Fdd's overnight brief

November 2, 2022

In The News


Saudi Arabia has shared intelligence with the U.S. warning of an imminent attack from Iran on targets in the kingdom, putting the American military and others in the Middle East on an elevated alert level, said Saudi and U.S. officials – Wall Street Journal

Across Iran, schoolgirls have defiantly taken off their headscarves, stomped on pictures of the supreme leader and chanted for freedom, producing some of the most iconic images from the country’s anti-government uprising. Now, the state is coming for them. – Washington Post 

The United States is concerned about threats from Iran against Saudi Arabia and will not hesitate to respond if necessary, a White House spokesperson said on Tuesday. – Reuters

On October 29, 2022, Adl Network, the official media outlet of Jaish Al-Adl (“Army of Justice”), issued a statement condemning the “crimes,” committed by the Iranian regime during the ongoing protests. The statement called on security personnel to abandon the regime and on protesters to stay united. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Nuclear negotiations with Iran have been inactive for months, and it is not currently a U.S. priority to push them forward, Rob Malley, the U.S. special representative for Iran and lead U.S. negotiator for the nuclear talks, said on Monday. – Jewish Insider

Iran has for the past six weeks been rocked by protests of a scale and nature unprecedented since the 1979 Islamic revolution, sparked by the death in September of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the Tehran morality police. – Agence France-Presse 

​​Iran’s currency dropped to its lowest value against the dollar on Tuesday, after weeks of nationwide unrest roiling the country. A stalemate in negotiations to revive Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers has also weighed heavily on the rial. – Associated Press

Iranian authorities said Tuesday they had released eight journalists detained amid protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last month. – Agence France-Presse 

Jason Rezaian writes: As for the short run, Hamedi and Mohammadi need international attention and support right now. They have been in solitary confinement for over a month and are facing the full weight of Iran’s state just for daring to report on a tragic abuse of power by authorities and its aftermath. Standing up for them, for the other persecuted journalists and for, as ever, all the people still protesting means standing up for a strong civil society in Iran — one that has the potential to outlast the regime. – Washington Post 

Allan Hassaniyan writes: Although the death of Jina “Mahsa” Amini on September 16 initially sparked a sense of solidarity among the Iranian people against the regime, the IRI has only ramped up its disinformation and fake news strategies in response, directly challenging the public’s solidarity. If the regime continues to successfully label the uprisings as a separatist revolt, preying on the already-fragile tensions between Persian and non-Persian communities while suppressing any real information in public discourse, the unprecedented unity observed during this wave of protests will be put to the ultimate test. In the days and weeks ahead, the Iranian people must prove that their unity is enduring, not temporary. – Washington Institute

Kian Tajbakhsh writes: Even as this new wave of dissenters faces detention in prisons like Evin, it has achieved something of lasting value: a new language of civic courage and individual dignity. Many protesters today put themselves at physical risk from the regime’s reprisals in ways far beyond anything I experienced. I do not know if the society that they and I dream of can come into being. But I do know that only with this language of liberty can the democratic citizenship on which a better society depends be built. – The Atlantic

Russia & Ukraine

Senior Russian military leaders recently had conversations to discuss when and how Moscow might use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, contributing to heightened concern in Washington and allied capitals, according to multiple senior American officials. – New York Times 

When Russian armored columns drove into this rural community of 20,000 people on the first day of the invasion, Mayor Valeriy Prykhodko tried to count the tanks, artillery pieces and fighting vehicles that rolled past his windows. – Wall Street Journal

As Russia punctuates its mounting losses in Ukraine with threats about nuclear weapons and “dirty bombs,” Western leaders are being forced to grapple with whether Moscow might be planning a dramatic escalation on the battlefield — a development that would leave the United States and NATO with a limited set of options to respond. – Washington Post 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that Russia is targeting critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine to reduce the country’s military capacity — rebuffing accusations that Moscow is committing war crimes by trying to leave people without power or heat during winter.- Washington Post

U.S. monitors have conducted in-person inspections for only about 10 percent of the 22,000 U.S.-provided weapons sent to Ukraine that require special oversight. – Washington Post 

Russia moved on Tuesday to expel Ukrainian civilians from their homes in a broader swath of occupied Kherson, as signs grew that a major battle for control of the region was nearing. – New York Times 

