Fdd's overnight brief

May 21, 2024

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

In a stunning announcement that drew sharp indignation from both warring parties, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said Monday that he was seeking to charge senior figures in the Israel-Gaza conflict, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar, with war crimes and crimes against humanity. – Washington Post

President Biden on Monday condemned the decision by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for two top Israeli officials — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — when he requested warrants for the leaders of Hamas, saying in a White House statement that “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.” – New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Israel’s military operation in the southern Gaza border city of Rafah have ended up farther north, including on a stretch of beach with little in the way of amenities or humanitarian aid. Tents are so tightly packed together that the sand is barely visible. Families cook over open fires, burning trash in lieu of gas or other fuel. Garbage is piling up, and sewage has few places to go except out to sea. – Wall Street Journal 

For more than 25 years, the U.S. relationship with the International Criminal Court has veered between idealistic support to outright hostility, with an arm’s length distance being the norm. – Wall Street Journal 

Israeli forces raided Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday in an operation that the Palestinian health ministry said killed seven Palestinians, including a doctor, and left nine others wounded. The army said it was an operation against militants and that a number of Palestinian gunmen were shot. There was no immediate word of any Israeli casualties. – Reuters

France backs the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the ‘fight against impunity’, its foreign ministry said after the court’s prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others for alleged war crimes. – Reuters

Hamas’ elusive military leader Mohammed Deif, one of the masterminds behind what Israel called its 9/11 moment, rarely speaks and never appears in public, a secretive existence that helped him survive seven assassination attempts. Now he is being sought outside of Gaza, from where he directed the Oct. 7 attack which took Israel by surprise, killing 1,200 people and creating a crisis for the far-right government by taking more than 250 people hostage. – Reuters

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Tuesday more than 569 metric tons of humanitarian assistance has been delivered so far across a temporary floating pier to Gaza, but not all the aid has reached warehouses. Aid deliveries began arriving at a U.S.-built pier on Friday as Israel comes under growing global pressure to allow more supplies into the besieged coastal enclave. – Reuters

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, is today among the most famous antagonists of Israel and the Jewish people. Yet in 2011, when the Oct. 7 mastermind was released from Israeli prison as one of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, he was not seen as one of the most dangerous terrorists to release, Emi Palmor, a member of the Israeli negotiating team, told Jewish Insider this week. – Jewish Insider

An immense majority of 106 out of 120 members of Knesset from the coalition and opposition signed a statement on Monday condemning the announcement by ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan that he intends to request arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on charges of crimes against humanity for Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: The ICC’s budget, coming largely from Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy and South Korea, should be in jeopardy. How can these countries host or train with U.S. troops while funding a body that threatens to prosecute them without jurisdiction? Mr. Khan was warned of the consequences of subordinating the law in pursuit of Israel. The judges who will consider his arrest warrants are being asked to sign the ICC’s epitaph. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: The U.S. should not let the ICC’s latest outrage pass. Congress should expedite legislation to sanction court officials who pursue action against U.S. citizens and allied officials. Legislation to prohibit cooperation between U.S. government agencies and ICC offices and employees would also be helpful. The U.S. could push allies to commit publicly that they will not enforce ICC arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant. This would defend Israel against an unjust affront but would also serve the broader purpose of deterring allies from supporting the ICC. – Washington Examiner

Editorial: Former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror predicted that neither Iran’s determination to wipe out Israel by producing nuclear weapons, nor its support of Hamas and Hezbollah would change following Raisi’s death, adding that it is Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who sets the country’s policies. Although Israel can take solace in the knowledge that one of its arch-enemies has met a fiery end, there are more than enough just like him to prevent the country’s defense establishment from sleeping well at night. – Jerusalem Post

Ian Haworth writes: Israel is attempting to destroy a terrorist organization hellbent on the eradication of Israel’s (and the world’s) Jews while providing aid, warning, and escape routes to Palestinian civilians resulting in some of the lowest civilian casualty rates in the context of urban warfare. If Israel is unable to defend itself by such means without being accused of committing war crimes, what is the alternative? – Washington Examiner

Iran

Iran sought to project a sense of order and control on Monday by quickly naming an acting president and foreign minister a day after a helicopter crash killed both leaders. The change in leadership came at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East and domestic discontent in Iran, where many residents have called for an end to decades of repressive clerical rule. – New York Times

