Fdd's overnight brief

August 8, 2023

In The News


The US sailors and Marines entered the Red Sea on Sunday after transiting through the Suez Canal in a pre-announced deployment, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in a statement. – Agence France-Presse

Japan expressed concern on Monday over Iran’s advancing uranium enrichment program and the Middle East country’s suspected supplying of combat drones to Moscow for Russia’s war on Ukraine. – Associated Press

Five people have been killed after several buildings collapsed in Southern Iran on Sunday, according to the Iranian state-run news agency, Tasnim. – Jerusalem PostAttorney Ofer Bartel, a former candidate for the Supreme Court, claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an “Iranian spy” during an interview with Channel 12 News this evening (Monday). – Arutz Sheva

Russia & Ukraine

Ukrainian security officials said Monday they had arrested a Ukrainian woman on suspicion of aiding Russia’s intelligence services, including involvement in an assassination attempt on President Volodymyr Zelensky last month. – Washington Post

Despite heavy sanctions intended to isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine, dozens of Russians connected to President Vladimir Putin or the Russian military are still welcome in European Union countries, drawing criticism from politicians and antiwar activists. – Washington Post

Russian forces shelled a small city in eastern Ukraine twice in quick succession on Monday evening, killing at least five people, including an emergency worker who was responding to the first attack, Ukrainian officials said. – New York Times

The foreign ministers of China and Russia conferred by phone on Monday, after Beijing participated in weekend talks in Saudi Arabia aimed at ending the war in Ukraine that did not include Moscow. During the call, Mr. Wang told Mr. Lavrov that China would “uphold an independent and impartial stance” on Ukraine, “actively promote” peace talks and seek a political solution to the conflict “on any multilateral occasion,” the Chinese statement said. – New York Times

Ukraine’s new brigades, trained and equipped according to NATO standards, have a different look and feel from many other Ukrainian units. These marines now carry American M4 assault rifles and drive Humvees, which they repainted, changing the desert brown of the vehicles so often seen in Afghanistan and Iraq to a deep green for better cover in Ukraine’s lush countryside. – New York Times

Russia will launch its first lunar landing spacecraft in 47 years on Friday in a race with India to the south pole of the moon, a potential source of water to support a future human presence there. – Reuters

A senior Ukrainian official said on Monday that the weekend’s talks in Saudi Arabia about the war in Ukraine dealt a “huge blow” to Russia, and that the participants agreed to hold another meeting of political advisers within about six weeks. – Reuters

President Joe Biden’s administration will announce $200 million of new weapons aid for Ukraine as soon as Tuesday, U.S. officials told Reuters, as it begins to dole out $6.2 billion of funds discovered after a Pentagon accounting error over-valued billions of Ukraine aid, two U.S. officials said on Monday. – Reuters

A Russian court has frozen about $36mn worth of Goldman Sachs’ assets in the country after state-owned bank Otkritie, which is under western sanctions, filed a lawsuit against the US bank. – Financial Times

Editorial: Kyiv’s allies are wise to remember not only the war’s daunting strategic stakes but also the very real, very bloody consequences that would result from the retreat of Ukrainian forces, let alone their defeat. The war is not only about lines on a map, or Mr. Putin’s wish to reassemble the component parts of the Soviet Union, or the quantity of artillery shells and funds expended in the effort to ensure that he fails. It is also about one country’s bloody-minded attempt to subjugate and subsume another. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: Some in state-aligned media suggest it’s because Putin is using Prigozhin and Wagner to train Belorussian forces to support a new southern offensive against the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Wagner forces have now relocated to Belarus and are threatening neighboring NATO member state, Poland. Still, I suspect that the reason Prigozhin is able to operate so freely has far less to do with some grand Ukraine war strategy on Putin’s part. Instead, it’s likely for the far simpler reason that Putin believes any new move against his former chef would provoke a new coup attempt against his rule. – Washington Examiner

