Street Journal 

The Kremlin has cast the U.S. warnings of an imminent attack as “hysteria” and “absurdity,” and many Russians believe that Washington is deliberately stoking panic and fomenting tensions to trigger a conflict for domestic reasons. – Associated Press 

The plane of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro took off Monday evening headed to Russia despite Western warnings the country could soon invade Ukraine — frustrating those who have suggested he cancel the trip, including the U.S. government and members of his own Cabinet. – Associated Press 

New commercial satellite images show a flurry of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine, the private U.S. company that released the pictures said, amid fears that Moscow may launch an attack on its ex-Soviet neighbour. – Reuters 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday suggested to President Vladimir Putin that Moscow continue along the diplomatic path in its efforts to extract security guarantees from the West, as tensions soar over Ukraine. – Reuters 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to hold talks in Moscow on February 15 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latest effort by a Western leader to convince the Kremlin to choose diplomacy amid simmering tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

In a video of a conference that was uploaded to the Russia Insight YouTube channel on December 23, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked by Sky News reporter Diana Magnay about whether he guarantees that Russia will not invade Ukraine, or if that is dependent on how negotiations go. Putin answered that Russia’s future actions will depend entirely on whether Russia’s security is guaranteed unconditionally, and he stressed that Russian security is the most important issue in question and that the eastward expansion of NATO is unacceptable to Russia. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Editorial: Mr. Putin has taught the world that hard power — coercion — still matters. In fact, he believes it is all that matters. He’s wrong about that, though. U.S. foreign policy must prove it. – Washington Post 

Editorial: That points to the biggest long-term challenge facing Germany’s new chancellor — public education. However the crisis in Ukraine plays out, it has already underlined that Russia is now a dangerous neighbour. Commerce and cultural exchange are not enough to handle the challenge from Moscow. This is an uncomfortable message for the German public. But it is one that Scholz will have to explain. – Financial Times 

David Ignatius writes: Putin’s course may already be set for Kyiv. It’s hard to imagine that he has moved a vast army to the Ukraine border twice in the past year, only to retreat. Only Putin knows what he will do next in this self-created crisis. But even he can’t answer the classic question: Tell me how this ends? – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: The available evidence, including from Russia’s own security services, suggests that provocation plots underway are both numerous and diverse. An assassination or destructive strike upon a high-profile pro-Russian figure or target is highly plausible. Recall, after all, the Moscow apartment bombings of September 1999. While blamed on Chechen terrorists, there is significant if circumstantial evidence to suggest that pro-Putin elements conducted the attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in Chechnya. – Washington Examiner 

Ben Hall writes: Even if there is no large-scale invasion, Russia’s military build-up is already hurting Ukraine’s economy, frightening off foreign investors and visitors. The Dutch airline KLM this week stopped flights to Ukraine. Foreign investments in three of Utkin’s companies, including Ukraine’s leading cloud computing provider, had stalled simply because of warnings of war, he said. It would only add to the brain drain of Ukrainian talent. – Financial Times 


The U.S. is closing its embassy in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and relocating operations 340 miles west to Lviv near the Polish border, as allies warn that an attack by Russian forces on Ukraine may be imminent. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. and Canada have evacuated diplomats from Kyiv, with the White House warning that Russia, which has massed more than 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, could launch a full-scale invasion at any time. – Wall Street Journal 

His sentiments underscore a profound shift that Ukrainians have undergone in the eight years since Russia first invaded and snatched away parts of their country. A people long divided by profound disputes over what language to speak, what church to follow and what historical heroes to revere has begun to stitch together a sense of common purpose in the face of a menacing foe. – New York Times 

Europe relies on Russia’s natural gas to help heat millions of homes, generate electricity and power factories. With Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s border, Europe’s heavy dependence on Russia is limiting its diplomatic options and threatening to throw its energy supplies into turmoil. – New York Times 

