Fdd's overnight brief

September 20, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


The release of $6 billion in frozen Iran oil proceeds as part of a prisoner deal with Washington is focusing attention on whether the funds are a windfall for the Islamic Republic or merely a short-term injection of hard currency benefiting ordinary Iranians. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Tuesday that the United States should prove its “goodwill and determination” to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear pact as months of indirect talks between the long-time foes have led nowhere. – Reuters

The Biden administration issued fresh Iran-related sanctions on Tuesday, targeting multiple people and entities in Iran, Russia, China and Turkey in connection with Tehran’s drone and military aircraft development. – Reuters

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the U.S. renewed calls for Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the countries said in a joint statement. – Reuters

Five Americans freed from Iran made an emotional return to the United States on Tuesday ending their imprisonment “nightmare”, a day after they were swapped for five Iranians held in the U.S. and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds. – Reuters

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said Tuesday that his country will never give up its right “to have peaceful nuclear energy” and urged the United States “to demonstrate in a verifiable fashion” that it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. – Associated Press

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan waved a photo of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish Iranian killed in the custody of Tehran’s “morality police,” during an address by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday night. – Jerusalem Post

There has been an increasing crescendo of media coverage in Iran targeting Kurds and Kurdish dissidents over the past several weeks. The latest example is an article published by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency, which is associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A member of the Kurdish left-leaning PJAK group sought to defend her dissertation while wearing a uniform and “without hijab,” the report said. – Jerusalem Post

Scanning through their social media, the new-found army of Iranian-American activists seem to have differences in their background, in their outlook, in their political orientation in the US even. But one wish bonds them together: the end of the Islamic Republic in Iran. – Iran International

Tom Rogan writes: The Biden administration might thus do well to consider whether gifting Iran $6 billion is a terribly clever idea. That money, after all, will be rather hard to trace after it moves between three or four different bank accounts. And seeing as Raisi says Iran will use the money for whatever purpose it deems fit, that money would be rather useful for an IRGC plot to pay assassins and infiltrate them onto U.S. soil. – Washington Examiner

Salem Alketbi writes: In summary, these indicators point toward Israel possessing the capability to deter Iranian nuclear threats. The Iranian statements might indeed serve as a tactic of psychological warfare. Nonetheless, they fundamentally stem from Tehran’s response to Israeli positions and statements regarding Iran’s nuclear program. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

A Moscow city court declined to consider jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s latest appeal against his pretrial detention, citing procedural irregularities, according to the court’s website. – Wall Street Journal

Commercial vessels have entered Ukraine’s main port of Odesa without asking permission from Russia for the first time since the war began—showing just how much the balance of power has changed in the Black Sea. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday delivered an impassioned speech to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, pushing for sustained support for his embattled nation’s fight against Russia as he embarked on a delicate mission to bolster his cause globally and in Washington, Ukraine’s most important partner. – Washington Post

President Biden, in a high-profile speech Tuesday at the United Nations, reiterated his appeal to world leaders to do all they can to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion, an exhortation that comes amid signs of flagging support in the United States and abroad for further major aid packages to Kyiv. – Washington Post

The Biden administration called for increased air-defense donations to Ukraine on Tuesday, as Pentagon leaders vowed to sustain weapons supplies that Western nations hope will fuel a breakthrough in the country’s slow-going offensive against Russia. – Washington Post


The U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister have both talked, a lot, about how long they’ve known each other: “many, many years,” “a good many years,” “more than 30 years,” “for over 40 years.” So an awkward question has loomed over the first year both have held their country’s top job: When will they get together? – Washington Post

Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man along the Gaza-Israel border on Tuesday and three Palestinian men in clashes in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian officials said. – Reuters

As a sign of the continued thaw in the contentious relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

In the past few weeks, Hamas has allowed and encouraged hundreds of Palestinians to conduct violent riots along the Gaza border, recently on an almost daily basis. Over the last five days, there have been regular protests, and in at least one location on Tuesday, rioters appeared to cross a fence along the border. – Jerusalem Post

Amit Segal writes: Israeli politics is fringe theater, run on a shoestring budget without a golden toilet in sight. But sometimes Israel is America’s Off-Broadway. The show seems poised for the big stage in November 2024. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia

The United States is discussing terms of a mutual defense treaty with Saudi Arabia that would resemble military pacts with Japan and South Korea, according to American officials. The move is at the center of President Biden’s high-stakes diplomacy to get the kingdom to normalize relations with Israel. – New York Times

Saudi Arabia welcomed positive results from discussions to reach a road map supporting the peace process in Yemen, the kingdom’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, after Houthi negotiators’ talks with the Saudis in Riyadh. – Reuters

David Makovsky writes: Passing a formal defense treaty with Saudi Arabia would necessitate a broad-based strategy to reach the required two-thirds threshold in the Senate. […]As such, Netanyahu needs Biden in order to achieve Saudi normalization. Yet this dependence runs both ways—Netanyahu has apparently intimated in private that Biden needs his support among Republicans to pass a deal. In any case, advancing the various components of the envisioned megadeal and securing a Senate supermajority will necessitate vigorous yet careful diplomacy from all involved. – Washington Institute

Gulf States

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the United States on Wednesday called for the complete demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraqi maritime borders, as a ruling by Iraq’s top court could upend more than a decade-old maritime agreement between them. – Reuters

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid will summon Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq to protest a drone strike on a small airport in the Kurdistan region on Monday that left several members of the Iraqi security forces dead, a presidency statement said. – Reuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York on Monday and received an invitation from U.S. President Joe Biden to visit the White House soon, a State Department spokesperson said. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Libyan officials have begun to restrict access among reporters and aid groups to rescue and relief operations in Derna, following protests over the response by authorities to violent floods that swept away entire neighborhoods and left thousands of people dead. – Washington Post

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will travel to China this week for a bilateral summit with his Chinese counterpart, the presidency in Damascus said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

Tunisian President Kais Saied ’s remarks about Storm Daniel have been denounced as antisemitic, prompting an uproar on Tuesday on social media platforms across the world following floods that devastated a Libyan city. – Associated Press

William A. Galston writes: When states fail—whether through civil war in Libya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, economic collapse in Venezuela, or descent into gang warfare in Guatemala and Haiti—other countries pay a price. […]Strong, persistent international efforts to end civil wars, rein in official corruption, and rebuild good governance reflect not only humanitarian impulses but also the long-term interest of fortunate countries that can’t assume that disasters far from their borders will leave them unscathed. – Wall Street Journal


China on Tuesday urged increased cross-border connectivity with Russia and deeper mutual trade and investment cooperation, as both allies vowed ever closer economic ties despite disapproval from the West after Russian forces invaded Ukraine last year. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin will meet China’s Xi Jinping for talks in Beijing in October, Russia said on Tuesday, Putin’s first known trip abroad since an arrest warrant was issued against him over the deportation of children from Ukraine. – Reuters

The U.S. must fully implement sanctions on China for its Xinjiang policies, a U.S. congressional committee told the State Department, demanding reasons why Washington had yet to put restrictions on some officials linked to abuses in the Chinese region. – Reuters

Editorial: Multilateralism as practiced at the U.N. is increasingly irrelevant as China, Russia, Iran and other rogues assert their power. The liberal internationalists in the Biden Administration can’t give up their vision of groups of nations meeting to settle their differences in peace. But the truth about today’s world order lies in the rubble of Bakhmut. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

During the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi draped a shawl over President Biden’s shoulders before the two strolled amicably side by side at a memorial site for Mohandas K. Gandhi. Biden appeared frequently with Modi during the summit, which was viewed as a sort of coming-out moment for India, and the two men often exchanged warm gestures. – Washington Post

India expelled a Canadian diplomat Tuesday in a tit-for-tat move after Canada’s leader alleged the Indian government may have been behind the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia, and threw out an Indian diplomat identified as the senior intelligence officer at the embassy. – Washington Post

Britain will continue trade talks with India despite allegations from Canada that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader on its soil, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said on Tuesday. – Reuters


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived back in Pyongyang via his private train to a cheering crowd on Tuesday night after his highly publicized Russia trip, state media KCNA reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Azerbaijan on Wednesday pounded Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region controlled by ethnic Armenians, despite calls from Russia and the United States for both sides to halt a spiral into war. – Reuters

A Chinese blockade of Taiwan would likely fail and a direct military invasion of the self-ruled island would be extremely difficult for Beijing to carry out successfully, senior Pentagon officials told Congress on Tuesday. – Reuters

