Fdd's overnight brief

April 4, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

The Israeli military said an initial investigation into a strike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza found its forces had wrongly identified their vehicles as hostile targets, as Israel responds to international condemnation and tries to contain the fallout from a hunger crisis in the enclave. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel’s mass antigovernment protest movement has re-emerged after a sudden halt in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack, revitalized by the families of hostages and putting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the war. – Wall Street Journal 

The Israeli strike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza is the latest example of a persistent political problem for President Biden: His approach to the Israel-Hamas war has left him squeezed on both sides. – Wall Street Journal

In a tense phone call on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III upbraided his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, over Israel’s deadly attack on a humanitarian food convoy in Gaza earlier this week. – New York Times

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, called for early elections, ramping up pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s facing an international backlash as the conflict in Gaza rages and growing domestic protests against his government. – Bloomberg

Celebrity chef Jose Andres told Reuters in an emotional interview on Wednesday that an Israeli attack that killed seven of his food aid workers in Gaza had targeted them “systematically, car by car.” – Reuters

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Wednesday that his Palestinian Islamist movement at war with Israel was sticking to its conditions for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, including an Israeli military withdrawal. – Reuters

The United States said on Wednesday that establishing an independent Palestinian state should happen through direct negotiations between the parties and not at the United Nations. – Reuters

The United Nations has suspended movements at night in Gaza for at least 48 hours to evaluate security issues following the killing of staff working for the World Central Kitchen food charity, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Israel and Hamas will continue to battle for many years, war-cabinet minister and National Unity MK Benny Gantz said in an address to the Israeli public on Wednesday evening. – Jerusalem Post

About 20 Israeli protesters screamed slogans and smeared paint on a glass wall in the country’s parliament Wednesday, as they demanded the government do more to free the hostages still being held in Gaza. – New York Post

The Biden administration on Wednesday indicated it opposes the renewed Palestinian bid to obtain full-member state status at the United Nations, which the PLO’s delegation to the United Nations is pushing for a vote on later this month. – Times of Israel

Hamas documents that Israel recently found in Gaza reveal the details behind the execution of a senior official in the organization because he was believed to be gay. – Haaretz

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday it had deployed additional forces in the Syrian-controlled areas of the Golan Heights, where Israel had allegedly struck at an increasing rate over the last few months. – Jerusalem Post

A senior Hamas military intelligence officer in an ISA interrogation: “Units of the military intelligence operated from Al Shifa Hospital. The Interior Ministry, the Emergency Committees and the government of Hamas also worked from there. It’s a safe place.” – Ynet

Editorial: Israel will investigate and learn the lessons of this tragedy because this is what it does and because this is what is right. It does not need any prodding to do so. What Israel does need, however, is for the international community to rein in its hypocrisy and stop treating battle zones as crime scenes, something it only inexplicably seemingly does when the Jewish state is involved. – Jerusalem Post

Josh Rogin writes: If the United States can watch children being starved by its ally, what leg does it have to stand on when it criticizes dictators such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for using food as a weapon of war? Unless our government does more to relieve the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, it will undermine hope for peace and stability and damage U.S. credibility across the region for decades to come. – Washington Post 

Gabriel Epstein writes: Heated debates over the Palestinian death toll in the Hamas-Israel war tend to focus on the fact that widely cited fatality numbers make no distinction between combatants and noncombatants. While this is true, it misses a more fundamental problem: the numbers themselves have lost any claim to validity. – Algemeiner

Mohannad Sabry writes: As Israel’s top provider of arms and aid, and in light of the potential threat that Biden’s policies toward the war in Gaza pose to his electoral prospects in November, it is in the administration’s interest to use its leverage to compel Israel not to block such an extraordinary measure. Failing to endorse and partner in such an effort would deepen the growing gap between the United States and the Middle East, leaving a vacuum that will inevitably be filled by other world powers. – Foreign Policy

