Fdd's overnight brief

May 12, 2023

In The News


Iran has continued supplying weapons and drugs that fuel the Yemen war despite its agreement to restore diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said on Thursday. – Reuters

German prosecutors on Thursday charged a German-Iranian dual national for an attempted arson attack near a synagogue on the orders of the government in Tehran. – Agence France-Presse

Masih Alinejad, a leading Iranian dissident based in the US, has been put under 24-hour police protection in the UK after the Metropolitan police received credible threats to her life. – The Guardian

A bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers on Thursday sent letters to the heads of Australia, India, the U.K. and Canada to urge the U.S.-allied nations to designate the Iranian army as a terrorist group. – The Hill

Officials in Israel say Iran is attempting to disrupt any ceasefire agreement by putting pressure on the terror group’s leadership currently in Lebanon. – Ynet

Russia & Ukraine

The U.S. is engaging with countries that hold Russian citizens in custody, and is open to incorporating those prisoners in a deal to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and other Americans detained in Russia, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in heavy fighting in Bakhmut, the eastern city where Ukrainian soldiers have held out against a months-long assault by the Russian army, officials of both countries said Thursday. But accounts differed on whether it’s the start of Kyiv’s much-anticipated spring counteroffensive. – Washington Post

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Ukraine needed more time to begin a counteroffensive against Russia because it does not yet have enough military equipment from its Western backers, though Ukrainian officials had repeatedly described the assault as imminent. – New York Times

Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday denied reports that Ukrainian forces had broken through in various places along the front lines and said the military situation was under control. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday said he had approved a plan to reform criminal and law enforcement systems, a key element in plans to secure quick membership of the European Union. – Reuters

Danil Yugoslavsky had long hated Vladimir Putin. The tech worker says he protested for fair elections in Russia for several years before he left his homeland in despair in 2017 and eventually settled in Spain. – Reuters

Russia joined the other members of the Arctic Council in a pledge to safeguard and strengthen the inter-governmental body as it handed over its chairmanship to Norway. – Bloomberg

On a bright Wednesday afternoon near bucolic forests in the Estonian countryside, hundreds of soldiers rushed around the country’s largest military base, preparing for a war they hope they will never have to fight. The Tapa base, Estonia’s largest, is one of the closest of any NATO member to the Russian border. In recent days, it has become a beehive of activity for Estonian, British, French, and other NATO country forces ahead of a massive military exercise involving 14,000 troops from 11 countries. – Foreign Policy

Editorial: Gershkovich’s arrest is not only a travesty in its own right – it is a clear threat to other local and foreign reporters. It is a throwback to the worst days of the Soviet Union, when there was no freedom at all. – Jerusalem Post

Tom Rogan writes: U.K. defense secretary Ben Wallace, who also held his office under the previous two prime ministers, has pushed for greater support for Ukraine under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Now that Sunak has authorized this delivery, it is likely that further U.K. provisions of new capabilities will follow. – Washington Examiner

Ian Williams writes: One cannot assume Russia or others would repeat the same operational blunders in a future war. Still, Ukraine’s experience illustrates that air and missile defense works, and when combined with passive measures like dispersion and deception, can mitigate even numerous and advanced missile threats from a near-peer adversary. – Defense News

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write: If things go south on the battlefield, this enormous monthslong campaign—in which Wagner has sacrificed thousands of human lives and destroyed huge quantities of war materiel—could start to look like a colossal waste of scarce resources. But whether Putin would see a serious Wagner setback as a capital offense is another matter. The Russian president has a long record of making effective use of failed bureaucrats, politicians, and other henchmen—former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev comes to mind. Prigozhin could be next. – Foreign Affairs


Israeli airstrikes killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in Gaza and Palestinian militants fired more rockets at Israel, killing an Israeli civilian on Thursday, as fighting between Israel and the U.S.-designated terrorist group persisted for a third day. – Wall Street Journal

