Fdd's overnight brief

January 7, 2022

In The News


The US wants to use “snapback sanctions” to deter Iran from enriching weapons-grade uranium – a mechanism that was meant to be used in response to any violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. – Jerusalem Post 

A statue of former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was torched on Wednesday night by unidentified individuals in Shahrekord in western Iran, according to the Iranian ISNA news agency. – Jerusalem Post 

Canada, Britain, Sweden and Ukraine on Thursday said they had abandoned efforts to talk to Tehran about reparations for an airliner downed by Iran and would try to settle the matter according to international law. – Reuters 

Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said an ongoing dialogue with Saudi Arabia was positive and constructive and Tehran was ready to restore relations at any time, Al Jazeera TV reported on Thursday. – Reuters 

Progress has been made regarding the Iran nuclear talks although time is running out, said French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday. – Reuters 

With the two-year anniversary of the destruction of Flight PS752 coming up, the victims’ families say the RCMP is not sharing evidence quickly enough with Ukraine — the only country conducting a criminal investigation into the tragedy. – CBC 

In an article in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, journalist Hammad Bin Hamed Al-Salemi warned of Iran’s efforts to spread the Shi’a around the world and actualize its hegemonic aspirations. He argued that Iran uses its nuclear program to distract the world from its expansionist ambitions, which are not confined to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza. Iran also invests considerable efforts in spreading the Shi’a in other countries, he said, such as Indonesia, Ethiopia and Nigeria, by paying poor people to convert. He warned that, if this continues, the list of countries controlled by Iran will grow ever longer. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Sean Durns writes: While Israel’s Arab communities do face some inequities and challenges, Arabs in Israel often have a higher standard of living than in neighboring states. Indeed, Israeli Arabs have served on the country’s Supreme Court, held high ranks in the IDF, run hospitals and businesses, and have their own political parties. Indeed, the major Arab political party now sits in government. Polls also show that sizable majorities wouldn’t want to be part of a Palestinian state, should one be created. Iran’s hope for a civil war in Israel is as deluded as it is dangerous. – Washington Examiner 


Leaders of the Taliban are pressing Washington to free an Afghan drug lord serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison in exchange for the release of an American engineer, Mark Frerichs, held in Afghanistan for two years now, Afghan and American security, legal, and diplomatic sources said. – Foreign Policy 

Omar Sadr writes: Understanding the nature of these protests is important for any future political roadmap for Afghanistan. These protests debunk the assumption that the entire country is tribal, conservative, and support the Taliban. […]Finally, the brutal suppression of the rights protests shows that there is little room to reach an agreement even on a minimal set of basic rights with the Taliban. Hence, there is little possibility of peaceful coexistence with them. – The National Interest 

Roshni Kapur writes: Although China is unlikely to become fully comfortable with diplomatic engagement with the Taliban, it is the only pragmatic option to secure its western frontiers, to reduce the threat of anti-China militant groups finding safe harbor, and to protect its economic stakes in the region. At the same time, however, it is unclear what China is prepared to do — or capable of doing — on its own or in conjunction with other regional or external powers to prevent ISKP’s Khorasan from becoming the next Syria. – Middle East Institute 


A senior Israel diplomat rebuked European ambassadors for protesting Israeli policies in the West Bank and violence by settlers. – Jerusalem Post 

As part of a three-day conference ending Thursday, former Pakistani Chief Justice Tassaduq Jillani cautioned his Israeli audience at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem about the paramount importance of fighting for judicial independence – and he was not speaking metaphorically. – Jerusalem Post 

Over 120 entertainment industry figures signed an open letter against the boycott of a major cultural festival in Sydney, Australia, that began Thursday, after 30 acts and individuals withdrew over a sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy. – Times of Israel 

Senior Egyptian sources told the Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper on Thursday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are pessimistic about the indirect negotiations with Israel and are accusing the Jewish state of procrastinating when it comes to implementing the understandings on the lifting of the “siege” on the Gaza Strip and promoting reconstruction of the Strip from the fighting in May of last year. – Arutz Sheva 

The Hezbollah spy drone that the Israel Defense Forces downed on the Lebanese border on Tuesday afternoon is the fifth to suffer a similar fate within a year. The IDF does not elaborate on how it brings down the drones, but based on the military use made of drones in other countries, it can be conjectured that what’s at work here is a combination of electronic warfare and perhaps, at times, also kinetic intercept means. – Haaretz 

