Fdd's overnight brief

January 12, 2022

In The News


International negotiations on Iran’s nuclear activities are proceeding so slowly that they are unlikely to lead to any agreement “within a realistic timeframe,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse 

Iranian media, to mark the anniversary of the death of Qasem Soleimani, have provided unique new details about Iran’s support for Palestinian groups. – Jerusalem Post 

Two years after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane over Tehran, families of the victims are still searching for answers and seeking justice. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: In theory, Moscow could signal a genuine policy shift by taking concrete steps to limit Iranian influence in Syria, halting weapon sales to Tehran, and/or criticizing Iran on the nuclear issue. Unfortunately, none of these scenarios is realistic. […]Accordingly, Washington and its partners should focus on building a unified strategy that not only strengthens the U.S. negotiating position in Vienna, but also demonstrates the political will to forcefully defend the rules-based global order if necessary. – Washington Institute 


The United Nations on Tuesday launched a funding appeal for more than $5 billion for Afghanistan this year, its largest request ever for a single country in humanitarian distress. – Washington Post 

The United States is currently working with a few dozen U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan who have identified themselves as prepared to depart and have the necessary travel documents, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The United States on Tuesday announced $308 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, offering new aid to the country as it edges toward a humanitarian crisis since the Taliban takeover nearly five months ago. – Associated Press 

Israel has joined a group of United Nations member states pooling money together to aid Afghan refugees who fled their homeland following the Taliban’s takeover of the country last year. – Arutz Sheva 

While the U.S. government is working to re-establish a regular flow of chartered evacuation flights for the Afghan interpreters and Americans left behind, one small veteran group is pulling off flights on its own. But not everyone’s happy about it. – Defense One 


Victims of torture in Syria and human rights activists say they hope the upcoming verdict in a landmark trial will be a first step toward justice for countless Syrians who suffered abuse at the hands of President Bashar Assad’s government in the country’s long-running conflict. – Associated Press 

Jonathan Spyer writes: In this regard, much is likely to depend on the direction of U.S.-Iran relations. If the United States reaches an agreement with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, Washington may seek to extend further its process of withdrawal from the region, including from Syria. […]Despite efforts by some Arab countries, the consensus in the United States and Europe is to maintain the status quo. With its partners in Washington, Israel should be making all available efforts to ensure that the status quo prevails. – Arutz Sheva 


An Israeli soldier was moderately wounded Tuesday in what the military said was a suspected ramming attack near the West Bank settlement of Halamish, outside of Ramallah. – Times of Israel 

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem on Tuesday welcomed the car ramming attack near Neve Tzuf in the Binyamin region, in which a 19-year-old IDF soldier was lightly injured. – Arutz Sheva 

Agricultural cooperation has played a big role in a recent warming of ties between Israel and Indonesia, with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto leading the charge from Jakarta. A recent series of meetings, statements and reports in the last few months of 2021 indicate that Israel and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim state, have grown closer. – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: While the relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco are developing nicely and have already brought about significant changes in the Mideast, ties with Sudan are stuck because of the volatile domestic situation there, and the Abraham Accords “peace train” has stalled before reaching its next station. – Jerusalem Post 

Eric R. Mandel writes: The US doesn’t need to share values to advance our strategic interests in this messy world. If we aim to expand beyond the Middle East, we need stability and support from our regional allies. That is one of the best, though not obvious, choices that would allow Chinese malfeasance from the Pacific to Africa to be confronted. To stabilize the Middle East and pivot to China, the US should prioritize the expansion of the Abraham Accords. – Jerusalem Post 

Arabian Peninsula

The UN mission in Yemen’s rebel-held port of Hodeida expressed “great concern” on Tuesday over claims it was being used for military purposes, and demanded access for an inspection. – Agence France-Presse 

In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition and its Yemeni allies have captured all of the country’s energy-rich Shabwa province. The development deals a blow to pro-Iranian Houthi rebels who control the country’s capital, Sanaa, and much of the north of the country. Analysts say the victory gives the pro-Saudi coalition a way toward retaking parts of adjacent Marib province, which is also a major energy prize. – VOA News 

