Fdd's overnight brief

February 8, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s terms for a cease-fire in Gaza, after the Palestinian militant group called for the release of thousands of prisoners along with other concessions in its first response to a U.S.-backed proposal to end the fighting. – Wall Street Journal 

Beneath the rubble of a bombed-out residential neighborhood in Khan Younis lies a sprawling, subterranean complex built to shelter senior Hamas leaders and, for a time, used to hold Israeli hostages grabbed by the militant group, Israeli officers said. – Wall Street Journal

The arrest this week of an American woman in the West Bank by the Israel Defense Forces has prompted an outcry in the United States. – Washington Post

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Hamas’s response to a proposed deal to release hostages in exchange for a humanitarian pause created space to “pursue negotiations” despite certain aspects that included “non-starters.” – Washington Post

Two years ago, with Russia pummeling Ukraine and nowhere else to flee, 24-year-old Yulia saw her husband’s hometown, Gaza City, as a sanctuary. – Washington Post

Mediators from the U.S., Qatar and Egypt scrambled to forge a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in their four-month-old war in the Gaza Strip after America’s top diplomat on a Middle East mission said there was still hope for a deal. – Reuters

The family of a Palestinian teenager who is trapped in Gaza called on the British government on Wednesday to allow him to enter the UK, after ministers dropped their opposition to his urgent legal challenge at the eleventh hour. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday a solution needed to be found on Israel’s northern border, where exchanges of fire with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon have forced tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes. – Reuters

Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, officials said, as U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken stressed the need to de-escalate tensions during a visit to the region. – Reuters

The IDF announced on Wednesday that it found a second round of Hamas hostage cages underground in Khan Yunis. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas has been regularly accused of manipulating the death count in Gaza throughout the war, but with independent verification being nearly impossible, such accusations have been hard to prove. – Jerusalem Post

The IDF Lotem Technology Unit’s big data collection and analysis capabilities saved hundreds of mourners at a funeral on October 17 from a likely Hamas rocket attack, The Jerusalem Post has learned. – Jerusalem Post

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich stated Thursday morning his intention to sign three orders, which state that the tax benefits UNRWA receives due to its status as a UN agency will be canceled. – Jerusalem Post

A Palestinian gunman who opened fire at troops near the West Bank town of Dayr Sharaf was shot dead, the military and medics say. – Times of Israel

The IDF says troops of the Commando Brigade captured dozens of suspected terror operatives in western Khan Younis over the past day, including two terrorists who participated in the October 7 onslaught and another member of Hamas’s elite Nukhba force. – Times of Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia is still willing to normalize ties with Israel, but is demanding that a path be found for the establishment of a Palestinian state. – Arutz Sheva 

Earlier this week, two IDF soldiers were lightly injured after missiles fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon landed near Margaliot in northern Israel. IDF artillery retaliated and struck the sources of the fire. – Arutz Sheva 

Since the beginning of the war, the IDF and police have been detaining Palestinians for significantly longer periods before bringing them in front of a judge, thus preventing them from appealing to the court against the arrest. – Haaretz

A Hamas police vehicle was struck in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on Wednesday evening in what Palestinian media reported as a targeted assassination by the IDF. – Jerusalem Post

Avi Gil writes: In the past, when asked about his relationship with Netanyahu, Biden has responded that the two had been friends for decades, saying, “I told him: I don’t agree with one thing you say – but I love you.” Even if the end of that beautiful friendship is approaching, and Netanyahu blows up his personal relationship with Biden for good, Israel must not follow suit and risk losing America’s affection. After all, the US is the only great power we can count on – in every aspect of our national security. – Jerusalem Post

Max Primorac writes: Iron Beam is a new directed-energy weapon defense system for shooting down incoming rockets, mortars, or drones—similar to the Iron Dome but considerably less expensive to operate. The Iron Beam has been developed by the Israeli government and Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in partnership with the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin.  – Heritage Foundation

Iran

The U.S. government announced charges in two separate cases on Wednesday aimed at enforcing laws blocking the transfer of critical technologies, part of a broader campaign to hamper military efforts and weapons production in rival countries. – New York Times

