Fdd's overnight brief

May 11, 2023

In The News


Syrian dictator Bashar Assad will provide a launchpad for new attacks against Israel, a senior Iranian official predicted during a Russia-hosted summit. – Washington Examiner

Iran executed three convicted drug cartel members Wednesday, the judiciary said, after the United Nations warned of a “frighteningly” high number of executions in the country. – Agence France-Presse

An Iranian delegation in Belarus is exploring adjusting local factories to produce kamikaze drones for Russia to solve transportation issues for the Kremlin, the Ukrainian National Resistance Center said on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Iran has urged Hamas to join Islamic Jihad in a new round of attacks against Israel following the killing of three militants in Gaza, Iran International has learned. – Iran International

The Swedish Parliament voted in favor of designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization today [May 10]. – Iran International

A national security threat is typically posed by a combination of hostile intentions and capabilities. The threat from Iran’s nuclear program is no exception. The Iran Threat Geiger Counter from the Institute for Science and International Security measures on a regular basis Iran’s hostile intentions toward the United States and U.S. allies, and its capability to turn these hostile intentions into action through the potential deployment and use of a nuclear weapon. – Institute for Science and International Security

Tom Rogan writes: Israel is deeply concerned over Iran’s enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade purity levels and its continuing refusal to come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its past and present nuclear activities. For Israel, which has a population of just 10 million people, the advent of an Iranian nuclear weapon would be seen as the precursor to a second Holocaust. – Washington Examiner

Asher Fredman writes: Israel must also send a clear message to Iran that it will pay a price for the actions of its proxies, whether in the Gaza Strip or anywhere else while emphasizing to the international community that a brighter future for the Gaza Strip depends on a large part on ending Iran’s malign activities. If Israel accomplishes these goals, it will have taken a significant step in countering Iran’s efforts to build a regional ring of terror. – Jerusalem Post

Efrat Sopher writes: Nothing can tarnish the deep connection between the Persian descendants of Cyrus the Great, the Iranian people, and the Jewish people and Israel. As the empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, wisely wrote in her recently republished memoirs, “The seeds you sow with love and hope never die.” – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

Ukraine said it has clawed back some ground around Bakhmut, dealing a blow to Russian forces seeking to dislodge the last Ukrainian units holding several blocks in the westernmost part of the eastern city after months of grinding combat. – Wall Street Journal

Nuclear power in the West is having a long-awaited revival, with new reactors opening in the U.S. and Europe and fresh momentum toward building more soon. A gaping hole in the plan: The West doesn’t have enough nuclear fuel—and lacks the capacity to swiftly ramp up production. Even more vexing, the biggest source of critical ingredients is Russia and its state monopoly, Rosatom, which is implicated in supporting the war in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday ordered the restoration of direct flights from Russia to the mountainous former Soviet republic of Georgia starting May 15 and abolished visa requirements for Georgian nationals, in the latest sign of continued rapprochement between the two nations. – New York Times

Ukraine’s claim of gains in the battle for the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut is playing out against a backdrop of increasingly caustic missives against the Russian military leadership from Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner militia whose forces have been at the forefront of Russia’s fight for the city. – New York Times

Armed with well over $30 billion in weapons freshly supplied by its allies, Ukraine is gearing up for a counteroffensive that may push Russia closer to ending its war, or show neither side has enough firepower to seize the advantage. – Bloomberg

Canadian and Latvian armed forces on Monday will begin training Ukrainian soldiers in Latvia, Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday will underscore the United States’ commitment to continue supporting Ukraine for as long as needed, while working with other rich nations to degrade Russia’s ability to wage war against its neighbor. – Reuters

We are all to blame for the war raging in Ukraine, according to that country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya. One of the most interesting, thoughtful, and provocative diplomats to grace Turtle Bay in quite some time, the Kyiv-born diplomat believes everyone missed the cues that led up to Russia’s attempt to devour his country. – New York Sun

The Russian military may have recruited up to 10,000 prisoners in April for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the UK Defense Ministry said in a Thursday morning intelligence update. – Jerusalem Post

Alexandra Chinchilla and Jahara Matisek write: The willingness of European countries to put significant resources on the line—even in areas where the United States is doing comparatively little—has become increasingly vital to Ukraine’s defense and will be crucial to its continued success. – Foreign Affairs

Can Kasapoglu writes: Wagner no doubt plays an important role in the current conflict in Ukraine. The role it might play in the postwar Russian Federation—particularly if the war comes to a conclusion following a decisive Ukrainian counteroffensive—could be even more important to determining the future of the post-Soviet sphere. – Hudson Institute


