Fdd's overnight brief

May 2, 2023

In The News


Every month for decades Iran’s statistics authorities have published the country’s latest inflation data. But for the past two months they have kept the figures under wraps — fuelling accusations that the regime is concealing evidence that prices are spiralling to record levels. – Financial Times

Russian intelligence reportedly helped Iran discover that a dual Iranian-British national who once served as its deputy minister of defense was leaking information about its top-secret nuclear weapons program. – Times of Israel

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: If Iran can achieve this new equilibrium, will it remain there on the nuclear threshold, just building up its quantities of 60% and 20% enriched uranium from the current four potential nuclear bombs to six to 10? Or will it try to push the envelope further and see if its improved relations with the Sunni states can protect it from a US or Israeli response? – Jerusalem Post

John Hannah writes: A crisis of confidence that Washington still has the kingdom’s back, a readiness to accommodate Iran if deemed necessary and a new-found belief in China’s willingness to use its growing regional clout in support of Saudi security are precisely the ingredients that now seem to be at play in Riyadh’s recent diplomatic maneuverings. If that’s accurate, both Washington and Jerusalem should be concerned. Whatever short-term benefits the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement may deliver in terms of regional de-escalation could be far outweighed by the long-term costs of the underlying geopolitical shifts that the kingdom’s new diplomacy appears to reflect. – Jerusalem Post

Marjan Keypour writes: However, the Iranian regime has done little more than tighten its grip on its people, expand its reach in the Middle East and beyond, direct hundreds of acts of terror around the world, aggressively pursue a nuclear agenda, and continually renew its vow to destroy sovereign nations. It is time to admit that past policies have been tried and proven to fail. But today there is a new opportunity to get it right and start to repair decades of bad decisions. It is time to engage new visions and hope for a free Iran once and for all. – Times of Israel

Russia & Ukraine

For Ukraine’s largest weapons maker, the war started with a barrage of Russian missiles that destroyed one factory and several of its giant Antonov cargo planes. – Wall Street Journal

Four weeks after Russia’s arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Moscow has taken aim at other American reporters working in the country, the latest sign of how once-collegial ties between the Russian government and foreign correspondents have frayed under Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Wall Street Journal

Signs of an imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive mounted on Monday with stepped-up military strikes by both sides, Russian forces moving into defensive positions and even an unexplained explosion that knocked a supply train off its tracks across the border in Russia. – New York Times

Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who became House speaker in January, made a public promise on Monday to continue supporting Ukraine’s war effort, walking back previous suggestions that the new House majority might curtail U.S. military and financial investments in Kyiv’s effort to beat back Russia’s invasion. – New York Times

At least 100,000 Russian fighters have been killed or wounded in Ukraine in just the past five months, the White House said on Monday, the latest measure of the vast human toll of President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion. – New York Times

Ukrainian forces shelled a village in the Russian Bryansk region bordering Ukraine early on Tuesday, the local governor said in a social media post, a day after an explosion derailed a freight train in the region. – Reuters

Undermining Russia’s logistics is one of the elements of preparation for the expected Ukrainian counter-offensive, a Ukrainian military spokeswoman said on Sunday, after a fire destroyed a large Russian fuel depot in Crimea. – Reuters

Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday its forces had carried out missile strikes overnight against Ukrainian military sites, including weapons depots and ammunition factories, and that all its designated targets had been hit. – Reuters

Michael Rubin writes: Should Biden’s team believe both Armenian democracy, its independence, and Nagorno-Karabakhs’ thousand-year-old Armenian community is the price to pay for Azerbaijani cooperation, Ukraine may be the least of Biden’s concerns. The precedent of allowing atrocities, genocide, and disregard of signed agreements is something every revisionist, rejectionist, and rogue regime now watches. – Washington Examiner

Alexander J. Motyl writes: Now that we know that NATO was irrelevant to Putin’s decisionmaking process, it makes perfect sense that he should have viewed the Ukrainian problem through his own lens and those of two of his buddies. Tyrants are solipsistic by nature. Putin spent decades promoting himself as the embodiment of Russia and its savior. Ukraine’s unwillingness to be Russia’s vassal was equivalent to a slap in his face. Such insubordination could not go unpunished, especially as Putin surely believed that Russia’s armed forces were, like everything else in his country, magnificent. – The Hill


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Monday that he would invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress if President Biden doesn’t invite him to the White House, amid tensions between the Israeli leader’s right-wing government and the Democratic administration. – Wall Street Journal

The government’s plan to overhaul the judicial system is harming investor confidence and pushing high-tech firms to relocate abroad, Israel’s state-backed agency that supports high-tech companies said on Monday. – Reuters

Israeli parties have made no progress towards a compromise over the government’s bitterly disputed judicial overhaul package after a month of meetings, Benny Gantz, head of one of the largest opposition parties, said on Monday. – Reuters

A prominent Palestinian militant died on Tuesday in Israeli custody after an 87-day hunger strike, authorities said, the first such fatality in more than three decades, and tensions around Gaza soared as his Islamic Jihad faction swore revenge. – Reuters

Israel should do more to ensure China does not steal its technology, US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said in his speech to the Knesset on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

It’s up to Israel to decide what to do about judicial reform, US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said on Monday, hours after video leaked of Justice Minister Yariv Levin accusing the Biden administration of aiding Israeli protesters against the coalition’s judicial reform plan. – Jerusalem Post

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be invited to the White House at some point, but reiterates that no such visit is currently planned. – Times of Israel

A Palestinian gunman opened fire at Israeli vehicles driving near the West Bank settlement of Avnei Hefetz on Tuesday, lightly injuring one, the military and medics said. – Times of Israel

Tom Rogan writes: McCarthy deserves credit for advancing that effort. The U.S.-Israeli alliance has always been rooted in shared values and mutual trust amid grave external threats. Considering the rapidly rising threat of a U.S.-China war over Taiwan, Israel must turn the page on its Chinese tech engagement. – Washington Examiner

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: It could also be that the Jewish state’s enemies tried to test it specifically in early April, when the IDF was seen as more vulnerable because there had not yet been a slowdown in conflict over the judicial overhaul. Israel may appear less weak until June or July when the issue is set to heat up once again. – Jerusalem Post

Tovah Lazaroff writes: At the end of the day, it’s impossible to ignore a US president. When the dust settles from this visit, the tension with Biden will likely once again dominate the debate on Israel-US relations. But with McCarthy’s visit, Netanyahu showed that the road into the heart of the American public and its political echelon does not always run through the White House. – Jerusalem Post

Micah Halpern writes: The Republicans in Congress, like the vast majority of Israelis, simply do not have faith in the Palestinians as partners at this stage. And despite all their disagreement and differences on so many issues, Democrats and Republicans joined together in their support of Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Naomi Chazan writes: The main challenge is whether Israeli policymakers will pay attention to their messages, or whether they will cast Israel into precisely that pariah status that no country can afford. There is little time left: the choice and all that it entails is still in the hands of all the inhabitants of the land. – Times of Israel

Zaki Shalom and Sophia Schmidt write: Even so, the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security has not wavered. U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby announced during a press conference on March 22 that “[…] the President, in his discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, made clear that our support for Israel’s security will remain ironclad. Nothing is going to change about that. President Biden has, through his entire public life, been one of Israel’s strongest supporters and friends, and that will not change.” – The National Interest


A U.N. Security Council committee on Monday agreed to allow the Taliban administration’s foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to travel to Pakistan from Afghanistan next week to meet with the foreign ministers of Pakistan and China, diplomats said. – Reuters

The Biden administration will continue to allow tens of thousands of Afghans who fled Taliban control more than two years ago to stay and work in the U.S., as congressional efforts have stalled that were meant to permanently resolve their immigration status, according to two people familiar with the plan. – Associated Press

Lynne O’Donnell writes: Many now see the U.N. looking at a stay-or-go decision, rather than trying to come up with a third way that would involve some constructive presence while fending off the worst of Taliban demands. The U.N. could, for example, opt for further sanctions on individual Taliban leaders, travel bans, and the return to Afghanistan of Taliban daughters sent abroad to study. At a meeting of the opposition National Resistance Front in Vienna last week, its leader, Ahmad Massoud, implored the U.N. not to abandon Afghanistan but to stop short of legitimizing the regime. – Foreign Policy