An Iranian diplomat likened Tehran’s alliance of militias across the Middle East to the NATO military alliance, denying that his country has direct control over the groups as they brace for more US strikes against them. – Bloomberg

Iranian cyber operations targeting Israel, its allies and other Iranian adversaries around the world are becoming more focused, refined and increasingly bold, researchers with Microsoft said late Tuesday. – CyberScoop

Erfan Fard writes: A thoughtful and strategic approach, grounded in a clear vision for engaging with Iran’s post-transition landscape, is crucial for supporting the Iranian people’s aspirations for democracy, justice, and a brighter future. This journey requires not only leadership and commitment but also an international framework that acknowledges the complexities of Iran’s path from the ashes of oppression towards the promise of a democratic rebirth. – Arutz Sheva

U.S. Naval Institute Staff writes: Photographs of weapons displayed and fired by Iran and the Houthis, as well as those illegally smuggled aboard boats from Iran, strongly suggest their Iranian origin. Iranian aid has enabled the Houthis to initiate a campaign of missile and UAV attacks against commercial ships in the Red Sea since November 2023. – USNI News

Russia & Ukraine

The Ukrainian military is facing a critical shortage of infantry, leading to exhaustion and diminished morale on the front line, military personnel in the field said this week — a perilous new dynamic for Kyiv nearly two years into the grinding, bloody war with Russia. – Washington Post

A year ago, when Washington and much of Europe were still awash in optimism that Ukraine was on the verge of repelling Russia from its territory, it seemed inconceivable that the United States would turn its back on the victim of Vladimir V. Putin’s aggression. – New York Times

In the two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Ukraine has had its back to the wall many times, in many forms: fighting with Molotov cocktails and guns handed out to the population, coping with blackouts and fleeing refugees. But there was always the prospect of more American aid on the horizon. – New York Times

Melodic Colombian Spanish fills a hospital treating soldiers wounded fighting Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. – Associated Press

After a brief discussion, the upper house of Russia’s parliament on Wednesday endorsed a bill that would allow authorities to confiscate money, valuables and other assets from people convicted of spreading “deliberately false information” about the country’s military. – Associated Press

U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi on Wednesday welcomed a reduction in shelling around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine and inspected wells to determine if there was sufficient water for cooling. – Reuters

Britain on Thursday said it would extend tariff-free trade with Ukraine on almost all goods until 2029, giving continued favourable trading terms to Kyiv in the wake of Russia’s invasion. – Reuters

Russia’s air defence systems intercepted two waves of Ukrainian airborne attacks on Wednesday, destroying a total of 12 rockets and drones over the southwestern region of Belgorod, Russian officials said. – Reuters

Russia unleashed missile and drone strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities during Wednesday morning’s rush hour, killing five people, wounding more than 30, and damaging residential buildings and energy infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said. – Reuters

Russia’s economy rebounded sharply from a slump in 2022, annual data showed on Wednesday, but the growth relies heavily on state-funded arms and ammunition production and masks problems that are hampering an improvement in Russians’ living standards. – Reuters

The Biden administration remains confident that it can win congressional approval for aid to Kyiv, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, after a bipartisan immigration and Ukraine support bill was torpedoed this week by House Republicans. – Bloomberg

Adam Taylor writes: There are many probing questions we should ask Putin, from the impact of the Wagner rebellion to the real state of the Russian economy and more. Carlson may try and ask some of these questions. But sitting down face to face with him doesn’t guarantee a look into his soul, as at least one other American has discovered before. – Washington Post

Olaf Scholz writes: The European Union and its member states have been Ukraine’s largest financial supporter, having contributed more than $91 billion since the beginning of the war, followed by the U.S. and Germany. Germany’s military support is second only to America’s. Since the war began, my government has earmarked, procured and delivered military equipment, including tanks, artillery and high-value air-defense systems, worth more than $30 billion. – Wall Street Journal

Jamie McIntyre writes: “Most of our members feel that we’re not going to be able to make a law here, and if we’re not going to be able to make a law, they’re reluctant to go forward,” McConnell said at a press availability. “I followed the instructions of my conference, who were insisting that we tackle this in October. I mean, it’s actually our side that wanted to tackle the border issue. We started it,” he said, calling the failed compromise a “quality product” that even the Border Patrol union believed would make things better. “But things have changed over the last four months, and it’s been made perfectly clear by the speaker that he wouldn’t take it up even if we sent it to him.” – Washington Examiner