Israel attacked new targets in the Gaza Strip Thursday as Islamist militants continued to launch rockets into Israeli territory, extending into a third day a violent flare-up that has killed more than two dozen Palestinians and heightening the risk of wider conflict. – Washington Post

Gaza militants launched more than 400 rockets into Israel on Wednesday in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes that have killed more than 20 people over the past two days. –  Washington Post 

Israel‘s mid-range air defence missile system David’s Sling was successfully deployed in operations for the first time during Wednesday’s cross-border fighting with Gaza militants, two Israeli military sources said. – Reuters

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned civilian deaths in Gaza as “unacceptable” and appealed for them to “stop immediately” and for all parties to exercise maximum restraint, Deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Cairo, which has mediated in previous rounds of fighting, had begun brokering a ceasefire, Islamic Jihad spokesman Dawoud Shehab said. – Reuters

The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday flagged Israel’s proposed judiciary reforms as a significant downside risk to the economy that could tighten financial conditions and hinder investment, consumption and long-term growth. – Reuters 

The Israel Defense Forces believes at least four Palestinians killed during the latest round of fighting in the Gaza Strip, including children, died as a result of explosions caused by failed rocket launches by Palestinian terror operatives and not due to Israeli strikes. – Times of Israel

Six mortars were fired towards Kissufim, with two intercepted by the Iron Dome, marking the first response to the IDF’s targeted killing of Islamic Jihad rocket commander Ali Ghali around 1:00 a.m. early Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

The European Parliament on Wednesday condemned incitement and antisemitism in textbooks in Palestinian schools, some of which receive EU Funding. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Halutz’s brazen arrogance regarding the wholesale killing – for which he rightly came under scathing public criticism – has become routine. We cannot agree to war crimes and the death of innocents becoming part of Israeli routine. A leadership with this worldview cannot be legitimate in a democracy. – Haaretz

Miriam Berger writes: Abu Akleh’s advocates face an uphill battle keeping her high-up on Washington’s agenda as the Biden administration tries to keep strong ties with Israel while contending its far-right government — and as a new phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfolds. – Washington Post

Herb Keinon writes: On Tuesday, when Islamic Jihad did not fire rockets as expected, Israel was in unknown territory. On Wednesday, when the terrorist organization did fire off their rockets, Israel entered more familiar ground. What a paradox: The unknown and unpredictable, in this case, felt more discombobulating at a national level than the predictable and known. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: In short, both sides are likely reading the signs of restraint that each has shown in certain ways (Israel has barely touched Hamas) and trying to find a quick way to end this unwanted accident and distraction of a fight. – Jerusalem Post


An explosion close to a police station near the Syrian capital killed one officer and wounded four others Wednesday, state media reported. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The goal of Riyadh is “stability” in the region. The message to Assad on the eve of the Arab League meeting is all about this stability. However, Iran’s role in Syria generally destabilizes Syria, potentially putting Iran and Saudi at cross purposes on what is happening in Syria. Watching the next steps of Syria and Saudi Arabia in the coming week will be important. – Jerusalem Post

Leonardo Jacopo Maria Mazzucco writes: While conflicting views and underlying tensions continue to represent a major reality of GCC politics, as exemplified by Qatar’s hardline anti-Assad stance, the Arab Gulf monarchies have manifested a strong resolve to compartmentalize dissent and pursue a good neighborliness policy with fellow GCC members. – Washington Institute


Foreign ministers for Turkey, Syria, Russia and Iran met on Wednesday in Moscow, marking the highest-level talks so far on rebuilding ties between Ankara and Damascus after years of animosity during Syria’s civil war. – Reuters

Turkey’s economy is bracing for a “lost year” no matter who wins landmark elections on Sunday, political insiders say, even if the opposition pledges to tear down President Tayyip Erdogan’s unorthodox policies. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has parlayed his country’s NATO membership and location straddling Europe and the Middle East into international influence during two decades in power. Like other world leaders with global ambitions, he finds his tenure imperiled by matters closer to home. – Associated Press

Cihan Tugal writes: In a deeply militarized region, the Turkish far right’s recourse to identity politics could have devastating repercussions, not least for Kurds, women, L.G.B.T.Q. communities and religious minorities. The best antidote to such a threat is a cohesive, imaginative program for governing — precisely what the opposition seems to lack. Turkey doesn’t need restoring. It needs to be set on a new path altogether. – New York Times

