Fdd's overnight brief

May 14, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Battles between Israel and Hamas intensified across the Gaza Strip on Monday, as mediators pushed for a resumption of talks to pause fighting and free hostages held in the enclave. – Wall Street Journal

Intensifying conflict in southern Gaza has trapped a team of international doctors, including at least 10 Americans, in a hospital near the city of Rafah, further jeopardizing conditions for both the aid workers and scores of their critically wounded Palestinian patients, medical personnel told The Washington Post. – Washington Post

At a White House news briefing Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Israel has not yet crossed a red line in its military operation in Rafah, a densely populated area in southern Gaza where Israel is advancing. President Biden last week warned that he would halt the shipment of U.S. offensive weapons to Israel “if they go into Rafah.” – Washington Post

A U.N. staff member employed by the U.N. Department of Safety and Security was killed while traveling in a U.N. vehicle from Rafah to the European Hospital in the southwest corner of Khan Younis, according to a statement Monday by Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the secretary general. Another U.N. staffer was injured in the attack. – Washington Post

The Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has for years overseen a secret police force in Gaza that conducted surveillance on everyday Palestinians and built files on young people, journalists and those who questioned the government, according to intelligence officials and a trove of internal documents reviewed by The New York Times. – New York Times

Hamas’ armed wing Al Qassam Brigades said on Monday it had lost contact with militants guarding four Israeli hostages, including U.S.-Israeli citizen Hersh Goldberg-Polin, because of Israeli bombardment of Gaza over the past 10 days. – Reuters

Israeli protesters blocked aid trucks headed for Gaza on Monday, strewing food packages on the road in the latest in a series of incidents that have come as Israel has pledged to allow uninterrupted humanitarian supplies into the besieged enclave. – Reuters

The Biden administration does not see it likely or possible that Israel will achieve “total victory” in defeating Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said on Monday. – Reuters

Israeli forces pushed deep into the ruins of Gaza’s northern edge on Monday to recapture an area from Hamas fighters, while in the south tanks and troops pushed across a highway into Rafah, leaving Palestinian civilians scrambling to find safety. – Reuters

More than seven months into the Israel-Hamas war, the Biden administration’s top priority is to try and secure a hostage deal. This would commence a weeks-long truce, but Washington’s goal is for that pause to be turned permanent. – Times of Israel

Editorial: If it continues to succeed, Jerusalem expects Mr. Biden will adapt and take credit. If it gets ugly, Jerusalem expects an “I told you so.” That’s no way for the U.S. to treat an ally at war, but that’s politics in this White House—like the arms embargo. – Wall Street Journal

Mark Goldfeder writes: For its part, the United Nations seems relatively unconcerned about all of the above. Perhaps the General Assembly, which is so practiced at the art of make-believe, is simply planning to invent another wealthy country to take our place should the need arise, and vote to pretend it still has funding. – The Hill

Iran

The United States called on Iran on Monday to halt its transfer of an “unprecedented” amount of weaponry to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, enabling their fighters to carry out “reckless attacks” on ships in the Red Sea and elsewhere. – Associated Press

Mohammad Rasoulof, a celebrated Iranian director whose latest film is competing in the Cannes Film Festival, has fled Iran after being sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging. – Reuters

Israel’s retaliatory attack against Iran’s sophisticated radar system in Isfahan in April carried a strong message that the Islamic Republic’s defense capabilities could not match Israel’s military might, a top Israeli insider and ex-military official told Iran International. – Iran International

Russia & Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a two-day visit to Ukraine to buttress the morale of the government in Kyiv and help channel the delivery of $60 billion in newly approved U.S. aid to help resist a grinding Russian offensive. – Wall Street Journal

The job advertised on the Telegram messaging app in early 2023 didn’t appear to demand much: Spray-paint graffiti on remote fences and highway underpasses for $7 a pop. […]Late last year, Leha received a six-year sentence on espionage charges, after a trial in which he was painted as a ringleader. […]It is unclear whether the information provided by Leha and the other recruits directly led to Russian strikes on the shipments of Western weapons that have regularly transited into Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. – Wall Street Journal

Ukraine is shooting down a far smaller proportion of Russian missile attacks than it was earlier in the war. The worsening performance of Ukraine’s air defenses comes as Russia increases drone and missile attacks, and fires more harder-to-hit weapons, such as ballistic missiles. Kyiv is also running low on ammunition for the Western-supplied Patriot systems that have been its best defense against such attacks. – Wall Street Journal

