Fdd's overnight brief

December 26, 2023

In The News

Israel

Israel’s war cabinet met on Monday night to discuss a three-step plan put forward by Egypt for ending the war in Gaza, Israeli officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Pope Francis called for an end to the war in Gaza and denounced the international arms industry for fomenting conflicts there and around the globe, in his traditional Christmas message “to the city (of Rome) and the world.” – Wall Street Journal

The Israeli military says it could take months to assert control over a key city in southern Gaza, as Hamas guerrilla tactics are causing casualties to mount among Israeli troops. – Wall Street Journal

The Israeli military said it is approaching what it calls full operational control in the northern Gaza Strip and ordered tens of thousands of residents who have already been displaced to evacuate again, to another central area. – Wall Street Journal

The Israeli military is pouring resources into the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis to neutralize Hamas’s top brass, as the enclave’s authorities declared that the death toll in the war had passed 20,000. – Wall Street Journal

In its plan for the day after Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas from Gaza, the United States hopes to pave the way for the beleaguered Palestinian Authority to take control, by encouraging the formation of a new government and launching training for its security forces. – Washington Post

The Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip has been unlike any other in the 21st century. In response to the unprecedented assault by Hamas on Oct. 7, Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion that began 20 days later have destroyed large swaths of the besieged territory, killed at least 20,057 people and displaced a vast majority of the population. – Washington Post

The United States abstained Friday on a painfully negotiated U.N. Security Council resolution on Gaza, allowing passage of a measure designed to rapidly expand and facilitate humanitarian aid to a Palestinian civilian population now said to be close to famine. – Washington Post

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Israeli troops fighting in the Gaza Strip on Monday, vowing to stay the course of the war even with the death toll mounting. His trip came hours after Gazan health officials reported that a devastating overnight strike on a crowded neighborhood had killed dozens. – New York Times

The Israeli economy is expected to shrink by 2 percent this quarter, according to a leading research center, with hundreds of thousands of workers displaced by the war with Hamas or called up as reservists. – New York Times

Days of intense negotiations enabled the Biden administration to avoid casting a veto at the United Nations Security Council in defense of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. – New York Times

The Oct. 7 attack on Israel has prompted soul-searching on the Israeli left, undermining faith in a shared future with Palestinians. It has created a crisis of confidence on the Israeli right, sapping support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It has drawn ultra-Orthodox Jews, often ambivalent about their relationship to the Israeli state, closer to the mainstream. – New York Times

United Nations and other aid officials warned on Saturday that a new U.N. Security Council resolution calling for stepped-up aid delivery to the increasingly hungry and sick civilians of the Gaza Strip would fail to stop the spiraling humanitarian crisis because it did not demand a full halt to the fighting. – New York Times

Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad have rejected an Egyptian proposal that they relinquish power in the Gaza Strip in return for a permanent ceasefire, two Egyptian security sources told Reuters on Monday. – Reuters

Eighty days into Israel’s war to dismantle Hamas, the cautions issued by Israeli military chiefs from the start that this will be a hard and protracted campaign are proving increasingly accurate. – Times of Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu writes: Once Hamas is destroyed, Gaza is demilitarized and Palestinian society begins a deradicalization process, Gaza can be rebuilt and the prospects of a broader peace in the Middle East will become a reality. – Wall Street Journal

Thomas L. Friedman writes: Perfect is never on the table in Gaza. Israel needs to coolly, rationally think through its options, and the Biden administration needs to stop whispering quietly that Israel should reconsider its war aims and tactics. The Biden team needs to engage Israelis in a loud, blunt, no-holds-barred discussion about how much it has already achieved militarily, how best to consolidate those gains and how to end this war with some kind of new balance of power in Israel’s favor — before Israel sinks itself into the quicksand of Gaza, chasing a perfect victory that is a mirage. – New York Times

Raphael S. Cohen writes: That is the trouble with cease-fires: They are short-term fixes amid the lasting problem of war. Given all the blood that has already been spilled, the international community must ensure that this war results not in some sort of temporary truce, but a lasting peace. – Foreign Policy

Dr. Nachum Shiloh writes: In any case, any Israeli move in Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor will require Israel to negotiate and cooperate with Egypt on this matter, taking into serious consideration Egypt’s positions and needs. In particular, Egypt is a preferred regional mediator for Israel not only in dealing with the issue of hostages but also in all matters related to communication channels with any Palestinian authority in the Gaza Strip. Failure to consider Egypt’s needs might result in a catastrophe, leading to the restoration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s control in Egypt and the return to power of Hamas’ ideological patrons.” – Jerusalem Post

