Fdd's overnight brief

December 22, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

In a rubble-strewn alley near the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, Israeli soldiers say they found themselves being lured into a deadly and surreal trap. – Washington Post

During the first six weeks of the war in Gaza, Israel routinely used one of its biggest and most destructive bombs in areas it designated safe for civilians. – New York Times

Israel’s military has been quick in disclosing details of the fatal shooting of the three hostages, who were unarmed and bearing a makeshift white flag – New York Times 

Northern Gaza has no more functioning hospitals, the director general of the World Health Organization said, describing scenes of horror witnessed by aid workers in the ruins of two partially destroyed medical facilities. – New York Times

After nearly a week of intense negotiations, the United States said on Thursday night that it was ready to support a United Nations Security Council resolution that would call for more desperately needed aid to enter the Gaza Strip. A vote was not expected until Friday at the earliest. – New York Times

The intensive-care unit at Gaza City’s Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital was on the brink of collapse on Nov. 10, as the staff tried to keep oxygen flowing to three fragile babies, according to staff who were there that day. Then Israel’s military called on everyone in the medical center to leave. – Wall Street Journal

Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner landed early Thursday in Tel Aviv, amid questions about how the former U.S. president would deal with Israel if he returns to the White House. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser indicated that Israel could accept a U.S. plan for a revamped Palestinian Authority to govern the Gaza Strip after the war, a sign that the Israeli leader is easing his opposition to the idea. – Wall Street Journal  

In the morgue of the Nasser Hospital, in southern Gaza, workers wrap the corpses of people killed in Israeli airstrikes in white cloth amid the stench of death. They record whatever basic facts they can about the dead: name, identity card number, age, sex. – Reuters

U.N. Security Council diplomats delayed until Friday a vote on a resolution to increase humanitarian aid into Gaza and another round of talks took place in Egypt to try to get warring Israel and Hamas to agree on a new truce so hostages can be released. – Reuters

Fighting in the Gaza Strip escalated on Thursday with some of the most intense Israeli bombardment of the war and Hamas demonstrated its ability to rocket Tel Aviv, even as the foes engaged in the most serious talks for weeks on a new truce. – Reuters

Israel’s Eilat Port has seen an 85% drop in activity since Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, the port’s chief executive said on Thursday. – Reuters

The entire 2.3 million population of the Gaza Strip is facing crisis levels of hunger and the risk of famine is increasing each day as the Israel-Hamas war grinds on, a U.N.-backed body said in a report published on Thursday. – Reuters

The first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war have been the deadliest recorded for journalists, with the most journalists killed in a single year in one location, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Thursday. – Reuters

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that northern Gaza has been left without a functional hospital due to a lack of fuel, staff and supplies. – Reuters

Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and a Reuters camera crew witnessed rocket interceptions on Thursday as Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip said they launched a salvo at Israel’s commercial capital. – Reuters

Israel’s close friends are worried its military campaign in the Gaza Strip is putting at risk the country’s long-term safety, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an interview that aired on Thursday. – Reuters

Nineteen Israeli prison guards are under investigation in the death of a 38-year-old Palestinian security prisoner in their custody, police said Thursday. – Associated Press

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns has emerged as the main player in US efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, tapping decades of contacts and leveraging his ability to move through the region quietly to tackle one of the US’s gravest foreign-policy crises. – Bloomberg

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron called for a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas on Thursday in order to allow hostages out and aid to be brought in. – Bloomberg

A church and a convent that were struck in Gaza last week were listed among Christian facilities congressional staffers had flagged to Israeli authorities for protection — according to a series of emails from October. – Politico

A delegation of the children and siblings of Israeli hostages being held captive by Hamas in Gaza met with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She told them that the President Joe Biden, is promoting a holiday deal for the release of the hostages ahead of Christmas next week. – Ynet

The Israel Defense Forces has gained control of Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood, the army announced on Thursday. – Haaretz

Israel will seek to empower a moderate Palestinian entity to govern Gaza, Tzachi Hanegbi, The Head of the National Security Council of Israel, said in a Saudi editorial published Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

On Oct. 7, the Negev town of Sderot (population 30,000) was invaded by close to 200 Hamas terrorists, who massacred 50 civilians and 20 police officers. They murdered civilians on the city’s streets and attacked the police station, occupying it until they were overpowered by the IDF. In light of the constant barrage of rocket fire on the city since the beginning of the war, the IDF evacuated virtually all of the city’s residents in mid-October, most of whom are staying in hotels in Eilat, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea region. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF must complete its mission to destroy Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday as he pushed back on pressure to stop the war, while third-party talks for a second hostage deal appeared to falter, with both Israel and Hamas at odds over a ceasefire. – Jerusalem Post

