Fdd's overnight brief

January 6, 2022

In The News


A loud noise heard in the outskirts of the town of Karaj, to the west of the Iranian capital Tehran, on Wednesday was caused by a rocket fired by the Revolutionary Guards during a training exercise, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported. – Reuters  

The US and Iran said that there has been progress in the indirect negotiations in Vienna for the sides to return to compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. – Jerusalem Post  

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, spoke overnight, the US State Department announced Thursday morning. The two discussed a range of regional and global issues including the “challenges posed by Iran,” a statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price read. – Times of Israel   

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi demanded that former President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be prosecuted for the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. – Washington Examiner 

Iran announced on Wednesday that it seeks to prosecute 127 suspects for involvement and cooperation in the January 2020 elimination of senior commander Qassem Soleimani, the Fars news agency reported. – Arutz Sheva 

Thousands of mourners poured into the streets of Iranian cities on Thursday for the mass funeral of 250 victims of the Iran-Iraq war, a testament to the brutal conflict’s widespread scale and enduring legacy 35 years later. – Associated Press  

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Israeli officials during his recent visit to Jerusalem that the threat of “snapback” UN Security Council sanctions should be used as a means to deter Iran from enriching weapons-grade uranium, three Israeli officials with direct knowledge of the issue told me. – Axios  

Amir Toumaj writes: On December 8, Iran announced that it had restructured its national police force, a pillar of the regime’s internal security apparatus. […]These changes indicate that the Islamic Republic remains concerned about mass protests after facing two nationwide demonstrations since late 2017 and two large-scale protests in Isfahan and Khuzestan provinces earlier this year. In each case, Law Enforcement anti-riot units were deployed to the frontline. – Washington Institute 

Sean Durns writes: Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and has targeted and murdered Americans. The regime calls for the destruction of the world’s sole Jewish state and has devoted considerable resources to attacking Israel. Tehran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons warrant both concern and careful press coverage. Yet too often, both have been lacking. – Algemeiner  


The Taliban will officially recruit suicide bombers to become part of the army as the militant group tries to contain its biggest security threat from rival Islamic State since forming government in Afghanistan four months ago. – Bloomberg  

The Pakistani Taliban, known by the acronym TTP, are regrouping and reorganizing, with their leadership headquartered in neighboring Afghanistan, according to a U.N. report from July. That is raising fears among Pakistanis like Shahana of a return of the horrific violence the group once inflicted. – Associated Press  

Afghanistan’s embassy in Rome says it was forced to call Italian police for help after a sacked Afghan diplomat attacked the ambassador. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

It’s been four months since the United States left Afghanistan, leaving behind thousands of allies who worked side-by-side with the American military for 20 years. While the administration boasts it evacuated over 120,000 Afghans—a majority were not Afghan interpreters or their families, officials say. The Biden administration has pledged to help vulnerable Afghans escape, but some lawmakers and veterans say the government has no plans to rescue perhaps the most critical ally: Afghan commandos. A group built from scratch by U.S. Special Operations Forces. – FOX News 


Rockets and indirect fire struck bases hosting U.S.-led military coalition forces in Iraq and Syria in at least three separate attacks Wednesday, the third day in a row that Iran-aligned paramilitary groups have targeted America and its partners in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal 

Western nations accused Syria on Wednesday of refusing for eight years to clear up 20 outstanding issues about its undeclared research, production and possible weaponization of unknown quantities of chemical weapons. – Associated Press 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Now, the shadow conflict that has emerged, stretching from Baghdad to attacks on the US in Tanf garrison in Syria, is growing and risks exploding into the open. This could affect Israel as well because foreign reports have said in the past that pro-Iran groups targeted Tanf in response to Israeli airstrikes in Syria. It could also affect the Iran deal negotiations in Vienna. – Jerusalem Post 


Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian gunman on Thursday during a clash in the occupied West Bank, the military said. The incident occurred in the Palestinian city of Nablus, which the military said soldiers had entered to detain a Palestinian, whom it did not identify. – Reuters  

Israeli tanks fired warning shots along the frontier with Syria in the Golan Heights after several suspicious figures were spotted near an Israeli force operating in the area, the Israeli military said. – Reuters  

The Netherlands stopped its funding of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), one of six Palestinian NGOs Israel banned last year due to ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. – Jerusalem Post  

The IDF on Wednesday announced that Zvi Lekach would be promoted to the rank of colonel and replace Netanel Benishu as the chief justice of the IDF’s West Bank Courts that handle criminal claims against Palestinians. – Jerusalem Post  

Israel will bring a resolution aimed at combating Holocaust denial for a vote before the United Nations General Assembly later this month, Ambassador Gilad Erdan announced on Wednesday. – Times of Israel  

