Fdd's overnight brief

May 19, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran on Friday executed three men accused of deadly violence during last year’s anti-government protests despite objections from human rights groups. – Associated Press

The top leaders of Pakistan and Iran on Thursday inaugurated the first border market as relations warm between the two countries, officials said. – Associated Press

Iran’s president warned Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Thursday not to violate water rights of the Iranian people over their shared Helmand River, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. – Associated Press

The  Iranian regime-backed leader Qais Al-Khazali of the Iraqi Shi’ite militia claimed that the Mossad used a prostitute to assassinate the first Shi’ite Imam in the seventh century. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: The IAEA Board of Governors meets in two-and-a-half weeks and will need to decide again whether to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council or punt the issue once more. In that light, maybe all of this is just the opening act before the next real round of decisions. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J.Frantzman writes: Iran has already used cruise missiles and drones at Abqaiq in 2019 to penetrate Saudi Arabia’s air defenses. So, Iran and Russia are both keenly interested in defeating US-designed air defenses, and Tehran wants to figure out how to outfox Israel’s air defenses. – Jerusalem Post

Ariel Kogan writes: Opposition to Tehran is not sitting idly by while Iran injects itself into all these conflicts. We are witnessing the formation of a global anti-Tehran coalition composed of all the nations Iran has wronged and fought against in recent years. But there are still those who ally themselves with Iran. – BESA Center

Russia & Ukraine

The Pentagon has significantly reduced its estimate of the value of weapons it has sent to Ukraine, freeing up at least $3 billion to keep Ukrainian troops supplied in their war against Russia over the next several months. – New York Times

Ukraine’s air defenses shot down dozens of Russian missiles in the skies above Kyiv early Thursday, casting flaming debris over the Ukrainian capital on the same day that an explosion derailed a Russian freight train in Crimea, the latest in a series of blasts in Russian-occupied territory. – New York Times

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is scheduled to appear in person at the Group of 7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, this weekend, several officials said, making an audacious trip halfway across the world as he tries to win commitments for continued arms and aid from the world’s wealthiest democracies. – New York Times 

The chief of Ukraine’s Supreme Court was formally arrested Thursday, as prosecutors indicated in a second day of hearings that a high-level corruption case was expanding to include a wider circle of judges. – New York Times

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a whirlwind tour of Western capitals this week, the billions of dollars in new military support was a sign that European governments were finally digging deep to provide sustained backing for a protracted war. – Washington Post

The Ukrainian military and Russia’s Wagner private army both reported further Russian retreats around the city of Bakhmut on Thursday, as Kyiv pressed on with its biggest advance for six months ahead of a planned counteroffensive. – Reuters 

The United States and the rest of the “Group of Seven” major economies will unveil new sanctions and export controls targeting Russia over its war against Ukraine, a U.S. official said ahead of a G7 summit in Japan. – Reuters 

Britain announced a new wave of sanctions against Russia on Friday, targeting companies connected to the theft of Ukrainian grain and those involved in the shipment of Russian energy. – Reuters 

Russian military forces have been enhancing defensive positions in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine in recent weeks, four witnesses said, ahead of an expected counteroffensive in the region. – Reuters 

The Kremlin said on Thursday that a delegation from African countries hoping to present an initiative to end the conflict in Ukraine would visit Moscow. – Reuters 

Group of Seven countries will agree to work together to track Russian diamonds, but stop short of slapping Moscow with an outright ban on the lucrative gem trade, according to people familiar with the discussions and a draft statement seen by Bloomberg. – Bloomberg 

The Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, on May 18 approved in the final reading a bill legalizing elections planned for later this year on Ukrainian territories that Moscow took over in its ongoing invasion. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A Russian court on Thursday extended by three months the detention of a former employee of the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok on charges of cooperating with a foreign state. – Associated Press

A top U.N. official said Thursday that he hopes for a breakthrough soon after months of efforts to ensure that Russian food and fertilizer can be shipped to developing countries struggling with high prices. – Associated Press

U.S. officials are planning for the growing possibility that the Russia-Ukraine war will turn into a frozen conflict that lasts many years — perhaps decades — and joins the ranks of similar lengthy face-offs in the Korean peninsula, South Asia and beyond. – Politico 

