Fdd's overnight brief

January 12, 2023

In The News


They are a doctor, a rapper, a karate champion, a barber and an actor, sons, grandsons and fathers. They are among the people Iran has hastily sentenced to death in its campaign to quash the monthslong uprising against the Islamic Republic. – New York Times

Iran’s judiciary announced on Wednesday that a former deputy defense minister had been convicted and sentenced to death on charges of spying for Britain, where he had lived for a decade as a dual national. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed energy and transport projects with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in a telephone call on Wednesday, the Kremlin said. – Reuters

The Biden administration has again extended government protection to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and one of his top Iran aides due to persistent threats against them from Iran. – Associated Press

Britain on Wednesday urged Iran to release Alireza Akbari, a dual national who the Tasnim news agency reported Iran had sentenced to death on charges of spying for Britain. – Reuters

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi presented a substantially enlarged state budget to parliament on Wednesday, vowing to bring down inflation and boost growth to lift an economy hit by U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

In Iran, the anti-government protests of 2022 have continued into the new year. Reporting on one of the biggest international stories of the moment is an ongoing challenge for BBC Persian Service journalists, who are not allowed into the country, suffer daily harassment, and whose families back home are persecuted. – BBC

Russia & Ukraine

The U.S. and its allies are preparing their next round of sanctions on Russia’s oil industry, aiming to cap the sales prices of Russian exports of refined petroleum products in an expansion of novel penalties the West has imposed on the country’s crude. – Wall Street Journal

Russia claimed its first significant success in Ukraine since July, seizing most of the eastern town of Soledar after weeks of heavy fighting led by the Wagner Group paramilitary organization, as the country’s top military officer took direct command of the campaign. – Wall Street Journal

Russia has replaced the general in charge of its trouble-plagued war against Ukraine, amid signs of dissension among President Vladimir V. Putin’s top allies — a shake-up that critics said would not address what ails the Russian military. – New York Times

Russia and Ukraine have agreed on an exchange of 40 prisoners of war each, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said on Wednesday after meeting her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Lubinets in Turkey. – Reuters

The European Union’s (EU) ban on crude oil imports from Russia and its price cap on the country’s oil are costing Moscow about $172 million per day, a new report has found. – The Hill

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro warned Wednesday that continued support for Ukraine will be difficult if weapons makers don’t ramp up production in the next six to 12 months. – Fox News

Russia appears to be laying the groundwork to summon hundreds of thousands more men across the country to take part in the war against Ukraine. – The Daily Beast

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war with Ukraine could come to a conclusion this year, according to a former US Army general who warned that the Kremlin would likely turn to the dire option of nuclear weapons if Moscow faces defeat in the conflict. – Business Insider

Casey Michel writes: The logic of these proposals mirrors failed strategies we’ve seen before, such as the Obama administration’s search for off-ramps for Mr. Putin in Ukraine in 2014. Calls for negotiation signal to Mr. Putin that his lone remaining strategy—waiting out the West and hoping for broader fracturing among Ukraine’s Western backers—may be working. – Wall Street Journal

Anna Husarska writes: As long as Russian forces remain in their land, Ukrainians will resist and struggle to get back every inch of occupied Ukraine. They will do so with sophisticated weapons provided by the NATO coalition and with all sorts of contraptions fabricated locally, because — as the opening lines of the Ukrainian anthem announce — “The glory of Ukraine has not yet perished, nor the will.” But this is not to say that tourniquets, flak jackets, bourzhuyki and periscopes will be out of use any time soon. – New York Times

Tom Z. Collina writes: No, we can’t snap our fingers and make Russia’s nuclear weapons disappear, and Putin is not about to get rid of his trump card. But having clarity about the role of nuclear weapons in this war (that they are benefitting Russia and undermining U.S. and European security) should inform U.S. nuclear policy going forward. As should be clear by now, the West would be much better off in Ukraine if no one had the bomb. – The Hill

