Fdd's overnight brief

December 27, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Israel’s war cabinet took an Egyptian proposal to end the war with Hamas to a wider group of ministers as domestic pressure grows to secure the release of hostages and regional powers look for a solution to end the fighting in Gaza. – Wall Street Journal

The Israeli military crossed into central Gaza between Dec. 24 and 26, new satellite images obtained and analyzed by The New York Times showed, giving a fuller picture of the latest front in Israel’s war to eradicate Hamas from the embattled enclave. – New York Times

Israel insisted on Tuesday that its war in Gaza would not end soon and pledged to complete its mission of dismantling Hamas no matter how long it took, despite widespread international calls for a cease-fire. – New York Times

Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer will meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday to discuss the conflict in Gaza and the return of hostages held by Islamist group Hamas, the White House said. – Reuters

The Israeli army on Tuesday said it arrested senior Palestinian politician Khalida Jarrar in the occupied West Bank, along with other activists of her leftist party. Jarrar, 60, is a prominent figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization considered a “terrorist” group by Israel, the United States and the European Union. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli forces killed two Palestinians on Tuesday in a raid on a refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. – Agence France-Presse

Israel warned the United Nations that it would not work with those of its officials and staff members who support Hamas propaganda against the Jewish state. […]He spoke hours before the UN announced it had appointed former Dutch finance and deputy prime minister Sigrid Kaag to the newly created position of Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza to help monitor and oversee aid to the enclave. – Jerusalem Post

A survey of Israel’s Arab minority, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), found that a slight majority (56% overall) of Arab Israelis say that the Hamas attack on October 7 does not reflect Arab society and Islamic values, and that a significant majority (86.5%) support civilian efforts during the war, such as aiding evacuees or assisting the medical system. – Jerusalem Post

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday announced the deaths of three soldiers in fighting in the northern Gaza Strip the previous day, bringing the Israeli death toll in the ongoing ground operation in the Strip to 164. – Times of Israel

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar has reportedly warned that the military’s top commander in the West Bank could be at risk due to threats from far-right activists. – Times of Israel

Editorial: Hamas would rather Palestinians suffer death and destruction than live prosperously next to a prosperous Israel. That is why Hamas refuses a ceasefire and must be eliminated. It wants only death to Israel and misery for Palestinians until they get it. It is achieving the latter without any hope of achieving the former. – Washington Examiner

Joe Buccino writes: The imperviousness of Israel to U.S. influence, in fact, risks America’s standing in the international community, particularly in the Middle East. The time has come for the U.S. to demand more accountability and alignment with its principles in exchange for its support, redefining a relationship that is respectful of Israel’s sovereignty and mindful of the broader implications for America’s foreign policy and international reputation. – The Hill

Daniel Byman writes: This list of potential problems, however, also suggests that Israel will need to scale back its objectives. It may need to settle for regular raids on and deterrence with Hamas and a chaotic situation in Gaza, even as it builds up its defenses in order to reassure its people. Israel must also plan for the long term, recognizing that it cannot be perpetually at war and must preserve its relationship with the United States. – Foreign Policy

Iran

Iran has tripled production of nearly weapons-grade uranium in a move likely to deepen its confrontation with the West as Tehran helps allied militias to attack Israel and U.S. forces in the region. – Wall Street Journal

Iran’s atomic energy chief Mohammad Eslami on Wednesday said there was “nothing new” in an international nuclear watchdog report saying that Tehran had reversed a months-long slowdown in its uranium enrichment programme, Iranian media reported. – Reuters

Plainclothes hijab enforcers have been searching the personal bags and the phones of citizens at Tehran’s Theatr-E Shahr metro station, the Iranian Jamaran news site reported on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Restoring deterrence in the Middle East would require the Biden Administration to admit that its approach to Iran hasn’t worked and demands a course correction. The alternative is a continuing spiral of violence the Administration says it desperately wants to avoid. And sooner or later more Americans will be in critical condition, or dead. – Wall Street Journal

