Fdd's overnight brief

January 18, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News


Israel withdrew thousands of troops from Gaza following pressure from the U.S. to transition to a more surgical phase of its war against Hamas, a move that has sparked concerns among some Israeli officials that the pullout could leave the country vulnerable to another surge in militant activity. – Wall Street Journal

Scores of displaced Palestinians fled the grounds of a hospital in southern Gaza as fighting raged on Wednesday in and around the city of Khan Younis, where the Israeli military says it is trying to crush a Hamas stronghold. – New York Times

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly rejected a proposal from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that would have seen Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Jerusalem agreeing to provide the Palestinians with a pathway toward statehood. – Times of Israel

Israel pressed its assault on Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Wednesday, sending tanks westwards while Jordan decried shelling that badly damaged its field hospital in the city. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Israel cannot achieve “genuine security” without a pathway to a Palestinian state, insisting such a move could help unify the Middle East and isolate Israel’s top rival: Iran. – Associated Press

A shipment of medicine for dozens of hostages held by Hamas arrived in Gaza on Wednesday, part of a France- and Qatar- mediated deal that marked the first agreement between Israel and the militant group since a weeklong cease-fire in November. – Associated Press

Qatar said it sought a small window of opportunity for a hostage deal as the trucks of medicine headed to Gaza on Wednesday night with drugs for the captives held in the enclave renewed hope for a second agreement to secure additional releases. – Jerusalem Post

The likelihood that Israel will be drawn into a war in Lebanon is growing, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Wednesday, hours after Hamas terrorists fired a barrage of rockets at a northern Israel town. – Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday a soldier was killed fighting in the Gaza Strip, and another two reservists were killed a day earlier, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 193. – Times of Israel

Editorial: It is doubly hurtful, however, when these accusations, and the attempts to tie Israel’s hands, come from Jews. But one shouldn’t be surprised: Jewish history, with all its glory, is replete with instances of Jews blind, indifferent, and worse, to the plight of their brethren. – Jerusalem Post

Marc Champion writes: Changing Israel’s behavior toward the occupied territories is an essential requirement for restoring stability in the Middle East, but it’s only part of the solution. Israel won’t relent until the root threat posed to it by Iran and its proxies also gets addressed, even once Netanyahu and his extremist coalition are out of the picture. No matter how much you hate US hegemony, only a tougher, braver wielding of sticks and carrots against the governments of both countries is likely to work. – Bloomberg


Pakistan carried out airstrikes early Thursday inside Iranian territory, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said, killing Pakistani militants there. – Wall Street Journal

After hitting targets in neighboring Pakistan, Iraq and Syria with missiles, Iran talked tough on Wednesday, playing up — to friends and foes alike — not only its military capabilities but its determination to strike enemies at will. – New York Times

British foreign secretary David Cameron met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum, UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said in a statement. – Reuters

Iran‘s foreign minister said on Wednesday that attacks against Israel and its interests by the “Axis of Resistance” will stop if the Gaza war ends, warning that the conflict could heighten tensions across the Middle East. – Reuters

A member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was shot dead in the country’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday. – Reuters

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart to soon sign a new interstate treaty between the two countries which was in the final stages of being agreed. – Reuters

“High-profile” experts working on Middle Eastern affairs at universities and research organizations in Belgium, France, Gaza, Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. have been targeted by hackers allegedly connected to the Iranian government, according to a new report from Microsoft. – The Record

Michael Rubin writes: If Khamenei and Raisi are as certain as they claim that they have popular legitimacy, invite in UN observers and international monitors and hold a new referendum with a simple question: “Do you want an Islamic Republic?” if the answer is no, consider the Islamic Republic dissolved and prepare for a new, democratic constitutional order. – Middle East Forum Observer

Emil Avdaliani writes: The Russo-Iranian alignment, paralleling Moscow’s ties with other Eurasian and Middle East powers, signifies a major shift in global dynamics. The war in Ukraine, Sino-US competition, and China’s rising influence in the Middle East will likely further solidify the rogue-state cooperation between Tehran and Moscow. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Russia & Ukraine

For a microcosm of how the war in Ukraine has warped Russia’s economy, look no further than a carton of eggs. The grocery staple has been in short supply in recent months and prices have skyrocketed, prompting Russians from Belgorod to Siberia to form lines reminiscent of Soviet times. – Wall Street Journal

