Fdd's overnight brief

January 11, 2022

In The News


After weeks of doubts and mutual accusations of bad-faith negotiations, a newfound optimism is emanating from the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna. Notably, the US and France, which had sounded an increasingly dire tone as talks dragged on, are now decidedly more sanguine in their public statements. – Times of Israel 

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Monday ruled out an interim agreement with world powers, as the sides continue their talks in Vienna aimed at returning to the 2015 nuclear accord. – Agence France-Presse 

An Iranian couple has filed a rare lawsuit against three senior officials over the deaths of their children in the 2020 downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, a newspaper reported Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

Iran’s prosecutor general threatened Monday to launch criminal proceedings against judiciary personnel who have protested against the denial of a planned pay rise. – Agence France-Presse 

A New York-based think tank on Friday urged Princeton University to disaffiliate from a global affairs scholar and ex-Iranian official over his recent appearance in a documentary in which he seemed to “gleefully” discuss threats to the family of a former US diplomat. – Algemeiner 

In 2021 alone, Iran’s naval forces and Revolutionary Guard added the Alvand destroyer, four Martoob al-Sabehat 15 Type submarines and 110 combat speedboats. And a top official says there’s more to come. Iran has ambitious plans to build a 6,000-ton destroyer and giant submarines, Rear Adm. Amir Rastegari, who heads the Iranian Defence Ministry’s Marine Industries Organization, told the local Mehr News Agency in April. – Defense News 

Sean Durns writes: To fully appreciate the scope of Iran’s malign influence, the press must cover the criminal network that is the IRGC. The Quds Force engages in both thievery and terror, stealing from the Iranian people and others alike. – Algemeiner 

Colum Lynch writes: With talks underway, Iran has sought to flex its missile prowess, putting three ballistic missiles—the Dezful, Qiam, and Zolfaghar—on display in central Tehran Friday. The three missiles, which have a range of over 600 miles—were purportedly used in strikes on U.S. military bases in the region. And last month, Iran launched its Simorgh satellite rocket, the latest step in an ongoing Iranian space program that has the potential to advance the country’s ability to master solid-fuel rocket technology required for longer-range rockets. – Foreign Policy 


A group of Taliban officials met over the weekend in Iran with leaders of several armed Afghan resistance groups, reportedly offering to let them return home safely. It was the first direct interaction between Afghanistan’s new rulers and an alliance of domestic militias that launched a short-lived uprising after the Islamist extremists took power in August. – Washington Post 

The United Nations made what it described Tuesday as its biggest appeal ever for a single country, asking international donors to give more than $5 billion to Afghanistan to fend off a humanitarian disaster. – New York Times 

Afghanistan’s top diplomat in Beijing has abandoned his post after not being paid for six months, leaving one of the Taliban’s key foreign missions with a single member of staff. – Bloomberg 

Military bases are still housing about 19,500 Afghan refugees as they seek resettlement in the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security. – Military.com 

Kamran Bokhari writes: Iran and Pakistan will have the most influence on whatever outcome emerges in Taliban-run Afghanistan. Great powers such as China and Russia will rely on their bilateral relations with Tehran and Islamabad to try to ensure that the uncertainty in Afghanistan does not upset their strategic plans for Central and South Asia. […]But for the foreseeable future, both will be struggling to make sure that the anarchic piece of geopolitical real estate between them does not undermine their national security. – Foreign Affairs


Israel is considering whether to extend the detention of a 17-year-old Palestinian with a rare neuromuscular disorder who has been held without charge for nearly a year in what authorities refer to as administrative detention, his father said Monday. – Associated Press 

The Palestinian Authority summoned the Dutch representative on Monday to object to the Netherlands’ decision to halt funding to a Palestinian civil society group that Israel controversially outlawed as a terrorist organization. – Associated Press 

Israel will not be constrained by any agreement reached between world powers and Iran in Vienna, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset on Monday that the country’s military and other security services were undergoing their largest rearming in years. – Times of Israel 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Israel could soon face a military confrontation with Lebanon or Gaza. – Times of Israel 

A bipartisan group of United States lawmakers from the House and Senate launched the Abraham Accords Congressional Caucus on Monday, seeking to expand the American legislative branch’s role in the promotion of the normalization agreements Israel has signed with Arab neighbors. – Times of Israel 

Emily Schrader writes: While it’s true that Holocaust denial is already illegal in some countries, it’s time for an international consensus and a cohesive, multi-layered approach to dealing with one of the biggest challenges in Holocaust education today: Online antisemitism. – Jerusalem Post 

