Fdd's overnight brief

February 4, 2022

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


In an attempt to stir up tensions between Palestinians and Israelis during the Israel-Hamas war in May, an Iranian disinformation unit allegedly created a Facebook campaign that ran across multiple social media platforms targeting nationalist and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, the BBC has exclusively reported. – Jerusalem Post 

A Danish district court on Friday found three members of an Iranian Arab opposition group guilty of financing and supporting terrorist activity in Iran in collaboration with Saudi Arabian intelligence services as well as espionage, local news wire Ritzau reported. – Reuters 

Lahav Harkov writes: That means that negotiations have been going on for over a month with the West knowing that Iran cannot be put back in the proverbial box, and a real return to the JCPOA – with its many shortcomings – is not possible. […]Not only is Menendez right that a longer and stronger deal does not seem to be on the way, but every indication is that at this point, the US is negotiating a deal that is going to be shorter and weaker. – Jerusalem Post  

Eric R. Mandel writes: Expect Iran to continue to test Russian resolve and place an ever-growing number of weapons closer and closer to Russian bases, hoping for an Israeli mistake. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has likely discussed this possibility with Putin, hopefully outlining contingencies if an inevitable error happens and Russians are killed. What is certain is that the US does not influence Syria, even with its soldiers still in harm’s way in eastern Syria at al-Tanf, allowing them to be target practice for Iranian militias without any meaningful response. – Jerusalem Post  

David Gardner writes: Iran may be crippled by sanctions but seems to have gained confidence from China, its biggest oil customer. Beijing is the strategist of the global Belt and Road Initiative that embraces Iran and has upped its stake in the Middle East — especially in countries within its sphere of influence such as Iraq. But it is not interested in the ideological or sectarian disputes of the region. It supplies sensitive technology to the UAE, and helps the Saudis develop ballistic missiles. It does not discriminate quite like Tehran. – Financial Times  

Jason Brodsky and Omer Carmi write: The regime will be marking its forty-third anniversary this month, so one can expect its rhetoric to become even more aggressive and “revolutionary.” But if the tenor changes during the revolutionary commemorations—particularly on the February 8 anniversary of the so-called “Homafaran Allegiance,” which Khamenei has used before to speak on the JCPOA—it would be a significant indicator that Tehran is ready to compromise. At the moment, though, the system continues to signal that it is in no rush. – Washington Institute 



A lack of flights and the search for a new U.S. reception center are among the hurdles facing the White House as it races to speed up the evacuation of at-risk Afghans from their homeland, according to a senior U.S. official and others familiar with the new plan. – Reuters 

The United Nations has about $135 million in the bank in Afghanistan but is unable to use it because the Taliban-run central bank cannot convert it to the afghani currency, a senior U.N. official said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The Taliban have allegedly taken a woman from her home by force after she participated in protests in the Afghan capital, Kabul. – BBC 


Islamic State, the terrorist organization that once made Raqqa the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate, has regrouped in the three years since it lost its territory in Iraq and Syria, launching a comeback in recent weeks that suffered a blow Thursday with the killing of its top leader. – Wall Street Journal 

U.S. troops carried out a dramatic raid in northwest Syria that led the Islamic State’s top leader to kill himself and his family as American forces closed in, President Biden said Thursday, capping months of secretive planning for an assault designed to minimize the risk to innocent bystanders. – Washington Post  

In his 26 months as head of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi kept a low profile, never issuing the kind of proclamations or video clips that were a signature of his predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other terrorist group leaders. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The raid on Mr. Qurayshi exemplified Mr. Biden’s preferred approach to global terrorist groups: containing them via “over the horizon” strikes and local allied forces rather than through long-term U.S. ground commitments such as the one he terminated in Afghanistan in August. […]The president has his hands full with deterring Russia in Ukraine and the longer-term effort to counter China. Yet, as Mr. Biden’s decision to strike the terrorist leader showed, those goals cannot be pursued at the expense of vigilance against jihadist terrorism. – Washington Post  

Jonathan Spyer writes: There is nevertheless a deeper consistency apparent here. Islamist activities in Syria and further south share an essential component – namely, the view that Arab and Muslim communities alone are present in the relevant area by right and with moral agency. They and they alone are seen to have a right to a life with dignity. Tactics may differ according to the relevant local power balance. This core viewpoint, however, appears common to both geographical contexts. – Jerusalem Post  

