Fdd's overnight brief

May 23, 2023

In The News


Iran on Monday removed its top national security official, one of the most powerful men in the country, after he came under scrutiny over his close ties with a high-ranking British spy. – New York Times

The leaders of Indonesia and Iran on Tuesday signed a preferential trade agreement to expand economic relations during an official visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. – Reuters

The European Union on Monday imposed new sanctions on Iranian officials and entities for their role in the violent crackdown against public protests in the Islamic republic. – Reuters

Israel accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Monday of turning commercial ships into platforms for launching missiles, drones and commandos, saying the objective was to spread Tehran’s clandestine naval clout well beyond the Gulf. – Reuters

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday said that he has “doubled the attacks on Iran in Syria” during his several months in office. – Jerusalem Post

IDF Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva said on Monday that Iran has not yet decided to break out to a nuclear weapon, on either the uranium enrichment or weapons group fronts. – Jerusalem Post

Iran’s government is billions of rials (1 USD = 42,287.0 IRR) in debt and in an economic red zone, according to reports by EU-based Iranian news outlet Radio Farhan and the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA). – Jerusalem Post

Near a peak of the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, workers are building a nuclear facility so deep in the earth that it is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch U.S. weapon designed to destroy such sites, according to experts and satellite imagery analyzed by The Associated Press. – Associated Press

As tensions with Iran have escalated over its nuclear program, the U.S. military this month posted pictures of a powerful bomb designed to penetrate deep into the earth and destroy underground facilities that could be used to enrich uranium. – Associated Press

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran invests heavily in long-term goals based mostly on its ability to employ people throughout the region. What that means is that Iran needs more Qasem Soleimanis, the famed IRGC commander. It appears the regime knows that the generation of men such as Soleimani and IRGC Aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh are fading from the scene, either because they were hit by missiles like Soleimani or because they simply get older. – Jerusalem Post

Ayoob Kara writes: Following the Second Karabakh War and the opening of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tel Aviv earlier this year, Iranian-Azerbaijani relations deteriorated even further, as Tehran saw that Azerbaijan was growing even stronger in the wake of recent regional developments, which led to Tehran having an even more aggressive attitude towards Baku. And that brought us to the point where Tehran attacked Azerbaijan directly now three times this year. The only question that remains is, how will Iran strike Azerbaijan again? After all, another Iranian terror attack against Azerbaijan is only a matter of time. – Times of Israel

Russia & Ukraine

Russia said that its military and security forces were fighting against Ukrainian units that had crossed into its southern Belgorod region, the largest such incursion into Russian territory since the war began. – Wall Street Journal

As Ukraine enters a pivotal stage in its war with Russia, U.S. and NATO leaders are coalescing around a vision for shoring up Ukrainian defenses and seeking to guarantee the country’s sovereign future. It is a security model that Western leaders, including President Biden, have compared to what Israel has now. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian forces have been reduced to small footholds in the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut, which despite its limited strategic importance has emerged as the war’s bloodiest battlefield. But they have made gains on the Russian flanks, in a move to encircle the city and extend the fight there, according to Ukrainian officials and military personnel in the field. – Washington Post

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine grabbed the spotlight at the Group of 7 summit in Japan and won even more pledges for military aid, including training for Ukraine’s pilots on F-16 fighter jets. But at home this week he faces questions about the future of the eastern city of Bakhmut, the deadliest battle of the war. – New York Times

It took the Kremlin almost a year and cost the lives of thousands of soldiers to capture Bakhmut, but now that Russian forces appear to have control of the Ukrainian city, it is fair to question the value of what they have gained. – New York Times

Six African leaders propose that Ukraine accept opening peace talks with Russia even as Russian troops remain on its soil, South Africa’s presidency said on Monday, as South African officials prepare to visit both countries to sell the idea. – Reuters