For years, the son of Iran’s supreme leader has been speculated to be a potential candidate to succeed his father, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That speculation has grown with the death of Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, who many analysts said was being groomed to replace the supreme leader, who is 85. – New York Times

The United States on Monday said it had been unable, due largely to logistical reasons, to accept an Iranian request for assistance following a helicopter crash over the weekend that killed President Ebrahim Raisi, as Washington offered its condolences. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Iran’s new interim president on Monday as Moscow made clear its desire to preserve and build on its deepening relationship with Tehran despite the sudden death of President Ebrahim Raisi. – Reuters

Iran will hold presidential elections on June 28, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, following the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash over the weekend. – Bloomberg

Editorial: There seems little prospect Mr. Raisi’s death will affect the essential policies of the regime, however, despite the overwhelming lesson of “Woman, Life, Freedom”: Irrespective of gender, the Iranian people are fed up with theocratic repression and economic sacrifice, and cannot be legitimately governed unless those conditions change. – Washington Post

Editorial: Raisi’s death is a reminder, however, that the U.S. and the West could do more to help Iran’s beleaguered citizens. The ultimate threat to the regime is its own people, who rise up periodically in protest only to be brutally put down with mass arrests and killings. The U.S. could help spread a persistent message of support for those brave protesters, as it did against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This means helping dissidents communicate inside Iran and letting them know their cause has global support. It means trying to undermine the regime from within. – Wall Street Journal

Steven Erlanger writes: The Revolutionary Guards Corps is considered increasingly powerful in both nuclear and regional affairs, taking advantage of Mr. Khamenei’s weakened health and the regime’s fear of internal instability. The larger question is whether the Revolutionary Guards, already a major economic player domestically, will become more openly powerful politically as well. – New York Times

Shay Khatiri writes: When Mr. Khamenei dies, the U.S. should be prepared to support the protest movement. The absence of a supreme leader and internal regime divisions will make a crackdown more difficult. The longer protests go on, and the more intense they are, the harder it will be for the regime to deliberate and settle on a single candidate while struggling to enforce domestic order. The U.S. should use covert methods, too, to prolong the succession process. If America misses this opportunity to prevent the triumph of another unitary supreme leader, it might have to wait for decades. – Wall Street Journal

Marc Champion writes: The coming presidential vote will, once again, have no value as an exercise in popular choice, but it will be important to the regime factions already jostling for the succession. Not even those involved know how that will pan out, let alone me. But it’s hard not to conclude that Raisi’s death, after such an unsuccessful experiment in ideological purity, will have weakened his camp and strengthened that of the IRGC. They, too, are deeply loyal to Khamenei, and their rise would likely promise an equally aggressive Iranian regime, albeit one that’s a little less prone to self-harm at home. – Bloomberg

Sean Durns writes: But ultimately even a supreme leader can’t cheat death. Raisi’s own death eliminates the man that some felt was destined to succeed Khamenei, potentially altering Iran’s future. However, someone, perhaps even Khamenei’s own son, Mojtaba, will likely become supreme leader. The system will endure — bringing more misfortune and tragedy to both the Iranian people and the broader Middle East. – Washington Examiner

Tom Rogan writes: Showing unnecessary regret over Raisi’s passing, the U.S. risks sending a new message of weakness to Iran. At the very least, the Biden administration dishonors Raisi’s victims and those he would have helped to kill had Iran’s various plots not been detected. A far better response would have been to simply ignore Raisi’s plight entirely. – Washington Examiner

Dominic Waghorn writes: Iranians may dare yearn for less repressive times without him. Outsiders will hope for a less troublesome Iran.But there are plenty more where he came from and the Supreme Leader is likely to find another hardliner to replace him. The fear will be of instability in the run-up to elections. The government has been undermined by recent events, its Supreme Leader is unwell. Mr Raisi’s government will try to secure the succession as quickly and smoothly as it can. – Sky News

Russia & Ukraine

As Ukraine struggles to hold back Russian advances, the country’s officials say they are once again facing the formidable challenge of keeping electricity flowing as Moscow’s forces increasingly strike power plants. – New York Times

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Reuters in an exclusive interview in Kyiv on Monday that Ukraine’s Western allies were taking too long to make decisions on military support for his country. – Reuters

Ukrainian troops still control about 60% of Vovchansk and are fighting house-to-house to defend the border town in northeastern Kharkiv region from Russian attacks, officials said in the most detailed public assessment of the battle to date. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin on Monday appointed former deputy economy minister Oleg Savelyev as a deputy defence minister, according to a published decree, in a further sign of his intention to improve the efficiency of Russia’s war economy. – Reuters

