Fdd's overnight brief

September 12, 2023

In The News


The Biden administration has issued a waiver for banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds without fear of U.S. sanctions — a key step in securing the release of five American citizens detained in Iran, people familiar with the matter said. As a part of the arrangement, the administration will release five Iranian citizens detained in the United States. – Washington Post 

Iran’s rulers have intensified a clampdown on dissent nearly one year since the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini sparked protests which spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. – Reuters 

If Prime Minister Netanayahu and President Biden meet next week — even at this late date, the word “if” must be used — expect some pleasantries but also a lot of behind the scenes disagreements, including on a growing rift over Washington’s Iran policies. – New York Sun 

The detention of a Swedish national working for the European Union was confirmed by Iran’s judiciary on Tuesday. – Reuters 

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Monday he was concerned the international community was losing interest in holding Iran to account over its advancing nuclear program. – Agence France-Presse

Israel will act against Iran’s enrichment of uranium at above 60% because that means it was admitting pursuit of nuclear weapons, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya on Monday morning. – Jerusalem Post 

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi warned on Monday that there is a “routinization” process underway of Iran’s many nuclear violations. – Jerusalem Post 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed concerns Monday amid reports that the Biden administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion for Iran in exhange for five U.S. prisoners. – The Hill 

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday accused Iran of setting up an airport in southern Lebanon, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Israeli border, which he said was being used “for terror purposes” against Israelis. – Times of Israel 

The Mossad and other intelligence bodies have thwarted 27 Iranian terrorist plots against Israelis on almost every continent so far this year, Mossad Director David Barnea said Sunday. He and his allies had a hand in blocking Russian-Iranian arms deals, which could have led to Iran getting more advanced weapons, Barnea hinted during a speech at Reichman University’s International Counter-Terrorism Conference. – Jerusalem Post 

Russia & Ukraine

The Biden administration is close to approving the shipment of longer-range missiles packed with cluster bombs to Ukraine, giving Kyiv the ability to cause significant damage deeper within Russian-occupied territory, according to four U.S. officials. – Reuters 

Editorial: In the longer term, if corruption is left to fester, it will also diminish Ukraine’s chances of gaining entry to the E.U. and, once the war is over, its hopes of membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. […]That prospect was the very thing that triggered Mr. Putin’s decision to unleash the bloodbath of Russia’s invasion. It would be a tragedy for Ukrainians, and for the West, if misgovernment and malfeasance end up subverting Ukraine’s legitimate goals. – Washington Post 

Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: Only in this way — having fully confronted and condemned these crimes — will Russia be able to truly free itself from the burden of the past and move forward toward the creation of a free and modern state based on law and universal values. This will ensure that the country can finally avoid entering the same old vicious circle, so that the next generation of Russian politicians will no longer need to conduct the same old discussions between Vladimir labor camp and Moscow prison. I believe we can do it. – Washington Post 

Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage writes: Going forward, Europe and the United States must keep demonstrating that Putin drew the wrong conclusion. The containment of Russia and the preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty are first-order Western interests. They should not depend on images of horrific violence, on constant media attention, or on the charisma of any one Ukrainian politician. Western indifference and impatience are Putin’s ultimate weapons in this war. Without them, he faces a strategic dead end. – Foreign Affairs

Samuel Ramani writes: All of which makes the point that there is much to discuss and that two men who like to identify as strongmen leaders will go on talking. It’s just that the victims of Russia’s war of aggression, the developing world poor and the Ukrainian people, won’t get much of a look in. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Kelly M. McFarland, Chester A. Crocker, and Ryan Conner write: Finally, the United States should embrace variable geometry in its coalition building efforts. In practice, this would involve working within existing institutions and forming ad hoc coalitions to corral states with a shared interest without necessarily requiring agreement on other core issues. By reinvigorating the diplomatic toolkit, engaging effectively in multilateral spaces, developing and deploying “positive currency,” and exercising variable geometry, the United States can compete and succeed in a world of rising middle powers. – War on the Rocks


Israel’s Supreme Court is set to begin hearing on Tuesday petitions to strike down a law that limits its own powers, setting up a showdown with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his divisive judicial overhaul. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel eased travel for Palestinian Americans from the Gaza Strip on Monday as part of final preparations for a deal enabling Israelis to enter the United States without visas, Israeli and U.S. officials said. – Reuters 

The British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, arrived in Israel on Monday for a three-day visit to a country in turmoil, facing its biggest protest movement in history and heightened violence in the occupied West Bank. – Associated Press 