 Israeli strikes have pummeled the Gaza Strip for three days, killing at least 28 people, among them several children and five leaders of the Islamic Jihad militant group, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Israeli officials say their forces are targeting commanders of and weapons stored by the extremist group. – Washington Post

Both the European Union’s foreign policy chief and foreign ministers of France, Egypt, Germany and Jordan urged a ceasefire to end fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, as intensifying violence deterred efforts to reach an understanding Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

The most violent confrontation in months between Israel and Palestinian militants continued for a third straight day on Friday, as Israeli warplanes struck targets in the Gaza Strip and militants fired rockets toward Jerusalem and southern Israel. – Associated Press

Israeli officials on Thursday said Israel was in talks with Arab countries on a potential ceasefire to end the fighting with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip, but denied reports claiming Israel would agree to a number of controversial concessions. – Times of Israel

The United States blocked an effort led by China for the United Nations Security Council to issue a joint statement expressing alarm over the ongoing Gaza escalation, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Thursday. – Times of Israel

Avi Mayer writes: Israel has stated its desire to dramatically improve the lives of the people of Gaza. All it asks in return is a sustained period of calm and an end to attacks targeting Israelis. The ball is in Hamas’s court and there are those who can force the group to pick it up. Whether or not Hamas will pick it up tells us if the quiet at the end of the current round of hostilities will last. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Is Islamic Jihad deterred? What has Hezbollah learned from this recent round? For those of us who have gotten too used to this choreographed way of conflict, it’s puzzling to look out and realize that millions of people tethered to their bomb shelters for several days is not normal. – Jerusalem Post

Khaled Abu Toameh writes: Islamic Jihad has become a problem not only for Israel but for Hamas too. It now remains to be seen how long Hamas is willing to put up with Jihad’s challenge to its authoritarian rule over the Gaza Strip. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Rubin writes: For short-term gain, Israel has sold Armenians down the river.  The Israeli officials who blindly embrace Azerbaijan today and apologize for each Aliyev excess may not fully understand that they are creating a precedent and endorsing a formula that Biden and Blinken may very well seek soon to impose on them. They may believe in unfathomable, but in an administration where signatures on paper trumps reality, adversaries’ insincerity is wished away, and progressives consider Israel a settler-colonialist state, it may well be the new reality. – American Enterprise Institute


Turkish voters head to the polls Sunday in an election with potentially sweeping ramifications for the fate of democracy in Turkey and beyond. At its heart lies a paradox: Even as their country sinks deeper into authoritarianism, Turks love to vote — and have a real chance of reshaping their country’s politics. – Washington Post

Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey are shaping up to be a referendum on the long tenure of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — the country’s dominant politician over the last two decades. – New York Times

Three days before Turks vote in crucial presidential elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chances of securing a swift victory took a hit on Thursday when one of his challengers left the race, a move likely to benefit Mr. Erdogan’s main competitor. – New York Times

Parties to the Black Sea grain deal are approaching an agreement on extending it after two days of talks in Istanbul between Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and UN officials, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said. – Reuters

The top contender against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sunday’s elections accused an unidentified Russian group of meddling in the vote to be held by NATO member Turkey. – Bloomberg

The price tag for Turkey’s TF-X fighter jet could be more than previously expected, according to the head of its manufacturer. – Defense News 

Soner Cagaptay writes: Although a Kilicdaroglu presidency is packed with uncertainties, if Turkey’s citizens pick democracy over autocracy, the United States and Europe must support this choice. A more democratic Turkey is within reach, and would benefit everyone. – Washington Post

Nathan Kohlenberg writes: The people of Turkey and Poland have each paid dearly, and repeatedly, throughout the 20th century, to ensure that their countries are sovereign, whole and free. While their paths to democracy were very different, and Turkey’s democratic decline is more advanced than Poland’s, Turks and Poles value their freedom highly, which is why the parties in power, and the corrupt oligarchs who support them, have resorted to such insidious means to dismantle it. – The Hill

