Fdd's overnight brief

February 27, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

President Biden said Israel has agreed to halt the war in Gaza during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan if Hamas releases hostages, adding pressure to negotiators who are racing to broker a cease-fire this week. – Wall Street Journal

The Palestinian Authority’s government resigned on Monday, an early step toward the overhauls the U.S. and Middle Eastern powers see as a condition for the body to take charge of Gaza after the war. – Wall Street Journal

The Palestinian militants who raided Israel in the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 killed over 1,200 people, according to Israel, and abducted over 240 civilians and soldiers, bringing them back to the Gaza Strip. Israel responded with a military campaign that it said was aimed at destroying Hamas and recovering the hostages. – Wall Street Journal 

Israel’s drive to eliminate Hamas from power in Gaza is proving increasingly at odds with another objective it is under international pressure to pursue: ensuring delivery of humanitarian aid to Gazans struggling to find food and safety as the war in the south intensifies around them. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli negotiators have offered a significant concession in cease-fire talks with Hamas, signaling that they might be open to releasing high-profile Palestinians jailed on terrorism charges in exchange for some Israeli hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip, according to two officials with knowledge of the talks. – New York Times

Hezbollah said on Tuesday it had launched a volley of rockets at an Israeli aerial surveillance base in response to the Israeli military’s deepest attack yet into Lebanese territory. – Reuters

The United Nations’ highest court on Monday wrapped up historic proceedings into the legality of Israel’s 57-year occupation of lands sought by Palestinians for a future state, with most voices at the hearing arguing against the Israeli government. – Associated Press

Forces of Division 162, along with the Nahal Brigade’s combat team and engineering forces, unearthed an underground tunnel network that connects the north and south of the Gaza Strip, the military announced on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

A new Palestinian Authority government may be formed before the end of this week, according to Palestinian sources quoted by the Dubai-based Asharq News. – Times of Israel

Polls opened across much of the country on Tuesday as Israelis were finally given a chance to cast votes for municipal and regional representatives in an election twice delayed by war. – Times of Israel

Three Palestinians, including a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander, were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank on Tuesday morning, according to Palestinian health officials and media reports. – Times of Israel

Editorial: The administration was right to sharpen its rhetoric against new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and to extract public commitments from Israel that it will not expel Palestinians permanently from Gaza or reoccupy the enclave. There are many ways the situation in Gaza could get worse in the coming days. But there is only one way to prevent that: skillful U.S. leadership that recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself — but also insists, clearly and often, that its military operations meet high standards. – Washington Post

Rebecca Sugar writes: Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once said that “Israel’s future lies in the Negev.” Arbel Levin, chief business development officer of Mishkey Hanegev Holdings, a consortium of the region’s kibbutzim, agrees. He is from Erez, a kibbutz with avocado orchards that abut the border fence with Gaza. The military evacuated the residents of Erez, but Mr. Levin insists they will return when security returns to the area. “Every meter that they give back to us, we will farm,” he said. “The region is going to flourish again. This is just the beginning.” – Wall Street Journal

Ofek Balisha writes: The reinstatement of work permits is not a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians; it is a strategic need that can mitigate the economic despair driving the unrest in the territories, thereby contributing to regional stability during these already unstable times. The Israeli government must address this challenge seriously while avoiding past errors – and making sure we won’t have to learn it the hard way, again. – Jerusalem Post

Iran

Iran reduced its stockpile of near-weapons-grade nuclear material even as it continued expanding its overall nuclear program, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Monday, marking a surprise step that could ease tensions with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

Iran has made a concerted effort to rein in militias in Iraq and Syria after the United States retaliated with a series of airstrikes for the killing of three U.S. Army reservists this month. – New York Times

Farhad Rezaei writes: President Biden should put Iran on notice, making it clear to the regime leaders that failure to maintain cooperation with the IAEA might lead the United States to consider military action. Iran must perceive this warning as credible rather than just diplomatic talk. Failure to arrest Iran’s nuclear development may encourage the regime to build the bomb. – The National Interest

