Fdd's overnight brief

June 16, 2023

In The News


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel on Thursday, his last stop on a three-nation Latin American tour aimed at shoring up support among Latin American allies saddled, like Iran, by U.S. sanctions. – Reuters

Iran tested a suicide drone against a practice vessel in the Gulf and fired one other missile or drone without warning ships in the area, a U.S. official in the region said. – Reuters

The United States is holding talks with Iran to sketch out steps that could limit the Iranian nuclear programme, release some detained U.S. citizens and unfreeze some Iranian assets abroad, Iranian and Western officials said. – Reuters

The Iranian Student Guild Councils says several students protesting against the dress code at Tehran’s Art University were beaten by school security agents, leaving some in “critical” condition. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Eric Mandel writes: On a bipartisan basis, Congress should get ahead of this “deal without a deal” and make clear that having the administration do an end-run around Congress, as Obama did, robs Congress of its constitutional responsibility to the American people. – The Hill

Russia & Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine are engaged in fierce battles in Ukraine’s south and east as Moscow’s forces push back against a counteroffensive aimed at driving them from the region, said senior Ukrainian leaders. – Wall Street Journal

Senior Pentagon officials predicted on Thursday a long, violent battle as Ukrainian forces attempt to drive occupying Russian troops out of their country, offering their most candid comments to date about a new offensive campaign reliant on Western military equipment and training. – Washington Post

The United States is giving tentative backing to a plan that would remove barriers to Ukraine’s entry into NATO without setting a timeline for its admission, a modest step that American officials hope can bridge divisions among member nations over Kyiv’s path to joining the transatlantic military alliance. – Washington Post

NATO allies and others meeting in Brussels on Thursday vowed to keep up their support for Ukraine indefinitely as Kyiv makes slow progress in its push to take back Russian territory, with a special emphasis on providing air defenses and ammunition and stepping up F-16 fighter jet training. – New York Times

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has today travelled to Poland en route to Ukraine and Russia as part of an African peace mission, his office said on Thursday. Ramaphosa will meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Ukraine on Friday and with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Saturday. – Reuters

African leaders could propose a series of “confidence building measures” during their initial efforts to mediate in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, according to a draft framework document seen by Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

Key African states stressed the need for grain imports to tackle food insecurity as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to discuss with the continent’s leaders the fate of a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of food and fertiliser from Ukraine. – Reuters

Russian missiles hit two industrial facilities in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih on Thursday, and an elderly woman was killed by Russian fire in the southern Kherson region, local officials said. – Reuters

Russia again told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday it wants an international investigation into explosions last September on the Nord Stream gas pipelines connecting Russia and Germany that spewed gas into the Baltic Sea. – Reuters

Ukraine plans to send “several dozen” combat pilots for training to fly U.S.-manufactured F-16 fighter jets, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said on Friday, as western allies prepared the necessary training programmes. – Reuters

NATO sees no sign that Russia has changed its nuclear posture, the head of the military alliance said Thursday, after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed that Belarus has already received some tactical nuclear weapons from Moscow. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden is “open” to removing a big hurdle to Ukraine’s membership in NATO after the war, even if the plan doesn’t specify when Kyiv would join the alliance. – Politico

Ben Hodges writes: The Biden administration has said it has given Ukraine what it thinks it needs to succeed, suggesting it is up to Ukraine to make maximum use of what it has. This kind of stance can lead to a passive complacency — watching and waiting for battlefield results. But what Ukraine needs right now are not spectators. It needs ATACMS. – Washington Post

Jon Sweet & Mark Toth write: Mass, surprise, and speed are essential for the attacking forces in the counteroffensive’s phase four. The where and when will present themselves when Zelensky and his generals believe the necessary conditions are met. – Washington Examiner

Darya Dolzikova and Jack Watling write: The Kakhovka dam attack highlights once again the scale of the risks Ukraine faces. Since its invasion, Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its disregard for nuclear safety. It has also made a series of decisions premised on false expectations of how Ukraine’s partners might respond. Diplomacy and deterrence can help lower the risks of an accident and make sure that Moscow is not mistaken about how Western governments would react to a radiological incident at the ZNPP. – War on the Rocks


