Fdd's overnight brief

August 31, 2022

In The News


The U.S. Navy stopped an Iranian ship from seizing an American maritime drone in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, in a fresh confrontation that underscored the sharp tensions between Tehran and Washington, U.S. defense officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The return of the Iran nuclear deal could be imminent — and with it, the return of a lot of oil to international crude markets. – CNBC

Last week, the chances that the United States would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal seemed higher than they had been in years. CNN and Reuters reported that Iran had dropped multiple demands in the ongoing negotiations over a new accord that would update the original one reached in 2015. Senior US officials were confident that the new deal would be sealed within days.  – Times of Israel

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi claimed on Monday that Iran could not agree to a nuclear accord with the international community until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN-affiliated nuclear watchdog monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, concluded its investigation into Iranian nuclear safeguards. – The National Interest

The U.S. and European governments’ political sentiment regarding a return to their 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran seems to be trapped in the amber of that joyous hour in Vienna, in July of that year, when they and Iran had finally agreed on, and hailed, the terms of the deal. The current diplomatic quest to revive that agreement overshadows the snares that the Iranians so cleverly left in the text, which have been disregarded by the Western parties to it. Therefore, it is worth taking a look at reservations about a return to the JCPOA that we voiced in April 2021. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Gabriel Noronha writes: Recent Iranian reports indicate the nuclear deal negotiated by the Biden administration would lift over 170 sanctions imposed on Iran by executive order prior to President Biden submitting the deal to Congress. […]To retain its oversight prerogatives, Congress should rapidly codify the existing executive orders on Iran or broaden the scope of INARA to keep them under congressional review. – Jewish Institute for National Security of America

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Either way, it is astonishing that the fate of the world in dealing with Iran 2022-2023 is still very much caught up in the results of a Mossad operation nearly five years ago, which just made it too hard for the West to stick its head in the sand. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: This illustrates how Iran operates with impunity, attacking ships when it wants to. There are no responses to Iran’s harassment. Now Iran tried to steal a US unmanned vessel drone and tow it to Iran. The US wants to roll out more unmanned vessels to conduct patrols in the area from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea. But if Iran thinks it can pick off the drones then this idea of using them may backfire. Either way, Iran shows it can humiliate the US when it sees fit. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman: Iran’s foreign minister went to Moscow just as the news of the drone deliveries broke. Supposedly he is there to help “resolve” the Ukraine crisis. But if Iran is supplying Russia with weapons then it is not helping solve the crisis, it is fueling it. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who embarked on a path of radical reform that brought about the end of the Cold War, reversed the direction of the nuclear arms race and relaxed Communist Party controls in hopes of rescuing the faltering Soviet state but instead propelled it toward collapse, died Aug. 30 in Moscow. He was 91. – Washington Post

World leaders reacted to the death of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, in Moscow at the age of 91 on Tuesday, with Western leaders hailing him for opening up the Soviet Union and creating the conditions for the end of the Cold War. – Washington Post

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors left Kyiv for the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Wednesday, pledging to establish a permanent mission there. – Wall Street Journal

After a crescendo of long-range strikes on Russian military facilities and bridges in the dark of night early Monday, Ukrainian forces launched a southern offensive with attacks along the front lines. – Wall Street Journal

Russia shut down its main artery for natural gas to Europe for maintenance on Wednesday, in what Western governments see as the latest salvo in the Kremlin’s economic war on the continent. – Wall Street Journal

The Ukrainian sergeant slid the captured Russian rocket launcher into the center of a small room. He was pleased. The weapon was practically brand-new. It had been built in 2020, and its thermobaric warhead was deadly against troops and armored vehicles. – New York Times

As international nuclear inspectors head toward Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant, they face a situation that few had ever envisioned: a vast nuclear power plant that could be deliberately turned into a potential dirty bomb, with Russia using it to intimidate its enemy and the world. – New York Times

For his first four years in office, President Ronald Reagan had a tough time forging any kind of relationship with his counterparts in the Soviet Union. “They kept dying on me,” he later explained. It fell to his vice president, George H.W. Bush, to attend the funerals. “You die, I fly” became Bush’s wry motto. – New York Times

The day that Russia invaded Ukraine, Feb. 24, the legacy of Mikhail S. Gorbachev loomed over President Vladimir V. Putin’s predawn speech. – New York Times

Russia’s Gazprom stopped the flow of natural gas through a major pipeline from Russia to Europe early Wednesday, a temporary move to it announced in advance. – Associated Press

