Fdd's overnight brief

December 20, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Hamas’s political leaders have been talking with their Palestinian rivals about how to govern Gaza and the West Bank after the war ends, a fraught negotiation that threatens to put them at odds with the militant wing fighting Israel. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s military said it is adding forces to destroy tunnels and undertaking targeted raids aimed at Hamas’s leadership in southern Gaza, after visiting U.S. officials pressed for a tactical shift away from larger-scale operations. – Wall Street Journal

The U.N. Security Council failed again Tuesday to come up with a resolution calling for a stop to fighting in Gaza — at least for long enough to allow more humanitarian aid into the enclave — that would not be vetoed by the United States. – Washington Post

Heavy civilian casualties are the cost of Israel’s intense campaign to destroy Hamas in Gaza and the militants’ urban warfare strategy, Israeli military officials said, in the face of global alarm at the staggering toll from the bombing. – Reuters

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said his country is prepared to agree to a second humanitarian pause in fighting in exchange for the return of more hostages held by Hamas. – Bloomberg

The Israeli government has drawn up a new deal for the release of dozens of hostages from Gaza, according to an official with direct knowledge of the matter. – Politico

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is expected to visit Egypt on Wednesday to hold Gaza ceasefire talks, the AFP reported Tuesday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that any hostage deal must include all the remaining hostages in Gaza. – Agence France-Presse

Kamaal Aduan Hospital head Ahmad Kahlot of Jabliya in Gaza has confessed to the Shin Bet that Hamas took over his hospital as a military operations center, it was revealed on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Subhi Ferwana, who helped transfer tens of millions of dollars to benefit the Hamas terror organization, was recently killed in an IDF airstrike in Gaza, according to a Tuesday military statement. – Jerusalem Post

IDF Division 162 has finished completely dismantling Hamas’s three battalions of terror forces in the Jabalya area of northern Gaza, killing over 1,000 of Hamas’s forces and arresting 500 terrorists. – Jerusalem Post

Elusive Hamas military wing leader Muhammed Deif is in a much better physical shape than previously thought, a report said Wednesday morning, citing new IDF intelligence findings that indicate that the prevalent belief that he is paraplegic and nearly paralyzed is mistaken. – Times of Israel

IDF troops have twice managed to reach tunnels in Gaza in recent days where they believe Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar was hiding just before they arrived, Hebrew media outlets reported Tuesday. – Times of Israel

Bret Stephens writes: America has been good to Jews since 1655, when the Dutch West India Company rebuked Peter Stuyvesant for refusing trade permits to some Jewish newcomers in what was then New Amsterdam. But if there’s one lesson of Jewish history, it’s that nothing good stays — and why we still say, at the end of every Passover Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem.” – New York Times

Albert D. Friedberg writes: As a Diaspora Jew and Canadian citizen who is deeply invested in Israeli welfare and education, I fervently call on the Israeli government, as it deliberates on “the day after,” to prioritize the objective of dismantling UNRWA, and to work toward establishing alternative structures for education and social services. Addressing the extensive influence of UNRWA is not just strategic; it is imperative. The future security of Israel and the possibility of a lasting peace depend on decisively confronting and resolving this issue. – Jerusalem Post

Yohanan Plesner writes: If Israelis can achieve this lofty goal in the wake of the worst national catastrophe since the Holocaust, then they will have successfully turned the terrible tragedy of October 7 into a historic opportunity to not only defend the Jewish state but also to secure its democratic future for generations to come. – Foreign Affairs

Daniel Byman, Riley McCabe, Alexander Palmer, Catrina Doxsee, Mackenzie Holtzand, and Delaney Duff write: For example, in the United States, public support for Israel is eroding as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure to try to rein in Israel’s military campaign. In the Arab world, protests are pushing leaders to publicly distance themselves from Israel even though many strongly oppose Hamas. Under the right circumstances, protests and the public attitudes they represent may compel political leaders to reconsider their policies toward Israel and Palestine. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

