Fdd's overnight brief

September 26, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


A suspected explosion rocked the area of the Iranian city of Khorramabad on Monday evening, with some unofficial reports speculating it could have been a sabotage operation in a nearby underground ballistic missile base. – Times of Israel

Iran’s defense ministry on Monday boasted of its missiles’ capability of striking Israel. Defense ministry spokesman Reza Talaei-Nik asserted that Tehran was “the region’s prime [military] power.” “Today, we have missiles at our disposal that we have named ‘Israel-striker’ missiles,” Talaei-Nik said. – Times of Israel

The United States said Monday it refused a request by Iran’s foreign minister to visit Washington last week, pointing to concerns about Tehran’s record including past detentions of US citizens. – Agence France-Presse

Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made clear on Monday that despite the sanctions against Iran, the country will continue “peaceful” activities in the field of nuclear science and technology to promote the well-being of the Iranian people, the Xinhua news agency reported. – Arutz Sheva

The Maldives have restored diplomatic relations with Iran, which the Indian Ocean islands broke off seven years ago in support of Saudi Arabia, the Iranian foreign ministry said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

John Bolton writes: Whatever the result in November 2024, Messrs. Bob and Evyatar make clear that future Israeli governments will do what they need to do against Iran. If only Washington and our presidential candidates would get the point about Iran and back Israel more vigorously, we would be far closer to real Middle East peace and security. The candidates could start by writing their own reviews of “Target Tehran.” – Wall Street Journal

Mahmood Sariolghalam writes: The accuracy of Iran’s claim that its membership in BRICS is a “historic achievement” can be gauged by how much FDI it receives from other members of the organization. Given massive European and American sanctions on Iran’s banking and economic institutions, it is unlikely that private or state enterprises would be willing to risk their operations in the Western world. […]As long as Iran’s foreign policy prioritizes security over national economic development, participation in organizations under an exclusive Russian and Chinese umbrella will only uphold the status quo in the country. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

The first U.S.-made M1 Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine to help with its counteroffensive, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday. The questions now are how quickly can they enter the fight and how much impact will they have on a shifting battlefield. – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine’s military claimed on Monday that it had killed the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in a strike on Crimea — a blow that, if confirmed, would be among the most damaging suffered by the Russian Navy since the sinking of the fleet’s flagship last year. – New York Times

A overnight Russian air strike on the key Ukrainian grain exporting port of Izmail injured two people and damaged infrastructure, the governor of the Odesa region said on Tuesday. […]The Ukrainian military reported shooting down 26 of the 38 Iranian-made attack drones it said were launched by Russia. – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday imposed new trade restrictions on 11 Chinese and five Russian companies, accusing some of supplying components to make drones for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. – Reuters

Military assistance should then be transformed into economic assistance to rebuild from the war damage and prepare Ukraine for membership in the European Union. Everyone knows this is the outline of a reasonable compromise but there’s no evidence that anyone is at this point trying to negotiate it. President Biden still has a year to try to produce a success for his administration. – New York Sun


Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday it expects the United States to announce this week that it will be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which would allow Israeli citizens visa-free entry to America as of November. – Reuters

Israeli Defense Forces unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) struck three Hamas military positions following shooting and explosives attacks on soldiers along the security barrier over the Yom Kippur holiday, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said. – Jerusalem Post

Israel Police have decided to continue operating at an increased alert level throughout Israel, at least until after the Sukkot holiday, Kan News reported. – Arutz Sheva

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “burning down da house,” read a protest sign on the streets of New York last week as the Israeli leader who is under fire at home and abroad made his first United States visit since taking office at the end of December. Expectations were low given that from the start Netanyahu failed to achieve one of his most desired objectives, a visit with Biden in the Oval Office. The meeting that did take place in New York was confirmed only at the last moment. – Jerusalem Post


The United States Central Command on Monday said its forces had captured an Islamic State official after conducting a helicopter raid in northern Syria on Saturday. – Reuters

Turkish state media and the pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen both highlighted new tensions in Syria this week. They reported on increased attacks by tribal fighters against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. These tensions have been rising for months. It appears that both pro-Turkish groups and pro-Iranian groups prefer to see the tribes fighting the SDF and to see US influence reduced in Syria. – Jerusalem Post

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces imposed a curfew after clashes erupted again on Monday in eastern Syria, where their fighters had battled for weeks with rival Arab militiamen, Syrian media and activists reported. – Associated Press

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia said Monday it would agree to far greater oversight of its nuclear activities, a step that could help advance negotiations with the U.S. to set up a uranium enrichment operation in the kingdom as part of a possible Washington-backed normalization agreement between Riyadh and Israel. – Wall Street Journal

Two Bahraini servicemen were killed and several others wounded on Monday in a Houthi drone attack against forces of the Saudi-led coalition in Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen, Bahrain’s state news agency BNA said. – Reuters

Despite the widespread verbiage in recent days about the Saudi demand from the U.S. (and indirectly from Israel) to agree to the launching of a civilian nuclear program on the kingdom’s soil, it is doubtful whether that will be the largest obstacle to signing an accord. – Haaretz

