Fdd's overnight brief

February 2, 2023

In The News


Elite French special forces seized a boatload of Iranian-supplied weapons and ammunition bound for militants in Yemen as part of a deepening effort to contain Tehran, according to officials familiar with the operation. – Wall Street Journal

Four months into Iran’s uprising, protesters are still in the streets. Authorities are still answering with violence and intimidation. – Washington Post

A drone attack on an Iranian military facility over the weekend brought renewed attention to Iran’s development of sophisticated missiles, a program that deeply worries its regional rivals. – New York Times 

The U.N. nuclear watchdog criticised Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant. – Reuters

Iranian pro-government media reported extensively on Wednesday about the Saqr missile, noting that it had been used in Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthi group, as well as in Iraq, to target US forces and also in Syria. This links Iran to all these attacks, without explicitly taking credit for them. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel is targeting the production of Iranian weapons that could be sent to Russia for use against Ukraine, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN in an interview aired on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces has called for expansion of ties with North Korea to confront any move that disrupts global security. – Iran International 

A coalition of progressive activists bankrolled by George Soros, Charles Koch, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are mounting a secret lobbying campaign to revive the Iran nuclear deal by tying it to the Iranian human rights movement, according to internal correspondence obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. – The Washington Free Beacon

Jason Rezaian writes: And writing them off as an “internal matter,” no matter how gruesome, leads to misunderstanding the regime perpetuating these monstrosities. Wanton murderous repression is the tool of a government so terrified of its own people that it must terrify them in turn. Such a paranoid regime knows no limits. And as we are already seeing, a repressive regime such as Iran’s will with time turn its violence abroad. – Washington Post

Michael Eisenstadt writes: As an example of innovation in the conduct of large, complex, combined exercises, Juniper Oak represents a break from this past. Hopefully, it will also stimulate other forms of experimentation by the Defense Department and CENTCOM that will enable policymakers to test and shed outdated or erroneous conceptions, and permit the kind of managed risk-taking and operational learning that may produce a more successful Iran policy. – Washington Institute

Ben Dubow writes: The continuing protests since the murder of the Kurdish blogger Mahsa Amini in September represent the most serious challenge to the regime’s legitimacy yet. Legitimacy, in its most basic form, is an idea, and a regime’s continued existence relies on its ability to replicate that idea in its population. If that is now failing, the Ayatollah cannot simply blame an American-Saudi-Israeli-ISIS conspiracy; it has ultimately been his own choice to ignore this basic principle. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Abdolrasool Divsallar writes: In this changed security environment, last Saturday’s attack on the Iranian arms production facility may implicitly reflect a shared desire gradually emerging among the Western powers to show a collective willingness and readiness to use preemptive force to stop Iran’s nuclear program if diplomacy fails. While Israel has, time and again, proven its capability and capacity to carry out such operations alone, the apparent broader international consensus in support of this approach is novel — something Tehran should surely note. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

The next batch of U.S. military aid for Ukraine that could be announced as soon as Friday is expected to include longer-range smart bombs for the first time, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal

Russian forces claimed new advances in their effort to encircle the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, while European leaders arrived in Kyiv to discuss further military aid. – Wall Street Journal

A new surge of increasingly elaborate weapons from Western countries could change the balance on the battlefield in Ukraine as Kyiv’s major backers agree to successive requests that once made them balk. – Washington Post 

Moscow has massed hundreds of thousands of troops in Ukraine and is targeting dozens of places a day in a markedly stepped-up barrage of artillery attacks. Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold their ground on a 140-mile stretch in the east, awaiting tanks, armored vehicles and other weapons systems from the West. – New York Times 

The Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday carried out dozens of searches across the country in connection with corruption allegations, two days before President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to host leaders of the European Union to discuss issues including his government’s efforts to clamp down on longstanding graft in Ukraine. – New York Times 

For Ukraine, the United States and its NATO allies, the playbook has now become standardized. First, Kyiv asks for an advanced weapons system. The Biden administration says no, and quietly suggests that Ukraine could get the same type of weapon from its European neighbors, in half the time. – New York Times 

