Fdd's overnight brief

June 2, 2023

In The News


The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on members and affiliates of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard and its external operations arm whom Washington accused of participating in terrorist plots targeting former U.S. government officials, dual U.S. and Iranian nationals and Iranian dissidents. – Reuters 

The US imposed sanctions Thursday on an Iranian national indicted last year for allegedly plotting to kill former National Security Adviser John Bolton. – Bloomberg

Israel fumed Thursday over a decision by the UN’s atomic watchdog to close an investigation into an Iranian site where secret nuclear activity was suspected, accusing the monitor of caving to pressure from Tehran. – Times of Israel 

Amid concerns about Iran’s increasing sales of oil abroad, Reps. Mike Lawler (R-NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) introduced legislation yesterday to impose new sanctions targeting those who assist the Iranian regime in ducking U.S. sanctions, Jewish Insider has learned. – Jewish Insider 

Tom Rogan writes:  If a major IRGC headquarters or training facility and its associated personnel are annihilated following an attack on U.S. personnel, Khamenei and the IRGC will reconsider future attacks. Biden is right to retain a U.S. military presence in Syria. As commander in chief, he must also be ready to protect the lives of those under his command. – Washington Examiner 

Yohan Jeremy Bob writes: There is no real information on this from the IAEA. Israeli defense officials said this past month that the weapons group was making advances, but nothing substantial enough to require the Jewish state to act quite yet.The most important issues remaining at this point are probably keeping an eye on whether Iran jumps to 90% weaponized uranium, the weapons’ group progress, and on Iran’s building of a new underground facility at Natanz even deeper than Fordow. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: Biden’s relations with Netanyahu remain tense, due to the latter’s attempt to get the regime coup laws passed and the unholy alliance he forged with the parties of the extreme right. There is little likelihood that Netanyahu will attack in Iran against the opinion of the United States, and especially if a new American-Iranian agreement takes shape. Israel very much needs the United States for an attack, both operationally and for diplomatic backing. – Haaretz 

Nicolas Carl writes: Failing to act will inevitably pres­ent Washington with a crisis or series of crises in the region that will threaten US strategic interests and distract from competition with China and Russia. US policymakers can preempt this pitfall by acting now and mitigating future risk by appropriately containing the Iranian threat. – American Enterprise Institute 

Russia & Ukraine

A growing feud between two of Russia’s most powerful warlords has broken out into the open following the withdrawal of the paramilitary Wagner group from eastern Ukrainian flashpoint city Bakhmut, exposing the rifts in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive. – Wall Street Journal 

Shebekino, a town four miles from the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Belgorod region, came under intense rocket fire and shelling Thursday, local officials and residents said — the latest in a series of attacks on Russian soil in recent days. – Washington Post

President Biden’s decision last month to help Ukraine obtain F-16 fighter jets marked another crossing of a Russian red line that Vladimir Putin has said would transform the war and draw Washington and Moscow into direct conflict. – Washington Post

The Biden administration and its NATO allies are developing plans for securing ongoing military support to Ukraine beyond the country’s current offensive, hoping that long-term security pacts will create a strong deterrent against future Russian aggression and potentially alter the battlefield calculus of President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post

As Ukraine prepares to launch a long-trumpeted counterattack, the first obstacle its soldiers must push through isn’t Russia’s defenses. It’s their own. – Washington Post

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused local officials of negligence after civilians who were locked out of a shelter in Kyiv were killed in a Russian attack. – Washington Post

Find it, target it, shoot it. The drill is the same for Ukraine’s air defense crews as they work round the clock to combat the relentless barrage of missiles the Russians launch at Kyiv, mostly foiling the most intense bombardment of the capital since the first weeks of the war. – New York Times

Two villages in Russia’s western Bryansk region have been shelled by Ukrainian forces, but no one was injured, regional governor Alexander Bogomaz said in a series of posts on the Telegram messaging app on Friday. – Reuters 

