Fdd's overnight brief

July 28, 2023

In The News


As the lights dimmed at a cultural festival in the Iranian capital, Tehran, earlier this month, women in the audience were defiantly dancing, singing and clapping along to the music at the landmark Milad Tower. – BBC

Iranian media outlets reported on July 27 that a legal case has been filed against the online book retailer Taghcheh because its female employees failed to observe the compulsory hijab law as the government continues to tighten its enforcement of dress code regulations. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, is proposing a resolution to condemn Iran for killing political prisoners, crushing protests and concealing its atrocities over the past 40 years. – Fox News

Iran is simultaneously lobbying China and Russia for assistance in developing Iranian infrastructure projects. Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali called for “accelerating” the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway during a meeting with Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Leonid Slutsky in Moscow, Russia on July 27. – Institute for the Study of War

Russia & Ukraine

In Kharkiv, a historically Russian-speaking city in eastern Ukraine, just 25 miles from the Russian border, Ukrainian classes are in high demand. Waiters, hairdressers and shopkeepers have stopped using Russian. Ukrainian language books are flying off the shelves, and local publishers are struggling to keep up with orders. – Washington Post

Intense fighting raged along Ukraine’s front lines Thursday, according to officials in Kyiv, as Ukrainian troops made slow but steady gains in their ongoing counteroffensive to drive a wedge through the Russian-occupied south. – Washington Post

The missile razed an entire wing of Odesa’s soaring Transfiguration Cathedral to the ground. The columns holding up a vast cupola that once overlooked the altar now stand at a slant, ready to give way. Murals of Christian saints are charred beyond recognition. For the clergy of Odesa’s main Orthodox church, the Russian rocket that slammed through one of its golden domes last week was a symbol of how Russia is destroying its own historic legacy in this storied port city. – Wall Street Journal 

Russian air defences downed a Ukrainian military drone before it could attack its targets near Moscow on Friday, the RIA news agency cited Russia’s defence ministry as saying. The ministry said the incident has caused no casualties or damage to buildings. – Reuters

Before Russia’s invasion, Mikhail Pavlyuk would humblebrag about his roots in a small Western Ukrainian village where he returned each summer to mow his parents’ lawn. – Bloomberg

Stephen Blank writes: While the conjoined economic-political-military moves add to the pressure on Russia and help Ukraine, they also help to drive the West to formulate a strategy for victory.  Doing so will lead policymakers to seize the escalation ladder for themselves rather than always reacting to Russian escalation. Taking timely multi-dimensional actions against Moscow’s aggression and imperialism also will help restore deterrence, both conventional and nuclear, so that other nations grasp the enormity of the costs and likelihood of defeat if they consider modeling Russia’s actions. – The Hill 

Andreas Umland writes: A new diplomatic and public discussion of the old Ukrainian demand for no-fly zones is necessary. It must rationally weigh the advantages and risks of implementing this or that variant of this idea. It needs a sober assessment of what is in the best interest of European and other states for no-fly zones over and around Ukraine. Such a comprehensive assessment should determine the further course of action by a coalition of states willing to provide such support. – The Hill

Victor Rud writes: From whatever angle, fear of “war with Russia” feeds a mutilated logic that dissolves deterrence credibility and institutionalizes nuclear blackmail. It apparently never dawned on Washington that Ukraine’s membership would stymie Putin and better ensure against global war. – The Hill


Israelis returned to the streets of Tel Aviv on Thursday for a mass demonstration, after protest leaders called to increase unrest in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul. – Wall Street Journal 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said parliament’s decision to trim Supreme Court powers to overrule government actions as part of his planned judicial overhaul would not hurt Israel’s democracy. – Reuters

Israel’s deterrence is seen as reliant on four “pillars” such as IDF strength, relations with the United States, the economy, and domestic unity. Iran and Hezbollah reportedly see the current crisis with the Biden administration as “very serious and influential in the long term.” – Haaretz 

The Palestinian Authority faces an uphill battle in its attempt to curb terror in the West Bank, where Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been recruiting impoverished youth to carry out attacks, a senior officer in the PA’s Preventive Security Service revealed in a meeting this week, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told The Times of Israel. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Therefore, although the rocket in the West Bank isn’t directly connected to the smuggling phenomenon, the guns that are being moved to groups in the West Bank create the conditions for the potential rocket fire and this feeds the Iranian media cycle that perceives Israel as vulnerable. – Jerusalem Post