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: Going forward, it would be useful for the U.S. government to clarify its relations (or lack thereof) with HTS and state whether it views the group as a counterterrorism partner—however tarnished HTS might be as a former IS and AQ affiliate that is known to have committed human rights abuses during the Syria war. And if the group had nothing to do with the raid against Quraishi, then major questions will arise about how competent its security services really are given that two successive IS leaders have been based in its territory. – Washington Institute 



President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey agreed on Thursday to expand supplies of one of the Ukrainian Army’s most sophisticated weapons, a long-range, Turkish-made armed drone whose use in combat for the first time in Ukraine last fall infuriated Russian officials. – New York Times  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday welcomed an offer from visiting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to mediate in Kyiv’s standoff with Moscow, and Erdogan promised to do whatever he could to end the crisis peacefully. – Reuters 

Turkey’s annual inflation soared to a 20-year high of 48.69% in January, data showed on Thursday, fuelled by President Tayyip Erdogan’s push for unorthodox interest rate cuts and a resulting crash in the currency late last year. – Reuters 


The Palestine Liberation Organization is scheduled to convene in Ramallah on Sunday in a meeting some see as providing a boost to a possible successor to long-ruling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. – Times of Israel  

The US notified Israel ahead of a raid in Syria that killed the leader of the Islamic State terror group, according to Thursday reports. – Times of Israel  

South Africa’s former chief justice on Thursday apologized for comments he made in 2020 pledging support for Israel in the pro-Palestinian country. – Agence France-Presse  

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev has written a letter to Defense Minister Benny Gantz criticizing army leadership and seeking more military involvement against settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, according to a Thursday report. – Times of Israel  

Mark Regev writes: So far, Isaac Herzog has demonstrated consummate presidential behavior. Instead of rushing to accept Erdogan’s invitation to visit Turkey, which would be the first of its kind since Peres visited in 2007 prior to the crisis in Jerusalem-Ankara relations, Herzog chose to coordinate his steps with the prime minister and foreign minister, understanding that the diplomatic delicacy of the matter demands such a visit – which appears likely – reflects the considered approach of the government. Unlike some of his predecessors, Herzog rightly appreciates that even Israel’s exalted First Citizen should not have his own independent foreign policy. – Jerusalem Post  

Itamar Marcus writes: Years of PA indoctrination have been alarmingly effective. Palestinian children know they are expected to be child soldiers, and regularly another one seeks a moment of fulfillment and fame, hoping to kill and be killed. Palestinian children have already mastered what they are being taught. Perhaps it is the rest of us who need to stay after school. – Jerusalem Post  

Gulf States

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and signed a historic public Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Kingdom of Bahrain on Thursday, officially establishing security ties between the two Middle Eastern countries. – Jerusalem Post  

Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool said on Thursday that Iraqi intelligence provided accurate information that led to the whereabouts of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi. – Reuters 

Qatar has not approached its Asian customers over diverting gas to Europe, QatarEnergy chief and minister of state for energy Saad al-Kaabi told Reuters, adding that if Russia does not supply the region the gap could not be filled by one country. – Reuters  

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in a phone conversation that the kingdom would contribute to the stabilisation of the international crude oil market, the Japanese government said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Herb Keinon writes: That, however, is not all that there is. That the Bahrainis are unafraid to host Gantz out in the open sends an unmistakable message internally: cooperation with Israel, even on defense matters, is not only acceptable, but it is also even desirable. This makes such cooperation normal and habituates the public to that idea – something not yet seen in Egypt or Jordan, despite decades-old peace treaties. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen’s Houthi military spokesman praised on Thursday a drone attack on the United Arab Emirates that was claimed by the little-known group “True Promise Brigades”, AlMasirah TV reported. – Reuters 

The U.S. State Department has approved several potential weapons sales to Mideast allies including Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said on Thursday. – Reuters 

European parliamentarians urged their governments and the United Nations on Thursday to bring Egypt’s “devastating” human rights situation under more global scrutiny. – Associated Press

Josh Rogin writes: Tunisia is an important security partner. But history shows that autocratic dictatorships over the long term breed more instability and extremism, and therefore make much worse security partners than even messy democracies. There’s understandable fatigue in Washington and reluctance for yet another run at pushing democratic values in Middle Eastern countries. But if we don’t do it, we’re abandoning the aspirations of millions and consigning the region to deeper chaos and an endless cycle of violence that will eventually blow back onto our shores. – Washington Post  

Anna Ahronheim writes: While attacks by terror groups tend to come in waves, the threats posed by Iran and its nuclear program do not. Those threats are only continuing to grow, and as such, so will Israel’s diplomatic and military race to win the hearts and minds of the Gulf. – Jerusalem Post