Salem Alketbi writes: Overall, it is hard to tell whether Saudi-US relations are heading toward new tension, due to energy prices. It is also hard to tell if Washington can ignore this issue in managing its relations with Riyadh. However, the new question is how both sides can reach a common understanding that serves their mutual interest. – Jerusalem Post

Grant Rumley writes: Rightly or not, countries that purchase primarily from the United States tend to view the types of platforms they are offered as a barometer of their overall defense relationship with Washington. Washington’s defense partnership with Saudi Arabia has become one of its most polarizing defense relationships, and the resultant turbulence has fueled Riyadh’s desire to look elsewhere. A U.S.-brokered normalization agreement with Israel would provide an avenue for course-correcting this relationship in a time of great power competition, while ensuring that Washington remains Riyadh’s security partner of choice for years to come. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon’s security forces have arrested at least one individual involved in a shooting at the U.S. embassy last week, two security sources told Reuters. – Reuters

Egypt will hold a presidential election over three days in December, officials announced Monday, with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi highly likely to remain in power until 2030. – Associated Press

Iran’s pro-regime Tasnim News says it conducted an interview with Wafiq Safa, a sanctioned Hezbollah terrorist. The Hezbollah member is frequently described as a senior Hezbollah official. He is accused of being in charge of Hizballah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit and is “responsible for Hizballah’s coordination with the international community and with Lebanese security agencies,” the US Department of the Treasury said in 2019. – Jerusalem Post

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hosted talks on Monday with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at which he hinted at the prospect of creating a land corridor between their two countries via Armenia, which opposes the idea. – Reuters

Bekir Aydoğan writes: If the elections in Kirkuk are not postponed in order to prevent a possible crisis, the focus should be on managing the provincial elections in a transparent manner with UN mediation. And in case of a governor change, it should be delivered peacefully to the winning party. Otherwise, the possible tension after the provincial elections, which have the power to reshuffle the balance in Kirkuk, may have dire consequences that are greater than those in the transfer of the KDP building and reminiscent of the aftermath of the referendum. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol will pay a state visit to Britain in November following an invitation from King Charles, Buckingham Palace said on Tuesday. – Reuters

South Korea kicked off its first large-scale military parade in a decade on Tuesday, with weapons ranging from ballistic missiles to attack helicopters due to roll through Seoul in a show of force as it takes a tougher stance against North Korea. – Reuters

North Korea appears to be allowing entry for foreigners for the first time since it shut its borders at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, opening up a source of revenue that once provided the country with hard currency. – Bloomberg


The United States Space Force has had internal discussions about setting up a hotline with China to prevent crises in space, U.S. commander General Chance Saltzman told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

The European Union’s new, tougher approach to China is being shaped by French concerns that Beijing’s trade practices have started to pose a critical threat to core industries. – Bloomberg

China said it’s talking to the US about who will represent the Asian nation at a summit in less than two months, after President Xi Jinping recently skipped a major gathering of world leaders. – Bloomberg

Benjamin Qiu writes: In his speeches to domestic officials, by contrast, Mr. Xi’s true message becomes clear. The rule of law under his watch, he has said, “reflects the party’s policies and the people’s will.” The Communist Party’s leadership, he said in a 2014 speech to provincial cadres, “is embodied in the fact that the party led the people to create the constitution.” As to who should interpret the boundaries of the Chinese Constitution—well, don’t ask. You might hurt somebody’s feelings. – Wall Street Journal

Joel Wuthnow writes: Xi can take credit for building a powerful peacetime military that poses undeniable challenges to Taiwan and other regional rivals. But precisely because he needed institutional buy-in from the PLA, he has hesitated to upset the bureaucratic apple cart. Xi’s knowledge of the PLA’s secrecy and mismanagement deep inside its own structure could lead him to doubt its operational proficiency in a crisis or conflict. While the United States worries about how best to deter Chinese aggression, the critical constraint might be one much closer to home. – Foreign Affairs

Paul Heer writes: It is hard to see the exit ramp that will allow the United States and China to escape this current path toward an adversarial relationship and instead find a way toward reciprocal accommodation and peaceful coexistence. The circumstances are reminiscent of the famous line in the classic film Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.” What can break the cycle of miscommunication, mutual miscomprehension, and mutual recrimination between the United States and China? What could? – The National Interest


Hundreds of Armenians waiting for gasoline to flee the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh were injured in an explosion at a fuel depot on Monday, according to local officials, as senior U.S. officials visited Armenia and pledged humanitarian support to deal with a flood of refugees that began Sunday ahead of an imminent takeover by Azerbaijan. – Washington Post

But President Biden was talking about Niue on Monday at the White House, when he hosted the leaders of 18 Pacific Island nations, the second gathering of its kind in a year and the latest illustration of a regional competition for influence between the United States and China. – New York Times

Faced with China’s determination to exert control over a vast area of the South China Sea far from its mainland, the Philippine Coast Guard said Monday that it had taken matters into its own hands, taking down a Chinese barrier that had kept Filipino fishing boats at bay. – New York Times

The Taliban are creating a large-scale camera surveillance network for Afghan cities that could involve repurposing a plan crafted by the Americans before their 2021 pullout, an interior ministry spokesman told Reuters, as authorities seek to supplement thousands of cameras already across the capital, Kabul. – Reuters