Jack Khoury and Yaniv Kubovich write: The IDF assess that these terrorist groups understand the difficulties of establishing a continuous combat infrastructure like Gaza’s. Instead, their current objective seems to create insecurity among nearby Israeli settlements and of towns beyond the separation barrier. – Haaretz


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan named three deputy governors to the central bank, the country’s official gazette said on Friday, a day after the bank vowed to continue gradual monetary tightening and raised its end-2023 inflation forecast. – Reuters

Turkey’s new central bank chief pitched a comprehensive monetary policy in her first formal address to the media while her acknowledgment of stark inflation pressures was welcomed by foreign investors. – Reuters

Sinan Ciddi writes: Ankara’s reputation for smuggling is not new, and its portfolio in facilitating the free flow of illicit goods is growing to include drugs. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Turkey was implicated in questionable practices that included the alleged purchase of stolen Ukrainian grains, illegally shipped across the Black Sea and delivered to Turkish ports in Russian vessels, which originated in internationally sanctioned Crimea. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt summoned Denmark’s ambassador on Thursday over recent Koran burning incidents, the foreign ministry said. – Reuters

President Joe Biden dispatched his national security adviser Jake Sullivan to Saudi Arabia on Thursday for talks with the kingdom’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the White House pushes for a normalization of relations between the country and Israel. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia has summoned Denmark’s charge d’affaires and handed her an objection memo against the burning of the Koran in Copenhagen, the Gulf country’s foreign ministry said early on Friday. – Reuters

A bomb planted in a vehicle exploded outside the Sayeda Zeinab shrine city south of the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, killing several people and wounding others, Syrian state media reported. – Reuters

It is fair to say that whoever takes over as Lebanon’s first new central bank governor in 30 years will have more to think about than just monetary policy. The roll call of candidates is short. And with just four days to go before Riad Salameh — blamed by some for the chaos and the subject of an Interpol Red Notice over money laundering allegations in Germany and France — steps down, there is no successor in place. – Bloomberg

The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Unifil, says both Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have carried out multiple breaches of international commitments at the line and beyond. And there have been more serious moments still – including rocket fire into Israel by Palestinian militants in Lebanon who have Hezbollah’s backing, and Israeli artillery fire back over the wire. – BBC

Korean Peninsula

North Korea welcomed senior officials from China and Russia to celebrate the anniversary of the end of armed conflict in the Korean War, the latest expression of the three countries’ tightening bonds in the face of increasing U.S. military presence in the region. – Wall Street Journal 

Although not all South Koreans were happy to see another monument for the war or a new edifice to an American leader built on their soil, conservatives wanted to celebrate Truman, who perhaps affected the fate of South Korea more than any other U.S. president. When North Korea invaded the South in 1950, Truman sent American troops and engineered a United Nations resolution to support the South with Allied forces. – New York Times

North Korea’s economy shrank for a third consecutive year in 2022, as COVID-19 restrictions and U.N. sanctions continued to weigh on economic activity in the isolated authoritarian state, according to estimates by the South’s central bank. – Reuters

Chinese and Russian officials stood shoulder to shoulder with Kim Jong Un as they reviewed North Korea’s latest nuclear-capable missiles and new attack drones at a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korean state media showed on Friday. – Reuters

The Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, has a glittering array of North Korean military hardware from which to pick and choose during his visit this week to Pyongyang. Any deal, though, is likely to cut two ways: His hosts have their own shopping list. – New York Sun

A North Korean art exhibit unveiled the first paintings of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, a vital step in promoting his “cult of personality” in the country. Each piece displays some outlandish or overly romantic vision of the country’s supreme leaders engaged in activities from glad-handing with farmers to riding a horse atop Mount Paektu, the tallest peak in North Korea. – Fox News 

Young Kim writes: The memories of the destruction of the Korean War are fading—which shows how far we have come. Today, as we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice agreement, we must commit to never let the plight of the North Korean people become a peripheral concern and remember that the success of the U.S.-South Korea alliance stems from strength and resilience, not concessions to authoritarians. – Foreign Policy


The White House has decided it will bar Hong Kong’s top government official from attending a major economic summit in the United States this fall, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter, in the latest test of President Biden’s bid to reset relations with China. – Washington Post

When Taiwanese electronics salesman Lee Meng-chu made his regular journey from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen across to Hong Kong almost four years ago, he found himself selected for a random luggage search — and transformed into an enemy of the Chinese state. – Washington Post