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and entities in multiple countries that it accused of being tied to a global sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex. – Reuters

The battle on the front lines in eastern Ukraine “has become tougher” as Russian forces push for gains that they could show on the first anniversary of their invasion on Feb. 24, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a sombre assessment. – Reuters 

Russia is mustering its military might in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, officials said Wednesday, in what Kyiv suspects is preparation for an offensive as the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion approaches. – Associated Press 

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration is working to isolate President Vladimir Putin’s government at the global body but acknowledged the challenge inherent in Russia holding a veto-wielding seat on the Security Council. – Bloomberg

Ukraine’s defense minister said Wednesday that Ukrainian lives will be saved by a sophisticated air-defense radar that France is supplying and which is powerful enough to spot incoming missiles and exploding drones in the skies over all of Ukraine’s capital and its surrounding region. – Associated Press 

A leading US maker of advanced military surveillance drones announced Wednesday that it was willing to sell two to Ukraine for just $1, and called on the US government to approve the deal. – Agence France-Presse

At least five Russian light craft carrying reconnaissance and sabotage teams were destroyed by the Ukrainian military over 24 hours, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Russian forces have reportedly been using civilians to find safe routes through Ukrainian landmine fields in order to reach Ukrainian positions, the Ukrainian government’s National Resistance Center reported Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: U.S. support for Ukraine isn’t an exercise in nation-building, or willy-nilly intervention. Americans aren’t fighting and dying. Aid for Kyiv is in the Reagan Doctrine tradition of helping others fighting and dying for their own freedom. The White House can do more to help Ukraine more quickly—with long-range missiles now and jets as soon as possible. – Wall Street Journal

Federico Borsari writes: This is now happening, as can be seen from the recent US decision to boost 155mm shell manufacture sixfold within two years, and the decision by European allies to increase ammunition production capacity, including Soviet calibers. It is unthinkable that the West should allow Ukraine to be defeated. But to defend Europe and its values, the West must provide all the heavy weapons the country needs to win. – Center for European Policy Analysis  

Leonid Bershidsky writes: And yet any Ukrainian offensive would now run into freshly fortified Russian positions, manned by more experienced soldiers. As the attacker always risks greater casualties than the defender, Ukrainians need more certainty in the face of the potential losses. With both sides accumulating resources for an onslaught but hesitant to take the decisive step, the fragile balance on the ground is increasingly unsteady. Something, soon, will have to give. – Bloomberg


Israeli armed drones use gravity bombs that produce no noise or smoke as they fall, making them hard for enemies to anticipate or evade, and the largest model of the aircraft can carry up to a tonne of munitions, the military says. – Reuters

Iran blamed Israel for a drone attack on a military factory near the central city of Isfahan, the semi-official ISNA news agency said on Thursday, vowing revenge for what appeared to be the latest episode in a long-running covert war. – Reuters 

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he would “certainly consider” taking on the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that aired Tuesday evening, the Israeli said he might do so “if asked by all relevant parties,” to include not just the two warring countries but America. – New York Sun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’d consider acting as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia as the war between the two countries nears its one-year mark. – The Hill

The IDF struck weapon production and storage facilities in Gaza overnight on Thursday after rocket sirens sounded in Sderot, Ibim and Nir Am at various points throughout the night. – Jerusalem Post

IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Border Police forces arrested 17 people across the West Bank overnight on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. – Jerusalem Post 

The Israel Space Agency on Wednesday signed an agreement with NASA for full collaboration on the Beresheet 2 lunar mission, the Jewish state’s grand return to the Moon. – Jerusalem Post 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday announced $50 million in new funding for a UN agency that is dedicated solely to the descendants of Palestinian refugees and which has been widely denounced for propagating antisemitism, eliciting rebuke from a top Senate Republican. – Algemeiner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday with Chad’s President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, who is visiting Israel to open the central African nation’s embassy to the Jewish state. – Times of Israel 