David Ignatius writes: As the trauma of Oct. 7 eases slightly, it’s time for Israel to move toward a phase of this war where Palestinian civilians are less vulnerable to attack, more Israeli hostages can be released and planning can begin for what will be a massive rebuilding of the shattered landscape in Gaza — and the larger political order in the Middle East. – Washington Post

Colin P. Clarke writes: Hamas is a different organization after the Oct. 7 attacks, and intelligence officials and security services should adapt accordingly. As the holiday season enters full swing, a range of soft targets—from synagogues to Christmas markets—will remain vulnerable to potential attacks either inspired or directed by Hamas, which has openly declared its desire to ensure that the war does not remain contained to Gaza but also threatens Israel and its supporters worldwide. – Foreign Policy

Iran

A Swedish appeals court on Tuesday upheld a guilty verdict and life sentence given to a former Iranian official convicted last year for his part in a mass execution of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. – Reuters

Germany protested to Iran on Tuesday after a court ruling implicated the Islamic republic in a plan to attack a synagogue last year. – Reuters

The Western powers in the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran accused Tehran on Monday of developing and testing ballistic missiles, transferring hundreds of drones to Russia, and enriching uranium to an unprecedented 60% level for a country without a nuclear weapons program — all in violation of a U.N. resolution endorsing the deal. – Associated Press

Cyprus has disrupted an alleged Iranian plot to target Israeli businessmen with the arrest of two Iranian asylum-seekers who were in contact with another Iranian associated with the Revolutionary Guard, a Cypriot official said Tuesday. – Associated Press

A cyber-espionage group linked to Iran’s intelligence service has been targeting telecommunications companies in Egypt, Sudan and Tanzania, researchers have found. – The Record

Editorial: Letting the Houthis terrorize a crucial world shipping lane is a failure that will further disrupt the Middle East and radiate to other parts of the world.  That includes the Pacific, where the Chinese are menacing the Philippines. John Miller, a retired former commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, made the salient point succinctly in a remark to the press this month: “We’re not deterring anybody right now.” If we can’t deter the Houthis, he’s right. – Wall Street Journal

Russia & Ukraine

During a break from fighting the Russians, an avuncular rifleman recalled how he was going for a haircut one day when he was press-ganged into joining the Ukrainian army. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — facing internal disputes at home and stalling aid from abroad — said Tuesday that military commanders have advised him that Ukraine will need to mobilize another half-million troops next year if it hopes to stop Russia’s continuing invasion. – Washington Post

Bouncing over choppy waters, the Ukrainian sea drones fanned out and sped toward the Russian warship in a swarming tactic that military experts say has proved lethal and effective against what had been a dominant naval power on the Black Sea. – New York Times

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia would be prepared to talk to Ukraine, the United States and Europe about the future of Ukraine if they wanted to, but that Moscow would defend its national interests. – Reuters

Russia launched its fifth air attack this month targeting Kyiv and air defence systems destroyed all drones on approach to the capital, Ukrainian military officials said early on Wednesday. – Reuters

After blunting Ukraine’s counteroffensive from the summer, Russia is building up its resources for a new stage of the war over the winter, which could involve trying to extend its gains in the east and deal significant blows to the country’s vital infrastructure. – Associated Press

Britain and France reiterated their determination Tuesday that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine ends in failure, with the U.K. foreign minister saying that Ukraine’s allies must better leverage their economic might to vastly outmatch Moscow’s war machine. – Associated Press

A Russian claiming to be a former officer with the Wagner Group has arrived in the Netherlands and says he wants to provide evidence to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating atrocities in the war in Ukraine. – Associated Press

Ukraine heads into the new year with dwindling weapons stockpiles and no guarantee of more US aid. – Bloomberg

