Fdd's overnight brief

January 27, 2023

In The News


France’s foreign ministry demanded on Thursday the immediate release of Bernard Phelan, a Franco-Irish citizen detained in Iran, whose health situation has worsened with Paris saying he has been denied urgent medical care. – Reuters

Iran has enough highly enriched uranium to build “several” nuclear weapons if it chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear official is now warning. But diplomatic efforts aimed at again limiting its atomic program seem more unlikely than ever before as Tehran arms Russia in its war on Ukraine and as unrest shakes the Islamic Republic. – Associated Press

France on Thursday called for the “immediate release” of seven French nationals detained in Iran, denouncing an “unjustifiable and unacceptable” situation. – Associated Press

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said several security personnel were killed and wounded after its embassy in the Iranian capital came under an unprecedented attack. – Bloomberg

As two nations pushing to resist Western sanctions, Russia and Iran have increasingly invested in a workaround rail route running from Moscow to Mumbai. But a burgeoning crisis in the Caucasus region at the heart of the project is threatening to imperil this economic lifeline. – Newsweek 

President Isaac Herzog on Thursday urged the NATO military alliance to toughen its approach to Iran, citing Tehran’s supplies of drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine. – Agence France-Presse

Israel’s president has appealed to the EU to designate the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization during meetings in Brussels with the bloc’s senior leaders. – Algemeiner

David Ignatius writes: President Biden has said the United States will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that he would use force as a “last resort” to stop Tehran from going nuclear. This week’s exercises makes that U.S. threat a little more credible — and, if the logic of deterrence holds, reduces the likelihood of an actual conflict. That’s the theory, at least. What Juniper Oak suggested was that a military action, if it ever came, would likely be massive. – Washington Post 

Russia & Ukraine

Nearly a year into the war in Ukraine, Western allies finally agreed to send Kyiv the battle tanks it says it so desperately needs. The first battalion will have roughly 40 tanks, including newer German Leopard 2A6s, and could arrive by spring. – Washington Post 

Explosions rocked Ukraine’s capital on Thursday after Russia launched a fresh barrage of missiles at targets across the country, as officials in Moscow warned of consequences for Western pledges to send dozens of battle tanks to Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, U.S. officials have watched with some anxiety as billions of American dollars flowed into the country, well aware of Kyiv’s history of political corruption and fearing that aid might be siphoned off for personal gain. – New York Times

From Washington to Berlin to Kyiv, a Western decision to send battle tanks to Ukraine was hailed enthusiastically. Moscow first shrugged it off — and later launched a new barrage of attacks. The Kremlin has previously warned that such tank deliveries would be a dangerous escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, and it has strongly denounced the watershed move by Germany and the United States to send the heavy weaponry to its foe. – Associated Press

A senior EU official said Friday that Russia has taken its war against Ukraine to a “a different stage” by making indiscriminate attacks on civilians and non-military targets, while criticizing Moscow for triggering recent moves by Germany and the United States to send advanced tanks to Ukraine. – Associated Press

A Ukrainian human rights lawyer who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize called Thursday for more international investigative and legal help to deal with the staggering amount of war crimes cases since Russia invaded its neighbor almost a year ago. – Associated Press

An independent news website that has been critical of Russia’s military action in Ukraine was declared “undesirable” by the government Thursday, effectively outlawing its operation within the country as part of the Kremlin’s latest crackdown on dissent. – Associated Press

The United States on Thursday stepped up sanctions against the Wagner Group, labeling the Russian mercenary company fighting in Ukraine as a transnational criminal organization responsible for widespread human rights abuses. – Reuters

Russia said on Thursday it saw the promised delivery of Western tanks to Ukraine as evidence of direct and growing U.S. and European involvement in the conflict. – Reuters

Western capitals are at odds over sending modern heavy battle tanks to Ukraine, an item until recently considered taboo for Kyiv’s allies. Such tanks are deemed essential for Ukraine’s efforts to retake territory from Russia, which has mobilised 150,000 troops for a renewed offensive. Moscow has also put the country’s defence industry on to a war footing in order to refit and rearm its forces. The next six months are critical, for both sides. – Financial Times

The U.S. is planning to send Kyiv the Abrams main battle tank in its more advanced M1A2 configuration, rather than the older A1 version that the military has in storage, according to three people with knowledge of the deliberations. – Politico

