Fdd's overnight brief

April 18, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran has invited Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz to visit the country, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday, a sign of the rapidly improving ties between two longtime regional rivals. – Wall Street Journal

An anti-nuclear Iran watchdog group has accused five U.S. universities of collaborating with entities sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. – Washington Examiner

Iran has shuttered hundreds of businesses as part of its renewed crackdown on women who are caught not wearing the hijab, Iranian media reported on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

An Iranian air defense commander was sentenced on Sunday to 13 years in prison for downing a Ukraine International Airlines flight over Tehran in 2020, with families of the victims rejecting the ruling as a “sham verdict.” – Jerusalem Post

Security forces uncovered attempts by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force to recruit Palestinians to carry out terror attacks against Israeli targets, and arrested two West Bank men suspected of planning an attack, the Shin Bet security agency said Monday. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It’s plausible that the news of an invitation to the king and other moves will slow down the nuclear file or at least the kinds of threatening rhetoric that comes out of Iran. If, on the other hand, Iran uses this new era of diplomacy to suddenly increase its militancy in the region, this could rock the boat with the new Saudi ties. – Jerusalem Post

Avi Davidi writes: While Russia has ignored Israeli lobbying vis-a-vis cooperation with Iran in the past, it could be threatened by the prospect of Tehran using its cyber prowess against Moscow in the future. But so long as Russia and Iran are still hacking it together, Israel should be prepared to deal with cyber onslaughts that could cause real trouble. – Times of Israel

Russia & Ukraine

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Monday in the first access provided to U.S. officials since his detention last month. – Wall Street Journal

Fires erupted at a power station in the Russian border region of Belgorod overnight, a blaze that left part of the regional capital without power and that Russian military correspondents attributed to a Ukrainian drone attack. – Wall Street Journal

Kyiv officials accused Russia on Monday of sabotaging a deal allowing Ukrainian grain to be exported to international markets, saying that the agreement was under threat of “shutdown.” – Washington Post

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the costliest conflict in Europe since World War II, has propelled the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into a full-throttled effort to make itself again into the capable, war-fighting alliance it had been during the Cold War. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday hailed the military’s performance during massive naval drills that have involved the entire Russian Pacific Fleet — a show of force amid the tensions with the West over the fighting in Ukraine. – Associated Press

A top Ukrainian official said Monday that Ukraine will launch its counteroffensive against Russian troops when it’s ready, adding that it’s only a matter of time before the country achieves the necessary level of military preparedness to do so. – Associated Press

Iraq on Monday offered to mediate between Ukraine and Russia to try and find an end to the war in Europe, but Ukraine’s top diplomat rejected the offer during a rare visit to Baghdad. – Associated Press

The Group of Seven nations vowed to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes” in its fight against Russian forces, while also calling for greater engagement with China to stabilize relations with the world’s second-biggest economy. – Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited troops in two occupied regions of Ukraine, according to video shown Tuesday on state TV. – Bloomberg

The House unanimously approved a resolution on Monday that condemns Russia for downing a U.S. Air Force drone over the Black Sea last month. – The Hill

Editorial: Ms. Kara-Murza recalled that her husband worked as a journalist but in 2012 discovered he had been barred from the Russian Embassy in Washington, a retaliatory move because of his public support of the Magnitsky Act. “He decided, well, I’ve got things to say and I will continue,” and plunged deeper into politics. Hopefully, he will continue to have things to say — the unvarnished truth — and say it in freedom. There is much to do to rescue Russia’s freedom, too. – Washington Post

Luke Coffey writes: If Ukrainians are successful at cutting the land bridge, the next step would likely be entering the peninsula itself. Russia knows this, and satellite imagery shows new antitank obstacles and fortified trenches being constructed across Crimea. All Kyiv needs is Western weapons and munitions. For the sake of stability—within and outside the region—let’s give Ukraine the tools it needs to get the job done now. – Wall Street Journal

Brian Michael Jenkins writes: Dissent is effectively suppressed. People cannot freely express themselves. It is not clear whether reminders of past glories can detract attention from Russia’s dismal performance in Ukraine. And while patriotic displays and Prokofiev’s music may stir the hearts of older Russians (just as the Star Spangled Banner evokes deeper meaning to septuagenarian American veterans), 20-somethings in Moscow, like their counterparts in the United States, may not be so moved. At the same time, this should not lead us to conclude that there is in Russia a vast seething underground of discontent. – The Hill