Israel on Thursday firmly rejected a Hamas demand to permanently halt fighting before releasing any more hostages being held by terrorists in Gaza, as talks in Cairo for a truce deal appeared to make little progress. – Times of Israel

Israel has assured the United States of its plans “to transition from a higher intensity level of operations … to something a bit lower-intensity” as its objectives shift in Gaza, the White House said Thursday, according to CNN. – Arutz Sheva

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the days after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, asked US President Joe Biden to pressure Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to open his country’s borders and take in a large number of the civilian population in Gaza, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. – Arutz Sheva

An Israeli strike Thursday on the southern Gaza Strip killed the terror group’s head of operations at the Kerem Shalom border crossing and three others, Hamas claimed. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces announced Thursday that it had expanded its ground operation in the central Gaza Strip to new areas, as Palestinian terrorists fired dozens of rockets at southern and central Israel, putting a violent end to a period of nearly two days in which no projectiles were shot at the country from Gaza as the war on terror group Hamas continues. – Times of Israel

During an operation in the area of Juhor ad-Dik, IDF troops located a weapons storage facility containing large quantities of weapons, as well as long-range rocket launchers from which rockets were fired toward Israeli territory. The launchers were destroyed in an aerial strike. – Arutz Sheva

Israel is currently discussing additional proposals that will convince Hamas to back down from its demands, and allow progress that will lead to a significant deal for the release of hostages. – Arutz Sheva

Editorial: Biden has provided Israel with tremendous support in its war with Hamas, and that should be greatly appreciated. But he is wrong in trying to signal his concern for Palestinians by highlighting Jewish “settler violence” and turning what is a deplorable but fringe phenomenon into something on par with the raging Palestinian terror that continues unabated in Judea and Samaria. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Israel sought to provide its army with a theater of operations in northern Gaza that contained very few civilians, and therefore urged residents of that area to move to “safe spaces” in the south. For weeks now, many thousands of Gazans have been crammed into an area too small to hold them all. This is a dangerous situation. Consequently, Israel must allow a massive influx of food and water into Gaza. Hunger is not something we can accept, and it certainly can’t be used as a plan of action. – Haaretz

Brian Michael Jenkins writes: In early December, the “Commanders for Israel’s Security,” a group of more than 500 former Israeli defense and intelligence officials, proposed just that, a deal in which Israel considers offering Hamas leaders (and possibly fighters) expulsion, along with a number of Palestinian prisoners, in return for the release of the remaining hostages. In hostage negotiations, rarely are there good options — just bad and less bad. The case of the remaining hostages held in Gaza offers no easy resolution. Yet history may point to an acceptable way out. – The Hill

Avi Issacharoff writes: The IDF continues to achieve significant military gains daily. Even though it is far from a decisive victory or a collapse of Hamas, more and more of its tunnels are damaged, and more and more terrorists are killed. It is doubtful whether, at this stage, commanders of the Hamas military wing, including Muhammad Deif overseeing operations in Tuffah or even Haniyeh in Khan Younis, have real control over the ongoing war. – Ynet

Dr. Michael Milshtein writes: At this point in time, at least, there are no signs of such attempts, and we cannot but hope that the younger Palestinian generation will begin to grasp that the battle slogans and victimization embraced by their ancestors have led its people to nothing but disasters, a prime example of which is the ongoing war in Gaza, and start to examine the possibility of replacing them with compromises and focusing on developing life here and now. – Ynet

Jacob Sivak writes: On October 10, just three days after the Hamas massacre in Israel, U.S. President Joe Biden gave a  short address in which he committed the U.S. to stand with Israel. He ended by describing his first visit to Israel as a young senator, 50 years ago, when he met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. The visit took place during a tense period shortly before the Yom Kippur War and Golda could see that the senator was concerned. She told him not to worry, “Israel has a secret weapon; the Jewish people have nowhere else to go.”  All these decades later, that is still the case. – Ynet

Ehud Yaari and Matthew Levitt write: But one outcome should be avoided at all costs: a Hezbollah-style situation in which Hamas members assume executive and legislative roles in a Palestinian government even as the group remains an independent entity and holds onto its weapons and funding streams. Variations of this scenario have garnered support across the Hamas leadership spectrum, from Sinwar and other Gaza chiefs to external figures like Haniyeh to Arouri. Such a system—in which Hamas benefits from being involved in governance but is accountable to no one and still committed to Israel’s destruction—would be a disaster for Palestinians and Israelis alike. – Washington Institute