The Kremlin has condemned the West for providing Kyiv’s forces with tanks, but the Russian information space is playing down the significance that the armored vehicles could have on Vladimir Putin’s invasion. – Newsweek 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has rejected the prospect of negotiations with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, which was broadcast on Thursday, Zelensky said that Putin “doesn’t want negotiations because he doesn’t want peace.” – Newsweek 

The F-16 fourth-generation fighter jet that Ukraine has called for is not the aircraft Kyiv’s forces need most, Newsweek has been told, as attention turns to how NATO could equip Ukraine in the skies. – Newsweek 

Former President Donald Trump warned Thursday that “nukes” could come in the wake of decisions from Western countries to send long-sought tanks to Ukraine amid its ongoing war against Russia. – Newsweek 

Ukrainians deported from Ukraine into Russia may be drafted into the Russian military, the Ukrainian National Resistance Center claimed on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

Russia’s Northern Fleet’s ballistic missile submarines and strategic bomber force’s capabilities remain intact despite the heavy toll the country’s invasion into Ukraine has had on its naval infantry, army and special forces assigned to the Kola Peninsula, a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found. – USNI News

Steven Erlanger writes: “There was no working relationship or professional intimacy, which you need at such moments,” Mr. van Middelaar said, so there has been “a lot of internal suspicion” and “underlying discomfort about how to deal with this new continent where Russia is a foe and Germany has to rethink its economic and political model.” That has created a void in leadership that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have tried aggressively to fill. – New York Times

Mikhail Zygar writes: Many Russians, zombified by propaganda, are frustrated that the army is not winning. Kyiv was not taken in a few days as promised. By appointing General Gerasimov supreme commander, Mr. Putin assumes responsibility for all subsequent defeats. And it doesn’t weaken Mr. Prigozhin, who did not criticize this appointment. This means that, in the near future, Mr. Prigozhin may challenge the president, and Mr. Putin may no longer be able to oppose his former chef. – New York Times

Leon Aron writes: Reinforced with criminals plucked out of jails and promised pardon after six months in Ukraine, Putin’s de facto private mercenary army, the Wagner Group, looks more and more like a shtrafbat: Its soldiers have reportedly been sent on suicide missions or summarily executed for “cowardice.” The Wagner Group has already surpassed Stalin’s secret police in cruelty. Those executioners shot “traitors,” but their successors smash heads with a sledgehammer. It might not be long before we see another iteration of Order No. 227 — “blocking units” — positioned behind the advancing soldiers to shoot anyone retreating or merely hesitant. – Washington Post


The Palestinian Authority said Thursday it would cease coordinating with Israel on security after nine Palestinians were killed during a battle between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. – Wall Street Journal

Thousands of American and Israeli military personnel joined forces this week for an unprecedented exercise intended to send a message to adversaries like Iran that the U.S. isn’t turning its back on the Middle East, even as it focuses on the war in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Thursday that antisemitism is on the rise in the Western world and urged the European Union to ensure that Jews can live safely on the continent where the Holocaust took place. – Associated Press

The United States on Thursday urged de-escalation after Palestinian militants and at least one civilian were killed during an Israeli Defence Force counterterrorism operation in the West Bank, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia on Thursday strongly condemned a raid by Israeli commandos on the Palestinian town of Jenin that killed seven people and injured two, state news agency SPA reported. – Reuters

Washington is concerned the security situation between the Israelis and Palestinians could worsen ahead of a visit to the Middle East by Secretary of State Antony Blinken starting on Sunday, a U.S. official said, after a deadly raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank on Thursday. – Reuters

Palestinian militants on Friday fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel that were intercepted by missile defenses, and Israel then carried out strikes in Gaza. – Reuters

The US called out the Palestinian Authority for cutting security ties with Israel after a West Bank gunfight killed nine people, as the Biden administration looked to ease tension days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region. – Bloomberg

Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition has ignited a debate over the character of the Israeli state, with reverberations across a domestic market that had proved itself largely immune to political turmoil in the past. – Bloomberg

President Isaac Herzog met Thursday afternoon with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels. The meeting with Stoltenberg concluded Herzog’s two-day visit to the Belgian capital. – Jerusalem Post

Israel is bracing for another escalation of violence after at least nine Palestinians were killed in a counterterrorism raid on the West Bank city of Jenin, a defense establishment source told Ynet on Thursday. – Ynet

Tetiana Gaiduk writes: However, the presence of common enemies has yet to make Ukraine and Israel forge an unconditional alliance. “We invite the State of Israel and its officials to cooperate in any way, but so far, unfortunately, I cannot boast of success,” Minister Reznikov said at a briefing on January 18. – Arutz Sheva