Alexander J. Motyl writes: And without a convincing pretext for a coup — such as defeat in war — Putin’s opponents will lack the courage and determination to topple Russia’s malevolent dictator. Peace, in other words, is possible only if Ukraine wins and Putin leaves. Even then, reaching a lasting settlement with a post-Putin Russia won’t be easy, but it will be possible. Anything else leads to dead ends that will drag out the war, kill civilians, and harm every state’s core interests. – The Hill

Thomas Kent writes: To maintain an enduring audience for the US messages, however, much depends on the promotional muscle behind them. Winning eyeballs on social networks requires a marketing investment, and the ability to target certain videos to the population segments where they will be most effective. If the videos are to have a continuing effect, the US must make sure they are seen. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia would be a “giant leap” towards ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. – Reuters

China is highly concerned about heightened Israeli-Palestinian conflict and favours the two sides resuming peace talks as soon as possible, Foreign Minister Qin Gang said on Monday. – Reuters

A Palestinian gunman shot and wounded two Israelis in Jerusalem on Tuesday, police said, the latest bloodshed in a year-long cycle of violence that shows no sign of abating. – Associated Press

“Never again” means that Israel must ensure that Iran not be allowed to produce nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Yad Vashem on Monday evening. – Jerusalem Post

Eight terrorist attacks were thwarted by police and security forces in Jerusalem recently, the Jerusalem Municipality and Israel Police announced on Monday morning. – Jerusalem Post

Strong United States-Israel coordination is needed to prevent a nuclear Iran, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the senior American Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who arrived in Israel from a visit to Saudi Arabia. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli man was hurt in a stabbing attack at the Gush Etzion Junction south of Jerusalem in the West Bank on Monday evening, the military and medics said. – Times of Israel

Israeli defense company Aeronautics, owned by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Stolero Aeron, agreed to supply Greece with Orbiter 3 unmanned aerial systems in a government-to government contract. – Defense News

Michael Starr writes: While terrorism supporters suppose that Palestinian attackers are legitimate in attacking reservists and other challenged citizenry in a theoretical scenario in which they know everything about their target, they usually know nothing about them. Israeli civilians appear as any civilian would. Attacking a civilian by perception is the same as attacking a civilian. Most often, Palestinian terrorists are acting completely indiscriminately. The onus is upon Palestinian military groups to treat them as such until they are clearly identified as soldiers. Israeli civilians are within their right to bear arms to protect themselves from attacks, and past and inactive military affiliations do not remove their protected status. – Jerusalem Post


Iraq’s federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have ironed out technical issues essential to resuming northern oil exports from the Turkish port of Ceyhan to international markets, four sources told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

The US State Department approved a $259 million proposed sale of avionics upgrades for Turkey’s F-16 fighter jet fleet, as a separate push to sell the country more modern versions of the aircraft remains in limbo. – Bloomberg

Benny Avni writes: The mercurial Mr. Erdogan’s “independent” streak has increasingly led him to tighten relations with Beijing, Moscow, and extremist Islamist groups. Winning next month’s election could further convince him that he has a mandate from the people to attempt to return Turkey to its past Ottoman glory. – New York Sun

Michael Rubin writes: While Secretary of State Antony Blinken expresses grave concern about election integrity and calls for Kilicdaroglu’s release from prison, photographers later catch a smiling President Joe Biden chatting with Erdogan at the July 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Back to the present: Turkey is no democracy, and Erdogan is no democrat. He will cheat and try to flip a loss into a win. The question for the White House is whether it is prepared. – Washington Examiner


Egypt paused a plan to secretly supply rockets to Russia last month following talks with senior U.S. officials and instead decided to produce artillery ammunition for Ukraine, according to five leaked U.S. intelligence documents that have not been previously reported. – Washington Post

Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday said Egyptian troops held in Sudan were merely there to conduct exercises with their Sudanese counterparts and not to support any of the warring parties. – Reuters

The wife of a jailed dissident in Egypt was arrested early on Monday after posting on social media that her husband had been mistreated in prison, a rights group said. – Agence France-Presse