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have halted efforts at the World Trade Organization to resolve a dispute over the alleged piracy of content produced by Doha-owned sports and entertainment channel beIN. – Reuters 

France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the United Arab Emirates would join a Saudi-French fund that aimed to provide support to the Lebanese people. – Reuters 

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 15% of its value since the start of the year, piling further pressure on the population more than two years into a crisis that has plunged many into poverty and fuelled demonstrations. – Reuters  

Dimitar Bechev and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk write: The strategies and tactics of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran in the Balkans show that the “soft” in religious soft power should be taken with a grain of salt, as these countries export and exploit faith in the name of power. […]Furthermore, countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia behave differently in their projection of religious soft power due to their own history, roles, and normative positions in the global system more generally and in the Balkans specifically, but they seem to elicit similar perceptions from individuals in the region: suspicion and ambivalence. – Middle East Institute 

John Calabrese writes: China’s health diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa during the pandemic has reflected these two sets of considerations and has been grafted onto its multifaceted and extensive relationships in the region. […]As a result, Chinese med-tech and biotech companies are well positioned to forge partnerships that could enable them to expand their presence within and beyond the MENA region in the post-pandemic era. – Middle East Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for boosting the country’s strategic military forces as he observed the test of a hypersonic missile, state media said on Wednesday, officially attending a missile launch for the first time in nearly two years. – Reuters 

Seol was one of thousands of North Korean women to develop a black market business under the nose of the authorities, filling the void left by a bankrupt and incapacitated state. In time, they emerged as a new entrepreneurial class, driving the spread of markets, taking on responsibility for feeding North Korean society, and challenging traditional gender roles in the process. – Financial Times 

Donald Kirk writes: North Korea’s missile may not have been as terrific as indicated in Rodong Sinmun, which said the launch “reconfirmed the flight control and stability of the missile in the active-flight stage and assessed the performance of the new lateral movement technique applied to the detached hypersonic gliding warhead.” It did, however, appear to deepen the divide between South Korea and the United States, which may have been Kim Jong Un’s primary goal. – The Hill 


U.S. chipmaker Intel has deleted references to Xinjiang from an annual letter to suppliers after the company faced a backlash in China for asking suppliers to avoid the sanctions-hit region. – Reuters 

Dutch athletes competing in next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics will need to leave their phones and laptops at home in an unprecedented move to avoid Chinese espionage, Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Kathrin Hille writes: The P5 statement could provide a glimmer of hope for an opening. “Some Chinese nuclear experts have previously argued that the US was still thinking about nuclear war with China, and this statement helps mitigate that concern to some extent,” says Zhao Tong, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Of course a bilateral statement would have been better, but this did something. China has been an important factor behind this proposal.” However, progress beyond these warm words looks unlikely. – Financial Times 

Anders Fogh Rasmussen writes: Europe and the U.S. should collectively seek out a new approach to China—something that the Biden Administration offered the EU even before its inauguration. Our relationship with Taiwan should not be reduced to just military support or one specific investment agreement; it cuts to the question of whether we are willing to stand up for the lynchpin of freedom and democracy in a region where both are under increasing pressure from autocracy and dictatorship. – Newsweek 

South Asia

The tension between India and China is mounting again in the Himalayan region of Ladakh over a new bridge constructed by the Chinese on the banks of the Pangong Tso Lake in eastern Ladakh. Analysts say there is a possibility of continued skirmishes between the two nuclear states. – VOA News  

China has accelerated settlement-building along its disputed border with Bhutan, with more than 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction in six locations, according to satellite image analysis conducted for Reuters. – Reuters 

Hamid Mir writes: Khan is also facing an investigation by the Election Commission over irregularities in funds received from outside Pakistan. This case is a ticking time bomb for Khan. Unfortunately for him, that’s not the only potential disaster he’s likely to face in the year ahead. – Washington Post 


