Fdd's overnight brief

January 25, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Beginning last November, an Israeli soldier and members of his reserve unit worked day after day in a northern section of the Gaza Strip to create a wasteland.  Their orders were to clear a 1-kilometer-wide area along the border, the soldier said, as part of an Israeli plan to construct a security zone just inside Gaza—to which Palestinians would be barred entry. – Wall Street Journal

The Israeli military said it was pushing into the west of Khan Younis and was engaged in fierce fighting with some of Hamas’s strongest fighters after encircling the southern Gaza city, where the population has swelled by hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians. – Wall Street Journal

The top U.S. mediator for the Middle East is traveling the region to encourage discussions on the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, but U.S. officials emphasized Wednesday that there was little progress to report. – Washington Post

Israel has declassified more than 30 secret orders made by government and military leaders, which it says rebut the charge that it committed genocide in Gaza, and instead show Israeli efforts to diminish deaths among Palestinian civilians. – New York Times

Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will rule on Friday whether or not they will grant emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide. – Reuters

The United Nations said on Wednesday that Israeli tanks struck a huge U.N. compound in Gaza sheltering displaced Palestinians, causing “mass casualties”, but Israel denied its forces were responsible and suggested Hamas may have launched the shelling. – Reuters

Israeli officials estimate Hamas is getting $8 million to $12 million a month through online donations, much of it through organizations posing as charities to help civilians in Gaza. – Bloomberg

Research conducted by The Jerusalem Post staff and several sources uncovered what appears to be a network of several South African organizations and straw man companies deeply involved with funding Hamas activities through the Al-Quds Foundation, an international group sanctioned by the US and outlawed by Israel, using accounts registered in major local South African banks: Standard Bank, Nedbank, and Absa. – Jerusalem Post 

Editorial: The case cheapens the meaning of genocide, and makes it harder for nations like Israel to defend themselves against terrorists or invaders. The ICJ plans to issue its preliminary order on South Africa’s complaint on Friday, and our advice is to consider the source. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Israel should embark on this now and sketch out a plan for what comes next so that Hamas cannot get a head start on the day after in Gaza and once again manipulate the region and the world into staying in power. Our future depends on the next steps that Israel takes in Gaza. Hamas is trying to exploit this phase to exploit humanitarian aid to Gazans and to recuperate from its losses. – Jerusalem Post

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Mr. Gantz knows full well that he is currently the most popular candidate for prime minister. But he is up against a master of political survival who will stop at nothing to hold on to power. How Mr. Gantz charts his next moves in the coming weeks and months will determine not just his own political fate but also that of the country he has served for the last half-century. – New York Times

Parker Miller writes: Having prudent American and Israeli administrators govern the region alongside sympathetic Arab and United Nations representatives should give Gaza a solid balance until the Palestinians are ready to properly govern themselves. Regardless of how the postwar situation plays out, Israel will have to balance the desires of the international powers, the needs of its people, and the potential of further resistance from Palestinians in its final policy plan. – Washington Examiner

Iran

The U.S. said it would pay up to $15 million for tips on Hossein Hatefi Ardakani, an Iranian businessman who is alleged to have helped acquire technology for attack drones sold to Russia. – Wall Street Journal

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he and Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi agreed at a meeting on Wednesday on the need to avoid steps that could further threaten Middle East stability three months into the Gaza war. – Reuters

Iran’s hardline watchdog body has banned former pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani from standing again in an election in March for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader, state media said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The execution of the ninth man to be hanged over protests that swept Iran in 2022 marks a new stage in Tehran’s rampant use of the death penalty, rights groups say. – Agence France-Presse

Two Iranian protesters partially blinded by security forces during the 2022 nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini have been detained by authorities for continuing to speak out against the Islamic republic’s leadership. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says at least 11 prisoners in Iran are at “imminent risk” of execution, most of whom are Kurdish. In a statement dated January 23, the rights group said all 11 had been sentenced to death on political or security-related charges, which “under international law should never result in the death penalty, a grave violation of the right to life.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Eli Lake writes: It’s almost like there are two policies for the Biden administration. In Washington, the State Department and Treasury Department are still pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran. In Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the U.S. military is at war. This approach to Iran’s proxies is most striking in the U.S. response to the Houthi militias in Yemen. – The Free Press

