Fdd's overnight brief

May 4, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iranian forces seized a Panama-flagged oil tanker on Wednesday in the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. Navy said, marking the second time in less than a week that Iran has captured a commercial ship in the region. – Wall Street Journal 

Canada imposed additional sanctions on Iran on Wednesday over human rights violations within the country and abroad, the government said in a statement. – Reuters

Greece issued a series of warnings to shipowners to avoid sailing close to Iranian waters days before Tehran seized two tankers amid heightening tensions in the region, according to documents and industry sources. – Reuters

Iran in January executed a British-Iranian national who once served as its deputy defense minister, its judiciary said, defying calls from London and Washington for his release after he was handed the death sentence on charges of spying for Britain. – Jerusalem Post

Iran is using a state-controlled media group to spread antisemitic messaging to English-speaking audiences online, according to a report released last week. – Times of Israel

Thirteen alleged members of the Lion’s Den terror group have handed themselves over to Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank in recent days, a Palestinian security official said Wednesday. – Times of Israel

US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters on Wednesday that a new report is expected to uphold findings that Palestinian Arab-American reporter Shireen Abu Aqleh was likely killed by accidental IDF gunfire. – Arutz Sheva

While President Ebrahim Raisi is in Syria, classified information obtained shows Tehran is procuring uranium from phosphate mines in Syria to make yellowcake. According to the secret documents received by Iran International, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) had asked the government to let the agency import 800,000 tons of phosphate from the mines under the Islamic Republic’s control in Syria without paying the share of the administration. – Iran International 

Iranian teachers have called for further protests just hours after the Supreme Leader failed to address nationwide school poisonings. Khamenei had been speaking at an event for the Islamic Republic’s National Teachers’ Day with a cherry picked group of teachers. During the meeting, Khamenei discussed the country’s education system but fell short of even mentioning the months of gas attacks against the schools across Iran which have left thousands of schoolgirls sick and hospitalized. – Iran International

Russia & Ukraine

Air raid alarms sounded in Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia early Thursday, a day after the Kremlin claimed that Ukraine attempted to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin in a drone attack. At least two explosions were heard in Kyiv, and a Russian drone and missile strike was repulsed by the air defense system, the city’s military administration said on Telegram. Debris from the downed objects fell on three district of Kyiv, though no casualties were reported. – Washington Post

Russia on Wednesday accused Ukraine of staging a drone attack intended to kill President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, an incendiary allegation that was forcefully denied by Ukrainian officials, some of whom warned it could be a pretext for Russia to escalate its war. – Washington Post

Ukraine is better positioned to make headway in its expected counteroffensive against Russia than leaked U.S. intelligence documents indicated, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, voicing confidence that Kyiv can reclaim occupied territory despite a host of military challenges. – Washington Post

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine arrived in Finland on Wednesday to meet with Nordic leaders, a rare overseas trip for the Ukrainian leader amid the Russian invasion. – New York Times

A drone attack set ablaze product storage facilities at one of the largest oil refineries in southern Russia, but emergency services extinguished the fire just over two hours later, and the plant was working normally, TASS news agency reported. – Reuters

Three Russian navy ships were observed in the Baltic Sea in the area of the Nord Stream pipeline blasts prior to the sabotage that halted Russian gas flows to Europe in September last year, an investigation by four Nordic broadcasters has found. – Reuters

NATO’s intelligence chief said that Russia is mapping critical undersea systems and warned of a significant risk that Moscow could target infrastructure in Europe and North America. – Bloomberg

The European Union committed €500 million ($553 million) on Wednesday to beefing up the bloc’s ammunition production lines to better supply Ukraine, saying member states would match the sum with individual contributions. – Defense News

Jahara Matisek and Will Reno write: Ukraine’s open society stands in stark contrast with its Russian foe. Its patriots and international supporters can take the initiative in fighting to expel Russian forces. In this new era of irregular warfare, America can begin integrating local volunteer groups into military efforts. If it does—in addition to unshackling itself from bureaucracy at home—it will be ready for whatever international challenge comes next. – Wall Street Journal 

Joseph Bosco writes: Biden has been forthright in rebutting Putin’s justifications of his barbaric behavior, but he must lead a concerted Western campaign of truth-telling directed at the Russian people to support those who seek a new path forward. They must be convinced that Putin’s aggression is not only inherently evil, but is doomed to fail. – The Hill

Nina Jankowicz and Tom Southern write: A few factors have helped maintain robust public support for Ukraine. First, an uncomfortable and incontrovertible truth: Europeans and Americans have felt greater affinity and proximity—both cultural and geographic—to Ukraine, Ukrainians, and their struggle for freedom than to other countries and people in crisis. Ukrainian refugees have undoubtedly received a more welcome reception in Europe than those fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. This is in part because Ukraine is a mostly white, Christian country, and it gains more sympathy among mostly white, Christian publics than do countries embroiled in conflicts in the global South. – Foreign Affairs