James K. Sebenius and Michael Singh write: If the United States and Europe wish to see Russia leave Ukraine as a result of a negotiated settlement, they must, paradoxically, convince Moscow of their commitment to enabling Ukrainian soldiers to expel Russian troops by force and redoubling other penalties on Russia’s aggression. Doing so means maintaining pressure on Moscow, supporting Ukraine unwaveringly, and keeping disagreements with Kyiv private. Only when such work begins to open up a ZOPA can diplomats succeed in creative dealmaking. – Foreign Affairs

Michael Rubin writes: Biden says, “Diplomacy is back.” Allowing Ukrainians to train on F-16s now would be a win-win: It would add heft to that diplomacy today and could add capability to Ukraine’s military tomorrow. – 19FortyFive


Such a scene would have resulted in arrests just a few years ago for violating a longstanding unofficial agreement between Israel and Islamic religious authorities, which forbids non-Muslims from praying on the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But after a decadeslong campaign to change the unwritten rules, called the “status quo,” Jewish prayer has become more common—and under a new Israeli government could soon become routine. – Wall Street Journal

Azerbaijan appointed its first ever ambassador to Israel on Wednesday amid escalating tensions with its large southern neighbour Iran. – Reuters

A Palestinian terrorist stabbed Israeli Elyashiv Nahum, 29, near the West Bank outpost of Havat Yehuda, where he lives. Nahum suffered moderate injuries and was transferred to the Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba for further medical attention by Magen David Adom. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel called on the United Kingdom to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terror organization after Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with the British Minister of State for the Middle East Lord Tariq Ahmad in Jerusalem on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Saying that “the law enforcement against the Left should be the same as it is against the Right,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has directed the Israel Police to arrest protesters at the rally who block roads or riot. Let’s hope that Herzog and Gallant’s appeals will get through and that political violence will not rear its head – not on Saturday night and not at any time in the future. The test of any democracy is how it handles dissension among its citizens. The test for Israel has arrived. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Makovsky writes: One can’t predict if or when Israel will feel compelled to conduct a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities but — barring the Tehran regime’s collapse — its new government seems most uniquely geared to execute it. America should begin to prepare and work closely with Israel to ensure it is most successful if it chooses this course of action. – New York Post

Stephen M. Flatow writes: Why should any Israeli government ever sign another agreement with the PA, if the PA so blatantly violates the first agreement that it signed? How can Israelis ever be persuaded that the Palestinian Arabs sincerely want peace, if the PA allows terrorist leaders to operate in the cities that it rules? Of what value is any proposal for creating a Palestinian state, when that state will be ruled by a regime that collaborates with terrorists? – Jerusalem Post

Efraim Chalamish writes: The recently proposed transaction to acquire a controlling stake in the Israeli leading financial firm The Phoenix Group has triggered a discussion on the ramifications of Gulf-based sovereign funds’ investments in key financial companies in Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Jacob Sivak writes: One can ask what the mobbing practice against Israel has accomplished. It has diminished the influence and credibility of the UN and it has encouraged Palestinian extremism. It has added to the sense of siege experienced by Israelis and it has reduced Israel’s willingness to make compromises that might affect Israeli security. It has not prevented Israel from continuing to develop and thrive as a democratic society with a strong economy, and as a world leader in new technology. – Jerusalem Post

Salem Alketbi writes: Gantz and others believe it is necessary to take into account the realities and changes that have occurred at the international level in the aftermath of the Ukraine war, where Iran has gained significant strategic advantages through cooperation with Russia and the use of drones, which provide Tehran with an important diplomatic umbrella, at least in the UN Security Council. – Jerusalem Post


An explosion outside the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital has killed at least five people and injured more than 40, with higher casualty numbers feared, according to a Taliban police spokesman and a nearby hospital. – Washington Post

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide blast outside the Afghan foreign ministry on Wednesday, the militant group’s Amaq news agency said in an affiliated Telegram channel. – Reuters

Last June, a team of female doctors and nurses drove six hours across mountains, dry riverbeds and on unpaved roads to reach victims of a massive earthquake that had just hit eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people. – Associated Press

The Taliban has said it is expanding its “food for work” programme, in which donated wheat is used to pay tens of thousands of public sector workers. – BBC


