Fdd's overnight brief

February 14, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns concluded negotiations with top Middle Eastern officials on Tuesday without making major strides toward a deal between Israel and Hamas that would free hostages and pause fighting in the Gaza Strip, according to officials familiar with the talks. – Wall Street Journal

A 17-year-old Palestinian American was killed in the West Bank on Saturday, a family member told The Washington Post, making him the second known U.S. citizen killed there since the start of the Israel-Gaza war. – Washington Post

As the Gaza war rages, with civilian deaths soaring, few Arab leaders have publicly voiced their visions for the future of the battered enclave, fearing they will be accused of endorsing Israel’s actions. – New York Times

With Israel continuing to warn that it plans a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, South Africa has asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to issue new constraints on Israel’s military offensive to prevent genocide. – New York Times

The United Nations on Tuesday warned against an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, saying an offensive could “lead to a slaughter” in the southern region of the Palestinian enclave where more than 1 million people are sheltering. – Reuters

Following President Biden’s cue, Europeans are progressively turning their backs on Israel, including threatening to deny arms and imposing sanctions against Israeli individuals. – Politico 

One soldier was killed, and several were hospitalized from rocket fire in northern Israel on Wednesday morning as Hezbollah ramped up its attacks on Israeli cities, the IDF stated. – Jerusalem Post

Around 100 representatives of family members of the kidnapped flew to the Netherlands on Wednesday to file an official complaint against Hamas and its leadership at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. – Jerusalem Post

A Qatari source conveyed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas has agreed to form a technocratic government in Gaza after the war, according to a Tuesday report from Sky News Arabia citing a Palestinian source in Ramallah. – Jerusalem Post

Speaking at a White House press briefing, National Security spokesman John Kirby says that the US has “not seen what the Israelis are thinking” on a plan to protect civilians in case of an operation in Rafah. – Times of Israel

Talks involving the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar on a hostage release deal ended without a breakthrough on Tuesday, as Israel faced mounting pressure to reach an agreement to halt the war in Gaza against Hamas. – Times of Israel

Editorial: It’s hard to imagine these people and groups providing a fair assessment of Unrwa’s links to Hamas. In 2023 the U.S. contributed $153.7 million to Unrwa, which means it helped to finance U.N. workers who helped Hamas with its massacre. Unrwa is unlikely to change, so the best policy is to stop paying for it. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: If there is a valid proposal on the table, like the one reported on Tuesday by Biden of a six-week lull in fighting and a partial hostage release that would put off the Rafah campaign, then Israel must consider it. But ultimately, only Jerusalem can decide what the best policy to pursue is – even if it means annoying its best friend in Washington. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Rubin writes: Accelerating Palestinian statehood because of Hamas violence would catalyze terrorism globally and convince groups that expanding violence rather than developing capacity and economy achieves goals. Moral clarity is the right choice, not something Biden aides should dilute. – Washington Examiner

Prof. Eyal Ziser and Shaked Sadeh write: Nasrallah said his piece. Now we have to wait for the Israeli leadership to say its part and finally decide to put an end to the impossible reality on the northern border and restore security to the North and the residents to their homes in the northern communities, as it promised in recent weeks. – Jerusalem Post

Seth Mandel writes: The ultimate dilemma for Israel is this: It is religiously and morally obliged to do everything it can to rescue Jews held hostage. At the same time, it is religiously and morally and politically obliged to defend the Jewish state as a whole. This is an irreconcilable dilemma, because its enemies are there to take advantage of the contradiction every time. – Commentary

Iran

Two explosions along Iran’s main south-north gas pipeline network on Wednesday were caused by sabotage, the Iranian oil minister told state TV, without naming any suspects. – Reuters

Spain’s Santander (SAN.MC), opens new tab on Tuesday said “categorically” that after a thorough investigation it had not found any breach of U.S. sanctions against Iran following a Financial Times report on Iranian-linked accounts. – Reuters

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit South Africa later this month. President Cyril Ramaphosa will host Raisi on a state visit at Pretoria, the capital, on Feb. 27, the African country’s presidency said in a notice to media on Wednesday. – Bloomberg