Amos Harel writes: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an ongoing tragedy, but every now and then it nevertheless plays out as a farce. The firing of the rocket from the Gaza Strip toward Sderot Wednesday evening reminded us once again that there is a significant risk that the escalation that began in Jerusalem and the West Bank will drag the Gaza Strip down with it. The problem is that this time things are not only related to the events outside, but apparently also to the situation inside Israeli prisons. – Haaretz

Eitan Dangot writes: Israel must decide on an offensive policy against those leading terrorist incitement from Hamas, PIJ and others, whether they live in Gaza or Lebanon. This will certainly lead to escalation but they are necessary in order to foil and deter terrorism. – Jerusalem Post 


Turkey looks positively on Finland’s application for NATO membership, but does not support Sweden’s bid, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed Wednesday that Turkey won’t allow Sweden to join the NATO military alliance as long as the Scandinavian country permits protests desecrating Islam’s holy book to take place. – Associated Press 

The Turkish engineering firm STM has won two tenders to modernize NATO’s intelligence infrastructure, which is maintained by the NATO Communications and Information Agency, the company announced Jan. 28. – Defense News 

Middle East & North Africa

Spain and Morocco will hold their first bilateral summit in eight years on Thursday as they seek to strengthen economic ties and build on a diplomatic truce reached last year after disputes over migration and territory. – Reuters

For months, the United States has restricted Iraq’s access to its own dollars, trying to stamp out what Iraqi officials describe as rampant money laundering that benefits Iran and Syria. Iraq is now feeling the crunch, with a drop in the value of its currency and public anger blowing back against the prime minister. – Associated Press 

President Biden will meet Thursday with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a National Security Council spokesman told The Hill, with the two leaders expected to discuss their vision for the Middle East and the war in Ukraine. – The Hill

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave an interview to Al-Arabiya’s Nadia Bilbassy during his visit in Cairo this week that was published on the US State Department’s website, marking it as important and consequential. – Jerusalem Post 

Secretary of State Tony Blinken pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept and implement a U.S. security plan aimed at reestablishing Palestinian Authority control over the cities of Jenin and Nablus, which have become centers of unrest in the occupied West Bank, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios. – Axios 

David Schenker writes: The well-being of Jordan’s economy—and, by extension, its domestic stability—are no less important to regional security than developments between Israel and the Palestinians. President Biden’s meeting with King Abdullah is a good opportunity to discuss the trajectory of this key issue and encourage Amman to stay the course on economic reform. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that drills by the United States and its allies have pushed the situation to an “extreme red-line” and threaten to turn the peninsula into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone.” – Reuters

The White House on Wednesday rejected North Korean accusations that joint military exercises in the region are a provocation and said the United States has no hostile intent toward Pyongyang. – Reuters

South Korea said Thursday it had staged joint air drills with the United States featuring strategic bombers and stealth fighters, prompting Pyongyang to warn that such exercises could “ignite an all-out showdown”. – Agence France-Presse


China’s growing assertiveness and collaboration with Russia pose a challenge not only to Asia but also to Europe, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday as he sought stronger cooperation and more “friends” for NATO in the Indo-Pacific region. – Associated Press 

In his previous terms as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu led the charge in developing Israeli-Chinese relations, helping make Beijing one of Israel’s biggest economic partners and its second-largest source of imports. – Haaretz

Three years of strict pandemic controls in China and a real estate crash have drained local government coffers, leaving authorities across the country struggling with mountains of debt. The problem has gotten so extreme that some cities are now unable to provide basic services, and the risk of default is rising. – CNN

Gordon G. Chang writes: China has continuing debt defaults, a stagnating economy, plunging property prices, worsening food shortages and a deteriorating environment, in addition to facing a viral outbreak that is “by far the world’s largest.” Moreover, the country has entered into a decades-long period of steep demographic decline. Xi is being blamed for all the problems confronting the regime, and that means the infighting in Beijing is bound to get worse. – The Hill

Alan Beattie writes: De-risking rather than an all-or-nothing approach to decoupling from China is a good way of framing the issue. But the EU isn’t currently very well set up to do it. Brussels and the member states need to work hard to acquire and use precision-focused tools if they are to turn the slogan into more than elegant rhetoric. – Financial Times


