Fdd's overnight brief

December 9, 2023

In The News

Israel

The breakdown of public order in southern Gaza is accelerating as Israel’s military offensive dislodges Hamas’s control of the enclave, threatening aid deliveries to Palestinians who now fear robberies and looting while reporting a rise in starvation and disease. – Wall Street Journal

But so far, the administration hasn’t shown any willingness to use its leverage with Israel — limiting either its supply of weaponry or its vocal support for what White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday called Israel’s right to “go after this very legitimate threat” from Hamas — to pressure the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to comply more fully with U.S. appeals. – Washington Post

Israel accused Hamas on Thursday of firing rockets from what it called “humanitarian zones” in the southern Gaza Strip where thousands of desperate Palestinians have sought refuge, adding to concerns that no place in the battered enclave may be truly safe for civilians. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his strongest public criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war on Hamas in south Gaza, said there was a gap between the government’s declared intentions to protect civilians and the casualties. – Reuters

Israel and the United Nations signalled on Thursday that the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel could soon be opened to help speed up delivery of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, where the Israel-Hamas war has left people desperately short of basic needs. – Reuters

The United States has not given Israel a firm deadline to end major combat operations against Hamas in Gaza, and if the war ended now, the Islamist group would continue to pose a threat, White House national security aide Jon Finer said on Thursday. – Reuters

Israel has designated a small slice of mostly undeveloped land along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast as a safe zone — a place where waves of people fleeing the war can find protection from airstrikes and receive humanitarian supplies for their families. The reality? The area of Muwasi is a makeshift tent camp where thousands of dazed Palestinians live in squalid conditions in scattered farm fields and waterlogged dirt roads. – Associated Press

It’s called “Article 99.” And it hasn’t been used for decades. Until this week. With an intensifying Israeli offensive and escalating civilian casualties, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked a rarely exercised power this week to warn the Security Council of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza. – Associated Press

The Palestinian Authority is working with US officials on a plan to run Gaza after the ongoing war is over, with one of its top leaders arguing that Israel’s aim to fully defeat Hamas is unrealistic and the militant group should instead join a new governing structure. – Bloomberg

Talks to release the remaining hostages in Gaza have hit a stalemate in recent days, dashing hopes of U.S. officials that they might reach a deal by the end of the year, according to two senior U.S. officials. – Politico

Images and videos of Hamas terrorists who have surrendered and been arrested by the IDF have been circulating online, Israeli media reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas reportedly provided Israel with intelligence about another major terror group in the Gaza Strip as part of its strategy to trick Israel into a false sense of security ahead of its devastating October 7 attack. – Times of Israel

Peggy Noonan writes: Why is it important? Because it happened. Because it reveals something about the essential nature of Hamas and reflects its ultimate political goals. Progressives admiringly quote Maya Angelou’s advice that when people show you who they are, believe them. Oct. 7 was Hamas showing you who they are. Believe them. – Wall Street Journal

Yaakov Katz writes: Which is why the government needs to stop playing politics and instead outline a vision for the day after in Gaza. Doing so will help alleviate international pressure, will stave off a clash with the US, will buy the IDF more time to achieve its military objectives, and will – just as importantly – help restore some public trust in our political leaders. – Jerusalem Post

Amos Harel writes: In the past, assassinations did not generate immediate laxness in Hamas. Over the years, Israel has assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Saleh Shehadeh, Ahmed Jabari, Ibrahim Makadmeh and other top figures (and failed in attempts to kill Deif and Khaled Meshal). That did not lead Hamas to surrender or to become more moderate, although some argue that the assassinations at the end of the second intifada, in which Yassin and Rantisi were killed, expedited Hamas’ decision to desist from suicide bombings. – Haaretz

Steven A. Cook writes: Whether the Israeli public wants to occupy the Gaza Strip remains an open question, but as Israeli friends and interlocutors have relayed to me over the past two months, they are confronted with an impossible situation in the current conflict. They want nothing more than to wash their hands of the Palestinian issue and to have security. They thought withdrawal from Gaza would advance those goals, but the Oct. 7 attacks shattered that belief. That is why no one should be surprised when the Israelis reoccupy Gaza. For Israelis who crave security, there is likely no other choice. – Foreign Policy

Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Iran’s president Thursday as part of a blitz round of Middle East diplomacy that also included visits to United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in efforts to raise Moscow’s profile as a power broker in the region. – Associated Press

