Fdd's overnight brief

January 11, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

The International Court of Justice begins hearings Thursday on South Africa’s accusation of genocide against Israel, contending that the Jewish state’s military response to Hamas attacks launched from Gaza violates the international treaty drafted in the aftermath of Nazi Germany’s systematic extermination of six million Jews. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli strikes in southern and central Gaza intensified on Wednesday despite a pledge by Israel that it would pull out some troops and shift to a more targeted campaign, and pleading from its ally Washington to reduce civilian casualties. – Reuters

The Israeli military said Wednesday it has found evidence that hostages were present in an underground tunnel in the Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, which has become the focus of Israel’s ground offensive. – Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed the Palestinian president Wednesday to reform his government, seeking to rally the region behind postwar plans for Gaza that include concrete steps toward a Palestinian state. – Associated Press 

The United Nations will launch an information-gathering mission at the end of the month over the widespread evidence of sexual assault by Hamas during its devastating October assault on Israel, a spokesman said Wednesday. –  Agence France-Presse

IDF Chief Spokesman Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari on Wednesday night presented evidence to prove that two Gazan journalists killed by the IDF on Sunday were terrorists. – Jerusalem Post

Two ISIS-affiliated terrorists were arrested in December in east Jerusalem by officers of Israel Police’s Jerusalem Division and the Israel Security Service (Shin Bet), the police revealed on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian leaders on Wednesday called for an immediate end to the Gaza war to avert a humanitarian crisis. They met in Aqaba while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on a weeklong regional trip. – Jerusalem Post

Hamas leaders in Gaza, have begun making unilateral decisions on the fighting in the Strip and the possible release of Israeli captives, while ignoring the political leadership of the terror group that resides abroad, according to a report on Thursday, in the Saudi Arabian Elaph newspaper. – Ynet

An investigation conducted by the Israel Police’s Northern District and Shin Bet revealed a network smuggling weapons from Jordan to Israel to arm terrorists and local crime syndicates. – Ynet 

David Ignatius writes: The Biden administration, meanwhile, keeps working to prevent Gaza from spiraling into a wider war — and that’s getting harder, too. President Biden & Co. talked Israel out of attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon immediately after Oct. 7. But Hezbollah rockets have turned northern Israel into a string of evacuated ghost towns, and Israeli officials say flatly that if Hezbollah doesn’t create a buffer zone along the border, Israel will mount an all-out attack to drive it back. – Washington Post

Dr. Mark Goldfeder writes: Hopefully the ICJ will see this cynical ploy for what it is — another example of antisemitic victim blaming by aggressors who think it is deeply unfair for Jewish people to defend themselves, facts and laws and Jewish lives be damned. That, in fact, is the only inference a reasonable person would make. – Fox News 

Noah Feldman writes: Israel rightly sees the importance of showing the world that the Jewish state isn’t genocidal, even though Israelis’ trust in international institutions is as low as it has ever been. The case, which will garner lots of attention, is thus as much a test of the ICJ and its new openness to cases as it is of the underlying legal questions about Israel’s conduct in Gaza. – Bloomberg

Karim Haggag and Omar Auf write: How the United States handles the post-war wreckage of Gaza will therefore be critical. Despite its declared opposition to forced transfer of Palestinians, the Biden administration’s reluctance thus far to exercise any leverage to moderate Israel’s military excesses in the conduct of the war means that its declared position may not be enough to stave off such a scenario. If Washington does not forcefully push back against the prospect of Israel’s ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it may lead to dangerous consequences that will resonate far beyond Gaza itself for decades to come.  – War on the Rocks

Vladimir Pran and Nathan J. Brown write: The international community, led in part by the United States, abandoned anything but feckless diplomacy and vaguely aspirational talk of Palestinian statehood as early as 2006. Reviving that idea would need concrete steps, such as US recognition of the State of Palestine rather than talk of eventual revival of Oslo-era diplomacy. And that, in turn, would require substantial incentives and sharp pressure on Israel. Since there is no sign that such moves are even under consideration, the outcome of “revitalization” will mirror the result of the past three decades of reforms but allow today’s leaders to pass all the problems to their successors. – Middle East Institute 

