Fdd's overnight brief

February 22, 2024

In The News


A new U.S. intelligence assessment found it is likely that some employees of a United Nations agency that distributes aid to Palestinians took part in Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel, but says the U.S. can’t verify Israeli allegations that a larger number of U.N. workers have links to militant groups, people familiar with the report said. – Wall Street Journal

Israel’s top military lawyer said Wednesday that troops fighting in Gaza were under investigation for criminal offenses and other misconduct, including destruction of property, looting, abuse of prisoners and excessive use of force. – Wall Street Journal

Humanitarian aid deliveries in the Gaza Strip have slowed to a trickle, as security across the embattled enclave deteriorates, leaving 2.2 million Palestinians faced with spreading famine, disease and desperation. – Wall Street Journal

Amichai Oster was in Salt Lake City when Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct 7. Within days, the 24-year-old was on a plane, among thousands of Americans and American Israelis who rushed to join the fight in Gaza. Three months later, he was dead. – Washington Post

An Israeli organization that supports survivors of sexual abuse released a report on Wednesday concluding that acts of sexual violence against Israelis during and after the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 were “systematic and widespread.”- New York Times

An escalation of the war in Gaza could lead to the deaths of 85,000 Palestinians from injuries and disease over the next six months, in the worst of three situations that prominent epidemiologists have modeled in an effort to understand the potential future death toll of the conflict. – New York Times

Israel intensified its bombardment of Rafah in Gaza’s south and over a dozen members of one family were killed in an air strike, residents said, as the ruined Palestinian enclave’s health ministry announced 29,313 deaths in the war so far. – Reuters

United Airlines (UAL.O), opens new tab said on Wednesday it plans to resume direct U.S. flights to Israel early next month, becoming the first American carrier to resume service since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel. – Reuters

Israel’s military said it intercepted a target in the area of the Red Sea on Thursday after sirens warning of incoming rockets and missiles sounded in the southern city of Eilat. – Reuters

Three Palestinians opened fire at motorists near an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank near Jerusalem on Thursday, killing one person and wounding five others, emergency services said. – Reuters

Israel is determined to push ahead with a goal to move a million or more civilians from Rafah before an attack on the Hamas-held city in Gaza, even though officials acknowledge in private they have no precise strategy for how to do it, how long it will take or where the people will go.- Bloomberg

Hamas has “softened its positions” in the negotiations for a hostage deal, Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Wednesday, citing diplomatic sources. – Jerusalem Post

Peter Anthony Gallo writes: The United Nations is meant to help keep international peace, not undermine it. Yet last month the Journal reported that Israeli intelligence revealed that at least 12 employees of the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency were connected to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres then announced that the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, or OIOS, would investigate the alleged ties. – Wall Street Journal

Danielle Pletka writes: No other entity can match the Agency’s capacity to deliver at scale across the Strip. Extended funding pauses not only jeopardize UNRWA’s future but also the viability of the last lifeline for international aid into Gaza. Israel knows this, as do European countries and the US. This is why even Israel has called to delay shutting down UNRWA. – American Enterprise Institute


A man identified by federal prosecutors as a leader of Japan’s Yakuza organized crime syndicate was charged on Wednesday with trafficking uranium and plutonium from Myanmar with the expectation that Iran would use the material to make nuclear weapons. – Washington Post

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two U.S.-sanctioned countries. – Reuters

Candidates for Iran’s parliament began campaigning Thursday in the country’s first election since the bloody crackdown on the 2022 nationwide protests that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. – Associated Press

President Biden’s early mistakes regarding Iran policy are increasingly haunting Washington, and America is now struggling to put out fires in the Mideast and beyond as it plays catch up. – New York Sun

A massive leak of thousands of internal emails and documents from an Iranian company connected to that country’s Defense Ministry has revealed a wealth of information about Tehran’s close cooperation with Moscow on suicide drones. – Haaretz


Russia & Ukraine

After Alexei Navalny recovered from poisoning in 2020, his wife Yulia Navalnaya was asked whether her husband should give up his role as Russia’s most prominent opposition figure. – Wall Street Journal

