Fdd's overnight brief

January 5, 2023

In The News


Universities have been the beating heart of Iran’s anti-government uprising, but the cost for students protesting in the Islamic Republic has never been higher, according to current and former activists. – Washington Post

Iran released a well-known actress on Wednesday, state media reported, after she spent two and a half weeks in detention for condemning the government’s harsh response to the mass protests that have upended the country since September. – New York Times 

Iran’s supreme Leader on Wednesday hinted that the government may loosen the strict dress codes that were blamed for a young woman’s death and triggered nationwide demonstrations that have shaken the country’s clerical establishment. – NBC

Iran summoned France’s envoy in Tehran on Wednesday to protest against “insulting” cartoons published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian state media reported. – Reuters 

The Biden administration rejected as “false” any claims that it was engaged in talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. – Jerusalem Post

Justice Minister MK Yariv Levin at an evening press conference on Wednesday presented his plan for reform of the legal system, which featured changes to key legal principles and institutions that would strengthen the legislative and executive branches at the expense of the judicial branch. – Jerusalem Post

The United States is looking at ways to target Iranian drone production through sanctions and export controls, and is talking to private companies whose parts have been used in production, the White House said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Jarrett Blanc, the U.S. deputy special envoy for Iran, is leaving the State Department Iran team and returning to the Department of Energy to work on nuclear policy-related issues, according to three U.S. officials. – Axios

Iran’s pro-government media, especially those linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have been pushing headlines about Qasem Soleimani, the former head of the Quds Force who was killed by a US drone in January 2020. According to one outlet, it was a “big blow” to Palestinian terror groups. The anniversary of his death has prompted a lot of content about him, providing a glimpse into how Iran and its allies in the region view the loss of this key commander. – Jerusalem Post

Sarah McLaughlin writes: The Iranian regime is right that it’s time for a clear response — but not of the kind it’s threatening. Instead, we need one that fully embraces the right to free speech and rejects those who would limit it. We should leave behind mealy-mouthed equivocations about free speech that so frequently emerge after crises like the Charlie Hebdo attack and make full-throated defenses of the right to speak without fear of violence. It’s long past time we take an unmistakable stance in favor of expression and dissent and thumb our noses at authoritarians who would threaten and harm those who choose to live freely. – New York Post

Russia & Ukraine

After months of resisting Kyiv’s pleas for tanks to face increasingly dug-in Russian forces along the lengthy southern and eastern fronts, the United States and its allies are now poised to deliver a variety of armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine. – Washington Post

Ukraine has claimed a string of successful artillery attacks on Russian barracks in the first days of the year, asserting that it hit newly drafted men and other soldiers where they were sleeping or congregating, killing or wounding more than 1,000. – New York Times

Amid anger in Russia over one of the deadliest strikes on Moscow’s forces in the war, official blame has fallen on the targeted soldiers themselves, with the suggestion that their cellphone use enabled Ukrainian forces to home in on their location. – New York Times  

French President Emmanuel Macron told Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy his government would send light AMX-10 RC armoured combat vehicles to help in the war against Russia, a French official said on Wednesday after a phone call between them. – Reuters 

An Iranian drone that Russia launched in Ukraine contained parts made by more than a dozen United States and Western companies, according to a Ukrainian intelligence assessment. – Washington Examiner

As Russia continues it brutal barrage of airstrikes on Ukraine, the Kremlin boasted its military had destroyed a U.S.-supplied heavy artillery system called HIMARS. The White House, however, said that hasn’t been confirmed. – The Hill

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday the deployment of a frigate armed with hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles — a type of weaponry he says has “no analogues” — to the Atlantic Ocean. – New York Post 

Editorial: If Netanyahu can check all three of those boxes, and still conclude that his relationship with both sides and his diplomatic experience can be used to nudge them into negotiations to end this horrific war, then by all means he should give it a go. – Jerusalem Post