Douglas E. Schoen And Saul Mangel writes: With the lessons of history in mind, if President Biden wants to avoid a wider war, he must make it abundantly clear to Tehran that unless it reins in its terrorist proxies, the full force of the United States military is ready to defend the values of peace and security throughout the entire Middle East. – The Hill

Russia & Ukraine

Murashova is one of what researchers and experts in social behavior say are possibly thousands of people who have fallen victim to the proliferating trend of Russians informing on colleagues, acquaintances or people with whom they have only fleeting contact. The practice was commonplace during Soviet times, particularly under the reign of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, when people were encouraged to denounce those accused of being “enemies of the state.” – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine’s top general on Tuesday called for mobilizing more troops, a rare acknowledgment of heavy casualties after nearly two years of war with Russia. – Washington Post

Ukraine said Tuesday it had destroyed a large Russian landing ship docked in a Crimean port in an overnight attack — potentially striking a major blow against Russia’s already damaged Black Sea Fleet. – Washington Post

Editorial: If Ukraine can keep the pressure on Crimea, it complicates Mr. Putin’s plans for a new offensive. It also puts Ukraine in a stronger position for negotiations if that’s how events proceed. All the more reason for the White House and Congress to agree on new weapons to support Kyiv, and for President Biden to stop withholding the longest-range missiles. – Wall Street Journal

Andreas Kluth writes: The US and Europe must rise to the occasion — but in the proper way, by overcoming domestic polarization and disinformation and helping Ukraine out of their own resources. If Kyiv were to lose, the world would be a darker place. And if Kyiv prevails, we can always decide what to do with the Kremlin’s dollars at the peace conference to follow. – Bloomberg

Alexander J. Motyl writes: But the absence of a breakthrough does not spell disaster, all the more so as Ukraine has for several months effectively pursued the defensive strategy that Western policymakers are only now suggesting it adopt. Russia was even more insufferably arrogant before it invaded in early 2022, so the Kremlin’s mood is ultimately meaningless as a barometer of capacity. And, finally, does anyone seriously believe the U.S. won’t reach some accommodation over borders and Ukraine aid? It may be late and Ukrainians will unnecessarily die, but it will come. – The Hill 

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan writes: The escape, which was reported in The Wall Street Journal last spring, was only one of a series of recent incidents suggesting how much Russia’s intelligence forces have regrouped since the start of the war in Ukraine. Back in the spring of 2022, in the months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion, the Russian intelligence agencies had seemed disoriented and confused. One by one, European countries had kicked out Russia’s diplomats; according to one British estimate, some 600 Russian officials were expelled from Europe, of which perhaps 400 were believed to be spies. – Foreign Affairs

Iraq

Iraq’s government on Tuesday condemned overnight U.S. air strikes on Iraqi military positions that it said killed one serviceman and wounded 18 people, calling them a “clear hostile act”. – Reuters

The bodies of a Kuwaiti citizen and a Saudi with Kuwaiti residency who had disappeared in Iraq were found Tuesday, Kuwait’s minister of foreign affairs said in a statement. Iraqi security officials said the men, who had reportedly come to Iraq on a hunting trip, were killed by an explosive left behind by the Islamic State group. – Associated Press

Conn Carroll writes: Monday’s bombing in Iraq is not only a reminder we still have troops there but also that we could have kept a similar number in Afghanistan, thus preventing the disastrous return of the Taliban. – Washington Examiner

Turkey

The foreign affairs committee of Turkey’s Parliament on Tuesday approved Sweden’s bid to join NATO, placing the Nordic country one step closer to joining the military alliance. – New York Times

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Ankara on Jan. 4 to meet his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan for talks likely to focus on the situations in Gaza and Syria as well as bilateral ties, a Turkish official said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Turkish news anchor Meltem Gunay was fired from the TGRT Haber TV channel after she was broadcasted with a cup of coffee from the global coffee chain Starbucks, Walla reported on Tuesday. […]Starbucks is considered a pro-Israel company in Turkey following a conflict that broke out between the employees and the management of the chain. – Jerusalem Post

