Fdd's overnight brief

January 26, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran’s government is doubling down on repression to stamp out the months-long uprising bent on its ouster. At the heart of these efforts: a small circle of judges connected to the country’s clerical leaders and security services, meting out long prison terms and death sentences to protest supporters. – Washington Post

The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved a resolution Wednesday expressing solidarity with people in Iran who have been risking imprisonment and even death to protest against the country’s theocracy. – Associated Press

Iran on Wednesday announced sanctions targeting more than 30 European individuals and entities, portraying the move as a response to recent European sanctions against officials linked to a crackdown on nationwide protests. – Associated Press

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Tuesday he plans to go to Iran next month for “much needed” talks on getting it to resume cooperation over its nuclear activities and warned that Tehran has enough material for “several” weapons. – Agence France-Presse

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on the Iranian government to provide answers about the death and burial of British-Iranian dual national Alireza Akbari who was executed by Iran earlier this month. – Reuters 

Salem Alketbi writes: London is likely to consider putting the IRGC on the terrorist list and join the US in this matter. The execution process removes the European troika of Germany, France and Britain from their cautious policies toward Tehran to reposition themselves with the US in managing relations with Iran in the next phase. Consequently, talk of resuming Iranian nuclear talks or even talking about an Iranian dossier will become unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. – Jerusalem Post

Bijan Ahmadi and John Packer write: As a sovereign nation, the people of Iran are ultimately responsible for changing their political system in accordance with their hopes and aspirations. But in the hope of a relatively peaceful democratic transition, the West needs to influence Iran in a way that supports and strengthens the civil society and young liberal voices within the country. […]The Iranian protesters need help now and have earned it with their remarkable courage — some with their lives. – The Hill 

Ayaz Rzayev and Mahammad Mammadov write: Domestic turmoil in Iran and Russia’s blunder in Ukraine have added further complexity to the tense relationship between Azerbaijan and Iran, with both sides viewing each other’s actions as a threat and responding with countermeasures. This self-reinforcing dynamic has created a spiral-like situation and increased the likelihood of conflict. A potential armed clash between Azerbaijan and Iran could have far-reaching consequences for the wider region that would likely draw in other powers, such as Turkey and Russia. It remains to be seen if cooler heads can prevail. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

The U.S. and Germany outlined plans Wednesday to send dozens of modern battle tanks to Ukraine, marking a significant new infusion in Western assistance for Kyiv while raising challenges about how to get enough of the potent weaponry to the battlefield in time as Ukraine and Russia prepare new offensives. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a shock to the complacent European order, both to the European Union and to NATO. And it has underscored and enhanced the influence of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. – New York Times 

President Biden’s announcement Wednesday that he would send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine came after weeks of tense back-channel negotiations with the chancellor of Germany and other European leaders, who insisted that the only way to unlock a flow of heavy European arms was for the United States to send tanks of its own. – New York Times 

The debate over providing Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was something of a test for Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, with some German politicians and European leaders arguing that Berlin was not only missing a chance for leadership in Europe, but also hindering its own allies. – New York Times 

Russia launched its latest air attack on Ukraine during rush hour on Thursday morning and officials told Ukrainians to take cover in shelters as air defence forces shot down incoming missiles. – Reuters 

Ukraine confirmed on Wednesday its troops had withdrawn from Soledar in eastern Ukraine, almost two weeks after Russian troops said they had captured the small salt-mining town. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that any Abrams battle tanks supplied to Ukraine by the United States would “burn”, dismissing the expected delivery as an expensive folly. – Reuters 

A Turkish-owned general cargo ship was struck by a missile in the port of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, sparking a fire, according to video footage from the scene and shipping sources. – Reuters 

A Russian court on Wednesday ordered the closure of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the country’s oldest human rights organization, amid an accelerating crackdown on the remnants of civil society since President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg 

With news that the United States and its NATO allies will send modern battle tanks to Ukraine, there are now renewed calls to provide Kyiv with modern fighter jets, like the F-16. The weapons the United States and other countries give Ukraine should align with a winning strategy, and driving Ukraine toward a Western way of air superiority will not help them win. – Defense News

Russia has a $45 billion stash of Chinese yuan that is helping Moscow weather a massive plunge in its energy revenues as western sanctions batter its economy. – Business Insider

Russia has ordered the creation of two dozen penal colonies in occupied parts of Ukraine, according to the Latvia-based independent media outlet Meduza. – Business Insider  

