Fdd's overnight brief

February 8, 2023

In The News


Iran on Tuesday revealed an underground air force base, called “Eagle 44” and the first of its kind large enough to house fighter jets, the official IRNA news agency said. – Reuters

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Tuesday underscored the urgency of resuscitating diplomatic efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear program, saying the situation could quickly worsen if negotiations fail. – Associated Press

Tankers in Iran’s “ghost fleet” have switched to carrying Russian oil since western curbs on Moscow intensified in December, as the Kremlin turned to sanctions-busting techniques pioneered by Tehran. – Financial Times

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said he will need to go to Tehran very soon to restore his inspectorate’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear programme. – The Guardian

Ata Hoodashtian writes: If the opposition fails to form a coalition, and the regime eases its suppression of the protests, it is possible that, preceding Khamenei’s death, new divisions will emerge within the regime. In this light, the regime may become more flexible, incorporating the less adamant factions of the opposition into its fold to merely sustain the status quo and play opposition groups off one another. – Washington Institute

Roya Hakakian writes: Even as Western democracies are threatened by the rising appeal of their own authoritarians, their judiciaries seem to be insisting, more than ever, on upholding the rule of law. They do so for the sake of their own democracies, and by extension, for the sake of those who dream of democracy. – Quillette

Russia & Ukraine

Russian forces launched several attacks in eastern Ukraine, pushing for a breakthrough on the battlefield ahead of the delivery of new Western weapons, although the U.K. cast doubt on the prospects for a major Russian offensive. – Wall Street Journal

As Russia makes slow, bloody gains in a renewed push to capture more of eastern Ukraine, it is pouring ever more conscripts and military supplies into the battle, Ukrainian officials say. Still it remains far from clear that Moscow can mobilize enough forces to sustain a prolonged offensive. – New York Times

U.S. prosecutors charged a Russian citizen who was also a U.S. resident with facilitating a sanctions evasion and money laundering scheme in relation to billionaire Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, in an indictment unsealed in federal court on Tuesday, the Justice Department said. – Reuters

Ukraine’s national security chief said on Tuesday Kyiv expects Russia to include the northeastern Kharkiv or southern Zaporizhzhia regions as targets of an anticipated offensive aimed at reclaiming the initiative in its year-old invasion. – Reuters

Russia has demanded that the U.S. embassy in Moscow stop spreading what Moscow regards as fake news regarding its military operation in Ukraine and has threatened to expel U.S. diplomats, the TASS news agency reported on Tuesday. – Reuters

For more than six months Russian forces have tried to claim it. Ukrainian troops have resisted, giving rise to the popular slogan here “Bakhmut holds.” Now the Russians are attacking from three sides, with regular troops and fighters from the notorious Wagner mercenary group. The Russians have reached one of the main highways into the city, and are closing in on the outskirts. – BBC

Kyiv’s allies have repeatedly crossed their red lines on weapons deliveries. But nearly a year into the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, concerns in the US and Europe about Russian escalation have not changed substantially and still hang over the next decisions, including whether to send fighter jets. – Financial Times

Ukraine has received numerous pieces of military equipment from allies across the globe during its war with Russia, which launched an invasion last February 24, but one thing it doesn’t have is a submarine. – Newsweek

Tom Cotton writes: The Ukrainian people are fighting with spirit and resolve, exercising what Churchill called “the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in.” Their cause is sympathetic, but the world is a dangerous place and America shouldn’t act out of sympathy alone. We act to protect our vital national interests. That’s the case in Ukraine, and we deserve a strategy of victory to match. – Wall Street Journal

Dara Massicot writes: Unfortunately, analysts will likely have plenty of time to develop and hone such metrics. Because for all the uncertainty, this much is clear: as Russia continues to mobilize and Kyiv and its supporters dig in, the war is poised to continue. – Foreign Affairs


One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right allies said on Tuesday Israel would not freeze Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, a week after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed Israel to halt construction. – Reuters

It’s not often that an Israeli flag is seen flying next to an Iranian flag, but as United Hatzalah of Israel’s earthquake relief team landed in Turkey on Tuesday evening, this rare event occurred, displaying how the global community had come together. – Jerusalem Post

CIA director William Burns voiced his concern about the fragile state of affairs with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the current tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could soon lead to a third intifada. – Ynet

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday wrapped up an initial investigation into an incident earlier this week in which an Israeli man crossed the border into Lebanon, with the military saying he managed to do so undetected because of the foggy and rainy weather conditions. – Times of Israel

