Fdd's overnight brief

December 28, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Israeli forces intensified their ground offensive in refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip, as fighting continued to drive Palestinian civilians into shrinking and overcrowded areas in search of safety. – Wall Street Journal

The semiconductor giant Intel confirmed on Wednesday that it would invest $25 billion to expand a chip factory in southern Israel after a $3.2 billion grant from the government there, moving ahead with a major investment in a country currently at war. – New York Times

As Israel wages a war in Gaza aimed at dismantling Hamas’s military capacity, the armed group and its affiliates have continued to fire rockets at Israel nearly every day, aiming deep inside its borders and striking some of the country’s biggest cities. – New York Times

An Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank has left six Palestinians dead, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health said on Wednesday. They were the latest casualties in a surge of violence in the territory since the war in Gaza began on Oct. 7. – New York Times

Israel has returned the bodies of 80 Palestinians killed in the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Wednesday. – Reuters

A drone crashed near a village in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights, Israel’s army said Thursday, after an Iraqi armed group with links to Hamas militants claimed responsibility for an attack in the area. – Agence France-Presse

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman announces which facets of the “multi-system failures” on October 7 his office will examine in the coming months, saying “no stone will be left unturned” in examining “personal responsibility” for the “failures on all levels – policy, military and civilian.” – Times of Israel

Months before Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, the Shin Bet security service received intelligence that the Palestinian terror group was planning to carry out “a big move” shortly after the Jewish High Holy Days — but the information was cast as insignificant, a report said Wednesday evening. – Times of Israel

A photo purporting to show Hamas armed-wing commander Muhammad Deif was published by Israel’s Channel 12 news Wednesday, one of the only known pictures of the shadowy arch-terrorist. – Times of Israel

Editorial: The flaw in this Hamas analysis may be that it assumes Israel will follow Mr. Biden’s advice all the way to defeat. After Oct. 7, don’t count on it. Israeli troops are still advancing, expanding operations in some areas and focusing them in others. Israel has no choice but to press on until it destroys Hamas. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The deaths of the October 7 terror victims and the 164 soldiers who have fallen in the battle to eliminate the Hamas threat and ensure that another October 7 can’t occur must not be in vain. Even if the road ahead is long and difficult, we must carry on, hoping that a future generation of Israelis can one day live in peace. – Jerusalem Post

Iran

Iran and Russia have finalised an agreement to trade in their local currencies instead of the U.S dollar, Iran’s state media reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei led prayers on Thursday at the funeral of Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) adviser killed in what Iran said was an Israeli air strike in Syria. – Reuters

Iranian oil minister Javad Owji on Wednesday thanked Iraqi officials for cutting oil output, saying the two countries had a common position regarding both OPEC and the wider OPEC+ grouping which includes allies such as Russia. – Reuters

Douglas London writes: The U.S. needs to move quickly to change the status quo with Iran. Hope that our defensive capabilities will continue to limit casualties isn’t a viable strategy to avoid war. Iran is already at war and considers its proxies expendable. Tehran sees no value in restraint. Experience has taught the mullahs that there is political opportunity in provocation. Washington’s pusillanimity is, for them, an invitation to do more. U.S. officials are right that Iran’s leaders have no interest in a war they can’t win. The problem is that Washington is letting them fight the war they can. – Wall Street Journal

Benny Avni writes: Regardless of Mr. Biden’s policy of avoiding escalation at all cost — or perhaps because of it — a wider Mideast war seems unavoidable. The longer America refrains from responding militarily to challenges from Iran and its proxies, the bloodier we can expect 2024 to be. – New York Sun

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: That is nothing compared with the thousands of nuclear weapons the US has, but it is enough of a deterrent that Pyongyang has been, for years, getting away with things that other countries could never dream of getting away with. Imagine if that power was in the hands of the more religiously fanatical ayatollahs. That is not to say a single nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands was not a scary prospect, but a potential arsenal, especially after October 7, alters the entire picture. – Jerusalem Post