Jon B. Alterman writes: But the two sides surely have shared interests, not least the desire to create a future of greater security, prosperity, and freedom for their children. Seventy-five years of fighting has not gotten either side what it wanted. Thinking through ways to enlarge definitions and introduce outside monitors will not end conflict, but it could go a long way to end bloodshed. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Iran

Iranian authorities have arrested 35 people in relation to the Jan. 3 attacks in the southeastern city of Kerman, the Intelligence Ministry said on Thursday, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency. – Reuters

An oil tanker previously seized by the US for carrying illicit Iranian oil, was boarded by people in military-style uniforms off the coast of Oman. – Bloomberg

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted in Hebrew on Wednesday, slamming Israel for its “crimes” in the Gaza Strip. – Ynet

Russia & Ukraine

Two Russian missiles struck a hotel late on Wednesday in the centre of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, injuring 11 people, one person seriously, the regional governor said. – Reuters

Rows of white concrete barricades and coils of razor wire stretch across an open field for more than a kilometre. Trenches with rudimentary living quarters are being dug under cover of darkness. Artillery rumbles not far away. – Reuters

The United States, Ukraine and six allies accused Russia on Wednesday of using North Korean ballistic missiles and launchers in a series of devastating aerial attacks against Ukraine, in violation of U.N. sanctions. – Associated Press

Ukraine has shown the world that Russia’s military can be stopped, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday as he began a visit to the Baltic nations in search of more help for his country against the Kremlin’s larger and better-supplied forces in the 22-month-old invasion. – Associated Press

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny joined a court hearing via video link Wednesday, marking his first on-camera appearance since his transfer last month to the remote, high-security penal colony in the Arctic, where he is serving a 19-year sentence for several alleged “extremist” crimes. – The Hill

Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Andriy Yermak write: Still, at this year’s NATO summit in Washington, D.C., in July, the alliance’s leaders would bring the world closer to peace by wholeheartedly embracing Ukrainian membership. The time has come to issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO. That does not mean that Ukraine would become a member overnight, but it would send an unequivocal message to Putin that his war is already lost. – Foreign Affairs

Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov write: Putin’s system of control based on an omnipresent FSB has completely failed. Too much of his new nobility is rotten with graft. Supposedly steely-eyed state operatives have been distracted by unchecked power and the opportunities for self-enrichment. Much like the Bourbons of pre-revolutionary France, the regime has the strength to carry on but lacks the wisdom to learn from its mistakes. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Hezbollah

U.S. officials assess that there’s a rising risk Lebanese Hezbollah militants will strike Americans in the Middle East — and even potentially hit inside the United States, four officials familiar with the intelligence told POLITICO. – Politico

Senior White House adviser Amos Hochstein is expected to visit Beirut on Thursday, a U.S. official said late on Wednesday, as part of U.S. efforts to ease tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border. – Reuters

Following the recent strikes in southern Lebanon attributed to Israel in which senior Hezbollah commanders were targeted in Israeli strikes, the Iran-backed terror organization decided to exercise  caution instructing its operatives to take protective measures. – Ynet

Yemen

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday demanded Yemen’s Houthis immediately end attacks on ships in the Red Sea and cautioned against escalating tensions while implicitly endorsing a U.S.-led task force that has been defending vessels. – Reuters

The head of Yemen’s Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said on Thursday the UN resolution on navigation on the Red Sea is a “political game” and that the United States was the one violating international law. – Reuters

Alexandra Stark writes: These measures cannot fully address the threat that the Houthis pose to U.S. interests and to stability in the region more broadly. But they remain the best among bad options—and the United States has only bad options because of its failed approaches to Yemen over the past 20 years. Washington must not repeat its mistakes. Decades of experience have shown, by now, that military efforts to dislodge the Houthis are unlikely to be effective. Instead, they may merely further devastate the lives of the already struggling people of Yemen. – Foreign Affairs

Middle East & North Africa

Morocco won a vote on Wednesday to lead the United Nations Human Rights Council after a heated showdown with South Africa, which said Rabat’s human rights record made it unfit to preside over the body. – Reuters

Iraq wants a quick and orderly negotiated exit of U.S-led military forces from its soil but has not set a deadline, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said, describing their presence as destabilising amid regional spillover from the Gaza war. – Reuters