Matti Friedman writes: What happens then? What does all this mean for the Middle East? And what happens if the U.S.-China cold war becomes hot, with Israel in an increasingly convoluted minefield of interests—a Sixth Fleet port-of-call on one side of the bay, Shanghai on the other? It’s impossible to say. All we know is that a ship has sailed, and we’re on board. – Tablet 

Arabian Peninsula

Yemeni forces fighting the Houthi group said on Monday they had taken full control of energy-rich Shabwa province from the Houthis in a battle for control of Shabwa and neighbouring Marib which has become a focus of the seven-year conflict. – Reuters 

Foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern states are visiting China this week for meetings with officials from the world’s second largest economy, a leading consumer of oil and source of foreign investment. – Associated Press 

James M. Dorsey writes: Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE embrace fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression. On the contrary. Their human rights records are badly tarnished. Nonetheless, demonstrably nudging Pakistan to embrace educational reform and counter law-of-the jungle social militancy, even if only in line with an autocratic definition of religious moderation, and helping provide troubled communities with prospects beyond mere survival, would constitute a step forward. Potentially, it would enhance the two Gulf states’ competing efforts to be icons of a restrictive form of moderation and leadership of the Muslim world. – Algemeiner 

Middle East & North Africa

Libyan security forces raided and violently broke up a protest sit-in by migrants outside a shuttered U.N. community center in the capital of Tripoli, activists and migrants said Monday. – Associated Press 

Editorial: If they cannot reach detente — and provide their people with hope of decent lives — it is easy to see how Sunni radicals will exploit their failure. They will fan already prevalent perceptions that the US and Israel are sponsoring an alliance of what they see as heretical Shia and apostate Sunni strongmen, who have completed a return to dictatorial dominance after burying the hopes of the 2011 Arab uprisings. This is rich soil for a virulent jihadist comeback. – Financial Times 

Mark Green and Hallam Ferguson write: The Biden administration has a choice now, and it’s an easy one. The U.S. can choose to push on the open door of further regional integration by incentivizing other countries to join the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt and Jordan in fully recognizing Israel. Climate and security challenges will be met, Iran will be deterred, and economic prosperity will increase. Or the U.S. can let this happen without us, missing the opportunity to be part of one of the greatest diplomatic achievements of a generation. – The Hill 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea launched a ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, its second weapons test in a week, as the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the country’s growing missile threat. – New York Times 

The United States and five allies urged North Korea on Monday to abandon its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs and called on the U.N. Security Council to oppose Pyongyang’s “ongoing, destabilizing and unlawful actions,” including missile launches. – Associated Press 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a full ground stop at all West Coast airports on Monday, as North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. – Newsweek 


China has spent billions of dollars in recent years trying to catch up to the world’s most advanced semiconductor makers. – Wall Street Journal 

China supports Russian-led forces deployed to Kazakhstan to help quell unrest, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late on Monday. – Reuters 

Foreign ministers from the Gulf, Iran and Turkey were separately heading to China this week for talks, China’s foreign ministry said, while discussions were under way in Vienna on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – Reuters 

China has vowed to accelerate investment in more than 100 key national projects and boost domestic consumption to help stabilize growth, as pressure on the economy rises amid worsening domestic Covid outbreaks. – Bloomberg 

Adam Taylor writes: But if international demand for Chinese and Russian vaccines, along with other non-mRNA vaccines, continues to drop, more pressure could fall on Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Last week, a group of advocates released a report that estimated that it could take 22 billion doses of mRNA vaccines to slow the pandemic’s spread in 2022. […]Such a scenario is arguably a win for U.S. and European vaccine diplomacy. But if any shortfall can’t be made up by other doses, it would be a big loss for the world. – Washington Post 

Walter Russell Mead writes: America’s habit of slapping vanity sanctions on countries whose policies we don’t like leads many countries, including allies, to cultivate defense ties with Russia and China as a hedge against American disapproval. Preserving and even deepening military ties with Russia, including the purchase of the S-400 air defense system, strikes many Indians as prudent given American unpredictability. India’s decision to cooperate with China against the effort to incorporate strong anticoal language in the COP26 agreement suggests that the Biden climate agenda can also provide leverage for our opponents. – Wall Street Journal 

South Asia

India is considering easing scrutiny on certain foreign direct investment, according to people familiar with the matter, after rules mainly aimed at China created a bottleneck for inflows. – Bloomberg 

Sri Lanka is the poster child for China’s so-called “debt trap diplomacy”, so asking Beijing for easier repayment terms looks logical amid a worsening financial crisis. – Reuters 

