Fdd's overnight brief

March 15, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Hamas has called for Palestinians to confront Israel at the Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday, when the arrival of large numbers of worshipers presents a test for Israeli authorities aiming to sustain a fragile peace over Ramadan as war rages in Gaza. – Wall Street Journal

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7, 2023, Israel had not just the right to respond but the necessity: to show that Hamas would pay a high price for its savagery, to keep the perpetrators from killing again and to recover those who had been taken hostage. – Wall Street Journal

The Israeli military said it would work with the U.S. to set up a maritime corridor as part of an effort to flood the northern part of the Gaza Strip with aid as international pressure grows on Israel to do more to counter the hunger crisis unfolding in the Palestinian enclave. – Wall Street Journal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies swiftly criticized a pointed speech by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, calling the Israeli leader an obstacle to peace, with the Israeli ambassador to the United States characterizing such claims as “counterproductive.” – New York Times

The appointment on Thursday of Muhammad Mustafa as the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority was supposed to be a nod to international demands for a more technocratic and less corrupt administration. – New York Times

The United States circulated the final draft of a United Nations Security Council resolution late Thursday that would support international efforts to establish “an immediate and sustained cease-fire” in the Israel-Hamas war as part of a deal to release hostages taken captive during Hamas’ surprise attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. – Associated Press

Hamas has presented a Gaza ceasefire proposal to mediators and the U.S. which includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences, according to a proposal seen by Reuters. – Reuters

Senior U.S. officials have told their Israeli counterparts the Biden administration would support Israel going after high-value Hamas targets in and underneath Rafah — as long as Israel avoids a large-scale invasion that could fracture the alliance. – Politico

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office downplayed hopes for an elusive deal with the Hamas terror group to pause fighting in Gaza and release hostages Thursday night, after an Israeli report indicated the sides were on the cusp of sealing an agreement. – Times of Israel

Hamas reportedly killed the leader of the powerful Doghmush clan in Gaza City, because the group allegedly had been stealing humanitarian aid and was suspected of having contact with Israel. – Times of Israel

Qatar is exerting more and more pressure on Hamas to agree to a hostage and ceasefire deal in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told representatives of hostage families on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The first half of Mr. Schumer’s speech largely set out the reasons that friendship with Israel remains in America’s national interest, and what’s at stake for Israel in its war. As uncharacteristic as it would have been for Mr. Schumer, it would have been better for his country, his party, Israel and his own reputation if he had left it at that and stopped talking. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Likewise, the American people do not require input from Jerusalem to determine who should be its president. Here’s a rule the US and Israel would be wise to honor, especially with the US approaching its election in November and Israel likely facing its new election in the not-too-distant future: You stay out of my elections, and I’ll stay out of yours. – Jerusalem Post

Rebecca Sugar and Michael Freund write: “The Jews are an open-minded people,” Mr. Khaloul says. “They want to know about the people who are sharing statehood with them, who are willing to defend the country.” That shared sense of affection and purpose binds Jews and Christians together at one of the most critical moments in Israel’s history. “This is our role in this land as Christians,” he says, “to build bridges.” – Wall Street Journal

Marc Champion writes: You might even call that hypocritical, but I prefer manipulative. Gaza and Ukraine, like other wars, should be judged on their own merits, which are complicated and controversial enough. They should not be compared to score points in some wider polemical fight. Doing so risks getting both wars wrong. – Bloomberg

Seth Mandel writes: Which leads us to an important conclusion. The people stirring the pot of incitement against Israel are doing so in China’s defense. The haters of the West and of the American-led world order also hate Israel, and vice versa. It helps to know where people stand. – Commentary

Iran

With ally Hamas under attack in Gaza, the head of Iran’s Quds Force visited Beirut in February to discuss the risk posed if Israel next aims at Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an offensive that could severely hurt Tehran’s main regional partner, seven sources said. – Reuters

Iran is using European ports to provide cover for shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, The Telegraph can reveal. The Lebanese terror group has received missiles and bombs on ships that go on to dock in ports in Belgium, Spain and Italy, sources said. – The Telegraph

Russia, China and Iran completed the at-sea phase of the Sea Security Belt 2024 exercise on Thursday near the Gulf of Oman and carried out a shore phase along with a debriefing in the Iranian city of Chabahar, with the drills scheduled to end on Friday. – USNI News