Editorial: We support a defense industrial base that is warmed up and ready to go. And there is no reason to think the war in Ukraine will end soon. […]As lawmakers consider committing the money the Pentagon would need, Congress should insist that the military use its new authority to bargain hard for better prices — and find a middle ground between replenishing its depleted stockpiles and giving away the store to contractors already enjoying a new golden age. Lawmakers should approve only the funds that the Pentagon can responsibly manage. – Washington Post

Editorial: We appreciate the need to keep the alliance together, but Europe will never move without firm U.S. leadership. The U.S. and NATO have a major strategic interest in seeing Russia fail to subdue Ukraine, which includes pushing the invaders out of the territory they’ve taken by brutal force. The faster Ukraine can achieve that objective, the better for everyone except the Kremlin. – Wall Street Journal 

Walter C. Clemens Jr. writes: Ukraine should continue its fight to drive all Russian forces from its territories. NATO should expand aid to Ukraine. Tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and anti-aircraft systems are defensive weapons to expel an invader. Any compromise that helps Putin to stay in power must be rejected.  The interests of law and human rights require that war crimes and criminals be punished. – The Hill 

James M. Dubik writes: Historians write about the foolishness of negotiating with Adolf Hitler. If Putin wins in Ukraine, future historians likely will write about the ineffective ways the allies dealt with the Ukraine crisis. President John F. Kennedy said to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “We stand, as we have always stood, for the independence and equality of nations. We stand for a world of peace under law. … And we do not intend to leave an open road to despotism.” – The Hill 

Ben Keith and Ted R. Bromund write: This is the procedure established in 2010 by Interpol’s General Assembly, which is designed to ensure Interpol does not turn into a judge of the rival claims of warring combatants. The European Parliament’s recent designation of Russia as a terrorist state is a significant step in this process. Until an international tribunal is established, Interpol has plenty of work to do. Above all, it needs to stop telling half-truths about its rules, abandon its biased vision of neutrality, and start living up to its fundamental requirement to enforce its own rules, even if Russia and China perceive that as taking sides. – Heritage Foundation


The Shin Bet uncovered a scheme in which Hamas terrorists in Gaza use Palestinians from the West Bank, sometimes without their knowledge, as aid in carrying out terror attacks, the intelligence agency revealed on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are running a massive military drill in Israel this week. The exercises are said to be the most significant bilateral show of force between the two nations to date. – Fox News 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday visited the air force’s command center for managing the large US-Israel “Juniper Oak” joint drills, viewed by many as a not-so-veiled threat to Iran in the ongoing nuclear standoff, as well as to other adversaries. Netanyahu said that the drill “manifests the unbreakable strategic partnership between Israel and the US and constitutes another stage in building Israel’s military power. – Jerusalem Post

Far-right Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman has been sent to New York by the government to hold a series of meetings with US Jewish leaders to ease their concerns over the coalition’s planned judicial overhaul, according to a Wednesday report. – Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told visiting White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan last week that he is prepared to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the hardline nature of the new Israeli government, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel. – Times of Israel

Security forces arrived in Jenin on Thursday morning for a critical operation designed to arrest terrorists believed to be about to perpetrate a major terrorist attack. – Arutz Sheva

The Shin Bet security agency says Israel is revoking the entry permits to Israel from 230 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, relatives of Hamas members who allegedly worked to recruit West Bank Palestinians to help commit attacks. – Times of Israel

Israel’s security establishment will examine a request by the U.S. administration to supply Ukraine with mothballed air defense systems to aid in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began almost a year ago. – Haaretz

The Biden administration asked Israel for the old Hawk anti-aircraft missiles it has in storage in order to transfer them to Ukraine, three Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios. – Axios

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said Wednesday that he intends to continue visiting Temple Mount despite Jordan a day earlier expressing their concern over the status quo on the holy Jerusalem site. – Ynet 

Blaise Misztal and Michael Makovsky write: As a first step, the administration should direct Centcom to make an inventory of what weapons are left in WRSA-I. It should then launch a bilateral process with Israel for assessing its military-equipment needs and developing recommendations for how to replenish, update and expand the stockpile to better support high-intensity regional operations. The stockpile of U.S. weapons in Israel should be used to give Ukraine any and everything it needs. But then America should quickly upgrade and refill it, to make sure that the next time a conflict erupts, the WRSA-I can again serve as a much-needed stockpile of democracy. – Wall Street Journal 

Douglas Bloomfield writes: THE PRO-WESTERN Arab leaders will continue to pay lip service to Palestinian statehood, but in reality, they keep moving closer to Israel in strategic as well as economic terms – although the new extremist government in Jerusalem threatens to bring that process to a crashing end. Iran deserves credit as the matchmaker, not just for Israel and the Gulf states for also bringing Israel and the West Bank Palestinians closer together in a symbiotic relationship. – Jerusalem Post

