Fdd's overnight brief

February 1, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Funding cuts from the U.S. and other international donors will likely hit the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency operations over the coming month, adding to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and raising difficult questions for Washington about how best to deliver aid as the war drags on. – Wall Street Journal 

U.S. negotiators are pushing for a cease-fire deal that could stop the war in Gaza long enough to stall Israel’s military momentum and potentially set the stage for a more lasting truce, according to U.S. and Arab officials familiar with the negotiations. – Wall street Journal

The Chicago City Council voted on Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas, making it the largest city in the United States to do so. – New York Times

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Wednesday for the closure of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) as his forces conducted more air strikes in Gaza amid diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire and release of hostages in the enclave. – Reuters

The United States is actively pursuing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel and exploring options with partners in the region, the State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday. – Reuters

An array of U.N. organizations have united to warn of “catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza ” if key donor countries don’t resume funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the main lifeline for people in the besieged territory. – Associated Press

Israel has ignored the ruling by the U.N.’s top court last week by killing hundreds more civilians in a matter of days in Gaza, South Africa’s foreign minister said Wednesday, adding that her country has asked why an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been issued in a case South Africa filed at the separate International Criminal Court. – Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to the Middle East later this week on his fifth urgent diplomatic mission since Israel’s war with Hamas began in October, the White House and a State Department official said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Israel’s war against Hamas has damaged around half of all buildings in Gaza and rendered the Palestinian territory uninhabitable, with tens of billions of dollars needed to rebuild it, the UN said Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

More than 60 US citizens and their family members who were killed, injured or taken hostage in the Hamas attack on Israel sued Iran, demanding upwards of $1 billion from the Islamic Republic for aiding the terrorist organization. – Bloomberg

Negotiations are advancing for an agreement to pause the Israel-Hamas war and free civilian hostages captured by Hamas, people familiar with the matter said, in a deal that those involved believe could be a crucial step toward ending the four-month conflict. – Bloomberg

Hamas has taken to leaving dogs where IDF canine units operate, to distract the military’s canine unit dogs on their mission to locate explosives and terrorists. – Ynet

A UN delegation, led by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan, met Wednesday with Maya and Itay Regev, who were abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists and freed after nearly two months. – Ynet

Israel’s government has yet to lay a renewed budget for the year of 2024 despite a January 20 deadline required by the quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The State Economy, and thus is acting in violation of the law, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich admitted in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The Likud offered the opposition party Yesh Atid to place one of its members as justice minister instead of current Justice Minister Yariv Levin in exchange for it joining the government, Kan journalist Ze’ev Kam reported a “senior Likud minister” as saying on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

War cabinet member Benny Gantz and observer Gadi Eisenkot have suggested temporarily limiting the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip so its distribution will no longer be controlled by Hamas, Israeli television reported Wednesday. – Times of Israel

The US State Department is reportedly exploring the possibility of recognizing a Palestinian state following the end of the Gaza war, which would be a major shift in American policy, although its spokesman downplayed the significance of any such discussion on Wednesday. – Times of Israel

South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, on Wednesday said all states have an obligation to stop funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions in Gaza, Reuters reported. – Arutz Sheva

Economy Minister Nir Barkat (Likud) is advancing legislation against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). According to Israel Hayom, the legislation was originally proposed in a previous Knesset, and has been reintroduced by several MKs in the current one for accelerated legislative process. – Artuz Sheva

Editorial: A national debate over this issue is legitimate. How the country conducts it will be a test of whether it learned one of the key lessons of October 7. Don’t – for the sake of Israel’s future – delegitimize, nor question, the patriotism or loyalty of those on the other side of a public policy debate. – Jerusalem Post

Adam Taylor writes: The aid suspensions this week could mark a far bigger problem if not resolved. So far, 11 separate donors have suspended their funding. The United States provided $344 million in funding in 2022, according to UNRWA’s statistics, making it the largest donor to the agency. The second largest donor, Germany, also suspended funding this week. – Washington Post