Russia & Ukraine

All 74 people aboard a Russian military plane, including dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, died when it crashed near the Ukraine border, Russia said on Wednesday, in one of the deadliest incidents in Russia since the start of the war. Russia accused Ukraine of shooting the Ilyushin Il-76 from the sky over the Belgorod region, killing 65 Ukrainian soldiers heading to a prearranged prisoner-exchange site. – Wall Street Journal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia has called for an emergency U.N. Security Council session on Wednesday to discuss the crash of a Russian plane that Moscow says was carrying captured Ukrainian soldiers to a prisoner exchange. – Reuters

Ukraine has managed to boost its Black Sea grain exports to a level not seen since before Russia’s invasion, although the Red Sea shipping crisis poses a new challenge to its crucial agricultural trade. – Reuters

A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would help set the stage for the United States to confiscate Russian assets and hand them over to Ukraine for rebuilding after the destruction of the nearly two-year-long war. – Reuters

One of Russia’s leading manufacturers of fighter jets and civilian aircraft continued to import parts and other equipment from European and U.S. suppliers despite the imposition of Western sanctions following the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Parker Miller writes: However, Russia cannot handle the cost of the war for much longer. Russian casualties are so heavy that it is estimated they have nearly surpassed the number of troops initially deployed to Ukraine in 2022. The Russian army is also plagued with disease, low morale, and desertion. Ukraine’s casualties are also very high, but the backing of the Western powers is what has largely kept it afloat. With large casualties on both sides and waning American support, NATO’s show of strength and continued devotion to Ukraine may give it the boost it needs to overcome its Russian aggressor and end the war – Washington Examiner

Turkey

President Biden sent a letter to four senior members of Congress on Wednesday urging them to quickly approve a $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, following the vote one day earlier by Turkey’s Parliament to allow Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, according to three U.S. officials. – New York Times

The Turkish government has signed contracts to replace some foreign-made weapons with locally produced versions, the Defense Ministry announced. – Defense News

Michael Rubin writes: Few in Washington any longer deny how problematic Turkey’s behavior is. Instead, American officials say Turkey is not the problem; Erdogan is. If that is true, why not delay the delivery of F-16s until after Erdogan’s ouster? After all, the goal must remain Turkey’s defense, not Erdogan’s offense. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: Effective defense requires an appreciation of reality. Turkey no longer provides NATO the foundation or value it once did. Denial about Erdoğan’s ideology or his impact on the Turkish military can be deadly. Rather than embrace wishful thinking and recognizing the impossibility of giving Turkey the boot, it is time to quarantine NATO’s Trojan horse. – Middle East Forum Observer

Arabian Peninsula

Qatar on Wednesday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was obstructing mediation efforts in the Gaza war after a leaked recording allegedly captured him calling the Gulf state “problematic”. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia is preparing to open its first alcohol store in the capital Riyadh which will serve exclusively non-Muslim diplomats, according to a source familiar with the plans and a document. – Reuters

Chinese asset managers are lining up for licenses to operate in Dubai, said Ian Johnston, chief executive of the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), as warming ties between China and the Middle East continue to offer business opportunities. – Reuters

Qatar, one of the world’s top exporters of liquified natural gas, warned Wednesday that its deliveries were affected by ongoing attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping over Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. – Times of Israel

Yemen

The Houthis — an Iran-backed militia that controls northwestern Yemen — have long been skilled producers of propaganda, crafting poetry, television shows and catchy music videos to spread their messages. But they have never had as large an audience as they do now, as the war in the Gaza Strip propels them to the center of a global battle of accounts and attracts new admirers around the world. – New York Times

Yemen’s Houthi authorities have ordered U.S. and British staff of the United Nations and Sanaa-based humanitarian organisations to leave the country within a month, a document and a Houthi official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Maersk (MAERSKb.CO) said explosions nearby forced two ships operated by its U.S. subsidiary and carrying U.S. military supplies to turn around when they were transiting the Bab al-Mandab Strait off Yemen, accompanied by the U.S. Navy. – Reuters