Russia launched 33 drones and two missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defences destroying 22 drones, the Ukrainian military said on Thursday. – Reuters

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Ukraine and its people on Wednesday to seize the initiative to help determine the course of the 22-month-old war against Russia and secure world-wide support. – Reuters

Russia said on Wednesday its forces had carried out a precision strike a day earlier on a building housing “foreign fighters” in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv. – Reuters

Ukrainian leaders made no secret of wanting to meet with Chinese officials in Switzerland this week but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has headed home without the desired encounter in a blow to Kyiv. – Politico

Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in the Russian region of Bashkortostan on Wednesday in a rare display of public outrage after a court convicted a local activist and sentenced him to prison, media reports and rights groups said. – Associated Press

Glen E. Howard writes: As Clausewitz reminded us nearly two centuries ago, it is up to military strategists to identify the “decisive point” and concentrate upon it. President Zelensky has urged us to keep in mind that the decisive terrain is Crimea, and that Germany’s Taurus cruise missile could be the one weapon provided by the West to help Ukraine destroy the Kerch Straits Bridge — and make 2024 a turning point in the war. – The Hill

David Lewis writes: With the frontline at a territorial stalemate, Ukraine’s chances of regaining full control of the occupied territories by force of arms in 2024 appear slim. Any armistice or freezing of the conflict would draw a line through southern and eastern Ukraine, leaving millions of Ukrainians under Russian rule. As the war grinds on, Russia has time to further consolidate its political, economic, and administrative occupation, making the eventual reintegration of these territories back into Ukraine increasingly difficult. – Foreign Affairs

Andriy Zagorodnyuk writes: The war in Ukraine may be proceeding much more slowly than it was before, but the West must remember that history is full of protracted conflicts—many wars take years to complete and win. Nothing happening on the battlefield today justifies strategic weakness or despair. Russia’s presence in Ukraine, its potential to mobilize, and its industrial base are large but finite. Ukraine has an unwavering determination to win. If Kyiv is backed by the combined Western economy, and even a fraction of the West’s combined defense budgets, it will be fully capable of succeeding. In these circumstances, victory is not a question of possibility. It is, instead, a question of the correct strategy and policy. Most of all, it is a question of choice. – Foreign Affairs

Can Kasapoğlu writes: Ukraine’s 35th Marine Brigade has established a stubborn presence along Krynky’s Russian-occupied left bank, inflicting heavy casualties on Russia’s newly formed 18th Combined Army. According to Ukrainian sources, the 17th Tank Regiment from the Russian 70th Motorized Rifle Division has spent the previous two weeks evacuating disabled armored vehicles from the battlefield across the T-2206 highway south of Krynky. – Hudson Institute


From their perch on the eastern side of the Red Sea, the Yemen-based Houthi rebels pose what could be one of the biggest threats to global shipping and, by extension, the world economy. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military said on Wednesday its forces conducted strikes on 14 Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired from Yemen, in the fourth day of U.S. strikes in less than a week. – Reuters

Daniel Henninger writes: America’s politics is rife with sentiment, and perhaps today sentiment is all one needs to win a nomination for the U.S. presidency. The Houthis have voted early on calling America’s bluff. On to New Hampshire. – Wall Street Journal

James Robbins writes: Houthi leaders have said that they will end their campaign against Red Sea shipping when there is a ceasefire in Gaza, leading some to argue that the onus is on the United States to pressure Israel to suspend its fight against Hamas. But bowing to Houthi—and Iranian—pressure tactics would be a sign of weakness and reward the Houthis for high-seas terrorism. Clearly, however, a continuing campaign of pinprick attacks and defensive measures will not deter aggression or remove the threat. Rather than explaining away Coalition attacks as an exercise in messaging, Western leaders should threaten the Houthis with more vigorous and deadly retaliatory action should they continue their campaign against regional shipping. If the Houthis believe in “death to America,” the least we can do is return the sentiment. – The National Interest

Gulf States

A criminal court in Qatar has sentenced the Gulf Arab state’s former finance minister to 20 years in prison for laundering more than $5.6 billion, according to a document outlining the judgment seen by Reuters. – Reuters

The Iraqi and Saudi foreign ministers discussed in a phone call on Wednesday the latest regional and international developments, led by the Iranian attack on Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement. – Reuters

