Fdd's overnight brief

June 23, 2023

In The News


Fifteen people died of alcohol poisoning in Iran after consuming bootleg booze, state media reported on Wednesday, as the number of similar deaths increases across the country. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday concluded a three-day tour of Gulf Arab neighbors with a visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he held talks with the country’s president. – VOA News

Bobby Ghosh writes: A few weeks ago, the Biden administration reassured Congress that it would abide by the provisions of  Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and submit any new deal with Iran for review and approval. But officials now hope they can avoid this scrutiny if they can plausibly deny that a new deal is being made. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The main point of Hajizadeh’s discussion was that Iran has achieved all of its goals in terms of indigenous production of complex systems, such as missiles. The hypersonic project is just one project among many. It wants better satellites and it wants to build more drones. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Another side of the Iranian plan in the Middle East is to continue to threaten US forces in Iraq. The US has said it is trying to deter Iran. This means that Iran pursues one policy in the Gulf and with Europe, while it pursues an arc of instability across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and into the West Bank to threaten Israel, the US and others. – Jerusalem Post

Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, and Nicholas Carl write: Iran may intend for Abdollahian’s outreach to generate interest in economic partnerships with an investment in Iran following a nuclear agreement with the West. Iran has engaged in indirect nuclear negotiations for a limited agreement with the US over the past several weeks. – Institute for the Study of War

Russia & Ukraine

Ukrainian missiles hit a bridge connecting Russian-held territory in Kherson and the Crimean Peninsula, Russian officials said Thursday, blaming Ukrainian forces for the attack. RIA Novosti, a Russian state-operated news outlet, shared a video showing a large hole in the Chonhar bridge — known as the “Gate to Crimea” — surrounded by what appeared to be missile fragments. No casualties were reported. – Washington Post

A Moscow court on Thursday rejected an appeal by jailed American journalist Evan Gershkovich against Russia’s continued detention of him in the high-security Lefortovo prison, meaning he will remain imprisoned on spying charges that the U.S. government and his employer, the Wall Street Journal, say were fabricated. – Washington Post

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Thursday that Russian forces were preparing a “terrorist act” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest atomic power station, as officials in Moscow said the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, would travel to Russia to meet with nuclear authorities on Friday. – Washington Post

Ukrainian state-owned energy company Naftogaz said on Friday it had taken legal action in the United States against Russia to recover $5 billion awarded in the Hague as compensation for damages and lost property in Crimea. – Reuters

Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge by the jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to prison officials’ refusal to give him writing equipment, the Russian independent news site Mediazona reported.- Reuters

Editorial: Russia’s de facto colonization of Belarus, a longtime vassal state run by strongman Alexander Lukashenko, has been a Putin project for years. Russia’s push to move tactical nukes there introduces new risks and uncertainties that extend beyond Ukraine. Only prompt and resolute action by NATO can meet the challenge. – Bloomberg

Andreas Kluth writes: Let the West stop lecturing and start listening to the South. And let the South swing behind Kyiv and against Moscow. Ramaphosa could make a great start by simply calling the Russian invasion a war of aggression and condemning it at the UN. – Bloomberg

Raphael Parens writes: Some leaders in the West may prefer to encourage Russia’s descent into a jihadist backlash in service of great-power competition. Surely, Russia would be weakened by a new Sunni insurgency on its southern borders. Yet, allowing jihadism to grow unchecked in West Africa, the Caucasus, and Central Asia is too dangerous of a side effect. – War on the Rocks


In a week that saw U.S.-made attack helicopters strafing a Palestinian city and Israeli settlers rampaging through a village filled with American citizens, the Biden administration finds itself caught up in a rapidly escalating conflict. – Washington Post

The northern West Bank is witnessing an explosive mix of the rise of local, armed Palestinian militias carrying out shooting attacks against Israelis; almost daily raids by the Israeli military to arrest militants, which often turn deadly; and reprisals by extremist Jewish settlers, who have rampaged through Palestinian villages setting fire to property. – New York Times

Israel is inching toward apartheid and drifting further away from the hopes of creating a Palestinian state alongside it, former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told The Associated Press Thursday on a visit to the region. – Associated Press 

With the Israeli-occupied West Bank once again in turmoil after the latest bloodshed this week, uncertainty has deepened over the position of 87-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a negotiated peace looking as unlikely as ever. – Reuters 

