Fdd's overnight brief

January 31, 2023

In The News


​​An Israeli drone strike inside Iran hit an advanced weapons-production facility in an attack that Israel believes achieved its goals, according to people familiar with discussions about the operation. – Wall Street Journal

The video was instantly viral: Cell phone footage from anti-government protests in Iran’s Kurdish city of Sanandaj showed a bare-chested man wielding a knife, encircled by about a dozen regime forces armed with guns. – CNN 

US officials believe drone attacks at a military plant in Iran’s central city of Isfahan were carried out by Israel, according to US media reports. – CNN 

A bipartisan sanctions bill reintroduced last week aims to impose sanctions on high-level Iranian regime officials in response to the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year and the subsequent crackdown on protesters. – Jewish Insider

Iran and Russia have connected their interbank communication and transfer systems to help boost trade and financial transactions, a senior Iranian official said on Monday, as both Tehran and Moscow are chafing under Western sanctions. – Reuters

Iran summoned Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran on Monday over his country’s comments on a drone strike on a military factory in the central Iranian province of Isfahan, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency. – Reuters 

In the wake of a drone strike against at least one defense factory in the central city of Isfahan, Iranian officials told Newsweek that any military option pursued by the United States against the Islamic Republic would result in all-out conflict with regionwide ramifications. – Newsweek 

Iranian Navy Commander Shahram Irani said Iran is looking to expand operations on the coast of the Makran region in the Sistan and Baluchistan province. – Jerusalem Post 

Najmeh Bozorgmehr writes: For now, street protests have almost come to a halt but hardly any pro-reform politician thinks this is the end. Neither the regime nor the dissidents show appetite for compromise: it’s an unstable impasse. But social media remains a battlefield. Videos of those who died, were hanged or arrested circulate, showing them dancing, singing, doing sports and enjoying a normal life. – Financial Times 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: The question now is whether Iran will take the hint and adjust its behavior in some way, as it did in 2012, or remain intransigent and leave whoever hit Isfahan this weekend – the Mossad, according to foreign sources – with increasing American support to do even greater damage. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Clearly, Iran wants Russia to be interested in the drone attack and it wants to condemn Ukraine for appearing to make light of the attack. This is part of Tehran’s desire for a stronger alliance with Russia. Iran is selling drones to Russia and Russia has used those drones to attack Ukraine. However, it is unclear if Russia has acquired more drones or if it is running low on stocks. – Jerusalem Post 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The abilities and widespread use of drones in the Middle East now mean that more tensions and battles will be conducted with these systems, including many incidents where the type of weapon used and who is behind the attack is not clear. Iran, for instance, thrives on sending its drones to Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and lets them be unleashed by local proxies. That is also why it sent them to Russia. – Jerusalem Post 

Matthew Levitt writes: EU foreign policy chief Borrell is not wrong when he says that the EU cannot designate the IRGC just on the basis of not liking the organization. But he is patently wrong when he asserts that a designation cannot take place until a court in an EU member state issues a judicial ruling against the group. There is ample evidence admissible within the CP 931 framework of the IRGC engaging in what the EU defines as “terrorist acts,” both in Europe and around the world. – Lawfare

Himdad Mustafa writes: The monarchists form a minority group in Iranian politics. Furthermore, as a Persian-centrist political group, they do not represent the country’s ethno-nations that comprise almost half of Iran’s population. In view of the pro-monarchists’ approach to minorities’ demands, a new Iran ruled by the monarchy is unlikely to undergo major changes in terms of minorities’ rights and democratic rule of law. Hence, it is important to heed lessons from the past to avoid repeating the same mistakes that led to the creation of the current situation in Iran. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Banafsheh Keynoush writes: Taking into consideration both the problems related to climate change and the potential means of alleviating them, regions across Iran could maximize their adaptability by using indigenous approaches and techniques like these. Such methods could also help to promote better soil management by improving handling of natural groundwater flows in urban and rural areas and containing over-flooding. At the end of the day, urban planning practices should aim to strike a balance between the requirements of the natural environment, climate challenges, and architectural design. – Middle East Institute 

