Fdd's overnight brief

January 9, 2023

In The News


Iran hanged two men Saturday who were convicted of killing a militia member during antigovernment protests, according to Iranian state media, the third and fourth Iranians known to have received the death penalty in connection with the nearly four-month-old nationwide demonstrations. – Wall Street Journal

German authorities said Sunday that police had arrested a 32-year-old Iranian citizen suspected of obtaining deadly toxins to allegedly carry out an Islamist-motivated attack. – Wall Street Journal

A top dissident Iranian Sunni cleric on Friday denounced as un-Islamic Iran’s alleged use of forced confessions to convict detained protesters, as weekly demonstrations continued in the county’s southeast. – Reuters

Iran has sentenced to death three people accused of killing three members of the security forces during the protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, the judiciary said Monday. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s judiciary announced on Sunday jail terms of up to 10 years for people who called for strikes as part of a months-long protest movement. – Agence France-Presse

Iranian hardliners on Sunday burned French flags outside the French embassy in Tehran, protesting cartoons published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that lampoon Iran’s ruling clerics. – Associated Press 

The third anniversary of the downing of a civilian airliner in Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is fueling renewed anti-government protests both inside the country and abroad. – Bloomberg

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed a new police commander, telling him to ensure public security after deadly protests swept the country. – Bloomberg

A celebrity chef with millions of followers on social media is the latest victim of Tehran’s increasingly harsh crackdown on the protests that have swept the nation since a young woman died in police custody following her arrest under the Islamic Republic’s stringent “hijab” laws last September. – New York Sun

Iran’s judiciary announced on January 8 jail terms of up to 10 years for people who called for strikes following months of anti-government protests. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The United States has issued new sanctions targeting six individuals linked to Iranian drone manufacturer Quds Aviation Industries, a key defense manufacturer responsible for the design and production of drones used by Russia in its war against Ukraine, the U.S. Treasury Department said on January 6. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iranian protesters gathered at the Rajaei-Shahr Prison in Karaj on Sunday night after reports spread that fellow protesters Mohammad Ghobadlu and Mohamad Broghani had been transferred to solitary confinement ahead of their planned execution. – Jerusalem Post

A group of women in the infamous Kachoui prison near Tehran in January launched a hunger strike to protest their harsh incarceration and the lack of medical care. – Jerusalem Post

Daniel DePetris writes: Iran’s power in 2023, of course, doesn’t come remotely close to what an even dying Soviet Union possessed in the early 80s. But it will nonetheless be interesting to see if Biden eventually comes to a similar conclusion. – Washington Examiner

Nicholas Carl and Kitaneh Fitzpatrick write: Protest activity increased significantly on January 8—in line with the calls from protest organizers for countrywide demonstrations to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down of a Ukrainian civilian airplane. […]But protest coordinators and organizations aligned at least in their calls for countrywide demonstrations on January 8, demonstrating that they can still generate substantial turnout, especially when their messaging is coherent and consistent. – Institute for the Study of War

Can Kasapoglu writes: The ruling elites of Iran, who are currently busy with drumhead courts and mass executions, know that their drone and missile transactions with Russia mark a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231—the resolution which endorses the nuclear deal. However, the ayatollahs are relieved to see that Western administrations have been silent regarding Iran’s escalations. In a broader sense, the Su-35 procurement is not only a defense deal but also a strategic manifestation, proving the bitter cost of appeasement and naivety. – The National Interest

Russia & Ukraine

Russia’s self-declared 36-hour cease-fire expired with little letup in the fighting on Sunday morning, as Russian forces continued shelling across eastern Ukraine and Moscow-installed officials accused Ukrainian forces of bombing a power plant in occupied Donetsk. – Wall Street Journal

The action was part of a live-fire training exercise for new recruits on a recent morning outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. But there was an unusual element to the event. While a Ukrainian Army officer was giving the orders, the trainees were members of a volunteer Chechen battalion that also mixed in some Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians. – New York Times

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus on Friday visited a military base in his country where Russia and Belarus have been conducting joint exercises, adding to creeping fears that Moscow could use Belarus as a launchpad for a new ground offensive into Ukraine. – New York Times

The United States has moved to a new level of military assistance to Ukraine, adding armored combat vehicles and mobile artillery in the largest package of military aid since the Russian invasion last February. The Defense Department said the equipment would allow Kyiv’s forces to launch aggressive ground offensives against entrenched Russian lines in the east and south of the country. – Washington Post 

Now Graf and his team, who have become experts at killing Russian troops with munitions dropped from the air, are trying to raise the drones’ effectiveness to the next level: by using them to deliver what they consider the perfect grenade. […]The tinkering in Graf’s workroom is another example of how Ukraine’s military has adapted as the war progresses, creating advantages in the face of the Russian Army’s superiority in troop numbers and long-range weaponry. – New York Times

Russia and Ukraine swapped 50 captured soldiers each on Sunday in a deal that both sides welcomed even as they fought one another in eastern Ukraine. – Reuters