Daniel Byman writes: Perhaps most important, Israel and the international community should begin the long process of bolstering the PA and other alternatives to Hamas to govern Gaza. Israel must also accept the reality that in many ways, it is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. Its leaders must make hard choices about which goals to prioritize and which to set aside. One Israeli security official put it to me best: “The only resource in the Middle East more plentiful than oil is bad options.” – Foreign Affairs 

Aaron David Miller and Daniel C. Kurtzer write: Yet there will be no Goldilocks option available in the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas war. Biden should adopt a determined stance—in words and deeds—that seriously advances the prospect of a two-state solution. Should he gain a second presidential term, the groundwork he lays in 2024 toward a more lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will position him well to engage more intensively: the situation cannot be allowed to deteriorate until after the U.S. election season passes. Great political and practical pressures weigh on Biden, should he should choose to be bold. But far greater risks may emerge if he doesn’t. – Foreign Affairs

Avinoam Bar-Yosef writes: “We will prepare together a deathblow against the Iranian nukes and eliminate the efforts done by the Ayatollahs in Tehran to destroy the Western culture and dictate the course of history to the free world. “This will be a blow to the axis of evil, to China, to North Korea, and to Russian expansionist ambitions. Both of us will be remembered as we dreamed – like Churchill, not like Chamberlain.” If I were Biden – I would embrace the proposal with both hands. – Jerusalem Post

Gidi Frishtik writes: Conversely, the environmental focus should be on the severe damage caused by the Houthi blockade of Red Sea sailing. This prolongs ship routes forced to bypass Africa, resulting in approximately 10 additional sailing days for thousands of vessels. The cumulative greenhouse gas emissions create a substantial and unnecessary “carbon footprint.” This severe environmental damage, several orders of magnitude greater than the alleged damage in Gaza, has not yet been condemned by UN institutions. – Jerusalem Post

Nikki Haley writes: For that matter, Israel is singled out for things that every country does. Only Israel is denounced for choosing its capital. Only Israel is censured for defending itself from rocket attacks and suicide bombers. Apparently, it would be better if Jews let themselves be killed. The double standard clearly indicates something deeper at work – something far more hateful. – Jerusalem Post

Iran

A former Iranian official sentenced in Sweden to life in prison for his part in a mass execution of political prisoners in Iran will appeal against his conviction to the Supreme Court, his lawyer said on Thursday. – Reuters

An Iranian plot to recruit and deploy Israeli citizens for terror attacks and other missions was uncovered by Shin Bet. the agency said on Thursday adding a warning that Iran was “Playing with fire has dangerous consequences”. – Ynet

Israel’s Shin Bet foiled an Iranian honeypot network that aimed to recruit unsuspecting Israeli civilians to gather intelligence and commit terror attacks under the guise of criminal activities, the Israeli Security Agency announced Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

The Islamic Republic condemned Russia’s stance in support of the United Arab Emirates’ sovereignty claims over three Persian Gulf islands. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Thursday that Tehran will not show “the slightest hesitation in maintaining its territorial integrity.” – Iran International

A member of the Energy Committee of the Iranian Parliament claimed that the cyber attack on Iran’s fuel supply system was carried out “from inside.” Parviz Mohammadnezhad Ghazimahalleh said on Thursday that the the attack which cut off 70% of the country’s petrol stations was a “physical” one. “They entered the system via a USB or a program from inside,” he added without specifying the identities of the people involved. – Iran International

Russia & Ukraine

On China’s snowy border with Russia, a dealership that sells trucks has seen its sales double in the past year thanks to Russian customers. China’s exports to its neighbor are so strong that Chinese construction workers built warehouses and 20-story office towers at the border this summer. – New York Times

The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, and has begun urgent discussions with allies about using the funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort at a moment when financial support is waning, according to senior American and European officials. – New York Times

On the tarmac of a Moscow airport in late August, Yevgeny Prigozhin waited on his Embraer Legacy 600 for a safety check to finish before it could take off. The mercenary army chief was headed home to St. Petersburg with nine others onboard. Through the delay, no one inside the cabin noticed the small explosive device slipped under the wing. – Wall Street Journal 

To placate a war-weary population, Russia has doled out billions of dollars of cheap loans for its citizens to buy new homes. – Wall Street Journal 

Russian drones targeted the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, early on Friday, injuring two people and damaging property in the city in Moscow’s latest overnight drone strike against Ukraine. – Reuters

Ukraine hopes to reach agreement with the new Polish government this week to end truck blockades at the countries’ border crossings, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia has launched about 7,400 missiles and 3,700 Shahed attack drones at targets in Ukraine during its 22-month-old invasion, Kyiv said on Thursday, illustrating the vast scale of Moscow’s aerial assaults. – Reuters