Iran

Suspected Sunni Muslim militants killed at least 5 Iranian security officers and wounded another 10 in two separate attacks on military installations in southeastern Iran, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Iran faces a dilemma following an Israeli attack on its embassy in Syria: how to retaliate without sparking a wider conflict that Middle East analysts said Tehran doesn’t appear to want. – Reuters

The main Palestinian faction in the West Bank on Wednesday accused Iran of trying to spread chaos in its territory and said it would oppose operations from outside that had nothing to do with the Palestinian cause. – Reuters

The United States, Britain and France on Wednesday opposed a Russian-drafted U.N. Security Council statement that would have condemned an attack on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria, which Tehran has blamed on Washington’s ally Israel. – Reuters

Arab media sources are still trying to understand possible ways the Islamic Republic will react. Ali Nouri Zadeh, a commentator on Iranian affairs, was interviewed on Wednesday by news network Al Hadath, which is affiliated with Saudi state-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya. Zadeh said that despite Iran’s threats in the past, Tehran is well aware that Israel is prepared for any confrontation.- Jerusalem Post

Salem Alketbi writes: In any case, regional circumstances are evolving in Iran’s favor, which has succeeded, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in increasing the level of uranium enrichment to exceed the authorized level by 27 times. Global concerns over the Gaza war and regional unrest that can be exploited to strengthen its influence to disrupt the path to normalization and peace between Israel and Arab countries serve Iran’s interests – at least in the short term. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

In the aftermath of last month’s terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue outside Moscow, Russian officials not only have blamed Ukraine but also have repeatedly accused the West of involvement — even though U.S. officials insist they gave Moscow a specific warning that the Islamic State could attack the venue. – Washington Post

Video and photos of suspects in a mass shooting show them apparently being brutalized by Russian security forces — without any rebuke from authorities. A top Kremlin official urges that hit squads be sent to assassinate Ukrainian officials. Senior lawmakers call for restoring capital punishment, abolished decades ago. – Associated Press

Russia’s defense minister warned his French counterpart against deploying troops to Ukraine in a rare phone call Wednesday and noted that Moscow is ready to take part in talks to end the conflict. – Associated Press

Would the loan for Ukraine that is working its way through Congress ever be repaid? That will be the question as the next chapter in the debate between the foreign policy “realists” and “idealists” ripples through Washington. – New York Sun

Russia-NATO relations are worsening but Moscow has no intention of entering a conflict with a NATO country, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said in an interview published on Thursday. – Reuters

Russian drones hit high-rise apartment blocks and private homes early on Thursday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, killing at least four people, including rescue workers in a repeat strike at the site of one attack, officials said. – Reuters

France denied Russian claims that it expressed willingness to hold dialogue on Ukraine or discuss possible peace negotiations when the two countries’ defence ministers spoke on Wednesday. – Reuters

The White House on Wednesday pushed back on a proposal to move the U.S.-led group coordinating weapons delivery for Ukraine under the leadership of NATO. – Washington Examiner

Russia has rebuilt its military after suffering enormous losses during its invasion of Ukraine, according to a U.S. State Department official. “We have assessed over the course of the last couple of months that Russia has almost completely reconstituted militarily,” said Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security. – DefenseNews

Dr. Oleksandr Shulga writes: Whether or not the Crocus City attack was allowed to occur, it would not be sufficient on its own to justify the enormous Russian mobilization campaign that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has predicted will come in June. The campaign will need to progressively displace the self-interest of young Russians and substitute it with the irrational motives of fear, anger, and revenge. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Lebanon

A buried explosive device was the source of a blast that injured U.N. military observers in Lebanon over the weekend as they were patrolling the border with Israel, Israel’s military said Wednesday. – New York Times

Crisis-ridden Lebanon, the country that investors peg as the riskiest in the world, saw its money supply multiply by more than five times in just a single month. – Bloomberg