Gianluca Pacchiani writes: Israel has liquidated a number of Iranian officials in Syria in the past, including at least one general in 2015, killed together with senior Hezbollah figure Jihad Mughniye, but strikes against IRGC figures had not been carried out in such a methodical and brazen way as they are now, the experts said. “It’s like taking a list [of top IRGC leaders] and crossing off the names one by one, Eisin said. “And on top of that, in the heart of Damascus, a few miles away from where Bashar Assad is.” – Times of Israel

Russia & Ukraine

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony followed a proposal to trade him and two unnamed American citizens held by Moscow for a Russian hit man imprisoned in Germany, Navalny’s foundation said Monday. – Wall Street Journal 

President Emmanuel Macron of France on Monday said “nothing should be ruled out” after he was asked about the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine in support of the embattled nation’s war against Russia. – New York Times

Russia launched 13 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying 11 drones as well as two guided missiles over several regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday. – Reuters

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday that without new U.S. military aid his country would be unable to defend a Black Sea shipping corridor that has allowed Kyiv to export millions of tons of grain to global markets. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin promised late on Monday to increase the mobility and striking potential of Russia’s special operations forces, saying this is a key priority to make the country’s army stronger. – Reuters

Ukraine and its international partners must continue fighting to restore Ukrainian control over Crimea, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday as Kyiv marked a decade of Russian occupation of the Black Sea peninsula. – Reuters

When Elena Koposova signed an open letter against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, she didn’t expect a backlash in her newly adopted home state of Serbia. – Associated Press

Vadim Krasikov’s name has come up several times in recent weeks in relation to prisoner exchanges between Russia and Western countries. – Associated Press

A document dated two days  before the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spells out Moscow’s positions on the bloody conflict in unambiguous terms. It suggests that the Kremlin has not been deterred — on the contrary, it will likely double down on what it terms its “special military operation” in the year to come. – New York Sun

Harlan Ullman writes:  All this should be incorporated in a “porcupine defense” that would raise the costs of any Russian attack on NATO to make it unacceptable. Designed correctly, this defense would not necessarily need more spending, just redirecting where the money would go. This will not be easy given the current intense bureaucratic, political and economic resistance. But make no mistake. Without a new strategy, more NATO spending is not the solution. – The Hill

Alexander J. Motyl writes: But they also know what the reality in Ukraine and Russia is. They know that Russia can’t win a war that is costing it 1,000 deaths a day. They know that Putin’s regime is far weaker than it seems. Finally, Ukrainians also know that, to win, they need only to outlast the Russians — which they know they can, not because of some magical belief in resilience and victory, but because the alternative to outlasting the Russians is being exterminated by the Russians. – The Hill

Lera Burlakova writes: Still, it’s far from normal. “The future is uncertain. We go on with our lives, we are planning what we can. Yaromyr has to start school in September. I want to do some home improvements, but I don’t know if it makes sense to spend money on repairs now . . . The war seems to me now to be in the worst phase during these two years. They say, Russians can try to take Kyiv again. I don’t know . . .” As Western aid is delayed, US military aid in particular, Ukraine is outgunned, and it’s natural to worry that the defenses might crack. If the currently effective air defense lacks missiles, there will be no means to “hold the sky” above Ukrainian cities. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Yemen

Greece’s frigate Hydra departed for the Red Sea on Monday to participate in a mission to protect merchant ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia, a defence ministry official said. – Reuters

US Central Command said its forces destroyed three seaborne drones, an airborne drone and two cruise missiles in Yemen that were being prepared for attacks in the Red Sea. – Bloomberg

Jonathan Campbell-James writes: In this framework, seeking to achieve temporary ameliorations to the situation may even hinder achievement of the long-term aspiration of achieving regional stability. Hence at the meeting in Oxford, Sayyid Badr stated that whilst he wished he could pretend that back-channel negotiations were taking place, the reality is that they are not. Whilst such a statement from Sayyid Badr might be expected on the record, the off the record story seems no different. The time apparently is not yet right for Oman to consider pushing forward a facilitation effort with the Houthis, and an attempt to so now would expend political capital which will be sorely needed in future. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Arab states urged international judges on Monday to rule the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories illegal and Turkey described the occupation as “the real obstacle to peace” on the final day of hearings in a case examining its legal status. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia denied that a meeting had taken place between its commerce minister and his Israeli counterpart on Monday, after a viral video showed their interaction on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization conference in Abu Dhabi. – Reuters