Gil Troy writes: Why not improvise a more mature, consensus-driven, process? Turn to President Isaac Herzog – and a dream team of Israeli icons such as Reuven Rivlin, Natan Sharansky, and Tzipi Livni working with Shas, haredi and national religious rabbis – to lead public meetings over this proposed court reform – and develop more legitimating procedures for changing our balance of democratic powers. – Jerusalem Post


Just months before pivotal elections that could reshape Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy, the government is spending billions of dollars in state funds to bolster President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing party at the ballot box while unleashing an array of legal threats to weaken those who seek to unseat him. – New York Times

Finland’s defence ministry said Wednesday the country had issued the first commercial export licence for military materiel to Turkey since 2019 — a key demand for Ankara to approve Helsinki’s NATO bid. – Agence France-Presse

When NATO invited Sweden and Finland into the military alliance in June, its leaders hailed a “historic decision” that showed their collective determination to face down Russian aggression in Ukraine. But the expansion plan has gone nowhere, with Turkey refusing to allow Sweden to join unless it does more to crack down on groups outlawed in Turkey, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK. As the dispute drags on, it’s complicating efforts to present a united front against Moscow. – Bloomberg 

Turkey’s central bank didn’t change its inflation projections for this year and next, a sign policymakers are confident they now have a handle on consumer prices as the country emerges from its worst cost-of-living crisis in two decades. – Bloomberg


Hundreds of protesters rallied Wednesday near the Central Bank in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, angered by the recent devaluation of the Iraqi dinar and demanding the government take action to stabilize the currency. – Associated Press

Hamzeh Hadad writes: The U.S. should encourage negotiations between Kurdish parties and their counterparts in Baghdad. Recently, the Iranian Foreign Ministry offered to mediate between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan, which undoubtedly would bring Iranian interests to the forefront. […]Considering this, the U.S. should present itself as an alternate mediator and build upon McGurk’s visit, especially considering American investment in Iraqi democracy. – The Hill 

Fawzi al-Zubaidi writes: The key structural obstacles for security reform facing the government of Sudani include the lack of political consensus and conflicts, the ambiguity of the political future of the Sudani government, rampant corruption, the sagging administrative system in Iraq, and the absence of professional co-ordination among the national security institutions. Nevertheless, although the obstacles are many and the proposed reforms expansive and complex, whether Iraq can implement these reforms will determine whether Iraq’s national security sinks or swims amidst increasingly dire regional and global contexts. – Washington Institute


After Lebanon’s 11th unsuccessful session to elect a president last week, two independent lawmakers simply refused to go home, staging a sit-in at parliament to spur their colleagues to action as the country slips further into economic ruin. – Washington Post

The United States is rerouting $72 million of America’s assistance to Lebanon to help the country’s cash-strapped government boost wages of its soldiers and police officers, the U.S. ambassador said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The judge leading the investigation into Beirut’s deadly 2020 port blast refused Wednesday to step down from the probe, rejecting charges brought against him by Lebanon’s top prosecutor in the politically charged case. – Agence France-Presse

Lebanese politicians this week warned of “civil war,” “sedition” and “serious repercussions” amid a conflict between the country’s chief public prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat and Tarek Bitar, the judicial investigator on the Beirut port blast case. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: As the crisis continues, Hezbollah continues to entrench. It continues to build watchtowers and fortifications in southern Lebanon and to threaten Israel, which is carrying out large-scale military drills with US Central Command this week. Hezbollah knows that it must tread carefully – and benefits from the vacuum of power at the heart of Beirut. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Months after the White House vowed to punish Saudi Arabia for cutting oil output in defiance of American wishes, the Biden administration has ended its talk of retaliation against the Gulf kingdom, emphasizing the two countries’ long-standing security ties and Riyadh’s steps to back Washington’s priorities in Yemen and Ukraine. – Washington Post

The United Nations said Wednesday it needs $4.3 billion to fund its humanitarian activities in war-torn Yemen this year. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the funds are required to help 17.3 million most vulnerable people in Yemen. – Associated Press

