Fdd's overnight brief

April 5, 2023

In The News


Iran foiled a drone attack against a Ministry of Defence complex in the central city of Isfahan overnight, Iranian Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday, although Tehran said confirming the report required further investigation. – Reuters

Suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks have killed two Iranian military advisers, temporarily put the country’s two largest airports out of service, and raised fears of regional escalation. – Associated Press

Elahe Tavokolian was shot by Iranian security forces during protests in a north-eastern city near Mashhad in September. But it was only three months later that she felt brave enough to share the video of her ordeal on Instagram. “You aimed at my eyes but my heart is still beating,” she writes in the post. “Thank you for taking the sight from my eye which has opened the eyes of so many people. – BBC

President Biden, who has vowed to center his foreign policy on the advancement of global human rights, is reviving offers to ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic just as it escalates its assault on women and anti-regime protesters. – New York Sun

The UN Human Rights Council denounced Tuesday the rising numbers of executions in Iran, including of people who received the capital punishment in connection with protests that have rocked the country. – Agence France-Presse

Iran is behind almost all the threats against Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, just one day after the IDF shot down an Iranian drone that entered the country’s airspace from Syria. – Jerusalem Post

A senior Israeli security official on Tuesday revealed the alleged identity of a handler in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who recruited a pair of Pakistani nationals accused of planning to attack a Chabad house in Athens. – Times of Israel

Vali Kaleji writes: The result will likely be more geopolitical instability in the South Caucasus and the strengthening of the Baku-Ankara axis. Such a situation could open the door for the Republic of Azerbaijan to attempt to establish the Zangezur Corridor by force, which could prompt a military response by Iran to maintain the security of the Iranian-Armenian border. In such a situation, the tensions between Tehran and Baku could quickly escalate out of control. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

The Biden administration pledged Tuesday to commit an additional $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine, saying it will provide air defense systems that include gun trucks and laser-guided weapons to counter Russia’s relentless use of drones. – Washington Post

This is one of the signature forms of combat around Bakhmut and other fiercely contested cities and towns in eastern Ukraine — bombardment, by both sides, directed by aerial drones. While troops in central Bakhmut battle at quarters close enough to hear their enemies shout and see them bleed, on the city’s periphery, the ripping apart of living human beings is a more remote affair, often witnessed on a soundless video feed. – New York Times

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko will travel to Moscow on Wednesday for two days of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said. – Reuters

Britain has blocked the U.N. webcast of an informal Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday at which Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights – whom the International Criminal Court wants to arrest on war crimes charges – is due to speak. – Reuters

Russian dissidents are carrying out “explosions and assassinations” in defiance of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, according to a top ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Examiner 

Editorial: The journalist’s arrest in Russia comes as free press is being squeezed around the world. An annual prison census from the Committee to Protect Journalists, an American advocacy group that promotes press freedom and safety, finds that over 360 reporters were jailed last year, a record high. His case highlights the vital work journalists do in an increasingly hostile world for reporters, as some even in liberal democracies tend to forget. – Financial Times

Bret Stephens writes: As for Gershkovich, the most fitting tribute we can pay him is to continue to report the truth about Russia, despite the risks. Putin has sought to wage a disinformation campaign in the West for decades. Western news organizations can repay his abuses with an information campaign about Russia, in Russian, for Russians. They, too, deserve to have the benefit of facts Putin wants nobody — including even himself — to know. – New York Times

Janan Ganesh writes: An issue, I think, is that some in Washington, not just on the right, had always hoped to peel Russia away from China. There are cold war memories of sowing discord between the two. But if they fall out, it is unlikely to be through outside instigation. The Sino-Soviet split began more than a decade before Richard Nixon visited China. – Financial Times

Tom Rogan writes: The timing of this flight coincides with Finland joining NATO as its 31st member. Under outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Finland has been a highly reliable U.S. ally. Equally important, Finland’s very long land border with Russia is defended by a well-trained and combat-ready military. That military will soon benefit from defense spending greater than NATO’s 2%-of-GDP target. As an example of how Finland supports NATO interests, its fighter jets could have flown separately or alongside Norwegian jets to escort the RC-135 during this flight. That threat bears note, considering Russia’s recent downing of a U.S. drone over the Black Sea. – Washington Examiner

Joseph Bosco writes: If Hitler and Mussolini — and Putin — had known the fate that awaited them, they might well have tamed their aggressive urges. Xi still has time to learn that lesson, if a resolute West is prepared to teach it. – The Hill