Jordan’s King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a planned Israeli military operation in Rafah, Gaza, and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians and bring in aid, the royal palace said. – Reuters

Washington’s threat to hit foreign financial institutions with sanctions has made a significant difference in financial flows between Russia and countries such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan, said Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo. – Reuters

Fatima al-Othman writes: Clearly, Roumieh’s drug networks have been an ongoing and pervasive challenge for Lebanon’s anti-drug trafficking officers. But until any institutional involvement is cleaned up, Roumieh will continue to serve as a factory for addiction instead of a means of tamping down Lebanon’s increasing drug addiction crisis. – Washington Institute

Joseph L. Votel and Christopher P. Costa writes: The US faces multidimensional global threats to a stable political order, and many priorities are competing for the attention of policymakers and military leaders. In this strategic reality, we require strong partnerships. A robust and enduring partnership with the CTS can help mitigate risks and be a stabilizing force for a sovereign Iraq. An enduring partnership between USSOF and the CTS is in best interests of both the US and Iraq. Ensuring this should be a priority in discussions of future relationships, and the US must find ways to learn from its past mistakes and establish an effective long-term partnership with the CTS. – Middle East Institute

David Schenker writes: Unburdened by concerns about force protection, Washington would be freer to engage Iraq about its relationship with Iran, sanctions violations, and endemic corruption. While a stable and sovereign Iraq remains a U.S. priority, Washington will have to rely on other tools of national power—particularly economic leverage—to press its interests in Iraq going forward. A phase-out or downsizing of Washington’s longstanding troop presence does not imply the end of U.S. military engagement with Iraq, U.S. retrenchment from the region, or acquiescence to Iranian regional hegemony. – Foreign Policy

Korean Peninsula

In March 2022, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked out of a massive hangar wearing a bomber jacket and dark sunglasses. He pointed to the sky and launched his biggest missile yet. – Wall Street Journal

North Korea has shipped about 6,700 containers carrying millions of munitions to Russia since July to support its war against Ukraine, in a sign of ongoing arms transfers, South Korean media reported on Tuesday, citing the defence minister. – Reuters

With South Korea’s KF-21 fighter jet nearing mass production, the country is looking to incorporate unmanned technology that can operate alongside the Air Force’s fleet. – Defense News

China

The United States on Monday cautioned Pacific Islands nations against assistance from Chinese security forces after Reuters reported that Chinese police are working in the remote atoll nation of Kiribati, a neighbor of Hawaii. – Reuters

Satellite images of the hotly disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea show a new floating barrier across its entrance, near where Philippine ships and China coast guard vessels have had frequent run-ins. – Reuters

Two prominent Chinese bloggers in exile said police were investigating their millions of followers on international social media platforms, in an escalation of Beijing’s attempts to clamp down on critical speech even outside of the country’s borders. – Associated Press

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Serbia in 2024, according to the Balkan nation, as Beijing’s broader relationship with Europe frays over trade disputes and the war in Ukraine. – Bloomberg

Hong Kong activists staged a small but rare public protest against their government’s decision to enact a domestic security law during a senior Chinese official’s visit to the Asian finance hub. – Bloomberg

Matthew P. Funaiole, Aidan Powers-Riggs, and Brian Hart write: The Zhu Hai Yun is just the latest of a set of modern capabilities that Beijing is rapidly testing and fielding that could give China new options for pursuing its military, political, and strategic objectives. While the vessel is not designed to fight with the PLA, it can carry out dual-use missions in key strategic regions of the seas without placing Beijing in hot water. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

South Asia

During the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s, its disdain for many sports meant that Kabul’s main stadium drew some of its biggest crowds on the days it was used for public executions. – Washington Post