Arabian Peninsula

Italy has lifted an embargo on arms sales to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) the Rome government said in a statement on Monday. – Reuters

The United Nations Yemen mediator said on Monday there is the most serious opportunity in eight years to make progress toward ending the conflict, but warned that the “tide could still turn unless the parties take bolder steps toward peace.” – Reuters

Kuwait’s leadership decided to once again disband parliament and hold fresh elections, citing a “painful” political scene in the Gulf region’s most democratic country. – Bloomberg

A Saudi-led military coalition on Monday freed 104 more prisoners captured in Yemen’s war, a unilateral release that followed an organized prisoner swap amid renewed diplomatic efforts to halt the conflict. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

Influential Tunisian Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi was detained Monday after a police search, according to his lawyer, in a move denounced by his supporters as a stepped-up effort by the president to quash Tunisia’s opposition. – Associated Press

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has arrived in Saudi Arabia on an official trip that will see him meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Tuesday. – Times of Israel

Benjamin Zycher writes: The Biden policies will reduce U.S. output and increase international prices, and thus transfer enormous wealth from Americans to Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the other foreign oil producers. Nor will this prove salutary for the lives of many hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, for whom energy both efficient and inexpensive — fossil fuels — is a central component of an escape from grinding poverty. Can Biden possibly justify such perverse outcomes with more than a rote “climate” mantra? Well, no. Do he and the rest of his administration care? Ditto. – National Review

Korean Peninsula

North Korea held a ceremony on Sunday to celebrate the completion of 10,000 new modern homes in the newly built Hwasong District in Pyongyang, state media KCNA reported. – Reuters

The United States, South Korea and Japan conducted a joint missile defense exercise on Monday aimed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, as a top North Korean army official warned the U.S. that it risks “a clearer security crisis and insurmountable threats.” – Associated Press

Top diplomats from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies vowed a tough stance on China’s increasing threats to Taiwan and on North Korea’s unchecked tests of long-range missiles, while building momentum on ways to boost support for Ukraine and punish Russia for its invasion. – Associated Press


More than 40 Chinese security officers and their associates wielded thousands of fake social-media personas to discredit American policies and set up a secret police station in New York City to harass China’s critics, U.S. prosecutors charged in three complaints unveiled Monday. – Wall Street Journal

Also seeking to disrupt trans-Atlantic solidarity, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has returned to the world stage after years of self-imposed isolation as China enforced strict anti-Covid policies. He has made it clear he believes the U.S. is leading an effort to suppress China’s rise. In a diplomatic flurry, Mr. Xi has met with a half-dozen world leaders in less than a month as he probes for cracks in the Western consensus and strengthens ties with old friends. – Wall Street Journal

China condemns U.S. sanctions on Chinese firms and individuals over their alleged involvement in fentanyl trade, and has lodged representations with Washington, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin touted “military-to-military cooperation” with China while hosting the communist regime’s defense chief at the Kremlin. – Washington Examiner

China must make clear its intentions to keep engaging with the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, as the world’s biggest economies struggle to move past a spat over the shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon in February. – Bloomberg

China demonstrated an electromagnetic gun that fires projectiles shaped like coins, a weapon state media said could be used to break up violent public disturbances. – Bloomberg

China’s defense minister congratulated Russian leader Vladimir Putin for “promoting world peace,” underscoring the warm relations between the two nations more than a year after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Harlan Ullman writes: The U.S., as the more responsible party in this battle, should move without concession to end the Trump tariffs. The reason is to restart a dialogue with China, ultimately at the highest level, to work out areas of possible cooperation and means to limit, contain or prevent unwanted conflict, especially military. Otherwise, it is difficult to find other means to prevent relations from growing more hostile. Resolving the China paradox will not resolve all the tensions. But failing to understand it will not lead to a happy outcome. – The Hill

Mihir Sharma writes: If the US is serious about constraining China’s behavior, it should be open to multiple ways of achieving that end, even a bit of flattery. And it should not assume that the rest of the world will welcome policies justified as helping friends but really designed to expand US economic leadership. China’s diplomatic whirligig may not be a sign that the world is changing. But certain attitudes clearly are. – Bloomberg