Ukraine has received the last 1.5 billion euro ($1.65 billion)tranche from the 18 billion package from the European Union for 2023, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia has handed out more than $12 billion in state subsidies and loans to keep its aviation sector afloat since Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine cut off supplies of key parts and maintenance services, a Reuters analysis shows. – Reuters

The year started with high hopes for Ukrainian troops planning a counteroffensive against Russia. It ended with disappointment on the battlefield, an increasingly somber mood among troops and anxiety about the future of Western aid for Ukraine’s war effort. – Associated Press

Ukraine’s armed forces are taking up a more defensive posture, a military analysis said Wednesday, after their summer counteroffensive failed to achieve a major breakthrough against Russia’s army and as winter weather sets in after almost 22 months of the war. – Associated Press

Ukraine’s parliament voted Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana, after the war with Russia left thousands of people with post-traumatic stress disorder that many believe could be eased by the drug. –  Associated Press

Former Chelsea soccer team owner Roman Abramovich lost a legal attempt to overturn European Union sanctions imposed on him for his role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with an EU court dismissing his claim Wednesday. – Associated Press

Ukraine faces risks from insufficient foreign aid for its war effort against Russia’s invasion as early as the first two months of next year, according to Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko. – Bloomberg

Jason Smart writes: It’s time to force Russia to focus on its domestic situation, rather than steering Europe toward new catastrophes. More broadly, to stop the advance of dictatorships abroad, we must remove the keystone regime that is holding together and propelling their global expansion. – The Hill

Stephen Crowley writes: One assumption we can safely make is that Putin and his circle regard their self-interest as paramount. Should the war in Ukraine end, restarting it or engaging in another war would demand still more of the Russian population, including greater social and economic hardship. Any new foreign interventions will rely on an ever-smaller economic base. At the very least, Kremlin leaders will need to reckon with the following: Mobilizing dwindling manpower and financial resources for yet another conquest could create greater risks to regime stability. Should talks lead to a ceasefire, Western leaders should not automatically assume the Russian leaders are simply buying time for a new war. They may not be able to. – War on the Rocks

Hezbollah

IDF fighter jets struck a series of Hezbollah terrorist targets in Lebanon on Wednesday night and Thursday, the IDF said. – Jerusalem Post

Two Israeli civilians were wounded Thursday in an anti-tank missile attack from Lebanon on the northern town of Dovev, which occurred at the same time as another missile appeared to hit cars in the nearby community of Avivim. – Times of Israel

A series of massive explosions rattled the residents of Moshav Shtula in Western Galilee on Wednesday morning. “The entire town was shaking,” testified Yaniv Turgeman, the head of the local council. – Ynet

Five Israelis were lightly wounded after anti-tank missiles fired by Hezbollah hit two communities in northern Israel on Thursday. – Haaretz

Jonathan Spyer writes: Ben, a reservist squad commander in the airborne infantry, laughed when I asked him about the possibility of a northern war. “It’s a myth that Israel might open a front in the north,” he said, “because there’s already a front open. Opened by an organization that’s part of the Lebanese government. The front is already open.” – Wall Street Journal

Lebanon

The ripple effects of the war in Gaza are likely to knock Lebanon’s fragile economy, which had begun making a tepid recovery after years of crisis, back into recession, the World Bank said in a report released Thursday. – Associated Press

An Israeli strike killed an elderly woman and wounded her husband in their home in southern Lebanon early on Thursday, Lebanon’s state news agency and a security source said. – Reuters

Israel Nitzan, former Acting Consul General of Israel in New York, on Thursday ripped the UN after it published a report which detailed how the tensions between Israel and Lebanon have affected the Lebanese people, while making no mention of the fallout on the Israeli side. – Arutz Sheva

Alexander Langlois writes: The time has come for U.S. leaders to take a stronger political stance against war in the Middle East. The Biden administration, which claims to be ending “forever wars,” would be wise to take concrete actions that prevent it from sleepwalking into the next one. Ultimately, the U.S. public does not want to enter another war—a point Biden should take to heart as he hopes to win re-election in 2024 amid terrible polling numbers. – The National Interest

Yemen

Most of the massive ships that carry some 12 percent of all world trade through the Suez Canal have turned course, set to travel the long way around southern Africa instead. Attacks on passing ships by Iranian-aligned Houthi militants in Yemen, in response to Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, have choked the only southern approach to the planet’s most-trafficked shortcut. – Washington Post