Tatiana Stanovaya writes: If previously, domestic affairs were secondary to the dominant military agenda, the reverse may come true. The war could become a backdrop to more urgent domestic challenges. At home, Russia’s future appears bleak, marked by ever-greater fractiousness among elites, Putin’s shrinking influence, and a more ideological and stricter regime in which security services play a more prominent role. These changes will make Russia’s geopolitical actions less predictable, and even contradictory, as the Kremlin reacts to shifting circumstances instead of following its own strategic direction and priorities. – Foreign Affairs


Security forces in the Gaza Strip prevented protesters from holding rallies across the territory on Monday, quelling a rare expression of dissent against Hamas, the authoritarian Islamist group that controls the territory. – New York Times

Israel plans to ease travel for Palestinian Americans from the blockaded Gaza Strip next month as part of preparations for Israelis to be able to enter the United States without visas, an Israeli official said on Monday. – Reuters

A Palestinian teenager who was shot by Israeli troops last week after throwing a firebomb in the occupied West Bank died Monday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. – Associated Press

Investors are unconvinced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to scale back a judicial system overhaul that has triggered months of nationwide protests and threatened to weaken the economy. – Bloomberg

The Israel army demolished the home of a Palestinian gunman early Tuesday morning in the Askar refugee camp in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, according to the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson. – Haaretz

Editorial: The goal the government seeks to achieve through its legal overhaul is dismantling democracy. Netanyahu is doing this to extricate himself from his criminal trial, and in the process, he has sold the country to racists, nationalists and draft-dodgers. This destruction must be halted by expanding and intensifying the protests, and also by recruiting the leaders of the democratic world to make clear to Netanyahu what destroying the justice system’s independence would mean. – Haaretz

Douglas Schoen and Saul Mangel write: By creating friction between the U.S. and Israel, the Biden administration is also sabotaging its own efforts to bring about what would be its crowning foreign policy achievement: securing a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal. Any hostility in the U.S.-Israeli relationship will only dissuade Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Arab country, from making peace with this Israeli government. America’s position in brokering the deal would be much stronger if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman believed that the road to Washington ran through Jerusalem. – The Hill 

Amos Harel writes: The importance of the air force to Israel’s security cannot be overstated. What is occurring now, as a result of Netanyahu’s insistence on continuing with the judicial overhaul despite all the warning signs, is a case of internal attrition unprecedented in its history. The government, which is mainly responsible for this, is watching it unfold and yawning. In the future, we may all weep. – Haaretz

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: So it would seem that the attack in Syria announced Monday would indicate that Israel’s MABAM is still on track for now, but with little in terms of guarantees for the future. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Lazar Berman writes: “There is far more criticism in the Lebanese system toward Hezbollah,” said Mizrahi. “One of Hezbollah’s interests is to show that they are still relevant in the conflict with Israel, that they are still operating as the Defender of Lebanon.” “The resistance card is not a bad one to play,” she added, “as long as it doesn’t slip out of their hands.” – Times of Israel

Bekir Aydogan writes: Given Baghdad’s increased encirclement of the KRI, the alarming current level of disagreement between the KDP and PUK perhaps necessitates a more comprehensive and serious agreement such as the Washington Agreement of 1998. Otherwise, the rift between the political parties may widen, causing the KRI to become more divided internally, more dependent on Baghdad, and more open to influence seeking to undermine its status. – Washington Institute 

Robert D. Kaplan writes: The United States and China have no colonies or mandated territories. They do not rule people beyond their own borders. But they do have imperial interests. And at this historic juncture, those interests require stability, not war, especially as China’s investments are integrating it more deeply into the internal workings of Middle Eastern economies. The recent Chinese-brokered deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to reestablish formal bilateral relations, and the Biden administration’s public response to it, indicate how empire, or rather a loose version of it, may yet help stabilize the Middle East. – Foreign Affairs


