Fdd's overnight brief

September 29, 2023

In The News


The United States has quietly acknowledged that Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard successfully put an imaging satellite into orbit this week in a launch that resembled others previously criticized by Washington as helping Tehran’s ballistic missile program. – Associated Press

Recent revelations in the US that 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,” have caused controversy about how the Iran deal was sold to the public and policymakers, in an article at news site Semafor by Jay Solomon called “Inside Iran’s influence operation.” – Jerusalem Post

An Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy ship repeatedly shined a laser at a U.S. AH-1Z Viper attack Marine helicopter that was flying in international airspace over the Arabian Gulf on Wednesday, according to the United States Navy. The helicopter was conducting routine operations, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command spokesperson Commander Rick Chernitzer. – FOX News

Graeme Wood writes: For once, the Iranians themselves are blameless. As conspiracies go, the one alleged here is mild. They found Westerners of Iranian extraction who did not despise their religious government, as so many Iranian expatriates do. They made a list. They flattered its members and waited to see who welcomed the flattery and reciprocated with offers of service. These techniques paid off splendidly when the Biden administration started appointing the very people Tehran had been grooming. (Vaez was poised to join Malley at State, but the appointment was never made.) – The Atlantic

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The fact that there have been numerous rounds of sanctions on the drone program already illustrates that it may not be effective yet. Iran has also rolled out claims of a new type of kamikaze drone that it claims has a rocket engine. Overall, this shows that Iran is not slowing down, but ramping up the drone threat. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

A bipartisan group of senators is introducing a resolution pressing Russia to release Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich as he hits six months in detention after being arrested while on a reporting trip. – Wall Street Journal

The chief of NATO and the defense ministers of Britain and France have paid surprise visits to Kyiv, announced on Thursday, in a show of continued solidarity, even as they emphasize the goal of pumping up weapons production within Ukraine. – Washington Post

NATO’s secretary-general met with Ukraine’s president to discuss the status of the war and needs of troops on Thursday, the day after Russia accused Ukraine’s Western allies of helping plan and conduct last week’s missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in the annexed Crimean Peninsula. – Associated Press

David French writes: One final note: Remember that everything written about Ukraine is written in the fog of war. This war has been one of the most photographed conflicts in world history. We often have near-instant access to 4K video straight from the front. But our micro-view of individual engagements can obscure macro truths and overall trends. Wars can surprise even the most seasoned observers, but for right now, one thing is clear: Ukraine’s surprising initial success has given way to a slow, grinding conflict, the outcome of which is very much in doubt. – New York Times

Stephen Blank writes: So we must build our long-term support and strategy on the reality that it is in our and our allies’ vital interest that Ukraine wins the war and on the proven facts that it can formulate and execute a winning strategy. If Western support is diminished or given without sufficient strategic purpose, then, as President Zelensky told Congress, we lose the war. And that is an intolerable outcome. – The Hill


Germany on Thursday signed a letter of commitment with Israel to buy its Arrow-3 missile defence system for nearly 4 billion euros ($4.2 billion), the defence ministers of the two countries said in a press conference. – Reuters

The US State Department is providing over $90,000 in grants to an organization that has expressed support for Palestinian terrorist groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), NGO Monitor reported on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The US has raised its concern “at the highest level” about Israel’s continued settlement activity, its UN envoy told the Security Council as she pledged her country’s commitment to a two-state solution and the normalization of Israeli ties in the region. – Jerusalem Post

Mark Regev writes: While Labour leader Keir Starmer has purged the party of his predecessor’s antisemitism, some observers remain concerned about residual Corbyn-type attitudes towards the Jewish state within the membership. Labour’s last two prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both friends of Israel who could stand up to Arabist bureaucrats. If Labour returns to office, it will be interesting to see how Starmer deals with those in his party who are uncomfortable with the current positive trajectory in Israel-UK ties. – Jerusalem Post


