Fdd's overnight brief

September 1, 2023

In The News


Iran has accused Israel of being behind a failed plot to sabotage its defence industry and the production of missiles, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters 

Iran’s oil output and exports jumped in August despite U.S. sanctions, according to consultants and companies that track tanker shipments, as Tehran sells to buyers including China. – Reuters

An Iranian man arrested last year during nationwide protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman detained over her headscarf has died after suffering a convulsion in prison, state media reported Thursday. – Associated Press

North Korea and Iran are stepping up their joint efforts at producing nuclear warheads and missiles, an Israeli analyst is warning, with the North poised to offer still more assistance as Iran hovers on the brink of producing its first nuclear warhead. The Islamic Republic appears anxious to go nuclear even as Washington and Tehran are still talking about a deal for Iran not to produce nuclear warheads. – New York Sun

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Last week, reports indicated that criminals in Lod and Kafr Kassem were accused of trying to bring explosives into Israel and this was linked to Hezbollah. In addition, it was revealed that Iran was linked to the smuggling attempt at Ashdot Yaakov in July. Walla also had a recent article claiming that IDF jeeps are vulnerable to Iranian-IEDs. This is all linked to the recent explosion in Nablus and the attempts by terror groups linked to Iran to set the West Bank alight before the High Holy Days in Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz writes: Iran remains Israel’s greatest challenge, and while normalization with Saudi Arabia is an historic opportunity, we cannot dismiss the risks looming on the horizon. We need a strong relationship with Washington to work through these issues, something Israel, unfortunately, does not have at the moment. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

Ukrainian paratroopers are fighting through entrenched Russian positions on the edge of the village of Verbove, a Ukrainian officer in the area said. Ukrainian forces have also reached the main defensive line to the south of nearby Robotyne village, he said. Ukraine’s military confirmed advances toward Verbove and south of Robotyne, without giving details. – Wall Street Journal 

Governor Roman Starovoit said a Ukrainian drone had damaged the facade of a building in the town of Kurchatov, just a few kilometres from the Kursk nuclear power station, early on Friday. He had earlier said there were two drones but clarified his remarks. – Reuters 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday that he had sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “a set of concrete proposals” aimed at reviving a deal that allowed the safe export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea. – Reuters

Ukraine told critics of the pace of its three-month-old counteroffensive to “shut up” on Thursday, the sharpest signal yet of Kyiv’s frustration at leaks from Western officials who say its forces are advancing too slowly. – Reuters 

The Ukrainian capital plans to build up more fortifications because the risk of Russian attack remains, Kyiv authorities said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday his country has developed a weapon that hit a target 700 kilometers (400 miles) away, in an apparent reference to the previous day’s strike on an airport in western Russia. – Associated Press

A new video has emerged showing the demonstration of a new “cardboard” drone reportedly being used by Ukrainian forces to hit targets inside Russia, as Kyiv intensifies its long-range strike campaign. – Newsweek

Stephen Blank writes: In wartime, it is tempting to dampen critiques of friends and allies and excuse missteps as acceptable collateral damage, especially as these sanctions target Russian interests. This viewpoint ignores the impact that corrupt sanction introduction has on the state, economy and society. If wartime sanctions abuse proliferates and becomes an excuse to settle accounts, or subvert business competition, neither Ukraine nor the West benefits. Russia does.  – The Hill 

Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth write:  Biden must therefore relinquish control of what Hodges called the “8,000-mile screwdriver from [the] Pentagon to [the] Ukrainian front lines” and let Zelensky and his generals fight their fight. Support the war effort — do not dictate from the Oval Office or defer to Foggy Bottom. Biden must stop cowering at Putin’s “red lines,” overcome his “escalation paralysis,” and push ahead for the decisive knockout blow. To echo Keane, “America should stop the criticism about what Ukraine is doing and focus instead on helping Ukraine achieve our common aims as rapidly as possible. That would be sound strategy.” – The Hill 

Yoni Michanie writes: As we near the 2024 presidential election, the United States’ continued ability to lead the fight against Russian aggression in Ukraine will depend on its ability to convey the importance of its involvement to the American public. Arguing for preserving Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and containing Putin’s expansionist agenda is simply not enough. The White House must stress the concerted effort across the globe to overturn a world order that seeks to uphold basic human rights, political freedoms, and existing international law. Ukraine is the first line of defense for all of us invested in liberal values. – Newsweek

Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte write: Washington should now understand that Moscow is geared up for a long war over the future of both Ukraine and the international order and that it will use global levers of power and influence to hurt Ukraine and the West. The effects of Russia’s actions will not be trivial. Nor will the Kremlin’s ruthlessness necessarily turn non-Western countries against Russia. The sooner U.S. policymakers appreciate the global dimensions of the war in Ukraine, the sooner they may be able to engineer the failure of Russia’s designs for Ukraine. – Foreign Affairs


Palestinian leaders want Israel to relinquish control over small parts of the West Bank and tear down some illegal Israeli communities there as part of any U.S.-brokered deal establishing diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, said Saudi and Palestinian officials—far short of demands they have publicly made in the past. – Wall Street Journal 

Israelis are in danger of kidnapping attempts at home and abroad by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad so they can use those captives as bargaining chips, the country’s National Security Council’s counterterrorism Division said on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

August 2023 has been a deadly month of terror attacks in Israel, and between August 5 to August 31, five people have been killed multiple more people have been wounded to varying degrees. – Jerusalem Post

Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation and Urban Policy, Caroline Gennez, has accused Israel of “erasing entire Palestinian villages from the map.” Following her comments, Belgium’s Ambassador to Israel, Jean-Luc Bodson, was summoned for a reprimand at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, while Israel’s Ambassador to Belgium, Idit Rosenzweig-Abu, submitted a strongly worded protest letter to the Belgian Foreign Ministry. – Ynet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with US President Joe Biden on September 21 when both leaders are in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, Israeli diplomatic sources told The Times of Israel Thursday. – Times of Israel

The Israeli military raided the Palestinian town of Deir Ammar northwest of Ramallah before dawn on Friday in order to map out the home of a terrorist who killed an off-duty soldier and wounded six others in a truck-ramming attack the day before near a West Bank checkpoint close to the central city of Modiin. – Times of Israel

Israeli security forces on Thursday morning raided a Palestinian workshop in the West Bank city of Beitunia, which police said was used to manufacture firearms, arresting one suspect and seizing equipment, firearms, and dozens of weapon parts in the process. – Times of Israel

A Telegram channel bearing the name of Mohammed Deif, supreme commander of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, reported that a missile that threatens the majority of Israeli territory has recently become operational. – Arutz Sheva

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: So if the latest wave of terror returns to general awful 2022-2023 levels and falls from the current incredibly awful levels on its own, the IDF may just do more of the same. But if terror stays at this pace for the coming days and weeks, the IDF is likely to do a “Jenin 2” to get it under control. – Jerusalem Post

Zvika Klein writes: Reflecting on Mulchanov’s legacy should propel us into action: advocate for the preservation of the Law of Return, ensuring future generations find their place in Israel; engage in meaningful dialogues about our shared Jewish identity and contribute to organizations that support lone soldiers and olim. In remembering Mulchanov, let’s unite in purpose, turning our shared grief into collective action for a brighter, more inclusive Israel. – Jerusalem Post


The U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved a resolution demanding that the Lebanese military and Hezbollah stop blocking the movement of the U.N. peacekeeping force and guarantee its freedom to operate, “including by allowing announced and unannounced patrols.” – Associated Press

The United Nations Security Council backed the independence of its peacekeeping force to investigate Hezbollah military sites on Israel’s northern border in a 13-0 vote. Russia and China both abstained. – Jerusalem Post

Yigal Carmon writes: Lately there have been growing indications that a war against Israel may break out in September or October 2023. The trigger may be spiraling violent clashes resulting in many casualties, or the use of new weapons leading to many fatalities on the Israeli side, in the face of which Israel will be unable to suffice with its regular counterterrorism measures. While neither Hamas nor Hizbullah are eager to start a comprehensive confrontation with Israel, such a confrontation could result from an uncontrolled deterioration on the ground or from the use of new and unusually deadly weapons by these movements. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


An Iraqi criminal court convicted five men and sentenced them to life in prison on Thursday in the killing of a U.S. citizen in Baghdad last year, officials said. – Associated Press

Iraq’s government is pursuing a civilian nuclear program, the country’s military spokesman said, a potentially fraught development some four decades after a daring Israeli raid destroyed Baghdad’s reactor at Osirak. – Times of Israel

Michael Knights and Amir al-Kaabi write: Almost all the arrest warrants target Abu Zainab’s network, including warrants that have not been revealed. Yet the reality is that Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr, and all the other CF militias have likewise received cuts of Jadriyah property thefts. As local residents know all too well, these thefts are a collective effort by the entire CF, not just Abu Zainab, Kataib Hezbollah, or other publicly accused players. The next big move will be the competition to replace Abu Zainab as head of the PMF Central Security Directorate. – Washington Institute