Sofie Lilli Stoffel and Vladyslav Wallace write: For a peace settlement to be feasible, the children’s issue must be incorporated at the forefront of negotiations. Criminal accountability and the swift return of all Ukrainian children should be set as prerequisites for returning to the negotiation table. Without properly addressing Russia’s abduction of children, the chances of a sustainable peace agreement are likely to be diminished by the partial success of Russia’s genocidal tactics and ensuing opposition from the Ukrainian people and civil society. – The National Interest

Austin Wright writes: In contrast, Russia’s current attitude toward New START and Putin’s recent announcement that Russia will station nonstrategic nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil, show Putin is searching for any distraction from his embarrassing failures in Ukraine—and any leverage he can get over a far more powerful West. While Russia takes a hatchet to the nuclear treaties that have made us all safer, the West continues to explore different avenues of cooperation. With his actions, Putin has made it clear that Russia can no longer be considered a superpower. – Foreign Policy

Natalia Antonova writes: Of course, journalists still need to report on what is happening in Russia. But the danger now has become immense. There are no easy answers or platitudes I can offer here. There is just the cold, hard reality of a violent, fascist regime that despises Americans and will use them in its endless tit-for-tat games as much as it is able. – Foreign Policy

Anna Nemtsova writes: Since Evan’s detention, I have been thinking of the famous words of the Soviet dissident poet Anna Akhmatova about the arrest in 1963 of a talented young poet named Joseph Brodsky: “What a biography they are fashioning for our red-haired friend!” she said of Brodsky’s KGB interrogators, meaning that they would make him famous. Today, I hope for the early release of my friend, however it can be achieved. I trust that the U.S. State Department and Gershkovich’s employer are doing their utmost. And I hope that one day soon, it will be the FSB agents who have reason to be losing sleep. – The Atlantic

Jeff Jager writes: The current paradigm of arming Ukraine is both unsustainable and undermines the longer-term objective of ensuring Ukraine can generate the combat power necessary to emerge victorious. Ukraine’s partners should start the transition to a focus on the longer-term objective as soon as possible. – Middle East Institute


At least a dozen people were injured after Israeli police raided the compound of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s old city early Wednesday, in an operation described by law enforcement as a response to rioting. – Washington Post

Syria’s foreign ministry on Tuesday warned that Israel risked dragging the region toward “total escalation” after another overnight airstrike near Damascus attributed to the Jewish state. – Times of Israel

The Israeli Air Force struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip Wednesday morning after a barrage of rockets was launched at nearby Israeli towns from the enclave throughout the early hours of the day, amid a spike in violence at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount as Ramadan coincided with the arrival of the Passover holiday. – Times of Israel

Israeli police entered Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque before dawn on Wednesday and clashed with worshippers, setting off a furious reaction from Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and crossborder strikes in Gaza. – Reuters

A plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to limit powers of the Supreme Court sparked huge protests across Israel before it was put on hold last week, but the country’s Palestinian citizens have largely remained on the sidelines. – Reuters

Israel has seen its overall strategic situation worsen over the past several months, the IDF Intelligence Directorate’s Research Division warned in a recent memo sent to the top brass and the key decision-makers in the defense and political echelons, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi. – Israel Hayom

Emily Schrader writes: If Israel is forced to act, the same response may occur, but everyone knows that it is Israel standing on the front line defending not just our own country, but Europe and the United States as well. Even today, when Iranian regime terror attacks are thwarted in the streets of London, Greece, and beyond, they have Israel to thank for that, without them doing any of the dirty work to actively fight against the Islamic Republic and all its terror proxies. Sadly, the escalation in Syria isn’t the end of the conflict between Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran, but global support for Israel on this front can help bring about the end of this conflict sooner rather than later. – Ynet

Ben Lefkowitz writes: No one benefits when democratic allies interfere in each other’s internal affairs. There is a legitimate debate to have over how the US should leverage its influence in Israel. America must remain an active and honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and continue to use its position to stabilize the region. Yet the right call in approaching the question of judicial reform is quiet diplomacy, and trust in the Israeli people to exert public pressure on Netanyahu themselves. Will the Biden administration learn that lesson for the inevitable next round of this fight? If Biden’s last warning to Netanyahu is any indication, probably not. – American Enterprise Institute


The Taliban has further tightened restrictions on Afghan women by banning them from working for the United Nations, putting at risk the agency’s multibillion-dollar aid program in Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal 

