Fdd's overnight brief

January 20, 2022

In The News


Sitting across a long table from President Vladimir V. Putin at a Covid-conscious distance, President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran reminded his Russian counterpart on Wednesday that Tehran had been “resisting America for 40 years.” – New York Times 

President Joe Biden said “it’s not time to give up” on reviving the accord restraining Iran’s nuclear program as talks between world powers drag on in Vienna. – Bloomberg 

China, Russia and Iran will hold their joint naval drills on Friday, a public relations official from Iran’s armed forces told semi-official ISNA news agency on Thursday. – Reuters 

A French tourist jailed in Iran, Benjamin Briere, will appear before a Revolutionary Court on Thursday on spying charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday, over a year after his arrest while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area. – Reuters 

To get a deal, Iran will have to either accelerate its pace at the negotiating table or slow down the pace of its nuclear program to buy more time for diplomacy, a senior U.S. official involved in the Vienna nuclear talks tells Axios. – Axios 

Dozens of firefighters rallied in Tehran to protest their living conditions, local media reported on Wednesday, marking the fifth anniversary of a tower blaze that caused the death of many of their colleagues. – Agence France-Presse 

The Biden administration is urging a 77-year-old former U.S. hostage in Iran to call off a hunger strike in Vienna aimed at pressing for a U.S.-Iranian deal to free Americans and other Westerners of Iranian origin detained in Iran. – VOA News 

Ilan Berman writes: That’s the calculus now confronting the White House. Any deal with Iran, no matter how flimsy, would provide sufficient justification for the Biden administration to begin rolling back sanctions, especially on Iran’s oil industry. If that happens, Iranian crude would flood the market, available supply would go up, and the marginal price of oil (and consequently refined products like gasoline) would go down. – Wall Street Journal 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: He also mentioned that Russia could help bring peace to Yemen, Iraq and Syria alongside Iran. It’s not clear how much of this thinking is just speculation on a former ambassador’s part, but it is clear that Iran thinks the trip to Moscow is important. – Jerusalem Post 

Ray Takeyh writes: Iran cannot afford a confrontation with the great powers it seems to be relishing. The United States and its European partners are offering Iran a path for the dilemmas of its own choosing. Should it opt for a return to the nuclear deal, it can regain much of its financial footing and at least restore a measure of economic growth. – Foreign Policy


The Defense Department on Wednesday released drone footage from its disastrous airstrike in Kabul in August that killed 10 civilians, reviving questions about the Pentagon’s initial insistence that it targeted an Islamic State terrorist despite almost instantaneous evidence that grave error had occurred. – Washington Post 

In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, aid groups are overwhelmed by the starving. More than half the population, the United Nations has warned, won’t get enough to eat this winter. The biggest problem isn’t a lack of food. Rather, it’s the disappearance of what had been the lifeblood of the Afghan economy — Western cash. – Washington Post 

Noah Rothman writes: Today, with the Biden administration mired in a domestic political mess, so much of the president’s problems can be traced back to what was once the “popular” withdrawal from Afghanistan. From former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s advisers to Barack Obama’s longtime confidante, David Axelrod, a number of Democrats blame the president’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal for putting downward pressure on the president’s polling—pressure that has yet to let up. – Commentary Magazine 


Israeli police demolished a Palestinian home in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem early Wednesday, after a surprise overnight raid and the arrest of family members and protesters. The action ended a standoff in which some family members at one point barricaded themselves on the roof and threatened to blow up the structure. – Washington Post 

Israel must halt its demolition of Palestinian homes, the United States and other members of the UN Security Council declared after Israel razed two homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah early Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel is hoping the U.N. General Assembly will unanimously adopt a resolution rejecting and condemning any denial of the Holocaust and urging all nations and social media companies “to take active measures to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial or distortion.” – Associated Press 

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki criticized U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday for moving too slowly to reverse all of the Trump administration’s adverse policies against the Palestinians and not using Washington’s special relationship to pressure Israel to abandon “its rejection of a two-state solution and peace negotiations.” – Associated Press 