Iraqi Christians once driven from their village by Islamic State are blaming another enemy for an inferno that killed more than 100 of their friends and relatives at a wedding this week: chronic political rot and lax governance. After returning from years of exile during Iraq’s war with the extremist Islamists, residents rebuilding their lives in their hometown of Hamdaniya said that where the vanquished jihadists had failed to kill them, corruption succeeded. – Reuters

Baraa Sabri writes: The enthusiasm in Baghdad for increased Chinese involvement should also give the U.S. administration pause. If Washington hopes to stymie this move, the United States must make greater efforts to rebuild trust with its historical allies in the region and address the perception of U.S. abandonment. If this perception continues, governments in Iraq, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, will increasingly facilitate China’s access to the centers of political decision-making in that crucial geographical region. – Washington Institute

Bilal Wahab writes: Finally, Prime Minister Sudani’s expected White House meeting with President Biden needs to include high-level KRG representation. This would signal that the United States recognizes the Kurds as essential partners in federal Iraq’s future. More broadly, by helping the Kurds help themselves, Washington can put a floor on the KRG’s losses and secure the region’s long-term interests in a stable, democratic Iraq. – Washington Institute

Scott R. Anderson writes: Perhaps there will be a legitimate case for such military action one day. But if there is, then the president should make his or her case to Congress and the American people, not rely on a decades-old statute designed for a very different purpose. And if Congress still wants to have a role in such debates, then it needs to cut off the routes around congressional authorization that the executive branch has made clear it believes are open. Repealing the 2002 Iraq AUMF would be one important step in this direction. – Foreign Policy


Turkey’s top appeals court on Thursday upheld the life sentence for philanthropist Osman Kavala, broadcaster Haberturk and other media reported, while overturning 18-year prison sentences for three others in the same case. – Reuters

Ozgur Ozel aims to become leader of Turkey’s main opposition party this year and break through its historic ceiling of 25% support nationwide to finally defeat President Tayyip Erdogan, who has enjoyed two decades of election victories. – Reuters

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s new chairman on Thursday said he would look at Turkey’s $20 billion Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) F-16 fighter jet deal and that more issues than Sweden’s ascension to NATO would affect the decision on lifting his predecessor’s longstanding hold. – Reuters


Hundreds of Lebanese Armenians scuffled with riot police on Thursday outside the Azerbaijan Embassy in northern Beirut during a protest against the Azerbaijani military offensive that recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh from the enclave’s separatist Armenian authorities. – Associated Press

Lebanese police said Thursday that a food delivery driver who opened fire outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut last week allegedly did so because of a personal grudge against the guards at the compound. – Associated Press

Lebanon has been unable to elect a new president since President Michel Aoun left office in October 2022, Anadolu News Agency reports. France has sought to mediate between Lebanese political forces, sending its envoy, Jean Yves Le Drian, twice to the country in a bid to end the deadlock. The efforts, however, did not yield any results. As the political vacuum persisted, Qatar stepped in to help strike a deal between Lebanon’s political groups. – Middle East Monitor

Arabian Peninsula

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Pakistan “initialized” a free trade agreement, the GCC said on messaging platform X on Thursday. The agreement was signed by GCC Secretary-General Jasem al-Budaiwi and Pakistani trade minister Gohar Ejaz. – Reuters

At least five Yemeni fighters from a secessionist group were killed in clashes with suspected al-Qaida militants in the country’s south, security officials said. – Associated Press

Michael Knights and Farzin Nadimi write: Ending the Yemen war is important to U.S. policymakers, not just to stop a destructive conflict, but also to remove a major bilateral complication at a moment when Washington and Riyadh are discussing the potential conditions for an Israeli normalization deal and deeper U.S.-Saudi defense commitments. If a more comprehensive and binding bilateral security agreement emerges, the United States and Saudi Arabia must both be prepared to develop a broad deterrent and threat reduction strategy that can prevent further expansion of Houthi missile, drone, antishipping, and ground warfare capabilities. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia is determined to secure a military pact requiring the United States to defend the kingdom in return for opening ties with Israel and will not hold up a deal even if Israel does not offer major concessions to Palestinians in their bid for statehood, three regional sources familiar with the talks said. – Reuters