An overnight raid by Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province killed six members of the extremist Islamic State group, a Taliban spokesman said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan will hold talks Wednesday with Taliban officials in Kabul “to seek clarity” on a new government ban that blocks women from working for the world body across the country. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations told some 3,300 Afghan staff not to come to work in Afghanistan for the next two days after the Taliban authorities signaled on Tuesday that they would enforce a ban on Afghan women working for the world body. – Reuters


The central Iraqi government and Kurdish authorities struck a deal Tuesday to end a standoff over oil sales that had blocked nearly 500,000 barrels a day in exports and sent crude prices rising. – Wall Street Journal 

Up to 1 million people have been “disappeared” in Iraq during a tumultuous last half century spanning the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein, U.S.-led military occupation and the rise of Islamic State militants, the United Nations said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is scheduled to resume oil exports this week in the wake of an agreement with Baghdad. This is important because oil exports are important for the stability of the Kurdistan autonomous region and this in turn aids stability in areas around the Kurdish region, such as Syria and the Iranian border and parts of Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

Bilal Wahab writes: As Kurdish divisions deepen and security in the rest of Iraq improves, the balance of power that once favored the KRG is shifting in Baghdad’s favor. Since the referendum, KRG leaders disagree on visions for their position within Iraq and on plans to save their embattled energy sector. Should the Kurdish economy remain hinged on foreign aid, oil and budget transfers from Baghdad, or can it build a robust economy through reform and diversification? These are among the questions raised over the past 20 years. Whether and how they are answered will determine the Kurdistan Region’s future. – Middle East Research and Information Project

Gulf States

The top envoys for Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet in Beijing on Thursday, an Iranian official and a Saudi-owned newspaper said, as the two regional rivals work to hash out next steps of their diplomatic rapprochement amid a China-brokered deal. – Reuters

Iran said on Tuesday it had appointed an ambassador to the United Arab Emirates for the first time since 2016, amid a realignment of relations between Gulf states and Iran. – Reuters

United Arab Emirates’ president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan confirmed the Gulf state’s commitment to relations with Israel in a call with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that discussed strengthening ties, UAE state media said on Tuesday. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: The United States coddled a vulnerable Saudi Arabia for more than half a century because we needed its oil. Now, increasingly, we don’t. What we want is a Saudi Arabia that behaves like a responsible partner, even as it inevitably puts Saudi interests first. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Senior diplomats from Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran wrapped up two days of talks in Moscow on Tuesday, part of the Kremlin’s efforts to help broker a rapprochement between the Turkish and Syrian governments. – Associated Press

The United States imposed new sanctions on Tuesday on two Lebanese brothers, as well as several of their companies, who it said had used their wealth to engage in corrupt practices that contribute to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon. – Reuters

Gonul Tol writes: What happens in the upcoming vote will not only determine the fate of the country. It will also decide what Turkey does beyond its borders. Above all, the result will say a lot about the future of democracy across the world. – Financial Times

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: Iranians attempted to repeat the success of their UAVs in the service of Russian in its war with Ukraine but were stopped by several unusually forceful strikes on bases, command and control centers and other assets in the past week. – Ynet

Farzin Nadimi writes: More likely, however, Iran will try to attack another Israeli-linked ship in the Gulf of Oman using suicide drones or other means, once again with the intent to cause casualties. Any such operation would likely be conducted somewhere at a safe distance from Saudi Arabia, since Tehran is trying hard to mend relations with Riyadh. The United States runs substantial maritime security operations in the area, so its naval forces should maintain a high state of vigilance for any Iranian attempt to threaten international shipping in these waterways. – Washington Institute


In an hourlong interview ahead of a European diplomatic mission to Beijing, China’s ambassador to the European Union said that critics had misinterpreted his country’s relationship with Russia, and suggested their ties may not be as limitless as their leaders once declared. – New York Times

Furious at U.S. efforts that cut off access to technology to make advanced computer chips, China’s leaders appear to be struggling to figure out how to retaliate without hurting their own ambitions in telecoms, artificial intelligence and other industries. – Associated Press

European Union executive head Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron are to land in China on Wednesday seeking to “reset” ties with an important economic partner while broaching thorny issues like Ukraine and trade risks. – Reuters

China is for the first time keeping at least one nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine constantly at sea, according to a Pentagon report – adding pressure on the United States and its allies as they try to counter Beijing’s growing military. – Reuters

Even as the U.S. Navy expands its drone experiments, its top leaders say the fleet has much to learn before deploying unmanned systems to defend Taiwan from possible attack in the next few years. But they said that lessons from South America’s seas will help the Navy to refine and build intelligence-gathering and -sensing missions that will be highly relevant to countering China. – Defense One

