Fdd's overnight brief

February 16, 2022

In The News


The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has become an “empty shell”, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said on Twitter on Wednesday. – Reuters 

British foreign minister Liz Truss spoke with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday and told him it was time for final decisions in talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, the foreign office said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The Biden administration’s former deputy special envoy for Iran, Richard Nephew, says he stepped down from his post “due to a sincere difference of opinion concerning policy.” – Times of Israel  

A top Iranian security official has indicated that verification and guarantees would be among the things needed to reach an agreement to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Israel sent a team to the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna for the first time on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to make its concerns heard. – Jerusalem Post  

Iran has proposed that the US Congress makes a “political statement” of its commitment to a nuclear accord with Tehran as talks in Vienna to revive the deal reach a critical juncture. – Financial Times

The European Union’s top diplomat said Monday a revived nuclear deal between Iran and world powers was “in sight” and urged negotiators to compromise. Josep Borrell’s comments came after a phone call with Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on the Vienna talks. – Bloomberg 

Salem Alketbi writes: Any agreement that might result from the Vienna negotiations would be a limited or conditional return to the original 2015 agreement at best. With respect to regional security and stability, there is not much new, but we should expect more chaos. – Jerusalem Post  


Today, like thousands of Afghans aligned with the United States who remain under threat inside their country, many of the Fulbright applicants feel abandoned by the Biden administration. Many had turned down scholarship opportunities in Europe and elsewhere in the hope of competing for a Fulbright. Now, they say, they have joined the list of casualties of a disorganized end to America’s longest war that has left them fearing the future. – Washington Post  

Following a lightning military advance on Kabul, Taliban militants seized power on August 15. The hard-line Islamists celebrated their victory as the end of more than four decades of war in Afghanistan, and promised a new era of peace and prosperity. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Top Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are demanding the Biden administration release all documents on the country’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan – The Hill

Shabana Basij-Rasikh writes: Yes, reopening schools is absolutely necessary, but it won’t be enough to set this game-changing circle in motion. If the Taliban wants to claim that girls’ education is “a question of capacity,” then the global community must press the group to build that capacity, and build it now. The model exists, and Afghan women stand ready, especially in rural areas where a women-led education infrastructure awaits the international investment it needs to thrive. – Washington Post  


A team of senior officials from Turkey will travel to Israel ahead of President Isaac Herzog’s planned trip to Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, as the regional rivals work to repair ties after years of animosity. – Reuters 

Turkey and the United Arab Emirates signed a defense industry cooperation agreement and a series of economic accords, cementing their newfound rapprochement after the Gulf nation came under attack by Iranian-backed fighters. – Bloomberg 

Israel did not condition improved relations with Turkey on the latter no longer harboring Hamas terror cells, a senior diplomatic source said overnight Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Josh Rogin writes: This primary campaign will likely be ugly, and it will be difficult to separate the good-faith concerns from the bad-faith attacks on Oz. In the coming months, Oz will be required to disclose more information that will show whether he has fully disentangled himself from whatever business ties Erdogan might see as leverage against a U.S. senator — and voters will make their own judgments. – Washington Post 


U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Israel on Wednesday as part of a Congressional delegation to the country, reiterating the United States’ “iron clad” support for Israel’s security. – Reuters  

Lockheed Martin will produce 12 CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters for Israel under a US Navy Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement, with the first expected to arrive in Israel in 2026. – Jerusalem Post  

Troops from the IDF’s 890th Paratroopers Battalion held a week-long drill simulating war on the northern front against Hezbollah while keeping a watchful eye on the country’s explosive southern border as tensions rise in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. – Jerusalem Post  

The US Navy is examining the possibility of bolstering its joint operations in the Middle East with Israeli-made unmanned vessels, a US official told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday. – Times of Israel 

Escalating tensions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood could lead to a fresh round of violence with Gaza-based terrorists, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Tuesday. – Times of Israel 

Israel is sending additional staff to Ukraine to weigh the possibility of relocating its embassy in Kyiv to Lviv amid strong concerns of a Russian invasion from the country’s eastern border, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. – Times of Israel  

Editorial: The fact remains that there is no one-state solution that can guarantee Israel remains Jewish, democratic and secure. Its supporters should both applaud steps to stabilize relations with the Palestinians and press for more. – Bloomberg 