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

Taiwan will set up a $1 billion credit program aimed at funding projects by Lithuanian and Taiwanese companies amid economic pressure from China over an office that the island opened in the European Union country, Lithuanian officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press 

Taiwan found debris near the area where one of its most advanced fighter jets went missing, as the search for the pilot and his aircraft stretched into a second day. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: The U.S. remains the main Pacific military counterweight to China, whose military budget far exceeds Japan and Australia’s combined. Yet in a conflict over Taiwan, Australia and Japan would be the two nations most likely to aid Taipei besides the U.S. This defense agreement strengthens that deterrence and contributes to a more stable Pacific. – Wall Street Journal 

Ben Dubow writes: The quashing of Kazakh dissent gives new impetus to the notion that authoritarianism is on the rise and democracy in decline, and that international approval for action to favor stability are likely to outpace those to promote reform. […]But in the current, fracturing global order, no evidence is required to reach such a verdict. A triumphant Putin declared: “We will not allow the scenario of the so-called color revolutions to be realized.” – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Charles J. Sullivan writes: Kazakhstan’s citizens are naturally in a state of collective shock, but it will be interesting to see how the society grapples with all these issues once the government fully restores the internet connection. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Barry Pavel and Jeffrey Cimmino write: More broadly, because the force requirements for both major theaters are so significant, the United States simply does not have sufficient forces by itself to handle both scenarios. […]The United States needs European allies to increase their deployable force structure, as a large proportion of U.S. military forces is required to meet the rapidly growing (and pacing) threat posed by Chinese People’s Liberation Army forces in the Indo-Pacific. – The National Interest 


Now, as Russian officials visit North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday to address grievances raised by the Kremlin, the 30-country alliance is grappling with how to counter Russia’s increasing assertiveness. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia may halt security talks with the United States unless Washington swiftly accepts its demand that Ukraine and Georgia not be allowed to join NATO, the Kremlin spokesman warned, saying Moscow would soon decided whether there was “any sense” in continuing. – Washington Post 

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has spent months massing close to 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border. But Moscow says it has no intention of invading. What is Russia’s next move? No one knows, except perhaps Mr. Putin. And that is by design. – New York Times 

Russia staged live-fire exercises with troops and tanks near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday while sounding a downbeat note over the prospects for talks with the United States that Washington hopes will remove the possible threat of an invasion of Ukraine. – Reuters 

Senior NATO and Russian officials are meeting Wednesday to try to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences over the future of Ukraine, amid deep skepticism that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security proposals for easing tensions are genuine. – Associated Press 

A particular issue right now is whether Ukraine — something of a frontier country between Russia and the rest of Europe, and one which aspires to join the EU — could one day become a member of the western military alliance NATO. – CNBC 

Editorial: Putin himself seemed to consider a Nazarbayev-style manoeuvre, before changing Russia’s constitution to allow him to remain president until 2036. Even then, however, he will one day have to find an exit. If his authoritarian peers are already having to rely on arrests, intimidation and military help to preserve their own regimes, Kremlin hopes of a peaceful continuation of the Putin system once its creator moves on look ever more of a stretch. – Financial Times 

David Ignatius writes: Countries that have been nursing a grudge, as Putin’s Russia does, are often tempted to strike at what they think is the core of the problem. Israel did that when it invaded Lebanon in 1982. The United States did the same in its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Both are widely recognized as costly strategic mistakes. Now, Russia is considering a similar roll of the dice. Russia’s desire to feel secure within its borders isn’t unreasonable. Every country wants that. But if Putin thinks he can achieve this goal by invading Ukraine, he’s almost certain to fail. – Washington Post 

Bret Stephens writes: What he really wants to do is end the Western alliance as we have known it since the Atlantic Charter. As for the United States, two decades of bipartisan American weakness in the face of his aggression has us skating close to a geopolitical debacle. Biden needs to stand tough on Ukraine in order to save NATO. – New York Times 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: So far, the U.S. has countered Russian power projection only with relatively week economic sanctions. The message from Moscow: Even much tougher measures of this kind will not hinder Russia’s capacity to police its neighborhood and occasionally venture outside it when invited by like-minded authoritarians. […]As the Kazakhstan demonstration shows, that approach only seems to make Putin bolder. – Bloomberg 

