Fdd's overnight brief

January 30, 2024

In The News


At least 12 employees of the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency had connections to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and around 10% of all of its Gaza staff have ties to Islamist militant groups, according to intelligence reports reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. – Wall Street Journal

The militant Palestinian group Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Tel Aviv and nearby cities on Monday, displaying long-range fire power after weeks of relative quiet in central Israel, though there were no reports of casualties. – Reuters

The intelligence officer said Israel is still many months away from achieving its goals, which include capturing or destroying munitions and weapons, and rendering Hamas military bases and tunnels inoperative. Accomplishing that will take all of 2024 — and perhaps longer, he said. – Bloomberg

The Israeli Defense Forces are, for the first time, engaged in pitched battles with Hamas terrorists underground in southern Gaza and have located what may be the headquarters of the group’s leader, Yahya Sinwar, according to reports Monday evening in the Israeli press. – New York Sun

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet Tuesday with key donors to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees after 12 of its staff were accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7 attacks, his spokesman said. – Agence France Presse

Armed Israeli forces disguised as women and medical workers stormed a hospital Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing three Palestinian militants in a dramatic raid that underscored the spillover of deadly violence to the territory during the war in Gaza. – Associated Press

Hamas rejected a hostage deal drafted in Paris over the weekend because it did not include a permanent ceasefire. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) reiterated that Israel must halt its Gaza offensive and withdraw from the Strip before any prisoner exchange takes place, Hamas said in a statement on Monday. – Jerusalem Post

The current influx of videos started with a low-quality clip that was seemingly filmed during nighttime sometime last week, presumably from an area of evacuees in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, where crowds could be heard chanting: “The people want Hamas’s downfall!” – Jerusalem Post

The White House on Monday slammed a conference on Sunday night in Jerusalem aimed at encouraging the reestablishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, which was attended by nearly one-third of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. – Times of Israel

Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) director Ronen Bar visited Cairo and met with his Egyptian counterpart, Abbas Kamel, on Monday, Axios’ Barak Ravid reported, citing two Israeli sources. The meeting took place amid tensions between Israel and Egypt over the war in Gaza and the possibility of the IDF expanding its operation to the city of Rafah on the border with Egypt. – Arutz Sheva

Naftali Balanson writes: The ICJ, meantime, should be ashamed that it is accepting evidence from blatant propaganda groups that have proven track records of supporting hate and violence against Israel and Jews. This mockery of international law only opens the door to more violence, hate and even genocide by extreme groups, putting human rights everywhere at risk. – Wall Street Journal

Dr. Shuki Friedman writes: In the current imbroglio, Israel is categorically dependent on the United States and other countries, not only for political backing but also to be able to continue the fighting. Regardless of how much we succeed in producing here, we will always be dependent on foreign imports as well. There is no escaping the need for close cooperation with Washington and other allies, which comes at a price both to our freedom of action and to our conduct during the conflict. – Times of Israel

Amos Harel writes: The fear for the lives of the remaining hostages will soon confront Netanyahu with the dilemma of whether to approve another hostage deal despite the major concessions it will involve. Much of the answer will depend on the domestic front – the magnitude of the protests in the streets and the positions of the National Unity Party ministers. And both those factors will be influenced by the behavior of Netanyahu and his far-right partners. The clearest example of this was the Gaza resettlement conference in Jerusalem Sunday, more about which follows below. – Haaretz

Balakrishnan Rajagopal writes: It is for this reason that the systematic and indiscriminate leveling of entire neighborhoods through explosive weapons — as happened in Aleppo, and Mariupol, and Grozny, and towns in Myanmar, or most acutely these days, in Gaza — should be considered a crime against humanity. A growing number of legal and other types of scholars agree. It’s called domicide. – New York Times


The U.S. range of options for responding to Sunday’s deadly Iranian-backed militia attack includes a direct strike against Iran, hitting the regime’s proxy groups or personnel abroad, and ratcheting up financial pressure on Tehran’s battered economy. – Wall Street Journal

Now the axis faces a moment of truth. As Iran’s allies stoke even more fires across the region—from attacks on shipping in the Red Sea to Sunday’s drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan—they are pushing their benefactor closer to the brink of a direct conflict with Washington that it has long sought to avoid. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and Britain on Monday imposed sanctions on a network of people who targeted Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for assassination at Iran’s direction, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Monday. – Reuters

