Fdd's overnight brief

January 4, 2022

In The News


The secret transfers usually take place at night to evade detection by regional coast guards. The ships anchor in the Persian Gulf just outside the territorial limits of the United Arab Emirates, and then, individually, small boats carrying smuggled Iranian diesel shift their loads to the waiting vessels, according to seafarers who have witnessed the trade. – Washington Post 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, speaking on the second anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani by the United States, said that former U.S. President Donald Trump must face trial for the killing or Tehran would take revenge. – Reuters 

Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized a ship in the Red Sea, armed drones targeted Baghdad’s international airport, and hackers hit a major Israeli newspaper Monday — a string of assaults that showed the reach of Iran-allied militias on the second anniversary of America’s killing of a top Iranian general. All three coincided with a massive memorial in Tehran for Qassem Soleimani, the general killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2020 in Iraq. Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi demanded former U.S. President Donald Trump be “prosecuted and killed.” – Associated Press 

Iran said Monday it has detected a new “realism” on the part of Western countries, ahead of further negotiations in Vienna aimed at rescuing an accord on its nuclear program. – Agence France-Presse 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: But Iran knows that too many attacks on the US could harm its chances for a deal in Vienna. It must weigh carefully the cost and benefit of more attacks on the US or on Israel or Saudi Arabia. It preferred symbolic incidents on the morning of January 3. It may increase attacks in coming weeks, but the above-mentioned calculus is the one that will guide it. Iran wants to invest in strategic programs like long-range missiles and military satellites. It could jeopardize that by unruly attacks across the region. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: There are new administrations in Iran, the US and Israel. While some aspects of the national positions of these new leaders has not changed, there are still fundamental differences. However, Zarif is still riding the “Trump” media narrative, still trying to score points by slamming “Netanyahu.” It’s not clear who his audience is. His own government doesn’t seem to care what he does. Iranians who supported Soleimani know that Zarif is no Soleimani. – Jerusalem Post 


In the governor’s compound of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, a new historical exhibit is unveiled before a rapt audience of Taliban fighters — sections of blast walls from a former US military base. […]But now the towering block is on public display — being used to bolster the Taliban’s narrative of toppling US-led forces after 20 years of fighting. – Agence France-Presse  

A team of Afghan intelligence agents poured about 3,000 litres of liquor into a canal in Kabul, the country’s spy agency has said, as the new Taliban authorities crack down on the sale of alcohol. Video footage released by the General Directorate of Intelligence showed its agents pouring alcohol stored in barrels into the canal after seizing it during a raid in the capital. – Agence France-Presse 

The parents of fallen Marine Kareem Nikoui spoke out Monday on “Fox & Friends,” demanding accountability from U.S. officials after the Kabul suicide bomber was identified. – Fox News 


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he will make a visit next month to Saudi Arabia, whose ties with Ankara have been strained in recent years. – Reuters 

The lira slid as much as 4% against the dollar on Tuesday as Turkey girded for inflation to rise further after touching a 19-year peak. – Reuters 

Editorial: In short, Mr. Erdogan’s recent conduct confirms the worst fears of those who warned about one-man rule in Turkey. His harebrained economic ideas are sapping the nation’s wealth. In a healthy democracy, a rampant leader responsible for such a disaster would face checks and balances — the most essential being the free expression of truthful information and opposition policies. As Mr. Kavala can attest, however, Turkey is far from a healthy democracy. – Washington Post 


A new Palestinian intifada could break out in the West Bank, warned MK Ahmed Tibi, as Israeli security forces there remain on high alert for potential terror attacks. – Jerusalem Post 

A Palestinian gunman in the southern Gaza Strip opened fire with a machine gun toward Israel on Monday morning, triggering alarms near an Israeli border community, amid heightened tensions along the frontier, the military said. – Times of Israel 

Israel will not negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians even when Foreign Minister Yair Lapid becomes prime minister after the planned rotation in 2023, he said on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel’s continued balancing act between its strategic relationship with the US and its economic relationship with China, its third-largest trade partner, is set to be one of its major foreign-policy challenges in 2022. – Jerusalem Post 

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) on Monday afternoon spoke about the renewal of the nuclear talks with Iran. According to Lapid, Israel is focusing pressure on various issues relating to the Iranian nuclear program, especially with regards to the need for sanctions against the Iranian government to continue. – Arutz Sheva 

