Fdd's overnight brief

April 7, 2023

In The News


Azerbaijan on Thursday said it was expelling four Iranian diplomats over “provocative actions” in the latest deterioration of relations between the neighbours, in part due to Baku’s improving relations with Tehran’s arch-enemy Israel. – Reuters

Iran’s two-ship surface action group was spotted this week in port in Cape Town, South Africa, after failing to transit the Panama Canal, according to satellite images provided to USNI News by Maxar. – USNI News

As Washington denizens look toward the Middle East and see China brokering diplomatic deals between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the surprising general response has been: One less thing for us to worry about. – Politico

Editorial: In addition, by helping Western partners draw attention to the Iranian drone threat, Israel will be both supporting the West’s stance on Ukraine – without directly involving itself in that conflict – and illustrating to our partners how the Iranian threat proliferates globally when it is not contained locally. Western countries need to understand that the threat posed by Iran affects them, too. They are starting to come to that realization; Israel should help. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It remains to be seen whether Iran will choose to continue to push the diplomatic angle, or if it will push its proxies to escalate against Israel. At the moment, it has shown a preference to risk an escalation. – Jerusalem Post

Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi write: Contrary to what the isolationists say, the United States withdrawing from the Middle East won’t make problems disappear; it will in fact further undermine international security by empowering and enabling the very forces that are intent on challenging the liberal world order. The Biden administration has demonstrated with Ukraine how it can build and maintain coalitions of support with great skill. It now needs to do the same in the Middle East. – Foreign Policy

Roya Hakakian writes: The unprecedented calls for change within Iran present the United States with a historic opportunity. For years, many Americans have believed that the U.S. robbed Iran of a democratic future by supporting its last monarch, the Shah. […]The Iranians’ demand for the rule of law creates a space for America to act as no other global leader can: by hearing and answering the call of people for freedom. – The Atlantic

Russia & Ukraine

U.S. efforts to gain consular access to Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter detained by Russian authorities last week, remain unsuccessful, the White House said. Moscow has accused the 31-year-old of espionage, a charge that Washington and his employer have repeatedly rejected. “We need to get consular access to Evan,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Thursday, adding that the issue was being continually brought up through the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. – Washington Post

French President Emmanuel Macron sought to enlist Chinese leader Xi Jinping in efforts to persuade Russia to stop its war in Ukraine, inviting a U.S. rival that sees itself as an increasingly vital part of global diplomacy to play a more prominent role in ending the conflict. – Wall Street Journal

A Moscow court said Thursday that it would hear an appeal from the lawyers of Evan Gershkovich, the jailed Wall Street Journal reporter who was detained last week and accused of spying. – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine stepped up strikes on a Russian-occupied city in southern Ukraine that sits along a critical supply line to Crimea and is a potential prime target for Ukraine’s planned spring offensive. – Wall Street Journal

Classified war documents detailing secret American and NATO plans for building up the Ukrainian military ahead of a planned offensive against Russia were posted this week on social media channels, senior Biden administration officials said. – New York Times

Seven civilians were reported killed by Ukrainian artillery strikes in Russian-controlled areas as the battle for Bakhmut, the devastated eastern city that has become a symbol of Kyiv’s defiance of Russia, raged with no end in sight. – Reuters 

The Kremlin on Wednesday defended its decision to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, rejecting criticism of the move by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. – Reuters

China’s policy on Ukraine can be summed up in one sentence – “promote peace and dialogue”, state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying on Thursday, adding that the top priority is to encourage a ceasefire and to end the war. – Reuters

A top Ukrainian official ruled out talks with Moscow on Thursday about territory until it withdraws all troops, pushing back on a colleague who had touted the idea of negotiations to resolve the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula. – Reuters

China is ready to work together with France on obtaining a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine, a French diplomatic source said on Thursday after President Emmanuel Macron held talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. – Reuters

