Fdd's overnight brief

January 22, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Disagreements between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state after Israel’s war with Hamas have spilled into public view in recent days, threatening to create a deeper rift between Israel and its biggest ally. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli forces have killed 20% to 30% of Hamas’s fighters, U.S. intelligence agencies estimate, a toll that falls short so far of Israel’s goal of destroying the group and shows its resilience after months of war that have laid swaths of the Gaza Strip to ruin. – Wall Street Journal

But as Monte read more in Uncensored Truths, a Telegram group with 2,958 subscribers active on foreign policy and the supposed perils of vaccination, her shock turned to anger. According to the forum, the news reports were wrong: Secretly, Israel was behind the massacre. Monte now argues the Oct. 7 attack was a “false flag” staged by the Israelis — likely with help from the Americans — to justify genocide in Gaza. “Pure evil,” she said. “Israel is like a mad dog off a leash.” – Washington Post

President Biden pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state after the war in Gaza is over and raised options that would limit Palestinian sovereignty to make the prospect more palatable to Israel. – New York Times

In a subterranean compound deep below Khan Younis, a Hamas stronghold in the southern Gaza Strip, the five cells with barred doors that the Israeli military says held hostages abducted from Israel had clearly been constructed long in advance. – New York Times

When Capt. Amit Busi gets a chance to sleep, she does so with her boots on — and in a shared tent in an improvised Israeli military post in northern Gaza. There she commands a company of 83 soldiers, nearly half of them men. It is one of several mixed-gender units fighting in Gaza, where female combat soldiers and officers are serving on the front line for the first time since the war surrounding the establishment of Israel in 1948. – New York Times

Israel’s rejection of calls for a Palestinian state is “very disappointing,” UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in a BBC television interview on Sunday. – Bloomberg

President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time in almost four weeks, amid strains over plans for postwar Gaza. – Bloomberg

Editorial: As the clock ticks for the hostages, and Israeli protests against Mr. Netanyahu’s approach to the issue grow, the country needs a fresh political consensus to enable tough strategic choices. Which brings us to Mr. Eisenkot’s boldest suggestion: new elections, even in wartime. They might bring out the country’s divisions even more starkly, he acknowledged, but are nevertheless needed “to renew trust because right now there is no trust.” – Washington Post

Editorial: Moreover, Netanyahu’s strong stance against a Palestinian state, reiterated in his recent statements, has significant implications for Israel’s long-term peace and security. While his commitment to ensuring Israel’s security is clear, the absence of a viable peace plan could lead to perpetual conflict. The Israeli public, having endured the horrors of war, deserves a road map towards sustainable peace. Netanyahu must articulate a clear vision that goes beyond the immediate military objectives. This vision should address the region’s political future, the humanitarian needs of all affected populations, and the role of international partners in securing long lasting peace. Without this, the cycle of violence is likely to continue, with grave consequences for all parties involved. – Jerusalem Post

Eugene Kontorovich writes: Letting Gazans leave not only would reduce human suffering; it would provide a test and incentive for postwar governance. Refugees often return to their home countries when governance stabilizes after a conflict. For this to happen, the new civilian administration would have to make it a place where Gazans want to live, not where they are prevented from leaving. It seems the administration isn’t so confident the “revitalized Palestinian Authority” it seeks to install in Gaza will be enough of a draw. – Wall Street Journal

Bret Stephens writes: But I struggle to imagine how anyone of good conscience can take any view except to desire — and loudly demand — that Hersh come home to his parents, and Chaim to his daughter and wife, and that Nili be able to bury her father, and that all the hostages, irrespective of every other consideration, be freed and brought home now. It bears repeating everywhere, every day, until the day finally comes. – New York Times

Duvi Honig writes: America must acknowledge that Israel has a track record of being sensitive and surgical in its military operations, risking its own men and women to take great precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Attention, General Bernie Sanders: FYI: If the US were to fight this conflict themselves, as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would not operate with the same level of precision and sensitivity to protect civilian lives as Israel does. – Jerusalem Post

Iran

A U.S. base in Iraq came under fire Saturday and an Israeli strike in Syria killed five members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the country, in the latest signs that the war in Gaza is spreading across the region. – Wall Street Journal

