Fdd's overnight brief

February 18, 2022

In The News


Painstaking negotiations to revive an international nuclear deal with Iran may be coming to an end, and diplomats say an agreement is within reach after nearly a year of talks. But a backlash among its critics in the United States is just beginning. – New York Times 

A U.S.-Iranian deal taking shape to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers lays out phases of mutual steps to bring both sides back into full compliance, and the first does not include waivers on oil sanctions, diplomats say. – Reuters  

Asian refiners, traditionally big buyers of Iranian oil, are keen to resume imports from Iran if there is an agreement to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, which could pave the way for more supply on global markets and soften prices. – Reuters  

Despite threats from nearly three dozen Republican senators to thwart a revived Iran nuclear deal and the misgivings of some top Democrats, there is little chance the U.S. Congress can block a new accord if one comes to fruition. – Reuters  

Iran’s supreme leader said on Thursday that it will further develop peaceful nuclear capacity to preserve independence, amid negotiations with world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact. – Reuters  

A tanker owned by a Los Angeles-based private equity firm likely took part in the illicit trade of Iranian crude oil at sea despite American sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic amid the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers, an advocacy group alleges. The firm said Thursday it is cooperating with U.S. government investigators. – Associated Press 

Iran and the Western powers negotiating at Vienna have reached the basis for a new agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, and will announce the deal next week, France’s foreign minister said Friday. – Arutz Sheva  

On February 9, 2022, on the eve of the 43rd anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ahmad Hossein Falahi, chairman of the Iranian Majlis Faction Supporting The Resistance Axis And The Liberation Of Jerusalem spoke at a media event on “The Islamic Revolution and Solidifying a New Regional Order.” The event was held by the Association to Defend the Palestinian Nation. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Jason Rezaian writes: It’s hard to see a way forward with Iran’s current leadership, which is precisely why we should have been investing in bolstering Iranian civil society. Trump also set back the possibility of doing that through blanket sanctions and travel bans. The U.S. approach to Iran should seek to empower ordinary Iranians. But to do that the Biden administration must think beyond tired tropes. – Washington Post 

Eric R. Mandel writes: This brings us to today and the process of rejoining a significantly different Iran nuclear agreement. This matter is way too important for our long-term security interests to simply become a politicized win. Biden said that Iran would not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch. Those words may be valid, but the next president almost certainly will have to deal with Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Now is the time to educate the American people about why any new agreement needs a public airing, as specified by IRARA, and should be submitted to the Senate as a treaty, as our Constitution requires. – The Hill  

Omer Carmi writes: Against this backdrop, Khamenei may have sought to remind his negotiators of the kind of deal they are expected to achieve—namely, one that prevents Iran from repeating what happened after 2015—but without straining the delicate dynamics in Vienna with another maximalist tirade. Eschewing a more explicit signal might also help him avoid drawing too much domestic attention to the nuclear deal, since stoking public expectations for a return to the JCPOA may not be in his best interests right now. – Washington Institute  


The Biden administration’s decision to effectively seize the Afghan central bank’s foreign reserves is likely to deepen Afghanistan’s already devastating economic crisis, according to Afghan bankers and economists and international aid workers. – Wall Street Journal  

The U.S. government aims to open a new center in Northern Virginia to receive additional Afghan evacuees, according to four sources familiar with the matter, although even before any official announcement the local sheriff in the area raised concerns about the plan. – Reuters 

Azeem Ibrahim writes: Short of collaborating with the Taliban and helping their government manage the country out of its current crisis, this is the only honorable way in which the West can account for its moral duty to the people of Afghanistan—the people the West has failed and left behind. The West is fully responsible for the mess it left in Afghanistan upon its withdrawal. Further, since it is prepared to wash its hands of the responsibility for the country’s future, the only alternative is to help those civilians who are looking to escape the country it broke. – The National Interest  


President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Turkey will break the shackles of interest rates and that debate on the issue had largely dropped off the agenda as the lira has stabilised, after the currency plunged 44% against the dollar last year. – Reuters  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top adviser, İbrahim Kalın, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sadat Onal were in Jerusalem on Thursday to advance improved ties between the countries. – Jerusalem Post  

Rich Outzen and Soner Çağaptay write: The new era of Turkish foreign policy presents a narrowing window of opportunity; keeping Ankara at arms-length will either push it back to unilateralism, or into a multilateralism favoring other great powers. A Turkey on better terms with Western partners may have more latitude to address some of the bilateral irritants most important to the US; as during the Cold War, liberalization might be the product of security and economic cooperation, rather than a prerequisite for them. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Israel on Thursday formally announced it would not cooperate with a special commission formed by the United Nations’ top human rights body to investigate alleged abuses against Palestinians, saying the probe and its chairwoman were unfairly biased against Israel. – Associated Press 

