Fdd's overnight brief

February 17, 2022

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


France on Wednesday said a decision on salvaging Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers was just days away and that it was now up to Tehran to make the political choice while Tehran called on Western powers to be “realistic.” – Reuters 

Diplomacy to restore Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers is grinding to a standstill in Vienna and the focus is now shifting to a key transatlantic security meeting convening in Munich this weekend. Organizers of the conference say the prospects for an agreement with Iran are on the agenda. – Bloomberg 

Iran appears to be taking steps for its official return to the international oil market after more than three years. Officials from state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. were meeting at least two South Korean refiners to discuss a potential return of supply from the Persian Gulf producer, according to people with knowledge of the matter. – Bloomberg 

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently made a rare trip from his secure, secret location in Beirut to Tehran, where his Iranian backers impressed on him the expectation that the Lebanese terror group will respond militarily to any Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Channel 12 News reported Wednesday. – Times of Israel 

In an interview that was posted on Javanan.tv on January 14, 2022, former Iranian ambassador to Australia and Mexico Mohammad-Hassan Ghadiri-Abyaneh criticized former Iranian leaders. He said that former president Hassan Rouhani was a “traitor” who deserved to be lashed and to have his religious scholar’s cloak taken from him. Ghadiri-Abyaneh also said that he suspects Rouhani, as well as former president Ahmadinejad, had been pleased with the “martyrdom” of IRGC Qods Force commander General Qasem Soleimani. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Nearly 200 House Republicans have written to President Biden warning any nuclear deal made with Iran without Congress’ approval “will meet the same fate” as the 2015 agreement by President Obama later abandoned by President Trump. – Axios 

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Spencer Faragasso write: At this point, the reasons for Iran’s decision to move centrifuge manufacturing to Esfahan are unknown, but one possible reason is additional security, especially if the manufacturing workshops were moved into the underground tunnel complex at Esfahan. – Institute for Science and International Security 

Michael Rubin writes: What the JCPOA and Biden’s prospective new version fail to do is address the interplay between rogue nations. It is simply arrogant for Biden and Malley to believe that Iran compartmentalizes its nuclear work in the same way as the United States. Add into the mix that Biden’s $12 billion-plus in sanctions relief can buy space to conduct warhead work in a North Korean safe haven. – Washington Examiner 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Iran is developing a new nuclear threat that could be a game-changer – and which will continue to proceed regardless of whether there is a nuclear deal or not. It is a problem that almost no one is talking about, in an area called Natanz where the Mossad allegedly blew up two different nuclear facilities in July 2020 and April 2021 respectively. – Jerusalem Post 


Thousands of Afghan allies who narrowly missed being evacuated, and who have been living in hiding in Afghanistan or illegally in neighboring countries, have counted on a program known as humanitarian parole to reach the United States. But half a year since the frantic U.S. withdrawal, most remain stranded, either because they have been denied entry or are still awaiting the outcome of their cases. – New York Times 

Since taking power six months ago, the country’s new rulers have also issued directives requiring journalists to keep Islamic principles in mind and work for the good of the nation — rules that would seem aimed at quashing independent reporting. – Associated Press 

Rory Stewart writes: A humane and practical international response to the Afghan refugee crisis would allow the democratic world to revive the values that formed the multilateral system in the wake of World War II. It is an opportunity to draw on the best of the West’s shared political traditions and to demonstrate that it still can deliver on its moral obligations. It is a chance to show that international leadership and cooperation can produce practical and ethical results. – Foreign Policy 


Such clashes between hard-line IS supporters and those who have fallen away from the group’s extreme ideology are exacerbating security challenges for the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which runs Roj and other camps for IS detainees. – Associated Press 

Syrian media reported an air strike near Damascus on Wednesday night. According to the reports, explosions were heard in the area. Arab media reported that Israeli fighter jets attacked Khan al-Sheikh, located about 10 km south of the capital. It was also reported that the Syrian air defense systems were activated following the attack. – Arutz Sheva 

A groundbreaking attempt to make Iranian and Syrian military officials answerable for war crimes they may have committed in Syria is being launched, as part of an effort to have the cases brought before the international criminal court. – The Guardian 


Israel and Hamas have notified Egypt that they are “not interested in escalation and entering into a military confrontation despite the rising tensions in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah,” Egyptian sources said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