Iran said on Friday that it successfully carried out an air defence drill using drones designed to intercept hostile targets in an area stretching from its southwestern to southeastern coasts, amid heightened tensions in the region. – Reuters

Iran said Saturday it had conducted a successful satellite launch into its highest orbit yet, the latest for a program the West fears improves Tehran’s ballistic missiles. – Associated Press

The sound of a “large explosion” reported in an Iranian city southeast of the capital Tehran was caused by an aircraft flying lower than it was supposed to, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. – Bloomberg

The shape-shifting conflict in the Middle East saw Iran openly go on the offensive for the first time since the war in Gaza began, as Tehran’s latest round of existential brinkmanship with Israel spread further from the tiny Mediterranean enclave. – Bloomberg

Editorial: That may be because the instigator of all this is Iran. None of these militias would stage these attacks without knowing they have the support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If Iran thinks the U.S. won’t put Tehran’s military or commercial assets at risk, it has no incentive to stop the militias from attacking American targets. The U.S. Commander in Chief is supposed to protect U.S. troops from having to risk “traumatic brain injuries” from enemy assault. Where is President Biden? – Wall Street Journal

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: On the nuclear front, they have not come to a strategy of how to halt Iran’s nuclear enrichment now for around three years running. There, America and the Jewish state for now seem to have sufficed with a threat to attack if Iran tries to cross the line to finalize production of a nuclear weapon. Yet, on the other fronts, far more senior Iranian officials and critical assets, and those of their proxies, are going up in smoke than on the Israeli and American side. The question that is still unanswered is: how to return stability to the region in a way that will leave Israeli security improved to avoid the possibility of another October 7 or similar repeat. – Jerusalem Post

Daniel Kawczynski writes: More recently, we all have had Israel to thank for bombing and destroying the Osirak Nuclear Facility in Iraq in 1981, which had been supplied by France. If Israel had not taken that action, Saddam Hussein’s malign threat would have become even greater. The time has come for the UK to work with Israel, Saudi Arabia, the US, and other friendly Gulf states to take on Iran, to defeat its belligerent, expansionist agenda through financial sanctions and increased military expenditure and commitment, and, by such action, to make the Middle East a more stable, harmonious region. – Jerusalem Post

Russia & Ukraine

Ukraine will run out of money within months and be forced to take painful economic measures to keep the government running if aid from the U.S. or Europe doesn’t come through, according to economists and Ukrainian officials. – Wall Street Journal

European Union officials will this week start tackling a new plan to unlock tens of billions of dollars in military assistance for Ukraine, seeking to revamp a critical aid program bogged down by internal divisions. – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine hit a Russian fuel terminal on the Baltic Sea, one of its longest-range strikes yet in a growing effort to damage Russia’s war economy. – Wall Street Journal

At least 27 people were killed Sunday when shells slammed into a Russian-controlled region of eastern Ukraine, local officials and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. – Washington Post

Russia’s parliament began considering a draft bill on Monday which would give the state the power to seize the property of people convicted for defamation of the armed forces or for calling publicly for actions that undermine state security. – Reuters

David J. Kramer, John Herbst, and William Taylor write: With sufficient long-range fires, adequate air defense, a full drone army, squadrons of F-16 fighters — all of which is possible with promised American and European funding — the Ukrainian military can turn the tide and push Russian forces back toward Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders of 1991. Victory for Ukraine is possible, but Western assistance is critical for it to happen. More delay will prove incredibly costly, underscoring the urgency to help Ukraine turn the tide and deal Putin a fatal blow. – The Hill

Alexander J. Motyl writes: Whatever the document’s flaws, its plan for victory in Ukraine proposes a set of policy initiatives that should be amenable to pragmatically oriented Republicans and Democrats, who represent the majority in both houses of Congress. It would be a tragedy if MAGA politics superseded commonsense. – The Hill

Penny Pritzker writes: Together, our security and economic package forms the core of our support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s naked aggression. That’s the double helix at work. If we act now, this package will send a message to friends and foes alike about American leadership, power and resolve when it comes to Ukraine winning this war and its future as a free, independent, democratic, economically prosperous country integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community. – The Hill