IRIB, the Iranian news agency, announced that Brace Concrete Industries, an Iranian enterprise, has inked a deal worth $500 million with the Taliban’s Railway Authority. This contract, revealed on Wednesday, commits the Iranian firm to supplying 20,000 railway sleepers for the development of Afghanistan’s railway infrastructure. – Afghanistan International

Russia & Ukraine

With its army short of ammunition and troops to break the deadlock on the battlefield, Ukraine has increasingly taken the fight behind Russian lines, attacking warships, railways and airfields in an attempt to diminish Moscow’s military operations. Most recently, that campaign has focused on oil infrastructure, hitting refineries deep in Russian territory and driving home the country’s vulnerability to such attacks. – New York Times

With Alexei Navalny dead and buried in a Moscow graveyard and other anti-Kremlin politicians in exile or jailed, Russia’s opposition is at a low ebb. But on Sunday, as Russians go to the polls, opponents of President Vladimir Putin will stage a symbolic protest they hope will resonate. – Reuters

Russian air defence systems shot down seven Vampire missiles launched by Ukraine at Russia’s Belgorod region, Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement on Friday. – Reuters

A senior Ukrainian intelligence official said on Thursday that armed groups he described as Russians opposed to the Kremlin were pressing an incursion into Russian territory and had turned two border regions into “active combat zones”. – Reuters

Just before Russia’s presidential election six years ago, Vladimir Putin delighted lawmakers by showing off video simulations of the country’s newest strategic weapons. One was even aimed at a map of Florida. – Bloomberg

Latvia Prime Minister Evika Silina said she supports the idea of sending NATO troops to Ukraine to train the country’s soldiers, after French President Emmanuel Macron signaled he was open to such a move. – Bloomberg

Two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is restructuring and expanding the country’s military in anticipation of a conflict with NATO within the next 10 years, Estonia’s foreign and military intelligence chiefs said in an interview on Wednesday. – Foreign Policy

Turkey

Turkey and Iraq reached a landmark security deal to crack down on Kurdish militants holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq […] Turkey welcomed a decision by Iraq to label the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a “banned organization” and the two countries discussed measures against the group, according to a joint statement late Thursday. – Bloomberg

Britain and Turkey said on Thursday they will launch negotiations on a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with a view to including services as well as goods in the deal. – Reuters

“Transnational repression” — or a government going abroad to silence an opposition activist — is increasingly a mainstay topic for rights organizations covering Central Asia, with the region’s three most authoritarian countries — Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — all high-level offenders. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Lebanon

A UN investigation found there was “no exchange of fire” before an Israeli tank shelled journalists in Lebanon in October, killing one and wounding six, its report seen by AFP on Thursday showed. – Agence France-Presse

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave his Ramadan speech on Wednesday and, as usual, exploited recent events in Israel and political tensions in his message. In his remarks, Nasrallah discussed the Israeli draft bill and commented on Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef’s threat: “If they force us to go to the army, we’ll all leave the country.” – Ynet

Ehud Olmert writes: It must be remembered that south Lebanon is not part of the historical Land of Israel, which the Netanyahu government has pledged to keep under our control forever. This is exactly the card we can play to avoid being dragged into another war, one that would be very painful for Israel, too, and that is entirely pointless and unnecessary. – Haaretz

Yemen

The longer the war in Gaza goes on and Yemen’s Houthi rebels keep attacking ships in the Red Sea the greater the risk that Yemen could be propelled back into war, the U.N. special envoy for the poorest Arab nation warned Thursday. – Associated Press

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim to have a new, hypersonic missile in their arsenal, Russia’s state media reported Thursday, potentially raising the stakes in their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and surrounding waterways against the backdrop of Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. – Associated Press

A merchant vessel reported it had been hit by a missile and sustained damage 76 nautical miles west of Yemen’s Hodeidah, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations(UKMTO) and the British security firm Ambrey said on Friday. – Reuters

The leader of Yemen’s Houthis, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, said on Thursday the group’s operations targeting vessels will escalate to prevent Israel-linked ships from passing through the Indian Ocean towards the Cape of Good Hope. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

A federal bank that finances projects overseas voted Thursday to put $500 million toward an oil and gas project in Bahrain, a transaction that critics said was out of step with President Biden’s climate commitments. – New York Times