China, the world’s biggest exporter, says it is deeply concerned about tensions in the Red Sea that have upended global trade by forcing many shippers to avoid the Suez Canal. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

A Libyan delegation visited Beirut this week to reopen talks with Lebanese officials on the fate of a prominent Lebanese cleric who has been missing in Libya for decades, and on the release of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s son who has been held in Lebanon for years, officials said. – Associated Press

The United States and Iraq are set to initiate talks on the end of a U.S.-led international military coalition in Iraq and how to replace it with bilateral relations, four sources said, a step forward in a process that was stalled by the Gaza war. – Reuters

Hamdi Malik and Michael Knights write: Intensified U.S. strikes on muqawama leadership in central Baghdad may be needed to push Iraqi government and political leaders over the edge into formally requesting a change of status or an evacuation of U.S. forces. The U.S. wants to control the terms of any withdrawal debate and may not give the militias a clear-cut excuse to try for a new parliamentary action. – Washington Institute

Eli Bar-On, Abdulla Al Junaid, Abdalaziz Alkhamis, Sarah Awaidah, Gedaliah Afterman, and Shlomo Hasson write: As tensions escalate, we are reminded that stability and peace require cooperation, even among foes. The future of the Middle East depends not only on the integrity of borders but also on our ability to take a leap of faith and forge a shared regional vision. For lasting peace and security, all parties must prioritize cooperation over conflict, recognizing our collective existence and intertwined future. As people of the region, shaped by its past and invested in its future, we believe that while working with our influential regional networks, we can help shape a new vision to lead our region. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said it tested its new strategic cruise missile on Wednesday, state media KCNA reported on Thursday, confirming what the South Korean military said the day before. – Reuters

Russia’s top diplomat accused the United States, South Korea and Japan on Wednesday of preparing for war with North Korea. – Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for ways to be found to improve economic development after saying that a failure to provide people with basic living necessities including food is a “serious political issue”, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Editorial: North Korea is now an established nuclear weapons power and continues to expand its arsenal of missiles and other technology, such as hypersonic glide vehicles. Mr. Kim might use this growing muscle for leverage and threat, as in the past. Or his saber-rattling could portend something much worse. The United States can hope that Mr. Kim’s recent provocations amount to just more bluster. But the Biden administration should plan as though they are more serious. – Washington Post

John Bolton writes: With the Biden administration overwhelmed and a presidential election looming, Pyongyang and Beijing may well believe their window of opportunity has arrived. By rallying the North’s people, rewriting its constitution, and abolishing the machinery of reunification diplomacy, Mr. Kim could be preparing to jump through it. – Wall Street Journal

China

Asia’s top financial executives expect geopolitical tensions, the coming U.S election and Beijing’s policy uncertainty to keep shaking confidence in China investment in 2024, as investors target other regional markets such as India for better returns. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s top court on Thursday restored a prominent detained activist’s conviction over a banned vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, marking the latest setback for the city’s democracy supporters. – Associated Press

Alex Velez-Green writes: The administration may not want to confront China, but Xi Jinping is clearly preparing for war with the United States. So long as the administration is determined to avoid doing what is required to deter China, then risk of conflict will only grow. – Heritage Foundation

Douglas London writes: If we want to prevail over China, as well as all else that threatens us in this increasingly dangerous world, rethinking how we fund the CIA strikes me as a reasonable and nonpartisan national security imperative. – The Hill

South Asia

India is deploying a growing number of warships to counter rebel attacks on commercial ships plying around the Middle East, while steering clear of joining the official U.S.-led force in the Red Sea, as it looks to protect its ties with Iran. – Wall Street Journal

A Canadian commission appointed to probe foreign interference in its elections asked the Canadian government on Wednesday for documents related to possible Indian involvement in the 2019 and 2021 elections. – Wall Street Journal

Sri Lanka’s lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill to regulate online content, the speaker of the parliament announced, a law which opposition politicians and activists allege will muzzle free speech. – Reuters

Asia

China on Wednesday upgraded its diplomatic ties with Uzbekistan and offered closer cooperation across a range of projects, including a Central Asia railway that would open up a new trade route as shippers shun an existing overland link via Russia. – Reuters

An unusually large delegation of about 200 Japanese business leaders arrived in China this week to bolster economic relations in the first such visit in more than four years and in the face of geopolitical headwinds that have strained bilateral ties. – Reuters

The Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday said China’s claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea were backed by “history” after Vietnam over the weekend repeated it had sufficient evidence to claim sovereignty over the islands. – Reuters

The first batch of new recruits began serving their one-year compulsory military service in Taiwan on Thursday after the conscription period was extended from four months due to government concerns about China’s rising military threat. – Reuters

Taiwan president-elect Lai Ching-te said on Thursday he hopes that the United States can continue to firmly support Taiwan, as he met the first group of U.S. lawmakers to visit Taipei since he won an election earlier this month. – Reuters

China’s military said it organized troops to follow and monitor a U.S. destroyer that transited through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, according to a statement. A spokesperson for the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army said the USS John Finn destroyer “openly hyped” up the passage, in a statement released late Wednesday. – Reuters

Myanmar’s military government is denying reports that it sentenced six army generals to death or life imprisonment for their surrender this month of a regional military command headquarters on the border with China to an alliance of ethnic armed groups. – Associated Press

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will deliver the keynote address at Asia’s top security summit this year, giving the Southeast Asian leader a high-profile platform to speak amid tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea. – Bloomberg

James Stavridis writes: The crises that grab the headlines and occupy the time of the National Security Council staff are obvious and demanding: a turbulent Middle East and a grinding war in Ukraine. But we cannot afford to ignore the relentless and aggressive geo-economic strategy of China in the Global South. – Bloomberg

Avinash Paliwal writes: The various resistance groups will need to negotiate settlements among themselves to ensure that a potential post-junta Myanmar does not descend into a civil war, as happened in Afghanistan when its government collapsed in the 1990s. To avoid Afghanistan’s fate, Myanmar’s resistance should take a page from the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, which put a premium on national reconciliation over centralizing power. Only then will Myanmar have a fighting chance of emerging as a federal democracy. – Foreign Affairs

Europe

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary pledged on Wednesday to push legislators to vote for Sweden’s admittance into NATO, as he faced mounting pressure as the last holdout blocking its entry to the military alliance. – New York Times

The European Union issued a series of modest proposals aimed at protecting some key technologies as it tries to counter a growing rivalry with China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – Bloomberg

It’s a tough sell. Tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs who live and work in Kosovo but stubbornly reject the country’s official currency have a week to ditch the dinar in their daily lives. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 

Lee Hockstader writes: That would be the top priority for Rutte if he is selected to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as NATO’s secretary general. A close second on the priority list, if Trump is elected, would be managing a mercurial president — a job for which Rutte, who deployed both flattery and a firm hand in dealing with Trump when he was president, might be quite well suited. – Washington Post

Marc Champion writes: A victim of its own legal box-ticking, the bloc has muddied the issue by releasing about a third of the funds in return for on-paper compliance with judicial reform demands, while holding money back for failings in some policy areas the EU should be leaving to nation-states. Equally, should Orban undermine NATO’s security on Russia’s behalf, he must be isolated. Hungary’s leader will exploit any weakness, but he is a problem to be managed, rather than solved. – Bloomberg

Africa

Iran has supplied Sudan’s army with combat drones, taking sides in a disastrous civil war fueled by proxies keen for Red Sea access that has displaced millions and risks destabilizing the wider region, according to senior Western officials. – Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday met Chadian leader Mahamat Idriss Deby in the Kremlin, courting a country that had previously maintained a pro-Western policy and spurned Russia’s recent outreach in Africa’s Sahel region. – Reuters

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Wednesday her government plane had to make an unplanned stopover in Saudi Arabia on the way to a visit to Djibouti as it lacked a permit to fly over Eritrea. – Reuters