Afghanistan

A Russian private jet carrying six people crashed in a remote area of rural Afghanistan but the pilot and some of the others on board survived, the Taliban said Sunday. – Associated Press

A women’s rights advocate with Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern over the treatment of Afghan women activists currently held in Taliban detention. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Michael Rubin writes: Indeed. The second track of the policy would be to let them retreat. The best thing for Afghans of all ethnicities, sects, and sex would be for the Taliban to collapse. Let it. Then, rather than flood the country with aid and have agenda-driven envoys like Khalilzad to fiddle about as if he were a colonial commissar, step aside and let the Afghans rebuild their own country. Be there as a resource when needed, but do no harm. It is a lesson the United States should have learned 22 years ago, but it is not too late. – The Dispatch

Iraq

The Dutch government on Friday summoned the Iranian ambassador to the Netherlands following the death of a Dutch baby in an attack by Iran on Erbil, Iraq. – Reuters

The US ambassador to Iraq met Sunday with former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, the Iraqi politician’s office said, a day after pro-Iran militants struck US forces in the country. – Agence France-Presse

Built more than a decade ago at the height of Iraq’s civil war which tore apart the multi-faith, multi-ethnic country, authorities say the wall must remain to prevent the threat of jihadist violence, even as security has gradually improved across the country. – Agence France-Presse

Staff working for the UN in Iraq are allegedly demanding bribes in return for helping businessmen win contracts on postwar reconstruction projects in the country, a Guardian investigation has found. – The Guardian

Turkey

A leading Turkish soccer club, Basaksehir, has fined an Israeli player and moved him to a team in Israel over a social media post about hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. It was the second time this week that an Israeli player in Turkey was dismissed over a message related to the Israel-Hamas war. – New York Times

A four-man crew including Turkey’s first astronaut arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) early on Saturday for a two-week stay in the latest such mission arranged entirely at commercial expense by Texas-based startup company Axiom Space. – Reuters

Giorgia Meloni met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul Saturday, the Italian premier’s first official trip overseas after her nation took the presidency of the Group of 7 countries. – Bloomberg

Hamas’s Qatar-based leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has held a meeting with the Turkish foreign minister, diplomatic sources said Sunday, in the first official contact between the two for more than three months. – Agence France-Presse

Lebanon

As Israel announces a drawdown of its forces in northern Gaza, the United States is working to head off a second full-scale war in Lebanon, with Israeli officials warning that time for diplomacy is running out. – Washington Post

A member of Israel’s War Cabinet confirmed that early in the war against Hamas in Gaza, an Israeli preemptive strike against Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia was called off at the last minute. – Associated Press

A Hezbollah operative was killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike in southern Lebanon on Sunday, the terror group confirmed, although a security official said the target was a high-level commander who survived. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli air strikes “completely destroyed” at least three houses in southern Lebanon on Friday, official news agency NNA and the mayor of the affected border community said. – Agence France-Presse

Daniel DePetris writes: The talks are underway. Hezbollah, at the very least, remains open to a diplomatic arrangement. The final end product (assuming one can be reached) will, by its very nature, have to split the difference. Israel is unlikely to get a full Hezbollah withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah is unlikely to get Israel to concede much on Gaza. Whatever the case, any diplomatic resolution would be preferable to a second Israel-Hezbollah war. – Washington Examiner

Egypt

The U.S., Egypt and Qatar are pushing Israel and Hamas to join a phased diplomatic process that would start with a release of hostages and, eventually, lead to a withdrawal of Israeli forces and an end to the war in Gaza, diplomats involved in mediating the talks said. – Wall Street Journal

An International Monetary Fund team is currently in Cairo to discuss Egypt’s $3 billion IMF loan and reform program, an IMF spokesperson said on Friday amid discussions about additional funding to ease the country’s Gaza war-related stresses. – Reuters

Egypt’s leader said Sunday his country stands shoulder to shoulder with Somalia in its dispute with landlocked Ethiopia, which struck a deal with Somaliland to obtain access to the sea and establish a marine force base. – Associated Press