Middle East & North Africa

A U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed a commander of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia blamed for a deadly strike at a U.S. base in Jordan last week, part of a sharpened effort by the Pentagon to deter attacks on its forces. – Wall Street Journal

War underwriters have raised the premiums they charge to U.S., British and Israeli firms by as high as 50% for ships transiting the Red Sea and some providers are avoiding such business due to targeting of the vessels by Yemen’s Houthis, sources said. – Reuters

Intelligence officials had warned for months of a rising risk that Iranian-made weapons would penetrate U.S. defenses in the Middle East and kill American forces — long before last week’s deadly drone strike against a U.S. outpost in Jordan. – Politico

Explosions have been reported near a US army base in Syria, by the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese media network Al Mayadeen, on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Paulo Pinheiro, Hanny Megally, and Lynn Welchman write: In the meantime, the most egregious violations could end if the fighting stops. We implore the international community to not lose sight of the Syrian crisis. Syria needs courageous diplomats, daring donors and determined prosecutors more than ever. And more than anything else, after nearly 13 years of conflict, it needs a nationwide cease-fire now. – New York Times

Lee Smith Writes: Chalker recommended that Qatar call on its media assets, identifying, among others, Max Blumenthal, anti-Israel activist and son of fading Clinton-world influencer Sidney Blumenthal; The Intercept; and The New York Times. Only months after Chalker produced the report, the Times published stories based on hacked Otaiba emails in a campaign intended, as reporter David Kirkpatrick acknowledged, “to embarrass the U.A.E. and benefit Qatar.” From the Pentagon to the capital’s paper of record, Qatar has Washington covered. It’s Iran’s stalking horse. – Tablet

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly has voted to scrap all agreements with South Korea on promoting economic cooperation, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported on Thursday, as the two Koreas’ ties continue to deteriorate. – Reuters

United Nations sanctions monitors are investigating dozens of suspected cyberattacks by North Korea that raked in $3 billion to help it further develop its nuclear weapons program, according to excerpts of an unpublished U.N. report reviewed by Reuters. – Reuters

The United States faces heightened risk from Russia, which is trying to acquire goods with military applications, the U.S. Treasury Department said in fresh National Risk Assessments on Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Proliferation Financing released on Wednesday. – Reuters

China

Chinese and U.S. officials have met in Beijing for talks on tough issues dividing the two largest economies, as trade and tariffs increasingly draw attention in the runup to the U.S. presidential election. – Associated Press

An advanced group of Chinese hackers taking aim at U.S. critical infrastructure have been active for as long as half a decade, American and allied intelligence agencies said in a joint statement on Wednesday. – Reuters

Derek Scissors writes: But even with the “benefit” of COVID, the total goods trade deficit with China for the last three years of the Trump administration was $1.07 trillion. Theft? Including services lowers the deficit with the PRC no matter who’s President, but Trump almost never talks about services trade. The goods trade deficit for the first three years of the Biden administration was $1.01 trillion, and 2023 is much better than any Trump year. – American Enterprise Institute

South Asia

Pakistani authorities on Thursday suspended mobile-phone services across the country, citing recent terrorist attacks, as voting began in an election that is expected to test the fragile democracy. – Wall Street Journal

When Pakistanis head to the polls Thursday, it would be a surprise if former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who recently returned from exile, did not emerge victorious. – Washington Post

As they head to the polls this week, residents in Pakistan’s most populous and affluent province are fed up. Just look around, they say: The economy is in free fall and inflation has soared. A favorite politician has been thrown behind bars. Everyone from young laborers to prominent influencers in the province, Punjab, have been jailed alongside him. – New York Times

Militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir fired at two workers from the northern state of Punjab, killing one and wounding another, police said Wednesday. – Associated Press

A Sri Lankan Cabinet minister has resigned after being arrested in a scandal over the government’s alleged purchase of counterfeit drugs during the country’s economic crisis. – Associated Press

The United Nation’s top human rights body warned Tuesday of a “pattern of harassment” against members of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party ahead of this week’s parliamentary election. – Associated Press

Islamic state claimed the responsibility for a blast in southwestern Pakistan, the group’s Telegram channel said on Wednesday. – Reuters

 

Asia

Taiwan told its travel agents on Wednesday to stop organising new group tours to China since Beijing has yet to allow such trips to the island by Chinese tourists and has altered a flight path in the sensitive Taiwan Strait. – Reuters

Malaysia’s facilitator said Wednesday that the Thai government and Muslim separatist rebels in southern Thailand have agreed in principle on a roadmap to try to end a decades-long Muslim insurgency. – Associated Press

Malaysia’s ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak is disappointed he wasn’t given a full royal pardon of his 12-year prison sentence for graft, and may file a new appeal to the new monarch, his lawyer said Wednesday. – Associated Press

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet on Wednesday made his first official visit to neighboring Thailand since becoming his country’s leader last year, seeking to renew the close ties the two countries have maintained in recent times. – Associated Press

Europe

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that he and his NATO counterparts cautioned Hungary on Wednesday against further delaying Sweden’s membership in the military alliance, and he warned that patience in Washington has its limits. – Associated Press

Talks to form a far right-led government in the Netherlands have come to a premature end, for now, leaving the Netherlands in limbo amid a stalled move to build a political coalition around anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders. – Associated Press

Thousands rallied in front of Slovakia’s Parliament on Wednesday to condemn a plan by the new government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to eliminate the office of the special prosecutor dealing with major crime and corruption. – Associated Press

Mirroring protests across Europe, thousands of farmers in Spain staged a second day of tractor demonstrations on Wednesday across the country, blocking highways to demand changes in European Union farming policies and measures to combat production cost hikes and severe drought. – Associated Press

Former Czech populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis lost his final appeal in Slovakia Wednesday in a case concerning allegations that he collaborated with communist-era secret police in what was then Czechoslovakia. – Associated Press

The European Union on Wednesday launched legal action against Hungary’s right-wing government over a new law that allows authorities to investigate and prosecute people accused of undermining the country’s sovereignty. – Associated Press

Sweden on Wednesday dropped its investigation into the explosions in 2022 on Nord Stream pipelines carrying Russian gas to Germany, saying it lacked jurisdiction in the case but had handed evidence it had uncovered over to German investigators. – Reuters

Hungary’s new law on “protecting national sovereignty”, which the ruling Fidesz party said was necessary to protect against foreign political interference, violates European Union law, the European Commission said on Wednesday. – Reuters

During a visit to Washington this week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is likely to find that Donald Trump has already returned — at least in terms of U.S. policy toward Europe’s worst strategic nightmare in Ukraine. – Politico

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday described the October 7 massacre by Hamas in Israel as the “biggest antisemitic massacre of our century” as he hosted a ceremony paying tribute to the French victims. – Agence France-Presse

Africa

A rocket landed near a university in the Congolese city of Goma on Wednesday as thousands of civilians fled a fresh advance by M23 rebels that threatens to isolate the city of around two million people. – Reuters

The United Nations on Wednesday urged countries not to forget the civilians caught up in the war in Sudan, appealing for $4.1 billion to meet their humanitarian needs and support those who have fled to neighbouring countries. – Reuters

Zimbabwe’s cabinet on Tuesday agreed to abolish the death penalty following months of debate in parliament, choosing instead to impose lengthy prison sentences for the worst offences. – Reuters

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday asked a London court to uphold his immunity, while a shipbuilding company at the centre of Mozambique’s litigation over the decade-long “tuna bond” scandal tried to drag him into an ongoing high court case. – Reuters

A South African court on Tuesday upheld a ban on leaders of a boisterous opposition party from attending a speech this week by President Cyril Ramaphosa opening the new parliamentary session after they were sanctioned for disrupting the event a year ago. – Associated Press

Nigeria’s authorities on Tuesday called for caution over what they described as “veiled threats” against their citizens living in South Africa before both countries meet in an Africa Cup of Nations semifinal — a soccer match that is renewing frictions. – Associated Press

