Fdd's overnight brief

October 6, 2023

In The News


Iranian opposition groups are demanding that the government release more information about a teenage girl’s collapse in a Tehran subway, as suspicion grows she was attacked for not covering her hair—a year after nationwide protests over a young woman fatally attacked over alleged dress-code violations. – Wall Street Journal

Narges Mohammadi, a jailed Iranian women’s rights advocate, won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. One of Iran’s leading human rights activists, Mohammadi has campaigned for women’s rights and the abolition of the death penalty. Hailing Mohammadi as a “freedom fighter”, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee started her speech by saying, in Farsi, the words for “woman, life, freedom” – one of the slogans of the peaceful protests against the Iranian government. – Reuters

An Iranian rights group said that security forces on Thursday arrested the mother of a teenage girl who was in a coma in hospital following a confrontation with agents in the Tehran metro for not wearing the hijab. – Reuters

Iran lashed out Thursday at “biased remarks” from Western countries after allegations that a teenage girl was critically wounded in a confrontation with security agents on Tehran’s subway. – Agence France-Presse

James Stavridis writes: As always, however, there must be a balance between idealism and realism in American foreign policy. While we need to criticize and pressure states on democratic ideals, we must also think strategically — the idea that the US could abandon the Middle East and fully “pivot” to China was always doomed. Given that reality, the fact that Arab and Israeli partners finally seem ready and willing to explore the idea of more formal ties and mutual recognition needs to be seen as a fantastic opportunity for the US. – Bloomberg

Ben Dubow writes: However, while Iran has become a world leader in quashing protests, it still falls behind other authoritarian regimes when it comes to preventing protests from erupting in the first place. Even the most credulous regime supporter must soon realize that these supposedly foreign conspiracies involve close to a majority of Iranians. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Russia & Ukraine

President Vladimir V. Putin claimed on Thursday that Russia had successfully tested the Burevestnik, an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile, and had almost completed work on a new type of nuclear-capable ballistic missile. – New York Times

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a plea to European leaders for more aid as Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile strike killed dozens of civilians and concerns mount over future U.S. support for his beleaguered country. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said fragments of hand grenades were found in the victims of a plane crash that killed the Wagner Group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and suggested that the flight was brought down by an explosion from within. – Wall Street Journal

Russia on Friday indicated it was moving swiftly towards revoking ratification for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty after President Vladimir Putin held out the possibility of resuming nuclear testing. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: Ukraine won’t sue for peace. As many people have told me this week, it’s too personal. As a superpower, the United States can try to steer this conflict toward a settlement that protects Ukraine and doesn’t reward Russian aggression. But don’t ask Ukrainians to give up their cause. They won’t do it. – Washington Post

Marc A. Thiessen writes: But ultimately, the border security problem is not on Capitol Hill; it’s in the White House. Even if Congress approves more money for the border, it won’t make a difference if Biden won’t enforce the law. He has the resources and authorities he needs right now. He is simply refusing to use them. And as long as he does so, the border will continue to spin out of control — and Ukraine will pay the price. If Biden truly cares about helping Ukraine, the best thing he can do to help Kyiv is to secure our southern border. – Washington Post


Two Palestinian gunmen were killed and five Israeli soldiers were wounded in occupied West Bank clashes on Thursday and Israeli troops killed the suspect in a later shooting attack on Israeli motorists. – Reuters

A 19-year-old Palestinian was killed on Friday, Palestinian authorities said, in violence with Israeli settlers who converged on the occupied West Bank town of Huwara after an Israeli family was fired upon in their car there. – Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered top defense officials on Thursday to step up anti-terror efforts in the West Bank, zeroing in on the Palestinian city of Huwara where a gunman opened fire on an Israeli family Thursday evening. – Times of Israel

Over 500 former high-ranking officials from the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Foreign Ministry and others on Thursday endorsed a call by 20 US Senators for any normalization between Israel and the Saudis to be conditioned on progress with the Palestinians. – Jerusalem Post

Haviv Rettig Gur writes: It’s too early to declare the alliance established or successful, too soon to know how far Saudi Arabia or Israel are willing to go on Saudi nuclearization, or how this new alliance will affect the rest of the region, especially Iran. Israeli and Saudi officials themselves don’t yet have answers to these questions. But the new Middle East is already here, a testing ground for what comes after the post-Cold War Pax Americana. – Times of Israel