Israel is in talks to sell its Merkava tank to two countries, one of them in Europe, in what would be the first export of the flagship fighting vehicle, a Defence Ministry official said on Thursday. – Reuters

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday night met with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Brussels to discuss Iran and other important aspects of the US-Israel relationship. He emphasized how much Iran stimulates attacks against Israel using proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, and reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense. – Jerusalem Post

All polls see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party as the two biggest parties by far, with opposition leader MK Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party trailing behind in a new round of polls released by Israel’s Channel 12, Channel 13 and Channel 14 on Thursday evening. – Jerusalem Post

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen praised the passage of a bill in the US House of Representatives creating an ambassador-level position to promote the Abraham Accords. “The US and Israel stand shoulder to shoulder in promoting peace agreements and normalization in the Middle East and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Muslim states in the world,” Cohen said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

The US said Wednesday that it is seeking more information from Israel after the military said criminal charges would not be brought against an officer and a soldier over the 2022 death of an elderly Palestinian-American who was bound and abandoned at a construction site in the middle of winter. – Times of Israel

As the titanic battle over the members of the Judicial Appointments Committee raged this week in the Knesset – effectively the decisive stage in the war defending Israeli democracy – intense talks continued over the fate of the Iranian nuclear project. According to Israeli intelligence, the United States and Iran are close to formulating new understandings after five years of almost total disconnect. – Haaretz

Editorial: Lapid and Gantz should reconsider. They won a small victory on Wednesday. Now they should display some magnanimity in this victory and let the judicial reform talks recommence at once. That would be acting for the good of the country. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Israel’s powerful economy and defense exports are important cards to play in an era of strong states. These cards helped Israel weather the era of chaos that was unleashed by terrorist groups in the previous decade. Reducing the role of terrorist armies, such as Hezbollah or Hamas, and Iranian-backed militias is important to fully bring stability to the region. That remains a challenge. – Jerusalem Post


The U.N. children’s agency said it was holding discussions with Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban over “timelines and practicalities” for a possible required handover of its education programmes and that classes would continue in the meantime. – Reuters

Officials from Afghanistan’s Taliban administration travelled to Norway this week for meetings with civil society and diplomats at a peace forum, the Norwegian foreign minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Targeted attacks in Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan Province have left residents fearful of leaving their homes and the Taliban scrambling to maintain its authority as the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group makes clear that it has not gone away. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


War-weary Syrians are in such dire straits that they require “way more than what is possible today,” the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional chief said on Thursday as a fundraiser raked in only half the targeted amount. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are lobbying allies in Europe to restore diplomatic ties with Syria’s government and ease sanctions, people familiar with the matter said. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Unfortunately, however, the Biden administration has shown a recent and concerning tendency to retreat where Russian forces show excessive aggression. This dynamic has been most notable in Biden’s incentivizing of Russia to hold Americans as hostages and in his ordering of U.S. drones to retreat from international airspace following Russia’s downing of a drone that was operating over the Black Sea. This overt weakness is a dangerous message to send Putin. Now that the F-22s are in Syria, then, the Biden administration must be willing to employ them without undue hesitation. – Washington Examiner


Turkey has summoned the Swiss ambassador to Ankara over a demonstration in Zurich against President Tayyip Erdogan, including burning of an effigy and banners being displayed, a foreign ministry source said on Thursday. – Reuters

Turkey’s opposition, still reeling from election defeat to President Tayyip Erdogan, suffered a fresh blow to its prospects of renewal on Thursday as a court began hearing a case against one of its brightest stars on a tender-rigging charge. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to arrange a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid warming relations between Ankara and Jerusalem, according to reports Thursday. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

