Fdd's overnight brief

January 29, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said it could be forced to suspend its operations if donor states don’t reinstate funding that several countries paused amid allegations from Israeli authorities that a dozen of the agency’s staff participated in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. – Wall Street Journal

As much as 80% of Hamas’s vast warren of tunnels under Gaza remains intact after weeks of Israeli efforts to destroy them, U.S. and Israeli officials said, hampering Israel’s central war aims. Thwarting Hamas’s ability to use tunnels is the keystone to Israel’s effort to capture top Hamas leaders and rescue the remaining Israeli hostages, Israeli officials have said. – Wall Street Journal

International mediators are proposing a deal to secure the release of all the remaining hostages in Gaza in exchange for a roughly four-month cease-fire. The plan offered to Israel and Hamas would lead to an end to the war in Gaza, Egyptian officials said Saturday. – Wall Street Journal

The International Court of Justice declined a plea to order Israel to cease military operations in Gaza following Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks but required the Jewish state to enable humanitarian aid to the enclave’s civilian population and take every measure to prevent destruction of its Palestinian community. – Wall Street Journal

Israeli military and intelligence officials have concluded that a significant number of weapons used by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attacks and in the war in Gaza came from an unlikely source: the Israeli military itself. – New York Times

Argentina’s President Javier Milei said on Friday he would travel to Israel in the “coming weeks,” one of his first overseas trips since the libertarian economist took office last month after pledging strong support for Israel during his campaign. – Reuters

The Biden administration is considering slowing or pausing deliveries of some weapons to Israel to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to heed longstanding US calls to scale back military operations in Gaza, according to NBC News. – Bloomberg

The IDF is expected to ramp up its military presence in the northern Gaza Strip over the upcoming weeks to counter attempts by Hamas to re-establish itself in the area as Israel’s focus moves to the south, Army Radio reported on Monday morning. – Jerusalem Post

A joint operation between the IDF, Shin Bet, and Border Police on counterterrorism in the Jenin refugee camp uncovered weapons and killed one terrorist overnight Sunday. Under the direction of the Menashe Brigade, security forces uncovered explosives and were confronted by additional terrorists. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Unrwa alone has a mandate to perpetuate refugee status that freezes a conflict in place. The Biden Administration, which lauded Unrwa last week, may seek to ward off scrutiny with the funding pause. But there’s more to be done. Gaza will never be a peaceful refuge as long as its friends at the U.N. keep using it for anti-Israel purposes. Unrwa as it currently works doesn’t deserve U.S. support. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The global trend that has guided the West in humanitarian assistance aid for decades is being called into question: Does it work? Can it? And should we, as a democratic-value-oriented country, be supporting it knowing its failures? Israel has taken its stance, it is time for the rest to begin asking these questions as well. The lofty goals of the UN body don’t find roots in the sandy terrain of Gaza, but neither the agency nor the need it serves, are going anywhere anytime soon. It is time for some redirection. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial:  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that the ruling is legally binding and he “trusts” Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Though there is now a legal precedent for international pressure on Israel to comply with the ruling, experts say it is not practically enforceable, and the US is expected to veto any Security Council resolution calling on Israel to stop the war so long as 136 hostages are still being held in Gaza. – Jerusalem Post

Marc Champion writes:  It’s also true that nowhere near enough international attention gets paid to the role Hamas played in first inviting this tragedy on Gaza, and then deliberately using civilians as human shields. It is to South Africa’s shame that it did not do more to acknowledge this in its case against Israel. Yet the conduct of the war, and its framing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government were choices made by them alone. The ICJ ruling should give them pause. – Bloomberg

Iran

Iran views claims it is involved in an attack that killed three U.S. service members in northeastern Jordan near Syria’s border as “baseless”, foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran carried out the death sentences of four people on Monday that it says were linked to an Israeli intelligence operation, after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal, Iranian state media reported. – Reuters

Iran simultaneously launched three satellites for the first time on Sunday using the Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite carrier rocket developed by the Ministry of Defence, state media reported. – Reuters