The Hamas terror group had a clear presence at the funeral of one of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s terror attack at Eli. – Times of Israel

Masked rioters are seen entering a home in Orif, taking a Koran and ripping the pages from it before throwing it into the street in a video that circulated on Israeli social media on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

The military’s use of airpower in the West Bank twice this week, after refraining for two decades, indicates Israel is looking to change the rules of the game when it comes to fighting Palestinian terror. This appears to have come after Palestinian armed groups changed the rules first, by ramping up terror attacks and more heavily resisting Israeli operations. – Times of Israel 

Six Palestinians were arrested by the IDF, Shin Bet and Border Police throughout the West Bank on Thursday night. – Jerusalem Post

The United Nations Security Council must condemn Hezbollah for crossing Israel’s border and building three temporary military structures, Israel’s Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the 15-member body. – Jerusalem Post

A campaign protesting against police arresting people who wave Palestinian flags in public and confiscating the banners took to the roads of Tel Aviv on Wednesday, with images of watermelons using the colors of the Palestinian flag tacked onto the shared taxis which serve the metropolis. – Times of Israel

Israel and Cyprus have held talks regarding the sale of Merkava tanks, sources in both countries told Haaretz. – Haaretz

The US Department of State has increased its 2023-24 contribution to the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees despite widespread concern that antisemitism and jihadi violence is openly taught in schools it administers in the Palestinian territories. – Algemeiner


Turkey’s central bank sharply raised interest rates on Thursday, the clearest sign yet that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is shifting his country toward more orthodox economic policies in the hope of taming a painful cost-of-living crisis. – New York Times

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plan to meet as early as next month as they try to improve long-frosty relations between their countries, according to people familiar with the situation. – Bloomberg

Turkey wants Sweden to begin extraditing or expelling suspected Kurdish separatists before next month’s summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to help win its support to join the security alliance, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia and the Houthi authorities controlling north Yemen have exchanged 64 fighters’ bodies in the third such recent deal, Houthi media said on Wednesday, the latest sign of progress in talks to end their eight-year conflict. – Reuters 

At loggerheads over who should fill a vacant presidency, Lebanon’s fractious politicians are waiting for foreign powers to resolve their crisis, leaving the country adrift as its failing state teeters on the brink of collapse. – Reuters

A senior Israeli diplomat expressed concern at Abraham Accords states’ improving relations with Iran this week. Foreign Ministry Political Director Aliza Bin Noun expressed concerns about Bahrain reestablishing relations with Iran during a visit to Manama this week, a diplomatic source said. – Jerusalem Post

Samara Azzi and Hanin Ghaddar write: A structural and debt reform program would have been far less costly than the complete meltdown now playing out. In the current reality, Hezbollah continues to prosper, despite some weaknesses, and the Lebanese people experience daily misery. The international community today has an obligation to prod the country in a more sustainable, equitable, and transparent direction. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

“The first thing my mom taught me as a young girl living in North Korea was don’t even whisper, because birds and mice could hear me,” Yeonmi Park told the audience that had come to hear her speak in Queens. […] North Korea experts are quick to point out that Ms. Park’s inconsistencies, while prominent, were not wholly unique. Ms. Song, who has interviewed numerous North Korean defectors, noted that the country’s refugees are often unreliable narrators of their own experiences. – New York Times

South Korea and the United States agreed to step up cooperation on cyber security after holding a high-level meeting on the issue in Washington, South Korea’s presidential office said on Friday. – Reuters

South Korea’s cabinet this week approved plans for a new drone command to be set up by the military around September to provide what the government called an “overwhelming response” to any provocations by North Korea’s unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. – Bloomberg


President Biden said Thursday he didn’t believe his description this week of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a dictator had set back U.S. relations with China, after Beijing summoned the U.S. ambassador for an official reprimand following the president’s comments. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States and India declared themselves “among the closest partners in the world” on Thursday during a state visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington hosted by President Joe Biden. – Reuters

China has good reason to hold back on unleashing big stimulus. The central bank has made small cuts to interest rates as everything from credit growth to exports disappoint. Cutting aggressively as global interest rates rise would put too much pressure on the yuan but policymakers in the world’s second largest economy are evidently uncomfortable with this year’s underwhelming 5% growth target. – Reuters