China’s former foreign minister, who was replaced on Tuesday after he went missing from public view for more than a month, is now disappearing from parts of the Foreign Ministry’s website—an erasure that is intensifying intrigue around what happened to him. – Wall Street Journal 

Three top officials from China’s rocket force unit, which manages the nation’s nuclear arsenal, are being probed, the South China Morning Posts reported Friday, citing sources familiar with the situation. – Bloomberg

Western nations increasingly see China as an interventionist power that is not improving global security, according to recent polling, as Beijing struggles to square its desired peacemaker image with the political realities of its expanding global influence. – Newsweek

Fareed Zakaria writes:  Countries around China have become far more active in countering Beijing’s influence and searching for assistance elsewhere, especially from the United States. From Japan to the Philippines to India, nations are pushing back. Will Beijing change? Is an increasingly autocratic and closed decision-making system capable of learning and adapting? Qin Gang’s mysterious removal does not suggest a positive answer. – Washington Post

Minxin Pei writes: Xi’s predicament resembles that of Mao Zedong, the last party leader who ruled for life. Toward the end of his reign, Mao tried to groom a younger generation of radicals to take over. The project was an utter failure: Most were unqualified and all lost their positions shortly after Mao’s death in 1976. Qin’s strange and sudden disappearance likely won’t be the last. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: As I’ve argued previously, the U.S. should not accept this kowtowing with China from any of its closest allies; be it the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, or New Zealand. And the U.S. shouldn’t accept this from its closest Middle Eastern ally. A nation which the U.S. provides $3.8 billion in aid to every year. Israel’s democratically elected leader, Netanyahu has every right to pursue whatever foreign policy he sees fit. But if Netanyahu is determined to enable China, it would be nonsensical for the U.S. to pay him in tandem. – Washington Examiner

Sheena Chestnut Greitens writes: But the fact that Beijing is concentrating on building new forums and networks in areas where existing international order is weak or absent, such as nontraditional security threats like crime, terrorism, and domestic unrest, also presents an opportunity for the United States. Washington has a chance to identify areas of cooperation with countries that are dissatisfied with the current global security architecture and offer them an alternative to China’s revisionist approach. – Foreign Affairs

Yun Sun writes: Overall, the Wagner mutiny has put China in a more cautious and defensive posture. Chinese foreign policy wonks see less appetite in Beijing for a war in the foreseeable future. This may not immediately translate into less provocative military behaviors in the Taiwan Strait or South China Sea, as Beijing still believes it has room to push the envelope without major escalation. But Beijing’s openness to risk-neutral or even risk-seeking adventurism may be tempered by a firmer conviction that China cannot afford a war at the moment. – War on the Rocks

Aaron Miles writes: Finally, astute readers will note the dubious (yet in some sense longstanding) strategic logic of insisting on targeting all vulnerable adversary forces while at the same time encouraging those same adversaries to prioritize deployment of more survivable platforms. One way out of this contradiction would be to abandon nuclear arms limitations and pursue a three-sided arms race. The other two options are to abandon any embrace of comprehensive counterforce targeting for major nuclear adversaries or embrace with abandon this curious feature of the bizarro world of nuclear strategy. – War on the Rocks


China is the “greatest strategic challenge.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a “serious violation of international law.” North Korea is an “imminent threat.” And Japan needs to “fundamentally” strengthen its military and work more closely with countries like South Korea to preserve regional stability. – New York Times

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was confident a deal for the U.S. to sell nuclear powered submarines to Australia was on track, ahead of talks between defence and foreign ministers of the two countries on Friday. – Associated Press

The United States is expected to announce as early as Friday that it will provide Taiwan with military assistance worth more than $300 million, two U.S. officials told Reuters, a move likely to anger China. – Reuters

Japan welcomed a thaw in relations with South Korea in its annual defence paper on Friday but otherwise offered a gloomy assessment of the threat of China’s territorial ambitions, its security partnership with Russia and a belligerent North Korea. – Reuters

Pakistan’s central bank will likely raise its key interest rate again on Monday to tackle persistently high inflation, giving in to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), analysts said. – Reuters

Twenty-five U.S. Republican lawmakers urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to increase funding for the country’s submarine fleet, citing the recent three-nation AUKUS project to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and concern about China’s increasing military might. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Thursday during a visit to Papua New Guinea that the United States was not seeking a permanent base in the Pacific country but would boost the nation’s capability under a new defence agreement. – Reuters

China has offered to hold joint military exercises with the Philippines, local media reported on Thursday, quoting Manila’s military chief. – Reuters

A Liberian-flagged oil tanker set sail in May from Russia’s Ust-Luga port carrying crude on behalf of a little-known trading company based in Hong Kong. Before the ship had even reached its destination in India, the cargo changed hands. – Reuters

India and Brazil are pushing back against a Chinese bid to rapidly expand the BRICS group of emerging markets to grow its political clout and counter the US, officials with knowledge of the matter said. – Bloomberg

Sri Lanka tops the list of nations that may host a Chinese naval base in the coming years as Beijing seeks to expand its maritime capabilities, according to a new report. – Bloomberg

Dylan Motin writes: Third, establishing normal diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime would further U.S. interests. Exchanging embassies would promote trade and investment in Afghanistan and persuade likeminded international partners to do the same. It would also facilitate cooperation to fight terrorism and crime. Only through engagement can the United States contribute to a more prosperous and secure Afghanistan while safeguarding its interests. – The National Interest


Poland, Lithuania and Latvia could jointly decide to shut their borders with close Russian ally Belarus if there are serious incidents involving the Wagner group along their frontiers with the country, Poland’s Interior Minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Thursday it had found traces of explosives on board a foreign vessel en route from Turkey to Russia that had previously entered a Ukrainian port. – Reuters

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is “extremely worried” about the consequences if more demonstrations go ahead in which the Koran is desecrated, he said on Thursday, amid growing Muslim anger at a series of attacks on Islam’s holy book. – Reuters


African Union Chairman Azali Assoumani called on Russia to allow the export of both Ukrainian and Russian grain at the opening session of the Russia-Africa summit on Thursday, amid fears that the blockade will lead to a spike in food prices that would worsen a food security emergency in the Horn of Africa. – Washington Post

This week’s military coup in Niger threatens to disrupt the entire U.S. strategy for fighting Islamist militants as they expand across western Africa, and potentially hand Russia a strategic advantage as it tries to widen its own influence in the region. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia has granted debt relief on over $684 million owed by Somalia in a deal finalised on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, officials from the Horn of Africa nation said. – Reuters

Central African Republic’s opposition is calling for a boycott of a constitutional referendum on Sunday that could see President Faustin-Archange Touadera extend his time in office. – Reuters

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu has submitted 28 nominees to cabinet positions to the Senate for approval, nearly two months after he was sworn into office and under pressure to quickly revive Africa’s largest economy. – Reuters

The Americas

New border-enforcement measures by the Biden administration have decreased illegal crossings, but millions of Venezuelan refugees across Latin America, many of them heading north, still pose a challenge to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal 

The U.S. State Department on Thursday ordered non-emergency government personnel and family members to leave Haiti as soon as possible, citing “kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor health care infrastructure.” – Reuters

Guatemalan presidential candidate Sandra Torres will meet with U.S. officials in Washington on Thursday, her party said, ahead of a run-off vote next month that has raised international concerns over alleged interference by authorities. – Reuters

Canadian diplomats were denied access to the start of Canadian pop star Kris Wu’s appeal trial in Beijing, the Canadian government said, following his sentencing in 2022 to more than a decade in prison for crimes including rape. – Reuters


Jordan’s parliament on Thursday approved a widely criticised cybercrime law empowering the government to control more online content, prompting U.S. concerns and alarms from rights groups that say it will further quash civil liberties. – Reuters

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday advanced a pair of children’s privacy and safety bills that have attracted a storm of criticism from civil liberties groups that say the bills will do more harm than good for kids on the internet. – CyberScoop

Paul Krugman writes: Will the Xification of Twitter finally be a flail too far? Social networks tend to be especially durable because — like international currencies — they benefit from self-reinforcement: People use them because other people use them. It will take many bad decisions to push TAFKAT to the tipping point where people abandon it for another platform. But Musk is working on it. – New York Times


Congressional leaders say they’re confident they can reach agreement on a compromise defense authorization bill later this year even though the House and Senate drafts advanced so far differ significantly on a host of contentious social issues. – Defense News

An F-35A Lightning II fighter crashed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, last October when turbulent air confused its avionics, rendering the jet uncontrollable, an Air Force investigation has found. – Defense News 

Editorial: Drones are an inexpensive and low-footprint means of eliminating militants seeking to kill Americans. They have helped the United States strike at several generations of terrorist leaders and keep others on the run. Though the horrifying 2021 Kabul strike illustrated drones’ potential to maim the innocent, the approaching 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should remind Americans of drones’ potential to protect and defend, too. – Washington Post