Kuwait on Wednesday formed a government headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, the state news agency said, the country’s first cabinet after the death of its previous ruler. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Biden administration officials say the path toward a more stable Middle East goes through the ruins of Gaza. But that goal keeps running into the harsh realities of a region plunged into conflict. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq’s prime minister said the U.S.-led military coalition that has been helping his country fight Islamic State militants is no longer needed, though he still wants strong ties with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

Iran-backed Hezbollah has rebuffed Washington’s initial ideas for cooling tit-for-tat fighting with neighbouring Israel, such as pulling its fighters further from the border, but remains open to U.S. diplomacy to avoid a ruinous war, Lebanese officials said. – Reuters

Daniel Byman and Seth G. Jones write: Deterrence rests, in part, on the credible threat of more pain. These actions will not guarantee that a regional war will be averted. But they should impact the cost-benefit calculations of Iran and its partners and make it clear that a regional war will be devastating—and that is a big step forward in effective deterrence. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Korean Peninsula

Even for a nation that has perfected the provocative, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s declaration that he would abandon the existential goal of reconciling with rival South Korea was a shock. But a closer look shows it’s the almost inevitable culmination of years of building tension. – Associated Press

Nicholas Kristof writes: What I’ve mostly learned from covering North Korea is not to make predictions about it. But it seems prudent to me for the Biden administration to step up diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang, to try to engage China at senior levels on this issue, to allocate intelligence assets to better understand North Korean risks and to ensure that our military forces are prepared. None of us know what will happen, and it would be wise to be ready for anything. – New York Times

James Stavridis writes: The good news is that while the North Korean dictator will leverage his new sense of importance, he will almost certainly stop short of military action against the south. That’s anathema to his sponsors in Beijing and Moscow. Still, for an America embroiled in two wars already, the increasingly angry rhetoric on the Korean peninsula is more than a distraction — it is another real threat to destabilize the American-led global order. – Bloomberg

Bruce W. Bennett writes: Against any of these actions, North Korea could potentially escalate. Thus the ROK and the U.S. would need to include in their planning how they might respond to such escalations. And in some cases, they should be open about such retaliatory threats. Unless Kim concludes that the ROK and the U.S. are finally serious about reining in his provocations, threats, and nuclear weapon development, Kim might eventually establish a form of dominance on the Korean Peninsula or push the Korean Peninsula into a nuclear war that no one wants. – The National Interest


A U.S. congressional committee on China has sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy raising doubts about a plan to move fuel from Hawaii to storage facilities across the Indo-Pacific and warning that the U.S. military risks being unprepared for a possible conflict. – Reuters

China and the Philippines agreed to improve maritime communication and to properly manage conflicts and differences through friendly talks in regards to issues around the South China Sea, their foreign ministries said in a statement. – Reuters

China would like to deepen economic and trade cooperation with Ireland, particularly in areas of “huge potential” such as green technologies and the digital economy, Premier Li Qiang said on Wednesday during a trip to Dublin. – Reuters

US and Chinese officials will meet in Beijing this week for financial talks, the latest sign of the improvement in ties between the world’s two largest economies. – Bloomberg

Minxin Pei writes: In the Red Sea, US President Joe Biden’s administration has wisely done what it can to rope in several allies, in particular the UK. But the US is still doing most of the military heavy lifting — a fact certainly not lost on Chinese strategists. Whatever the impact of Houthi attacks on China’s trade, the price for now must seem well worth it. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Pakistan recalled its ambassador from neighbouring Iran on Wednesday to protest at a “blatant breach” of its sovereignty after Tehran said it launched missile attacks on militant bases in southwestern Pakistan. – Reuters

India’s navy said on Thursday that it responded to a drone attack distress call from a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel in the Gulf of Aden and that the ship’s crew were safe, with a fire on board under control. – Reuters

Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed at least two times in 2022 along their Himalayan frontier where they have been involved in a bitter standoff since 2020, according to new details that have emerged from the Indian Army’s gallantry award citations. – Reuters

Sadanand Dhume writes: But just because Nehru and his successors failed to devise a viable framework for pluralism in India doesn’t mean that Mr. Modi will succeed. Hindu nationalists have struggled to accommodate the 1 in 5 Indians who profess a faith other than Hinduism. Their preoccupation with the past makes harmony with Indian Muslims unlikely. For the foreseeable future, religious conflict will likely remain a leitmotif for the world’s most populous nation. – Wall Street Journal