Iran urged the US to use diplomacy to ease tensions in the Middle East, as Tehran braces for a military response to a deadly attack on an American base over the weekend. – Bloomberg

Pakistan and Iran on Monday agreed to work together to improve security cooperation in the wake of deadly airstrikes by Tehran and Islamabad earlier this month that killed at least 11 people, marking a significant escalation in fraught relations between the neighbors. – Associated Press

The killing of three U.S. troops and wounding of dozens more on Sunday by Iran-backed militants is piling political pressure on President Joe Biden to deal a blow directly against Iran, a move he’s been reluctant to do out of fear of igniting a broader war. – Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday vowed the U.S. would take “all necessary actions” to defend its troops after a deadly drone attack in Jordan by Iran-backed militants, even as President Joe Biden’s administration stressed it was not seeking a war with Iran. – Reuters

Following a deadly attack on American troops, President Biden is torn between advocates of appeasing Iran, who seem closest to his own cautious instincts, and hawks who say a strike at the Islamic Republic is long past due. – New York Sun

Walter Russell Mead writes: The Middle East is on fire today because the Biden administration’s core regional strategy—to reach some kind of détente with Iran—has catastrophically failed. […] The past 50 years teach that strategic failure in the Middle East destroys presidencies. As the White House scrambles to respond to Iran’s latest attack on American forces, let’s hope it recognizes how high the stakes have become. – Wall Street Journal

Javier Blas writes: On Monday, Iran tried to distance itself from the attacks over the weekend — knowing well that the White House would likely to retaliate. “Resistance groups in the region do not take orders from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said. Perhaps he’s telling the truth, but what’s unquestionable is such militias take Iranian money and weapons. As the old political saying goes, follow the money — in this case, that means the petrodollars. – Bloomberg

Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth write: And the inability of Biden’s national security team to see that its fear of escalation has already led to escalation is deeply troubling. It is as if the U.S. is watching a replay of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, only in slow-motion, with the White House professing an unwillingness to escalate the situation any further. The Biden administration is struggling to keep its head above water. When will Biden, his national security team and Capitol Hill wake up to the reality that Khamenei is already at war with the U.S., whether they want to admit it or not? – The Hill

Vas Shenoy writes: The Russia-China-Iran-Pakistan-Qatar-Turkey alliance started off as an odd-sounding grouping. However, Sunni and Shi’ite extremists seem to have come to an understanding. While 2024 is the year of elections with over 4 billion people going to vote, unless the US, NATO, and other pillars of democracy act definitively against Iran, they will only embolden Russia and China. Iran is the key, and it’s time to act now. – Jerusalem Post

Joseph Epstein writes: We should have never gotten to this point. But now that we are here, we need to adjust our strategy, so things don’t get worse. Washington must begin to hold Iran directly responsible for its proxies’ actions. Such a change of course will guarantee a safer region not just for the U.S., but for its allies as well. And it may just deter other tragedies like the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and the invasion of Ukraine caused by the aggression of dangerous dictators. America’s enemies will be more cautious knowing that their actions have consequences. – Newsweek

Russia & Ukraine

A plan to provide more artillery shells to Ukraine by having Japan send munitions to Britain has stalled, underscoring the challenge the West faces in increasing Kyiv’s stocks of the much-needed ammunition. – Wall Street Journal

Russian air defence systems destroyed or intercepted 21 Ukraine-launched drones over the Crimean Peninsula and several Russian regions, Russian news agencies reported on Tuesday, citing Moscow’s defence ministry. – Reuters

The United Nations’ highest court will rule on Friday whether it will hear a case in which Ukraine has accused Russia of violating international law by saying its invasion was launched to stop an alleged genocide. – Reuters


The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack in Jordan, days after claiming the attack on Iraq’s Ain al-Asad Air Base. – Washington Post

The U.S. Treasury Department’s top sanctions official traveled to Baghdad on Sunday, a Treasury spokesperson said, as Washington seeks to counter Iran’s sanctions evasion in Iraq and bring the country’s financial sector in line with international standards. – Reuters