Marc Champion writes: The other route to making UNRWA redundant is much harder to achieve: To finally negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as was intended in 1947. That can’t be done quickly or easily, but even Israel’s public commitment to the goal would open new options for Gaza’s interim administration. Without either a Palestinian expulsion or state, UNRWA — or some version of it — could be here for the next 75 years, and nobody should want that. – Bloomberg

Nili Margalit writes: You said as much when the last hostage deal ended adding that as the prime minister you believed this commitment is more than mere words, it is the foundation of our existence here.  Mr. Prime Minister, the time is now. You cannot squander the opportunity to bring the hostages back alive. You may not get another chance. – Ynet

Salem Alketbi writes: The current rapid escalation cannot be understood apart from the plans and proposals circulating about the fate of Gaza. Iran does not want to see a retreat or final exclusion of one of its key proxies, Hamas. The absence of Hamas from all “day after” discussions is bad news for Iran. Iran realizes that losing one of its arms may pave the way for losing the rest. An Iran without Hamas is like a Lebanon without Hezbollah and a Yemen without the Houthis. – Jerusalem Post

Leonard Grunstein writes: The US and the other nations, which suspended funding of UNRWA, should also do the right thing and join in defending Israel at the ICJ. If we are to have a society of nations based on respect for the rule of law then we must be devoted to doing so and not be silent in the face of injustice of a miscarriage of justice. May Israel be vindicated, the evil that is Hamas and its cohorts be eradicated and the hostages and valiant soldiers of the IDF be returned safely home. – Arutz Sheva


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly Israeli strikes and will rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, five sources familiar with the matter said. – Reuters

More than 160 attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, 37 clashes in the Red Sea with the Houthis — and now five dead U.S. service members. America’s mounting proxy battle with Iran over the past three months is spurring questions about whether the countries are at war. – The Hill

The USS Carney shot down three Iranian drones and one anti-ship ballistic missile Wednesday launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement. – The Hill

Iran signaled it’s prepared to hit back against any US strike on its soil or assets abroad, as the White House readies a response to a drone attack that killed three American soldiers over the weekend. – Bloomberg

At least 66 Israeli-American or Israeli families with close relatives wounded, abducted or murdered in the Hamas atrocities on October 7, filed a law suit in the New York Federal Court demanding compensation from Iran, totaling a billion dollars. – Ynet

Ezra Tzfadya writes: Therefore, calls by Democratic congressional leaders for a pivot in Gaza strategy and an American vision for Palestinian statehood must be accompanied by calls to resume direct dialogue with Tehran on nuclear non-proliferation. Such a diplomatic channel could possibly engender progress on other fronts in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. – The Hill

Michael Singh and Matthew Levitt write: As the military steps back from Gaza, Israel may be reluctant to support the creation of any Palestinian authority in the strip. The longer it waits to do so, however, the more room it will afford Iran to fill the void that results with a rebuilt Hamas or entirely new groups under Tehran’s direction. – Washington Institute 

Areej Elhag writes: Given the ways in which Iranian influence has grown elsewhere in the region, there are fears that the Sudanese army, with its Islamist orientation, will morph into a militia group similar to the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, ultimately exerting Iran’s will in exchange for funding and military support. – Washington Institute

Dr. Mordechai Kedar writes: This bigotry culminated in the attack upon the Azerbaijani Embassy one year ago. The Iranian colonial perspective of the world continues to threaten Israel, the Gulf states, and the entire free world. Iran is spreading its tentacles from Gaza to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. As long a nearby country does not permit Tehran to spread its tentacles there Iran will continue to pose a threat. Azerbaijan’s security interests are under such a threat now. – Artuz Sheva

Marie Abdi writes: If internal disagreements do arise in the Assembly of Experts, it is expected that the IRGC will use its formal and informal levers of power to pressure the members of this assembly and compel them to choose a new supreme leader as quickly as possible.Nevertheless, in a comprehensive analysis of the post-Khamenei era, if the Islamic Republic is not overthrown, the probability of a delayed selection of the supreme leader’s successor cannot be entirely dismissed. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

Western officials and Ukrainian soldiers are warning that rising tensions between President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top general could hamper the country’s war effort against Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Russia and Ukraine exchanged hundreds of prisoners Wednesday, exactly a week after Russia accused Ukraine of shooting down a military plane that Moscow claimed was carrying dozens of Ukrainian POWs being transported to a swap later that day. – Washington Post