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accused the West on Thursday of supporting “genocide” by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza, at the start of talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin. – Reuters

The United States believes that Iran is involved in the planning and execution of drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi group on Israel and ships in the Red Sea, a senior aide to U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday. – Reuters

Iran wants to acquire sophisticated Russian weaponry, a move that would only increase its ability to destabilize the region, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday, as he charged that the Islamic Republic was behind the attacks on maritime shipping routes. – Jerusalem Post

Mushtaq Abd Manaf writes: Thus, the Islamic Republic’s position that it is merely carrying out a religious mandate is disingenuous, as is clear from Khomeini’s own religious writings and from the history of the hijab in Iran. Whereas the concept of sitr remains separated from politics in Iran, the hijab is now unequivocally a political concept. As Ishaq al-Fayad, one of the leading Shia religious authorities (maraji‘) in Najaf, put it while receiving a delegation from Iran, using force to impose the hijab is unhelpful. – Washington Institute

Russia & Ukraine

President Biden pledged to continue pressing for the release of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich days after his administration revealed that the Russian government rejected a new offer aimed at freeing the American journalist. – Wall Street Journal

Soon after Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukraine beefed up its border defenses near this Carpathian mountain village. But the extra patrols and reels of barbed wire fencing rolled out along the top of a mountain pass along the Romanian border were meant to keep people in — particularly draft-eligible men seeking to flee the country. – Washington Post

Lawmakers in Russia on Thursday set March 17 as the date for the country’s next presidential election, launching a race that few doubt will result in President Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election for another six-year term. – New York Times

David Satter writes: Russia’s position in the world is defined by the personal interests of its rulers. Under wartime conditions, they have made national fanaticism the key to their hold on power. A Russian victory would reinforce a war psychology that has gripped the population and can’t be abandoned without the leaders themselves being threatened. Allowed to win in Ukraine, they would defend their positions by looking for new conquests, creating a massive and long-term security threat for the West. – Wall Street Journal

David Ignatius writes: Here’s the holiday present that Ukraine needs from the United States: quick passage by the Senate and House of a generous military assistance package that can carry Kyiv through 2024. Ukraine suffered a severe setback this year, but its people are still in the fight. The least America can do is give them the weapons that would give them another chance at victory. – Washington Post

Lebanon

News organizations and rights groups that investigated shelling that killed a journalist and injured others in Lebanon in October said their findings indicate that Israel was responsible. Two rights groups described the attack as a “war crime.” – Washington Post

A guided-missile attack from Lebanon killed an Israeli civilian in northern Israel on Thursday, Israel’s military spokesperson said and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Beirut would be turned “into Gaza” if Hezbollah started an all-out war. – Reuters

Lebanon said on Thursday it would refer to the U.N. Security Council news reports by Reuters and Agence France-Presse that showed Israeli military fire killed a Reuters journalist and wounded six others in south Lebanon on Oct. 13. –  Reuters

Egypt

Former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to secure six more years as Egypt’s president in an election held in the shadow of the nearby war in the Gaza Strip, despite growing unease about the country’s economic performance. – Reuters

Egypt is striving to accelerate the delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip, a senior official said on Thursday, after the amount of relief getting through to the Palestinian enclave dipped with the end of the Israel-Hamas truce on Dec. 1. – Reuters

Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said on Thursday that the relationship between Israel and Egypt remains solid and unquestioned, even as he criticized Israel’s military response to Hamas inside Gaza and seemed to draw equivalencies between Israel and Hamas. – Jewish Insider

Arabian Peninsula

A top White House official said the US won’t rule out the possibility of strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which have been blamed for targeting commercial ships, while it focuses now on sanctions and security at sea. – Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s two biggest oil exporters, on Thursday called for all OPEC+ members to join an agreement on output cuts for the good of the global economy only days after a fractious meeting of the producers’ club. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates has asked for the U.N. Security Council to vote Friday morning on a draft resolution that demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas in the Gaza Strip, diplomats said. – Reuters

A Saudi Royal Air Force F-15SA fighter jet crashed Thursday, killing its two crew members on board, the kingdom said. The state-run Saudi Press Agency, quoting military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Turki al-Maliki, said the crash occurred during a training mission at King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran in the kingdom’s east. – Associated Press

Responding to increased attacks on ships in the southern Red Sea by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the U.S. announced sanctions against 13 people and firms alleged to be providing tens of millions of dollars from the sale and shipment of Iranian commodities to the Houthis in Yemen. – Associated Press