U.S. officials are pressuring Turkey to stop Russian airlines from flying American-made airplanes to and from the country, said officials familiar with the talks, signaling a new push in Washington to persuade countries to enforce sanctions imposed on Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine last year. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday accused Sweden of being complicit in a “hate and racist” crime for failing to prevent weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam and pro-Kurdish groups. – Associated Press

Turkey’s top court rejected on Thursday a request by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to delay until after the country’s elections in May a final ruling on a case that could shut the party down over alleged ties to militants. – Reuters

Two provocative incidents in Stockholm this month have energised Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan ahead of tight elections and dimmed Sweden and Finland’s hopes of joining NATO before the summer, diplomats, analysts and opposition politicians say. – Reuters

Turkey’s largest ever grouping of opposition leaders is striving to iron out differences and name a candidate to take on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is looking to extend his two decades in charge in May elections. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: For the ruling AKP party, the idea of using democracy was always clear. It used to describe democracy as like a train that one rides until one arrives at the stop. Hamas, Hezbollah, and others also see democracy this way. They ride it until they get a stranglehold on power. For a decade in the Middle East, much of the region was deceived by this trajectory. – Jerusalem Post 

Robert Ellis writes: Erdogan’s chief advisor and spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, in his keynote speech at the Istanbul Forum in 2012, mentioned the growing gap between Islamic and Western notions of what constitutes sacred religious rights and freedom of expression. In Wednesday’s meeting of the Turkish National Security Council, it was underlined that states wishing to join NATO should also act in accordance with the law and spirit of the alliance. It would be timely to point out that NATO in its preamble states that the organization is founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. – The National Interest


Iraqi Kurdish authorities on Thursday pushed back against a decision by Iraq’s top court that blocked payments from state coffers funding the semi-autonomous region. – Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraq Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani on Thursday, said the French presidency, signing a set of strategic agreements meant to boost Iraq’s economic co-operation with Paris, especially in the energy and publics transportation sectors. – Reuters

UK security officials raised concerns about a visit to Iraq by under-fire Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg


Lebanese money exchanger Hassan Moukalled on Thursday denied that he or his company CTEX have financial ties to Hezbollah and said he would mount legal challenges to U.S. Treasury sanctions against him. – Reuters

Lebanon’s central bank froze all bank accounts belonging to Lebanese currency exchange house CTEX and its owner Hassan Moukaled on Thursday, days after the U.S. Treasury sanctioned them over alleged financial ties to blacklisted group Hezbollah. – Reuters

More than 200 people protested outside Lebanon’s justice palace on Thursday over efforts to derail an investigation into the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion, as top judges cancelled a meeting to discuss the fate of the inquiry. – Reuters

In their move to bury an investigation into the Beirut port blast, Lebanon’s ruling elite have driven another nail in the coffin of the collapsing state, stirring conflict in the judiciary as they try to avoid accountability at any cost. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank this weekend, the State Department announced Thursday, as the U.S. expressed alarm about escalating violence after Israel’s single deadliest operation in the West Bank in two decades. – Associated Press

A report published by UK-based news site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on Thursday claimed that Egypt is working to mediate between Israel and authorities in Gaza in order to prevent escalations following a counterterrorism raid on the West Bank city of Jenin. – Ynet

Ben Fishman writes: At the same time, however, a stable Libya could bring an estimated $100 billion of revenue into Egypt while enabling tens of thousands of Egyptian workers to return to their jobs across the border. Accordingly, the Biden administration should change the conversation on Libya, drawing Cairo’s attention to the economic benefits of fostering a neighbor that is stable rather than in perpetual conflict. – Washington Institute

Melissa Horvath writes: Juniper Oak and future CENTCOM exercises will continue to reinforce U.S. commitment, improve regional security and stability, and deter malign actors from exploiting the abandonment narrative. Despite posture reductions, the U.S. is still engaged in the Middle East. And it remains able to demonstrate its unmatched capability and willingness to rapidly deploy sufficient military personnel and equipment into the region to both deter adversaries and support its partners. – Middle East Institute


Several demonstrators who were apprehended for publicly protesting China’s then-ongoing zero-COVID policy remain in detention, face charges or have not been heard from, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday. – Reuters