Defence systems shot down an armed drone on Wednesday over Erbil airport in northern Iraq where U.S. and other international forces are stationed, Iraqi Kurdistan’s counter-terrorism service said. – Reuters

Piotr Schulkes writes: Whether the Aqaba-Ma’an Railway gets off the ground and manages to stay on track will be a bellwether for the other plans Jordan wants to implement, and will either serve as an encouraging sign or a warning for other investors. While recent events in Israel and Gaza have thrown a wrench into Israel-Saudi normalization talks, if Jordan wants to capitalize on warming relations and trade between these countries in the longer term, it will need to become serious not only about making plans, but implementing them too. – Middle East Institute

China

A new buzzword is emerging in Beijing’s messaging to Washington: the “San Francisco vision”—a veiled warning to the U.S. not to rock the boat after a reset in ties at a November summit in California between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. – Wall Street Journal

China and Taiwan’s largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), warned on Thursday of the danger Taiwan’s ruling party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te could pose to peace if he wins the election this weekend. – Reuters

China and the Maldives upgraded their relationship on Wednesday during newly elected President Mohamed Muizzu’s first state visit to Beijing, following a campaign in which he cast China’s regional rival India as a threat to sovereignty. – Reuters

The United States, in a clear signal to China, opposes any outside interference or influence in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, a senior Biden administration official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

China’s anti-graft watchdog doubled down on a pledge to relentlessly carry out President Xi Jinping’s orders to catch corrupt and disloyal officials, state media said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Senior U.S. and Chinese officials, in a virtual meeting on Wednesday, discussed cooperating on law enforcement issues including the illicit flow of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, the U.S. Department Of Homeland Security said. – Reuters

When President Xi Jinping held talks in California with his US counterpart Joe Biden in November, seated to his right was a man who is quietly emerging as one of China’s most influential politicians. – Bloomberg

China may be responsible for making and posting a large number of fake videos featuring Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen before a pivotal election for her party, the Taipei Times reported. – Bloomberg

Minxin Pei writes: While some in Taiwan may fear being overlooked in such a scenario, the island will only be more secure if US-China ties are less crisis-prone. The US and China pulled off such a balancing act for decades, albeit under more benign circumstances. Pure self-interest should motivate them to try again. – Bloomberg

Matthew P. Funaiole, Brian Hart, and Aidan Powers-Riggs write: India’s cooperation is crucial, and New Delhi has already demonstrated a degree of willingness to engage with partners. Amid simmering tensions with China, India has supported maritime security efforts with members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad). As China charts its course in the Indian Ocean, Washington and its partners should keep a close watch on Chinese actors and explore opportunities to cooperate as an effective ballast. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

South Asia

A liberal political party led by a former prime minister was set to form a new government in Bhutan after winning its fourth free vote since democratic elections began 15 years ago, provisional results by the country’s election body showed on Wednesday. – Reuters

More than 400 Myanmar Army personnel entered India through the porous border in the last two months, India’s army chief General Manoj Pande said on Thursday, as fighting continues between rebel forces in Myanmar and the junta-regime. – Reuters

Ukrainian leaders pitched for India to help rebuild its war-ravaged economy on Wednesday at a business summit organised by India primarily to seek inward global investment. – Reuters

About a dozen armed militants attacked a Pakistani police checkpoint on a northwestern highway before dawn Wednesday, killing three police officers and a civilian before fleeing the scene, authorities said. – Associated Press

The Taliban government in Afghanistan on Wednesday confirmed the resumption of Air Arabia flights to Kabul’s international airport, two years after service stopped following the collapse of the Western-backed government. – Associated Press

 A Taliban official has said several girls and women were detained recently in Kabul for not covering themselves properly, after reports circulated of a crackdown in the Afghan capital. – Agence France-Presse

Mihir Sharma writes: Partly that’s because the Awami League’s long tenure has created strong domestic interest groups and incumbent firms with no interest in altering the status quo. A more modern policy mix — one that broadens access to capital and encourages innovation — isn’t what these entrenched interests want to see. If Sheikh Hasina really wants her country to remain a success, she will need to seek out new supporters. – Bloomberg