Gulf States

The Biden administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to identify which elements of its security forces are alleged to have slaughtered migrants along the kingdom’s border with Yemen, a step that would mark an advance toward determining responsibility for the reported abuses and help the United States establish if it has provided weapons or training to those units. – Washington Post

The United States should push for the release of an Emirati activist “arbitrarily” detained in the UAE since 2017 ahead of this year’s UN climate talks in Dubai, rights groups have urged. – Agence France-Presse

Political prisoners on hunger strike in Bahrain have rebuffed government concessions and will extend their protest, raising the stakes in the biggest showdown for years between dissidents and the Saudi-backed ruling family. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and European demand for natural gas skyrocketed, Egypt saw an opportunity. Riding high on the discovery of a massive offshore field in 2015, and desperate for foreign cash, the government ramped up gas shipments across the Mediterranean. – Washington Post

The United Nations Security Council voted on Thursday to extend a long-running peacekeeping mission in Lebanon for another year after a compromise was reached between France and the United States on language about the freedom of movement of U.N. troops. – Reuters

One of Libya’s rival prime ministers rejected Thursday the prospect of normalizing relations with Israel days after news broke of a secret meeting between the countries’ two foreign ministers. – Associated Press

The United States military called for an end to days of fighting between rival U.S.-backed groups in east Syria Thursday, warning it may help the resurgence of the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

An airstrike early Thursday hit an alleged drug factory in southern Syria near the Jordanian border, causing damage but there was not word on casualties, Syrian opposition activists said. They said the attack was believed to have been carried out by Jordan’s air force. – Associated Press

David Faris writes: The Biden administration continues to prove that U.S. global leadership need not boil down to constant war, and that what scholars call “offshore balancing” is just as effective as lighting trillions of dollars on fire with direct interventions. Seventy percent of Americans supported withdrawing from Afghanistan at the time, and last year, for the first time, 50 percent of Americans told Gallup that the decision to invade Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 was a mistake from the get-go. American voters and their political leadership are finally on the same page about the U.S. role in the Middle East and Central Asia. – Newsweek

Samuel Ramani writes: The growing trend of Russian state-owned companies creating PMCs, which was most recently exemplified by space agency Roscosmos’s creation of a private army in Ukraine, presents further opportunities for alternatives to Wagner’s role abroad. As Gazprom resumed oil production in Libya in May 2021 and Russia struck a wide-ranging energy extraction agreement with Syria in January 2018, Gazprom’s PMCs could be deployed to guard energy facilities in the MENA region. RSB Group, which is owned by businessman Oleg Krinitsyn, aided LNA forces in de-mining Benghazi in 2017 and has a long history of operations in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. has imposed sanctions aimed at a Russian company’s alleged support for North Korean development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, part of a coordinated move with South Korea and Japan. – Wall Street Journal 

A majority of South Koreans are worried about Japan’s discharge of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea despite efforts by their government to allay fears, a poll published on Friday showed. – Reuters

Japan’s government announced Friday it will impose sanctions against three groups and four individuals for supporting North Korea’s missile and nuclear development program. – Associated Press


China’s Premier Li Qiang will attend a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) being held Sept. 5-8, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says relations between the US and China are hindered by a lack of “shared values” between leaders even if the world’s two largest economies must reach accommodations on behalf of a “shared planet.” – Bloomberg

A Chinese delegation met with a senior U.S. military official during a conference earlier this month, the Pentagon said on Thursday, a move that could signal a potential thawing in military relations between the two countries. – Reuters

China issued a condemnation of retired Indian military officials over a recent visit to Taiwan, adding to a flaring pattern of disputes between the communist power and India that complicate Beijing’s plans to undercut the United States and its allies. – Washington Examiner

China is lashing out at the Biden administration’s approval of the first-ever U.S. military transfer to Taiwan using a program usually saved for sovereign nations.  – The Hill

China has published a map that appears to revise its territorial borders to lay claim to large swathes of territory owned by its neighbors, including the island of Bolshoy Ussuriysky, part of which is in Russia. – Newsweek

Minxin Pei writes: The lesson from the Maoist period Xi should learn is not how Mao lost influence after ceding economic policy to pragmatists in the early 1960s, but why his legacy was quickly dismantled. When Mao died in September 1976, he left behind an impoverished nation, a traumatized party, and a totally discredited official ideology. It took Deng Xiaoping no time to demolish Mao’s legacy with his “reform and opening.” – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Still, Putin will hope that this story doesn’t get the attention of the Russian population. Moscow may be willing to turn a blind eye to Beijing’s loopy claims, but the Russian people might see this as weakness. And Putin is not in an ideal position to appear weak. – Washington Examiner