Ukrainian forces in the capital, Kyiv, said on Friday they shot down more than 30 Russian missiles and drones overnight and two people were injured by falling debris, before authorities lifted air raid alerts across most of the country. – Reuters 

The United States said it will stop providing Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty from Thursday, including updates on its missile and launcher locations, to retaliate for Moscow’s “ongoing violations” of the accord. – Reuters 

An ambassador claimed during her testimony before a Senate committee Wednesday that the Pentagon was blocking the United States from participating in an international investigation into the so far more than 88,000 alleged Russian war crimes against humanity documented in Ukraine to date. – Fox News

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spending on personal security has skyrocketed this year, as the Kremlin ramps up measures to ensure the Russian leader’s safety amid his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to government data. – Newsweek 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the construction of a new bomb shelter at the country’s most elite hospital where high-ranking officials are treated, according to a government website. – Newsweek 

Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth write: Putin, essentially, is down to his nukes in Ukraine. And even he likely knows that they are not a viable or winning option. The question is no longer whether Russia conventionally loses in Ukraine, but when. – The Hill


But in subsequent days, the story took off in the Italian media when it emerged that 21 people on the boat were spies, or former spies — including 13 from the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, and eight Italian ones. Official explanations that they had been celebrating a birthday did little to quell a speculative frenzy about their activities. – New York Times

A 3-year-old Palestinian boy was in critical condition at an Israeli hospital Friday morning after being shot by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank. The army opened an investigation into what it said was an unintentional shooting. – Associated Press

The head of the Shin Bet security agency was in Washington on Thursday for meetings with senior American officials amid growing US concern over the security situation in the West Bank and the deterioration of the Palestinian Authority, an Israeli official said. – Times of Israel

Benny Avni writes: The book on the life of the man currently known to the world as Erez Shimoni is yet to be written. It will be a long time before we know more about him than tidbits and funeral accolades, if ever. Similarly, the true story behind the boat that capsized this week on Lake Maggiore may never be fully fleshed out. – New York Sun 

Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller write: If and when the moment is right for negotiations, the United States should consult with others to develop parameters and terms of reference that point the parties in a positive direction and build on progress achieved in the past. The Israelis and the Palestinians are in a dangerous cul-de-sac. And working with others, the Biden administration could certainly do more to help them begin to find a way out. – Foreign Affairs 


A Lebanese military tribunal has formally accused five members of Hezbollah and the allied Amal Movement of killing an Irish U.N. peacekeeper in 2022, a senior Lebanese judicial source told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters 

The security cabinet is set to convene next week to discuss a potential multi-front conflict including Iran and Hezbollah, amid concerns over Tehran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capabilities. – Times of Israel

Airstrikes in the Damascus area earlier this week that were attributed to Israel targeted a Hezbollah terror group training base, according to an Israeli television report. – Times of Israel


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will appoint Mehmet Simsek as his new treasury and finance minister, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, bringing back an advocate of conventional economics to shore up market confidence after elections. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: During the run-up to Turkey’s elections last election most countries abroad did not critique the authoritarian ruling party because they believed the opposition had a chance at winning and didn’t want to give Erdogan a chance to use foreign statements against the opposition. But the opposition failed. – Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz writes: Israel will need to tread carefully. On the one hand, putting the future of its gas exports in the hands of a man who intentionally deteriorated relations is not the smartest move. Beyond the risk, doing so will also undermine Israel’s close ties with Greece and Cyprus. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia on Thursday executed a Nepali national after his conviction for stabbing a Saudi to death. The state-run Saudi Press Agency reported the execution of Santa Bahadur Pune, saying it took place in the kingdom’s Al-Jawf region. – Associated Press

A Syria-backed Palestinian militant group Thursday held a funeral for five fighters who died in a blast under mysterious circumstances. – Associated Press

Leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) headed to Cairo on Thursday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on ways to preserve the current ceasefire agreement with Israel, Palestinian sources said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Senior Israeli officials have clarified that ongoing talks aimed at normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel are far from maturing due to several issues that would affect Israel’s military superiority and nuclear hegemony in the region. – Haaretz 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Weapon smugglers have been intercepted, including a large number of arms intercepted in April being smuggled from Jordan. Nevertheless, the shooting attacks continue to be fueled by the seemingly unstoppable flow of illegal weapons to the West Bank. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

South Korea on Friday announced new sanctions against a North Korean hacking group, Kimsuky, it accused of being involved in the North’s latest satellite launch attempt. – Reuters 

The United States has called for a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss North Korea’s attempted satellite launch this week, the spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said. – Reuters 

China is unlikely to take any action against North Korea even if Pyongyang tries to relaunch a spy satellite after its first attempt failed, experts said. – VOA News 


China would like more American executives like Elon Musk, please. During a whirlwind 44 hours in Beijing and Shanghai, the Tesla and Twitter CEO was celebrated by Chinese Communist Party commentators as an ally opposing a perceived American campaign to separate the world’s two largest economies. – Washington Post

At this tiny commercial airport near the northern tip of the Philippines, tents for U.S. military equipment and troops dotted the tarmac alongside U.S. Army helicopters during recent training exercises. It is one of a growing number of outposts for American forces in the Asia-Pacific region designed to meet the rising military challenge from China. – Wall Street Journal 

For much of the past decade, Western companies have sought an alternative to China to manufacture goods—a shift executives call “China plus one.” Increasingly, the strategy looks more like China plus many. Apple, with a sprawling production base in China, is rapidly expanding in Vietnam and India, an emerging smartphone-making hub. – Wall Street Journal 

For a few weeks, a flurry of meetings between American and Chinese officials seemed to signal that the two countries were trying to reduce tensions, after months of rancor and frozen high-level contacts raised concerns about the risk of a conflict, accidental or otherwise. – New York Times

As the United States and China vie to establish new partnerships and expand influence with Asia-Pacific nations, the top defense officials from both nations are preparing to try to win support this weekend from their regional counterparts, diplomats and leaders at a security forum in Singapore. – Associated Press

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Thursday with China’s deputy foreign minister and other top diplomats from the BRICS bloc of developing economies for discussions that included the group’s possible expansion to include the major oil-producing nations of Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. – Associated Press

China will closely follow the progress of European Union discussions on an 11th tranche of sanctions against Russia that could result in trade restrictions with China, Shu Jueting, a commerce ministry spokesperson, said on Thursday. – Reuters 

China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, said on Friday that he believes neither Ukraine nor Russia have “firmly” shut the door to talks, despite difficulties in getting negotiations going now. – Reuters 

Defense officials from around the world arrived in Singapore Friday, with US-China tensions over Taiwan, chip curbs and the South China Sea at the top of the agenda. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, are among more than 600 military leaders, policy makers and analysts from 40 nations taking part in the annual Shangri-La Dialogue. – Bloomberg 

China’s defense ministry is accusing the United States of interfering with and surveilling a naval exercise in the South China Sea before an incident during which one of its fighter jets intercepted a U.S. spy plane last week. – The Hill 

With two uniformed police officers filming, pro-democracy political activist Chan Po-ying used a megaphone to call on passers-by in a busy shopping district in Hong Kong to “commemorate in their own ways” the 1989 massacre of protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. – Financial Times

Michael Luchesse writes: The U.S. cannot defeat the emerging Eurasian axis on its own. American policy needs to prioritize building and sustaining these relationships. The U.S. must demonstrate a real commitment to protecting interests wherever they are threatened. Freedom and security can be preserved only by American power coupled with the willingness of friends and allies to fight alongside the U.S. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

The president of former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s party was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday on charges of corruption, a government official said. Pakistan is beset by political turmoil as Khan’s party has faced a countrywide crackdown since his own arrest on May 9 for suspected graft sparked widespread protests that saw mobs ransacking state installations, including military assets. – Reuters

Debt-stricken Sri Lanka, which declared bankruptcy last year, is showing signs of economic improvement but its recovery still faces challenges, the International Monetary Fund said Friday. – Associated Press