South Asia

The slaying of a former lawmaker and his brother in police custody in India’s Uttar Pradesh state over the weekend has placed a spotlight on extrajudicial attacks and killings, driven in part by ethnoreligious divisions fomented at the highest levels of government. – Washington Post

Bangladesh has approved a payment of $318 million to a Russian nuclear power developer using the Chinese yuan, according to a Bangladeshi official, offering the latest instance of countries bypassing the U.S. dollar and using the Chinese currency to conduct international payments. – Washington Post

A Chinese worker on a dam project in northern Pakistan has been arrested and imprisoned on accusations of blasphemy, in a rare case of a foreigner being swept up in Pakistan’s harsh and controversial blasphemy laws. – New York Times

Police in India’s northern border state of Punjab have arrested a soldier in connection with last week’s killing of four others at a military base, they said on Monday. – Reuters


Fiji must take urgent action to reduce a debt burden that exceeds 90% of gross domestic product or put at risk its recovery from the COVID pandemic and plans for sustainable economic development, the World Bank said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday announced plans for the allies’ armies to work more closely together as New Zealand looks to its larger neighbour for help reinvigorating an armed forces battling worker shortages. – Reuters

Stepping gingerly over the lawn in their spiky heels, first lady Jill Biden and Yuko Kishida, the wife of Japan’s prime minister, planted a cherry tree at the White House on Monday to honor decades of friendship between their countries. – Associated Press

Two suspected Chinese spies gave a Sydney businessman envelopes of cash for information about subjects including a government deal with the United States and Britain to build a fleet of Australian nuclear-powered submarines, prosecutors told a court on Monday. – Associated Press

Taiwan will buy as many as 400 land-launched Harpoon missiles intended to repel a potential Chinese invasion, completing a deal that Congress approved in 2020, according to a trade group’s leader and people familiar with the issue. – Bloomberg

The Chinese military planned to conduct “major military activities” in the Yellow Sea, the country’s maritime agency said, without elaborating on the nature of the plans. – Bloomberg

Ike Barrash writes: The Taiwan Strait will remain a geopolitical flashpoint, and the United States will play a deciding factor in its direction. Sober diplomacy, smart military investment, and leadership of allies can maximize the security of Taiwan. – The National Interest


The solemn presidential address, televised across France’s main networks, is a technique that President Emmanuel Macron has deployed amid many crises, from the yellow-vest protest movement to the Covid-19 pandemic. – Wall Street Journal

A project to develop small nuclear power reactors in Poland is moving forward, with Polish energy company Orlen and two U.S. government financial institutions signing an agreement Monday. – Associated Press

Russia and China pose the greatest threats to the national security of the Netherlands, according to Dutch intelligence agency. – Bloomberg

Editorial: U.S. and European diplomats will be left dealing with the fallout from this disastrous trip, not least in the extent to which it undermined deterrence of Chinese aggression in Taiwan, a boisterous democracy that the West should seek to protect. It would have been better for Mr. Macron to stay and deal with the problems at home instead of creating a new mess overseas. – Washington Post


Jet fighters and military helicopters roared in the skies above Sudan’s capital and residents sheltered at home from gunfire and explosions, as a lethal power battle between the country’s top generals dragged into a third day Monday. – Wall Street Journal

The fierce clashes that erupted over the weekend between rival armed forces in Sudan are unnerving its neighbors, and they have begun contacting the warring leaders in an effort to keep the turmoil from spilling across borders and destabilizing the fragile region. – Washington Post

A major U.S. trade preference program for Sub-Saharan Africa has been successful for developing the region’s apparel sector in selected countries, but its benefits are not widespread throughout all countries and sectors, a new report to the U.S. Congress showed on Monday. – Reuters

There are no plans for a U.S. government evacuation from Sudan at this time but Americans should treat the volatile situation in the African country with utmost seriousness, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday. – Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a US diplomatic convoy in Sudan was fired upon but everyone in the group was safe. – Bloomberg

Japan’s government invited the African Union to the forthcoming G7 summit and excluded regular attendee South Africa. – Bloomberg

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is calling for a ceasefire in Sudan amid days of fighting as the army and a rival force battle for control of the country. – The Hill

Latin America

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday expressed gratitude to Brazil for its approach in pushing for an end to hostilities in Ukraine — an effort that has irked both Kyiv and the West, and by afternoon prompted an unusually sharp rebuke from the White House. – Associated Press