Russia has seized the west bank of the Bakhmutka River, endangering a key Ukraine supply route, in its push to regain control of the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut, the British defence ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Russia continues to attack Bakhmut and Avdiivka, but Russian attacks may come to a halt shortly. Ukraine is preparing a counteroffensive. What is the situation and what is needed? The overall intensity of fighting decreased in recent weeks. Russia continues to attack Bakhmut and Avdiivka. In the northeast near Svatove-Kupiansk and Kreminna-Lyman, and in the south near Vuhledar, there is currently little activity from either side. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Andrei Kolesnikov writes: Recognizing this fact offers little comfort to those hoping for a resolution to the war. But when a train has no brakes, it may crash into a wall. It might also simply run out of fuel and grind to a halt. For now, it is full steam ahead—to nowhere, because no one knows where it is going. That includes the driver. – Foreign Affairs


Israel conducted airstrikes in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip against Palestinian militant groups that it said had fired dozens of rockets from Lebanon into Israeli territory in a rare escalation. – Wall Street Journal 

The Israeli military carried out airstrikes on Lebanon early Friday and continued its attacks on the Gaza Strip, after a rare barrage of rockets was fired from south Lebanon toward northern Israel, raising the specter of a broader regional conflict after Israeli police raids on one of Islam’s holiest sites. – Washington Post

With a barrage of rockets from Lebanon hitting northern Israel on Thursday, it is apparent that an Iran-backed front is intent on escalating aggression. The largest such attack since 2006 followed a smaller salvo from Gaza a day earlier, and occurred as Hamas leaders were at Beirut. – New York Sun

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is urging calm after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted strikes against southern Lebanon in response to a cross-border rocket barrage in the midst of a worsening series of escalations in the region. – Newsweek

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are readying for potential unrest on all of the country’s borders amid a wave of violence spurred by the recent Israeli storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and a large barrage of rockets fired from across the Lebanese border. – Newsweek

An IDF soldier was injured in a shooting attack on Thursday evening near Jerusalem, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. – Jerusalem Post

The United States said Thursday evening that Israel had the right to defend itself after barrages of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza. – Times of Israel

Police arrested over 20 people, including some minors, in Arab-majority towns in northern Israel and East Jerusalem early Friday morning, amid simmering unrest in Arab communities against a background of violence in the capital and rocket barrages from Lebanon blamed on Gaza-based Palestinian terror group Hamas. – Times of Israel

Ron Ben-Yishai writes: Israel is no longer willing to let its deterrence erode, but two factors will likely shape the decision: avoiding a major confrontation with Hezbollah and preventing a conflict with Palestinian organizations during the holiday season when many Israelis are vacationing in the north. – Ynet

Bernard Avishai writes: Indeed, America’s democratic defenders may have an advantage that Israelis do not yet have. I noted earlier that Israel, like America, has a sizable minority that sees itself as just a latter-day beneficiary, if at all, of the country’s democratic norms. But African Americans nevertheless vote in large numbers in crucial elections and, rightly, see themselves as an indispensable constituent of democratic politics. – Politico


Chinese military researchers are calling for the rapid deployment of a national satellite network project to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink, over concerns that Elon Musk’s internet-beaming satellites pose a major national security threat to Beijing following their successful use in the Ukraine war. – Washington Post

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will visit China next week, continuing a flurry of trips to Beijing by senior European officials. – Reuters

Large delegations of Chinese city and business officials have made hundreds of trips to Asia and Europe since December, seeking to drum up foreign investment as local governments scramble to hit growth and employment targets. – Reuters

The World Health Organization said Thursday it was sure  China had far more data that could shed light on the origins of Covid, demanding  Beijing immediately share all relevant information. – Agence France-Presse

Scott Kennedy and Wang Jisi write: It is difficult to muster much optimism that Washington and Beijing will take these steps. For the foreseeable future, relations are most likely to continue deteriorating. And it would be naive to believe that renewed communication would necessarily yield increased mutual appreciation or respect; indeed, more knowledge could also reinforce negative views and add to tensions. – Foreign Affairs


