Fdd's overnight brief

October 3, 2023

In The News


A Saudi football club refused to participate in an Asian Champions League game in Iran on Monday, allegedly over the statue of a former Iranian military commander that was placed off the pitch. – Bloomberg

An extraordinary article at Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida has claimed that Iran is seeking to create a complex deal in Syria, so as to transfer weapons from Hezbollah to Syrian regime-backed Arab tribes, as well as to send arms to Moscow. – Jerusalem Post

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani on Monday rejected the US government’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program, the Xinhua news agency reported. – Arutz Sheva 

For the first time, a senior Iranian official has acknowledged Iran’s role in a series of bombings in Lebanon in the 1980s that claimed the lives of hundreds of Americans. – Algemeiner

The Biden administration’s now-suspended Iran envoy Robert Malley helped to fund, support, and direct an Iranian intelligence operation designed to influence the United States and allied governments, according to a trove of purloined Iranian government emails. – Tablet

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran’s playground of the western side of the Euphrates is a key strategic corridor for Tehran. Reports in Syrian media alleging Israeli airstrikes have not been reported in major Iranian media. Tehran appears to be downplaying the incidents. But this does not mean Iran is not focused on this region. The recent reports at al-Jarida on Monday illustrated that Iran is hoping to create a stratagem in Syria and any interruption of those plans and Iran’s entrenchment upsets Tehran’s plans. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The fact Riyadh was willing to walk away from the game is important symbolically because it shows that while Saudi Arabia and Iran have an interest in diplomacy, this new era still has its hurdles. If Iran thought it could get everything it wants from Riyadh and continue to exploit the situation, Tehran may find that Saudi Arabia will stand up for its interests at every juncture. This has important ramifications for Saudi Arabia’s policies in other places, including in Yemen, Lebanon and also regarding Israel and peace in the region. – Jerusalem Post


Russia & Ukraine

European leaders face a question they had hoped to avoid: If the U.S. steps back from leading Western support for Ukraine, could they fill the gap? – Wall Street Journal

As the squad of Ukrainian soldiers crept along the tree line toward the Russian bunker, artillery fire sent their enemies scrambling for cover. This was the chance they had been waiting for. – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine’s parliament and its speaker taunted billionaire Elon Musk on Monday after he posted a meme on his social media platform mocking President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s pleas for wartime assistance from the West. – Reuters

Drunk recruits. Insubordinate soldiers. Convicts. They’re among hundreds of military and civilian offenders who’ve been pressed into Russian penal units known as “Storm-Z” squads and sent to the frontlines in Ukraine this year, according to 13 people with knowledge of the matter, including five fighters in the units. – Reuters

A last-ditch weekend spending agreement avoided a U.S. government shutdown but left pro-Ukraine officials in Washington scrambling on Monday to determine the best path forward for securing approval for billions more assistance for Kyiv. – Reuters

A senior Ukrainian official called on Monday for a reassessment of Western anti-aircraft systems being supplied to Ukraine, saying simpler and cheaper weapons could be more cost-efficient in countering Russia’s Iranian-made Shahed drones. – Reuters

Ukraine fired cluster munitions at a Russian village near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday, damaging several houses, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region said. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a speech released on Sunday that nothing would weaken his country’s fight against Russia, a day after the U.S. Congress passed a stopgap funding bill that omitted aid to Ukraine. – Reuters

Ukraine’s eastern metropolis of Kharkiv will build the country’s first fully underground school to shield pupils from Russia’s frequent bomb and missile attacks, the city’s mayor said. – Reuters

Ukraine destroyed 29 of 31 drones launched by Russia and one cruise missile, its air force said on Tuesday, most of them targeting the regions of Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk. The waves of overnight attacks lasted more than three hours, the southern command of Ukraine’s forces had said earlier. – Reuters

Biden administration officials are far more worried about corruption in Ukraine than they publicly admit, a confidential U.S. strategy document obtained by POLITICO suggests. – Politico