Editorial: Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine might yet doom his rule. In China, Mr. Xi demands obedience, but protesters defy him, as they did last winter over “zero covid” restrictions. And one example of successful protest came recently in Georgia. The ruling Georgian Dream party advanced yet another “foreign agent” bill to require any organization receiving more than 20 percent of its funds from foreign sources to register as “agents of foreign influence.” But the bill was widely criticized, and after mass protests around the Parliament building in March, it was dropped. All who believe in democracy must find new ways to advance it. This is especially important now, when democracy has lost luster around the globe. – Washington Post

South Asia

In the far reaches of the Himalayas, drones sweep across the sky on a high-priority mission for India: scouring the vast, rugged terrain below for Chinese movement along the border of the two countries. […] India plans to purchase upgraded MQ-9B drones in a transaction valued at roughly $3 billion. The deal was announced by the U.S. and India Thursday in Washington, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal 

Standing next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on Thursday, President Biden defended calling Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator” at a recent campaign event. And he went on to characterize the American relationship with Modi — who has been accused of aiding the erosion of democratic principles in India — as different from the one with Xi because India shares the same “democratic character” as the United States. – Washington Post

U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday called on Pakistan to act to ensure that its territory is not used to launch extremist attacks, the White House said in a joint statement. – Reuters


Under orders from their supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in April 2022 banned the cultivation of poppy, a lucrative cash crop. One year on, it’s not clear whether the Taliban will soon make a significant dent on a crop that the United Nations estimated accounts for one-tenth of the entire Afghan economy. – Washington Post

Malaysia said on Friday it will take legal action against Facebook parent company Meta Platforms (META.O) for failing to remove “undesirable” posts, the strongest measure the country has taken to date over such content. – Reuters

Cambodia’s parliament voted unanimously to amend an election law on Friday to penalise anyone who boycotts next month’s poll, which critics have said will be a sham because of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to stamp out all opposition. – Reuters

Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday the contested site of a proposed Russian embassy was secure, after it emerged a Russian diplomat was squatting on the land following an Australian decision to cancel the lease. – Reuters

Russia’s security council accused the West on Friday of trying to drive a wedge between Russia and Kazakhstan by interfering in the affairs of sovereign nations, Russia’s TASS reported. – Reuters

The U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan will stop at Central Vietnam’s port city of Danang on Sunday in a rare visit for a U.S. warship to the southeast Asian nation, as tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea remain high. – Reuters

As New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins prepares to lead a trade delegation to China seeking greater access for both the country’s primary exports and emerging sectors such as gaming, producers are diversifying away from their biggest market. – Reuters

South Korea exported more goods to the US than to China last year for the first time in almost two decades, underlining shifting trade patterns as Washington draws more allies into its supply chains and Beijing boosts its manufacturing self-reliance. – Financial Times

Josh Rogin writes: The objective is not to “contain” China but rather to preserve the sovereignty of regional allies and the order that underpins the region’s prosperity. Beijing wants to split off Asian allies from the United States and each other, but its actions are pushing them together. What remains to be seen is whether Washington can take advantage. – Washington Post

Oliver Stuenkel writes: For all its ongoing challenges, BRICS generates many benefits for its members and is here to stay. Yet if the group announces the inclusion of new members during the upcoming summit in Johannesburg, it would be simplistic to interpret it as a sign of strength. Rather, expansion should be read as a sign of China’s growing capacity to determine the bloc’s overall strategy—and may reflect the emergence not of a multipolar order, but of a bipolar one. – Foreign Policy


The most recent manifestation of Belarus’s fealty to Moscow — and the threat it poses to the West — is its professed decision to allow Moscow to position tactical nuclear weapons on its soil, as well as outfitting its bombers with nuclear weapons. It is also an important step, democracy advocates and military experts say, toward Russia’s absorption of Belarus, a longtime goal of Mr. Putin. – New York Times

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called on Thursday for a quick accession of Bosnia and other Balkan countries into the European Union, saying they could provide new energy and dynamics to the “troubled” 27-member bloc. – Reuters

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell proposed steps to end weeks of violence in predominantly Serb areas of northern Kosovo to the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia on Thursday, but there were no signs of an immediate breakthrough. – Reuters

Greeks return to the polls Sunday for a second general election in five weeks, with the conservative front-runners eyeing a landslide win after toppling strongholds dominated by their opponents for decades. – Associated Press