Rabbi Moshe Hauer writes: Mr. President, we care deeply for the survival of Israel as “we have nowhere else to go.” But we are no less committed to continuing our mission as the people that represents all that is good, faithful, moral, and charitable, the “light unto the nations.” That light has been shrouded by alternative versions of reality, by false and by terribly incomplete narratives. We need your clear and strong voice to correct that. – Jerusalem Post

Barry Shaw writes: His faith has been shaken, but he could be encouraged to bring his entrepreneurial skills to the new Gaza venture in the name and image of his daughter once he is sure that the future will not be made by those who lost us half a century of hope and peace in myopic fallacies and malevolent intentions. A successful new Gaza can be an example of change to Palestinians living under a failed Ramallah leadership. In that future, Gazans can and will decide on their own whether they want to remain independent or join a confederation with either the PA, Israel, or both. – Jerusalem Post

Iran

Escalating Iran-backed attacks against global commercial shipping in the Red Sea have heightened pressure on the Biden administration as officials scramble to protect trade while trying to avoid a direct confrontation with Tehran. – Wall Street Journal

A chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean was struck by a drone launched directly from Iran early Saturday, the Pentagon said, signaling a widening risk to shipping after Yemeni rebels started attacking vessels in the Red Sea. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s paramilitary forces are providing real-time intelligence and weaponry, including drones and missiles, to Yemen’s Houthis that the rebels are using to target ships passing through the Red Sea, Western and regional security officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Iran accused Israel on Monday of killing a high-level military figure in a missile strike in Syria at a time when concerns are growing that the war in Gaza could escalate into a regional conflict. – New York Times

Iran said on Monday it would keep seeking the release of a former Iranian official sentenced in Sweden to life in prison over a mass execution of political prisoners in Iran. – Reuters

Members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) have signed a fully-fledged free trade agreement with Iran, Russia’s economy ministry and the EEU said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran denied on Monday a U.S. claim that a drone launched from Iran had struck a chemical tanker in the Indian ocean. – Reuters

The Iranian navy has taken delivery of cruise missiles with a range of 1,000 km (621 miles) as well as reconnaissance helicopters, state media reported on Sunday, as the U.S. accused Iran of a drone attack on a chemical tanker in the Indian ocean. – Reuters

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said the Mediterranean Sea could be closed if the United States and its allies continued to commit “crimes” in Gaza, Iranian media reported on Saturday, without explaining how that would happen. – Reuters

Iran summoned Russia’s charge d’affaires after Moscow and Arab countries released a joint statement earlier this week challenging Iran’s claim to disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, state media reported Sunday. – Associated Press

William J. Luti writes: Now history repeats itself. The multinational naval task force deployed to escort Red Sea shipping amid Iranian proxies’ hostility is a welcome step. But if the Biden administration wants the Houthis to stop, it should remember that Houthis can’t fire missiles and drones they no longer have. – Wall Street Journal

Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet write: “’Twas the night before Armageddon” may not be catchy, but it rightly describes the nightmare we find ourselves in the Mideast as Khamenei nears the goal line of taking Iran nuclear. US inaction will become paralysis if Iran gets the bomb. Iran’s nuclear breakout could be as soon as New Year’s Day. It is way past time for the Biden administration to find a new resolution to confront and put an end to Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. – New York Post

Russia & Ukraine

Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who had been unreachable for more than two weeks, has been moved to a remote penal colony in the country’s far north, making it far harder for him to organize any meaningful resistance to Vladimir Putin’s plan to remain in power in next year’s presidential election. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian forces are suffering from a shortage of artillery shells on the front line, prompting some units to cancel planned assaults, soldiers said, and stoking fears over how long Kyiv’s troops will be able to hold their ground against continuing Russian attacks. – Washington Post

The Ukrainian military said on Monday that it had shot down five Russian fighter jets in three days, one of the biggest weekly losses for the Russian air force since the war began and a rare bright spot for Ukraine, whose forces have faced setbacks since its failed monthslong counteroffensive this year. – New York Times

President Vladimir V. Putin’s confidence seems to know no bounds. Buoyed by Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive and flagging Western support, Mr. Putin says that Russia’s war goals have not changed. Addressing his generals on Tuesday, he boasted that Ukraine was so beleaguered that Russia’s invading troops were doing “what we want.” – New York Times