Ayelet Shaked was once the darling of Israel’s right-wing, secular political camp. […]Now Shaked, who failed to make it into the Knesset following November’s national election, is putting her skill set to good use: explaining the chaotic and often theatrical world of Israeli politics to Diaspora Jews. – Jewish Insider

Daniel Byman writes: Competition resulting from Abbas’s succession, daily low-level violence, and the creeping annexation of Palestinian areas all have the potential to escalate, and for now at least, the chance of a grand, negotiated solution has passed. Efforts from the United States and Israel’s other allies to discourage provocative visits and settlements in hot-button areas are examples of modest steps that may often fail but can head off broader confrontations. To prevent a third intifada, Israelis, Palestinians, and their partners need to think small—working every day to prevent all possible sparks from occurring and, if they do, acting quickly to prevent all the dry tinder from catching fire. – Foreign affairs


Afghanistan’s Taliban administration will send around $165,000 in aid to Turkey and Syria to help the response to a devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck this week, according to a foreign ministry statement. – Reuters

Up to 200 Afghan legal workers who worked alongside U.S. Department of Justice personnel in an effort to reform Afghanistan’s legal system remain stranded in that country and others in the region, as their refugee applications in the U.S. go unanswered, Newsweek has learned from current and former legal officials, who are calling for action. – Newsweek

The United States withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban to take over, two years ago now. Since the takeover, many Taliban members have expressed boredom with their work requirements. – Jerusalem Post


More than 48 hours after earthquakes leveled cities and towns, the casualty toll in Turkey and Syria is climbing quickly. The death toll in both countries surpassed 9,600 people on Wednesday, making it the world’s deadliest earthquake disaster in more than a decade. – Washington Post

As the scale of the devastation emerged in Syria from powerful earthquakes, the country faces hurdles tapping international aid because of border closures, the political isolation of President Bashar al-Assad and his government’s policy of starving antigovernment rebels of assistance. – Wall Street Journal

China will offer emergency humanitarian aid of 30 million yuan ($4.4 million) to earthquake-hit Syria, its foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, told a regular news briefing on Wednesday. – Reuters

Even before Monday’s devastating earthquake, getting aid to all parts of war-battered Syria was fraught with daunting political and logistical challenges. Those hurdles have only multiplied in the wake of the disaster that has killed thousands in Turkey and Syria and brought down thousands of buildings. – Associated Press

Syrian officials have condemned the United States’ refusal to engage with the country’s government in emergency assistance efforts following a deadly earthquake that has killed nearly 2,000 people across the lines of rival factions in the nation, along with more than 7,800 in neighboring Turkey. – Newsweek

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It’s unclear how many Hezbollah operatives are still there though. Hezbollah is an extrajudicial terrorist army in Lebanon, but it also plays a role in government and politics and other aspects of society, trafficking weapons through Syria. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Bab al Hawa border gate has become the only major crossing in the last years, a conduit to aid almost 4 million people, and it is reportedly damaged. While some say that aid could come from Aleppo to areas such as Idlib or Afrin, or Azaz, it is not clear how that could happen considering the divisions between the regime-controlled areas and the opposition or Turkish-controlled areas. – Jerusalem Post

Natasha Hall writes: Each area’s ability to respond to the immediate disaster and its aftermath is a larger struggle for international attention and power. But this crisis has also highlighted the need for greater interest and consistent access for personnel and aid in northern Syria to better manage the expected and unexpected, regardless of power dynamics and dwindling international attention. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Kim Ghattas writes: The logistics will be a nightmare. But the United States and the international community must push to provide immediate short-term assistance to Syrians living in opposition areas, and then think creatively about how to improve long-term prospects for Syrians without absolving the regime. […]Syrians have been abandoned and forgotten for far too long already. – The Atlantic


When a 1999 earthquake around Istanbul killed more than 17,000 people, the Turkish government’s stuttering and shambolic response opened the way for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the city’s young mayor, to rise to the prime minister’s office. Now, 23 years later, Mr. Erdogan, the country’s long-serving leader, is challenged by another massive and deadly seismic disaster—this one just months before national elections in which he is seeking to stay in office. – Wall Street Journal

The devastating earthquake in Turkey poses a significant test of governance for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is fighting for his political future just months before an election in May that could reshape the country. – New York Times

Snowfall, freezing temperatures and blocked roads hindered efforts Tuesday to respond to two powerful earthquakes that killed more than 7,500 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria, leading Turkey’s president to declare a three-month state of emergency in affected areas. – Wall Street Journal

An Israeli medical team arrived in Turkey on Wednesday to set up a field hospital there in the wake of the devastating earthquake that has killed at least 6,234. – Ynet