Dalibor Rohac writes: Together with its founder who is deeply rooted — just like Putin — in Saint Petersburg’s criminal underground, the Wagner Group epitomizes the thuggish nature of the Russian regime. Nobody should expect it to make a big difference on the battlefield in Ukraine; yet, one should be prepared for a scenario in which Prigozhin and his gangsters become one of the main factions competing for power in the Kremlin in the case of Putin’s demise or his defeat in Ukraine. All of which is to say that the “Russia problem” that the world is facing extends far beyond the figure of the autocrat in the Kremlin and is bound to outlive him. – New York Post 

Kseniya Kirillova writes: The West will have to prepare for a protracted conflict and continue to support Ukraine. Putin’s aggression is inspired more by domestic concerns, like survival and the 70-year-old’s legacy, than by his spurious territorial claims. Since these reasons lie at the core of Putin’s regime, they cannot be solved by any external “appeasement” of the aggressor. The only way forward is through his defeat. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Gabriel B. Collins writes: Shifting strategy and expanding U.S. support for Ukraine to include high-volume, longer-range precision fires would be an investment in Eurasian and global security and well-being. Simply staying the course and failing to offset Russia’s strategic shift of recent weeks would (in fact) amount to making a decision […]The West cannot hide from the ugliness Russia chose to unleash, but it has the capacity to help Ukraine defeat it and set the conditions for a lasting peace. – Foreign Policy


Israel’s new finance minister, the leader of the country’s far-right Religious Zionism party and an advocate of outright annexation of at least parts of the West Bank, said he plans to spend billions of dollars building infrastructure and investing in Jewish settlements in the territory. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting Thursday at the request of the Palestinians and other Islamic and non-Islamic nations to protest the visit of an ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister to a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site and demand an end to Israeli extremist provocations and respect for the historic status quo at the site revered by Muslims and Jews. – Associated Press

Lindsey Graham is troubled — or “unnerved,” as he phrased it — by a dialogue between Moscow and Jerusalem. On Tuesday the Israeli foreign minister, Eli Cohen, spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. He reportedly did so at the behest of Secretary Blinken, but what seemed to roil the Republican senator of South Carolina is that such a conversation should take place at all. – New York Sun

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke on Wednesday evening with his American counterpart, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for the first time since taking office. – Jerusalem Post

The Biden administration is opposed to Israeli plans to legalize the Homesh yeshiva and to rebuild the West Bank settlement that the IDF destroyed on that northern Samaria hilltop during the 2005 disengagement. – Jerusalem Post

Opposition chairman Yair Lapid is expected to embark to the US next week in order to speak with heads of Jewish organizations about the new government, according to reports in the Israeli media. – Jerusalem Post

Israel’s F-35 fighter jets and six F-15 fighter jets from the US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) took part in multi-day joint drills at the Nevatim air force base in southern Israel on Wednesday in what could be a signal to Iran in the ongoing nuclear standoff. – Jerusalem Post

The Biden administration plans to speak out against Israel at the United Nations Security Council debate late Thursday afternoon against any changes to the status quo of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. – Jerusalem Post

Leading ultra-Orthodox Jewish figures supporting Israel’s coalition government on Wednesday criticised a visit by a far-right minister to a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem, adding internal religious dissent to a cascade of foreign censure. – Reuters 

Editorial: Not that Israel or America has any stake in President Putin’s success. Russia’s defeat would, if it comes, be to the credit of both Ukraine and America and would bode well for the West. So there is something off-putting in Mr. Zelensky pressuring Israel in a place that has long since become an anti-Zionist cockpit. Nor is Mr. Zelensky the only leader whose country is under attack and needs help at the United Nations. – New York Sun


The UN is dispatching its top humanitarian official to Afghanistan to try to defuse a confrontation between the Taliban and international donors over a ban on women working at non-governmental organisations that has put the welfare of millions of Afghans at risk. – Financial Times

Eight people were killed and seven arrested following raids on hideouts of the Islamic State militant group in Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesperson said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet privately next week to discuss a decision by Afghanistan’s Taliban-led administration to ban female humanitarian aid workers, diplomats said Wednesday. – Reuters


Two rockets struck a base housing American troops in eastern Syria on Wednesday without causing any human or material losses, the U.S. military said. – Associated Press