Iran pulled senior commanders of its Revolutionary Guard out of Syria days before the US launched strikes against Iranian-linked targets in the Arab state to prevent the elite force suffering further casualties. – Financial Times

Iranian authorities have handed down a jail sentence of over five years to the uncle of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian-Kurdish woman whose custody death sparked months of protests, over his anti-government views expressed during the 2022 demonstrations, rights groups said on Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The White House is going on the offensive with a new talking point to convince House members they need to pass the national security supplemental: failing to greenlight the bill means helping Iran. – Politico

Joe Buccino writes: To effectively deter Iran and its proxies, the U.S. must adopt a more proactive and comprehensive strategy, inclusive of targeting Iranian assets directly, imposing meaningful costs for aggression and signaling a willingness to escalate if necessary. The time for half-measures is over; the U.S. must take the required steps to confront Iran’s malign activities and secure a more stable and peaceful future for the region. – The Hill

Andrew Scott Cooper writes: The 1979 Iranian Revolution is a reminder that myths flourish in closed societies, and that myths left unchecked have the power to create serious misunderstandings and cause real damage. To avoid a repeat disaster, the United States should undertake to conduct regular reviews of its Iran information collection policies. There can be no excuse for the US, with all the resources at its disposal, to make policy toward Iran based on anything other than sound fact. – Middle East Institute

Russia & Ukraine

The consequences of politics in Washington are playing out in Oleksander Kucheriavenko’s Humvee on the eastern front of Ukraine’s war against Russia. – Wall Street Journal

A Russian military court on Tuesday sentenced Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent sociologist, to five years in prison for criticizing the war in Ukraine — a shocking turnabout after another court originally ordered Kagarlitsky to pay a $6,500 fine but no prison time. – Washington Post

President Volodymyr Zelensky is redoubling his diplomatic outreach to Europe in the hopes of starting to fill the void left by months of American indecision, as the debate over providing renewed military assistance for Ukraine continues to play out in Washington. – New York Times

Ukraine said it had evidence that Russia had used a new hypersonic cruise missile for the first time in an attack last week, a development that might, if confirmed, pose another challenge to the country’s already strained air defenses. – New York Times

Ukrainian forces destroyed the Russian Navy’s Tsezar Kunikov large landing ship off the occupied peninsula of Crimea in the Black Sea on Wednesday, Kyiv’s military said. – Reuters

Russia has suspended annual payments to the Arctic Council until “real work” resumes with the participation of all member countries, Russia’s RIA state news agency reported, citing the country’s foreign ministry. – Reuters

Russia launched several missile attacks on the town of Selydove in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region overnight, killing three people, injuring a dozen and damaging a hospital and several apartments, Ukrainian officials said. – Reuters

Russia’s parliament will vote on Feb. 21 on suspending the country’s participation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE), Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Russia’s air defence systems destroyed nine Ukraine-launched drones over Russia’s Belgorod and Voronezh regions, as well as over the Black Sea, RIA state news agency reported on Wednesday, citing the Russian defence ministry. – Reuters

Ukraine Defence Minister Rustem Umerov and newly appointed armed forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi discussed Kyiv’s military plans for 2024 with the supreme commander of the NATO Armed Forces in Europe and the commander of the Security Assistance Group Ukraine, Umerov said on Facebook on Tuesday. – Reuters

As the radio crackles with enemy communications that are hard to decipher, one Russian command rings out clear: “Brew five Chinese tea bags on 38 orange.” – Associated Press

Russia has put the prime minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, on a wanted list, the first time the Kremlin has sought criminal charges against a foreign leader since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago. – Financial Times

Russia is gearing up for a potential armed conflict with Western countries within the next decade, Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service stated in a report published Tuesday. – Politico

Despite losing on average hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery systems each month, Russia has been able to replenish its inventory by regenerating thousands of stored vehicles in 2023 — an attrition rate experts expect Moscow could handle for several more year. – Defense News