The West’s united front on Ukraine is showing more cracks than ever — and Kyiv has little choice but to grin and bear it. – Politico

World War III has, apparently, been averted. Despite the high-decibel squawks emanating from the Kremlin, at London Prime Minister Sunak has backtracked on remarks made by his new defense minister, Grant Shapps, to the effect that British troops could carry out training missions in Ukraine. – New York Sun

A Russian pilot on vacation with his family in the United Arab Emirates, went to the U.S. Embassy because he did not want to take part in Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it has been reported. – Newsweek

Ben Wallace, a former British defense secretary, said the Russian army is “cracking” under Kyiv’s offensive amid “the beginnings” of the battle for Crimea, but he suggested Ukraine must ramp up mobilization to match Vladimir Putin’s draft. – Newsweek

Editorial: Efforts also need to be redoubled to enable Ukraine to become more economically self-reliant. War risk insurance to cover losses for domestic and foreign investors would help to create confidence to invest in urgent rebuilding projects and in boosting Ukraine’s defence production capacity. So would providing more air defence systems to cities beyond Kyiv — which could also potentially encourage more refugees to return from abroad. Supplying Ukraine with more anti-ship missiles would help it secure vital Black Sea export routes for its grain and steel. – Financial Times 

Paul Krugman writes: The answer is, unfortunately, obvious. Whatever Republican hard-liners may say, they want Putin to win. They view the Putin regime’s cruelty and repression as admirable features that America should emulate. They support a wannabe dictator at home and are sympathetic to actual dictators abroad. So pay no attention to all those complaints about how much we’re spending in Ukraine. They aren’t justified by the actual cost of aid, and the people claiming to be worried about the cost don’t really care about the money. What they are, basically, is enemies of democracy, both abroad and at home. – New York Times

Samuel Charap and Kaspar Pucek write: Regardless, a proper understanding of the threat Russia poses must begin with an accurate appraisal of Russian power. Putin might harbor fantasies of world conquest. But at the moment, his military cannot even fully conquer any of the four Ukrainian provinces he claims to have annexed last year. Ultimately, those are the constraints that should bound the debate about the extent of the threat. – Foreign Affairs


Across remote parts of the West Bank, the mountainous territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Palestinian herding communities are abandoning their homes at a rate that has no recorded precedent, according to the United Nations. Simultaneously, Israeli settlers are establishing wildcat herding outposts at close to record levels, often near Palestinian villages, according to land assessments by Kerem Navot, an independent Israeli watchdog that monitors settlement activity. – New York Times 

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh created a ministerial committee to promote the development of Area C declaring that region of the West Bank to be an “integral part of the State of Palestine.” – Jerusalem Post

Israel Air Force (IAF) Commander Maj.-Gen. Tomer Bar has unveiled plans to conduct a comprehensive assessment of pilot readiness, raising concerns among pilots who have recently halted their voluntary service as part of the protests against legal reforms, according to Israeli media. – Jerusalem Post

Air raid sirens sounded Tuesday morning in southern Israel, following a rocket launch by Gaza terrorists. In a statement, the IDF confirmed the launch, saying, “A short while ago, an alert was activated in the Home Front Command App in an open area north of the Gaza Strip due to launches carried out from the Gaza Strip toward the [Mediterranean] Sea.” – Arutz Sheva

Elie Podeh writes: “We are on the cusp of a breakthrough – a historic agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu declared at the UN. For once, this is neither a Netanyahu spin nor fiction, but successful completion of this process requires political daring and wisdom, which are unfortunately rare commodities in Israeli politics. – Jerusalem Post

David Singer writes: Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu have given their clearest indication to date that current talks between them to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel could include their reaching agreement on the terms to successfully implement the Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine solution (HKOPS). […] Importantly – the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia would not be contingent on HKOPS or any other agreed Israel-Saudi position first being implemented. – Arutz Sheva 


