Fdd's overnight brief

February 9, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Facing growing calls for a new hostage release deal and a clear strategy for postwar Gaza — on the outs with the Israeli public, squeezed by his own government and increasingly at odds with Washington — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in deep political peril. –  Washington Post

Israel’s prime minister said the military would soon go into to an area of Gaza near the border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled, something the United Nations has said would be catastrophic. – New York Times

Just days into captivity, Tamar Metzger felt her energy fading rapidly. She began to notice herself sometimes slipping into what felt like a state of half-consciousness. Slumped against a white ceramic-tile wall that was moist from humidity, she struggled to pace her breath. – Wall Street Journal

U.S. intelligence officials told members of Congress this week that Israel had degraded Hamas’s fighting capabilities but was not close to eliminating the group, the principal war aim of the Israeli government, American officials said. – New York Times

President Biden sharply escalated his criticism of Israel’s approach to the war against Hamas on Thursday, calling military operations in Gaza “over the top” and saying that the suffering of innocent people has “got to stop.” – New York Times

But just hours after speaking to Mr. Blinken, Mr. Netanyahu appeared more intent on delivering a fiery message aimed at his domestic audience. Instead of appearing side by side at a news conference with the secretary of state after they met on Wednesday — as is customary on such trips — the Israeli leader pre-empted him. Meeting on his own with reporters, he denounced the very proposal the Americans saw as a potential opening to a negotiated solution. – New York Times

The United States is aware of reports that two Americans in Gaza were detained by Israeli forces in a raid early on Thursday and is seeking more information, the State Department said. – Reuters

About 30 rockets were fired into northern Israel from Lebanon late Thursday into early Friday, following an Israeli drone strike that seriously wounded a commander of Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, the Israeli army said. – Agence France-Presse

Israel’s reported ongoing destruction of all buildings along the border inside Gaza with the aim of creating a “buffer zone” is a war crime, the United Nations rights chief warned on Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

Israel would be willing to let Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar sail into exile in exchange for the release of all hostages and an end to the Hamas government in Gaza, a half-dozen Israeli officials and senior advisers have told NBC News. – NBC

An IDF intelligence officer, with the mid-level rank of major from the Palestinian analysis branch, has resigned, becoming the first Israeli intelligence officer to resign over the failure to anticipate and warn of Hamas’s October 7 invasion of southern Israel. – Jerusalem Post

Israel has begun the process of replacing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday night as he spoke of the organization, which services 5.9 million Palestinian refugees. – 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

Iran

The Biden administration wants to tighten the screws on Iran’s oil sales to neutralize its support for militants in the Middle East. But squeezing too hard risks inflicting higher prices on both a sluggish global economy and President Joe Biden’s looming election rematch with Donald Trump. – Bloomberg

Meta on Thursday said it had removed the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for violating its content policy. […] Though Meta did not mention the Israel-Hamas war, the company has been under pressure to ban the Iranian leader ever since the October 7 attack by the Tehran-backed terror group Hamas on southern Israel. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will travel to Lebanon and Syria to discuss various regional issues, Iranian and Syrian media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

A small Hamburg bank was at the center of a clandestine financial network Iran relied on for years to funnel money to its terror proxies in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, officials from two western intelligence agencies say. – Politico

US sanctions forbid Western companies from knowingly doing business with Iran. But for the next seven months, long after an advocacy group publicized Sincere 02’s voyage, the ship continued to carry proof of insurance from a surprising place: New York City. – Bloomberg

Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo write: Our first step should be to respond to Iran’s deadly attacks with devastating strikes: not only to end Tehran’s escalation and keep American soldiers safe, but to begin re-establishing the model of deterrence that keeps war at bay. The U.S. military must destroy high-value Iranian targets, including Tehran’s nuclear program, navy and oil infrastructure. Telegraphed strikes on empty warehouses achieve nothing. Appeasement has never worked a single time in history, and it won’t work now. – Wall Street Journal