Denmark would like to host a summit in July aimed at finding peace between Ukraine and Russia, but such a meeting would need engagement from India, China and Brazil, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said Monday. – Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Group of Seven nuclear “rhetoric” has the sole aim of exerting psychological, military and political pressure on Moscow and Beijing. – Reuters

Between two personality types — absent-minded professor and off-kilter chief executive — the American president is plainly veering into the latter category as one international debacle after another piles up. The latest is the fall of Bakhmut: Kyiv insists that Russia, having laid waste to the strategically situated town in eastern Ukraine, has “not occupied” it. – New York Sun

Editorial: The motivation of the arrest was to silence him. Sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has made it illegal to criticize the military, including the use of the word “war.” But the United States should not be endorsing this absurdity. Mr. Putin is a perpetrator of war crimes against Ukraine; that is the real criminality. Mr. Kara-Murza stands for unshakable principles. The United States should stand with him. – Washington Post

Editorial: Russia’s army in Ukraine might not collapse anytime soon; it might be able to hold its deeply entrenched positions in the face of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive. But the jockeying pitting Mr. Prigozhin against Russia’s top brass, which makes a mockery of command unity, reflects the rot of a regime for which cynicism, repression, lies and violence are defining features. – Washington Post

Editorial: Which brings us back to Ukraine. Whatever one concludes about the decision making in 1991, it’s hard to see what role Russia could play in the world body in the generation to come. It may or may not be logical for the seat to go to Ukraine, though that is what Mr. Lévy suggests. “Memory permits it, morality wishes it, and an open debate among united and sovereign nations could decide it,” he contends. It would be a good cause for France. – New York Sun

Leonid Bershidsky writes: This is not a great position to be in a year and three months into what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg. In that sense, Bakhmut, turned into a desert by the fighting, has served and is still serving its purpose for Ukraine. The Russian forces had better leave any sparkling wine still sitting in Bakhmut cellars alone. It’s too early to pop the bubbly. – Bloomberg


Israel aims to parlay its technological prowess to become an artificial intelligence “superpower”, the Defence Ministry director-general said on Monday, predicting advances in autonomous warfare and streamlined combat decision-making. – Reuters

The IDF is set to purchase 20 new helicopters from the United States, Walla! reported on Monday. By 2025, the IDF plans to phase out 24 Apache “Patan” helicopters, following the example of other armies around the world. These helicopters will be replaced by new acquisitions from the US. – Jerusalem Post

Negotiations at the President’s Residence over the government’s judicial reforms were close to collapsing, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism Party) said Monday. – Jerusalem Post

Nimrod Goren writes: Since the advent of democratic protests in Israel, in January 2023, a growing Israeli openness has developed to international partnerships, to learn from the experiences of like-minded allies in other countries and to share insights from Israel with others. This is a welcome trend generating hope that the voices emerging from Turkey’s recent elections will indeed resonate in Israel and help bring about change. – Jerusalem Post

Joel Rubin writes: It’s therefore past time to prevent this security gap for both the U.S. and Israel from opening. This means that America must pay our debts. Now. The alternative to not paying them is unacceptable and is a scenario with dangers for both the United States and Israel that Congressional Republicans should not allow. – Times of Israel

Gulf States

Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to launch negotiations towards a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, Malaysia’s trade ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Video footage of clashes and protests at the Makhmour refugee camp in northern Iraq, southwest of Erbil, appear to show Iraqi army and security forces in a standoff with camp residents. The camp houses more than 10,000 refugees and has been targeted by Turkey in the past. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran often exploits divisions in Iraq in order to achieve its goals. For instance, Iran has traditionally been closer to the Kurdish PUK party which is strongest in Sulimaniyeh near Iran. However, dissident groups such as Komala and PDKI are also present in this area, meaning Iran must try hard not to destabilize the Kurdish area, while also pressuring PUK to expel the dissident groups. At the same time, Turkey has put pressure on the PUK as well, accusing them of working with Kurdish groups in Syria which Ankara accuses of being “terrorists.” – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