Unidentified gunmen killed nine Pakistani workers in a restive southeastern border area of Iran on Saturday, Pakistan’s ambassador and Iranian state media said, amid efforts by the two countries to mend ties after tit-for-tat attacks. – Reuters

Mihir Sharma writes: The Westphalian system of the 17th century granted the principalities of Germany peace and eventually prosperity after a bloody century in which they had served as a battlefield for militias and mercenaries — pawns in a conflict between superpowers. Iran and Pakistan ought to recall that the system they are so willing to violate was designed to protect smaller countries, not to prevent them from harming larger ones. Undermining sovereignty helps nobody — middle powers least of all. – Bloomberg

Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar writes:  But even this policy should be based on relentless diplomacy, rather than military strikes. Tehran wants the Houthis to draw Washington back into a cycle of hubris and humiliation, where the mighty United States works to punish ragtag militias only to eventually withdraw with its tail between its legs. The Islamic Republic and the Houthis, in other words, are laying a trap for Washington. U.S. officials must not fall into it. – Foreign Affairs

Russia & Ukraine

As the column of Russian armored vehicles emerged from a forest in northeastern Ukraine, a Ukrainian unit was waiting to launch the kind of ambush that is helping resist Russian efforts to grab more chunks of territory. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian officials stole about $40 million meant for the purchase of ammunition for the military, the country’s internal security service said Saturday — confirming a massive procurement fraud as Kyiv seeks to assure international backers that it is cracking down on corruption. – Washington Post

Russia is increasingly confident that deepening economic and diplomatic ties with China and the Global South will allow it to challenge the international financial system dominated by the United States and undermine the West, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with Russian officials and business executives. – Washington Post

But after nearly two years of bloody fighting, and with Ukraine once again in need of fresh troops to fend off a new Russian push, military leaders can no longer rely solely on enthusiasm. More men are avoiding military service, while calls to demobilize exhausted frontline soldiers have grown. – New York Times

Russia’s Pacific Fleet frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov has conducted an anti-submarine exercise in the South China Sea, Russian news agency reported on Monday, citing the fleet’s press service. – Reuters

Members of a self-exiled Russian rock group known for opposing Moscow’s war in Ukraine face possible deportation home after being arrested in Thailand for breaking immigration rules. – Bloomberg

Irwin Redlener writes: The physical rebuilding of industry, infrastructure, schools and residential communities, alone, could reach nearly $500 billion according to the World Bank. Similar estimates have come from the European Union and the United Nations. By any measure, the cost of post-war recovery will be steep. But we cannot fail to ensure that Ukraine is a safe, secure and future-facing democracy. Furthermore, Russia must never again seek to run roughshod over a free, democratic nation. – The Hill

Hezbollah

Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi spoke out against the escalation of tensions between Hezbollah and Israel on Sunday, saying that residents of southern Lebanon had told the Maronite Church that they refuse to be “sacrificial lambs” for a “culture of death” in an apparent criticism of Hezbollah’s escalation along the border. – Jerusalem Post

The Israel Defense Forces said troops carried out airstrikes on Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon Friday, apparently killing four members of the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group. The strikes came in response to earlier rocket fire from Lebanon. – Times of Israel

The Hezbollah terror group claims to have fired Burkan rockets, which carry heavy warheads, at the Biranit army base near Israel’s northern border. There is no immediate comment from the IDF on the attack. No sirens sounded in the area, according to reports. – Times of Israel

Turkey

The State Department has notified Congress that it has approved a $23 billion sale of F-16 aircraft and related equipment to Turkey, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following months of delays, signed off on Sweden’s membership bid to join NATO. – Washington Post

Two masked gunmen shot and killed a man during a church service on Sunday morning in Istanbul, Turkish officials said, an attack that the Islamic State later took responsibility for. – New York Times

Soner Cagaptay writes: Erdogan’s apparent shift presents the White House with an opportunity to engage with his new Turkey and leverage his regional and global influence in today’s era of growing great power competition. Either way, Washington should come to terms with the fact that the old Turkey is not coming back. – Washington Institute