Jonathan Sweet And Mark Toth write: Iran is already preparing for the next tier. Biden needs to change his calculus. Iran likely believes he lacks the political will to take them on directly during a president election campaign. It is time for the president to prove them wrong before the next U.S. soldier is killed or wounded. – The Hill

Can Kasapoğlu writes: With Tehran moving forward with its space program and Moscow’s reliance on Iranian drone warfare systems growing, dangerous developments likely lie ahead. Iran could soon add ICBM-related items to its wish list in Russia. – Hudson Institute

Russia & Ukraine

Russian leader Vladimir Putin said a prisoner exchange would probably lead to the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, but he declined to give a time frame for the deal and said Gershkovich was caught committing espionage in Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin spent the first 30 minutes of his two-hour interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson giving a revisionist historical tirade on the founding myths of Russia and Ukraine, the breakup of the Soviet Union and NATO expansionism. […]Analysts said Putin’s choice to talk to Carlson was based partly on his perceived sympathy — the former Fox host has repeatedly dismissed criticism of Putin over the years — and the opportunity to appeal to the more MAGA reaches of the Republican Party during an election year. – Washington Post

Russian electoral authorities on Thursday banned the only remaining antiwar candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, from running against President Vladimir Putin in the March election, suggesting a degree of nervousness about an antiwar protest vote amid national war fatigue. – Washington Post

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky removed his top general in the most significant shake-up of the country’s leadership since the full-scale Russian invasion began nearly two years ago. – Wall Street Journal

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone on Thursday and both rejected what they called U.S. interference in the affairs of other countries, the Kremlin said. – Reuters

Editorial: The alternative is a collapse in Ukraine, perhaps even this year, and Republicans will share responsibility. If you think the world seems unsteady now, wait until China, Russia and Iran conclude that Americans are too busy screaming at each other to defend their country and its interests. – Wall Street Journal

Syria

Riad al-Turk, a veteran Syrian opposition leader known as the “Mandela of Syria” after spending nearly two decades in prison for speaking out against his country’s dictatorial regimes, died on Jan. 1 in Eaubonne, a northern suburb of Paris. He was 93. – New York Times

A force that has been the backbone of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State said additional air defences should be deployed in northeast Syria after six of its fighters were killed in a drone attack it blamed on pro-Iran factions. – Reuters

Paulo Pinheiro writes: 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

Iraq

The U.S. drone strike that killed an Iran-backed militia commander in Iraq risks further straining relations with Baghdad and intensifying popular and political pressure on the Iraqi government to expel the U.S.-led coalition aiding the fight against Islamic State in the country. – Wall Street Journal

A commander from Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed armed group in Iraq that the Pentagon has blamed for attacking its troops, was killed in a U.S. strike on Wednesday, the U.S. military said. – Reuters

On Thursday, officials across the Biden administration maintained the strike that killed al-Saadi did not undermine Iraqi sovereignty. According to the Pentagon, the US did not notify Iraq before the strike. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

The Biden administration believes it is still possible to broker a historic normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but the window for an agreement is closing with fighting still under way in Gaza and the U.S. presidential campaign ramping up. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. Treasury Department said on Thursday it had put sanctions on three entities based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and one tanker registered by Liberia for violating a cap placed on the price of Russian oil by a coalition of Western nations. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates said it succeeded in mediating the release of 100 Russian prisoners of war in exchange for 100 war prisoners from the Ukrainian side. – Reuters

Yemen

The U.S. Central Command forces on Thursday conducted seven “self-defense” strikes against four Houthi unmanned surface vessels and seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to be launched against ships in the Red Sea, the U.S. military said. – Reuters

Germany sent a powerful air defence frigate on Thursday to join an European Union naval mission in the Red Sea that will be launched in mid-February to protect merchant ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia. – Reuters

Houthi rebels based in Yemen are equipped with the same Iranian-sourced attack drones as Russian troops invading Ukraine, according to reports from a U.S. intelligence agency. – Defense News