Short of cash as well as personnel and equipment for its war against Russia, Ukraine’s government says it has cobbled together financing to last several months without long-stalled aid from the United States and Europe. But further delays would trigger an all-but-certain economic crisis, officials and analysts say. – New York Times

Switzerland will ban the import of Russian diamonds in line with the latest round of European Union sanctions designed to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, the government said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Ukrainian military claimed on Wednesday to have struck a military air base in Russian-occupied Crimea, while Moscow said it had thwarted the attack by shooting down missiles but some debris had hit a military installation. – Reuters

Ukraine’s government has submitted an amended draft bill that would tighten the rules on army mobilisation for debate in parliament. The bill, if passed, would allow Kyiv to call up more people and tighten punishments for draft dodging. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin vowed Wednesday to push back Ukrainian forces to reduce the threat of attacks on Russian territory as he met with activists running his campaign ahead of the March presidential election that he’s all but certain to win. – Associated Press

The United Nations’ top court on Wednesday rejected large parts of a case filed by Ukraine alleging that Russia bankrolled separatist rebels in the country’s east a decade ago and has discriminated against Crimea’s multiethnic community since its annexation of the peninsula. – Associated Press

Ukraine carried out another drone attack on an oil facility deep inside Russian territory, a military intelligence source in Kyiv told AFP on Wednesday. – Agence France-Presse

Russia is turning its sights on prominent anti-war critics of President Vladimir Putin who’ve fled abroad, following the Kremlin’s unprecedented crackdown on domestic opponents of his invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Alina Polyakova and James Goldgeier write: NATO does not need to offer Ukraine an immediate formal invitation. It can announce that it is opening accession talks with an invitation to follow at a future date, as the European Union has done with Ukraine regarding EU membership. But as NATO representatives and the alliance’s heads of state and government gather in Washington, there must be a broad recognition that Ukraine should be a part of NATO as soon as it meets specifically stated requirements, particularly on defense sector reforms. – Foreign Affairs


The United States imposed sanctions on three entities and one individual based in Turkey and Lebanon on Wednesday for giving “critical financial support” to a financial network used by Iran’s Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. – Reuters

The prospect of a full-scale war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia terrifies people on both sides of the border, but some see it as an inevitable fallout from Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza. – Associated Press

More than 500 homes and buildings were damaged from Hezbollah fire since the war began. Most suffered relatively little damage, caused by shrapnel or blast wave, others were completely destroyed – according to data collected by authorities, mapping the impact to dozens of communities on the northern border. – Ynet


A powerful Iraqi faction that led dozens of attacks against U.S. forces since October was pushed to announce a suspension of attacks through pressure from Tehran and ruling Iraqi parties who felt the faction had crossed a red line, four sources said. – Reuters

Emily Milliken writes: In December and January, Jordanian forces conducted several airstrikes and raids on targets identified as potential farms and hideouts of Iran-linked drug smugglers. The operation comes amid a surge in smuggling of drugs, weapons, and explosives in Jordan by what are thought to be Iran-linked smugglers. The uptick in these kinds of incidents shows that Tehran is hoping to make Jordan a transit point for weapon and drug smuggling—and, in the future, could even use the country as a launching point for attacks against Israel. – The National Interest

Adnan Nasser writes: Will additional sanctions curb or deter Iran’s behavior? Not likely. They will only serve as a tool of annoyance rather than effect any practical repercussions. The most tangible of outcomes will come from Biden’s move to either keep, withdraw, or downsize American forces from Iraq and anywhere else in the Middle East. Tehran is watching and seeing if time is on its side. – The National Interest


Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey on Feb. 12 to meet counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, a Turkish official told Reuters on Wednesday, in what will be the Russian leader’s first trip to a NATO ally since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. – Reuters

Turkey and Ukraine signed an accord that will allow Turkish construction firms to take part in the reconstruction of Ukrainian infrastructure damaged amid Russia’s invasion, the two countries said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Egypt next month in a bid to restore ties after more than a decade of fractured relations, according to Turkish officials familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Arabian Peninsula

