Fdd's overnight brief

January 13, 2022

In The News


Iran and the United States have recently engaged in a spiraling escalation of threats and warnings, even as they are progressing in diplomatic talks about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. – New York Times 

Russia said nuclear talks were “moving forward,” in the latest possible sign of easing tension between Iran and world powers including the U.S. – Bloomberg 

Iran, Venezuela and Sudan are in arrears on paying dues to the United Nations’ operating budget and are among eight nations that will lose their voting rights in the 193-member General Assembly, the U.N. chief said in a letter circulated Wednesday. – Associated Press 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki shifted blame Wednesday for the “aggressive actions” being taken by Iran, claiming the country is “rapidly accelerating” due to former President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. – Fox News 

The Biden administration is gearing up for the Iran nuclear deal talks to reach an end by stepping up criticism of former president Donald Trump and blaming him for the current situation. – Times of Israel 

Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, whom Tehran has sentenced to five years in prison but was recently living under house arrest, has once again been incarcerated, France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, demanding her immediate release. – Reuters  

More than 100 House Republicans are calling on the Biden administration to withdraw from ongoing negotiations in Vienna to return to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. – The Hill 


Nothing is truly the same in Afghanistan for many women whose lives were turned inside out last summer. The spaces that were once theirs in Kabul and other cities — classrooms, jobs, even the streets themselves — are no longer in their hands. The Taliban is now in charge. – Washington Post 

Five months after their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban are grappling with the challenges of governance. […]To help fill the gaps, Taliban officials are reaching into Pakistan. – New York Times 

The Taliban administration that seized control of Afghanistan proposed a joint body on Wednesday of its officials and international representatives to coordinate billions of dollars in planned aid. – Reuters 

Gordon Brown writes: To turn our backs now on ordinary Afghans in their hour of greatest need would be the final insult: a badge of shame that the free world would carry for ever. Visiting Kabul a few days ago, a colleague at the organisation I chair, Education Cannot Wait, met a young girl pleading to go back to school. Her name was Arezou. It is the Dari word for wish, indeed for hope. And it is hope that we must offer her and a despairing Afghan people. Now. – The Guardian 


Israel uncovered an attempt by Iran to recruit Israeli citizens as spies, the Israeli Security Agency said in a statement on Wednesday. Israel indicted five people suspected of carrying out orders, such as photographing Israeli government offices and the U.S. consulate in Tel Aviv, sent from an Iranian handler through Facebook and Whatsapp. The plot was part of “never-ending efforts” by Iran to recruit Israeli citizens, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday. – Bloomberg 

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reportedly met with Palestinian Authority General Intelligence chief Majed Faraj late last month as some members of the new government continue to expand their contacts with the PA leadership. – Times of Israel 

Morgan Lorraine Vina and Blaise Misztal write: Finally, the Biden administration should learn from Israel’s experience. The latest Gaza conflict underscores the need for U.S. and allied militaries to prepare for operations against adversaries that ignore the laws of war while claiming to be victims. In preparation for the type of spurious accusations Israel now faces, the United States should undertake a broad campaign to communicate effectively the legality of U.S. and allied military operations. […]Now, more than ever, President Biden must live up to his commitments to fight this deeply ingrained U.N. bias. – The Hill 


Austria’s foreign minister said Wednesday that the European Union wants to help Lebanon escape its economic meltdown, but only if the country’s leaders clean up Beirut’s affairs. – Associated Press 

A large explosion was heard between Deir El Zahrani and Houmine El Faouqa in southern Lebanon early Thursday morning, according to Lebanese media. – Jerusalem Post 

A general strike by public transportation and labor unions paralyzed Lebanon Thursday as the country suffers one of the world’s worst economic crises. – Associated Press 

Middle East & North Africa

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi on Wednesday urged rival factions in Sudan to engage in talks to move forward in their transition to democracy after a coup toppled the civilian-led government. – Associated Press 

Mossad Director David Barnea and Libyan prime minister Abdulhamid Mohammed Al-Dabaiba recently met in Jordan to discuss normalization and security cooperation, Saudi and Libyan media outlets reported Wednesday night. – Jerusalem Post 