Jeremiah Poff writes: If Biden and members of Congress are serious about protecting American lives, they should cut off the Iraqi government from U.S. taxpayer money. And they should take immediate steps to draw down our military presence in the Middle East. Otherwise, expect more attacks like the one on Sunday. – Washington Examiner

Arabian Peninsula

Leaders from Egypt, Israel, Qatar and the U.S. have made progress toward a deal that would free Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a cease-fire in Gaza, Qatar’s prime minister said Monday. – Wall Street Journal

The United States vowed to take “all necessary actions” to defend American forces after a drone attack killed three U.S. troops in Jordan, while Qatar said it hoped U.S. retaliation would not damage regional security or undercut progress toward a new Gaza hostage-release deal. – Reuters

Charles Asher Small writes: The Qataris role in the negotiations over the freeing of Israeli hostages should not blind us to their responsibility for much of contemporary antisemitism, whether it be through Al Jazeera, their funding of US universities, or their ongoing support of Hamas and other Islamist terrorist organizations around the world. The time has come to stop the money. – Times of Israel


Attacks on shipping vessels by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the crucial Red Sea shipping lane have disrupted shipping in the Suez Canal, the fastest sea route between Asia and Europe. Data from S&P Global showed the Suez Canal route accounts for 14.8% of all Europe and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) imports. In response, some shipping companies have instructed vessels to instead sail around southern Africa, a slower and therefore more expensive route. – Reuters 

Denmark on Monday sent a frigate to the Red Sea, where it will participate in a U.S.-led coalition to safeguard commercial traffic against attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants. – Reuters

Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they attacked a U.S. Navy mobile base at sea Monday without offering evidence, something immediately rejected by an American defense official. – Associated Press

More than two months after Yemen’s Houthis captured the Galaxy Leader cargo ship and detained its crew, the Iran-backed rebels have turned the vessel into a domestic “tourist attraction.” – Agence France-Presse

So far, China’s public response to the Red Sea crisis has been limited to calls for an end to the attacks on civilian ships and veiled criticism of US-led military operations against the Houthis – which analysts say has fallen well short of Beijing’s global aspirations. – CNN

Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar writes: 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

Middle East & North Africa

The Department of Defense on Monday identified three Army Reserve soldiers who were killed at a U.S. base in Jordan on Sunday in what the Biden administration said was a drone attack from an Iran-backed militia. The department said at least 34 other service members were wounded in the attack. – New York Times

The U.S. failed to stop a deadly attack on an American military outpost in Jordan when the enemy drone approached its target at the same time a U.S. drone was also returning to base, U.S. officials said Monday. – Wall Street Journal

A deadly drone attack on US troops in Jordan is reigniting a debate about America’s military presence across the Middle East as the Israel-Hamas war prompts attacks by Iran-backed militias across the region. – Bloomberg

President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking a response to the deadly attack on US forces in Jordan that’s tough enough to deter Iran and its proxies without sparking direct warfare with the Islamic Republic, according to officials and experts. – Bloomberg

Two people were killed and several wounded on Monday in what Iranian and Syrian media said was an Israeli attack on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, with Iran’s ambassador to Damascus denying reports the location was an Iranian military post. – Reuters

The US’ response to the drone attack in Jordan that killed and wounded US service members on Sunday is likely to be more powerful than previous American retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria, officials told CNN, though the Pentagon and White House are being careful not to telegraph the administration’s plans. – CNN

Canada on Monday said it had dropped weapons export controls to Turkey, including drone optical technology, according to a notice posted online, saying that from now on it would review all exports on a case-by-case basis. – Reuters

Andrew J. Tabler writes: US forces are in Syria based on a request by the Iraqi government in 2014 that legally allowed its forces to re-enter Iraq and enter Syria—which the Obama Administration refused to do in response to the Syrian uprising—to degrade and defeat the Islamic State (IS). Since IS’s defeat in Syria in 2019, US forces have remained in both countries as part of the coalition to keep IS suppressed, while the political reasons for its rise remained unresolved due to the lack of a viable political settlement to the Syrian war. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles into waters off its western coast Tuesday in its third launch of such weapons this month, South Korea’s military said, as the North continues to flaunt its expanding arsenal of weapons designed to overwhelm its rivals’ defenses. – Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised tests of a new cruise missile meant to be launched from submarines, state media reported Monday. – The Hill

