Fdd's overnight brief

February 2, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


For years, international relief workers and the Israeli military have reported weapons caches occasionally found in schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the organization that for decades has provided schooling, healthcare and other assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden signed an executive order Thursday that imposes sanctions on four West Bank settlers who the administration says have committed violence against Palestinians, marking the most significant action he has taken against Israelis since their country launched a war in Gaza. – Washington Post

Israel prepared to advance its war on Gaza farther south, close to the Egyptian border, after claiming to have dismantled Hamas in Khan Younis, as diplomatic efforts in pursuit of a ceasefire accelerated. – Reuters

Satellite photos show new demolition along a 1-kilometer-deep path on the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, according an analysis by The Associated Press and expert reports. The destruction comes as Israel has said it wants to establish a buffer zone there, over international objections, further tearing away at land the Palestinians want for a state. – Associated Press

Britain’s top diplomat said Thursday that his country could officially recognize a Palestinian state after a cease-fire in Gaza without waiting for the outcome of what could be yearslong talks between Israel and the Palestinians on a two-state solution. – Associated Press

A delegation of senior Hamas officials arrived in Cairo on Thursday for talks with Egyptian officials on a possible deal that would see the release of hostages held by terrorists in Gaza. – Times of Israel

Alison Leigh Cowan writes: Five scribes would typically be enough to meet the demand for Torah scrolls, but the army had to call up 10 more for this war. “We can’t keep up,’’ Rabbi Binyamin Zimmerman said. One Torah he was inspecting when I visited had come in for repairs from an army base up north. Its fate was yet unclear but its past was plain to see: 66 pieces of shrapnel embedded in its pages from a drone strike. – Wall Street Journal

John Bolton writes: There must be a dramatic shift in expectations and policy objectives for the Palestinians as a matter of humanitarian priority, no matter how wrenching and disappointing. For decades, the two-state policy has been tried and failed. It’s time for a new direction. – Washington Examiner

Daniel Pomerantz writes: The question the world must ask itself today is whether we envision a Palestinian future that resembles modern day Germany and Japan, or Afghanistan and Iraq. If we desire the former, history and common sense demand we take the same steps that achieved it: including total dismantling and reconstruction of Palestinian governing institutions, accountability for all Palestinian leaders who have supported terror, justice for Israeli and international victims of that terror, and an unequivocal demonstration to the Palestinian people that the goal of supplanting Israel and the tool of violence will have no chance of success, ever. – The Hill


For decades, the U.S. and Iran have waged a shadow war across the Middle East following a rule understood by both sides: If you hit us, we will hit back, at least as hard. – Wall Street Journal

Four years ago, the Trump administration found itself in a predicament similar to the one now faced by his successor: How does a president respond to provocations by Iran without starting an all-out war? – Washington Post

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council held an emergency meeting this week, deeply worried that the United States would retaliate after an Iran-aligned militia in Iraq killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 others in Jordan. – New York Times

U.S. officials have confirmed to CBS News that plans have been approved for a series of strikes over a number of days against targets — including Iranian personnel and facilities — inside Iraq and Syria. The strikes will come in response to drone and rocket attacks targeting U.S. forces in the region, including the drone attack on Sunday that killed three U.S. service members at the Tower 22 base inside Jordan, near the Syrian border. – CBS

The United States has assessed that Iran manufactured the drone that slammed into a U.S. base in Jordan over the weekend, killing three American soldiers and wounding more than 40, four U.S. officials told Reuters. – Reuters

Iran will not start a war but would “respond strongly” to anyone who tried to bully it, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Friday, a day after the U.S. said it was planning attacks on Iranian sites in Iraq and Syria. – Reuters

Iran began construction on four more nuclear power plants in the country’s south, with expected total capacity of 5,000 megawatts, the official IRNA news agency reported Thursday. – Associated Press

Intelligence officials have calculated that Tehran does not have full control over its proxy groups in the Middle East, including those responsible for attacking and killing U.S. troops in recent weeks, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. – Politico

An Iranian Baloch student was found dead after being arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran on Tuesday, local news sites and human rights groups reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth write: Strikes against the proxies and Iran must be followed up with the other instruments of national power. Economically, the U.S. should freeze Iranian assets, shut down Iran’s ability to refine oil and sell it on the open market, and eliminate sanction waivers and ransom payments. Deny the regime the funds it needs to wage war. – The Hill

Benjamin Weingarten writes: Don’t buy the hype: When President Biden finally responds to the deadly Iran-backed attack on American troops in Jordan, odds are he’ll both dispel the concerns of fearmongers hysterical he is going to bomb Iran and dash the dreams of hawks demanding he do so. – New York Post