The US launched two separate strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and intercepted a missile fired by the Iran-backed group, as the fallout from the Israel-Hamas war continues to roil the region. – Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia has resumed talks with the US about forging closer defense ties after a pause following the start of the Israel-Hamas war in early October, according to people familiar with the discussions. – Bloomberg

India has deployed at least a dozen warships east of the Red Sea to provide security against pirates and has investigated more than 250 vessels as Western powers focus on attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis, Indian officials said. – Reuters

The European Union plans to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea within three weeks to help defend cargo ships against attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen that are hampering trade and driving up prices, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

A coalition of digital rights groups on Thursday said they had identified 35 people in Jordan who had been targeted with the hacking tool Pegasus, including more than a dozen media workers and several human rights lawyers and activists. – Washington Post

Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have confirmed they are joining the BRICS bloc after being invited last year, South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Cash-strapped Tunisia wants to take the unprecedented step of borrowing billions from its central bank to address budget deficits and bandage its economic crisis, a step that experts warn could bring inflation and lessen faith in institutions. – Associated Press

President Joe Biden on Tuesday indicated he had decided how to respond after the killing of three American service members Sunday in a drone attack in Jordan that his administration has pinned on Iran-backed militia groups, saying he does not want to expand the war in the Middle East but demurring on specifics. – Associated Press

An International Monetary Fund mission to Egypt has extended its visit until the end of the week for urgent talks on a potential deal that may bring in partners and exceed $10 billion. Egyptian dollar bonds rose. – Bloomberg

Saud Al-Sharafat writes: It can do so by leveraging its deep influence on all parties and its extensive experience in this field dating back to the 1950s, during the Eisenhower administration, when it positively and firmly intervened in the conflict between Jordan and Israel over the Jordan River waters. The importance of this issue also underscores that Jordan-Israel water cooperation will become the cornerstone of cross-border reconciliation. – Washington Institute 

Dalia Dassa Kaye and Sanam Vakil write: Leading Arab states, together with regional powers such as Turkey, must seize the moment to lock in some of the rapprochement that preceded Gaza and the coordination that has arisen since. The Middle East is facing a moment of reckoning. If it becomes paralyzed by the horrific bloodshed in Gaza, it could further descend into crisis and conflict. Or it can start building a different future. – Foreign Affairs

Korean Peninsula

The president was grappling with a slowing economy, a deadly crowd crush and nuclear threats from a belligerent neighbor. Then came a much more personal scandal: spy cam footage that showed his wife accepting a $2,200 Dior pouch as a gift. – New York Times

North Korea said Wednesday it conducted a test-firing of long-range cruise missiles with an aim to sharpen its counterattack and strategic strike capabilities, in its latest display of weapons threatening South Korea and Japan. – Associated Press

Denny Roy writes: South Korea’s conventional forces are more than a match for the North Korean military, and the U.S. nuclear arsenal would continue to provide backup. Those who warn of an impending unprovoked North Korean attack must explain what benefit Kim could hope to gain by taking on militarily superior adversaries. While purposefully spewing belligerent rhetoric, the Kims have not stayed in power for this long by acting suicidal. – The National Interest


China’s top intelligence agency issued an ominous warning last month about an emerging threat to the country’s national security: Chinese people who criticize the economy. – New York Times

When U.S. and Australian troops practiced amphibious landings, ground combat and air operations last summer, they drew headlines about the allies deepening defense cooperation to counter China’s growing military ambitions. – Reuters

The United States on Wednesday added more than a dozen Chinese companies to a list created by the Defense Department to highlight firms it says are allegedly working with Beijing’s military, as part of a broader effort to keep American technology from aiding China. – Reuters

U.S. authorities have charged four Chinese nationals with crimes related to the smuggling of U.S.-made electronic components, including some with possible military use, to Iran, the Justice Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Hackers linked to the Chinese government are targeting critical U.S. infrastructure, preparing to cause “real-world harm” to Americans, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional committee on Wednesday. – Reuters

A Hong Kong court on Thursday found four people guilty of rioting after the legislature of the financial centre was stormed during pro-democracy protests in 2019. – Reuters