A Turkish energy delegation will meet Iraqi oil officials in Baghdad on June 19, to discuss the resumption of Iraq’s northern oil exports, Iraqi deputy oil minister for upstream affairs, Basim Mohammed, told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates in the coming days will lift a temporary restriction on issuing visas to Lebanese nationals due to security concerns, a UAE official told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived in Baghdad on Thursday on an official visit to discuss regional political matters and enhance bilateral relations, the government said in a statement. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet the president of the United Arab Emirates in St Petersburg on Friday, Russian state news agency RIA reported. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to meet Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) after the Saudi Crown Prince departed for France this week. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea broke a two-month absence of missile tests on Thursday, as Pyongyang expressed discontent over U.S. and South Korea live-fire annihilation drills that concluded on the same day. – Wall Street Journal

The United States targeted North Korea’s missile development in fresh sanctions, issuing the punitive action after South Korea earlier on Thursday said its neighbor fired two short-range missiles. – Reuters

A U.S. nuclear-powered submarine has arrived at a port in the South Korean city of Busan, the South Korean military said on Friday. – Reuters

South Korea has recovered from the sea part of a rocket used in North Korea’s failed attempt to launch its first military satellite last month, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Friday. – Reuters

The U.S. on Thursday imposed sanctions on a North Korean husband and wife living in Beijing accused of helping to procure equipment for ballistic missiles that ended up in the hands of North Korean and Iranian customers. – Associated Press


As relations between the United States and China turn increasingly rocky, some of China’s most entrepreneurial brands have taken steps to distance themselves from their home country. They have set up new factories and headquarters outside China to serve the United States and other foreign markets, emphasized their foreign ties and scrubbed any mention of “China” from their corporate websites. – New York Times

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said resolutions passed by the European Parliament on Thursday related to the Chinese controlled territory were a “despicable act” and “trampled” on the principles of international law. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flies to Beijing this weekend with expectations low that he will make headway on the long list of disputes between the U.S. and China. But he and his Chinese counterparts can achieve at least one thing, say analysts – show that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is not about to fall off the rails. – Reuters

Officials from the European Union, Malaysia and Singapore are skeptical about the United States’ efforts to cut China out of the global high-tech trading system, expressing reluctance to join Washington as it works to throttle the rapid expansion of the world’s second-largest economy into a global technology power. – Politico

Christopher J. Watterson writes: While China’s port investments should be encouraged to the extent that they help close the international infrastructure gap, increase legitimate competition among international shipping and logistics providers, and further integrate China into the global economy, port states must remain attentive to the multifaceted risks posed by China’s unique state-led OFDI program. – The National Interest

South Asia

The U.S. expects a “transformational moment” in India ties during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming trip to Washington, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said as he downplayed chances for a diplomatic breakthrough in China when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits next week. – Reuters

Indian police said security forces killed five foreign militants early on Friday in a gunfight in Kashmir along the Line of Control (LOC), the defacto border with Pakistan in the Himalayan region. – Reuters

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart discussed steps to advance the two countries’ strategic technology and defense partnership during a visit by Sullivan to New Delhi this week, the White House said on Thursday. – Reuters

Daniel Markey writes: That, however, is not where India is today. The country is instead led by an ethnonationalist who tolerates little dissent. It is in thrall to an illiberal and increasingly undemocratic party, and that party’s grip on politics is only becoming firmer. Unless that changes, the United States will not be able to treat India as it treats Japan, South Korea, and NATO allies in Europe. It must instead treat India as it treats Jordan, Vietnam, and any number of other illiberal partners. It must, in other words, cooperate with India on the reality of shared interests, not on the hope of shared values. – Foreign Affairs


National security advisers for the United States, Japan and South Korea on Thursday discussed maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait and coordination over the East China and South China Seas, the White House said in a statement. – Reuters

Papua New Guinea’s parliament has begun debating a defence deal with the United States, with Prime Minister James Marape acknowledging the concerns of some students and unions ahead of a vote to ratify it in August. – Reuters

Japanese Emperor Naruhito on Thursday said working with developing countries will be key to solving global issues like climate change, as he prepared to travel to Indonesia on his first state visit since his enthronement in 2019. – Reuters

Japan is preparing military aid for the Philippines to help secure sea approaches and safeguard Taiwan’s western flank, officials say, deepening security ties that could bring Japanese forces back there for the first time since World War Two. – Reuters