NATO countries are divided over what kind of political reassurances they might give Ukraine at the next NATO summit meeting, in mid-July, with the United States, Germany and France resisting pressure from Central and Eastern European allies to provide any detailed “road map” toward membership, Western officials said following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers this week. – New York Times

The Defense Department wants to take full advantage of the authorities Congress recently granted to transfer arms to Taiwan, but first it needs the lawmakers who control the purse strings to follow through with hard cash. – Defense News

U.S. Navy cyber leaders want cloud capabilities that can withstand jarring jumps online and offline without losing information in the process, as seamless connectivity and access to applications are sought in even the most remote environments. – Defense News


The White House said Thursday that it now prioritizes the early evacuation of Americans during security crises overseas, offering a tacit admission of fault two years ago in Afghanistan as the Biden administration provided Congress with long-awaited internal assessments of its chaotic response to Kabul’s impending collapse. – Washington Post

The United Nations said the 3,330 Afghan men and women it employs stayed home for a second day Thursday to protest the Taliban’s ban on U.N. female staff working in the country as it continued to press for the decision to be reversed. – Associated Press

“More could and should have been done” by the State Department to prepare for a worst-case scenario in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his staff Thursday, stating that the agency he leads wasn’t fully primed for the swift fall of Kabul and the Afghan government. – Politico

Editorial: Mr. Biden’s approval rating sank into the red after the catastrophe in Kabul and has never fully recovered, and voters understand whose decisions drove the horrible images they saw on the news. Mr. Biden’s report trumpets his “deliberate, intensive, rigorous and inclusive decision-making process” in Afghanistan. That makes it all worse because it underscores that the problem was the final decision—that is, Joe Biden’s awful judgment. – Wall Street Journal

Gulf States

When Iraqi and Kurdish officials met in Baghdad this week over a long-running dispute that has halted oil exports from Iraq’s semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, insiders said the presence of international executives underscored a new resolve. – Reuters

Two Russian vessels left Jeddah on Thursday after making the first port call by the Russian navy in a Saudi port for a decade, Russian officials said. – Agence France-Presse

CIA Director William Burns held talks in Saudi Arabia with his counterparts and national leaders to reaffirm intelligence cooperation, a U.S. official said on Thursday, as the kingdom and its arch-rival Iran renew ties in a China-brokered deal. – Reuters

Jason Bordoff and Karen E. Young write: The recent detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia at the hands of Chinese diplomacy is evidence that regional risks—combined with concerns about great power rivalry and the United States’ perceived retreat from the Middle East—have heightened worries in the Gulf about potential conflict and instability. […]Eventually, oil demand will begin to decline, the United States will restock its SPR, and non-OPEC sources of oil will grow. But until that time, this week’s surprise cut is a reminder that reports of OPEC’s demise, particularly Saudi Arabia’s as the key swing producer with extra supply, remain premature. – Foreign Policy

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied gave his clearest rejection yet of the terms of a stalled $1.9 billion IMF bailout package when he said on Thursday he would not accept “diktats” and suggested that subsidy cuts could lead to unrest. – Reuters 

Canada’s government on Thursday repatriated 14 Canadians – four women and 10 children – from detention camps in northeast Syria where foreigners who had allegedly been affiliated with Islamic State have been held. – Reuters

China supports countries in the Middle East in upholding their strategic independence, getting rid of external “interference”, and keeping the region’s future in their own hands, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang said on Thursday. – Reuters

Iraq’s northern oil exports to Turkey have not yet resumed, sources told Reuters on Thursday, leaving several fields shut in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. – Reuters

Egypt has been fighting terror threats in the Sinai peninsula for more than a decade. Today Egypt may have turned a corner on this threat. Reports in Ahram Online in Egypt and Al-Ain media in the UAE portray Egypt as having “freed” Sinai from terrorism.  – Jerusalem Post