Lahav Harkov writes: But with the possibility of the first war in Europe in decades – and the certainty that Russia is sowing chaos and challenging the international order – Israel, which has always sought to send a moral message to the world against antisemitism and the dangers of authoritarian regimes, may very well have to make a choice soon. And that choice will surely be to put Lapid’s liberal democratic values at the fore and stand with the West and Israel’s greatest ally, the US. – Jerusalem Post  


Yemenis face more cuts in humanitarian aid in coming months because of funding shortages that could reduce food rations in a country where millions face starvation, the United Nations aid chief warned, as the war sees its biggest escalation in years. – Reuters  

An ‘agreement in principle’ has been reached to transfer the toxic cargo from a rusting oil tanker abandoned off the coast of war-torn Yemen to another ship, the UN said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse 

Israel has been pressing the Biden administration to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terror group, at the United Arab Emirates’ behest, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel. – Times of Israel  

Neville Teller writes: The militancy of the Houthis, backed by Iranian military hardware, is growing and to their shame, they are making increasing use of children. […]The US-Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna seem close to an agreement. Is Biden still wedded to his original Iran-appeasement policy, has he moved sufficiently to sponsor an initiative of this sort or is he content to see a rampant Iran actually conquer Yemen? – Jerusalem Post

Gerald Feirstein writes: There is no debate either in Yemen or in the international community, that the Yemen conflict must be brought to a peaceful conclusion through a negotiating process. Moreover, the international community can play a helpful role in achieving that objective. But the starting point has to be a willingness to recognize the basic facts on the ground. That means addressing specifically, and with the tools that we have, the issue of Houthi intransigence and resistance to negotiation. – War on the Rocks 

Gulf States

Afghan refugees protesting conditions at a transit facility in the United Arab Emirates agreed to suspend protests after several days of talks with local U.S. and Gulf officials, the refugees said on Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal 

Saudi Arabia’s government expressed on Tuesday its support for “U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” state news agency SPA reported. – Reuters 

Shares in the Gulf region rose on Wednesday, buoyed by global positive sentiment, as fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine this week dissipated after Moscow indicated it was returning some troops to base in an apparent de-escalation. – Reuters   

A Bahraini military band played “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, outside the royal palace in Manama as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made history as the first Israeli leader to visit the Gulf state on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post  

Amid the missile and drone attacks carried out by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen against the UAE, Emirati journalist and political analyst Salem Al-Ketbi noted that the threats posed by Iran and its proxies to various regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, are very similar. Writing in his column on the news site Elaph, he argued that, given the similarity of the threats, and in light of the superpowers’ preoccupation with other matters, the countries of the region must enhance their military, intelligence and security cooperation – including with Israel – in order to effectively confront these threats. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Grant Rumley writes: The United States must weigh the benefits of proceeding with the F-35 sale against the risks of increasing the jet’s vulnerability or, if the deal collapses, spurring the UAE to ask China or Russia for fifth-generation fighters.[… ] Ultimately, the sale represents one of the first major tests of whether the United States can shift its focus to global great power competition while convincing countries in the Middle East that it is still a reliable partner. – Washington Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi told a conference in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday that the organization is working with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help them to develop nuclear power. – Reuters  

The Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan region Masrour Barzani said on Wednesday that he explored Kurdistan’s “huge gas potential” in a meeting with Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi. – Reuters  

An investigative judge said Tuesday she may sue Lebanon’s police chief, accusing him of preventing a security force from bringing in for questioning the central bank governor, who is accused of corruption. – Associated Press 

Russia has deployed MiG-31K fighter jets with hypersonic Kinzhal missiles and long-range Tupolev Tu-22M strategic bombers to its air base in Syria for naval exercises, Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, citing the defence ministry. – Reuters 

U.S. officials have met with Tunisian civil society representatives amid Washington’s concern over the dissolution of the Supreme Judicial Council, the U.S. embassy in Tunisia said on Tuesday, escalating international pressure on President Kais Saied. – Reuters 

Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said Tuesday that the welcome she received from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at a conference in Cairo a day earlier was “surprising” and “exciting,” and made her feel “great pride.” – Algemeiner 

Hezbollah’s elite ski unit took to the slopes in south Lebanon, preparing to fight against Israeli troops. – Jerusalem Post  