Cameron Hudson writes: Enter a new special envoy, former Democratic congressman Tom Perriello, who arrives on the diplomatic scene with fewer constraints than the ambassador he notionally replaces, but perhaps with some new ones. His biggest constraint is, of course, the calendar. A political appointee arriving in the job in, potentially, the last year of the administration he serves is dealing from a weak deck already. – Centre for Strategic and International Studies 

 

The Americas

Sebastián Piñera, a wealthy entrepreneur turned two-time president of Chile, died Tuesday when the helicopter he was piloting crashed in a lake in a rural area of southern Chile, government officials and people close to the former president said. – Wall Street Journal 

A former civilian director of an elite intelligence unit in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Wednesday after his conviction last year of giving confidential operational information to four men who were targets of police investigations. – New York Times

Mr. Villarreal said foreign companies, particularly those seeking to sell within North America, saw Mexico as a viable alternative to China for several reasons, including the simmering trade tensions between the United States and China. – New York Times

At least five agents of Haiti’s BSAP, an armed environmental agency that in recent years has evolved into a paramilitary body, were killed in a shootout with national police in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, the police trade union told reporters. – Reuters

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Ecuador criminal group Los Choneros and its leader, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement. – Reuters

Guatemala on Wednesday said it reaffirmed its ties with Taiwan, days after its foreign minister told Reuters the government would seek official trade ties with China while maintaining relations with Taiwan, which China claims as a province. – Reuters

A former Honduran police chief has pleaded guilty to a U.S. drug trafficking charge, less than a week before the country’s ex-President Juan Orlando Hernandez is expected to stand trial on similar charges. – Reuters

United States

The party would withhold its votes for the foreign aid Democrats sought unless something was done about the influx of migrants at the southern border. Yet a gambit Republicans once hoped would divide their opponents ended up exposing their own divisions instead, achieving none of what they sought and opening them to accusations of cynical political gamesmanship. – Wall Street Journal

President Biden is dispatching a group of foreign policy and political advisers to Michigan on Thursday in an effort to quell growing outrage over deaths in Gaza. – Wall Street Journal

More than a dozen Senate Democrats are pushing for legislation that would block weapons sales to countries that prevent or restrict U.S. humanitarian assistance to those in need, looking to attach the bill to a vote on President Biden’s national security supplemental. – The Hill

Victoria Coates and Brett D. Schaefer write: Congress should ensure that all U.S. funding for UNRWA is ended immediately and permanently, regardless of the findings of any self-interested UN body, and should apply particular scrutiny to any funds designated for humanitarian aid in any supplemental request from the Biden administration to ensure that those funds do not go to UNRWA directly or indirectly. While the generous American people want to alleviate the suffering of Gazans, it cannot be done through providing more support for UNRWA. – The National Interest

Cybersecurity

China has sought to “cheat” and “steal” its way to matching Taiwan in chip technology, but has yet to succeed despite investing huge sums, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington said on Wednesday, while holding out the prospect of more Taiwanese semiconductor investment in the U.S. – Reuters

A Republican lawmaker introduced a resolution Wednesday pressing for an investigation into “whether any cryptocurrencies were exchanged between Hamas and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.” – Washington Examiner

The Department of Homeland Security didn’t properly certify whether the artificial intelligence use cases for cybersecurity listed in its AI inventory were actual examples of the technology, according to a new Government Accountability Office report, calling into question the veracity of the agency’s full catalog. – CyberScoop

Defense

Russian and Iranian government officials have not been invited to this year’s Munich Security Conference, as they did not seem open to meaningful dialogue, according to the man chairing the annual event. – Reuters

As the U.S. Army seeks to drastically ramp up its 155mm munitions production to 100,000 a month by the end of 2025, the biggest concern for the service’s acquisition chief is being able to secure enough explosives to fill them. – Defense News

The latest edition of hand-held equipment U.S. Army soldiers can use to navigate and sync maneuvers performed well in the presence of simulated enemy electronic warfare attack, according to the Pentagon’s independent weapons tester. – Defense News

Faced with a shortfall of more than 7,000 sailors, the head of Navy personnel is tapping into a new population of potential recruits: those who haven’t finished high school. – USNI News