Erfan Fard writes: In conclusion, the leadership of Esmail Qaani in the Quds Force represents a critical point in Middle Eastern geopolitics. The sustained support from Iran’s highest authorities for these aggressive actions signals a continued commitment to destabilizing the region. The international community must prioritize global peace, stability, and human rights, and develop effective counterterrorism strategies to mitigate these risks. Confronting the legacy of figures driven by destructive ambitions is imperative to pave the way for a more peaceful and stable Middle East. – Jerusalem Post

Simon Henderson writes: Whatever Tehran’s current nuclear “breakout” timeline may be, the threat of war with Israel is rising. On December 26, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reiterated that Iran is a major threat, telling a parliamentary committee that Israel is facing a multifront war: “We are being attacked from seven different arenas: Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, [the West Bank], Iraq, Yemen, and Iran. We have already responded…in six of these areas, and I say here in the clearest way: Anyone who acts against us is a potential target, there is no immunity for anyone.” In the context of war in Gaza, ongoing clashes with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Houthi strikes against shipping in the Red Sea, the news of Iran’s increased nuclear enrichment could further widen the regional crisis. – Washington Institute

Russia & Ukraine

The loved ones of the drafted Russian soldiers forced to fight in Ukraine indefinitely have tried everything: They appealed to the Defense Ministry, wrote letters to President Vladimir Putin, met with many officials and even protested publicly. Their questions to Putin’s annual “direct line” call-in show for Russians last week were ignored. – Washington Post

The Biden administration announced a new weapons package for Ukraine on Wednesday, marking what officials have said could be a final consignment from U.S. stockpiles unless Congress approves new funding for Kyiv’s battle against Russia. – Washington Post

A Russian politician calling for peace in Ukraine on Wednesday lost her appeal against election officials’ refusal to accept her nomination for the country’s presidential race that President Vladimir Putin is all but certain to win. – Associated Press

Russia fired almost 50 Shahed drones at targets in Ukraine and shelled a train station where more than 100 civilians were gathered to catch a train to Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday. The barrages killed at least five people and knocked out power in most of the southern city of Kherson. – Associated Press

Russia has sufficient budget funds to pay for its war in Ukraine, according to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. “The Finance Ministry provided all the funds required for the main tasks” of the military, Siluanov told reporters in a briefing Wednesday. “All the needs of our armed forces for their tasks in the special military operation are provided with money.” – Bloomberg

Serge Schmemann writes: Halting Russia well short of its goals and turning to the reconstruction and modernization of Ukraine would be lasting tributes to the Ukrainians who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the existence of their nation. And no temporary armistice would forever preclude Ukraine from recovering all of its land. – New York Times

Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel exchanged sharp words on Wednesday after Mr. Erdogan compared the Israeli leader to Adolf Hitler while discussing Israel’s war in Gaza. – New York Times

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told his U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken in a call on Wednesday that Turkey expected the United States to act in line with their NATO alliance and keep its promises on the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara, a Turkish diplomatic source said. – Reuters

Turkey has hit more than 70 sites allegedly linked to Kurdish groups in Syria and northern Iraq during airstrikes launched this week in retaliation for the deaths of 12 Turkish soldiers in Iraq, the defense minister said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Lebanon

Escalating strikes and counterstrikes along the border between Israel and Lebanon are raising fears of a possible new front for Israel, even as its fighters remain mired in bloody urban combat in Gaza to the south in its campaign to destroy Hamas. – Washington Post

The former president of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community, who had pushed for the rehabilitation of Beirut’s abandoned synagogue, has died, his family and the community’s lawyer told AFP on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Australia on Thursday confirmed two of its citizens were killed in an Israeli air strike in south Lebanon and said it was looking at Hezbollah’s claims that one of the Australian citizens killed had links to the militant group. – Agence France-Presse