Merve Tahiroglu writes: Ahead of the upcoming vote, Erdogan has stacked the odds heavily in his favor: Opposition campaigns barely get any media coverage, their campaign banners get  banned, their rallies get interrupted, and their politicians regularly face baseless criminal investigations. Elections in Turkey nonetheless remain highly competitive and consequential. Even on an unfair playing field, the AKP has barely won elections—and actually lost, in the case of the municipal elections in 2019. Given Erdogan’s historic unpopularity, the opposition stands a very real chance of prevailing on May 14. Whatever lies ahead, Turkey’s vigilant citizens are determined to make this a fair election. – Foreign Policy

Middle East & North Africa

A Tunisian national guardsman behind an attack that killed five people intentionally targeted the ancient synagogue on the Mediterranean island of Djerba in a premeditated act, Tunisia’s interior minister said Thursday. – Associated Press

The United States on Thursday seized 13 web domains used by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its associates, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. – Reuters

An Egyptian politician vowing to run in the country’s presidential elections next year returned to Egypt Thursday, days after announcing that his relatives had been detained. – Associated Press

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday intended to bar the American government from recognizing Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s president and to enhance Washington’s ability to impose sanctions – a warning to other countries normalizing relations with Assad. – Reuters

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced Thursday that judges have issued four new arrest warrants stemming from his investigations of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya. – Associated Press

Steven A. Cook writes: If Washington is going to compete with Beijing and Moscow, and if it is going to fight extremists, head off nuclear proliferation, and help Middle Easterners combat climate change, U.S. policymakers will have a greater chance of success if they see the world the way it is. And in that world, Saudi Arabia is a critical economic player, a geopolitical power, dynamic, and popular. Who would have thought? – Foreign Policy


National security adviser Jake Sullivan held previously unannounced talks with his Chinese counterpart in Vienna, as Washington and Beijing try to reset high-level contacts and keep relations from further spiraling downward. – Wall Street Journal

Finance leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies will debate this week the idea of implementing targeted controls on investments to China, which analysts see as a double-edged sword that could make little headway. – Reuters

When an alleged Chinese spy balloon traversed the United States in February, some U.S. officials were confident the incursion would galvanize the U.S. bureaucracy to push forward a slate of actions to counter China. – Reuters

China has delivered two frigates to Pakistan’s navy, completing a four-warship deal inked in 2018, Chinese media reported, amid deepening military cooperation between the two nations in one of the world’s most complex geopolitical regions. – Reuters

Asia investors got a fresh reason to be bullish Friday on news that top US and Chinese officials met as they tried to ease existing strains between the two countries. – Bloomberg

China will send a special envoy to Ukraine from Monday, according to the Foreign Ministry, as Beijing tries to foster a diplomatic resolution to Russia’s war. – Bloomberg

South Asia

The country’s top court ruled former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest unlawful on Thursday but stopped short of ordering his release, the latest twist in an episode that has triggered violent protests and the deployment of the army. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s latest imbroglio involving a former prime minister, Imran Khan, could end up weakening the military, the only institution that has kept a semblance of order in the nuclear-armed, geostrategically located, perennially chaotic country. – New York Sun

Sadanand Dhume writes: Mr. Khan’s supporters see his beef with army Chief Gen. Asim Munir as proof that Mr. Khan is the only politician capable of pressing a reset button on Pakistan. But if you examine his record and rhetoric, the opposite picture emerges. Mr. Khan represents a curious blend of traditional Pakistani pan-Islamism with Oxbridge leftist anti-Americanism. He may portray himself as a revolutionary figure, but in a deeper sense he embodies the dying gasps of the old order. It will fall on either a different civilian leader or a more enlightened military leadership to alter the country’s course. – Wall Street Journal

