Fdd's overnight brief

August 15, 2023

In The News


A U.S. permanent resident detained in Iran since 2016 has begun a hunger strike in protest of his exclusion from last week’s deal between Washington and Tehran that could eventually result in the release of five Americans jailed in Iran, his son said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran never has and never will seek a temporary or interim nuclear agreement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Iranian media on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran has detained eight suspects related to Sunday’s attack on Shi’ite Muslim shrine in the southern city of Shiraz, the judiciary said on Monday, adding that all were foreigners. – Reuters

Iran’s intelligence ministry arrested nine members of the Baha’i faith on charges of smuggling medicine and financial wrongdoing, state media reported on Monday. – Associated Press

Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced Monday that unfrozen funds from South Korea have been transferred to a European bank. – Iran International

Russia has ceased its gasoline exports to Iran for the past few months, an informed Iranian oil ministry official told Iran International on Monday. – Iran International

Editorial: Biden, seeking reelection, might be about to bring five Americans home. But the way he’s doing it makes it likely that many others will be taken hostage and make it certain that Iran will be able to rev up its global campaign of terror. – Washington Examiner

Eitan Fischberger writes: America’s elected representatives should heed the cautionary tale now unfolding in Britain and introduce legislation to prevent the IRGC and other Iran-backed elements from infiltrating the university system. Freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas doesn’t mean that one of America’s chief geopolitical adversaries, which also happens to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism worldwide, should be served America’s youth on a silver platter for indoctrination into radicalism and terror. – National Review

Russia & Ukraine

The U.S. ambassador to Russia was granted access to jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Monday in the third such visit since his detention in March. – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine’s military registered an advance in the southeast and a successful raid over the Dnipro River in the south that snagged a high-level Russian officer, a boost to its slow-moving counteroffensive. – Wall Street Journal

The Russian military’s decision to fire warning shots and board a freighter in the Black Sea this weekend has added a new level of uncertainty to the increasingly intense maritime theater of war, as Moscow, apparently for the first time, made good on its threat to treat Ukraine-bound civilian shipping as potentially hostile. – New York Times

Russia has begun making copies of attack drones it acquired from Iran last year and is using them in combat against Ukrainian forces despite sanctions imposed to cripple the country’s weapons production, according to a report issued Thursday by a weapons research group. – New York Times

The U.S. on Monday announced a $200 million security assistance package for Ukraine, providing Kyiv with another round of munitions and tactical vehicles for use in the fight against Russia. – The Hill

Russia is deploying hypersonic missiles on a new class of nuclear-powered submarines, according to a Russian businessman. Alexei Rakhmanov, the CEO of the Russian-government-owned company United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), told state-run media outlet RIA Novosty that Yasen class nuclear submarines will be outfitted with Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles. – The Hill

Michael Bohnert writes: As the VKS devotes a greater share of its dwindling force to countering those, it will have fewer aircraft left to support Russian ground operations. VKS fighters in the sky will also be less capable, stemming from two years of overuse. This happens even if F-16s fail to score a single air-to-air kill, and an upgraded Ukrainian fighter and air defense threat will score many. – Defense News


Israeli forces killed two Palestinians after a raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Jericho early on Tuesday, medical sources told Reuters. – Reuters

Palestinians on social media claimed on Monday to have downed an Israeli drone in the Gaza Strip. Jerusalem Post

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated that the IDF is in “the worst condition it’s ever been in,” adding that a law that would exempt Haredim from the IDF draft would be a “major blow” to the IDF, during a speech on Monday evening marking the anniversary of the ceasefire ending the Second Lebanon War in 2006. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas, the terror group ruling over the Gaza Strip, organized on Monday a broad “consultative meeting” to discuss local elections in the Palestinian enclave. The meeting was attended by dozens of political and civil figures, to emphasize the importance of the step, according to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news website. – Times of Israel

Nathan Joel writes: Toward the end of 2022, Mark Regev, formerly an adviser to the Israeli prime minister and career diplomat born in Australia, published a somewhat prophetic piece titled, “Are Israeli-Australian ties in danger?” While ties are still strong, Australia should not be distancing itself from a key partner like Israel – and as Buzz reminds Woody, in a turbulent world, “The important thing is that we stick together!” – Jerusalem Post


As a generation of fighters raised in war now finds itself stuck in a country at peace, hundreds of young Taliban soldiers have crossed illegally into Pakistan to battle alongside an insurgent group, according to Taliban members, local leaders and security analysts. – New York Times

The Islamic State group still commands between 5,000 and 7,000 members across its former stronghold in Syria and Iraq and its fighters pose the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan today, U.N. experts said in a report circulated Monday. – Associated Press

Annie Yu Kleiman writes: It doesn’t have to be this way. The U.S. government can make life immeasurably better for tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families. It can grant categorical parole to SIV applicants who are ready for their interviews and fly them to the United States to finish the process in safety. It can dedicate more State Department resources to speeding up SIV applications. And it can establish a permanent SIV program to ensure this doesn’t happen to future allies. The United States must do better. – Washington Post