Middle East & North Africa

US President Joe Biden will host Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington on Monday for talks on resolving the Israel-Hamas war, now in its fourth month, the White House said. – Agence France-Presse

Hanin Ghaddar writes: An initiative to permanently secure the Israel-Lebanon border requires a short-term strategy to limit clashes and maybe reach a deal to demarcate the border and implement international resolutions. But it should be coupled with a long-term strategy to target the other pillars of Hezbollah’s power, contain Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon, and thereby curb Iran’s key strength in the region. – Washington Institute

Toby Matthiesen writes: But without such a broad-based and just solution to the Palestinian question, the Middle East will never achieve a durable peace or the kind of political and economic cooperation that many have long dreamed of. The alternative is a never-ending cycle of violence, a decline of Western influence and legitimacy, and the danger not only of wider war but also of a region that is integrating in a quite different way—one that is fundamentally hostile to the West itself. – Foreign Affairs

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country would not hesitate to use all of its military power to wipe out enemies if any of them used force against it as he marked the anniversary of the founding of its military, state media reported on Friday. – Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he has the legal right to annihilate South Korea, in his latest move to threaten his neighbor after starting the year by eliminating the concept of peaceful unification from his state’s national policy. – Bloomberg

South Korea’s intelligence agency says poor conditions for North Koreans working overseas have led to “incidents and accidents”, while researchers report rare protests and unrest in China among workers from a North Korean military-linked trading company. – Reuters

Ralph Cossa writes: Has Kim concluded that he can snatch a South Korean island or conduct some other form of kinetic action short of a major invasion under the (I believe mistaken) impression that his “powerful nuclear deterrent” would prevent the South or the United States from responding? Possibly (hopefully) not, but it’s a possibility that we dismiss at our peril. – The National Interest

China

But there is also a renewed push by some former officials in Australia to try and bring Beijing and Washington together, seeking to build on common interests and de-escalate tensions. – New York Times

Sequoia Capital China, Qualcomm Ventures and three other venture capital firms plowed at least $3 billion into Chinese tech companies that support Beijing’s military and its repression of minorities in Xinjiang, a U.S. congressional report alleged on Thursday. – Reuters

China surprised investors when it unexpectedly named Wu Qing, a 58-year-old market veteran, as the new chairman and Communist Party chief of the nation’s securities regulator. The abrupt appointment — coming just one day before markets close for the Chinese New Year holidays — underscores the urgency Beijing sees in addressing a stubborn rout in the country’s $8 trillion stock market. – Bloomberg

Minxin Pei writes: But they are looking for decisive and intelligent leadership, similar to that displayed three decades ago by hard-charging former premier Zhu Rongji when he became the country’s economic czar. By contrast, the Party’s current ham-fisted approach suggests top leaders have not learned much about how a market economy works. Unless they begin respecting the intelligence of consumers and investors, the markets’ slide will surely resume. – Bloomberg

South Asia

A turbulent election was thrown into further question as results were delayed and mobile-phone service remained suspended early Friday, amid early indications of a surprisingly strong showing by the party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan. – Wall Street Journal

India said on Thursday it would end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with Myanmar for their border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region. – Reuters

About 340 members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police and soldiers have fled into Bangladesh during fighting with an ethnic minority army, Bangladesh’s foreign minister said Thursday. – Associated Press

India on Thursday said it will replace its military personnel in Maldives with civilian technical staff who will operate three aircraft from India that provide humanitarian services. – Associated Press

Annie Pforzheimer and M. Ashraf Haidari write: The future UN Special Envoy’s nearly impossible job is to be the voice of a unitary international position challenging the Taliban’s flagrant violations of human rights. Opening a bilateral embassy — or in any way upgrading U.S. contact with the Taliban — undermines that envoy, negatively affects American security interests and betrays those in Afghanistan still struggling for their rights. – The Hill

Asia

Combat exercises between the United States and the Philippines involving thousands of forces each year will not be affected by America’s focus on the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, a U.S. general said Thursday. – Associated Press

