Fdd's overnight brief

December 29, 2023

In The News


The Israeli military has tried a variety of methods to explore Hamas’s tunnels in Gaza: robots, robot dogs and real dogs. But what it has quickly learned is that the cheapest and most effective option for exploring the underground labyrinths—which are a potential death trap for soldiers—is a small quadcopter drone. – Wall Street Journal

The shooting deaths of three Israeli hostages by Israeli forces in Gaza this month could have been prevented, according to the findings of an Israeli military investigation that provides new details about the incident. – Wall Street Journal

Mordechai Porat leaves his home each morning in a crisp black suit and hat. It isn’t until he arrives at this army base in central Israel that he changes into his green military fatigues. – Washington Post

Israel’s spreading ground war across the Gaza Strip is sending new waves of displaced people into the enclave’s overcrowded south, where locals are already underfed and desperate under continuing bombardment. – Washington Post

Judih Weinstein Haggai, a 70-year-old who was believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas, was actually killed during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, her family and Kibbutz Nir Oz said in statements on Thursday. – New York Times

Based largely on the video evidence — which was verified by The New York Times — Israeli police officials said they believed that Ms. Abdush was raped, and she has become a symbol of the horrors visited upon Israeli women and girls during the Oct. 7 attacks. – New York Times

Israeli forces raided foreign exchange and money transfer agencies in Ramallah and other cities in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, seizing millions of dollars suspected of being intended to fund the Islamist group Hamas, the military said. – Reuters

Igor Tudoran spent just 12 hours inside the Gaza Strip before a missile slammed into his tank, leaving him with a life-altering injury. – Associated Press

The IDF says it is “expanding the operation in the Khan Younis area,” with troops launching an offensive against Hamas in the southern city. – Times of Israel

In a “frustrating” call over the weekend, US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government’s decision to withhold Palestinian tax funds following Hamas’s shock onslaught on October 7 must be resolved, Axios reported late Thursday, citing US and Israeli officials and a “source with knowledge of the issue.” – Times of Israel

A Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist captured in Gaza admitted during questioning that he participated in the massacre on October 7 and that his squad committed rape and then murdered victims during the massacre, KAN reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Israel is working to return all the hostages, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, adding that Qatar and Egypt have put forward two separate proposals to move the matter forward. – Jerusalem Post

Muhammad Issa, the son of Hamas’s Deputy Military Commander Marwan, was killed in an IDF attack on Thursday morning, Israeli media reported, citing Palestinian media. – Jerusalem Post

Over 30 armed provocateurs wearing ski masks and some carrying lethal weapons attacked a group of Armenian bishops, priests, deacons, and other citizens on Thursday in the Old City of Jerusalem, according to the Armenian Patriarchate. – Jerusalem Post

Many of the hostages released from detention in Gaza by Hamas in November still require intensive treatment for the trauma from their weeks in captivity, a leading Israeli psychiatrist has said. – The Guardian

Dennis Ross writes: Making assistance to Israel conditional on certain policies won’t build American influence or further American interests. Joe Biden’s standing with the Israeli public is the U.S.’s most powerful asset today in shaping events in Gaza, and it will force any Israeli prime minister to pay a price for resisting his administration’s priorities. – Wall Street Journal

Douglas Murray writes: This, then, is the Hamas way of war. And the Israeli way of war. One side uses civilians as human shields. The other tries to locate terrorists. So how strange it is that so many Americans — especially young Americans — condemn the Israelis. It is Hamas that started this. And Hamas that is the real enemy not just of Israel but of the Palestinian people. – New York Post

Ayelet Frish writes: Sinwar is no savior. He went against all of the principles of Islam and brought destruction and death to his people and to Israel. It is our responsibility to tell the true story of Hamas and its evils. We cannot let Hamas be remembered as a glorified freedom movement in human history. – Jerusalem Post


Iran executed four “saboteurs” linked to Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, the Mizan news agency affiliated to the judiciary said on Friday. – Reuters

Western powers on Thursday condemned Iran for accelerating its production of highly enriched uranium, after a watchdog said it had upped its output following months of slowdown. – Agence France-Presse

Thousands massed Thursday in the Iranian capital for the funeral of senior Revolutionary Guard commander Razi Mousavi, three days after he was killed in Syria in what Tehran claims was an Israeli strike. – Agence France-Presse

Tehran is enabling the Houthis’ attacks in Red Sea waterways by providing them with essential intelligence for those missions, according to the National Security Council. – Washington Examiner

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took to social media this week to chastise the West over the treatment of women, a move which has attracted incredulity given Iran’s record on women’s rights. – Jerusalem Post

