Fdd's overnight brief

January 4, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

When Zaher Jabarin ran a Hamas cell in the 1980s, he borrowed cash from his mother to buy weapons. Now, he oversees a financial empire that the U.S. estimates is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and funds Hamas’s operations against Israel. – Wall Street Journal

The killing of a senior Hamas leader in a suspected Israeli strike marked the biggest hit to the group’s top leadership in years, taking out a key player who was responsible for aligning the Palestinian militant group with Iran and its proxies. – Wall Street Journal

The news that three Israeli hostages were mistakenly shot and killed last month in Gaza by soldiers meant to save them outraged many in Israel, who have since demanded answers about how the army conducts itself on the battlefield and safeguards civilians. – New York Times

A day after a blast killed a senior Hamas leader outside Beirut, Lebanon, many Israelis welcomed the assassination as an important step in the campaign to destroy the militant group, but worried it might carry costs. – New York Times

Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed the enactment of a new law that makes it harder to remove a prime minister from office — the court’s second ruling in three days that impeded attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to gain more power. – New York Times

Israel said on Wednesday that in November it had dismantled a tunnel below Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the medical facility that Israel and allies have said Hamas used as a shield for a vast underground militia complex. – New York Times

Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Israeli army made statements suggesting the two avowed enemies wanted to avoid risking the further spread of war beyond the Gaza Strip after a drone strike killed a Palestinian Hamas deputy leader in Beirut. – Reuters

The U.S. has not observed acts in Gaza that constitute genocide, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Wednesday, after South Africa launched genocide proceedings at the International Court of Justice over Israel’s military operation in the Palestinian enclave. – Reuters

Israeli hostage Sahar Baruch was killed last month during a rescue attempt by special forces in Gaza, the Israeli military said on Wednesday, without giving details. Hamas said on Dec. 8 that a hostage it named as Sa’ar Baruch, had been killed during an attempted rescue operation. – Reuters

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hold public hearings in proceedings launched by South Africa against Israel over the Gaza war on Jan. 11 and 12, it said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service vowed Wednesday that the agency would hunt down every Hamas member involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, no matter where they are. His pledge came a day after the deputy head of the Palestinian militant group was killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Beirut. – Associated Press

The Biden administration has weighed a proposal to name a new top diplomat to focus on long-term Israeli-Palestinian relations, though for the moment it is sticking with a post focused on the immediate humanitarian crisis of the Israel-Hamas war, a U.S. official told POLITICO. – Politico

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi told security officials Wednesday evening that the military was in a “very strong state of readiness in the north,” speaking during a visit to the border with Lebanon after repeated cross-border attacks carried out by the Hezbollah terror group. – Times of Israel

Editorial: This engagement with the ICJ could offer a platform for Israel to highlight the complexities and challenges it faces, which are often oversimplified in international discourse. Presenting its security concerns, historical context, and efforts to minimize civilian harm in conflict zones can provide a more nuanced understanding of the situation, fostering a more balanced view among international observers. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Israel’s defense strategy will be to show that it is doing everything possible to prevent harm to innocent civilians, that it frequently allows humanitarian aid into the Strip and acts only against Hamas. But the most effective way to undermine the filing is to remove from the government those who incite war crimes. This is the only way to persuade the world that the deranged ideas they are spreading do not reflect reality. – Haaretz

Natan Sharansky and Bassem Eid write: Thirty years have now passed. Palestinian society is less free and democratic than it was then, and we are still nowhere near peace. We can’t say how long the real peace process will take, but it must begin now. If, instead, Israel adopts another short-term solution, 30 years hence it will still be fighting wars and hanging false hopes on another dictator. – Wall Street Journal

Daniel Byman writes: Thinking about the PA’s role in governing Gaza may seem premature as the fighting still rages. One lesson from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflicts, however, is that removing a hostile regime is often the easy task. Far harder is building a new government that can provide for its people and ensure long-term peace. If Israel and its partners avoid the hard decisions about governance until after the fighting stops, by then it may be too late. – Foreign Affairs