The Biden administration’s focus on projecting stability in Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s lightning takeover harmed efforts by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to prepare for and carry out evacuation operations in August 2021, according to an information brief provided by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). – The Hill

Members of the Biden administration, aiming to wash their hands of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, are attempting to portray the Taliban as a terror-fighting group. – New York Sun

Amira Jadoon, Andrew Mines, and Aaron Y. Zelin write: Notably, Tajik nationals have been involved in many of ISKP’s external attacks and other operations in Germany, Iran, and Turkey. This situation is similar to the jihadist movement in Tunisia prior to that country’s 2011 revolution—a movement that involved very little local activity but major mobilization to jihadist warzones in the Middle East and logistical cells in Europe. This should serve as a warning to Tajikistan, especially if its political circumstances change in the future. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday rejected financial support announced by the European Union in September, saying the amount is small and goes against a deal signed three months ago. – Reuters

Two soldiers were injured following an Israeli air attack on Syrian armed forces posts in the vicinity of Syria’s eastern Deir al Zor province on Monday, Syrian state media said early on Tuesday, citing a military source. – Reuters

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi confirmed on Monday that he will stand for a third term in office in an election in December, as opposition parties complained that people trying to register support for other candidates had faced obstacles. – Reuters

Turkey will restart operations this week on a crude oil pipeline from Iraq that has been suspended for about six months, Turkey’s Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar said on Monday. – Reuters 

The Emirati president-designate of the upcoming United Nations COP28 climate talks urged oil and gas companies Monday to be “central to the solution” for climate change, a message delivered even as the industry boosts its production to enjoy rising global energy prices. – Associated Press

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah condemned efforts by Saudi Arabia and other nations to normalize relations with Israel, calling such moves “an attack on al-Aqsa and an abandonment of Palestine” in a speech on Monday night. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia is unlikely to normalize relations with Israel in any grand gesture, but rather take steps toward peace via a series of interim measures if a bilateral agreement between Washington and Riyadh emerges, professor Joshua Teitelbaum, a leading Israeli historian and expert on the modern Middle East specializing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, said in an interview with Jewish Insider last week. – Jewish Insider

Majeed Gly and David Harris write: Protecting Iraq’s Kurds has long been a goal of the U.S. and our allies. The very notion of an autonomous zone was a consequence of the West’s efforts to protect the Kurdish region from Baghdad’s pursuit of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the early 1990s. That policy led to United Nations Security Council Resolution 688, which helped establish a no-fly zone to protect Kurds from aggression by Iraq’s central government. Today, they require similar protection from Tehran’s allies in Baghdad. Washington has made its share of costly errors in the region, creating more space for dangerous adversaries to wreak havoc and thereby undermine core American interests. Jeopardizing the security and independence of Iraq’s Kurds shouldn’t be added to the list. – Washington Post


Chinese — from young people to entrepreneurs — are voting with their feet to escape political oppression, bleak economic prospects and often grueling work cultures. Increasingly, the exodus includes tech professionals and other well-educated middle-class Chinese. – New York Times

The Chinese military released an animated short film on National Day showing pieces of a scroll painting torn in two more than 300 years ago being reunited, in a show of the mainland’s determination to bring self-ruled Taiwan into the fold. – Reuters

China, which aims to become a major space power by 2030, has opened up a key lunar mission to international cooperation as mission deadlines loom for setting up a permanent habitat on the south pole of the moon. – Reuters

A group of U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, plans to visit China next week and hopes to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a spokesperson for Republican Senator Mike Crapo confirmed on Monday. – Reuters

China hopes the United States will “do more things” conducive to Sino-U.S. dialogue, the foreign ministry said on Monday, days after Washington angered Beijing with accusations of information manipulation. – Reuters

The head of the IMF has backed reforms that could eventually give Beijing more voting power within the fund, warning of “devastation” if the institution remains without adequate financial resources to aid struggling countries. – Financial Times