Warships from the United States, Australia and Japan have held joint drills in the South China Sea in defiance of Beijing, which claims sovereignty over virtually the entire strategic waterway. – Associated Press

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a daily briefing Thursday said the latest incident highlighted management problems at TEPCO and questioned its ability to safely carry out the decades-long treated water discharge. – Associated Press

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape on Thursday become the first Pacific leader to address Australia’s parliament, vowing “nothing will come in between our two countries.” – Associated Press

Australia will increase its investment in a homemade aviation combat drone program by A$399 million ($259 million) as part of a broader overhaul of the country’s military which has seen the government clash with senior defense figures. – Bloomberg

Michael J. Mazarr writes: The United States has led the world out of disasters to new forms of coexistence and stability before. If current tensions in the South China Sea escalate into a major confrontation, it will have the chance to do so again. – Foreign Affairs

Europe

The French anti-Islam Reconquete party has said its sole European lawmaker will sit with the eurosceptic group that is home to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, as alliances on Europe’s right shift ahead of elections. – Reuters

A vote in Albania’s parliament to ratify a contested migrant deal with Italy was postponed on Thursday while lawmakers await documents from the Constitutional Court, which last week gave a green light to the plan. – Reuters

A senior member of the Swedish security police said Thursday that Iran has planned attacks on the country, days after local media reported that two Iranians were deported for a plot to kill three Swedish Jews several years ago.- Associated Press

The Department of State this week is making it clear that there will be no American backing of a two-state solution for the divided island of Cyprus. While that is likely to have but scant bearing on the future course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for which Secretary Blinken often evokes a “two-state solution,” the blunt language suggests the perils of dogmatic thinking in a region that is coming apart. – New York Sun

The president of Argentina, Javier Milei, will travel to Italy from Israel on Friday to meet Prime Minister Meloni. […] Ms. Mondino says Italy and Argentina have “many similarities”  including the importance of “attracting new investments.” Mr. Milei, she adds, “must cut public spending and at the same time increase spending to support the poorest classes.” – New York Sun

Sergiy Makogon and Aura Sabadus write: Without a firm and clear stance from the EU’s top echelons, Ukraine faces a daunting challenge as it untangles itself from the intricate web of energy dependencies under pressure from a handful of member states. The situation underscores the need for a united and decisive approach, ensuring that the journey towards energy security is not just a national baby step but a collective stride. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Africa

Russian intelligence agencies are trying to undermine U.S. influence in Africa by spreading disinformation that Africans have been the unwitting test subjects in Pentagon biological research programs and casting aspersions on Western public-health programs, U.S. officials said.  – Wall Street Journal

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS pushed junta-led Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali to reconsider their decision to quit the political and economic alliance, it said on Thursday, warning of the hardships the move would force on their citizens. – Reuters

The head of the European Commission and Spain’s prime minister visited Mauritania on Thursday and promised more funding for the West African country to curb irregular migration to Europe amid a jump in departures. – Reuters

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema said a US-backed project to connect Zambia’s copper mines to an Angolan port offers the nation a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. – Bloomberg

Scott B. MacDonald writes: While Venezuela’s African gambit is not by itself a geopolitical game changer, it is a subtle reminder that geopolitics in Africa are a competitive game. Venezuela adds one more authoritarian finger on the diplomatic scales in favor of countries that do not have the best interests of the United States at heart. – National Interest

The Americas

Nicaragua’s authoritarian government, which has expelled religious leaders, political opponents and journalists, has granted asylum to a former Panamanian president convicted of money laundering, the third former leader from the region to find refuge in Managua. – Wall Street Journal

Brazilian Federal Police seized the passport of former President Jair Bolsonaro Thursday and arrested four of his close allies as authorities narrowed in on the conservative and his aides over allegations that they plotted a military takeover as early as late 2022. – Wall Street Journal 

Nicaragua has filed an application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to join South Africa in its genocide case against Israel, the ICJ, also known as the World Court, said on Thursday. – Reuters

Guatemala has no intention of breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan despite seeking closer economic links with China, President Bernardo Arevalo said on Thursday, pledging to boost ties with both players in parallel. – Reuters