Michael Rubin writes: While the White House has sought to limit the fight and the destruction that accompanies it to Ukraine, President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s instincts are wrong. The best way to create a disincentive to aggression is to make the dictators responsible pay a personal price at home. By striking the heart of Moscow, those behind the drone strike are signaling not only to Putin that he can run but he cannot hide, but also to Chinese President Xi Jinping: If he strikes at Taiwan, he should expect to face retaliation in Beijing itself. – 19FortyFive


Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, exchanged fire overnight into Wednesday, killing a Palestinian man and posing a daunting security test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government after four tumultuous months in power. – Washington Post

Israeli forces on Thursday killed two Palestinian gunmen who had shot dead a British-Israeli mother and her two daughters in April in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s domestic security service said. – Reuters

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations told a UN panel on Wednesday that the senior Islamic Jihad member who died while hunger striking in an Israeli prison on Tuesday was a “hero prisoner.” – Times of Israel

Inspectors at the Kerem Shalom crossing discovered firearms, silencers and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture headed from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Israel voiced hope on Wednesday that Saudi authorities would admit direct flights for its Muslim citizens who want to make the Haj pilgrimage, which takes place next month, in what would mark another step toward normalising relations. – Reuters

Editorial: Neither Israel – for whom the EU is its largest export market – nor the EU, which can only play a regional diplomatic role if it enjoys a modicum of trust among Israeli government officials, benefits from tensions between them. Both sides, after all, need each other to serve interests well beyond the Palestinian issue: Israel needs the EU’s assistance in placing pressure on Iran and the EU needs Israeli natural gas to help reduce its dependence on Russia. – Jerusalem Post

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: But as long as helicopters are used strategically, and taking into account that Israeli helicopters now boast some new proactive defensive systems, it seems that Hamas’s antiaircraft defenses will be mostly for show. Overall, despite some hiccups in these areas, Israel still is in the driver’s seat from a strategic perspective if it chooses to undergo a longer operation in the future. – Jerusalem Post

David Horovitz writes: Israel’s enemies, and most especially Iran, are constantly probing for weakness in their relentless bid to weaken and ultimately destroy the country. Tuesday’s flareup is just one more reminder of the toxic neighborhood in which we live, and the constant immediacy of the dangers. – Times of Israel 


A Taliban fighter recently fired his rifle into the air at a food distribution event in Afghanistan, an example of their harassment of nongovernmental groups operating in the country, a report from a U.S. watchdog said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The Taliban’s intimidation, threats and attacks on Afghan journalists are unacceptable, the U.N. said Wednesday, as it expressed concern for the future of the country’s media. – Associated Press

Taliban’s top diplomat will travel to Pakistan later this week to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang that could include extending a Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan. – Bloomberg


The Biden administration has renewed direct talks with Syria to determine the fate of missing journalist Austin Tice and other Americans who disappeared during the nation’s civil war, according to Middle East officials familiar with the efforts. – Wall Street Journal

Overlooked by a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad and offering sticky sweets, a Syrian tourism booth in Dubai is trying to seize on an emerging rapprochement with Arab states to win back Gulf tourists it lost during more than a decade of war. – Reuters

The presidents of Iran and Syria on Wednesday signed a long-term strategic cooperation agreement, including a memorandum of understanding on oil industry cooperation, the Syrian state news agency reported. – Reuters


Turkey has closed its airspace to Armenian flights heading to a third destination in response to the unveiling of a controversial monument in Yerevan last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The deputy defence ministers of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey will meet in Istanbul on Friday to discuss a deal that allows the exports of Ukrainian grains on the Black Sea, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying on Wednesday. – Reuters

Soner Cagaptay writes: Indeed, the possibility of new extremist violence could pose a direct threat to the cohesion of the opposition alliance. At present, Kilicdaroglu is supported by both the pro-Kurdish HDP and the Turkish nationalist Good Party (IYI), which is deeply wary of Kurdish militancy. Renewal of armed conflict involving the PKK and HUDA-PAR would certainly trigger deeper polarization between IYI and HDP, likely splitting the pro-Kilicdaroglu bloc and costing the opposition the presidency. – Foreign Affairs


Middle East & North Africa

Economies across the Middle East and Central Asia will likely slow this year as persistently high inflation and rising interest rates bite into their post-pandemic gains, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Egypt and Qatar played a major role in achieving the latest ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran once again warned Israel that even the “slightest action” by Israel would lead to the “destruction” of Israel Iran says its power in Syria is “not a secret.” Iran views Syria as the frontline of the “resistance front” and wants to use Syria as a launch pad against Israel. This means that while Syria wants to normalize with the Arab countries, Iran’s goals are different from Syria’s. They may be at cross purposes. Iran wants to use Syria, while Syria’s regime wants stability. The US and Israel are also concerned about Iran’s threats from Syria. – Jerusalem Post