Henry Kissinger, a former U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser, said in an interview published Thursday that NATO should make Ukraine a member despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warnings. – Newsweek

Tom Rogan writes: Coordination on Ukraine between Washington and London remains unparalleled in the West. But for London, the risk of provoking the Kremlin is viewed as less important than the reward of enabling Ukraine’s victory. And that is as much about Churchill, Brexit and Novichok as it is about Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth write: Corruption within the Russian defense industry is beginning to take a decisive toll on Putin’s war effort. Russian soldiers are losing confidence in their weapon systems; videos frequently show tank crews abandoning their steel coffins upon contact with Ukrainians. Now, the men in charge of manufacturing those failed weapons systems are feeling the pressure as Putin blames them for his failures in Ukraine. – Washington Examiner

Dmitry Adamsky writes: The current relatively relaxed state of mind among Western analysts about the prospects of Russian nuclear brandishing makes it more difficult for them to decipher the genuineness of the escalatory and eschatological intents of Russia’s leadership and of the country’s nuclear operators. But the new nuclear normal in Russia is likely to increase the obedience of operators in response to escalatory nuclear orders from Russia’s leadership. – Foreign Affairs 

Oliver Stuenkel writes: While it is tempting to dismiss Lula’s quest for peace in Ukraine as quixotic, Brazil’s assertiveness reveals broader misgivings across the global south about the inclusiveness of the supposedly liberal international order. To get Lula on board with Western efforts in Ukraine, Western powers should first need to prove that they value Brazil as a partner. Until it is heard and taken seriously, the global south may continue to dissent. – Foreign Policy 


Israel’s municipalities on Thursday ended a three-day strike and said they would instead turn to the courts to try to block a government plan to reallocate their tax income. – Reuters 

Tens of thousands of Israeli nationalists marched through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s walled Old City under heavy security on Thursday in an annual event that drew condemnation from Palestinians. – Reuters 

The Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Hamas and other Palestinian factions yesterday strongly condemned Israel’s Jerusalem Day celebrations, including the flag march, dubbing them a “desperate attempt” to show that the city is under Israeli sovereignty. – Jerusalem Post

The Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, recently turned to Qatar asking that a message requesting compensation be passed to Israel, Israel Hayom reported. – Arutz Sheva

Israeli aerospace giant Elbit Systems is ramping up its production of multi-purpose rocket and drone launchers in Europe, as the Netherlands is buying the company’s PULS system which Spain also appears to be favoring for its new rocket artillery program. – Defense News

Nadav Tamir writes: We need the Americans in order to re-engage in regional affairs, and we need to engage in dialogue with the Palestinians to generate hope for a solution instead of living in a perpetual cycle of violence. – Ynet 

Aaron David Miller and Daniel Miller write: Some of this may seem naive and Panglossian. But the fight for U.S. democracy has always mixed the pragmatic and the aspirational. What has happened in Israel these many months has shown the power that people possess to safeguard their democracy when threatened. It’s not an easy conversation to have. But it’s worth having now because the stakes are so very high, and sadly, the dangers to the United States’ own democratic system are all too real. – Foreign Policy



When a devastating earthquake struck in February, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria spotted opportunity in disaster. He called for an end to international sanctions on his country and within days, some were suspended. Other Middle Eastern states sent planeloads of aid and senior officials from those countries soon followed for the first high-level visits in years. – New York Times

U.S. military officials are walking back claims that a recent strike in Syria killed an influential al-Qaeda figure, following assertions by the dead man’s family that he had no ties to terrorists but was a father of 10 tending to his sheep when he was slain by an American missile. – Washington Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has praised the restoration of Syria’s seat in the grouping.“The conflict of major powers in Ukraine harms the international economy and global security,” he said. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

Middle Eastern leaders will welcome President Bashar al-Assad at a regional summit on Friday, representing a major triumph for the once-shunned Syrian leader as he seeks to shut the door on a decade of bloody civil war. – Washington Post