Volodymyr Dubovyk, Elina Beketova, and CEPA write: Equally crucial will be the detailed plan of action that Zelenskyy has promised, laying out the warfighting agenda for the coming months. This plan ought to provide more insight into Ukraine’s current strategy – something Ukraine’s Western allies are also eager to see – and a set of meaningful but achievable objectives. All eyes will also be on the creation of Ukraine’s newest force structure, the Unmanned Systems Forces. The key for everyone – the administration, the military command, soldiers, the Ukrainian public, and the West – is to avoid emotional responses and focus on the nuts and bolts of policy and the war. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Hamidreza Azizi and Hanna Notte write: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has always been global in its intent and scope, reflecting Russia’s desire to undo the existing international order. Its patronage for the axis of resistance is part and parcel of that campaign. The axis aspires not just to kick the United States out of the Middle East but also to deal a body blow to a country it sees as an evil, imperialist empire. Moscow does not welcome the axis’s disruptive actions simply because they distract from Ukraine, and the axis is not pro-Russia purely because the Kremlin offers assistance. Rather, the two entities view each other as comrades-in-arms in a broader effort to weaken the West’s dominance. If Washington is serious about disrupting each one’s schemes, it must stop them from working together. – Foreign Affairs

Danielle Pletka writes: Counterarguments that this will only back Putin into a corner fail to appreciate that he has long been in that corner, painted in with his own strokes. Indeed, his only way out is to hope that once the question of Ukraine is resolved, he will be able to reenter the community of nations, with all forgotten in the hopes of yet another reset. But no reset will stick absent fundamental change in Moscow. It’s time to orient ourselves toward facilitating that change. – Foreign Policy

Middle East & North Africa

Ministers from across the globe are convening for a World Trade Organization meeting in Abu Dhabi between Feb 26.-29 to try to broker deals, including on reforming its hobbled dispute system and cutting fishing subsidies. – Reuters

Jordan’s already struggling economy will face even tougher times if several donors continue to suspend funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and its services have to be shut or reduced as a result, UNRWA’s country head said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The leader of Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said on Tuesday that the group had been able to prevent Israeli-linked ships from passing through the Gulf of Aden over the last week. – Reuters

Turkey wants reassurances from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte before Ankara will approve his bid to be the next head of NATO. – Bloomberg

Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. writes: We are at an inflection point. Americans have died. Our response must be based not on emotion or a desire for revenge but rather on a cleareyed determination about what is best for the United States. I believe it is best to stay the course and to defend our homeland abroad rather than at home. – New York Times

Sylvia Westall and Ziad Daoud write: Unlikely as it might seem now, this widening catastrophe could be a moment for the US to push to build the structure for a Palestinian state and a lasting peace. But it doesn’t appear to have the leverage. The US appears unable to temper Israel’s assault on Gaza. And the world’s mightiest military force is unable to stop a militant group based in one of the region’s poorest countries from blocking a vital trade route. Even if the US and Iran avoid a direct war—something both countries appear to be keen on—the lesson from the recent past is that the fallout will still be severe for the region and could deal an even bigger blow to US-Mideast relations. And as America’s popularity in the region fades, Iran is asserting itself. – Bloomberg

Ahmed Charai writes: Finally, the United States must be the protector of the spirit of the Abraham Accords since shared prosperity is the only way to guarantee lasting peace. America’s mind should not be clouded by self-doubt. On every continent, millions of citizens look to the United States as a savior. It is not an accident of history that America is the leader of the free world. It is because American leadership is essential to resolving these crises. – The National Interest

Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer write: “We remain determined as well to pursue a diplomatic path to a just and lasting peace and security for all in the region,” Blinken said during his trip to the region, including a “concrete, time-bound, irreversible path to a Palestinian state.” – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering visiting South Korea on March 20, broadcaster Fuji TV reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said. – Reuters

North Korea’s destabilizing behavior should be a major concern for Beijing, a senior State Department official said Tuesday. – Bloomberg

China

The Solomon Islands is expected to next week call a national election for April, with China security ties emerging as a key issue as political parties launch campaigns in the Pacific Islands nation. – Reuters

Taiwan’s defence ministry said it detected 14 Chinese air force planes operating around Taiwan and carrying out “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships on Wednesday. – Reuters

Australia’s trade minister said on Tuesday he would meet his Chinese counterpart at a World Trade Organization conference in Abu Dhabi this month and push for the removal of restrictions on imported Australian wine, lobsters and meat. – Reuters