Vladimir Putin’s surprise selection of Andrei Belousov, an economist, as defense minister is the clearest sign yet that Russia has shifted its economy onto a war footing and that the fate of Russian forces in Ukraine depends heavily on winning an arms manufacturing race with the West. – Washington Post

Ukraine’s military is confronting a “critical” situation in the country’s northeast, facing troop shortages as it tries to repel a Russian offensive that has been advancing for several days, a top Ukrainian general said on Monday. – New York Times

Russia’s defense minister reshuffle was a further indication of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “desperation to sustain” his invasion of Ukraine, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Monday. – Reuters

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said the long delay by the U.S. Congress in approving military aid for his country was “a colossal waste of time,” allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to inflict more suffering in the 2-year-old invasion and prolonging the war. – Associated Press

Josh Rogin writes: Many on the far right argue that U.S. aid to Ukraine is only prolonging the conflict. If these anti-Ukraine voices would talk to actual Ukrainians, they would realize that surrender is nowhere in sight. Ukrainians would rather be at war than be at “peace” under Putin’s control. The West promised to help them stay free; now, it’s up to us to keep that promise. – Washington Post

Alexander J. Motyl writes: Supreme leaders, especially those of advanced age and long tenure, are prone to making mistakes, resisting reforms, pursuing self-enrichment and encouraging buck-passing. They never measure up to Plato’s philosopher kings. Sooner or later, dictators fall flat on their faces, because their regimes really are brittle. And that’s not wishful thinking. – The Hill

Rhiannon Neilsen writes: Knowing that these efforts are now part of Putin’s war strategy, irrespective of whether he is victorious, means Ukraine’s own war strategy should shift. Previously, there has been a strict delineation between the collection, retention, and protection of war crime evidence and the war itself. No more. Not in cyberspace. – War on the Rocks

Hezbollah

The head of powerful Lebanese armed group Hezbollah said on Monday that residents of northern Israel would not be able to return home for the start of the next school year if their government pressed on with its offensive in the Gaza Strip. – Reuters

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday urged Lebanese authorities to open the seas for migrant boats to reach Europe, amid soaring anti-Syrian sentiment and accusations the West is seeking to keep refugees in Lebanon. – Agence France-Presse

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address Monday that Israel was facing a “historical dilemma” in its war in Gaza between defeat and an “abyss.” – Times of Israel

Four soldiers were wounded in northern Israel by anti-tank guided missile fire from Lebanon on Monday, as the country marked Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, the military and medical officials said. – Times of Israel

Turkey

Turkey will rein in public spending and boost efficiency under a savings plan announced on Monday, launching only essential state investment projects in a fresh move to build confidence in an economic tightening programme. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during talks in Ankara on Monday that there were “no unsolvable problems” between their countries. – Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that more than 1,000 members of the militant Palestinian group Hamas were being treated in hospitals across Turkey as he reiterated his stance that it was a “resistance movement”. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

In the almost 45 years since their historic peace deal, Israel and Egypt have become essential partners, a close though never warm relationship that underpins both countries’ national security. Israel’s Rafah offensive is threatening to undo all of that. – Wall Street Journal

An Iraqi commanding officer and four soldiers were killed and five others injured on Monday in an attack by suspected Islamic State militants on an army post in eastern Iraq, two security sources said. – Reuters

Nickolay Mladenov writes: However, the full implications of the Gulf’s emerging negotiation style will become more apparent with time as more cases of their mediation efforts unfold and as the global community observes the long-term outcomes of their interventions. Monitoring these developments will be crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the Gulf’s role and methods in international conflict resolution and their commitment to upholding human rights principles in the process. – Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development

Michael Knights, Amir al-Kaabi, and Hamdi Malik write: Some attacks in Iraq and Syria since October have not been claimed, most likely because they represent instances in which Iran-linked Syrian Arab militias (e.g., the Sons of Jazira and Euphrates (Furat) Movement) targeted bases run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Strikes on Israel have been retained in the table but excised from the serial numbering to keep the count focused on attacks against U.S. sites in Syria and Iraq. These steps should partially close the gap between Militia Spotlight’s numbers and those issued by the U.S. Defense Department, though we may still count slightly differently (e.g., Militia Spotlight counts all attempted attacks, successful or otherwise). – Washington Institute