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States seem intent on striking a trilateral deal that includes normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Saudi civil nuclear power monitored by the international community, and an American-Saudi defense treaty. So why is it taking so long? Well, a fourth party — the Palestinians — are not part of the negotiations, yet their well-being seems to loom over the negotiations. – Jerusalem Post

The Hamas terror group ruling Gaza reportedly informed Egypt that it will work to make sure that riots on the barrier will end on Thursday evening, part of a deal that saw Israel reopen a key crossing into the Strip on Thursday. – Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden have agreed that the possibility of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians must be kept open for any future Israel-Saudi deal, according to Israeli media reports. – Jerusalem Post

Ruth Wasserman Lande writes: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, however, have remained adamant about not changing one ounce of the hate-filled messages that are inherent in their curricula. While the US and Saudi Arabia are demanding of Israel to make concessions toward the Palestinians, clear demands must also be made of the Palestinians and the Jordanians, as part of the regional package delivered within the framework of these negotiations. There will never be a better opportunity than this one. – Jerusalem Post

Major General (res.) Tamir Hayman writes: In conclusion, the emerging normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia entails weighty security components. Approving uranium enrichment on Saudi soil will end the Middle East taboo on the nuclear issue and invite a regional nuclear arms race. Many believe that this price is too steep. Nonetheless, the State of Israel will enjoy significant strategic benefits if normalization includes a meaningful Palestinian component that reduces the danger of Israel sliding toward a single, binational state, and if Iran’s freedom of operation across the Middle East is thwarted by a US-Saudi defense pact. Above all, if a normalization agreement restores stability and puts an end to the chaos that threatens Israel’s future, Israel will benefit highly. Thus notwithstanding the risks, the agreement is a positive, historic development that arrives in the nick of time. – Jerusalem Post

Mohamed Abdelaziz writes: In the end, it is necessary for Egyptians not to overestimate the quick benefits that Egypt can reap from joining BRICS. In other words, Egypt needs to pursue a policy of export-oriented industrialization (EOI) to open new markets with the BRICS countries so as to correct its trade deficit. Egypt also needs to better manage its current assets and resources to increase its revenue and fulfill its debt obligations, in addition to removing all bureaucratic barriers to foreign investment. – Washington Institute


The Chinese government is pouring billions of dollars annually into a global campaign of disinformation, using investments abroad and an array of tactics to promote Beijing’s geopolitical aims and squelch criticism of its policies, according to a new State Department assessment. – Wall Street Journal

Beijing and Washington are paving the way for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to visit the U.S., moving ahead with high-level official exchanges and taking other steps to improve the tone of their turbulent relations. – Wall Street Journal

China’s leadership knows that sabre rattling around Taiwan to force an outcome to its liking in elections does not work and Beijing is not likely to try such actions ahead of January’s presidential vote, the Taiwanese foreign minister said Thursday. – Reuters

Two senior U.S. and Chinese diplomats met in Washington and held what the U.S. side described as “candid, in-depth, and constructive consultation,” the latest in a series of recent talks to keep lines of communication open between the world’s two largest economies. – Reuters

China’s international trade council has formally asked the United States to “carefully consider” rules that ban or restrict U.S. investments in China’s tech sector, state television reported on Friday. – Reuters

China is manipulating global media through censorship, data harvesting and covert purchases of foreign news outlets, the United States said on Thursday, warning the trend could lead to a “sharp contraction” of global freedom of expression. – Reuters

Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet write: Washington needs to stop projecting and making the same mistake it made with Putin. Xi’s purge of his military is not the equivalent of hitting the brakes vis-à-vis Taiwan and the Pacific. Rather, it is an acceleration. – The Hill