Editorial: Having ruled his country for 37 iron-fisted years, Hun Sen is no democrat, and hundreds of people braved the crackdown to protest the legitimacy his visit — the first visit by an outside leader since the coup — conferred on the junta. Whereas Myanmar had been barred from a previous ASEAN conference for denying an ASEAN special envoy access to Aung San Suu Kyi, Hun Sen came and went without even insisting on such a meeting. For the time being, the junta has the advantage over the opposition — and every intention of pressing it. – Washington Post 


For years, Russia and China have had a tacit division of labor in the Central Asian region that both consider their strategic backyard: Moscow provided security oversight while Beijing helped develop the area’s economies. – Wall Street Journal 

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced Tuesday that troops from Russia and other members of a regional collective security organization would depart the country within 10 days after the unrest that has roiled the energy-rich nation for the last week was quelled. – Washington Post 

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Monday that his country had weathered an attempted coup d’etat coordinated by what he called “a single centre” after the most violent unrest since the Soviet collapse. – Reuters 

The Pacific may well be the part of the world most likely to see “strategic surprise,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said on Monday, in comments apparently referring to possible Chinese ambitions to establish Pacific-island bases. – Reuters 

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Monday that militants from Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Middle East were behind historic violence that hit the country last week, the presidency reported. – Agence France-Presse 

China is willing to increase “law enforcement and security” cooperation with neighbouring Kazakhstan and help oppose interference by “external forces”, China’s foreign minister said on Monday, after violent protests in the Central Asian country. – Reuters 

Taiwan and Canada held “exploratory discussions” about ways to boost trade ties, in Taipei’s latest move to reduce its economic reliance on China. – Bloomberg 

Israeli leaders are likely looking at the unrest and power struggles in Kazakhstan with trepidation. Although the Central Asian republic rarely enters the public discourse and ties seem so marginal that there are no direct flights between the two countries, Kazakhstan is an important source for imported oil and a lucrative market for Israeli arms. Both businesses are shrouded in secrecy but are strategically important, say experts. – Haaretz 

Pavin Chachavalpongpun writes: As authoritarian states such as China wield their power with increasing aggressiveness and as established democracies in the West and the developing world show little resolve to stand up for their values, the international environment for democracy is deteriorating. Southeast Asia offers a vivid example of how bad things can get. – Washington Post 

Dan Hannan writes: In fact, there was never anything normal about it. The rule of law applies in a few Western states but, even here, outcome is now elevated over process. It is a small step from arguing that BLM protesters should get a special exemption from the lockdown to arguing that elections only count if you win. It is we Westerners who are now going through “normalization.” Politically, we are becoming more and more like Kazakhstan. – Washington Examiner 


U.S. and Russian negotiators held their first security talks since Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border sparked fears of an invasion, but they left the Monday talks saying they failed to narrow their differences. – Wall Street Journal 

The number of Russian troops at Ukraine’s border has remained steady in recent weeks, despite U.S. intelligence predictions of a surge, but American officials say that President Vladimir V. Putin has begun taking steps to move military helicopters into place, a possible sign that planning for an attack continues. – New York Times 

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory on Monday in defending Kazakhstan from what he described as a foreign-backed terrorist uprising, and promised leaders of other ex-Soviet states that a Moscow-led alliance would protect them too. – Reuters 

President Vladimir Putin vowed to protect Russia and its ex-Soviet allies from what he called outside efforts to destabilize their governments with public protests, just days after Russian-led troops helped Kazakh authorities subdue nationwide demonstrations. – Bloomberg 

Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin masses troops near the Ukraine border and threatens action unless his demands from the West are met, there’s a potential positive glimmer emerging via the country’s state media. – Bloomberg 

Turkey urged Russia and the West to avoid any provocations as they hold talks over the Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with any conflict likely to roil the Black Sea region on Ankara’s doorstep. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: Mr. Biden no doubt hoped that dropping Nord Stream sanctions would encourage better Russian behavior. The result has been the opposite. As U.S. and Russian officials meet this week to discuss Ukraine, a show of Senate resolve on the pipeline would strengthen the U.S. hand. A failed sanctions vote would be one more reason for Mr. Putin not to take U.S. sanctions threats seriously. – Wall Street Journal 

Ric Grenell and Andrew L. Peek write: It is possible to achieve with Russia the things that Mr. Biden wants: stability, a working relationship with NATO and cooperation abroad. Mr. Trump had a more stable relationship with Russia while pursuing objectively tougher policies than Mr. Biden or Mr. Obama. But Mr. Biden’s idealization of EU-style consensus, his administration’s inability to prioritize, and America’s discredited threat of deterrence ensure that Mr. Biden will be making concessions until he leaves office—especially if disaster strikes. – Wall Street Journal 