Lebanon

On Tuesday, the 80th day of the conflict in southern Lebanon, hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army caused casualties among Lebanese civilians and the Israeli army, including serious injuries. – Agence France-Presse

Neville Teller writes: The best way to ensure that the tens of thousands of Israelis who have evacuated their homes in the North can return, he said, “is to come up with a negotiated outcome.” Is an Israel-Hezbollah war possible? Certainly. Is it inevitable? Surely not. – Jerusalem Post

Anchal Vohra writes: UNIFIL has undoubtedly had an important mediating role in compensating for the lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and Lebanon. But both the Israelis and the Lebanese feel that the relative quiet of the past decade and a half was due not to UNIFIL’s successes, but rather Israel and Hezbollah’s aversion to a full-scale war in the face of its failures. Now, Israel says it has been compelled to rethink that stance. – Foreign Policy

Egypt

A drone was downed near the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Dahab on Tuesday, in the second such incident in a month, two security sources told Reuters. – Reuters

France’s CMA CGM [RIC:RIC:CMACG.UL] is planning a gradual increase in the number of vessels transiting through the Suez Canal, the shipping company said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Egypt has held talks between Hamas and its allied Islamic Jihad to try and broker a permanent ceasefire in Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, which has killed tens of thousands, laid waste to the Hamas-governed territory, and displaced the majority of the 2.3 million Palestinian residents. Here are the various proposals Egypt is presenting. – Reuters

Yemen

The United States said Tuesday that it had shot down 12 attack drones and five missiles launched by the Iran-backed Houthis, as the Israeli military said a fighter jet successfully shot down a “hostile aerial target” — believed to be a drone launched at Israel from Yemen — over the Red Sea. – Agence France-Presse

Oil climbed more than 2% on Tuesday to its highest level this month, as further attacks on ships in the Red Sea prompted fears of shipping disruptions and on hopes of interest rate cuts that could boost economic growth and fuel demand. – Reuters

Salem Alketbi writes: What confirms this is that the Pentagon demonstrated that the targeting of a commercial ship near Yemen was carried out by Somali militants, not Houthis, and there may be specific Houthi arrangements to use pirates to expand the targeting circle and spread chaos in this vital maritime region. This is the most dangerous point that should be taken into consideration – and it should be addressed strictly and firmly. – Jerusalem Post

Philip Pilkington writes: Perhaps it is time to reevaluate how we spend on weaponry and what we buy. Perhaps, too, it is time to reassess what a conventional military force can and cannot achieve on this newly commodified battlefield. All the available evidence seems to suggest that this new environment gives a strong “home advantage” to belligerents. Navies have long been the favored power projection tool in far-off regions of the world. But if vessels care so easily and cheaply threatened by newly commodified weaponry, their utility may be far less than in the past. – The National Interest

Middle East & North Africa

The classic song is part of a rich musical tradition that gets passed down — and added to — with every iteration of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Lyrics about exile and resistance have endured because the conflict has endured, each generation finding new resonance. At violent junctures, music has been a reminder of street-level solidarity, a record of past grievances and an outlet for fresh anger. – Washington Post

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant hinted on Tuesday that the country had retaliated in Iraq, Yemen and Iran for attacks carried out against it as the war with Hamas-led Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip widens to other areas of the region. – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani discussed on Tuesday the need to release hostages held in Gaza and efforts to boost humanitarian aid, the White House said. – Reuters

Editorial: The Middle East, in other words, is on fire. Biden’s horribly misguided approach to the region was like pouring gasoline on a tinderbox and then inviting our enemies to light the match. – New York Post

Seth Cropsey writes: Most critically, the administration should publicly accept the need for Israeli military action in Syria and Lebanon in the next year. By shifting rhetoric from support for Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign to support for Israel’s anti-Iran campaign, the U.S. can signal its enduring commitment to a peaceful Mideast. – Wall Street Journal