Venezuela said it would respond in a “forceful” way to Exxon Mobil Corp.’s plans to drill in the disputed Essequibo region off the coast of Guyana. – Bloomberg

Editorial: With many Americans dying, it is intolerable simply to wait idly and hope that Obrador will suddenly turn into an effective partner. There must be action from Biden. We know from the previous administration that Obrador understands and responds to threats that would weaken his political position. Biden needs to stop being so weak and naive and get tough with our southern neighbor. – Washington Examiner

United States

President Joe Biden knowingly stored and disclosed classified information kept in unsecured locations at his homes in Virginia and Delaware, according to a scathing report released by the Justice Department Thursday. While federal investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Hur found Biden’s conduct was improper, they stopped short of charging him with any crimes. – Bloomberg

A $95.34 billion bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan advanced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday after Republicans blocked compromise legislation that included a long-sought overhaul of immigration policy. – Reuters

Editorial: All of this also raises a question of double standards regarding Donald Trump’s prosecution for mishandling documents. Mr. Hur is at pains to say that the difference is that Mr. Trump is alleged to have lied about the documents and refused to cooperate, in contrast to Mr. Biden. That may be true, but Mr. Hur’s report will still be front and center as part of Mr. Trump’s defense at his trial. And you can bet it will now be a staple of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. – Wall Street Journal

Cybersecurity

TikTok no longer displays how many times videos with a specific hashtag have been viewed, a change made after researchers used that data point to highlight the huge viewership difference between videos with hashtags for pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian content after the start of the Israel-Gaza war. – Washington Post

More than 100 websites disguised as local news outlets in Europe, Asia and Latin America are pushing pro-China content in a widespread influence campaign linked to a Beijing public relations firm, digital watchdog Citizen Lab has found. – Reuters

The nation’s cybersecurity agency on Thursday launched a program aimed at boosting election security in the states, shoring up support for local offices and hoping to provide reassurance to voters that this year’s presidential elections will be safe and accurate. – Bloomberg

After the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s cybersecurity officials reconsidered their approach to responding to digital threats and went on the offensive. – The Record

Defense

For its next demonstration, dubbed Victus Haze, the Space Force wants to achieve similar satellite delivery and launch timelines, but with a twist. This time, the spacecraft will be required showcase the ability to maneuver from a real-time threat. – Defense News

The Defense Innovation Unit awarded Anduril Industries a contract that will get its Dive family of large-diameter autonomous underwater vehicles into the hands of sailors for operations this year. – Defense News

The U.S. Army is ending its latest effort to build a new armed scout helicopter, known as the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, an abrupt change of direction that marks one of the department’s most significant program cancellations of the last decade. – Defense News

Mick Ryan And Clint Hinote write: For the United States and its allies, success in battle will require a powerful and potent blend of humans and technology. The best evidence — including real-world experiences in Ukraine and Gaza as well as wargaming and experimentation — suggests that the elements of the transformative trinity of technologies, including uncrewed systems, will be fundamental to this blend. Neither technology nor humans alone can provide the strategic edge required by the United States and its allies in deterring aggression and winning conflicts in the future security environment. – War on the Rocks

Long War

Turkish authorities have detained 147 people suspected of having ties to militant group Islamic State in operations across 33 provinces, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on Thursday. – Reuters

Swiss police say a 32-year-old Iranian asylum-seeker was killed by police after he used an axe and a knife to seize more than a dozen hostages for several hours on a train in western Switzerland. No passengers were injured. – Associated Press

Catrina Doxsee, Alexander Palmer, and Riley McCabe write: Overall, the global terrorism threat environment is increasingly complex and diverse, but the outlook is not as bleak as it has been over the past 20 years. Although the threat of terrorism is unlikely to ever disappear, Salafi-jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State currently pose the lowest threat to the United States that they have in many years, and terrorist activity in many regions is either locally contained or trending downward. – Center for Strategic and International Studies