Gideon Rachman writes: Even if Russia were able to install a puppet regime in Kyiv, the memory of Moscow’s aggression would give a historic boost to Ukrainian nationalism, cementing the emotional division between Russia and Ukraine that Putin regards as an abomination. All in all, it would be a strange sort of victory for the Kremlin. – Financial Times 

John Authers writes: That creates the chance of an upside for Russia, and arguably everyone else, in which the country gains some guarantees that NATO will not station forces close to its borders or will not expand, in return for a commitment by Russia not to station its forces close to Ukraine’s border. That would result in a significant reduction in perceived global risk and probably help commodity prices to fall. – Bloomberg 

Tom Rogan writes: We will then see this week’s talks for a diplomatic mirage. Putin will tell his people that he attempted diplomacy but was obstructed by an intransigent West. He will then tell them that Russia’s security and sacred identity, if not his domestic popularity, demand military action in Ukraine. – Washington Examiner 

Chris Miller writes: If Biden is serious about using sanctions to shape Russia’s calculus, his administration needs to sharpen its messaging. The administration should name the Russian banks it would blacklist, the specific transactions it would prohibit, and the companies that would be in danger of going under. Then the Kremlin might start taking its sanctions threats more seriously. – Foreign Affairs 

Olga Lautman writes: Russia suspended the death penalty in 1997 as a condition of its entry to the Council of Europe. It had been used in the most egregious manner — Stalin and his henchman Molotov signed 3,167 death warrants on a single day in December 1937. Nikita Khrushchev used it rather less frequently for economic and violent crimes. There was never a clear accounting of the yearly executions carried out during the later Soviet years, but Western experts put the estimate at around 2,000 annually. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Ukraine’s SBU security service said on Monday it had detained a Russian military intelligence agent who was planning attacks on the country’s largest Black Sea port of Odessa. – Reuters 

A Polish diplomat charged with improving contacts with Jews worldwide has been fired after he criticized his own government’s approach to regulating Holocaust speech, the Foreign Ministry said Monday. – Associated Press 

Sweden called Russia’s warning to NATO and its allies “unacceptable” amid a military buildup at Ukraine’s borders and has vowed to deepen its relationship with the defense bloc. – Bloomberg 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Hungarian President Viktor Orban spoke on the phone for the first time on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

George Will writes: The minutes of the meeting do not indicate that Churchill said the percentages were to be temporary. Three days later, Churchill showed W. Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador to Moscow, a letter he intended to present to Stalin, affirming the percentages. Harriman in his memoirs said he firmly objected, saying that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would “repudiate the letter if it was sent.” The Biden administration should be similarly brusque in rejecting any Russian demand that derogates any European nation’s sovereignty. – Washington Post 

Michael O’Hanlon writes: These countries should not be in NATO — at least, not until the entire European security order has been transformed in such a way that NATO membership would mean something entirely different than it does today. We are overdue for a serious discussion about security orders for Eastern Europe and that conversation should begin now. – The Hill 

James Jay Carafano writes: Biden could have a month more to jump on building up NATO conventional deterrence and aiding Ukraine. He can be making deals to strengthen European energy security. He could be consulting with all the NATO allies. He could be reinforcing Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts rather than participating in multinational dialogues that include every interested party but Ukraine. – Fox News 

Cordelia Buchanan Ponczek writes: For now, the status quo is likely to hold: Finland and Sweden want to keep the door open to NATO but will not take the decisive step any time soon. Given close ties with NATO and warm relations with the alliance, both may even feel that they are members in all but name. In reality, however, they are not. The two could only rely on one another in any conflict. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Olga Tokariuk writes: There is now a feeling in Ukraine of determination with some added fatalism. War with Russia has been continuing for eight years while would-be European friends have uttered warm words and offered little help. Ukrainians know Putin’s Russia better than anyone and have no illusions regarding the Kremlin’s plans. What they do fear is Western betrayal; that a deal will be struck in their absence to shut the door of EU and NATO membership and return them to a cage where they are ruled from Moscow. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Edward Lucas writes: If European countries and institutions do respond firmly to Chinese divide-and-rule tactics, by compensating Lithuania for any losses and imposing counter-sanctions on Chinese exporters, two things will happen. One will be a welcome boost to efforts to resist the Chinese Communist Party’s headstrong attempts to determine the way the world works. The other will be to make the Europeans look like a serious force in global politics. Decision-makers in Washington, Beijing — and Moscow — will change their views. That is the ticket to relevance. – Center for European Policy Analysis 