Seth J. Frantzman writes: If Ankara, a NATO member, gets closer to Damascus, this will further show how distant Ankara is from its NATO partners. This is a slow move that Ankara has been conducting for a while. The drift is away from NATO’s consensus, specifically in Turkey’s opposition to Sweden, a liberal democracy, joining NATO. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has invited Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to attend an Arab League summit in the Gulf country on May 19, Syrian state media reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Tunisia and Egypt are edging closer to major debt crises which could suck in a volatile North Africa region and pose tough choices to wealthy Gulf Arab neighbours, investors and analysts warn. – Reuters

Editorial: The Biden administration should demand that Riyadh call off any executions and offer transparency about how it has dealt with the Huwaitat generally. The world needs full disclosure about the potential human costs of MBS’s castles in the sand. – Washington Post

Simon Henderson writes: Once largely ignored by major exploration companies, the region—extending into western Egypt both onshore and offshore—is now a hive of activity. The likelihood of additional discoveries will not create a rivalry with the Persian Gulf in hydrocarbon riches, but such discoveries are still significant in both energy and diplomatic terms. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

An incursion of South Korean airspace by North Korean drones exposed Seoul’s lack of preparedness in defending against such threats, and it will likely take years for the military to correct its shortcomings, according to a classified U.S. intelligence assessment of the December incident. – Washington Post

A recent warming of ties between South Korea and Japan will help them share information with their US ally to keep an eye on North Korea, said a top adviser to Seoul who helped draw up a deal to remedy an impasse that hurt security and trade ties. – Bloomberg

North Korea’s foreign ministry has warned Japan not join the newly announced Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) between South Korea and the U.S. and said doing so would make the Northeast Asian region unstable. – Reuters

South Korea’s top government research body has cut its economic growth forecast for this year to 1.5% from its earlier view of 1.8%, saying a deeper and longer export slump than previously expected is likely to offset resilient private consumption. – Reuters

Markus Garlauskas, Rachel Minyoung Lee, and Jonathan Corrado write: North Korea eventually makes a fool out of most analysts brave enough to make a bold, specific prediction. However, this is no excuse to throw up our hands and declare “We cannot assess at this time.” It’s impossible to predict with certainty what specific actions North Korea will take and when, but good analysis reduces uncertainty by identifying patterns, interpreting symbols, and deciphering intent. – War on the Rocks


China’s foreign minister is crisscrossing Europe this week in a bid to peel the continent away from the growing confrontation between Beijing and Washington, warning that European interests would be harmed by toeing the U.S.’s approach. – Wall Street Journal

China is facing a growing backlash from the United States and other Western governments over its controversial efforts to pressure dissidents and their advocates abroad, but Beijing has appeared undeterred. – Reuters

Australia’s Trade Minister arrived in Beijing On Thursday, where he will meet his Chinese counterpart, as Canberra pushes for the removal of all trade impediments and diplomatic relations stabilise. – Reuters

China’s military said on Wednesday the aircraft carrier Shandong had returned to its home port in Hainan “in recent days”, after a month-long voyage that included transits around Taiwan for drills and a flex of muscles as far out as the Western Pacific. – Reuters

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang agreed on the need to “develop an economic relationship that is both stronger and more balanced”, the foreign ministry in Paris said after they met on Wednesday. – Reuters

Group of Seven nations aim to send a signal to China this month by announcing a joint effort to counter “economic coercion,” even as they struggle to agree on more than a broad statement of intent. – Bloomberg

A Hong Kong newspaper will stop publishing works by the city’s most prominent political cartoonist after his drawings drew government complaints, in another example of hushed speech and media voices after a Beijing-led crackdown. – Associated Press

Hong Kong lawmakers on Wednesday passed an amendment to a law granting the city’s leader the power to bar overseas lawyers from handling national security cases, following a high-profile row sparked by a pro-democracy Hong Kong publisher’s hiring of a British lawyer. – Associated Press

Derek Scissors writes: There are compelling principles that should guide policy changes. One is that, if existing American law restricts Chinese investment in the US to prevent loss of technology, new American law should restrict US investment in the PRC developing that same technology. – American Enterprise Institute

South Asia

Pakistan’s political crisis threatened to spiral out of control Wednesday, a day after the arrest of opposition leader and former prime minister Imran Khan, as officials reported several deaths, police said the army was moving into the capital city of Islamabad, and at least three provinces also requested military support against protesters. – Washington Post