Catherine Perez-Shakdam writes: The collaboration between Arab states and Israel can extend beyond mere military alliances, encompassing economic partnerships and diplomatic efforts, thereby creating a robust and multifaceted front. This united approach is essential for safeguarding the region’s stability and future against Iran’s nuanced and multi-layered strategy. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised what he called achievements and victories that strengthened national power and boosted the country’s prestige this year, as he opened a key political meeting to set new policy goals for 2024, state media reported Wednesday. – Associated Press

South Korea imposed sanctions on eight North Koreans linked to nuclear and missile development through arms trade, cyberattacks and other illicit activities, Seoul’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A dormant North Korean port near the border with Russia has sprung back to life, fueling what experts say is a burgeoning trade in arms destined for the frontlines in Ukraine that is simultaneously bolstering the anemic economy managed by Kim Jong Un. – Bloomberg

China

China’s government hit back at U.S. criticism of its human-rights record on Tuesday by imposing sanctions on a Los Angeles firm and two analysts involved in scouring the country’s supply chain for abuses. – Wall Street Journal

President Xi Jinping vowed on Tuesday to resolutely prevent anyone from “splitting Taiwan from China in any way”, the official Xinhua news agency reported, a little more than two weeks before Taiwan elects a new leader. – Reuters

China appointed a new head of its navy, a move that comes amid worsening tensions in the South China Sea. – Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping used a speech remembering Mao Zedong to push a framework the current leader rolled out recently to counter the West’s capitalist model. – Bloomberg

Joseph Bosco writes: At the same time, given that chaos and instability in America’s domestic situation are very much in China’s interest, another Trump presidency is a tempting prospect. Whether it is Trump or Biden, Beijing will find ample opportunities to exploit. The prospect of either would enable it to advance the erosion of America’s capabilities and will to resist China’s expansionist goals. – The Hill

South Asia

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the situation in the Middle East, including recent attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. – Bloomberg

An explosion near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday did not kill or wound any staff members, authorities said, adding that investigations into its cause were ongoing. – Reuters

Abhinav Pandya writes: Hence, it can be argued that in the prevailing uncertainty and instability in the South Caucasus, India will prefer to move ahead on a bilateral trajectory with Armenia, with a particular focus on defense deals and economic ties. – The National Interest

Asia

The Chinese government on Wednesday threatened to place further trade sanctions on Taiwan if the ruling party “stubbornly” adheres to supporting independence, in a further escalation of the war of words as Taiwanese elections approach next month. – Reuters

Taiwan’s economy ministry said on Tuesday it had expanded a list of sanctioned goods for Russia and its ally Belarus in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to prevent Taiwanese high-tech goods from being used for military purposes. – Reuters

Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry has declared two employees of France’s embassy persona non grata over “conduct that is not compatible with their diplomatic status”, it said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The coming year will likely see Washington and Manila expand their cooperation and ready their respective navies to counter China’s assertions of ownership over parts of the South China Sea. – Defense News

Europe

Russia will soon deploy its newest howitzers to its Northern Military District which borders Finland and Norway, the head of the Rostec state defence conglomerate said in remarks published on Wednesday. – Reuters

German police said on Tuesday they had taken into custody a person in connection with a possible attack planned against Cologne Cathedral. Police on Saturday said they were heightening security at the cathedral following indications of a possible attack on New Year’s Eve and in the wake of government warnings in recent weeks about the rising threat of Islamist violence. – Reuters

Lee Hockstader writes: The E.U. has no mechanism to expel a member state. So if changing the rules to contain the damage Orban can do is what it takes to marginalize him, then it’s time for the E.U. to change them. Let 2024 be the year the West removes the scales from its eyes. – Washington Post

The Lauder Business School, a notable institution in Vienna catering to a diverse student body, including Israelis, has recently announced the cessation of its collaboration with Harvard University. This decision arose amidst concerns regarding the escalation of antisemitism on the Harvard campus and the perceived lack of appropriate response from its leadership. – Jerusalem Post

David Kirichenko writes: Lukashenko’s best strategy seems to be to hope for a stalemate in the Russo-Ukrainian war, which could buy his regime more time. However, the prospects appear grim for Lukashenko. It seems inevitable that either an internal uprising will challenge his rule or Russia will assert more direct control over Belarus. Either way, the regime of Lukashenko is confronted with an impending crisis, irrespective of the war’s trajectory. It appears inevitable that, in due course, he will encounter his downfall. – The Hill