Ukraine could drop its bid to join NATO to avoid war with Russia, the BBC quoted the country’s ambassador to Britain as saying, in what would amount to a major concession to Moscow in response to the build-up of Russian troops on its borders. – Reuters 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will not renounce Kyiv’s aspiration to join NATO, his top envoy emphasized after another diplomat seemed to suggest such a concession to avert the threat of a major Russian military invasion. – Washington Examiner 

European natural gas prices dropped after Russia this week signaled a de-escalation of tensions, easing some concerns over energy supplies to the continent.  – Bloomberg 

Karla Jones writes: Putin’s Ukraine gambit has had a unifying effect among and within the democracies of the West, which now have the opportunity to capitalize on this rare moment by repairing national social fabrics. Likewise, NATO can demonstrate its renewed cohesion at the upcoming Summit in Madrid by resolving to defend sovereign democracies. – The Hill 

Ben Hall writes: The Russian military menace against Ukraine is forcing EU capitals to close ranks — and not just on how to respond if Moscow proceeds with fresh aggression against Ukraine. It has also spurred neighbouring Poland, which has watched Moscow deploy over 30,000 troops to its neighbour Belarus, to begin mending fences with Washington and Brussels over its judicial reforms and clampdown on independent media. – Financial Times 


France and Mali had been trading blows for months when the European power’s top diplomat apparently lobbed one insult too many. – Washington Post 

At least two protesters were shot dead as security forces confronted crowds marching in Sudan on Monday demanding the release of prisoners and an end to military rule, medics and a Reuters reporter said. – Reuters 

Ethiopia’s parliament on Tuesday voted for an early end to a six-month state of emergency declared in November when rebellious Tigrayan forces had threatened to march on the capital. – Reuters 

The African Union is urging its international partners to overhaul the way they finance peace and security operations to help the continent counter the growing scourges of terrorism, extremism and coups more effectively. – Bloomberg 

Essa Kayd Mohamoud, the foreign minister of the unrecognized state of Somaliland, accused the Chinese government of attempting to shape its foreign relations during a goodwill trip to Taiwan on Friday. – The National Interest 

The Americas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under pressure to quell the chaos caused by demonstrations against public health measures that have eroded trust in public institutions and tarnished Canada’s reputation abroad, on Monday became the first Canadian leader to invoke the country’s Emergencies Act. – Washington Post 

The United States has formally requested the extradition of former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández on drug trafficking charges, according to senior Honduran officials, launching what could be one of the highest-profile criminal cases against a former head of state in years. – Washington Post 

Henry Olsen writes: Protesters in Canada will likely fail to change policies, at least in the short term. But they capture a sentiment that’s quickly gaining credence. In that sense, it seems, their movement will keep on truckin’. – Washington Post 

Jack Nicas and Anton Troianovski write: Mr. Putin’s courtship of Latin America has been years in the making. He has been able to take advantage of ties dating to the Soviet era, local resentments against the United States and the whims of particular leaders. During the pandemic, as rich nations hoarded Covid-19 vaccines, the Kremlin grabbed another opening: In at least five Latin American countries — Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Paraguay — Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was the first to arrive. – New York Times 

United States

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will depart for Eastern Europe on Tuesday to meet with NATO allies in the region as it braces for a possible Russian military incursion against Ukraine that U.S. officials say could happen as soon as this week. – The Hill 

The Pentagon is looking to get military aid to Ukrainians via ground delivery to help Kyiv with a resistance effort from within the country should Russia invade, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told House members in a private call Monday. – The Hill 

Daniel Yergin writes: But there are limits. Like all assets, this new position needs to be managed wisely. To use the oil and gas supply as a tool or weapon would undermine its reliability and could devalue it. […]Reflecting afterward, I realized he had two strong reasons to oppose U.S. shale gas. First, it would compete with Russian gas in Europe. Second, shale gas and oil would enhance America’s global strategic position. Given how events are unfolding in Europe today, one would have to say he was prescient. – Wall Street Journal 