G. John Ikenberry writes: In today’s chess game to rewrite the rules of trade, technology, finance, security, energy, and the environment, the side with the largest coalition will have the upper hand. In this game, the G-7 gives the world’s democracies the advantage, coordinating moves and adding players to their team. – Foreign Policy 

South Asia

About 130,000 security officers will be deployed as India hosts the world’s most powerful leaders at a G20 summit in New Delhi this month, a showcase for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s growing presence on the world stage. – Reuters

Nine soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle set off his explosives next to a convoy in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, the military said. – Reuters 

Two years after the evacuation of Afghanistan, President Biden seems to prefer cautious engagement with the Taliban over support for fighters who seek to free the country from the yoke of its oppressor. – New York Sun


Japan’s Defense Ministry on Thursday asked for a $53 billion budget for next fiscal year, a 13% increase, adding antimissile systems and boosting maintenance for a military that long skimped on basic functions. – Wall Street Journal 

Pope Francis has long expressed a desire to visit Russia and China in hopes of healing the church’s historical rifts and ensuring the faith’s future in the populous East. On Friday, he came very close, landing in Mongolia, a country sandwiched between the two geopolitical giants, with a minuscule Catholic population that no pope has visited before. – New York Times

The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, visited the Fukushima region on Thursday and told reporters he expected the U.S. to support Japan should China’s ban on Japanese seafood develop into a dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). – Reuters

A U.S. congressional delegation visiting Taiwan said Friday the U.S. would act if the island was attacked and promised to resolve the $19 billion backlog in its defense purchases from the U.S. – Associated Press

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who recently returned from exile and began serving an eight-year prison term, has requested a royal pardon, a senior member of the outgoing Cabinet said Thursday. Thaksin was moved from prison to a state hospital soon after his return last week for reported ill health. – Associated Press

Soldiers from the U.S., Indonesia and five other nations began annual training exercises Thursday on Indonesia’s main island of Java while China’s increasing aggression is raising concern. – Associated Press

Hal Brands writes: More than at any time since 1945, Washington and the world need a strong, confident Japan. Tokyo’s ability to take on the big strategic questions it hasn’t answered, and to tackle the more mundane requirements of effective policy, will determine how much of its geopolitical potential it fulfills. – Bloomberg

Sarang Shidore writes: The global South will persist as a geopolitical fact so long as it remains excluded from the inner core of international structures of power. As long as these states are denied a greater material say in governing the international system (which includes, but goes well beyond, the UN Security Council), the global South is likely to be a force for change, exerting pressure on the great powers, challenging the legitimacy of some of their policies, and limiting their scope of action in key arenas. – Foreign Affairs



Grant Shapps was appointed on Thursday as the new UK defense secretary, succeeding Ben Wallace who formally stepped down after playing a key role in shaping the country’s military backing for Ukraine against Russia. – Agence France-Presse

A court in Belarus has sentenced a high-profile journalist to 3 1/2 years for “facilitating extremist activities” and “discrediting Belarus” after she provided data for a renowned human rights group, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said Thursday. – Associated Press

A German court on Thursday convicted a Russian man of plotting the murder of an exiled Chechen dissident on orders from a cousin of the Russian republic’s Moscow-backed strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. – Associated Press

Prosecutors in Finland filed charges Thursday against four Finnish men, who are part of a radicalized domestic group, for plotting attacks against migrants, critical infrastructure and their perceived political opponents, authorities said. – Associated Press

Armenia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that two of its servicemen were killed and another wounded in shelling near the town of Sotk, near the country’s border with Azerbaijan. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: Cleverly again emphasized as much in a visit to Beijing this week. Shapps fits within this vein of thought, suggesting last month that “there are many times when we should be, and do, welcome Chinese investment.” He is also far less likely to advocate forcefully for increased defense spending. In sum, then, in Washington, at least, Wallace will be missed. – Washington Examiner


The African Union on Thursday suspended Gabon’s membership one day after military officers ousted President Ali Bongo, the first regional response to the eighth coup in West and Central Africa since 2020. – Reuters 

Niger’s ruling junta has ordered police to expel France’s ambassador, a move marking a further downturn in relations, and one that authorities in Paris said the army officers who seized power in Niamey last month had no authority to make. – Reuters

Over 40 people were killed and 56 wounded in an army crackdown on violent anti-United Nations demonstrations in eastern Congolese city of Goma on Wednesday, the government said. – Reuters 