Syria’s political and armed opposition are urging their decade-long backer Turkey to reaffirm its support for their cause after the highest-level talks in public between Ankara and the Damascus government since the Syrian war began in 2011. – Reuters

The Syrian state and pro-regime press, and the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is also close to the Syrian regime, described this as a U.S. move that complements the Caesar Act and is aimed at imposing even more sanctions on the Syrian regime. Its ultimate goal, they said, is to destroy the Syrian economy under the pretext of the war on drugs. They also expressed concern that the Captagon Act would serve as a pretext to ban the import of raw materials for the Syrian industry, especially the pharmaceutical industries. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Jonathan Robinson writes: If Russia’s insular and self-sustaining shadow aid ecosystem becomes more dominant in Syria in the event of the UN cross-border aid resolution not being passed, Russia’s entrenched and divergent approach to humanitarian aid will become even more challenging to engage with. This ominous prospect is something that should not be overlooked or underestimated by the international community. – Washington Institute


Turkey and Russia have agreed this week to hold a tripartite meeting of the foreign ministers of Syria, Russia, and Turkey. An exact date has yet to be set, but this is a very advanced move that may normalize Turkish-Syrian relations after 12 years of disconnect, hostility, and even enmity between Turkish President Recep Teyyep Erdogan and his counterpart Bashar Assad. – Haaretz

Editorial: The Turkish president is experienced at balancing East and West. He brokered a deal with Russia to permit grain exports from war-torn Ukraine and bought Russian S-400 air defense systems over U.S. objections. But he also sold Turkish drones to Ukraine. As Turkey’s all-important 2023 election nears, the United States and Europe cannot fail to speak out about his lunge toward autocracy. – Washington Post

Enes Kanter Freedom writes: My question is: Will the West call Erdogan’s bluff? Or will they continue to tolerate this Trojan horse in the NATO? And by doing this, help him to stay in power? The people in Turkey deserve so much better than this. The West must not allow Erdogan to instrumentalize them for his own political games. It’s time, that the people of Turkey, who are standing up for democracy and human rights, get the support they deserve from the West. I am aware that this will of course not end Erdogan’s reign or bring about a democratic rebirth but that shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction. – TIME

Middle East & North Africa

US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday during the department’s daily press briefing that he is “not aware that we’ve made any formal decision regarding the Quartet or any formal statement regarding the Quartet.” – Jerusalem Post

A former member of Hezbollah was arrested in September in Lebanon on suspicion of spying for the Mossad, and was blackmailed into doing so on threat of the release of videos showing him engaged in sexual relations, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Moroccan officials are reportedly pressuring Israel to recognize Morocco’s control over the disputed Western Sahara, and are connecting the establishment of a Moroccan embassy in Israel to the territory, according to a Wednesday report. – Times of Israel

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates foreign minister in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and an Arab state that once supported rebels trying to overthrow him. – Reuters 

Douglas Bloomfield writes: If Netanyahu wants to help his new royal pal, which is in Israel’s interest, he must first repair his own strained relations with Biden, the Democrats and the Jews. Given the extreme makeup of his new government, that will be one tall order. He cannot rely on his Republican and evangelical friends in the House of Representatives to badger the administration with their usual divisive rhetoric accusing the Democrats of being anti-Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

A North Korean drone entered a no-fly zone surrounding Seoul’s presidential office last week, South Korea’s military said Thursday, in the latest example of the growing military threat from Pyongyang, which has also ramped up missile testing and sent planes near the border. – Washington Post

South Korea maintained that Seoul and Washington are discussing its involvement in U.S. nuclear weapons management in the face of intensifying North Korean threats, after President Joe Biden denied that the allies were discussing joint nuclear exercises. – Associated Press 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is edging dangerously close to his “Next Big Thing”: a tactical nuclear warhead for wiping out a target like a military base or biological/chemical weapons capable of inflicting instant death on millions—or both. – The Daily Beast

A North Korean drone entered the northern end of a no-fly zone surrounding South Korea’s presidential office in Seoul when it intruded into the South’s airspace last week, the South’s military said on Thursday. – Reuters 