Elie Podeh writes: Both Israel and Egypt have a strategic interest in peace. The two states, as the Wikileaks document stated back in 2009, “have a common enemy: Hamas.” Despite hostile public opinion towards Israel and occasional inflammatory political statements, Sisi has led a moderate and sober policy vis-à-vis Israel, even refraining from recalling his ambassador – unlike Egypt’s reaction during the 1982 Lebanon War and the 2000-2004 Intifada. Israel must therefore be attentive to Egyptian sensitivities, avoid inflammatory statements, and resolve the issue of Philadelphi Route control in agreement, behind closed doors, with Egypt and the United States. – Jerusalem Post

Arabian Peninsula

The U.S. military said on Sunday that it has ended its search for two Navy SEALs who were lost at sea during an operation that seized Iranian-made missile parts bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen. – Wall Street Journal

Qatar Energy within weeks could sign a long-term deal to provide liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Indian buyers on cheaper and more flexible terms than existing contracts, trade sources said, as India seeks to meet a goal to increase the fuel’s use. – Reuters

Two British warships collided in a harbor in Bahrain, causing damage to the vessels but no injuries, the Royal Navy said. – Associated Press

The United Arab Emirates urged the US to support an immediate ceasefire of Israel’s war in Gaza, warning that the risk of a regional conflagration is growing daily as the three-month long conflict rages on. – Bloomberg

Firas Modad writes: “The emperor is naked” was quietly whispered after the Iranian attacks on shipping in 2018, and the attacks on Saudi Aramco in September 2019. President Trump’s presence prevented the world from assessing what these attacks meant. But the smartest man in the Middle East, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, subsequently sent a delegation to Iran to discuss “maritime security.” He saw through American security guarantees. Soon, if the Israel-Gaza war is not ended, Yemen will make everyone realize that America is not a reliable security guarantor for its own interests, let alone those of others. This will be doubly so when the Gaza War ends with Hamas still in power. Then “the emperor is naked” will become a deafening roar. – The Hill

Yemen

The Biden administration is crafting plans for a sustained military campaign targeting the Houthis in Yemen after 10 days of strikes failed to halt the group’s attacks on maritime commerce, stoking concern among some officials that an open-ended operation could derail the war-ravaged country’s fragile peace and pull Washington into another unpredictable Middle Eastern conflict. – Washington Post

In just a few months, Yemen’s Houthis have taken an outsize bite out of global shipping — and have begun to threaten the economy of their stated target, Israel. – Washington Post

Commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group are on the ground in Yemen helping to direct and oversee Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping, four regional and two Iranian sources told Reuters. – Reuters

US military action to deter Iranian-backed groups such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels will take time and the Biden administration “will have more to say about it soon,” Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said. – Bloomberg

Editorial: Considering that this threat bears directly on the Philippines, which the U.S. is committed by treaty to defend, Biden’s weakness is fueling a very dangerous fire. The stakes reach far beyond the Red Sea. They also risk encouraging Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate Russia’s aggression in Eastern Europe and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s bellicosity toward South Korea and Japan. Biden must wrench the Houthis’ strategic calculus back toward seeing America as a superpower willing to use its immense power or risk seeing this nation’s enemies gaining ground. – Washington Examiner

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) (2010.SE), opens new tab will go ahead with building a petrochemical complex in southeastern China’s Fujian province, the company said in an exchange filing on Sunday, shoring up Saudi ties with China, the world’s top oil importer. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom was “very worried” that tensions in the Red Sea amid attacks by Yemen’s Houthis and U.S. strikes on Houthi targets could spiral out of control and escalate the conflict in the region. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says the kingdom will not normalize relations with Israel or contribute to Gaza’s reconstruction without a credible pathway to a Palestinian state. – Associated Press

With his eyes toward a Saudi normalization deal with Israel once the Gaza war is over, and in opposition to Palestinian statehood, Likud politician Eli Cohen took up his new role this month as energy minister. – Jerusalem Post

Middle East & North Africa

American, British and European officials are pressuring Israel to let aid for Gaza transit through the Israeli port of Ashdod to help alleviate a metastasizing humanitarian crisis, according to six U.S. and European officials. – New York Times

Israel’s military operation in Gaza has led to destruction and killing on a scale that is “utterly unacceptable,” the United Nations’ secretary general, António Guterres, said on Sunday as Palestinian authorities said that the death toll in the territory since the start of the campaign had surpassed 25,000. – New York Times