Amos Harel writes: The Palestinians are waging the struggle against Israel without any connection to the hopes for peace that are being floated via the Israeli-Saudi channel. But a positive development in the normalization talks with Riyadh could also have implications both for the territories and the Lebanese border. On one hand, Israel hopes that the PA will make do with measures and easements that will be agreed upon in talks, and that it will work to calm the situation on the ground; on the other hand, the rejectionist camp, from Iran to Hamas, will have good reasons to try to counter the success of the agreement by igniting a conflagration in the territories. – Haaretz


A U.S. F-16 fighter shot down a Turkish drone on Thursday after it flew near U.S. forces in northeast Syria, heightening tensions between two allies already at odds over an array of security challenges. – Wall Street Journal

A drone attack on a military academy in Homs, in central Syria, killed at least 80 people, authorities in Damascus said Thursday, one of the deadliest attacks on government-held territory in years. […]No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the government attributed it to “terrorist organizations supported by the American occupation and other international parties that partner with them in shedding the blood of Syrians.” – Washington Post

U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish forces said on Thursday that Turkish attacks had killed eight people in an escalation prompted by a bomb attack in Ankara claimed by Kurdish militants. A Turkish defence ministry official said a ground operation into Syria was one option for Turkey, which has previously mounted several incursions into northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. – Reuters

Syrian special forces troops performed more than 1,500 parachute jumps over the Mediterranean Sea and the Aleppo and Latakia provinces as part of training drills conducted using Russian military aircraft, Russia’s defence ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters


Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar said on Thursday he planned to visit Israel in November to discuss the shipment of natural gas to Europe through Turkey as well as domestic consumption. – Reuters

Turkey will assume command of the NATO-led force in Kosovo at a critical time as tensions flare between the Balkan nation and neighboring Serbia. – Bloomberg

Seth J. Frantzman writes: It is not clear if Ankara saw Azerbaijan’s success against the Armenians in Nagorna-Karabkah as an opportunity to begin operations in eastern Syria. The difference is that it is likely that not all the other countries involved, such as Iran, Russia, or the US would want a Turkish operation to happen. Each country has its agenda. This also matters to Israel because Israel doesn’t want more Iranian entrenchment in Syria. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s high-stakes bid to join the exclusive club of nuclear fuel-manufacturing nations faces significant technical and regulatory barriers that could prove tough for President Joe Biden to clear before next year’s election. – Bloomberg

An Israeli minister spoke publicly for the first time in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh about “blossoming ties” between the two countries, the latest sign the duo are inching toward normalizing relations. – Bloomberg

Steven Simon and Aaron David Miller write: All of this means that even the one concession from Riyadh that could reasonably justify Washington giving up so much in return would be shaky at best. We worry about an administration on the cusp of making major concessions to Saudi Arabia without asking for enough in return. This is a core issue that Congress must take up with the White House as it prepares to debate what the United States should pay for Israeli-Saudi normalization and what the Saudis should be expected to give in return. The stakes are enormous. And that debate needs to be serious and begin now. – Foreign Policy

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq is seeking a special shipment of $1 billion in cash from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, but U.S. officials have withheld approval, saying the request runs counter to their efforts to rein in Baghdad’s use of dollars and halt illicit cash flows to Iran. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq will ban cash withdrawals and transactions in U.S dollars as of Jan. 1 2024 in the latest push to curb the misuse of its hard currency reserves in financial crimes and the evasion of U.S. sanctions on Iran, a top Iraqi central bank official said. – Reuters

Lebanon faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with nearly 4 million people in need of food and other assistance, but less than half getting aid because of a lack of funding, a U.N. official said Thursday. – Associated Press

Alon Pinkas writes: It’s possible that Iran is content with threshold-state status and chooses not to bear the consequences of becoming a military nuclear power. It’s also possible that even with a reactor and a fuel cycle, Saudi Arabia won’t pursue the military nuclear option. It’s therefore possible that Turkey and Egypt will decide not to proceed. It’s also possible that all these assumptions will be proved wrong. Whether or not a “Saudi deal” happens, the idea of a nuclear Middle East no longer seems a matter of diplomatic or academic debate. It’s a rolling process. – Haaretz

Korean Peninsula

North Korea will try this month to launch a spy satellite, a Seoul-based think tank said, the third attempt after two previous launches failed soon after liftoff. – Reuters

North Korean state media on Friday criticised France over the deployment of a patrol aircraft in waters near the peninsula, labelling it “outdated gunboat diplomacy”. – Reuters