Turkey’s lira weakened nearly 3% on Thursday, giving up most of the gains from a rally a day earlier, as concerns persisted over surging inflation against a background of unorthodox policies aimed at boosting exports and growth. – Reuters 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iraq must now hold its breath to see if the Sadr camp can create a functioning government. “There will be no return to sectarian violence and warfare,” Sadr said. “The next government will be one of law and there will be no place for any violation from anyone, whatever it is.” – Jerusalem Post 

Korean Peninsula

After nearly two years of border closures to protect North Korea against the pandemic, some humanitarian aid is trickling into the country, though shipments of key supplies including food remain blocked, according to United Nations organisations. – Reuters 

North Korea said Wednesday its leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful flight test of a hypersonic missile he claimed would remarkably increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent.” – Associated Press 

The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed its first sanctions over North Korea’s weapons programs following a series of North Korean missile launches, including two since last week. – Reuters 

South Korea is set to pay compensation to Iran’s Dayyani Group over a 2015 dispute after the United States cleared the path towards the payment without violating its sanctions against Tehran, the Asian nation’s foreign ministry said. – Reuters 


China is luring record levels of investment into the country’s technology sector, even as it clamps down on consumer-technology firms like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and ride-hailing company Didi Global Inc. – Wall Street Journal 

The Biden administration on Wednesday criticized China’s decision to cancel a growing number of flights from the United States to China because of passengers who later tested positive for COVID-19 and warned it could take action in response. – Reuters 

China will release its estimates for fourth quarter and full-year gross domestic product growth on Monday at a critical economic and political juncture for President Xi Jinping, who is seeking an unprecedented third term as head of the Communist party, military and government. – Financial Times 

Heino Klinck writes: Fundamentally, the only way to deter China’s use of economic tools of statecraft for nefarious ends is to steadily reduce dependency on China for supply chains and as an export market. […]Frankly, such concerted efforts will have the concomitant effect of growing the economies of some of China’s neighbors such as Vietnam, India, and Indonesia as companies would undoubtedly re-shore there.  Reducing the efficacy of the economic arrow in China’s quiver will transform the competitive landscape that currently advantages China on a massive scale. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

South Asia

A United Nations special envoy has urged Southeast Asian countries to support international efforts to engage all sides in the crisis in army-ruled Myanmar, days after a top regional leader travelled there to meet its junta chief. – Reuters 

India and Britain formally launched trade talks in New Delhi on Thursday, seeking freer movement of goods and people with a deal projected to increase bilateral trade by billions of pounds. – Reuters 

Derek Grossman writes: A more comprehensive approach to strategic competition might see the Biden administration seeking high-level political exchanges with Cambodia and Laos to facilitate new economic and security agreements, such as the reestablishment of U.S. access to Ream Naval Base. […]But in the end, upping engagement with Cambodia and Laos can only be a net positive for the United States as it competes against China. A purely values-based approach has clearly failed to make headway, isolates the United States in a region where few countries are true democracies, and unnecessarily cedes ground to Beijing. – Foreign Policy 


For years, Kazakhstan’s vast natural riches and relative political stability have made the country a ripe target for U.S. investments. The current wave of protests, which has led to dozens of deaths, is now making those investments a riskier proposition. – Wall Street Journal 

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited Almaty on Wednesday for the first time since clashes there left dozens dead, vowing to repair damage to oil-rich Kazakhstan’s largest city and financial hub. – Agence France-Presse 

With about 12,000 people arrested after anti-government protests in Kazakhstan last week, friends and relatives of those held by police waited outside a jail Wednesday, hoping to learn their fate. Some even went to morgues to see if a loved one was among the scores killed in the unprecedented violence in the Central Asian nation. – Associated Press 

New Zealand’s decision to resettle a former vice-president of Afghanistan and 13 family members has sparked controversy, with some asking why hundreds of Afghans who helped New Zealand forces or were associated with them remain trapped abroad and in fear for their lives. – The Guardian 