Editorial: Jailing Ms. Hoang and the other environmentalists runs directly counter to this agreement. The United States and its partners should insist that Vietnam free the political prisoners before receiving such generous foreign assistance. Can Vietnam really be serious about fighting climate change if it imprisons the leading voices for action? – Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: Competition between China and the United States will be inescapable in the Indo-Pacific region. It will probably get more intense through most of our lifetimes. But diplomacy is producing some needed speed bumps — and a widening safety net — that should reduce the likelihood of a fatal crackup. – Washington Post

Jude Blanchette and Ryan Hass write: As Beijing seeks to isolate and coerce Taiwan, it is imperative that U.S. policymakers bolster the island’s confidence, resolve, and resilience. The best strategy, then, for those looking to advance U.S. interests in the region and to support Taiwan is to cheer on a vibrant democracy’s peaceful efforts to transfer political power through a popular vote. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Susannah Patton writes: Indeed, the United States should be cautious of the reverse possibility: that by elevating the Philippines so prominently, it alienates its other regional partners. The negative regional reaction to Biden’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which referred to just two Southeast Asian countries by name, demonstrates the risks of a highly differentiated approach. Some governments are anxious about the possibility of the region becoming divided along geopolitical lines. Thus, any sense that the United States is looking to play countries off against each other would be damaging. Washington should address this by ensuring that high-level attention is also given to other key partners like Indonesia and Thailand, even though they are less willing to endorse U.S. regional strategic goals. – War on the Rocks

Robert Nelson writes: It is undoubtedly correct that U.S. national security officials must recognize tradeoffs, but it is equally true that they must also recognize false tradeoffs when they emerge. The idea that Washington must choose between defending Taiwan and defending Ukraine is one such false choice, and the Biden administration is wise to ignore such criticisms. – The National Interest

Christopher Cottrell writes: As these deals deepen, Beijing’s response is likely to mix promises with threats, as happened this year with then-Micronesian President David Panuelo. Small countries may not want to pick a team—but both Beijing and Washington are increasingly unwilling to let them stay on the sidelines. – Foreign Policy


The deaths of seemingly hundreds of migrants in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece on Wednesday have sparked outcry and renewed scrutiny of the Greek coast guard and European migration policy, as authorities launched an investigation into Greece’s deadliest wreck in years. – Washington Post

Kosovo has tightened controls on its border with Serbia following the arrest of three of its policemen by Serbian forces, Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Thursday as he demanded the immediate release of the detainees. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department on Thursday said Kosovo and Serbia must both take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions, which includes the unconditional release of three Kosovo police officers detained by Serbia. – Reuters

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner sees no wriggle room for Berlin to make additional payments into the European Union budget, he said in an interview with Spiegel magazine published on Friday. – Reuters

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: These are only two of the many big problems facing Kyiv’s membership, which suggests that whatever buzz emerges from next week’s London confab, EU membership isn’t likely to be a key part of Ukraine’s plan. This is no bad thing. Advocates of EU accession inside and outside Ukraine treat the idea as a convenient shorthand for “reform,” but it’s not obvious that adopting French or German statism as filtered through Brussels is the type of reform that would best help a country like Ukraine. Possibly the opposite. – Wall Street Journal

Tom Rogan writes: These disagreements are legitimate even if they undermine the central plank of what has kept the U.S. and Europe prosperous, free, and largely at peace: an international order built on the democratic rule of law. Still, while France is increasing defense spending, even Macron must surely have to admit that strategic autonomy isn’t going to prosper unless France is able and willing to project defensive power in Europe. What we’re seeing at Air Defender 23 is the very opposite of that. – Washington Examiner

Michael R. Strain writes: President Biden is trying to pull our allies close with one hand while pushing them away with the other. He seeks to strengthen diplomatic and political ties in the Western alliance to counter China and Russia. At the same time, he pushes those allies away with protectionist economic policies. On his visit to Washington, the British prime minister pulled our two great nations closer together. The U.S. and the U.K. will be the better for it. – National Review