The mystery surrounding the dismissal of Qin Gang, China’s former foreign minister, has only grown murkier as new details emerged about an alleged extramarital affair with state media journalist Fu Xiaotian. – Newsweek

China’s state media on Monday published interviews with anti-war American commentators who predicted declining public support for Ukraine as the U.S. Congress heaved a sigh of relief following a last-minute spending compromise to avoid a government shutdown. – Newsweek

Andrew Weaver writes: If history is any guide, Chinese intelligence will likely conduct espionage under the auspices of the GCI. Additionally, GCI illuminates the future direction of the party’s influence operations deployed in the name of “intercivilizational collaboration.” Described by scholars as “authoritarian learning,” this emboldening of autocratic elites in developing countries is likely to increase now that it has been enshrined as a core tenet of one of Xi’s global initiatives. – The National interest

South Asia

For nearly a decade, Pakistan had seemingly broken the cycle of such deadly attacks. In 2014, the country’s security forces carried out a large-scale military operation in the tribal areas near Afghanistan, forcing militants across the border and returning a relative peace to the restive frontier region. […]This year, the pace of attacks have continued to rise. The attacks themselves have also become bolder, reviving the fears of a terrorism-scared nation. – New York Times 

India has told Canada to withdraw dozens of diplomats from the country, in an escalation of the crisis that erupted when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said New Delhi may have been linked to the murder of a Canadian Sikh. – Financial Times

Gideon Rachman writes: The fawning tone adopted by many western governments, when dealing with Modi, might have given New Delhi the impression it can get away with anything. […]There is no doubt that the US and its allies badly want to get along with India. But if Canada provides convincing evidence of an Indian role in the Nijjar killing, then there will be legal and diplomatic processes unleashed that cannot simply be wished away. The “rules-based order” may turn out to have some meaning, after all. – Financial Times


The last bus carrying ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh left the region Monday, completing a grueling weeklong exodus of over 100,000 people — more than 80% of its residents — after Azerbaijan reclaimed the area in a lightning military operation. – Associated Press

Armenia urged the European Union on Monday to sanction Azerbaijan for its military operation in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and warned that Baku could soon attack Armenia itself unless the West takes firm action. – Reuters

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday inaugurated a $7.3 billion high-speed railway connecting the country’s capital with the city of Bandung, a China-backed project that has been marred with problems. – Reuters

Taiwan prosecutors said on Monday they are investigating accusations that people tried to interfere in the island’s submarine program and that details about it were leaked, in what would be a serious breach of security. – Reuters

President Ferdinand Marcos has suffered a “significant” drop in his approval rating as soaring consumer prices in the Philippines undermines his support, a polling organisation said on Monday. – Reuters

Forces from Manila, Britain, Canada, Japan and the United States kicked off on Monday two weeks of joint naval exercises in Philippine waters as a “show of force”, amid flaring regional tension. – Reuters

A court in Cambodia on Monday barred three environmental activists who are serving suspended prison sentences for their advocacy work from traveling to Sweden next month to receive the prestigious Right Livelihood Award. – Associated Press

Early voting began on Monday in New Zealand for the nation’s Oct. 14 general election, with conservative contender Christopher Luxon casting his ballot. – Associated Press

Alexander Gabuev writes: One thing is clear: Russia’s role as a provider of security in its near-abroad has been severely diminished as a result of its disastrous war against Ukraine. The destabilising effects will continue to be felt across the vast Eurasian landmass. – Financial Times

Iulia Sabina-Joja writes: Sometimes, regional conflicts have global importance. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is one such case. If we want to push back against Iranian and Russian influence, opportunity is knocking at the door. – The Hill


The Serbian army has cut the number of troops stationed on the border with Kosovo by nearly half, top Serbian military officials said on Monday, denying U.S. and other reports of a mass military buildup in the wake of a shooting over a week ago that killed four people and raised fears of instability in the volatile region. – Associated Press