Salil Tripathi writes: The BNP boycotted the elections in 2014, participated in 2018, and returned to its boycott in 2024. None of this serves Bangladeshis well. The country’s nongovernmental sector has earned praise for its development work at home, and one Bangladeshi NGO operates in several African and Asian countries as well. Domestic NGOs’ development initiatives promoting public health and women’s empowerment are outstanding, and many socioeconomic achievements have taken place because of these volunteers. But its citizens now feel helpless: They live in a country that has the appearance of democracy but has been drained of its spirit. If Bangladesh’s progress continues, once again, it will be despite its government and not because of it. – Foreign Policy


Australia on Thursday rejected comments by China’s ambassador seeking to deflect blame from China’s navy for the injury of Australian military divers in an incident near Japan in November. – Reuters

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday asked the ministerial cabinet led by Premier Chen Chien-jen to stay on and ensure a smooth handover after it submitted its customary post-election joint resignation. – Reuters

Taiwan’s remaining Pacific Island allies have pledged support in the wake of Nauru cutting ties on Monday days after a presidential election, a move that whittled Taiwan’s diplomatic footprint in the region to three countries. – Reuters

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto has a commanding lead but is stagnating in popularity just a few weeks out from next month’s election, an opinion poll showed on Thursday, raising the chance of a second-round runoff in June. – Reuters

Taiwan’s defence ministry said it detected 18 Chinese air force planes operating around Taiwan and carrying out “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships on Wednesday, the first large-scale military activity after the Taiwanese election. – Reuters

A court in Thailand on Wednesday acquitted more than two dozen protesters who had occupied Bangkok’s two airports in 2008 of charges of rebellion and terrorism related to their demonstration, which at the time disrupted travel in and out of the country for more than a week. – Associated Press

Singapore’s Transport Minister S. Iswaran resigned after being charged with corruption in the biggest political scandal in almost four decades, which has cast a pall on the city-state known for clean governance. – Bloomberg

The Philippines’ top defense official brushed aside coup rumors against President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., saying the nation’s military that has a history of ouster plots is professional and will follow the chain of command. – Bloomberg

Timothy S. Rich writes: A clear majority of poll respondents said cross-strait relations over the past year had worsened (56.97 percent), with supporters of the KMT and TPP more likely to choose this option (78.13 percent and 61.78 percent, respectively, vs. 46.06 percent of DPP supporters). Regardless of any U.S. commitment, Lai will likely face increased pressure from China and struggle to balance deepening relations with Washington while also not allowing China to justify its own unilateral changes to the status quo. Facing a divided government, the Lai administration may not only struggle to pass military spending and reform bills but also risk mixed messaging—a situation China will be keen to exploit. – Foreign Policy


Polish truckers have lifted their blockade of checkpoints on the border with Ukraine after reaching an agreement with their government, putting an end for now to a two-month protest that has delayed tons of goods from reaching Europe and strained the Ukrainian economy. – New York Times

France on Wednesday became the latest Western country to reject accusations that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, a charge that was recently brought before a United Nations court in The Hague. – New York Times

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik took to the stand on Wednesday in a trial in which he is accused of defying the rulings of an international peace envoy, calling the proceedings a “political process” and attacking prosecutors. – Reuters

Delicate talks to create a new Dutch government around anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders suffered a setback Wednesday when a lingering immigration issue divided the parties involved in brokering a coalition. – Associated Press

A university professor has been arrested in Estonia on suspicion of facilitating and conducting intelligence activity targeting the country. – The Record

Max Bergmann writes: Because the focus is on immediate production not on future systems, such as a future European tank that could compete with U.S. systems, there are no significant impacts on the U.S. defense industry. Europeans are also eager to make the summit successful and are looking for guidance on deliverables that go beyond the standard demand to spend 2 percent on defense. Europe has the financial firepower to step up and support Ukraine. The United States should insist it do so. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


An overnight curfew has been imposed in the Indian Ocean nation of Comoros after violent protests against President Azali Assoumani’s re-election rocked the archipelago, the interior ministry said. – Reuters

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday approved a $941 million lending boost to Kenya, with an immediate disbursement of $624.5 million, offering some relief to the East African country as it battles financial pressures. – Reuters