Mark Regev writes: Yet, notwithstanding these and other challenges, a pessimistic belief in the inevitability of an imminent Gaza war is unwarranted. On Benjamin Netanyahu’s watch, seven years of relative quiet separated Operation Protective Edge from Operation Guardian of the Walls. Through an astute strategy of deterrence and incentives it is not impossible to postpone a future round of fighting, maybe even for another seven years. Ultimately, in the absence of complete solutions, if the next serious escalation occurs on or close to 2028, most Israelis could view that as not so bad an outcome. – Jerusalem Post 


A member of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, part of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, was targeted by a shooting attack at his home near Baghdad on Thursday, in which five members of his family were killed, according to the Iraqi News Agency. – Jerusalem Post 

Videos of protesters hit by tear gas in Iraq in 2019 are circulating online alongside false claims that the footage shows vaccinated people’s heads “exploding” following the activation of 5G mobile phone technology in Israel. – Reuters 

Sardar Sattar writes: Considering these arguments, Iraq would most likely see a significant surge in violence once again that would help Iran to restructure its deep state in Iraq. It would also revive Iran’s regional influence, especially after facing a massive setback in the absence of Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian general killed in a US airstrike two years ago, who was known as the man behind every political move in Baghdad. – Jerusalem Post 

Bobby Ghosh writes: For the regime in Tehran, there are no good outcomes: More than likely, the next Iraqi government will be made up of groups with no allegiance to, or dependence on, Iran. This would force the Iranians to pull harder on other levers to influence Iraqi political affairs, such as the threat of the militias, the inducements of graft or simple economic blackmail. (Iran is one of Iraq’s biggest trading partners.) Even if he does call the shots in parliament on Sunday, Moqtada al-Sadr will find his troubles are just starting. – Bloomberg 

Michael Knights and Crispin Smith write: The attack campaign undertaken since December 31 has generated a lot of coverage within the militia propaganda milieu, which appears to be a primary aim. […]Militia leaders such as Akram al-Kaabi are promising more strikes and presenting the last week’s strikes as the beginning of an open-ended kinetic effort to remove U.S. forces, but they also give the sense that the situation does not need to escalate if the U.S. does not retaliate disproportionately, and if muqawama supporters seem satisfied with the performance. – Washington Institute 

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut said Thursday that Hezbollah was a threat to Arab security after the leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese movement branded King Salman a “terrorist.” – Associated Press 

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Waleed al Bukhari, said on Thursday that “the kingdom’s relations with Lebanon are too deep to be affected with irresponsible and absurd statements,” Saudi media reported, citing the ambassador. – Reuters 

The explosion that went off under a French vehicle involved in the Dakar car rally in Saudi Arabia last week may have been a terrorist attack, France’s foreign minister said on Friday. – Reuters 

The Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen has retaken several areas in the energy-prducing provinces of Marib and Shabwa to repel advances by the Houthi movement in fierce fighting that has stymied United Nations-led peace efforts. – Reuters 

Robert Greenway and Asher Fredman write: Realizing the full potential of the Abraham Accords will undoubtedly require great vision and investment. Fortunately, the region has shown tremendous capacity for both. Leveraging the historic agreements today will provide returns of prosperity, opportunity and stability for generations to come. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

As 2022 begins, the Middle East strategic picture is in a state of flux and change. Stable and long-held assumptions about the region – its dynamics, its main players and its power structures – are being challenged. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel Aerospace Industries is reportedly in talks to sell Morocco the Barak 8 medium-range surface-to-air missile system. – Jerusalem Post 

An Egyptian-American man was charged with working as a foreign government agent without informing the United States Department of Justice. Pierre Girgis, 39, is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Egypt. According to the Justice Department, he “tracked and obtained” information about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s political rivals. – Newsweek 

Jordan’s parliament on Thursday approved government-backed constitutional reforms intended to revitalise the country’s stagnant political life, although some opposition deputies slammed the changes as incapable of strengthening democracy. – Reuters 

A Turkish prosecutor is seeking a jail term of up to 20 years for Metin Gurcan, a founder of the Turkish opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), over military and political espionage, state media said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Baraa Sabri writes: The situation that is developing in the region, extending from the Iraq-Syria border to the end of the administrative borders in Manbij, needs greater attention from the international coalition. […]Russia’s wishes in opposition to Washington’s partners in Syria must be discouraged, and there must be pressure to reach a constitutional solution with Damascus and a greater push to develop the skills of local administrations in the fields of governance, the economy, and humanitarian and social programs, with constant reminders and pressures on those administrations for a broader commitment to issues of freedoms and human rights. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said on Friday that it would not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic and moves by “hostile forces.” Its no-show at the Beijing Games would deprive South Korea of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the North. Officials from the South had hoped that the Olympics would provide a venue for official delegates from both Koreas to meet to discuss issues beyond sports. – New York Times 