Asia

Taiwan’s eighth democratic presidential election, to be held Saturday, is gearing up to be its most consequential yet: It takes place amid increasingly frequent warnings from China’s strongman leader Xi Jinping that Beijing’s rule here is “inevitable” — raising the prospect of a conflict that could draw in the United States. – Washington Post

The government of Papua New Guinea on Wednesday ordered the military to restore order in the capital, Port Moresby, after a dispute over the wages of police officers and other public servants led to angry protests and unrest. – New York Times

The U.S. embassy in Manila said on Thursday that the U.S. delivered fuel from one of its naval bases in Hawaii to a facility inside a former U.S. base in the Philippines in coordination with the government. – Reuters

Myanmar’s junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, met with a special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), state media reported on Thursday, as Laos takes over chairing the bloc, which has encouraged peace efforts in the country. – Reuters

Malaysia and Singapore agreed on Thursday to jointly develop a special economic zone (SEZ) in the southern Malaysian state of Johor, aiming to attract investments and free up movement of goods and people. – Reuters

One of Taiwan’s leading opposition party candidates in Saturday’s presidential election has promised to boost the island’s defense capabilities while restarting dialogue with Beijing, which claims the island as its own. – Associated Press

Nicholas Kristof writes: The Chinese government has made no secret of its unhappiness with Lai’s candidacy, because he and his Democratic Progressive Party view Taiwan as effectively independent rather than as part of China. Beijing sees Lai as a secessionist, calling him a “destroyer of peace” and warning that he could be “the instigator of a potential dangerous war.” – New York Times

Jacob Stokes writes: For its part, U.S. policy toward cross-Strait issues will—and should—stay the same no matter which candidate wins Taiwan’s election. Among other tenets, Washington opposes any unilateral change to the status quo from either side, particularly by coercion or force. The United States will continue to partner with Taiwan to ensure the island has the means to defend itself, while building a regional and global coalition of states to support peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. – Center for a New American Security 

Amanda Hsiao writes: Washington for its part should make explicit its continued adherence to its “one China” policy and lack of support Taiwan’s independence. The Biden administration should seek to maintain open lines of communication with Beijing on Taiwan. Even if an election year makes public statements on the issue too risky for Biden, private assurances can still be conveyed. The administration should also do what it can to coordinate with members of Congress — Republicans will be difficult to influence but working with the Democrats remains important — to minimize the risk that the legislative branch undercuts efforts to signal continuity on cross-strait policies. This is a tall ask in a politically charged year, but it is important that Washington’s stance remain steady amidst the post-election political changes in Taipei. – War on the Rocks

Europe

In Estonia, a four-story banner that combines the flags of Ukraine and Estonia hangs over a main square in the capital, Tallinn. In Latvia, Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins is calling for allies to “ramp up military support to Ukraine without delay.” – New York Times

Poland’s bumpy transition to a new government hit dramatic turbulence on Wednesday when a prominent hard-line minister in the former right-wing administration declared himself a “political prisoner” and announced he was going on a hunger strike to protest his arrest following conviction for abuse of power. – New York Times

Finland’s ministry of defence said on Wednesday it had blocked three real estate transactions, one of which involved a partly Russian-owned company, saying allowing the acquisitions could hamper the defence of Finnish territory. – Reuters

Finland will extend the closure of its border with Russia, which had otherwise been set to end on Jan. 15, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sari Essayah told national broadcaster YLE on Wednesday. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron and his new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal worked on Wednesday to pull together a cabinet, a day after Macron appointed the 34-year-old media-savvy loyalist to breathe new life into his second term. – Reuters

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday he had held constructive talks with China’s President Xi Jinping over the damage inflicted last year to the Balticconnector gas pipeline linking Finland and Estonia. – Reuters

Europe is concerned about developments in the disputed South China Sea where tensions between the Philippines and China have flared up recently, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said. – Bloomberg

Officials from Germany’s far-right AfD attended a meeting with an Austrian extremist leader, the party confirmed Wednesday, but denied any plans to adopt a proposal for mass deportations of immigrants reportedly discussed at the talks. – Agence France-Presse

Belarus state television reported Wednesday that authorities sent a recently arrived group of Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to train with the Belarusian military to learn how to evacuate in the event of a fire. – Fox News