As thousands of Armenians fled their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh saying they feared ethnic cleansing, the United States called on Azerbaijan to protect the rights of civilians and allow in humanitarian and monitoring missions. – Reuters

South Korea hosted senior diplomats from China and Japan for a rare trilateral meeting on Tuesday seen as aimed at assuaging Beijing’s concerns over the two U.S. allies’ tightening cooperation between themselves and Washington. – Reuters

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday called on Australia to support its bid to join a pan-Pacific free trade pact during a meeting with a group of visiting Australian lawmakers. – Reuters

The U.N. human rights office has expressed concern about the arrest of a Vietnamese green energy expert, who had collaborated with U.N. and U.S. agencies, just days after President Joe Biden signed business and human rights deals with Hanoi on a visit. – Reuters

Pankaj Mishra writes: One can only hope that Modi, cognizant of the need for good relations with Western nations — not to mention India’s own military and economic limitations — can control the resentments and cravings for power unleashed by his party. He has done well so far to contain the frustration caused by India’s steady loss of territory to China. Still, vitriol deflected is not vitriol defused. No one should be in any doubt anymore about the dangers lurking in a hot-headed and emboldened Hindu nationalism. – Bloomberg


Barely a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland cast aside decades of military nonalignment and self-reliance and joined the NATO alliance. That happened with breathtaking speed, as these matters go, but gaining membership may have been the easy part. Now comes the complicated process of integrating itself into the alliance and its requirement of collective defense — with all of its financial, legal and strategic hurdles. – New York Times

The United States has signed a $2 billion direct loan agreement to support Poland’s defense modernization program, the State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

It wasn’t the deadliest attack in Europe linked to the Islamic State group, but it was among the most disturbing: One evening in 2016, an assailant killed two police officers in their family home, in front of their 3-year-old son. On Monday, a trial opened in a French counterterrorism court over the attack in the Paris suburb of Magnanville. – Associated Press

Editorial: If these were “nice to have” luxuries before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re necessities now. Putin is determined to wait out Western support for Ukraine, which faces an uncertain future in the US. Building a stronger and more resilient European defense base will be costly and time-consuming, but it’s essential to saving Ukraine, deterring aggression and preventing future wars. – Bloomberg


France announced a diplomatic withdrawal and the end of its military cooperation with Niger, two months after a coup removed a pro-French president and widened the gulf between the two countries. – Washington Post

The latest talks over the mega dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River’s main tributary have broken up without an agreement. The two-day talks between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam ended on Sunday night in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. – Associated Press

The U.S. and Kenya signed a defense agreement Monday that will see the East African nation get resources and support for security deployments as it is poised to lead a multi-national peacekeeping mission to Haiti to combat gang violence. – Associated Press

The Americas

The speaker of Canada’s legislature issued an apology Monday after he invited and honored a man later identified by Jewish advocacy groups as a former Nazi soldier who sat in the chamber during Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address last week to Canadian lawmakers. – Wall Street Journal

News of Sen. Robert Menendez’s indictment on charges of secretly aiding Egypt’s authoritarian government, among other corruption accusations that alleged he parlayed his foreign affairs influence for personal gain, has taken Washington by storm over the past 72 hours. – Haaretz

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Monday that Vietnam has expressed interest in a trade deal with the Mercosur bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, adding he will bring the topic up for discussion with those countries. – Reuters

Harlan Ullman writes: As 2024 grows closer, politics in America will simultaneously become more vicious and pervasive in dominating attention. Barring a crisis, foreign policy, including Ukraine, will become less important. The conclusions from Beijing and Moscow should be clear. Time is on our side; do no harm to change that calculus. – The Hill

Elliot Ackerman and Jennifer Ballou write: The Global War on Terrorism Memorial will also make its debut when the war is fresh in the minds of the public. Its success depends on the engagement of as many Americans as possible. We look forward to the day when Americans will walk down the National Mall to dedicate our memorial, to imagine the experiences we have had. In doing so, we will reunite veterans with the society that they served, and take our final steps home together. – Washington Post


The Pentagon wants to acquire thousands of drones over the next two years that can fly to their targets, confuse radar, overwhelm enemy defenses, fire missiles and gather intelligence. But making the uncrewed aircraft quickly and cheaply is another matter. – Wall Street Journal

A niche appropriations debate on multiyear munitions buys has ballooned into one of the numerous partisan standoffs over the defense spending bill. – Defense News

Emerson T. Brooking and Erica D. Lonergan write: Overall, the 2023 Cyber Strategy’s pragmatic frame is apparent throughout the document. In its treatment of cyber operations as one tool among many, its focus on the utility of cyber below the threshold of armed conflict, and its deliberately narrow discussion of the role of the U.S. military in cyberspace, the strategy brings a dose of realism to a field that quite literally emerged out of science fiction. The Pentagon’s thinking about the cyber domain, once abstract and speculative, has become grounded in real-world lessons and examples. And the cyber enterprise itself, having won its seat at the table, must now consider how to use that seat most effectively. – War on the Rocks