Marlene Laruelle writes: As the fastest-growing jihadi group in Russia, ISIS-K now dominates the local jihadi scene. In January, it announced a new global campaign “against Jews, Christians, and Shiites,” and it aims to recruit desperate young people to fight for the movement. Tajikistan will continue to be a cradle for jihadi recruitment—and Islamist militancy emanating from Central Asia will continue to threaten Russia, Turkey, and the West—until governments find a way to address its root causes. – Foreign Affairs

Brent D. Sadler and Nicole Robinson write: The Red Sea serves as a critical thoroughfare for energy and consumer goods. With no apparent end in sight, U.S. consumers and taxpayers will feel the effects. To mitigate existing and future challenges in the global supply chain, Congress should convene industry leaders, military, and diplomats together to inform legislation that protects U.S. interests in the Red Sea and beyond. – The National Interest

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s intelligence service is investigating reports that North Korea has shipped decades-old munitions to Russia for use against Ukrainian forces. – Newsweek

Ralph Cossa writes: Also, recall that Candidate Trump is not the first presidential aspirant to threaten to remove U.S. forces from Korea. That “honor” goes to Jimmy Carter, who discovered as president that this was easier said than done.  And that was before the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2024 insured that no future US president (read: Trump) could unilaterally remove US forces from Europe or Asia without Congressional approval, demonstrating that the US system of checks and balances remains alive and well. (It also signals a realization that many in Congress on both sides of the political divide share Korea’s fears about the future of the alliance.) – The National Interest

Bruce E. Bechtol writes: Pyongyang has tested a solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile in recent months. Further, not only do the North Koreans have a very accurate copycat version of the Russian Iskander, but they have now proliferated dozens of these systems to the Russians themselves for use against Ukraine. The Iskander is a short-range ballistic missile, so Iranian forces would need to get much closer to Israel in order to launch one – or get one of their proxies to use it. These and other possible upgrades to Iran’s ballistic missile forces would greatly amplify the threat from Tehran. – The National Interest

China

U.K. police charged three men on Monday, including a U.K. Border Force official and a former Royal Marines commando, with allegedly helping Hong Kong’s intelligence services spy on dissidents based in Britain. – Wall Street Journal

The United States and China will hold their first high-level talks over the risks of artificial intelligence on Tuesday in Geneva, as the two governments seek to prevent disastrous accidents and unintended war amid an arms race for the emerging technology. – Washington Post

Hong Kong leader John Lee on Tuesday called for full information from British authorities on the arrests of three men, including a manager at a Hong Kong government office in the UK, who were charged with assisting Hong Kong’s foreign intelligence service. – Reuters

A tiny, low-priced electric car called the Seagull has American automakers and politicians trembling. The car, launched last year by Chinese automaker BYD, sells for around $12,000 in China, but drives well and is put together with craftsmanship that rivals U.S.-made electric vehicles that cost three times as much. A shorter-range version costs under $10,000. – Associated Press

Dan Blumenthal and Fred Kagan write: Beijing has many ways to successfully gain control of Taiwan, including intensifying its ongoing “gray zone” operations. China may seek to exploit Taiwanese vulnerabilities, primarily Taiwan’s international isolation and lack of alliance relations, in a coordinated short of war coercion campaign that inflicts massive pain on Taiwanese society and prevents U.S. intervention. By focusing on the means by which China is likely to intensify its coercion efforts, the U.S. can overcome them. – The Hill

Matthew Eitel writes: As the US cracks down, European and Asian allies could revolt. China could start weaponizing its considerable leverage in other areas such as legacy chips, solar panels, or critical minerals. The tech Cold War would intensify, fracturing the global tech ecosystem — and hurting everyone. – Center for European Policy Analysis

South Asia

Vast protests have broken out in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir, driven by outrage over soaring electricity bills and flour prices in a region that has long suffered economically because of its status as a conflict zone. – New York Times

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif approved a grant of 24 billion rupees ($86 million) on Monday for Pakistan-ruled Kashmir where there have been several days of violent protests over inflation. – Reuters

Pakistani and U.S. officials have held their latest talks in Washington on how to expand cooperation in tackling the threat posed to regional security by an affiliate of the Islamic State group and the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Monday. – Associated Press