Naftali Bennett writes: It turns out that Iran’s tyrants are softer than one might expect. They gleefully send others to die for them. But when they’re hit at home, suddenly they become timid. The U.S. and Israel must set the clear goal of bringing down Iran’s evil regime. Not only is this possible. It is vital for the safety and security of the Middle East—and the entire civilized world. – Wall Street Journal

Meir Javedanfar writes: Meanwhile, Pakistan’s actions did not impact its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). When it came to Pakistan-IRI relations, their security-oriented priorities were far more important than Pakistan hosting Iranian Jews. Pakistan returned none of the Jews who escaped across the border. Iran’s Jews, including many members of my family and my synagogue in Tehran, will forever be indebted to its government and its people for hosting them. – Middle East Institute

Elisabeth Braw writes: Iran, in fact, seems to have concluded that the Houthis’ experiment in the Red Sea has been so successful that it bears repeating in the Mediterranean. “They shall soon await the closure of the Mediterranean Sea, [the Strait of] Gibraltar and other waterways,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the coordinating commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told Iranian media on Dec. 23, apparently referring to the international community. Spare a thought for the world’s seafarers and shipping logisticians—there’s no holiday break for 2024’s troubled waters. – Foreign Policy

Russia & Ukraine

Russia has recaptured land hard won by Ukrainian troops at the peak of their summer counteroffensive in the south, making progress around the southern village of Robotyne. – New York Times

A widening crackdown on the participants in an erotic celebrity party in Moscow underscores an accelerating conservative shift in a country where hedonism has long been tolerated in return for the acceptance of shrinking political freedoms. – New York Times

After President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in 2022, the United States and its allies prohibited transactions with Russia’s central bank and finance ministry, blocking around $300 billion of sovereign Russian assets in the West. – Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he discussed Ukraine’s peace formula in a call with Pope Francis on Thursday. – Reuters

Ukraine and Hungary are preparing a meeting of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the near future, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff said on Thursday, amid recent steps by Hungary that have soured ties. – Reuters

One person was killed and eight injured in Kharkiv, and seven more injured in Kyiv during massive Russian missile attacks on Friday, officials said. – Reuters

Two people were killed and at least 15 were injured, including two children, as Russian missiles hit residential buildings in the southern city of Odesa, the regional governor said. – Reuters

A civilian cargo ship struck a Russian mine in the Black Sea near Ukraine’s Danube ports Thursday, injuring two sailors, officials and analysts said, in an incident that underscored the dangers faced by those exporting Ukrainian grain during the war. – Associated Press

A Russian poet was given a 7-year prison sentence Thursday for reciting verses against Russia’s war in Ukraine, a tough punishment that comes during a relentless Kremlin crackdown on dissent. – Associated Press

Russia has based its Black Sea fleet in Crimea for 240 years. Now President Vladimir Putin is at risk of losing the flagship naval hub as Ukraine steps up attacks in the occupied peninsula. – Bloomberg

Josh Rogin writes: The critics have a narrow point when they say this is an unprecedented use of America’s economic power for national security purposes. But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Without Russia’s seized assets, Ukraine could lose its ability to survive as a functioning country. And that is exactly Putin’s strategy. – Washington Post

Andrew C. Kuchins and Chris Monday write: Many dictators aspire to the Deng Xiaoping or Lee Kuan Yew models of exercising power more informally after leaving their formal positions. Both the dynastic and “grey cardinal” models fail as often as they succeed. Just look at Russia’s neighbor Kazakhstan, whose founding President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s effort to remain the power behind the throne was stymied in January 2022. Only time will tell if Putin’s plan is for his cousin Anna to succeed him, and then, more importantly, whether “Operation Putina” will be successful and durable. – The National Interest

Julian G. Waller writes: Where Russia goes in the months and years to come is anyone’s guess, and significant political events are famously difficult to predict. Yet understanding the path that Russia’s wartime dictatorship has set itself on will be fundamental to policymakers, Russia watchers, and scholars alike for the foreseeable future. – The National Interest

Alexander J. Motyl writes: Defeats in wars have often produced significant change—in Russia and elsewhere. The Crimean War led to the abolition of serfdom; the Russo-Japanese War produced democratic reforms; World War I ended the tsarist regime; the defeat in Afghanistan facilitated perestroika. – The National Interest

Aleksei Miniailo writes: This, in turn, will increase the chances that Russia will start addressing the evils it has inflicted. Ukraine would then hopefully get peace and reparations. Russians would get a better life. And the United States and Europe would get a predictable and constructive partner instead of a hostile dictatorship. – Foreign Affairs


The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Lebanon called on authorities Thursday to investigate an attack by local youths in the country’s south that has left one of the force’s members wounded. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli officials are stepping up threats against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, warning that Israel is running out of patience as the two sides continue to trade fire along Israel’s volatile northern border. – Associated Press