Serbia’s troop deployment on Kosovo’s border recalls Russia’s behaviour towards Ukraine before its invasion, the Kosovar foreign minister said, urging the European Union to take action against Belgrade such as freezing its candidacy status. – Reuters

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Monday that Washington’s reports last week warning of a big build-up of Serbian troops on the Kosovo border “were not fully accurate.” – CNN 

A party headed by a pro-Kremlin figure came out top after securing more votes than expected in an election in Slovakia, official results show, in what could pose a challenge to NATO and EU unity on Ukraine. – CNN

Latvia said Russia may try to persuade some nearby countries to detain current and former officials visiting from states that supported punishing Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg


A former Nigerian oil minister appeared in court in London on Monday charged with receiving bribes in the form of cash, luxury goods, flights on private jets and the use of high-end properties in Britain in return for awarding oil contracts. – Reuters

Niger has accepted an Algerian offer to mediate in its political crisis, Algeria’s foreign ministry said on Monday, five weeks after the North African country proposed a six-month transition process led by a civilian. – Reuters

A Congolese colonel has been found guilty of murder and other crimes related to the August killing of 56 people during an army crackdown on anti-U.N. demonstrations in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local court said on Monday. – Reuters

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, renowned for helping rape victims, said on Monday that he would run for president in December. – Reuters

Fifty one men and eight women were elected to Eswatini’s parliament in last week’s election, with a strong showing for pro-royalist candidates in results expected to make little difference to the politics of Africa’s last absolute monarchy. – Reuters

Nigeria’s leader increased the wages of some government workers in last-minute efforts to appease labor unions whose planned strike this week could shut down government offices in all sectors of Africa’s largest economy. – Associated Press

Tuareg rebels in Mali said Monday they captured another military base from the army in the country’s north as fighting intensifies. Attaye Ag Mohamed, spokesman for the Azawad armed movement, told The Associated Press that the rebels seized the military base in the city of Bamba between Timbuktu and Gao on Sunday, as part of a broader strategy to weaken the Malian army. – Associated Press

The Americas

The U.N. Security Council on Monday authorized the deployment of a Kenya-led multinational security mission to Haiti to help police beat back the armed gangs that have taken control of large swaths of the crisis-wracked Caribbean nation. – Washington Post

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday panned U.S. military aid to Ukraine, suggesting it was “irrational,” and stepped up criticism of the war effort as he urged Washington to devote more resources to helping Latin American countries. – Reuters

The US has expressed concern to Peru that China is gaining control over critical parts of the South American nation’s infrastructure, including electricity supply to the capital Lima and a new megaport on the Pacific coast. – Financial Times


The Biden administration warned Beijing of its plans to update rules that curb shipments of AI chips and chipmaking tools to China as soon as early October, a U.S. official said, a policy decision aimed at stabilizing relations between the superpowers. – Reuters

Several Taiwanese technology companies are helping Huawei Technologies Co. build infrastructure for an under-the-radar network of chip plants across southern China, an unusual collaboration that risks inflaming sentiment on a democratic island grappling with Beijing’s growing belligerence. – Bloomberg

The sophisticated chip found in the Chinese company Huawei’s new phone has provoked much hand-wringing in Washington over a central concern: US sanctions may not just be insufficient; they may be backfiring. – Bloomberg

One of the EU’s most senior officials has warned against being “paranoid” or too restrictive when regulating generative artificial intelligence because fear of the technology would stifle innovation. – Financial Times


The Pentagon has more than $5 billion remaining in its coffers to provide weaponry and other security assistance to Ukraine even after Congress declined to include more funding for the war in a weekend bill to keep the government open, Pentagon officials said. – Wall Street Journal

The stalwart E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System plane flew its last operational mission Sept. 21, capping a three-decade career as a military “eye in the sky” in conflicts from Operation Desert Storm to the war in Ukraine. – Defense News

The British Government has committed nearly £4 billion, or $4.9 billion, to the next phase in the development of nuclear-powered submarines as part of the tri-national AUKUS program with Australia and the United States. – Defense News