Spain’s High Court on Wednesday imprisoned two Spanish women who were repatriated earlier this week from detention camps in Syria while prosecutors investigate whether they were part of Islamic State. – Reuters

Iran has invested millions of dollars in an effort to ramp up the deployment of an advanced air defense network in Syria, amid repeated attempts by Israel to target Iranian sites and shipments of weapons to its regional proxies, according to a Tuesday report. – Times of Israel

Anna Borshchevskaya and Andrew J. Tabler write: At the same time, Washington should explore alternatives to the cross-border mechanism in order to keep Putin and Assad from holding aid hostage, particularly for the many Syrians residing outside their areas of control. […]If Washington and its allies do not make the necessary preparations now, before the next July vote approaches, they will continue to step on the same rake when it comes to Syria and Russia. – Washington Institute

Baraa Sabri writes: As the conflict continues into its second decade, the crisis in Syria has been increasingly overlooked. Nevertheless, a return to pressuring influential forces in this sphere to engage in negotiations in order to reach a lasting solution to the senseless war that has already dragged on for a decade. – Washington Institute


A Turkish court sentenced the head of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) to more than two years in prison for terrorism propaganda on Wednesday but ruled she should be released after being in detention since October, human rights activists said. – Reuters

Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar was the last of five new ambassadors who, on Wednesday, presented their credentials to President Isaac Herzog. The president in turn invited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to visit Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Turkey, Syria and Russia aim to schedule a meeting of their foreign ministers this month and possibly before the middle of next week, though no date or location has yet been chosen, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia

In a potentially historic shift, Saudi Arabia is planning to normalize relationships with longtime foe Israel but says that it must first repair relations with the United States and President Joe Biden, who has been critical of the Arab giant. – Washington Examiner 

Saudi Arabia plans to use domestically-sourced uranium to build up its nuclear power industry, energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Wednesday. – Reuters

In Abqaiq, the biggest oil processing facility on the planet, there is no sense the world may be coming to the end of the oil era. The complex, about 25 miles from the coastline of the Persian Gulf, is the size of about 350 football pitches. In one of three control rooms, a dozen Saudi Aramco staff sit behind computer screens monitoring a system that can process as much as 7mn barrels of oil per day, representing one in every 14 barrels sold worldwide. – Financial Times

Middle East & North Africa

The Egyptian pound traded Wednesday at half its value from March after the central bank intervened for a third time as part of an International Monetary Fund loan agreement. – Agence France-Presse

Weapons supplied by the United Kingdom and the United States and used by a Saudi-led coalition fighting in war-torn Yemen killed at least 87 civilians and wounded 136 others in just over a year, a new report said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Western leaders are losing patience with an entrenched Libyan political elite that has collectively failed to agree on the basis of elections for more than a year but has boosted politicians’ salaries by more than 40%, according to official figures. – The Guardian


China is likely to nominate Xie Feng, a vice foreign minister and a U.S. specialist, as its new ambassador to Washington, according to people familiar with the matter, continuing a gradual tempering of the abrasive “Wolf Warrior” style that has defined Chinese diplomacy in recent years. – Wall Street Journal

The pro-UAE statement, along with Xi’s visit to Riyadh, reveals a subtle shift in relations between China and Iran, the latest sign of Beijing’s adjustment and evolution of its “balance strategy” in the Middle East. The shift in strategy shows Beijing’s intentions to continue quietly distancing itself from the Moscow-Tehran axis. This article will provide further evidence of this pattern by analyzing Xi’s recent official visits, his eagerness to revive China’s economy, and the deterioration of U.S.-Saudi relations. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Minxin Pei writes: Xi may not be another Mao. Like his predecessor, however, if he feels his position threatened, he will almost certainly grow more unpredictable and harder to deal with. Those taking pleasure in his stumbles could soon regret their schadenfreude. – Bloomberg

Dan Blumenthal, Zack Cooper, and Derek Scissors write: There is bipartisan agreement that America’s next president will confront intensifying Sino-American competition and an aggressive People’s Republic of China (PRC). Candidates for the presidency should develop a comprehensive policy on how to approach the economic, military, and political threats that China poses. Here are nine recommendations to presidential candidates on China policy. – American Enterprise Institute