A total of more than 20 countries have agreed to participate in the new U.S.-led coalition safeguarding commercial traffic in the Red Sea from attacks by Yemen’s Houthi movement as more nations join the effort, the Pentagon said on Thursday. – Reuters

Greece said on Thursday it would send a naval frigate to the Red Sea to protect shipping after attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi group. – Reuters

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday discussed with his French counterpart, Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastian Lecornu, the continued attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthis. – Arutz Sheva

Middle East & North Africa

The Biden administration is preparing to relax restrictions on some weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said on Thursday, crediting the kingdom’s peace talks with a militia in Yemen for hastening an easing of the constraints. – New York Times

Not far from where Russia’s Foreign Minister is holding meetings in Tunisia on Thursday, large green billboards advertising Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed media outlet, have been recently erected. The ads are yet another indicator that Russia continues to expand its presence in North Africa as support for western powers across the Arab World fades amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. With deep trade ties and large diaspora populations in western Europe, North African countries have long maintained close, albeit complicated, relations with the European Union. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) foreign minister has met a senior Palestinian Authority (PA) official in Abu Dhabi where they discussed international efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza, the Emirati state news agency reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Iraqi militias launched a drone attack on Eilat, but the drone never made it and was intercepted by Jordan in its airspace. An X (formerly Twitter) account associated with the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella term for multiple pro-iran militias, announced that they had launched a drone attack on Eilat in Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Former navy commander Eliezer (Chayni) Marom expressed his concerns about the Israeli media’s portrayal of the Houthis in Yemen during an interview with 103FM on Thursday morning. Marom emphasized that the Houthis should not be underestimated, as they are a highly dangerous terrorist organization that Israel has encountered in the past. – Jerusalem Post

Chris Kobel writes: It cannot, and should not, overwhelmingly minimize its physical presence until the safety of our allies and partners is assured via an architecture of comprehensive mutual security cooperation supported, but not dominated, by the United States. But in order for such an outcome to be achieved, the U.S. government must remain steadfastly engaged in supporting and advancing all forms of regional security integration and capacity building, no matter how challenging that may be in this post-October 7 world. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

South Korea and Japan held high-level economic talks on Thursday for the first time in eight years, in a further sign of improving ties as the countries are drawn closer by shared geopolitical concerns. – Reuters

A new reactor at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex appears to be operating for the first time, the U.N. nuclear watchdog and independent experts said on Thursday, which would mean an additional potential source of plutonium for nuclear weapons. – Reuters

The top diplomats of the United States, South Korea and Japan on Wednesday condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches and urged Pyongyang to engage in “substantive dialogue without preconditions,” they said in a joint statement. – Reuters

China

The U.S. military’s top general spoke with his Chinese counterpart Thursday, the Pentagon said, a thawing in a long freeze after China broke off military-to-military communication more than a year ago following pointed disagreements. – Washington Post

Washington does not see any change in China’s tone on Taiwan, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told CNBC on Thursday when asked about media reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden that Beijing will reunify Taiwan with China. – Reuters

China will resume importing grouper fish from Taiwan from Friday, the Chinese government announced, just one day after angering Taipei with the ending of tariff cuts on some chemical imports less than a month before Taiwanese elections. – Reuters

The US Commerce Department will begin gathering information on Chinese production of legacy semiconductors — chips that aren’t cutting-edge but are still vital to the global economy — as it looks to track how deeply reliant US companies have become on the technology from China. – Bloomberg

Senator Lindsey Graham said he’ll help draft sanctions to impose on China if it tried invading Taiwan. – Bloomberg

A Hong Kong court on Friday rejected a bid by prominent activist publisher Jimmy Lai to throw out a sedition charge against him, delivering the ruling on the third day of his landmark national security trial. – Associated Press 

William Toti writes: We won that battle, but it remains to be seen how we would do in a war over Taiwan. But one thing is clear: The Navy today needs to develop a “Yorktown Plan,” using waivers and temporary measures to get our submarines out of maintenance if necessary for a potential future war. In short, we need to focus less on the enemy, and focus more on restoring strategic priorities and governmental competence. From all appearances, we have an incredibly long way to go. – The Hill

Megan Hogan writes: Whereas companies could theoretically divert chip sales to countries other than China to make up for lost sales, in reality these sales are unlikely to match massive Chinese market demand. Today, the COVID-19 semiconductor boom has faded, as higher interest rates have dampened purchases of products that use semiconductors. The U.S. government should therefore have strong justification before cutting off these companies’ main source of revenue at a time when they are bracing for uncertainty. – War on the Rocks