Three more ships carrying grain departed from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Tuesday, a day after President Vladimir V. Putin signaled that Russia would no longer ensure the safety of the cargo vessels, a message that underscored the perils facing a watershed agreement meant to help alleviate the global food crisis. – New York Times 

Russia reinforced its fighting force Tuesday with an annual fall draft of 120,000 men, and doubled the number of civilians it’s trying to evacuate in anticipation of a major Ukrainian push to recapture the strategically vital southern port city of Kherson. – Associated Press 

​​Russia has deployed some of its feared hypersonic ballistic missiles to Belarus, according to U.K. intelligence. – Washington Examiner

Iran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles and more attack drones, to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine, officials from a western country that closely monitors Iran’s weapons program told CNN. – CNN

Turkey’s president Tuesday told his Russian counterpart he was “confident” the issue of grain exports from Ukraine could be resolved, in a phone call after Moscow exited the landmark deal. – Agence France-Presse 

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a vote Wednesday on a resolution that would establish a commission to investigate unfounded Russian claims that Ukraine and the United States are carrying out “military biologcal” activities that violate the convention prohibiting the use of biological weapons. – Associated Press 

Intelligence reports in particular mention the expected delivery more than 200 Shahed-136 and Arash-2 kamikaze drones, and Mohajer-6 reconnaissance and combat UAVs. – Yahoo News 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine stated that after Russian missile attacks on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, President Putin’s invitation to the G20 Summit must be withdrawn, and Russia itself must be expelled from the G20. – Yahoo News 

Putin claimed that Moscow had reached some agreement with the Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul, Turkey, and then “the results of these negotiations were thrown into the bin.” – Yahoo News 

Russian troops are reportedly intimidating Ukrainian civilians into evacuating by threatening to blow up a hydroelectric dam on the Dnipro River, Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday. – Newsweek 

Atop Ukrainian military official cast doubt on a future attack from Belarus this winter, saying the country is unlikely to get involved in the war unless its Russian allies can demonstrate the manpower strength necessary to launch a renewed offensive push on Ukrainian soil. – Newsweek 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky conveyed his frustration and exasperation with Israel’s perceived neutrality in Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine and suggested a possible change in stance may be in the offing after Jerusalem finally agreed to supply the country with advanced communications systems, in an Israeli TV interview. – Times of Israel 

Iranian ballistic missiles would mean disaster for Ukraine, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force said on Tuesday. – Newsweek 

President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call on Tuesday that Russia could consider resuming a deal allowing grain exports from Ukrainian seaports only after completion of an investigation of drone attacks on the Crimean naval port of Sevastopol. – Reuters

Charles A. Kupchan writes: The mounting risks that the West faces in Ukraine necessitate that the United States and its NATO partners get more involved in managing the war and in setting the table for an endgame. From Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq, the United States has gotten in over its head, taking on strategic commitments not warranted by the interests at stake. Helping Ukraine defend itself is worth a quite significant effort, but not one that leads to World War III or fractures Western democracy. – New York Times 

Bret Stephens writes: All of these options — and I could add others, including providing Ukraine with better armor and longer-range rockets that can reach Russian military targets in Crimea — carry risks. And the administration is right to think hard about just which risks are worth taking and which ones the American public will support. Right now, however, the biggest risk is that Putin uses the same appalling strategy that worked for him in Syria, blanketing Ukraine in terror as it is blanketed in snow. Winter is coming. Let’s help Ukraine prevail before it arrives. – New York Times 

Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet write: Putin’s “Mother Russia” of all jihads will not work. Chinese President Xi Jinping isn’t interested in a Mussolini-type sideshow. Nor is NATO intimidated. Ukraine is on the offensive — and rarely do countries sign on to a losing cause. Even an attack from Belarus on Kyiv to start the jihad wouldn’t change the ultimate outcome. Putin is likely finished in Ukraine and in Moscow — as is Putinism. Russia just isn’t willing to admit it yet or see it through. Putin’s call for jihad will soon devolve into Putin’s final lament. – The Hill

Daniel Treisman writes: Amid a general draining of confidence in Putin, a coup or revolution might not even be necessary to dislodge him. He might come to see his own safest option as fielding a more presentable candidate in the 2024 presidential election—or even sharing power before then. Of course, such a maneuver might not save the current team. The extent of ballot-stuffing required to elect a Kremlin favorite might be too great for a mobilized public to swallow. And the operation could be undermined by competition among the regime’s factions. If none proved strong enough to direct the outcome, the electoral contest might end up—if not fair—at least quite unpredictable. – Foreign Affairs


Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding on to an edge over his rivals in exit polls for Israel’s fifth election in four years, but the projections showed his lead as marginal and the outcome could change as more votes are tallied. – Wall Street Journal

Exit polls released Tuesday night showed two of three Arab parties winning enough votes to make it into the Knesset, and a third just below the threshold, as some lawmakers and voters vowed to oppose the far-right after the election and others were unnerved by its strong showing. – Times of Israel 

Editorial: To prevent another election, our politicians will likely need to be creative in the way they form the next government. There might be one or two clear options or other possibilities that are not yet evident. That is, for example, how the last government came into being. […]They took the initiative and tried to move the country out of the political quagmire and toward a better future. This is what Israel needs now – politicians who care for the country, who want to keep it moving forward, and who understand this moment we are now facing in our national history. – Jerusalem Post 

Dahlia Scheindlin writes: But the right wing’s biggest focus is the land itself. The Religious Zionism legal plan openly states what many right-wingers want: The party would seek to re-legislate a law the court struck down in 2020, retroactively legitimizing settlements in the West Bank. In other words: judicial reform serves de facto annexation. Whatever happens on Tuesday, Israel’s attacks on the judiciary deepen the country’s historical skepticism toward equality, human rights and democracy itself, raising doubts about whether those values have a future here. – New York Times 

Bian E. Frydenborg writes: Israelis, Palestinians and their leaderships would do well to keep this in mind and adjust their long-term support for unacceptable policies and not use the other’s to justify theirs. Especially as both sides often complain that they do not have more international support, some soul-searching for some self-awareness could help them realize that their own Russia-like crimes are a big part of the reason why. – Jerusalem Post


Already mired in political and economic crises, Lebanon is now also without a president after Michael Aoun’s mandate expired without a successor. – Agence France-Presse 

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati told Reuters by phone on Wednesday that U.S. guarantees would protect a maritime border deal with Israel should Israel’s conservative former premier Benjamin Netanyahu win a majority in elections. – Reuters

Yochai Guisky writes: If the current standoff with Iran persists or worsens, the prospects for stability in Lebanon are also likely to be dashed. The risk of Hezbollah targeting Israeli rigs would, in this scenario, increase, making a symmetrical response by Israel impossible because it would need to attack the Lebanese rig—an asset of a European company Meanwhile, Israel’s concessions to Lebanon would remain binding. – The National Interest

Saudi Arabia

The United Arab Emirates sent its national security adviser to Riyadh in September on a secret mission to dissuade Saudi Arabia’s crown prince from pushing an oil-production cut that would anger the U.S. and risk painting oil producers as Russian allies, people familiar with the trip said. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia has unveiled its first integrated economic zone as it seeks to position itself as the region’s leading logistics hub and attract foreign investment, officials said. – Financial Times 

Karen Elliott House writes: The kingdom can’t possibly believe that closer relations with China and Russia will guarantee its security. And the U.S. can’t seriously think green energy is ready to replace oil. The Bible and the Quran both extol the virtue of silence. Joe Biden and Mohammed bin Salman would both be wise to go quiet for a while. – Wall Street Journal

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said Tuesday that he hopes to continue hosting talks in Iraq between regional arch-enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran during his tenure. – Associated Press 

Emil Avdaliani writes: That by no means makes Vladimir Putin happy about the rising Turkish influence. But it means that competition is now rather sotto voce even as the stakes increase. Iran’s wargames are not mere posturing; it’s establishing that it has key interests at stake in the future of the region. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Michael Rubin writes: The Biden administration’s approach to Saudi Arabia reflects the same strategic impatience. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman implements reforms demanded for decades, yet Biden responds with opprobrium to Mohammed’s failure to transform instantly Saudi Arabia from an absolute monarchy into a liberal oasis. […]America is at its best politically, strategically, and socially when neither politicians nor the public cut corners, expect instant gratification, or believe they can bypass dissent with sleight-of-hand or procedural shortcuts. – Washington Examiner