Gali Idan writes: Almost three months later, the kids are still crying. They miss their father every day. My son only sleeps with me. The Red Cross hasn’t visited Tsachi or any of the other hostages, we are told. But, our entire family and a community of friends that has embraced us is resolved to bring Tsachi home. I am doing everything in my power to bring him home alive and well. He’s my husband, of course, and my better and stronger half. He has to live for our daughter Maayan, and be able to hug our living children again. He needs to come home. Newsweek

Iran

At least 95 people were killed in explosions in Iran near a public ceremony commemorating the death of a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer killed in 2020 by an American airstrike, the country’s state media reported. Iranian officials said the blasts were the work of terrorists. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi canceled his planned visit to Turkey after attacks in the southeastern city of Kerman on Wednesday that killed at least 100 people and injured many others. – Reuters

Two explosions that killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores at a ceremony in Iran on Wednesday looked like a “terrorist attack” of the kind ISIS has been responsible for in the past, a senior Biden administration official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Biden administration has once again renewed taxpayer-funded protection for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and one of his top aides, who have been the target of persistent threats from Iran. – Associated Press

Iran’s flag carrier Iran Air suspended plans to restart flights to Saudi Arabia after an eight-year hiatus, in a setback for one of the few concrete signs of the countries’ political detente. – Bloomberg

Editorial: It isn’t clear what the countries mean by “consequences,” and the statement notably included no mention of Iran as the fulcrum of the region’s violence. Sooner or later the U.S. and its allies will have to reestablish deterrence if they want a more stable Middle East, and that means dealing with Iran. – Wall Street Journal

James Stavridis writes: But in the late 1980s, after Iran mined the Strait of Hormuz and a US frigate struck a mine and nearly sank, the Navy destroyed much of the Iranian naval combat power in Operation Praying Mantis. Iran got the message. Perhaps it is time to send it again. – Bloomberg

Russia & Ukraine

On the morning of his first crossing of the Dnieper River — where his unit was being sent in a desperate effort to claw back occupied land from Russia — the 21-year-old Ukrainian marine woke up “ready to die.” With their counteroffensive stalled, Ukraine’s military and political leaders were eager to show their Western backers some progress — any progress. – Washington Post

Ukraine and Russia exchanged nearly 500 prisoners of war on Wednesday — including Ukrainian service members detained during fighting at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and on Snake Island in the Black Sea — one of the few areas of cooperation between the two sides. – Washington Post 

Since the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the people of Ukraine have had access to a single source of television news — an all-day broadcast packed with footage of Ukrainian tanks blasting Russian positions, medics operating near the frontline and political leaders rallying support abroad. – New York Times

The European Union imposed sanctions on the world’s biggest diamond mining company and its chief executive officer on Wednesday as part of what it called its “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine in the war against Russia. – Associated Press

NATO announced Wednesday that it would help buy up to 1,000 Patriot missiles so that allies can better protect their territory as Russia ramps up its air assault on Ukraine. – Associated Press

Timothy Ash writes: In the end Ukraine’s victory in war and, as importantly, the peace must be NATO’s central security project since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s. Needs must. We cannot fail. Handing Putin’s billions to Ukraine (however, it’s done) is a happy marriage of the legal and the practical. There is simply no alternative. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Mike Knickerbocker writes: Ukraine demonstrates the dangerous capability of cruise missile and lethal unmanned platforms. The U.S. Navy and its allies should be prepared. To do so, they should explore using cheap, commercially available surface and aerial drones in a defensive role that enhances the survivability of independent warships, strike groups, and merchant freighters alike. – War on the Rocks

Lebanon

In an anxiously anticipated speech Wednesday, Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party, promised there would be a “response and punishment” to the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Beirut on Tuesday that was ascribed to Israel and raised fears of a wider regional war. – Washington Post

Now, as the conflict enters its fourth month, Israel has apparently made good on that threat, risking a wider war along its border with Lebanon even as it begins to draw down troops in Gaza for the first time. – Washington Post