An Israeli attack late on Monday killed one soldier, wounded 7 others including two civilians and put Aleppo International Airport out of service, Syrian state media reported early on Tuesday citing a military source. – Reuters

Syrian refugees detained by security forces in Lebanon and deported have been subject to arrest and forced conscription upon return to their war-ravaged homeland, their relatives and rights advocates have told Reuters. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The airstrikes in Aleppo are not the first of their kind. There have been numerous incidents at Aleppo airport and also neighboring areas. This is in part because Iran has increased weapons trafficking using Aleppo’s airport to move munitions and weapons to Hezbollah. Aleppo provides an easy conduit to Lebanon because trucks can pass through Homs and Qusayr, where Hezbollah has a presence. Previously Iran would use Damascus or T-4 airbase. Iran has been entrenching in Syria for years. – Jerusalem Post


The United States on Monday called on Lebanon’s parliament to elect a new president, as the country marks six months without a leader at the helm amid grinding political and economic turmoil. – Agence France-Presse

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Overall, historically, the Hezbollah attempt to muscle out the club shows how it continues to digest parts of Lebanon. For Lebanese who want to preserve green spaces in Beirut, any changes to the course would be catastrophic. – Jerusalem Post

Neville Teller writes: Hezbollah is key to frustrating any agreement on Aoun’s replacement as president. Hezbollah and the Amal Movement party, which together constitute Lebanon’s Shia base, support politician Sleiman Frangieh. […]A fair number of outside interests are trying to devise ways of extricating the country from its most pressing difficulties. Yet to succeed, the impetus for change and reform must come from Lebanon itself. Somehow the power and self-interest of the old establishment has to be overcome. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

U.S. special envoy Tim Lenderking began a trip to Oman and Saudi Arabia on Monday in an effort to advance Yemen peace efforts, the State Department said. – Reuters

Kuwait’s parliament was dissolved by royal decree on Monday, state news agency KUNA said, having only been reinstated in March based on a Constitutional Court ruling after a previous dissolution. – Reuters

Gerard A. Neumann writes: Completely severing the relationship now would have almost no effect in comparison to severing it ten years ago. Even in the economic area, there are possible alternatives to Saudi oil that could be explored such as Venezuela, Nigeria, the UAE, Brazil, or even America itself. The United Stat should utilize its leverage, and demand that Saudi Arabia hold up its side of the oil-for-security bargain or else look elsewhere for defense. – The National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

The growing rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran after years of mistrust was visible on Monday as Saudi Arabia helped evacuate Iranian citizens fleeing the war in Sudan. – Reuters

Syria has agreed to help end drug trafficking across its borders with Jordan and Iraq, according to a statement issued after a landmark meeting on Monday of Arab diplomats developing a roadmap to end Syria’s 12-year conflict. – Reuters

The satellite news network Al Jazeera said Monday that a correspondent for one of its channels held in Egypt since 2019 has been released from pre-trial detention. The Qatar-funded network in Doha said that Hisham Abdel Aziz, a producer with its Al Jazeera Mubasher channel, had been freed. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In hosting the meetings, Jordan is positioning itself as a key regional leader, recently hosting discussions with the US about joint cooperation and coordination on various military, operational, training and logistical fields. According to Jordanian Al-Ghad media, the Kingdom views the return of Syria to the Arab League as a decision for the League. It is not clear what that means because the meeting in Amman seems to show support for normalizing ties with Damascus in the region. – Jerusalem Post

Robert Satloff writes: If the kingdom remains true to MbS’s vision for growth, development, and expansion on the world stage, events with full Israeli participation will become less noteworthy and more routine, which likely reflects a Saudi strategy to normalize the concept of normalization with the Saudi people. Even without a high-level diplomatic breakthrough, Saudis and Israelis are incrementally building ties from the bottom up. Hopefully, these two dynamics—greater and more varied people-to-people contact and leader-to-leader agreement on a trilateral agreement for peace and normalization— can come together. – Washington Institute