Russia’s government extended support to a legislative amendment that would classify maps that dispute the country’s official “territorial integrity” as punishable extremist materials, the state-owned TASS news agency reported on Sunday. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin’s aim of seizing Ukrainian territory has not changed, but Russian forces continue to suffer from military weaknesses including the amount of troops they have, the Pentagon said on Friday, as Washington hopes the latest record weapons package for Kyiv will help Ukraine retake territory occupied by Russia. – Reuters

The Russian-installed governor of the Crimean city of Sevastopol said on Saturday that air defences had shot down a drone in what he suggested was the latest attempted Ukrainian attack on a port where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based. – Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the newest military aid package to Ukraine worth a total of $3.75 billion on Friday afternoon. President Joe Biden disclosed a day earlier that the package would include Bradley Fighting Vehicles, marking the first time the United States would provide such assets. – Washington Examiner

Nearly half of top foreign policy experts think Russia will become a failed state or break up by 2033, while a large majority expects China to try and take Taiwan by force, according to a new survey by the Atlantic Council that points to a decade of global tumult ahead. – Financial Times 

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) on Sunday called the type of fighting happening in east Ukraine “essentially trench warfare” just days after he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. – The Hill

Two key Democratic senators with oversight of intelligence and the armed services met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday, shortly before the Biden administration announced a nearly $4 billion military aid package for the country. – The Hill

Former NATO chief James Stavridis said in an interview that he believes Russian forces in Ukraine will be “burned through and exhausted” by the end of the winter season as the Kremlin’s war against the neighboring country continues. – The Hill

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: In all this, a wild card isn’t China so much as Germany, which understandably fears chaos. Russia and its sympathizers in the West already are softening sanctions wherever the rest of us aren’t looking, such as allowing Russia’s coal exports to bounce back to their highest level ever. And yet the psychological reality of Russia’s defeat seems likely to be so impressive that even Germany will have a hard time finding a constituency to soften Russia’s fall as much as some would like. – Wall Street Journal

Adrian Karatnycky writes: Every U.S. citizen has a right to express an opinion about the issues of the day. And experts are free to challenge the pro-Ukraine views held by the vast majority of Americans. But cooperation with official propagandists who beat the drum for a state perpetrating massive war crimes and atrocities is another matter. Messrs. Sachs, Episkopos and Simes should know better. – Wall Street Journal

Paul Krugman writes: Ukraine won’t be able to do that to Russia, nor can Russia do that to NATO, whose members will presumably continue to send supplies to Ukraine. So the brutal slogging match may continue for a very long time. But this is, as I said, largely about math. And the arithmetic, incredibly, seems to favor Ukraine – New York Times

Condoleezza Rice and Robert M. Gates write: President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech before Congress last month reminded us of Winston Churchill’s plea in February 1941: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” We agree with the Biden administration’s determination to avoid direct confrontation with Russia. However, an emboldened Putin might not give us that choice. The way to avoid confrontation with Russia in the future is to help Ukraine push back the invader now. That is the lesson of history that should guide us, and it lends urgency to the actions that must be taken — before it is too late. – Washington Post 

Tom Rogan writes: Medvedev likely sees very little benefit to maintaining his prior moderate credentials. The war in Ukraine now defines Russian political culture. The most high-ranking moderate, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, now fastidiously avoids rocking the reform boat. But as the nominal No. 2 official on the national security council under Putin, Medvedev has at least some awareness of just how badly the war is going for Russia. To offer moderation in the face of that challenge would risk undermining Putin’s all-in public pronouncements on the war. It would thus fundamentally jeopardize Medvedev’s own position. Medvedev knows he was made by Putin and could be broken by Putin. – Washington Examiner

Tara D. Sonenshine writes: One thing we should hope for in the coming days is resolution of the congressional fight here at home. It would be wise to swear in new members and get intelligence committees up and running to monitor all that Russia is doing. – The Hill

Dov S. Zakheim writes: It is a common theme in sports that when a team flounders, management replaces the coach. In 1961, the hapless Chicago Cubs hired and fired nine managers. The changes did nothing to improve the Cubs’ poor performance on the field. Putin’s changes appear to be achieving results that are no better. Ukraine fights on, and Russia’s military continues to be stymied on the battlefield, no matter who leads it. Putin has good reason to worry. – The Hill

Dave Anderson writes: Zelensky has rallied his own people and the West overall. We must, however, conceptualize the war with Russia for what it is and not treat it as a replay of 20th-century fascism or the Cold War. Let’s not mislead ourselves into thinking we are fighting World War II. If we do, we may indeed end up fighting World War III. – Jerusalem Post

Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, Grace Mappes, Riley Bailey, Layne Philipson, and Mason Clark write: The Russian MoD application of a grievance-and-retaliation framework to many of its operations has created a negative feedback loop with prominent members of the pro-war Russian information space. […]Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may be attempting to financially exploit Ukrainian natural resources around Bakhmut and is using the war in Ukraine to connect his military forces with Russian regional officials. – Institute for the Study of War