North Korea claimed Thursday to have conducted the second successful test flight of a hypersonic missile, days after leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his military forces despite pandemic-related difficulties. – Associated Press 

South Korean military officials cast doubts on Friday on the capabilities of what North Korea called a “hypersonic missile” test fired this week, saying it appeared to represent limited progress over Pyongyang’s existing ballistic missiles. – Reuters 


The United States and Japan on Friday voiced strong concern about China’s growing might and pledged to work together against attempts to destabilise the region, including against emerging defence threats. – Reuters 

China lashed out at the United States on Thursday over its support for the European nation of Lithuania in its feud with Beijing over relations with Taiwan. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Washington was using the Baltic state to “use Taiwan to contain China.” – NPR 

The United States must face up to its own “democracy deficit” instead of trying to promote American democracy around the world. That was the verdict in Beijing when China’s Foreign Ministry was asked to comment on the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, during which hundreds of Donald Trump supporters stormed the halls of Congress in an attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. – Newsweek 

In an unprecedented move, China has finalized regulation that governs the way technology companies can use recommendation algorithms, targeting the secret behind the success of many of the country’s giants. – CNBC 

Henry Olsen writes: The year 2021 was not kind to Biden, as he too often proved to be either wrong or incompetent, from the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal to his failure in passing his domestic agenda. His policy toward China, however, appears refreshingly coherent and competent. Confronting China’s rise is the biggest policy challenge for the United States. If Biden proves up to the task, both parties should be thankful. – Washington Post 

Elisabeth Braw writes: China’s punishment of Lithuania is a wake-up call for companies and countries alike. For years, Mark Zuckerberg made “companies over countries” Facebook’s unofficial mantra. But when regimes use companies as proxy targets, such Davos thinking looks passé—and dangerous. – Wall Street Journal 

Marc L. Busch writes: Of course, like at the WTO, members of RCEP might come to see S&D as being more than what the text actually says. But in getting China and others to talk of reforming S&D at the WTO, the U.S. can use RCEP as Exhibit A. – The Hill 

Aaron L. Friedberg writes: Those who advocate change will have to mobilize a countervailing coalition, making the case not only that a new system is essential for reasons of national security, but also that the costs of transition will be temporary and manageable, and that they will be offset in the long run by the welfare gains arising from closer integration among the democracies and better defenses against China’s predatory practices. As has been true in the past so also in the future: The shape of the global economy will be determined by political struggle and by the shifting balance of political power, both within nations and between them. – Texas National Security Review 


Chaotic and violent scenes persisted in Kazakhstan Friday, as the first “peacekeeping” troops from a Russia-led military alliance arrived in the Central Asian country, on the back of its beleaguered leader’s request for foreign intervention following widespread and sometimes bloody protests against high energy prices and a decrepit political system. – Washington Post 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is visiting Myanmar, seeking to revive a diplomatic initiative to restore peace following a military takeover nearly a year ago. Critics contend his mission will just legitimize the army’s seizure of power. – Associated Press 

Australia and Japan’s new defense pact sends a strong message to China — that the two countries will work closely to ensure a stable Indo-Pacific region, a senior analyst from an Australian think-tank said Friday. – CNBC 

Alexander Ward and Quint Forgey write: All experts we spoke to said there’s no military role here for the U.S. and that Washington has little-to-no leverage in Kazakhstan, let alone in Central Asia. The best thing America can do, most told us, is bolster the nation’s pro-democracy civil society with funding and push the regime to back democratic and good-governance reforms. – Politico 

Cordelia Buchanan Ponczek writes: For CSTO, the deployment of troops to Kazakhstan seals the organization’s transition to a Warsaw Pact-lite, where its most important purpose is to suppress popular uprisings in member countries and bolster the stability of the Kremlin’s favored autocrats. That may suit Putin and his ministers, but it will repel those — including many citizens in CSTO nations — who hoped the bad old days had gone forever. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Jake Yeager and William Gerichten write: This organization would help Taiwan to psychologically and militarily prepare to absorb these blows and continue fighting. […]Taiwan’s political leadership and much of the military and civilian population is earnestly preparing for war with China. The United States needs a dedicated organization to stand side-by-side with Taiwan, bolster the island’s resolve, and rebuild credible deterrence, so that rather than “winning without fighting,” China will face a long, costly fight without winning. – War on the Rocks 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev writes: The situation is quite fluid, and things may change rapidly that make points and observations made here overtaken by events. But it suggests that the politics of energy use and climate change—often viewed as a domestic policy question—in fact, can and will have a growing impact on both global geopolitics and geo-economics. – The National Interest 