John Bolton writes: The White House is utterly tone deaf, at precisely the moment when domestic opposition to the ayatollahs has reached levels unseen since they seized power in 1979, to pressure not Iran but Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and other Arabs can quietly and effectively assist Iran’s resistance, especially the Arab and Sunni ethnic and religious minorities, and provide safe-havens outside Iran for the resistance to organize, plan and grow into a real counter-revolutionary force. If the ayatollahs fell, their successors would not likely sell drones to Russia. […]Post-election, Biden should stop blaming Saudi Arabia and look in the mirror. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired more than 10 missiles off its eastern and western coasts on Wednesday, Seoul’s military said, with one missile triggering an air-raid warning for residents on Ulleung Island, off the east coast of South Korea. – Wall Street Journal

A North Korean ballistic missile landed less than 60 kilometres off South Korea’s coast on Wednesday, the first time an apparent test had landed near the South’s waters, prompting South Korea to issue rare air raid warnings and launch missiles in protest. – Reuters

North Korea issued a veiled threat Tuesday to use nuclear weapons to get the U.S. and South Korea to “pay the most horrible price in history,” an escalation of its fiery rhetoric targeting the ongoing large-scale military drills between its rivals. – Associated Press 

According to the newly released National Defense Strategy (NDS) and Nuclear Posture Review, any nuclear attack by North Korea against the U.S. or its allies would result in the “end” of the North Korean regime. – The National Interest

The United States on Wednesday condemned North Korea’s latest launch of a ballistic missile, which landed less than 60 kilometres off South Korea’s coast, the first time an apparent test had landed near the South’s waters, a State Department spokesperson said. – Reuters


China should “resolutely deal with” and “rectify” whatever is needed to resolve any long-term stability issues in Hong Kong and Macau, a senior official said, according to a 20th Communist Party Congress party supplementary document reading published in October. – Reuters

Despite the lesson of the Cuban missile crisis 60 years ago, China has shown no interest in discussing steps to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons, senior U.S. officials said on Tuesday, after Chinese leader Xi Jinping signaled last month that Beijing would strengthen its strategic deterrent. – Reuters

This summer, as China fired missiles into the sea off Taiwan to protest House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island, a much different kind of geopolitical standoff was taking shape in another corner of the Pacific Ocean. – Associated Press 

Editorial: The U.S. must put pressure on all the nations listed in the Safeguard Defenders report to investigate these extraterritorial Chinese police stations. It should put extra pressure on Germany to turn away from becoming dependent on Beijing before it is too late. – Washington Examiner

Larry Wortzel writes: Xi will focus on building the PLA into what he has termed a “world-class” military, one that can maintain a threatening posture against both Taiwan and the U.S. Beijing sees the retaking of Taiwan not as a question of “if,” but of “when.” And China’s leader now has more tools than ever before to make this vision a reality. – Newsweek


A blast hit a bus carrying Taliban administration employees in the Afghan capital on Wednesday morning, police said, injuring seven people. – Reuters

The U.S. Navy’s Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group conducted a joint, integrated operation with Japanese and Canadian allies in the Western Pacific. The exercises are designed to support a free and open Pacific region. – The National Interest

Marti Flacks and Barbara Smith write: Government and business leaders in both the United States and India should view democracy and trade not as two separate domains but as intertwined systems that mutually enhance one another. The United States cannot overlook democratic backsliding in the hopes of maintaining robust economic ties. Developments in Indian democracy will necessarily impact both U.S. and Indian trade and business concerns, and leaders from both countries have a vested interest in encouraging and preserving sustainable participatory democracy for all. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Vali Kaleji writes: Therefore, if the nuclear negotiations fail and the scope of U.S. sanctions on Iran continues or further tightens, the Indian lobby may again prove critical for leaving the door open to continued Uzbekistani-Iranian cooperation on Chabahar — so long as the United Nations Security Council does not reinstate its strict Chapter 7 sanctions against Iran. So while Tehran and Tashkent share a number of incentives to intensify their ties, particularly in the fields of energy and transportation, their bilateral relationship remains exposed to Iran’s relations with the great powers. – Middle East Institute 

Michael Rubin writes: Simply put, if the Quad is going to move forward, both as a strategic dialogue and perhaps more, it is time that not only the United States but also Australia and Japan side unequivocally with India. This means, in practice, jointly recognizing that Aksai Chin is occupied Indian territory, as much a part of Ladakh as Kargil and Leh. Not only should the maps of all Quad members reflect this, but also their policies. The days in which a man like Kissinger can treat the world’s largest democracy as a junior partner should be over. – The National Interest