Michael Rubin writes: Putin may froth and saber-rattle, but he is increasingly a laughingstock. His redlines have become increasingly meaningless. Ukrainians are willing to do the job. President Biden, let them. Stop opposing strikes into the heart of Russia. Stop allowing Russia to resupply its missile arsenals. – 19FortyFive

Michael Rubin writes: International Republican Institute President Daniel Twining is right: Ukraine is already paying us back. Within Congress, there is broad bipartisan consensus on the importance of a Ukrainian victory not only to the cause of freedom and liberty, but also to U.S. national security. It is time to give Ukraine what they need to win the war. It is time for the White House to act with confident and end its self-doubt. – 19FortyFive

Sasha Stone, James Lamond, Mackenzie Eaglen and Chris Miller write: Ukraine’s military successes are likely to encourage U.S. policymakers to continue providing funding. Ukraine’s successful recapture of Kherson, for example, will encourage those in Washington who believe that additional military aid will enable Ukraine to retake additional territory.  Russia was clearly hoping that the midterm elections might force the Biden administration to curtail support for Ukraine in the new Congress, but the results suggest this is unlikely. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Edward Lucas writes: Most conspicuously, the Kazakh embassy in Kyiv has built a “Yurt of Invincibility” in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, the site of some of the worst Russian war crimes earlier this year. It offers power, hot food, warmth, and internet access for locals. A kind gesture. But even the most hard-pressed Ukrainians have something that the Kazakhs lack: freedom. – Center for European Policy Analysis


Israel’s new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said on Sunday that he instructed police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces. – Reuters

Israel said on Friday it would take retaliatory steps in response to a Palestinian bid to involve the International Court of Justice in the decades-old conflict. – Reuters

Israel suspended on Sunday a pass that eased the Palestinian foreign minister’s travel in and around the occupied West Bank, as part of its response to Palestinian efforts to involve the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the conflict. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government is little more than a week old but it’s already giving the Biden administration headaches. – Associated Press 

The US Defense Department and intelligence authorities are barring Israel Air Force (IAF) pilots with foreign passports from flying F-35 fighter jets, in fear of information security and technology leaks. – Jerusalem Post

The family of Fathi Hazem, the father of the terrorist who carried out a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv in April, has accused Israel of “poisoning” him after his health condition deteriorated on Sunday, according to Palestinian media. – Jerusalem Post

The Palestinian Authority is worried about the new line of sanctions imposed on them by Israel last week as punishment for successfully lobbying the United Nations General Assembly to back an International Court of Justice case against Israel. – Arutz Sheva 

Akram Al-A’jouri, the military commander of the Al-Quds brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, told Al-Jazeera that “The Hommesh operation was intended to capture and kill occupation soldiers since the prisoner issue is one of the most important issues.” – Arutz Sheva 

Detectives from the central unit of the Police Force’s Jerusalem district dispersed a terror conference in the Issawiya neighborhood in Jerusalem on Saturday. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir signed an order according to the law which prevents Palestinian Authority activities from being held in Jerusalem. – Arutz Sheva 

Defense Minister Yoav Galant met on Thursday with the head of the Mossad, David Barnea. In the meeting, held at the Defense Minister’s Office in the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, the two discussed the intelligence situation in the various arenas. Galant placed a special emphasis on Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons. In addition, Iranian efforts to promote terrorist activities around the world were discussed. – Arutz Sheva 

Israel’s Mossad provided intelligence leading to Germany’s arrest on Sunday, of an Iranian man suspected of planning a mass casualty attack. – Ynet 

Editorial: While the PA is not a friend, it is also not an enemy. It fights terror and assists Israel. Jerusalem does not want its collapse. It is important to teach a lesson and explain to Ramallah that what was, is no longer. But it also needs to keep in mind that Israel has an interest in the PA’s existence. That has not yet changed. – Jerusalem Post

Sean Durns writes: Indeed, the Post also claimed that “in May 2021, Ben Gvir’s support of settlers in an East Jerusalem neighborhood near the entrance to the Temple Mount was among the catalysts of an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.” Yet, that war was premeditated by Iran, which armed its Palestinian proxies and gave them the greenlight. Iranian officials have acknowledged as much in interviews that have been translated into English and are publicly available. An entire book, entitled “Gaza Conflict 2021,” has been written showing Iran’s role. – Algemeiner 

Amos Harel writes: That jaunt stirred a wave of international condemnations but no Palestinian terror attacks. Still, time will tell. Ben-Gvir is still capable of causing trouble, such as by diverting Border Police units from the West Bank to the Negev and the Galilee, which would force the army to allocate more forces to the West Bank. – Haaretz 

David Makovsky writes: Biden’s approach to any disputes with Israel is to resolve them behind closed doors whenever possible—a preference that is shared by Israel and based on the two countries’ many common interests and values. Yet it is unclear if Netanyahu will agree to detailed understandings with Washington given the political implications of blunting his coalition partners’ ambitions, particularly with the opposition ready to pounce on any sign of discord in his government. Hence, the risk of public clashes with the White House may persist. – Washington Institute


Lebanese security officials are concerned over plans by the Palestinian Hamas terror group to carry out an attack against Israel from southern Lebanon, local media reported Saturday. The Beirut Observer news site published a list of Hamas members who were allegedly involved in planning attacks without the involvement of the Hezbollah terrorist organization, which controls much of southern Lebanon. – Times of Israel

Though Iran still grabs more headlines, most defense establishment officials still emphasize – behind closed doors and sometimes publicly – that Hezbollah, with its approximately 150,000 rockets and Radwan special invasion forces, is Israel’s greatest threat. – Jerusalem Post

However, many documented reports and statements by Iranian officials in the past show that Tehran is the main financial and military backer of Hezbollah and has also provided substantial support to Palestinian militant groups and the Houthis in Yemen. He added that the Supreme Leader had also assigned Soleimani to supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah, which led to the “victories” of the group. – Iran International


But portions of a U.S. Central Command investigation obtained by The New York Times show that military analysts reported within minutes of the strike that civilians may have been killed, and within three hours had assessed that at least three children were killed. The documents also provide detailed examples of how assumptions and biases led to the deadly blunder. – New York Times

Taliban authorities have embarked on an ambitious project to change the face of the Afghan capital, a crowded metropolis of 5 million that still displays the scars, monuments and fads of periods of civil conflict, foreign invasion and new-money opulence. – Washington Post 

The Taliban’s “internal debates and extreme decrees” are paralyzing humanitarian work in Afghanistan, the head of a major aid agency told The Associated Press on Sunday, after he arrived on a week-long trip to talk to Taliban leaders about reversing a ban on women working for national and international non-governmental groups. – Associated Press 

A top U.N. envoy met with the Taliban-led Afghan government’s higher education minister Saturday to discuss the ban on women attending universities. Markus Potzel is the first international official to meet with him since the ban was introduced last month. – Associated Press 

In a book full of startling revelations, Prince Harry’s assertion that he killed 25 people in Afghanistan is one of the most striking — and has drawn criticism from both enemies and allies. – Associated Press


Humanitarian workers operating in the last opposition-held part of Syria fear a cholera outbreak sweeping the region will deepen further if the United Nations is forced to stop aid deliveries across the border from Turkey. – Reuters

Thousands of Syrians held protests Friday in different parts of the rebel-held northwest against recent moves by the governments in Damascus and Ankara to improve ties. – Associated Press 

Mahmood Alhosain and Jonas Ecke write: But Syrians, who currently face the highest levels of humanitarian need since the outbreak of 2011, cannot wait. Renewing access to the regions most in-need in Syria and funding sufficient aid to Syrian citizens are two of the most urgent humanitarian priorities for 2023. To prevent even greater calamities this winter, all states that are involved in the conflict must refocus their attention on the civilians trapped in Syria and finally put their interests first. There are a number of actions that could be taken to avoid a major disaster this winter, including reallocating more funds to civilians in Syria, and increasing pressure on Russia to not use its veto power in the UN Security Council against renewing the resolution. – Washington Institute


Sweden’s prime minister said Sunday that his country can’t meet some of the demands made by Turkey in order for the Nordic nation to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (9988.HK) is planning a logistics hub at Istanbul Airport and a data centre near the Turkish capital Ankara with an investment of more than $1 billion, its president, Michael Evans, was cited as saying. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: When Erdogan goes, Turks will celebrate. The families of those whom he has killed, tortured, or extorted will curse his name. As Turkey turns to rebuild its country, however, it will be essential to recover all ill-gotten money. Like Imelda, Emine may flee. But like Imelda, the new government should not let her keep her cash and plunder. The Philippines pursued the Marcos fortune and won the return of several billion dollars. When it comes to Emine, the post-Erdogan Turkish government should do likewise. Perhaps only then will Emine or any Erdogan learn what frugality truly is. – 19FortyFive

Amos Harel writes: Hamas has recently run into a problem. As a result of the developing reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, Turkish intelligence has begun to restrict Hamas operations of the organization’s headquarters in Turkey. Arouri has been forced to commute frequently between Turkey and Lebanon. Other members are also less free to operate. Ankara has not acceded to the old Israeli demand to expel all Hamas members from the country, but at the same time is limiting their efforts to settle there. – Haaretz 


Defence systems at Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces, shot down a drone near the base on Sunday, with Iraqi military sources and the U.S.-led international military coalition offering confliciting accounts of the incident. – Reuters

Iraqi authorities reopened Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Sunday in an attempt to ease traffic jams in the capital after it was closed and reopened several times in recent years. – Associated Press 

Iraq on Friday welcomed football teams from across the region for the Gulf Cup, ending nearly three decades of repeated bans on international matches in the war-torn and corruption-plagued country. – Agence France-Presse

Saudi Arabia

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the kingdom’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s latest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any cost. […]Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider effort by the kingdom to diversify its sources of revenue and become a serious player in the international sporting scene. It is also seen as a move by the kingdom to shore up its image after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and a devastating war it started in Yemen in 2015. – CNN

Wikipedia’s parent company has denied claims the Saudi government infiltrated its team in the Middle East. – BBC 