Jim Hake writes: Philanthropist Howard Buffett’s foundation has invested more than $500 million to help Ukraine, including funding for demining agricultural fields and providing food and other essentials for families living in formerly occupied areas. Ukrainians need Washington to catch up with the American public and provide Kyiv the assistance it needs to win. If our political leaders hand Russia a victory, we will live with the consequences for generations. – Wall Street Journal

Peter Schroeder writes: And they must. Nuclear brinkmanship is a dangerous game, particularly with an authoritarian leader such as Putin. This is no time for complacency. For the world to head off nuclear war, countries will have to persuade Moscow that victory in Ukraine is simply not worth the costs of bringing the world to the precipice—or over it. – Foreign Affairs

Elizabeth Hoffman, Shivani Vakhariaand, and Jaehyun Han write: However, with U.S. elections around the corner, the politics of assistance to Ukraine will only become more difficult. Nevertheless, the Biden administration and congressional leaders of both parties should continue to remind American voters why supporting a Ukrainian victory—and Russian defeat—is in the interest of the United States. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Oz Katerji writes: This is why Europe, in particular, cannot afford to be complacent in the face of the rising threat of a Trump presidency. Opening EU accession talks for Ukraine is a good start, but until the bloc can match or outperform Russia’s current levels of ammunition production, the tide will start to turn against Ukraine if U.S. leadership on this war continues to falter. The truth is that U.S. leadership on this and on any other pressing international issue cannot be guaranteed. For Ukraine to stand a chance of victory, its allies must begin preparing for catastrophe now. – Foreign Policy

Hezbollah

IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari announced that the IDF had eliminated several Hezbollah terrorists on Tuesday, adding “Hezbollah continues to serve as a defender of Hamas-ISIS and thereby endangers Lebanon and its citizens.” – Jerusalem Post

Miri Eisin writes: Hezbollah’s principal interest is to be considered an active partner in the Palestinian struggle, while diverting Israel’s attention to prevent a military campaign against it in the region. Any solution for the Gaza Strip, whether temporary or long-term, must take into account the broader geopolitical landscape. – Jerusalem Post

Rany Ballout writes: Given the above, it is clear that Israeli official statements are increasingly pointing to the prospect of a strike against Hezbollah if Lebanon does not commit to fully implementing Resolution 1701. As the situation at the Israel-Lebanon border escalates, the room for miscalculation grows. The implications for U.S. policy in the Middle East are challenging. An ideal solution would be to strengthen mediation efforts and set in motion a gradual implementation of Resolution 1701, without which another disastrous war between the two is highly probable. – The National Interest

Arabian Peninsula

Hours after the U.S. announced a multinational task force to protect commercial traffic through the Red Sea, shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk said it would send its vessels around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa instead. – Wall Street Journal

When the United States announced it was leading an international maritime task force to confront attacks on ships in the Red Sea, it did not take long for the group behind the attacks, the Houthi militia in Yemen, to dismiss the effort as a lost cause. – New York Times

Kuwait’s new Emir Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who took over when his predecessor died on Saturday, was formally sworn in before parliament on Wednesday. – Reuters

James Stavridis writes: Countering well-trained, well-armed Houthi rebels guided by Iran will be difficult. But Operation Prosperity Guardian, using the lessons of Somali counterpiracy and updating them for new threats, is a step in the right direction. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: Other U.S. Air Force combat aircraft are also close by. It is also public knowledge that Britain’s Royal Air Force also has several Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets stationed out of a base in Cyprus. It is unclear whether France would join in any strikes against the Houthis, but it also has limited forces positioned to do so. Top line: It is increasingly likely that the U.S. and U.K. will carry out strikes against Houthi targets inside Yemen in the coming days. – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt said the latest talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) had failed but it would monitor the process of filling and operating the dam. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted on Tuesday as saying that positive developments on the U.S. sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara, and on Canada’s arms embargo, would help Turkey’s parliament move toward ratifying Sweden’s NATO membership bid. – Reuters

