Fdd's overnight brief

May 24, 2023

In The News


U.S. Navy warships stationed in the Persian Gulf region have increased their patrols through the Strait of Hormuz, the busy merchant ship passageway, in response to recent moves by Iran to seize two oil tankers, the latest sign of rising tensions between Iran and the United States. – New York Times

The head of Iran’s nuclear program insisted Wednesday that his government would cooperate with international inspectors on any “new activities.” His statement followed an exclusive Associated Press report about Tehran’s new underground system near a nuclear enrichment facility. – Associated Press

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

Israeli security planners say they can destroy enemy installations even as new warnings emerge that Iran’s nuclear facilities are being situated ever deeper underground. Yet, as Jerusalem craves Washington’s cooperation in ending that threat, Senator Cruz is warning that President Biden’s Iran policies are “exactly backward.” – New York Sun

Iran’s continued nuclear advances could leave Israel with no choice but a preemptive attack, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

An Iranian official said on Tuesday that an attack on nuclear facilities would mean a widespread war that Israel would bear responsibility for. Speaking to the Qatari-based Al Jazeera network the official said Israeli threats would not change the course of things. – Ynet

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

Sources in Israel are concerned that Iran may intentionally raise the level of uranium enrichment higher, Israel Hayom reported. – Arutz Sheva

A group of Iranian female political prisoners incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison have held a protest against the recent execution of three protesters and the state’s increasing usage of the death penalty, which has been widely criticized by rights groups and governments around the world. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Two Iranian protesters known as “eye victims” have been arrested in what rights activists say is a campaign by authorities to silence those who have been shot in the face by security agents during months of unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country’s hijab law. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry announced Tuesday that it had arrested Iranians working in “several organizations and institutions” through Iran who provided information on Iranians traveling to and from the country to an unidentified foreign spy agency. – Jerusalem Post 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: To be clear, this new facility is concerning, and it could make Israel’s or even the US’s job harder should using military force be necessary. It would be far better if the building of the facility could be thwarted or sabotaged. But in a crisis moment, this facility is still not an Iranian checkmate against the Jewish state. – Jerusalem Post

Colonel Richard Kemp writes: Continued failure to vigorously deter and disrupt Iran will encourage it to carry on arming Gaza terrorists and other proxies, to increase the supply of lethal drones to Russia, and also in due course to equip Moscow with powerful long-range ballistic missiles that, combined, will multiply death and destruction against civilian populations in Israel and Ukraine alike. – Ynet

Ali Reza Eshraghi writes: Indeed, the only thing that is clear is that Iran’s contemporary elite is not prepared for this moment. It is rarely prepared for any turmoil—as the slow, halting, and then very violent response to the protests made readily apparent. Instead, when faced with crisis, the Iranian elite simply improvises and muddles along. Its struggles will not end when the succession process is over: the next leader of Iran is likely to be just as mercurial as the last. – Foreign Affairs

Russia & Ukraine

Despite a brutal Russian invasion that has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and laid waste to swaths of the country, Ukraine continues to allow Russian oil and gas to cross its territory to serve its European neighbors — generating revenue for Kyiv and Moscow and illustrating how hard it is for the enemies to cut ties. – Washington Post 

A rare cross-border assault in southern Russia by anti-Kremlin fighters aligned with Ukraine stretched into a second day on Tuesday, with reports of an explosion at a defense factory and skirmishes at a crossing, in one of the most brazen incursions into Russian territory since the war began. – New York Times

Pro-Ukraine fighters appeared to use at least three American-made armored vehicles during an incursion into Russia on Monday, pictures and videos verified by The New York Times reveal. – New York Times

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III began initiating the Biden administration’s turnaround on providing Ukrainian fighter pilots with training on F-16 jets last month, after European allies told him that they wanted to go ahead with the training, a U.S. defense official said on Monday. – New York Times

The United States is trying to distance itself from an incident in the Russian region of Belgorod, which Russia alleged was attacked by pro-Ukrainian fighters. Ukraine has denied direct involvement in the episode. – Washington Post 

The Russian navy’s newest nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine will move to a permanent base in the Kamchatka Peninsula in August, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, as Moscow steps up its Pacific military presence. – Reuters