Nepal’s prime minister held talks with his Indian counterpart on Thursday as India and its rival China bid for influence in the tiny Himalayan nation as part of a greater regional power struggle. – Associated Press

Militants attacked a Pakistani security post near the country’s border with Iran on Thursday, triggering a shootout that killed two soldiers, the military said. – Associated Press


The United States is seeking to secure supplies of TNT in Japan for 155mm artillery shells, as Washington rushes weapons and ammunition to Ukraine for a counteroffensive against Russian forces, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. – Reuters 

Bank of China (601988.SS) chairman Ge Haijiao has travelled to Papua New Guinea (PNG) as the world’s fourth-largest bank seeks an operating licence in the Pacific Islands nation, which is seeking to boost China trade while expanding U.S. defence ties. – Reuters 

Japan’s National Police Agency said in a report Thursday that flaws in basic security such as an absence of metal detectors and bag checks allowed an attacker to enter a campaign crowd unnoticed and throw a pipe bomb at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in April. – Associated Press

Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and South Korean Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho will meet on June 29 in Tokyo for the next bilateral meeting, almost two months after the first talk between the two countries’ financial leaders in seven years. – Reuters 

The United States signed a trade agreement Thursday with Taiwan over opposition from China, which claims the self-ruled island democracy as part of its territory. – Associated Press

Tom Rogan writes:  Considering America’s own inadequacies in terms of readiness for what is likely to come, if this is Taiwan’s attitude about the gathering storm, it has a big problem. After all, I don’t see how even the most persuasive of U.S. presidents could justify to American families that they should sacrifice thousands of their fellow citizens to fight for a faraway land that isn’t terribly interested in even preparing to fight for itself. – Washington Examiner 

Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer write:  Just because Taiwanese officials don’t see a trade-off, it doesn’t mean that they’re happy with the status quo, either. Taiwan is facing a $19 billion backlog in arms sales from the United States, and the island nation’s defense minister recently revealed that the purchase of 66 F-16 fighter jets will be further delayed due to supply chain issues. – Foreign Policy 


U.S. and European diplomats are rushing to contain spiraling violence at the heart of Europe and prevent a fresh conflict on a continent shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The clashes took place in Kosovo, one of a string of small Balkan nations created after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The eruption of violence left dozens of people wounded this week, including Italian and Hungarian servicemen. – Wall Street Journal 

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Thursday criticized “harmful” statements from Washington and other allies rebuking his government for heightening tensions in majority-Serb areas of the country, but said he is set to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic amid efforts to de-escalate. – Washington Post

The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia held talks on Thursday on resolving a political crisis that has spiralled into violence, with the leaders of France and Germany pressing them to take swift steps to reduce tensions. – Reuters 

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that Ukraine needed to be given clear and strong security guarantees at a NATO summit in Lithuania in July. – Reuters 

A visa waiver for participants of an art festival in Belarus in July could serve as a gateway for migrants and renew pressure on Poland’s eastern border, a senior Polish security official said on Thursday. Poland has been a refuge for opponents of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, and has become one of Kyiv’s staunchest supporters since Belarus’ main ally Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. – Reuters 

Lee Hockstader writes: Pistorius has no illusions that progress will come easily. He established a working group led by a general to cut red tape and streamline procurement. He pledged to restock inventories by buying weapons off the shelf, rather than relying on Germany’s ponderous process of developing new systems from scratch. He has shuffled some key personnel. That’s a start, barely. The German public might be swooning over the new defense minister for now. But for Pistorius, the window of opportunity to effect real reform is narrow — and it might shut quickly. – Washington Post


A court in Senegal sentenced the country’s leading opposition figure to two years in prison on Thursday after finding him guilty of “corrupting youth,” prompting scores of protesters to take to the streets, and clash with security forces throughout the country. – New York Times

The United States announced new sanctions on Thursday on two Sudanese military factions and on companies linked to both sides, which have been fueling a war that has killed hundreds of people in Africa’s third-largest nation. – New York Times