Lee Hockstader writes: In the case of Turkey, where Erdogan has occasionally wielded anti-Americanism to stir his nationalist base, U.S. humanitarian aid should be given quickly and selflessly. It could also do useful double-duty in reminding Turkey where its friends, and its interests, might coincide. – Washington Post

Bobby Ghosh writes: This may all seem somewhat academic right now to the Turkish NGOs that are scrambling to respond to the disaster. In the days ahead, they will undoubtedly demonstrate the extraordinary energy and endurance I saw in Gujarat and Haiti. But when they pause to take a breath, they might wonder how much more assistance they might have been able to provide — and how many more lives they might have saved — if presidential paranoia hadn’t weakened their hands. – Bloomberg

Herb Keinon writes: The mission the Israeli rescue workers in Turkey are currently on is difficult in many regards: the work is back-breaking and emotionally draining; the terrain is challenging; the weather is freezing. In addition, Channel 12 reported that the area where the team is operating is not known for its friendliness toward Israel. On the contrary, said military correspondent Nir Dvori, it is known for its enmity toward Israel. As a result, the Israeli team there will have guards protecting it. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ordered an air bridge to deliver aid to Syria and Turkey, joining other Arab countries in offering assistance to earthquake rescue efforts. – Wall Street Journal

Lebanon’s battered commercial banks on Tuesday closed their doors to customers in protest of a recent court ruling that forced one of the country’s largest banks to pay out two of its depositors their trapped savings in cash. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates has approved a licence for Russia’s MTS Bank, a move that risks exacerbating concerns among western nations over the emergence of the Gulf state as a potential financial haven for Moscow. – Financial Times

The Iraqi crude pipeline to Turkey’s Ceyhan oil export hub resumed flows on Tuesday evening while a tanker docked to load crude, the first since a series of earthquakes on Monday, ship tracking showed and industry sources said. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given the clearest signal yet that he is positioning his middle-school-aged daughter as his successor, analysts say, after a raft of official photos showed the girl holding center stage in a banquet hall full of military top brass. – Washington Post

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his military to expand its combat exercises and strengthen war preparedness as he looks to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening tensions with its neighbors and Washington. – Associated Press

Joseph Bosco writes: Kissinger’s premise of Chinese “opposition” to North Korea’s nuclear program is unfounded. But we are now approaching that “new world” he predicted and new thinking is indeed in order. – The Hill


The U.S. intelligence community has linked the Chinese spy balloon shot down on Saturday to a vast surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army, and U.S. officials have begun to brief allies and partners who have been similarly targeted. – Washington Post

For months, China and the United States have tried — and mostly failed — to establish a “floor” under downward spiraling ties. No one expected that a punctured balloon would send relations reeling again. – Washington Post

On Chinese social media, jokes about the suspected spy balloon have been making the rounds. […] The wisecracking was, in part, what happens on social media anywhere in the world: current events transformed to memes to attract likes and follows. But it also dovetailed with signs of a broader government strategy to downplay an incident that has potentially embarrassed China and threatened to further derail U.S.-China relations. – New York Times

China’s defense minister rejected a request from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speak immediately after the U.S. downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon, the Pentagon said, indicating how the episode has further inflamed the powers’ fraught relations. – Wall Street Journal

China’s successful development shows there is another way to modernize, President Xi Jinping said, rejecting any need to “westernize” and doubling down on his goals of increased self reliance and improved social justice. – Bloomberg

China said Tuesday it will “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests” over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon by the United States, as relations between the two countries deteriorate further. – Associated Press

Trade between the US and China hit a record high last year even as their diplomatic relations deteriorated. – BBC

General Glen VanHerck, the head of North American Aerospace Defense Command, made a stark admission on Monday by revealing that the US had not detected previous flights by Chinese spy balloons over its airspace. – Financial Times

Editorial: The timing is opportune for the United States to actively pursue a comprehensive trade policy for Asia. For the right kind of deal, with the right safeguards, there might be more bipartisan support than the administration thinks. – Washington Post

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: The pretense that the public fooled itself in the UFO debate is another that won’t fly. Officials already acknowledged to Congress a motive to conceal their knowledge of Chinese spying techniques. […]This is one lesson of the “Twitter files” revelations. Squandering public trust, though, is a bad habit for a government that will be needing our trust for high-risk ventures like the Ukraine war and managing the Chinese threat to Taiwan. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: Ultimately, the balloon is down, and its debris is in U.S. hands. That’s obviously a good thing. At the tactical level, the military performed superbly during this incident. At the strategic level, however, some harder questions must be asked. – Washington Examiner