From a temporary seaside abode in northern Israel, Shay and Reut Hanegbi can hear the explosions when missiles are fired from Lebanon towards their hometown on the border, only four miles (6 km) away. They are among around 60,000 Israelis still uprooted from the small frontline communities since October, when the powerful militia Hezbollah began attacking from Lebanese hilltop villages and forest hideouts. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

Former President Donald J. Trump spoke recently with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, their first publicly disclosed conversation since Mr. Trump left office in January 2021, according to two people briefed on the discussion who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. – New York Times

Meet the next chief of the United Nation’s top forum for women’s rights and gender equality — Saudi Arabia. Despite a poor human rights record, the Kingdom won a bid to lead the Commission on the Status of Women, a committee of 45 UN member states that pledges “to promote gender equality and to promote women’s empowerment.” – New York Sun

Kuwaitis go to the polls on Thursday for the fourth time in as many years, seeking to choose a new parliament after a protracted period of little change beyond campaign slogans and unrealized government plans. – Bloomberg

Yemen

The US said it would consider revoking its recent designation of Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists if the Iran-backed militants cease their shipping attacks in and around the Red Sea. – Bloomberg

Houthi rebels in Yemen may be running through their supplies of drone swarms and anti-ship ballistic missiles as the pace of their attacks has slowed a bit, the top U.S. Air Force commander for the Middle East said Wednesday. – Associated Press

The U.S. designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group puts “additional pressure” on the group that may discourage attacks on ships in the Red Sea, but ultimately a diplomatic solution will have to be found in Yemen, the U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Will the Kingdom of Jordan, a longstanding American ally, fall prey to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategy of surrounding Israel with enemies intent on erasing the Jewish state off the map? – New York Sun

A US district court in DC found Iran and Syria liable for the 2018 death of American Ari Fuld who was fatally stabbed by a Hamas terrorist in the West Bank, according to court documents obtained by the Jerusalem Post. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Whether Sunday’s elections really mark the end of Turkey’s democratic backsliding remains an open question. The answer depends on whether Mr. Erdogan is willing to listen to the message the voters have clearly sent. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea has tested a new solid-fuel hypersonic missile with intermediate range, it said on Wednesday, in an intensifying race for the next generation of long-range rockets hard to track and intercept. […] State media said the North’s latest test was aimed at perfecting an arsenal for “rapidly, accurately and powerfully striking any target in the enemy side worldwide.” – Reuters 

Russia considers South Korea’s decision to impose sanctions against Russian individuals and entities as an “unfriendly” move and will respond in due course, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Sungmin Cho writes: In recent years, analysts concerned about simultaneous crises in these two regions have debated the question of what North Korea would do if there is a contingency in the Taiwan Strait. Now they need to ask the question in reversed order: If there is a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, what would Beijing do in the Taiwan Strait? Would China exploit the Korean crisis and take opportunistic actions against Taiwan? If not, would Beijing be willing to discuss with Washington how to control a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as it did in 2017, instead? The reassessment of threat levels on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait raises these significant questions that will impact U.S. deterrence and diplomacy vis-á-vis China. – War on the Rocks

China

A top-secret intelligence report drafted a week before Canada’s 2021 general election warned about ongoing attempts by the Chinese government to meddle in specific races, saying that Beijing had “identified Canadian politicians considered” to be opponents of China. – New York Times

The European Union has opened two investigations into whether two Chinese bidders benefited excessively from subsidies in their offers in a public tender for a solar power park in Romania, the European Commision said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Dozens of Chinese warplanes and multiple naval ships were reported around the island of Taiwan this week, the largest coordinated display this year. At least 30 planes and nine ships were detected in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) by the country’s Ministry of National Defense (MND). – FOX News

Peter Coy writes: “Xi is a bit too Leninist and not sufficiently Marxist,” Setser said. Xi likes Lenin’s emphasis on the centrality of the Communist Party, Setser said, but “the Marxist emphasis on redistribution, Xi has never shared.” Secretary Yellen, now’s your chance to quote Marx to the putative Marxists. – New York Times