The Lebanese official heading talks with the International Monetary Fund to bail out Lebanon’s tanking economy called Thursday for the country’s embattled central bank chief to resign, amid allegations of corruption and an international arrest warrant issued against him. – Associated Press

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main challenger in Turkey’s presidential race shifted gear and adopted a more nationalist and hard-line stance on Thursday, vowing to send back millions of refugees if he is elected and rejecting any possibility of negotiating for peace with Kurdish militants. – Associated Press

Frances McDonough writes: Moreover, 65% of Kuwaitis thought that “the mass protests by some Israelis against the new Netanyahu government” were somewhat or very positive for the region. Although the reasons for this majority support are unclear, it largely echoes results from around the region. – Washington Institute

Sabina Henneberg, Grant Rumley, and Erik Yavorsky write: The Ukraine war has created a dilemma for Algeria, as it has for many of Russia’s other traditional partners. […] Additionally, the United States should engage Algeria in discussions about regional stability, particularly given the latter’s concerns over potential economic collapse in neighboring Tunisia and growing instability in the Sahel. Emphasizing a shared vision for a more independent Algeria may be the best way for Washington to actually facilitate such an outcome. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea accused the U.S. and South Korea of ramping up “nuclear blackmail” with joint military drills, pledging to take corresponding action against what it called “warmongers’ madness,” state media KCNA said on Friday. – Reuters 

South Korea’s finance minister on Friday met the Chinese ambassador and discussed economic cooperation, as diplomatic tensions with Beijing put an additional dent on the already sluggish economy. – Reuters 

South Korea will send a 21-member team of government experts to Japan next week to visit the Fukushima nuclear power plant where they will review contentious Japanese plans to release treated but slightly radioactive water into the sea. – Associated Press


China’s crackdown on overseas firms has made clear that leader Xi Jinping values security over economic growth. To eradicate any doubt, according to people familiar with the matter, he has put state-security czar Chen Yixin in charge. – Wall Street Journal 

European Council President Charles Michel said on Friday it was in the EU’s interest to maintain “stable and constructive” cooperation with China, as the Group of Seven countries met to consider China’s “economic coercion” and other concerns. – Reuters 

Echoing the crackdown on freedoms in neighboring Hong Kong, the former Portuguese colony of Macao has revised its legal system to face “new adverse challenges in terms of national security.” – Associated Press

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday unveiled a grand plan for Central Asia’s development, from building infrastructure to boosting trade, taking on a new leadership role in a region that has traditionally been a Russian sphere of influence. – Reuters 

China’s commerce minister will visit the United States next week for meetings with the commerce secretary and Washington’s top trade official, the Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington said on Thursday, as the U.S. seeks engagement with Beijing to salve damaged ties. – Reuters 

On the face of it, Taiwan would be a much more positive contributor than Communist China to an integrated global health institution. Yet, a Taipei official will be on the outside looking in when the World Health Assembly meets at Geneva next week. – New York Sun

It took four years for Italy to consider breaking off its special relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. – Politico 

A number of Kazakh activists who planned to hold protest rallies against the government’s plan to introduce visa-free travel for Chinese citizens coming to Kazakhstan have been jailed or fined ahead of the China-Central Asian summit in the ancient city of Xi’an. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A satellite image obtained by Defense News shows what appears to be a WZ-8 supersonic reconnaissance drone parked outside one of two newly built hangars at China’s Lu’an Airbase. – Defense News

Editorial: China has sailed surveillance vessels into the waters near PNG and Australia. The new U.S. outposts, coupled with American maritime surveillance capabilities, will give the U.S. and its regional partners better eyes on what the Communist Party’s growing naval fleet is up to. Mr. Biden would be wise to reschedule his trip to the region at an early opportunity. – Wall Street Journal 

Editorial: The need for greater allied unity doesn’t mean Biden must demand that allies commit to going to war over Taiwan. But it does mean he should let them understand that they can only be a close ally if they tell China they will punish it if it invades. Without that, the U.S. would stand alone in a devastating war launched against the West’s most defining value, democratic territorial sovereignty. America’s allies have a choice. But America also has a choice of allies. – Washington Examiner