Russia & Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the West to accelerate deliveries of weapons to Kyiv, as Ukrainian forces battled to keep Russian troops from encircling Bakhmut, the city in eastern Ukraine where the fiercest fighting is under way. – Wall Street Journal

Fighting remained largely deadlocked Monday in eastern Ukraine where Russian shelling killed five civilians over the past day, according to Ukrainian officials, as the warring sides sized up their needs for renewed military pushes expected in coming weeks. – Associated Press

President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France doesn’t exclude sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but laid out multiple conditions before such a significant step might be taken. – Associated Press

NATO-member Croatia’s president on Monday criticized Western nations for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons in its campaign against invading Russian forces, saying those arms deliveries will only prolong the war. – Associated Press

France and Australia announced Monday plans to jointly produce and send several thousand 155-millimeter artillery shells to Ukraine, starting in the coming weeks. – Associated Press  

Ukrainian Presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak on Monday called the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a “promoter of war” after the sports body said it was considering ways for Russian athletes to compete. – Agence France-Presse 

US president Joe Biden has ruled out sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, delivering a blow to Kyiv’s push to secure the combat aircraft just a week after Washington and Berlin agreed to supply it with tanks. – Financial Times 

A load of more than 60 Bradley fighting vehicles departed South Carolina for Ukraine last week as part of the latest $2.5 billion package in military aid that the Biden administration announced earlier this month. – Fox News 

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene warned against the United States supporting Ukraine if its military tries to retake control of Crimea amid the Russian invasion. – Newsweek

A member of the Russian parliament recently called for his country to attack the United States with nuclear weapons during a television appearance. – Newsweek 

Russia’s deputy foreign minister claimed this weekend that the country has been the target of “coordinated aggression” in cyberspace conducted by “intelligence agencies, transnational IT corporations, and hacktivists.” – The Record

Boris Johnson writes: Ukrainians should be given everything they need to finish this war, as quickly as possible, and we should begin the process of admitting Ukraine to NATO, and begin it now. It would be no use if Moscow complains. They had a case once, and they were heard with respect. That case has been pulverized by the bombs and missiles of Putin. – Washington Post


Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken headed to the occupied West Bank on Tuesday to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in the final stop of a whirlwind effort to help ebb a spasm of tensions in the region. – New York Times 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for calm at a time of cascading violence during his visit to Jerusalem on Monday, the most high-profile U.S. engagement with Israel since the inauguration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government last month. – Washington Post

After bloodshed in Jerusalem and the West Bank and a month since Israel’s most right-wing government took office, Israel and the Palestinians risk sliding into a cycle of wider confrontation with pressure on both sides for retaliation, analysts say. – Reuters

Russia appeared to issue a veiled threat against Israel and the United States on Monday when it condemned an attack on an Iranian weapons depot, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. – Jerusalem Post 

The Palestinian Authority will repeat its demand that the US administration fulfill its promises and declared commitments regarding the Palestinian issue, a senior PA official in Ramallah said Tuesday on the eve of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. – Jerusalem Post 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to fly to Paris on Thursday and stay in France through Saturday evening, his office said late Monday for a visit that comes amid escalating tensions with the Palestinians and Iran. – Times of Israel 

Ahmed Charai writes: Working to change the conditions on the ground and using Abraham Accord countries to make outreach to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians must be the pathway. The U.S. has an indispensable role: The Biden administration must help with any negotiated solution to allow Israelis to live in safety and Palestinians to have a real authority that represents them. – The Hill

Aynur Bashirova writes: The next frontline in the Middle East is not about terrorism—but about law. While Israel has long prided itself on its world class military and amazing cyber-offensive capabilities, the new array of potential legal challenges will require its lawyers to prepare for the next wave of legal attacks on Israel’s right to exist. – Newsweek 

Herb Keinon writes: If Israel was responsible for the attacks, it indicates something else as well: that last month’s change of government did not alter the military action Jerusalem is willing to take to thwart Iran, and that Netanyahu will continue a policy put into place by then prime minister Naftali Bennett to not only act again Iran’s proxies – in Bennett’s words the “tentacles of the octopus” – but rather to hit as well at the “head of the octopus” itself, meaning to strike inside Iran when necessary. – Jerusalem Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: In other words, if other major Palestinian cities become more like Jenin, where there is no real solution, such a civil war could spill over into Israel on a whole new level and leave Jerusalem with almost no point of contact. – Jerusalem Post 