On the surface, No Cold War is a loose collective run mostly by American and British activists who say the West’s rhetoric against China has distracted from issues like climate change and racial injustice. In fact, a New York Times investigation found, it is part of a lavishly funded influence campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda. At the center is a charismatic American millionaire, Neville Roy Singham, who is known as a socialist benefactor of far-left causes. – New York Times

As Xi Jinping has entrenched his hold on power in China, he has likened himself to a physician, eradicating the toxins of corruption and disloyalty that threaten the rule of the Communist Party. And his signature project for over a decade has been bringing to heel the once extravagantly corrupt military leadership. – New York Times

China’s imports from Russia dropped in July, the first monthly decline since February 2021 when imports of oil and other goods began steadily rising after the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, Chinese customs data showed on Tuesday. – Reuters 

Hong Kong government said Monday it was seeking to appeal against the court’s refusal to ban a popular protest song at its request, renewing worries over further erosion of freedom of expression in the city. – Associated Press

A top executive at HSBC has apologized after reportedly calling the UK government “weak” over its dealings with China, in another sign of the political tightrope the British bank has to walk. – CNN

Sales of cross-border debt denominated in renminbi have boomed this year, as relatively low yields in China’s bond market boost Beijing’s drive to increase the international footprint of its currency. – Financial Times

The Communist Party leader’s musings on everything from the economy to space missions have long been required reading within the party and China’s government. But with Xi Jinping now months into a precedent-breaking third term — and with no limits on how many more he can serve — study sessions on his ideology have also become mandatory for staff at many state-owned and private-sector companies. – Bloomberg

South Asia

India in recent months has barred domestic manufacturers of military drones from using components made in China over concerns about security vulnerabilities, according to four defence and industry officials and documents reviewed by Reuters. – Reuters

Pakistan’s Imran Khan and his lawyer met Monday at a high-security prison where the former prime minister is being held following his sentencing, to plan how to challenge the graft case that landed him behind bars more than a year after he was ousted from power. – Associated Press

Pakistan will buy more electricity from neighbouring Iran, a finance ministry statement said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Let Trade Run Free. Tie your currency to the US dollar. Align your foreign policy with America’s. The US and its Western partners wrote these economic rules, a cornerstone of the world order prevailing since World War II. Now developing countries, often called the Global South, are quietly revising them. – Bloomberg

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 marked the start of retired Green Beret John Paluska’s fight to keep his Afghan brother in arms, Habib, from facing a gruesome death at the hands of the Taliban. After Habib found temporary reprieve by getting himself to Turkey, Paluska flew to Istanbul to find his friend a pathway to safety in the U.S. Unfortunately, he found that Habib’s journey to freedom is far from over. – Fox News


In the fall of 2020, the National Security Agency made an alarming discovery: Chinese military hackers had compromised classified defense networks of the United States’ most important strategic ally in East Asia. Cyberspies from the People’s Liberation Army had wormed their way into Japan’s most sensitive computer systems. – Washington Post

U.S. President Joe Biden signed legislation on Monday implementing the U.S. and Taiwan’s “21st Century” trade initiative and issued a statement saying certain sections of the law “raise constitutional concerns.” – Reuters

Former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday that a tougher security environment in the Taiwan Strait means Japan, the United States and others need to show strong resolve to come to Taiwan’s defence if it were attacked. – Reuters

Japan has not confirmed that secret information was leaked through a cyberattack, following a report from the Washington Post that China hacked the country’s sensitive defense networks. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Well, it’s critical that the international community continue to reinforce the Philippines’s rights. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week set a strong example here. But it’s now crucial that other leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who claims to prize Pacific stability, now follow suit. Xi Jinping must understand that any benefits from escalation will meet collective international reprisals. And thus that the costs of his aggression will far outweigh any benefits born of his deluded imperial grandeur. – Washington Examiner


Belarus began military exercises Monday near its border with Poland and Lithuania, a move coming with tensions already heightened with the two NATO members over Russia-linked Wagner mercenaries moving to Belarus after their short-lived mutiny in Russia. – Associated Press