Antonette Bowman writes: Finally, U.S. schools should consider shuttering Confucius Classrooms altogether, replacing them with similar programs that have no affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing wants to shape global thinking as part of Xi Jinping’s Global Civilization Initiative, dubbed “Xivilization” by the Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times. – Real Clear Education

Rohan Mukherjee writes:  China’s quest is ultimately for the right to be as hypocritical as the United States in the international order. By accommodating China’s desire for greater status and demanding more of it as a beneficiary of international cooperation, the United States can both avoid alienating a rising power and endangering the future of international order. – Foreign Affairs

South Asia

India’s defence production rose more than 12% last fiscal year and crossed the 1 trillion rupee ($12 billion) threshold for the first time, the government said on Friday, as the country tries to reduce its reliance on imports from countries such as Russia. – Reuters 

Police in Pakistan are seeking Imran Khan’s permission to search his home for supporters accused of attacking military facilities in last week’s unrest, in what appears to be a move to cool tensions between the former premier and the authorities. – Bloomberg

Omar Waraich writes: The choice between the military and Khan isn’t an appealing one. There are fears that if Khan wins the coming election, he may leverage his popularity to build a civilian autocracy around him. He is vain and erratic. He doesn’t like to play by the rules. But eliminating him and his party through sheer repression isn’t the answer. Crucially, an election that sees him voted in could also be followed by an election that sees him voted out. – Foreign Policy


Vietnam on Thursday criticised recent conduct by a Chinese research ship and the Philippine coast guard in the South China Sea, accusing its neighbours of separate actions that were violating its sovereign rights. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Papua New Guinea on May 21-22, sign bilateral defense and maritime security agreements and meet with Pacific Islands Forum leaders, the State Department said on Thursday, after President Joe Biden pulled out of a planned visit. – Reuters 

An 88-year-old Australian doctor held captive by Islamic extremists in West Africa for more than seven years has been freed and has returned to Australia. – Associated Press

The US and Taiwan agreed to boost trade ties, the first tangible results under an initiative announced last year that faces vehement opposition from Beijing and clouds the outlook for a visit to the US next week by a Chinese commerce official. – Bloomberg 

New Zealand’s military will receive about NZ$5.3 billion (U.S. $3.3 billion) under the country’s 2023/2024 defense budget, unveiled May 18. – Defense News

Tom Rogan writes: And we know that China’s seizure of Taiwan would cause catastrophic damage to the U.S. global architecture (just look at what America’s oldest ally is already doing). It is thus of great U.S. national importance that Taiwan boost its munition stocks today. Again, there are good answers on either side of this argument. But let’s stop pretending that Harpoons grow on trees. The recognition of hard choices is necessary for any credible discussion on this concern. – Washington Examiner

Fumio Kishida writes: The G-7 Hiroshima summit comes at a moment that, one way or another, will prove to be a turning point for the world. It is a unique opportunity to express our determination to reinforce a free and open international order while proactively addressing the needs of people across the globe, including those in the global South. As chair of the G-7 Hiroshima summit, I am committed to exerting leadership in that effort. – Foreign Affairs 

Richard Weitz writes: The challenge facing the international community is that foreigners seem to care more about the Afghan people’s suffering than the self-proclaimed government — a fact that Taliban leaders exploit, expecting that, no matter how badly they behave, they will continue receiving emergency aid. – Middle East Institute


A man driving a car breached Vatican security on Thursday evening, driving at high speed through a gate of the city-state and reaching a central courtyard of the Apostolic Palace before being arrested, the Vatican said. – Reuters 

Top U.S. negotiators who have been working to de-escalate tensions and implement reforms in the Western Balkans told a U.S. Senate committee on May 18 that they remain optimistic about progress in the region toward EU membership despite “considerable” obstacles. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Royal Navy is to deploy a carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific region as part of strengthening of its defense ties with Japan and other nations there, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Thursday on the eve of the G7 summit meeting in Hiroshima. – Defense News

Navantia’s fourth of five Avante 2200 corvettes will be delivered to the Saudi Royal Navy next week, as the Spanish shipbuilder expects to receive a proposal from the Kingdom by 2024 to build five new multi-mission combat ships. – Defense News