Russian forces have scored small territorial gains along Ukraine’s eastern front in recent weeks, using their manpower advantage in grueling battles and prompting the Ukrainian authorities to consider a push to mobilize up to 500,000 soldiers to sustain the exhausting fight next year. – New York Times

The Biden administration announced plans to crack down on banks and financial services firms that are helping Russia evade strict sanctions on access to military technology and equipment that are aiding its war against Ukraine. – New York Times

Russia said on Sunday that its forces have gained full control of Maryinka in Ukraine’s east, but Kyiv’s military denied Moscow’s claim, saying Ukrainian troops were still within the borders of the blighted town. – Reuters

Russia launched 31 drones and 2 missiles at Ukraine overnight, mostly targeting the south of the country, with air defences destroying 28 drones and both missiles, the Ukrainian military said on Monday. – Reuters

Russia may cut diplomatic ties with the United States if Washington confiscates Russian assets frozen over the Ukrainian war, the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Friday. – Reuters

Editorial: Russia has lost about 87% of its prewar force in Ukraine, with some 315,000 soldiers killed or injured, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment. Even verbal opposition to the war is considered a crime, so Mr. Navalny’s campaign is a rare opportunity for Russians to express their frustration. – Wall Street Journal

Hezbollah

The Biden administration has been holding talks with Israel, Lebanon and intermediaries for Hezbollah aimed at reducing current tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese border and restoring calm there longer-term by moving Hezbollah forces away from the frontier, according to Lebanese and Israeli officials, and other participants in the talks. – New York Times

For the first time since the outbreak of the war two and a half months ago, a senior official in Hezbollah provided an explanation of the Lebanese terrorist organization’s readiness to launch an all-out war against Israel, N12 reported on Saturday. – Jerusalem Post

For the second day in a row, Israel said it carried out broad attacks on Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, in response to rockets and missiles it fired at northern Israel throughout the day on Monday. – Times of Israel

Lebanon is ready to implement a UN resolution that would help end Hezbollah’s cross-border attacks on Israel if Israel also complies and withdraws from disputed territory, Lebanon’s prime minister claimed on Friday. – Agence France-Presse

Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson and Ari Cicurel write: Hezbollah’s aggression may boil over into a multi-front war that pits Israel against an even more capable enemy than the one it currently faces in Gaza. Preventing Hezbollah from escalating to such a war and Israel’s ability to win such a deadly and destructive war should it begin will hinge on strong, consistent U.S. support. – The Hill

Turkey

Turkey said on Monday its air force “neutralised” 26 Kurdish militants in strikes in Syria and northern Iraq in response to the killing of soldiers at the weekend, while authorities also detained dozens of pro-Kurdish opposition activists. – Reuters

The Syrian Democratic Forces said late on Monday that eight people have been killed and 18 others wounded in Turkish airstrikes against SDF-controlled areas since Dec. 23. – Reuters

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission will sit down again on Tuesday to consider Sweden’s NATO membership bid, parliament’s website showed on Friday, a first step necessary for ratification. – Reuters

Three Turkish soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq, the Turkish Defence Ministry said in a statement on Friday. – Reuters

Bekir Aydoğan writes: Considering Ankara’s poor relations with the PUK, it may not be happy with this possibility, but the PUK will want to use it as a bargaining chip against both Erbil and Ankara. Erbiloğlu stressed that “in such a scenario, Turkmens will be divided into two: green Turkmen and yellow Turkmen”—a reference to the Kurdistan Region’s administrative, political, and military divides, which are split between the KDP’s yellow zone and the PUK’s green zone. – Washington Institute

Arabian Peninsula

After Iran-backed rebels took over the capital of Yemen in 2014, a 30-year-old Saudi prince named Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded a military intervention to rout them. With American assistance and weapons, Saudi pilots embarked on a bombing campaign called Operation Decisive Storm inside Yemen, the mountainous nation on their southern border. Officials expected to swiftly defeat the rebels, a ragtag tribal militia known as the Houthis. – New York Times

When Iranian-backed militias repeatedly targeted U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq this fall, the Biden administration struck back with force. Action was needed, officials said, to deter the groups from turning Israel’s conflict with Hamas into a wider war. – New York Times

A new poll has found that 96 percent of Saudis believe that Arab countries should cut all ties with Israel to protest the war in Gaza, posing a significant challenge to the Biden administration’s push for Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. – New York Times

The Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Iran-aligned Houthis have both committed to steps towards a ceasefire, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen said on Saturday. – Reuters

Dan Hannan writes: One of this column’s constant themes is that a country with as large a fiscal deficit as America’s needs to pick its battles carefully. There are conflicts, including that in Ukraine, that call for active U.S. engagement. But there are other conflicts that cannot be won, and where the best policy is therefore to negotiate from a position of strength. Yemen is such a case. – Washington Examiner

James Holmes writes: And yet. It remains hard to fathom why any sensible competitor would deliberately export technology that could be turned against it. Alliances, coalitions, and partnerships are perishable, while weapons endure—witness the spectacle of Soviet-equipped armed forces clashing in Ukraine. Proliferating antiship ballistic missiles would be an endeavor fraught with risk and peril for China.  One hopes dwellers in the shadowy world of classified intelligence are looking into this matter, in an effort to parse not just what has transpired but what China’s motives might be and what the future may hold in Eurasia’s environs. Foresight constitutes the first step toward wise counterstrategy. – The National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

The U.S. said it struck three drone facilities used by a Shiite militant group and other groups in Iraq in response to a series of attacks by the groups on American positions in Iraq and Syria, including an attack Monday in northern Iraq in which three U.S. troops were wounded, including one critically. – Wall Street Journal

Moller-Maersk said Sunday it plans to restart shipments through the Red Sea after pausing operations there earlier this month following attacks on its vessels. The shipping and logistics company said it had started preparing to allow vessels to resume both east- and westbound movements through the Red Sea, a waterway that leads to the Suez Canal—a major thoroughfare for global trade. – Wall Street Journal

Thousands of protesters staged one of the largest pro-Palestinian marches in Rabat on Sunday since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, demanding an end to Morocco’s ties with Israel. – Reuters

The presidents of Egypt and Iran discussed recent developments in Gaza and the prospect of restoring diplomatic ties between their two countries in what Iranian state television said on Saturday was their first phone call. – Reuters

Paul A. London writes: The bottom line is this. The U.S. is the only country that has the weight to work with Israel and the Palestinians toward a balanced peace even after Oct. 7 and Gaza. It is hard to imagine disparate Middle Eastern countries, China, Russia or even our friends in Europe bringing the Palestinians and Israelis into a successful negotiation without committed U.S. involvement. In dollar-and-cents terms, it is a very cheap role for the U.S., especially compared to the alternatives. – The Hill

Saud Al-Sharafat writes: Now is the time for the United States to reassure Jordan by publicly or privately declaring guarantees to assist and ensure its stability now and for years to come. Additionally, working with Jordan to ensure its role in post-war arrangements is crucial, as there are concerns and suspicions that these arrangements will be exploited by wealthy Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. These countries are capable of providing financial generosity for reconstruction and investment, with which Jordan unfortunately cannot compete. Jordan’s location and cultural connection to the Palestinian cause make it an invaluable partner in determining Gaza’s future, a voice that needs to be respected in the “day after.” – Washington Institute

Noam Raydan writes: While some companies have started avoiding the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, this option is not sustainable indefinitely. Some owners are willing to accept the risks and are sending their cargo ships and tankers through these waterways. Moreover, many ships have no choice but to transit the Suez Canal or Bab al-Mandab Strait in order to reach and leave Red Sea destinations such as Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah port. For instance, if a ship traveling from Jeddah to Kenya’s Mombasa port was forced to detour around the Cape of Good Hope, the voyage would take more than twenty days instead of about seven. In short, the Red Sea remains a crucial trade route and will require robust security measures to lower the elevated risks, ensure freedom of navigation, and avoid further disruptions to supply chains. – Washington Institute

Clara Keuss and Ben Lefkowitz writes: In the coming weeks and months, there will be ink spilled on Arab efforts to reach out to China for mediation, on Arab outrage with Israel and a freeze in normalization. There will be yet more meetings with Iranian leaders and phone calls and summits. This is theater. Behind the scenes, Arab leaders are sitting and waiting for the moment when they can again huddle with Israel to discuss their shared enemies. – The Messenger

