Fdd's overnight brief

January 27, 2022

In The News


The stream of prank videos captured on Tehran’s real-life streets and circulating on Iranian social media are not all fun and games to the Iranian authorities. Iranian police on Wednesday announced the arrest of 17 pranksters who posted the videos on a dozen Instagram pages, saying they’d incited public panic. The clips racked up thousands of views, attracting fans and imitators. – Associated Press 

Russia said Iran and world powers might reach a nuclear agreement next month. The pact would probably include the lifting of oil sanctions on the Islamic Republic and be put into effect by April, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s main envoy for negotiations in Vienna, said Wednesday. – Bloomberg 

The United States is preparing alternative options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata in a virtual meeting on Wednesday night. – Jerusalem Post 

With the United States warning that Iran is just weeks from developing the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, there is disagreement among Washington experts on the likelihood of Iran rushing to build such a weapon, and how the U.S. and its allies should deal with that risk. – VOA News 

Colum Lynch writes: Still, Russia’s Iran diplomacy marks a sharp contrast to Moscow’s belligerent approach to a range of other issues, including its stationing of more than 100,000 troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, which has fueled fears among Ukrainian and U.S. officials that it intends to invade. – Foreign Policy 


Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday, calling for countries to authorize all transactions needed to carry out humanitarian activities in the Taliban-ruled state. – Reuters 

The first chartered flight in months evacuating Americans from Afghanistan has left Kabul airport for Qatar, according to a government official, a congressional official and two people with knowledge of the matter. – NBC 

LGBTQ Afghans have increasingly been threatened, beaten and raped since the Taliban took control of the country in August, a new report found. – NBC 


Jordanian soldiers killed 27 smugglers as they tried to cross the border from Syria with large quantities of amphetamines during a snowstorm, an army spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters 

An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog has found “reasonable grounds to believe” that a blistering agent was used during the shelling of a Syrian town in 2015, the organization said Wednesday. – Associated Press 


Russia would be unwise to attack Ukraine and in that case Turkey would do what is necessary as a NATO member, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday full gas flow from Iran will return in 10 to 15 days after the neighbour cut supplies last week due to a technical problem, prompting some Turkish manufacturers to halt production. – Reuters 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: There is no evidence that Turkey’s ruling regime has changed its stance on Hamas or its bigoted views toward Israel. Leaks to media that try to embarrass Israel’s president by the early announcement of a visit, or attempts to spin narratives about Hamas, do not indicate evidence of Ankara’s change, only that it wants perceptions to change. – Jerusalem Post 

Soner Cagaptay writes: Ankara’s most immediate vulnerability to Russian pressure is potential refugee flows from Idlib. If Washington and its European allies provide ironclad guarantees that they would push back against an all-out Assad regime assault against that province, Turkey would be more likely to expand its support for their efforts to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine. – Washington Institute 


But after a report last week by a local newspaper that Israeli police have been using the same Pegasus surveillance technology without warrants to target Israeli political activists, mayors and other citizens, NSO has suddenly come under scrutiny at home by the public and media. – Washington Post 

The Foreign Ministry is planning a campaign to head off any potential criticism of Israel and accusations of “apartheid” in a United Nations commission set up to probe last May’s conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups, as well an ongoing investigation into the conflict, according to a Wednesday report. – Times of Israel 

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides launched the Ambassadorial Abraham Accords Working Group on Wednesday, hosting his Emirati, Bahraini and Moroccan counterparts in the latest effort by the Biden administration to strengthen and build on the normalization agreements Israel has signed with its Arab neighbors. – Times of Israel 

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, met virtually Wednesday to discuss the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna, with Sullivan assuring Hulata that the US is “preparing alternative options” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon if the diplomatic route fails. – Times of Israel  

A settler attacked an Israeli Border Police officer overnight into Thursday after police have reported that 22 Palestinians were arrested after clashes in East Jerusalem broke out. – Haaretz 


A decision by Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri to step away from Lebanese politics opens the way for Shi’ite Hezbollah to extend its already deep sway over the country, rendering it ever more a bastion of Iranian influence on the Mediterranean. – Reuters 

Lebanon signed deals on Wednesday to purchase electricity from Jordan via Syria to help the small Mediterranean country deal with its crippling energy crisis. – Associated Press 

US-brokered negotiations to demarcate the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon will resume next week, Israel’s Energy Ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Arabian Peninsula

The United Arab Emirates public prosecutors’ office said on Wednesday it had summoned several people for sharing videos showing defence systems intercepting Monday’s missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi movement. – Reuters 