Parties that make up Iraq’s Shi’ite ruling alliance together took the single largest bloc of votes in Baghdad and most of the country’s southern provinces in provincial council elections, a Reuters tally of preliminary results showed. – Reuters

With Egypt’s elections over, the cash-strapped nation is poised for an increase in financial aid that may ease its dollar shortages and spur much-needed foreign investment, according to people familiar with the deliberations. – Bloomberg

China

Beijing intends to expand energy cooperation with Russia along all stages of production, Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui told the Russian state RIA news agency in an interview published on Tuesday. – Reuters

Taiwan will “handle” Chinese balloons flying nearby based on threat assessments, though officials believe the current wave is for weather purposes, driven by the prevailing winds at this time of year, the defence ministry in Taipei said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United States has added 13 companies in China to a list of entities receiving U.S. exports that officials have been unable to inspect, according to a government notice posted on Tuesday. – Reuters

Editorial: China is remaking Hong Kong into another wasteland of liberty, where the exponents of free speech and assembly are called criminals and the authoritarians go free. Beijing should not be surprised as the city’s decline accelerates. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: Ambassador Burns also said in his interview that “No one in his right mind wants a war between America and China.” But the way to avoid that catastrophe is to engage in and win the information war China is already waging against us. “The crumbling of a regime always starts in the realm of ideas.” – The Hill

Minxin Pei writes: As no such reforms were implemented in 2023, the stalled economic recovery should not have come as a shock. Things could get worse for China in 2024 without new pro-market initiatives. Xi might then have to pray for a bit more luck. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: The Philippines is a treaty defense ally of the U.S. Beijing is ultimately engaged in exactly the same action as the Houthis: attacking the rights of free navigation in international waters. In turn, it should be an absurd proposition for the U.S. to defend Chinese shipping interests. If other members of the maritime initiative wish to do so, that is their prerogative. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Moreover, Beijing knows that the U.S. will ultimately resolve this crisis in a way that allows Beijing to avoid alienating Iran or risking its own forces. Regardless of these considerations, however, Beijing’s choice here underlines the utter falsity of its claim to seek only “win-win cooperation” and a stable multilateral international order. The underlying conclusion: America has fewer active allies than we might wish to believe. – Washington Examiner

Ian Johnson writes: As China faces difficult issues on many fronts—slow growth, demographic problems, and a tense foreign policy environment—events such as the white paper protests may be less outliers than harbingers of a new, more volatile time. But they also suggest that ordinary Chinese citizens may increasingly be ready to question the official narratives about their country’s past and develop new understandings of the forces that are shaping the country’s present and its future. – Foreign Affairs

Daniel Kochis writes: The Biden administration may be keen to sail on from such incidents, but Congress should demand more information and answers about what actually happened that night. If it was, indeed, sabotage, both Moscow and Beijing must be held to account for this latest attack on our Baltic allies. – The National Interest

South Asia

The Indian citizen accused of plotting the attempted killing of a Sikh separatist in New York says he is a law-abiding Indian businessman “unfortunately caught in the cross-fire” between the United States and the Indian government, according to court filings obtained by The Washington Post. – Washington Post

The World Bank’s board of executive directors approved $350 million in financing for the Second Resilient Institutions for Sustainable Economy (RISE-II) operation in Pakistan on Tuesday. – Reuters

Protesters in Bangladesh set a train ablaze on Tuesday, killing four people, among them a mother and child, amid a countrywide strike called by the opposition to press its demand for the government to resign ahead of next month’s general elections. – Reuters

An Italian court sentenced two parents to lifetime imprisonment on Tuesday for killing their teenage daughter after she refused to travel to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. – Reuters

India’s parliament is planning to push through some crucial bills, including proposed changes to overhaul the criminal justice system, despite a record number of opposition members still suspended. – Bloomberg

India will look into US allegations that a New Delhi official was involved in the foiled assassination attempt of a Sikh separatist leader living in America, the nation’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an interview with the Financial Times. – Financial Times