Mihir Sharma writes: Pakistan’s institutions were never that strong anyway; the military was, famously, the only thing in the country that worked. Now that it has turned every other institution to its service, it isn’t surprising that many Pakistanis have no time for normal democratic norms, and want a populist ruler instead. Imran Khan would dearly like to be that populist ruler. Would you prefer a civilian authoritarian or a military that rules through subversion of the public sphere? Those seem to be the only two options on offer for Pakistan today. – Bloomberg


Millions of Thais will brave scorching temperatures Sunday to vote in an election that could return the country to civilian rule after a decade under the military. – Washington Post

Officials from Japan and South Korea eyed a potential visit by South Korean experts to the Fukushima nuclear plant before it begins the controversial release of treated but radioactive water to sea. It’s one of their major sticking points between the two sides that are quickly thawing long-strained ties. – Associated Press

A Philippine court on Friday acquitted of a drugs charge one of the fiercest critics of ex-President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”, a move welcomed by activists who called her incarceration a vindictive effort to harass and silence her. – Reuters

Thai university student Supawut Presangeiam is eager to vote for the first time in a general election on Sunday, hoping that his support for a rising youth-led opposition party will change the country by moving away from old patronage politics. – Reuters

Australia’s Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell appears to be making progress in restoring a nearly decade-long rift in relations with China during a visit to Beijing. – Associated Press

Thailand’s army chief said there was “zero chance” of the Southeast Asian nation returning to a military rule in the event of post-election turmoil as politicians were set to make a final push to woo voters ahead of the election on Sunday. – Bloomberg

Andy Langenkamp writes: Xi Jinping may want to avoid conflict for now due to domestic considerations and, given the military balance that is still in favor of the U.S. and its allies, with the idea that China’s military opportunities will improve significantly in the longer term. In spite of these considerations, however, Beijing could still decide to take action sooner if the idea takes hold among Chinese leadership that Taiwan is slipping out of sight due to a far more nationalistic course in Taipei, and much greater support for Taiwan from Washington. – The Hill 

Jennifer Kavanagh and Jordan Cohen write: Speeding up and increasing arms sales to Taiwan will come with trade-offs. But neither supersizing the U.S. defense industrial base nor terminating aid to Ukraine is the best choice. If the United States is serious about arming Taiwan “to the teeth,” as Gallagher has urgently recommended, it will pause or slow arms deliveries to partners with less urgent need, including large buyers in the Middle East, to divert this production capacity toward Taiwan and invest more heavily in Taiwan’s defense sector to build additional capabilities and self-sufficiency. – Foreign Policy


Britain is donating long-range Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine to help it reclaim territory lost to Russia since the start of its invasion, Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, told Parliament on Thursday. – New York Times

The European Union’s diplomatic service has set out plans to recalibrate the bloc’s China policy, aiming to reduce the risks of economic dependency on Beijing while continuing to cooperate on global issues. – Reuters

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy should stand trial on charges of corruption and illegal financing of an election campaign related to alleged Libyan funding of his successful 2007 presidential bid, France’s financial prosecutor (PNF) said. – Reuters

Poland’s ambassador to Hungary lashed out at the country’s new army chief over comments defending Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s call for peace talks over Ukraine, in which he claimed that World War II could have been stopped with negotiations. – Bloomberg

Matthew Brooker writes: In reality, a regular flow of reports shows how the squeeze on Hong Kong’s freedoms continues to become ever tighter. Before contemplating such exchanges, the UK might at least wait until things stop getting worse. – Bloomberg


The warring sides in Sudan have agreed to a framework that U.S. and Saudi facilitators say could lead to a cease-fire, however brief, allowing for humanitarian assistance to resume for millions of suffering civilians. – Washington Post

The United States believes South Africa loaded weapons and ammunition onto a Russian vessel docked at the country’s main naval base in December, Washington’s envoy to South Africa said on Thursday. – Washington Post

