Fdd's overnight brief

January 5, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

The border between Israel and Lebanon has become a landscape of abandoned towns and neglected farms as escalating tensions and tit-for-tat strikes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants have displaced more than 150,000 people in both countries. – New York Times

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday outlined Israel’s plans for the next stage of its war in Gaza, with a new more targeted approach in the northern section of the enclave and a continuing pursuit of Hamas leaders in the south. – Reuters

Biden administration officials are drawing up plans for the U.S. to respond to what they’re increasingly concerned could expand from a war in Gaza to a wider, protracted regional conflict. – Politico

The destruction of Hamas’ money in that incident was a successful, joint action undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces’ Operations Directorate, headed at the time by Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, and Harpoon, the secret unit that had been established about a decade earlier in order to monitor, warn the world about and foil the transfer of money to terror groups and Iran. – Haaretz

Editorial: Mr. Biden insists that Israel hand over Gaza after the war to the PA, which he promises will be “revitalized.” But the money the U.S. funnels still ends up subsidizing terrorism. Perhaps the President should redirect his frustration to the Palestinian Authority. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The recent and laudable killing of Hamas No. 2 Saleh al-Arouri by a Beirut drone strike, widely believed to be Israel’s handiwork, represents a major tactical and strategic gain for the Jewish state — to say nothing of sending a clear message to other Hamas bigwigs abroad: Your days are numbered. Israel was careful to signal publicly that it does not want a wider war with Hezbollah, with a government spokesman saying of the strike: “Whoever did this has a gripe with Hamas.” – New York Post

Tom Rogan writes: It is highly improbable — and highly inadvisable — that Biden would order a ground force deployment into Lebanon. Israel likely recognizes as much. Top line: at this moment, the U.S. is playing an increasingly nonexistent role as the Israelis and the Houthis shape their respective strategies. – Washington Examiner

Sander Gerber and Robert Wexler write: The only hope for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies through building a coalition to neutralize Iran and its dedicated obstruction of a two-state solution. Especially now, as Iran progresses towards a nuclear capability, the urgency for the U.S. to act builds by the hour. – The Hill

Daniel Byman writes: The unsatisfying lesson from Oct. 7 is that Israelis must simply do better in many traditional policy areas rather than jettison useful strategic approaches and give in to the understandable anger gripping the country. Israeli intelligence must learn the lessons of its failure on Oct. 7 in order to provide more effective warning, while the country must also strengthen defenses—without relying on them completely. – Foreign Policy

Iran

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility Thursday for a pair of bombings that killed dozens of people a day earlier in the largest attack in Iran since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, dispelling suspicions that Israel might have been behind the attack amid worries of a broadening regional conflagration. – Wall Street Journal

Russia is planning to buy short-range ballistic missiles from Iran, a step that would enhance Moscow’s ability to target Ukraine’s infrastructure at a critical moment in the conflict, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

Iranian officials tried Friday to link Israel and the U.S. to an Islamic State group-claimed suicide bombing while speaking to a mass funeral for some of the 89 people killed in the attack, seeking to intertwine the assault with wider Middle East tensions from the Israel-Hamas war. – Associated Press

Iran’s president and the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp on Friday vowed revenge at the funeral for the victims of twin Islamic State bombings two days earlier. – Reuters

China’s oil trade with Iran has stalled as Tehran withholds shipments and demands higher prices from its top client, tightening cheap supply for the world’s biggest crude importer, refinery and trade sources said. – Reuters

Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. writes: Unfortunately, it is the U.S. that is being deterred, not Iran and its proxies. To reset deterrence, we must apply violence that Tehran understands. Paradoxically, if done earlier, this violence could have been of a far smaller and more measured scale. Indecision has placed us in this position. There is a way forward but it requires the U.S. to set aside the fear of escalation and act according to the priorities of our strategic documents and concepts. Iranians understand steel. They also understand mush. It is time to choose. – Wall Street Journal

Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet write: Israel is likely to keep forcing the issue, widening its attacks against Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Tehran’s nuclear program now represents an existential threat to Jerusalem, and Hezbollah is a key cog in Khamenei’s strategy to deter the IDF from attacking Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier, on Christmas Day, Israel put the IRGC on notice as well, killing Seyed Razi Mousavi, one of its key advisors in Syria. Khamenei’s reckoning is coming. It is only a question of whether Israel or the U.S. delivers it, and in the process saves the Middle East. – The Hill