Authorities in Albania suspect members of the of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MKO) group residing in a camp in Albania of committing several crimes, including incitement to war and cybercrime, according to an Albanian court on June 21. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty



Zambia has reached a deal with China and Western creditors to extend repayment of $6.3 billion in loans, according to people familiar with the matter, the result of drawn-out negotiations that are seen as a test case for developing nations contending with massive debts accumulated under China’s Belt and Road initiative. – Wall Street Journal 

Eleven candidates will run for the Zimbabwean presidency in an August election, the electoral commission has said, after several hopefuls were disqualified for failing to raise the $20,000 needed to appear on the ballot. – Reuters

Rwanda and international development banks plan to raise an extra 300 million euros ($328.86 million) to help the country adapt to a changing climate, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Thursday. – Reuters

A Tunisian judge on Thursday ordered the release of prominent journalist Zied Heni two days after he was arrested over accusations he had insulted President Kais Saied. – Reuters

The departure of a United Nations peacekeeping mission from Mali will strike a “fatal blow” to a peace accord and threaten stability across the region, a coalition of armed groups in the north of the country has warned. – Reuters

The Americas

Mexico’s highest court on Thursday struck down a key piece of a sweeping electoral bill backed by the president that would have undermined the agency that oversees the country’s vote, and that helped shift the nation away from single-party rule. – New York Times

Meta said Thursday that it plans to follow through with a threat to block Canadians from sharing news on its platforms, after the federal government passed a law requiring digital firms to pay domestic media organizations for their content. – Washington Post

Guatemalans will vote for a new president on Sunday, but with several leading opposition candidates disqualified from standing, rights groups have warned that Central America’s largest economy is sliding towards authoritarianism. – Financial Times

Will Freeman writes: At the same time, Guatemala’s past is still present, with history caught in a loop. The country is hurtling toward elections drained of legitimacy as violence against land and climate activists continues to roil rural areas. Without an escape valve, Guatemala’s past may come surging into the present in new, even more disturbing ways. – Foreign Affairs

Latin America

A US delegation arrived in Caracas this week to seek the release of US prisoners held by the Venezuelan government, according to people with knowledge of the matter. – Bloomberg

A group of Latin American presidents on Thursday urged US President Joe Biden to support Argentina in ongoing negotiations over its $44 billion program with the International Monetary Fund. – Bloomberg

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Thursday he had discussed the war between Russia and Ukraine and an upcoming BRICS summit with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa as they met in Paris. – Reuters

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday in favor of a tax treaty with Chile seen as crucial for ensuring access for U.S. companies to lithium, a mineral essential for electric vehicle batteries. – Reuters

Brazil’s top electoral court on Thursday decided to adjourn a trial that could leave former President Jair Bolsonaro in the political wilderness for nearly a decade, with the session set to be resumed on Tuesday of next week. – Reuters

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offered Thursday to help try to gain the release of a Roman Catholic bishop imprisoned in Nicaragua. – Associated Press


Australia has ordered Twitter to explain what it is doing to tackle online hate, saying there had been a sharp increase in “toxicity and hate” since Elon Musk took over the company last year. – Washington Post

Australia on Friday named a senior air force commander as its first cybersecurity boss to help lead the government’s response to major data breaches and boost the nation’s security capabilities amid a recent spike in network intrusions. – Reuters

TikTok’s chief operating officer Vanessa Pappas has stepped down after five years as one of its highest-profile US executives, dealing a blow to the social media platform as it faces mounting regulatory scrutiny. – Financial Times

Luke Hogg writes: By embracing light regulation focused on global competitiveness, policymakers can encourage investment, attract top AI talent, and foster an environment that enables American companies to lead in AI development. By allowing room for experimentation and adaptability, the United States can remain at the forefront of AI innovation, providing economic and societal benefits while maintaining a competitive edge on the global stage. – The National Interest


The House’s proposed version of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions that would push the Air Force to make available more pilot training aircraft — both old and new — and tap the brakes on some future fighter retirements. – Defense News

Leonardo will mount a 20-millimeter Nexter gun on the fighter version of its M-346 jet, the Italian firm said on Thursday, a day after announcing a tie-up with Airbus to market its trainer version of the aircraft. – Defense News

Fights over diversity training, COVID-19 and LGBTQ+ troops dominated the House Armed Services Committee’s yearly markup of its annual defense policy bill as lawmakers debated on into the night Wednesday. – Military.com