The United States and other top powers need to use their influence with Israel to end the ongoing “carnage” in Gaza, Jordan’s Prime Minister, Bisher al Khasawaneh, said on Friday. – Reuters

Libya’s state-owned oil company resumed production at the country’s largest oilfield Sunday, ending a more than two-week hiatus after protesters blocked the facility over fuel shortages. – Associated Press

Heads of states of the Non-Aligned Movement Saturday called Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip “illegal” and strongly condemned indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian civilians, civilian infrastructure and the forced displacement of the Palestinian population. – Associated Press

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week declared South Korea to be an enemy state and formally abandoned the idea of peacefully reunifying the two halves of the peninsula, a bombshell even by his fiery standards. It marked a sharp break from the long-standing principle set by his grandfather and reinforced by his father, compounded by his pronouncement that the North’s nuclear weapons were no longer just for deterrence. – Washington Post

Prosecutors in South Korea have indicted the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency​, charging him with contributing through negligence to the Halloween crowd crush in Seoul in 2022​ that killed nearly 160 people, officials said. – New York Times

North Korea said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his willingness to visit the North at an unspecified “early date” as the countries continue to align in the face of their separate, intensifying confrontations with the United States. – Associated Press

North Korea’s new arsenal of ballistic missiles is set for their first real-world test on the battlefield in Ukraine. But based on the success of US interceptor systems in that conflict, Kim Jong Un may be worried. – Bloomberg

Andreas Kluth writes: Washington should also discreetly expand its renewed diplomacy with Beijing. The two regard each other as adversaries. But both share an interest in preventing even worse chaos in the world, the Chinese all the more so when the (radioactive) hotspot would be at their border. If they send Kim the same coordinated message and mean it, the dictator may yet hold his fire. The message is: If you launch, you’re gone; but we’ll make sure nobody attacks you first. – Bloomberg

China

US and Chinese officials have completed the third meeting of a working group established to cooperate on financial issues, in a step that continues the trend set by the two powers last November to ease tensions. – Associated Press

China’s imports of chipmaking machines jumped last year as firms ramped up investment in an attempt to get around US-led efforts to hobble the nation’s semiconductor industry. – Bloomberg

China and Democratic Republic of Congo are discussing $7 billion in financing as part of a renegotiated minerals-for-infrastructure deal, President Felix Tshisekedi said Saturday at his second inaugural address in the capital, Kinshasa. – Bloomberg

Shay Khatiri and Michael Mazza write: Ideally, a successful campaign to force a conversation in the Middle East about the Uyghurs will lead China to moderate its policies in Xinjiang. Even a minor improvement in conditions for China’s oppressed Muslims would be a major win for American policy. But if Washington only succeeds in preventing China from gaining greater sway in the Middle East, it will still be a worthy outcome. – The Hill

South Asia

When Hindu radicals stormed a 16th-century mosque in this Indian river town and tore it to the ground in 1992, the demolition mortified India’s leaders, ignited religious riots that killed 2,000 people across the country and spurred leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, accused of inciting the mobs, to issue anguished apologies. Thirty-two years later, a grand Hindu temple is taking shape on the hilltop where the mosque once stood — a different hall of worship rising in a much different India. – Washington Post

When Iran and Pakistan traded airstrikes this week, both targeting what they said were militant camps, the exchange raised fears that the upheaval sweeping the Middle East was moving into new territory. – New York Times

The schools and universities in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, closed on Monday after police reported a threat of a terrorist attack at education institutions by a banned militant group. – Bloomberg

Pakistan experienced an internet disruption that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible while jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party held a virtual election rally. – Bloomberg

Asia

Beijing’s closest political partner in Taiwan is fighting to remain relevant in an island democracy where voters increasingly see a future that is detached from an authoritarian China. – Wall Street Journal

Japan landed a spacecraft on the moon Friday, becoming only the fifth country to do so, but a problem with its solar panel could limit the data the country can collect. – Wall Street Journal

The message was aspirational — a graphic illustration of profound insecurity. Taiwan is a democratic not-quite nation of 23 million, threatened by a covetous China, with a future dependent on how the United States responds to the ultimate request: to fight the world’s other superpower if it attacks and endangers the island’s self-rule. – New York Times