Michael Harari writes: Moreover, King Abdullah of Jordan’s interview just a few days ago in which he emphasized his kingdom’s role in the Holy places in Jerusalem, indicates how sensitive and acute the issue of Jerusalem is, not only for Israel, but also for the Arab world as a whole, not least because of the Saudi ambitions for a central role there. Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount on Tuesday only serves to increase tensions. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

QatarEnergy announced on Sunday the final investment decision on the $6 billion Ras Laffan Petrochemicals Complex with partner Chevron Pillips Chemical which is expected to be the largest of its kind in the Middle East. – Reuters

German defence supplier Hensoldt (HAGG.DE) has applied to the government for clearance for a number of politically sensitive projects with Gulf states, the Spiegel news magazine reported on Friday. – Reuters

Just a few years ago, Oman was expected to be next in line after Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to sign onto the Abraham Accords normalization agreements with Israel. On Friday, the country’s parliament voted to criminalize any relations or interactions with “the Zionist entity.” While the exact details have not been made public, the new law seems to be broadly applied. – Arutz Sheva

Middle East & North Africa

A large delegation of officials from Israel and Arab countries are scheduled to meet Sunday in Abu Dhabi for a three-day event to prepare for the Negev Forum summit in Morocco, scheduled for as early as March. That forum has included Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt. – Jerusalem Post

A senior State Department official lamented Jordan’s expected absence at the latest Negev Forum gathering of Israel and its Arab allies that will take place on Monday and Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. – Times of Israel  

Jonathan Spyer writes: As 2023 begins, flux and instability remain the only constants in the Middle East. The Arab world today is filled with broken and partially collapsed polities. Yemen, Libya and Syria are subject to de facto division, and occupation by foreign forces. Lebanon and Iraq are under de facto control by Iran in key areas. The bright hopes momentarily raised a decade ago by popular mobilization seem very distant now. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Saturday it had agreed to partner with the Korea Office of Civil Aviation (KOCA) future Advanced Air Mobility aircraft development and operations. – Reuters

While Kim has repeatedly surprised his doubters with the expansion of his missile program, his heavily sanctioned state appears to lack the domestic capacity to quickly double, triple or quadruple his production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. – Bloomberg

South Koreans, used to getting mobile phone alerts warning of earthquakes or Covid outbreaks, received a more unusual notification Monday morning, cautioning of danger from above. – Bloomberg 

In his last known letter to a US president, an emotional Kim Jong Un rebuked Donald Trump for carrying out scheduled joint military exercises with South Korea. – Financial Times 

South Korea’s military is considering buying an Israeli drone detection system after North Korean drones entered the country in December, a defense source told the South Korean Yonhap News Agency on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post

South Korea has made a strategic commitment to engage with Japan, the United States and other like-minded states in working to promote something akin to a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as a key component of its first Indo-Pacific strategy, an important shift towards Seoul becoming more of a regional player, analysts tell Breaking Defense. – Breaking Defense

Daniel Sneider writes: In the long term, the Kim family’s massive investment in acquiring its nuclear and missile capability will be an almost total loss. The regime must understand that it can’t employ nuclear weapons without bringing disaster on itself, nor can it use them as effective blackmail. Barring that, nuclear weapons are worse than useless: they can’t feed a single North Korean and, in fact, take food out of their mouths. No regime is forever, and North Korea’s problems are fundamental, acute, and unresolvable. With determination and some luck, we should be able to deter North Korea until the situation changes for the better. – The National Interest


Tens of thousands of travelers began to fly in and out of mainland China on Sunday as Beijing removed almost all of its border restrictions, bringing an end to pandemic measures that effectively sealed off the world’s most populous nation from the rest of the world for three years. – Wall Street Journal

Argentina and China have formalized the expansion of a currency swap deal, allowing the South American country to increase its depleted foreign currency reserves, the Argentine central bank said on Sunday. – Reuters

China has suspended or closed the social media accounts of more than 1,000 critics of the government’s policies on the COVID-19 outbreak, as the country moves to roll back harsh anti-virus restrictions. – Associated Press 

Benny Avni writes: Building up alliances with like-minded Asian countries is a good start. Yet, Ms Paskal adds, following Mr. Biden’s abandonment of Afghanistan, and as “we can’t even outlaw TikTok,” it is far from clear that Mr. Xi is worried that America would react militarily to his ever-rising belligerence. – New York Sun

Hal Brands writes: Diplomacy can allow the US to better understand China’s leaders, it can reassure US allies and partners, it can even identify some areas of limited Sino-American competition. But there’s only so much dialogue can accomplish when all the key sources of tension in the relationship persist. Don’t be surprised if today’s guardrails give way in 2023: The US-China competition is far closer to its beginning than its end. – Bloomberg

Andreas Kluth writes: As well they should. Now that Putin, as part of his barbaric assault against Ukraine and decency in general, has declared energy war on the West, it seems prudent not to stumble right into the next dependency on an autocratic regime with irredentist grudges. As Western spooks like to say, “Russia is the storm, China is climate change.” The 21st century is young. It would be a pity if we allowed rare earths to do to it what oil did to the 20th. – Bloomberg