Two Palestinians were injured from live bullets in Jenin overnight, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed on Thursday morning. No IDF personnel was injured. – Jerusalem Post  

A Hamas terrorist was killed Wednesday when an offensive tunnel collapsed on him, the Gaza-based group said. – Times of Israel 

The defense establishment is preparing for the possibility of a drone attack from Iran and believes that Iran will continue its attempts to carry out such an attack, Kan 11 News reported on Wednesday. – Arutz Sheva 

Middle East & North Africa

Rising oil prices and fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have created a dilemma for Saudi Arabia: Help the West by pumping more crude to tame the market, or stand by a five-year-old oil alliance that is helping Moscow at the expense of Washington. – Wall Street Journal 

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said for the first time on Wednesday that it has the ability within Lebanon to convert thousands of rockets into precision missiles and to produce drones. – Reuters 

Israel’s economy minister will travel to Morocco next week to sign an economics and trade deal, as the countries look to broaden cooperation since they normalised ties in late 2020. – Reuters 

Kuwait’s interior and defense ministers, both ruling family members, have submitted their resignation, citing the impossibility of working in a “troubled” political atmosphere. – Bloomberg 

Yaniv Kubovich writes: Despite Hezbollah’s attempt to avoid publicly endorsing the deal and to commit itself not to attack Israel’s marine energy sites, Israeli security sources say Hezbollah is interested in concluding the talks with an agreement. […]Israel also believes that even without a commitment by Hezbollah to the agreement, the advantages to Lebanon from the immense profits will deter Nasrallah and force him to think hard before seeking to harm Israel’s energy reserves. – Haaretz 


China’s top leaders have spent days weighing how far Beijing should go to back Russian President Vladimir Putin and how to manage a partnership many call a marriage of convenience as opposed to one of conviction. – Wall Street Journal 

China accused the United States of “playing up the threat of warfare and creating tension”, as U.S. President Joe Biden warned that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still massed near Ukraine’s borders following Moscow’s announcement of a partial pullback. – Reuters 

China on Thursday expressed serious concerns regarding India’s ban of Chinese apps over security reasons, adding that it hopes India would treat all foreign investors, including Chinese firms, in a transparent, fair and non-discriminatory manner. – Reuters 

For two weeks and more, China’s stance on questions about its politics and policies has been straightforward: It’s the Olympics, and we’re not talking about these things. That changed Thursday at the Beijing organizing committee’s last regularly scheduled daily news conference Thursday, three days before the end of the Games. The persistent and polite refusal to answer such questions gave way to the usual state of affairs at news conferences with Chinese officials — emphatic, calibrated answers about the country’s most sensitive situations. – Associated Press 

Graham Allison and Eric Schmidt write: In 2019 the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board tried to sound the alarm, stating bluntly: “China is on a track to repeat in 5G what happened with the U.S. in 4G.” […]It will take far more than an additional $1.5 billion investment from Congress to change this. The Biden administration should make 5G a national priority and take the lead in building digital highways across the country as the government did in creating our national highway system. Otherwise, China will own the 5G future. – Wall Street Journal 

Jay Solomon writes: The U.S. should continue its historic role of speaking out for democracy and human rights and rally support for the Uyghurs, Rohingya and others suffering as a result of Beijing’s policies. This may place Washington at odds with its Mideast allies, some of whom have their own human rights issues. But this could help restore America’s role as a moral voice in the international community after decades in which it was attacked for its post-9/11 policies. It also could highlight Beijing’s increasingly belligerent role on the world stage. – The Hill 

Michael Schuman writes: In the longer term, China’s buildup could prompt its neighbors to respond in kind. U.S. allies protected by America’s nuclear umbrella, such as Japan and South Korea, could press Washington to develop and deploy regional nuclear capabilities to counter China. Or, worse yet, they could build their own. India, which also has a contentious relationship with China, might at some point decide to expand its small nuclear arsenal. – The Atlantic 


In a darkened hall inside one of Australia’s most secretive buildings, the intelligence chief described a startling plot: A foreign power had recently attempted to interfere in an election. – Washington Post  