China hawks in the United States shouldn’t believe they “have the luxury” of shifting attention from Russia to the rising communist regime, according to NATO’s top civilian. – Washington Examiner

Beijing’s top intelligence agency on Tuesday laid out 10 “conditions” that will cause authorities to voluntarily — and in some cases, involuntarily — bring someone in for questioning, known in slang and used by netizens as “an invitation to tea.” The “conditions” subject to scrutiny revolve around national security, state secrets, and accusations of violating the country’s updated anti-espionage law. – Washington Examiner

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said he “made no bones about” China’s sales of heavy trucks and other defense industrial base gear to Russia in his meetings with the Chinese foreign minister last week. – Breaking Defense

Christina Lu writes: “China decided to treat Israel as collateral damage, compared to more than 50 countries in the global south,” said Aboudouh, the Atlantic Council expert. “China wants these countries’ support for its own vision—for global governance and its strategic priorities.” – Foreign Policy

South Asia

Nawaz Sharif was in prison just over five years ago when his popular rival and former cricket star, Imran Khan, was elected prime minister. Now it is Khan who is in prison and Sharif who is seen as the front-runner to become prime minister in elections next week. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistan’s election panel has summoned top security officials for a meeting on Thursday to discuss increasing violence in the country’s western provinces ahead of next week’s national election, including the killing of a candidate a day earlier. – Reuters

A national assembly candidate in Pakistan’s election next week was shot dead on Wednesday in a tribal district along the Afghan border, police said, in the second killing of a candidate linked to jailed former leader Imran Khan’s party this month. – Reuters

Across a treacherous stretch of water, the Rohingya came by the thousands, then died by the hundreds. And though they know the dangers of fleeing by boat, many among this persecuted people say they will not stop — because the world has left them with no other choice. – Associated Press

The bodies of nine Pakistani laborers killed by gunmen in Iran last week were repatriated to their home country Thursday. – Associated Press

Myanmar’s leading resistance group and allied ethnic armed groups battling the military government on Wednesday released a political road map to ending military rule and enabling a peaceful transition of power, saying they were open to peace talks with the army if it accepted their terms. – Associated Press


Kim Aris was there when his mother, Aung San Suu Kyi, was first placed under house arrest by Myanmar’s military on July 20, 1989. To the then-12-year-old Aris, it felt like being in an adventure movie, he said. He wasn’t afraid, but excited as soldiers barged into their family’s lakeside home in Yangon, cut the phone cords and unspooled barbed wire around the compound. – Wall Street Journal

The most popular political party in Thailand won its following last year, and the ire of the conservative establishment, by campaigning to end military rule and to weaken the draconian law that prohibits criticism of the country’s monarchy. – New York Times

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has approved the third phase of the military’s modernisation, which includes the purchase of the country’s first submarine, in order to defend its maritime sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea. – Reuters

Members of a Russian rock band opposed to the Ukraine war have left Thailand for Israel a week after the authorities threatened to deport them back to Moscow for working at the resort island of Phuket without a permit, the band and the Thai police said. – Reuters

In mid-January, at a small gathering in a cantonment town in Myanmar, hard line pro-military monk Pauk Kotaw suggested that the country’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing step down and his deputy take over. The crowd cheered in agreement, according to videos of the event posted on social media. – Reuters

Taiwan’s military on Wednesday simulated a scenario where China suddenly turns one of its regular drills around the island into an actual attack, on the same day China staged another “combat readiness patrol” near Taiwan. – Reuters

Almost every day, Chinese warships sail in waters around Taiwan and warplanes fly toward the island before turning back. What if they suddenly attacked? – Associated Press

Hong Kong began public consultation on a local National Security Law on Tuesday, more than three years after Beijing imposed a similar law that has all but wiped out dissent in the semi-autonomous city. – Associated Press

Armenia on Thursday formally joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), officials said, in a move that traditional ally Moscow has denounced as “unfriendly”. – Agence France-Presse

New Zealand has agreed to officially explore the potential benefits of joining the Aukus pact, the latest sign that Wellington will contribute to the security agreement mainly aimed at countering China. – Bloomberg