Asia

The Philippine defense minister rebuked China on Wednesday for accusing his country of provoking tension and stirring trouble in the South China Sea, saying only Beijing believed what it was saying. – Reuters

New Zealand’s new prime minister, Christopher Luxon, said on Wednesday he would look into the benefits of joining a part of the AUKUS defence pact that focuses on shared military technology amid a “more challenging” world order. – Reuters

An Australia court on Tuesday found a Melbourne man who held prominent positions in Chinese community associations guilty of planning an act of foreign interference, the first verdict of its kind under a law introduced in 2018. – Reuters

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen expressed condolences to China on Tuesday and offered her government’s help after an earthquake killed more than 100 people on the northern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. – Reuters

An ethnic armed group in northeastern Myanmar has seized a major crossing point for trade along the Chinese border, residents and media reports said. – Associated Press

Europe

The French parliament on Tuesday approved an immigration bill that boosts authorities’ power to deport foreigners and limits access to welfare and citizenship, cementing the rightward tilt of President Emmanuel Macron’s government. – Wall Street Journal

British foreign minister David Cameron will travel to Jordan and Egypt this week to push for a sustainable ceasefire and further humanitarian pauses in Gaza, the foreign office said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Germany’s constitutional court on Tuesday ordered a partial repeat of the 2021 federal election in Berlin in a ruling that could slightly impact the composition of parliament but is not expected to affect the ruling coalition’s majority. – Reuters

Britain warned that the security situation in the Red Sea was deteriorating and ballistic missile and drone attacks were an increased threat, as it agreed for a Royal Navy Destroyer to join a U.S.-led operation to safeguard commerce in the region. – Reuters

Russia summoned Finland’s ambassador on Tuesday to object to a new defence agreement granting the United States broad access to the vicinity of the new NATO member’s long border with Russia, Moscow’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Thousands returned to the streets of major cities across Slovakia on Tuesday to continue their protests against a plan by the new government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to amend the country’s penal code. – Associated Press

The British government said Tuesday it will give Northern Ireland 3.3 billion pounds ($4.2 billion) to ease a budget crisis if stubborn lawmakers stop boycotting the suspended power-sharing Belfast government. – Associated Press

Editorial: Absent a budget increase, the U.K. will be “effectively disarming” and “in five years’ time you could see a situation where substantial parts of the British armed services will be combat ineffective,” he says. This is the crisis of the Western welfare state in profile, and it comes at a perilous moment when global security threats are proliferating. Defense costs money, but undeterred wars are far more expensive. – Wall Street Journal

Marija Golubeva writes: Attempts to pay off Hungary (the bloc released more than €10bn this month, but still holds around €20bn of funds earmarked for the country) and treating its veto as a nuisance, is not a long-term policy. Orbán will be around at least until 2026 and may be joined by other Ukraine-sceptic governments. The EU’s leaders will have to deal with Hungary in earnest, and the sooner that happens the better. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Emil Avdaliani writes: If anything, EU candidate status is likely to boost the Georgian Dream. It will argue that its policies have paid off and that the advance toward EU integration is its victory. The party’s domination will be the single most important and challenging development for Georgia in the second half of the 2020s, raising the stakes in its relations with the EU and very likely creating grievances and mutual distrust. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Africa

Voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo—a vast nation that holds many of the minerals needed to build electric cars, smartphones and other devices central to modern life—are casting their ballots Wednesday in an election clouded by war in the country’s east and the world’s most deep-seated hunger crisis. – Wall Street Journal

Liberian President George Weah has intervened to reverse his country’s vote against a U.N. resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, the West African nation’s information ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The African Development Bank (AfDB) will withdraw its international employees from Ethiopia following what it said was an assault on its staff members by government security forces, two sources familiar with the decision told Reuters on Tuesday. – Reuters