Abdullah F. Alrebh writes: The Palestinian issue, in particular, is a critical topic for a leading Arab-Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia. So, Riyadh has to strategically calculate its moves on any domestic, regional, or international matters that could affect or be influenced by it. Saudi Arabia will thus, likely, seek to defer normalization with Israel until reasonable gains for Palestinians have been guaranteed. At the same time, the U.S. is still the Saudi kingdom’s primary supplier of weapons and military technology, which is critical for maintaining regional stability and deterring Iran and its proxies. Therefore, as the presumed broker of any realistic Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement, Washington should make a good faith effort to address Riyadh’s demands for weapons and technologies if its two regional allies agree to sit and negotiate a peace deal in the future. – Middle East Institute

Elie Podeh writes: Humanitarian, economic, and financial assistance to the residents of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, which would also help reduce Qatar’s influence in Gaza, is feasible albeit a heavy financial undertaking. If Israel moves toward a two-state solution, it will find a full partner in the moderate Arab states, facilitating Israel’s coveted goal of normalization with Saudi Arabia, which was abandoned due to the war. – Jerusalem Post

Jonathan Spyer writes: All three are currently at a hinge point, where it will be determined if the opponents of the Iran/Islamist side will take the necessary and determined action to push back their enemy, or if the enemy will be permitted to unilaterally reshape the strategic balance. The outcome of all three, therefore, depends on the extent of will possessed by the anti-Iranian and anti-Islamist side. Much regarding the future of Israel and of the Middle East may depend on the results of the contest on all three of these fronts. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea appears to be operating a more powerful reactor for producing plutonium at its main nuclear site for the first time, the United Nations atomic agency said late Thursday, days after Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach across the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

In October 2021, South Korea said it had detected a ballistic missile fired from a North Korean submarine. Japan initially said it was two missiles. The U.S. and its Asian allies have for years collected lots of information on North Korean weapons tests, but the data has still offered only a partial and sometimes imperfect picture of what has been happening in real time. In the 2021 test, it turned out to be just one missile—Japan later corrected its initial statement. – Wall Street Journal

In what would be a fresh breach of United Nations sanctions, a new reactor ​in North Korea’s ​main nuclear complex appears to​ have gone into operation, providing the country with a potential source of additional plutonium for its growing nuclear arsenal, according to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog. – New York Times

Bruce E. Bechtol writes: What does all of this mean?  North Korea has now shown us that they are determined to upgrade and modernize their ballistic missile force – both ICBMs and shorter-range missiles.  The game has changed significantly because, unlike any other time in Pyongyang’s ballistic missile history (even during the Cold War), we are likely to see large-scale technical support and military assistance from the Russians, mainly for two reasons: Russia’s desperation to get large amounts of military equipment and ammunition from the North Koreans, and Kim Jong-eun’s insatiable desire to continue to modernize and upgrade his ballistic missile force.  Thus, this is a story that continues to be written. – The National Interest

China

China warned that remnants of a rocket would hit an area in the South China Sea on Tuesday, following the sixth deployment of its most powerful launch vehicle eleven days ago. – Reuters

The U.S. and China have delivered big wins in climate diplomacy through the unique relationship of their chief climate envoys, but the two countries are bracing for change as the Chinese envoy retires and the U.S. readies for an election. – Reuters

In the 1980s, Fu Xiangdong was a young Chinese virology student who came to the United States to study biochemistry. More than three decades later, he had a prestigious professorship in California and was conducting promising research on Parkinson’s disease. But now Fu is doing his research at a Chinese university. His American career was derailed as U.S.-China relations unraveled, putting his collaborations with a Chinese university under scrutiny. He ended up resigning. – Associated Press

Happymon Jacob writes: A global South led by Beijing will be far more antagonistic to the United States and the West than one in which India plays a larger role. Despite New Delhi’s increasingly instrumental view of the global South, its nonideological approach to the developing world could also help bridge the gap between poorer countries and the developed world. As a powerful global South country and an aspirant for great-power status in the prevailing order, India has the ability to traverse major fault lines in the international system. Washington must make use of this unique role that New Delhi can play in world politics. Treat the new global South like a geopolitical opportunity, not a cantankerous old pest. – Foreign Affairs

Megan Hogan writes: Issuing additional export controls on less indispensable U.S. technology also means that U.S. semiconductor companies miss out on revenue in the near term, even if they enjoy an initial revenue spike from China stockpiling equipment. 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

Kashmiris are calling for an investigation into the deaths of three civilians on Friday who were among several people Indian soldiers had detained for questioning in connection with an attack by separatist militants in the restive region. – New York Times