Gregg Roman writes: The United States must seize this moment to broker a deal that leverages Saudi Arabia’s potential as a stabilizing force and a beacon of progress in the Middle East. Such an agreement would not only be in America’s interest, but would also herald a new chapter of peace and prosperity for the entire region. – Algemeiner

Moin Kikhia writes: So, perhaps now is the time for the UN to step back. It is also time too for our leaders, from East and West, to recognize that a joint way forward is possible, providing a Libyan solution to a Libyan challenge. Essential national interests can be managed on a national basis. This is already understood. But recognition that a critical degree of local autonomy can exist within this Libyan solution will bring key actors on board, and a Libyan solution will be achievable. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea is poised to host the third Summit for Democracy next week, taking up a U.S.-led initiative aimed at discussing ways to stop democratic backsliding and erosion of rights and freedoms worldwide. – Reuters

U.S. special operations troops in South Korea are training and preparing for unexpected threats at a time when global crises are more interconnected than ever, their commander said during an exercise this week. – Reuters

South Korean police raided the head office of Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) (047810.KS), opens new tab on Friday in connection with two Indonesian nationals accused of leaking technology related to a fighter jet project, a police official said. – Reuters

During recent military exercises, North Korea showcased a new tank, which was observed by leader Kim Jong-un, Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam, and Chief of the General Staff Ri Yong-gil. Dubbed the “M2020,” the new tank, first revealed in a 2020 military parade, appears ready for deployment. – The National Interest

China

These kinds of tips on how to make it through U.S. border control have filled online discussion forums as frustrated Chinese students describe being questioned, sometimes for hours, and having their belongings searched at U.S. airports while on their way to American universities. – Washington Post

The Chinese government is signaling that it won’t allow a forced sale of TikTok, limiting options for the app’s owners as buyers begin lining up to bid for its U.S. operations. – Wall Street Journal

China is expanding security partnerships with island states across the Pacific, according to American lawmakers and officials wary of the communist regime moving to curtail U.S. influence in a critical region. – Washington Examiner

China is winning the hypersonic weapons race and is moving full speed ahead with plans to expand the reach of these hard-to-target weapons, an intelligence analyst says. – Newsweek

Daniel Moss writes: So, let’s hear it for skepticism. India is now widely proclaimed as the hot new thing, a replacement for China as the comer economy. What could possibly go wrong with that narrative? Repeat it often enough and it may come true. Until the next one comes along. – Bloomberg

Sheena Chestnut Greitens and Isaac Kardon write: Ultimately, the United States must decide where and how to compete—and craft its partnerships in ways that both stabilize international security and protect democracy and human rights. Washington will need to get much more comfortable navigating these complex and overlapping security relationships, because this form of global competition is here to stay. – Foreign Affairs

South Asia

China has carried out a live-fire test at the contested border with India in a show of force as tensions between the two Asian giants fester. – Newsweek

The National Resistance Front in Afghanistan is claiming that their strike on the Taliban at the heart of Kabul reflects a new strategy by the resistance as the traditional spring fighting season begins. – New York Sun

Khinvraj Jangid writes: Doval’s visit serves as a reminder Israel cannot take its newly blossoming relationship with India for granted. Israel, increasingly unpopular around the world because of the war in Gaza, needs India more than it ever has before. Let’s hope Netanyahu got the message. – Haaretz

Akhil Ramesh and Samir Kalra write: On balance, the UAE, Greece, Israel, and France accept India for what it is, while the United States decries and prescribes what it should be. Will prescriptive policy work well with a nation-state that simultaneously represents a civilization several thousands of years old, a post-colonial society, the world’s fifth-largest economy (soon to be third), the world’s largest population, and nuclear power? We will soon find out. – The National Interest

Asia

President Joe Biden came out in opposition to the planned sale of U.S. Steel to Nippon Steel of Japan, saying on Thursday that the U.S. needs to “maintain strong American steel companies powered by American steel workers.” – Associated Press

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Thursday praised the progress made by the 14 countries in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity after the group held a ministerial meeting Thursday to discuss proposed guidelines for regional commerce. – Associated Press

Australia will resume funding to the United Nations’ main Palestinian relief agency, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Friday, almost two months after pausing ties over allegations that some of the agency’s employees participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. – Reuters