A video showing Serbian troops reportedly being deployed to the Kosovo border has emerged online, as tensions grow between the two countries over new restrictions imposed on the Serbian population by Kosovo’s government. – Newsweek 

Andreas Kluth writes: What Scholz should spell out instead is that Putin’s war against Ukraine today is — to Japan or South Korea — what Xi’s attack on Taiwan may one day be to Germany or France. That is, they are conflicts that may appear distant and yet directly touch the national interests of any “Western” or democratic nation. That’s true whether the definition of interests is economic, political or strategic. – Bloomberg

Elisabeth Braw writes: Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany pioneered such a strategy in 2018, when state-owned KfW bank bought a 20 percent stake in energy network operator 50Hertz to prevent a Chinese acquisition of it. Scholz is clearly not intent on following his fellow Hamburger’s strategy. But other Western leaders would do well to learn from Schmidt. What’s the harm in calling up a few corporate titans and asking them to, as a one-off, do a good deed for their country? – Foreign Policy

The Americas

The leaders of Colombia and Venezuela met Tuesday for the first time in six years, the latest sign of how new leftist governments in Latin America are breaking from a U.S.-led campaign that unsuccessfully sought to oust Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro. –  Wall Street Journal

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday broke two days of silence after his election loss to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with an ambiguous pledge to follow the constitution without acknowledging the victor or conceding defeat as his supporters staged protests across the country aimed at bringing Latin America’s largest nation to a halt. – Washington Post 

Eighteen former Latin American and Caribbean leaders have signed a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden asking the United States to remove its six-decade embargo on Cuba in the wake of devastation inflicted by Hurricane Ian. – Associated Press 

The United States and Ecuador have agreed to establish a fair trade working group and explore potential negotiations on labor, environment, and digital trade, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s office said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of exception in two provinces Tuesday, after at least five police officers were killed and prison guards taken hostage in the latest wave of attacks in the deadly gang war consuming the country. – Agence France-Presse

United States

Editorial: No party is safe from fanatics and lunatics, a sad fact underscored by the 2017 shooting of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and others at a congressional baseball practice and the aborted attempt to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Elected officials — local, state and federal — say threats against them are increasing. Republican leaders should speak out against violence — and against those who make light of it — or there might well be more of it. – Washington Post 

Joseph Bosco writes: Given the scope of the challenge and the limits on available resources, America’s “network of alliances and partnerships” had better be prepared to step up and do their share. Nothing less than the fate of Western civilization is at stake. – The Hill

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: It will also be interesting to see if any of the various references to improving the Future Year Defense Plan (FYDP) effort, the equivalent of planning, programming, and budgeting, and real-world integration of the military services and other elements of the Department of Defense are actually implemented in the next U.S. defense budget or during the fiscal years through 2026. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


U.S. financial institutions observed nearly $1.2 billion in costs associated with ransomware attacks in 2021, a nearly 200 percent increase over the previous year, according to data reported by banks to the U.S. Treasury Department and released in a report Tuesday. – CyberScoop

Military officials in Ecuador denied reports that a ransomware group launched an attack on their systems and stole confidential data. – The Record

Jen Easterly, the head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said her agency is concerned about the rise of disinformation campaigns originating from Russia, China and Iran ahead of the November midterms. – The Hill


​​The head of the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs office is confident the service can field hypersonic weapons on a Zumwalt-class destroyer in 2025 and on a Virginia-class submarine in 2029 despite the significant workload that remains. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force today began a phased withdrawal of all F-15C and D models from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Tuesday. – Defense One

Five of the Navy’s oldest submarines are candidates for a three-year life extension, service officials said on Tuesday. – USNI News

Ryan Fishel writes: Breathing new life into the F-117A would fill a critical capability gap in the Air Force’s adversary force while technology such as unmanned adversary air matures. This would ultimately increase capacity and capability in the operational fleet as well as increase readiness. – War on the Rocks

Long War

An American woman who converted to Islam and joined the Islamic State in Syria, leading an all-female military battalion, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a US court Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse 

The United States on Tuesday issued sanctions targeting Islamic State in Somalia, designating members of the group and others it accused of being involved in a “terrorist weapons trafficking network” in Eastern Africa. – Reuters

A British counter-terrorism unit has taken over an investigation into the firebombing of a migrant processing centre, police said on Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse