Fdd's overnight brief

July 7, 2023

In The News


Iran’s oil exports have hit a five-year high in recent months as the country sells more to China and other countries, adding large volumes of discounted crude to a global energy market already struggling amid concerns over demand. – Wall Street Journal

The UK announced sanctions on more than a dozen Iranian individuals and government entities, warning that the administration in Tehran has stepped up efforts to kill or kidnap British or UK-based individuals. – Bloomberg

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Thursday seized a commercial ship in the Gulf, the US Navy said, a day after it had accused Iranian forces of two similar attempts off Oman. – Agence France-Presse

The United States and its Western allies clashed with Russia and Iran at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday over Tehran’s advancing uranium enrichment and its reported supply of combat drones to Moscow being used to attack Ukraine. – Associated Press

Iran and Sudan said on Thursday they were planning to restore ties after the Iranian foreign minister met his acting Sudanese counterpart for the first time since diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed seven years ago. – Reuters 

The United States, France and Britain have accused Iran and Russia of violating a U.N. Security Council resolution over Tehran’s transfer of drones to Moscow, which its military then used to repeatedly attack Ukrainian cities. The three powers said Thursday that Tehran and Moscow violated obligations under U.N. Resolution 2231, which enshrined the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in international law; and by conducting the drone transfers without advance approval from the U.N. Security Council, they had violated the resolution. – VOA News

The Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq appeared to imply that it was not behind the kidnapping of Russian-Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in a statement on Thursday in which it said that it would make an effort to discover her whereabouts. – Jerusalem Post

The Israeli-Russian academic researcher believed to have been abducted in Iraq by a powerful radical Shiite group backed by Iran was reportedly warned a number of times against trips to the country amid fears for her safety. – Times of Israel

Iran on Thursday called in Britain’s envoy in Tehran to protest against “destructive and interventionist actions” after London had announced new sanctions, Iranian state media said. – Times of Israel

Russia & Ukraine

The White House has approved providing Ukraine with cluster munitions and is set to announce a drawdown of the weapons from the Defense Department on Friday. The decision comes amid concerns about the pace of Kyiv’s counteroffensive and dwindling Western stocks of conventional artillery. – Washington Post

President Biden has approved the provision of U.S. cluster munitions for Ukraine, with drawdown of the weapons from Defense Department stocks due to be announced Friday. – Washington Post

A barrage of Russian cruise missiles killed at least 10 people and injured dozens just before dawn on Thursday in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, far from the front lines of the war. – Washington Post

Top Ukrainian officials are hoping that next week’s NATO leaders’ summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, will be an epic moment — when Ukraine finally receives a “clear signal” that it will eventually join the alliance, anchoring the country in the West’s security infrastructure and sending an unequivocal message to Moscow. – Washington Post

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is back in Russia after a short-lived revolt and brief exile in neighboring Belarus, that country’s president said, in a fresh challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority. – Wall Street Journal 

Russia said it would close a Finnish diplomatic outpost in the latest escalation of tensions between the two neighbors just months after the Nordic nation became the newest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – Wall Street Journal 

David Ignatius writes: It would be an appalling mistake if Russia, having muzzled its citizens and invaded its neighbor, got a U.N. platform to write the rules of the road for the digital technology that will shape the 21st century. – Washington Post

Justin Logan and Joshua Shifrinson write: For much of the post-Cold War period, the United States could expand its international commitments at relatively low cost and risk. Those circumstances no longer exist. With fiscal pressures at home, a grave challenge to its position in Asia, and the prospect of escalation and an erosion of credibility vis-à-vis Moscow, keeping Ukraine out of NATO simply reflects U.S. interests. Instead of making a questionable promise that poses great dangers but would yield little in return, the United States should accept that it is high time to close NATO’s door to Ukraine. – Foreign Affairs

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write: In the short term, Putin may see it as the best way to downplay the crisis and move on. But his security services will be unable to save him from the new reality that has taken shape in which the military itself is open to criticism and even challenges to its rule. If such challenges continue, they may not be limited to the military. They could extend to Putin’s own hold on power. – Foreign Affairs


Israel conducted its largest military operation in the occupied West Bank in more than two decades on July 3 and 4, deploying hundreds of troops, drone strikes and heavy construction vehicles in the sprawling Jenin refugee camp. – Wall Street Journal 

A Hamas militant on Thursday opened fire near an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, killing an Israeli soldier, a day after Israeli forces withdrew from the largest military operation in the West Bank in two decades. The Palestinian attacker was shot and killed by Israeli forces, the army said. – Associated Press

Israeli security forces on Friday killed two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a shooting attack against police this week, Israel’s military said. Israeli forces raided the occupied West Bank town of Nablus, the military said, and “both terrorists were killed following an exchange of fire.” – Reuters 

In a rare move, the spokesman for the military wing of Hamas said Thursday that the terror group was directly responsible for a recent string of deadly attacks in Israel and the West Bank. – Times of Israel

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich responded on Thursday evening to the murderous attack near Kedumim and to Hamas’ threats to harm him as reflected in a tweet by the terrorist organization. – Arutz Sheva

Amos Harel writes: The overwhelming majority also believe that the Palestinian people will succeed in regaining all its land and in returning all the refugees to their homes. The survey shows a further decline, both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, in Palestinian support for President Mahmoud Abbas and for the Fatah movement he heads. About half of those surveyed think that the collapse of the PA is now effectively becoming a national interest of the Palestinians. Shikaki’s survey projects – and not for the first time – a picture of depression and despair alongside militancy. – Haaretz


Mental health professionals at five Afghan hospitals and health centers shared similar accounts of a rising challenge. They said many women are receiving outpatient therapy and medication. Some have been encouraged by doctors to seek an escape in the shrinking number of activities that are still tolerated. – Washington Post

Women’s beauty salons were banned in Afghanistan because they offered services forbidden by Islam and caused economic hardships for grooms’ families during wedding festivities, the Taliban said Thursday. – Associated Press

Annie Pforzheimer and Shabnam Nasimi write: Finally, communications at a senior level pose a strategic risk by heightening the appearance of accepting the Taliban as a government. At a technical level, it remains necessary to work with Taliban authorities around the delivery of assistance and the safety of foreign citizens or Afghans eligible for relocation. But there is no reason to give up on our own national security interests while we do so. – The Hill

Middle East & North Africa

Israel shelled a village in southern Lebanon on Thursday after explosions were heard in a disputed border area, raising fears of a multifront escalation between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. – Wall Street Journal 

It’s been 16 years since the borders of the Gaza Strip slammed shut after Hamas seized control of the territory from Fatah. The takeover forced the European Union to withdraw monitors who had been deployed at a Gaza border crossing to help the Palestinians prepare for independence. Yet the EU has regularly renewed funding for the unit since then, most recently late last month. – Associated Press

Iraq is reportedly growing concerned about the possibility that Israel will launch airstrikes on its soil against a powerful Iran-backed radical Shiite group that Jerusalem accuses of being behind the abduction of Israeli-Russian researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in Baghdad in March, an Iraqi political source said Thursday. – Times of Israel

Arash Azizi writes: Holding an Israeli citizen like Tsurkov will be seen as a big prize by the Iranian regime and its Iraqi allies. But even a ‘trophy’ like Tsurkov could still be subject to negotiations. […] These three countries can also put pressure on Iraq, whose reputation as a sovereign state will be further tarnished if it can’t account for a citizen kidnapped on its territory. Devastating as the news is, there is still hope. – Haaretz

Dennis Ross and Ghaith al-Omari write: None of this will happen by itself.  It will require an intensive diplomatic effort with key Arab states and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—one that is tied to fostering an atmosphere that will make it easier to achieve a breakthrough with the Saudis but one that requires him to demonstrate that his promise to Biden is being fulfilled: that he has his hands on the wheel steering Israeli policies rather than the extremists in his coalition. (In other words, showing that Netanyahu is driving the car and not only applying the brakes.) – Foreign Policy


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing last month was billed as an effort to put a floor under fast-deteriorating ties between the world’s two biggest economies. In the weeks that followed, if anything, the U.S.-China relationship has gotten rockier. – Wall Street Journal 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen criticized Chinese treatment of U.S. companies and new export controls on metals used in semiconductors during a visit Friday to Beijing to try to revive strained relations. – Associated Press

Hong Kong lawmakers on Thursday passed an amendment to a law to eliminate most directly elected seats on local district councils, the last major political representative bodies chosen by the public, shutting down further democratic challenges in the city. – Associated Press

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will visit China next week, highlighting the accelerating contest between Beijing and Washington for influence in the South Pacific. – Associated Press

Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested another person accused of supporting overseas activists who allegedly endangered national security, in a further expansion of a government crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents. – Associated Press

Ryan Hass writes: But Mr. Xi has little to gain from doubling down on Mr. Putin, whose troubles are not helpful for China’s grand plans. Many unresolved questions about the impact of Mr. Putin’s weakening grip in Russia remain. How well Mr. Xi can navigate the fallout, with his partner now diminished, is one of them. – New York Times

Catherine Rampell writes: The United States is a nation of immigrants; China is increasingly looking like a nation of emigrants. There’s an obviously play to be made here, if only we can get out of our own way. – Washington Post

Richard A. Muller writes: There are many reasons why an adversary may want to launch a covert attack on the U.S. economy. America’s leaders need to take seriously the prospect that their country could be defeated without being invaded or even knowing it is under attack. The way to deter such an attack is to convince potentially hostile actors that success is impossible and the consequences for the attacker will be swift and severe. The U.S. needs to make it clear that its commitments to North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, Ukraine, Taiwan and others won’t waver even if the American economy falters. – Wall Street Journal 

Garret Martin and James Goldgeier write: The Russo-Ukrainian war has dramatically illustrated Europe’s dependency on the United States for its defense, heightening European fears of another wild oscillation in U.S. foreign policy after the next election. It’s not just support for Ukraine that is at stake for NATO in November 2024, but the alliance itself, and a big piece of that is whether there will be trans-Atlantic unity on how to deal with the challenges emanating from the Indo-Pacific. Having conversations at NATO now about how the alliance would react in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan would help to ensure a more unified response if Beijing takes such action in the future. – War on the Rocks

Christina Lu and Rishi Iyengar write: But as the U.S.-China tech competition continues to escalate, rattled governments are now bracing for future disruptions. On Tuesday, South Korea vowed to find new sources, while Japan said it was evaluating the effects of the recent measures. The United States also said it would consult with partners and allies to address the curbs. Just as with Russia’s overuse of its energy cudgel, the long-term victim might not be captive companies—but the reputation of the supplier itself. – Foreign Policy

South Asia

An Indian state court refused to stay opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction for criminal defamation in a ruling Friday that sets back his prospects to contest national elections next year. – Associated Press

Islamist militants killed a Pakistani army officer on Thursday during a gun battle in a tribal district close to the Afghan border, the army said, close to where three soldiers died in a suicide attack the previous day. – Reuters

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague rejected on Thursday India’s objections to a Pakistan-initiated procedure over water use in the Indus River basin, reopening a procedure that had been blocked for many years. – Reuters


The US has expressed concern over China’s recent behavior towards Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, as the Southeast Asian nation reported Chinese vessels “swarming” south of an oil and gas-rich area in contested waters. – Bloomberg

Taiwan has rejected China’s claim that it could easily sink the US Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier strike group, as Taipei seeks to strengthen public confidence and fight back against a persistent Chinese intimidation campaign. – Financial Times

Donald Kirk writes: For Kim and his dynasty, the worst fear is that restive forces will decide they have had enough. They might even derive their inspiration from the record of the Wagner Group, which had the nerve to defy central rule from Moscow as no one has ever been known to do in the history of North Korea since the Russians installed Kim Il Sung as its leader in 1945. – The Hill

Gearoid Reidy writes: But Abe was so successful precisely because of his failure. His humiliating resignation during his first stint in power in 2007 inspired him to go back to square one, rebuilding himself as a force to not only equal his past achievements, but surpass them. It’s a fitting example, perhaps, for the country as a whole. – Bloomberg


A stray remark by President Alexander G. Lukashenko of Belarus neatly encapsulated the imbalance in his relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in recent years. As the cameras rolled, Mr. Putin thanked him in February for traveling to Moscow for a meeting. – New York Times

Long a linchpin of Chinese trade in Europe, Germany is increasingly caught in the diplomatic tussle between the world’s two largest economies — wooed by China but urged by Washington to move further away from Beijing, even as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arrives in China on Thursday for talks seeking common economic ground. – New York Times

Sweden’s prime minister will come face to face with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, as Ulf Kristersson is making a last-ditch push to convince Turkey that his nation should be allowed to join NATO. – Bloomberg

The European Union’s sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine will build over time and will have a growing long-term impact on Moscow’s economy. – Bloomberg

European Union officials are working to narrow the scope of export controls that China announced this week on two key metals used in semiconductors, solar panels and electric vehicles, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Greece’s newly appointed defense minister on Thursday welcomed a deescalation of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, expressing hope this would lead to a “climate of trust” without directly referring to Turkey. – Associated Press

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is scheduled to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, according to officials familiar with the plan, as the expiration date of the Black Sea grain deal approaches. – Bloomberg

A Swedish court has jailed a Kurdish man for four-and-a-half years for crimes including attempting to finance terrorism. It is the first time Sweden’s updated terror laws have been used in a case involving the Kurdish militant PKK. – BBC


Kenya has secured a $500 million 3-year and 5-year syndicated medium-term loan facility, the banks leading the deal said on Thursday. The banks, which were acting as bookrunners, did not provide any details on the interest rate for the loan facility. – Reuters

South Korea is set to sign an agreement next week with eight African nations to help boost rice production and cut their dependence on imports, Agriculture Minister Chung Hwang-keun told Reuters, amid concerns over food security on the continent. – Reuters