An anti-Netayahu message was displayed on the side of the United Nations Headquarters building in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Monday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Palestinian Authority reportedly received a shipment of armored vehicles and weapons from the United States, as the Biden administration and Israel look to assist Ramallah in regaining control over West Bank areas that have become hotbeds for terror activity. – Times of Israel 

Dennis Ross and David Makovsky write: Breakthrough is not a given. It will require reconciling U.S. and Saudi positions. It will require Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevail upon rejectionists such as Smotrich who have ruled out any gestures to the Palestinians as part of a Saudi deal. And it will require the Palestinians to not only embrace any agreed upon steps to improve their condition, but also to carry out reforms and act on security issues. While surely difficult, Biden’s efforts are creating momentum to give peace negotiations new life. On the 30th anniversary of Oslo’s signing, we must all hope he prevails. – Washington Post 

Alex Selsky writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer: Do not let Israel give up again. This week we commemorate 30 years since the Oslo Accords. We should not rush again to reach an agreement at any cost, so that in 30 years we will realize that we were wrong and sold ourselves too cheaply. The world needs us enough to accept our conditions. It’s time to reevaluate, understand our true geopolitical value, and make our demands accordingly. – Jerusalem Post 


Ten people have been killed and dozens wounded in renewed violence between rival groups in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, with a senior Palestinian official flying in on Monday amid fears the bloodshed could spread. – Reuters 

An “immediate and lasting ceasefire” was declared on Monday at the Ain Al-Hilweh “Palestinian refugee camp” in Lebanon following renewed clashes which left several people dead and dozens wounded, The Associated Press reported. – Arutz Sheva

Seth J. Frantzman writes: However, a two hour drive away in the hills where Hezbollah maintains its museum and infrastructure, a type of quiet prevails. It is quiet that Hezbollah maintains with tanks and weapons and bunkers. It illustrates how the Lebanese army does little in Lebanon and instead the country lurches from either murderous chaos in camps like Hilweh, or occupation by an Iranian-backed terror group. – Jerusalem Post 

Saudi Arabia

An Israeli delegation on Monday attended a meeting by the United Nations’ cultural agency in Riyadh, in another sign that Saudi Arabia is opening up to Israel with Washington pressing for a full normalisation of ties. – Reuters 

Palestinian officials have begun discussions with the US and Saudi Arabia about what concessions they might get from any normalization of ties between the kingdom and Israel. – Bloomberg 

Hussein Ibish writes: The triangular nature of this initiative makes it particularly difficult to achieve. But the vast potential strategic benefits readily explain why the administration is taking on this huge task now, with potentially enough time before the election and the seeming receptiveness by the Saudis.  Both Israel and Saudi Arabia would benefit in important and obvious ways, but the United States would be the biggest winner. – New York Times

Middle East & North Africa

Governments far and wide have offered aid to Morocco following a 6.8-magnitude earthquake that has left more than 2,500 people dead and thousands injured and displaced. But, to the bafflement of officials abroad, Morocco has been slow to accept support. – Washington Post 

The State Department is working to repatriate a family of 10 American citizens stranded in Syria, where they are among the tens of thousands of people effectively imprisoned in desert camps and detention centers from the war against the Islamic State, according to officials. – New York Times 

A large military exercise called Bright Star has brought together thousands of soldiers and personnel from two dozen countries for a drill in Egypt. The drill this year has included a focus on the future threats that soldiers are seeing on the battlefield. These include drone threats and how to incorporate drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into their operations. – Jerusalem Post 

Stephen M. Flatow writes: American Jewish and Zionist organizations should announce that they will no longer meet with any representatives of the Palestinian Authority. Mayors of European cities that have partnerships with PA cities should suspend those partnerships. The Biden administration should stop paying the PA’s bills. The US is giving the Palestinian Arabs $650 million this year. […]That should stop. Until there are meaningful sanctions such as these, Abbas will have no incentive to halt his antisemitic rantings. – Jerusalem Post 

Salem Alketbi writes: The paramount concern should be the unification of Libya, both in the eastern and western regions, and the restoration of the state’s sovereignty under a single flag and banner. This objective, which aims to avert the looming specter of division and disintegration, deserves greater national attention and fervor than a diplomatic meeting, even if it involves an Israeli minister perceived as an adversary by a segment of the Libyan population. Ultimately, no one should vie for or reject these endeavors at the expense of Libya and its people. – Jerusalem Post 

Joe Buccino writes: Keeping a tiny element of several thousand American troops would have served regional security and spoke to an enduring American commitment to the region. In addition, attempts at a new set of American-led nuclear negotiations needed to be made more explicit, given the timing and regional sentiment. – Jerusalem Post 