Sudan’s army said on Tuesday that its forces had withdrawn from positions in Wad Madani after the advance of its paramilitary rivals on the city triggered a mass exodus of civilians, some already displaced during an eight-month-old war. – Reuters

The Americas

Former Haitian Senator John Joel Joseph was on Tuesday sentenced in a Miami court to life in prison over his role in the July 2021 assassination of Haiti’s last president, Jovenel Moise. – Reuters

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday said his government was preparing to challenge a new Texas law allowing state law enforcement to arrest suspected migrants, which he called “inhumane.” – Reuters

China and Nicaragua upgraded their bilateral ties on Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry said, extending economic support to the sanctioned Central American government and furthering Beijing’s strategic ambitions in the United States’ backyard. – Reuters

Just days after taking office, Argentine President Javier Milei’s government announced drastic economic measures that angered some social and labor groups, and warned it would crack down on any protests blocking streets. – Associated Press

United States

Donald Trump can’t appear on the 2024 presidential primary ballot in Colorado because of his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

Senator Brown is joining a growing bipartisan group of senators opposing the acquisition of U.S. Steel by Nippon Steel, which would put the iconic American company under the control of a Japanese competitor. – New York Sun

Editorial: And yet there is a path to success if Mr. Biden and the lawmakers maintain discreet conversations until the optimum moment to announce a plan and bring it to a vote soon after Congress’s recess ends on Jan. 8. Too many in politics, on both the left and right, are banking on the usual forces of dysfunction. Mr. Biden and GOP leaders can seize this chance to prove them wrong — and that pragmatism lives. – Washington Post

Cybersecurity

Brazilian first lady Rosangela ‘Janja’ Lula da Silva said on Tuesday she will sue Elon Musk-owned social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, after having her account hacked last week. – Reuters

Japan’s new industry minister on Wednesday pledged to continue supporting efforts to revitalise the country’s chip manufacturing base, which have included subsidies for Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC (2330.TW) and foundry venture Rapidus. – Reuters

The FBI and an international consortium of law enforcement agencies claimed to have seized the main leak site from the notorious ransomware gang ALPHV, but hours later the gang claimed to have “unseized it,” while also lifting targeting rules for attacking critical infrastructure. – CyberScoop

Defense

Faced with a dangerous shortfall in Ukraine’s air defenses and no easy resolution to the funding impasse in Congress, Washington has increasingly leaned on allies to provide urgent weapons support. – Washington Post

Denmark has reached a defence agreement with the United States that will allow U.S. soldiers and military equipment to be based on Danish soil, the country’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Czech firearms and ammunition producer Colt CZ plans to buy competitor Sellier & Bellot for $350 million, the former announced Monday. – Defense News

Jerry Hendrix writes: America’s failure to expand and maintain its fleet, or stand by its word, may have already entirely eroded U.S. naval deterrence. The Navy’s budget, size and force architecture all need urgent attention from Congress if the U.S. is to preserve its ability to deter its enemies. Failure to do so imperils global trade as well as America’s place in the world and the safety of its people. – Wall Street Journal

Wilson Beaver and Jim Fein write: Likewise, multiyear buys have consistently been shown to decrease costs over time, resulting in a positive outcome both for the military and for the American taxpayer. To its credit, this fiscal year’s National Defense Authorization Act approves six new munitions for multiyear procurement, but this funding ultimately still depends on congressional appropriators, who still haven’t fully funded the multiyear procurement of munitions authorized in last year’s NDAA. – Defense News

Long War

The Al Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, released a video of two male Israeli hostages in Gaza pleading for their release on its Telegram account on Tuesday. – Reuters

A Syrian man described as radicalized was convicted of murder, attempted murder and bodily harm on Tuesday over two knife attacks in Germany this year, including an assault on visitors to a gym. – Associated Press

A convicted terrorist whom Australia had wanted to strip of his citizenship and deport will be released into the community on Tuesday under strict conditions. – Associated Press