Mohammed Baharoon writes: Notably, this “quantum” approach to politics could help reduce ossified tensions between Israel and Iran, using the bridges built by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And looking beyond the Middle East region, this shift could even help reduce tension in the geostrategic and heavily militarized South China Sea. New connectivity projects, such as the Blue Economy ocean governance concept or underwater tunnels that will connect Iran with the UAE and Yemen with Djibouti, promise unprecedented economic cooperation capable of pacifying some of the most enduring conflicts in the region. Just like quantum physics, quantum politics is a relatively novel idea and will take much time to understand and apply properly — but the proof of concept is already at hand. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea has upgraded its U.S. alliance, President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday, as he briefed his cabinet on a trip to the United States which pledged more South Korean insight into nuclear planning in the event of war with North Korea. – Reuters

North Korea criticised a recent U.S-South Korea agreement to bolster the deployment of American strategic assets in the region for escalating tension to the “brink of a nuclear war,” state media KCNA said on Monday. – Reuters

Japan and South Korea held their first finance leaders’ meeting in seven years on Tuesday and agreed to resume regular dialogue, as tensions in the region and slowing growth prod them to increase co-operation and mend strained relations. – Reuters


British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he expected to meet China’s Vice President Han Zheng when senior Chinese figures visit London for King Charles’ coronation later this week. – Reuters

China is increasingly barring people from leaving the country, including foreign executives, a jarring message as the authorities say the country is open for business after three years of tight COVID-19 restrictions. – Reuters

China’s foreign minister called for stability and a crackdown on cross-border criminal activity along the country’s border with Myanmar, during an unusual visit to the volatile region on Tuesday. – Associated Press

Tyler Cowen writes: Finally, and perhaps most important, there are the openness of US financial markets and the free movement of capital. Both are major factors in making the dollar the world’s global reserve currency. That is a critical force behind America’s global influence, which helps keep Chinese influence in check. Does America really want to throw that advantage away? – Bloomberg

Carl Minzner writes: This is not a recipe for a rise to world dominance, or even long-term social stability. Rather, China’s rapidly aging population and increasingly rigid, autocratic political system will severely hobble the country as it stumbles towards the middle of the twenty-first century. – Foreign Affairs


President Biden met President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines on Monday at the White House, part of a four-day U.S. visit by Mr. Marcos intended to signal a strengthening alliance between the two countries. – New York Times

More than three years since China first blocked a range of Australian imports in a political dispute, restrictions are easing, but reviving trade is proving more challenging than stopping it in the first place. – Reuters

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said China has agreed to discuss fishing rights in the South China Sea, as he pushed for a “direct communication line” with Beijing on maritime differences. – Reuters

Taiwan’s president told visiting ex-U.S. national security adviser John Bolton on Monday that her country is willing to deepen cooperation with the U.S. and “other like-minded partners” to safeguard peace, as the self-governed island faces increasing military threats from China. – Associated Press

Michael Doran writes: Mr. Blinken understands the geostrategic stakes and is making a smart play. Will the friends of Armenia inside the Democratic Party trip him up? The next few days may provide us with the answer. – Wall Street Journal

Bob Drogin writes: The Biden administration’s vast military pivot to the Pacific aims to prevent a war, not provoke one. But relations with China are at an alarming ebb, and the risks of a clash are growing. I saw the stakes of failure when I spent a morning last month at the Manila American Cemetery shortly before I left the Philippines. – Washington Post

Tom Rogan writes: While Marcos has been keen to maintain cordial relations and trade ties with Beijing, he recognizes that the U.S. alliance is crucial to the Philippines’ long-term security and prosperity. To that end, Marcos recently granted the U.S. access to four military bases of key strategic utility. He is also far more willing to challenge China’s aggression openly, as with the Philippines’ coast guard activities. The U.S. rightly appears set to boost those capabilities with the provision of new patrol vessels. It’s easy to see why China is so upset with these positive developments. – Washington Examiner

Ashley J. Tellis writes: The United States should certainly help India to the degree compatible with American interests. But it should harbor no illusions that its support, no matter how generous, will entice India to join it in any military coalition against China. The relationship with India is fundamentally unlike those that the United States enjoys with its allies. The Biden administration should recognize this reality rather than try to alter it. – Foreign Affairs