Stephen M. Flatow writes: On Tuesday, the Israeli government handed Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas $32-million and 9,500 residency permits for Palestinian Arabs in Israel. On Thursday, Abbas responded by urging his followers to wage war against Israel. […]Israel, once again, has made concessions for peace. The Palestinian Arab leadership, once again, has responded by continuing their endless war against the Jewish state. – Arutz Sheva 

Daniel Rakov writes: Israel must initiate consultation mechanisms with its Western allies and position itself as a possible power broker with Russia on regional issues. Israel should also have a clear position regarding where to develop its cooperation with Russia and where to restrict it. Despite other pressing issues on the Israeli agenda, failing to engage in policy planning concerning Russia might lead to unnecessary improvisation and hurt Israeli interests. – Arutz Sheva 


Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati Monday said criticism of Saudi Arabia by the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group did not serve the national interest or represent the country’s official stance. – Reuters 

Gebran Bassil, the head of the Hezbollah-ally Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), attacked Hezbollah for holding up Lebanon’s cabinet for over two months on Sunday, saying that the state is a “failure” under Hezbollah’s leadership, according to Lebanese media. – Jerusalem Post 

Ksenia Svetlova writes: For now, the parliamentary elections in Lebanon that are scheduled for next year will be the first vote since the popular protests were launched in 2019. Currently, there is little certainty that they will take place as planned and that the Lebanese who are tired of a failing economy and endless fights between corrupt politicians will be able to cast their votes and choose a better future. – Jerusalem Post 

Arabian Peninsula

Top oil producing countries on Monday picked Kuwaiti oil executive Haitham al-Ghais as the next secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). – Agence France-Presse 

Israeli defense company Elbit Systems announced that its subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates was awarded a contract to supply airborne defense systems for the UAE Air Force tanker aircraft. – Jerusalem Post 

Zvi Bar’el writes: Moreover, any military or diplomatic move against Iran requires Israel to consider the interests of the UAE and the other Gulf states; otherwise an Israeli attack on Iran could curb shipping and these countries’ revenues. This paradox also pertains to relations with Egypt and Jordan, which will be supplying gas and electricity to Lebanon via Syria. This supply, which has been approved by the U.S. administration (despite its sanctions on Syria), won’t only help the Lebanese government and people, it will help Hezbollah, which so far has chosen to ignore that the electricity from Jordan will be produced in part by gas produced in Israel. – Haaretz 

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized an Emirati-flagged ship, explosive-laden drones targeted the Iraqi capital’s airport and hackers hit two Israeli newspapers on Monday, raising tensions in the Middle East as Iran-aligned militias attacked U.S. allies on the second anniversary of America’s killing of one of Tehran’s top generals. – Wall Street Journal 

Detained Tunisian ex-justice minister Noureddine Bhiri of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, who is refusing food or medication after his transfer to hospital, is suspected of “terrorism”, the interior minister said Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

Russia launched an aerial attack Sunday on an area near the Syrian city of Idlib, the last bastion of rebels attempting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, ushering in a new year of hostilities, witnesses and monitors said. The attacks killed three people — two children and a woman — according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked group with unclear funding. – Times of Israel 

Adam Taylor writes: Last year saw a rash of coups d’état across the world, from West Africa to Southeast Asia. But the reverberations of 2021 political takeovers are continuing into the new year in Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere. On Sunday, just two months after being reinstated by military leaders, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced his resignation. […]Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act says the United States is required to suspend aid to nations that undergo a military coup, while he runs the risk of turning nations toward geopolitical rivals like Russia and China, both of whom can block U.N. Security Council action. – Washington Post 

Alex Lederman writes: Assad may remain in power, but he rules over a country in shambles. Syria’s economy—driven to ruin by corruption and a decade of war—has only further decayed since 2020 with the pandemic, new sanctions, and a parallel crisis next door in Lebanon. (Many rich Syrians’ money is trapped in Lebanese banks.) […]Although Assad might not want refugees who oppose his rule of return, he does want the aid dollars and investment that will come with them, both Barabandi and Kayyali said. – Foreign Policy 


Citizen News, a small online news site in Hong Kong known for its in-depth coverage of courts and local politics, said it would stop publishing on Monday night, deepening concerns about the collapse of the city’s once-robust media. – New York Times 