The Israeli military on Thursday said it shot down an unmanned aircraft launched by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group into Israeli airspace. – Associated Press 

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas met with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Thursday for talks on reviving a two-state solution to the conflict, Abbas’s office said. – Agence France-Presse  

Red alerts sounded in the northern Galilee area, the Jordan Valley and the southern Golan Heights such as in Rosh Pina and the surrounding towns on Friday morning. – Jerusalem Post  

The Israeli Navy on Thursday wrapped up its participation in the US Navy’s massive IMX exercise, in which dozens of countries took part, including several with which Israel does not have formal ties. – Times of Israel  

Israeli security forces were gearing up for possible unrest in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank on Friday afternoon, following a week of violence between Jewish extremists and Palestinians in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and other parts of the capital. – Times of Israel 

A Gazan man with a permit to enter Israel for medical treatment used his access to scout for potential recruits for the Hamas terror group, the Shin Bet security service said Thursday. – Times of Israel 

Editorial: Australia’s bold move is the latest in a worldwide trend to recognize Hamas for what it really is, despite its claims of political legitimacy since become the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip following its victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections and the 2007 Battle of Gaza. – Jerusalem Post 

Amos Yadlin and Assaf Orion write: In the short and medium term, Jerusalem and Washington should urgently work together to prevent nuclear proliferation in the region and its potentially catastrophic repercussions, including by promoting credible and effective military alternatives to a diplomatic agreement or as its backstop. Recent reports of joint U.S.-Israeli strategy discussions may indicate that some work is being done in this direction. Further ahead, it will be vital for Israel and the United States to adapt their strategic relations to the new age of strategic competition and its challenges. – Foreign Affairs  

Arabian Peninsula

U.S. officials held discussions with Saudi Arabia about a “collaborative approach” to managing potential market pressures stemming from a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters  

Phil Mickelson has criticised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record even while in discussions to join a new Saudi-backed golf circuit, saying he was only using the new tour as leverage to prise more concessions out of the U.S.-based PGA Tour. – Reuters  

Kuwait’s constitutional court has struck down a contentious law long used to criminalize transgender people by forbidding the “imitation of the opposite sex.” – Associated Press 


Middle East & North Africa

Israel never received any response from international agencies and organizations after the country issued numerous offers of aid to Lebanon, The Jerusalem Post has learned. – Jerusalem Post 

Adnan Nasser writes: Presently, Lebanon faces the worst economic crisis it has experienced in over a century, and outside powers are willing to help, albeit with specific conditions. […]Unfortunately, these requests will never happen with the current leadership in power, whose greed and indifference has come at the expense of Lebanon’s welfare. Thus, there is a national desire for a change in leadership. The promise of justice and political accountability that the revolution could not keep through mass protests can be fulfilled at the ballot box. – The National Interest  

Herb Keinon writes: If Turkey wants to dramatically improve ties with Israel, which it clearly does, it will have to pay a price. A big part of that price will be to significantly curtail Hamas’s operations in Turkey, if not kick out of the country the leaders of the terrorist organization, some of whose members carry Turkish diplomatic passports and have even obtained Turkish citizenship. – Jerusalem Post 


Officials are considering citywide coronavirus testing in Hong Kong, adopting a strategy used in mainland China after Beijing demanded more be done to control an Omicron surge that has quickly overrun the city’s health system. – Wall Street Journal  

An arm of the taxpayer-funded World Bank has provided nearly $500 million in financing to four Chinese companies that appear to have employed forced laborers in the country’s Xinjiang region, according to a new report. – Washington Post 

Inside the Potemkin village of China’s propaganda, the Winter Olympics have unfolded as an unalloyed success, a celebration of sports and political harmony that has obscured — critics say whitewashed — the country’s flaws and rights abuses. – New York Times 

E-commerce sites operated by China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (9988.HK) were included on the U.S. government’s latest “notorious markets” list, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said on Thursday. – 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, 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 

While the world is captivated by the beauty, vitality and passion of sport on exquisite display in Beijing, China is inflicting systematic suffering and abuse on thousands held against their will — crimes against humanity — behind the scenes. – Newsweek 

China has called on the United States to satisfy Russia’s security concerns regarding NATO expansion in Eastern Europe as a crisis along Ukraine’s borders drags on, with Washington warning the Kremlin could order an invasion at any minute. – Newsweek 