Salem Alketbi writes: In the context of reading Iranian strategic thinking and possible response scenarios to the killing of Mousavi, it can be said that Iran will continue to bet on its proxies, whether in deterring Israel or responding to it later. Therefore, it is expected that any Iranian response to the killing of Mousavi will be within this framework and through one or all of these agents. – Jerusalem Post

Joseph Humire and John Suarez write: Counterterrorism is not a partisan issue. Maintaining pressure on the regimes in Havana, and Tehran, and enforcing sanctions on Hezbollah and Hamas are good policy decisions. Keeping Cuba on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism list reflects the long track record of bad behavior of the Cuban regime. Turning a blind eye to this from 2015 to 2021 was bad policy, and it put Americans at risk. The U.S. Congress should ensure that the Biden administration does not make this mistake. – Heritage Foundation

Russia & Ukraine

What actually happened on that momentous Tuesday and in the immediate aftermath has since turned into a matter of fundamental disagreement among Ukraine, Western nations and Russia. The Istanbul meeting has also emerged as a key point of discord in America’s own debate about the war, as indispensable U.S. aid to Ukraine remains stalled in Congress because of Republican opposition. Some argue that Ukraine blew a chance at the time to end the war. The real story paints a different, and far more complicated, picture. – Wall Street Journal

Russia has begun firing ballistic missiles provided by North Korea into Ukraine, the latest sign of cooperation between two of Washington’s archnemeses, the White House said Thursday. – Washington Post

The Ukrainian military said on Thursday that its troops were fighting “in the vicinities” of a village behind the eastern frontline town of Marinka, a strong indication that Kyiv’s forces have lost control of the town, more than a week after Moscow claimed to have seized it. – New York Times

When the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant last year for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a Moscow court launched a surprise counterattack: It ordered the arrest of a 70-year-old retired judge in Lithuania. The judge, Kornelija Maceviciene, was not connected in any way to the case against Mr. Putin in The Hague or to investigations into Russian war crimes in Ukraine. – New York Times

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on Thursday allowing foreign nationals who fight for Russia in Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship for themselves and their families. – Reuters

David Ignatius writes: Military strategists always insist that the best way to prevent war is to prepare for it. But we have to admit to ourselves, as another year of bloody conflict begins, that the current model isn’t working. We need new rules at the United Nations to stop wars and a new framework for crisis management with allies and adversaries. Otherwise, in 2024 and beyond, we’ll have to think about the unthinkable. – Washington Post

 

Iraq

A deadly American drone strike Thursday in Baghdad was the first known targeted killing of an Iranian-backed militia leader by the Biden administration, marking a more aggressive bid to stop ongoing attacks on its forces there, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal

An Iraqi government spokesman condemned the United States for the attack, calling it a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty and security of Iraq” and “no different from a terrorist act.” – New York Times

The Iraqi government is forming a committee to prepare the closing down of the U.S.-led international coalition’s mission in the country, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office said on Friday. – Reuters

Turkey

Britain’s trade minister Kemi Badenoch will meet her Turkish counterpart Omer Bolat during a trip to Istanbul on Friday to discuss closer ties, ahead of the expected launch of negotiations on a new free trade deal later this year. – Reuters

U.S. investment giants Pimco and Vanguard have bought local Turkish assets in recent months, senior executives said, betting that the country will maintain high interest rates after years of erratic policymaking under President Tayyip Erdogan. […]That marks a dizzying departure from the days in which foreign investors largely abandoned Turkey as Erdogan oversaw a policy of slashing interest rates. – Reuters

Peter Suciu writes: The Turkish people were not originally what could be described as a “sea-going people,” but in the Ottoman-era, the Turks successfully became a major sea power in the Mediterranean Sea. Now a century after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the modern Turkish Republic could be looking to flex its muscles in the regional waters and far beyond. – The National Interest

Lebanon

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein that there is “a short window of time for diplomatic understandings” to be reached with Hezbollah, as the Lebanese terror group continued to carry out daily attacks on northern Israel. – Agence France-Presse

Thousands of people took to the streets in Beirut Thursday the funeral of Saleh Arouri, top commander of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, who was killed earlier this week in an apparent Israeli airstrike in the Lebanese capital. – Associated Press