Marc Champion writes: At the same time, Qatar continues to argue that Hamas is not a terrorist organization and needs to be bargained with rather than ostracized. It’s difficult to envisage any stable solution to the crisis emerging so long as Netanyahu’s ultra-right coalition runs Israel and Qatar goes on providing safe harbor to Hamas. – Bloomberg

Greg Priddy writes: President Putin’s visit on December 5 to discuss oil policy is likely a gambit to push back the timeframe the Saudis would consider moving to retake market share. MBS is not facing acute financial problems, and a policy shift could be seen as a loss-of-face for him, though it is analogous to previous shifts in Saudi policy, such as those in the mid-1980s. Putin has a more acute need for current revenue, given the war in Ukraine, and Russia would definitely suffer from an uncoordinated Saudi shift. Both likely want to see President Biden lose the 2024 election as well, as Putin would like to see U.S. aid to Ukraine curtailed. – The National Interest

Noam Raydan writes: Thus, while the impact of the Red Sea attacks appears to be limited so far, one cannot dismiss the risk of an escalation or miscalculation that creates deeper commercial shockwaves. Safeguarding the freedom of navigation in this waterway is therefore vital for energy security and the overall global economy. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

With the healthcare system in Gaza in a state of collapse two months into the Israel-Hamas war, many families are desperate to get injured and sick patients out of the enclave for potentially lifesaving treatment. A handful of countries have stepped in to accept some patients from Gaza, often with a focus on children. – Wall Street Journal

After years of tensions between Greece and Turkey, the countries’ leaders signed a “declaration on friendly relations and good neighborliness” on Thursday, in what they described as a bid to set the two neighboring, rival nations on a more constructive path. The eventual goal, they said, was to resolve longstanding differences, which in recent decades have brought them to the brink of military conflict. – New York Times

Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone housing the U.S. Embassy was targeted with several rockets around dawn on Friday, two security sources said, noting it was not clear where the rockets had hit and whether there was damage. – Reuters

Ruth Wasserman Lande writes: Finally, and not a tad less important is the simultaneous and immediate establishment of an international coalition against the mastermind of the current havoc we are all witnessing and experiencing in the Middle East – Iran. If that coalition is not established immediately, then the Houthis in Yemen, the Iranian militias in Iraq, those in Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza, even after the war, will continue to thrive. – Jerusalem Post

Korean Peninsula

John Linton is quick to acknowledge that on the surface he might be an unusual choice as the architect behind a political reboot of South Korea’s ruling party. For starters, he is a doctor who has never held office. He’s also an American. Then there is his ethnicity. “I’m outwardly, ya know, a white guy, a Caucasian,” Linton said. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea is rolling out a new “carbon-free” campaign at this year’s COP28 that it says will reposition Seoul as a global leader in decarbonization. But climate experts and advocates say the plan, which promotes some fossil fuel power generation, merely masks South Korea’s dependence on nonrenewable energy sources. – Washington Post

The national security advisers of the United States, South Korea and Japan are set to meet in Seoul on Friday and Saturday to discuss North Korea and other global issues as they step up trilateral cooperation, South Korea’s presidential office said. – Reuters

China

China’s push to reduce its use of fossil fuels and imports of oil and gas has put the country at the forefront of civilian nuclear technology, as climate change is bringing nuclear power back into vogue. – Wall Street Journal

Moody’s Investors Service is facing a barrage of criticism from China after the U.S. ratings company changed its credit outlook on the country to negative. – Wall Street Journal

Republican lawmakers are faulting the Biden administration’s enforcement of restrictions on China’s access to American technology, saying that the administration is still allowing semiconductors and other American innovation to flow to Beijing that could ultimately aid China in a military conflict. – New York Times

China and the European Union agreed their trade relationship should be more balanced at their first in-person summit for four years on Thursday, but gave no sign of resolving differences on a range of issues. – Reuters

Roger Ream writes: It isn’t enough to call for an end to the attacks on journalists. We must instill the values of truth-telling and journalistic excellence in the next generation. We must ceaselessly advocate freedom of speech and a free press. And we must create an environment where journalists around the world can report without fear of harassment, persecution or death. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

U.S. and Indian officials have signaled in the days since the U.S. indictment was unsealed on Nov. 29 that the accusation wouldn’t derail a deepening partnership between the two countries, which have increasingly looked to each other as a counterweight in a rivalry with China. – Wall Street Journal