Salem Alketbi writes: 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

Russia & Ukraine

European Union leaders agreed to a $54 billion budget-aid package for Ukraine on Thursday, locking in their financing for Kyiv for the next four years and overcoming weeks of opposition from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. – Wall Street Journal

But a swift, negative reaction in the military ranks, misgivings among some officials in Kyiv, and uncertainty in the West suggest Zelensky’s removal of the popular general could backfire — allowing Moscow to seize on the instability. It could also deliver a blow to morale among troops on the front lines, especially because there has been no public explanation for Zaluzhny’s expected dismissal. – Washington Post

Stephen Blank writes: However, these efforts to avoid escalation have been resounding failures. The Houthis and other Iranian proxies are clearly undeterred. Likewise, Russian President Vladimir Putin firmly believes the West is disorganized, demoralized, unwilling to sustain Ukraine’s defense and, in general, an effete society whose time has passed. Therefore, he is or at least professes to be confident in Russia’s victory. – The Hill

Alina Polyakova and James Goldgeier: 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. […]Without strong concrete action by NATO at the upcoming summit demonstrating that Ukraine’s future is in the alliance, the situation in Ukraine is likely to continue to erode in Moscow’s favor—with profound negative consequences for Europe and the United States. – Foreign Affairs


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

The Syrian military says it downed a number of Israeli missiles launched from the Golan Heights that were targeting south Damascus on Friday, state news agency SANA reported citing a military source. – Reuters

As the civilian death toll continues to rise, Jordan has come under growing criticism for its airstrikes in southern Syria’s Suwayda Governorate, aimed at combatting drug trafficking and smuggling operations. […]On multiple occasions, the local population in Suwayda has said that the airstrikes have caused civilian deaths and damaged homes and personal property, even if some of those targeted have included people accused of drug trafficking and smuggling into Jordan. – Middle East Institute


The Iran-backed Iraqi armed group Nujaba said on Friday it will continue launching attacks on U.S. forces in the region until the Gaza war ends and U.S. forces exit Iraq, days after another major Iran-backed group said it was suspending such attacks. – Reuters

When America was retreating from its 20-year-war in Afghanistan in August 2021, Omar was one of the Afghan allies President Joe Biden promised to rescue. He had performed a perilous task for the U.S. military: identifying and neutralizing roadside mines embedded by the Taliban insurgency. Omar was supposed to receive a special immigrant visa, or SIV, which would have been his ticket to a new life in the U.S. now that his old life was in grave danger from the Taliban. – The Free Press

Michael Knights writes: Being concerned about losing one’s job is not enough to justify being feted in the White House. Washington should first let Sudani prove that he is more than the “general manager” for a cabal of terrorists running today’s Iraq. Sudani can be a real prime minister of a real sovereign state if he wants to be, but that will require taking risk. Then maybe he can receive a hero’s welcome in Washington. – Washington Institute

Bilal Wahab writes: For years, Washington has pursued ever-narrowing interests in Iraq, and they now boil down to simply supporting the mission against IS. This dilution has rendered the U.S. presence ineffective in the eyes of friends and foes alike. Yet withdrawing would risk even greater instability, so muddling through is the wisest objective in the current context of regional turmoil and U.S. election campaigning. […]That said, the onus is now on Baghdad to save this relationship, since Washington may decide to walk away rather than invest more effort in such a troublesome partner. – Washington Institute


Turkish authorities have formally arrested 25 suspects in connection with the shooting of a man during a service at a church in Istanbul last weekend, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said on Friday. Among the 25 remanded in custody were the two suspected gunmen, previously captured by police, who are believed to be tied to Islamic State, Tunc said on the social media platform X. – Reuters

Police have rescued seven hostages held at gunpoint for hours at a factory owned by U.S. company Procter & Gamble in northwest Turkey, local officials said early Friday. A gunman had sparked the standoff at the P&G facility in Gebze, Kocaeli province, in protest of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Governor Seddar Yavuz was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu news agency. – Associated Press

Turkish police arrested seven people on Friday on suspicion of selling information to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. – Associated Press

Halil Karaveli writes: After a U.S. aircraft shot down a Turkish drone targeting Kurdish positions in northern Syria last October, a furious Erdogan vowed to respond, saying that Turkey has a “security problem” with the United States. But as Turkey’s capitulation over the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession makes clear, the United States has little reason to worry. Washington should instead expect that increased pressure on Ankara to live up to NATO’s democratic standards will eventually pay off. A fully democratic Turkey would strengthen the bloc as much—if not more—than Sweden’s accession. – Foreign Policy


U.S. forces struck targets belonging to Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Thursday, continuing an effort to degrade the Iran-backed group’s military capabilities without triggering a broader war in the region. – Wall Street Journal