A wage strike by unpaid North Korean factory staff working illegally in China may have led to the death of an official who was sent from Pyongyang to monitor their labor, according to a report this week. – Newsweek

Sue Mi Terry writes: War is not inevitable. Washington and its allies can still prevent conflict by deterring Pyongyang. Of course, doing so will become harder due to the North’s expanding WMD capabilities and its increasing closeness with Moscow. But now is not the time to panic. It is time, instead, to send North Korea a signal of resoluteness and strength. U.S. power has kept the peace for more than 70 years on the Korean Peninsula. There is no reason that it cannot continue to do so. – Foreign Affairs


Two new Catholic bishops have been consecrated in China in the last several days under an agreement between the Vatican and Beijing, signifying a resumption of cooperation between the two sides after a period of discord. – Wall Street Journal

The Chinese government has protested to the United States over the treatment of Chinese arriving to study in America, saying some have been interrogated for hours, had their electronic devices checked and in some cases were forcibly deported from the country. – Associated Press

Hong Kong’s leader confirmed on Tuesday his intention to pass tighter national security laws soon to build on sweeping legislation Beijing imposed on the city in 2020, saying the city “could not afford to wait”. – Reuters

One of the Chinese government’s top political institutions has removed a prominent rocket research chief, adding to the number of apparent purges in Beijing over the past several months. – Bloomberg

Editorial: The Biden Administration is subsidizing semiconductor and green-energy companies in the name of competing with China, even as antitrust regulators make it harder for U.S. companies to compete. Call it degenerative artificial government intelligence. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Many EU leaders have pushed in meetings with Xi for Chinese pressure on Putin, but he has refused and has provided Russia with much-needed trade to offset what Russia has lost to Western sanctions. China has also given Russia military equipment. The lesson is clear. China claims to seek “win-win cooperation” with the world. But actions are louder than words, and Xi’s actions demonstrate China’s malignancy. – Washington Examiner


India’s naval forces rescued an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel hijacked by Somali pirates and freed its 19-member Pakistani crew off the east coast of Somalia, a navy statement said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The Philippines and Vietnam signed an agreement Tuesday on preventing and managing incidents in the disputed South China Sea during Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s visit to Hanoi. – Associated Press

The Philippines on Monday denied China had a “temporary special arrangement” with Manila to allow the delivery of supplies to Philippine troops occupying a disputed South China Sea reef, calling it “a figment of imagination”. – Reuters

The Philippines and the US plan to hold what could be their largest military exercises in April, in a show of strength of their alliance amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea. – Bloomberg

Australia is the “security partner of choice” for neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG), Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday, after the biggest Pacific Island nation said China was seeking a policing and security deal. – Reuters

Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Monday pressed for an end to Myanmar’s bloody crisis and expressed unity in their backing for an ASEAN peace plan and a “Myanmar-owned and led solution” to the conflict. – Reuters

Myanmar’s junta forces used a Chinese-supplied Q-5 fighter jet in a bombing raid this month that hit a church, school and homes, and was reported to have killed at least 17 people including women, children and the elderly, according to details of a new investigation made available to Newsweek. – Newsweek

Edward Lemon and Bradley Jardine write: The U.S. and its allies should work to wean the region off hydrocarbons and toward mineral extraction practices that respect Central Asia’s ecological riches and support the well-being of its inhabitants. Engaging with Central Asia is not only an option, but a necessity for breaking China’s monopoly on future technology production and securing a greener, more equitable future. – The Hill


The European Commission said on Monday it would review whether it could continue to fund the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) in light of the allegations that staff members were involved in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in southern Israel. – Reuters

Hungary signalled its readiness on Monday for a compromise allowing a proposed European Union aid package for Ukraine to be financed from the bloc’s budget ahead of an emergency summit on Thursday. – Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has told the European Commission that it was impossible to conclude trade deal negotiations with South America’s Mercosur bloc and understands the EU has put an end to the talks, his office said on Monday. – Reuters

One year after replacing most of its gas imports from Russia, Europe again faces the risk of overreliance on one supplier. This time the political risk is America, underscored by President Biden declaring a “pause” on approvals of new liquefied natural gas export terminals in the United States. – New York Sun


The United States is designating Sudan’s former minister of State for the Interior Ahmad Mohammad Harun under its War Crimes Rewards program that offers rewards of up to $5 million, the State Department said on Monday. – Reuters