The United Arab Emirates may upgrade its defensive capabilities after missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, while continuing diplomacy with Tehran to reduce regional tensions, a senior UAE diplomat said. – Reuters 

The United Arab Emirates said it was assessing the risk that funds for banned weapons could pass through its trading hub and would take measures to prevent this, as it awaits a March decision on whether it will be added to a dirty money watchlist. – Reuters 

Gulf States

Qatar will need help from the United States to persuade Doha’s natural gas buyers to reroute some supplies to Europe in case a Russia-Ukraine conflict disrupts Russian deliveries to the continent, a source familiar with the discussions said. – Reuters 

Advocates for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi are urging Riyadh to release him next month, when his 10-year prison sentence will come to an end according to the Islamic calendar. – The Globe and Mail 

Nowadays, that fight is a law-enforcement operation as much as it is a military mission, requiring warrants and solid intelligence, but Iraqi commandos are still at the tip of the spear, led by special-operations forces that still have a very close relationship with the US special-operations community. – Business Insider 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday in its sixth missile test this month, the South Korean military said. – New York Times 

North Korea’s internet appears to have been hit by a second wave of outages in as many weeks, possibly caused by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, researchers said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Edward Wong writes: Mr. Kim’s provocations could accelerate as presidential elections in South Korea approach in May, and as he prepares the nation for the April 15 birthday celebrations of his grandfather and the first leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung. Officials are carrying out campaigns to burnish the family legacy and to emphasize the country’s antagonistic relations with the United States. The official news summary of the Politburo meeting this month said North Korea had to “make more thorough preparation for a long-term confrontation with the U.S. imperialists.” – New York Times 


The World Trade Organization on Wednesday authorized China to impose retaliatory tariffs worth $645 million on imports from the U.S. in a decade-old dispute over Chinese subsidies to promote exports of products such as solar panels and steel pipes. – Wall Street Journal 

But if China hopes to match and then surpass the U.S., economically or militarily, it can’t be indifferent to how innovation comes about. Mr. Mallaby notes both the drones built by China’s DJI Technology Co. and the artificial intelligence developed by its SenseTime Group Inc. have military applications, and both companies were VC-backed. In the U.S., the same is true for SpaceX and Palantir Technologies Inc. – Wall Street Journal 

From the deadly crushing of Beijing’s 1989 pro-democracy protests to the suppression of Hong Kong’s opposition four decades later, China’s Communist Party has demonstrated a determination and ability to stay in power that is seemingly impervious to Western criticism and sanctions. – Associated Press 

China on Wednesday expressed “serious concerns and dissatisfaction” with the United States over reports of an internal State Department request to allow the departure of diplomats and their families from China amid tightening anti-pandemic measures. – Associated Press 

China is demanding the U.S. end “interference” in the Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin next week, in an apparent reference to a diplomatic boycott imposed by Washington and some of its allies. – Associated Press 

China’s foreign ministry said that the European Union should not allow Lithuania to hijack their relations, after the trading bloc launched a case against Beijing over what it called discriminatory trading practices versus the Baltic state. – Reuters 

Hong Kong’s security chief said on Wednesday that his government would strengthen laws against espionage as part of extra national security legislation now being drafted. – Reuters 

The Beijing Winter Olympics could affect the timing of any Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday, adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping would not be happy if the two were to coincide. – Reuters 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. of flouting agreements reached during a November summit between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, in the latest signal that efforts to ease tensions had stalled. – Bloomberg 

Emily Schrader writes: Although it’s not the IOC’s job to promote human rights around the world, it certainly is its job to ensure that participating countries respect the values of the Olympics and do not persecute their own athletes. – Washington Post 

Eva Dou writes: As a sign of goodwill ahead of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing lifted its bans on Wikipedia and YouTube, and loosened some restrictions on foreign journalists. A lot has changed since then. Since Xi came to power, his government has steadily tightened restrictions on speech, political protest and the media. – Washington Post 


The war game and study by the Center for a New American Security, which is set to be released on Thursday, illustrate how dependent the world is on Taiwanese computer chips — and how that dependence could draw the United States and China into various kinds of conflict. – New York Times 

Singapore has signed a free trade agreement with the Pacific Alliance – made up of Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Chile – those governments said on Wednesday, in a deal they said would facilitate trade and closer ties with Asia. – Reuters 

The United States on Wednesday issued a business advisory for Myanmar, warning of heightened risks associated with doing business in the country especially when the military is involved, nearly a year after a the army took power in a coup. – Reuters 