A Russian court on Tuesday extended the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by three months in a closed-door hearing emblematic of the secrecy that has marked the case against the first United States correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia on spying charges. – Associated Press 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team downplayed the idea that pro-Ukraine militias used weapons from the United States in a brazen raid inside Russia this week. – Washington Examiner

Russia moved to clear out a nuclear weapons storage facility in Belgorod as fighting in the region continued into a second day Tuesday, with Russian forces cracking down on armed revolutionary groups that attempted to seize control of local towns. – The Hill

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has been looking to Africa to try to get much-needed weapons for its fighting in Ukraine, the US State Department said on Monday. – Business Insider

Ukrainian pilots could begin training to fly U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets “within weeks or months,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Tuesday, a new step toward efforts to bolster the country’s long-term security as it fights to retake Russian-occupied territory in the east. – Military Times 

Russian forces have lost 40 artillery systems in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday morning. Since May 17, Moscow has lost nearly 170 artillery systems, according to an updated count published by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Tuesday. – Newsweek 

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: He has a range of options, from seeking a cease-fire to hoping his badly abused army will hold the line, to threatening and possibly using a nuclear weapon. The bumpy ride may not soon be over. It also seems possible, however, that the Russian army’s ground forces will never seriously go on the offensive again in this war. – Wall Street Journal

Seth Cropsey writes: Even if Ukraine liberates every square mile of its territory in the next six months, it will still face a ferocious Russian bombardment and blockade. To win this war, for Ukraine and for the West, the U.S. and its allies must prepare Ukraine for a new, long-term air-naval struggle against Russia in the Black Sea. – The Hill


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Wednesday passed a new two-year budget, a step that could bring some stability to his coalition and clear the way for it to press ahead with its religious, pro-settlement agenda. – Associated Press 

The White House reportedly wants Israel to halt its judicial overhaul and restart peace talks with the Palestinian Authority in order for the US to move forward with brokering normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. – Times of Israel

An Israeli Arab from Umm al-Fahm was arrested by the Shin Bet and Israel Police after he was recruited by Hamas to conduct a bombing attack on a bus in the Hadera area, the Shin Bet announced on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle sought to assure the Biden administration on Tuesday that Israel was not pursuing a major expansion in West Bank settlements, amid signals to the contrary from the IDF and one of the government’s most senior members. – Times of Israel

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization and the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office have uncovered and arrested an 11-person Mossad cell operating in Turkey, according to the Turkish Sabah newspaper. – Jerusalem Post 

In a thinly veiled threat to Iran, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday said the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip pales in comparison to the complexity and difficulty of the “main goal” that Israel is preparing for. – Times of Israel

The top official in the Israeli Defense Forces warned that Jerusalem, along with its allies, has the ability to strike Iran as Tehran continues to develop its nuclear program at a concerning rate.- Fox News 


Much of the blame for the scale of the devastation was placed on shoddy construction practices, enabled in part by Erdogan and the AKP-controlled parliament. Delayed and disorganized rescue efforts were widely blamed for exacerbating the death toll and raised urgent questions about the president’s hollowing out of state institutions. – Washington Post

The Turkish ambassador in Berlin was told on Tuesday that the German government “firmly rejects” the Turkish government’s accusations that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are not respected in Germany, according to the country’s Federal Foreign Office. – Reuters

Andrew O’Donohue and Cem Tecimer write: To be sure, international support for human rights will not be enough to reverse the damage to Turkey’s democracy. But by partnering with Turkey’s deeply rooted civil society, international engagement can help keep the flame of democracy alive. – The Hill

Philip Balboni writes: This opening isn’t indefinite, though. Even if Kilicdaroglu succeeds, or if a post-election Erdogan pivots toward the West, Turks may decide that the EU is no longer the best path for a brighter future. Europe’s future, by contrast, will continue to rest—as it always has—in its ability to overcome provincial attachments, petty differences, and cultural biases. Turkey is, in this manner and despite all risks, Europe’s best chance to become its ideal self. Should the opportunity be offered, it must not be missed. – Foreign Policy

Arabian Peninsula

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday was formally invited to visit the United Arab Emirates, after months of delays in securing his first official trip to the Gulf country as premier. – Times of Israel