Fareed Zakaria writes: At the start of the Cold War, when ideology also dominated over strategy, Washington lumped all communist states together. It took the United States 25 years (and the Vietnam War) to learn that we should treat Moscow and Beijing differently. At the start of the war on terrorism, the George W. Bush administration announced that Iraq, Iran and North Korea formed an “axis of evil,” a mistake for which we are still paying the price. – Washington Post 

Zhiqun Zhu writes: It is high time that the two countries resumed exchanges at all levels and sought ways to peacefully manage the complex relationship. Above all, politicians in Washington must stop scapegoating China for their own incompetence to solve domestic problems while fanning anti-Asian racism in an already divided society. – The Hill 

Michael Beckley writes: If there is any hope, it lies in a renewed commitment to democratic values. The United States and its allies share a common aspiration for an international order based on democratic principles and enshrined in international agreements and laws. 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  

South Asia

Indian authorities have raided the offices of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. over suspected tax evasion, triggering a protest from Beijing, in the latest sign that border tensions between the two countries are spilling into commercial ties. – Wall Street Journal 

An Indian court on Friday sentenced 38 Muslim men to death and ordered life in prison for 11 others for a series of bomb blasts in 2008 in the city of Ahmedabad that killed more than 50 people, lawyers said. – Reuters  

A Sri Lankan court on Friday freed two top former officials who had been charged with negligence in connection with 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks that killed 260 people. – Associated Press 

Pakistan’s military has stepped up operations along the Afghan border in recent weeks after a spate of militant attacks that has dashed any hope the frontier might see more peace and stability after the end of the war in Afghanistan. – Reuters 

Sadanand Dhume writes: When Mr. Modi himself has conducted Hindu prayers on television, the idea that his government or party are interested in French-style secularism is laughable. It comes across as another attempt to browbeat the Muslim minority. Indians have every right not to like the hijab. But a ban will rightly be seen as another step in the country’s slide toward illiberalism. – Wall Street Journal    


Allegations of cultural appropriation and unfair officiating at the Beijing Winter Olympics have stoked anger among South Koreans toward China, turning what should be a global celebration of athleticism into yet another flash point between two neighbors with a history of cultural and political tensions. – Washington Post 

Myanmar’s military junta is to take part in hearings at the top United Nations court in The Hague next week despite a complaint from political opponents that this could give it international recognition without legal standing. – Reuters  

Taiwan’s government proposed on Thursday a new law to prevent China from stealing its chip technology, amid rising concern in Taipei that Beijing is stepping up its economic espionage. – Reuters  

The Philippines has followed New Zealand’s decision to reject the inclusion of Myanmar in the world’s largest free trade pact as international opposition to the military takeover that sparked violence and democratic setbacks in the Southeast Asian nation broadened into trade and diplomatic sanctions. – Associated Press 

Myanmar’s military regime plans to start an online lottery in the next two months as it hunts for new revenue streams to offset a slump in tax collections from an economy battered by the pandemic and the exit of foreign companies following the coup. – Bloomberg  

Thomas Spoehr writes: Americans and allies searching for assurances that the U.S. will be regionally present with the necessary military forces to deter China will not find them in the new Indo-Pacific strategy. It’s a unserious strategy for deadly serious times. – The Hill 

Anthony B. Kim writes: Washington should take note of that. Clearly, starting the process of a U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement is one worth investing further in over the next decade as well. Such a practical, more institutionalized economic partnership would reinforce other vital diplomatic links between Taiwan and the United States as true partners in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. –  The Daily Signal 


Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of a looming Russian offensive against Ukraine and proposed a last-ditch diplomatic meeting with his Russian counterpart next week that he said could lead to a summit of key leaders. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops along the country’s border with Ukraine has led to the biggest stand off between Moscow and the West in years. The Kremlin has been seeking a formal guarantee that NATO will never admit Ukraine and other former Soviet states as members and roll back troop deployments to the status quo in 1997, before the alliance admitted Eastern and Central European states. – Wall Street Journal  

President Biden will hold talks with other Western leaders Friday about the Ukraine crisis, as 11th-hour efforts to prevent a Russian attack continue against the grim backdrop of widespread shelling in eastern Ukraine and Moscow’s continued troop buildup at the border. – Washington Post 

Moscow’s expulsion of the U.S. deputy ambassador to Russia was “unprovoked,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday, while warning about the heightened potential of a Russian invasion into Ukraine. – Reuters 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for talks in Europe next week, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity related to Moscow’s military buildup near Ukraine. On Thursday, President Joe Biden warned that the probability of an invasion of Ukraine is still “very high.” – Bloomberg  