India’s navy will deploy guided missile destroyer ships in the Arabian Sea after an Israel-affiliated merchant vessel was struck off the Indian coast over the weekend, in an effort to “maintain a deterrent presence,” it said late on Monday. – Reuters

The Indian army has launched an investigation into the deaths of three civilians allegedly in military custody in Indian Kashmir, and moved senior officers from the disputed area, a military official said on Monday. – Reuters

Asia

Taiwan is not seeing any signs of large-scale Chinese military activity before elections next month but is keeping a close watch on China, the island’s defence ministry said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Philippines is not provoking conflict in the South China Sea, its military spokesperson said on Tuesday, responding to China’s accusation that Manila was encroaching on Beijing’s territory. – Reuters

Chinese state media accused the Philippines on Monday of repeatedly infringing on China’s territory in the South China Sea, spreading false information and colluding with extraterritorial forces to cause trouble. – Reuters

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Sunday that over the previous 24 hours it had detected eight Chinese fighter jets crossing over the median line of the Taiwan Strait, as well as one Chinese balloon. – Reuters

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

Japan’s Cabinet on Friday approved a hefty 16% increase in military spending next year and eased its postwar ban on lethal weapons exports, underscoring a shift away from the country’s self-defense-only principle. – Associated Press

Editorial: Mr. Vance had it right the first time. Yes, it’s natural to lament the slow decline of the iconic U.S. Steel, America’s first billion-dollar corporation, which, in 1901, made Andrew Carnegie the richest man in the world. Over the past few decades, Nucor overtook U.S. Steel in revenue and profitability by using electric arc furnaces, which also generate less carbon, rather than U.S. Steel’s less efficient blast furnaces. It is no longer 1943, when U.S. Steel’s employment peaked at 340,000, as it helped arm the Allies to defeat the Axis powers, including Imperial Japan. Now, the firm has fewer than 15,000 workers, and Japan is one of the United States’ best friends, whose companies already employ tens of thousands of U.S. workers at auto plants across the country — and should be welcome in steel, too. – Washington Post

Europe

Fishing in Serbia’s troubled waters after a contested general election, Russia on Monday accused the West of orchestrating anti-government street protests in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, that flared into violence on Sunday evening. – New York Times

Inflammatory warnings from politicians. Knife-edge votes in Parliament. A looming election against a backdrop of national crisis. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party has been caught up in a clamorous debate over deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, which has at times sounded like a not-so-distant echo of Brexit. – New York Times

Lee Hockstader writes: To stanch inflows significantly, leaders might need to take steps that would shock the conscience of most Europeans — and let thousands more migrants drown at sea. That seems unlikely for now. But as the political winds shift, what seems unimaginable today could redefine the continent in 2024. – Washington Post

Africa

Over the past week, the RSF, which grew from the Janjaweed militia that terrorized the western Darfur region two decades ago, has taken a series of cities and towns in central Sudan. It has notched some of the biggest victories in its eight-month-old war with the Sudanese military and tested its hold over one of Africa’s most resource-rich and strategically-located nations, overlooking busy Red Sea shipping lanes. The new areas under RSF control had been havens for hundreds of thousands of people who were forced out of Khartoum earlier this year. – Wall Street Journal

A U.S. drone strike in Somalia killed the alleged mastermind behind a 2020 attack that left three Americans dead at a Kenyan air base, Somali and U.S. officials said Friday. – Wall Street Journal

Niger has suspended all cooperation with the international organisation of Francophone nations (OIF), its military leaders said, as it progressively severs ties with former colonial ruler France. – Reuters

The last French troops deployed in Niger to help fight a decade-old Islamist insurgency in the Sahel left the country on Friday, sealing a withdrawal that has dealt a further blow to France’s influence in West Africa. – Reuters

At least 20 people have been killed in Burundi following an attack by a rebel group based in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, a Burundian government spokesman said Saturday. – Associated Press

Mali recalled its ambassador in Algeria after accusing it of interference in its internal affairs by meeting rebel leaders, officials said Friday, deepening diplomatic tensions between the two neighbors over efforts to end the armed rebellion in northern Mali. – Associated Press

Mario Díaz-Balart and Michael McCaul write: In the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriations bill for fiscal year 2024, which passed the House in September, there’s a provision to right this wrong. If enacted, the bill would simply require the president to return to the balanced approach of allowing countries in Africa to use all tools available to promote energy security and development. After all, the goal of Power Africa is not to mindlessly impose an ineffectual and wasteful climate-change agenda where it does not fit. – New York Post