Arabian Peninsula

The Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) on Wednesday said the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthis had diverted to a Saudi port a fifth fuel vessel heading for the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, part of a tussle over imports into the war-torn country. – Reuters   

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen received a distress signal from an oil tanker after it had been subjected to “armed harassment” off Yemen’s Hodeidah port, Saudi state TV reported on Wednesday, citing the coalition. – Reuters    

Forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government have reclaimed large swaths of territory in a southern province from Iran-backed Houthi rebels, government officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press 

Iranian media claimed an “exclusive interview with senior Yemeni official,” had revealed that the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen seized an “Emirati ship” as a “warning to Israel.” – Jerusalem Post  

Saudi Arabia cut oil prices for buyers in Asia, signaling that extra supplies from OPEC and its partners could loosen the market amid the rapid spread of coronavirus. – Bloomberg 

Middle East & North Africa

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz met Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Wednesday to discuss regional stability and bilateral ties in the latest high-level visit since relations between the two neighbours improved, officials from both countries said. – Reuters  

Israel Aerospace Industries is reportedly in talks with Morocco to sell the North African kingdom the Barak 8 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile system. – Jerusalem Post   

Unknown perpetrators attacked a group of U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, vandalizing their vehicles and stealing official items from them, a U.N. official said Wednesday. – Associated Press  

In a recent article titled “Victorious Lebanon and Defeated Israel,” Shi’ite Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich, a known Hizbullah opponent, mocks the narrative of “victory over Israel” that this organization has been marketing, especially since the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Shermeen Yousif writes: After 18 years of hope for change, Iraqis are exhausted and need concrete solutions. As an Iraqi, I believe that we need a collective mind-shift towards a pragmatic political agenda that works for Iraq’s interests. In order to pull Iraq out of its current civil unrest, new strategies should be considered that include rethinking foreign relations. Peace with Israel could be a strategic move leading to regional stabilization and improvement. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said Thursday that it had successfully test-fired a hypersonic missile the previous day, marking the second such launch since September as it seeks to showcase its growing weapons capabilities. – Washington Post  

In November 2020, a North Korean ex-gymnast climbed undetected over 10-foot barbed-wire fences to get into South Korea. When the South belatedly discovered the breach, it began an extensive manhunt. The man was not found until the next day, half a mile south of the world’s most heavily armed border. – New York Times  

The United States condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile launch on Wednesday, saying it violated multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and posted a threat to Pyongyang’s neighbors, a State Department spokesperson said. – Reuters   

South Korea’s military apologized Wednesday for causing public concern about its security readiness, days after it failed to stop a suspected North Korean defector who crossed the heavily fortified border to return to the North. – Associated Press 


China enters 2022 with a bit less swagger than a year earlier. A roaring economic comeback then has since been tripped up by Covid-19 lockdowns, energy shortages and a cooling property market. Declining births and worsening international relations cloud the longer-term outlook. – Wall Street Journal  

The ranks of the unemployed technology workers are swelling, as China’s once vibrant internet industry is hit by a harsh and capricious regulatory crackdown. – New York Times   

China has recommitted itself to completing its orbiting space station by the end of the year and says it is planning more than 40 launches for 2022, putting it roughly level with the United States. – Associated Press  

The People’s Bank of China unrolled a digital currency app that will allow users in 10 of the country’s major population centers to create e-wallets and make purchases using a digital version of the country’s currency, the renminbi. – Newsweek  

Chinese Communist officials claimed credit for a new multinational statement on the “avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states,” even as they pledged to continue building their nuclear weapons arsenal. – Washington Examiner 

China’s investors are not letting a growing diplomatic boycott dampen their optimism ahead of Beijing’s Winter Olympics next month. – Bloomberg 

Max Boot writes: Let there be no misunderstanding: If Putin expands his offensive against Ukraine, or if Xi launches an attack on Taiwan, these will not be wars of “national reunification.” They will be wars of aggression against sovereign states that should be resisted by all law-abiding nations with every means at their disposal. – Washington Post  

Mark N. Katz writes: At present, authoritarian China poses a growing security challenge to the United States and world order. […]Without such a threat from China, some current U.S. allies may become less willing to follow Washington’s lead—especially if the United States pursues policies that its allies find objectionable but tolerate to sustain U.S. protection against Beijing. Yet as long as Xi remains in firm control in China, of course, Washington will not have to face this challenge. – The National Interest 

Victoria Coates writes: The People’s Republic of China expanded its attacks on Hong Kong’s liberties this past fall by menacing a statue at Hong Kong University commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But all its aggression against the work of art may have done Beijing’s authoritarian agenda more harm than good. – Wall Street Journal