A Russian military pilot who defected to Ukraine, handing over his attack helicopter and receiving a $500,000 reward, has been found dead in a Spanish beach town, said Ukrainian officials and a witness who described his killing as a murder. – Wall Street Journal

When Russian troops invaded his hometown in 2022, Ukrainian teenager Denys Kostev filmed TikTok videos cursing Vladimir Putin and praising Ukrainian courage. A few months later, after he had been transferred against his will to Russian-held territory, he suddenly appeared in propaganda clips on Kremlin-controlled channels. – Wall Street Journal

A pro-war Russian military blogger died on Wednesday, his lawyer said, after the blogger wrote the country’s military pressured him to remove a post exposing the scale of its losses in a recent battle in Ukraine. – New York Times

As the Ukraine war enters its third year, the infantry of 59th Brigade are confronting a bleak reality: they’re running out of soldiers and ammunition to resist their Russian invaders. – Reuters

Police in Ukraine said on Wednesday they had arrested a father-son duo who belonged to the cybercrime gang Lockbit, which was disrupted by an international law enforcement operation led by Britain’s National Crime Agency and the FBI earlier this week. – Reuters

European Union countries on Wednesday agreed on a new package of sanctions against Russia to target individuals and businesses suspected of assisting Moscow in its war against Ukraine, including Chinese companies. – Associated Press

During a fundraiser for his reelection campaign Wednesday night, President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB” and took aim at former President Donald Trump’s comments comparing himself to the Russian opposition leader who died last week in an Arctic prison.- Associated Press

Ukraine is near an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to get the next $900 million disbursement from its $15.6 billion loan, a boost to the nation’s war-ravaged budget and a vote of confidence as US aid remains elusive.- Bloomberg

Russian troops may need to reach Ukraine’s capital Kyiv to achieve the goals of what Moscow calls a “special military operation,” former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, quoted by Russian state news agency TASS. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Western sanctions have failed to change Mr. Putin’s behavior, and seizing Russia’s sovereign assets won’t either. But it would increase the price that the Kremlin pays for its murderous attempt at national conquest. Mr. Putin probably thinks Mr. Biden and European leaders are too afraid to do it. All the more reason to open the Russian bank vault. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: To the very end, some Russians harbored doubts about Navalny. If he really was such a thorn in Putin’s side, they reasoned, how could he still be alive? Perhaps now they’ll believe he was sincere. “Don’t be afraid,” he said in 2021, upon arriving to immediate arrest in Russia. “Take to the streets. Don’t do it for me, do it for yourselves and your future.” In a world where authoritarianism is on the rise, it’s a message that should resonate far beyond Moscow. – Bloomberg

Seth Jones writes: It is time to be realistic about growing cooperation between U.S. adversaries. If Congress doesn’t pass a bill providing military and economic aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other front-line states, it will endanger American interests in every theater. To paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. needs to deal with the world as it is, not the world that some might wish it to be. – Wall Street Journal

Michael O’Hanlon writes: So there is no reason for fatalistic thinking about Ukraine. It might very well hold on to at least 82 percent of its territory and eventually gain a strong security link with the West, especially if the United States again leads in addressing the Russian threat to Ukraine. At the moment, however, the U.S. Congress is playing with fire in threatening to end U.S. assistance to Kyiv. Ukraine is resolute in this struggle, but so, alas, is Russia, and if Putin winds up winning this war, NATO’s own security might soon be at risk, too.- Washington Post

James Stavridis writes: As I wrote in the 2017 report, “It is not satellites in the sky, but pipes on the ocean floor that form the backbone of the world’s economy.” Even as we learn more about Russia’s future intentions and capabilities in space, we should be mindful that we have current weaknesses undersea that must be addressed. – Bloomberg

Nicholas Lokker writes:  Neither permanently isolating a country of 145 million people nor hoping for its dissolution is a viable strategy. The United States and Europe must, therefore, do their utmost to support Russian civil society leaders such as Navalny, who seek their country’s transformation. Moreover, following the war, Western leaders must avoid making claims about collective Russian guilt or supposed innate imperialist quality in the Russian national character—or else risk alienating their best hope for a different Russia. – The National Interest