The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Italy and Spain urged Israeli authorities on Wednesday evening to stop the construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem. – Reuters 

The Defense Ministry and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems have signed an agreement for the development and production of three advanced submarines for the Israeli Navy, the Defense Ministry announced on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

The world has been silent in the face of Palestinian   “terror attacks with rocks” again Israelis, the Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told the Security Council on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Prepare to eulogize the two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warned Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki on Wednesday as he called on the international community to force Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. – Jerusalem Post 

US opposition to a pipeline from Israel to Greece via Cyprus will cause ripples across the Mediterranean. – Jerusalem Post 

John Hannah and Jonathan Ruhe write: Biden’s agenda in 2022 should be clear: Embrace the accords. Make them your own. Strengthen U.S. partners and advance U.S. security. Do what China and Russia could only hope to do in their wildest dreams and broker a new set of Arab-Israeli peace deals. Dramatically enhance the United States’ prestige and influence on the world stage. Restore your own stature as a leading international statesman. And who knows—you might even win a Nobel Prize. Then, you could send Trump a nice thank-you note. Or not. – Jewish Institute for National Security of America


The fight for garbage shows the rapid descent of life in Beirut, once known for its entrepreneurial spirit, free-wheeling banking sector and vibrant nightlife. Instead of civil war causing the chaos, the disaster over the past two years was caused by the corruption and mismanagement of the calcified elite that has ruled Lebanon since the end of its 1975-90 conflict. – Associated Press 

Unknown individuals in Lebanon launched a rocket towards Israel on Wednesday night, according to Lebanese media. – Jerusalem Post 

A U.N. agency appealed Wednesday to the international community to donate tens of millions of dollars to help improve living conditions for Palestinians in crisis-hit Lebanon. – Associated Press 

Nicole Robinson and Natasha Chernyavsky write: If the United States wishes to maintain regional security, it should not ignore what is taking place in Lebanon. The current trajectory of the nation will lead to another civil war and potentially decades of violence in the country. The U.S. has a vested interest in preventing an escalation of war that threatens its allies, in preserving regional peace, and in preventing any further growth of the tentacles of the terrorist-funding state of Iran. – Heritage Foundation 

Arabian Peninsula

Yemen’s Houthi rebels used cruise and ballistic missiles, in addition to drones, in an attack on Abu Dhabi this week that killed three people and set off fires at a fuel depot and an international airport, the Emirati ambassador to the United States said Wednesday. – Associated Press 

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday his administration is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi movement as an international terrorist organization following drone and missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates claimed by the group. – Reuters 

Today, he is a prominent face among movers and shakers in the region who have embraced the Abraham Accords, normalization deals signed in September 2020 between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and are working to strengthen people-to-people ties between those countries and beyond. He’s caught the attention of Israeli, U.S. and Gulf leaders, and frequently meets with prominent figures visiting the UAE, where he has lived since 2020. – Circuit 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: This is the key point for Iran. It wants to remake the region and show that any country can be targeted with Iranian-backed weapons or Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. The attack on Abu Dhabi was a message to the region and the US, as well as the UAE. – Jerusalem Post 

David Gardner writes: From Tehran’s viewpoint, by highlighting the UAE’s vulnerability — as it did spectacularly with Saudi Arabia in 2019 — it seeks to demonstrate that the Gulf has no realistic alternative to diplomacy. As things stand, it may be right. – Financial Times 

Alex Almeida and Michael Knights write: Going forward, it is important to recognize that the Houthis do not have to be pushed all the way back to their starting positions, but only to the mountains and out of rocket/artillery range from Marib city and local energy facilities. The U.S. government should tacitly support this effort to stabilize the Marib front and decisively check the Houthi route to all-out victory. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The United Arab Emirates and Turkey agreed to a currency swap equivalent to nearly $5 billion that reinforces an economic partnership between two Middle Eastern rivals and provides Ankara with a badly needed infusion of foreign funds. – Wall Street Journal  