Rany Ballout writes: To answer this, many analysts and commentators point to Salameh’s support from top politicians and the country’s economic elite, and further ascribe the matter to the country’s sectarian patronage and clientelist system. Yet at the same time, this ignores the country’s broader economic and financial context. The uncomfortably truth is that while Salameh contrastively dollarized the Lebanese currency in his three-decade tenure as the governor of the central bank, he ultimately did little to break with the country’s history of an uncontested and minimally regulated laissez-faire banking system in Lebanon. – The National Interest


The Senate voted on Wednesday to reinstate tariffs on solar panels from Chinese companies in Southeast Asia that had been found to be coming into the United States in violation of trade rules. – New York Times

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said on Wednesday China has invited him to visit “in the near term” for talks on averting a global climate change crisis even as diplomatic relations between the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters remain tense. – Reuters

China said on Thursday “high vigilance” was needed in the face of NATO’s “eastward expansion” following a media report the alliance is planning to set up an office in Japan to facilitate consultations with allies in the region. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: Administration officials are still debating whether a parallel U.S.-China peace effort might validate a broader Chinese role in Europe at a time when the United States has been trying to keep European allies from making sweetheart deals with Beijing. But when even Zelensky — who depends on U.S. military aid for his country’s survival — is welcoming contact with Xi, excluding China might be unrealistic. – Washington Post

Jessica Chen Weiss writes: Worse, reflexively maneuvering to outcompete or thwart China only validates hard-liners in Beijing who believe America is implacably hostile and that the only response lies in undermining the United States. By continuing on that road, the world’s two most powerful countries may end up turning each other into the enemies that they fear. – New York Times

South Asia

India and Russia have suspended efforts to settle bilateral trade in rupees, after months of negotiations failed to convince Moscow to keep rupees in its coffers, two Indian government officials and a source with direct knowledge of the matter said. – Reuters

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, departed for India on May 4, where he will attend a meeting of foreign ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This is the first visit by a Pakistani foreign minister to India in more than a decade. The last such visit took place in 2011. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the company has bought more oil tankers than anyone else, elevating itself from an unknown Indian shipping business into one of the world’s largest vessel owners. – Financial Times


The South Korean government exploited the women to shore up its alliance with the United States and obtain dollars. Then later, it suppressed reports of the abuse. –  New York Times

Switzerland’s lower house of parliament has voted to tighten ties with the legislature in Taiwan, a move that could further rankle China after recent visits by Western lawmakers to the island. – Associated Press

Senior South Korean and Japanese officials on Wednesday discussed strengthening relations and coordinating responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats in a meeting in Seoul ahead of a summit between the countries’ leaders. – Associated Press

Russia is unlikely to face backlash over its war in Ukraine at an upcoming meeting of Central Asian foreign ministers and instead could flex its influence with the regional group. – Associated Press

Taiwan’s chief trade representative says his country’s semiconductor makers will expand production in the U.S. as much as they can afford to do so, but he insists Taiwan remains an ideal place for that production and other U.S. trade, business and investment, despite tensions with China. – Associated Press

France and Japan have signed a nuclear cooperation agreement in Paris, the French ministry said on Wednesday. The joint declaration pledges to deepen and accelerate ties in the research and development of next-generation nuclear such as sodium-cooled fast reactors. – Reuters

Washington has signalled to South Korea’s leading chip companies that it will extend permission for them to send US chipmaking tools to China, a concession to an ally that is key to curbing Beijing’s access to cutting-edge semiconductors. – Financial Times

The SDF, by the government’s own admission, has a chronic recruitment problem and a talent shortage. It lacks public permission to engage in anything beyond the barest minimum of force in the national interest. It is unclear, given that it has never been put to the test, whether its men and women are mentally and practically ready to fight and protect. – Financial Times


Denmark’s experience symbolizes how European governments are struggling to come up with ways to pay for a new era of higher costs. From Brussels to Berlin, administrations face additional demands for spending, including on defense, energy and the transition to clean fuels, as well as pressure from demographic changes that will drive up outlays on pensions and healthcare. Costly subsidies to compete with the U.S. in attracting clean-energy investments also loom. – Wall Street Journal

The head of France’s moderate CFDT union warned it will fight to the end against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64, a day after a second attempt to hold a referendum on the reform was rejected. – Bloomberg