Simone Gao writes: Should the West offer its assistance once again? The answer is no. Let China use its own resources and its own funding to restructure the nation, and let the quality and strength of our respective institutions determine America’s and China’s positions in the world. – Washington Examiner

Aaron Friedberg and Michael Wessel write: A future war with China would pose unprecedented challenges, not only to America’s armed forces but to the nation’s defense industrial base and, indeed, to our entire economy. Despite recent talk of possible imminent conflict, Congress and the executive branch have only just begun to come to grips with the full magnitude of the problems that would ensue. A Defense Mobilization Unit in the Executive Office of the President would help to speed and steer this process across all relevant agencies. – The Hill

Yuan Yang writes: Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent former lawmakers who is now living in exile in London, believes that pro-Chinese Communist party groups in the UK have already become more low-key, possibly in response to London’s signalling of a more hawkish relationship with Beijing. He said pro-CCP counter-protests at Hong Kong independence rallies in 2019 were once common but had faded. “The [UK] government’s attitude is very important in sending out a warning,” said Law. “We need to show that if there’s evidence of collusion with the national security police, people will be investigated.” – Financial Times

South Asia

Pakistan and the United Nations are holding a major conference in Geneva on Monday aimed at marshalling support to rebuild the country after devastating floods in what is expected to be a major test case for who pays for climate disasters. – Reuters

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation will meet Pakistan’s finance minister on the sidelines of a conference in Geneva beginning on Jan. 9, a spokesperson of the lender said on Sunday, as Pakistan struggles to restart its bailout programme. – Reuters

Militants opened fire on a security van killing a policeman Saturday in northwestern Pakistan, a region bordering Afghanistan where violence has spiked in recent months, local police said. – Associated Press 

Hundreds of Afghan migrants, including women and children, have been released from a jail in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, Afghan authorities said Saturday. – Associated Press


The U.S. Navy sailed a warship through the Taiwan Strait following a recent close call between U.S. and Chinese military planes in the region, reminders of the military tensions that underlie the bilateral relationship. – Wall Street Journal

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday pitched the need to jointly defend democracy against authoritarianism as she sought to shore up shaky ties with Paraguay, and said they were good friends. – Reuters

The foreign and defence ministers of Japan and the United States will hold talks on aspects of security and co-operation in Washington on Wednesday, the Asian nation’s foreign ministry said. – Reuters

Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s biggest producers of palm oil, agreed on Monday to work together to fight “discrimination” against the commodity after a meeting between leaders from the countries. – Reuters

Over the past 24 hours, 28 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence zone, the defence ministry in Taipei said on Monday, after China said it had carried out more drills near the island. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida starts a tour of key Western partners on Monday, after unveiling his country’s biggest military buildup since World War Two as Tokyo weighs steps to counter China’s growing power. – Reuters

Taiwan condemned China on Monday for holding its second military combat drills around the island in less than a month, with the defence ministry saying it had detected 57 Chinese aircraft. – Reuters

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited a military base Friday to observe drills while rival China protested the passage of a U.S. Navy destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, as tensions between the sides showed no sign of abating in the new year. – Associated Press 

Dozens of activists of a hard-line Armenian nationalist group were detained by local police on January 8 after attempting to block entrance to a Russian military base in the northwestern Armenian town of Gyumri. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The US is in discussions with Japan, the Netherlands and South Korea to restrict semiconductor exports to China, and it needs all parties to agree on a deal, US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in an interview. – Bloomberg

The US reduced its number of naval transits through the Taiwan Strait in 2022 to the lowest level in four years even as China stepped up military pressure on the island it vows to one day control. – Bloomberg

The US and Japanese armed forces are rapidly integrating their command structure and scaling up combined operations as Washington and its Asian allies prepare for a possible conflict with China such as a war over Taiwan, according to the top Marine Corps general in Japan. – Financial Times 

Taiwan is courting investors to help it establish its own satellite communications provider, inspired by the role Elon Musk’s Starlink has played in the war in Ukraine, as Taipei boosts efforts to fortify itself against a potential assault from China. – Financial Times 

Editorial: Lt. Alkonis has served several months of his sentence—hardly light punishment—and Tokyo would be wise to seek a swift end to this episode and return him to U.S. custody. U.S. lawmakers will continue to press the case, and better to solve this between allies before it becomes a bigger bilateral irritant. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visits Washington this week at an important bilateral moment. President Biden can help by asking the Japanese delegation to bring the American lieutenant with them when they come to town. – Wall Street Journal

Mikheil Saakashvili writes: I have written President Biden, whom I met in the 1990s through my friend Sen. John McCain. In 2012 Mr. Biden, then vice president, called me the “George Washington of Eastern Europe.” Now I can only hope that the U.S. doesn’t allow Mr. Putin the victory of my death and the Russian control of Georgia that we have fought together to prevent. – Wall Street Journal