Tiana Lowe writes: That Biden thinks our relationship is a competition — a quest for market dominance between two equal partners with at least some common values — explains the entire problem. The People’s Republic of China is not a competitor. It is a terror, a genocidal dictatorship that seeks not to best the U.S. but to unseat our dominance and undo the entire democratic world order. – Washington Examiner

Jeremy Hurewitz writes: In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Biden must make clear that we are in a new era of U.S.-China relations. Going forward we can no longer give up long-term U.S. security interests for the sake of quarterly profits or naïve assumptions of China liberalizing as it develops. The president must make clear that China will not be allowed to violate U.S. sovereignty in airspace or cyberspace without a U.S. response to such actions. – The Hill

Oliver McPherson-Smith writes: This strategy of pursuing deeper diplomatic relations while remaining above the fray of great power competition is nonsensical. Strategic competition with Beijing is the single-largest threat to our economic and national security, coloring every one of our foreign relations. It is true that America does not need a rivalry with China to justify deeper and more productive relations with African countries. But relations with African countries that do not account for the China factor will never be deep. – The Hill

David T. Pyne writes: Ultimately, I believe that the most important, game-changing intelligence this Chinese surveillance balloon will end up gathering is testing whether Biden would shoot down a Chinese nuclear-capable weapons platform while it was flying over our country. Sadly, Biden has failed this crucial test of presidential leadership, and in so doing severely damaged America’s credibility. – The National Interest

South Asia

Bangladeshi officials are seeking a discount on electricity purchased from the power company owned by Gautam Adani, according to a stock exchange filing that was made public on Tuesday, in the latest sign of mounting scrutiny of the Indian billionaire’s dealings. – Washington Post

India’s business world and market circles have been consumed by the crisis engulfing the nation’s celebrated Adani Group in recent days, but in one place the issue has gone undebated: parliament. India’s small but vocal opposition has demanded an opportunity to quiz the government about the woes at the group chaired by Gautam Adani, a longtime ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. – Financial Times

Husain Haqqani writes: Given the disasters that have befallen Pakistan since Musharraf’s departure from office, his characterizations of his country’s elite do not seem far off the mark. But just as he failed in playing savior of a nation on the brink of disaster, Musharraf’s successors, too, have a lesson to learn: Nuclear-armed Pakistan needs a functioning democracy and an economic plan, not self-proclaimed messiahs. – Washington Post


A​ court in Seoul ruled on Tuesday that South Korean marines were guilty of committing a massacre of unarmed villagers during the Vietnam War​ and ordered the South Korean government to compensate one of the Vietnamese victims.​ – New York Times

The vice chair of Beijing-friendly opposition Nationalist Party from Taiwan was visiting China for meetings with officials and the local business community, drawing criticism from the self-governing island’s ruling party. – Associated Press

Separatist fighters in Indonesia’s Papua region have taken a New Zealand pilot hostage after setting a small commercial plane alight when it landed in a remote highland area on Tuesday, a pro-independence group said in a statement. – Reuters

Australia’s national war memorial will remove several Chinese-made security cameras installed on the premises because officials are concerned they could be used for spying, local media reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

The opposition has taken a majority in the assembly of the most populous Solomon Islands province after Daniel Suidani, a vocal critic of the country’s relationship with China, lost a no-confidence vote, an adviser to the ousted leader said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr arrives in Japan on Wednesday for a visit that is expected to pave the way for closer security ties with Tokyo, as Manila increasingly sides with the United States in its regional tussle with China. – Reuters

Chinese leader Xi Jinping appears to be recalibrating his hardline approach to Taiwan in the year before the island holds a presidential election that his government’s preferred negotiating partner has a shot at winning. – Bloomberg

A former Pacific military commander believes it’s time for the United States to change its long-held policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan amid increasing tensions between the U.S. and China. – Washington Examiner

James Stavridis writes: What can be said with certainty is that the US is strengthening alliances and relationships with old friends such as the Philippines, staunch post-World War II allies such as Japan and South Korea, and traditional partners such as Australia. To say that all of this is landing like a lead balloon in Beijing is a cheap pun. But for those of us who have spent time in the Philippine Islands, and appreciate America’s historical relationship with the country, this agreement comes as welcome news indeed. – Bloomberg


Poland is seeking advanced rocket launchers and other weaponry from the U.S. in a $10 billion deal announced Tuesday ahead of an expected visit later this month by President Biden around the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the British Parliament on Wednesday in a surprise visit that comes as Britain has pledged to train Ukrainian fighter pilots. – Washington Post

Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced Tuesday that they plan to provide Ukraine with at least 100 refurbished Leopard 1 battle tanks in the coming months, a pledge that comes as Kyiv anticipates a new Russian offensive around the anniversary of its invasion. – Associated Press

The European Union will launch a new platform to counter disinformation campaigns by Russia and China amid growing worries, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said today. – Politico

Lukas Hermsmeier writes: The Reichsbürger raid and the AfD’s 10th anniversary should prompt a major moment of reflection: A reckoning with the reasons for the party’s success is long overdue. Beyond that, it’s time to develop a new antifascist “Haltung” — a set of clear positions. No more accommodating, no more normalizing and no more collaborating. – New York Times


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pledged military support to Mali during his first visit to the West African nation Tuesday and dismissed criticism of Moscow’s growing influence on the continent. – Associated Press

Mali’s foreign minister said on Tuesday it had no need to justify working with Russia on strengthening its military capabilities and importing oil and wheat, despite Western concerns. – Reuters

Extremist rebels in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province have killed a worker for the international charity Doctors Without Borders, shortly after a former vice president of the organization was asked to produce a report into the humanitarian situation in the conflict-hit region. – Associated Press

At least 24 people were killed and another 53 injured in a second day of heavy fighting in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, two doctors said, after local leaders declared their intention to rejoin federal Somalia. – Reuters

Uganda has said it will not renew the mandate of the United Nations’ human rights office in the East African country, citing the development of its own sufficient capacity to monitor rights compliance. – Reuters 

The United Nations on Tuesday said it was concerned about the safety of journalists in Cameroon after a radio presenter was killed last week, days after the murder of another journalist that shook the central African nation. – Reuters

The Americas

Simultaneously managing an aggressive Russia and a risk-taking China may prove the greatest challenge of his next two years. And they will increasingly occupy his attention, especially now that Republican control of the House all but terminates his domestic legislative agenda. – New York Times

Canada and Taiwan on Tuesday agreed to start formal negotiations for a deal to encourage two-way foreign investments and deepen their Indo-Pacific partnership in talks that are likely to irk China. – Reuters

The United States donated nearly $14 million worth of security equipment to Costa Rica in a bid to stamp out crime in the Central American country, which is facing an “extremely high” murder rate, Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China’s central bank has signed a memorandum of understanding on setting up yuan clearing arrangements in Brazil, it said on Tuesday, in a move to help boost the currency’s global clout. – Reuters


North Korean hackers working for the government stole record-breaking virtual assets last year estimated to be worth between $630 million and more than $1 billion, U.N. experts said in a new report. – Associated Press

President Biden called for stronger limits on the data collected by large tech companies in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, repeating a message from last year’s address about the need to strengthen privacy rights. – CyberScoop

Jason Blessing writes: Instead, the Biden administration should leverage federal buying power to shift the market in favor of memory-safe programming languages. […]Such a move can incentivize changes in private sector practices over time. Although corporations like Google are already moving in this direction, this remains the exception rather than the rule. The Biden administration must build on this momentum now if it wants to effectively bolster national cybersecurity. – American Enterprise Institute


Sgt. William Treseder had been out of the Marine Corps for a decade when he heard about the Marine Innovation Unit ― a Reserve unit that seeks to connect the Corps with the latest in innovation as it overhauls the force. – Defense News

The Army is aiming to conduct the next round of the experimentation campaign known as Project Convergence in spring 2024, the deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command told Defense News. – Defense News

Editorial: All of this underscores the urgent need to pick up the pace of U.S. nuclear modernization, both in warheads and delivery systems. Deterrence is growing more complicated, but it begins with a robust, modern U.S. arsenal. – Wall Street Journal

Farooq Mitha writes: These initiatives and others in our Small Business Strategy aim to make small businesses an indispensable partner in the mission to protect our national security. They also demonstrate the Department’s commitment to bringing in more small businesses to the national supply chain that produces weapons, vehicles, and software for the United States military, while also creating economic growth in historically underserved communities. In this era of strategic competition in which the United States must out-innovate our competitors, the nation’s success is reliant on the innovation, agility, and ingenuity of American small businesses. – The Hill

Long War

A former New York stockbroker-turned-Islamic State group militant was convicted Tuesday of becoming a sniper and trainer for the extremist group during its brutal reign in Syria and Iraq. – Associated Press

Security forces acting on intelligence raided a hideout of Pakistani Taliban insurgents along the border with Afghanistan, triggering an intense shootout that left 12 militants dead, the country’s military said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The new global epicenter of violent Islamic extremism is sub-Saharan Africa where people are increasingly joining because of economic factors and less for religious ones, says a new report by the U.N.’s international development agency. – Associated Press