Lazar Berman writes: With US special envoy Amos Hochstein in Israel on Thursday, Nasrallah might even find a comfortable excuse to let the Arouri killing go without a major response. The Americans are eager to find a way to lower the flames on Israel’s northern border, and Hezbollah can say it is only following the will of the Lebanese people if a diplomatic arrangement emerges. Nonetheless, war is always a distinct possibility between Israel and Hezbollah. – Times of Israel

Adnan Nasser writes: It is also plausible that this could happen again if Israel deems it necessary. Now, Hochstein must perform a diplomatic miracle and walk this crisis back before it becomes an open war. It will come down to a variety of factors. First, America must guarantee that Israel will not do this again —which seems difficult to believe—given the fact Washington did not provide the go-ahead for Israel to execute this drone strike. Second, there needs to be some reassurance from Hezbollah that it doesn’t go too far in its retaliation. Everything rides on the details. – The National Interest

Arabian Peninsula

Kuwait’s ruler appointed Sheikh Mohammed Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah as the country’s new prime minister, looking to the 68-year-old holder of a Harvard University economics doctorate to lay out a new course that could include economic development. – Bllomberg

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said on Thursday he felt members of the Muslim and Arab communities in the tech industry were uncomfortable speaking about their recent experiences, in an apparent reference to the impact of the ongoing war in Gaza. – Reuters

Yoel Guzansky writes: Given the country’s practical approach to global politics and its desire to maintain its influence on the Palestinian issue, it will likely comply with those demands. For now, however, Washington and Israel must play Qatar’s game—and maneuver to achieve their own ends. – Foreign Affairs

Eli Lake writes: As Americans begin to examine the full extent of foreign funding of its best universities, the story of TAMUQ may become a cautionary tale. For years, the full extent of Qatar’s relationship with Texas A&M had been shrouded from public scrutiny. Now that the contract, which established the campus in Doha, has seen the light of day, it shows that Qatar has been a savvy investor. For a small piece of its vast oil wealth, the Gulf state can accumulate intellectual property generated by one of America’s best engineering universities.  – The Free Press

Yemen

A Houthi drone boat packed with explosives detonated in the Red Sea on Thursday but failed to cause any damage or casualties, the U.S. Navy said, as the Yemen-based group continued its attacks in defiance of international calls to stop. – Reuters

Attacks on cargo vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes have to stop otherwise international action will be taken, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Thursday. – Reuters

While a U.S.-led coalition has been deployed to keep peace in the region, the impact of the burgeoning conflict is already being felt in a number of sectors. And, with Iran vowing to ensure its long-running efforts to pressure Israel continue, it’s likely the crisis has only just begun. Here’s what it means in practice. – Politico

Middle East & North Africa

The simmering crisis in the Middle East, sparked by the start of the war in Gaza nearly three months ago, threatens to boil over amid strikes and violence across the region. Notably, tensions are growing despite few indications that actors in the region are eager to fight. – Washington Post

Jordan on Thursday launched air strikes inside Syria against suspected warehouses and hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers, Jordanian and regional intelligence sources said. – Reuters

Denmark’s Maersk (MAERSKb.CO) said on Thursday it has rerouted four out of five container vessels that were stuck in the Red Sea back towards the Suez Canal and the long journey around Africa to avoid the risk of attack. – Reuters

McDonald’s (MCD.N) CEO Chris Kempczinski said on Thursday several markets in the Middle East and some outside the region were experiencing a “meaningful business impact” due to the Israel-Hamas conflict as well as “associated misinformation” about the brand. – Reuters

A Tunisian anti-terrorism unit arrested Al Jazeera reporter Samir Sassi late on Wednesday, the Tunisian journalists’ union said. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna agreed to seek steps to avoid a wider Middle East war following strikes in Lebanon and Iran, the State Department said Thursday. – Agence France-Presse

Jacob Heilbrunn writes: Biden is sending Amos Hochstein, a senior White House official, to Israel as an emissary. He should make it clear that Biden’s patience is not unlimited. With both Netanyahu and Iran on the defensive, the moment has arrived for a diplomatic solution that can lead the Middle East away from greater strife and toward a more peaceful future. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

North Korea fired more than 200 artillery shells near the western border islands of South Korea on Friday, prompting Seoul to issue an emergency-shelter order for residents at a time when tensions between the two countries have escalated. – Wall Street Journal

The young daughter of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who has frequently accompanied her father at public events, including long-range missile tests, is Mr. Kim’s most likely successor should he die, the South Korean intelligence agency told lawmakers on Thursday. – New York Times