Asia

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (2330.TW), opens new tab, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, said on Wednesday it has suspended work at its construction sites in Taiwan as a fallout of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake. – Reuters

The State Department’s No. 2 diplomat suggested on Wednesday that the AUKUS submarine project between Australia, Britain and the U.S. could help deter any Chinese move against Taiwan. – Reuters

A staunch friend of Taiwan’s will this summer take over as the top U.S. diplomat in Taipei, three sources briefed on the matter said, roughly coinciding with the island’s new president taking office at a time of rising tensions with China. – Reuters

Indonesia has signed a contract with local firm PT PAL and France’s Naval Group for two Scorpene-class submarines, the latter business announced. – DefenseNews

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has proposed a sale of its FA-50 light fighter aircraft to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), which seeks to acquire new combat aircraft from fiscal year (FY) 2025. – Janes

Senior finance and central bank officials from Southeast Asia and major economies met Thursday in the scenic Laotian city of Luang Prabang to discuss ways to help the region build resilience against shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters brought on by climate change. – Associated Press

Rahm Emanuel writes: The geopolitical sands have shifted dramatically in a handful of years. Not long ago, skeptics predicted that America would retreat from the Indo-Pacific, leaving a vacuum for China to fill. The opposite has happened, leaving Beijing on its heels at home and in the region. While it’s true that our economic statecraft needs to match our diplomatic and defense initiatives, Mr. Biden has reinforced America’s claim as a permanent Pacific power. Our allies can confidently bet on, and invest in, our enduring presence in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Europe

With continued American aid to Ukraine stalled and the looming prospect of a second Trump presidency, NATO’s top diplomat said on Wednesday that the alliance was poised to take more control over military support sent to Ukraine — a role that the United States has played for the past two years. – New York Times

NATO will celebrate on Thursday 75 years of collective defense across Europe and North America as Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its third year and sorely tests the allies’ resolve while rising populism gnaws at their unity. – Associated Press

Finland’s president on Wednesday signed a 10-year security deal with Ukraine in Kyiv where President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he believed Russia planned to mobilise 300,000 new troops for its war by June. – Reuters

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing growing political pressure to stop selling weapons to Israel after seven aid workers, including three British nationals, were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. – Reuters

The leadership of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has asked one of its lawmakers to “clarify” a report that he received money from a pro-Russian news portal, amid growing scrutiny across Europe of right-wing parties’ links to Moscow. – Reuters

Africa

The speaker of South Africa’s National Assembly resigned on Wednesday, a day after a judge cleared the way for her to be arrested on charges that she took bribes when she served as defense minister. – New York Times

Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday largely upheld a sweeping anti-gay law that President Yoweri Museveni signed last year, undermining the efforts of activists and rights groups to abolish legislation that drew worldwide condemnation and strained the East African nation’s relationship with the West. – New York Times

Zimbabwe declared a state of disaster Wednesday over a devastating drought that’s sweeping across much of southern Africa, with the country’s president saying it needs $2 billion for humanitarian assistance. – Associated Press

But there’s little normal life for veteran fighters in one of the world’s most volatile countries. He couldn’t find work, was shunned by his family for his violent past and was threatened by enemies. Two years later he became a fighter again, this time helping Russian mercenaries combat the armed groups he had left. – Associated Press

Congo’s army says extremist-linked rebels have killed at least a dozen people in a raid on a rural community in the volatile east, in the latest violence near the border with Uganda. – Associated Press

The United States and its Western allies are feuding with Russia over its diamond production, but they joined forces Wednesday to keep supporting the Kimberley Process, which aims to eliminate the trade in “blood diamonds” that helped fuel devastating conflicts in Africa. – Associated Press

Ethiopia’s official international creditors will give the East African nation until the end of June to wrap up talks on IMF support after a prior deadline lapsed, a source close to the Paris Club of creditors said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Americas