Jordan will next week sign a deal with Lebanon and Syria to supply Lebanon with electricity under a U.S. backed regional plan to help the country ease acute power shortages, the energy minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Omar Abu Layla writes: Iran continued penetration of Deir Ezzor is an attempt to create a population in harmony with its regional goals, in a society previously dominated by an Arab Sunni tribal character. Deir Ezzor will remain the geographic link between Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut—in other words, the Shia crescent—so Iran will continue to see the region as a long-term investment in Soleimani’s vision. – Washington Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea suggested it might consider restarting long-range and nuclear-weapons tests, promising to take “practical action” as it says the U.S. threat to the country can no longer be ignored. – Wall Street Journal  

A New York court has ruled that the family of deceased American student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea, should be awarded more than $240,000 to be seized from the secretive state’s assets. – Washington Post 

North Korea sees its nuclear program as essential to regime survival, serving to deter a U.S.-led invasion. Decades of denuclearization talks, economic sanctions and diplomacy have done little to slow Pyongyang’s advance to becoming a self-declared nuclear state. – Wall Street Journal 


Chinese authorities have detained two prominent human-rights activists, quietly intensifying a crackdown on dissent weeks before Beijing hosts the most politicized Winter Olympics in recent memory. – Wall Street Journal  

Some 200 Chinese companies are under threat to be booted from U.S. stock exchanges because they use China-based auditors whose work can’t be inspected by U.S. regulators. The move is designed to protect U.S. investors, lawmakers say. – Wall Street Journal 

At some of the world’s most sensitive spots, authorities have installed security screening devices made by a single Chinese company with deep ties to China’s military and the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party. – Associated Press 

Chinese forces followed and warned away a U.S. warship which entered waters near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the country’s military said on Thursday, in the latest uptick in tensions in the disputed waterway. – Reuters 

China reported the first imports of Iranian crude oil in a year despite ongoing sanctions by the United States government, according to data released by customs on Thursday. – Reuters 

Amnesty International warned on Wednesday that the international community must not allow China to use the Winter Olympics in Beijing as a “sportswashing opportunity” and must avoid being “complicit in a propaganda exercise”. – Agence France-Presse 

President Joe Biden said that he’s not ready to lift tariffs his predecessor imposed on Chinese imports, despite calls from U.S. businesses to relieve the duties. – Bloomberg 

At least 1,562 Hong Kong civil society jobs have been lost so far to the government’s crackdown on dissent under a Beijing-imposed national security law, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News drawn from scores of phone calls and emails to impacted parties, as well as local news reports. More than 60 organizations including media companies, trade unions, political bodies, and religious and human rights groups have disbanded in the past year, under intense pressure from national security police. – Bloomberg  

President Joe Biden said Wednesday he pressed Chinese leader Xi Jinping about the origins of COVID-19 during their lengthy November phone call, a revelation that comes after two months of the White House refusing to say if Biden had raised the critical concern. – Washington Examiner  

Daniel Henninger writes: These multiple, often novel, threats exist because our adversaries are on offense 24/7 against the U.S.’s interests. There is no longer any such thing as the relative calm of an interwar period. Still, there is that pertinent question: Who cares about the Uyghurs? Or Hong Kong. Or Taiwan, Crimea, the Baltics, Venezuela and Poland. – Wall Street Journal 

Shuli Ren writes: Perhaps that’s why China’s propaganda machine is starting the year of the tiger with an anti-corruption documentary. Xi knows he needs his work horses to work. But since he can’t pay them, he just has to scare them into action. – Bloomberg 

Neena Shenai writes: One year in, the Biden administration remains unable to articulate a coherent China policy and its trade policy is hamstrung by U.S. political dynamics. Only recently have U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and others in the current administration mentioned holding China to the deal. – American Enterprise Institute 

South Asia

A powerful bomb went off in a crowded bazar in Pakistan’s second largest city of Lahore on Thursday, killing at least two people and wounding 26 others, police and rescue officials said. – Associated Press 