The United States will open an embassy in Vanuatu “imminently” and is working to get the approval of the parliament in Kiribati for a mission, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said on Thursday, while reiterating warnings to Pacific Island countries of the dangers of agreements with China. – Reuters

Japan’s ruling parties agreed to allow exports of a next-generation fighter jet the country is developing with two European partners, a coalition lawmaker said, further easing Tokyo’s restrictions on selling weapons abroad. – Bloomberg

Emil Avdaliani writes: Economics are also relevant. Trade between Armenia and Russia in 2023 stood at $7.3bn — a  staggering increase of 43% from 2022 (which many in the West believe is linked to enormous sanctions evasion.) Moscow could easily use this as a means of pressure. Armenia faces numerous difficulties in executing a Western pivot, but we are certainly witnessing a testing of the ground. Russia’s bad-tempered response indicates the many problems ahead. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Jane Darby Menton and Andrew W. Reddie write: Taiwan now finds itself backed into something of a corner by its own colorful history. How the Lai administration responds at this inflection point may determine whether the island’s nuclear legacy lives on, or whether it gives up these ghosts once and for all. – Foreign Policy

Europe

Italy’s competition watchdog fined TikTok 10 million euros ($10.9 million), saying the company isn’t doing enough to prevent the dissemination of what it called potentially dangerous content on the popular video-sharing app. – Wall Street Journal

It’s a relationship that has become defined by snubs, sanctions and public rebukes. But in recent days, U.S.-Hungarian relations appear to have reached new levels of post-Cold War lows. – Washington Post

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said he was “very concerned” that Kosovo’s decision to ban the use of Serbian dinar in the north could cause “an emerging humanitarian issue” for the ethnic Serb minority. – Associated Press

German lawmakers on Thursday rejected a new call by the opposition for the government to send Taurus long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, a day after Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended his refusal to supply the weapons. – Associated Press

The European Union was embroiled in a legal standoff on Thursday between its legislature and its executive Commission over the release of billions in frozen funds to the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at a time when his consent was essential for a deal to open EU membership talks with Ukraine. – Associated Press

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will host his French and Polish counterparts in Berlin on Friday in a bid to project European unity on support for Ukraine after weeks of friction between the allies. – Reuters

Italy has continued to export arms to Israel, the Italian defence minister said on Thursday, despite assurances last year that the government was blocking such sales following Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip. – Reuters

Belarus has reportedly deployed tanks near its border with NATO, while tensions between Russia and the strategic alliance continue to simmer amid the war in Ukraine. – Newsweek

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: Europe’s consensus isn’t immutable, it is plainly broken and it needs a revamp. But that revamp requires the hard labor of persuasion and good governance rather than crude political vandalism. Portugal’s third-place Chega is lucky to be spared the indignity of having to try. – Wall Street Journal

Africa

Senegal’s top opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, was released from jail late Thursday ahead of the presidential election later this month, triggering jubilant celebrations across the capital. – Associated Press

The Somali extremist group al-Shabab said its fighters have attacked a hotel in the capital Mogadishu, where a loud explosion and gunfire were heard Thursday night. – Associated Press

A dozen countries across Africa suffered a major internet outage on Thursday as multiple undersea telecommunication cables reported failures, network operators and internet watch groups said. – Associated Press

Rachel O’Donoghue writes: More than 10 times the amount of news coverage was given to Gaza compared to Sudan during an equal period following the start of each conflict [….] For the media, when it comes to Israel, the myriad injustices and atrocities occurring around the globe seemingly dissolve into the background, becoming unworthy of the same scrutiny or outrage. Although all too familiar to Israel and its supporters, the selective moral outrage is depressing nonetheless. – Algemeiner

Tibor Nagy and Joshua Meservey write: The Horn of Africa is an increasingly strategic region, yet the United States’s ability to defend its interests there continues to wane. Washington is partly hampered by incorporating the fiction that Somaliland is functionally part of Somalia into its policies. It is time for a pragmatic American approach that correctly calculates U.S. interests, starting with working to ease the tensions around the proposed Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal. If cooler heads prevail, the port deal’s economic and security benefits will be well worth applause. – The National Interest

The Americas

A plan to create a transitional presidential council is moving forward after a majority of Haitian parties and coalitions submitted the names of those charged with finding new leaders for the country, Caribbean officials said Thursday. – Associated Press