John Calabrese writes: To date, China’s economic distress has had a mixed impact on the Middle East. China’s current malaise may not portend a far more serious long-term problem and thus merely push the time horizon for more extensive and profitable Sino-Middle East economic engagement outward. Nevertheless, the flashing warning signals of a weakening Chinese economy warrant the close attention of MENA policymakers and will undoubtedly receive it given the high stakes involved. – Middle East Institute 

Korean Peninsula

Kim, the third-generation dictator, plans to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, state media from both countries said on Monday—the first official confirmation of the summit between the two leaders. The reports didn’t specify when or where specifically the exchange will take place. Kim “will meet and have a talk with Comrade Putin,” North Korea’s state media said.  – Wall Street Journal 

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday that he called for China to play a “responsible” role in reining in North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats when he met Chinese Premier Li Qiang last week. – Reuters 

If North Korea provides artillery rounds and other weapons to Russia for the war in Ukraine, it could help Kremlin forces stretch their dwindling stocks of ammunition but would be unlikely to change the course of the conflict, military analysts say. – Reuters 

Jonathan Corrado writes: Last, the United States must expand its strategic imagination in intelligence reports and military planning. As explored in this project by the Atlantic Council’s Markus Garlauskas, the likelihood of a two-front conflict is non-zero and worth serious consideration and accommodation. […]History shows that North Korea cannot be ignored. The more preparation is done today, the easier the answer will be tomorrow. – War on the Rocks


China’s economic slowdown could increase the risk of Beijing taking military action toward Taiwan, the Republican chair of a U.S. congressional committee on China said on Monday, drawing a contrast with Democratic President Joe Biden, who said it made it less likely. – Reuters 

China is bolstering its air power along the coast facing Taiwan with a permanent deployment of new fighters and drones at expanded air bases, Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Tuesday in its biennial report. – Reuters

Washington expects U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the United States before year-end, whether at next week’s U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) or after, the State Department said on Monday. – Reuters 

Alexander Velez-Green writes: But substantial and sustained defense spending increases appear unlikely for the foreseeable future. Addressing the threat from China will, therefore, necessitate reallocating resources from other parts of the defense budget. This is the essence of prioritization, and it will require the United States to do less and rely on allies and partners more in other theaters. […]That is a risk we should not accept, but the only way to avoid it—or at least reduce it as much as possible—is to finally do what we should have been doing all along: prioritize deterring China. – The National Interest 

South Asia

A new ports and railway corridor for the Middle East and South Asia will include train links to India, an Indian foreign ministry official said on Monday, offering new details about the plan unveiled over the weekend at the G20 summit in Delhi. – Reuters 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed strong concerns about protests in Canada against India to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, according a statement by India. – Reuters 

Walter Russell Mead writes: India rising, China and Russia seething, Europe shrinking and America dithering. The G-20 meeting in New Delhi changed little but revealed much. – Wall Street Journal 

Aaron Zelin writes: The situation also puts Washington in a difficult position. Many of ISKP’s plots have targeted close U.S. partners such as Germany, India, Qatar, and Turkey, yet authorities no longer have the same intelligence networks in place that they had prior to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Washington should therefore consider resuming the approach it took when targeting al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2022[…]. Paired with the current intelligence-led law enforcement approach, this strategy could help limit ISKP’s ability to conduct successful attacks abroad, in much the same way that U.S. efforts diminished the external operations capacity of other jihadist groups over the past two decades. – Washington Institute 

Sumit Ganguly writes: As India hands over the presidency of the G-20 to Brazil, many of the objectives highlighted at last weekend’s summit will be dutifully reaffirmed and even expanded. But given the enduring structural differences that trouble the bloc, no amount of frippery and fanfare will cover up its limited tangible accomplishments. – Foreign Policy


For more than a decade, China has courted developing countries frustrated with the West. Beijing’s rise from poverty was a source of inspiration. […]But now, China is facing competition from another Asian giant in the contest to lead what has come to be called the “global south.” A newly confident India is presenting itself as a different kind of leader for developing countries — one that is big, important and better positioned than China in an increasingly polarized world to push the West to alter its ways. – New York Times 

The White House fact sheet issued during President Joe Biden’s visit to Vietnam weighed in at over 2,600 words. The section on human rights contained just 112 words, including a sub-heading. From business and strategic perspectives, Biden’s visit to Vietnam on Sunday and Monday, and also to India late last week, will likely be seen as bolstering ties with countries that can help Washington counter China’s growing might. – Reuters