A Pakistani court sentenced a Muslim woman to death after finding her guilty of blasphemy for insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in text messages she sent to a friend, an official said Thursday. – Associated Press 

A London-based law firm filed an application with British police Tuesday seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in disputed Kashmir. – Associated Press 

Groups of Taliban fighters, dressed in the group’s usual assortment of military fatigues and shawls, have massed on Afghanistan’s long and arid southern border with Pakistan. – Financial Times


Kazakhstan’s powerful former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has emerged for the first time since the violent unrest that roiled the energy-rich nation this month, denying any power struggle among the country’s elite. – Washington Post 

Well over 90 percent of Taiwan’s people trace their roots to mainland China, but more than ever, they are embracing an identity that is distinct from that of their Communist-ruled neighbor. Beijing’s strident authoritarianism — and its claim over Taiwan — has only solidified the island’s identity, now central to a dispute that has turned the Taiwan Strait into one of Asia’s biggest potential flash points. – New York Times 

Taiwan Vice President William Lai will transit in the United States when he visits Honduras next week, Taiwan’s presidential office said on Thursday, amid tensions with China which always complains to Washington about such stopovers. – Reuters 

Foreign and defence ministers from Japan and France will discuss further security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific on Thursday, Japanese officials said, as the region faces China’s growing military might and North Korea’s missile development. – Reuters 


President Biden said he expects Russia to make some kind of move against Ukraine and would face consequences calibrated to the degree of aggression, while the administration’s top diplomat sought to reassure Ukraine’s president of unified support from the West. – Wall Street Journal 

President Joe Biden largely has rallied European allies to pledge as one that they will take tough measures against Russia if it rolls troops into Ukraine. But when it comes to what exactly the United States and Europe are willing to do, the allies haven’t looked as united. – Associated Press 

A top Russian diplomat warned Wednesday that Moscow will not accept anything except a “watertight” U.S. guarantee that NATO will not allow Ukraine to join the military alliance, The Associated Press reported. – Associated Press 

Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected an offer from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year, an Israeli official confirmed on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: If Mr. Putin does invade Ukraine, he will be betting he can shore up his nationalist standing at home, snatch a neighbor’s territory, and spread further division in the Western alliance. The tragedy is that the West hasn’t done nearly enough to persuade him otherwise. – Wall Street Journal 

Josh Rogin: Sanctions are not a panacea, but the only way to test them for real is to target Putin’s money and the few people he actually cares about, now. In 2014, the Obama administration used biting sanctions only after Putin invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Since then, he’s only gotten more aggressive. Eight years later, let’s not make the same mistake of reacting only after it’s too late. – Washington Post 

Benjamin Jensen writes: First, energy security is national security. Russia can be bold while the winter winds blow, and post-pandemic inflationary pressure keeps commodity prices high. Europe needs an alternative to Russian resources as a national security priority. Second, stronger transatlantic intelligence and cyber collaboration will help to limit Russia’s ability to conduct gray zone campaigns across NATO member states. Third, NATO needs military modernization and to reinvest in alliance interoperability. – The Hill 

Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev writes: However, the most probable outcome will be a new wave of aggressive political rhetoric by the Russian leaders (State Duma deputies have already suggested bombing Ukrainian cities and formally reinstating the Russian empire, which even Finland sooner or later would like to join). […]The West has only to wait and see what the Kremlin’s next steps will be, since there is no reason at all to propose any kind of ease to Russia’s self-perpetuating anxieties. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


Russia’s military buildup is rekindling tensions over whether Europe should take a bigger role in its own defense aside from the trans-Atlantic alliance with the U.S. that has underpinned the region’s security in the postwar era. – Wall Street Journal  

President Biden is turning to a trio of top Democratic donors to lead diplomatic posts in the United Kingdom, Brazil and Denmark, the White House said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken held crisis talks on Ukraine with European allies on Thursday, as the Biden administration seeks to present a unified Western front in deterring Russia from invading its neighbor. – Washington Post 