Joseph Epstein writes: What with the conflicted messaging about the coronavirus, the out-of-control flow of illegal immigrants past the southern border, omnipresent crime in the streets, persistent inflation, and international challenges for world supremacy emerging from both Russia and China, strong leadership from the White House is urgently needed. Yet because Mr. Biden seems so without solid principles, so without clear policies, so unpresidential, the U.S. feels sadly leaderless. – Wall Street Journal 

Walter Russell Mead writes: Concern about China and now Russia will likely renew support for defense spending over time, but the development of an effective economic agenda that can command support at home while attracting allies and partners overseas remains an elusive goal. […]In the short term, an underprepared America faces serious security challenges in both Asia and Europe. To succeed over the long run, Americans will need to address the national-strategy deficit that currently undermines our position around the world. – Wall Street Journal 

Gerard Baker writes: Responding to a Russian “incursion” (thanks, President Biden) with robust economic sanctions, military supplies to Kyiv and a stepped-up security wall around NATO isn’t about some abstract defense of liberal values or Ukrainian sovereignty, or even, important though it is, the credibility of NATO. It’s about signaling to Vladimir Putin that America—and its chronically weak-willed allies—will finally resist his ambition to extend Russia’s ambit across Europe: because a world in which such a regime is expanding its reach isn’t a safe one for Americans. – Wall Street Journal 

Douglas London writes: Fundamentally, the choice with Russia is to escalate or capitulate. There is risk in any exercise of power, but for that matter, there is also risk in not acting at all. Spying is fundamentally about managing risk to achieve goals. Trading some degree of collection capability to deter a threat is logical, but only up to a point. Putin cannot be shamed, after all. – Foreign Affairs 


The European Union’s data protection watchdog called on Tuesday for a ban on the controversial spyware tool Pegasus, developed by Israeli-based NSO Group. – Reuters 

As government leaders scramble to come up with a diplomatic deal to avert all-out war in Ukraine, cybersecurity officials warn of a potential wave of Russia-backed cyberattacks that could destabilize NATO countries. – Politico 

A senior Jordanian official has called on his government to create a committee to investigate the phone hacking of nearly 200 Jordanian activists, journalists, human rights activists, and even government officials — believed to have been carried out using Israeli-developed spyware. – Ynet 

Jon Leibowitz writes: Failure in Congress will also set off a cascade of differing state privacy laws, possibly with conflicting standards that consumers won’t understand. Last year nearly two dozen states introduced some form of data-privacy legislation, and state lawmakers who have waited for Congress to act are losing patience. All American consumers deserve the same strong privacy protections wherever they live, work or travel. Because internet-transmitted data knows no state boundaries, we need a nationwide solution to a nationwide problem. – Wall Street Journal 


IDF F-15 fighter jets on Monday escorted an American B-52 bomber through Israeli skies on its way from the Gulf. – Arutz Sheva 

Aircraft carrier Carl Vinson returned home Feb. 14 after a six-and-a-half-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific, in the U.S. Navy’s first deployment of the “air wing of the future.” – Defense News 

The U.S. on Monday signed an agreement with the United Kingdom to assess the possibility of cooperation on future vertical lift programs. – Defense News 

Russia and China have each dedicated significantly more military cyber forces to conducting cyber effects than the United States, according to research by a London-based think tank. – Defense News 

As Ukraine braces for a possible Russian invasion that may come within days, the U.S. government is warning agencies, businesses and other critical organizations to be on their guard against cyberattacks. – Defense News 

The Pentagon announced on its website on 11 February that another 3,000 troops from the US 82 nd Airborne Division would be sent to Europe. The announcement came as US Army troops sent earlier were arriving in Poland and Romania to reassure NATO allies as European alliance members increased their commitment to the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) in the Baltic states and Poland in the face of Russia’s continued massing of troops against Ukraine. – Janes 

Previous defense policy laws have directed the Pentagon to draw up infrastructure and depot improvement blueprints. But proposing a 25-year plan is not the answer, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., head of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subpanel, said in October. “This committee perceives the problem, and we damn well intend to solve it, so get ready,” he said. – Defense News