Reuben Silverman writes: Rather, Turkey’s leaders decided to pick a fight within NATO because the alliance remains one of the few venues where they can exert pressure on Western peers. Through NATO, Ankara can draw attention to its security concerns—and gain important concessions along the way. – Foreign Policy

Yemen

Yemen’s Houthi rebels are carrying out audacious attacks to disrupt global commerce and draw the U.S. military into direct conflict, using Israel’s war in Gaza to transform themselves from a marginal player among Iran-aligned forces into one of the Middle East’s most formidable militant groups. – Wall Street Journal

Commodities trader Trafigura said on Saturday it was assessing the security risks of further Red Sea voyages after firefighters put out a blaze on a tanker attacked by Yemen’s Houthi group a day earlier. – Reuters

The Houthi’s Al-Masira television said on Saturday that the U.S. and the UK launched two airstrikes that targeted the port of Ras Issa, Yemen’s main oil export terminal. – Reuters

A security team on a bulk carrier exchanged fire with armed individuals on a skiff after it came suspiciously close to the vessel in the Arabian Sea, British maritime monitors said on Saturday. – Reuters

The US said Friday that it had destroyed a Houthi missile that was about to be fired toward the Red Sea from Yemen. The anti-ship missile “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the U.S. Navy ships in the region. U.S. forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missile in self-defense,” US Central Command said in a post on X, the former Twitter. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Three U.S. service members were killed and at least 34 were injured in an Iran-backed militia’s drone strike on a base in northeast Jordan, U.S. officials said on Sunday, marking the first American troops killed in hostile action since the start of the Hamas-Israeli conflict in Gaza. – Wall Street Journal

Now the relationship between the two countries—among the most important pivot points in the Middle East—is moving from tetchy to breaking point as Egypt warns Israel against pushing large numbers of Palestinians out of Gaza and into the Sinai Peninsula as it pursues its war against Hamas. A slump in Suez Canal traffic is worsening the situation. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and Iraq held a first session of formal talks Saturday in Baghdad aimed at winding down the mission of a U.S.-led military coalition formed to fight the Islamic State group in Iraq. – Associated Press

Robert Clarke writes: Ultimately, these legacy deployments in Iraq and Syria represent the last vestiges of our nation’s messy and destructive two-decade venture into the Middle East. These costly conflicts should have ended long ago. Keeping our troops on the ground only serves to offer appealing targets to local hostile actors who want to send a cheap message back to the United States that they don’t like our presence or our role in Israel. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

North Korea tested its new submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) on Sunday, firing an upgraded missile for the second time in a week and accelerating its navy’s nuclear armament, state media reported on Monday. – Reuters

North Korea and China agreed to strengthen tactical cooperation and defend common interests, the North’s official KCNA news agency said on Saturday, reporting on Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui’s meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong. – Reuters

North Korea is stepping up confrontation with the United States and its allies, but officials in Washington and Seoul say they have spotted no signs Pyongyang intends to take imminent military action. – Reuters

China

A Hong Kong court on Monday ordered the liquidation of China Evergrande Group, the world’s most indebted property developer, in a ruling that could further dent foreign investor confidence in the world’s second-largest economy. – Washington Post

Top Chinese and U.S. officials held candid talks in Bangkok aimed at lowering tensions between the superpowers on Taiwan and other subjects, ahead of an expected springtime call between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. – Reuters

The Chinese coast guard said a Japanese fishing vessel and several patrol boats illegally entered the territorial waters of the Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Saturday night. – Reuters

China sent more than 30 warplanes and a group of navy ships toward Taiwan, the island’s defense ministry said Saturday. – Associated Press

Michael Singh writes: But China is doing none of that. Its conduct shows that it is less interested in the success of its own initiatives than in the failure of Washington’s. The real threat to U.S. interests in the Mideast isn’t rising Chinese influence but the erosion of our own. What Beijing wants isn’t a world led by China, but simply one not led by the U.S. Washington shouldn’t accept that. – Wall Street Journal