Vincent J. Carchidi writes: As the United States re-orients its position in the Middle East and “West Asia” during a broader pivot to the Indo-Pacific, opportunities for the deepening and expanding of relationships in these regions can begin in the space of the technical and move outward. Here, we have argued that the United States and the UAE are poised to expand their own bilateral relations in exactly this fashion. It would be to the benefit of each. – Middle East Institute

Adel Dashela writes: In conclusion, reaching a true settlement will require a resolution to the country’s military and security tensions before entering into a political agreement. This will prevent armed groups from later overturning the agreement, as has happened with previous settlements. Undoubtedly, it will also require concerted international efforts from actors such as the United States in order to maintain pressure on regional entities, urging them to make political concessions in the ultimate pursuit of a state that provides equal citizenship and protects the rights and interests of all Yemenis. – Washington Institute

Saudi Arabia

Once labelled a pariah, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took centre stage as master of ceremonies last week when Arab states readmitted Syria to the Arab League, signaling to Washington who calls the regional shots. – Reuters

A top Russian official who faces sanctions in the West over Moscow’s war on Ukraine visited Saudi Arabia and held talks with his counterpart in the kingdom early on Tuesday, state media reported. – Associated Press 

Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has appointed Alireza Enayati, a seasoned diplomat, as the country’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia. – Iran International

Middle East & North Africa

A Turkish strike in northern Iraq killed three Yazidi militiamen and wounded three others on Tuesday, regional officials said. A local official affiliated with the militia disputed that account, saying none of its fighters were killed, but that a shepherd died in the Turkish drone strike. – Associated Press 

Lebanon is likely to be placed on a “grey list” of countries under special scrutiny over unsatisfactory practices to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. – Reuters

Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt write: In this era of strategic competition, the US faces a multipolar threat – with various adversaries in various locations worldwide, who are using various domains and tradecraft – and no one government or private sector entity has full visibility. This is why the US government must remain agile and leverage its partnerships to maintain insight into the changing threat landscape, so that the US and its allies do not lose out in competition in one region of the world while focused on conflict in another. – RUSI

Yossi Yehoshua writes: The IDF Northern Command has already adjusted its readiness, strengthened its defenses with more lethal means, developed a response to potential activities by the Radwan force, deployed measures to neutralize an offensive plan with technological means, and even established a target pool. Whether it is a broad war against Hezbollah or a round of fighting, the opening strike will likely determine the extent of the conquest. – Ynet

Korean Peninsula

South Korea has asked Washington to review its criteria for new semiconductor subsidies, concerned over the impact of rules to limit chip investment in countries such as China, a U.S. public filing showed. – Reuters

The United States and South Korea on Tuesday announced new North Korea sanctions related to thousands of IT workers, many operating in China and Russia, whose labors allegedly help fund weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, they said. – Reuters

The two Koreas are in a space race. The North is upgrading its space center to accommodate the increased demands of leader Kim Jong Un, who boasted last month the country had completed its first military reconnaissance satellite and called for its launch into orbit to monitor US forces and their allies in Asia. – Bloomberg

Joseph Bosco writes: Finally, the Biden administration should consider reinstituting what may have been former President Trump’s most potentially consequential component of his maximum-pressure campaign against North Korea: the delegitimization of the Kim regime. In three major speeches in 2017-2018 — at the United Nations, before the Korean National Assembly, and in his State of the Union Address — Trump described the horrors of what is happening to the North Korean people and questioned Kim’s fitness to govern the benighted country. […]Never forget: The world’s North Korea problem is part of the world’s China problem. – The Hill

Hal Brands writes: Yet the cool reaction in Seoul is a warning that the Washington Declaration is just the beginning of a long process of managing nuclear strains within the alliance — and containing a North Korea that will only get more menacing with time. – Bloomberg


After months of recrimination, U.S.-China relations are entering a new phase likely to determine whether the two powers are able to restore high-level exchanges derailed by a Chinese balloon earlier this year. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao will arrive in Washington this week with a message for American companies: China is open for business and warmly welcomes American investment. – Washington Post 

The leaders of the Group of 7 nations last weekend pledged more support for Kyiv and angered Beijing by challenging its claims to the South China Sea, vowing to resist economic coercion, and pressing China on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. Days after, Moscow and Beijing are reinforcing their relationship by holding security and trade talks, with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin of Russia leading a delegation of business tycoons on a visit to China. – New York Times