Now Mali — the epicenter of one of the world’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgencies — is confronting more chaos after regional leaders moved late Sunday to close borders and cease trade with the country, effectively cutting it off from the rest of West Africa. – Washington Post 

Airlines from neighboring countries and former colonial ruler France cancelled flights to Mali on Monday, helping isolate a military junta under regional sanctions for trying to extend its hold on power. – Reuters 

The United Nations began meetings Monday with Sudanese groups to find a way out of the political deadlock that has paralyzed the country since an October military coup, the U.N. envoy said. – Associated Press 

From almost nothing, Chinese banks now make up about one-fifth of all lending to Africa, concentrated in a few strategic or resource-rich countries including Angola, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia. Annual lending peaked at a whopping $29.5bn in 2016, according to figures from the China-Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, though it fell back in 2019 to a more modest, if still substantial, $7.6bn. – Financial Times 

The Americas

A Somali man who has been held at Guantánamo Bay as a high-value prisoner was approved for transfer with security assurances, according to a document obtained Monday, making him the first detainee who was brought there from a C.I.A. black site to be recommended for release. – New York Times 

Two decades after the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay, a group of UN experts on Monday urged Washington to finally close the site of “unrelenting human rights violations”. – Agence France-Presse 

The United States and the European Union issued new sanctions on a number of Nicaraguan officials on Monday, just hours before the the country’s long-time strongman leader Daniel Ortega was sworn in for his fifth term as the president. – CNN 

Ryan C. Berg writes: These moves are intended to bring long-term pressure on the Ortega regime, but they also aim to counter the ruling couple’s narrative — that they have prevailed in their quest to cement a dynastic regime and that the U.S. will eventually lose interest, relent or succumb to the siren song of negotiations. – The Hill 

United States

Gerard Baker writes: Mr. Biden isn’t primarily to blame for the fact that a third of American voters don’t think he’s a legitimate president. But he does lead a party many of whose activists don’t seem to think America’s traditional values are worth defending at home or abroad. And when his administration elevates (or reduces) its domestic opponents to the status of a foreign enemy, the only winners are the real foreign enemies. – Wall Street Journal 

Frances Z. Brown and Thomas Carothers write: The latter option entails finding a place for democracy among a broad mix of security, diplomatic, and economic concerns—and making difficult policy tradeoffs. For all the high-level focus on the global democratic recession, however, the assault on democracy is, at its root, very local. Turning the high-level impetus of the Summit for Democracy into concrete local action is the best way to make good on Biden’s mission to stem the global antidemocratic tide. – Foreign Affairs 

Mark P. Lagon and James Gannon write: Now that we are at another such inflection point, three efforts in recent decades to improve international institutions offer useful lessons: ending atrocities and human rights calamities, cooperating on climate change, and fighting deadly diseases. – The National Interest 


Senior U.S. security officials said Monday they hadn’t yet seen significant disruptive or destructive cyberattacks, such as ransomware attacks, linked to a massive internet flaw discovered one month ago, but warned that the bug could aid the nefarious activity of criminals and foreign governments for months or years to come. – Wall Street Journal 

A Polish opposition senator was summoned for questioning as a result of a civil lawsuit against the ruling party leader after his phones were hacked more than 30 times in 2019. – Newsweek 

Jeremy Bash and Michael Steed writes: Smaller disruptive cyber startups will be where “white hat” hackers can hunt for vulnerabilities in existing components and field technology solutions to find these flaws long before they get built into the foundation of a computer system. Cyber innovators can also build niche tools to help system administrators tell if they are being targeted by a design flaw. – War on the Rocks 


The Commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command’s (NAVCENT), V. Adm. Brad Cooper, was in Israel for a working visit, meeting with senior Israeli military officers. – Jerusalem Post 

The Pentagon did not adequately document work on its flagship artificial intelligence effort according to a government watchdog report, increasing the risks of lapses in the future. – Defense News 

In the Arizona desert, a pair of robots methodically trundles back-and-forth across the craggy earth. Bulky, angular and slow, they’re not terribly impressive to watch. But U.S. Army leaders see these robots as a vision of the future: part of a new pipeline to put better, more reliable technology into the hands of soldiers faster than ever before. – Defense News 

The three-ship Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit left the Middle East last week after operating in the region since late September, according to USNI News’s Fleet and Marine Tracker. – USNI News