Keir Giles writes: And this has had practical and tragic results. McGlynn helps explain why Russia’s horrific casualty toll—with estimates varying widely but none smaller than the hundreds of thousands—has had less impact on popular support for the war than was widely and optimistically expected; and why Russia’s soldiers are still fighting, despite their leadership’s palpable indifference to the scale of the slaughter. Meanwhile, the dehumanization of Ukrainians that forms an integral part of the propaganda made atrocities in Ukraine not just likely, but also inevitable. – Foreign Policy


Turkey’s KAAN, its first national combat aircraft, completed its first flight on Wednesday, part of the country’s efforts to upgrade its air force. – Reuters

Turkey will provide maritime security support to Somalia to help the African country defend its territorial waters, an official from the Turkish defence ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

There is significant momentum in relations between the United States and Turkey upon which the two NATO allies can capitalise, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said on Wednesday during a visit to Turkey following its approval of Sweden’s NATO membership bid. – Reuters


After the Houthi militia started attacking container ships in the Red Sea last year, the cost of shipping goods from Asia soared by over 300 percent, prompting fears that supply chain disruptions might once again roil the global economy.- New York Times

A cargo ship abandoned four days ago in the Gulf of Aden after it was hit by missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthis is still floating despite taking in water, and could be towed to nearby Djibouti, industry sources said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Houthi militants in Yemen on Tuesday fired two missiles at a ship carrying humanitarian assistance to the country, according to US Central Command.- Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s foreign minister Cho Tae-yul will visit the United States and hold a meeting with his counterpart Antony Blinken on February 28, the ministry said on Thursday. – Reuters

A North Korean missile used by Russia and recovered in Ukraine had several hundred parts that could be sourced from overseas manufacturers, showing that Pyongyang is finding ways to evade sanctions on components, a report said. – Bloomberg

Japan protested to South Korea’s ambassador after Japanese company funds lodged with a Seoul court were paid out as compensation over colonial-era forced labor, a step Tokyo said was a breach of a 1965 treaty.- Bloomberg


A trove of leaked documents from a Chinese state-linked hacking group shows that Beijing’s intelligence and military groups are carrying out large-scale, systematic cyber intrusions against foreign governments, companies and infrastructure — exploiting what the hackers claim are vulnerabilities in software systems from companies including Microsoft, Apple and Google.-  Washington Post

China approved another 114 gigawatts (GW) of coal power capacity in 2023, up 10% from a year earlier, with the world’s top carbon polluter now at risk of falling short on climate targets after sanctioning dozens of new plants, research showed on Thursday. – Reuters

China said it sees Europe as increasingly viewing the country with a “rational perception,” and that Europe should “not be afraid of it,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. – Reuters

A Chinese research ship is set to arrive in the Maldives on Thursday, global ship-tracking data showed, just three months after a similar vessel visited the Indian Ocean and sparked New Delhi’s security concerns. – Reuters

Editorial: But the needed course correction would require Mr. Xi and the Chinese Communist Party to acknowledge that they have failed in their effort to prove that bellicose authoritarianism and long-term prosperity are compatible. Since they treat Western countries as adversaries, they see liberalism as chaotic and threatening. Indeed, they are finding that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it is the worst option, except for all the others. – Washington Post


South Asia

India on Wednesday said it will allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacture of satellite systems without any prior approval and eased the rules for launch vehicles, aiming for a greater share of the global space market. – Reuters

Social media platform X said on Thursday it took down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to ongoing protests by farmers demanding higher prices for crops. – Reuters

India and Greece are looking to conclude a migration and mobility agreement soon, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said following a meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi. – Bloomberg

Pakistan’s two main family-controlled parties agreed to form a government, a move that breaks an almost two-week deadlock and likely keeps jailed former premier Imran Khan’s party out of power even though it won the most seats in the country’s contentious election.- Bloomberg