Britain committed 25 million pounds ($34 million) to strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific as part of a pact with Australia, and leaders of both countries expressed “grave concerns” about China’s policies in its far western region of Xinjiang. – Reuters 

The crisis in Ukraine overshadowed a gathering of finance leaders from the world’s top 20 economies that kicked off on Thursday, with host Indonesia’s president warning “now is not the time” to create new risks to a fragile global recovery. – Reuters  

A vast majority of Southeast Asians see China as topping the U.S. as an economic power, a ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute survey found. – The Hill 

Taiwan is watching events in Ukraine with “much concern and anxiety” but plans to make any possible Chinese military attack on Taiwan “too painful” to consider, Taipei’s representative in Washington, Bi-khim Hsiao, said in an interview. – NBC News 

Japan’s defense minister raised concerns about Russia’s recent naval activities in the Sea of Japan, citing the size of the exercise and increased tension with Ukraine. – USNI News 


Western officials say Russia is showing no sign of pulling back its forces from the border with Ukraine — and that the Kremlin, contrary to President Vladimir Putin’s public statements, has instead recently added thousands more troops to the gathered ranks in preparation for a possible attack. – Washington Post  

On Wednesday, the day some U.S. intelligence officials had said a Russian invasion was likely to occur, Ukrainians rallied across the country in a display of solidarity and defiance in morning ceremonies. A cyberattack rattled the country the previous day, targeting the Ministry of Defense and two of the biggest banks, temporarily disrupting payments and showing zero balances on accounts. – Wall Street Journal 

But for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the military base in Poland, and another in Romania, are evidence of what he sees as the threat posed by NATO’s eastward expansion — and part of his justification for his military encirclement of Ukraine. The Pentagon describes the two sites as defensive and unrelated to Russia, but the Kremlin believes they could be used to shoot down Russian rockets or to fire offensive cruise missiles at Moscow. – New York Times  

Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied a claim by the U.S. and Britain that it’s added as many as 7,000 troops to what President Joe Biden has said are around 150,000 soldiers already near Ukraine’s borders. – Bloomberg 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allegation that Ukraine is committing “genocide” against ethnic Russians belies his purported interest in a diplomatic resolution to the looming threat of war in Europe, according to senior Senate Democrats. – Washington Examiner 

Editorial: Anyone wondering why Ukrainians want to bring their country into the West and out of Russia’s sphere of influence need only study the Navalny saga. He has shown rare courage, and the West shouldn’t forget him. – Wall Street Journal 

Edward Hunter Christie writes: The Kremlin appears to believe that its permanent warfare against Ukrainian statehood and democracy will make it stronger. It won’t. As Europe and the United States have learned from bitter experience, expansionist powers that assault their neighbors are a danger to all. Moscow’s strategy of permanent confrontation, agile and cynical as it is, will over time generate a wide-ranging response. Westerners, too, can sleep with one eye open. – Washington Post 

Peter Coy writes: After poking around this question for a couple of days I’ve concluded that the predictions of harm to Russia from a Swift cutoff are overblown, but sanctions can be at least somewhat effective. And even though sanctions are far from a perfect solution, they’re the only alternative to either armed conflict or acquiescence to Russian aggression. A war in Ukraine could be the biggest in Europe since 1945. – New York Times 

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: The Biden administration is correct to take Russian promises to pull back from the brink with a grain of salt and to highlight that there are no signs of real de-escalation on the ground. The fact of the matter is, Moscow’s latest diplomatic and military moves could be another deception. Putin and Lavrov could set the stage by signaling de-escalation and demonstrating a desire to ease tensions, only to concoct a trigger event to validate an incursion. – 19FortyFive 

David Rothkopf writes: The result would be sky-rocketing defense costs that would siphon off funds much better spent as investments in the daily lives and prospects of Americans. And focusing on Russia would distract us from addressing greater long term challenges—from climate change to next generation pandemics to the rise of China. – The Daily Beast 

Steven Horrell writes: While Russia’s ground forces have received the lion’s share of attention, these Black Sea Fleet exercises are another important aspect of Russia growing military capabilities to threaten Ukraine, whether with a full-scale invasion, or lower-intensity hybrid options. It presents Ukrainian commanders with additional considerations in their planned defense of the country, potentially forcing a misallocation of forces and so allowing Russian commanders to concentrate their attacks in less densely fortified areas of the front. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian authorities on Thursday traded allegations of cease-fire violations along the tense front line separating the two sides, as Western officials said Moscow continued to mass troops along the border of its smaller neighbor. – Wall Street Journal 