Mohamed Abdelaziz writes: Even as many media sources float the possibility of escalation, both sides surely realize the dangers and the ensuing high costs of war. Both regional media and the larger diplomatic community seem to recognize the importance of reaching a settlement to the current crisis, while weighing the potential impact on the global economy if further sanctions are imposed. Russia should also keep in mind that Ukraine is a sovereign country, possessing the right to determine and shape its international relations based on its interests and national objectives. – Washington Institute 


Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Beijing in a summit just ahead of the Winter Games, showcasing a united front amid a tense standoff with the West over the buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal  

As host of the Winter Games, which open Friday, China is now a recognized superpower less interested in global validation and a lot less likely to get it. This time, nobody thinks the Olympics will change China. – Wall Street Journal 

For the country’s most powerful ruler in decades, the Olympics are a chance to cast China as a global leader to be respected and emulated, and an opportunity to claw back some of the goodwill lost over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its confrontational “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. – Washington Post  

An optimistic China sought to awe the world during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games—and it did. With the country’s economy booming, and its global ties largely friendly, the timing was almost perfect. – Wall Street Journal 

United States Olympic team officials said on Fripic Committee (IOC) should any athlete, fan, member of the press or Olympic participant fall victim to “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” – Fox News  

Anastasia Lin writes: Holding the Olympics in Beijing doesn’t mean the world accepts China. It means the world accepts the Communist Party, which silences the Chinese people by jailing and torturing those who dare to speak. I didn’t understand that in 2001, but I was a child growing up in a closed society. The West has no excuse now. – Wall Street Journal 

Fareed Zakaria writes: It might be worth taking a closer look at what is going on in China. Beijing has succeeded wildly in some areas, but that same government has made major mistakes, from persisting with the one-child policy to accumulating mountains of debt. The black box that is China’s government always looks more impressive from the outside. The United States’ openness and competition — economic, political, social — often looks chaotic, but over the centuries it has endured while many seemingly efficient models of government have failed. – Washington Post  

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: Moscow and Beijing support each other’s self-perception as a great power deserving a louder voice on the world stage. They have somewhat complementary economies and are both autocracies who speak up against “color revolutions,” as they did in Kazakhstan last month. Their propaganda outlets churn out similar narratives of Western decline and disarray. In the United Nations Security Council this week, Russia accused the U.S. of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and provoking escalation” over Ukraine. China supported the view: “Russia has repeatedly stated that it has no plans to launch any military action. – Bloomberg 

South Asia

India said Thursday it would join the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of Beijing’s Winter Olympics after China included a soldier who was involved in a deadly border skirmish with Indian troops in the torch relay ahead of the Opening Ceremonies. – Washington Post 

India announced its new defense budget Tuesday that will see $13.84 billion go toward promoting self-reliance among local businesses and reducing the country’s import dependency under its $22.26 billion fund for acquisitions of new weapons and military platforms. – Defense News  

Sadanand Dhume writes: India has a lot to lose if Russia ignites a new cold war in Europe. New Delhi can’t control Mr. Putin, but it could do more to make it clear to Moscow that it disapproves of Russian military adventurism. Of what use is a “special and privileged” partnership if you can’t speak the truth? – Wall Street Journal 

Aparna Pande and Sam Westrop write: Pakistan’s security apparatus has for decades supported jihadi and Khalistani groups that have targeted India, and a revival of this activity should be a source of concern to American national security apparatus as well as India’s. – Hudson Institute 


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulating him on the Beijing Winter Olympics as a “great victory” and saying he wanted to improve relations between their countries, state news agency KCNA reported on Friday. – Reuters 

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed close cooperation in regional affairs with the new U.S. ambassador, including on North Korea and China and on global de-nuclearisation, a government spokesperson said on Friday. – Reuters 

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers proposed matching bills in the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday that would require the United States to negotiate the renaming of Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington as the “Taiwan Representative Office,” a move certain to rankle China. – Reuters 

Myanmar’s military government announced a new bribery charge against deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, the country’s state broadcaster reported. – Reuters 

Several hundred Tibetan and Uyghur activists marched on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Thursday, a day before Beijing 2022 opens, accusing the Swiss-based organisation of complicity in “atrocities” committed against ethnic minorities in China. – Reuters 

Residents of two villages in northwestern Myanmar said government soldiers burned down hundreds of houses this week, apparently while searching for members of an armed militia opposed to military rule. – Associated Press 