South Asia

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi rallied support for the developing nations of the Global South that are grappling with economic hardships ranging from rising oil prices to shortages in food and fertilizers. – Bloomberg

India and the United States have established a new working group to build sustainable supply chains and boost bilateral trade, the governments said in a joint statement on Thursday. – Reuters

Sri Lanka’s central bank has urged China and India to agree a write-down of their loans as soon as possible. – BBC

India’s top arms buyer on Tuesday approved a budget of 42.76 billion rupees (U.S. $522.17 million) to acquire weapons solely from domestic companies. – Defense News


Around a remote cluster of islands in the South China Sea, Indonesia is pushing back against Beijing’s expansive claims over the strategic waterway. – Wall Street Journal

China effectively ended a ban on Australian coal that has been a centerpiece of a diplomatic dispute lasting more than two years, in the latest indication that Beijing is taking a less confrontational approach in its foreign policy as the economy struggles. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and Japan on Wednesday announced stepped-up security cooperation in the face of shared worries about China, and Washington strongly endorsed a major military buildup Tokyo announced last month. – Reuters

The United States plans to shake up its marine force on Japan’s Okinawa islands as Tokyo undertakes its biggest military build up since World War Two that will double defence spending over five years to deter China from attacking Taiwan or nearby Japanese islands. – Reuters

A Taiwan air force officer revealed details on Wednesday of a rare interaction between the island’s military and NATO, describing how he had attended a six-month academic programme with senior officials in Italy. – Reuters

The United States applauded Japan’s decision to double defense spending by 2027, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, ahead of planned talks later this week between President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. – Reuters

Britain has signed a major defense agreement with Japan, giving the two nations the ability to deploy troops in the other country. – Defense News

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday he seriously doubted that ramped up Chinese military activities near the Taiwan Strait were a sign of an imminent invasion of the island by Beijing. – Reuters

The leaders of Australia and neighboring Papua New Guinea said Thursday they are finalizing a new security treaty — a move that comes as a challenge to China’s growing assertiveness in the region. – Associated Press

Editorial: One big and puzzling weakness in the Biden Administration’s Pacific strategy is its failure to lead on economics. It hasn’t pursued a bilateral trade agreement with Japan, America’s fifth-largest trading partner. […]The good news is that, in an increasingly dangerous part of the world, the U.S. has a close ally in Japan that is alert to China’s threat and willing to invest to deter it. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: This is not to say that such a U.K. deployment would necessarily occur. This agreement notwithstanding, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has, like France and Germany, recently signaled a willingness to appease China in order to attract Xi Jinping’s economic patronage. Still, this U.K.-Japan agreement is a positive step in the right direction. Sunak and Kishida will rightly receive U.S. support for it. – Washington Examiner


Poland intends to transfer a company of German-developed Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters Wednesday during a visit to western Ukraine, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. – Washington Post

Sweden has sought to tone down its criticism of Turkey for blocking its Nato membership, stressing that its negotiations with Ankara were “going very well” despite little sign of a potential breakthrough. – Financial Times

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday met Northern Ireland politicians to try to break months of political deadlock over post-Brexit trading rules and end a boycott of the power-sharing assembly in Belfast. – Agence France-Presse

Italy has made its first acquisition of an amphibious vehicle type which was developed by Italy’s Iveco and has inspired the new Amphibious Combat Vehicles now being put into service by the U.S. Marines. – Defense News


The spokesman for Tigray forces in Ethiopia says they have handed over heavy weapons as a key part of the agreement signed with Ethiopia’s government late last year to end a two-year conflict. – Associated Press

China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, has sidestepped a new call by the African Union for permanent representation on the U.N. Security Council during his visit to Ethiopia. – Associated Press

Four workers from Kenya’s highways agency were killed in an ambush by suspected Islamist militants on Wednesday near the country’s eastern border with Somalia, police said. – Reuters