The Biden administration has thrown its support behind a bill that would impose mandatory sanctions against Russian leaders, banks and businesses if Moscow escalates hostilities or further invades Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after discussions Wednesday that differences would be hard to bridge, with Russia increasing pressure on the West to accept its demands for sweeping security guarantees, and the alliance largely refusing to budge. – Wall Street Journal 

From Eastern Europe to the oil fields of Central Asia, President Vladimir V. Putin is straining to maintain a sphere of influence that will keep the forces of history at bay. – New York Times 

Senior Democratic senators on Wednesday will unveil a fresh package of sanctions to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin if he invades Ukraine, an effort backed by the White House as the administration seeks to tamp down defections on a competing measure targeting Moscow set for a closely watched Senate vote this week. – Washington Post  

The United States on Wednesday called on Russia to stay at the negotiating table after a first round of talks over Ukraine this week but continue discussions, including on topics such arms control. – Reuters 

The head of the International Energy Agency has accused Russia of throttling gas supplies to Europe at a time of “heightened geopolitical tensions”, implying that Moscow has manufactured an energy crisis for political ends. – Financial Times 

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) investigators have arrested a pro-Russian agent accused of “plotting a series of information-psychological attacks in order to bring more chaos” to the major port city of Odessa, a Ukrainian security official told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. – Daily Beast  

George F. Will writes: The E.U. should help hasten Ukraine’s compliance with criteria for membership, and NATO should move significant military assets closer to Ukraine. – Washington Post 

Josh Rogin writes: By enforcing loyalty and deftly working the Hill, the White House might have won the domestic political battle in Washington. Unfortunately, that small victory might come at the cost of giving Putin a much more significant one. – Washington Post 

Avraham Shama writes: The U.S. has been telling the world that war is off the table, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken seems to behave like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who in 1939 was willing to consider anything but war against Hitler. In such a situation, bullies call the shots. Now it is Putin, tomorrow it could be China’s Xi Jinping. […]The U.S. could be better served using a page from Israel’s play book: to act as if it is ready for war, and to talk as if it is ready for peace. It does not seem that the U.S. and its NATO allies are ready to do so. Their goal seems to be to control the damage that Putin can exact. – The Hill 

Jonah Goldberg writes: But Putin is a master of asking for the whole store so he can settle for a shopping cart full of free goodies. And it sounds like the White House is considering concessions, including delaying military assistance to Ukraine. The political temptation to appease Putin—just a little—is understandable. The last thing Biden needs is yet another international crisis, never mind a war. But one thing is certain: Any concessions to Putin will be little more than down payments on more down the road. – The Dispatch 

Andreas Kluth writes: Putin wants commitments that NATO will never, ever, admit Ukraine or any other country in the region as a member, no matter what the nation in question prefers. And he demands that the alliance in effect demilitarize countries already in NATO that used to belong to the Soviet Union, such as Estonia or Latvia, and others. […]The coming weeks, months and years will tell whether the world is headed into another era of realpolitik and might-makes-right — whether we are destined to return to the amoral and cynical approach to international relations that reduces small countries to pawns on the chessboards of the great powers. – Bloomberg 


A court in Germany found a former Syrian security officer guilty on Thursday of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. He is the highest-ranking Syrian official to be held accountable for abuses committed by the government during a decade of civil war. – New York Times 

The Biden administration said legislation from Senator Ted Cruz to impose tough new sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would undermine U.S. efforts to deter Russia from further menacing Ukraine. – Bloomberg 

Europe needs to stand up to China’s “illegal” pressure on Lithuania and foreign companies operating there or risk damage to the international trade system, according to the Baltic country’s foreign minister. – Financial Times 

Alan Beattie writes: French cavalry charges have historically been magnificent to watch, but in an EU context they are more often heralded than executed. The case for centralising some strategic power in the EU is strong. But Macron’s ability to deliver will require more European unity and French domestic resilience than are currently on display. – Financial Times 