Hamas alerted the leader of fellow terror group Hezbollah just minutes before launching its October 7 assault, according to a report this week, detailing rifts between various Iran-backed groups and within Hamas in the wake of the unprecedented assault. – Times of Israel

As the IDF continues its attacks during the Israel-Hamas war, Hezbollah has responded by attempting to cause havoc by gaining access to the cameras of Israeli civilians. – Jerusalem Post

Shalom Lipner writes: With Hamas vowing to replicate the savagery of October 7 until Israel is “annihilated,” Hezbollah escalating its attacks across Israel’s border with Lebanon, Yemen’s Houthis disrupting Israeli shipping in the Red Sea, and Saudi Arabia still dangling the prospect of normalization, Israel’s next moves could be the difference between deepening violence and progress toward peace. – Foreign Affairs

Middle East & North Africa

Israel carried out an aerial strike targeting a main Syrian air defence base in southern Syria on Thursday in the latest bombing campaign since the outbreak of war in Gaza on Oct. 7, Syrian army and intelligence sources said. – Reuters

Egypt confirmed on Thursday that it had put forward a framework proposal to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that includes three stages ending with a ceasefire, and said it was awaiting responses on the plan. – Reuters

A Lebanese journalist reported Thursday that the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” a group composed of pro-Iranian militias operating in Iraq and Syria, attacked the Pik airfield south of Moshav Eliad in the Golan Heights which the Elbit security company uses to test UAVs and air defense systems. – Ynet

The US Navy’s USS Mason shot down a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by the Iran-backed Houthi militia in the southern Red Sea on Thursday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced early Friday morning. – Jerusalem Post

Thomas L. Friedman writes: Netanyahu has been out to undermine the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for the last three decades — the Oslo framework of two states for two people that guarantees Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, which neither side ever gave its best shot. Destroying the Oslo framework is not in America’s interest. – New York Times

Sercan Çalışkan writes: The increase in the militia presence in Mosul brought about a change in the population in favor of Shia Arabs. From 2003 to 2017, Mosul was largely devoid of any Shia symbols in the streets, except for a few specific areas. Now, the presence of Shia groups in the city is impossible to miss. Despite their growing influence in the area, Shia parties—like other political groups—will need to forge alliances with other factions in order to effectively exert influence and manage the city. – Washington Institute

Neil Quilliam and Sanam Vakil write: Ultimately, this means the UAE must accept that no matter how much it projects its power, it will always be penned in by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The seven emirates cannot escape their physical limitations, and their external partners—however much they pledge support—will not endlessly safeguard the country. Future historians may well compare the Medicis with the al-Nahyans. But the state will have to make it to, and then past, 2071 first. – Foreign Affairs

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s top court on Thursday ordered a third Japanese company to compensate some of its former wartime Korean employees for forced labor, the second such ruling in a week. – Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for bolstered war readiness to repel what he said were unprecedented United States-led confrontational moves, state media reported Thursday, as rival South Korea vowed a stern retaliation against any provocations by the North. – Associated Press

South Korea’s spy agency said it sees North Korea launching military and cyber provocations next year as Kim Jong Un’s regime seeks to raise its profile during election campaigns in the US and South Korea. – Bloomberg


A drawing of Taiwan at the presidential campaign headquarters of the island’s ruling party shows strikingly little concern for north and south. Instead, the island is shown turned on its side, with China and the Taiwan Strait conspicuously absent. – Wall Street Journal

One of the youngest pro-democracy activists to have been sentenced in Hong Kong under a national security law imposed by China has fled to Britain, where he said he will seek asylum. – Washington Post

China’s defence ministry lashed out at the United States on Thursday, a week after their top military officials resumed high-level talks, criticising its continued meddling in the Asia Pacific region and saying it maintained a “Cold War” mindset. – Reuters

A former Chinese central bank official has been sentenced to 16 years and six months in prison for taking bribes, leaking state secrets and insider trading as the ruling Communist Party tightens its grip on the financial sector. – Reuters

James Stavridis writes: It is vital for Chairman Brown to develop a personal relationship with his Chinese counterpart to discuss key issues like the war in Ukraine, the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, the civil war in Sudan, the threats by Venezuela to invade its neighbor Guyana. Will such conversations solve enormous problems like those? Unlikely, at least initially. But as Winston Churchill said, “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.” – Bloomberg

South Asia

Pakistan’s election commission on Thursday accepted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s nomination for the 2024 elections, weeks after a court overturned two graft convictions, ARY News reported. – Reuters

A Qatar court has dropped the death sentence imposed on eight Indian former naval officers arrested there last year, India’s foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

India is looking to bring in potential investors from foreign countries, including Germany, Britain and South Korea under its new electric vehicle (EV) policy, an Indian government trade official told reporters on Thursday. – Reuters


An Indonesian navy vessel in Aceh drove away a boat carrying Rohingya from Myanmar, a military spokesperson said, as growing numbers of would-be refugees from the strife-torn country face hostility from locals. – Reuters