President Biden will welcome India’s prime minister to the White House for a state visit and lavish dinner next month, offering a highly valued diplomatic perk to a critical economic ally but also to a leader who has demonstrated authoritarian tendencies. – New York Times

The political crisis engulfing Pakistan is eroding hopes that the South Asian country can get its much needed programme with the International Monetary Fund back on track soon and escape a full-blown debt crunch, analysts said. – Reuters

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff team will arrive in Sri Lanka on Thursday, a statement from the global lender said as the crisis-hit country prepares for the first review of a loan programme in September. – Reuters

China on Wednesday called on Afghanistan to reform its radical policies excluding women from education and public life and “adopt a more resolute attitude in combating terrorism.” – Associated Press


Myanmar’s ruling military has made no meaningful progress on implementing a peace plan agreed with ASEAN two years ago and the bloc must show unity in deciding how to address the escalating crisis, Indonesia’s president said on Thursday. – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden will sign defence and surveillance agreements with Papua New Guinea, the island nation’s foreign minister said, on a visit that renews the strategic importance of the nation where Biden’s uncle died in World War Two. – Reuters

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will head to Papua New Guinea on May 21 to attend the United States-Pacific Summit, his office said in a statement on Thursday. – Reuters

The U.S. presidential envoy leading negotiations to renew agreements with three Pacific island states said on Wednesday he will visit them next week hoping to make progress ahead of a trip to the region by President Joe Biden later this month. Joseph Yun told Reuters he would be in Micronesia on Monday and would then visit Palau and the Marshall Islands. – Reuters

The wind farms are part of Taiwan’s ambitious push to power its massive tech industry with renewable energy and sit in a waterway that has become a focal point of tensions between Beijing and Washington. – Reuters

A Chinese research vessel flanked by coast guard and nearly a dozen boats on Wednesday entered a gas block operated by Russian and Vietnamese state firms, two monitoring groups said, another potential flashpoint in the South China Sea. – Reuters

Leaders of seven of the world’s richest nations meet next week at the G7 summit in the Japanese city of Hiroshima to discuss geopolitical, economic and climate issues as the war in Ukraine drags on and tensions rise between China and the United States. – Reuters

Japan plans to hold talks with South Korea and the United States in Hiroshima on May 21, Sankei newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing multiple government sources. – Reuters

Top business leaders from Japan and South Korea announced Wednesday they will use a fund meant to underscore the two countries’ burgeoning ties to strengthen their cooperation in energy, industry and other sectors. – Associated Press

The Chinese Communist Party’s No. 4 official has pledged to expand his nation’s communications with Taiwan, a self-ruled island that President Xi Jinping considers a breakaway province and has vowed to retake by force, if necessary. – Bloomberg

The Navy’s top officer for the Pacific region plans to brief the House China Committee in a closed session Thursday about a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, sources told Defense News. – Defense News

Nearly six months after the Air Force began withdrawing its aging F-15C and D Eagles from Kadena Air Base in Japan, the service is still trying to figure out its long-term plan to maintain a deterrent fighter presence at the Pacific region base. – Defense News

Josh Rogin writes: Beijing’s extensive help for Vladimir Putin’s war effort shows that Xi believes a Ukrainian victory is bad for China. Russia and China are colluding in their support for autocratic aggression. The United States, Europe, Ukraine and Taiwan must all stand together to oppose them. – Washington Post

Anthony B. Kim writes: For that matter, formally initiating dialogues on the expansion of the G-7 by inviting South Korea as a new member deserves timely and serious consideration by both Japan and the U.S. during the upcoming summit. – Washington Examiner


The swivet in Kiel speaks to a nascent shift in the German view of China, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and not solely because of Beijing’s backing of Moscow. Once seen by Germany primarily as a lucrative export market, China today is recognized as an expanding global power. Having painfully weaned themselves off cheap Russian gas over the last year, Germans are wary of leaving themselves similarly economically vulnerable. – New York Times

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday said her government hasn’t yet decided whether to pull back from a controversial investment pact with China. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Put simply, Scholz might want Washington to believe he is serious about taking a slightly-tougher-than-absolute-appeasement stance toward the greatest adversary of human freedom and rule-of-law-rooted prosperity in the 21st century. But measured by his actions and China’s overt assessments, Scholz remains very much rooted in the Macron school of China foreign policy. Which is to say, strategic prostration. – Washington Examiner

Stephen Blank writes: In other words, the necessity of integrating the Balkans has become, if anything, more urgent. As that integration can only be achieved through existing governments, Western institutions must work together with them to strengthen both their democratic capabilities and their effectiveness, lest this second front materialize. – The Hill