Bahrain’s crown prince spoke with Qatar’s emir by telephone, the BNA state news agency reported late on Wednesday, in a sign the two Gulf states could move towards repairing relations two years after an Arab boycott of Qatar was lifted. – Reuters 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: What matters in the wake of this attack is not necessarily which militia claimed responsibility, but rather Iran’s continuing attempts to use drones to target US forces in Syria. Iran has increased its drone attacks in the last several years, and the US has responded several times. Iran has also used drones from Syria to threaten the US. The attack on Tanf is a reminder of this growing threat. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

Both North and South Korea violated the armistice that governs their shared border by sending drones into each other’s airspace in December, the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on Thursday. – Reuters 

John R. Bolton writes: To prove its benign intentions, China need simply act on the mellifluous words it has mouthed for decades about North Korea’s nuclear program. Beijing’s extensive energy, food, military and other aid to Pyongyang is all that stands between Kim Jong Un and retribution from his long-suffering people. – Washington Post

Donald Kirk writes: All this puts South Korea in a difficult position. Spurred on by the Americans, the South Korean and Japanese navies have conducted joint exercises and are exchanging intelligence information. As long as Japan refuses concessions on so many other differences springing from the era of Japanese rule over Korea, however, Koreans will look with suspicion — if not alarm — on the prospect of Japan’s renaissance as a major military power. – The Hill


Late on Nov. 27, book editor Cao Zhixin, who was about to turn 26 years old, joined a protest near Beijing’s embassy district with a few of her friends. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that accidentally made them symbols of the most public display of defiance in a generation—as well as the state’s forceful response. – Wall Street Journal 

Chinese President Xi Jinping said relations between Australia and China are proceeding in “the right direction,” ahead of a meeting of top trade officials from the two countries expected to take place within months. – Bloomberg

Helen Raleigh writes: Xi also reiterated that he would not give up “reuniting” with Taiwan through force at the 20th party congress last fall. Clearly, Xi wants only Western capital and technology to rescue China’s economy and thus strengthen his regime. He remains deeply hostile to Western democracies and liberal values. Western governments and businesses should remember the true nature of Xi and the CCP regime and not take Xi’s bait this time. – Fox News

South Asia

Students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of India’s premier liberal institutions, gathered on Tuesday evening for a screening of a new BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But university officials had other plans. – New York Times 

The highest-ranking woman at the United Nations said Wednesday she used everything in her “toolbox” during meetings with Taliban ministers to try to reverse their crackdown on Afghan women and girls, and she urged Muslim countries to help the Taliban move from the “13th century to the 21st.” – Associated Press

The United Nations is pushing the Taliban administration in Afghanistan for more exemptions to its ban on most female aid workers, top U.N. officials said on Wednesday, while also expressing concern that foreign women working for international organizations and embassies could next be targeted. – Reuters 

India and Egypt will seek to deepen military cooperation, including between their defence industries, India’s foreign secretary said on Wednesday. – Reuters


Japan, this year’s chair of the Group of Seven (G7), expects Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to dominate talks among the world’s major advanced economies, its top finance diplomat, Masato Kanda, told Reuters. – Reuters 

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori criticized the government’s supportive stance on Ukraine, Kyodo News reported, even as current premier Fumio Kishida considers a visit to Kyiv. – Bloomberg

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he would consider an invitation extended by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to visit Ukraine, as Japan’s ruling party No. 2 publicly urged the premier to go ahead with the trip. – Bloomberg 

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen told Pope Francis that war with China was “not a option,” reaffirming her desire to avoid a conflict that could drag in the US.- Bloomberg 

Thomas de Waal writes: Currently it looks implausible. This is a notoriously complex region. Azerbaijan would have to agree. Yet this challenge — and others like it — will not go away, as a security vacuum widens in the region that is the neighbourhood of both the EU and Russia. – Financial Times


Spanish police said they arrested a 74-year-old man suspected of sending letter bombs to government leaders, the U.S. and Ukrainian embassies and other targets late last year. – Wall Street Journal 

Two people were killed and at least seven others injured in a stabbing on a train in northern Germany on Wednesday afternoon. – New York Times 

A parliamentary panel in Switzerland has recommended waiving a law that bars countries from re-exporting Swiss armored vehicles, weapons and other war materiel to Ukraine for its defense against Russia, insisting the move would not violate the country’s much-vaunted neutrality. – Associated Press

A machete-wielding man killed a sexton and injured a priest at two Catholic churches in the city of Algeciras on Wednesday before being arrested, Spain’s interior ministry said. Authorities are investigating the attacks as a possible act of terrorism. – Associated Press

An Egyptian author who lives in Sweden and is planning an anti-Israel demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm intends to burn a Torah scroll at the demonstration, according to the wording of the request that he sent to local police and that was published by Kan Reshet Bet. – Arutz Sheva