Suddenly notorious for a scathing first-person account of the war in Ukraine published online, Russian paratrooper Pavel Filatiev arrived in France seeking political asylum Sunday after quitting his country for fear of reprisals. – Agence France-Presse

ExxonMobil is contesting a presidential decree signed by Vladimir Putin earlier this month that it says has stymied its efforts to exit Russia, setting the stage for a potential legal showdown with Moscow. – Financial Times

Russia will not meet the manpower goals for its new military expansion, and is failing to replenish ranks in units fighting in the Russia-Ukraine War, a senior US defense official said in a Monday Pentagon briefing. – Jerusalem Post

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday as Russia’s invasion of the country drags into its seventh month. – The Hill

President Biden on Tuesday night paid tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev, who died at age 91 earlier that day, referring to the former Russian leader as “a man of remarkable vision.”  – The Hill

Editorial: Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war have rights to humane treatment, access to medical care, and protection from acts of violence, intimidation, insult, public curiosity and reprisal. Soldiers who commit war crimes can be prosecuted and punished, but they can’t be tried merely for participating in combat. Russia is a signatory to the conventions. The kangaroo court in Mariupol is a clear violation, and the latest in a series of broken Russian promises that mark it as global rogue state. – Wall Street Journal

Natan Sharansky writes: In nearly every dictatorship there are dissidents, and from time to time there are also Western leaders willing to risk their political fates to promote human rights abroad. But Gorbachev was a product of the Soviet regime, a member of its ruling elite who believed its ideology and enjoyed its privileges — yet decided to destroy it nevertheless. For that, the world can be grateful. Thank you, Mikhail Gorbachev. – Washington Post

William Taubman writes: One day Russia may resume its tramp toward democracy, and the world may find its way beyond cold war. If and when that happens, Gorbachev will deserve to be hailed as the leader who was present at the creation. – Wall Street Journal

George F. Will writes: The Soviet Union’s brittle husk crumbled as Gorbachev struggled to preserve it. His reputation rests on the world’s amnesia about this: When elevated to general secretary of the Communist Party, Taubman says, Gorbachev claimed to have re-read all 55 volumes of Lenin’s writings, telling a friend, “If you were to read Lenin’s disputes with [the German Marxist Karl] Kautsky, you would understand that they’re far more interesting than a novel.” Of Lenin, the architect of the first totalitarian system, who let loose rivers of blood, Gorbachev said — in 2006 — “I trusted him then and I still do.” – Washington Post

Anton Fedyashin writes: The re-emergence of the vanquished opponent at the forefront of resistance to U.S. hegemony explains the American mainstream media’s “new cold war” narrative. This illusion provides the psychological comfort of a simpler time when two monoliths competed and the United States “won.” […]Indeed, Gorbachev’s call for perestroika in international relations remains more relevant today than ever. Alas, he will not be around to see if it succeeds. – The National Interest


The defense ministers of Japan and Israel shared concerns on Tuesday about growing global tensions from Asia to the Middle East and signed an agreement to step up cooperation in military equipment and technology. – Associated Press

A former deputy prime minister of Italy pledged in an interview published Tuesday to stand by his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should his coalition emerge victorious in upcoming elections. – Algemeiner

Terrorism suspects were arrested in connection to several shooting incidents in the Binyamin Regional Council, including a bus shooting near Silwad, in an operation by Israeli security forces, Ynet reported on Wednesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF published on Tuesday the names of Palestinian civilians who helped facilitate terrorist rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel during the latest round of violence in the Palestinian enclave earlier this month. – Ynet


Retired Gen. Frank McKenzie believes terror groups in Afghanistan have grown, making the United States less safe now than when it departed the Middle Eastern country exactly a year ago. – Washington Examiner

A year ago today, President Biden pulled the final United States soldiers out of Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war. Tens of thousands U.S. allies — Afghans who fought alongside or supported American troops or civilian programs — were left behind. – The Hill

The Taliban declared Wednesday a national holiday and lit up the capital with coloured lights to celebrate the first anniversary of the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan after a brutal 20-year war. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden faced intense criticism for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan but one year later both he and the United States have largely turned the page, even as the war-ravaged country still faces mounting challenges. – Agence France-Presse

Shaharzad Akbar writes: The Taliban’s systematic oppression of women will have devastating implications for generations to come. To change the situation in Afghanistan, activists must go beyond knocking on the same doors and hearing only the same halfhearted statements of support. Meanwhile, if the international community continues its desultory approach to women’s rights in Afghanistan, it will lose its credibility on the issue across the globe. – Foreign Affairs