Tom Rogan writes: Vladimir Putin knows all of this. He also knows that the freezing ground means the time to strike and achieve whatever military objectives he sets is sooner rather than later. Thawing ground is the great enemy of Russian military offensive doctrine and a great ally of its defensive doctrine. Put another way, focus on what Russia is actually doing, not what it is saying. – Washington Examiner 

Kseniya Kirillova writes: In short, in recent days Russia’s rhetoric against NATO and Ukraine has become even more aggressive, which, together with its existing, extreme demands, increases the chances of an escalation. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Evelyn N. Farkas writes: When this week’s talks end and Moscow moves its military forward, the United States and our allies around the world must take all of the steps the Biden administration has laid out including sanctions, export controls of technologies, and arming Ukraine. But that’s not enough. Biden should go to the United Nations immediately to rally the global community of nations. We must build a new coalition of the willing to enforce the state sovereignty enshrined in the UN Charter. – Defense One 

Tara D. Sonenshine writes: One positive sign is that both America and Russia are setting reasonable expectations for the Geneva meeting, expressing pessimism and demanding that each side does not understand the positions of the other. What we must hope is that a productive outcome will allow Washington, Moscow and NATO to say they overcame difficulties to put war on pause. […]America and Europe will have to be ready to impose harsh sanctions if Russia remains intractable in Ukraine and elsewhere. If nothing else, he has our attention, and that’s something Putin always craves. – The Hill 

Joshua C. Huminski writes: Is it any wonder then that Moscow feels emboldened to set the stage in its favor, create a crisis, drive the United States to the negotiating table and make demands? This week’s negotiations are certainly an opportunity to push back against Moscow. However, given the fact that the West has a weak hand, doesn’t understand the game that Russia is playing (a game where Putin has set things in motion, placed the pieces and controls the timeline) and has few cards to play, the possible positive outcomes are limited. – The Hill 


It sounded like a reassuring pronouncement: Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, declaring after negotiations with the United States that “we have no intention to invade Ukraine.” But skepticism ran deep on Tuesday inside Ukraine, where politicians were quick to discount the pledge Mr. Ryabkov made on Monday after meeting with American negotiators on Eastern European security. – New York Times 

The United States on Tuesday urged Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to investigate reports that banned ceremonies by the Serb Republic last weekend glorified war criminals and targeted returnees to towns from which non-Serbs were expelled. – Reuters 

Hungary will hold an election on April 3 where nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders and a foe of immigration, will face a close race against an opposition united against him for the first time. – Reuters 

Ukraine and the United States remain united in seeking to defuse a standoff with Moscow through diplomacy and are working closely to deter Russian aggression, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after speaking to his U.S. counterpart. – Reuters 

lulia Sabina-Joja writes: To address the military conflicts and security concerns, the West should also elevate the valuable partnerships it has with Georgia and Ukraine, which have served as a bulwark against Russian aggression. To better manage their security concerns and invest in the partnerships, the West should enable ad hoc NATO consultations with the two countries. […]The West cannot give into Russian demands for a sphere of influence. Instead, it should invest in its partnerships that serve as bulwark against Russian aggression. – Middle East Institute 


South African authorities have brought charges of terrorism and other crimes against a man in connection with the fire at the country’s parliament earlier this month. – Wall Street Journal 

On the same day that President Biden spoke with his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, about a possible window for peace in the long-running war in Tigray, at least 17 people, including women and children, were killed in an airstrike, aid workers said. – New York Times 

Russia and China blocked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday from supporting new sanctions on Mali for its military leaders’ decision to delay next month’s elections until 2026, a blow to the restoration of democracy in the troubled West African nation. – Associated Press 

A freelance reporter working for the New York Times in Zimbabwe will appear in court on Wednesday, his lawyer and the newspaper said, in a case critics say illustrates the authoritarian nature of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. – Reuters 