Mass protests in Kazakhstan over an increase in fuel prices have prompted an alliance of former Soviet states to send troops to help support the country’s president after the government of the Central Asian nation resigned and the leader imposed a state of emergency. – Wall Street Journal 

Dozens of people were killed in Kazakhstan on Thursday as authorities moved against protesters in the Central Asian nation after several days of unrest and an alliance of troops from former Soviet states arrived to support local forces. – Wall Street Journal 

Thousands of angry protesters have taken to the streets of Kazakhstan in recent days, the biggest crisis to shake the autocratic country in decades. The events are a stark challenge to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev less than three years into his rule and are destabilizing an already volatile region where Russia and the United States compete for influence. – New York Times  

Taiwanese are rallying to support the East European country as it faces retaliation from Beijing for drawing closer to Taiwan, whose democratically elected government has few diplomatic allies. – Washington Post  

Special envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold their first meeting aimed at normalizing their ties on Jan. 14 in Moscow, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday. – Associated Press 

Taiwan air force jets screamed into the sky on Wednesday in a drill simulating a war scenario, showing its combat readiness amid heightened military tensions with China, which claims the island as its own. – Reuters 

A ceremony was held at the Turkish capital on Wednesday to mark the arrival of the first Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) train carrying goods from Pakistan to Turkey, via Iran after the resumption of its operations. – Yenisafak   

Adam Taylor writes: But for Putin, the impact of Nazarbayev’s fall from grace could hit closer to home. Nazarbayev may have been a generation older than the Russian leader, but he shared a history in the Soviet Union and a decades-long grasp on the top levels of power. Both Russia and Kazakhstan are natural resource giants, yet both are mired in enormous economic inequality and reports of corruption that reach all the way to the top. – Washington Post 

Emil Avdaliani and Francis Harris write: Protests in Kazakhstan show that enlightened authoritarianism cannot work for long and that the only way to maintain them is through force. A stable epoch of a league of Eurasian authoritarian states will not be as lasting as it once seemed. This will worry China no less than Russia. It too favors the Westphalian principle of non-interference in internal affairs. But in practice, like Russia, it might find it increasingly unpalatable to allow democratization to take root in its immediate neighborhood. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

James M. Dorsey writes: With Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders, it’s not only Ukrainians who worry about what President Vladimir Putin may have in store for them. It’s Kazakhs too. For now, Kazakhs don’t have to be immediately concerned about Russian troop movements. What unsettles them is years of Russian rhetoric, spearheaded by Putin’s repeated comments. […]Kazakh leaders have walked a fine line when responding to Putin and his far-right nationalist choir. – Algemeiner  


The United States and Germany’s top diplomats on Wednesday reiterated that they would impose consequences on Russia for an invasion of Ukraine, with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressing the need for a diplomatic solution to heightened tensions between Moscow and the West. – Reuters 

The United States and its allies will raise election interference, arms agreements, Ukraine and other issues at security talks with Russia next week, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday that Russia must ease pressure on Ukraine if it wants progress, as he renewed a warning of “massive consequences” for an invasion. – Agence France-Presse  

Russia wants to see results from high-stakes talks with the U.S. and its allies over security in Europe in as little as a matter of weeks, despite the seemingly wide gap that currently divides the parties, Moscow’s top negotiator said. – Bloomberg 

The EU’s top diplomat has warned Russia and the US against creating “spheres of influence” in Europe ahead of talks between the two countries next week regarding proposals from Moscow that would reshape the continent’s defence and security architecture. – Financial Times 

David Frum writes: Even if President Biden’s diplomacy can find a peaceful resolution to Putin’s invasion threats this winter, that welcome outcome will not prevent Russia from trying the same blackmail methods again. Only by integrating Europe into a better network of energy security can NATO truly protect its members. That integration will require more North American natural gas, at least until better alternatives become reliably and affordably available. – The Atlantic  

Peter Spiegel writes: Georgia’s rose revolution was followed a year later by Ukraine’s orange one. Belarus’ uprising has been followed a year later by one in Kazakhstan. The combination may prod Putin to escalate even further. But the people of Kazakhstan — and Belarus, and Ukraine, and Georgia — have already shown the limits of Putin’s Soviet dreams. – Financial Times 

Nastassia Astrasheuskaya writes: As Europe looks to boost future gas supplies amid a bracing winter, much could depend on a judgment call by Vladimir Putin on the competing interests of two of his closest allies. […]The two companies now have a clear timeline in which to step up the lobbying, but signs of potential change in the landscape of Russia’s gas industry are clear. – Financial Times  

Mark Episkopos writes: All of the available data suggests that the initial stages of a westward Russian incursion will result in overwhelming losses for the defending Ukrainian troops. But what happens afterward is a different story, one that heavily depends on how exactly Moscow chooses to go about a prospective invasion of Ukraine. Experts widely agree that a prolonged Russian occupation of all Ukraine would be catastrophic for Moscow, bogging down the invading forces in a politically, morally, and militarily debilitating guerilla conflict that cannot be meaningfully won. – The National Interest 