Talgat Kaliyev writes: During recent talks with the Taliban, Washington representatives confirmed that the United States is open to discussions on economic stability and continued dialogue on counternarcotics. […]The next step should be for the United States to work with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries to reintegrate Afghanistan into the regional economic structures. This will reduce the threat of extremism and terrorism, limit the spread of narcotics, and expand alternative trade routes—objectives that are in the common interest of Central Asia and the United States. – The National Interest


Lebanon has frozen the bank accounts of former central bank governor Riad Salameh and four of his associates, a statement by the Special Investigation Commission said on Monday. – Reuters

Libya’s judicial authorities have formally asked Lebanon to release one of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s sons, held without charges in Lebanon since 2015, because of his deteriorating health, officials said Monday. – Associated Press

Israel fears the United Nations Security Council may limit the power of its peacekeeping force to monitor Hezbollah’s military activity against Israel on the northern border with Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

The U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen will visit the Gulf on Monday “to advance ongoing un-led efforts to expand the truce and launch a comprehensive peace process,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s appointment of its first ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, who will also serve as consul general to Jerusalem, was not coordinated with Israel, and Israeli diplomatic figures are struggling to gauge its implications for the efforts to normalize relations with the kingdom. – Haaretz

As oil-rich Gulf states seek to diversify their military partnerships, they are finding themselves ensnared in the intensifying rivalry for global dominance between the United States and China. One of America’s closest allies in the region, the United Arab Emirates plans to hold its first-ever military drill with China this month, the Chinese defense ministry announced late last month. – CNN

Neville Teller writes: In fact, UN Resolution 2216 does embrace the idea of a democratic federally united Yemen. Backed by a UN peace-keeping force, a lasting political deal would involve the end of the Saudi-led military operation, the active involvement of the Houthis, the integration of the STC, however nominally independent, into a united Yemen, and probably a major financial commitment by Saudi Arabia to fund the rebuilding of the country. Can Grundberg bring about negotiations aimed at a peaceful transition to a political solution for a united Yemen? – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, and the Palestinian president on Monday slammed Israel, saying it was fueling chaos and violence in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as bloodshed surges between Israel and Palestinians. – Associated Press

Walter Russell Mead writes: Nevertheless, the Biden administration’s embrace of the Trump-era vision of Middle East regional security based on Arab-Israeli reconciliation with American support has opened the door to new and perhaps more creative diplomacy in a region that is critical to the global balance of power and world peace. That is a very good thing. – Wall Street Journal

Sam Heller writes: Ideally, no one would have to choose between accountability in Syria and the well-being of Syria’s people. But the reality of the situation means the world must prioritize. Assad is here to stay, and so the broader Middle East is stuck with him. The Arab world’s decision to welcome Damascus in from the cold was therefore as sensible as it was inevitable. Now it is up to Washington and its allies to help Arab states make sure that ordinary Syrians benefit. – Foreign Affairs

Murat Kubilay writes: Turkey has been in an economic depression with a varying trajectory and degree of deterioration since March 2018. Erdoğan’s government has been successful at intervening to keep the economy afloat while postponing the cost of doing so until after the elections. […]Despite the storm clouds on the horizon, the opposition parties are currently offering little alternative, seemingly paralyzed at a time when they could be very influential. Despite some early successes, Turkey’s new economic team faces major challenges and has a long and difficult road ahead of it. – Middle East Institute


Can the Beijing-dominated group known as Brics successfully challenge America’s decades-long dominance of the global economy? In 2001, Goldman Sachs’s chief economist, Jim O’Neill, predicted that as a group Brazil, Russia, India, and China would within a decade surpass the world’s top economies. Next week the group, which was later organized under the acronym Brics, adding South Africa, will meet at Johannesburg for its most-anticipated annual gathering to date. – New York Sun

Editorial: The world knows how China oppresses its own people. What it needs to understand better is that Beijing wants to impose that oppression against anyone who dares to criticize the Communist regime anywhere in the world. – Wall Street Journal

Andreas Kluth writes: By allying himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin, increasingly a global pariah and geopolitical loser, Xi has committed one strategic blunder. By bullying smaller countries from Europe to Southeast Asia, he’s made another. By messing with his own economy, he’s made a third. Xi may yet conclude that he should try a more cooperative approach. If so, it’s in America’s interest to see him humble, not humiliated. Washington should therefore tone it down. – Bloomberg

Michael Singh writes: In addition to pointing out threats, U.S. officials should work with regional partners on initiatives that appeal to them while still tacitly countering Beijing. For example, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the capital to rival Chinese investments in infrastructure and mineral extraction in the developing world and could benefit from Western partnership in this regard. Failing that, they may wind up facilitating Beijing’s strategy by pursuing such opportunities with Chinese partners, which are proffered more readily at present. – Washington Institute