Minseon Ku writes: All these recent movements do not negate the efforts to re-engage North Korea. The nuclear anxiety of 2017 dissipated with efforts to thaw in 2018–2019. During this period of liminality, North Korea flirted with the idea of denuclearization and diplomatic normalization with the United States, leaving the world holding its breath at the crossroads between peace and a nuclear war. The world was close to a relatively more peaceful era. A return to this liminal period remains possible, as 2017 has proven. But as the clock ticks, the bar for getting North Korea to start a dialogue will only rise. – The National Interest

Elizabeth Shim writes: As we have observed over the years, it is through the many apparatuses of postmodern globalization, including online platforms, that North Korea does not so much capture its enemies as captivate them. In doing so, the leadership is again successfully blurring the lines between the real and the imaginary. – The National Interest


The White House has begun making plans for a November meeting in San Francisco between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping — an attempt to stabilize the relationship between the world’s two most powerful countries, according to senior administration officials. – Washington Post

China plans to expand its space station to six modules from three in coming years, offering astronauts from other nations an alternative platform for near-Earth missions as the NASA-led International Space Station (ISS) nears the end of its lifespan. – Reuters

Mike Gallagher writes: Francis has the power to confront Beijing. Truth, combined with the fearlessness to speak it, is fatal to every ideology of oppression. In 1979, John Paul knew that the power of communism in Poland lay not in Soviet tanks but in the acceptance of the lies that drove them. Destroy the lies, and China’s tanks, too, will rust in fields. It’s not too late. – Washington Post

South Asia

Russia has overtaken the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to become India’s top naphtha supplier, data shows, as New Delhi takes advantage of discounted Russian oil products and the re-routing of trade flows in the aftermath of Moscow’s Ukraine invasion. – Reuters

Bangladesh received the first Russian shipment of uranium fuel for its $12.65 billion debut nuclear power plant on Thursday, making it the 33rd country in the world to produce nuclear power. – Reuters

Amnesty International on Thursday urged Pakistan to maintain its support for Afghan refugees by enabling them to live with dignity and be free from the fear of deportation to Afghanistan where they face persecution by the Taliban. – Associated Press

India said Thursday it has set no deadline so far but remains determined to reduce Canada’s diplomatic presence in the South Asian country amid a confrontation over Canadian accusations that India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in suburban Vancouver. – Associated Press

Taliban deplored Pakistan’s move to expel more than a million Afghans, deemed to be without legal status, and warned that it will harm ties. – Bloomberg


Taiwan has shown it is already independent and sovereign by electing its own president and has no need for a separate declaration of independence, the frontrunner to be the island’s next leader said in an interview with Japanese media. – Reuters

Vietnamese and Chinese officials are preparing for a possible visit from President Xi Jinping to Hanoi at the end of October or early November, on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip in September, four people familiar with the plans said. – Reuters

China has condemned a mission by four Philippine ships to re-supply Philippine troops on a disputed South China Sea atoll, saying the vessels had entered its waters in the Spratly Islands without its permission. – Reuters

A Chinese coast guard ship came within a meter (3 feet) of colliding with a Philippine patrol ship it was trying to block in the South China Sea, in an alarming incident that intensified fears that territorial disputes in the waters could spark a larger crisis. – Associated Press

Taiwan’s government has opened an investigation into four companies named in a media report as conducting business with firms linked to U.S.-sanctioned Huawei (HWT.UL) in China, and is considering tighter rules on key technologies. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Baku’s success and the tragedy that befell the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is more a story of larger countries such as the US and Russia, rather than a story of defense tech that helped Azerbaijan achieve overmatch on the tactical level. – Jerusalem Post

Tuvshinzaya Gantulga and Sergey Radchenko write: The same logic could apply more broadly to Central Asia, which calls for serious Western attention, not in the form of political or ideological grandstanding or military involvement (here, the mess in Afghanistan has shown Americans what not to do) but in the form of hard-nosed economic engagement that would give regional players more breathing space as they face continued Russian bullying and China’s relentless drive for regional hegemony. – Foreign Affairs


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned European leaders on Thursday that Russia could rebuild its military capabilities and attack other countries within five years if the continent were to waver in its support for Kyiv. – Reuters

German police and customs officers on Thursday searched several properties in southern Germany, which a source familiar with the matter said belonged to a Russian national targeted by European Union sanctions because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Reuters