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has celebrated the 80th birthday anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un’s late father with a music concert and fireworks in a refurbished holy city, but no missile launch or military parade, state media KCNA reported on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Candidates for South Korea’s presidential election began on Tuesday their formal campaigns in a race tainted by intense political strife over allegations involving the main candidates and their families. – Associated Press 

A series of small, natural earthquakes has struck near North Korea’s shuttered nuclear test site, South Korea has said, highlighting the area’s geological instability as Pyongyang hints it could resume testing for the first time since 2017. – Reuters  


The Biden administration, in devising what it vows would be punishing economic penalties if Russia were to attack Ukraine, is factoring in whether China would come to Moscow’s aid and circumvent sanctions and other punitive measures. – Wall Street Journal  

Inflationary pressure in China continued to ease in January, offering room for Beijing to stimulate growth while more major economies are looking to tighten policy to curb rising prices. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Hong Kong’s government to control a spiraling Covid-19 outbreak that has overwhelmed the city’s healthcare system, highlighting Beijing’s growing concerns over the crisis while raising the likelihood of even tighter restrictions in the global financial hub. – Wall Street Journal  

The website of a UK-based advocacy group appears to have become inaccessible through some networks in Hong Kong, raising fears of mainland-style internet censorship in the Chinese territory. – The Guardian 

John Bolton writes: Beijing is not a regional threat but a global one. Treating the rest of the world as a third-tier priority, a distraction, the U.S. plays directly into China’s hands. Pivoting to Asia wouldn’t strengthen America against China. It would have precisely the opposite effect and weaken our global posture. – Wall Street Journal 

David Von Drehle writes: There is a path forward that neither caves in to tyranny nor invites global war: a strong, determined teamwork on behalf of liberty and the rule of law. Putin and Xi believe the West no longer has the will to achieve this. Their overreach has tripped the alarm. – Washington Post  

Tom Rogan writes: Ultimately, these are only a few of the examples of China’s covert influence efforts. Many others almost certainly remain undetected. But the lesson is clear: As it seeks the mantle of global leadership, China is committed to working in the shadows and playing the long game. – Washington Examiner 


Countries throughout Asia are climbing out from under the economic rubble of COVID-19 and looking for cost-effective ways to upgrade their militaries, defence companies said on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow this week. – Reuters 

Small, cheap, deadly drones caught the attention of military planners in 2020 when used to devastating effect in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but political sensitivities may keep them out of Southeast Asia, a regional defence expert said. – Reuters 

The Future Fund has been forced to divest about $5m in taxpayers’ money from a Chinese state-controlled weapons manufacturer that sold arms to the genocidal Myanmar military. – The Guardian 

A plan devised by Hamas was thwarted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Tuesday when it unveiled the terror group’s plan to establish infrastructure in the country and target Israelis there, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. – Jerusalem Post  

The chief executive of one of Australia’s largest liquefied natural gas producers has said that just a small fraction of his company’s LNG could be made available to Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia. – Financial Times  


Russia’s Defense Ministry said it was withdrawing troops from Crimea following the completion of military drills as Western intelligence reports that Moscow could invade its smaller neighbor as soon as Wednesday didn’t immediately materialize. – Wall Street Journal 

As Russian President Vladimir Putin sends mixed signals about his willingness to invade Ukraine, his military continues to undertake activities that appear designed not only to ready an offensive but to thwart any attempt by the United States and NATO to intervene, according to Western officials and analysts. – Washington Post  

Now, after five years of slowly rebuilding access to the highest ranks of the Kremlin, America’s intelligence agencies face a crucial test: deciphering whether Mr. Putin will use the more than 150,000 troops he has amassed near the Ukrainian border to invade, or merely to give him leverage as he dangles the prospect of a diplomatic settlement. – New York Times  

Joe Biden has said there is “plenty of room for diplomacy” to resolve the Ukraine crisis, bolstering hopes that time is available for talks that would lead to Russia stepping back from an invasion of its neighbour. – Financial Times  

Boris Johnson said the U.K. proposes to stop Russian firms from raising capital in London’s financial markets, part of measures targeting Vladimir Putin’s administration if it decides to invade Ukraine. – Bloomberg 

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he would keep challenging Russia’s leadership during the opening of a new fraud trial that could extend his jail term by more than a decade. – Agence France-Presse  