A Russian delegation held talks with Burkina Faso’s interim president Ibrahim Traore on Thursday at a meeting that included discussions on possible military cooperation, the Burkinabe presidency said in a statement. – Reuters

The ouster of Gabon’s president by mutinous soldiers appears to have been well organized and capitalized on the population’s grievances against the government as an excuse to seize power, analysts said. – Associated Press

The head of Sudan’s army warned Thursday that the northeast African country will be divided if the conflict between the military and rival paramilitary force is not resolved. – Associated Press

Gabon will swear in General Brice Nguema as transitional president on Sept. 4, as the country’s junta decided to reestablish the Constitutional Court on a temporary basis. – Bloomberg

A Defense Ministry-affiliated armed contractor is poised to assume charge of Wagner’s operations in the Central African Republic, said a person close to the Defense Ministry and two others close to the private military firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity. – Bloomberg

Lionel Laurent writes: The response will require a deft diplomatic touch that’s been missing so far, as reactions to Niger range from fiery threats of military intervention to an unwillingness to call a coup a coup. The focus on the military buildup in the Sahel and a tendency toward “business as usual” with autocratic leaders have seen France lose influence and credibility, while a bigger power struggle between the West and China and Russia plays out on a continent where natural resources are abundant. – Bloomberg

The Americas

Brazilian federal police questioned former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday about attempting to sneak in diamond jewelry reportedly worth $3 million and the sale of two luxury watches he received as gifts from Saudi Arabia while in office, federal authorities said. – Associated Press

Ecuador’s fragile security situation was underscored Thursday by a series of car bombings and the hostage-taking of more than 50 law enforcement officers inside various prisons, just weeks after the country was shaken by the assassination of a presidential candidate. – Associated Press

The United States will continue deporting Haitian migrants back to their country, a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security said on Thursday, amid worsening gang warfare that prompted it a day earlier to urge its own citizens to evacuate. – Reuters

Sarang Shidore writes: More than anything, the growing attraction of BRICS is a signal that American global dominance is waning. But that doesn’t mean most of the group’s new and original members are anti-American: Egypt is a steadfast security partner, Brazil and South Africa have longstanding relationships, and India is perhaps Washington’s closest friend in the collection. They would simply prefer to live in a world in which the United States was a leading, rather than the dominant, power. – New York Times

Dalibor Rohac writes: The outcome of the war in Ukraine matters not just for the security of Europe or of the Indo-Pacific. It will also either boost or critically undermine America’s self-confidence, especially after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. And most importantly for Biden, his re-election and second term may well hinge on whether Ukrainians are able to achieve a complete victory before his time in office is up. He should act accordingly. – The Bulwark  


Rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) such as Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT are complicating governments’ efforts to agree laws governing the use of the technology. – Reuters

Human rights groups fear that a proposed UN treaty on cybercrime being negotiated at New York City this week — the first draft is due September 1 — will strengthen the authoritarian digital rule of Russia and Communist China and threaten American national security. – New York Sun

The U.S. government and its allies on Thursday released a technical breakdown of malware used by the infamous Russian hacking group Sandworm on the battlefield in Ukraine, offering one of the most detailed analyses to date of malicious software used by the Kremlin in military cyber operations against Kyiv. – CyberScoop

The Moscow-backed hacking group known as Gamaredon is ramping up its attacks on Ukraine’s military and government agencies amid the country’s long-awaited counteroffensive. – The Record



The Defense Department on Thursday released a new website that will provide official declassified information on UFOs, including pictures and videos, for the public to easily parse through. – The Hill 

The guided-missile destroyer Zumwalt, which arrived at its new home port in Pascagoula, Mississippi, this month, is being outfitted with a hypersonic missile system by American shipbuilder HII. – Defense News

A Republican provision in the House’s fiscal 2024 defense policy bill would block the Defense Department — the world’s largest institutional emitter of fossil fuels — from implementing the president’s seven climate change executive orders, which seek to achieve net-zero emissions in all federal agencies by 2050. – Defense News

NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, in charge of developing the alliance’s digital backbone, has signed an agreement with Latvia that will allow member nations to assess new capabilities at the Baltic country’s 5G military test bed. – Defense News

Alex Plitsas writes: This initiative is not a panacea for the growing military threat posed by China, but it wasn’t designed to be. More will be needed in order to mitigate the threat and deter conflict, but this is a good place to start. The Department of Defense has risen to the occasion many times in the past. This is another opportunity to do the same and hopefully prevent future conflict in doing so. – Defense News