Africa

Militants from an Islamic State-allied rebel group killed three people in an attack on a village in western Uganda, a military spokesman said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Ethiopia became Africa’s third default in as many years on Tuesday after it failed to make a $33 million “coupon” payment on its only international government bond. – Reuters

Gunmen attacked remote villages over the weekend in north-central Nigeria’s Plateau state, killing at least 140 people, officials and survivors said Tuesday, the latest case this year of such mass killings blamed on the farmer-herder crisis in the West African nation. – Associated Press

Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said it will block a demonstration planned for Wednesday by the opposition against the country’s Dec. 20 election. – Bloomberg

The Americas

Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers moved slowly north across the southern Mexican state of Chiapas on Tuesday in a caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, one day before top U.S. officials planned to visit Mexico to discuss migration. – Reuters

Canada’s government is willing to sign off on multimillion-dollar settlement packages for Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig to compensate them for the near three years they were incarcerated in Chinese prisons, the Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday, citing government sources. – Reuters

Pedro Naranjo idolized his father growing up and followed him into the Venezuelan air force to fly helicopters. So deep was their bond that when the older Naranjo feared being jailed for plotting against Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government, father and son fled to the United States together. – Associated Press

United States

Since then, the problem has metastasized into what the Biden administration calls a national emergency. The risk of Americans being held on spurious charges by a foreign government is now so widespread that the State Department warns U.S. citizens against traveling to countries accounting for nearly a quarter of the world’s population. In diplomatic parlance, those nine nations are classified “D” for the risk of detention. – Wall Street Journal

As President Biden seeks re-election, the politics are complicated. He has made climate action central to his presidency and he needs young climate voters to turn out. But he is also trying to keep gas prices from rising, wants to supply European allies with a replacement for Russian gas and must fend off Republican accusations that he is hampering American energy development. – New York Times

Last time Rep. Bill Pascrell faced a serious primary challenge, he ended up winning by a 20-point margin after the Arab American community rallied in support of the New Jersey Democrat. Now that same constituency is turning against him, posing a major threat to the 14-term House member over his stance on the Israel-Hamas war. – Politico

Cybersecurity

Albania’s Parliament said on Tuesday that it had suffered a cyberattack with hackers trying to get into its data system, resulting in a temporary halt in its services. […]Local media reported that a cellphone provider and an air flight company were also targeted by Monday’s cyberattacks, allegedly from Iranian-based hackers called Homeland Justice, which could not be verified independently. – Associated Press

Israel’s National Cyber Directorate issued a statement Tuesday warning of a phishing attack by Iranian hackers. – Times of Israel

Yuval Wollman writes: As tensions remain high and the country continues the war against Hamas, Israeli organizations must urgently review incident response strategies and security controls. By working to detect and mitigate incidents quickly, disruptions (when attacks inevitably occur) can be reduced. With advanced persistent cyber adversaries like Iran, the question is not if attacks will happen, but when – and preparation is the key. – Jerusalem Post

Defense

If or when Smith returns, he likely will release the commandant’s planning guidance, which lays out his priorities for the Marine Corps, sometime in 2024. Smith already has made clear his commitment to continuing and even accelerating the controversial service overhaul that Berger launched, Force Design 2030. – Defense News

One of the U.S. Navy’s program executive offices is a few months into a pilot program aimed at enabling rapid acquisition, which could pave the way for a larger change in how the military branches develop and buy weapons systems. – Defense News

Within the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Air Force subjects aircraft and other systems to the most extreme weather conditions the planet can dish out. – Defense News

Jacquelyn Schneider writes: The true value of war-gaming is its ability to immerse policymakers in a scenario that might be otherwise unthinkable and in which they might learn something about themselves. This is why war games do not predict the future but can shape it. Today’s war games do not foresee a future war between the United States and China. But the fact that they are being played at all should be viewed as a warning about where things are headed. – Foreign Affairs