The activists’ request was straightforward: They wanted to share their concerns about human rights in China, in particular the possibility that official merchandise for the Beijing Olympics was being made with forced labor, and to hear what the International Olympic Committee was doing to ensure it was not. For months, they pressed Olympics officials for a conversation. […]Finally, late last month, the I.O.C. pulled out entirely from meeting with the activist group, the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region. – New York Times 

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she could not accept suggestions that press freedom in the city faces “extinction”, just days after police raided an online media outlet and arrested seven people including senior editors. – Reuters 

A Hong Kong court sentenced a 36-year-old barrister to 15 months in prison on Tuesday for inciting an unauthorised assembly to commemorate those who died in China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. – Reuters 

China, Russia, Britain, the United States and France have agreed that a further spread of nuclear arms and a nuclear war should be avoided, according to a joint statement by the five nuclear powers published by the Kremlin on Monday. – Reuters 

China said on Tuesday it would put in force new rules that will boost oversight over how its platform companies make plans to list abroad or use recommendation algorithms, in moves set to tighten Beijing’s grip over its sprawling technology sector. – Reuters 

A senior Chinese arms control official denied Tuesday that his government is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, though he said it is taking steps to modernize its nuclear forces. – Associated Press 

Beijing is calling on the world’s nuclear powers to expand discussions on global security to include emerging threats, following a rare multilateral pledge to temper the risks of nuclear war. – Bloomberg 

Minky Worden writes: The IOC and FIFA should reverse course and back athletes and human rights over profits. If they keep covering up for China and Qatar, their brands will be at great risk. If they acknowledge they can no longer sell games to the highest authoritarian bidder, they might survive 2022 by promising future games will be awarded on the basis of basic human rights and the values that athletes and fans expect them to share. – Washington Post 

Tyler Cowen writes: The problems with the Beijing Consensus are larger yet. For much of the last decade, Ethiopia had been following a version of the Chinese model, relying on industrial policy and growth in manufacturing. For a while this worked, and Ethiopia had double-digit rates of economic growth. I myself called the country “the China of Africa.” […]For most of the last two decades, the prevailing view has been that, when it comes to economic development, history is on the side of Chinese model. It is unlikely that this view will prevail for the next two decades. – Bloomberg 

Jianli Yang writes: For sure, China’s economy faces a difficult time. However, 2022 could be a special year for Xi.  He may enter his third term of leadership, and strive to remain in power, following the 20th National Party Congress, which is expected to be held in October. […]Considering the harsh external environment and the difficulties and challenges facing China’s economy, Xi Jinping needs to do anything he can to stabilize China’s economy, and quickly. – The Hill 

Gordon G. Chang writes: Three times, American presidents saved the Communist Party: Nixon in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution, Bush in 1989 after the horrific Tiananmen Square massacre, and Clinton in 1999 during a downturn in the economy. Washington must make sure there will be no more rescues. Instead, the Biden administration should follow Reagan’s playbook targeting the Soviet economy, which led to the USSR’s failure 20 years ago. – Fox News 

Derek Scissors writes: Endless claims of “trade war” are merely lazy. The money that America has poured into the PRC makes clear the US was not serious about competing with China under President Trump. Under President Biden, we still aren’t even trying to show what those funds support. Yes, there have been valuable American policies. But they don’t stack up to $780 billion. – American Enterprise Institute  


India’s antitrust watchdog ordered an investigation into how Apple Inc. runs its App Store, becoming the most recent country to take aim at the U.S. technology giant. – Wall Street Journal 

Pakistan has officially confirmed its long-speculated acquisition of the Chinese J-10C Firebird fighter jet, which is slated to arrive in time to take part in the March 23 Pakistan Day Parade. – Defense News 

Tim Culpan writes: In India, though, Taiwan firms must acclimate faster. Customers need these new factories to ramp up quickly in order to ease their reliance on China, while both New Delhi and Taipei are in a hurry to forge a strong trading relationship that can blunt Beijing’s economic power. – Bloomberg 