John Hemmings writes: Given the rise of global instability and the diffusion of attack vectors into Western societies, Japan stands to gain by its accession to the Five Eyes—and the group would certainly gain by the inclusion of the world’s third-largest economy and third-largest military force in the Indo-Pacific region. It would also gain by Japan’s historic intelligence gathering on North Korea and China, while Japan would widen its understanding of other regions. What is required now is for the Five Eyes to quietly lay out that roadmap for accession so that Japanese officials understand what is required. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo have rejected a demand from Serbia that its security forces be allowed to return to the breakaway province amid ongoing tensions, Serbia’s president said Sunday. – Associated Press   

British foreign minister James Cleverly will on Monday seek to inject fresh momentum into talks with the EU on resolving disputes over a post-Brexit trade relationship when he hosts the European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in London. – Reuters

Kosovo police arrested an off-duty soldier suspected of shooting and wounding two young Serbs near the ski resort town of Shterpce on Friday, a case likely to further inflame relations between local Serbs and the government in Pristina. – Reuters

Justice ministers from around the world will gather in London to scale up the support being offered to the International Criminal Court in its investigations of alleged war crimes in Ukraine, the British government said on Saturday. – Reuters

The Bosnian Serb separatist leader on Sunday awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin with the highest medal of honor for his “patriotic concern and love” for the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia. – Associated Press 

The leaders of 10 Dutch parliamentary parties are calling on the European Union to increase pressure on the Iranian government with a new sanctions package. – Bloomberg

Two people were injured on January 6 in a shooting in a town in southern Kosovo that has a majority Serb population, officials in Kosovo and Serbia said. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Sweden’s half-year rotating presidency of the European Union, which began on Jan. 1, is shaped to deliver a sharper focus on the need to deepen collaboration among member states in the key areas of defense capabilities and joint military procurements. – Defense News

Shaken by an underwater explosion that ripped through the Nord Stream pipelines in September, European nations are waking up to the task of securing the ocean floors that house the continent’s arteries of wealth. – Defense News


The military junta that controls Mali pardoned 49 Ivorian soldiers and suspended their prison sentences, ending a diplomatic dispute that highlighted the growing isolation of the West African country and its strained relations with its neighbors. – New York Times

Gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles have abducted more than 30 people from a train station in Nigeria’s southern Edo state, the governor’s office said on Sunday. – Reuters

Gambia charged eight soldiers with treason and conspiracy on Friday for their role in a foiled coup last month, the government said in a statement. – Reuters

Congo’s M23 rebel group on Friday began a phased withdrawal from an occupied army and U.N. base in eastern North Kivu province, part of a ceasefire brokered by regional leaders that analysts suspect is being breached in other parts of the country. – Reuters

The head of the United Nations human rights office called Saturday for a prompt, transparent investigation into the deaths of at least 28 people whose bodies were found in northwest Burkina Faso last month. – Associated Press

Latin America

In the wake of the assault waged Sunday on Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential office by supporters of former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to bring the rioters to justice, condemning them as he toured the destruction. – Washington Post  

Thousands of protesters supporting Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court in the capital Brasília Sunday, many calling for military intervention to remove Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the leftist leader who took office last week. – Wall Street Journal

Mexico bolstered its military presence in western Sinaloa state on Friday after Sinaloa Cartel gunmen went on a rampage following the capture of Ovidio Guzmán, the son of former kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. – Wall Street Journal

Governments in Latin America and beyond were swift to condemn the unrest in Brazil’s capital on Sunday. President Biden, who was visiting the southern U.S. border, called the protests “outrageous” while Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, said the United States “condemns any effort to undermine democracy in Brazil.” – New York Times

Colombian President Gustavo Petro and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro discussed binational investment and trade at a meeting in Caracas on Saturday, the Colombian government said. – Reuters

Venezuela’s splintered opposition, which appointed new leadership this week, faces enormous short-term challenges as it chooses a presidential candidate and tries to maintain talks with a less diplomatically isolated government, lawmakers and analysts said. – Reuters

Venezuela owes $20.7 million to U.S. law firms handling litigation against creditors seeking to collect unpaid debts from bond defaults and nationalizations carried out more than 15 years ago, according to a document seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Ana Belen Montes, one of the highest-ranking U.S. officials ever proven to have spied for Cuba, has been released from prison early, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed Friday, after she spent more than two decades behind bars. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday named Pedro Rafael Tellechea as the new head of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) (PDVSA.UL) and said Yvan Gil Pinto would become the new foreign minister. – Reuters

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called on the Biden administration and local authorities in Florida on Sunday to send back to Brazil its former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose supporters stormed the country’s Congress and Supreme Court. – The Hill

Brian Atwood and Mark L. Schneider write: The president of Mexico retains his popularity, but the Mexican people appreciate the multiparty system that has evolved. They want an accountable government.  If López Obrador moves to compromise this progress, he risks losing the people’s support. Moreover, relations with the United States could become more complicated than they already are. – The Hill

Daniel F. Runde writes: International friends of democracy should apply pressure to stop the actions that are planned by AMLO and his Morena party to cripple the INE. President Biden and Republicans in Congress should not want Mexico to make a major move towards soft authoritarianism on their watch. – The Hill