South Asia

India and France have agreed to work together on the joint production of defence equipment including helicopters and submarines for the Indian armed forces and production for friendly countries, New Delhi said. – Reuters

India is cooperating with Canada and bilateral ties are improving after tensions spiked over the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia, a top Canadian official told CTV in an interview published on Friday. – Reuters

India is seeking to distance itself from its largest arms supplier after Russia’s ability to supply munitions and spares was hobbled by the war in Ukraine, but must step carefully to avoid pushing Moscow closer to China, Indian sources said. – Reuters

Asia

Papua New Guinea is in early talks with China on a potential security and policing deal, Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko told Reuters, weeks after deadly riots in the South Pacific nation’s capital. – Reuters

Thailand and China agreed on Sunday to waive visa requirements for each other’s nationals to facilitate travel and tourism between the two countries, hurt by COVID-19. – Reuters

The Chinese coastguard said it had made “temporary special arrangements” to allow the Philippines to deliver supplies to troops at a grounded World War Two-era vessel at a disputed reef. – Reuters

Taiwan’s ties with the Pacific nation of Tuvalu have been cast into doubt following an election in which the incumbent prime minister lost his seat in Parliament, raising the risk of another country switching its diplomatic recognition to Beijing. – Bloomberg

Europe

Finland’s presidential election is headed for a runoff after no candidate secured a majority in Sunday’s closely watched vote, which came as NATO’s newest member faces the threat of an antagonistic Russia. – New York Times

Hungary’s far-right Our Homeland party would lay claim to a western region of Ukraine that is home to about 150,000 ethnic Hungarians if Ukraine loses its statehood due to Russia’s invasion, the party’s leader said late on Saturday. – Reuters

France, Germany and Britain on Friday condemned Iran’s launch of the Soraya satellite last week using the Ghaem-100 Space Launch Vehicle (SLV). – Reuters

North Macedonia’s parliament approved an interim government ahead of a May election that may further complicate the Balkan nation’s already difficult European Union accession process. – Associated Press

The UK is pushing ahead with Brexit-related border checks next week, despite warnings from economists they will increase food price inflation. Long-postponed plans to require paperwork for business in the European Union sending animal and plant products to the UK will come into force from Jan. 31, a Cabinet Office spokesman said. – Bloomberg

Dr. Aura Sabadus writes: There is no doubt that Germany’s gas-dependent economy has been badly hit by the crisis and that measures need to be taken to put it back on an even keel. It’s also true that Germany faces a stuttering economy and serious economic problems. However, choosing to vex Central and East European neighbors, already disgruntled by Germany’s cozy political relations with Russia up to 2022, may not be the wisest way to mend an economy. – Center for European Policy Analysis

 

Africa

Kenya’s high court on Friday blocked the United Nations-backed deployment of Kenyan police forces to Haiti to help fight criminal gangs in the Caribbean country. – Wall Street Journal

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso issued a joint statement accusing the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, of kowtowing to “foreign powers” and said their withdrawal from the union was effective immediately. – Washington Post

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said on Saturday it has deployed troops to secure a corridor for people fleeing more violence in the east. – Reuters

Gunmen attacked villagers in the oil-rich region of Abyei claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, leaving at least 52 people dead, including a U.N. peacekeeper, and 64 wounded, a regional official said Sunday. – Associated Press

The president of Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland has said his government will press ahead with an agreement signed earlier this month with landlocked Ethiopia to give it access to the sea by way of Somaliland’s coastline. – Associated Press

Sri Lanka’s diplomats are talking with Somali authorities trying to ascertain the whereabouts of a fishing vessel and its six crewmembers suspected of being abducted by Somali pirates two days ago, officials said Monday. – Associated Press