Russia couldn’t escape its war against Ukraine during its highly contentious presidency of the U.N. Security Council, and the war will still loom over Switzerland as it takes over the monthlong presidency Monday for the first time since becoming a full member of the United Nations in 2002. – Associated Press

John Schindler writes: Regardless, the McGonigal scandal has changed the game in Albania. For a decade, Edi Rama has gotten away with turning his country into a U.S.-allied NATO member narcostate in Europe. It seems the Biden administration may finally have had enough of this repulsive arrangement. We’ll know more after Albania’s elections in a couple of weeks. – Washington Examiner

Hadrien Pouget writes: It is understandable that the EU’s broadening of the AI Act’s scope (or the threat of broadening) makes Americans nervous. The US should come to the EU with targeted suggestions, as its domestic conversation around AI risks matures. A productive dialogue over AI regulation remains possible — and necessary. – Center for European Policy Analysis


More than 800,000 people could flee Sudan if fighting continues, triggering a massive refugee crisis in the region, the United Nations refugee agency warned. Some 73,000 refugees have already left the war-torn Horn of Africa country, the agency said Monday, as the ongoing bout of violence enters a third week. – Washington Post

Thousands of people have descended on a port city in eastern Sudan in recent days, fleeing the violence in the capital and trying to secure their escape aboard vessels heading over the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. – New York Times

The United Nations food relief agency has suspended aid deliveries to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region amid an internal investigation into the theft of food meant for hungry people, according to four humanitarian workers. – Associated Press

Sudan’s army and its rival paramilitary said Sunday they will extend a humanitarian cease-fire a further 72 hours. The decision follows international pressure to allow the safe passage of civilians and aid, but the shaky truce has not so far stopped the clashes. – Associated Press

Mai Hassan and Ahmed Kodouda write: Once a civilian-led government is finally in place, it will need to reform the security sector—integrating the RSF and other parastatal militias into a unified national army that is answerable to elected leaders—in order to avoid a rerun of the present conflict. None of this will be easy, and all of it will require Sudan’s international partners to put their differences aside and present a unified front. The alternative, however, is a long and bloody war. – Foreign Affairs

The Americas

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will meet with White House Homeland Security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall Tuesday morning in Mexico, Lopez Obrador’s office confirmed on Monday. – Reuters

Michael Chong, a lawmaker with Canada’s main opposition Conservative party, said on Monday that the country’s spy agency did not inform him about threats against him and his family from China that were reported in a Canadian newspaper. – Reuters

News of Santiago Pena’s election victory in Paraguay will be cheered by officials in Taiwan, which faces an uphill battle against China’s economic muscle to keep its remaining 13 allies worldwide, including its last in South America. – Reuters


The Army is now searching for an initial solution for a portable electronic warfare system, the first such program-of-record system in years. – CyberScoop

Dustin Walker writes: The weaknesses of U.S. force posture in the Indo-Pacific have contributed to the erosion of credible deterrence. But with sustained diplomatic urgency, robust investment and more advanced capabilities, a transformation of U.S. force posture can help restore and preserve credible deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. – Defense News

Bilal Y. Saab writes: In conclusion, helping a partner to attain a higher level of military development and achieving broader strategic objectives of security cooperation requires various parts of the U.S. interagency process to step in and step up. Sometimes security cooperation underperforms because of mistakes committed by the United States, the partner, or both. But sometimes it actually does work, as several cases throughout history have shown. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater by using the wrong metrics and drawing the wrong conclusions about security cooperation. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Pakistani security forces acting on intelligence raided two hideouts of militants along the border with Afghanistan, triggering intense shootouts that left three insurgents dead, the country’s military said late Sunday. – Associated Press

The United States is so far declining to back up claims by Turkey that Ankara’s forces have killed the current leader of the Islamic State terror group following an operation in northern Syria. – Voice of America

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The presence of ISIS members in areas like Afrin, which were once Kurdish, illustrates the dangers of demographic change and the presence of extremist groups in northwest Syria. In addition, ISIS continues to carry out attacks in Iraq and Syria. The ability of ISIS to move from one area to another, such as from eastern Syria to areas where Iran has influence near Deir Ezzor and also in Idlib and Afrin shows why it is so difficult to defeat. – Jerusalem Post