The candidate who came in third in Turkey’s presidential election last week announced on Monday that he was endorsing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the runoff vote on Sunday, granting Mr. Erdogan an additional boost against his remaining challenger. – New York Times

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog were invited on Monday to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai in November and December. – Jerusalem Post

Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir hinted on Monday that Iran would be the primary focus of Israel’s military force design in the coming years, announcing the ministry’s new “Depth Multi-Year Plan.” – Times of Israel

Emile Hokayem writes: The incessant Western claims that “there is no military solution, only a political one” to the Syrian conflict have been proven wrong. Unsurprisingly, battlefield successes have dictated political outcomes—and this mantra only served to justify Western inaction toward a conflict that has had a direct impact on European politics and security. Assad’s rehabilitation by Arab states is yet another recognition of that reality. At a time when Western states are debating what goals to pursue in Ukraine, Syria is a reminder of the strategic and human costs of such complacency. – Foreign Affairs


Beijing responded to the Group of Seven leaders’ firm language toward China by pouring cold water Monday on President Biden’s suggestion that a thaw in U.S.-China relations was imminent. – Wall Street Journal

A new Chinese clampdown on American chip giant Micron Technology MU -2.85%decrease; red down pointing triangle has put South Korea in an uncomfortable position. Amid a series of tit-for-tat trade moves between Beijing and Washington, China, citing national-security risks, banned certain local firms in key information-infrastructure industries from buying memory chips from Micron. The clampdown affects parts of Micron’s roughly $3 billion in annual sales from China. – Wall Street Journal

The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) rich democracies this weekend pledged to “de-risk” without “decoupling” from China, an approach that reflected European and Japanese concerns about pushing Beijing too hard, officials and experts said. – Reuters

State-backed Chinese mouthpiece Global Times called the G7 an “anti-China workshop” on Monday, a day after Beijing summoned Japan’s envoy and berated Britain in a fiery response to statements issued at the group’s summit in Hiroshima. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Sunak’s dual-approach strategy was underlined by his abandonment just before the G7 of a pledge to shutter Chinese Communist Party-linked Confucius Institutes in the U.K. But by attacking Sunak’s comments and warning of ensuing “damage” (read economic coercion) to U.K.-China relations, Beijing is making clear it expects only obedience rather than nuance from its partners. Macron has shown he remains obedient. China will reward him for it. – Washington Examiner

Isaac Kardon and Wendy Leutert write: And China’s continuing expansion in the global ports and maritime transportation industry shows that few countries have been willing to block Chinese firms from operating or acquiring these critical infrastructure assets, despite known security risks. As China seeks greater commercial and military advantage across the world’s oceans, its expansive global network of commercial ports both reflects and amplifies its growing power. – Foreign Affairs

South Asia

Pakistan’s military has struck back after an unprecedented challenge to its hegemony by the popular Imran Khan and his followers, but the nuclear-armed nation remains caught between its most powerful institution and the man who was once a firm ally. – Reuters

Islamist militants stormed a gas and oil extraction plant in northwest Pakistan, killing four police and two private guards, police said. – Reuters

Delegates from the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations began a meeting on tourism in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Monday that was condemned by China and Pakistan, as authorities reduced the visibility of security in the disputed region’s main city. – Associated Press

Pakistani authorities Monday arrested a key associate of former Prime Minister Imran Khan just hours after she was released from custody as authorities pressed on with a crackdown on Khan’s supporters. – Associated Press

The Kremlin is pressuring governments including India behind the scenes, threatening to upend defense and energy deals unless they help block expected moves aimed at turning Russia into a financial pariah state over its invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan won bail in multiple cases from an anti-terrorist court in Islamabad, a temporary respite that may calm his supporters and cool tensions with the powerful military and the government. – Bloomberg