The Syrian doctor tortured detainees — opponents of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad — by beating them with sticks and kicking them, and even set one on fire, German prosecutors say. In one instance, they allege, he killed a prisoner with a lethal injection. – New York Times 

Finland does not plan to join NATO in the near future but is ready to stand with its European allies and United States by imposing tough sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

EU officials sought to reassure the US that Brussels remains committed to Washington-led negotiations with Russia over averting further conflict in Ukraine, after French president Emmanuel Macron broke ranks to call for a competing EU dialogue with Moscow. – Financial Times 

Officials in Berlin have rejected a renewed request by Ukraine for lethal, defensive equipment in the face of Russia’s massive troop buildup, effectively testing the restrictive arms-export policy enshrined in the government’s coalition agreement. – Defense News 


Mali’s authorities banned a German military plane with 75 troops on board from overflying the country late on Wednesday, forcing it to divert to Gran Canaria, the German defence ministry said. – Reuters 

The United Nations secretary-general said Wednesday he was delighted to hear “there is now a demonstrable effort to make peace” in Ethiopia after more than 14 months of war, but he gave no details. – Associated Press 

Senior US diplomats met with pro-democracy activists Wednesday in Sudan as part of talks to discuss the way forward after last year’s military coup, Washington’s embassy in Khartoum said. – Agence France-Presse 

A plane carrying a delegation of Israeli officials landed in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday, Kan news reported. […]Kan added that according to the Saudi Al-Arabiya news outlet, the “Israeli military delegation” was slated to meet with Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized power in a coup last year. Associated Press 

The Americas

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley seemed on the verge of a sweeping victory as preliminary results trickled in late on Wednesday from the Caribbean nation’s first general election since it became a republic last year. – Reuters 

Roya Hakakian writes: After Colleyville and the increase in antisemitic attacks generally, I worry that America’s version of democracy — with its celebration of individuality and group distinction — could be hampering a new generation from uniting in a common vision. A democracy, it appears to me, is only as good as the imagination of its citizens, who must vigilantly envision a life without it — and thus vigilantly guard it, which in turn will help us fight bigotry. – Washington Post 


President Biden on Wednesday expanded the National Security Agency’s role in protecting the U.S. government’s most sensitive computer networks, issuing a directive intended to bolster cybersecurity within the Defense Department and intelligence agencies. – Wall Street Journal  

A mobile app that is mandatory for all participants in next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing contains security flaws that could make it easy for a hacker to steal sensitive personal information, cybersecurity researchers in Canada warn. – Wall Street Journal 

Facebook is facing mounting pressure from rights groups and researchers this week to make public an independent human rights impact assessment it commissioned to probe hate speech and incitement to violence targeting religious minorities on its platform in India. – Washington Post 

Australia and Britain will “fight back” against cyber attacks from China, Russia, and Iran, defence minister Peter Dutton said ahead of consultations with Britain in Sydney. – Reuters 

An Israeli Cabinet minister on Wednesday dismissed claims that police used controversial spyware to surveil protesters, a day after a newspaper investigation prompted outraged lawmakers to seek a formal inquiry. – Associated Press 

Ensuring the security of our cyberspace is vital to a thriving economy and strong national security. Technology touches all facets of our lives and as our society continues to rely more on technological advancements, the risk from cyber-attacks grows larger. – The Hill 


As the commercial airline and telecommunications industries scramble to limit the potential safety risks to aircraft from a rollout of new 5G networks, it may be months before the U.S. military has a handle on whether, or how big, of a problem this might be for its own planes. – Defense News 

The U.S. Army originally intended for the Integrated Battle Command System, or IBCS, to serve as the brains of its air-and-missile defense system, but has exponentially expanded its mission set. – Defense News 

House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney on Wednesday proposed legislation to force government vendors to publicly disclose data about their costs, a move meant to help the government negotiate better deals for spare parts. – Defense News 

More than two dozen Navy and Marine F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters are currently operating aboard U.S. Navy ships in the Indo-Pacific, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China. – USNI News