The Biden administration is in a bind over whether to provide military aid to Chad, one of Africa’s most reliable bulwarks against the spread of Islamist militants and an opponent of Russia’s growing influence in the Sahel region. – Wall Street Journal 

More than 100,000 people have fled violence in Sudan to neighbouring Chad and the numbers could double in the next three months, the U.N. refugee agency said on Thursday. – Reuters 

The United States has reopened its embassy in the Seychelles after a 27-year absence during which China and other U.S. rivals made significant inroads in the Indian Ocean islands. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It now appears the Sudanese army will not abide by the ceasefire. The army accuses the RSF of not abiding by the ceasefire’s various clauses. This creates an impossible situation in which there is no real outside force or mechanism that can help enforce the ceasefire or give incentives for the sides to return to the table for talks. It’s not clear if the US, distracted by other issues in the region, will focus on Sudan. – Jerusalem Post

Jack Detsch writes: More than 20 countries evacuated their citizens from war-torn Sudan, including tiny Guatemala, which landed a U.S.-made C-130 transport aircraft in the country to get its people out. Leaders of the evacuation effort are stunned that the United States couldn’t do the same. “How do you explain that?” Stern said. “The United States of America can’t figure out how to land a plane, when Guatemala can.” – Foreign Policy 

Latin America

The west must take “into account” Russian president Vladimir Putin’s security concerns and stop the slide towards a Versailles-style victors’ peace in Ukraine, said Brazil’s top foreign policy adviser. – Financial Times

Jean W. Pape writes: It is also essential for the Biden administration to stop the illegal export of weapons from the United States to Haitian gangs — the principal source of the guns in Haiti. And we need the commitment of the world to help us get back on our feet to carry on with our health and humanitarian efforts. – New York Times

Trinidad and Tobago is requesting the U.S. government amend the terms of a license authorizing the joint development of a promising offshore gas field with Venezuela, the Caribbean nation’s energy minister said on Thursday. – Reuters 


The Pentagon disclosed on Thursday that it has signed a contract to provide SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine, nearly eight months after Elon Musk, the company’s owner, threatened to terminate access unless the U.S. government paid for it. – Washington Post

Members of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus introduced legislation on Wednesday pushing for increased cyber cooperation among signatories to the 2020 normalization agreements. The legislation, which follows a move by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year to expand cooperative efforts under the Accords to include cybersecurity, comes in response to Iran’s increasing cyber attacks targeting the U.S. and its partners in the region, the senators said. – Jewish Insider 

Mike Watson writes: North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs are forcing American partners and allies across Asia to reassess how much they need a nuclear weapon.Ultimately, nonproliferation and AI risk share the same weakness: They underestimate the human factor. – Wall Street Journal 

Helen Toner, Jenny Xiao, and Jeffrey Ding write: There are still plenty of issues to work through, including where new regulatory authorities should be housed, what role third-party auditors can play, what transparency requirements should look like, and how to apportion liability when things go wrong. – Foreign Affairs 

Luke Hogg writes: If the United States does not proactively support its own satellite internet companies and encourage them to innovate, it will continue to cede ground to the Digital Silk Road. With a few nudges from federal policymakers, satellite internet may prove a potent catalyst for socioeconomic development, empowerment, and the free exchange of ideas both at home and abroad. – The National Interest 


NATO must compel its member nations to grow their military spending if the alliance is to deter Russia effectively beyond the war in Ukraine and manage other threats to transatlantic security, Britain’s defense chief said, outlining his ambitions for the bloc’s future as it considers its next leader. – Washington Post

The Israeli military and the U.S. Army are taking steps to tie the Army’s two Iron Dome batteries into the service’s missile defense program of record, potentially moving the Israeli equipment away from its current status as a one-off gap filler in the U.S. inventory, according to officials from both countries. – Defense News

The F-35 program only knows how much cooling the Joint Strike Fighter’s engine will need through 2035, government auditors said in a new report. – Defense News