Tom Rogan writes: To be sure, Sunak will be received by Japan at this G-7 summit with far more favor than that which meets French President Emmanuel Macron. His never-ending and inane spinning of prior comments notwithstanding, Macron has made clear that France’s commercial relations with China now trump its Pacific alliances. But unless and until Sunak makes clear that he is willing to consider using force in Japan’s and Taiwan’s defense (the U.K. has forces that would significantly complement any defense), this partnership will have inherent limits. – Washington Examiner


Heavy air strikes pounded southern areas of Sudan’s capital on Thursday as clashes flared near a military camp, witnesses said, in fighting that has displaced nearly 1 million people and left residents of Khartoum struggling to survive. – Reuters 

The chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development traveled on Thursday to Chad, where tens of thousands have fled fighting in neighboring Sudan, to meet with Sudanese refugees and officials, a USAID spokesperson said. – Reuters 

Facing a migration quagmire on the French island territory of Mayotte, off Africa’s east coast, France’s government has mobilized 2,000 troops and police to carry out mass expulsions, destroy slums and eradicate violent gangs. – Associated Press

The death toll from an attack by dozens of gunmen in north central Nigeria’s Plateau state has reached 80, local authorities said Thursday, with survivors still searching for bodies days after the incident. – Associated Press

Four people were killed in an ambush Thursday in Congo’s Virunga National Park when their convoy of vehicles was attacked by gunmen, according to a statement by local conservation authorities. A further six people were injured, including villagers from the Lubero Territory where the attack took place. – Associated Press

Guled Ahmed writes: Amid the instability in Somalia, the specter of a proxy war looms on the horizon, threatening to plunge the nation into renewed turmoil. Neighboring Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti eye each other warily, while the Qatar-Turkey alliance vies for influence against the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. These geopolitical machinations only serve to exacerbate tensions and complicate the fight against al-Shabaab. All the while President Sheikh walks a tightrope, pitting regional powers against Western allies, as well as Russia and China, in a bid for military and economic aid. – Middle East Institute 

The Americas

Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the national legislature on Wednesday ahead of an impeachment vote and amid growing unrest in the Andean nation that has fueled a surge of migration to the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez and protesters in Buenos Aires pushed back against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday amid heightened tensions with the lender as the country faces nearly 109% inflation and dwindling dollar reserves. – Reuters 

Editorial: Both the Biden administration and the Canadian government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have refused calls to organize an armed intervention. France has similarly demurred, despite its own role in impoverishing Haiti, first through exploiting Haitian natural resources as a colonial master in the 18th century, then by imposing forced reparations that lasted over half a century. Nor has the Organization of American States shown the interest or capacity to arrange such an intervention. – Washington Post


Japan and Britain agreed Thursday to cooperate in a broad range of areas including defense, clean energy, cybersecurity and semiconductors. – Associated Press

The US Supreme Court handed a victory to Twitter and Google on Thursday, saying the social media giants could not be held liable by victims of terrorist attacks for posts that endorsed the Islamic State group. – Agence France-Presse

The IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) announced Thursday that it will launch a pilot program in June in which cyber attachés will be sent across four continents to combat cyber crime.  – The Hill 

Editorial: The Justices will have to wait for another day to decide whether and how Section 230 applies to online algorithms. The headlines then will no doubt predict that this time the Supreme Court might really nuke the internet. – Wall Street Journal


A US airman accused of leaking top-secret documents received repeated warnings for misusing his access to classified information but was still allowed to keep his high-level security clearance, court filings show. – Agence France-Presse

A new report calls on the Biden Administration to grant Australia a blanket exemption from the export restrictions known as ITAR, in order to remove a major roadblock that threatens the AUKUS military technology agreement. – Breaking Defense

James Andrew Lewis and Georgia Wood write: These essays explore different aspects of defense and resilience—including the actors that contribute to it—and identify lessons that Western countries can draw from the Ukrainian experience to build robust, collective cyber resilience. […] The essays provide a deeper understanding of the use of cyber operations in the war—and how democratic countries should, in light of this, prepare their cyber defenses and resilience, whether within or outside of a conflict. – Center for Strategic and International Studies