John Calabrese writes: Given these pressures, the new government in Islamabad might yield to the temptation to rely predominantly on violent suppression and militarized investment zones to propel CPEC and the Gwadar port forward. However, such an approach is likely to reinforce the neo-colonial narrative portraying Balochistan as exploited by external forces for its resources, and ultimately backfire. Recognizing local grievances and embracing a development-centric strategy that prioritizes the socio-economic needs of communities and encourages grassroots involvement in decision-making and implementation is crucial for nurturing sustainable progress. – Middle East Institute

Asia

The U.S. and Taiwan navies conducted joint drills in the Pacific in April that, officially, did not take place, four people briefed on the matter said, as the two militaries boost cooperation amid rising Chinese military threats. – Reuters

The Philippines said on Monday that it would keep a closer guard on reefs, shoals and islets in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, as China denied accusations of trying to build an artificial island in the disputed waters. – Reuters

China and South Korea should seek stable ties despite their recent “difficulties”, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his South Korean counterpart on Monday at a rare meeting in Beijing held amid tensions over Taiwan and other regional issues. – Reuters

Cambodia and China begin their annual Golden Dragon military exercise this week to strengthen cooperation and exchange military experiences, a Cambodian official said Monday. – Associated Press

Europe

The European Union has drawn up pledges of long-term security support for Ukraine, assuring Kyiv of more weapons, military training and other aid for years to come, according to a draft document. – Reuters

European Union candidate North Macedonia sought Monday to calm disputes with EU neighbors Greece and Bulgaria that flared up following the landslide election victory of a conservative-backed coalition and president. – Associated Press

When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hungary last week, he arrived to one of the few places in the European Union where his country is considered an indispensable ally rather than a rival. By the time he left on Friday, he’d secured deals that provide fertile ground for China’s plans of economic expansion in Europe. – Associated Press

Mamuka Tsereteli writes: Economically, meanwhile, Georgian security requires meaningful cooperation on the development of regional infrastructure and on the enhancement of energy and trade connectivity between Europe, the Black Sea and the Caspian. Doing so would increase the country’s attractiveness and importance as an energy, commodity and container transit hub – not to mention a reliable trade partner – for numerous global actors. To be sure, none of these options will create ironclad security guarantees for Georgia. For the moment, however, they are the only tangible options available to Tbilisi. – American Foreign Policy Council

Africa

A crucial military relationship between the United States and its closest West African ally, the country of Niger, ruptured this spring after a visiting U.S. official made threats during last-ditch negotiations over whether American troops based there would be allowed to remain, according to the country’s prime minister. – Washington Post

Uganda is in talks with Chinese firm Sinohydro (SINOH.UL) Corporation Limited for the development of a $180 million power transmission line to allow Uganda to export power to energy-starved South Sudan, the president’s office said. – Reuters

Rwanda has denied claims by neighboring Burundi that it armed a rebel group that was accused of carrying out a grenade attack, as relations between the two countries continue to be strained. – Associated Press

Walter Russell Mead writes: Three decades of development aid, democracy promotion and human rights activism by Western diplomats and NGO staffers have culminated in the Wagner Group’s conquests in Africa, just as 20-plus years of American social engineering failed to sideline the Taliban in Afghanistan. Hope isn’t a plan. Team Biden needs to rethink its Africa policy. Until the West absorbs the lessons of past failures, Wagner will continue to roll. – Wall Street Journal

The Americas

Editorial: The main lingering uncertainty relates to Mr. Evans’s fourth criterion: force sufficiency. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, who commanded Australian troops in a humanitarian intervention in East Timor in 1999, memorably attributed his success to telling local militias, “there’s only one military force allowed to posture here, and that’s my force.” If the Haiti operation cannot say the same to that country’s gangs, it could fail. With enough U.S. help, though, the mission could save Haitian lives and breathe much-needed new life into the responsibility to protect. – Washington Post

Earl Anthony Wayne writes: A constant, however, is that the United States and Mexico are profoundly intertwined. The U.S. needs a strong, democratic Mexican partner to strengthen its own prosperity and security, just as Mexico needs a good partnership with the U.S. Both countries need to understand the trends shaping electoral outcomes on the other side of the border and should engage each other to forge as constructive a partnership as possible. That will bring the best outcomes for Mexicans and Americans. – The Hill

Arturo McFields writes: The countries that surrender to China today should see themselves in the mirror of African and Asian countries, where Chinese blackmail, violations of sovereignty, human rights abuses and environmental damage have all emerged from the fine print of agreements with China. – The Hill