Hartosh Singh Bal writes: India’s alleged involvement in the attempted assassinations is already causing harm. According to The Print, an Indian news outlet, the United Kingdom and the United States asked two senior officials in India’s Research and Analysis Wing—the intelligence agency which deals with external security— to leave their stations in London and San Francisco ahead of the U.S. indictment. […]This seriously impairs India’s intelligence capacity abroad and suggests that, at least in the short term, the country will face difficulty getting information or acting in cooperation with most Western security agencies. – Foreign Affairs

Syed Mohammad Ali writes: Despite their longstanding ties, the bilateral relationship between the United States and Pakistan has experienced significant stresses, and the level of suspicion and acrimony between the two countries has not yet subsided. It is, however, in the national interests of both countries to learn from their past mistakes and not let bitter experiences hinder the prospects for mutually beneficial cooperation. There may be numerous issues American and Pakistani policymakers will not agree on, but these differences can be side-stepped to create a stable and beneficial bilateral relationship. – Middle East Institute

Asia

Thailand and conflict-torn Myanmar will create a task force to boost humanitarian assistance to people displaced by fighting and could expand that to include other aid agencies, Thailand’s foreign ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Taiwan reported rare nighttime Chinese military activity around the island on Thursday, including aircraft crossing the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait, as Beijing continues such missions ahead of Taiwan’s January election. – Reuters

Senior Chinese leaders held a meeting in early December to “coordinate” government efforts to sway upcoming elections in Taiwan, according to intelligence gathered on the island, part of a campaign Taiwan officials see as voting interference. – Reuters

China’s President Xi Jinping will visit Vietnam on Dec. 12-13 to meet top state officials and discuss upgrading the two countries’ relations, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday they had discussed the “vital” U.S.-UK Indian Ocean air base at Diego Garcia, and Blinken said Washington recognized British sovereignty there. – Reuters

Karishma Vaswani writes: As the EU weighs up the kind of relationship it wants to have with China in the future, de-risking is well and good — but actively courting other countries as alternatives would be better. Asia is a big place and, in most cases, open for business. – Bloomberg

Europe

After a series of Quran burnings in Scandinavia caused uproar in Muslim communities, Denmark on Thursday banned the “improper treating” of religious texts in public. – New York Times

Legal and human rights groups have filed a legal challenge with Britain’s High Court calling for the U.K. to stop granting licenses for weapons exports to Israel, activists said Thursday. – Associated Press

Liam Hoare writes: Günay notes that since then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned in October 2021, the temperature of Austro-Turkish relations has cooled somewhat and, as in Germany, practical and pragmatic considerations concerning trade, migration and security have taken over. Even considering Erdogan’s rhetoric since October 7 and Austria’s strong support for Israel during that time, the post-Kurz status quo has not faltered. – Haaretz

Olesya Vartanyan writes: Despite their failure to prevent the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the United States and the EU are still the only powers both willing and able to push negotiations forward. Their readiness to continue shuttle diplomacy between Armenia and Azerbaijan is helpful, and the West should continue to try to bring Azerbaijan back to the negotiating table. The prospects for success in the Western-led process may now look small, but if Azerbaijan does not see any reason to return to the table, it may seek to advance its interests on the battlefield instead. – Foreign Affairs

Africa

The International Monetary Fund’s executive board will meet on Dec. 13 to discuss debt relief for Somalia, the Fund´s spokesperson Julie Kozack told a press conference on Thursday. – Reuters

A West African court on Thursday dismissed a case by Niger’s military junta that sought to lift a raft of sanctions imposed by the regional ECOWAS bloc on the country after a July coup. – Reuters

Voters in Democratic Republic of Congo go to the polls on Dec. 20 and international investors are keenly watching to see if a political shake-up occurs in one of the world’s top suppliers of critical minerals. – Reuters

David Kirichenko writes: Ukraine has to roll the rock back up the hill, and it will be a long, hard task. But success would mark a significant achievement. Russia has been getting away with murder, in Africa and Ukraine, for far too long. – Center for European Policy Analysis

The Americas

The United States and Mexico sought to project a united front on Thursday in their efforts to deepen economic ties and crack down on illicit drug smuggling as the Biden administration looks to solidify its North American supply chain and reduce reliance on China. – New York Times

It might be only a political stunt by an unpopular leader trying to win reelection. But threats by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to annex nearly three-quarters of oil-rich Guyana are drawing international concern. – Washington Post