Units from the countries of ASEAN began their first ever joint military drills in Indonesia’s South Natuna Sea amid rising geopolitical tensions between major powers and protests against China’s activities in the South China Sea. – Reuters

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh is pressing for closer economic and technological ties with the US during his trip to America a week after the two countries upgraded diplomatic ties. – Bloomberg

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has been in office for less than a month, but the US already sees its best opportunity in two decades to get its alliance with Thailand back on track after ties were strained under the previous military-backed regime. – Bloomberg

Karishma Vaswani writes: What might Taiwan look like then, in a perfect Chinese world? Hong Kong, where “One Country, Two Systems,” hasn’t worked out, is an obvious example. But that is precisely the outcome Taiwanese people don’t want. They know their future doesn’t lie with China, even if they don’t want full independence. And it is these sorts of philosophical questions that are going to be the biggest challenge for China in convincing Taiwan that unification is a good idea. Even the most sophisticated sales pitch will be of no use in the face of rising Taiwanese self-confidence and identity. – Bloomberg


Nigerian President Bola Tinubu said on Tuesday he was seeking to re-establish constitutional order to address political and economic problems in neighboring Niger following a July coup and welcomed any support for the process. – Reuters

The European Union executive has temporarily suspended funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia, two senior EU officials told Reuters on Monday, after a U.N. investigation found widespread theft and misuse of aid meant to avert famine. – Reuters

Brett L. Carter writes: Finally, Washington must envision a new international order that treats African countries with the respect they deserve. […]The international order that emerged after World War II—which gave the victors an outsized role in governance—has lost legitimacy. Expanding the UN Security Council will be fraught and, in the short term, will probably fail. A better strategy, especially given the African Union’s recent admission into the G-20, is to let the G-20 assume more responsibility for global challenges. Leading the reform effort will let Washington safeguard its security interests and undercut Beijing’s and Moscow’s claims of solidarity with the global South. – Foreign Affairs

The Americas

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva warned world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday of the prospect of a coup in Guatemala, echoing U.S. concerns about risks to democracy in the Central American country after last month’s election. – Reuters

Canada worked “very closely” with the United States on intelligence that Indian agents had been potentially involved in the murder of a Sikh leader in British Columbia earlier this year, a senior Canadian government source said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Paraguay supports Taiwan joining the United Nations system, the South American country’s president, Santiago Pena, said on Tuesday, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA). – Reuters


The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Tuesday its computer system had been hacked, a breach at one of the world’s most high-profile international institutions and one that handles highly sensitive information about war crimes. – Reuters

Since its release in 2020, the recommendations of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission have served as a roadmap for the Biden administration’s attempts to deliver broad improvements in computer security, but according to a report released Tuesday, a number of the panel’s key recommendations have stalled. – CyberScoop

The Department of Homeland Security delivered a 100-page report on Tuesday with recommendations on how to revamp the thicket of cyber incident reporting requirements faced by U.S. critical infrastructure operators. – CyberScoop

Telecommunications providers across the Middle East are being targeted with a new malware family that researchers are calling “HTTPSnoop.” – The Record


The U.S. House of Representatives voted 393-27 on Tuesday to send its version of a sweeping bill setting policy for the Pentagon to conference with the Senate, paving the way for negotiations to narrow the deep divide between the two chambers over issues like abortion access and diversity initiatives. – Reuters

A host of questions remain unanswered after a $100 million fighter jet went missing over the weekend before it was found crashed in a wooded area of rural South Carolina more than 24 hours later. – The Hill

Congress is struggling to perform its most foundational duties this year, and experts say it’s starting to take its toll on national security. Lawmakers are at an impasse as a government shutdown looms, there’s plenty of uncertainty about the budget and one senator is blocking the promotions of hundreds of high-profile military officers. – Defense News

Lauren Kahn writes: While challenges are inevitable and a healthy skepticism exists of the ability of the Department of Defense to execute the initiative within the existing budgets and bureaucratic frameworks it already has, early commitment and demonstrated success are essential for both internal and external validation. Ultimately, Replicator holds the promise of not just countering China’s advancements in the short term, but also of fostering a more agile and innovative American military in the long run. – War on the Rocks