Brazil is interested in exporting soy, corn and other products through Peru’s China-controlled Chancay port, Peruvian Economy Minister Jose Arista said on Thursday, according to state news agency Andina. – Reuters

Venezuela opposition leader Maria Corina Machado is facing increasing pressure from her allies to choose a substitute to potentially run in her place in the July presidential election, five sources with knowledge of the matter said. Machado, a 56-year-old industrial engineer, won the opposition’s nominating contest in October by a landslide, but Venezuela’s top court has since upheld a ban on her candidacy that was imposed over her support of U.S. sanctions, among other things. – Reuters

Argentina’s Senate on Thursday voted to reject President Javier Milei’s sprawling “mega decree” of economic reforms, a major blow to the libertarian leader’s austerity agenda as he tries to remedy the country’s ailing economy. – Reuters

Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida are urging the Biden administration to designate Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua as a transnational criminal organization in a new effort to curb the gang’s alleged expansion into the US. – Bloomberg

President Biden’s pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to Haiti is hitting obstacles in Congress, with some lawmakers expressing concern that further aid to the embattled country could land in the wrong hands and entangle America in an indefinite conflict. – New York Sun

United States

Two years into office, President Donald Trump authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to launch a clandestine campaign on Chinese social media aimed at turning public opinion in China against its government, according to former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the highly classified operation. – Reuters

The program that allows Afghan allies to immigrate to the U.S. is in danger of running out of visas this summer as approving more of the visas becomes a sticking point in Congress’ negotiations over an upcoming government funding bill. – Military.com

Peggy Noonan writes: Then, his approval ratings sinking, he decided to open an account on TikTok to sway its young hep-cat users. (He says he’ll sign a final bill.) What a crew. How mutually swampy. It is a cliché that it’s not what’s done in secret in Washington that’s a scandal but what’s done in public, right under your nose. It’s a cliché because it’s true. – Wall Street Journal

David French writes: It seems clear that M.I.T., Harvard and other campuses have failed to uphold their moral and legal responsibilities. Now it falls upon the engine of American justice to impose its consequences and to prove — to this generation and the ones that follow — that this truly is a government “which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” – New York Times

Cybersecurity

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to approve the U.S. Cyber Trust Mark, a voluntary label that denotes that consumer Internet of Things devices like “smart” home appliances meet baseline security standards. – CyberScoop

Japanese automaker Nissan said that the personal information of about 100,000 individuals in Australia and New Zealand was exposed during a cyberattack that the company reported in December. – The Record

When Iranian government operatives hacked into water utilities across the U.S. late last year, it was a chilling reminder of how vulnerable the water sector remains — and how tortuous the efforts to regulate its cybersecurity have been. – The Record

Defense

The Pentagon is embarking on a $1 billion program to build an armada of remote-controlled killer sea drones. – Newsweek

America’s military leaders in the Pacific are asking Congress for a surge in funding to keep their edge against China. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is pushing back the start of construction on its next-generation attack submarine by nearly a decade, citing tight budgets and a need to fund current and near-term operations. – Defense News

The new head of US Northern Command and NORAD, Gen. Gregory Guillot, is calling for an increased US military “presence” via exercises along Alaska’s coast to help push back against growing Chinese and Russian military activity in the Arctic. – Breaking Defense 

Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis write: Much like the nuclear arms race of the last century, the AI arms race will define this current one. Whoever wins will possess a profound military advantage. Make no mistake, if placed in authoritarian hands, AI dominance will become a tool of conquest, just as Alexander expanded his empire with the new weapons and tactics of his age. The ancient historian Plutarch reminds us how that campaign ended: “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” – Wall Street Journal

Michael J. Boskin and Kiran Sridhar write: But episodic supplemental appropriations are no substitute for a consistently adequate budget. And as Reagan showed, only a determined president can persuade a war-weary public and wary Congress to support the sustained investment in national security that is the foundation of freedom, peace and prosperity. The next president will have a lot on his plate, but rebuilding the nation’s military must be job No. 1. – Wall Street Journal

Bryan Clark and Dan Patt write: Buying more of today’s ships, aircraft, or weapons even with better integration, will not solve the DoD’s fundamental geographic, strategic, and fiscal disadvantages in stopping a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. To turn the tables and regain the advantage, the Pentagon needs a hedge force that will ensure every shot counts. – DefenseScoop