North America

President Joe Biden walked a muddy stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and inspected a busy port of entry Sunday on his first trip to the region after two years in office, a visit shadowed by the fraught politics of immigration as Republicans blame him for record numbers of migrants crossing into the country. – Associated Press 

President Joe Biden is meeting with his North American counterparts for the second time of his administration, this time for two days in Mexico City. – Washington Examiner

Trevor Bickford, the suspect accused in a machete rampage during New York City’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration, was indicted Friday. – Washington Examiner

United States

President Joe Biden marked the second anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Friday by awarding the “Presidential Citizens Medal” to 14 people, some posthumously, who battled to defend America’s democracy after the 2020 election. – Reuters

The close of the Jan. 6 committee marks a new chapter in the review of the deadly Capitol riot, with the fact-finding mission of the panel — and their plea for accountability — now resting largely with the Department of Justice (DOJ). – The Hill

House Democrats — and one Republican — paused for a brief but emotional ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. – The Hill

Federal prosecutors have been faced with an unprecedented task following the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol in investigating hundreds of Americans across the country accused of storming the building and physically attacking law enforcement in an attempt to bring Congress to a standstill. – The Hill


Iran has foiled a cyberattack on its central bank, the country’s telecommunications infrastructure company said on Friday. Anonymous and other global hacking groups threatened in October to launch cyberattacks on Iranian institutions and officials in support of anti-government protests and to bypass internet censorship there. – Reuters

The United States and Japan on Friday signed an updated memorandum of cooperation on cybersecurity to strengthen operational collaboration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said. – Reuters

One of Ukraine’s top cyber officials said some cyberattacks on Ukrainian critical and civilian infrastructure could amount to war crimes. – Politico

TikTok has put on hold a hiring process for consultants that would help it implement a potential security agreement with the United States, two people familiar with the matter said, as opposition to such a deal among U.S. officials grows. – Reuters

A Russian hacking team known as Cold River targeted three nuclear research laboratories in the United States this past summer, according to internet records reviewed by Reuters and five cyber security experts. – Reuters

Google has filed a legal challenge in India’s Supreme Court to block a ruling by the country’s antitrust watchdog that will force the U.S. company to change how it markets its Android platform, court records showed on Saturday. – Reuters

Seattle’s public school district filed a lawsuit against Big Tech claiming that the companies were responsible for a worsening mental health crisis among students and directly affected the schools’ ability to carry out their educational mission. – Reuters

The world’s biggest tech companies will now have to disclosure how much they pay staff thanks to a new California law requiring salaries to be listed in job postings. – Washington Examiner

Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) is set to ban TikTok from all state-issued devices in the near future. – Washington Examiner

TikTok has put a hold on hiring consultants to help the company fulfill a pending security agreement with White House officials, the latest sign of tension in the Chinese-operated company’s efforts to adapt to U.S. security concerns. – Washington Examiner

A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked two GOP-led states’ attempt to secure former White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s testimony in their lawsuit claiming the Biden administration unlawfully pressured social media companies into taking down content. – The Hill

An addendum to the Pentagon’s zero-trust strategy, published in late November, is now in the works, following a meeting of the U.S. and some of its closest intelligence-sharing allies. – Defense News


The Department of Defense has begun implementing the name commission’s recommendation to rid the department of its names tied to the Confederacy. – Washington Examiner

More than a half century later, the X-15 remains the Defense Department’s most rigorous hypersonic testing endeavor — a testament to the program’s success, but also a result of periods of restrained investment in high-speed vehicle research. Whereas in the 1960s the X-15 flew an average of one airborne test every 18 days, today the department only supports about a dozen hypersonic flight tests in a good year. – Defense News

Editorial: If Congress wants to cut general officer and PR jobs, and reform military healthcare and pensions, by all means go for it. The latter two are where some money is, but neither is likely to happen this Congress. Woke training is a matter of culture, not money. – Wall Street Journal

John Ferrari writes: This is easily fixed. Some in the Pentagon may worry that using additional funds for higher benefits and pay will take money away from projects to modernize the force. However, in today’s high inflationary environment, the Pentagon should be doing more to ensure that the costs of manning the force aren’t passed from the services to the bank accounts of our military families. The Pentagon can and should do the right thing — act now. – The Hill

Long War

An Australian court granted conditional bail on Friday to a woman arrested on charges of entering and remaining in areas of Syria held by the militant group Islamic State. – Reuters

Islamist militants from al Shabaab killed at least six people on Friday while raiding a village in central Somalia that they were pushed out of last week, a government-allied militia said. – Reuters

A woman who ran away from home in Alabama at the age of 20, joined the Islamic State group and had a child with one of its fighters says she still hopes to return to the United States, serve prison time if necessary, and advocate against the extremists. – Associated Press

Somalia’s government claimed Saturday that the al-Shabab extremist group has for the first time asked to open negotiations, amid a military offensive the government has described as “total war.” – Associated Press