David Ignatius writes: Putin’s course might already be set for Kyiv. It’s hard to imagine that he has moved a vast army to the Ukrainian border twice in the past year, only to retreat. But the Kremlin chess master might have recognized that his most valuable assets are at risk — and that even with an intimidating opening, he probably can’t win a long match against a West that appears united against Russian aggression. – Washington Post  

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Putin’s interests are served by turning Ukraine into a pawn in a great-power game. Western leaders may insist that this will not happen, and that Ukrainians’ choices will be respected, but the dynamics of the current crisis contradict them… A compromise with Putin is politically unfeasible for him, so he needs to hold out and watch Biden spar with his Russian adversary. It’s an unenviable position to be in. The West owes Ukraine a better effort — in both diplomatic and financial terms — to make it tenable. – Bloomberg  

Tom Rogan writes: Invasion likely isn’t coming tomorrow. But it remains very likely to occur in the near future. Putin’s policy toward Ukraine takes root in a sense of destiny born of the Middle Ages, not the transitory political give and take of one moment. Do not underestimate his resolve. – Washington Examiner 

Douglas London writes: 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. The Biden administration needs to take care that its big revelations not only have a big impact but also don’t tie its own hands. – Foreign Affairs 

Emily Harding writes: Putin holds it within his power to avert a great deal of suffering by standing down Russian forces. That could still happen if Putin claims “exercises” are over. Should he decide to invade, however, NATO members should stand in Russia’s way—and by the side of the Ukrainians. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Russian government hackers have likely broadly penetrated Ukrainian military, energy and other critical computer networks to collect intelligence and position themselves potentially to disrupt those systems should Russia launch a military assault on Ukraine, according to newly declassified U.S. intelligence. – Washington Post 

Europe’s top court ruled on Wednesday that the European Union could withhold money for member countries that have curtailed the independence of their democratic institutions, marking a potentially costly defeat for Hungary and Poland. – Wall Street Journal  

Only Ukraine and NATO should determine Kyiv’s bid to join the alliance, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after meeting his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Kyiv on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Hungary and Poland are turning increasingly authoritarian, a European rights group said on Tuesday, a day before the European Union’s top court rules on whether to cut funding to member states flouting democratic rights and freedoms. – Reuters 

Greece’s parliament on Tuesday approved a 3 billion euro ($3.4 billion) agreement for three new French-made frigates that defense officials say are vital for addressing ongoing tensions with neighboring Turkey. – Associated Press 

A defiant Ukrainian leader urged citizens to celebrate a “Day of Unity” on Wednesday, as Washington warned once again that Russia remains poised to launch a devastating assault. – Agence France-Presse 

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has downplayed the likelihood of a large-scale invasion as Russia masses troops near the border, he is targeting what he sees as another threat to his country’s sovereignty: oligarchs. – Bloomberg 

With the world braced for war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has personally demanded that the Ukrainian government negotiate directly with separatist leaders in the occupied areas of eastern Ukraine. In the absence of such discussions, he said, implementing the Minsk peace accords is “impossible.” – Politico  

Joe Biden’s speech sounded like a closing argument, one that had been honed for some time and one that suggested expectations are still high in the White House that Russia will take military action. – The Guardian  

A recent, massive military exercise conducted by Russia and Belarus focused on preparation “for a conflict with NATO,” Estonian intelligence officials observed in a new report released under the shadow of a potential offensive against Ukraine. – Washington Examiner

Anastasia Edel writes: But a war with Ukraine would be different and not just because it has a fratricidal feel to it. Ukrainians, who sacrificed millions of lives to save the Soviet Union from the Nazis, are masters of partisan resistance. The conflict would be protracted, the victory pyrrhic and the consequences for Russia as a nation disastrous. “Rus, whither are you speeding to?” Gogol writes in “Dead Souls.” It’s a good question. – New York Times

Joseph Bosco writes: Putin surely knows of these internal Western divisions as well as anyone, which explains why he continues to pursue his fateful course. The United States must assert — and lead — a stronger, more timely and coherent response to Putin’s aggression and not allow the weakest links in the alliance to play into his strategy. – The Hill  


Al Shabaab militants attacked several police stations and security checkpoints in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu early on Wednesday, officials and the militants said, a show of force as the nation prepares for a much-delayed presidential election. – Reuters 