Israel’s military said Tuesday an anti-tank missile fired by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group wounded nine soldiers as they rescued a civilian who was injured in another cross-border strike. – Agence France-Presse

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is “next in line” on the list of Israel’s military targets, according to the Jewish state’s top diplomat, who warned the Lebanon-based terrorist to withdraw forces from Israel’s border. – Washington Examiner

A group representing evacuees from northern communities on Wednesday penned a letter urging the Biden administration to support an Israeli military effort to push Hezbollah and other terror groups away from the Lebanese border, saying diplomatic means were ineffective in keeping the area safe. – Times of Israel

Egypt

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. – Reuters

Egypt signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi Ports Group on Wednesday for the operation and maintenance of a multipurpose terminal at Safaga port, a cabinet statement said. – Reuters

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II reiterated their opposition to any attempt to displace Palestinians from or within the Gaza Strip. – Washington Examiner

Arabian Peninsula

Qatar has agreed to supply Shell (SHEL.L) in Singapore with up to 18 million barrels of oil a year for five years in what the Gulf state’s energy company said was its first ever five-year crude sales deal. – Reuters

An emirate in the United Arab Emirates, one of few Arab states that has official ties with Israel, has banned New Year’s Eve fireworks this year as an expression of solidarity with the people of Gaza. – Reuters

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) signed a free trade agreement with South Korea on Thursday, its second trade deal this year, as the six-member bloc intensifies efforts to boost investment ties with major economic partners in Asia. – Reuters

Denmark’s Maersk (MAERSKb.CO) has scheduled several dozen container vessels to travel via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the coming days and weeks, it said on Wednesday, in a further sign that global shipping firms are returning to the route. – Reuters

Yemen

A string of Houthi attacks targeting Israel and Red Sea shipping lanes is threatening to derail the most advanced effort to end Saudi Arabia’s entanglement in Yemen’s nine-year civil war. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. President Joe Biden hoped to present a firm international response to Yemen’s Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping by launching a new maritime force, but a week after its launch many allies don’t want to be associated with it, publicly, or at all. – Reuters

Spain opposes using the European Union’s anti-piracy naval force to protect merchant ships in the Red Sea from the Yemeni Houthi militia, but it is willing to consider the creation of a different mission to tackle the problem, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Half of the container-ship fleet that regularly transits the Red Sea and Suez Canal is avoiding the route now because of the threat of attacks, according to new industry data. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisian security forces killed on Wednesday three “terrorists” during an ongoing operation in a mountain area near the Algerian border, said the interior ministry. – Agence France-Presse

President Joe Biden said the US military struck targets in Iraq in order to prevent further attacks on American personnel in the Middle East, which have fueled concerns about a wider regional conflict. – Bloomberg

The United Nations has appointed a veteran Dutch diplomat and politician as senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for the Gaza Strip in line with a Security Council resolution that passed the chamber last week. – The Hill

Korean Peninsula

More than 1,000 South Korean military, police and emergency personnel joined rare defence drills on Wednesday that simulated an attack by North Korea on Seoul, to counter fears the city is in striking distance of Pyongyang’s weapons and covert attack. – Reuters

South Korea’s new national security adviser will be Chang Ho-jin, a seasoned diplomat with extensive experience in U.S. and North Korean affairs, President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said on Thursday. – Reuters

Russia told South Korea on Wednesday not to be surprised if Moscow retaliates against Seoul for expanding the list of goods which cannot be exported from the East Asian nation to Russia without special permission. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s plans for the New Year include pressing forward with his nuclear arms program and potentially deeper ties with Russia. – Bloomberg

Japan’s Foreign Ministry summoned a senior diplomat from the South Korean embassy in Tokyo to protest a Supreme Court ruling that Japanese companies should pay compensation to Koreans conscripted to work for the firms during colonial occupation. – Bloomberg