North Korea isn’t exactly known for its robust use of the internet, and its web access has become even less reliable since last month. Reuters reported in January that the country has suffered multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, one of which came after a recent North Korean missile test. – The National Interest 

Anthony Faiola writes: But Myanmar is not necessarily seen as a strategic prize big enough to warrant great power competition on the scale witnessed in hot spots like Taiwan, Ukraine and Syria. And the resistance, observers say, can largely count on one thing — itself. And expanded unity among anti-junta factions will be key to denying the military the victory it seeks. – Washington Post  


Russia is planning to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine by releasing a staged video depicting attacks by Kyiv military forces, U.S. officials said Thursday, citing newly declassified intelligence. – Wall Street Journal 

With Russian troops massed at Ukraine’s borders, athletes from the two countries have formed a fragile peace at the Beijing Olympics, helped along by coronavirus restrictions meant to keep competitors apart. – Reuters 

Russia on Friday denied leaking the United States’ written response to its security guarantee demands to Spanish newspaper El Pais after U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland blamed Moscow for the leak. – Reuters 

Russia said on Thursday it was shutting down German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s operations in Moscow and stripping its staff of their accreditation in a retaliatory move after Berlin banned Russian broadcaster RT DE. – Reuters 

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reviewed live-fire exercises in western Belarus on Thursday, part of a surge of military activity close to Ukraine. – Reuters 

Clive Crook writes: To be sure, seeming to reward Putin, even with a concession that isn’t really a concession, would be dangerous. He’s a serial menace and would be encouraged to press for more. Any deal on Ukraine that gave him what he wanted on NATO and the EU would need to be broad and include big concessions on his part — starting with guarantees of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, acquiescence to closer EU-Ukraine trade relations, mutual constraints on military deployments, hybrid warfare and more. – Bloomberg 

Adam E. Casey and Seva Gunitsky write: It is still unclear if Putin will slip up. Although Russia continues to mass forces on Ukraine’s borders, no one knows if the president will ultimately attack the country or, if he does, just how far he will go. Intelligence reports suggest Putin has not yet made up his mind, and his public statements contain mixed messages. – Foreign Affairs 

Polina Beliakova writes: In addition, the potential of CSTO interventions to deter coups and defections could increase the dependence of member states with volatile control over their security forces (e.g., Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) on the Kremlin. Overall, overcoming previous limitations and capitalizing on new opportunities to use the CSTO for regional security could advance Russian-led integration of the former Soviet space, provide Moscow with an additional mechanism to shape the political reality in the region, and contribute to Russia’s growing role in international security. – War on the Rocks 


The United States on Thursday delivered two Black Hawk military helicopters to Croatia, which is engaged in a mini arms race with neighboring Russian ally Serbia amid simmering tensions in the post-war Balkan region. – Associated Press 

The prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic said on Thursday they have signed an agreement settling a long-running dispute over a lignite mine on the border of the two countries. – Associated Press 

Germany should reassess its long-held strategy of seeking to bring about change in authoritarian societies through rapprochement given developments in Russia and China, the co-head of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) said in an interview. – Reuters 

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Feb. 7 and the leader of Ukraine on Feb. 8 to discuss the Ukraine situation, as Western world leaders try and avoid a major conflict with Russia over Ukraine. – Reuters 

The European Union has prepared a “robust and comprehensive” package of sanctions to unleash on Russia if it continues its aggression towards Ukraine, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the Handeslblatt and Les Echos newspapers. – Reuters 

French president Emmanuel Macron once observed that Europe was living through the “brain death” of Nato while former US president Donald Trump branded it “obsolete”. – Financial Times  

The leaders of Turkey and France attempted to mediate in the Ukraine crisis on Thursday as Washington announced it had evidence of a Russian plan to fake a Ukrainian attack to justify invading its neighbour. – Agence France-Presse  

The EU’s vice president for values and transparency says the bloc is likely to have no room to take action if Hungary’s elections in April fail to meet democratic standards. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

Henry Olsen write: The United States can withstand a resurgent Russia, even one allied with a surging China, so long as those nations remain bottled up on the central Eurasian continent. Preventing that expansion without war is the primary imperative of a modern U.S. foreign policy. The goal should be to keep Russia out of Ukraine without putting NATO in it or compromising NATO’s maneuverability over it. This is the right tactic to pursue, difficult as it will be to pull off. – Washington Post  

Lauren Speranza and Jennifer McArdle write: While the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.K. Ministry of Defence, and NATO’s Modelling & Simulation Centre of Excellence have embraced the power of synthetic environments, these capabilities still hold a great deal of unfulfilled potential across the alliance. To prepare for and win on the battlefields of tomorrow, the U.S. and NATO should deepen their adoption of simulation. – Defense News  