As Russia’s invasion continues into its sixth month, Moscow has redeployed an S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery from Syria to a Russian port near Crimea. – Jerusalem Post

Shamima Begum, who fled the UK and joined the Islamic State group, was smuggled into Syria by an intelligence agent for Canada. – BBC

Leila Al-Shami writes: Instead, it seems as though Mr. al-Assad is to be allowed to keep trying to make the world believe that the war in Syria is over and that his regime is its legitimate government. If he succeeds, the message to authoritarians elsewhere couldn’t be clearer: The world might not forgive, but wait long enough, the world will forget. – New York Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran also might like to move more assets to Masyaf in northwestern Syria. Airstrikes in that area were reported on August 25. The area has been targeted before by airstrikes, but the overall context is that Iran was targeting US bases in Syria at the same time; so Iran is clearly upping its threats in Syria. – Jerusalem Post


Moqtada al-Sadr, the Islamic cleric whose withdrawal from public life triggered deadly clashes in the Iraqi capital this week, condemned his supporters for attacking security forces and called on them to leave the city’s Green Zone. – Wall Street Journal

The drones that attacked a U.S. military compound in southeast Syria on Aug. 15 were launched by Iranian-backed militants in central Iraq, U.S. officials say, posing a challenge for the White House as it seeks to navigate Baghdad’s tumultuous politics. – Wall Street Journal

Oil traders are weighing the threat that violent political unrest in Iraq could disrupt supplies from OPEC’s second-largest producer, whipsawing prices amid broader concern about the global energy crunch. – Bloomberg

A series of rocket attacks on a gasfield in northern Iraq has sent the U.S. contractors working on its expansion packing, dealing a blow to the Kurdish region’s hopes of boosting its revenues and offering a small alternative to Russian gas. – Reuters

Iran reopened its border with Iraq to travellers on Tuesday shortly after Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his supporters to withdraw from the streets, state media reported. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Iranian militias continue to control swaths of Iraq and extort people and threaten them and also use Iraq to attack the US, Israel and others. For instance, the US assessed that a drone attack on US forces in Syria likely came from Iraq. Iran uses Iraq as a platform to threaten the region. The violence and chaos in Baghdad only help Iran. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a woman to 45 years in prison for social media posts, a rights group said, in the latest example of a crackdown on women activists that followed a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the kingdom. – Reuters

The first vessel carrying grain from Ukraine to conflict-torn Yemen since the war started in Europe departed a Black Sea port on Tuesday, the U.N. food agency said. The move will help ease one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. – Associated Press

David Pollock writes: A new, special public opinion poll in the UAE, commissioned by the Washington institute and conducted July 20-August 11, 2022 by a regional commercial company, reveals that citizens of that Arab state—as in Saudi Arabia next door—currently rank both China and Russia ahead of the United States in perceived importance to their own country. The survey was conducted right after President Biden attended an Arab Gulf summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Just 28% of Emiratis expect his visit to have any positive effects on the region. – Washington Institute

Eleonora Ardemagni writes: However, it is important to also consider the nature of Yemen’s southern separatism: It is historically characterized by deep and often competitive, or even conflictual, regional identities. This could prove a challenge to the UAE-backed forces, even if they end up controlling both the rimland and heartland, as new political-military rifts can always emerge in and between southern regions. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

The U.N. political chief warned Tuesday that failure to resolve Libya’s political crisis and hold delayed elections poses a growing threat in the country, pointing to violent clashes a few days ago that killed at least 42 people and injured 159 others according to Libyan authorities. – Associated Press

Will Israeli gas production at a lucrative eastern Mediterranean natural gas field begin, as was scheduled, in September, or will American mediation between Jerusalem and Hezbollah delay the project?  Negotiations between Israel and the Hezbollah-dominated Lebanese government over the demarcation of a maritime border between the two countries have intensified, and according to Israeli press reports are nearing completion. – New York Sun

The focus of US-negotiated talks to finalize an agreement between Israel and Lebanon has shifted to compensation and gas quantities on each side of the maritime border. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

Less than 20 miles from the fortified border with North Korea, a combined force of South Korean and U.S. troops held a major live-fire exercise on Wednesday with artillery, tanks and other weapons as the allies step up their practice for war. – Reuters

Donald Kirk writes: Taiwan and South Korea must stand fast against Chinese demands. Weakness in the face of bullying will lead to defeat, destroying not only their success as nascent democracies but also their survival as fiercely independent states in a dangerous region. – The Hill