Ambassador Ezzat Saad, the Executive Director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said in a January 13, 2023 interview on CGTN Network (China) that at the recent China-GCC summit in Riyadh, the Arab countries reiterated that they categorically reject Taiwan independence and support the One China principle. He also said that this is a main point in Arab-China relations. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Minxin Pei writes: For the US no less than China, the goal for now should be stability. Before they can go further, both sides need to test whether the other is pragmatic enough to know and observe the boundaries between open-ended geopolitical rivalry and mutually beneficial cooperation. If Chinese leaders are willing to engage in that process — whatever their motivations — Biden should be, too. – Bloomberg

Ralph E. Gomory writes: Carrying out the actions that are needed to defeat China’s attempt to dominate us will not be easy. There will be strong and well-funded opposition to needed changes from those who are benefitting from the present system. But, despite that opposition, we must act. The economic and geopolitical future of our country is at stake. – The Hill

Henry M. Paulson, Jr. writes: So are improved relations with allies. But U.S. allies and partners have made no secret of their desire not to isolate or contain Beijing. That is one message Washington should take away from the world’s refusal to disengage with China—and from China’s effort to drive wedges between Washington and everyone else. The political winds are strong and the desire to punish China even at the United States’ expense is driving many in Congress. Biden will need a lot of courage to be smart and bold in the face of these challenges. – Foreign Affairs

South Asia

The International Monetary Fund said Thursday it would send a team to Pakistan to hold talks on restarting a stalled bailout program as the debt-plagued country, now at risk of default, saw its currency fall to a record low against the dollar after allowing it to float freely. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan has sought support from Washington to unlock a stalled International Monetary Fund programme that would release $1.1 billion to its strained economy as the country rebuilds after last year’s devastating floods, Dawn newspaper said on Thursday. – Reuters

A security assessment by Indian police in the Himalayan region of Ladakh says there could be more clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along their contested frontier there as Beijing ramps up military infrastructure in the region. – Reuters


Japan tightened sanctions against Russia on Friday following its latest wave of missile attacks in Ukraine, adding goods to an export ban list and freezing the assets of Russian officials and entities. – Reuters

Japan successfully launched a rocket Thursday carrying a government intelligence-gathering satellite on a mission to watch movements at military sites in North Korea and improve natural disaster response. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s military government took an early step toward holding parliamentary elections, but it did so by imposing strict rules on political parties that may make fair balloting difficult. – Bloomberg

The International Criminal Court is set to resume its investigation on the deadly drug war in the Philippines during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, potentially creating a dilemma for incumbent Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – Bloomberg

Seth Cropsey writes: There is a danger that the Biden administration is simply deluded. Because it is misreading the military fundamentals of Taiwan’s defense, it may not deter China in the short term. More dangerous, however, is the view that Sino-American competition is primarily economic and technological. That gives Taiwan little incentive to fight. An America that no longer needs Taiwanese semiconductors can abandon its old friend, perhaps not in 2024 or 2026, but sometime during the next Democratic administration. It is Congress’s responsibility to ensure that U.S. policy doesn’t endorse chimerical dreams of deferred competition and economic rivalry without a superior military. – Wall Street Journal

Gregg Rubinstein writes: Recent press reports discuss Japanese government plans to subsidize required improvements in defense production capabilities, and even consider nationalizing some essential industry facilities. While such measures could prevent a further weakening of defense industrial capabilities, a more thorough restructuring of the industry may prove necessary for it to become a real national security asset—and an attractive international partner. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Plans by the European Commission to create new European Union funding for the green industry are facing mounting opposition in the 27-nation bloc, as seven EU countries openly rejected the idea in a letter to the EU executive. – Reuters

Investigators have detained a Ukrainian security official on suspicion of spying for Russia, authorities said on Thursday, part of an effort by Kyiv to weed out moles nearly a year into a war with Russia. – Reuters

A German citizen was arrested at the Munich airport on suspicion of treason for allegedly colluding with an intelligence service employee to pass on intelligence to Russia, the prosecutor general’s office said on Thursday. – Reuters

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: One sign this is working is the intense pressure on Mr. Scholz within Germany to send the Leopards to Kyiv. Mr. Scholz’s special curse is that he must govern while also managing his own party’s divisions and neuroses surrounding his Zeitenwende. The turn is real. But this will be a gradual turning process rather than a singular turning point. And Ukraine, at the sharp end of the most serious threat to European security since 1945, doesn’t have that kind of time. Prepare for more frustrations to come. – Wall Street Journal

John R. Deni writes: There is a risk that such moves might play into Erdoğan’s domestic political narrative, but they also might achieve the more important goal of solidifying Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO. In any case, for the time being, strategic patience appears a more prudent policy choice. – The Hill