Over two months in 2021, an online clothing vendor shared 27 posts on Facebook that included clips from John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” a Fox animated series, and a BBC documentary. The content was deemed offensive to the monarchy, and this week his sentence was extended, to 50 years in prison. It is the harshest penalty to date imposed under a law that makes criticizing royalty a crime, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a group of lawyers providing assistance to people detained after the country’s 2014 military coup. – New York Times

The United States and Japan are looking to make a deal for Japanese shipyards to regularly overhaul and maintain U.S. Navy warships so they can stay in Asian waters ready for any potential conflict, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said on Friday. – Reuters

Taiwan said Monday that six Chinese balloons either flew over the island or through airspace just north of it, while Chinese warplanes and navy ships were also detected in the area. – Associated Press

Europe

A Czech appeals court has ruled that Prague can extradite to the United States an Indian man accused by the U.S. of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil, the Justice Ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

Israel’s plan to destroy Islamist Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza is not working and the European Union must pursue efforts to create a “two-state solution” despite Israeli opposition, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday. – Reuters

The European Union expressed concern on Friday about the detention of a number of journalists in Kyrgyzstan and searches at the offices of media outlets which have been critical of the government. – Reuters

A British politician who was making a speech calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip was interrupted Saturday by pro-Palestinian protesters. – Associated Press

Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams faces a lawsuit by three people who were wounded in bombings attributed to the Irish Republican Army that date back more than 50 years, a judge said Friday. – Associated Press

The European Union will take the next step this week in its effort to recreate itself into a global power that can leverage its massive single market to rebuff coercive actions from the likes of Beijing, Moscow and even Washington. – Bloomberg

Polish President Andrzej Duda accused the European Union of playing politics when it blocked billions of euros in post-pandemic funds for the previous government. – Bloomberg

Finland plans better protections against attacks on critical infrastructure and enhance the resilience of society as part of a new European-wide project. – Bloomberg

The European Union will next week propose new rules to increase powers to screen and potentially block foreign investment in sensitive industries as part of its efforts to ensure economic security. – Bloomberg

The Biden administration’s climate-driven rethinking of U.S. natural gas exports is spooking Europe’s fragile energy industry. – Politico

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin could attack the NATO military alliance in five to eight years. – The Hill

Max Hastings writes: On our eastern side of the Atlantic, we shall be watching the 2024 presidential race with acute apprehension. American leadership is indispensable to the West’s struggle for the cause of the freedom. We fear, as never before in modern times, that another Trump presidency would pose a direct and terrifying threat to the three pillars of our peace, security and prosperity: liberty, stability and international order. Russia and China are striving mightily to divide us. On present course, they are failing. But Donald Trump could be decisive in enabling them to achieve their aim — for us to become the losers of Cold War II. – Bloomberg

Martin Ivens writes: As prime minister, however, Cameron handed over diplomatic responsibility to Germany and France when Russia seized the Crimea and the Donbas in 2014. The British general election this year will be fought about “butter,” not “guns,” as the Conservatives promise more tax cuts, leaving little money left over for defense. We live in unreal times. The barbarians are at the gates, but Europe acts as if they weren’t there. – Bloomberg

Africa

China’s missteps along the vital rail corridor have helped create a surprise opening for the U.S., which finds itself suddenly challenging Beijing’s commercial dominance in the unlikeliest of places: Angola, a southern African country once solidly embedded in the Communist bloc and the continent’s largest recipient of Chinese infrastructure loans. – Wall Street Journal

Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of a notorious paramilitary force fighting for supremacy in Sudan’s civil war, is not the president of his country. Yet on a recent whirlwind tour of six African nations, he was treated just like one. – New York Times

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in one city in Sudan’s West Darfur region last year in ethnic violence by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied Arab militia, according to a United Nations report seen by Reuters on Friday. – Reuters

The International Monetary Fund’s board approved a first review of Ghana’s loan programme on Friday, allowing for the immediate disbursement of about $600 million under its $3 billion bailout programme, it said on Friday. – Reuters

The African Development Bank (AfDB) said on Friday that all its international staff would return to Ethiopia a month after it withdrew the employees following an assault on staff members by government security forces. – Reuters