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce France’s intention to withdraw its forces from Mali, diplomatic sources said, after he hosts a top-level meeting on the Sahel region of Africa on Wednesday. – Reuters

France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, on Tuesday upheld a decision by investigative magistrates in 2018 to drop an investigation into the killing of Rwanda’s then-president in 1994, which triggered a genocide. – Reuters  

Ethiopia’s parliament on Tuesday lifted a wartime state of emergency imposed last November when Tigrayan rebels threatened to advance on the capital, easing restrictions earlier than expected. – Agence France-Presse  

With China reducing its spending in Africa, Europe sees a chance to boost its influence. At a two-day gathering of European and African leaders in Brussels this week, the EU hopes to unveil a series of major projects that will benefit from €150 billion in funding it has already pledged for its southern neighbors. – Politico 

Nigerian payments company Flutterwave has raised $250mn, giving it a $3bn valuation and making it the most valuable start-up in Africa as international investors bet on the continent’s scene. – Financial Times  

The Americas

The Canadian government on Tuesday defended its decision to invoke unusual emergency powers to quell protests that have paralyzed the capital for 19 days, with the country’s top security official calling a small group behind the current demonstrations a serious threat. – Wall Street Journal 

A swarm of Honduran police arrested former President Juan Orlando Hernández on Tuesday after the U.S. requested his extradition on charges he helped smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S. in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes that financed his political career. – Wall Street Journal  

Editorial: The escalating violence is a stain on Mexico’s democratic record. The Biden administration last year committed to “protecting and promoting free, independent, and diverse media around the world.” It should condemn the attacks on Mexican journalists and call for our democratic allies to support a free press. If they don’t, rogue regimes and bad actors will continue to act as though they have a free hand in their escalating efforts to silence independent voices. – Washington Post  

Hugh Hewitt writes: Stories of books settling scores or peddling gossip and boxes of documents not on the right shelf are just the insignia of clueless excess by our media. As the first major war in Europe in decades looms, could anything else matter less? – Washington Post  


Facebook and Google are under growing pressure to better balance privacy and ad-targeting — with their fortunes at stake as users rebel, regulators loom and Apple pounces on the moment to polish its image. – Agence France-Presse 

The Israeli government’s innovation arm, together with the country’s defense ministry, has announced a $62 million investment toward building the country’s first quantum computer. – Algemeiner  

Analysts have noticed various attempts in recent years by hackers trying to breach entities in the aviation and aerospace industries, as well as related transportation fields. The operators typically use of off-the-shelf malware and deploy digital lures that refer to industry-specific topics like airline cargo conferences or machine parts. – CyberScoop 

Editorial: The question shouldn’t be whether companies gather unnecessary amounts of sensitive information about their users sneakily — it should be whether companies amass these troves at all. Until Congress ensures that’s true for the whole country, Americans will be clicking through policies and prompts that do little to protect them. – Washington Post  


The way U.S. Cyber Command procures and tests new capabilities for cyber operations lacks a test and evaluation strategy as well the proper authority and resources to manage new tools, which the Pentagon’s weapons tester has said could result in fielding capabilities without demonstrating or understanding their effectiveness, suitability or survivability. – Defense News  

The U.S. military has nearly 80,000 troops on average on rotational or permanent orders in Europe. Now, it’s sending thousands more to support those units. – Defense News  

Oracle this week announced it can now handle some of the Department of Defense’s most sensitive data on one of its platforms, extending the cloud giant’s reach in the military sphere. – Defense News 

New recommendations released Tuesday to boost defense industrial base competition make clear the Pentagon is concerned about industry consolidation, particularly around hypersonic weapons. – Defense News   

The crew of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) were trained and prepared to effectively handle the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter crash that took place in the South China Sea last month, officials recently told USNI News. – USNI News  

The Army spent the majority of its time in Afghanistan and Iraq training, advising and assisting partner forces. But much of the Iraqi military fell apart in the face of the Islamic State after the U.S. withdrawal. And this past year, much of the Afghan security forces melted away as the Taliban advanced rapidly to take over all of Afghanistan. – Military Times  

For years, the Air Force has floated the possibility of teaming up drones and manned aircraft — most notably as a possible feature of its secretive Next Generation Air Dominance platform. But now, the Air Force’s plans for doing so are coming into focus — and energizing defense firms who hope their years of work pairing manned and unmanned systems will pay off. – Military Times