William Sposato writes: In any case, Japan’s broad policy goal is straightforward: to try to stop China from any military action rather than try to figure out what to do if it happens. “Instead of acting out of the fear of damaging our economic dependence on China, we should act in concert with the United States, Taiwan, and other allies and friends to persuade the Chinese that a war on Taiwan could wreck the Chinese economy and endanger the Communist Party rule of China,” said Sadaaki Numata, a former senior Japanese diplomat. – Foreign Policy


European Union leaders are threatening to punish Hungary if it blocks a $54 billion aid package for Ukraine this week, a sign of growing anxiety across the continent about the dangers of a Russian victory in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal

Almost two years of political gridlock. Decision-making paralyzed. Rising tension in a place where peace remains fragile even after the end of decades of sectarian strife. – New York Times

Jérôme Bayle had spent seven nights on a major French highway, leading a group of aggrieved farmers in protest, when the prime minister arrived, dressed in his Parisian blue suit and tie, to thank them for “making France proud” and announced he would meet their demands. – New York Times

European Union leaders will seek on Thursday to convince Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to join a plan to offer stable financing to Ukraine, but they are also ready to provide the cash to Kyiv without Hungary if their arguments fail. – Reuters

Judges at the top U.N. court on Wednesday found that Russia violated elements of a U.N. anti-terrorism treaty, but declined to rule on allegations brought by Kyiv that Moscow was responsible for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. – Reuters

Chancellor Olaf Scholz reminded Germans of their Nazi past on Wednesday as he called on citizens to reject the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) which is second in most national polls. – Reuters

Convoys with hundreds of angry farmers driving heavy-duty tractors advanced toward European Union headquarters, bent on getting their complaints about excessive costs, rules and bureaucracy heard by EU leaders at a summit Thursday. – Associated Press

Kosovo authorities on Wednesday said they would impose the use of the country’s currency, the euro, and abolish the use of neighboring Serbia’s dinar in the north where most of the ethnic Serb minority lives. – Associated Press

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Cyprus for a year and urged all parties including rival Green Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to take steps “to de-escalate tensions in and around the buffer zone” dividing the Mediterranean island. – Associated Press

Germany expects to achieve a NATO goal of spending at least 2% of economic output on defense this year for the first time in more than three decades. – Bloomberg

The UK unveiled a plan to reduce trade friction on goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, a move that is expected to persuade the Democratic Unionist Party to end its two-year boycott of the region’s devolved government even though it falls short of a major overhaul of Brexit rules. – Bloomberg

Germany, the Netherlands and Poland plan to develop a military corridor that would make it easier to move troops and equipment between Europe’s North Sea ports and NATO’s eastern flank, at a time of growing hostility with Russia. – Defense News

Editorial: Members of the European Parliament and some others have called for exploring a more severe option: suspending Hungary’s voting rights. Doing so risks diminishing the bloc in the future, should populists take power in other E.U. nations. A better option is to make the E.U. less vulnerable to Orban-like manipulation, reforming voting rules so that fewer decisions require unanimity. Majority or supermajority rule would suit a bloc devoted to democracy and curb the likes of Mr. Orban from destroying from within one of the West’s most successful institutions. – Washington Post

Kateryna Odarchenko writes: Slovakia is not an isolated example. In 2023, Russia also sought to influence election races in Poland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and the Netherlands. This year will be especially busy, with the US, Germany, Great Britain, Moldova, Austria, and the European Parliament all holding votes. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Hugo Blewett-Mundy writes: The EU’s struggle to maintain consensus on continued support for Ukraine has heightened the importance of Britain’s voice as an unflinching ally of Ukraine and as one of its biggest military backers. Some of this is believed to involve highly secret operations, few of which have so far been hinted at (like the presence of UK special forces units on the ground.) Whatever the residual irritations of Brexit, it is time to put them aside and create an EU-UK relationship to meet the Russian threat. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Caroline de Gruyter writes: And so the 26 member states seem condemned to muddling through with Hungary. This explains why Orban, while lambasting the European Union every day, does not want an exit from the EU: He is far more powerful inside the EU than he would be outside it. He uses membership as leverage. This is exactly what the Hungarians did in the Habsburg Empire: By being obnoxious, they obtained the best deals of all. But can you guess who left last, when the empire collapsed and all the nations had departed one by one? Exactly: It was Hungary. – Foreign Policy