The U.S. is not planning to send military trainers into Ukraine and would likely do so only when the war there with Russia is over, the top U.S. general said on Monday, after France opened the door to sending troops to train Kyiv’s forces. – Reuters

Ukraine’s leading mobile operator Kyivstar has allocated $90 million to deal with a suspect Russian cyberattack on its services and said it had hit its growth. The hack, described by its CEO as the biggest cyberattack on telecoms infrastructure in the world, struck Kyivstar in December, damaging infrastructure and disrupting mobile phone signals for millions of Ukrainians. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Monday that exercises involving non-strategic nuclear weapons that President Vladimir Putin has ordered would be held “in the relevant timeframes” and that this was a matter for the defence ministry. – Reuters

Andriy Zagorodnyuk and Eliot A. Cohen writes: In this war, resources, funds, and technology all overwhelmingly favor the West. If they are channeled to Ukraine in sufficient amounts, including to the country’s defense industry, Kyiv can win. Russia simply lacks the military power to defeat a Western-backed Ukraine, and so its only hope lies in manipulating Western concerns. It is therefore well past time for NATO governments to stop falling into Putin’s trap. For the West to achieve a victory, it must stop fearing it. In doing so, it can attain security for itself and Ukraine—which has sacrificed so much both for its own cause and for the larger cause of freedom. – Foreign Affairs 

Middle East & North Africa

The cessation of aid deliveries through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is connected to the threat posed to humanitarian work by Israel’s military operation in the area, Egypt’s foreign minister said on Monday. – Reuters

The United States and Saudi Arabia are close to a final agreement on a bilateral defense pact after the U.S. national security adviser made significant progress in talks with the Saudis over the weekend, the White House said on Monday. – Reuters

Ireland’s top diplomat in a visit to Lebanon on Monday expressed his concern over the slow progress in criminal proceedings against several Lebanese men charged with the killing of an Irish peacekeeper in 2022 in the tiny Mediterranean country. – Associated Press

In a landmark trial, a Paris court will this week seek to determine whether Syrian intelligence officials — the most senior to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war — were responsible for their disappearance and deaths. – Associated Press

A war monitor said at least six pro-Iran fighters were killed Monday in Israeli strikes in Syria near the Lebanese border, in an area where Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terror group holds sway. – Agence France Presse

An unverified claim by an Islamist terror group with roots in Bahrain that it launched a drone strike against Israel last month is a clear indication that Iran is working to broaden its proxy war against the Jewish state with new fronts across the region, analysts and experts on Iran and its militant off-shoots told Jewish Insider last week. – Jewish Insider 

Iraqi militias took responsibility on Monday overnight for launching two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) aimed at the area of Eilat and landed in the Gulf of Eilat. – Jerusalem Post

On Monday, in the area of Tyre in Lebanon, an IAF aircraft struck and eliminated the terrorist Qassem Saqlawi, the Commander of the Rocket and Missile Array in Hezbollah’s Coastal Sector. – Arutz Sheva

USS Carney (DDG-64) had 51 total engagements with Houthi missiles and drones during its time in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, its commanding officer said Monday. – USNI News

Mohammed Soliman writes: It is premature to label such commercial partnerships as an “AI alliance,” given that countries, including the UAE, will pursue their own interests by seeking technologies that they deem critical for their security and national development. Nevertheless, the acceptance of guardrails — while quite different from forming a full-fledged alliance — is a mutually beneficial step forward in technological cooperation for the US, the UAE, and other partners in the region. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a condolence message to Iran over the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, state media KCNA said on Tuesday. – Reuters

South Korea has said it will ban a viral North Korean propaganda tune that extols Pyongyang’s dictator Kim Jong Un as a “friendly father” and “great leader”. – BBC

North Korean IT workers are posing as Americans to score coveted remote jobs and use the salaries to pay for their country’s missile program. – Axios

North Korea has accused the United States of a “dangerous act” and of hypocrisy following a recent subcritical nuclear test. – Newsweek

China

Hong Kong’s leader said Tuesday his administration would keep monitoring for any non-compliance with a court order that bans a popular protest song, days after YouTube blocked access to dozens of videos of the tune in the city. – Associated Press

China’s embassy in Japan on Tuesday said it firmly opposes Japanese lawmakers visiting Taiwan and expressed firm protests. “The Japanese government and some politicians ignored China’s strong opposition and congratulated Taiwan’s Lai,” an embassy spokesperson said according to a statement. – Reuters