Editorial: Another parallel between the situation of Ukraine and that of Mr. Putin’s internal opposition is that, in each case, the Russian president seeks to break their resistance, through constant psychological pressure. Whatever else may happen, the refusal of Messrs. Navalny and Yesypenko to buckle, like Ukraine’s refusal to renounce its political independence, constitutes a real — if intangible — defeat for Mr. Putin. – Washington Post 

Hal Brands writes: America’s determination to deny Russia an autocratic sphere of influence is now running head-on into Putin’s determination to create one. Which means that the costs and risks associated with this time-honored aspect of U.S. policy are about to go up. – Bloomberg  

Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage write: Russia can eviscerate Ukraine on the battlefield. It can make Ukraine a failed state. But it can do so only by prosecuting a criminal war and by devastating the life of a nation-state that has never invaded Russia. The United States and Europe and their allies and other parts of the world will draw conclusions and be critical of Russian actions. Through their alliances and in their support for the people of Ukraine, the United States and Europe can embody the alternative to wars of aggression and to a might-makes-right ethos. Russian efforts at sowing disorder can be contrasted to Western efforts at restoring order. – Foreign Affairs 


President Biden’s response to Russia’s military aggression along the border with Ukraine is testing whether his career-long reliance on alliance-building can help avert a potential catastrophe in Europe, and so far he has avoided the diplomatic mistakes that dogged his first year in office. – Wall Street Journal  

U.S. natural-gas producers and global commodity traders are emerging as some of the biggest beneficiaries of the surging energy prices spreading pain in Europe. – Wall Street Journal  

At least five embassies, including the United States, have moved a part of their operations to Lviv, about 350 miles west of Kyiv and within a short drive to the Polish border. – Washington Post 

Russia’s massive and open military threat to Ukraine, she and others say, is now shaking a sense of complacency among young and old Europeans alike who have never known war, hot or cold. For some, at least, the moment is an awakening as the threat of war grows real. – New York Times 

In most years, the Munich Security Conference has focused on crises far away, like those in Afghanistan or Iraq. But for this year’s gathering, which begins Friday, the topic will be Europe itself, as one of its largest nations faces a potentially catastrophic invasion. – New York Times 

Fears of a new war in Europe resurged Thursday as U.S. President Joe Biden warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days, and violence spiked in a long-running standoff in eastern Ukraine that some worried could provide the spark for wider conflict. – Associated Press 

World leaders converge this weekend on Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference which will be dominated by the Ukraine crisis as major Western powers warn the Kremlin looks close to launching an invasion of the former Soviet state. – Reuters 

Ukraine is working with the United States and other Western nations on unlocking billions of dollars in funding to shore up its finances and is looking to the International Monetary Fund for another deal, the country’s finance minister said. – Reuters  

Pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine accused government forces of shelling a village on Friday while Russian media reported more infantry and tank units were returning to their bases in contrast to Western fears of an imminent Russian invasion. – Reuters  

The U.S. issued some of its starkest, most detailed warnings yet about how a Russian invasion of Ukraine might unfold, and its Western allies went on high alert for any attempts by the Kremlin to create a false pretext for a new war in Europe. – Associated Press 

One by one, U.N. Security Council members called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine. Even Russia’s deputy foreign minister said everything should be done to find a diplomatic solution. But he didn’t respond to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s appeal to state unequivocally that Russia will not invade Ukraine. – Associated Press  

The Russian military on Friday announced massive drills of its strategic forces, a stark reminder of the country’s nuclear might amid Western fears that Moscow might be preparing to invade Ukraine. – Associated Press 

Ukraine said on February 18 that it has recorded a sudden surge in cease-fire violations by Russia-backed separatists in the east as the United States warned that Moscow is preparing provocations to justify an invasion of its neighbor in the coming days. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Josh Rogin writes: This conference in Munich may end up laying bare some of the problems inside the West, but we should welcome that — it’s the only way to address and fix them. Invasion or no invasion, this crisis is likely far from over. For the sake of Ukraine’s security and our values and interests, Putin must see Western “unity” in both talk and action. – Washington Post 

Lionel Laurent writes: So while the current phase of unity is welcome, it will take serious work to translate into something more permanent. At a time when the EU is eyeing “strategic autonomy” in everything from semiconductors to space, yet at the same time facing criticism over its ability to actually deliver on it, leaders will hope the simmering conflict at their doorstep doesn’t escalate further. Threatening sanctions isn’t the same as delivering them. – Bloomberg  