Michael Rubin writes: Not every country with ties to Taiwan is democratic, but a willingness to turn a diplomatic shoulder to Beijing is as good a sign as any for hope. Big countries — India and Indonesia, for example — are more immune by virtue of their size from China’s blackmail, but smaller countries operating in tandem can lessen their vulnerability. Joe Biden famously swore, “Diplomacy is back.” Until he stops treating this as a throwaway line and instead integrates it into a real strategy, democracies will continue to be vulnerable to Chinese pressure. It is time for a club of democracies with Taiwan at its center. – Washington Examiner 


Russia faces a very 21st century challenge as it piles up forces near Ukraine’s border: Much of its military operation is being carried out in plain sight. Taking on a role once reserved for spies, amateur sleuths and analysts with private and nongovernmental organizations are tracking Russia’s buildup day by day, mining commercial satellite images, social media posts and flight-tracking data to compile a strikingly precise picture of Moscow’s deployments—and of the U.S. military’s efforts to monitor them. – Wall Street Journal 

From severing Russia from the world’s banking system to further arming Kyiv, US President Joe Biden is hoping threats of painful consequences will deter his counterpart Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. – Agence France-Presse 

Serbia’s president on Monday praised another shipment of arms from Russia despite fears in the Balkans that the country’s recent military buildup could lead to more tensions in the war-scarred European region. – Defense News 

Walter Russell Mead writes: As a weary world ushers in 2022, there is little nostalgia for 2021—a year defined by a lingering pandemic, surging inflation, and rising international tensions across the board. Some had a better time than others, though, and here’s a list of the three biggest winners and losers in the past year. – Wall Street Journal 

Gideon Rachman writes: Both Putin and Xi have engineered changes in their countries’ constitutions that will allow them to rule unchallenged, long into the future. If Putin stays in the Kremlin until 2036, which now seems distinctly possible, he will have ruled for longer than Stalin himself. If you intend to emulate Stalin, why would you allow criticism of him? – Financial Times 

Tom Rogan writes: But what is Putin to make of Scholz’s call for a “qualified new beginning?” One would assume that he’ll only become more confident that those “massive” Western sanctions Biden has threatened will follow any re-invasion of Ukraine might not be so massive after all. Scholz’s government might not be pulling the trigger this time around, but once again, a German Chancellor is helping to destroy the principle of democratic sovereignty in Europe. – Washington Examiner 


The European Union has proposed treating nuclear energy and natural-gas investments as similar to renewables over coming years in pursuit of a carbon-neutral economy, but the approach faces criticism from some of the bloc’s governments. – Wall Street Journal 

After long indulging him, leaders in the European Union now widely consider Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary an existential threat to a bloc that holds itself up as a model of human rights and the rule of law. – New York Times 

Former President Donald J. Trump endorsed Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, on Monday, formally pledging his “complete support” to a far-right foreign leader who has touted turning his country into an “illiberal state.” – New York Times 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will travel to Washington on Wednesday, where she will discuss topics including the Russia-Ukraine conflict with her U.S. counterpart, Antony Blinken, and other politicians, a ministry spokesperson said on Monday. – Reuters 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will visit Ukraine’s frontline this week in a show of support for Kyiv in the face of Moscow’s military buildup on its border, Brussels said Monday. – Agence France-Presse 

The German government said Monday that it considers nuclear energy dangerous and objects to European Union proposals that would let the technology remain part of the bloc’s plans for a climate-friendly future. – Associated Press 

Editorial: But at least Europe is correcting some of the errors of its last generation of green industrial policy. Ending the regulatory bias against natural gas in particular will balance the scales after subsidies and mandates for renewables made natural gas uneconomical and steered investment toward cheaper but dirtier coal. All of this has implications for the U.S., where the Biden Administration is still fantasizing that solar and wind power can soon replace all fossil fuels. If Europe can admit the truth, how about the White House? – Wall Street Journal 

Carrie Sheffield writes: Both the Trump and Obama administrations rightly opposed Nord Stream 2, arguing it would strengthen Putin’s power over Europe. Biden is lukewarm at best, giving verbal raps on the wrist — White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki says, “Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe” — while waiving sanctions. Germany and the European Commission are not likely to make a final decision on Nord Stream 2 until the summer. There’s still time for both Biden and Germany to show courage and stop this debacle before it unfolds. – New York Post 


The military in Sudan is in control once again, jeopardizing the country’s already fragile hopes of a successful transition to democracy. – New York Times 