Nicole Robinson and Grace Phillips write: Submarine cable competition between the United States and China has serious implications for today’s information war. If China and the U.S. continue to bid against each other, countries will be forced to choose between their cable networks, forming a “digital Iron Curtain” that splits the internet ecosystem in two. Just like Cold War-era Germany, a boundary line will separate two ideological worlds. This time though, the Berlin Wall will be invisible, and the divide will not be one of peoples, but of information itself. – Heritage Foundation

Michael Rowand writes: News articles and public discussions of international affairs often focus on relationships and personalities. The rapport between leaders and policymakers often makes more engaging reading and discussion than the enduring structural factors that circumscribe those leaders. Questions of deportment and rumors of intrigue and conspiracy have always played a role in diplomacy. Such matters are magnified within an opaque governance system such as that of the People’s Republic of China. But while the drama of Qin’s disappearance and departure makes for good reading, it’s unlikely to shift Beijing’s policy. – Foreign Policy


The United States, Japan and South Korea will launch a series of joint initiatives on technology and defense when the countries’ leaders gather at Camp David this Friday, according to senior U.S. administration officials, amid mounting shared concerns about China. – Reuters

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it has not seen large-scale exercises or any other action by the Chinese military near the island after China condemned a brief U.S. visit by Taiwan Vice President William Lai. – Reuters

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday that an upcoming summit with the leaders of the United States and Japan will set a new milestone in trilateral cooperation in the face of North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. – Reuters

Gerard Baker writes: I continue to believe that U.S. support for Ukraine against Russia isn’t a distraction from our effort to deter China, as some critics argue, but, rather, by inflicting massive military damage on Beijing’s principal ally, a spur for that effort. Yet it is also true that Beijing is watching as U.S. military capacity is depleted by the assistance to Kyiv.Building a network of alliances as a makeweight to China is a good move—this week’s trilateral meeting follows the creation of the Aukus defense pact among the U.S., Australia and the U.K. in 2021. – Wall Street Journal

Andrew Yeo, Mireya Solís, and Hanna Foreman write: For this reason, it is important for the United States to elucidate the goals of collaboration and to clearly articulate what the partnership is not. Security cooperation and contingency planning are not geared to produce collective defense commitments, as is the case with NATO. This message will matter not only to the reception that closer trilateral alignment receives in the region but also to how voters in Japan and South Korea feel about the scope and pace of deepening cooperation. – Foreign Affairs


Britain said its Typhoon fighter jets intercepted two Russian maritime patrol bomber aircraft in international airspace north of Scotland on Monday, within NATO’s northern air policing area. – Reuters

China’s defence minister Li Shangfu will visit Russia and Belarus from Aug. 14-19, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. While in Russia, Li will attend an international security meeting and make a speech there, according to the statement. He will also meet with leaders from Russia’s national defence department. – Reuters

Twenty-two Russian diplomats flew out of the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on Monday, leaving behind a skeleton staff as relations between the two countries deteriorated after Moldova last month ordered Moscow withdraw most of its delegation. – Reuters


The State Department said on Monday that it would be “unwarranted and unjustified” if Niger’s military junta moved forward with its plan to prosecute ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on treason charges over his dealings with foreign leaders and organizations. – Politico

The Biden administration issued a business advisory for South Sudan on Monday, urging U.S. businesses and citizens in the region to undertake “robust due diligence” on corruption and human rights issues or abuses, according to a statement from the State Department. – Reuters

Alex de Waal writes: Africans and Americans alike must face the reality that there are no Africa-only solutions to the layered crises afflicting the Sahel. No one has a simple formula for creating viable states across the African continent. It’s one of the world’s most daunting challenges, and it’s getting harder every year in a warming, growing world. That is the best argument for settling on long-term strategies today. And the first step is acknowledging the scale of the crisis — and the inadequacies of what we have been doing up to now. – New York Times


The suspected Chinese hackers who forged Microsoft customer identities to read the emails of State Department employees also obtained the personal and political emails of Rep. Don Bacon, a moderate Republican from Nebraska on the House Armed Services Committee. – Washington Post

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly warned that the Chinese government would consider destructive or disruptive attacks on American pipelines, railroads and other critical infrastructure if it believed the U.S. would get involved during a potential invasion of Taiwan. – The Record

Chinese authorities have pledged to “publicly disclose a highly secretive global reconnaissance system” operated by the U.S. government following an investigation into the alleged hacking of earthquake monitoring equipment in Wuhan. – The Record


The U.S. Navy on Monday became the third branch of the military to no longer have a Senate-confirmed leader for the first time in history, as a Republican senator continues to block military nominations. – Reuters

U.S. Army network specialists participating in the recent Talisman Sabre exercise in Australia successfully tested an information-sharing system that provided leaders a clearer understanding of their supplies and logistical needs. – Defense News

To ensure soldiers are equipped with the right communication tools, U.S. Army network experts are testing gear in radically different environments and among troops employing specialty tactics. – Defense News