A Belarusian activist who was arrested in 2021 after his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Belarus has been sentenced to eight years in prison, state media reported on Wednesday. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Poland may be replacing Germany as the indispensable NATO ally in Europe. The U.S. has some 10,000 service members in the country and could consider more as their presence has popular support. As a front-line NATO state, Poland deserves front-line treatment for weapons. – Wall Street Journal 


The two generals fighting for power in Sudan battled on Wednesday to seize more strategic positions controlling oil infrastructure, military factories and prominent landmarks ahead of the latest attempt at a cease-fire scheduled for the next day. – Washington Post

Just weeks ago, American diplomats thought Sudan was on the verge of a breakthrough agreement that would advance its transition from military dictatorship to full-fledged democracy, delivering on the soaring promise of the country’s revolution in 2019. – New York Times

A few weeks ago, Ahmed al-Hassan was a medical student in Sudan working on a campaign to help refugees from a neighboring country. Then, the forces of two rival generals went to battle in the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and he was forced to flee himself. – New York Times

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on Wednesday the temporary suspension of its food assistance to the Tigray region of Ethiopia. – Reuters

The United Nations pressed Sudan’s warring factions on Wednesday to guarantee safe passage of humanitarian aid after six trucks were looted and air strikes in the capital undermined a supposed truce. – Reuters

German troops have started to withdraw from Mali as Berlin aims to wind up by May next year a mission that has been hampered by disputes with the ruling military junta in Bamako and the arrival of Russian forces. – Reuters

Fierce fighting could be heard in central Khartoum on Thursday as the army tried to push back the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) from areas around the presidential palace and army headquarters, with a lasting ceasefire appearing elusive. – Reuters

Kenya’s opposition on Wednesday said they had suspended the latest anti-government protests planned for Thursday after reaching an agreement with the government of President William Ruto. – Reuters

A first round of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and rebels from the Oromiya region ended with no deal, both parties said on Wednesday, amid a conflict in which hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands displaced. – Reuters

Josh Rogin writes: Biden talks a big game about democracy, but his team has often taken a hands-off approach to countries struggling with democratic transitions. The president’s objective in the Middle East and North Africa has been described as “no more failed states.” In Sudan, that policy has failed. – Washington Post


Mexico’s president asked his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden to stop the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from funding groups hostile to his government, according to a letter presented to journalists on Wednesday, echoing previous Mexican criticism of U.S. interventionism. – Reuters

Canada’s spy agency withheld information about Chinese threats against a Canadian lawmaker and his family in 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, adding that he had told the agency that in the future such threats must be revealed immediately. – Reuters

A man suspected of killing five of his neighbors in Texas after they asked him to stop shooting his gun near their house hid out just miles away from the slayings while he and his domestic partner plotted his escape to Mexico, authorities said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Latin America

The Brazilian police raided the home of former President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday and seized his cellphone as part of a sweeping investigation into forged Covid-19 vaccination records that may have allowed him and his top aides to gain entry into the United States. – New York Times

Brazilian police on Wednesday raided former President Jair Bolsonaro’s home, arrested his trusted aides, and seized his cell phone as part of a probe into his COVID-19 vaccination records. – Reuters

Peru’s security forces committed alarming human rights violations during anti-government protests last December, a regional human rights body said on Wednesday, adding that the response to demonstrators could be classified as a massacre. – Reuters

Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Tuesday said he’s actively working to help Argentina overcome its financial crisis after meetings with its president, Alberto Fernandez, in Brasilia. – Bloomberg


Google and Meta would withdraw access to news articles in Canada if legislation compelling internet companies to pay news publishers is passed, company executives told Canadian lawmakers on Wednesday. – Reuters

Britain’s competition regulator launched an initial review of artificial intelligence models on Thursday, saying it will look into competition and consumer protection considerations in the development and use of the technology. – Reuters

A selection of stocks picked by artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT has delivered better performance than some of the UK’s leading investment funds, according to an experiment conducted by finder.com. – Financial Times


The head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command operates a fleet smaller than the Navy planned, due to delays in ship and submarine construction and maintenance. – Defense News

The Senate on Wednesday advanced a bill to strengthen U.S. security cooperation “with democratic partner nations” in Latin America and the Caribbean. – Defense News

Cost-of-living allowances for service members and their families stationed overseas will decrease starting this month, the Pentagon announced Tuesday, after the Department of Defense spent months repeatedly delaying the cuts. – Military.com

Long War

The United States and Turkey on Tuesday slapped sanctions on two al-Qaida-linked militants believed to have raised money for two militant groups operating in Syria, the U.S. Treasury said. – Associated Press

The United States carried out a strike on northwest Syria on Wednesday targeting an unnamed al-Qaeda leader, the Central Command said in a written statement. – Reuters

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) said on Wednesday that although the latest round of fighting was over, they will continue their “resistance” attacks against Israel. – Jerusalem Post