Hans Binnendijk, R. D. Hooker, Jr., and Alexander Vershbow write: The United States has been here before. Before both world wars, Washington sought neutrality. Neither effort at isolationism worked and only prevented the United States from being able to help deter the aggressors in those wars. Eventually, the United States was pulled into both conflicts. After World War II, having learned the dangers of isolationism, the United States remained engaged and paved the way for the founding of NATO and 75 years of relative peace in Europe. The United States must not forget the painful lessons of the last century. To do so would risk undercutting U.S. global leadership, undermining the Washington-built international order, and making the world safer for authoritarian rule. – Foreign Affairs

Elisabeth Braw writes: Chinese firms are also interested in building and financing the Kirkenes Port, Norwegian National Radio reported. Kirkenes is, of course, also conveniently located near the Northern Sea Route, which goes along Russia’s Arctic coast and would slash the travel time for ships traveling from northern Europe to the Chinese East Coast or vice versa. The investment would be a big boost, but also raises security concerns for a town already on high alert. In February this year, a Russian citizen was arrested photographing military installations in Kirkenes. Are Norwegian port representatives and other officials up to negotiating a complex deal with a Chinese company such as Cosco without giving away the store, should the suitors present a strong offer? – Foreign Policy

United States

President Biden on Monday ordered a company with Chinese origins to shut down and sell the Wyoming cryptocurrency mine it built a mile from an Air Force base that controls nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. – New York Times

When Arctic nations simulated a large oil spill for a virtual training exercise in March off northern Norway, Russia also took part – a rare sign of cooperation between Moscow and the West that highlighted the special status of the polar region. – Reuters

Gerard Baker writes: One thing we can be certain of: The looming election offers us four more years. Four more years of feckless, uncertain and enfeebling policy from Mr. Biden (with the added bonus that some of that time might be shared by the even more alarming prospect of President Kamala Harris). Or four more years of reckless, unstable diplomacy from Mr. Trump, whose only guiding star seems to be his own personal satisfaction. Unless we still have time to demand changes from both men before we place either of them on a world stage whose boards are on fire. – Wall Street Journal

Zachary Faria writes: This is where Blinken’s brand of doormat diplomacy leads. Biden and Blinken get rolled by enemies and adversaries, whether at the United Nations, in Afghanistan by the Taliban, or in various infamous “don’t” declarations. Instead, they have to flex their might on an ally in Israel and do so while pushing aid to Gaza that will inevitably end up in the hands of Hamas with nothing more than a condemnation. Is it any wonder that global affairs are so much worse now than before Biden and Blinken took office? – Washington Examiner

Cybersecurity

An unusual takeover of the French sports minister’s X account was spotted and stopped quickly, but the case underscored the need for French officials to prepare for a range of cyberthreats when they host the Olympics this summer. – Washington Post

State-sponsored hackers are believed to be behind the “sophisticated cybersecurity incidents” affecting government networks in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province. – The Record

Online fraud operations in Southeast Asia continue to grow, with organized scamming syndicates netting an estimated $64 billion each year worldwide, according to new research.  – The Record

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday put an entity it is calling Royal Tiger in its crosshairs for facilitating fraudulent robocalls across international networks, making it the first group targeted through a new threat analysis and designation system. – The Record

A group declaring itself to be “first-class Russian hackers” defaced potentially hundreds of local and regional British newspaper websites on Saturday. – The Record

Defense

A military officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency has resigned his commission in protest of America’s support for Israel during its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, as sentiment against the conflict intensifies inside the Biden administration and across the country. – Wall Street Journal

The House Armed Services Committee’s $883.7 billion annual defense policy bill sticks to the military spending caps Congress imposed for fiscal 2025 as part of last year’s debt ceiling deal, according to a text of the measure released on Monday. – Defense News

A proposed House policy bill would slash the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters the Pentagon would buy in fiscal 2025 as lawmakers’ patience with the program and manufacturer Lockheed Martin wears thin. – Defense News

The House Armed Services Committee will try to partially fund a second Virginia-class submarine in fiscal 2025 to mitigate harm to the industrial base it says will come from the Navy’s one-boat request. – Defense News

Jen Reeves writes: Just as the U.S. surged money to the Army when it was the predominant means of fighting, now it is time for another rebalance to build the Air Force and Space Force we need, as our ability to succeed in a joint fight against our adversaries now rests on the capabilities and capacity of the Department of the Air Force. – Defense News