The specter of the world’s first nuclear attack hung over the weekend’s Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima. World leaders laid wreaths at the memorial in the city, where a plaque reads: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.” – Wall Street Journal

The United States and Papua New Guinea signed a security pact on Monday, sealing a strategic agreement that had been disrupted by President Biden’s decision to cancel a visit to the Pacific island nation to deal with the U.S. debt crisis. – Washington Post

Japan and China are making arrangements to hold a meeting between their defence ministers on the sidelines of an international conference in Singapore next month, Kyodo news agency said on Monday, citing unnamed sources. – Reuters

Narendra Modi has arrived in Sydney for his second Australian visit as India’s prime minister and told local media he wants closer bilateral defense and security ties as China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region grows. – Associated Press

The opening lines to the song that catapulted Billie Eilish to fame are, as it happens, an apt description of Communist China’s new play for Diego Garcia, the secretive Indian Ocean atoll that houses a vital British-American naval base. Situated between the Maldives and Mauritius, it is one of the two most critical American bomber bases in the Indo-Pacific, with impressive port capacities and an airstrip for warplanes capable of overflying key maritime choke points and distant Chinese bases. An oceanic listening post on the former Soviet Union from the south, Diego Garcia is now on Beijing’s wish list. – New York Sun

Walter Russell Mead writes: The message couldn’t be more pointed. While Japan cares about Ukraine and sees a deep connection between Russian action in Europe and Chinese moves in its neighborhood, the Indo-Pacific has replaced Europe as the central theater of global politics. – Wall Street Journal

Miles Yu writes: Taiwan’s soft power and the attractiveness of its way of life threaten the CCP dictatorship, which reckons its people would be much easier to control without the inspiration of their Taiwanese brethren. They know that Taiwanese dreams are the dreams of their own people, too. For this reason as much as any, the millions in Taiwan who harbor aspirations to live perpetually in freedom’s light will never be alone in their homeland’s defense. – Taipei Times


Roman Protasevich, a dissident blogger arrested in 2021 after Belarusian authorities forced his flight to divert from its route and land in Minsk, was pardoned on Monday, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported. – Washington Post

Kosovo must implement a Western-brokered peace deal with Serbia if it wants to achieve its goal of joining the NATO military alliance, two U.S. senators visiting Pristina said on Monday. – Reuters

A member of the Belarus opposition movement urged the European Union on Monday to keep sanctions against a Belarusian state fertilizer producer, warning that lifting them would generate a $1.5 billion windfall for Alexander Lukashenko’s regime as it supports Russia’s war on Ukraine. – Associated Press

Defense ministers and senior defense officials from 12 northern European countries met in Poland Monday to discuss stepping up deterrence and security on NATO’s eastern flank and strengthening Ukraine’s defenses, ahead of NATO’s summer summit. – Associated Press

John Bolton writes: Germany should have the same debate. In 1961, Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream.” Totalitarianism isn’t transmitted through the bloodstream any more than freedom. Nobody should forget Germany’s past, certainly not its own citizens, but neither is it ruled by that past. Germany must decide whether it is “a normal nation” and, if so, act like one. – Washington Examiner


Sudanese citizens are hoping that yet another internationally backed cease-fire, due to take effect Monday evening, won’t fail like its predecessors after a week that saw a resurgence of ethnic-based violence in the western region of Darfur. – Washington Post

The president of minerals-rich Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, will visit China from May 24 to 29 and is expected to meet President Xi Jinping to review and sign several key trade deals. – Reuters

The United Nations envoy to Sudan warned on Monday of the growing “ethnicisation” of the military conflict that broke out in Sudan last month and the potential impact on neighbouring states. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department on Monday said Russia’s Wagner Group is trying to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, adding that Washington has been informed the mercenary force is seeking to move those acquisitions through Mali to aid Russia in its war. – Reuters

Ukraine’s foreign minister began a tour of African countries this week, stepping up wartime Kyiv’s diplomatic push to challenge Russian influence in the “Global South” and cement the vision laid out by Ukraine as the only path to peace. – Reuters