Three people died and 77 others were injured overnight when an explosives rocked more than 20 buildings in one of Nigeria’s largest cities, authorities said Wednesday, as rescue workers dug through the rubble in search of those feared trapped. – Associated Press

Such inflammatory rhetoric is a key component of South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide at the U.N. world court, a charge Israel denies. South Africa says the language — in comments by Israeli leaders, soldiers and entertainers about Palestinians in Gaza since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack sparked war — is proof of Israel’s intent to commit genocide. – Associated Press

Latin America

Guatemala’s former president is barred from entering the U.S. for accepting bribes, just days after the impoverished Central American nation inaugurated a new president who vowed to root out corruption amid an open confrontation with much of the country’s establishment. – Wall Street Journal 

Bullets flew. Stores and warehouses burned. At the edge of the prime minister’s compound, hundreds of protesters tugged at the gates and set a guard booth on fire. Inside, on the 10th floor of the beige building that housed the office of the country’s leader, he was facing calls to respond forcefully, perhaps even ask the former colonial ruler for help. – New York Times

Just when you thought it was safe to write off Davos as irremediably dull — think Antony Blinken with a side order of Tom Friedman — along comes the self-described “anarcho-capitalist” president of Argentina, Javier Milei, to shake up the Swiss town with a one-two punch to what he perceives to be the “socialist agenda” of various elites. – New York Sun

Michael R. Pompeo writes: America recently marked the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, in which President James Monroe recognized that Latin America and the Caribbean matter to American security and prosperity and that foreign powers should not meddle or settle there. President Biden should heed Monroe’s wisdom and put Maduro’s benefactors—Xi, Putin, and the Ayatollah—on notice, making clear that America will hold them responsible for any breach of Guyana’s sovereignty. – The National Interest

United States

President Biden met with congressional leaders Wednesday in an 11th-hour attempt to break a long-running logjam over his funding request for Ukraine, but there was little sign of a breakthrough on Biden’s top foreign policy goal in the hours after the White House meeting. – Washington Post

James Freeman writes: It’s a strange time even by Washington standards when one has to debate whether bad checks ought to be encouraged or discouraged. As if the finances of the U.S. Treasury aren’t concerning enough, it seems the president also wants to create cause for concern about U.S. financial institutions. – Wall Street Journal

Quinn Marschik writes: Most importantly, Washington should face reality and recognize that China and India are great powers desiring a greater say in regional affairs. We need to begin planning for this new state in a way that avoids starting a conflict while securing U.S. economic interests in the region. Only by shifting to a sustainable and realistic Asia strategy can America preserve its national interests in the region. – The Hill

Matthew Continetti writes: The rest of us aren’t so lucky. We can’t go back in time and correct for the Biden administration’s manifold errors and evasions. We must forge ahead, toward an election that, despite everything, Biden may win. That would be quite a feat—almost as impressive as writing 1,200 words on Team Biden’s awkwardness and incompetence without mentioning the sitting vice president. – Commentary


Small investors in China are using an underground network of brokers and go-betweens to skirt the country’s strict rules on cryptocurrency trading. – Wall Street Journal

The Philippines plans to propose the creation of a Southeast Asian regulatory framework to set rules on artificial intelligence (AI), based on the country’s own draft legislation, the speaker of its Congress said on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers from the Department of Defense as to why it ignored signs that a scientist who got tens of millions of dollars in federal research grants was for years transferring potentially sensitive research on advanced artificial intelligence to China, Newsweek reports exclusively. – Newsweek

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI are warning about potential threats from Chinese-made drones on critical infrastructure. – CyberScoop

Clara Riedenstein and Bill Echikson write: It’s important to let the process play out. Legislative efforts should avoid being overly punitive. Yet violations of the EU’s Digital Services Act can lead to fines of up to 6% of global annual turnover, and up to 10% for violations of the UK’s Online Safety Act. Platforms rationally could respond by harshly moderating, taking down posts out of caution, as we are seeing playing out with Facebook. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The U.S. Marine Corps is pushing two air defense systems closer to fielding this year, as emerging threats in Europe and the Middle East highlight the need to keep Marine units safe from incoming missiles and drones. – Defense News

Spain has answered the urgent call for European nations to ramp up ammo production by awarding local defense contractor Rheinmetall Expal Munitions a multimillion-dollar contract for 120mm munitions and issuing tenders for 155mm artillery shells. – Defense News