China firmly opposed the agreement reached between the U.S. and Taiwan, urging the U.S. to “carefully handle economic and trade relations with Taiwan”, China’s ministry of commerce said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China’s new ambassador to Washington Xie Feng said on Tuesday that he will seek to enhance China-U.S. cooperation, but that relations face serious challenges. – Reuters

China’s move to ban Micron Technology Inc.’s products marked its most meaningful retaliation yet against US export controls. Now the question is whether President Xi Jinping will go after even bigger targets, risking blowback to his own economy. – Bloomberg

The chief executive of Nvidia, the world’s most valuable semiconductor company, has warned that the US tech industry is at risk of “enormous damage” from the escalating battle over chips between Washington and Beijing. – Financial Times 

Tom Rogan writes: That China cannot or will not recognize these realities means the avenues for a substantial warming in U.S.-China relations are almost nonexistent. Put simply, these two nations are engaged in a new Cold War. The best that can be hoped for is that which defined the last Cold War: the maintenance of relative peace and occasional cooperation even amid politically defining disagreements. – Washington Examiner

Jami Miscik, Peter Orszag, and Theodore Bunzel write: As the Biden administration has leapt forward with export controls and industrial policies aimed at subsidizing domestic production, divisions have emerged between the United States and Europe—divisions that are being actively exploited by Beijing as it seeks to isolate Washington from its partners. A shared Western framework for de-risking would offer a more coordinated, balanced, and effective approach to competition with China than racing ahead alone. It may also strengthen, rather than erode, the foundations of a stronger transatlantic alliance. – Foreign Affairs

South Asia

Fears are growing for the safety of a prominent Pakistani journalist who went missing during a crackdown on supporters of the main opposition party and its leader, the former prime minister, Imran Khan. – Wall Street Journal 

Islamist militants stormed natural gas and oil production facilities in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, killing four police and two private guards, police and the operator said. – Reuters

Javid Ahmad and Douglas London write: Without an engaged U.S. government, the new rulers of Aghanistan will establish a hierarchical system benefiting only their chosen and that answers to no one but themselves. Ignoring the problem is not one Americans, the Afghan people, or neighboring countries can long afford. – Foreign Policy


Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Narendra Modi, his Indian counterpart, in Sydney on Wednesday to discuss regional security and economic ties and signed a migration deal to boost Indian student and business travel to Australia. – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday said the country had no plans to become a NATO member but acknowledged the security alliance’s plan to open a liaison office in Japan. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Alongside U.S. funding and prioritized diplomatic and economic engagement, this deal will see the U.S. provide Coast Guard support for Papua New Guinea’s exclusive economic zone. That will help deter the Chinese fishing fleets that are decimating the world’s oceans. […]The U.S. can now provide critical support for Papua New Guinea’s fisheries industry in the absence of its own Coast Guard. This will have the accrued benefit of earning popular favor for the U.S. Top line: This agreement is good news for the U.S., Papua New Guinea, and Taiwan but bad news for China. – Washington Examiner

Bryan Burack writes: These provisions are not a congressionally mandated exercise in busywork. They were designed to provide a road map for modernizing U.S.-Taiwan defense relations in a way that ensures that U.S. interests in Taiwan’s defense are being appropriately prioritized and coordinated among senior leaders. They are also required to make sure Congress gets the information necessary to make wise appropriations decisions. If the administration wants to prove that it can actually “walk and chew gum” at the same time, it must start by complying with the TERA. – Washington Examiner


A prominent critic of Germany’s pandemic restrictions who repeatedly spread false information about the coronavirus has been acquitted of incitement to hatred for comments about Jews and Israel. – Associated Press 

Rishi Sunak warned against Group of Seven nations descending into “blanket” protectionism in an effort to tackle China’s economic threat. – Bloomberg

The European Union and the US are discussing working closely to address risks from investing in sensitive technologies in countries like China as they develop new tools to cope with an increasingly hostile economic environment. – Bloomberg

A double-digit drop in German exports to China has rattled Europe’s biggest economy, triggering debate over why its vast manufacturing sector has fallen behind rivals benefiting from a rebound in Chinese demand. – Financial Times 