The United Nations and its partners on Thursday launched an appeal for $4 billion in aid this year for Yemen, devastated by nearly a decade of war and conflict. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. and EU were so determined to court Iran for a nuclear deal over recent years that they ignored repeated warnings about the risks that Tehran-backed Houthi rebels pose to global security, Yemen’s foreign minister said in an interview Thursday. – Politico

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia would be willing to accept a political commitment from Israel to create a Palestinian state, rather than anything more binding, in a bid to get a defence pact with Washington approved before the U.S. presidential election, three sources said. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia is still considering an invitation to become a member of the BRICS bloc of countries after being asked to join by the group last year, a Saudi official source told Reuters. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s influence on American consulting firms will come under a microscope next week as a key Senate subcommittee furthers its investigation into the proposed merger between the American PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf.  – New York Sun 

Middle East & North Africa

Algeria has drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a move that the United States – a council veto power – opposes because it says it would only benefit the Palestinian militants. – Reuters

An Israeli software startup and one of the world’s biggest shipping lines are among companies that for the first time are opening up commercial trade routes running through the heart of the Middle East to bypass the Houthi-menaced Red Sea. – Bloomberg

David Ignatius writes: “The moment of truth is not quite here yet,” says one official who has been involved in the complex negotiations. But it’s coming. What U.S. diplomats envision is an unwieldy structure with unsteady partners, risky bets and untested resolve — with an American president with strategic vision but political weakness. There’s a lot that could go wrong, but, given the bleak alternatives, it’s worth a shot. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: The U.S. soldiers who died at Tower 22 were on a noble and necessary assignment — protecting regional and U.S. security — when they were attacked. Now, it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to ensure their sacrifice is not squandered and their vital mission is not abandoned. – Washington Post

Korean Peninsula

North Korea on Friday extended a provocative series of weapons tests by firing cruise missiles into the sea, as leader Kim Jong Un called for his military to step up war preparations and toured a shipyard. – Associated Press

China, dismayed by North Korea’s deepening military cooperation with Russia, could try to keep that relationship from disrupting regional stability for its own benefit rather than Washington’s, according to analysts. Experts worry that North Korea could obtain weapons technology from Russia that would speed up Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear development programs to create a greater threat in the region. – VOA News

Chung-in Moon writes: Beijing should make more active diplomatic efforts to stabilize the security situation in Korea. Otherwise, it can be accused of favoring the Korean conflict in order to divert American attention away from Taiwan and the South China Sea. […]Russia, Japan, the European Union (EU), and other middle powers with stakes in Korea should also join collective efforts to avert the crisis and restore peace to the peninsula. – The National Interest


China and the United States are back at the negotiating table. Whether they can agree on much is another matter. In Bangkok, China’s top diplomat last week discussed North Korea and Iran with President Biden’s national security adviser. Days later, in Beijing, officials restarted long-stalled talks on curbing the flow of fentanyl to the United States. And the White House says Mr. Biden plans to speak by phone with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in the spring. – New York Times 

China demanded on Thursday that Ukraine immediately remove more than a dozen Chinese companies from a list of firms designated as “international sponsors of war”, saying it wanted Kyiv to “eliminate negative impacts”. – Reuters

Peter Laffin writes: The U.S. must prioritize the China threat above all as it deals with Tehran. Abstract notions such as “spreading democracy” and the promise of a “new American century” have led the U.S. into one misadventure after the next since the fall of the Soviet Union. Now is not the time for grand ideas but for practicality. The U.S.’s long-term interests, in particular its competition with China, must be prioritized above all. – Washington Examiner

South Asia

For decades, India has focused its defense policy on its land borders with rivals Pakistan and China. Now, as its global ambitions expand, it is beginning to flex its naval power in international waters, including anti-piracy patrols and a widely publicized deployment close to the Red Sea to help protect ships from attacks during Israel’s war with Hamas. – Associated Press

The U.S. State Department on Thursday approved a nearly $4 billion drone sale to India, a deal that emerged during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington last year. – Defense News

Suspected Indian state-sponsored hackers have used romance scams to lure victims in Pakistan into installing malicious apps, infecting their devices with spying malware, according to new research. – The Record


When Tuvalu’s new government gathers for the first time in the coming days, legislators in the tiny island nation will make two decisions whose effects will ripple across the Pacific, all the way to Washington. First, the 16 lawmakers will decide which of them will lead the nation of 11,000 people. Then they’ll turn their attention to an even bigger issue: What to do about China? – Washington Post