As Israel staves off rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon’s border in an apparent response to the escalation in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque — Islam’s third holiest site — a Hamas delegation led by the head of the movement’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Beirut on Wednesday. – Al-Monitor

The United States on Thursday said it was concerned about Israeli police attacks on a mosque and holy site in Jerusalem this week, while condemning rocket attacks from Lebanon in apparent response to the raids. – The Hill 

Frederic Wehrey writes: Sensibly applying these improved security measures to Libya when reopening the U.S. embassy—while avoiding quick-fix solutions and grounding U.S. policy in local Libyan realities—is the best way to honor Stevens’s legacy and help Libyans achieve the future they deserve. – Foreign Policy

Louis Dugit-Gros and Sabina Henneberg write: As Ericsson’s 5G bid shows, one of the best ways for the United States and Europe to compete with China is to offer alternatives in sectors where Beijing’s inroads are most problematic. In other cases, Western stakeholders should try to complement Chinese investments and focus on sectors in which they are more competitive, such as the service sector. – Washington Institute

Alexander Langlois writes: Ultimately, Hezbollah carries the most power and influence in Lebanon and can easily dictate not only the presidential outcome but Beirut’s engagement with Damascus. That said, the Lebanese government carries minimal serious influence over regional actions pertaining to Syria given the scale of foreign interference in its internal affairs. For these reasons, Lebanon will likely remain in the shadow of broader regional renormalization efforts tied to the Assad regime while focusing heavily on the Syrian refugee file in the near term—regardless of its support for Amman’s efforts. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

Canada on Thursday said it will deploy a military aircraft to Japan to support implementation of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea. – Reuters 

North Korea accused the U.S. and South Korea of escalating tensions to the brink of nuclear war through their joint military drills, vowing to respond with “offensive action”, state media KCNA reported on Thursday. – Reuters 

The United States, South Korea and Japan expressed deep concern over North Korea’s “malicious” cyber activities to support its weapons programmes, in comments released in a joint statement on Friday. – Reuters 

The US, Japan and South Korea urged countries to repatriate North Korean workers illegally sent abroad to earn cash for Kim Jong Un’s regime, as Pyongyang appears to be easing Covid-based border restrictions that left them in limbo. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Saudi Arabia has told the International Monetary Fund it will provide financing to Pakistan, Pakistani junior finance minister Aisha Ghaus Pasha said on Thursday, a critical step needed to secure IMF funding. – Reuters 

British defence companies are planning to boost tie ups or make new investments in India, amid broader efforts to diversify their supply chains, an industry body said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Arif Rafiq writes: Pakistan must grow past seeking the extraction of geopolitical rents. It should shield itself from emerging geopolitical divides while focusing on domestic economic reform and human development. Pakistan is a large country — the world’s fifth-largest in population. If and once Pakistan puts itself on the path of sustainable growth, visitors will come to it and Pakistani officials won’t have to sit in Washington waiting for a phone call. – Middle East Institute


Following an international tour by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen that highlighted warming U.S. ties, her government cautioned that China’s response could be calibrated to appear low-key but still undercut the island’s security. – Wall Street Journal

China fired off a volley of condemnations on Thursday after Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, met the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, but it held off from the kind of military escalation that threatened a crisis last summer, when Mr. McCarthy’s predecessor visited Taiwan. – New York Times

China said Australia’s “discriminatory” ban on TikTok from all federal government-owned devices harmed the interests of Australian businesses and the public, urging Canberra to treat all firms fairly, a commerce ministry statement said on Friday. – Reuters 

China retaliated for the United States House speaker’s meeting with the Taiwanese president by announcing sanctions Friday against the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and other organizations, adding to strains over the self-ruled island democracy Beijing claims as part of its territory. – Associated Press

Taiwan officials and defence analysts are bracing for intensifying pressure on the “median line” that has for decades helped keep the peace in the Taiwan Strait as China begins inspecting civilian shipping across the waterway. – Reuters