The European Union on Thursday invited the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan for talks to try to revive a peace process thrown into crisis by an Azerbaijani military operation that prompted more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee Nagorno-Karabakh. – Reuters

A day after pledging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy their unwavering support, European Union leaders on Friday will face one of their worst political headaches on a key commitment — how and when to welcome debt-laden and battered Ukraine into the bloc. – Associated Press

The European Union suggested Tunisia could return €60 million ($63.1 million) that the bloc provided to its southern neighbor’s budget this month as a rift grows over a July deal to stem migration across the Mediterranean. – Bloomberg


The United States is resuming food aid to refugees in Ethiopia after assistance was paused earlier this year because donations were being diverted, a senior U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official said. – Reuters

At least 30 pro-government fighters and dozens of al Shabaab militants were killed in Somalia in some of the bloodiest fighting of a year-long offensive against the al Qaeda-linked group, an army officer and clan elder said on Thursday. – Reuters

Armed separatists in Cameroon’s troubled northwest on Wednesday publicly executed two kidnapped civilians they accused of spying for the government, a local administrator and the separatists said on Thursday. – Reuters

Seaver Wang and Vijaya Ramachandran write: Rich-world advocates and policymakers should realize that their demands for immediate fossil-fuel abstinence are very likely to perpetuate the extreme poverty that many Africans face—and they should reflect more thoughtfully on the limitations of what energy research can and cannot say about our collective energy future. – Foreign Policy

The Americas

The U.S. will resume deportations of Venezuelan nationals who cross the border illegally, a rare diplomatic gesture that aims to deter the surge in migrants from the impoverished South American nation, the Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden’s top cabinet officials and their Mexican counterparts presented a united front after talks on Thursday to combat drug and gun trafficking, and placed a new emphasis on managing record levels of migration. – New York Times

Mexico on Thursday rejected U.S. plans to build new sections of wall at the U.S.-Mexico border as top officials from both countries met in the Mexican capital to discuss immigration and security. – Reuters

Even as Washington wishes away an Indo-Canadian diplomatic skirmish, America is being sucked into a dispute that seems to be intensifying, rather than calming down. Officially, the Biden administration is staying above the fray. Behind the scenes, though, Washington hands are leaking stories that further inflame Ottawa-New Delhi tensions. – New York Sun 

Chilean President Gabriel Boric embarks on his first trip to China with an ambitious agenda that seeks deals to make the country’s economy more efficient and help it develop beyond its traditional commodities exporter role. – Bloomberg

United States

The Republican meltdown on Capitol Hill that toppled the speaker this week and left the House in chaos has also highlighted a sharp decline in G.O.P. support for continuing to send aid to Ukraine, and how opposition to helping Kyiv has become a litmus test for the right. – New York Times

The imbroglio in the House exposes a weakness in American foreign policy. Who can trust American assurances of military support in a crisis when all the promises risk falling apart, if not at the hands of an obstreperous faction in Congress, then in the 2024 elections for president and a new Congress? – New York Sun

Charles L. Glaser, James M. Acton, and Steve Fetter write: But now, maybe more than ever, the United States needs to change its nuclear doctrine by abandoning counterforce targeting in favor of infrastructure targeting. Doing so will enable the United States to avoid overreacting to the arrival of China as a second nuclear peer, generating an unnecessary and futile arms race, and increasing the probability of nuclear war. – Foreign Affairs


A global investigation published Thursday into Intellexa, an alliance of digital arms and surveillance firms owned by Israelis but operating from outside of Israel, reveals how the company sold its spyware to Egypt, where it was used against critics of the regime. Intellexa also pitched its capabilities to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Cameroon, Mauritius, Sierra Leone and others, per the investigation. – Haaretz

Iranian cyber operations targeting Western entities are growing more sophisticated and effective as part of an overall shift among state-backed hacking groups toward espionage, researchers with Microsoft said Thursday. – CyberScoop

Belgian intelligence is reportedly monitoring operations at a logistics hub run by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, based on concerns the company could be using software to collect sensitive economic data. – The Record

A cyber espionage campaign has been targeting government agencies in Guyana with a previously undocumented backdoor used to harvest sensitive information, according to new research. – The Record

Alex Li writes: At the very least, International Maritime Organization guidance can encourage more frequent risk assessment and emphasize the risks specifically associated with autonomous ships. If its cyber security guidance does not reflect an expansion in cyber attack vectors, the future of security in autonomous shipping is in dire straits. – War on the Rocks