Ethiopia’s deal to lease a port in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland has infuriated the government in Mogadishu and prompted concern it will further destabilise the Horn of Africa region. – Reuters

The prospect of peace in Sudan appears remote, with the next, tangible step towards ending the war between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army difficult to identify, Norway’s international development minister said. – Reuters

Russia bolstered its influence in the troubled Sahel region of West Africa with about 100 military personnel from the country arriving in Burkina Faso on Wednesday, the first large deployment in that nation. – Bloomberg

Over the decades, Kagame has become possibly the West’s most important African ally [..] The Americans would like his army to assume a piece of the mercenary business long dominated by Russia’s Wagner Group. – Bloomberg

Caleb Weiss and James Barnett write: Without the continued intelligence-sharing between the three major parties to this crisis, al-Shabaab also stands to expand its mobilization and recruitment bases, which further puts all three parties at risk of fresh acts of terror. Failing that, the region risks further confusion and, potentially, bloodshed from which jihadis, particularly al-Qaeda’s al-Shabaab, stand to benefit. – War on the Rocks

Latin America

It has been six weeks since President Javier Milei took office in Argentina, and since then, gas prices have doubled, inflation has soared and the value of the national currency has plummeted. Such turmoil, he had warned, should be expected. Fixing decades of economic problems would first require more pain, he said. Yet on Wednesday, many Argentines took to the streets to show they have already had enough. – New York Times

A top Biden administration official said that the US is concerned by actions that Venezuela’s government has taken against the opposition and civil society a few months after an agreement aimed at fostering a competitive and fair vote in presidential elections later this year. – Bloomberg

The foreign ministers of Venezuela and Guyana will meet Thursday in Brazil, following through on a pledge last month aimed at mitigating tensions over the disputed Essequibo territory. – Bloomberg

Guillaume Long and Alexander Main write: Próspera’s $10.8 billion claim is equivalent to roughly two-thirds of Honduras’s annual state budget. Such an arbitration decision would simply render the country bankrupt. It is time for the growing number of ISDS critics, including the current U.S. administration, to go beyond the “do as I say, not as I do” mantra and support Honduras’s democratic sovereignty in the face of an egregious case of corporate abuse. – Foreign Policy

United States

If the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States has taken on an air of special pleading in recent weeks, it is because Britain, rock solid in its support for Ukraine, now views its role as bucking up an ally for whom aid to the embattled country has become a political obstacle course. – New York Times

An overwhelming majority of President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats in the Senate on Wednesday backed a statement reiterating U.S. support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – Reuters

The United States is not at war, but entanglement in multiple military fronts — plus the ongoing migrant strife along the US-Mexico border — is not an ideal environment for Biden as he ramps up his campaign for reelection in November. – Agence France-Presse

Cybersecurity

Pro-Ukraine hackers have reportedly breached a Russian scientific research center, Ukraine’s defense intelligence directorate (GUR) said. – The Record

North Korean state hackers are targeting media organizations and high-profile academics in a new espionage campaign, according to a new report released this week. – The Record

Robert F. Powelson writes: Protecting our water and wastewater systems is vital to our health and safety as well as our economic and national security. As cyberattacks continue to grow more sophisticated and the threats continue to grow, we must improve cybersecurity across the entire water and wastewater sector to protect our communities. – The Hill

Defense

The future of a US military drone base in Niger hinges on the ruling junta’s efforts to restore democracy and release ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, a top US official said Wednesday. – Bloomberg

Lockheed Martin’s production of the latest upgraded F-35 Joint Strike Fighters is slipping further behind schedule, and deliveries likely will not resume until the third quarter of 2024, the company said Tuesday. – Defense News

William Alberque writes: Russian thinking on nuclear weapons, and NSNWs in particular, appears consistent with certain strands of Soviet thinking, but with significant discontinuities due to improvements in the accuracy and lethality of a variety of short-, medium- and long-range artillery and missiles. Examining this scholarship systematically, through three eras — the Cold War, post-Cold War to Crimea, and Crimea to today — can provide critical insights. More work is needed, and time is short. – Defense News