U.S. President Joe Biden raised concerns about air strikes in the conflict in northern Ethiopia and about human rights issues during a call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday, the White House said. – Reuters 

Pressure on Mali’s junta increased Tuesday as France and the United States underlined their support for the West African bloc ECOWAS, which has slapped sanctions on the country over delayed elections following two coups. – Agence France-Presse 

Michael Rubin writes: Indeed, Abiy’s take away from the conversation was not the need to reform his behavior, but rather that he could continue his current actions and still restore frayed ties with the United States. This in turn signals a tragedy that will mark a preventable humanitarian crisis on par with the Biden administration’s abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban. – 19FortyFive

The Americas

The U.S. government has approved for transfer another five detainees held at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, including a “high-value” prisoner suspected of having been a key figure in al-Qaeda’s East Africa franchise. – Washington Post  

The presence of a senior Iranian official at the investiture of Nicaragua’s president has angered Argentina, which alleges the official was involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. – Associated Press 

Cuba officials have slammed the ongoing U.S. military presence on the shores of Guantanamo on the 20th anniversary of the opening of a controversial detainment facility there that U.N. experts and other analysts want shuttered immediately. – Newsweek 

United States

The Justice Department is forming a new domestic terrorism unit to help combat a threat that has intensified dramatically in recent years, a top national security official said Tuesday. – Washington Post 

A leader of a neo-Nazi group was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in threatening journalists and activists from exposing anti-Semitic acts. – Washington Examiner 

A coalition of pro-Israel organizations sent a letter to Senate leadership on Tuesday taking aim at Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for blocking supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system and arguing that folding the funding into a larger package would “undermine Israel’s security.” – Jewish Insider 


Cyberthreats and the growing space race are emerging risks to the global economy, adding to existing challenges posed by climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum said in a report Tuesday. – Associated Press  

Elisabeth Braw writes: The Swedish Psychological Defence Agency will monitor malign influence by exposing both the aggressors and their methods. I believe it should go further, by launching information counter-strikes against the offending country’s ruling elite. In future, Nato and its allies could respond to disinformation campaigns by revealing some of the overseas properties owned by senior officials in the hostile country. – Financial Times 

Jason Healey writes: The United States and its cyber rivals strive to avoid surprise attacks while simultaneously maximizing their own ability to carry them out. This is solid policy in a stable geopolitical environment but exceptionally risky in an unstable one. Perhaps the only way to meaningfully slice though this dilemma is with slow, patient changes to give defenders more advantage over attackers, reducing first-strike incentives. – War on the Rocks 


The head of the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet has laid out a plan to prepare his force to deter or defeat a top-notch adversary, calling for specific steps to improve ship maintenance, successfully and rapidly field new weapons, develop high-end tactics, and ensure sailors and officers have high-quality training and mentoring. – Defense News 

Surface navy leaders are turning to fleet commanders for ideas about how they want to use littoral combat ships, as the U.S. Navy tries to refine its operational concepts for these ships. – Defense News 

Lockheed Martin is preparing to send its latest directed energy weapon to San Diego for installation onboard an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer following successful testing at a Navy facility last year. – Breaking Defense 

Long War

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a woman who left home in Alabama to join the Islamic State terror group, but then decided she wanted to return to the United States. – Associated Press 

Recent events have highlighted a disturbing trend among some of the most extremist neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups: looking to Islamist terror organizations as a model and inspiration. This became noticeable with the August 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and with the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K)  killing of U.S. soldiers there. It continued with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when groups, including some Proud Boys affiliates, celebrated the attacks. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Paul Lushenko, Sarah Kreps, and Shyam Raman write: Regardless of the specific theater of operations, limiting civilian casualties in war should be an end in itself, not just because the United States is bound to do so under international law but because civilian casualties are thought to make it easier for terrorists to recruit followers. Our analysis suggests that reducing civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes doesn’t have to come at the cost of effective counterterrorism. A tighter threshold for U.S drone strikes can reduce civilian casualties without emboldening the enemy. – Foreign Affairs