A South Korean court ruling in favor of a Japanese temple over a stolen Buddhist statue is the latest sign that the two long-squabbling neighbors are getting along better, with implications for military cooperation. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and the Philippines announced Thursday that U.S. military forces will be given access to four new bases in the Southeast Asian nation, solidifying a months-long U.S. effort to expand its strategic footprint across the Indo-Pacific region to counter threats from China. – Washington Post 

When the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, visited Indonesia in November, he pressed his counterpart there about a deal to buy 36 American fighter jets. He left without an agreement. – New York Times 

The United States on Wednesday denounced the Myanmar junta’s extension of a state of emergency, saying it prolonged suffering two years after a coup toppled an elected government. – Agence France-Presse 

A teen has been detained by Singapore authorities on suspicion of planning to set up an Islamic caliphate and undertake armed violence in support of ISIS. – Bloomberg

The speaker of Taiwan’s parliament during a forum for international religious freedom in Washington on Wednesday stressed the importance of defending the island’s democracy in the face of pressure from China. – Reuters

The United States opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands on Thursday in its latest move to counter China’s push into the Pacific. – Associated Press

US Marine Corps units designed to fight on remote islands will soon take position close to Taiwan, reflecting preparations by the US and its allies for a potential conflict with China over the island that Beijing claims as part of its territory. – Business Insider 

Editorial: The European Union sued China in the World Trade Organization in December, calling Beijing’s actions “discriminatory and coercive.” It noted that “China’s measures reduced trade from Lithuania by 80%” between January and October 2022. The Czech Republic may well be China’s next target—and the next test of whether the West will resist Beijing’s economic bullying. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph Bosco writes: Nor does Kissinger heed Nixon’s 1994 wisdom that China and Taiwan “are permanently separated politically.” It is late — but not yet too late — for Kissinger to change his blemished record. To enhance deterrence, which failed in Ukraine, he should support an unequivocal U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan. – The Hill

Gregory B., Andreyka Natalegawa, and Danielle Fallin write: The United States and the Philippines need to elevate their relationship across the board. A resilient alliance needs more than military cooperation. The United States should also invest in more diplomatic and economic cooperation. This could include opening more diplomatic missions beyond Manila; enhancing support for clean energy, critical mineral supply chains, and other areas of shared economic interest; and negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement in the absence of any U.S. multilateral trade initiatives in the region. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Ukrainian officials have a long list of requests for their European allies this week: fighter jets and other heavy weaponry to fend off a looming Russian offensive, E.U. membership within a few years, legal mechanisms to hold Russians to account, and a plan to use seized Russian assets for reconstruction. – Washington Post

Top EU leaders are traveling to Ukraine this week, but they won’t be bringing promises that the war-torn country can join the bloc anytime soon. Brussels is expected to pour cold water on Ukraine’s hopes that it could swiftly join the EU during a two-day summit in Kyiv, according to a draft statement set to be issued at the event and seen by POLITICO. – Politico

Brussels has warned that leaks of sensitive UK-EU talks on reforming Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements could endanger a compromise deal between the two sides. – Financial Times 

Colonel István Juhász served more than 36 years in the Hungarian military, including several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and culminating with a job leading his country’s mission to Nato’s warfare development centre in the US. – Financial Times 

Russia has denied US accusations it is violating the New Start treaty, the only remaining nuclear arms control accord between the powers, and blamed the west’s backing of Ukraine for casting doubt on the deal’s renewal. – Financial Times 

EU member states have warned Brussels against giving Ukraine an unrealistic expectation of rapidly joining the bloc, ahead of a summit in Kyiv where Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pressing for progress on accession and reconstruction. – Financial Times


US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield called the Wagner Group’s actions in Ukraine and on the African continent “unacceptable” and said the US would look for new ways to counter the impact of the Russian mercenaries. – Bloomberg

An Israeli official said Wednesday that Sudan is likely to be the next Muslim country to join the Abraham Accords with Israel. According to the official, negotiations between Jerusalem and Khartoum have been held in recent days and weeks. The official added that the United States has been mediating between the sides and that an agreement now seems possible. – Haaretz