South Korea will speed up development of stealth drones this year, according to South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s team, in response to North Korea’s threats. – Washington Examiner 

Choe Sang-Hun writes: Mr. Kim has been promoting and firing top officials like pieces on a chessboard, frequently reshuffling his government. Last week, Pak Jong-chon, a top military official, was replaced. Those maneuverings have kept observers guessing, but such speculation is forbidden in the North’s tightly censored news media. “North Koreans take hereditary rule by the Kim family for granted because they have never experienced free election,” Mr. Ahn said. “They are less interested in who rules them but more interested in who will make their life better than Kim Jong-un has.” – New York Times 

Bruce Klingner writes: Washington and its allies pledged a resolute response to any additional North Korean military provocations, such as a nuclear test or ICBM flight. Options include an even higher tempo of rotational deployments of U.S. nuclear-capable strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula. North Korea would likely respond with additional provocative actions raising the risk of inadvertent military clashes. – Heritage Foundation


China’s rapid reversal of strict “zero covid” policies following unprecedented protests in November appeared, from afar, to be a rare instance of authorities acknowledging — perhaps even tacitly condoning — popular public dissent. – Washington Post

Nearly a dozen countries have imposed entry restrictions on travelers from China as it battles a surge in coronavirus infections that has raised alarm about the emergence of new variants and concerns about Beijing’s disclosure of information on the outbreak. – Washington Post

China is pausing its spending on interventions in the semiconductor market meant to compete with the United States. – Washington Examiner 

Qin Gang writes: My time here also reminds me that China-U.S. relations should not be a zero-sum game in which one side out-competes the other or one nation thrives at the expense of the other. The world is wide enough for China and the United States to both develop and prosper. The successes of our two countries are shared opportunities, not winner-take-all challenges. We must not allow prejudice or misperception to ignite confrontation or conflict between two great peoples. We should follow the strategic guidance of our presidents and find the right way to get along for the well-being of the world. – Washington Post

John Lee writes: As we have seen with the WTO, and this time regarding an entity without the balancing influence of American or European membership, it will use its size and leverage to change the nature and operation of an institution once it is a member. The point is that Beijing has not changed even if it is modifying its tactical approach. We seek a functional relationship with an indispensable economic partner. But there cannot be an economic reset nor the return to business as usual with China. – Hudson Institute


The Biden administration is plowing ahead with plans to re-open the U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands in a bid to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the Pacific. – Associated Press

The US is sending a delegation of trade and economic officials to Taiwan next week, as President Joe Biden’s administration seeks to bolster the commercial relationship with the country. – Financial Times

Australian police arrested a woman on Thursday on charges of entering and remaining in areas of Syria controlled by Islamic State, just over two months after the government repatriated 17 relatives of dead or jailed members of the group from Syria. – Reuters 

China and the Philippines said in a joint statement on Thursday they have agreed to set up a direct communications channel between their foreign ministries on the South China Sea to handle disputes peacefully. – Reuters 

China is ready to resume oil and gas talks and manage maritime issues “cordially” with the Philippines, China President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, according to Chinese state television. – Reuters

Australia said on Thursday it would be investing more than A$1 billion ($684 million) to buy new naval missiles and a land-based, long-range, surface-to surface High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). – Reuters  

Myanmar’s military government will release 7,012 prisoners under an amnesty to mark the country’s independence day, state broadcaster MRTV reported on Wednesday, as the junta chief praised some countries for maintaining support for his nation. – Reuters 

Democratic countries should make it clear the “severe economic consequences” China would face should it move against self-governed Taiwan, the former NATO secretary-general said during a visit to the island on Thursday. – Reuters 

Russia is sending more crude oil produced in the Arctic region to China and India, and at steeper discounts, after Europe slammed its doors shut on Russian supplies last month, trade sources and data show. – Reuters 

Islamist militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban on Wednesday claimed the killing of a senior official of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency and another officer, the latest in a resurgence of jihadist violence shaking the country. – Reuters 