South Asia

More than two years after the Taliban’s takeover, its internationally isolated government is pushing ahead with a plan to make the Afghan economy more self-sustaining, if not outright self-sufficient. – Washington Post

Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan remains disqualified from contesting elections after a court rejected his plea to suspend an earlier conviction on Thursday, his lawyer said. – Reuters

Myanmar’s military has likely perpetrated indiscriminate attacks on civilians and used banned cluster munitions in its fight against ethnic minority insurgents, Amnesty International said on Thursday, calling for an investigation of suspected war crimes. – Reuters

Four Indian soldiers were killed and three others were wounded in an ambush by militants fighting against New Delhi’s rule in disputed Kashmir, officials said on Thursday. – Associated Press

Asia

Japan is set to announce that it will approve the sale of advanced air defense systems to the United States, a significant shift in its postwar policies restricting the export of weapons and military hardware, and a move that could help Washington support Ukraine in its fight against Russia. – New York Times

Japanese Industry Minister Ken Saito said on Friday that U.S.-Japanese ties were “stronger than ever”, although he declined to comment directly on growing scrutiny in the United States of a proposed deal for Nippon Steel to buy U.S. Steel. – Reuters

Relations between Manila and Beijing have soured under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, with Manila pivoting back towards the United States which supports the Southeast Asian nation in its maritime disputes with China. – Reuters

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned the Philippines that any miscalculation in their escalating dispute in the South China Sea would bring a resolute response, and urged dialogue to address “serious difficulties” between the two neighbours. – Reuters

The US Air Force “continues to explore all options to prioritize and expedite” sales of F-16s to Taiwan, an official said in response to concern expressed by two dozen Republican members of Congress. – Bloomberg

The human rights group Amnesty International on Thursday accused the Myanmar military of indiscriminate killings, detaining civilians, and using air-dropped cluster munitions in response to an insurgency in the northeast and west, and demanded an investigation into war crimes. – Associated Press 

Australia will send 11 military personnel to support a U.S.-led mission to protect cargo shipping in the Red Sea, but it won’t send a warship or plane, the defense minister said Thursday. – Associated Press

The leader of the main insurgent group in southwestern Pakistan appeared before cameras on Wednesday to say he has surrendered to authorities with some 70 of his followers and is giving up his yearslong fight for independence – Associated Press

A Japanese court on Wednesday ordered the governor of Okinawa to approve the central government’s modified plan for landfill work at the planned relocation site of a key U.S. military base on the southern island despite persistent opposition and protests by residents. – Defense News

Ye Myo Hein and Lucas Myers writes: If the United States is serious about a free and open Indo-Pacific, then doing what it can to ensure the success of Myanmar’s growing resistance is not only the right thing but also a vital American interest. – New York Times

Europe

Czech police said a gunman killed 14 people in the capital, Prague, on Thursday, one of the worst mass killings in Europe in nearly a decade. – Washington Post

European Union governments have agreed on new rules to curb budget deficits and debt, drawing a line under years of freewheeling spending during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war. – Wall Street Journal  

There is no Hungarian-Turkish deal with regards to the ratification of Sweden’s bid for NATO membership as it will be up to Hungarian parliament to decide when to vote on this, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a news briefing on Thursday. – Reuters

Britain and Switzerland signed a wide-ranging financial services deal on Thursday granting reciprocal market access for their banks, insurers, asset managers and stock exchanges to boost trade and cut compliance costs. – Reuters

The European Union’s top court said on Thursday that Poland’s Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs of the Supreme Court was not an independent tribunal under EU law. – Reuters

Hungary believes European Union funding to Ukraine must not be granted from the EU’s budget and a “sensible” timeline should be set for any financing for Ukraine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Polish president on Thursday denounced as “anarchy” state media reforms announced by Prime Minister Donald Tusk as tensions mounted between the head of state and Tusk’s new pro-European Union administration. – Reuters

Poland’s parliament voted for a resolution seeking changes in the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), as the new government attempts to undo reforms by the previous administration that critics say politicised the courts. – Reuters

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán says he has accepted an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy to hold a bilateral meeting in the future, a potential first between the two leaders since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. –  Associated Press

Northern European countries are rushing to shelter under Washington’s security umbrella. A surge of new defense agreements between the U.S. and allies in Northern Europe allow for the fast-track deployment of American troops, marking the latest response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Politico

Norbert Röttgen writes: Without NATO deterrence, Putin would be free to recover, regroup, and eventually attack again. And Ukraine would not be the only country at risk of a renewed assault; other states such as Moldova and the Baltic countries would be under constant threat, as well. Europe can prevent this nightmare scenario from happening only if it sheds its illusions and wholeheartedly commits to Ukraine’s defense. – Foreign Affairs 

