Fdd's overnight brief

September 27, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Iran must take “de-escalatory” steps on its nuclear program if it wants to make space for diplomacy with the United States, starting by cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Department of State has long hid behind “privacy considerations” to avoid disclosing why President Biden’s special adviser on Iran, Robert Malley, was ousted. Now a London-based organization, Iran International, is detailing possible reasons for the adviser’s June suspension. – New York Sun

A rights group accused Tehran of negligence Tuesday after a man in his sixties held on fraud charges died in prison, while Washington denied reports he was a US citizen. – Agence France-Presse

A report Tuesday claimed Iran’s top leader has given the go-ahead for direct talks with the US over its nuclear program, days after Washington said it blocked Tehran’s top diplomat from visiting. – Times of Israel

Iran will not hesitate to react to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “threat regarding nuclear weapons” made during his United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) speech, Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeed Iravani condemned in a Tuesday letter to the UN. – Jerusalem Post

A mysterious explosion, characterized as a “terrible sound followed by strong shocks” by Iranian pro-regime media, struck an area near Khorramabad in the Lorestan province in western Iran on Monday night, causing “fear and concern,” and believed by residents to be an earthquake. […]According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based security nonprofit with a focus on nuclear and biological threats, Khorramabad hosts the site of an Iranian missile base. – Jerusalem Post

Iran is conducting a military nuclear program and continues to test and deploy long-range nuclear missiles in violation of the UN Security Council, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission Director-General Moshe Edri said on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

“You are provoking people to defiance. You will distance them more from Islam and its commandments. You will further distance the public in terms of women’s dress from your standards.” This is how the reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan reacted to the bill that was passed by Iran’s parliament on Sept. 20, 2023, seeking to enforce the mandatory hijab law more strictly, including through fines and prison sentences for violators. – Foreign Affairs

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues — particularly its nuclear program — by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. – Semafor

The accounts of several Russian, Chinese and Iranian state media outlets saw a 70 percent increase in engagement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after it removed labels identifying them as “state-affiliated,” according to a new report released Tuesday. – The Hill

Iran claimed on Wednesday that it successfully launched an imaging satellite into space, a move that could further ratchet up tensions with Western nations that fear its space technology could be used to develop nuclear weapons. – Associated Press

Amir Hossein Vazirian writes: While in the past, some Iranian politicians, such as former President Mohammad Khatami, did not hide their hope for a two-state solution, these kinds of voices are no longer heard in Tehran. Rather, over the last two decades, the Islamic Republic has increased its determination to confront Israel because of the lack of noticeable change in the Palestinians’ situation three decades after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the expansion of the Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank. Moreover, the weakening prospect of a two-state solution, the increase in Israel’s societal divisions after Netanyahu’s reelection, and the relative success of Iran’s arenas campaign, particularly in the West Bank, have all fueled top Iranian officials’ expectations of Israel’s decline. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

Companies that make the weapons being used in Ukraine have won orders and resurrected production lines. The deployment of billions of dollars worth of equipment in a major land war has also given manufacturers and militaries a unique opportunity to analyze the battlefield performance of weapons, and learn how best to use them. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman attacked Israel on Tuesday, after a speech given by Israel Atomic Energy Commission chairman which stated that Israel donated equipment to Ukraine this year as part of its commitment as a signatory to an International Atomic Energy Agency treaty. – Haaretz

Marek Magierowski writes: Meantime, Ukrainian grain can still transit through our nation. Western weapons continue to flow to Ukraine via the logistical hub in Rzeszów. Neither of those decisions is a gift to Mr. Putin. But lecturing a reliable and prescient ally, the first country to help the Ukrainians in their darkest hour, definitely is. – Wall Street Journal


Israeli airstrikes hit several targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the country’s military said, after Palestinian protesters flocked for the 12th straight day to the enclave’s frontier with Israel — demonstrations that have devolved into violent clashes with Israeli security forces. – Associated Press

A Lebanese journalist for Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV filmed himself Tuesday standing next to an Israeli tank on the border between Israel and Lebanon, as UNIFIL peacekeeping forces appeared to stand by. – Times of Israel

Jennifer Rubin writes: The days of unqualified, uncritical support from most American Jews for whatever the present Israeli prime minister and his government cook up appear to have passed. When democracy is under assault in both Israel and the United States, democracy defenders need to speak up for common values, understanding that the preservation of the rule of law, democracy and judicial independence is essential to both democracies’ survival — and to the continued friendship between the two. – Washington Post

Michael Starr writes: Luck and enemy incompetence are not a strategy, and given how the past Gaza paradigms have always escalated, it may be better to get ahead of the curve before disaster strikes. – Jerusalem Post


Turkey’s parliament will keep its promise to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid if U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration paves the way for F-16 jet sales to Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, according to Turkish media. – Reuters

Editorial: Mr. Erdogan is at risk of overplaying his hand. His efforts at horse-trading, in return for giving Sweden the nod on NATO, have included demanding progress toward Turkey joining the European Union and bullying Stockholm to legislate a formal ban on burning the Quran — an act of protest that has lately become more common. The former is a non-starter; the latter an affront to Sweden’s tradition of freedom of expression. – Washington Post

Neville Teller writes: Erdogan is intent on drawing closer to both Greece and Israel to ensure that Turkey is not disadvantaged by this thriving alliance, or perhaps to snatch an advantage by way of a bilateral deal with one or other of the partners. He seems to have decided for the moment to follow Winston Churchill’s famous aphorism:  “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Israel’s tourism minister on Tuesday made what his office called the first public trip to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli cabinet member, to attend a U.N. tourism conference. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s newly appointed envoy to the Palestinian Authority presented his credentials to President Mahmoud Abbas during his first visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday, a move linked to recent American efforts to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. – Associated Press

Simon Henderson writes: Given this backdrop and the lack of details and concrete timelines in Prince Abdulaziz’s statement to the IAEA, Washington and its partners should keep asking tough questions about the kingdom’s nuclear intentions. Yet the statement is still welcome for suggesting a way around a potential roadblock on the Israeli-Saudi normalization track. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Charges that Senator Bob Menendez accepted bribes in exchange for wielding his influence to aid the Egyptian government prompted calls in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday for the Biden administration to rethink $235 million in military aid to Cairo. – Reuters

Iraq hopes to complete its first railway link with neighbouring Iran within 18 months, largely to help facilitate the transport of millions of pilgrims that visit Shi’ite Muslim shrines in Iraq each year, a senior transport adviser said. – Reuters

Iraq is keen to overcome a dispute with Kuwait on maritime navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway between the two countries, Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Both sides in Yemen’s eight-year war have accused each other of attacks that break a relative lull in fighting and jeopardise peace talks that had been gathering momentum. – Reuters

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. is expected to indefinitely extend a waiver granted to South Korean chipmakers Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) and SK Hynix (000660.KS) on needing licenses to bring U.S. chip equipment into China, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

North Korea’s United Nations envoy accused the United States and South Korea on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war, telling the U.N. General Assembly that as a result his country had no choice but to further accelerate a build-up of its self-defense capabilities. – Reuters

North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of making 2023 an “extremely dangerous year,” saying its actions are trying to provoke a nuclear war and denouncing both U.S. and South Korean leaders for “hysterical remarks of confrontation” that it says are raising the temperature in the region. – Associated Press

Bruce Klingner writes: The extensive security agreements reached at Camp David, however, will require greater U.S. commitment to improving its military posture in the Indo–Pacific in a way that offsets advancing Chinese and North Korean capabilities. As it stands today, the U.S. military is not in a strong enough position to fully support the needs and requirements of confronting multiple malign actors across the Indo–Pacific. – Heritage Foundation


The United States restricted imports from three more Chinese companies on Tuesday as part of an effort to eliminate goods made with the forced labor of Uyghur minorities from the U.S. supply chain. – Reuters

Karishma Vaswani writes: Even if it doesn’t go that far explicitly, the Biden administration must work towards repairing the damage with India fast, if it is serious about countering China’s influence in the region. The cohesion of the Quad lies in the balance. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: My sarcasm aside, it’s clear that there is a deep insecurity bubbling below the surface of this document. This is clearest when the claim that “democracy and freedom are the common goals of humanity. There is no single model of democracy that is universally applicable, far less a superior one.” China’s governance model is, of course, the antithesis of “freedom” or any basic notion of democracy. But were the CCP to admit that it governs without the consent of the Chinese people, it knows its new world order might not seem so desirable to the rest of the world. – Washington Examiner

David Wilezol writes: This higher level of scrutiny raises uncomfortable questions at the intersection of national security, civil liberties, and race. But only a whole-of-society vigilance can counteract a Chinese communist espionage and influence offensive that is running rampant in every corner of American society and throughout the world. – The Hill

Peter Robertson and Wilson Beaver writes: On the international stage, the United States should work with other nations concerned about the Chinese military buildup to push for greater transparency in military expenditures. If there’s nothing to hide, why not open the books? – Heritage Foundation


On Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, called on Azerbaijan to protect the rights of civilians in the region and allow access for international monitors and humanitarian organizations. – Washington Post

The video may seem too simple, too understated to mark a serious international incident in the South China Sea: a quick clip of a diver using a knife to cut a section of rope underwater. But that diver was with the Philippine Coast Guard, and the rope was part of a sea barrier placed by Chinese forces to keep Philippine boats away from an area they had a legal right to fish in. In that moment, the Philippines took one of the most forceful steps yet in contesting China’s unrelenting territorial claims ever closer to the Philippine Islands. – New York Times

China said on Wednesday its recent series of drills near Taiwan aimed at combating the “arrogance” of separatist forces, while the frontrunner to be Taiwan’s next president said China was trying to “annex” the island. – Reuters

The U.N. human rights office has expressed concern about the arrest of a Vietnamese green energy expert, who had worked 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

Joseph Bosco writes: Yet, China has been changing the status quo on almost a daily basis with its escalating deployment of aircraft and warships around Taiwan. Before he finds himself reacting to a Xi fait accompli like Putin’s on Ukraine, Biden needs to consolidate and formalize his extemporaneous pledges to Taiwan’s democratic security. Only a clear and coherent policy statement reflecting a unified U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan will prevent calamity in East Asia. – The Hill


The United States is pausing certain foreign assistance programs benefiting the government of Gabon following last month’s coup, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement released by the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. – Reuters

France’s ambassador in Niger was flown out of the country early on Wednesday morning, two security sources said, around one month after the military junta in charge ordered his expulsion. – Reuters

The impact of those funds is felt across Africa, where residents in major cities like Lagos, Nairobi and Addis Ababa now transit daily via railways, highways and airports built in recent years with Chinese loans and often by Chinese construction firms. Now, as the global infrastructure building spree enters its second decade there are questions about how Beijing will choose to direct the initiative in the years ahead – and whether it will downsize funding amid new challenges and signs of a recalibration. – CNN

The Americas

A senior member of Canada’s legislature quit his job as parliamentary speaker on Tuesday after coming under pressure for honoring a man later identified by Jewish advocacy groups as a former Nazi soldier. – Wall Street Journal

A U.S. pilot pleaded guilty on Tuesday to violating American sanctions by transporting former Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami, whom Washington accuses of drug trafficking. – Reuters

The United States is sanctioning nine members of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and the leader of Colombia’s Clan del Golfo drug trafficking organization, the U.S. sanctions office OFAC said in a statement on Tuesday. – Reuters

Indian and Canadian diplomats didn’t directly address their countries’ row over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader, but they obliquely underscored some key talking points as they addressed world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. – Associated Press

Brett D. Schaefer writes: Overall, the speech was uninspired and uninspiring, soon to be forgotten, and a missed opportunity for the United States to demonstrate real leadership rather than reflecting platitudes back to the General Assembly. – Heritage Foundation


The Pentagon’s acquisition chief said manufacturing needs to be at the top of mind for the U.S. armed services as they look to increase munitions inventories in the short term and field next-generation systems for the future. – Defense News

The 1960s Polaris Sales Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom that paved the way for commonality between the two countries’ ballistic missile submarines could serve as a successful model for the AUKUS pact, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief said today. – USNI News

Griffon Aerospace and Textron Systems have been selected to move ahead with the second phase of the Army’s Future Tactical Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (FTUAS) Increment 2 competition, the service announced today. – Breaking Defense

Long War

One of the American military campaigns unleashed by the Sept. 11 attacks, the fight against al-Shabaab has been marked by years of setbacks and stalemates. Now Somalia has become a surprising bright spot in the global battle pitting the West and allied countries against insurgents who use terror tactics in the name of political Islam. – Wall Street Journal

Andreas Kluth writes: In the cauldron of human misery that is the Sahel, admittedly, imposing even a minimum of order will be a challenge. In Niger, the US has just over 1,000 troops on the ground and a state-of-the-art drone base. It’s anybody’s guess whether those forces can keep the local branches of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in check, and Wagner mercenaries at bay. – Bloomberg

Brian Feldman Clough, Natascha Rée Mikkelsen, Beatrice Eriksson write: The international community can contribute to preventing more children from becoming victims of armed conflict in Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere. A Global Humanitarian Coalition to Defeat ISIS, based on humanitarian principles, perspectives of due process, and global security, unifies in a holistic approach to undermine ISIS. There is an urgent need for a Global Humanitarian Coalition to Defeat ISIS to conduct civilian-centered action and build upon the hard-fought military gains. – Middle East Institute