NATO told its military commanders on Wednesday to draw up plans for new combat units in central and southeastern Europe, as it accused Russia of sending more troops to areas near Ukraine instead of withdrawing its forces. – Reuters 

France has called for a revamp of Europe’s security framework, warning that it has become “nearly obsolete” and risks allowing Russia to become a permanent threat on the continent even if Vladimir Putin does not invade Ukraine. – Financial Times 

Tuesday’s disruption of multiple Ukrainian government websites and web services for several state-owned banks — along with spam text messages falsely claiming ATMs didn’t work — were part of a coordinated operation designed to sow panic, Ukrainian government officials claimed Wednesday. – Cyberscoop 

Two political officials critical of the ruling party in Poland and active in the country’s opposition were found to have been targeted with the Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group, the Project Pegasus consortium revealed Thursday. – Haaretz 

NATO members are weighing to send fresh troops to the alliance’s eastern and southeastern member countries, as Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday dismissed Moscow’s claims that some of its forces are returning to their barracks. – Defense News 

Anthony Faiola writes: But there’s another school of thought that the West has done most of what it can for Ukraine in the geopolitical context, and its decision to refuse Russian demands for a pledge that would definitively end its NATO or E.U. dreams should be hailed. […]With an estimated 150,000 of Putin’s troops on Ukraine’s frontier, that future may be getting more and more distant. But until there’s a Russian flag flying over Maidan Square, it may not be dead. – Washington Post 

Edward Lucas, Ben Hodges, and Carsten Schmiedl write: The relative strength of the Baltic Sea region compared to other areas facing potential Russian aggression is no reason for complacency. The biggest contribution to regional security must come from the biggest countries — Germany, Poland, and, above all, the United States. However, smaller countries also have considerable scope to contribute by improving their security cooperation. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


France and its European allies are preparing to withdraw their military forces from Mali, according to European officials, a move that would leave a security vacuum in Africa’s Sahel region where French-led troops have spent nearly a decade battling Islamist terror groups and tamping down ethnic conflict. – Wall Street Journal 

Burkina Faso’s military leader Paul-Henri Damiba was sworn in as president on Wednesday, weeks after leading a successful coup, and he promised to deal with the mounting insecurity that helped oust his predecessor. – Reuters 

The EU will welcome more than 40 African leaders to Brussels on Thursday in an effort to reassert its influence on a continent where China and Russia have made hefty investment inroads, and where many felt let down by Europe’s COVID-19 vaccines rollout. – Reuters 

Forces affiliated with Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front committed crimes including murder and rape in the Horn of Africa nation’s Amhara region, Amnesty International said. – Bloomberg 

Michael Rubin writes: Liberia has a host of anti-corruption institutions. But while these institutions are nominally and legally independent from the Government of Liberia, the truth is that the government fails to adequately fund them and exerts its influence upon them. Too many of Liberia’s leaders have chosen their own personal short-term gain over the long-term benefit of their country. America is at its strongest when it acts proactively and in a bipartisan fashion. – 19fortyfive 

Latin America

In a remarkable diplomatic display Wednesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who resisted domestic appeals as well as pressure from U.S. officials to cancel his visit to Moscow, sat knee to knee with Putin and declared that Brazil was in “solidarity” with Russia. Putin then named Brazil as Russia’s most important partner in Latin America. – Washington Post 

Venezuela is a key ally for Russia in Latin America, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said while visiting the South American country on Wednesday, adding that the two countries will look to deepen bilateral ties. – Reuters 

President Nayib Bukele on Wednesday asked U.S. senators to stay out of El Salvador’s “internal affairs” after they called for an investigation into the economic risks the United States faces due to the Central American country’s adoption of bitcoin as legal tender. – Reuters 

The Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Wednesday the arrest of two assistant prosecutors from the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI), the latest in a string of detentions of anti-corruption officials. – Reuters 



A cyberattack aimed at paralyzing banks and government websites was the worst of its kind in Ukrainian history, officials in Kyiv said, as the standoff with Russia continues to draw warnings of a potential invasion. – Bloomberg 