Brussels has rebuffed industry calls to rethink its plan for grabbing lucrative clearing business from the City of London, saying it needs to proceed to ensure robust markets in Europe. – Financial Times 

The Pentagon is downplaying a Tuesday incident in which a Russian jet intercepted two U.S. bombers over the Baltic Sea, calling it “nothing significant.”  – The Hill

The European Union announced 11 new collaborative defense programs to add to its roster of PESCO projects on Tuesday and said Denmark was signing up as the program’s 26th member. – Defense News


The U.S. Embassy shut its doors April 15, after fighting broke out between rival generals. Deadly violence and a humanitarian crisis have devastated the nation of some 45 million people. Nearly all public services have been shut down, including the Sudanese passport agency — which would be able to issue new documents. – Washington Post 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday warned Sudan’s rival generals to abide by the latest cease-fire or face possible sanctions, as residents reported sporadic fighting between the sides in the capital of Khartoum and a northern city. – Associated Press 

South Africa’s defense minister insisted that the country didn’t ship weapons to Russia and welcomed plans for an inquiry into allegations by the US that it did. – Bloomberg

The Americas

In the struggle for hearts and minds against Russia, Europe has it sights on a new target. Unfortunately for them, Latin America’s not listening. An extended charm offensive by senior diplomats from major European nations and institutions has sought to win over neutrally-minded Latin American nations to their cause as part of the broader geopolitical battle with Russia and China. – Politico

Experts say Ecuador’s experience with China shows how the US and other western countries risk losing further ground in Latin America to Beijing unless they can offer better trade and investment opportunities. –  Financial Times 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government did not ignore evidence of Chinese meddling, a special rapporteur said on Tuesday after probing media reports based on leaked intelligence that said Beijing sought to influence elections and policy. – Reuters

The Biden administration on Tuesday once again listed Cuba among a group of countries that the United States says are “not cooperating fully” in its fight against terrorism, drawing a sharp rebuke from Havana. – Reuters

United States

It found that half of the people in the U.S. support the Pentagon’s ongoing supply of weapons to Ukraine for its defense against Russian forces. That level is nearly unchanged in the past year, while about a quarter are opposed to sustaining the military lifeline that has now topped $37 billion. – Associated Press 

President Joe Biden will host Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark at the White House next month for talks on their joint efforts including supporting Ukraine. – Associated Press 

A New Jersey software developer who prosecutors say once photographed landmarks in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., for possible terrorist attacks was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison by a federal judge who said it seemed he no longer was a danger. – Associated Press 

The U.S. Senate’s top Democrat said on Tuesday he and President Joe Biden’s administration were engaging allies and businesses to address China’s ban on sales of memory chips made by U.S.-based Micron Technology Inc (MU.O). – Reuters


Chinese hackers targeted Kenya’s government in a widespread, years-long series of digital intrusions against key ministries and state institutions, according to three sources, cybersecurity research reports and Reuters’ own analysis of technical data related to the hackings. – Reuters

Several shipping and logistics websites in Israel were hacked to gather information about their users, according to a report by Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity company ClearSky.The company attributes these attacks “with a low confidence” to the Iranian nation-state hacker group Tortoiseshell, also called TA456 and Imperial Kitten. The threat actor has been active since at least July 2018. – The Record

Ukraine’s computer emergency response team, CERT-UA, has identified a cyber-espionage campaign targeting an undisclosed government agency in Ukraine. A threat actor identified by researchers as UAC-0063 “has also shown interest” in targeting Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Israel and India, according to the report published on Monday. – The Record


Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh has been nominated by President Biden as the next leader of U.S. Cyber Command, an Air Force official confirmed to DefenseScoop. Haugh, currently the Cyber Command’s deputy commander, would be the first Air Force officer to lead Cybercom, as the first three commanders were Army, Navy and Army. In the dual-hatted role, he would also head the National Security Agency. – DefenseScoop

Eager Ukrainian soldiers are getting their guns and ammo faster than ever, thanks to the work of the U.S. government’s top bulk shipper: the U.S. military. – Defense One

Philip Breedlove, Wesley Clark, and Ben Hodges write: The current U.S. posture makes it too difficult to help our Ukrainian friends pursue justice.  It also shows too little confidence in our own commitment to accountability. The United States can and must do better to support justice for Russia’s depraved actions.Defense One