Sean Durns writes: Indeed, Arouri frequently shuttled between all three. That he and other Hamas leaders were in Lebanon, whose armed forces are dependent on U.S. financial assistance, is a searing indictment of American foreign policy in the region. Arouri had the blood of innocents, including Americans, on his hands. Real allies don’t shelter such men; they eliminate them. – Washington Examiner

Yemen

The U.S., Britain and key allies issued what officials described as a final warning to the Houthi Yemeni rebel group Wednesday to cease its attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea or bear the consequences. – Wall Street Journal 

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis said on Wednesday they had “targeted” a container ship bound for Israel, a day after the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said the militant group had fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles in the southern Red Sea. – Reuters

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, spoke at the UN Security Council on Wednesday regarding the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. “The Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea are a precursor to the dark future expected for the region and the entire world if significant action is not taken against them urgently”. – Jerusalem Post

Bobby Ghosh writes: That would present challenges, such as the inconvenient fact that the Southern Movement seeks separation from Yemen, and that corrupt and inept politicians make up the exiled government. Given its age and condition, the Alborz’s deployment is likely to be short. It has already fulfilled its symbolic purposes. But long after the frigate’s return to Bandar Abbas, Iran and its newly elevated ally will represent a danger to the Red Sea. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

American, Israeli and Lebanese officials insist that few parties want Israel’s war in Gaza to become a wider conflict that engulfs the Middle East. But the assassination of a top leader of Hamas in Lebanon on Tuesday, and the deaths of scores of people in mysterious twin explosions in Iran on Wednesday, threatened to bring the Middle East — and the United States — closer to the brink of a regional war. – New York Times

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will depart on Thursday for the Middle East, including a stop in Israel, as the United States continues diplomatic consultations on the Israel-Gaza conflict, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

The United Arab Emirates will stick by its decision to establish warmer relations with Israel even as the Jewish state’s war against militant group Hamas leaves Arab governments under mounting pressure to sever ties. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

South Korean and U.S. troops have conducted joint combat firing drills near the border with North Korea involving heavy weapons, as Pyongyang lambasted the allies for dangerous moves pushing the region to the brink of “an inferno of nuclear war.” – Reuters

North Korea is shaking up the way it handles relations with South Korea, enacting changes to policy and government organisations that would effectively treat the South as a separate, enemy state. – Reuters

South Korea said it will seek to slow the pace of inflation closer to the central bank’s target range within the first half of this year, laying out a series of steps to suppress price pressure that has weighed on the economy. – Bloomberg

China

China’s military will conduct routine patrols with its naval and air forces in the South China Sea from Wednesday to Thursday, the military’s Southern Theater Command said, as ongoing tensions simmer in the region over disputed territories. – Reuters

Five people in a Chinese town near Myanmar were wounded on Wednesday by stray artillery shells from across the border, according to China’s state-controlled Global Times, as fighting between Myanmar’s junta and rebels persisted despite talks. – Reuters

Joseph Bosco writes: When Xi took power in 2013, he adopted that warning from “China’s great friend” and said the Taiwan question “cannot be passed from generation to generation.” Hopefully, Biden told Xi that a Chinese war against Taiwan means China will be at war with the US and the threat of such a war must end with this generation. – Taipei Times

South Asia

India will launch a communications satellite using SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket this year, its first partnership with a venture led by billionaire Elon Musk who also wants to expand his other businesses in the country. – Reuters

India’s Gujarat state is in talks with semiconductor companies in Japan, South Korea and the U.S. for investment in the state, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

Kathy Gannon writes: The Taliban come from within Afghan society. That does not mean all Afghans support the relentless restrictions on girls and women, but it does mean that navigating a way forward requires deeper understanding, less arrogance and more of a homegrown Afghan solution. And like it or not, that means returning to Afghanistan. – New York Times

Asia

Myanmar’s military government will release 9,652 prisoners, including 114 foreigners, under an amnesty to mark the country’s independence day, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

The Philippines and the United States began a two-day joint patrol in the South China Sea on Wednesday, the Philippine military said in a statement, a move that would likely irk China. – Reuters

Taiwan’s government has pointed to military and economic pressure as well as Chinese-subsidised trips to China for local Taiwanese officials, as evidence of Beijing’s alleged interference ahead of the Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary election. – Reuters