The International Committee of the Red Cross has concluded that a nation-state hacker was behind a cyberattack on its servers discovered last month. A forensic analysis of the attack revealed the use of tools designed specifically to go after ICRC servers, the organization said Wednesday. – CyberScoop 

Cyber incidents in Ukraine this week raised fresh alarms amid concerns Russia may invade the nation imminently, however, experts said they’re cautiously awaiting more details about the cyber activity. – Defense News 


Multiple U.S. Navy aircraft had a close encounter with Russian aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea last weekend, according to the Pentagon. – Washington Examiner 

The United States sent F-35 fighter jets to Germany on Monday to bolster NATO defenses, the Air Force Reserve Command announced Wednesday. – The Hill 

The U.S. intelligence community says that Russian-sponsored actors have been targeting defense contractors for at least the past two years and in some cases have gained access to sensitive information. – The Hill 

Three weeks after an F-35C Lightning II fighter bounced off the deck of a ship and sank into the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy decided to highlight its salvage and deep-sea recovery capabilities in a press event for reporters Wednesday while insisting the two weren’t related. – Military.com 

The U.S. Navy wants to quickly advance its technology to keep up with China, but must ensure it remains closely tied to allies and partners during this evolution, the chief of naval operations said this week. – Defense News 

The U.S. Navy attack submarine force inventory is at a low, and maintenance backlogs are making it harder to conduct important development work, the commander of the submarine force in U.S. Pacific Fleet said this week. – Defense News  

The U.S. Air Force is integrating a new GPS simulator at its Guided Weapons Evaluation Facility to support testing of the service’s swarming munitions program, Golden Horde. – Defense News 

To spur innovation and lower costs for the weapon systems it buys, the US Department of Defense (DoD) plans to take several steps to boost competition in its industrial base, according to a report released on 15 February. – Janes 

David J. Berteau writes: There are a host of additional issues that need attention, from improving DoD’s program and contracting workforce to accelerating contract award schedules. […] In particular, DoD officials should spend more time defining the problems they are trying to solve and assessing ways to effect real change that addresses those problems. Those ways should include more robust analysis, proper focus, vision, and implementation of the areas where competition will really help. There is no better time to start than today. – Defense News 

Long War

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, said on Wednesday that his organization has the ability to convert rockets into precision missiles and produce drones. – The Hill 

Australia announced on Thursday its intention to designate the entirety of the Hamas movement as a terrorist organization, Australian media reported. The designation will come into effect in the next few weeks, Army Radio noted. – Jerusalem Post 

Tricia L. Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm write: In other examples of a figurehead’s death, rare as they are, these deaths paved the way for the emergence of more dynamic leaders. The Islamic State has a robust history of such leaders through its evolution from al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq to the current Islamic State. The big question now is whether the death of Qurayshi may mean a more dynamic leader is poised to emerge, particularly as the Islamic State is trying to gain momentum across Syria and Iraq. – Washington Post  

Matthew Levitt writes: In December 1983, six blasts shook Kuwait’s capital city. Two prominent Hezbollah operatives oversaw the attack. Soon, bombs were going off in Paris, Copenhagen, and Saudi Arabia. Two years later, Hezbollah operatives hijacked TWA flight 847 and murdered a USS Navy diver. What did Hezbollah want? And why was a Lebanese-based militant group conducting attacks in Europe and the Gulf? – Washington Institute 

Michael Rubin writes: The Biden administration is correct to say that counterterrorism should not simply be a military problem. In Mozambique, Biden has the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is. Security vacuums pose a threat far beyond national borders. Biden deserves praise for keeping the pressure on the Islamic State leadership in Syria, but that pressure only leads the group to accelerate its search for other safe-havens. It is essential the United States—and all civilized nations—block its efforts to do so. – The National Interest 

Thomas Halvorsen writes: The Islamic Republic’s tenacity is impressive, almost dangerously so, raising the question of how it has managed to survive for so long. Bluntly put, the regime has carefully navigated the narrow pass of its social contract, calculating how it can engender just enough loyalty to retain control, while continuing to maintain its monopoly on power. This campaign relies on a delicate blend of persuasion and coercion. – Middle East Institute