Joseph Braude writes: Whispered in Gaza’s journey has just begun. It has already demonstrated the potential to catalyze a more enlightened global discussion of Gaza and its future — from college campuses to the halls of power, and, most importantly, across the Arab world. As we continue to do what we can to spread it, we urge others who believe in these voices to join us in platforming them. – Times of Israel


Hopes that Turkey would ratify the NATO memberships of Sweden and Finland any time soon have faded, with its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the midst of a tough fight for re-election. – New York Times

Turkey could greenlight Finland’s membership in NATO before that of Sweden, if the military alliance and both Nordic countries agree to it, the Turkish foreign minister said Monday. – Associated Press 

Looming over the deserted village of Sararo in northern Iraq, three Turkish military outposts break the skyline, part of an incursion that forced the residents to flee last year after days of shelling. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In general, this usage of the Holocaust is staged to push Holocaust denial. Turkey’s leadership doesn’t really care about Holocaust denial, but they care about using it when necessary. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang wants to build stronger ties with Saudi Arabia and set up a China-Gulf free trade zone “as soon as possible”, according to a ministry statement published late on Monday. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Monday to discuss cooperation within the OPEC+ group of oil producing countries in order to maintain oil price stability, the Kremlin said in a statement. – Reuters

Neville Teller writes: Netanyahu’s tactic must be to convince Saudi Arabia of the sea change in priorities wrought by Hamas intransigence and the Abraham Accords.[…]Netanyahu can be very persuasive but so far, Saudi Arabia is sticking to its guns. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Fifteen members of Syrian government internal security forces were injured on Monday when an explosive device detonated as they were travelling on a bus in the southern region of Daraa, the Syrian interior ministry said in a statement. – Reuters

The United States will continue to encourage Egypt to take steps on human rights, including freeing more political prisoners and guaranteeing freedom of expression, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Cairo on Monday. – Reuters

Last week, Israel’s recently reinstalled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Amman, Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah II. Readouts from the meeting sent out by each leader’s office struck a similar tone. Both emphasized maintaining stability in a volatile region. Yet, while Israel’s statement highlighted the “strategic, security and economic cooperation between Israel and Jordan,” Jordan’s was focused on respecting the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and support for Palestinian sovereignty. – Jewish Insider

Simon Henderson writes: For Washington, these developments challenge U.S. policy but also offer opportunities in terms of their apparent realism. Despite the ample diplomatic bandwidth currently being taken up by Iranian threats and the latest Israeli-Palestinian tensions, U.S. policymakers still have room to revitalize relations with the Gulf states. This is particularly true on the personal level (which is often so crucial in the region), but also in terms of reinforcing the reality of American commitment on a military level. – Washington Institute

Abdullah Toukan writes: Jordan is now seeking a regional security arrangement that puts prevention before intervention and reaction. The purpose of the Regional Security Arrangement is to enhance security and stability in the Middle East, and should ultimately include functions of Conflict Resolution, Conflict Prevention and Economic Cooperation. Ultimately, the region should move from confrontational security policies, and and a focus on building up its forces and on offensive military doctrine to a focus on Cooperative Security Policy and Defensive Military Doctrine – changes which will will enhance both regional and national security and stability. This will require both active regional efforts and outside participation. especially the support and active participation of the United States and the EU. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Paul Salem, Howard Eissenstat, Alex Vatanka, et al write: In 2022, the United States initiated a limited re engagement of the Middle East, with President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia in July highlighting the region’s importance as an arena for broader geopolitical competition with China and Russia. But 2023 opens with many questions looming large about America’s priorities in the region. The most important question is how much the Middle East matters relative to the ongoing Ukraine war, dealing with China’s role on the world’s stage, and global security issues such as climate change. – Middle East Institute 