Bart M. J. Szewczyk writes: Leaders of these four countries attended NATO’s annual summits in 2022 and 2023, but instead of cooperating on an ad hoc basis, it would be better to establish standing open invitations to NATO summits and ministerial meetings. The bloc could also establish a council of NATO members and Indo-Pacific states—akin to the NATO-Ukraine Council—where those partners could convene meetings and be on equal footing with the NATO allies. Over time, additional partners could also be invited. – Foreign Policy

Africa

Angola has decided to leave the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), its oil minister said on Thursday, saying its membership was not serving the country’s interests. – Reuters

The World Bank has approved two separate loans worth about $1.14 billion combined to Tanzania to support its private sector, develop its commercial capital and fight effects of climate change, the bank said. – Reuters

Congo was wrapping up its second day of voting Thursday after a chaotic rollout and lengthy delays forced officials to extend the balloting in the general election. The problems drew criticism from some opposition candidates as concerns mounted that the logistical hurdles could affect the credibility of the results. – Associated Press 

France will close its diplomatic mission in Niger following this summer’s coup d’etat in the West African nation and a souring of relations between the two countries, according to a letter sent to embassy staff – Associated Press

Men in dusty workwear trudge through a thicket, making their way up a hill where sprawling plantations lay tucked in a Nigerian rainforest whose trees have been hacked away to make room for cocoa bound for places like Europe and the U.S. – Associated Press

Fighting between Sudan’s military and a notorious paramilitary group forced up to 300,000 people to flee their homes in a province that had been a safe haven for families displaced by the devastating conflict in the northeastern African country, the U.N. said Thursday. – Associated Press

Javier Blas writes: The UAE not only has ample spare capacity – it pumps 3.1 million and probably can do 4 million – but also foreign backing to invest in new oilfields that would boost production capacity to as much as 5 million barrels. The departure of Angola makes it more likely that Riyadh will have to let the UAE to produce, over time, even more oil. The risks for OPEC start in Luanda — but ultimately end more dangerously in Abu Dhabi. – Bloomberg

The Americas

President Biden said he will send top U.S. officials to Mexico in the coming days to seek help with the record migration surge that has pushed the number of illegal border crossings to more than 10,000 per day, prompting U.S. authorities to shut down two major railway crossings and other ports of entry. – Washington Post

South America has long been the world’s sleeping energy giant, with massive oil-and-gas reserves still untapped. Now it is rumbling awake, with huge implications for the global market. – Wall Street Journal

Now the dispute over Essequibo — an oil-rich, Guyanese region nearly the size of Florida — has flared back to life. This month, Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, unveiled new maps displaying it as part of Venezuela, nominated an Army general as its governor and offered Venezuelan identity cards to people living in the sparsely-populated region. – New York Times

Mexico’s army appears to be raiding only a handful of active drug labs every month, despite U.S. pressure to crack down on fentanyl trafficking, with facilities that were already out of use accounting for 95% of seizures this year, according to defense ministry figures obtained by Reuters. – Reuters

Twenty-four Venezuelans have been freed as part of this week’s prisoner exchange deal with the United States, Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado said on Thursday. – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart agreed during a call on Thursday that more enforcement at the border between their countries is needed, the White House said, as record numbers of people trying to cross have disrupted trade. – Reuters

For the first time since mass European migration to the Americas at the turn of the 20th century, the number of foreigners living in Uruguay is on the rise, this time driven by a wave of arrivals from Venezuela and Cuba. – Reuters

Imprisoned Americans freed in a deal between the Biden administration and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro arrived to the U.S. late Wednesday, officials confirmed. Six of the 10 Americans included in the agreement — who were considered wrongfully detained — landed at Kelly Airfield Annex in San Antonio, Texas, according to the administration. – The Hill

United States

Fat Leonard, the celebrated con man and fugitive from U.S. justice, got snookered in the end. As recently as Monday, Leonard Glenn Francis thought he was on the verge of permanently gaining his liberty after 15 months of trying to outrun U.S. officials, according to Francis’s attorney and others who have been in contact with him. – Washington Post

The U.S. Congress left Washington this week for an extended holiday break with several key issues unsettled including emergency aid for Ukraine and tighter border security, setting the stage for a complicated January. – Reuters

Editorial: The political risk in the New Year is a right-left political whipsaw against a deal. Progressives are trying to build grass-roots opposition to any immigration compromise, while Donald Trump is likely to denounce a compromise as a sellout because he wants to campaign against border chaos next year. But migrant flows are reaching new and alarming highs, and both Mr. Biden and Republicans have a political stake in reducing that surge while helping Ukraine and Israel. Much is riding on doing so—for the U.S. and the world. – Wall Street Journal 