All states have an obligation to stop funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions in Gaza after the World Court made clear those actions could be genocidal, South Africa’s foreign minister said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Senior leaders from Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) met three times this month in Bahrain, sources with knowledge of the talks said, the first such contact between the two warring sides in nine months of conflict. – Reuters

Nearly 400 people have died of starvation in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions in recent months, the national ombudsman said Tuesday, a rare admission of hunger-related deaths by a federal body. – Associated Press

The United States imposed sanctions Wednesday on three Sudanese firms it accused of being directly connected to the warring forces in Sudan, as the devastating conflict in the northeast African country continues to rage. – Associated Press

Burkina Faso’s junta said Russian troops may join the fight against an Islamist insurgency in West Africa, a week after Moscow deployed about 100 military personnel in the country. – Bloomberg

The Americas

The modern economy rests on a rule so old that hardly anybody alive can remember a time before it: Ships of any nation may sail the high seas. – Wall Street Journal

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by Palestinian Americans who sought to force the White House to withdraw support for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, as was widely expected based on constitutional precedent that only the political branches of U.S. government could determine foreign policy. – New York Times

Assassination plots, arrest warrants for journalists and human rights defenders, attacks against adversaries – from the belittling kind to the judicial type – and other associated government actions have marked the start of 2024 for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his allies. – Associated Press

Argentina’s lower house of Congress on Wednesday began what is expected to be a marathon debate on President Javier Milei’s mega-bill to reform the economy, politics and even some aspects of private life. – Agence France-Presse

The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday approved $4.7 billion for Argentina, supporting the new administration of President Javier Milei as he enacts massive cost-cutting to bring the country’s ailing economy back on track. – Agence France-Presse


FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said Wednesday that the bureau had disrupted a major Chinese government-backed effort to hack into U.S. water, communications, transportation and energy facilities that could enable it to shut down essential services and foment chaos in the event of a conflict. – Washington Post

U.S. senators on Wednesday grilled leaders of the biggest social media companies and said Congress must quickly pass legislation, as one lawmaker accused the companies of having “blood on their hands” for failing to protect children from escalating threats of sexual predation on their platforms. – Reuters

The nation’s top officials charged with protecting U.S. elections against cyber threats say they’re convinced this year’s ballot will be safer than ever — even if foreign nations try to interfere. – Politico

The Defense Department this year plans to start collaborating more closely with its Australian counterparts through a new round of technology experiments, the Pentagon’s under secretary of defense for research and engineering told reporters today. – Breaking Defense 

Top water trade association officials voiced concerns to House Energy and Commerce Committee lawmakers Wednesday about the need for cyber training and additional government funding for their facilities, in a hearing focused on federal attempts to better secure the thousands of water systems throughout the U.S. – CyberScoop

The Department of Defense office responsible for background investigations is working with law enforcement to examine claims by a prolific ransomware group that they have stolen documents containing sensitive data related to the U.S. military, a Pentagon spokesperson told CyberScoop. – CyberScoop

Myanmar authorities handed over to the Chinese government 10 suspects accused of involvement in the organized cyber fraud industry, including the heads of three prominent crime families. – The Record

Russian citizens couldn’t access the majority of websites on the country’s .ru domain for several hours on Tuesday, including the Yandex search engine, the VKontakte social media platform, the major state-owned bank Sberbank and news outlets. – The Record


Successful Chinese cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in Guam or other Indo-Pacific footholds could cripple U.S. military capabilities in the region, the leader of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command said. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is working on a new wartime response plan that would affect how ships and crews prepare and deploy for combat, according to the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. – Defense News

The first U.S. Space Force guardian will be launched into space this summer. “There is a guardian going into space via NASA in August,” Jerry Porter, chief of public affairs at Space Launch Delta 45, told reporters during the Space Mobility Conference. – Defense One

Two American aircraft carrier strike groups are drilling with a Japanese big-deck warship in the Philippine Sea, the services announced. – USNI News