Samuel Charap writes: Nato cannot and should not accept being told what to do by Russia. But Moscow’s inflammatory rhetoric should not distract from the fact that Nato is not prepared to offer Ukraine membership. […]Regardless, Nato would not be acting contrary to this principle if it were to declare that, while Ukraine is free to pursue membership, the alliance is not offering it membership at present. – Financial Times 


In a sharp reversal of fortunes over just a few weeks, Ethiopian government forces have repelled rebel fighters who had appeared poised to seize the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, and threaten the government led by Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister. – Wall Street Journal 

Southern African countries agreed at a summit on Wednesday to extend their troop deployment in Mozambique to help the government fight an Islamic State-linked insurgency, a communique said. – Reuters 

Nigeria will lift a ban on Twitter (TWTR.N) from midnight after the social media platform agreed to open a local office, among other agreements with authorities in the West African country, a senior government official said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Separatist rebels on Wednesday killed a soldier during an attack on Cameroon’s western city of Buea, the home base for four soccer teams competing in the Africa Cup of Nations, a senior militant said. – Reuters 

A car bomb exploded on a road leading to the airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, killing at least eight people, the head of the city’s ambulance services said. – Reuters 

The United States on Wednesday brandished the threat of sanctions if troubled Somalia misses its latest deadline for elections. – Agence France-Presse 

Mohammed Ahmed Gain writes: The peoples of the Sahel want governments that are able to deliver basic services in a fair and inclusive manner. Today more than ever, the priority should be on enabling the region and its people, and they should take ownership of the response to all crises in the longer run. European donors should understand that COVID-19 has undermined the old dichotomies and binary oppositions between developed and underdeveloped worlds, and between Europe as a safe haven and Africa as a threat hotspot. The destinies of both the North and the South are now intertwined. – Middle East Institute  

The Americas

At least 22 journalists from the independent Salvadoran news site El Faro were targeted with telephone spyware, investigators announced Wednesday, in one of the most extensive attacks yet discovered using the Pegasus software. – Washington Post 

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro accused two members of the Supreme Court on Wednesday of taking sides in this year’s election and favoring leftists leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. – Reuters 

Britain’s Prince Andrew failed to persuade a U.S. judge to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit accusing the Duke of York of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager. – Reuters 


The Pentagon’s cybersecurity arm on Wednesday said it has tied a hacking group known as MuddyWater to Iranian intelligence. In doing so, U.S. Cyber Command also identified several open-source software tools being used by the hacking group and disclosed them in an effort to thwart further attacks. MuddyWater allegedly used the tools to gain access to global computer networks. – Bloomberg 

Google’s bid to overturn a 100 million-euro ($114 million) French fine hit a snag after an aide to the nation’s top court backed accusations against the search engine over its cookies policy. – Bloomberg 

Federal agencies are warning about Russian hackers potentially targeting critical infrastructure in the United States. – The Hill 


The Navy should be piqued more easily by the things it’s not doing well, according to the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. “We need to be offended by not having the right manning. We need to be offended by not getting ships out at the right time,” Adm. Daryl Caudle said at the annual Surface Navy Association conference Jan. 12. “It needs to be palpable, and not just like, ‘Okay,’ and just kind of kick the can down the road.” – Defense News 

Northrop Grumman is on course to start delivering the first low-rate initial production (LRIP) models of its AN/WSN-12 Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) sensor packages in June 2022, Michael Corrigan, company director of Maritime Systems & Integration and Charlottesville site director, told Janes . – Janes 

US Navy (USN) leaders are looking to leverage advanced technological capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in the tactical and operational realm, with combat requirements in those areas driving much of the research and development efforts for those technologies. – Janes 

The US Army is taking the next step towards developing a new wheeled 155 mm howitzer and is asking companies to participate in a multi-year assessment that could lead to the design of a new weapon system. – Janes 

The Navy wants its next warship to fire hypersonic missiles and lasers that would be ten times more powerful than the service’s existing laser weapons, according to the most detailed outlook to date of the DDG(X) next generation warship issued by the service. – USNI News