Tom Rogan writes: As a final point, although Ukraine has made progress in areas such as democratic accountability and an independent judiciary, challenges such as corruption and politicized institutions endure. This matters because a NATO “membership action plan” for prospective members includes that member’s ability to prove it has a “functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minority populations … a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.” – Washington Examiner  

Lily Hyde writes: Russia started its intimidation of Ukraine not with the ongoing buildup of troops, but eight years ago with the invasion and annexation of Crimea. The peninsula remains an intractable point of antagonism between Russia, Ukraine and the West. – Politico  

Brian S. Petit writes: Ukraine’s modern resistance strategy employs small-state thinking inside of big-state depth. This is a unique case with few contemporary parallels. If the Ukrainian total defense plan – bolstered by citizen-resistance – does its job well, it will succeed as a deterrence mechanism. Should this deterrence work, then citizen-soldiers will, gratefully, remain untested as a fighting force. The grand aim of the Ukrainian resistance right now is to prevent the need for a final liberation story. – War on the Rocks  


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

Germany’s defence minister said on Thursday she was sceptical about whether a European Union training mission in Mali could continue and that a U.N. peacekeeping mission would have to be reviewed after France said it would begin a military exit. – Reuters  

Niger has accepted that French and European special forces will be deployed into its territory from neighbouring Mali, in order to secure the border area with the West African state, Niger’s president said on Twitter on Friday. – Reuters  

Nigeria has called for a new economic deal between Africa and the European Union, describing the existing agreements as “one sided and unfair.” – Bloomberg 

Samuel Ramani writes: Western countries need to present a united front and replace their single-minded focus on great-power competition with a comprehensive strategy that blends hard and soft power. If they can up their game in Africa, Western forces will not just help diminish Russian influence but better the lives of millions of people on a continent that is too often an afterthought in international affairs. – Foreign Affairs  

United States

The United States on Thursday criticized Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s declaration of “solidarity” with Russia during a visit there this week as it amassed troops near Ukraine’s borders, raising fears it is planning to invade. – Reuters  

The Senate on Thursday night passed a resolution supporting Kyiv and urging President Biden to “impose significant costs” if Russia invaded Ukraine. – The Hill 

Senate Democrats and Republicans are pushing an image of determined unity in opposing Russian threats to Ukraine, even as disunity and partisan bickering threatens to undermine their message. – The Hill 


The U.S. government is intensifying efforts to combat the criminal use of cryptocurrencies as federal prosecutors continue to target the business models and logistics of cybercrimes such as ransomware, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Thursday. – Cyberscoop 

U.S. companies, particularly in the defense industry, should be prepared for an increase in cyberattacks aimed at stealing data or disrupting operations as a result of new aggressive Russian activity aimed at Ukraine, a top Department of Justice official said on Thursday. The remarks come one day after a new alert from the FBI, National Security Agency, and the Computer Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, warning that Russian hackers had hit defense contractors and were likely to continue their attempts. – Defense One 

Parmy Olson writes: Facebook’s efforts to address metaverse safety look tepid in comparison. Following the reports of harassment, it introduced an option to block avatars from coming within a two-foot radius of a user’s own avatar. Blocking tools certainly have some promise, but they have been trialed in gaming and can be misused as a blockade against others. A more serious attempt at establishing safety as a norm would be to shut down Meta’s social VR platforms — as Microsoft did — and re-design them with safety in mind. – Bloomberg  

Otto Lanzavecchia writes: European lawmakers don’t quite like provisions of the American Cloud Act – which potentially clears US intelligence to examine data stored on European soil by American companies. Both sides desperately need to solve the Privacy Shield issue. Could DMA thresholds look like a worthy bargaining chip? If Europe agrees to expand its gatekeeper definition, might the US curb its surveillance? – Center for European Policy Analysis  


In late December, Congress wrote a big IOU to the Pentagon, authorizing an additional $25 billion over the bare-bones defense budget proposed by the Biden administration for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. – Washington Examiner  

The Department of Defense completed a test flight for an unmanned Black Hawk helicopter earlier this month. – Washington Examiner  

The chief of naval operations wants to deploy minimally manned or unmanned surface vessels with a strike group in the next five or six years, with an eye toward scaled-up unmanned systems operations around the globe in the 2030s. – Defense News  

The US Army has received new and renewed interest from allied partner nations in the MD Helicopters, Inc. (MDHI) MD 530 light attack rotorcraft, a service spokesperson told Janes on 17 February. – Janes 

The Marine Corps is moving fast, but not fast enough to modernize for a potential future war against China, the new deputy commandant for combat development and integration said Wednesday. – Military Times