Sen. Ron Johnson writes: The essential ingredient will be how to enforce any agreement reached. I have suggested making Ukraine funding contingent on benchmarks being met on a monthly basis. I am open to other foolproof enforcement ideas, but negotiators must realize enforcement is the key to any agreement that can pass the House and Senate. – Washington Examiner

Janet MurguÍa writes: Any political calculation that they would support candidates who’ve signed off on a mechanism that would trigger the violation of civil rights and mass deportations is deeply flawed. Many of these voters, including those who live in swing states like Arizona and Nevada, will likely stay home or look for other alternatives on Election Day. Those impacted will never forget.  – The Hill

Cybersecurity

The hacker group known as Cloud Atlas targeted a Russian agro-industrial enterprise and a state-owned research company in a new espionage campaign, researchers have found. – The Record

A hospital near Kansas City, Missouri, is struggling to provide care to patients this week after a cyberattack limited its systems. – The Record

New rules in the United Kingdom could see victims of romance and investment scams reimbursed by the banks involved in sending and receiving fraudulent payments in a radical change to who is liable for these losses. – The Record

Yuval Levin writes: That isn’t because we know where artificial intelligence will take us, but precisely because we don’t. Worrying properly about a novel technology with tremendous promise and a real potential for creating novel risks requires clarity and humility. The AI debates could use more of both. – Wall Street Journal 

Marietje Schaake writes: AI safeguards, too, will require new and updated laws as well as the resources and technical capacity to enforce them. Today, many political and corporate leaders are trying to jump straight to the end, focusing on overarching institutions rather than the policies that make them work. History is a valuable guide, but it is not a shortcut. – Foreign Affairs

Defense

Israeli-developed technology will be protecting US troops against potentially lethal gamma radiation and help them to be better prepared for a nuclear incident on American soil. – Times of Israel

The U.S. Army is readying to trim its UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter fleet by nearly 8% as it prepares to field a replacement, Maj. Gen. Mac McCurry, the Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence commander, told Defense News in a recent interview. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy has one ship operating with a fully virtualized combat system and is on the cusp of having several more join the fleet, marking a major step forward in the Navy’s effort to field a single combat system that can better connect ships and bring on new capabilities faster. – Defense News

The U.S. defense market understandably focuses on marquee programs for national defense; think bombers, subs, and satellites. The broader reality is that there’s a tremendous amount of capability delivered to the Defense Department through a middle tier of nimble, innovative companies that are pushing the ball forward to fill urgent needs. – Breaking Defense

US Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville bid adieu to the service this summer, handing the baton and a host of imperatives, from a munition production ramp up to a fight for more recruits to his successor, Gen. Randy George. After serving a stint as the acting chief due to Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blanket hold on military nominees, George was sworn in as the 41st Army chief in September and brought with him four focus areas — warfighting, delivering ready combat power, undergoing continuous transformation and strengthening the profession of arms. – Breaking Defense

The U.S. Army is gearing up to replace a targeting process that depends on spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks with a smarter one that collates options automatically. But it can’t get started until Congress passes a 2024 budget. – Defense One

Defense giant RTX last week announced CEO Greg Hayes will step down, and in his place will come Chris Calio, the company’s president and chief operating officer, who will take the top job in May. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy has one ship operating with a fully virtualized combat system and is on the cusp of having several more join the fleet, marking a major step forward in the Navy’s effort to field a single combat system that can better connect ships and bring on new capabilities faster. – Defense News

Long War

Turkish authorities have detained 304 people suspected of having ties to militant group Islamic State in operations across 32 provinces, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on Friday. – Reuters

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter on Friday criticizing the Associated Press and its style guide for guidance that advises against using the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” to describe Hamas and its Oct. 7 attack on Israel. – Jewish Insider

Suzy Hansen writes: In October, the Americans and Israelis said that Oct. 7 was Israel’s Sept. 11. Americans know that on Sept. 11, Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people, and in the 20 years that followed, the U.S. war on terror killed almost one million. Many Americans, marooned in the condition of future thinking, fear what could come next in the Middle East. They fear that one day Israel, aided by the United States, will destroy Gaza entirely. They fear that the devastation will set off another horrifying cascade of crises, an unfathomable loss of life. And they know that someday Americans will question what madness overcame them in 2023, why they once again allowed the killing of so many people, and what happened to them long ago that made them this way. – New York Times