Max Bergmann and Otto Svendsen write: Turkey has objected to greater intelligence sharing, while Cyprus opposes inclusion in EU initiatives. This has created absurd situations where EU and NATO officials are forced to engage informally and EU officials are unable to receive NATO information. Given U.S. ambivalence toward the European Union, this issue has rarely been prioritized by the United States. But it is critical that the European Union and NATO develop a close working relationship that resembles that of governing partners rather than the standoffish diplomatic formality that currently characterizes relations. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The killing of a powerful governor in Darfur, in western Sudan, has heightened worries that fighting between the country’s warring military factions is pushing a region blighted by genocide two decades ago into a new ethnic civil war. – New York Times

The U.S. on Thursday condemned “in the strongest terms” what it called human rights violations, abuses and “horrific violence” in Sudan during that country’s two-month-old war, a State Department spokesperson said. – Reuters

The conflict in Sudan hit the two-month mark on Thursday with no sign of a resolution as diplomatic peace efforts hit roadblocks and the risk of a broader ethnic war rises. – Reuters

The Americas

Canada will coordinate an aid operation to Haiti this summer in response to the Caribbean nation’s volatile security, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Thursday, while announcing fresh sanctions against a former politician and a famous singer. – Reuters

Taiwan’s government on Thursday agreed to fully open its market to imports of Canadian beef, lifting a stumbling block as Taipei angles to sign a bilateral investment agreement with Ottawa this year. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it had summoned a Canadian diplomat in Moscow in protest over the confiscation of an Antonov plane in Toronto, and warned that Russian-Canadian relations were on the “verge of being severed.” – Reuters

Mexico and the European Union agreed to quickly finalize an updated free trade deal, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday in a post on social media after meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. – Reuters


The U.S. Department of Energy and several other federal agencies were hit in a global hacking campaign that exploited a vulnerability in widely used file-transfer software, officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

Suspected state-backed Chinese hackers used a security hole in a popular email security appliance to break into the networks of hundreds of public and private sector organizations globally, nearly a third of them government agencies including foreign ministries, the cybersecurity firm Mandiant said Thursday. – Associated Press

Federal law enforcement officials arrested a Russian national in Arizona on charges related to his participation in multiple LockBit ransomware attacks against victims in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Africa, the Department of Justice said Thursday. – CyberScoop

Suspected government-backed hackers in China are exploiting a recently-discovered vulnerability in an email security product from Barracuda Networks to attack government entities and the private sector, researchers have found. – The Record

A hacking group that has carried out attacks targeting organizations in Europe, Latin America and Central Asia has been linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, according to new research. – The Record

About one in every six ransomware attacks targeting U.S. government offices in 2022 can be traced back to a single group: LockBit. Cybersecurity agencies around the world said Wednesday that the LockBit gang, which has links to Russia, is one of the biggest cybersecurity threats that governments and other organizations face. – The Record

Shell confirmed on Thursday it had been impacted by the Clop ransomware gang’s breach of the MOVEit file transfer tool after the group listed the British oil and gas multinational on its extortion site. – The Record

Arthur Herman writes: China is confidently using AI to strengthen its one-party surveillance state. America must summon the confidence to harness the power of AI to our own vision of the future. – Tablet


For the second year in a row, and just as the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act process peaks in Congress, the Biden administration’s Defense Department seeks executive branch authority to spend U.S. taxpayer Defense Production Act money with foreign suppliers, in addition to American ones. – Defense News

Democrats are calling Republicans weak on China for excluding the Pentagon’s request to use multiyear contracts to buy high-priority munitions in the latest House defense spending bill. – Defense News

The Air Force would get six more F-15EX Eagle II fighters in fiscal 2025 under the House Armed Services Committee’s proposed version of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. – Defense News

A House draft of the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill would require the Army secretary conduct an analysis for determining which systems could store and distribute electric power on the battlefield. – Defense News

Capt. Michael P. Ferguson writes: Western civilization paid for its lessons in military history with the blood of millions. Those lessons came at too high of a price to be treated like footnotes in the tome of human experience. Passing that history onto the next generation is the best way to ensure civilian and military leaders alike peer into the future with clear eyes. – The Hill