The U.N. on Thursday urged countries with influence in Africa to help end the conflict in Sudan after reported progress in ceasefire talks between the army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). – Reuters

International Monetary Fund staff have reached agreement with Senegal on financing facilities totalling about $1.9 billion, the Fund said in a statement. – Reuters

Bobby Ghosh writes: To prevent Chad from going down that disastrous path, the Biden administration should make clear that it will no longer tolerate Deby’s dithering over the democratic transition and insist on an accelerated transfer of power to civilians. – Bloomberg

The Americas

The official in charge of Brasilia’s public security when government buildings were stormed by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro on Jan. 8 was freed on Thursday after almost four months under arrest for his alleged role. – Reuters

Venezuela and Colombia will boost the number of troops stationed along its shared border at informal crossings where armed criminal groups linked to drug trafficking often operate, the defense ministers of the two countries said on Thursday. – Reuters

Prosecutors in Mexico said Thursday they have arrested two more men in the March 3 kidnapping of four Americans and the killing of two of them. – Associated Press

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved Republican legislation intended to stop immigrants and illegal drugs crossing the nation’s southwestern border with Mexico, leaving it to the Senate to attempt a broader, bipartisan immigration bill. – Reuters

Ryan C. Berg writes: The United States has long been a partner and ally for countries in LAC. Communication and partnership will be of the utmost importance for a grand strategy built for an era of renewed geopolitical competition, and aiming to protect LAC’s democratic traditions should be a top U.S. priority. Moving beyond the United States’ national security interests to show allies that the United States has an interest in LAC’s economic development can demonstrate to the region that its long-standing partner will continue to be a pillar and source of democratic stability for decades to come. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


China will resolutely object if the U.S. restricts its firms from investing in Chinese semiconductor industry, said Shu Jueting, a spokesperson at China’s commerce ministry on Thursday. – Reuters

The chair of a U.S. House of Representatives committee on China’s Communist Party and other lawmakers on Thursday raised “deep concern” and sought answers over reports Chinese-owned short video app TikTok censored an account that posted content from a film about pro-democracy Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai. – Reuters

EU lawmakers on Thursday urged the European Commission to continue talks to reinforce a proposed data transfer pact with the United States, saying there were still shortcomings in the agreement. – Reuters

The IRS criminal investigative division is donating 15 licenses for the Chainalysis Reactor platform to a team of Ukrainian investigators as part of the ongoing effort to identify and unravel the financial networks that Russian oligarchs use to avoid international sanctions, the agency said Thursday. – CyberScoop


Lawmakers accused the Pentagon on Thursday of effectively undermining war crimes prosecution of Russia by blocking the sharing of U.S. military intelligence with the International Criminal Court at the Hague. – Reuters

The Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders have a warning for lawmakers fighting over the government’s borrowing limit: a default would be a win for China, and would endanger troops’ pay. – Politico

The head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is hopeful at least some of the reforms proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to improve the U.S. government process for classifying information could make its way into forthcoming defense and intelligence policy bills. – Defense News

The mission has shifted dramatically as the United States ratchets up competition in the frequency bands with peer competitors like Russia and China, a far cry from deciphering mobile phone signals from violent extremists, officials said. – Defense News

Zachary Griffiths writes: Furthermore, adversaries assume the United States learns lessons from foreign wars, so an open report will help align the Department of Defense, U.S. government, and allies, while signaling to adversaries. Rather than relying on bureaucratic processes that protect parochial interests, send observers to capture lessons and then open that data for deep debate about the future of defense.  – War on the Rocks

Hunter Stoll writes: Security in the Black and Mediterranean seas does not fall solely on the EU, and cooperation with non-EU countries will be critical in promoting maritime security. As the EU navigates the shifting geopolitical landscape, incentivizing partner countries through increased integration within the European Neighborhood Policy or offering greater opportunities for joint training programs and exercises can pay dividends for EUMSS strategic objectives in the region. – Middle East Institute