Visiting U.S. lawmakers sought to assure Taiwan on Thursday that the United States would stand by it in the face of pressure from China, though a bill that includes support for the island has stalled in Congress, and divisions over aid for Ukraine have fanned wider questions about Washington’s commitment to its partners.- New York Times

A Philippine coast guard official on Thursday described as “inaccurate” its Chinese counterpart’s claim that a fisheries vessel “illegally intruded” into Beijing’s waters. – Reuters

The U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale to Taiwan of about $75 million of advanced tactical data link system upgrade planning, the Pentagon said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Australian writer Yang Hengjun has announced he won’t appeal a suspended death sentence imposed by a Chinese court in early February, a ruling that has clouded the outlook for relations between Canberra and Beijing following a recent improvement. – Bloomberg

It’s a terrifying prospect that could become a reality for Anna and millions of her peers across Myanmar after the military junta activated a mandatory conscription law for all young men and women.- CNN

With the allure of Russian weapons waning in the shadow of the Ukraine war, Malaysia is considering pivoting to other Asian suppliers while also attempting to build a local industry.- Defense News


Already struggling to contain intractable crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, the United States is also grappling with an impasse in the Balkans over a gas pipeline into Bosnia, an issue that is freighted with big geopolitical stakes. – New York Times

Russia is withdrawing from a 1956 fishing deal struck with Britain by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, an indicator of just how deep the gulf between Russia and the West has become after two years of conflict and Cold War rhetoric. – Reuters

EU countries have agreed to remove Arkady Volozh, co-founder of Russian internet giant Yandex, from their list of sanctioned entities and individuals relating to Russia’s war in Ukraine, three sources familiar with the matter said.- Reuters

Switzerland’s government said on Wednesday it wants to ban Hamas after the Palestinian militant group’s attacks in Israel last year which killed nearly 1,200 people and sparked a war in Gaza. – Reuters

France is preparing a first meeting to discuss an infrastructure link that would connect India to Europe via the Middle East to counter a similar Chinese initiative.- Bloomberg

The UK government is considering restricting some arms exports to Israel if it launches an offensive on the Palestinian city of Rafah or obstructs aid trucks from entering Gaza, people familiar with the matter said.- Bloomberg

The European Union is poised to approve the release of €6.3 billion ($6.8 billion) in post-pandemic aid to Poland as early as next week in a major vote of confidence in the new government’s ability to mend ties with Brussels. – Bloomberg

Ukrainian soldiers may be manning the front lines, but more Europeans seem to be manning their nearest café tables and shrugging off expectations that Ukraine can prevail over Russia, a new poll finds. – New York Sun

Albania’s Parliament votes Thursday on a deal with Italy to hold thousands of migrants rescued in international waters by the Italian authorities while their asylum applications are processed.- Associated Press

Ukraine’s president on Wednesday invited Polish leaders to meet him at their shared border to resolve a blockade by Polish farmers protesting Ukrainian food imports, saying it’s hampering the shipment of weapons to Ukrainian soldiers. – Associated Press

Lithuania decided Wednesday to seal off another two of its six checkpoints with Belarus as of next month, amid growing tensions with its eastern neighbor, an ally of Russia. This brings the total of closed border crossings into the Baltic country to four.- Associated Press

President Joe Biden is supporting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to become the next NATO secretary general, a U.S. official said Wednesday.- Politico

The French ambassador to the U.S. warned a “real war is possible” for NATO countries on the border with Russia.Members “on the front line” bordering Russia or Ukraine, and France and Germany believe “real war is possible” in Europe again. For France, that means putting the nation on “a war footing” in defense spending and revitalizing its industrial base, he said. – USNI News

In a new disinformation campaign linked to Moscow, hackers are using dark satirical emails to convince Ukrainian users that a war with Russia is not worth fighting. – TheRecord


South Africa will hold pivotal national elections May 29 as polls show the ruling African National Congress could lose its majority for the first time since it came to power with the fall of apartheid 30 years ago.- Associated Press