The Americas

At a rural property an hour outside Vancouver in October, Canadian police found 2.5 million doses of fentanyl and 528 gallons of chemicals in a shipping container and a storage unit. Six months earlier, they raided a home in a cookie-cutter Vancouver subdivision packed with barrels of fentanyl-making chemicals, glassware and lab equipment. Thousands of miles away outside Toronto, police in August found what is believed to be the largest fentanyl lab so far in Canada — hidden at a property 30 miles from the U.S. border crossing at Niagara Falls, N.Y. – Washington Post

The U.S. government is preparing for its adversaries to intensify efforts to influence American voters next year. Russia has huge stakes in the presidential election. China seems poised to back a more aggressive campaign. Other countries, like Iran, might again try to sow division in the United States. – New York Times

Catherine Rampell writes: There are things Congress could do if it actually wanted to improve border security. For example, it could send more resources to the border and immigration courts to speed up asylum screenings and adjudications. Instead, lawmakers are fixated on measures that would increase chaos at the border, sacrifice our moral standing and degrade our ability to defend ourselves around the world. – Washington Post

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: The administration occasionally tweets objections to the regime’s gross human-rights violations. But its Cuba policy is appeasement. The U.S. Embassy in Havana promotes tourism to the island and co-sponsors public concerts with the Cuban Culture Ministry. In November it celebrated Omara Portuondo’s Grammy Award, though she supports the use of terror against the Cuban people. In 2003, when Havana came under heavy international criticism for the sweeping arrests of dissidents known as the Black Spring and the firing-squad execution of three young black men who had tried to escape the island in a stolen ferry, Ms. Portuondo joined a group of Havana elites who rushed to its defense. Their letter accused critics of trying to undermine the revolution. – Wall Street Journal

Cybersecurity

Billions of people around the world are expected to go to the polls in 2024 in what will be the most consequential election year in recent memory. Although many in the U.S. will be focused on what is expected to be a messy presidential contest at home, voters in the European Union, India, Russia and dozens of other countries will cast their ballots in parliamentary races, constitutional referendums, and presidential elections. – The Record

Kazakhstan will reportedly extradite a prominent Russian cybersecurity expert to Moscow after refusing to send him to the U.S. – The Record

Australia’s largest non-profit healthcare provider was hit by a cyberattack this week, resulting in data being stolen from its networks. – The Record

Europol joined law enforcement agencies from 17 countries in warning 443 online sellers that the payment card data of their customers had been compromised. – The Record

President Joe Biden on Friday signed a short-term extension of controversial surveillance efforts after the provision easily cleared Capitol Hill as part of an annual defense policy bill. – The Record

Defense

The Pentagon has been activating troops to assist Customs and Border Protection on the U.S.-Mexico border since 2018. Looking ahead to 2024, that mission is slated to continue — with up to 2,500 troops deployed to the region. – Defense News

The U.S. Coast Guard is keeping its C-27J aircraft grounded as it checks on cracks found in the fuselage of 14 aircraft, the service said. – Defense News

The Army is slated to have two new missile systems in soldiers’ hands in 2024. The two missiles seek to solve a couple of distance problems for the service under its wider long-range precision fires modernization program. – Defense News

Michele L. Norris writes: I wish he had lived long enough to witness Lloyd Austin, the first Black secretary of defense, leading a military that was once so deeply segregated. As we commemorate the end of formal segregation in the ranks, I hope the government will find a way to honor and apologize to the service members who fought against the evils of tyranny in the war effort but could not escape the evils of inequality back home. – Washington Post

Long War

The Japanese government will freeze assets and impose sanctions on payments and capital transactions on three senior Hamas members, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Police in Turkey have arrested more than 300 people for suspected links to the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group during sweeping raids across the country, the Turkish Interior Minister has announced. – Agence France-Presse

Raphael Shuchat writes: writes: The return to Camp David instead of Oslo would be a return to a US-backed proposal. The Gaza Strip would be an autonomous zone with its own identity, but the sovereignty would be that of Israel, unless Egypt wanted to negotiate joint control. There would be an on-the-ground Israeli presence in northern Gaza as a buffer zone, including an army base and a possible settlement. (In the Middle East, even a small portion of land gain shows victory, which is essential in demonstrating that the old regime is gone.) – Jerusalem Post