French troops in Burkina Faso will leave the West African country within a month, officials in France said on Wednesday afternoon, in the latest deterioration of relations between France and a onetime African ally. – New York Times 

South Africa and its neighbours were at the centre of a tussle for influence this week when top Russian and U.S. officials visited, offering a rare moment of leverage for governments on a continent more used to being buffeted by events than wooed. – Reuters

The United States on Wednesday said it is restricting entry to people “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Nigeria” and their family members ahead of that country’s elections this year. – Reuters

Tanzanian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu returned home from years of exile in Belgium to a cheering crowd on Wednesday, after the government lifted a ban on political rallies. – Reuters

The US is seeking to deepen its economic integration with South Africa in pursuit of policies to diversify global supply chains, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. – Bloomberg 

The Chinese government says the United States should stop pressuring it on debt relief for Zambia and focus on averting a government default at home with possible repercussions for the global economy. – Associated Press

The Americas

The U.S. State Department banned former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli from ever traveling to the United States, saying Wednesday that he had participated in “significant corruption” in awarding government contracts. – Associated Press

The Organization of American States’ permanent council expressed its “full support” for Peruvian President Dina Boluarte on Wednesday, following weeks of anti-government protests that have left dozens dead. – Reuters 

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Wednesday that he favored an agreement between Mercosur and China in a plan to modernize and open the South American trade bloc to other regions. – Reuters

The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Friday will consider a draft resolution declaring that antisemites are attempting to “infiltrate” the Republican Party. The resolution specifically names and condemns Kanye West and the antisemitic alt-right figure Nick Fuentes who has used the “analogy” of “baked cookies” to dispute the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust – Algemeiner


Elon Musk’s team has held talks with investors about raising up to $3 billion to repay some of the $13 billion in debt tacked onto Twitter Inc. as part of his buyout of the company, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal 

A Russia-based hacking group named Cold River is behind an expansive and ongoing information-gathering campaign that has struck various targets in government, politics, academia, defence, journalism, and activism, Britain said on Thursday. – Reuters 

North Korean hackers known for cryptocurrency heists are expanding their targets to include education, government and healthcare, according to researchers tracking the group. The activity could be a sign that the group, which is suspected in two high-profile cryptocurrency hacks in 2022, may have even bigger plans for 2023. – CyberScoop

Hackers connected to the North Korean military used a variety of new phishing methods in 2022 to steal cryptocurrency, according to a new report from Proofpoint. – The Record


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expects the alliance’s member states to raise their current spending target on defence of 2% of national output when they meet for a summit in Vilnius in July, he told German newspaper Die Welt. – Reuters 

The U.S. Army is rapidly moving to expand its domestic production capacity of 155mm artillery shells, according to the Army’s acquisition chief, as Ukraine uses thousands daily fending off Russia. – Defense News

Sales of military weapons between the U.S. and foreign governments shot up to nearly $51.9 billion in fiscal 2022, largely because U.S. allies in Europe are rushing to arm themselves in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago. – Defense News

A Colorado Democrat is threatening to hold up nominees for the Pentagon’s top positions because Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has declined to meet and discuss the decision to move U.S. Space Command headquarters from his home state to Alabama. – Military.com

Seth Cropsey writes: It is a matter of supreme importance that we deploy hypersonic weapons at scale — and in a variety of platforms — as rapidly as possible. Congress should encourage the Pentagon to accept testing risks and push rapid operational deployments. The ARRW, in particular, should be fully funded for procurement, not just RDT&E. More generally, Congress should ensure that hypersonics are not a casualty of misguided fiscal prudence or progressive domestic priorities. – The Hill 

Dalibor Rohac writes: In contrast, as colleagues of mine noted after their visit, the US Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio used to churn out as many as 800 Abrams per year during the Cold War. Although faced with shortages of qualified labor, especially welders, it could be easily brought back to life. “The time is right, right now,” they write, “to cement the Abrams as the single go-to tank for America’s allies and partners.” Doing so, including by showcasing Abrams’ strengths in Ukraine, would not only benefit our national security but create economic opportunity, showing the skeptics that America’s domestic material interests and a values-based foreign policy are not necessarily in conflict. – New York Post

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: Returning to 2022 spending levels for 2024 is much more than a $75 billion cut for the US military. The House GOP is proposing a defense cut well north of $100 billion once more accurate inflation data is available. The result of this short-sighted and unserious proposal would be near immediate and create a “force that is measurably smaller and less capable than the one we have today.” – 19fortyfive