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for boosting production of various missile launch vehicles, calling it an important task to prepare for a “military showdown” with the enemy, state media reported on Friday. – Reuters

China

A widening shake-up in China’s defense establishment has raised questions over leader Xi Jinping’s ability to end corruption in the military and build a modern, combat-ready fighting force as geopolitical challenges crop up along its borders. – Wall Street Journal

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: The economic pain of the property crackdown and the consequences of continuing shifts in global trade will only grow more acute, meaning events are more likely to test Mr. Xi’s nerve to continue. How will he respond? Put another way, will he tolerate such turmoil for the sake of meaningful economic reforms, or only in service of a mightier party and state? Then again, perhaps to ask the question is to answer it. – Wall Street Journal

Jerry Haar writes: Whether the aim is to lessen the effect of a future global pandemic on public health or to mitigate the fallout from a further deterioration in U.S.-China commercial relations, nearshoring provides multinational companies in both nations with a sourcing and investment option that can serve as a buffer against negative economic performance. – The Hill

Minxin Pei writes: Already pessimistic about China’s economic prospects, they will have even less incentive to invest in a country in which their property rights will be in greater peril than before. For foreign investors who are alarmed by the nation’s revised anti-espionage law and the dwindling access to information vital to business decisions, the looming demise of CJO is the latest unwelcome evidence that China is trying to make itself uninvestible. – Bloomberg

South Asia

An Indian Navy warship was moving towards a hijacked Liberian-flagged vessel in the Arabian Sea, and aircraft were closely monitoring the situation, the Indian navy said on Friday. – Reuters

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to extend her 15-year rule in a boycotted election on Sunday. The question now is whether Western governments led by the US will punish the country for its democratic backsliding and push it closer to China. – Bloomberg

The Taliban have arrested women in the Afghan capital for wearing “bad hijab,” a spokesman at the country’s Vice and Virtue Ministry said Thursday. It’s the first official confirmation of a crackdown on women who don’t follow the dress code imposed by the Taliban since they returned to power in 2021 and has echoes with neighboring Iran, which has enforced mandatory hijab for decades. – Associated Press

Asia

A surge in sightings of balloons from China flying over Taiwan has drawn the attention of the island’s military and struck some experts as a calculatedly ambiguous warning to voters weeks before its presidential election. – New York Times

Taiwan’s election next week poses challenges for Washington no matter who wins, with a victory for the ruling party sure to exacerbate tensions with China while an opposition triumph may raise awkward questions about the island’s defense policies. – Reuters

The Philippines remains open to diplomatic discussions with China and believes both nations can achieve a resolution through peaceful dialogue that serves their best interests, its national security adviser said in a statement on Friday. – Reuters

The Philippines on Friday signaled more military activities with the US and other countries, after Beijing criticized the defense allies’ joint patrols in the South China Sea this week. – Bloomberg

Two Chinese navy vessels shadowed Philippines and U.S. ships conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea, the Philippine military said on Thursday, as tensions flare in the region over disputed territorial claims. – Reuters

Europe

Serbia should reintroduce compulsory military service, the defense ministry said Thursday, as tensions continue to escalate in the Balkans. – Associated Press

The United Kingdom is not sufficiently coordinating with France in efforts to reduce the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, according to a French report that points to the “uncertain effectiveness” of illegal migration policies. – Associated Press

Editorial: This is a warning for everyone else because Germany, and Europe generally, is much further down the path of the net-zero transition than the U.S. Two decades and uncountable hundreds of billions of euros into its energy transformation, Germany’s net-zero bills never shrink and the promised boom in green industries and jobs never materializes. Does Washington feel any luckier? – Wall Street Journal

John Bolton writes: Whether Sandu can win a second presidential term is uncertain. What is certain is that Moscow’s efforts to subvert Moldova’s government as part of the effort to reestablish the Russian empire are real and substantial. Sandu’s defeat is central to this strategy’s success, and we will find out by the end of 2024 whether the Kremlin prevails. – Washington Examiner

Africa

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Thursday that a Liberia-flagged bulk carrier had reportedly been boarded by armed individuals southeast of Eyl, Somalia. – Reuters

Sudan recalled its ambassador from Nairobi Thursday in protest at Kenyan President William Ruto’s hosting of talks with paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, its acting foreign minister said. – Agence France-Presse

Ghana’s official creditors are scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss restructuring some $5.4 billion in loans to the country, three sources told Reuters, a key step needed to secure its next tranche of funding from the International Monetary Fund. – Reuters