A large social network that promotes anti-Western and pro-Kremlin ideas is helping Russia expand its influence at the expense of France in some of its former colonies in Africa. – BBC 

The Americas

Chief suspects in the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti made their first appearances in a federal courtroom in Miami on Wednesday, agreeing to detention as the government accused the men of a sprawling conspiracy to seize power. – New York Times 

Jamaica would be willing to take part in an international military deployment to Haiti, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the Caribbean island country could also support its neighbor on electoral reforms. – Reuters

The Canadian parliament on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a non-binding proposal for the resettlement of 10,000 Uyghur Muslim refugees from China’s Xinjiang region into Canada over two years. – Reuters

Four key suspects in the killing of Haiti’s president appeared for the first time in U.S. federal court Wednesday to face accusations that they plotted and participated in his assassination, a day after they were transferred to the United States for prosecution. – Associated Press

United States

House Republicans are readying to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as early as Thursday, fulfilling a pledge years in the making. – Washington Post

The police arrested a 26-year-old man on Wednesday and charged him with firebombing a large synagogue in Bloomfield, N.J., days after a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the building’s glass door, federal officials said. – New York Times 

Washington is deeply concerned over the release this week of a Sudanese man facing the death penalty in connection with the killing of a U.S. diplomat in 2008, the State Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Texas law enforcement arrested an Iranian illegal immigrant at the southern border last week whose name and date of birth were initially flagged as a match on the FBI’s terror watchlist, but who a DHS official tells Fox News was ultimately determined not to be a match on the database after further vetting. – Fox News 

Jonathan Panikoff writes: Rather, a new agency must be stood up and staffed by leaders and analysts who are intel community professionals that know how to blend complex analytic efforts with the priorities of the department. Having this type of experienced leadership will ensure the development of novel and Commerce-centric analysis, all while adhering to intelligence tradecraft and community standards. A new intel agency at the Commerce Department won’t end the national security challenges the U.S. faces from China; but it will help policymakers mitigate and overcome them. – Politico


Microsoft said it has notified customers impacted by a campaign that involved the abuse of the company’s “verified publisher” status to allow access to a victim’s cloud environments. – The Record 

The US Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. isn’t doing enough to monitor cyber risk effectively at the financial institutions it regulates, according to a federal government watchdog. – CyberScoop

The Futures Industry Association said on Wednesday it was assessing the impact of a cyber attack on the systems of an ION Group unit, which is affecting trading and clearing of exchange-traded derivatives by ION customers across global markets. – Reuters


Two former secretaries of defense disagreed on whether President Joe Biden should meet Ukraine’s latest military aid request for fighter jets. Former Secretary Mark Esper, who served in the Trump administration, said on Wednesday that Biden should provide Ukraine with the F-16s, while former Secretary Robert Gates, who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, argued that Russia’s inability to establish air superiority over Ukraine “raises the question of just how important such aircraft are or would be in the fight to come.” – Washington Examiner

Boeing has been awarded a $1.6 billion contract to provide guidance subsystem support for US Minuteman III Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Pentagon said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Ukraine is getting America’s powerful Abrams tank — but generals disagree over how difficult it will be to operate. – 19fortyfive

The Navy announced Tuesday that it has awarded a contract to Hawaii-based Nakupuna Cos. to develop a public outreach program to look for proposals on how to repurpose the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility after the military removes the roughly 104 million gallons of fuel stored in the facility’s aging World War II-era tanks. – Military.com

The Pentagon’s emerging technologies research arm awarded two aviation companies contracts to develop seaplanes that would fly less than 100 feet off the ground and carry 90 tons of cargo more than 6,500 nautical miles, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday. – USNI News 

John Bolton writes: One benefit of regime change in Tehran would likely be a new government that renounces the pursuit of nuclear weapons and opens the files of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and other actors in its nuclear-weapons program. We will undoubtedly learn far more about how the mullahs led western governments by the nose during the negotiation and implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, and especially how Iran repeatedly violated it. This new information might even shake the faith of the arms-control priesthood, but at a minimum it would enlighten those determined to prevent nuclear proliferation. – The Hill