A Chinese university scholar had equipment seized and was questioned by Australia’s security agency and police in Western Australia last month in an incident that has prompted some Australian academics to reconsider their travel plans to China for fear of reprisals. – Reuters

Armenia and the United States began a joint military training exercise on Monday, both sides said, at a time of high tension in Armenian relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan. – Reuters 

Tom Rogan writes: Still, the broad trajectory of American partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is manifestly positive. Biden deserves credit for it. If only the same could be said about U.S. policy in the Middle East. – Washington Examiner 

Huong Le Thu writes: Is the entente between Washington and Hanoi sustainable? The answer truly depends on how hard China pushes. For now, the Vietnamese leadership is doing its best to make up for its lack of a formal security alliance while taking care to avoid overcommitment. Hanoi is thereby turning the country’s vulnerability into a strength by maintaining relations with both China and the United States and even benefiting from their competition. If that balance continues to hold, Vietnam may become a model for other countries in the region increasingly caught between two powerful rivals. – Foreign Affairs 


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told British lawmakers Monday that they were “rightly appalled” at the notion of “espionage in this building,” after news reports that a young researcher in the House of Commons had been arrested on suspicion of spying for China. – Washington Post

The enlargement is part of a titanic expansion in military spending that every country in Europe has undertaken since Russia invaded Ukraine 18 months ago. Yet the mad dash by more than 30 allied countries to stockpile arms after years of minimal spending has raised concerns that the massive buildup will be disjointed, resulting in waste, supply shortages, unnecessary delays and duplication. – New York Times 

The Swedish government said Monday it wants to increase its defense budget by 28%, putting it on track to reach the military spending target 2% of gross domestic product set by the NATO alliance, which the Scandinavian country is preparing to join. – Associated Press 

Eoin Power writes: With Russia prosecuting kinetic conflict in Europe and China widely recognized as the “pacing challenge” in the Indo-Pacific, defense-industrial policy in Southeastern Europe might seem like a sideshow. But in fact, the scale of the resources that will be necessary to ensure a Ukrainian victory while successfully deterring a revisionist China places a premium on making sure every member of the Euro-Atlantic community (and especially every NATO member) can pull its weight. – Middle East Institute


A reliable supply of Western-trained generals and other seasoned commanders has been something of a status symbol for a host of African leaders in recent years. – Wall Street Journal 

The United Arab Emirates will lift a visa ban placed on Nigerian travelers almost a year ago following an agreement with President Bola Tinubu, who is on a visit to the Middle Eastern nation. – Bloomberg 

Javier Blas writes: It’s not all despair, however. The economic outlook for Africa isn’t what it was 10 years ago, but it’s a lot better than the dire predictions of the late 1990s. Inflation, even if elevated, remains under control; democracy, even if weak, is the norm; and public finances are, in most cases, in better shape than yesteryear. But the problems are real. […]The West better start paying attention now, before it’s too late. – Bloomberg 

United States

President Biden on Monday used a commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to reiterate his call for unity among Americans of different political stripes, decrying divisiveness and polarization while urging all to “honor Sept. 11 by renewing our faith in one another.” – Washington Post

For China — which largely stood on the sidelines of the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections while Russia ran hacking operations and disinformation campaigns — the effort to cast the wildfires as a deliberate act by American intelligence agencies and the military was a rapid change of tactics. – New York Times 

Alexander B. Gray writes: The Republican candidates for president should pledge to withdraw from the STA on their first day in office. Doing so would be in keeping with American interests and values and allow the next administration to prioritize science and technology advancements that support economic and human advancement, not the survival and dominance of the Chinese Communist Party. – The Hill 


President Joe Biden on Monday threatened to veto House Republicans’ plans to fund the Defense Department for 2024 because of its provisions that would dramatically limit reproductive care options and military diversity training. – Defense News 

The U.S. Air Force secretary on Monday said the service is launching a new effort to revamp how it organizes, trains, equips and carries out missions to deter or defeat China. – Defense News 

NATO nations have agreed to a new action plan for bolstering the alliance’s industrial base, as governments scramble to restock their weapon arsenals while simultaneously sending military aid to Ukraine. – Defense News

Robert Peters writes: The Polish request to take a central role in NATO’s nuclear burden sharing mission is worthy of consideration and should be examined with the utmost seriousness. […]Congress, through the National Defense Authorization Act, should at the same time request that the Air Force identify the impacts to deterring Russian aggression of such a re-posturing of NATO nuclear forces. The stakes are too great to do otherwise—and the time to modernize NATO’s decades-old deterrent posture may be here. – Heritage Foundation