Supporting African development and tackling the dangers posed by artificial intelligence (AI) will be two key themes for Italy during its one-year presidency of the Group of Seven, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Americas

Cristella’s turn from tourist to eventual pawn in a geopolitical deal illustrates the new risks for American travelers abroad in countries adversarial to the U.S. and how autocratic regimes increasingly use American prisoners as bargaining chips. – Wall Street Journal

El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele took his presidential reelection campaign beyond his tiny country’s borders this week to capitalize on his rising profile across Latin America, and he affirmed that he doesn’t aspire to indefinite reelection. – Associated Press

Kaveh Shahrooz writes: It, therefore, falls upon the upper echelons of the U.S. government to deliver a stern message to Canada: The IRGC is making North America, and indeed the world, less safe. Listing the IRGC as a terrorist group matters. Trudeau’s failure to act is a betrayal of the close relationship between our two countries, a betrayal that is noticed in Washington. – Washington Examiner

Elliott Abrams writes: Maduro can see what’s happening. He probably figures that if he continues to bar Machado from running but allows some much less popular opposition figure on the ballot, Washington will swallow it and the sanctions will stay off. The very sad thing for democrats in Venezuela is that looking at the administration’s record so far, he may well be right. – New York Post

United States

China and Saudi Arabia topped a list of 20 countries whose governments or state-linked entities pumped millions of dollars into Donald Trump’s properties while he was president, according to a new report and previously undisclosed records that shed light on Trump’s potential business conflicts as he seeks a second term. – Wall Street Journal

Lost in the Christmas rush, America quietly expanded its claim to the Arctic seabed by an extra 200,000 square miles, an area twice the size of California. Russians, who celebrate Christmas next Sunday, did not miss Washington’s move. They denounced it as a “seizure.” – New York Sun

Editorial: The real lesson of Ms. Gay’s resignation is that too much of the American academy has abandoned its core mission of learning and free inquiry in favor of political indoctrination. In other words, it has abandoned the classical liberal tradition that earned it public respect over decades. That respect won’t return until these institutions return to that mission. – Wall Street Journal

Marc Champion writes: The US is still a great power. If it fails in Ukraine or the Middle East, if it allows alliances in Europe and the Far East to crumble, that will have been solely a matter of choice. – Bloomberg

Cybersecurity

Leaders of a US House panel on China asked the Biden administration to consider restricting access to capital for Quectel Wireless Solutions Co., saying the Shanghai-based maker of widely used internet-connection modules is tied to the country’s military. – Bloomberg

One of Spain’s biggest mobile carriers said it had restored services after a hacker caused an outage by manipulating crucial information about the company’s internet infrastructure. – The Record

The leadership of U.S. Cyber Command’s key digital warfighting force will officially change hands on Friday, Recorded Future News has learned. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lorna Mahlock will assume command of the Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) during a change of command ceremony at Fort Meade, Maryland. – The Record

Defense

The U.S. Army is resurrecting production for the M777 howitzer after its heavy use by Ukraine brought new demand for a big gun whose most recent order was five years ago. – Wall Street Journal

Something as seemingly simple as picking the right commercial boat radar could make or break the U.S. Marine Corps’ vision for future operations: small units dispersed on islands and beachheads across contested waters, all looking for enemy ships and planes while gathering information to create a common picture of the theater. – Defense News

Editorial: Admirals and lawmakers should stop ordering more ships and focus on the less flashy but more important task of keeping the existing fleet as lethal as it can be. That means shifting funds from shipbuilding to modernizing U.S. shipyards, taking emergency measures to recruit and train skilled workers and boosting incentives to serve on warships. Such steps would send a strong signal to China, and the world, how much this nation expects of its Navy now — and in coming years. – Washington Post

Juan Quiroz writes: The long-term effects of this disengagement between state and society are becoming painfully apparent. More than ever, the U.S. military is struggling to recruit from a society whose young people are increasing unable and unwilling to fulfill the most fundamental civic duty: defending their country. – Foreign Affairs

Mackenzie Eaglen writes: With the feds still stuck in continuing resolution limbo, the Defense Department is slowing outlays and is barred from spending on new programs. Washington must wake from its slumber and go faster and work with more urgency to restore credible conventional deterrence around the world. The cost of fighting will be much higher should policymakers fail to do enough now while they still can. – The National Interest