Euan Graham writes: Australia has provided an imperfect but nevertheless useful exemplar of how governments can respond effectively to China’s multifarious security challenges. However, the Australian case also suggests that a coherent response to China’s security challenges at the international level must be based on firm foundations for addressing domestic vulnerabilities. – Breaking Defense

Jo Inge Bekkevold writes: But even though its peace initiative will do little to end the Russo-Ukrainian war, Beijing had nothing to lose by forwarding a rather vague proposal on Ukraine. On the contrary, it enables Beijing to tap into the disconnect between the West and the global south about the war. And if the proposal also helps China to improve its deteriorating relationship with Europe, including by engaging with postwar Ukraine, that would be no small achievement at all. – Foreign Policy

South Asia

Militants in Pakistan shot at the country’s police force in a volatile northwestern province overnight, killing two officers, officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press

India has reacted sharply to China’s attempts to rename places in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh and said it “outright rejects” the move. – BBC

Happymon Jacob writes: Monocausal arguments attempting to unravel the puzzle of India’s underbalancing behavior toward China provide only imperfect explanations. It’s possible to understand New Delhi’s rationale from a policy perspective, but not openly calling out the Chinese threat ultimately ends up playing into Beijing’s hands. Unless India can break out of its overcautious self-restraint and tactical loop with China, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army forces will keep chipping away at Indian territory. – Foreign Policy


Taiwan defied threats of retaliation by China ahead of an expected meeting between the island’s president and the U.S. House speaker Wednesday that will underscore her government’s claim to sovereignty. – Associated Press

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met with senior security officials on Tuesday to discuss the “regional situation” ahead of her meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, which China has demanded not take place. – Reuters

Malaysia secured 2.44 billion ringgit ($555.30 million) in potential exports during Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s visit to China last week, a government trade agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Japan on Tuesday rejected an allegation that the sanctions it has imposed on Russian private lender Sovcombank are illegal, and said Russia’s aggression against Ukraine should have a significant cost. – Reuters

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday he would accept an invitation to visit China but has yet to receive one, in a response to speculation that planning for a visit to Beijing was well advanced. – Reuters

Editorial: Unfortunately, regional diplomacy has all but failed to restrain the junta. Facing sanctions from the United States and other nations, it has turned to China and Russia for support. The violence and misery are ever more savage. The people of Myanmar are paying a terrible price. But democracy as an ideal cannot be murdered, nor can the people’s hopes for it be extinguished by force. – Washington Post

Kathrin Hille writes: “They will put us on a fast track to unification,” he says. “If the KMT wins, that will be done with carrots, to encourage us to start political negotiations, but if the DPP wins, it will be done with an even heavier use of the military to threaten Taiwan.” Either way, Taiwan knows it cannot escape the shadow of its imposing neighbour. – Financial Times


Russia’s presidency of the Security Council faced its first show of resistance on Tuesday as Britain, in a rare move, blocked a United Nations webcast of an informal Council meeting this week on the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. – New York Times

With a simple exchange of documents, Finland on Tuesday became NATO’s 31st member state, a strategic defeat for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who was determined to block the alliance’s expansion but instead galvanized Finland to join amid Moscow’s devastating war in Ukraine. – New York Times

While Finland Tuesday became a full NATO member, Sweden’s membership bid remains blocked, an “embarrassing” delay if short-lived but which could make Sweden more vulnerable and create problems within NATO if it drags on, experts told AFP. – Agence France-Presse

As NATO brings Finland into the fold, the U.S. and Germany are preparing for the largest deployment of U.S. air forces to Europe since the formation of the U.S.-led security alliance. – Defense One

Adam Taylor and Mikhail Klimentov write: Though it was initially assumed that Finland and Sweden would follow the same path to membership, officials from both countries have conceded that there are likely to be further steps for Sweden. “I have a feeling that Finnish NATO membership is not complete without Sweden,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Friday at a joint news conference with Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: Top line: The U.S. cannot quietly tolerate its oldest ally supporting, even if indirectly, the military development of its greatest present-day adversary. France is a sovereign democracy with every right to pursue whatever foreign policy it deems in its national interest. But the U.S. has that same right and shouldn’t be afraid to exercise it. – Washington Examiner 