Dalibor Rohac writes: Is it going to be enough? Probably not. By all accounts, the Houthis are much better organised and equipped than the Somali pirates from a few years ago, and they are backed by a highly capable – and malevolent – regional power: Iran. Whilst the United States is seeking to avoid a broader war in the Middle East, a handful of European ships are hardly enough to dissuade the Houthi militias from holding as much as 30 per cent of global container trade hostage. – The Spectator 

Maja Stojanovic writes: Authoritarian rule thrives where democrats fail to support values-based action, rapid organization, and a common vision. If the potential for democratic change is not used in Serbia right now, it would just prove that we, as democratic forces, both domestically and internationally, are not mature enough to achieve this fundamental goal. The ball is in our court. It’s time to act. – Center for European Policy Analysis

 

Africa

Several people were captured and at least one killed Wednesday when a United Nations helicopter made a forced landing in a militant-controlled area of Somalia, according to reports from the Somali military viewed by The Wall Street Journal. – Wall Street Journal

Comoros will vote in an election on Sunday that is expected to deliver a fourth term to President Azali Assoumani, a former military officer whose opponents accuse him of muzzling dissent in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation. – Reuters

Areej Elhag writes: These interconnected regional factors make the RSF a force on a growing political and military power that will be difficult to stop. The group’s success on the battlefield against the Sudanese armed forces is riven by Hemedti’s personal aspirations bolstered by regional players that see him as a new ally in a future Sudanese state. – Washington Institute

The Americas

Ecuador is at war with drug gangs, President Daniel Noboa said Wednesday, as troops patrolled the country’s largest city, Guayaquil, a day after gunmen took over a TV studio and launched a series of attacks against the Andean nation’s new government. – Wall Street Journal

A sense of dread took hold in Ecuador on Wednesday, with the streets empty, schools closed and many people afraid to leave their homes after the disappearance of two gang leaders set off prison riots, police kidnappings and the on-air storming of a TV station. – New York Times

Guyana’s government said it is seeking help from the U.S. to improve its defense capabilities amid fears that neighboring Venezuela might one day seize a disputed region in western Guyana that is rich in minerals and oil. – Associated Press

Mexico’s small Citizen’s Movement party on Wednesday nominated a youthful, little-known congressman to run for president in the June 2 election campaign that has been dominated by two women. – Associated Press 

Karlyn Bowman, Nate Moore, and Ruy Teixeira write: The Biden administration should not sacrifice its principled foreign policy for small, short-term electoral gains. His campaign has bigger problems among larger groups—many of which are core Democratic constituencies. Michigan’s Arab Americans will likely swing towards the GOP in 2024, but concerns that this will cost Biden the election are overblown. – American Enterprise Institute

Cybersecurity

NASA has chosen the technology to help it land future spacecraft on unmapped planets. Meta uses the technology for artificial intelligence. Chinese engineers have turned to it to encrypt data. And it could represent the next front in the semiconductor trade war between the United States and China. – New York Times

Taiwan needs a satellite-based internet provider independent of tech titan Elon Musk, a respected former Taiwanese lawmaker warned. – Washington Examiner

Brian Michelson writes: Lastly, senior leaders will need to be proactive about explaining the moral nature of the conflicts we are facing and what to expect from our adversaries in terms of information warfare. While we are susceptible to the above issues, so are our future opponents. The question is, who will wield these capabilities best? – Center for European Policy Analysis

Defense

The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale of Tomahawk weapons system support services and related equipment to Australia for $250 million, U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The German government has approved the export of air-defense missiles to Saudi Arabia, underlining a softening of its hard line of recent years toward arms exports to the kingdom. – Associated Press

The Australian, U.K. and U.S. trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS, often associated with the construction of nuclear-powered submarines, is also beginning to bear fruit in the fields of artificial intelligence and autonomy. – DefenseNews

Bryan Burack and Wilson Beaver write: Time is short. This year, China’s military aggression toward Taiwan has increased to unprecedented levels. Almost immediately after President Biden’s concessionary summit with Xi Jinping, aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea nearly brought it to the brink of armed conflict with the Philippines—a U.S. treaty ally. – The National Interest