Russia is trying to bypass the European Union by holding talks directly with the United States over Ukraine, where Moscow has moved nearly 100,000 troops close to its border with its neighbour, France’s foreign minister said on Friday. – Reuters 

Editorial: Vladimir Putin has spent two decades trying to reassert Russian dominion, one way or another, over former Soviet republics. His deployment this week of foreign troops to quell unrest in Kazakhstan represents a short-term victory for his revanchist foreign policy, but it also exposes the fragility of his ambition. – Wall Street Journal 

Editorial: The unrest in central Asia provides an awkward backdrop, too, for next week’s talks with the US and Nato after Russia’s troop build-up around Ukraine. Putin is likely to see it, without foundation, as western interference timed for the eve of the negotiations. Kremlin delegates will surely be instructed to drive through the president’s demands to curb Nato. As he eyes what is happening to Nazarbayev, a man from whom he has drawn inspiration, Putin may be all the more eager for a diplomatic, or failing that military, success that he can sell to his own public. – Financial Times 

Josh Rogin writes: Putin is an opportunist, evil but rational. If an aging dictator can’t hold on to power, that’s a bad precedent for Putin’s own near future. He has no choice when it comes to preventing Kazakhstan from falling under the control of Nazarbayev’s opposition, China or — even worse — its own people. But he doesn’t have to launch a new, costly war in Ukraine. For Putin, that’s a dire dilemma. The West should take advantage. – Washington Post 

Anthony Faiola writes: But Putin has also succeeded in something else too: Raising the price for Western support in Ukraine. Even if Russian boots never march on Kyiv, the continuing threat of an invasion could yet compel Washington and the E.U. to tread more lightly there, and concede a measure of Russian influence, whether the Ukrainians like it or not. – Washington Post 

Evgeny Finkel, Janetta Azarieva, and Yitzhak Brudny write: In the long term, however, the Kremlin’s strategy is destined to fail. As long as Russia is engaged in conflict with the West and limits imports, prices will not go down. Large-scale subsidies aimed at keeping prices low are likely to drain the state budget, just as happened to the U.S.S.R. Price hikes will eventually lead to mass mobilization and violence. Unlike in Kazakhstan, however, there will be no neighboring friendly autocrat to send in the troops. – Washington Post 

Lilia Shevtsova writes: This is a deadlock, and there appears to be no way out. Both sides continue to play “who blinks first”: America and its allies have set out to reassure Ukraine of their support, while Russia has kept the hammer of military deployment ready. […]It’s a tall order. And even if such efforts manage to temporarily tamp down the situation, mutual suspicion will linger. The reason is simple: For as long as Mr. Putin holds sway, his grand design will never be far away. – New York Times 

Ariel Cohen writes: Europe consumes the lion’s share of Russian oil and gas, and the West supplies the bulk of investment and technology for Russian economic development. The chances are high — 25 percent or more, I’d say — that Putin may invade Ukraine. However, it is much easier to start a war than to end it. […]One hopes that cooler heads will prevail, but we are facing a clear and present danger in Europe. The U.S. and the West need to prepare for choppy waters and a rocky ride ahead. – The Hill 

Jim Townsend writes: Continued Russian provocations have made it clear that the Western allies’ economic sanctions on Russia after its 2014 invasion of Ukraine not only were an inadequate deterrent but may actually have given Putin a sense of impunity. […]Putin’s favorite tool of military intimidation must be undermined by a renewed U.S. and NATO military posture in Europe that inspires confidence in those nations under pressure and so strengthens them to withstand Putin’s provocations. – Foreign Affairs 

Maxim A. Suchkov writes: Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, never mind how it was carried out and how much Russia profited from it in terms of media propaganda, was seen in Moscow as Biden’s ultimate ability to act, unlike his predecessors who had to care about reelection, in a more audacious and decisive manner on matters of strategic importance to the United States. […]As both Russia and the United States enter a qualitatively new stage in the making of the new world order, this may be an attempt to orient the forthcoming conversation in Geneva to some vision for the future rather than continuing to argue over the past. – War on the Rocks 