The United States told Rwanda and Congo on Tuesday that they “must walk back from the brink of war,” the sharpest warning yet of a looming conflict between the African neighbors. – Associated Press

Russia’s agriculture minister said late on Tuesday that Moscow had completed its initiative of shipping 200,000 metric tonnes of free grain to six African countries, as promised by President Vladimir Putin in July. – Reuters

The Americas

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken confronted President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil on Wednesday about his recent sharp comments on Israel, including the Brazilian leader’s comparison of Israel’s attacks in Gaza to the Holocaust – New York Times

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will visit Chile next week in a trip aimed at strengthening ties with a nation rich in critical minerals. – Bloomberg

David Smilde and Isabel Rowan Scarpino write: In Poland, South Africa, Chile, Ireland, and neighboring Colombia, conflicts once considered intractable and hopeless all made painstaking progress through not just power politics, but creative efforts at trust-building and the construction of common ground and viable futures for the actors in conflict. Until such efforts are vigorously undertaken in Venezuela, any significant return to democracy is unlikely. – Foreign Policy


United States

The Biden administration plans to invest billions in the domestic manufacturing of cargo cranes, seeking to counter fears that the prevalent use of China-built cranes with advanced software at many U.S. ports poses a potential national-security risk. – Wall Street Journal

A suspect charged in a plot to kill an Iranian American author and activist has been extradited from the Czech Republic to face charges, the Justice Department said Wednesday.- Associated Press

President Joe Biden issued an executive order Wednesday morning aimed at increasing the defenses of maritime ports through additional authorities to the Coast Guard and started a rulemaking process to add cyber requirements for the sector.- Defense News

Marc A. Thiessen writes: It was Biden’s weakness on the world stage (including his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan) that emboldened Putin to try to take Ukraine. Biden then slow-rolled weapons to Ukraine, with no strategy for victory, allowing Putin to run roughshod over the country — until Trump potentially returns to the White House to set things straight. It would be a diplomatic triumph and foreign policy vindication.- Washington Post

Ross Douthat writes: There is a plausible path between those options, in which aid keeps flowing while the United States pursues a settlement and pivot. But a great deal hangs on whether that narrow way can be traversed: not just for Ukraine or for Taiwan but also for the American imperium as we have known it, the world-bestriding power that we’ve taken for granted for too long. – New York Times

Niranjan Shankar writes:  The White House also must start accounting for other ambiguities and gray areas that both the NCS and Implementation Plan have either de-emphasized or omitted altogether. Finally, to secure American interests in international cyberspace, Washington needs to incorporate its technology initiatives effectively into its broader foreign policy framework and reconsider some of its approaches to cyber diplomacy. – Middle East Institute


DCM Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, began investing in China’s start-ups in 1999. The move reaped such blockbuster returns that in 2021, DCM said it planned to “double down” on its strategy of investing in China, the United States and Japan.- New York Times

The European Parliament on Wednesday asked members on its defense subcommittee to have their phones checked for spyware after it found traces of hacking on two devices. – Politico

Russia’s war in Ukraine has set an unprecedented example of how cyber and kinetic operations can be combined to help nations achieve their military goals. And there are numerous lessons that other countries can learn from this experience, according to NATO’s chief information officer, Manfred Boudreaux-Dehmer. – TheRecord

James Goodrich writes: Silicon Valley should take a harder look at the Middle East and think first about realizing its quixotic AI and silicon ambitions here in the United States. The U.S. government should also consider leveraging demand-side incentives such as government procurement and tax credits to ensure that the United States remains a global AI and silicon ecosystem leader. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The U.S. Army plans to test this month whether its key command-and-control system can operate its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, according to the service’s lead on air and missile defense modernization.- Defense News

Former Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond has joined the board of in-space transportation company Impulse Space. – Defense News

The U.S. Department of Defense has achieved a basic version of Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, its long-promised vision of connected sensors from all branches of the armed forces into a unified network, according to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.- Defense News

When officials announced historic sweeping changes to the Air Force and Space Force’s structure last week to prepare for potential conflict with China, it seemed they had thought of everything. – Military.com