The U.N. envoy for Sudan urged the country’s warring generals to honor a seven-day cease-fire that began Monday night, warning the growing ethnic dimension to the fighting risks engulfing Sudan in a prolonged conflict. – Associated Press

With Monday’s Washington-mediated ceasefire in Sudan hardly expected to last, is it time for America to drop failed mediation attempts and instead pick “our SOB”? – New York Sun

United States

Editorial: The Treasury Department’s authority to borrow more money must soon be raised. While the federal government collects more than enough revenue to pay existing debt obligations, without additional resources, there will be huge economic disruption with hospital bills unpaid, welfare payments missed, military contractors denied what they were promised, and the whole world wondering if America is bankrupt. Finding the right political balance to secure the votes needed to raise the debt limit is always tricky. Having a president who is out of touch with basic economic and constitutional realities makes it much more dangerous. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: This statement might be worth the attention of Western leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who in justification for their trade-motivated appeasement of Beijing continue to pretend that China has an interest in substantially pressuring Russia to end its war in Ukraine. On the contrary, this meeting is a reminder that America’s two most preeminent adversaries are, if not allies, significantly deepening their cooperation. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: Strategists seek to build alliances and flip adversaries into allies. Openings come organically when enemies err. As Biden has stumbled, adversaries have rushed to seize advantage. China’s embrace of Saudi Arabia is a case in point. As Russia stumbles, it is essential to remain clear-eyed about the opportunities in both South Asia and the Caucasus. In India and Armenia, Washington has the ability to advance America’s interests and a concert of democracies for a generation to come. The only question is whether the Biden administration will remain asleep at the switch. – Washington Examiner

Delaney Simon writes: The Biden administration has supported some important reforms to this end, but considering the number of sanctions imposed in his presidency so far— including on Russia — sanctions are more ingrained than ever as a tool of U.S. statecraft. Against this backdrop, attention to their downsides has never been more important. The United States would be wise to heed the warnings in Demarais’ book so that its sanctions policies do not backfire. – War on the Rocks


The European Union slapped Meta with a record $1.3 billion privacy fine Monday and ordered it to stop transferring users’ personal information across the Atlantic by October, the latest salvo in a decadelong case sparked by U.S. cybersnooping fears. – Associated Press

Rheinmetall confirmed on Monday that the Black Basta ransomware group was behind a cyberattack it detected last month. A spokesperson for the German automotive and arms manufacturer told The Record that the company was “continuing to work on resolving” the attack. – The Record

Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, last week released an updated set of strategic priorities for the command that seeks to “own the domain.” These refined priorities address global strategic challenges while enhancing Cybercom’s posture, according to the command. – DefenseScoop

James Rogan writes: The U.S. must unequivocally reject this attempt by the EU to restrain the rapid advance of GenAI by U.S. companies. It must also repudiate the assertion by the EU of extraterritorial legal authority over U.S. companies. The EU cannot attempt to reduce the sovereignty of the U.S. – Washington Examiner


The most junior soldiers serving in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command train in more exotic locales and use more futuristic tech in their first assignments than even graying sergeants majors saw over decades-long careers. – Defense News

The U.S. Army must embrace online tactics and virtual worlds to attract younger generations and retain them as soldiers, the deputy commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command said, as the service is again expected to miss its recruitment goals. – Defense News

The Air Force is focused on avoiding the mistakes that plagued past programs like the F-35, as the service officially kicks off its effort to build a sixth-generation fighter, Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday. – Defense News

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: In an era of defense budgets that fail to account for inflation, we can only dream of bringing back the procurement heavy budgets of the Reagan buildup. But, dream as we all may, Congress should start with adjusting the White House’s request to ensure that there’s enough proverbial gas in the tank for a future fight in the Indo-Pacific. Mass and attrition should return as foundational force planning priorities. – RealClearDefense