An incursion of Taiwan’s air defence zone by China’s air force is not conducive to peace and stability in the region, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Police in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi clashed overnight with activists demanding the repeal of a law to limit powers of local mayors, killing one, officials said Thursday. – Associated Press 

Australia’s Woodside Petroleum is withdrawing from projects in strife-torn Myanmar, following a similar decision last week by Total and Chevron. – Associated Press 


The Russian government is refusing to be drawn on a response to a diplomatic path laid out by the United States and its NATO allies to defuse escalating tensions along the border with Ukraine. – Washington Post 

The modernized military has emerged as a key tool of Mr. Putin’s foreign policy: capturing Crimea, intervening in Syria, keeping the peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and, just this month, propping up a Russia-friendly leader in Kazakhstan. Now it is in the middle of its most ambitious — and most ominous — operation yet: using threats and potentially, many fear, force, to bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence. – New York Times 

Russia suggested it could send “certain weapons” to the separatists it backs in Ukraine’s Donbas region, signaling a potential escalation in the tensions with the West. – Bloomberg 

Russia deployed more than 20 warships into the Black Sea on Wednesday, representing a troubling new source of potential military escalation at a time of already heightened tensions with Ukraine and its Western backers. – U.S. News & World Report 

One of the most feared and radical Russian paramilitary groups may have slipped up on social media and revealed its plans to return undercover to Ukraine, where it was accused of committing war crimes during a previous incursion. – The Daily Beast 

Russia’s sudden escalation around Ukraine has taken some by surprise, but the logic behind it may be deceptively simple: This winter could be Russia’s last chance to attack Ukraine. – The Daily Beast 

John R. Deni writes: The U.S. approach isn’t without risk, including Germany’s equivocation toward Russia and the politics surrounding France’s April presidential election. But Washington’s decision to announce the alert in advance of another Russian attack, tie it to the NRF, and double down on a multilateral approach is a welcome shift in strategy. – Wall Street Journal 

Paul Sonne, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Mary Ilyushina write: Despite recent advances, the Russian military’s modernization is far from complete, and Moscow would also face the uncertainties of any war. History is awash with examples of strong militaries finding themselves in quagmires with lesser foes thanks to incorrect assumptions or fuzzy political aims. – Washington Post 

Michael McFaul writes: Three tenets from Putinism are particularly important to grasp. First, Putin believes that the West unfairly dictated the terms of peace at the Cold War’s end. In Putin’s view, the West imposed liberal restructuring inside Russia, compelled Moscow to sign lopsided arms control treaties, expanded NATO with no regard for Russia’s interests, and — the greatest sin of all — divided the Slavic peoples of the Soviet Union into separate countries and then “systematically and consistently pushed Ukraine to curtail and limit economic cooperation with Russia.” – Washington Post 

Timothy L. O’Brien writes: So maybe Putin’s own wealth is not only unknowable but also untouchable. Either way, that shouldn’t keep the White House from sanctioning those closest to Putin — and, if necessary, cutting Russia off from Swift. – Bloomberg 

Sergei Guriev writes: Will this deter Putin? In 2015 he famously said: “Our sovereignty is not up for sale,” implying that financial costs will not prevent him claiming territory he considers to be his. Since then, he has indeed ramped up repression, ensuring that popular discontent does not translate into a tangible political challenge. – Financial Times 

Allison Quinn writes: If Turchak genuinely believes that Russia “must” send more arms to proxies in Ukraine, it’s reasonable to ask: Did he already forget the hundreds of passengers blasted out of the sky to their deaths by separatists clutching Russian weapons? Or is he just hoping that the rest of the world has? – The Daily Beast 


Awaiting a report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street that could force his resignation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on the defensive Wednesday over another issue — whether he authorized the evacuation of cats and dogs from Afghanistan. – New York Times 

Canada on Wednesday said it would send non-lethal equipment to Ukraine, and help the Eastern European country gather intelligence and counter cyber attacks as Russia builds up its military presence on its borders. – Reuters 

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday that all parties involved in the Ukraine issue should remain calm and refrain from actions that stir tension and hype up the crisis, as he held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. – Reuters 

Chinese hacker group APT 27, long suspected of launching attacks on Western government agencies, has started targeting German companies in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and technology, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Russia and the United States must engage in diplomacy to resolve the standoff over Ukraine and not build up tensions to score political points, senior Russian security official and former president Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday. – Reuters 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused the European Union on Wednesday of implementing part of the Brexit agreement covering trade with Northern Ireland in an “insane and pettifogging way”, comments Ireland dismissed as unhelpful. – Reuters 