African leaders on Friday criticized Israel for its military campaign in Gaza and called for an end to the fighting that continues take its toll on mostly civilians. – Associated Press

Sierra Leone’s former president, who was charged with treason earlier this month, arrived in Nigeria on Friday, his lawyer said. – Bloomberg

The government of war-torn Sudan has informed IGAD it is suspending its membership in the east Africa bloc, the foreign ministry loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said Saturday. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

Canada is weighing a number of measures to prevent Mexican nationals from flying into the country to request asylum, a top official said on Sunday, after Quebec’s premier said earlier this week the lack of visa requirements for Mexican travelers meant more refugees were arriving by plane. – Reuters

Pope Francis on Sunday called for the release of hostages, including six nuns, who were kidnapped on a bus in Haiti on Friday, and said he was praying for social harmony in the country. – Reuters

President Joe Biden signaled on Friday that he is hopeful a deal over the U.S.-Mexico border could be worked out next week at least in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and said he was ready to embrace “massive changes.” – Reuters

The Philippines and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation on Friday, a move which Manila’s defence minister said could later lead to a troop pact between the two countries. – Reuters

Latin America

Minnesota comedian Tou Ger Xiong had fallen in love with the expat lifestyle in the vibrant Colombian city of Medellín: stock trading by day, fine dining and dance clubs by night. He was one of a rising number of Americans and foreign nationals who began flocking to the country after the Covid-19 pandemic, some on new digital nomad visas introduced to help spur a growing startup scene. But hours after prosecutors say he went out on a date on Dec. 10, he was calling family and friends back home to wire him $2,000, telling them he had been kidnapped and held for ransom. The next day, police found Xiong’s lifeless body with multiple stab wounds and bruises after being tossed off a 260-foot cliff along the side of a stream in a lush, wooded area of a city renowned for its eternal spring climate and rolling green hills. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday welcomed Brazil’s recent support for Beijing’s “One China policy” that states Taiwan is an inseparable part of China, in a sign of stronger bilateral ties with South America’s largest country. – Reuters

A U.S. court on Friday approved claims by 17 Venezuela-linked creditors, including ConocoPhillips, Rusoro Mining and Koch Industries, to get proceeds from a coming auction of shares in the parent of Venezuela-owned oil refiner Citgo Petroleum to satisfy claims for expropriations and debt defaults. – Reuters

Mexican opposition candidate Xochitl Galvez plans to travel to the US to speak at think tanks and ask for international observers to monitor the leadup to June’s presidential elections as she raises concerns about the government trying to give the ruling party an unfair advantage. – Bloomberg

Editorial: A nationwide strike by Indigenous communities in October galvanized support for the president-elect. Visiting U.S. senators urged the cabinet of outgoing president Alejandro Giammattei to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power. When a prosecutor declared the August election results “null and void,” the State Department canceled visas for around 300 Guatemalans, including two-thirds of members of Congress. After the inaugural ceremony, the State Department announced that Mr. Giammattei is being barred from the United States on grounds of “involvement in significant corruption.” The obstacles Mr. Arévalo must overcome are still large, but his election win and the concerted backing of the Biden administration are signs that democracy in Central America still has a chance. – Washington Post

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: But it can be no accident that with Ms. Montes as the go-to expert, high-ranking U.S. military and civilians internalized the claim that Havana posed no threat to national security. […]Americans are unlikely ever to see the government’s damage assessment report on Mr. Rocha. But Havana’s alliances with terrorist regimes are in the public domain. Draw your own conclusions. – Wall Street Journal

United States

Ron DeSantis ended his presidential bid, a crushing defeat for a figure who once represented the strongest hope for Republicans wanting to move past Donald Trump but one who misread the former president’s durability, overestimated his own political skill and struggled through reboot after reboot. – Wall Street Journal

Family members of a Palestinian American teenager who was fatally shot in the occupied West Bank demanded on Saturday that the authorities find the killer of the 17-year-old, who was hit by a barrage of gunfire, his cousin said, as the two were setting out to have a picnic near their village. – New York Times