A petition to strip former British Prime Minister Tony Blair of a prestigious honor has garnered more than 700,000 signatures in a show of anger over his role in leading the U.K. to war in Iraq nearly two decades ago. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States on Wednesday imposed fresh sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and current and former officials as Washington warned of further action against those linked to destabilization or corruption. – Reuters 

The European Union’s top diplomat visited the frontline of Ukraine’s war with Moscow-backed forces on Wednesday, promising “massive consequences and severe costs” for Russia if it launched a new military offensive against its neighbour. – Reuters 

Belarus summoned the Polish charge d’affaires in Minsk to inform him about the expulsion of a Polish diplomat, Warsaw said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Germany has found itself facing a series of challenges in its relations with Russia and China since taking office last month that are testing the new government’s foreign policy mettle. – Associated Press 

Algeria’s ambassador to Paris is to return to his post after he was recalled in October following comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that Algiers deemed offensive, the presidency said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse  

Britain’s spy chief on Thursday thanked China’s state news agency for “free publicity” after it posted a spoof of James Bond that mocked the Western intelligence community’s growing focus on threats posed by Beijing. – Agence France-Presse  

Ukraine’s military is much stronger and better prepared than 2014, when it couldn’t resist Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But a lack of weapons from the West and underspending at home has left its troops without even the deep stocks of basic supplies they’d need in a high intensity conflict. – Bloomberg 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline meant to bring gas to Germany provides Europe with “leverage” against Moscow’s military provocations. – The Hill 

Felix Krawatzek and Gwendolyn Sasse write: Sanctions aim to change the calculations and dynamics within the ruling elite. But sanctions can also influence the opinions of the local population. Our research suggests that many in Belarus may see sanctions as less important, now that Belarus’s authoritarian regime appears to have consolidated power. – Washington Post  


In import-reliant and landlocked Malawi, where inflation is expected to have been 9 per cent in 2021 and the economy is expected to have expanded by about 2 per cent, high fuel and food prices bring a clear political risk. Already in recent months, thousands have taken to the streets of major cities in protest at high prices. – Financial Times  

U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will step down from his post this month after more than nine months in the job, and David Satterfield, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Turkey, will take up the role, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Bobby Ghosh writes: Biden might do well to follow Trump’s example and target senior Ethiopian officials while giving Abiy a Nobel pass. Still, if the prime minister doesn’t take heed, he may well find himself in an ignoble category all of his own. – Bloomberg 

Latin America

El Salvador on Wednesday said it allowed two Cuban journalists to enter the country after the reporters said they were expelled from the Communist-run island and then barred from entering Nicaragua. – Reuters 

Venezuela’s opposition must abandon hypocrisy and recognize its mistakes if it wants to restart talks with the ruling party, which were suspended in October, National Assembly president Jorge Rodriguez said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Andrew I. Rudman and Diego Marroquín Bitar write: A passive “wait and see” approach to Mexico’s domestic policy objectives will hurt President Biden’s and investors’ long-term interests in the region. For a successful bilateral aggiornamento, both Mexico and the United States must be candid about their bones of contention and develop joint proposals to address them. Looking the other way comes at an extremely high cost. – The Hill 


The U.S. is racing to combat an ostensibly modest foe: hobbyist drones that cost a few hundred dollars and can be rigged with explosives. Emerging solutions resemble the stuff of science fiction, from laser zappers to microwave blasters. – Wall Street Journal 

Congress has overwhelmingly backed a $25 billion increase to President Joe Biden’s Pentagon budget, but the battle over defense spending is far from over. – Politico 

Air Force deployments could soon begin to look a little different as the service transitions to a new schedule for training and dispatching forces around the world. – Defense News  

The Department of Defense is on its way to creating a data-centric future and keeping pace with adversaries, the Pentagon’s chief data officer said. – Defense News  

The next National Defense Strategy, scheduled for release next month, must spell out “what are we going to do; when are we going to do it; and who’s going to do it,” the former civilian chief of Pentagon acquisition said Wednesday. – USNI News  

Lockheed Martin exceeded its 2021 delivery target for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter by handing over 142 aircraft against its goal of 139 for the year. – Janes  

Laura Epifanovskaya writes: These steps will require dramatic changes to current approaches and investments in personnel and programs, but they are important and necessary to make the new digital nuclear weapon designs safe, secure, and reliable to the old time-honored standard.  The challenge posed by digital technology in nuclear weapons is one we know how to meet.  It’s time to invest in the people, the tools, and the change required to meet it. – War on the Rocks