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has no plans to make peace with President Macky Sall and suggested he may try to disrupt next year’s elections if he is not allowed to run, he said in an interview with France 24 television on Thursday. – Reuters

Stephen Blank writes: Algeria’s comity with Russia does not only threaten regional conflicts in North Africa but its military dimension opens to a vista embracing international security threats to Europe and beyond. More attention must be paid to Europe’s Southern region and Africa because increasingly, what happens in Africa does not stay in Africa. – The Hill

The Americas

Costa Rica said on Thursday it has charged former President Luis Guillermo Solis with corruption, accusing him of involvement in a 2017 improper transfer of government funds to state-owned Bancredito. – Reuters

Official results from Guatemala’s first-round presidential election late last month will be released next week, the country’s electoral court announced on Thursday, following a extended delay triggered by challenges from parties – Reuters

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele stood before tens of thousands of roaring sports fans with a message: I am not a dictator. […] Observers worry events including the games – drawing athletes from 35 countries across the region – will allow Bukele to save face internationally and show voters he has global support as he seeks reelection despite a constitutional ban on terms of more than five years. – Associated Press

Anita Isaacs, Rachel A. Schwartz and Álvaro Montenegro write: But the messy work of democratic governance is for another day. For now, the political stakes could not be higher. If the election deniers succeed, Guatemala will have lost the battle for democracy. But if its defenders prevail, democratic backsliding will have been dealt a powerful blow in a country where not long ago, the autocratic momentum seemed irreversible. – New York Times

Latin America

Venezuela’s move to bar a leading opposition candidate from holding office sends a message that Caracas is not willing to hold free and fair elections next year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday during a visit to neighboring Guyana. – Reuters

Argentina will push loan repayments due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July to the end of the month, a person familiar with the matter at the Ministry of Economy said on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on Thursday to the Security Council and key potential contribution countries to “act now” to create the conditions for the deployment of multinational force to Haiti. – Reuters

Venezuela is planning to introduce new regulations on courier shipments of food, medicine and other products in an effort to raise more taxes, one government and two private sector sources said on Thursday. – Reuters

Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other Latin American leaders will try to avoid any mention of Russia’s war in Ukraine when they meet their European Union counterparts this month, setting up a clash that risks undermining efforts to reboot relations between the blocs. – Bloomberg

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Thursday for a robust international force to help combat Haiti’s armed gangs and restore security in the impoverished nation, saying that a U.N. expert’s estimate that Haiti needs up to 2,000 additional anti-gang police officers is no exaggeration. – Associated Press

Editorial: Mr. Biden was right that his predecessor’s policy did not restore democracy and prosperity to Venezuela, whose desperate plight, along with the mass migration it triggered, has turned into a source of instability for the whole Western Hemisphere. Now, he has to adjust his own strategy, urgently, lest another such failure occur on his watch. – Washington Post


French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion that the government might need the ability to block social media access during riots has sparked a backlash in the country, with some arguing that France is going the way of authoritarian regimes. – Washington Post

Twitter threatened legal action over Meta’s decision to release its Twitter clone Instagram Threads, arguing that the Facebook parent company had taken former Twitter employees to create a copycat. – Washington Examiner

A cyber espionage group linked to the Iranian government has been impersonating think-tank employees to phish Middle Eastern nuclear weapons experts, according to researchers at Proofpoint. – SC Media

Mark Weinstein writes: All sides want to solve the problems of encryption. Yet essentially abolishing it via scanning systems creates far more problems than it solves. As we celebrate Independence Day here in the U.S. this week, we must maintain our independence from the prying eyes of governments and stand united against their efforts to eliminate the last stronghold of privacy we have. – The Hill


Workers at the Blue Grass Army Depot are close to destroying rockets filled with GB nerve agent that are the last of the United States’ declared chemical weapons and completing a decadeslong campaign to eliminate a stockpile that by the end of the Cold War totaled more than 30,000 tons. – Associated Press

Mark F. Cancian and Sean Monaghan write: Allies need to answer the question: Will NATO’s new level of commitment deter a more aggressive and unpredictable Russia—even if it has less capable land forces in the short term?  It may be that the Russians can reconstitute more quickly or more robustly than currently envisioned or, conversely, that this reconstitution takes longer or is less immediate, thus allowing some adjustments. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Dmytro Kuleba, Kristi Raik, Angela Stent, Liana Fix, Ulrich Speck, A. Wess Mitchell, Ben Hodges, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Stefan Theil write: If Russia makes the terrible decision to attack NATO, it will surely begin with a massive salvo of missiles, rockets, and drones. The West cannot afford to be unprepared. Effective deterrence—and if deterrence fails, defense—requires greatly improved air and missile defense. – Foreign Policy