Bobby Ghosh writes: With little influence over Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, MBZ can also expect more violence aimed at Israelis. He must know Israel will make more attempts on Iranian military targets, especially as the regime in Tehran races toward nuclear threshold status. And, as he learned last weekend, he can expect all these things to happen at once. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

South Korea left the door open to reconsidering Seoul’s prohibition against sending weapons to Ukraine, with Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup saying Tuesday that he was aware of the “need for the international effort” and that his government was “directing our close attention” to the situation. – Washington Post 

The defence chiefs of the United States and South Korea vowed on Tuesday to expand military drills and boost nuclear deterrence planning to counter North Korea’s weapons development and prevent a war. – Reuters

Russia’s hunt for weapons to fire at Ukraine could provide a lifeline for North Korea, where even a relatively modest arms deal would help lift the country’s cash-starved and stagnant economy into growth. – Bloomberg

Mitch Shin writes: Ostensibly, the new Cold War has appeared in various regions – especially in the Korean Peninsula. As North Korea appears to have decided to tighten ties with Russia and China to better confront the U.S. and its allies’ leverage in the region, Seoul and Washington would need to recalibrate policies on North Korea to effectively deter and respond to the North’s missile threats. – The Diplomat


China’s government on Monday criticized U.S. controls on technology exports as a trade violation, after Japan and the Netherlands agreed to join Washington in limiting Beijing’s access to materials to make advanced processor chips they say can be used in weapons. – Associated Press 

Russia said on Monday that it wanted to take ties with China to a “new level” and was looking forward to face-to-face talks with Beijing’s leadership as a Russian newspaper reported that China’s top diplomat would visit Moscow in February. – Reuters

Republicans are using their brand-new House majority to push for tougher China sanctions enforcement on dual-use equipment even as the Biden administration greatly expands sweeping new export controls on U.S. technology that could be used by the Chinese military. – Defense News

Andrew D. Taffer and David Wallsh write: All of this is good news for the United States. Beijing’s diplomatic record suggests that China doesn’t pose nearly the threat to U.S. alliances that many in Washington fear. Instead of pursuing a farsighted strategy to undermine American alliances, it has prioritized other objectives—even when they have backfired. Chinese statecraft is likely to continue to provide opportunities for Washington to deepen its partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, solidifying the United States’ presence there over Beijing’s objections. – Foreign Affairs

Ted R. Bromund and Sterling Mosley write: The ATT cannot and will not stop regimes, such as China’s, that are determined to sell arms to dictatorships. An opportunistic China is more than willing to take advantage of naive progressives who enjoy criticizing the United States and who are always ready to mistake a national signature on a treaty for concurrence with their unfounded fantasies. – Heritage Foundation

South Asia

When a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP. – Associated Press

The U.N. humanitarian chief warned Monday that the Taliban’s ban on women aid workers in Afghanistan is “a potential death blow” to many important humanitarian programs. – Associated Press 

Yousuf Nazar writes: Even if the IMF programme is revived soon, the next tranche of about $1.1bn may not be sufficient in shoring up Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves. The Saudi Fund for Development recently agreed to fund $1bn worth of oil imports on deferred payment, which is not enough to finance even one month of Pakistan’s oil needs. Only an immediate and large bailout can save Pakistan from default. Otherwise, the country may suffer the same fate as Sri Lanka last year. – Financial Times 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Those rifles likely do not come from Afghanistan, but probably somewhere closer to the West Bank. This shows how the murderous terrorism that threatens Pakistan is also linked to threats in Kashmir and Israel. – Jerusalem Post


The U.S. military is poised to secure expanded access to key bases in the Philippines on the heels of a significant revamp of U.S. force posture in Japan — developments that reflect the allies’ concern with an increasingly fraught security environment in the region and a desire to deepen alliances with the United States, according to U.S. and Philippine officials. – Washington Post

Shipments from other parts of the world into the tiny former Soviet republic began to balloon to more than 10 times the value of phone imports in previous months. At the same time, Armenia recorded an explosion in its exports of smartphones to a beleaguered ally: Russia. – New York Times 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in Japan as part of his East Asia tour, said “our security is closely interconnected” and called for stronger ties with Japan as Russia’s war on Ukraine raises global dangers and shows that democracies need stronger partnerships. – Associated Press