Imports from China to the EU, including of sensitive technology and critical minerals, have increased in recent years, despite lawmakers’ attempts to “de-risk” economic links amid deteriorating diplomatic relations with Beijing. – Financial Times

Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz is under mounting pressure to provide cruise missiles to Ukraine to bolster its struggling counteroffensive against Russian forces. – Financial Times

Alexander B. Gray writes: Many on both sides of the Atlantic are rightly celebrating NATO’s success in rallying to resist Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, as well as in the accession of Sweden and Finland. Yet there remains much work to be done in securing the alliance’s northern flank and providing the security umbrella envisioned by the North Atlantic Treaty. With NATO’s 75th anniversary approaching next year, now is an opportune moment to reorganize to meet today’s threats. – Foreign Policy


A top State Department official held what she described as “difficult” talks in the West African country of Niger on Monday in a bid to start negotiations with the military junta that last month deposed the elected president, a key U.S. ally in the region. – Washington Post

West African leaders scheduled a summit for Thursday to discuss the Niger junta’s rejection of an ultimatum to reinstate the ousted president, as the United States sent a top official to Niamey to push for a return to democracy. – Reuters

Mali’s troops and its foreign security partners, believed to be Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, are using violence against women and other “grave human rights abuses” to spread terror, U.N. sanctions monitors said in a report seen by Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

A senior U.S. diplomat said coup leaders in Niger refused to allow her to meet Monday with the West African country’s democratically elected president, whom she described as under “virtual house arrest.” – Associated Press

Ethiopia’s federal government says it lost control of some districts and towns to militia fighters in the country’s Amhara region during the latest conflict emerging in Africa’s second most populous nation. Residents reported heavy gunfire and military aircraft overhead in some areas. – Associated Press

Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers report that during compulsory national service they experienced torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor and abusive conditions, a U.N. independent investigator on human rights said in a report circulated Monday. – Associated Press

A planned announcement on the expansion of BRICS at a summit in Johannesburg later this month isn’t aimed at countering the West, which remains a crucial trading partner for South Africa, an official said. – Bloomberg

The Central African Republic voted to abolish term limits in a July 29 constitutional referendum, which may result in President Faustin-Archange Touadera seeking reelection in 2025. – Bloomberg

Zineb Riboua writes: This experience has taught Mr. Putin an important lesson. Though his forces are no match for the American military, they’re stronger than those of other countries. Without U.S. attention, even a relatively small deployment of Russian troops can shift the balance of power in the region. The risk, then, is that Russia will emulate its Syria tactics in Africa. Moscow’s influence on the Continent has already positioned it to control the flow of energy, African migrants and valuable minerals to Europe. Wagner’s presence, moreover, has begun to hinder NATO members’ counterterrorism operations in Mali and elsewhere. – Wall Street Journal

Andreas Kluth writes: Politics must once again stop at the water’s edge. As Putin and Xi see it, we’re already in the next world war, even if nobody’s declared it yet or started shooting directly at the other side. The US, Europe and the wider West must support Africa — and indeed the whole Global South — not just now, but from now on. We have to make it easier for the world not just to stare down juntas, but to resist the dark side in geopolitics. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Panama’s top immigration official lashed out at Colombia on Sunday, saying it is not helping to slow the record flow of migrants through the dangerous jungle of the Darien Gap. – Associated Press

Tensions escalated in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Monday, as thousands of protesters took to the streets to speak out against the country’s devastating gang violence, which resulted last week in the death of a police officer. – Reuters

Mexico’s Guerrero state, which hosts tourist hotspot Acapulco, is seeing an increasing wave of political killings as criminal groups appear to fight for control, the latest case of violence hurting the Latin American country ahead of general elections next year. – Bloomberg

United States

The U.S. Justice Department is cooperating with the International Criminal Court and supporting Ukrainian prosecutors carrying out war crime investigation s, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday as he reaffirmed his department’s aid more than a year after the Russian invasion. – Associated Press