The son of a politician from the Dominican Republic was fatally shot outside a gas station in Houston on Monday night in what the police said they believed was a “targeted” drive-by shooting. The Houston Police Department on Wednesday identified the man who was killed as Luis Alfredo Pacheco Rojas, 34, son of Alfredo Pacheco, the president of the Chamber of Deputies of the Dominican Republic. New York Times

Diplomats at a regional Americas body on Wednesday urged Haitian politicians to move forward with a delayed plan to replace Prime Minister Ariel Henry with a transitional council, a move which could trigger the long-awaited deployment of an international security force. – Reuters

Sen. Tom Cotton writes: America should only intervene militarily in other countries when our vital national interests are at stake, and only then when no other action can protect our interests. Rarely, if ever, will another nation’s civil war warrant our involvement. In particular, an intervention in Haiti would squander essential resources needed elsewhere in the world and at home, with little reason to expect long-term benefit for Haiti. America should stay out.  – FOX News

Latin America

Citing a “profound crisis of violence and social disintegration,” Mexico’s Catholic bishops are staking out an aggressive new role in national security, going so far as to sit down with feuding drug traffickers in one blood-soaked state to hammer out a truce. – Washington Post

Venezuela’s government sent an “anti-fascism” bill to congress that will tighten the crackdown on its opponents ahead of elections this year. – Bloomberg

Argentina said Wednesday that it had cut 15,000 state jobs as part of President Javier Milei’s aggressive campaign to slash spending, the latest in a series of painful economic measures that have put the libertarian government on a collision course with angry protesters and powerful trade unions. – Associated Press

Amid a renewed surge of violence in Haiti this week, armed gangs were reported to have looted the country’s national library in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. – FOX News

United States

“Now, Spartz’s commitment to her homeland is being used against her by a well-funded primary challenger, underscoring the internal Republican divide that is complicating the hopes of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to revisit Ukraine aid next week.” – Washington Post 

When the White House invited Muslim community leaders for a dinner this week celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, the responses started coming in fast: Decline. Decline. Decline. – New York Times

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee is asking U.S. intelligence agencies about the information reported by three media outlets over the weekend about Havana Syndrome pointing to possible Russian involvement, including cellphone data placing Russian military intelligence operatives near some of the incidents. – Military Daily News

Editorial: Industrial policy sounds nice when it’s sold as patriotic nationalism, but it typically ends in special-interest pleading with business answering to politicians. Capital is steered for political reasons, rather than for its most productive use. Its proponents on the right are now all but conceding this, though they claim they would be smarter than Mr. Biden at handing out government money. – Wall Street Journal

Cybersecurity

Amazon (AMZN.O), opens new tab, Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O), opens new tab Google and Microsoft (MSFT.O), opens new tab may find it easier to bid for EU cloud computing contracts after draft cybersecurity labelling rules scrapped a requirement that vendors should be independent from non-EU laws, according to the document seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Leaders from Japan, the U.S. and the Philippines are set to agree on forming a defence network against cyberattacks by sharing information and expertise when they meet for a summit on April 11, the Nikkei business daily said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department said it is investigating claims that a hacker stole government data from a contractor. – The Record

Ivanti announced wholesale changes to how it approaches cybersecurity after multiple governments sourced recent breaches back to vulnerabilities in the company’s products.- The Record

Defense

The US Navy (USN) is requesting an additional USD731.7 million for the refuelling and complex overhaul (RCOH) of aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis (CVN 74) to cover costs associated with the delayed redelivery date for the ship, according to USN officials and the service’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 budget request documents released on 11 March. – Janes

In 2020, Mac Thornberry wanted to answer two questions: How much is the U.S. spending to prevent a war with China, and is it enough? – Defense News

The Air Force’s version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can fly in lightning and thunderstorms again after the service lifted a restriction that had been in place for four years. – Defense News