Taiwan detained three active-duty officers and a retired Air Force officer suspected of spying for China, the Central News Agency in Taipei reported, a case that hints at the extent of Beijing’s snooping on its much smaller neighbor. – Bloomberg 

President Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House next week as Japan boosts its defense spending amid growing security risks in East Asia regarding North Korea and China. – The Hill 

Robert A. Manning writes: Some have proposed that the U.S. renegotiate and join CPTPP to address feared consequences. Absent a push to integrate itself more deeply economically into the region, U.S. Indo-Pacific policy has a flaw that could prove fatal. – The Hill

Patrick M. Cronin writes: Another way to understand Japan’s defense ambitions is to peg it to where China’s and North Korea’s military capabilities will be in five years. In short, Tokyo’s defense increases are intended to prevent Tokyo from falling further behind Xi Jinping’s buildup of the Communist Party of China’s People’s Liberation Army and Kim Jong-un’s asymmetric missile forces. The intent is to deter even the threat of force that would deny Japan its essential sovereignty and strategic autonomy. – Hudson Institute


Serbia’s president said Wednesday that the European Union’s calls for his country to join sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine represent “a brutal” interference in the internal affairs of the Balkan state, which has asked to join the EU. – Associated Press

Antisemitic hate crimes in London were slightly higher in December than the preceding month, according to the latest data issued by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). – Algemeiner

Hacking collective Anonymous has accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of acting as “Putin’s puppet” as Serbia stirs up conflict with Kosovo in an act that Russia hopes may distract the West from Ukraine. – Fox News

Editorial: This scandal comes at a turbulent time for the E.U., as it faces the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war is an act of aggression against Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also against the mode of governance of a bloc Ukraine seeks to join. The E.U. cannot allow that system of governance to appear to be as incompetent, corrupt and out-of-touch as its enemies claim it is. – Washington Post


Two car bombs detonated by al Shabaab militants in central Somalia on Wednesday killed at least 35 people, including eight members of a single family, and wounded 40 more, a senior police officer said. – Reuters

Ghana is poised to request debt relief via the G20 Common Framework programme and has sought reassurances that the negotiations can be expedited before proceeding, sources told Reuters. – Reuters 

A year that began with no end in sight for one of the world’s deadliest conflicts finished on a note of cautious optimism in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray after a November ceasefire agreement. – Reuters

The Americas

A new report from Americans Against Antisemitism (AAA) found that Orthodox Jews in New York City were the most frequent targets of antisemitism, representing nearly 100 percent of reported cases between 2018 and 2022. – Arutz Sheva

President Biden on Wednesday told reporters that he intends to visit the southern border while he’s in Mexico next week. – The Hill 

Grappling with the biggest flood of Cuban migrants in decades, the United States reopened their long-closed legal pathway on Wednesday by resuming all visa services at its embassy in Havana. – Associated Press

David Ignatius writes: Biden begins 2023 with the wind at his back on foreign policy. He has made new friends and confounded old adversaries. He has made mistakes, as with the Saudis, and many key issues remain unfinished, but the genial octogenarian has adopted an unsentimental foreign policy — for the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be. – Washington Post

Alexandra Seymour writes: As the United States makes significant investments in semiconductor manufacturing as a long-term solution, it cannot forgo its existing strengths. The next Congress should work with the White House to prioritize semiconductor design protectionism so that the U.S. can secure its supply chain from idea to application, from now into the future. – The Hill


Records of 235 million Twitter accounts and the email addresses used to register them have been posted to an online hacking forum, setting the stage for anonymous handles to be linked to real-world identities. – Washington Post

Irish regulators fined Meta 390 million euros, or roughly $414 million, Wednesday for allegedly forcing users into its targeted advertising program in violation of Europe’s landmark privacy law. – CyberScoop

Tehilla Shwartz-Altshuler writes: Israel’s cybersecurity is a ticking time bomb; no one knows when or how it will explode or which institutions will be affected. But it is clear that this will happen at some stage and that the damage will be severe and scary. Therefore, the State Comptroller is right to emphasize the importance of passing a cyber law that defines a framework for oversight and enforcement. – Jerusalem Post