Melinda Haring writes: The thing that would really put a spring in Zelenskyy’s step is if spring itself arrives sooner than later. The frozen season—most of February—when Russian tanks can easily roll into Kyiv, will have ended and the mud season started. If that occurs, Zelenskyy would be sitting pretty. He could depict himself as a far-sighted statesman who refused to chicken out in Kyiv, cautioning calm while lesser mortals in Washington fell for Putin’s bluff. – The National Interest  

Marcel Dirsus writes: If Russian President Vladimir Putin does decide to invade Ukraine again, Germans still might not change their view on the utility of force in international relations. But they would almost certainly change their view of Russia. That is not going to help Ukrainians right now, but it would definitely hurt Moscow in the years to come. – War on the Rocks 


Military coups were a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades that followed independence and there is concern they are starting to become more frequent. – BBC 

Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in Africa have in recent years been backed by private military contractors, often described as belonging to the “Wagner group” — an entity with no known legal status. – Agence France-Presse  

A military junta that seized power in Burkina Faso last week has shown willingness to work towards a return to constitutional order, leaders of West Africa’s regional bloc said on Thursday. – Reuters 

West Africa’s regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Thursday it will deploy troops to Guinea-Bissau to help stabilise the country following a failed coup early this week. – Reuters 

The Americas

Nicaragua’s authoritarian government has stripped several universities of their permission to operate in what analysts called a sweeping attack on higher education and an escalation of the repressive tactics that have driven the country toward dictatorship. – Washington Post

The opening pageantry of the Beijing Olympics at the Bird’s Nest stadium on Friday marks the start of serious business for two Latin American presidents making their own unusual bids for success during the Winter Games. – Financial Times  

The head of the IMF defended its outline deal with Argentina to restructure $44.5bn of debt from a record 2018 bailout, despite mounting criticism over the plan to rescue the country’s struggling economy. – Financial Times  


Iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest said on Thursday he is launching criminal proceedings against Meta Platform Inc’s (FB.O) Facebook in an Australian court, alleging that it breached anti-money laundering laws and its platform is used to scam Australians. – Reuters

South Korea’s telecommunications regulator wants better compliance plans from Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) Google before finalising rules for a law banning app store operators from forcing software developers to use their payments systems, officials said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Multiple oil transport and storage companies across Europe are dealing with cyber-attacks. […]In total dozens of terminals with oil storage and transport around the world have been affected, with firms reporting that the attacks occurred over the weekend. – BBC 

A second Israeli spy firm exploited a flaw in Apple’s security to hack into iPhones, numerous sources told Reuters on Thursday. – Times of Israel  


The Department of Defense’s chief information officer will now oversee the department’s cybersecurity program aimed at securing the networks of hundreds of thousands of defense contractors. – Defense News  

Amid continued tension between Russia and Ukraine, lawmakers on Thursday voiced support for the White House’s deployment of several thousand troops to Eastern Europe, even if they aren’t sure just how long those personnel will be stationed there. – Defense News  

The U.S. Navy has promised a first deployment for its new aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford by this fall — but that deployment won’t be a typical one, the head of Naval Air Force Atlantic told Defense News. – Defense News  

The F-35A Lightning II could start flying near thunderstorms again soon, once the Air Force finishes upgrading its first jet for extra protection against lightning strikes. – Military Times  

Long War

The head of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi, died as he lived most of his life: off the grid in the jihadist underworld. – New York Times 

Some experts and rights advocates have questioned the ethics and efficacy of such operations. […]Here’s a look at several past operations that targeted top Islamic State and al-Qaeda leaders. – Washington Post 

By December, as it became clear that the United States had located the leader of the Islamic State, a group of military commanders had arrived in the Situation Room to outline for President Biden how to take down the terrorist target in northwestern Syria. But it also became clear just how complicated it would be, with the possibility of civilian losses, American troop casualties and other grave risks. – Washington Post 

One week after Islamic State fighters attacked a prison in northeastern Syria, where they have held out despite a heavy assault by a Kurdish-led militia backed by the United States, the terrorist organization published its version of what had gone down. – New York Times

The Biden administration recently celebrated the takedown of a significant terrorist threat, announcing that ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi died by a self-inflicted explosion during a U.S. counterterrorism raid in Syria on Wednesday. However, despite the victory, ISIS is far from neutralized, according to a counterterrorism expert. – Newsweek