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor told the U.N. Security Council on Monday “there are grounds to believe” both Sudan’s regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are committing war crimes in Darfur at present. – Reuters

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed a new partnership with Africa on Monday, unveiling a long-awaited plan aimed at boosting economic ties, creating an energy hub for Europe and curbing immigration. – Reuters

Nigeria on Monday said the “unelected” military authorities in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso were letting their people down with their joint decision to leave the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). – Reuters

Russia, in a new push to expand its influence in Africa, is recruiting for an armed force to replace the Wagner group’s mercenaries across the continent. – Bloomberg

Two United Nations peacekeepers were among more than 50 people killed in three days of violence in South Sudan’s oil-rich region of Abyei. – Bloomberg

About 30 people were killed in attacks on two villages in central Mali over the weekend, the rural commune’s mayor said on Monday. He did not say who was responsible. The West African country is home to militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that wage frequent attacks on the army and civilians. – Reuters

Latin America

The U.S. government on Monday pulled back part of the sanctions relief it granted Venezuela last year, following through on its threat after the South American country’s highest court blocked the presidential candidacy of an opposition leader. – Associated Press

The International Monetary Fund will allow Argentina to defer the last review of its $44 billion loan by two months, giving the government more time to apply reforms and potentially negotiate a new program, according to people with direct knowledge. – Reuters

Authorities in the Bahamas say they are cracking down on crime after the U.S. Embassy issued a security alert warning that the archipelago has reported at least 18 slayings so far this year. – Associated Press

Colombia’s goverement and the nation’s largest remaining rebel group announced Monday they will extend their current ceasefire by one week, while delegates from both sides who are meeting in Cuba continue to discuss policies that could secure a longer lasting truce. – Associated Press

Editorial: It said the U.S. is “reviewing our Venezuela sanctions policy, based on this development and the recent political targeting of democratic opposition candidates and civil society.” There isn’t much to review. Mr. Maduro learned his politics from Fidel Castro and isn’t about to step aside. The U.S. was naive to think he’d allow a free election, and the only realistic response is to restore the sanctions. – Wall Street Journal

Maria Fernanda Bozmoski and Eva Lardizabal write: The consequences of disengagement could be far-reaching, affecting not just Guatemala but the rest of the hemisphere. As Guatemala stands at a crossroads, the United States must play a constructive role, supporting democratic values and processes and fostering economic growth through commercial engagement and nearshoring initiatives. Constructive support on behalf of the United States is not just important but imperative. – The National Interest

United States

In the latest example of foreign adversaries exploiting vulnerabilities in the American research enterprise, House Republicans are investigating how federal research funds were paid to an artificial intelligence expert at UCLA with ties to the Chinese government. – Fox News

A bicameral coalition of nearly 20 Democrats urged the State Department on Monday to provide information on the Biden administration’s decisions to sell arms to Israel amid its ongoing war with Hamas without explicit congressional approval. – The Hill

Alexander J. Motyl writes: For Ukraine, Europe and the U.S., this means that Mother Russia’s delusional view of herself as innately great means that she will be amenable to reasoned discourse and negotiations only after being cured of her illness. Shock therapy — such as defeat in war — may be the answer. After that, a visit to the International Criminal Court may be advisable. Or a lobotomy. – The Hill


US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin returned to work at the Pentagon for the first time in almost a month, as he continues to recover from complications linked to prostate-cancer surgery that left him hospitalized for two weeks and provoked a furor over delays in declaring his illness. – Bloomberg

The Czech Republic’s government signed an agreement with the United States on Monday to acquire 24 U.S. F-35 fighter jets as part of a deal worth about 150 billion Czech koruna ($6.6 billion), the biggest single purchase for the Czech military. – Associated Press

An air base in the Philippines is set to receive a major upgrade to accommodate U.S. aircraft under a plan to strengthen deterrence against China. – USNI News

C. Travis Reese, Ian Brown, Zach Ota, Travis Hord, Leo Spaeder, and Brian Strom write: The current events impacting modern security challenges are providing empirical evidence to bear that observation out. We anticipate these real-world indicators will positively support the Force Design 2030 decisions when they are included in the congressionally directed report in the coming year. – War on the Rocks