Leon Aron writes: Yet the temptation to boost his much advertised image as protector of all Russians no matter where they live and, even more so, of an in-gatherer of “historic Russian lands,” lost in the Soviet collapse, may prompt a second edition of the Crimea-Donbass script. Stay tuned! – American Enterprise Institute 

Clara Ferreira Marques writes: Putin could certainly have read the protests of the past days as a prompt to deal with Russia’s own weak growth, stagnant incomes and inflation, exacerbated by efforts to create a fortress against Western sanctions. He might have seen the disturbances as a nudge towards domestic reform. Instead, Kazakhstan’s travails seem likely to encourage only the opposite, as he rectifies another autocrat’s mistakes. – Bloomberg 


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

A British warship hit a Russian hunter-killer submarine with the ship’s sonar equipment while on patrol in the North Atlantic, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has revealed. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Editorial: There is a long American tradition of embracing autocrats, especially during the Cold War when Washington overlooked its allies’ brutality and corruption in the interest of the twilight struggle to contain Soviet power. In the case of Mr. Orban’s Hungary, Mr. Trump’s design is one of self-interest: to lend the imprimatur of American prestige to the erosion of democracy overseas in order to normalize his own assault on elections, voting rights and other constitutional mainstays at home. – Washington Post 

David Ignatius writes: Putin’s biggest disadvantage in Ukraine may be that he has lost the element of surprise that was so effective in 2014. The whole world is watching. When you try to make a “net assessment” of the Ukraine confrontation, an invasion looks very costly. But history is a recurring story of overconfident leaders making foolish mistakes. – Washington Post 

François Venne writes: There is also no evidence that China is directly influencing Hungary to block EU statements against it. […]Interestingly, though China appreciates the pro-China gestures, Matura said his Chinese counterparts have told him that sometimes China would rather Hungary not block the statements, lest it appear that the Chinese government has more (malign) influence in the CEE region than it actually does.40 In short, China is less of a string-puller in Hungary than is sometimes portrayed. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Pierre Morcos and Donatienne Ruy write: France has set high expectations ahead of its presidency. Six months is a short period of time to implement such an ambitious agenda and will be made even shorter by the presidential election. […]In order to succeed and have lasting results, France will need to secure political support across the European Union, starting with Berlin and the following member states holding the presidency (the Czech Republic and Sweden). – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


China’s foreign minister says his country will appoint a special envoy to the Horn of Africa region, where Ethiopia and Eritrea have been fighting forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Somalia is in the grip of a political crisis caused by a long-delayed election. – Associated Press 

An air strike hit a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, killing three Eritrean refugees, including two children, the United Nations said on Thursday. – Reuters 

A veteran US diplomat who has handled turbulent ties with Turkey was named Thursday to tackle crises in Sudan and Ethiopia as the outgoing envoy looked to make progress in Addis Ababa. – Agence France-Presse 

Security forces shot dead three protesters and fired tear gas in Sudan on Thursday as crowds thronged the capital Khartoum and other cities in more anti-military rallies, medics and Reuters witnesses said. – Reuters  

Russian soldiers have deployed to the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali to train Malian forces at a base vacated by French troops last month, Mali’s army spokesperson said on January 6. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Poland’s most powerful politician has acknowledged that the country bought advanced spyware from the Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group, but denied that it was being used to target his political opponents. – Associated Press 

Amnesty International said Thursday it has independently confirmed that powerful spyware from the Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group was used to hack a Polish senator multiple times in 2019 when he was running the opposition’s parliamentary election campaign. – Associated Press 

Dmitri Alperovitch writes: When the United States faces a military threat from a hostile nation, it does not tell its citizens and businesses to fund their own private armies or to negotiate their own peace deals. Many cyberthreats are not meaningfully different from military or economic threats, and yet the United States allows much of the burden of defending against them to fall on individual companies and citizens. […]Unless the United States treats the underlying disease, it will never fully recover from the symptoms. – Foreign Affairs 


President Biden has nominated a top Army general to be the next commander of U.S. military operations that include the Middle East as the Biden administration’s attempt to shift toward China has been complicated by the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions. – Wall Street Journal 

The Naval Surface Warfare Center is investing in six additive manufacturing prototypes through its Crane, Ind., division as it looks for new ways to protect military technologies. – Defense News 

Gary Anderson writes: People who saw the war up close should make up the commission. There should also be retired State Department and CIA operatives who knew what was really going on while the generals acted as combat tourists, occasionally visiting the troops and handing out challenge coins. Without the perspective of those who did the real fighting, we will learn nothing. – Military.com