Japan, America’s closest ally in Asia, has been trying to send a message to U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump: don’t try to strike any deal with China that could upend years of collective efforts to rein in Beijing and risk the region’s fragile peace. – Reuters

Armenia can no longer rely on Russia as its main defence and military partner because Moscow has repeatedly let it down so Yerevan must think about forging closer ties with the United States and France, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said. – Reuters

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

China has rebuked New Zealand for flirting with the Aukus security pact, issuing a veiled warning that further steps toward membership could undermine trade with its largest export market. – Bloomberg


Russia will not deploy nuclear weapons abroad except in its ally Belarus but will find ways to counter any deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Britain, the deputy minister in charge of arms control said on Thursday. – Reuters

A Norwegian politician said Thursday that he has nominated the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, embroiled in a controversy over the alleged involvement of employees in the Hamas-led October 7 terror onslaught against Israel, for the Nobel Peace Prize. – Agence France-Presse

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday said a lawmaker who represents a mainly Jewish area had effectively been hounded out of office after he announced he would not seek re-election. – Agence France-Presse

Ireland is in talks with other EU members who want a review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement on the basis that Israel may be breaching the agreement’s human rights clause, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. – Reuters

Max Bergmann writes: Unlike during the first Trump administration, Europe would have little choice but to make “strategic autonomy” a reality under a potential second Trump administration. It would also have to attempt to fill the gap left by the United States in Ukraine and deter Russia without much, if any, U.S. support—an effort that would require spending hundreds of billions of euros more on its defense and security. […]And instead of these relations returning to the way they were, they would become more of a partnership between relative peers. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Latin America

Russia’s foreign ministry on Friday condemned a decision by Ecuador to hand over Russian-made military hardware to the United States for use in Ukraine as a “reckless” breach of contract, the RIA news agency reported. – Reuters

Top Biden administration officials are set to hold high-level meetings with counterparts from Colombia in Bogotá next week amid increasing tensions with neighboring Venezuela. – Bloomberg

Mexico’s president suggested Thursday that talks with the U.S. government on migration and drug trafficking could suffer after media reports of a U.S. investigation into alleged drug money donations for his 2006 campaign. – Associated Press


The Office of the National Cyber Director has work to do to improve the implementation of President Joe Biden’s national cybersecurity strategy, according to a watchdog report. – CyberScoop

China’s cyber activity is moving beyond the last decade’s spying and data theft toward direct attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure, the directors of the FBA, NSA, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, told lawmakers on Wednesday. – Defense One

Any federal agency running Ivanti Connect Secure or Ivanti Policy Secure devices must disconnect them from their networks before midnight Friday, the United States’s top civilian cyber defense agency said Wednesday amid reports the vulnerable devices are being targeted by espionage operations linked to China. – CyberScoop

Hackers working for Russia’s intelligence services are impersonating researchers and academics in an ongoing campaign to gain access to their colleagues’ email accounts, according to messages and files seen by Recorded Future News and independently analyzed by two cybersecurity companies. – The Record


The current state of the civilian mariner sector is a weakness for the United States should a conflict with China break out in the Indo-Pacific, the nominee to lead the combatant command that oversees the region told Congress Thursday. – USNI News

The rapid escalation of violence by Iranian proxies against the US and Israel in the Middle East since Oct. 7 is the result of a failure of deterrence that reaches back into years of US foreign policy shifts and the lack of direct action against Iran for its aggressive behavior in that time, according to former top US general in the Middle East and other experts. – Breaking Defense

Katherine Kjellström Elgin and Tyler Hacker write: Two years into the Ukraine war, European defense officials are coming around to the reality of these varied demands. This is a positive sign, but European NATO members must move quickly to make good on pledges to increase defense spending and provide a sustained demand signal for critical munitions. Russia is well ahead of Europe in expanding its munitions production capacity. It is time for European NATO members to acknowledge the true scale of their weapon requirements and adopt a strategic approach to meeting them in the near and long term. – Defense News

Long War

The terrorist threat from al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and their affiliates remains high in conflict zones in Africa and in Afghanistan – and threat levels have risen in some regions including Europe, U.N. experts said in a new report. – Associated Press

During a meeting on Wednesday with reservists from the Yiftah Brigade, President Isaac Herzog was presented with a picture found in Gaza showing the Eiffel Tower with a minaret replacing the top of the tower. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The message is clear: Hamas is not just a danger to Israel, but to the entire world. The same is true for Iran and its other proxies, including Hezbollah and the Houthis. October 7 was a wake-up call not just for Israel, but for all nations that cherish freedom and democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The latest reminder of this was the drone attack on Sunday that killed three American soldiers and wounded 40 others in Jordan, which the  United States attributed to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias. – Jerusalem Post