Former Vice President Mike Pence has qualified to make the stage at the first Republican presidential primary debate, his campaign confirmed Monday night. – The Hill

Walter Russell Mead writes: To give credit where it is due, the administration has taken some smart steps as it gradually grasped the gravity of the situation. It walked back the foolish policy of alienating Saudi Arabia and began to rethink its posture in the Middle East. It embraced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is engaging in the Sahel. It continues to support Ukraine even if moving too slowly on weapons like F-16s. But there is one vital thing it is still failing to do. […]Mr. Biden, backed by responsible leaders in both parties, needs to alert the country to the very real dangers we face around the world.- Wall Street Journal 

Harlan Ullman writes: But the question that Oppenheimer posed about weapons threatening humanity is more relevant today. Unlike the Cold War, China no longer believes, as Mao did, that “to have a few [atom bombs] is just fine.” Along with the U.S. and Russia, there could be three nuclear superpowers.Britain, France, India, Pakistan and North Korea likewise are nuclear-armed as is Israel, which still has not confirmed its status. A number of states could go nuclear, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and, to the dismay of the U.S. among others, Iran. What can be done to prevent armageddon? That may be the looming strategic question of the coming decades. – The Hill


An elite group of North Korean hackers secretly breached computer networks at a major Russian missile developer for at least five months last year, according to technical evidence reviewed by Reuters and analysis by security researchers. – Reuters

Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak was hacked overnight between Monday and Tuesday, the Health Ministry and Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) announced Tuesday morning. – Jerusalem Post

Chris Krebs writes: It’s clear that our reliance on technology is accelerating at a pace that surpasses our ability to intervene. More government isn’t the answer. Smarter regulation can be achieved by reducing overlapping, conflicting and counterproductive regulatory programmes. We must think about grander solutions rather than nonstop incremental adjustments. Perhaps the SEC has done us a favour by overreaching with its new rule. Congress should now reassert itself in order to place national cyber security policy on the right path. – Financial Times

James Andrew Lewis writes: The role cloud computing plays in international relations is not always apparent. Cloud computing is not a fashionable tech concern, and its foundational importance for influence in the emerging digital world is not always recognized. But the nation that builds the global digital infrastructure—in which cloud computing is the backbone—will gain tremendous advantage in shaping the course of the digital future. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The Pentagon has withheld payments of $7 million a piece on the first four F-35s upgraded by Lockheed Martin Corp., with the fighter jets placed in storage until testing shows its software delivers on new capabilities. – Bloomberg

Maj. Gen. Heath Collins spent the last year managing some of the United States’ largest homeland and regional defense programs. Now, he’s poised to lead the Missile Defense Agency, where he would oversee key modernization programs, some of which will overlap with his lengthy background focused on space and satellites. – Defense News

Construction of new U.S. amphibious warships is still on pause despite a small business solicitation indicating the Navy was preparing to enter a multi-year deal for San Antonio-class ships, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

Fabian Villalobos and Joshua Simulcik write: Electric tanks may or may not be part of that future force, but a maneuverable direct fire capability doesn’t have to be a tank or weigh 40 tons. Whether in a near peer fight, an aid mission in an area of destroyed infrastructure, or a deterrence posture, energy-informed leaders backed by a robust supply network will have the flexibility to act as they see fit for longer periods and over longer distances. – The Hill

Zeke Clayson, Frank Spellman, Shiv Patel, and Dan Shen write: Congress should consolidate the regulatory regime for space mission authorization under the Department of Commerce. The primary goal is to foster growth and innovation in the commercial space industry while ensuring all other considerations like safety and spectrum allocation continue to receive proper attention. In this new framework, companies would submit a single application to a single point of contact within the Department of Commerce: the Office of Space Commerce. The processes relevant to continuing supervision, safety, launch and reentry, and spectrum will continue in their current form but under an interagency process led by the Department of Commerce. – War on the Rocks