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has sought to partner with local firms in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as China deepens its ties with the Gulf. – Bloomberg

Niharika Mandhana writes: “History demonstrates a clear pattern: No great naval power has ever existed without also being a dominant commercial maritime power, encompassing both shipbuilding and global shipping,” Del Toro said late last year. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

A coalition government led by the party of a former prime minister was announced Tuesday after elections last week failed to show a winner with a single majority. The new coalition excludes the party of jailed opposition leader Imran Khan which won the most seats in the Feb. 8 contest. – Wall Street Journal

Indian security forces fired tear gas at protesting farmers for a second day on Wednesday to stop tens of thousands from marching to the capital New Delhi as they demanded higher prices for their produce. – Reuters

India and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday signed an agreement on a trade corridor that aims to connect Europe with India through parts of the Middle East by sea and rail, an ambitious plan backed by the U.S. and the European Union. – Reuters

Asia

The front-runner in Indonesia’s presidential election on Wednesday has endeared himself to young voters by projecting an image of a cuddly, cat-loving grandfather figure. But Prabowo Subianto has a checkered history. – Wall Street Journal

Accounts from Myanmar army soldiers who have surrendered or defected over the past three months reveal that the military is suffering from plunging morale and overstretched logistics amid a rebel offensive that has prompted mass surrenders. – Washington Post

The young women and men moved from booth to booth, asking questions about the political hopefuls’ track records and visions for the country. A few steps away, first-time voters practiced casting their ballots in pretend voting booths. And onstage, talk show guests discussed how to make an informed choice in backing a candidate. – New York Times

Myanmar’s ruling military plans to call up young people for mandatory service from April and also require retired security personnel to serve, media reports cited a junta spokesman as saying, as the army struggles to crush an anti-junta insurgency. – Reuters

Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday traded accusations over a border skirmish that left at least four Armenian soldiers dead and escalated tensions between the two Caucasus neighbors. – Associated Press

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who last year returned from more than a decade of self-imposed exile to serve a prison sentence for misdeeds committed while in office, has been granted parole and could be released this weekend, the country’s justice minister announced Tuesday. – Associated Press

Karishma Vaswani writes: Democracy in Indonesia is not some esoteric idea, or lofty ideology. It is a bitterly fought for privilege and should not be taken for granted. This generation of Indonesians cannot let the sacrifices of those who have gone before them go to waste. After 26 years of this experiment, its progress must not be interrupted. – Bloomberg

Jude Blanchette, Ryan Hass, and Lily McElwee write: This is a question that deserves careful consideration and coordination among European member states. Beyond Europe, there is a need to reframe peace in the Taiwan Strait outside of the restrictive frameworks of the various versions of the “One China” policy that all states have now accepted. Otherwise, when a coercive action against Taiwan is portrayed as a legitimate law enforcement operation “within One China,” the international community will be paralyzed by confusion and divisions. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Europe

Sweden’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that he expects that Hungary will soon approve the Swedish NATO membership application. – Reuters

Germany’s top security official said Tuesday that she aims to make it easier to trace right-wing extremists’ financing and plans to set up an “early recognition unit” to detect far-right and foreign disinformation campaigns as early as possible. – Associated Press

Lars Jonung writes: Liberal democracy is being threatened globally by growing populist and illiberal movements. The government in Stockholm should counteract this threat by strengthening people’s individual rights and freedoms in the Swedish constitution. If this happens, Mr. Musk will have given Sweden a great gift. – Wall Street Journal

CEPA writes: There is also a worry in the leaderships of all finely balanced legislatures (The House is currently divided 219-212) that once rebels drink the heady liquor of rebellion, they develop a taste for it. So, while extreme-right Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene have threatened to unseat Johnson if he allows any aid to reach Ukraine, there may be a route that would allow him to deflect the blame. – Center for European Policy Analysis

CEPA International Leadership Council writes: The ILC, therefore, recommends that alongside the United States, the EU and its member states leverage their soft power, development aid, and other influence in the “Global South.” Strategic exercise of these assets will add important impetus to US efforts and reinforce the value of the transatlantic security relationship in the minds of current and future US decision-makers. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Africa