Megha Shrivastava writes: China’s successful launch of a 5G-powered device with 7nm technology reveals that Western regulators have failed to understand the intricacies of semiconductor manufacturing and simply anticipated a completely restricted flow of technology to China with a bunch of export control regulations. […]The stated loopholes in the regulations not only enabled the Chinese manufacturers to source exactly what America did not intend to but rather helped in spurring a wave of indigenous manufacturing capability in the chip segment. – The National Interest

South Asia

Shortly before he was appointed in 2014, India’s national security adviser laid out his philosophy for the country’s counterterror strategy, saying that it needed to go from a defensive stance to what he described as a “defensive offense.” – Wall Street Journal

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged India to cooperate with a Canadian investigation into the murder of a Sikh separatist during a meeting with Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Thursday, a U.S. official said. – Reuters

A powerful bomb exploded at a rally celebrating the birthday of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in southwest Pakistan on Friday, killing at least six people and wounding dozens of others, police and a government official said. – Associated Press

Howard W. French writes: Nijjar’s assassination has every appearance of an elaborately arranged political execution. If Canada’s assertion of official Indian involvement is true, this places the Modi government on a moral footing that is uncomfortably close to that of, say, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Western adversary who has frequently been accused of engineering the murder of his opponents. The rub in all of this is a classic one: What can remain of America’s claims to favoring democracy in a world where it is increasingly willing to drain that word of meaning in the pursuit of geopolitical goals? What sort of credibility attaches to one who is eager to cite the anti-democratic behavior of adversaries but unwilling to speak clearly and publicly about the democratic shortcomings of friends, especially when those friends are important geopolitically? – Foreign Policy


In the space of just over a week, Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-governing region established after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has effectively been dismantled. The ethnic-Armenian population living there has begun fleeing to Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the country in which the enclave sits, has reasserted control over the territory it has long claimed as its own. – Wall Street Journal

For more than three decades, the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh strove for independence and international recognition, in defiance of U.N. resolutions that affirmed Azerbaijan’s sovereign claim to the region. – Washington Post

Senior U.S. officials said on Friday that a White House summit with a dozen Pacific Islands leaders this week was successful, and that Washington was listening to the region, not asking countries to choose between the U.S. and China. – Reuters

East Timor has not discussed military cooperation with China in its upgrade of diplomatic ties, President Jose Ramos-Horta said, adding Australia and Indonesia can “sleep at peace” because the island nation won’t be a security concern to its neighbours. – Reuters

The Philippines will put up a strong defence of its territory and the rights of its fishermen and is not looking for trouble, its president said on Friday, as a row simmers with China over access to a strategic South China Sea Shoal. – Reuters

James Stavridis writes: The spat over Scarborough Shoal may die down, but the underlying tensions are likely to increase this fall and winter, in the lead up to Taiwan’s national election in January. The US should continue working closely with allies, partners and friends in the region to create deterrence, even as we find a way to make channels of communication with Beijing as open as possible. – Bloomberg


A former member of a Belarusian security services unit on trial for the disappearance of three prominent opponents of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko in 1999 has been acquitted by a Swiss court after judges ruled his testimony was unreliable, according to a decision released on Thursday. – New York Times

Kosovo’s president Vjosa Osmani has accused Serbia and its president Aleksandar Vucic of being behind a shootout between armed men and Kosovar police in the north of the country last weekend, in the worst violence in the restive area in years. – Reuters

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday that “very difficult questions” would need to be answered before the European Union could even start membership talks with Ukraine. – Reuters

Slovakia holds an early parliamentary election on Saturday that pits populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who campaigned on a clear pro-Russia and anti-American message, against a liberal pro-West newcomer. – Associated Press

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday that “very difficult questions” would need to be answered before the European Union could even start membership talks with Ukraine. – Reuters

Poland will uphold its veto on a European Union migration pact, its prime minister said on Friday, as the bloc searches for agreement on a system for the sharing out asylum seekers who reach Europe outside of official border crossings. – Reuters

Carl Bildt writes: To be fair, the task ahead is probably harder than these achievements—perhaps the EU’s most challenging one yet. But it is also the most consequential. Russia is threatening the peace and stability of Europe, and bringing Moldova and Ukraine into the EU is critical to strengthening the continent’s east. That, in turn, will protect Europe as a whole. – Foreign Affairs