China

A song called “Tomorrow Will Be Better” became a sensation in mainland China in the 1980s, when the nation was emerging from the poverty and turmoil of Mao Zedong’s rule. Its inspirational lyrics, which exhorted listeners to “look upward for the wings in the sky,” came to represent a generation that was starting to believe in a brighter future. Now people in China are listening to the song again—but for a very different reason. Videos of the song are circulating on WeChat and other communications apps, often with taglines expressing sadness about the end of that era. – Wall Street Journal

It’s getting harder—both technically and financially—to make semiconductor chips smaller. The fight for chip tech supremacy has begun to migrate into a new area: how to package chips together to achieve better performance. The rise of artificial intelligence will further boost demand for advanced packaging technologies—and create openings for challengers such as China to compensate for weaknesses in other parts of the supply chain. – Wall Street Journal

The Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs. – New York Times

Jiang Ping, a legal scholar who helped lay the foundation for China’s civil code, and whose experiences with political persecution shaped his relentless advocacy for individual rights in the face of state power, died on Dec. 19 in Beijing. He was 92. – New York Times

China’s defence ministry on Thursday urged the Asia-Pacific to be on high alert as the United States steps up forward military deployment in the region, after reports of a U.S. plan to revive a Pacific airfield that launched atomic bombings of Japan. – Reuters

Three Hong Kong activists were jailed for up to six years on Thursday after pleading guilty to charges relating to a plan to place bombs in court buildings and other public infrastructure in 2021 following widespread pro-democracy protests. – Reuters

China’s top political advisory body removed three senior leaders at missile-making firms from its national committee, the latest sign of turmoil within the upper echelons of the nation’s military. – Bloomberg

Karishma Vaswani writes: His unpredictability had many in Asia questioning the value and permanence of American leadership. Another term would no doubt convince some countries that Beijing is a better partner — a narrative Xi has been trying to spread over the last few years. But it is that same volatility that could make Trump a difficult adversary in the White House. Neither option is particularly appealing. All of these challenges on their own will be no small feat to manage. Together they stand to make 2024 a dangerous year for Xi. He has his work cut out. – Bloomberg

Richard Weitz writes: At the same time, China’s communist leaders have resisted worldwide calls to negotiate limits on their buildup or make their nuclear capabilities and intentions more transparent. The Chinese have not explained the reasons behind their nuclear expansion — or its endpoint. In the new year and beyond, U.S. officials must make greater exertions to curtail this buildup, which reduces strategic predictability, crisis stability, and restraints on further nuclear proliferation. – The Hill

South Asia

A day after Apple warned independent Indian journalists and opposition party politicians in October that government hackers may have tried to break into their iPhones, officials under Prime Minister Narendra Modi promptly took action — against Apple. – Washington Post

President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday met with the Indian foreign minister at the Kremlin, highlighting Russia’s attempts to break through its isolation from the West by pivoting to an increasingly powerful Asian nation. – New York Times

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will seek a fourth term in office, his party said Wednesday, noting he would be its consensus candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections and the office of the prime minister. – Associated Press

Refiners in India, the world’s third-largest crude oil importer, are seeking to boost supplies from the Middle East and other nearby nations as recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea raise the risk of longer shipping time and higher costs, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Israeli embassies around the world were reportedly put on high alert Wednesday, with some of them staying closed entirely, following a blast that rattled the embassy in India a day earlier. – Times of Israel

Asia

Communist Party-ruled Vietnam has upgraded ties with the world’s top powers, including former foes, China and the United States, as part of its “bamboo diplomacy”, which it has pro-actively pursued since 2021 to navigate rising global tensions. – Reuters

China’s defence ministry accused Taiwan’s government on Thursday of deliberately “hyping up” a military threat from China for electoral gain ahead of elections on the island in just over two weeks’ time. – Reuters

China on Thursday said it will not turn a blind eye to repeated “provocations and harassment” by the Philippines, amid heightened tensions over a spate of run-ins in the South China Sea. – Reuters