Latin America

Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, says he is bringing a free-market revolution to the country’s long-troubled economy, cutting thousands of state jobs and slashing regulations on everything from divorce proceedings to the price of milk. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S. is reviewing its sanctions policy against Venezuela after a court in that country upheld a ban preventing presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado from holding office, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday. – Reuters

Ecuador’s top court has blocked nine questions that President Daniel Noboa wanted to put to Ecuadoreans in a referendum on security issues, arguing they failed to meet constitutional requirements, it said on Friday. – Reuters

Michael Galant writes: Five years since Trump’s oil sanctions announcement, Venezuela has finally managed to escape the worst of the crisis. But the sanctions continue to take their toll. Whatever one’s positions on the policies of the Maduro government, punishing the Venezuelan people is cruel and senseless. It’s time for a change. – The Hill

 

United States

President Joe Biden will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington on Feb. 9 in a bid to rally support for additional assistance for Ukraine, the White House said on Saturday. – Reuters

Editorial: Mr. Biden has spent months fretting about a broader regional war without confronting the reality that the U.S. is already in one. The result is that U.S. deterrence has collapsed in the region, and Americans are dying. Mr. Biden’s repeated displays of weakness are inviting more attacks. In the 1970s, Iran helped to ruin Jimmy Carter’s Presidency by seizing hostages. Mr. Biden should worry that it will also take down his Presidency if he won’t respond with enough force that the mullahs get the message. – Wall Street Journal

Chris Barnard writes:  Now, with a pause on permitting LNG export projects, the administration is risking American energy security and potentially contributing to higher global emissions. More U.S. natural gas is better—for America and the planet. It’s not anticlimate to champion a pro-American energy agenda, and it’s not anti-American to champion pro-climate measures. The Biden administration must recognize this and dismiss the idea of halting permits on new LNG export terminals. – Wall Street Journal

Allison McManus writes: Congress should also ensure that this administration and future administrations are held to high standards of transparency through oversight. Passing these amendments to the supplemental aid package would be an essential step in maintaining such standards. It would fulfill a moral imperative that we are not complicit in rights violations. It would also meet a national security imperative that we use foreign assistance to further the interests of stability and peace. – The National Interest

Cybersecurity

China has approved more than 40 artificial intelligence (AI) models for public use in the first six months since authorities began the approval process, as the country strives to catch up to the U.S. in AI development, according to Chinese media. – Reuters

Jacob N. Shapiro and Chris Mattmann writes: Tech giants are already conducting similar efforts to record the new content their models are creating — in part because they need to train their models on human-generated text and the data produced after the adoption of large language models may be tainted with generated content. The time has come to extend this effort back in time as well, before our politics, too, become severely distorted by generated history. – New York Times

Samara Azzi writes: Until Twitter’s moderation policies are strictly enforced and moderation loopholes addressed, these coordinated efforts will continue to target independent anti-Hezbollah and anti-Hamas voices on X/Twitter while effectively sharing their own messaging, thus ensuring that in the Middle East, Iran-backed actors maintain their grip on the site. – Washington Institute

 

Defense

The Pentagon has abruptly abandoned plans to train alongside the militaries of several countries either involved in the overthrow of democratic governments or accused of human rights violations, reversing course amid recent scrutiny. – Washington Post

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to return to the Pentagon on Monday, nearly a month after being secretly admitted to a hospital for complications from an undisclosed prostate cancer surgery in December, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday. – Reuters

President Joe Biden’s foreign aid request for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific remains stalled on Capitol Hill, inhibiting funding for a unique mechanism that could help U.S. allies and partners build up their own defense industries. – Defense News

Stephen Biddle writes: But if the lesson of Ukraine’s 2023 offensive, in light of past experience, is that deep and well-prepared defenses remain robust, as they have been for the last century, then quality alone may not be enough to ensure the kind of short wars of quick decisive breakthroughs that U.S. defense planning has long tended to presuppose. Quality is necessary for opportunity but may be insufficient in itself for success. And if so, the United States may need to rethink its balance of quality and quantity in a world where permissive conditions happen sometimes but cannot be guaranteed. – Foreign Affairs