There’s still room for diplomacy in the Ukrainian crisis. At least that’s the conviction of French President Emmanuel Macron, who continues to push for dialogue with Russia despite signs pointing to a potential war. – Associated Press 

The Netherlands and Ukraine argued Wednesday that a top European court should hear their cases that seek to hold Russia responsible for human rights violations in eastern Ukraine including the 2014 downing of a passenger jet that killed all 298 people on board. – Associated Press 

Lionel Laurant writes: Yet Macron can take heart that a stronger stance against Russia might be more popular than the heated presidential race suggests. Recent polling suggests French public opinion views the U.S. as a clear ally, unlike Russia and China. Europe may very well stretch to the Urals one day. All the more reason for Macron’s rhetoric to match Russian reality. – Bloomberg 

Andrew Lohsen writes: Finally, the United States, Ukraine, and European partners should continue to emphasize their interest in reaching the peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and finding a diplomatic resolution to the impasse over Russia’s latest demands. Ukrainian officials should also continue to stress their commitment to serving all Ukrainians—including those on the other side of the contact line—and building an inclusive and democratic society. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Arthur Herman writes: It would be too much to suggest that the Viking spirit will save NATO. But the leadership of NATO has been marching steadily northward and eastward, to Poland, Hungary, the Baltics, and Romania. Drawing in Sweden and Finland would only complete the process. It would be the key to turning NATO into a useful vehicle for meaningful strategic cooperation again, and for staying the Russian dictator’s hand at long last. – National Review 


France and 14 other countries urged Mali late on Wednesday to allow Danish special forces to remain in the African country, but its transitional government insisted on an immediate withdrawal. – Reuters 

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hold an extraordinary summit on Burkina Faso and Mali on Friday, Ivory Coast’s information minister said on Wednesday, after military takeovers in both countries. – Reuters 

Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers on Wednesday proposed ending the country’s six-month state of emergency now, citing recent developments in the war that has raged in the Tigray and neighboring regions for more than a year. – Associated Press 

The European Union on Wednesday warned countries of the north African Sahel against hiring Russian mercenaries, and underlined that it stands ready to impose sanctions on anyone interfering with the transition to civilian rule in Mali. – Associated Press 

The Americas

Honduras is grateful for the support Taiwan has provided and hopes to maintain their relationship, President-elect Xiomara Castro said on Wednesday after meeting Taiwan Vice President William Lai, who is in the country to shore up shaky ties. – Reuters 

The U.S. Justice Department has filed criminal charges against a man for allegedly selling the gun that another man later used to take hostages at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. – Reuters 

Both Texas senators and Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans are pressing the Biden administration to explain how the British terrorist who took four people hostage inside a Texas synagogue this month was allowed to enter the country, given major flags in his background. – Washington Examiner 

The White House downplayed concerns that the United States could soon face Russian cyber strikes but said it is prepared to respond with retaliatory action as threats from Moscow escalate over Ukraine. – Washington Examiner 

Richard E. Hoagland writes: In recent U.S.-Russia negotiations over the long crisis in Ukraine, Putin has made clear that he wants an “exclusive sphere of influence.” While can’t reconstitute the former Soviet Union, his goal quite clearly is once again to draw shut a New Iron Curtain, with the West on one side and Russia on the other. For that reason alone, Washington needs to dramatically ramp up its soft power with a more effective and more visible public diplomacy. It’s time to dig the new American trenches in the current Russian disinformation war and get our public-diplomacy-officer troops into them. – The Hill 

Mike Gallagher writes: Russia is building a massive invasion force on Ukraine’s border, China is rehearsing air strikes on Taiwan, and both Moscow and Beijing are racing to construct newer and larger nuclear arsenals. Nuclear weapons are central to their revisionist military strategies. Maintaining a strong deterrent and stronger alliances must continue to be central to ours. – National Review 

Long War

After six days of deadly battles, the Kurdish-led militia that had been battling Islamic State fighters for control of a prison in northeastern Syria retook the facility on Wednesday, ending one of the most audacious attacks by the jihadist group since the collapse of its so-called caliphate nearly three years ago. – New York Times 

The battle between Kurdish-led militia and Islamic State fighters for control of a prison in northeastern Syria yanked from the shadows the bleak plight of the nearly 700 boys detained there. – New York Times 

The French government said this week it was closing down an activist-run media outlet and a Muslim website deemed at odds with “national values”, the latest in a series of steps that rights groups and lawyers say infringe on democratic freedoms. – Reuters