China deployed warships through waters around Taiwan on Thursday as it vowed a “firm and forceful” response to the island’s president meeting US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. – Agence France-Presse

As Beijing warned Thursday of “resolute measures” in response to Wednesday’s meeting between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, a bipartisan group of lawmakers touched town in Taiwan promising to help harden the island against a potential Chinese invasion. – The Hill 

Francis Fukuyama and Nino Evgenidze write: Confronted by enormous protests against the foreign agent law, Georgian Dream has dropped the legislation for now. But it can be reintroduced at any time, and the government has likely calculated that it can slowly wear down the opposition and get its way. Georgian civil society remains ferociously dedicated to a Euro-Atlantic future, and with adequate support from the West, it could help resist further encroachment by Moscow. – Foreign Affairs


A state actor’s involvement in the blast of the Nord Stream pipelines last year is the “absolute main scenario”, though confirming identity will prove difficult, the Swedish prosecutor investigating the attack said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Fast-tracking Moldova’s accession to the European Union could be possible, Poland’s prime minister said on Thursday, as Chisinau seeks to join the bloc amid fears it could be drawn into the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine. – Reuters

Ukraine’s state arms producer said on Thursday it would launch joint production of 125-mm rounds for Soviet-era tanks with Polish arms producer Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ). – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not discuss the placement in Belarus of Russian strategic nuclear weapons – meaning intercontinental ballistic missiles – in talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Interfax agency. – Reuters

Finland said Wednesday that it will purchase Israel’s David’s Sling missile defense system in an initial deal worth some 316 million euros ($344 million,) in an announcement made the day after it joined the NATO military alliance. – Associated Press

Editorial: Perhaps the most telling sign of increasing unease with official neutrality is that the Swiss, the Austrians and even the Irish — who say they are militarily but not politically neutral on the war in Ukraine — have announced sharp increases in defense spending. That suggests a dawning realization that in today’s Europe, upended by Russia’s marauding illegality, neutrality no longer translates into nothing to fear. – Washington Post

Pankaj Mishra writes: Passions demonstrably play a larger role in geopolitics than rational interests and abstract ideas. Putin and Xi are playing shrewdly on the political unconscious of the non-Western world in this new Cold War. The West needs to respond with more than some tired phrases from the old one about democracy and autocracy. – Bloomberg

Ted R. Bromund writes: U.S. politicians like to visit Ireland. Though the Irish lobby in the U.S. is not what it once was, Ireland retains a sentimental significance to a good number of Americans. Sentiment is a fine thing, but it is no reason to rely on mythologies and half-truths about the Good Friday Agreement, or—even worse—on the EU’s destructive desire to sacrifice the Agreement that it pretends to value on the altar of its Customs Union. If that dispute is now indeed in the past, the U.S. should get a move on itself and finish the negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. – Heritage Foundation

The Americas

A U.S. court rejected an appeal by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo to stall his extradition over corruption charges, making it likely that he will be the third former leader to be held in a purpose-built jail in Lima. – Reuters 

Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Thursday ruled they had jurisdiction over a long-running border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, which could determine which country has rights to territory rich in oil and gas. – Reuters 

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry is pinning blame on the United States for the fentanyl crisis following a letter from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asking for Chinese assistance in quelling illicit fentanyl trade. – The Hill

United States

U.S. congressional leaders on Thursday invited South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to address Congress on April 27 during his trip to the United States. – Reuters 

A former U.S. Department of Justice attorney told a jury on Thursday that he simultaneously worked on behalf of hip-hop artist Pras Michel, as part of an illegal foreign influence campaign to persuade the Trump administration to return a dissident to China. – Reuters 

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said on Thursday that he is “not intimidated,” after receiving a letter from the Chinese Embassy warning against his participation in a bipartisan congressional trip to Taiwan. – The Hill 

A year of strained relations between the University of Vermont and its Jewish community has led to the school resolving a federal antisemitism complaint and pledging to do more to protect its Jewish students — including from anti-Zionist rhetoric. – Arutz Sheva