U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had a “frank” exchange of views with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe about the Just Energy Transition Partnership, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa said on Thursday. – Reuters

The French foreign ministry said Thursday it is recalling its ambassador to Burkina Faso for consultations, one day after Paris decided to withdraw troops from the West African country following a demand by its military rulers. – Associated Press

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled from a small farm on a rural red clay road to a ramen noodle manufacturing plant in Zambia’s bustling capitol of Lusaka on Tuesday to showcase Africa’s potential to help solve the world’s problems with food shortages. – Associated Press

Mali court sentenced a man to death for the killings of three United Nations peacekeepers almost four years ago, the U.N. mission in Mali said Thursday. – Associated Press

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed held talks with various Sudanese leaders in Khartoum on Thursday, a sign of rekindling ties between the neighboring African countries, authorities said. – Associated Press

Latin America

The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on Paraguay’s former President Horacio Cartes and current Vice President Hugo Velazquez, citing “rampant corruption that undermines democratic institutions.” – Reuters

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday urged his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, to have France attend the summit of the Amazon countries that he aims to host in coming months. – Reuters

Peru withdrew its ambassador to Honduras, Jorge Raffo, due to Honduras’ “unacceptable interference” in the internal affairs of Peru, the South American nation’s foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

North America

Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said on Thursday, after Germany this week allowed other countries to re-export the German-built tank. – Reuters

Members of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee pushed the Biden administration to go further and move quicker on sanctions against Russian allies in its invasion of Ukraine, especially China and Iran. – The Hill

Eli Lake writes: That said, the FBI misjudged Mr. Deripaska for years. Until 2017, the FBI believed that he was a man with whom they could do business. Even the author of the Trump-Russia dossier was willing to work for him. If the indictment is correct, so was one of the bureau’s most senior counterintelligence agents. – New York Sun

Thomas D. Grant writes: As we face the risks of a new arms race and widespread nuclear proliferation, no single measure is a panacea. However, the NPT, long the “cornerstone” of nuclear arms control, deserves both dovish and hawkish support to be made great again. – The Hill


The FBI and international partners have at least temporarily disrupted the network of a prolific ransomware gang they infiltrated last year, saving victims including hospitals and school districts a potential $130 million in ransom payments, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other U.S. officials announced Thursday. – Associated Press

Cybercriminals duped federal employees into downloading remote monitoring and management software and then used it to execute scams to steal money from victims’ bank accounts, top cybersecurity officials said Wednesday. – CyberScoop 

One of China’s most prolific influence operations has turned out to be spammy, low-quality, and generally results in low engagement, Google’s Threat Analysis Group said after it disrupted more than 50,000 instances of activity from the so-called Dragonbridge network in 2020, according to a report released Thursday. – CyberScoop 

Google says it shut down more than 50,000 accounts promoting pro-People’s Republic of China (PRC) disinformation in 2022 that focused on Taiwan, COVID-19 and U.S. politics.  The takedowns are the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Google and a campaign it has named “Dragonbridge.” – The Record


The thick fog of secrecy encircling the U.S. Navy’s Project Overmatch is still needed to keep rival nations including China and Russia off-balance, unable to discern from afar how the service is readying for future large-scale conflicts, according to a pair of experts. – Defense News

A senior US official is crediting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s aggression in Asia and the waning effects of the COVID pandemic for a drastic leap in foreign military sales last fiscal year. – Breaking Defense

Alex Hollings writes: Like the Tomcat, the Raptor was built to win a global conflict that never came and that would have justified its immense expense and maintenance requirements against a backdrop of looming nuclear annihilation. When these threats passed, the high costs of these fighters became harder to justify in political debate, resulting in the early retirement of both in comparison to their peers. It’s entirely likely that, like the F-14, the F-22 will retire without ever seeing the war it was designed to fight. And like the Tomcat, some of the credit for deterring that terrible war rests squarely on the Raptor’s wings. – The National Interest

Long War

Nearly a dozen operatives with the Islamic State group in Somalia were killed in a U.S. military assault operation, including a senior militant who the U.S. had intended to capture but instead killed, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Syrian Kurdish-led forces captured a local commander of the Islamic State group in eastern Syria as part of an ongoing operation targeting sleeper cells in the city of Raqqa, the U.S.-backed forces announced Thursday. – Associated Press

A U.S. jury on Thursday convicted a man who used a truck to kill eight people on a Manhattan bike path in 2017 on murder and terrorism charges, in the first federal death penalty trial of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration. – Reuters