Taiwanese voters will choose their next president and legislature when they go to the polls in January, with the results helping set the course for both cross-strait and US-China relations in the years ahead. The election is a competitive three-way race, with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party seeking to maintain Taiwan’s de facto political independence. – Bloomberg

Hal Brands writes: A coalition that succeeds in the present rivalries will, likewise, be one in which a globe-spanning group has addressed the era’s most pressing challenges by pulling together—militarily, economically, technologically, and diplomatically—as never before. “A repellent personality” has the virtue of “uniting his enemies,” Mackinder wrote. The goal of a democratic geopolitics should be to provide the security that permits another era of creation today. – Foreign Policy


Germany and its European Union partners are examining whether they could mount a new maritime mission to protect commercial vessels under threat of attack in the Red Sea, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Thursday. – Reuters

Belarus’ authoritarian president on Thursday attended a government-organized meeting with children brought from Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine, openly defying an international outrage over his country’s involvement in Moscow’s deportation of Ukrainian children. – Associated Press

Bulgaria and Romania have received permission to join Europe’s passport- and visa-free Schengen Area, starting in March, the governments of the two countries said. – Associated Press

William Courtney, John Hoehn, Bradley Martin, and Hunter Stoll write: When major combat operations in Ukraine end, better assessments of future defense needs may emerge. But NATO’s posture on its eastern flank makes one thing clear. Allied force presence in Ukraine may be essential to deter and defend against further Russian aggression. – The Hill


One Friday earlier this month, just as Dr. Daouda Diallo stepped out of the passport office in the capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, four men grabbed him off the street, pushed him into a vehicle and drove off. – New York Times

An aerial strike on the grounds of a church in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region killed eight people and injured five as they collected corn, two witnesses and an opposition political party said. – Reuters

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday refused opposition calls for a re-run of disputed elections, as the main observer mission reported “numerous irregularities” that could undermine some results. – Reuters

The leader of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces visited Ethiopia on Thursday where he said he discussed the need for a swift end to the war between the RSF and the Sudanese army, during the second leg of a rare publicly-announced foreign tour. – Reuters

Anti-corruption authorities in Zambia said they will investigate after a video posted on social media allegedly showed the foreign minister receiving piles of cash from a Chinese businessman. – Associated Press

Latin America

Ecuadorean former Vice President Jorge Glas will appeal a decision by a judge ordering him back to prison, his lawyer said on Thursday, saying that a return to jail would be dangerous. – Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday said the deployment of a British warship to waters off the coast of Guyana breaches the “spirit” of an agreement reached between Venezuelan and Guyanese authorities. – Reuters

President Javier Milei will face his first general strike after just more than a month in office as Argentina’s top unions call for a nationwide protest against his plans to deregulate the country’s economy, change its voting system and reduce social safety nets. – Bloomberg

North America

Mexican and U.S. officials have agreed to work together more closely to tackle record migration at their shared border, the countries’ governments said in a joint statement on Thursday, a day after high-level talks on stemming record numbers. – Reuters

Maine’s secretary of state ruled that Donald Trump cannot run in the state’s Republican primary, citing his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. – Bloomberg

Matthew J. Slaughter writes: Global commerce needs checks to protect essential defense technologies and products. But beyond these, America can’t be fully secure without a globally competitive, high-productivity economy. International investment and trade strengthen America. That’s how the world can help bolster our national security. – Wall Street Journal


U.S. chipmaker Nvidia (NVDA.O) on Thursday launched a modified version of an advanced gaming chip designed to comply with U.S. export controls targeting China. – Reuters

India clamped down on overseas crypto exchanges like Binance that it says are operating illegally there, moving to block local access to their websites. – Bloomberg

Australia’s Eagers Automotive (APE.AX) said on Friday a cyber incident impacting some of its IT systems is affecting the company’s ability to finalise transactions for certain new vehicles, which have been sold and ready for delivery. – Reuters


The US military is trying to reassure shipping companies that a multinational force is making it safe to sail through the Red Sea and Suez Canal even though attacks from Yemen-based Houthi rebels show no sign of stopping. – Bloomberg

SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket lofted a secretive space plane for the US Space Force on Thursday evening from Florida, the first time the rocket was used to send the Boeing Co.-built experimental spacecraft to orbit. – Bloomberg

The Royal New Zealand Navy recently introduced three high-speed, 41-foot Littoral Manoeuvre Craft to its fleet of nine ships, and is now testing the Australian-made 22-foot uncrewed surface vessel Bluebottle. – Defense News

Adm. Lisa Franchetti was confirmed in November as the Navy’s next chief of naval operations following a monthslong congressional blockade that kept the service’s first female leader from taking the top job. – Defense News