Bruce Klingner writes: Seoul is to be commended for its newfound backbone in dealing with China. It points to greater security for the South Korean people and convergence of vision between the U.S. and South Korea on the greatest strategic challenge facing both countries: China’s expansive geostrategic ambition. – Heritage Foundation


A Communist Party congress that is poised to anoint Xi Jinping as China’s top leader for another five years will open in Beijing on Oct. 16, officials announced on Tuesday. – New York Times

China’s powerful cyberspace regulator has taken the first step in a pioneering—and uncertain—government effort to rein in the automated systems that shape the internet. – Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee will meet with mainland officials Thursday, as pressure mounts on the finance hub to reopen both its international and Chinese borders. – Bloomberg

Ai Weiwei writes: In the interim, there are many things — poetry, art, calligraphy, Daoism, cuisine and more — that “sons and daughters of the Chinese nation” around the world might proudly identify with. It is an odd choice to pin one’s identity to a self-serving and corrupt group that stands atop a brutal historical record. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: But we have long been in a permanent confrontation with Communist China, always on the defensive. Given the consummate failure of Kissinger’s engagement policies and the need to avoid all-out kinetic war, going on the offensive to achieve peaceful regime change in China is the only escape from the world’s dangerous dilemma. An overt and covert information campaign directed at the people of China, with whom America has no quarrel, urgently needs to begin. – The Hill

Henry Sokolski and Thomas D. Grant write: China also could be encouraged to adhere to its 1997 voluntary agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to file annual reports on its civilian plutonium holdings, production and plans. Beijing has not reported since 2017. Other initiatives are possible but only if the surprising, and welcome, consensus between the Trump and Biden administrations on China and the NPT continues and grows.  – The Hill


The Solomon Islands has suspended visits by U.S. and other foreign military vessels, American officials said Tuesday, raising concerns in Washington that the Pacific nation is turning away from engagement with the United States in favor of working with China. – New York Times

Pakistan said Tuesday that it was in talks with Russia over importing wheat, as it struggles to make up for crops and food stocks washed away by massive floods, which have killed more than 1,100 people. – Wall Street Journal

Taiwan said on Wednesday it would exercise its right to self defence and “counter-attack” if Chinese armed forces entered its territory, as Beijing increased military activities near the democratic island. – Reuters

The United States is concerned about India’s plans to participate in joint military exercises with Russia, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The governor of Arizona was due to arrive in Taiwan on Tuesday, the island’s foreign ministry said, the latest in a succession of officials from the United States to visit, defying pressure from China for such trips not to take place. – Reuters

Japan will develop and mass produce a cruise missile and a high-velocity ballistic missile, it said on Wednesday, as it seeks the ability to strike more distant targets as part of a military expansion aimed at meeting threats from China and Russia. – Reuters

Taiwan fired warning shots at a Chinese drone which buzzed an offshore islet on Tuesday shortly after President Tsai Ing-wen said she had ordered Taiwan’s military to take “strong countermeasures” against what she termed Chinese provocations. – Reuters

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Wednesday Papua New Guinea had proposed a security treaty between both countries amid increasing tensions in the Pacific islands after China struck a security pact with neighbouring Solomon Islands. – Reuters

Nearly a dozen Dongfeng ballistic missiles flew over Taiwan earlier this month as China conducted its largest-ever military exercises in the nearby strait as a response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting Taipei. […]The incident prompted U.S. lawmakers to emphasize the need to export as many weapons to Taiwan as possible as part of the so-called porcupine strategy meant to deter China from blockading — or outright invading — the island. U.S. weapons serve as the metaphorical quills in this strategy, but Taiwan is facing a $14 billion backlog in foreign military sales from the United States. – Defense News

Editorial: But Pacific island governments owe it to their citizens to tread carefully as they weigh cooperation with China against alliances with the West. The U.S. is a distractible ally but China can be a ruinous one, especially when payments for its loan-based “investments” come due. Ask Sri Lanka. The Solomons would be wise to think carefully about its friendship with Beijing. – Wall Street Journal


Russia is set to shut its key Nord Stream natural-gas pipeline Wednesday for maintenance, leaving Europe guessing again about whether supplies will restart, as temperatures fall and demand for the fuel grows. – Wall Street Journal

European foreign ministers will assess options for restricting visas for Russians this week amid a sharp divide over whether to stop Russian civilians entering the bloc. – Wall Street Journal