China’s embassy in Myanmar urged its nationals on Thursday to leave the Laukkai area in Kokang region in northern Myanmar as soon as possible, citing growing security risks. – Reuters

Students in Indonesia’s Aceh province rallied on Wednesday, demanding the government drive away Rohingya refugees who have been arriving by sea in growing numbers. The protest came as police named more suspects in human trafficking of refugees. – Associated Press

One of the candidates for vice president in Taiwan’s upcoming election is on a collision course with the powerful central bank after calling for the monetary authority to allow some of its billions in foreign reserves to be used to set up a sovereign wealth fund. – Bloomberg

Japan will incur “the most serious consequences” for the provision of Patriot air defense missiles expected to aid Ukraine, according to a prominent Russian diplomat. – Washington Examiner

Europe

Jacques Delors, a French elder statesman who spent a decade as president of the European Commission — the European Union’s executive branch — and became a driving force behind the continent’s economic integration and a leading proponent of a common market and currency, has died at 98. – Washington Post

A South Korean loan to Poland to finance arms deals does not actually exist, Poland’s prime minister said on Wednesday, although the new government hopes to still continue with the purchases. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron demanded a “lasting ceasefire” in Gaza during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, his office said, as an escalating humanitarian crisis grips the Palestinian territory. – Agence France-Presse

The Italian government has indicated to Israel that it is uncomfortable with Jerusalem’s choice for its next ambassador to Rome because of his close ties to the settlement movement. – Times of Israel

Africa

The leader of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said on Wednesday he met Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, his first confirmed appearance outside of Sudan since the war between RSF and the Sudanese army broke out in April. – Reuters

A small election protest in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital turned violent, with demonstrators pelting rocks at security forces who responded by firing tear gas and storming the headquarters of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu. – Bloomberg

Anthony Grant writes: The White House chooses to play politics by focusing on Gaza, where — unlike in Sudan — impending famine is not an issue. All the while, as CNN first reported, Russia is managing to extract considerable quantities of gold from Sudan to help finance its war against Ukraine. There is little question that, not unlike Niger, Sudan is now a failed state. Moscow loves a vacuum. – New York Sun

Cybersecurity

Apple won approval Wednesday to restart most sales in its $18 billion smartwatch business after a U.S. appeals court paused a federal agency’s import ban on some models of the device. – Wall Street Journal

The New York Times sued Microsoft and OpenAI for alleged copyright infringement, touching off a legal fight over generative-AI technologies with far-reaching implications for the future of the news publishing business. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Giving more power to the executive branch is rarely the best answer to a problem. But the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department should already be assessing threats posed by products and services from TikTok and Huawei. Be that as it may, the threat posed by TikTok has been amply established, and it is time for Congress to eliminate the danger. – Washington Examiner

Vijay Pande writes: We don’t need to free AI from regulation altogether. We already regulate medicine adequately, and bioterrorism is already a crime. But we should allow AI to progress in the existing regime with no new regulation. The push for new restrictions is more about fear than anything else, and it’s time to put these fears aside for a reasoned approach that appreciates the benefits of AI. We must do what we can to accelerate these desperately needed innovations. – Wall Street Journal

Defense

The Marine Corps went all in when the Pentagon identified China as the prime national- security challenge facing the U.S. – Wall Street Journal

Despite President Joe Biden’s decision this summer to reverse a Trump-era move and keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado, House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers is already vowing to use the next defense policy bill to move to Alabama. – Politico

Michael Newton writes: Wormuth had every official right in her role to shape the United States Army to her liking. By the same token, Biden owns this problem. The secretary of the Army serves at his pleasure. He has constitutional authority to request her resignation for precisely the rationale she employed in eroding the independence of uniformed lawyers. Biden, and he alone, can attest that the current secretary of the Army has “lost my trust and confidence.” Anyone who cares about the integrity, apolitical professionalism, and preparedness of the U.S. military should demand that he stand for these principles. – The Hill