Abi McGowan writes: Despite the Windsor Framework’s diplomatic breakthrough, policymakers should not take the framework as a reason to neglect the pressing challenges facing Northern Ireland. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement marked the end of the three-decade conflict known as the Troubles. As the 25th anniversary of the peace deal approaches, the United Kingdom has a window of opportunity to renew its commitment to the peace process. – Foreign Policy


Somalia’s president has expressed confidence that his new military offensive against al-Shabaab will “defeat” the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has long terrorised the Horn of Africa. – Financial Times

Nigeria’s Senate has approved China Development Bank as new financier for the country’s Kaduna-to-Kano rail project at a cost of $973 million, after another Chinese lender withdrew from the project in 2020, lawmakers said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday it has reached a staff-level agreement with Rwanda on policies needed to complete the first reviews of Rwanda’s $319 million loan arrangement under the IMF’s new Resilience and Sustainability Facility. – Reuters

Latin America

Mexico’s president asked his Chinese counterpart for help Tuesday in halting chemicals from China used by Mexican drug dealers to illegally produce fentanyl, while also complaining of “rude” U.S. pressure to curb the drug trade. – Associated Press

The new representative of Venezuela’s opposition in the U.S. is urging the Biden administration to relax crippling oil sanctions on Nicolas Maduro’s government or risk seeing the socialist-run country turn into another Cuba with Washington scapegoated for increasing authoritarianism and economic hardships. – Associated Press

Trade talks between the EU and four of South America’s largest economies have hit a fresh hurdle after Brasilia condemned Brussels’ attempts to add environmental commitments to the export deal. – Financial Times

United States

Joseph Bosco writes: The sooner Washington scraps its counter-productive vagueness on defending Taiwan and incorporates Biden’s impromptu pledges as formal declared policy, the sooner the scale of deterrence will tip in Taiwan’s — and the world’s — favor. – The Hill

Brahma Chellaney writes: If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the foundations of the international order, as many in the West believe, a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would usher in a new global order by ending America’s global preeminence and undermining the U.S.-led alliance system. It would change the trajectory of the 21st century in the way that World War I transformed the 20th. – The Hill

Tim Sweijs and Michael J. Mazarr write: The United States may be rushing into an overly narrow conception of geopolitics, obsessed with China and (to a lesser degree) Russia, treating a vital set of middle powers as necessary adjuncts to those rivalries rather than as strategic actors in their own right. The emerging system is likely to end up not so much as two great magnets pulling the world into a binary system, but rather as one with multiple great-power gravitational centers operating amid an increasingly influential, self-confident, and independent set of middle powers. Such a world will be governed by a different dominant-system dynamic than that of the Cold War. – War on the Rocks


More than a dozen international law enforcement agencies took down a notorious cybercrime marketplace on Tuesday, shuttering an illicit website called the Genesis Market known for selling compromised credentials and biometric data for digital fraudsters to carry out attacks or commit identity theft. – CyberScoop

Britain’s data watchdog fined the social media giant TikTok 12.7 million pounds, or roughly $15.9 million, on Tuesday for allegedly collecting the data of children under 13 without parental consent. The Information Commissioner’s Office estimated the app allowed up to 1.4 million U.K. children under 13 to use the platform in 2020. The regulator accused TikTok of failing to take the necessary steps to verify user identity and remove children under 13 from the platform. – CyberScoop

A state-backed group believed to be operating out of the Palestinian territories targeted local organizations in a campaign that began in September 2022 and lasted until at least February 2023. – The Record

As the role of cyber operations in international statecraft continues to grow, the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Force (NCF) has published a paper arguing that its activities are fundamentally different from those of its adversaries. – The Record


The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are nearing agreement on the requirements and cost of the Landing Ship Medium program, formerly called the Light Amphibious Warship, after the services previously diverged in their visions for this program, officials said. – Defense News

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program could have its first, limited, five-year performance-based logistics contract by the end of the year. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy will expand its work with unmanned and artificial intelligence tools into U.S. 4th Fleet, following the success of Task Force 59 in the Middle East. – Defense News

The U.S Army plans to spend roughly the next two years finalizing key decisions on what its future formational design will look like in the 2040s, the service’s four-star general in charge of modernization and requirements said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium last week. – Defense News

Gordon G. Chang writes: Even in the absence of a war in East Asia, the U.S. Navy is already stretched thin. Unfortunately, the Navy cannot just unilaterally reduce its missions to fit diminished capabilities. The world is becoming ever more complex and dangerous, and the only answer, as Fanell argues, is to build more ships and build them faster than the Biden administration and Congress are now contemplating. – Newsweek