Defying China, the president of self-ruled Taiwan affirmed the island’s ties with the Czech Republic in a phone call with the Central European nation’s President-elect Petr Pavel. – Associated Press 

Armenia pleaded with judges of the United Nations’ highest court on Monday to order Azerbaijan to break up a road blockade that is isolating the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, calling the action part of an act of “ethnic cleansing.” – Associated Press

Two years after Myanmar’s military seized power, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced support Monday for the democratic aspirations of Myanmar’s people and warned that the military’s planned elections amid a crackdown on civilians and political leaders “risk exacerbating instability.” – Associated Press 

 The remote atoll nation of Kiribati said on Monday it would rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum, ending a split that had threatened unity at a time of increased superpower tensions in the strategically-located region. – Reuters

The Myanmar military, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, has been invited to take part in a regional military meeting co-chaired by the United States and Thailand, the U.S. military said on Monday. – Reuters

But a far colder reaction came from China and North Korea, two nations whose officials emphasized on Monday that a growing military footprint of the U.S.-led alliance was not welcome in the Asia-Pacific region. – Newsweek 

Michael Rubin writes: The situation on the ground today is clear. Artsakh is under siege, and Azerbaijan is the aggressor. No effort to distract with calumnies against Armenians changes that. U.S. law is also clear. If Azerbaijan seeks a military solution to a diplomatic dispute, under Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, it should receive no American assistance. That the White House continues to defy U.S. law and Congressional intent is a political scandal, morally obtuse, and undercuts American national security. – 19FortyFive


Slovenian authorities have apprehended two alleged Russian spies suspected of using an agency dealing in real estate and antiques as a front for their activities in the NATO member, media reported Monday. – Associated Press 

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, agreed on Monday to strengthen their security, defense and economic ties and pledged to cooperate in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other threats in Europe and Asia. – Associated Press

Hundreds of Indonesian Muslims marched to the heavily guarded Swedish Embassy in the country’s capital on Monday to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands. – Associated Press

Finland is sticking to its plan to join NATO at the same time as Nordic neighbour Sweden, and hopes to do so no later than July, Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday. – Reuters

Richard Milne writes: Throughout the Nato membership process, Finland’s preparation has been the more assiduous. It sounded out all the existing members before it applied, unlike Sweden. Now as they wait for Turkey’s ratification, there is every chance Helsinki will do the same again. – Financial Times 

Luis Simón writes: How direct or indirect the United States’ strategic role in Europe will be in the coming years will ultimately be informed by U.S. domestic politics, and will also enable developments in both Europe and the Indo-Pacific. At any rate, however, the pressure for a stronger European role in conventional deterrence and defense is only likely to intensify. This has already triggered debates within NATO about the need for Europeans to play a greater role in conventional deterrence and defense. The European Union should thus take part in that broader rebalancing toward deterrence and defense in European political and strategic thinking. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The U.S. is pressuring wealthy Persian Gulf states, as well as Europe, to boost humanitarian assistance to Somalia before a food crisis becomes a famine. – Wall Street Journal

With immense mineral wealth and fertile land, a large, youthful population, and a territory about the size of Western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo should be the economic engine of Africa and a global power. – New York Times 

Belarusia’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Zimbabwe to pomp and fanfare on Monday, in a visit that seeks to cement economic and political ties between the two countries that are both close allies of Russia. – Associated Press 

Multiple jihadi attacks across Burkina Faso over several days have resulted in the death of at least 32 people, including soldiers and civilians, government authorities said Tuesday. – Associated Press


The sheer quantity of munitions required for this type of conflict has exposed vulnerabilities within the US defence industry, as it pivots from a conservative approach to production during peacetime, and a pandemic-era parts and labour shortage. – Financial Times 

The United States military is underprepared for a war with China, retired U.S. General Jack Keane warned on Monday. – Newsweek 

US defence company Northrop Grumman will begin integrating Military Code (M-Code) global positioning system (GPS) capability into the company’s precision guidance systems for medium- and long-range artillery systems. – Janes