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s resignation has plunged the country’s already fragile democratic transition into further turmoil. […]In his resignation speech, Hamdok urged for dialogue that charts a roadmap to complete the transition to democracy and said his resignation would allow a chance for another person to complete that transition. He warned the political stalemate could become a full-blown crisis and further damage the country’s already battered economy. – Associated Press 

Sudan’s bid to escape decades of dictatorship was thrown deeper into turmoil after the prime minister resigned, leaving the army in near-sole charge of the impoverished nation that some hoped would become a beacon of democracy in the Horn of Africa. – Bloomberg 

Mohammed Hayder writes: Today, many Sudanese understand that by “boycotting Israel” they “have reaped nothing but ruin, destruction, and the slowing down and even collapse of [their] country.” Therefore, it is now the historic responsibility of Israel, the international community (specifically, the United States of America), and regional powers to not squander this opening with Sudan, but at the same time, be extremely careful of local sensitivities and a volatile internal situation. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Michael Rubin writes: The case against Farmaajo is about as overwhelming as was the Iraqi case against Saddam Hussein. Somalia’s Ministry of Justice should file charges of murder, conspiracy, and treason against Farmaajo posthaste. Farmaajo can either defend himself or forfeit the opportunity. Court proceedings should be public. Should the court find him guilty of any of the charges, Farmaajo should face the prescribed penalty under Somali law: Death by firing squad. – 19FortyFive 

The Americas

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to flee the northern city of Gonaïves, where he and other government officials were attending a New Year’s Day Mass to mark the country’s independence from France, after a shootout that left one person dead and that his office cast as an attempt on his life. – Washington Post 

Twenty-three people have been reported killed so far in Colombia’s Arauca province amid fighting between illegal armed groups, Defense Minister Diego Molano told a news conference late on Monday. – Reuters 

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he had sought a pardon for Julian Assange from former U.S. President Donald Trump before he left office last year and repeated his offer of asylum for the Wikileaks founder on Monday. – Reuters 

A court in Ontario, Canada, has awarded C$107m ($83.94m), plus interest, to the families of six people who died when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards downed a Ukraine International Airlines plane near Tehran two years ago. – The Guardian 

United States

The U.S. Treasury Department said on Monday it had reached a settlement agreement with a unit of home rental firm Airbnb Inc (ABNB.O) for violations of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday discussed Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s border with the Bucharest Nine group of NATO allies, the State Department said in statement. – Reuters 

A judge in Massachusetts has dismissed a case against a former Saudi intelligence official after the U.S. Director of National Intelligence stepped in and suggested the case would reveal sensitive U.S. intelligence information and would damage national security. – The Daily Beast 

Quin Hillyer writes: Out of necessity, not adventurism or our own wishes, the U.S. may need to face down wicked regimes in a battle of wills backed by threat of arms. That’s where the focus of all our political leaders should be. And, we can hope, maybe the focus alone will change our foreign adversaries’ practical calculuses, such that they don’t attempt to effectuate the evils they desire. – Washington Examiner 


This fiscal year was expected to be the first in which the U.S. Navy dipped into a “trough” in its submarine force, falling below the previous requirement for 48 attack subs and facing two decades of reduced numbers, with as few as 41 at times. – Defense News 

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) departed on a scheduled deployment with the first Marine Corps unit to fly F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters embarked aboard the carrier. – USNI News 

This coming year will see the final scheduled testing for the vastly improved workhorse helicopter the Marines are relying on to move heavy equipment from ship to shore. – Defense News 

Long War

A senior Palestinian Arab official in the Gaza Strip reported that a senior-level meeting was held on Monday between representatives of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations which focused on the consequences of the hunger strike of terrorist prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash, who has been on hunger for 140 days and whose life is in immediate danger. […]Senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad figures have warned in the past week of a harsh military response against Israel if Abu Hawash were to die as a result of his hunger strike. – Arutz Sheva 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the Palestinian “resistance organizations forced Israel to be completely paralyzed during the military confrontation in May,” a reference to Operation Guardian of the Walls. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Haniyeh claimed that the Iron Dome defense system could no longer protect Israeli residents from rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. – Arutz Sheva 

The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group verbally attacked the king of Saudi Arabia on Monday, saying Riyadh helped spread extremist Islamic ideology worldwide and is taking the thousands of Lebanese who work in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region “hostage.” – Associated Press