One after another, Latin American nations are following in the footsteps of the US and Europe by imposing prohibitive tariffs on Chinese imports — a strain in what’s been an otherwise cozy relationship. Mexico, Chile and Brazil have hiked — and in some cases more than doubled — duties on steel products from China over the past several weeks. Colombia may be about to follow suit. – Bloomberg

Isaac Kardon and Jennifer Kavanagh write: If the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, the United States and Taiwan should be as focused on developing strategies to prevent Taiwan’s slow subjugation as they are on forestalling outright invasion. If Washington cannot alter its single-minded outlook, it could end up as a bystander as Taiwan slips under creeping Chinese control in a silent fait accompli. – Foreign Affairs

Brandon J. Weichert writes: Should Chinese forces manage to strike at the U.S. and its allies in the Indo-Pacific first from those manmade islands in the South China Sea, then the Chinese investment will have been worth it, regardless of whether the U.S. military can destroy the islands thereafter. Thus, the likelihood is very high that these manmade islands in the South China Sea could prove to be a real stumbling block for the U.S. military in a war with China. – The National Interest

South Asia

Modi’s Hindu nationalist politics have resonated with many supporters, and most polls show his Bharatiya Janata Party in the lead. But it’s not clear whether that fervor can carry him to victory as Indians face rising unemployment and inflation. – Associated Press

The US Department of State has put Bangladesh’s former army chief Aziz Ahmed on a visa blacklist on allegations of bribery and improperly awarding military contracts for personal gain. – Bloomberg

The Facebook and Instagram owner Meta approved a series of AI-manipulated political adverts during India’s election that spread disinformation and incited religious violence, according to a report shared exclusively with the Guardian. – The Guardian

Asia

The Australian and New Zealand governments announced Tuesday they were sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-wracked New Caledonia. – Associated Press

Thailand on Monday officially began the selection of new senators, a process that has become part of an ongoing war between progressive forces hoping for democratic political reforms and conservatives seeking to keep the status quo. – Associated Press

Solomon Islands’ newly elected Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele said the Pacific Island nation was ready to discuss “much, much larger bilateral co-operation” with Australia, as the latter’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles visited on Tuesday. – Reuters

The Philippines is setting its sights on becoming the next manufacturing and logistics hub in Asia, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said, as Manila capitalizes on its growing ties with Washington. – Bloomberg

Taiwan’s opposition lawmakers are pushing forward a bill that would expand their powers at the expense of the new president – prompting his supporters to begin demonstrating. – Bloomberg

Editorial: A decade ago, when President Barack Obama was negotiating the ill-fated Trans-Pacific Partnership, Vietnam showed a willingness to allow independent trade unions. Vietnam reversed course once President Donald Trump abandoned the pact. Perhaps Vietnam can change again. Unless it demonstrates respect for basic human rights, democracy and labor rights, the “comprehensive strategic partnership” will be an uneasy one. – Washington Post

Raymond Kuo, Michael Hunzeker, and Mark Christopher write: Lai’s inauguration offers a logical turning point in the United States-Taiwan relationship. Washington should use this moment to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose that has thus far been lacking. Cheap talk must give way to real actions. Because if Taiwan is meant to be a partner worth fighting for, then it is certainly a partner worth taking—and treating—seriously. – Foreign Policy

Europe

To confront and deter an expansionist Moscow, the U.S. and many of Russia’s near neighbors are struggling to attract enough recruits to reinforce their militaries. Not so in Sweden, where each year the armed forces turn thousands of young men and women away. – Wall Street Journal

A London court ruled on Monday that Julian Assange, the embattled WikiLeaks founder, could appeal his extradition to the United States, a move that opens a new chapter in his prolonged fight against being sent to America to face trial on espionage charges. – New York Times

The alleged leaders of a suspected far-right plot to topple the German government are going on trial in Frankfurt on Tuesday, opening the most prominent proceedings in a case that shocked the country in late 2022. – Associated Press

Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. – Associated Press

Georgia’s parliament speaker on Monday vowed to override the presidential veto on divisive legislation that sparked weeks of mass protests by critics who see it as a threat to democratic freedoms and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union. – Associated Press

Kosovo police on Monday closed six branches of a Serbia-licensed bank in line with the decision on the ban of the use of the Serbian dinar currency in the country, a move that has raised tension with neighboring Serbia. – Associated Press