Fourteen Malian soldiers were killed and 11 wounded on Tuesday in two separate attacks in central Mali after their vehicles struck explosive devices, the army said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Latin America

The shocking assault by thousands of right-wing zealots on Brazil’s federal government has set up a test for the country’s conservatives — one that’s forcing some of its most influential figures into the kind of political contortions familiar to American Republicans in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. – Washington Post

U.S. and Brazilian lawmakers are looking for ways to cooperate on an investigation into violent protests that rampaged through Brasilia this weekend, sharing lessons from inquiries into the attack on the U.S. Capitol, people familiar with the talks said. – Reuters

J.P. Carroll writes: To say that the United States’ legacy in Latin America is complicated would be an understatement. For decades, the United States has several times treated many regional partners with condescension, mistrust, and neglect. If the United States wants to credibly claim leadership on the world stage, it must start to demonstrate such leadership closest to home in respecting its regional partners. Why not start with Brazil? – The Hill

North America

A trade panel ruled in favor of Mexico and Canada in a dispute with the U.S. over rules to calculate regional content required for tariff-free imports of vehicles under the U.S., Mexico, Canada Agreement, officials said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal

Canada delivered armored vehicles to Haiti on Wednesday to help combat criminal gangs as the Caribbean nation faces a humanitarian crisis, the Canadian foreign ministry said. – Reuters

Mexico’s president lauded investments from Canada and said he would meet with Canadian companies that might have a problem with his energy policies. – Associated Press

Alan Beattie writes: Europe, let alone the world, is not some chaotic free-for-all that requires a global hegemon to provide order. But in certain theatres of conflict and commerce, thanks to expansionist autocracies like Russia, there are more security threats to global trade since the end of the cold war. The US’s attempts to weaponise trade are legitimate subjects for criticism. But its literal use of weapons to secure the conditions for commerce in Europe surely is not. – Financial Times


Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday would not rule out a cyberattack as the cause of a massive system outage that grounded all aircraft in the U.S. earlier in the day and prompted new concerns among analysts and officials about vulnerabilities with the potential to cripple America’s critical infrastructure. – U.S. News & World Report

A recently discovered hacking campaign is targeting a range of organizations across the Asia-Pacific region, and one in Europe, as part of a sophisticated effort to steal corporate data and other high-value secrets, researchers with the cybersecurity firm Group-IB said Thursday. – CyberScoop

Artificial intelligence systems such as ChatGPT, which captured public imagination thanks to its uncanny ability to produce human-seeming text, are poised to transform how nations deploy digital propaganda operations to manipulate public opinion, according to a major new report released Wednesday. – CyberScoop


A large number of U.S. army tanks and military vehicles began arriving at the Dutch port of Vlissingen on Wednesday, before heading to Poland and Lithuania as part of efforts to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank. – Reuters

A congressional bipartisan commission will examine President Joe Biden’s 2022 National Defense Strategy and craft recommendations for its implementation, Congress announced Wednesday. – Defense News

U.S. Fleet Forces is rethinking how to deploy carrier strike groups by changing how it would train and maintain its guided-missile destroyers, commander Adm. Daryl Caudle said on Wednesday. – USNI News

The Navy could deploy the aluminum hull, Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship to the Middle East as part of a future mine-countermeasures force in U.S. Central Command, service officials said. – USNI News

Top Navy leaders are sounding the alarm over what they see as the defense industry’s failure to deliver enough ammunition to both meet the demands of the sea service as well as aid shipments to Ukraine. – Military.com

Eli Lake writes: As the dust clears after Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s bruising fight to become the speaker of the House, the pressing question is whether the deal he cut to get that job will result in cuts to defense spending. – New York Sun

Mike Rogers and Keoki Jackson write: The recent National Security Strategy noted the United States is “in the midst of a strategic competition to shape the future of the international order.” In this competition, we face adversaries who take a long-term comprehensive approach in assessing our vulnerabilities to exploit them. To build the needed capabilities and defenses to secure our nation, we need to embrace the mentality that we, as a country, are stronger when we work together and focus on innovative and flexible paths forward to strengthen our common defense. – The Hill