Mexico’s president lashed out Monday at what he called U.S. “spying” and “interference” in Mexico, days after U.S. prosecutors announced charges against 28 members of the Sinaloa cartel for smuggling massive amounts of fentanyl into the United States. – Associated Press

El Salvador has tapped a former International Monetary Fund official as an adviser as it seeks a deal with the multilateral lender, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Eduardo Porter writes: It’s hard to know the future.  It’s understandable, too, that Lula is swayed by his memories of a seemingly successful past. And yet, before he chooses again to pursue a strategy built around BRICS to provide a counterweight to the G7, the IMF and the dollar, he should first carefully re-examine what he got from taking this path the first time around. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: While countries like Brazil claim to be neutral or merely pursuing an independent policy, the remarks by Lula and these visits make it clear Brazil prefers China and Russia to the US and most Western democracies. Russia and China in turn want to take advantage of this and try to move Brazil into their camp. This has ramifications for the Middle East as countries like Brazil are important to the region. – Jerusalem Post

United States

The United States eavesdropped on United Nations Secretary General António Guterres’s conversations with other U.N. officials, according to four classified reports obtained by The Washington Post. – Washington Post

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Kristin A. Shapiro write: Mr. Trump has 30 days after his arraignment—until May 4—to invoke the federal-officer removal statute. Because a novel and important constitutional issue would be at stake, the case could easily reach the Supreme Court, and it would be wise for the federal courts to delay any state trial until Mr. Trump’s immunity defense is resolved. With only 21 months remaining in his term, Mr. Biden might find himself quietly rooting for a decision in his predecessor’s favor. – Wall Street Journal

Walter Russell Mead writes: After the Cold War, many Americans thought that global moral improvement had replaced national security as the principal goal of American foreign policy and that pragmatic calculation was a form of moral cowardice. Those illusions can no longer be sustained. America needs friends now, and nobody likes or trusts the village scold. – Wall Street Journal


What the members of Congress didn’t know was that state secrets had been trickling out for months on social media and were beginning to circulate in ever-wider online forums — not on TikTok, but on U.S.-owned Discord. In the two weeks after the TikTok hearing, those classified documents would make their way into public view on U.S.-owned Twitter — and remain there for days, as owner Elon Musk mocked the idea that he ought to remove them. – Washington Post

The Pentagon has started culling distribution lists for sensitive national security information after a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman with a junior job was charged in the biggest US intelligence leak in a decade, spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Monday. – Bloomberg

Molly Roberts writes: The lines between the animated machine gunning and grenade throwing that the members of the Thug Shaker Central Discord reveled in and the disclosures of actual war that Teixeira allegedly took it upon himself to share were too blurry to see. Stuff had become, literally, too real — but it was hard, in an echo chamber cordoned off from reality, to notice. It probably felt a whole lot like a game. – Washington Post


A deactivated squadron got new life as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 311 in a Friday ceremony attended by scores of combat veterans and an F-35C Lightning II jet sporting the “Tomcats” historic squadron logo. – USNI News

The Department of Justice is investigating a former Navy non-commissioned officer for her role in social media accounts that posted a series of leaked Pentagon documents, two U.S. defense officials told USNI News on Monday. – USNI News

Rocket Lab today announced a new testbed launch vehicle the company says will accelerate development of hypersonic technology. – Breaking Defense

In the run up to this year’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) rule-making summit, global pressure is growing to turn over radio frequency spectrum now reserved for radar and satellite systems to wireless telecommunications, especially 5G — raising the risk that Pentagon access for its ever-growing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs will be curtailed. – Breaking Defense

On March 13, Pvt. Ana Basaldua Ruiz, a soldier assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, was found dead in an apparent suicide after telling her family about sexual harassment she had faced in the Army. – Military.com

Christine H. Fox and Akash Jain write: One does not need to be a futurist or technophile to see why the U.S. defense industrial base needs this shift. If America is going to successfully compete against near-peer powers in the digital age, it will need to lean into its unique software advantage. Software primes can be an important vehicle for the United States to leverage its competitive advantage in the realm of ones, zeros, and algorithms for years to come. – War on the Rocks