Tim Jones and David Dezso write: Sustained efforts to delegitimize the ideologies of groups like Hamas are crucial as well. Government leaders need specific strategies and initiatives to counter extremist propaganda, both online and offline, and support programs that foster critical thinking and psychological resilience against indoctrination. As Americans look at political candidates, they should consider who has clear strategies and knowledge to take on this growing challenge. The threat should not be underestimated — and the best candidates for political offices will understand that. – The Hill

Cybersecurity

Microsoft disclosed Friday that it was targeted by a Russian state-sponsored hacking group that stole information from its senior leadership team and other employees. – Wall Street Journal

With the artificial intelligence boom well underway, lawmakers are racing to crack down on an influx of deepfake pornography, fraud, and phony celebrity endorsements circulating on social media and the internet at-large. – New York Sun

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are reportedly attempting to determine which agency should oversee an antitrust investigation of ChatGPT developer OpenAI and its relationship with Microsoft. – Washington Examiner

Adam Thierer writes: That same sort of principled, pro-innovation federal framework is needed now for AI, but Congress appears incapable of getting even basic things done these days on tech policy. State and local leaders are filling that policy vacuum with a flood of measures that, for better or worse, will create America’s new technology policy framework. If the U.S. hopes to continue to be a global leader in AI and advanced algorithmic technologies, state lawmakers will need to adopt better policies to promote innovation and investment in a sector that has profound ramifications for global competitive advantage and our geopolitical standing as a nation. But it would be better for Congress to take the lead to ensure that happens. – The Hill

Stephen Kent writes: None of this is new. Successful companies and established industries have always sought to use the federal government as both a cudgel and a shield to protect their interests. For those of us chiefly concerned with consumer satisfaction and welfare, there is no temptation to choose winners and losers in the market. Let Apple be Apple, and let consumers choose. – The Hill

Matthew Mittelsteadt writes: The private sector’s actions will be pivotal. Innovators must recognize that AI progress proceeds on a razor’s edge; investments will fail if public trust fails. Just as tech backlash put the brakes on the once-world-leading U.S. nuclear sector, it could stall our leading AI position and create a vacuum for someone else to fill. The industry must take the lead and redirect focus from imagined sci-fi problems and “superalignment” to immediate problems like elections. While perhaps costly, it will pay dividends by laying the building blocks of trust and ensuring society tilts towards progress and true safety. – The Hill

Defense

US lawmakers have banned the Defense Department from buying batteries produced by China’s biggest manufacturers, furthering efforts in Washington to decouple the Pentagon’s supply chain from its geopolitical rival. – Bloomberg

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed a memo in late 2023 that encourages fewer classifications on documents related to the department’s space programs. – Washington Examiner

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is back at home after a weeks-long hospitalization, but he is still in hot water with lawmakers, with a Republican-led inquisition just beginning as to why he and those around him kept his illness and treatment secret. – The Hill

The ambitious program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a brand new, modern version has blown over its budget limit, triggering a Pentagon review, according to the Air Force. – The Hill

Roger Wicker and Deb Fischer write: Despite these challenges, abandoning or downsizing Sentinel isn’t an option. Our nation’s safety and prosperity depend on an updated and fully operational nuclear deterrent. […]We must hold the administration accountable for its failures. But to make up for decades of neglect, our colleagues in Congress must also commit to restoring U.S. industrial health and developing the workforce required to keep America’s nuclear forces armed and ready for any challenge. – Wall Street Journal

Long War

Now, 20 years later, about a dozen relatives who carry the memory of the mostly forgotten attack are heading to another faraway place, Guantánamo Bay, in the U.S.-controlled portion of Cuba. There they will represent the dead for a military jury charged with deciding a prison sentence for two Malaysian men who pleaded guilty to conspiring in the bombings. – New York Times

Ten people received life sentences for attacks last year on government offices in Vietnam, news website VnExpress reported, citing a court verdict for around 100 defendants in the case. – Bloomberg

The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden has claimed he heard him “take his last breath” after he shot the al-Qaeda man in the face three times. Operation Neptune Spear saw the revered SEAL Team 6 hunt down and kill the leader of the terrorist group at his compound in Pakistan. Rob O’Neill was on the mission to Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, and has previously opened up on bin Laden’s final moments. – Daily Express