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan’s three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was elected on Monday as the head of the country’s most populous province, Punjab, in a move underlining the expanding grip of the family in the South Asian nation. – Reuters

A Pakistani court indicted jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi on Tuesday on charges that they allegedly received land as a bribe during his premiership, his party said. – Reuters

Chietigj Bajpaee writes: While India will continue deepening relations with the West, it will also need to maintain engagement with Russia, particularly in the domains of energy and defense, for the foreseeable future. So far, the West has been largely accommodating of India’s strategic compulsions. But more belligerent behavior by Moscow, combined with the prospect for a trans-Atlantic split on Russia, alludes to a more difficult road ahead. – War on the Rocks

Asia

Five Chinese coast guard ships entered prohibited or restricted waters around Taiwan’s frontline islands of Kinmen on Monday but left shortly after being warned away, a Taiwan minister said on Tuesday amid a continued rise in tensions with Beijing. – Reuters

Tuvalu’s former Attorney General Feleti Teo was named prime minister of the tiny South Pacific nation Monday after elections a month ago ousted the last government leader. – Associated Press

The long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party has won an expected landslide victory in the election for the country’s Senate, the National Election Committee has confirmed. – Associated Press

Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his final speech before the nation’s parliament to criticize China as his successor faces an increasingly challenging task of improving ties with Beijing. – Bloomberg

Europe

When Sweden joins NATO as soon as this week, the alliance will gain a solidly anti-Russian member with a robust military that provides critical defense of Europe’s northern flank. – Wall Street Journal

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is set for her first regional election loss since winning power in 2022 after a centre-left candidate appeared to have won the vote for the president of Sardinia, partial results showed on Tuesday. – Reuters

Hungary’s parliament elected Constitutional Court chief Tamas Sulyok as the country’s next president on Monday, two weeks after the unexpected resignation of Katalin Novak. – Reuters

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that a Conservative lawmaker was wrong to say the mayor of London is controlled by Islamists, and denied his party tolerates anti-Muslim prejudice. – Associated Press

Bill Echikson writes: Other American companies, from lobbying European regulators against the gatekeepers, Both Epic Games and the originally Swedish, but largely US-based Spotify. criticize Apple’s compliance plans for its App Store as insufficient to level the digital playing field. Will the regulators agree or disagree with the gatekeeper compliance plans? That’s the subject of our next article in this series. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Africa

The West African regional bloc said on Saturday it would lift strict sanctions on Niger as it seeks a new strategy to dissuade three junta-led states from withdrawing from the political and economic union – a move that threatens regional integration. – Reuters

The United States will appoint a new special envoy for Sudan on Monday, as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands. – Reuters

Senegal’s President Macky Sall on Monday urged participants in a national dialogue to reach a consensus on a date to hold a delayed presidential election, failing which he will ask the Constitutional Council to find his replacement when his mandate ends on April 2. – Reuters

Gunmen from the Red Tabara rebel group killed nine people and injured others in an overnight attack in western Burundi near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, a government spokesperson told reporters on Monday. – Reuters

Claude A. Lambert writes: To be sure, deterring coups is becoming increasingly challenging. International norms and penalties against coup-making are weakening and regional blocs have too few tools to roll them back. But existing tools can be quickly strengthened, and new tools developed, when the international community steadfastly supports and incentivizes pro-democratic initiatives. If regional and global actors are serious about promoting democracy, stability, and maintaining rule of law on the continent, then they should act now to curb potential coups. If international leaders do not act, the coup scourge will continue to march across Africa. – War on the Rocks

John Prendergast writes: The war engulfing Sudan is no simple ethnic conflict or power struggle between two warlords. Successive Sudanese regimes have constructed a kleptocracy built on violence and repression, and the country is now being relentlessly plundered by foreign actors. Most international players in Sudan are seeking to profit from the country’s crisis. The United States is the country in the best position to drive peace instead of war—but only if it applies financial and diplomatic pressure on Egypt, Iran, Russia, and the UAE, the places where it matters the most. – Foreign Affairs