China forcefully rejected cyber-security and spying concerns on Thursday raised by Costa Rica’s president as he explained why Chinese tech company Huawei (HWT.UL) is ineligible to run 5G mobile data networks in the Central American country. – Reuters

The United States on Thursday said it would conduct flight operations within Guyana that build on its routine engagement as Britain and Brazil expressed concerns about growing border tensions between Guyana and Venezuela. – Reuters

Argentina’s President-elect Javier Milei has a China conundrum. The libertarian economist insulted communist-run China in a fiery campaign, but takes office on Sunday needing the country’s second-largest trade partner more than ever as a recession looms and foreign currency reserves run dry. – Reuters

Presidents of the four Mercosur nations met for their annual summit on Thursday with black clouds hovering over the fate of a trade deal with the European Union, as well as the future of the South American common market itself. – Reuters

Andrew Song writes: To avoid the echoes of the failed Plan Colombia initiative, Washington needs to make full use of USAID and the State Department for greater rural outreach to farmers and to initiate a counternarcotic information campaign. Finally, the threat of Chinese fishing vessels in the Galapagos Islands and the cartels’ use of narco-submarines should galvanize the U.S. Navy to conduct visit, board, and search and seizure (VBSS) military exercises with Ecuador’s littoral Navy. – The National Interest

United States

When President Biden sent his request to Congress last month for aid to Ukraine and Israel, he included a request for more money to help with security at the border with Mexico, a sweetener intended to both address a crisis and win over support of Republicans. But the move has now left Mr. Biden in a box. – New York Times

As the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas showed, terrorists are learning to use drones in increasingly creative ways—and that’s bad news for the U.S. homeland. – Wall Street Journal

Lawmakers launched an investigation Thursday into antisemitism at three of the top US universities after their leaders quibbled over whether student protests calling for the genocide of Jews amounted to harassment and violated the university’s policies. – Agence France-Presse

Elise Stefanik writes: The pathetic testimony of the Harvard, Penn and MIT presidents has been viewed more than a billion times worldwide, making it the most viewed congressional testimony in history—deservedly so, because it shocked the conscience of the world. The only acceptable consequence is that the boards immediately replace them with leaders who will restore moral clarity. – Wall Street Journal

Marco Rubio writes: To address the threat from foreign adversaries that explicitly seek to weaken America, Congress should also enact bans and work with state governments to prevent schools from entering into relationships with adversarial governments and their controlled entities. […]If lawmakers are serious about safeguarding our national interest, they will jump at the chance to counteract the dark money and shadow warriors that are corrupting American schools. – New York Post

Cybersecurity

The U.S. and U.K. governments jointly accused Russian intelligence of orchestrating a wide-ranging, global hacking campaign over the past eight years that targeted British lawmakers, journalists and civil society organizations, in what officials described as a brazen hack-and-leak attempt by the Kremlin to interfere in British elections. – Wall Street Journal

Internet propagandists aligned with Russia have duped at least seven Western celebrities, including Elijah Wood and Priscilla Presley, into recording short videos to support its online information war against Ukraine, according to new security research by Microsoft. – Wall Street Journal

Opposition activists in Russia launched a campaign against President Vladimir Putin this week, using cleverly-placed QR codes to direct people to subversive websites. – The Record

Defense

Australia’s government on Friday welcomed signs that a U.S. defense spending bill which would authorise the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia is set to pass Congress after a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. – Reuters

U.S. lawmakers unveiled an annual defense policy bill leaving out most of the divisive social issues, such as abortion rights and treatment of transgender service members, that had threatened to derail the must-pass legislation. – Reuters

Mark your calendar: There are several major U.S. defense competitions expected in fiscal 2024, with just these eight estimated to be worth a total of $61.9 billion. – Defense News

Pentagon leaders who consider China a growing threat say 2024 will be a key year for the Army to bolster defenses around Guam, one of the most critically strategic islands in the Indo-Pacific region. – Defense News

Gregory SandersNicholas VelazquezEmily Hardestyand Audrey Aldisert write: The continuity in contracting and acquisition trends is surprising given the dramatically changed global environment and the role the U.S. transfers have played in supporting the war in Ukraine. However, the acquisition system’s response to this changing operational environment is still evolving as can be seen in the preliminary FY 2023 data, and data on contract spending typically lags strategic shifts. – Center for Strategic and International Studies