The Indonesian government has delayed a plan to purchase 12 Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets previously used by Qatar, due to limited fiscal capacity, a spokesperson for the defence minister said. – Reuters

Europe

Polish farmers will resume their blockade of the Medyka border crossing with Ukraine from Thursday, protest leaders told state-run news agency PAP, as Prime Minister Donald Tusk attempted to defuse the dispute. – Reuters

Editorial: The Biden administration has gone out of its way to be diplomatic, barely mentioning the allegations of election manipulation. Behind closed doors, Mr. Vucic is likely reassuring Western leaders that he is still on their side — that all this is for show. But given how little the conciliatory policy has yielded, the Biden administration ought to ask itself whether it’s time to try something new. – Washington Post

Dessie Zagorcheva writes: The EU and US have plenty of political and financial mechanisms, including new sanctions, to support democracy and the rule of law in Bulgaria. No amount of anti-Russian rhetoric can substitute for concrete action to implement the necessary reforms in the justice system and the security services, unblocking investigations into Russian sabotage and holding corrupt officials to account. – Center for European Policy Analysis

 

Africa

The U.S. is seeking to base military drones along the West African coast in an urgent effort to stop the spread of al Qaeda and Islamic State in the region, according to American and African officials. – Wall Street Journal 

Sierra Leone’s ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma has been charged with four offences including treason for his alleged role in a failed military attempt to topple the West African country’s government in November, a court in the capital Freetown said on Wednesday. – Reuters

African Union Commission Chief Moussa Faki Mahamat called for calm to de-escalate tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia after Addis Ababa signed a pact with Somaliland, a breakaway enclave, to give the landlocked nation access to the Red Sea. – Bloomberg

Latin America

Ecuadoran President Daniel Noboa said on Wednesday he seeking to hold a referendum on imposing tighter security measures in the South American country, where violence and crime have spiraled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. – Reuters

A top Argentine court on Wednesday suspended a package of labor reforms decreed by new President Javier Milei last month, after the nation’s largest union filed an injunction. – Reuters

Venezuela’s oil exports increased 12% last year to almost 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) as the United States eased sanctions imposed since 2019 on the OPEC country’s energy sector, according to data and documents viewed by Reuters. – Reuters

One soldier was killed and 12 were injured Wednesday in an attack with explosives on a military unit in western Colombia that the army blamed on the notorious Gulf Clan drug cartel. – Associated Press

 

United States

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Texas to challenge an immigration law that gives state officials broad powers to arrest, prosecute and deport people who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. – Reuters

Independent U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema said on Wednesday that Senate negotiators were “closing in” on a bipartisan border security deal, which Congress could couple with new emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel. – Reuters

A senior official in the U.S. Education Department stepped down on Wednesday, citing President Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict in Gaza, the latest sign of dissent in the administration as deaths continue to grow in the war. – Reuters

United Nations experts urged U.S. authorities on Wednesday to halt the planned execution of a prisoner by asphyxiation using pure nitrogen, saying the untested method may subject him to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or even torture.” – Reuters

Cybersecurity

Russian hackers were inside Ukrainian telecoms giant Kyivstar’s system from at least May last year in a cyberattack that should serve as a “big warning” to the West, Ukraine’s cyber spy chief told Reuters. – Reuters

Neither Congress nor the Biden administration has moved yet to set new rules for the use of advanced artificial intelligence in health care. Even so, big regulatory questions are coming to the fore. – Politico

The FBI is increasing the number of agents deployed to American embassies abroad to focus on cyber-related crime, part of the bureau’s latest effort to improve the way it combats international cybercrime. – Cyberscoop 

Rishi Iyengar writes: Harbath also warns that China’s use of disinformation as a geopolitical tool has potential far-reaching implications beyond Taiwan or the United States. “They’ll do enough to stir people up in the U.S. and the EU, but their real efforts are going to be in South America and Africa,” she said. In today’s fraught geopolitical climate, as the schism between democracy and autocracy deepens, the stakes for election misinformation have never been higher. – Foreign Policy