Fighting in Sudan’s capital escalated on Wednesday with fierce clashes and air strikes, but rival military factions were reported to be close to a ceasefire agreement in talks in Saudi Arabia. – Reuters

U.S. negotiators taking part in talks in Saudi Arabia aimed at extending a ceasefire between rival armed forces in Sudan are “cautiously optimistic,” U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday, as she faced criticism from senators over the administration’s handling of issues in Sudan. – Reuters

The BRICS group of nations will discuss the feasibility of introducing a common currency, according to the foreign minister of South Africa, which is preparing to host a summit of the bloc’s leaders. – Bloomberg

Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi says soldiers from the East African Community aren’t fulfilling their mandate to fight rebels in the country’s east and he may ask them to leave. – Bloomberg

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday and asked Macron to use his country’s influence to speed up Zambia’s delayed debt restructuring talks. – Reuters

Colin P. Clarke, Raphael Parens, Christopher Faulkner, and Kendal Wolf write: This is not a call for nation building to counter Russian influence in Africa. Rather, it is a call for an incremental, long-term effort to strengthen African institutions and address social, environmental, political, and economic challenges that destabilize countries and provide openings for actors such as Wagner to exploit. – Foreign Affairs

Robbie Gramer writes: All the while, the fighting in Khartoum continues. Some U.S. citizens have found additional ways to evacuate, either with the direct assistance of the U.S. government or of other countries. Others weren’t so lucky. Ibnauf, the Sudanese American doctor who stayed in Khartoum to provide succor to civilians amid the fighting, was stabbed to death by suspected looters in front of his family on April 25. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

The Republican-led House of Representatives is considering a resolution calling on Russia to free jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. – Wall Street Journal

Democrats led by House lawmakers from border states are urging President Biden to put an end to Trump-era sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela that have battered those countries’ economies and contributed to a surge of migrants at the southern border of the United States. – Washington Post

Mexico has let tens of thousands of people cross its territory on their way to the American border since early April, government data shows, a major uptick before the expiration of a U.S. immigration measure that has kept most migrants from being able to claim asylum in the United States. – New York Times

Latin America

China and Ecuador signed a free trade agreement on May 11, China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

Bolivia’s president expressed openness to the use of the Chinese yuan for international trade during a press conference on Wednesday, citing similar moves by Argentina and Brazil to tap the Asian currency for transactions with China. – Reuters

The head of Brazil’s electoral authority, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, delivered a stern warning to the world’s top tech companies on Wednesday, saying he would not let them undermine Brazil’s democracy. – Reuters

Editorial: There is still danger ahead, as a constitutional draft will have to be approved in a national referendum in December. The challenge for the assembly will be to enshrine property rights, the rule of law and political competition in the draft and sell it to the public. Sunday’s vote gives Chile a better chance to sustain the democratic structure that made it a rare Latin American success story. – Wall Street Journal

Eduardo Porter writes: Can Latin America leverage its lithium into prosperity? The Australian and Norwegian examples offer some cause for optimism. And they provide a blueprint for developmental success that does not depend on the ability to turn your lithium into homegrown flying electric cars. Whether Latin America’s unstable, contested politics can follow it is another matter. – Bloomberg


Unknown hackers attempted to infiltrate Dragos, one of the leading industrial cybersecurity firms that works with government agencies and utilities globally, in a unsuccessful campaign that targeted the company’s executives and their family members, the firm said on Wednesday. – CyberScoop

U.S. Cyber Command recently finished a second mission to Latvia meant to strengthen the Baltic nation’s networks against digital attacks and uncover malicious activity that could be used against the U.S. and its allies. – The Record

British authorities are “increasingly concerned” that ransomware victims in the country are keeping incidents secret, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said. – The Record

Microsoft on Tuesday released a new fix for a vulnerability that was initially patched in March but was later discovered by security researchers to be flawed. Ukrainian cybersecurity officials at CERT-UA reported a vulnerability to the Microsoft incident response team earlier this year after Russia-based hackers used a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Outlook email service. – The Record


Special operators need a host of small arms, ammunition and explosive devices to outrange and strike adversaries in future missions on what the Pentagon anticipates will be a more competitive battlefield. – Defense News

As special operations teams weave their way across more than 80 countries, they face daunting challenges, often without the high-level support they saw in previous conflicts. – Defense News

The head of the Space Force’s test and training enterprise said the service needs help from industry as it modernizes systems and virtual environments it uses to train guardians and test capabilities in space. – Defense News