Latin America

Benin has offered 2,000 troops to support a planned Kenyan-led international force to help Haitian national police fight armed gangs, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a press conference on Monday. – Reuters

Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army (ELN)rebels said on Monday they have held a meeting amid difficulties at peace talks and will meet to continue negotiations in April. – Reuters

Benjamin N. Gedan writes: However, should the United States help stabilize Argentina’s economy, it would strengthen a stalwart friend leading South America’s second-largest economy. It would also demonstrate the value of U.S. partnership — and the rewards for presidents willing to resist the siren song of China’s gargantuan market and deep pockets. On the other hand, the failure to support Milei through this difficult period — as deep budget cuts and sky-high inflation eat away at his popularity — would send the opposite message, reinforcing the logic of nonalignment throughout the western hemisphere. – War on the Rocks

North America

Mexico’s president on Monday shared a letter from the New York Times’ bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for the second time and defended his decision last week to share her private telephone number publicly. – Reuters

Former Mexico City mayor and ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum holds a comfortable lead in the race for Mexico’s presidency, an opinion poll showed on Monday, days before campaigns for the June 2 vote officially kick off. – Reuters

The U.S. on Monday placed Canada-based Sandvine Inc on a trade restriction list for allegedly helping the Egyptian government target human rights activists and politicians. – Reuters

United States

An active-duty U.S. Air Force member who set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., on Sunday has died, officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The Ukraine vote is shaping up as the most consequential for U.S. interests and the defense of Europe since the decision to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the 1980s. Mr. Johnson and House leaders owe the Members the chance to vote their conscience rather than using a procedural blockade. Credit to the backbenchers for keeping the pressure on. – Wall Street Journal 

Editorial: This is another test of how much Mr. Biden is willing to bend to the left. Most Americans still support Israel’s ground invasion to root out Hamas—63% in the Harvard CAPS Harris survey out this week. The elimination of Hamas, like ISIS, is in the U.S. and Israeli national interest. If Mr. Biden bends to the left on Israel, he’ll send another signal of weakness that Donald Trump can exploit. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The importance of maintaining this asset is hard to overstate. As Putin and other adversaries make their calculations about what they can get away with, America’s perceived willingness to stand with its allies is paramount. If the US is seen to be wavering on its commitments, or even eager to walk away from them, its adversaries will surely be emboldened. In short order, that will leave the US, at home and abroad, weaker and in greater peril. – Bloomberg

Cybersecurity

A man living in New York got a call in 2020 from police in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, who wanted to know if he knew anything about an account on Twitter, the social media site now known as X. – Wall Street Journal 

Canada on Monday proposed new rules that would compel digital platforms to remove online content that features the sexual exploitation of children or intimate images without consent of the individuals involved. – Wall Street Journal

Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will meet Meta Platforms (META.O), opens new tab Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday to exchange views on artificial intelligence, Fuji Television reported. – Reuters

The Russian cyber spies behind the SolarWinds breach are adapting their techniques to hack into organizations that have moved their networks into cloud-hosted environments, Western officials are warning. – The Record

Shane Tews writes: If the OSTP’s updated focus on data privacy and cybersecurity technologies is to work alongside the backdrop of the EU’s Digital Markets Act and the bifurcated goals of our own US administration, we must acknowledge the conflicting regulatory frameworks within this critical intersection of policy, technology, and international cooperation. Balancing these aspects will be key to navigating the future of digital innovation and regulation, ensuring that advancements in technology go hand-in-hand with securing personal data and fostering a competitive global digital economy. – American Enterprise Institute

Defense

The European Union will aim to make as much as half of its defense system purchases within the bloc by 2035, reversing a trend of buying a majority of its military equipment from third countries. – Bloomberg

France and the Netherlands backed a plan to buy ammunition outside Europe to get much-needed military equipment to Ukraine faster, with a proposal expected in early March. – Bloomberg

The Austrian military will receive 36 air defense systems for its Pandur EVO wheeled armored vehicles. The country’s minister of defense, Klaudia Tanner, announced the deal worth about half a billion Euros last week. – Defense News