By Edward Lucas, Catherine Sendak, Charlotta Collén, Jan Kallberg, and Krista Viksnins write: It is also worth noting the inherent susceptibility of NATO to political and geopolitical change. A future US president may be less committed to European defense or be unavoidably distracted by a military crisis involving China. It is possible to imagine in such circumstances that the US commitment to the region would sharply diminish, and that other European powers, such as France and Britain, would be called on to fill the gap, for example, in nuclear defense. This report does not suggest a post-NATO “Plan B” for the Nordic-Baltic region. But the sooner, and the more, that the countries of the region do what is in their power to ensure their own security, the less vulnerable they will be in the event of an unfavorable change in the strategic environment. – Center for European Policy Analysis


At least a dozen Niger soldiers were killed following an attack by hundreds of armed insurgents on motorbikes in the country’s southwest on Thursday morning, the West African nation’s defence ministry said in a statement. – Reuters

Visiting South Sudan President Salva Kiir agreed in a meeting with Russia’s president to expand their relationship in energy, trade and other areas, notably oil. – Associated Press

The United States imposed sanctions Thursday on a former Sudanese government minister and two companies tied to the African country’s paramilitary force that is locked in monthslong fighting with the Sudanese army. – Associated Press

Ebenezer Obadare writes: The Ghanaian president says he has the authority of the African Union to hold a global conference on reparations for the slave trade in Accra in November. This jamboree will yield nothing but undignified self-pity—the opposite of the introspection that the continent needs. – Wall Street Journal

Sarah Harrison writes: The United States alone cannot bring peace to Somalia. But it remains influential there, and many parties look to it for leadership. If Washington ever wants to wind down its military engagements in the country, it must design a more comprehensive policy that serves as a platform for peace. Otherwise, Somalia risks becoming yet another cautionary tale of the war on terror, like so many ill-fated campaigns of the post-9/11 era. – Foreign Affairs


The National Security Agency is starting an artificial intelligence security center — a crucial mission as AI capabilities are increasingly acquired, developed and integrated into U.S. defense and intelligence systems, the agency’s outgoing director announced Thursday. – Associated Press

The FBI and other government agencies should be required to get court approval before reviewing the communications of U.S. citizens collected through a secretive foreign surveillance program, a sharply divided privacy oversight board recommended on Thursday. – C4ISRNET

U.S. National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Japanese police jointly warned multinational companies of China-linked hacker group BlackTech in a cybersecurity advisory late on Wednesday. – Reuters

An Iranian hacker group known as OilRig hijacked legitimate websites in order to target Israeli organizations, including a healthcare organization, in two separate cyberattack campaigns in 2021 and 2022, the Slovak ESET cybersecurity company reported last week. – Jerusalem Post


Congress intends to give the Pentagon a carveout in a short-term funding bill that will allow the Navy to begin construction on a new ballistic missile submarine. Without that exemption, service leaders have expressed concern that congressional budget dysfunction could otherwise push the program behind schedule and create a nuclear deterrence gap in the years ahead. – Defense News

The growth of additive manufacturing is a “game changer” for the military — one that can facilitate everything from creation of parts for systems to accelerating the development of hypersonic weapons, a top Defense Department official said Wednesday. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force awarded defense technology firm Anduril Industries contracts totaling $8 million to refine the autonomous capabilities on two drone aircraft. – Defense News

A niche appropriations debate on multiyear munitions buys has ballooned into one of the numerous partisan standoffs over the defense spending bill. House Republicans are refusing to allow the Pentagon to use multiyear contracts for two munitions programs, citing previous cost variations and delays during an earlier contract with RTX, formerly Raytheon Technologies. – Defense News

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced initiatives aimed at making the service more responsive to warfighter challenges: the creation of the Disruptive Capabilities Office to quickly apply new technologies to operational problems, and a pilot program that would help programs of record be more agile. – Defense News