Poland will more than double military spending next year, to as much as 138 billion zloty ($29 billion), in an effort to strengthen its defenses in the face of the war in neighboring Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Eastern EU states bordering Russia have threatened to adopt “national measures” to slash the number of Russian citizens entering their countries and the bloc’s free-travel Schengen zone if the EU fails to agree on a collective approach. – Financial Times

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: For the time being, France and Germany still feel strong enough to resist Warsaw’s challenge to EU treaties.But there is another potential wild card. Victory for the far right in the Italian election on September 25 could see Europe’s fluctuating power dynamics shift still further. – Financial Times

Ana Krstinovska writes: China’s presence in North Macedonia generally fits into the broader pattern of Chinese activities in the Western Balkans and CEE region. One salient difference is that the country remains outside the EU, which provides a more fertile ground for China’s influence for several reasons. […]Such efforts, largely supported by Chinese propaganda and influence operations, have helped to boost North Macedonians’ views of China in recent years. – Center for European Policy Analysis


As Russian mercenaries from the private military group Wagner have been operating in Ukraine, their counterparts in Africa have received little scrutiny and have made civilian populations their primary targets, according to a newly released report on their activities in two of the continent’s most fragile countries. – New York Times

Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 40 civilians in a string of attacks on several villages in east Democratic Republic of Congo between Thursday and Monday, a local human rights group and a hospital worker said Tuesday. – Reuters

Tigrayan rebels said Tuesday they intended to advance further into neighbouring regions of northern Ethiopia but were still open to peace talks after fighting erupted last week and put paid to a five-month-long truce. – Agence France-Presse

Latin America

Progress in relaunching oil major Chevron Corp’s (CVX.N) operations in Venezuela under U.S. sanctions on the country depends on licenses from Washington, Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Editorial: There is broad consensus in Chile that a new constitution is needed. This deeply flawed draft is not the solution. Instructing Congress to appoint a fresh constitutional convention would be a better course. That would be more likely to deliver the future prosperity and fairer society to which Chileans rightly aspire. – Financial Times

Eduardo Porter writes: A good place to start would be for the US to re-engage with its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, offering an alternative to the Chinese opportunity in terms of trade and investment. Latin American countries would seem natural candidates to host some of the value chains that policy makers in the US want to yank away from China. But just as Beijing has greased its relationships by offering to finance investments in infrastructure from Patagonia to the Atacama desert, Washington has to offer real carrots – financing, market access – if it hopes to reshape globalization to its advantage. – Bloomberg

Christopher Sabatini writes: The need to expand diplomatic networks is compounded by the fact that many of the displaced old-school elites maintain ties to diplomats and policymakers in the north. Those connections give them a direct line to shape diplomats’ views of politics in their home countries, an advantage many of the newly elected leaders lack. The result, understandably, is mutual suspicion over interpretations and motives. Foggy Bottom, Ottawa, and Whitehall need to adapt to what is likely to be the political reality in Latin America for the foreseeable future. – Foreign Affairs

United States

Authorities in the Netherlands are “very concerned” about the level of gun violence in the United States, the Dutch defense minister said on Tuesday, after an incident over the weekend in which three Dutch special operations forces were shot in Indianapolis and one died of his injuries. – Washington Post

Jason Rezaian writes: The success of any deterrence effort will also require broad buy-in from nongovernmental seats of influence. To that end, the U.S. government should discourage businesses, sports leagues, the entertainment industry and others from investing in countries that take hostages. Biden has a historic opportunity to tackle this challenge and has committed to doing so. If he chooses not to act boldly, though, it will get much worse. – Washington Post


The U.S Department of Treasury and Israel’s Ministry of Finance finalized the terms of their new bilateral agreement that aims to fortify cyber resilience in both countries’ networks, and further extends an existing tech-centric bilateral agreement. – Defense One

The White House has been conducting classified cybersecurity briefings with executives from select critical infrastructure sectors as part of an ongoing effort to compel industry leaders to invest more in their digital defenses. – CyberScoop

A Chinese-based cyberespionage group targeted Australian officials with reconnaissance malware to siphon off details about the victims hackers could use to execute more targeted strikes, researchers with cybersecurity firm Proofpoint and the PwC Threat Intelligence team said in joint research published Tuesday. – CyberScoop


The U.S. Army has grounded its entire fleet of CH-47 Chinook helicopters because of a risk of engine fires, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

A sweeping study of the U.S. Army’s data and communications network modernization is underway, as the service seeks dominance in increasingly digital-first fights, according to Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo. – Defense News

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will hold a classified meeting at the Pentagon next week to grapple with Russia and China’s possible pursuit of novel space weapons, according to a publicly posted agenda. – Defense News