Armed men killed four people, including two policemen, and kidnapped at least 40 others in an attack on Kaura Namoda, in Nigeria’s northwest Zamfara state, police and residents said on Tuesday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged Senegalese President Macky Sall to restore Senegal’s electoral calendar and timeline for presidential transition, the U.S. State Department said after a call between the two leaders. – Reuters

A group of rebels bombed a displacement camp in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province killing three civilians and injuring eight others, a local civil society group said Tuesday, as violence in the conflict-hit region sparked protests and a humanitarian group warned that thousands are facing limited access to aid. – Associated Press

Islamic State-linked fighters carried out their deadliest attack on Mozambican troops since 2021, according to a researcher, ratcheting up security concerns ahead of TotalEnergies SE’s planned return to build a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project. – Bloomberg

The Americas

Peruvian President Dina Boluarte named replacements on Tuesday for four key members of her cabinet, including a new economy chief as well as a new energy and mining minister, with both set to face a fragile economy that last year dipped into recession. – Reuters

Haitian gangs are increasingly economically autonomous, a Geneva-based criminal research group warned, using funds coerced from private businesses, local residents and families of kidnapping victims to pay for guns and soldiers. – Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he had spoken by phone on Monday with Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine held in Russia since 2018, and that the Biden administration will keep working until Whelan and other wrongfully detained Americans, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, are freed. – Wall Street Journal

David Schenker writes: The Biden administration’s latest policy reversals, along with targeting the Hashd and Houthi militias, may suggest a new, comprehensive understanding of the Iran problem. Tehran exploited Oct. 7 by coordinating a campaign to drive the U.S. from the Middle East. If America is to remain there and protect its allies and interests, Washington needs a strategy that raises the cost for the proxies as well as their puppet master. While a tougher U.S. diplomatic and military approach entails some risk, Iran’s fears of escalation give Washington latitude to act more boldly. – Wall Street Journal

Jack Hunter writes: For members of both parties who are always warning about the dangers of Trump and him being an alleged threat to democracy, Congress attempting to wrest the power of diplomacy from whoever might win the 2024 presidential election — that doesn’t sound very democratic. Elon Musk even called it “insane.” And it truly is. It turns out there really are threats to democracy all around us. Especially, it appears, in the world’s most deliberative body. – Washington Examiner

Cybersecurity

Albania’s cybersecurity authorities have accused a hacker group “sponsored” by the Iranian government of attacking the country’s Institute of Statistics earlier this month. – Associated Press

Poland’s new prime minister said Tuesday he has documentation proving that state authorities under the previous government used the powerful Pegasus spyware illegally and targeted a “very long” list of hacking victims. – Associated Press

The Australian government has named a panel of legal and scientific experts to advise on potential guardrails for the research, development and use of artificial intelligence, its latest step toward mandatory regulation of the rapidly evolving technology. – Bloomberg

A pro-Palestinian hacking group targeted Israeli software engineers as part of an attempt to dupe them into downloading malware weeks before the Oct. 7 massacre, according to findings from cybersecurity researchers at Alphabet Inc.’s Google. – Bloomberg

Japanese producers of chipmaking equipment are capitalizing on surging demand from China, catapulting their shares to new heights while helping build out a tech supply chain the US has warned may be a threat to global security. – Bloomberg

There’s little evidence that Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel included a planned cyber component, but in the months since, a flurry of regional hacking units with ties to the terrorist group, as well as Hezbollah and Iran, adjusted their operations to participate in the ongoing conflict, a Google analysis concluded Tuesday. – CyberScoop

Defense

The U.S. Navy is incorporating lessons learned from its Red Sea engagements with Houthi missiles and drones, and are using them to improve tactics for seeing and eliminating threats, service leaders said Tuesday. – Defense News

The Air Force plans to whittle down the number of companies working to build the first batch of collaborative combat aircraft to two or three over the next few months, the service’s secretary said Tuesday. – Defense News

The Indian Army has launched a tender for 155mm towed howitzers, with suppliers able to register to compete for a contract by March 8. – Defense News