Poland has arrested nine people in connection with acts of sabotage committed in the country on the orders of Russian services, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said late on Monday. Warsaw says its position as a hub for supplies to Ukraine has made it a key target for Russian intelligence services, and accuses Moscow of trying to destabilise the country. – Reuters

In an about face, German officials are ready to support a US plan to leverage the future revenue generated from frozen Russian assets — mostly stranded in Europe — to back $50 billion in aid to Ukraine, according to people familiar with the discussions. – Bloomberg

Africa

Three Americans involved in a brazen weekend attack on Congo’s presidential palace formed an unlikely band under the leadership of eccentric opposition figure Christian Malanga, who dabbled in gold mining and used cars before persuading his Utah-born son to join in the foiled coup, according to officials’ description of events. – Associated Press

South Africa’s presidency said on Monday it welcomed an announcement by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor saying he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence chief and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes. – Reuters

A Nigerian judge denied separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu bail for the second time in two months on Monday and also dismissed his application to be moved to prison from custody of the Department of State Services (DSS), a security agency. – Reuters

The Americas

Western diplomats and officials say the influence and capability of many Haitian gangs are evolving, making them ever more threatening to the Kenyan-led multinational police force soon deploying to Haiti as well as the fragile transitional council trying to set a path for elections. – New York Times

Haiti’s main international airport reopened Monday for the first time in nearly three months after relentless gang violence forced authorities to close it. – Associated Press

The Dominican Republic has long taken a hard-line stance with Haitian migrants, but harsh crackdowns have increased in recent years as Haiti’s spiraling gang violence drives people to flee. – Associated Press

Violence intensified in southwestern Colombia on Monday when a bomb blast injured six people in the city of Jamundi and an attack by insurgents on a police station in the rural town of Morales left at least two officers dead, according to police. – Associated Press

President Gustavo Petro replaced the nation’s army chief on Monday. Major General Luis Emilio Cardozo will take over from outgoing leader General Luis Ospina, the Defense Ministry said in a statement, without giving reasons for the decision. – Bloomberg

United States

One of former President Donald J. Trump’s closest foreign policy advisers, Robert O’Brien, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday as part of a delegation of former Trump officials that visited a number of Israeli leaders. – New York Times

President Joe Biden on Monday urged Republican leaders in the House and Senate to support a revived bipartisan bill on border security, even as House Speaker Mike Johnson declared the bill would be “dead on arrival.” – Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden will play host this week to Kenyan President William Ruto for wide-ranging talks expected to include debt relief for Kenya as well as the way forward for Haiti, Ukraine, Sudan and other areas. – Reuters

Walter Russell Mead writes: Team Biden, unfortunately, would rather starve the military and embrace the diplomacy of retreat. There is an off-ramp for every provocation, a search for a “diplomatic solution” to every military attack. This can’t last. Our adversaries have ambitious goals. We face an increasingly successful and ambitious assault on the U.S.’s international position. Either we and our allies recover our military might and political will, or our foes will fatally undermine the edifice of American power and the international order that depends on it. – Wall Street Journal 

John Thune writes: It’s abundantly clear that the American people want an end to lawlessness at the southern border. They want the president to do his job and defend America’s borders. The bad political bet that Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer are making is that voters will hire the arsonists to put out the fire. – Wall Street Journal

Cybersecurity

World leaders are expected to adopt a new agreement on artificial intelligence when they gather virtually Tuesday to discuss AI’s potential risks but also ways to promote its benefits and innovation. – Associated Press

Cyberattacks against water utilities across the country are becoming more frequent and more severe, the Environmental Protection Agency warned Monday as it issued an enforcement alert urging water systems to take immediate actions to protect the nation’s drinking water. – Associated Press

A 23-year-old Taiwanese man was expected in federal court Monday afternoon to face charges of owning and operating the dark web narcotics marketplace Incognito Market. – The Record

Defense

The U.S. Army is exporting its Joint Pacific Multinational Combat Training Center to the Philippines as the Southeast Asia country seeks to enhance and modernize its defense strategy. – Defense News

A Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missile launched from a virtual Aegis Weapon System hit a live target in a recent Lockheed Martin test executed in partnership with multiple U.S. military services. – Defense News

A provision in the fiscal 2025 Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement and National Defense Authorization Act from the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces would require the Army to create what it calls the Electronic Warfare Center of Excellence within the service’s Training and Doctrine Command. – DefenseScoop