Fdd's overnight brief

November 22, 2023

FDD Research & Analysis

In The News

Israel

Israel and Hamas agreed to free 50 civilian hostages held by militants in Gaza in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and a series of pauses in fighting. The Israeli cabinet approved the deal after a long deliberation that started Tuesday and went into the early morning hours of Wednesday in Jerusalem. – Wall Street Journal

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is seizing on the conflict in Gaza to portray his country as a force for stability in the Muslim world, in contrast with what Beijing casts as American meddling in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

The BRICS group of developing countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — held a virtual summit on the war in Gaza on Tuesday, articulating divergent positions on the conflict that together reflected the reluctance of some nations outside the world’s largest industrialized democracies to fall in behind Washington’s support for Israel. – New York Times

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday welcomed the deal to secure the release of hostages taken by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas during the attack on Israel. – Reuters

Qatari foreign ministry said on Wednesday Hamas and Israel have agreed on a humanitarian pause in Gaza hostilities for four days, subject to extension, the starting time of the which will be announced within the next 24 hours. – Reuters

The conflict has led many analysts, oil market watchers and politicians to draw parallels with the 1973 OPEC embargo, when Arab oil producers cut off oil exports to several allies of Israel, including the United States and Britain, following the Israeli-Arab war that year. Analysts and OPEC sources, however, say that the energy world today is far different from 50 years ago, and play down any possibility of a new embargo. – Reuters

The Biden administration has been providing Israel with the location of humanitarian groups in Gaza for weeks to prevent strikes against their facilities. But Israel has continued to hit such sites. – Politico

Despite the impending hostage deal and war pause, the fight against Hamas will continue, IDF Spokesman R.-Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday. “This is a long war, with many rounds,” he said. “It has set goals and it will take a long time to get to them. We will get ready for the next stages,” emphasizing that any pause would be temporary and not a real long-term ceasefire. – Jerusalem Post

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has obtained intelligence regarding the most intimate and sensitive issues related to Hamas operations, their forces’ thinking, and internal dealings, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Further, the agency has interrogated dozens of the more senior Hamas terrorists who participated in the October 7 slaughter of Israelis in the South. – Jerusalem Post

Editorial: Much depends on the Biden Administration. Complaints from the Democratic left are no reason to let the Hamas jihadists who carried out the Oct. 7 massacre stay in power in Gaza. President Biden has said Hamas needs to be destroyed. If he means it, he will back Israel’s right to resume fighting and finish the job after hostages are released. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: This pattern of outrageous, hateful behavior raises serious questions about the PA’s credibility and its suitability to run Gaza after the defeat of Hamas. The Palestinian people deserve a future free from the grip of Hamas and the poisonous influence of hatred and conspiracy theories spread by both Hamas and the PA. It is long past time for the PA to reassess its direction, abandon the propagation of falsehoods, and work toward a future of peace and stability for its people. – Jerusalem Post

Bret Stephens writes: The tragedy of these protests, like so many “antiwar” movements in the past, is that the naïve and earnest are again being manipulated as tools of the cunning and cruel. Instead of Cease-Fire Now, we need Hamas’s Defeat Now. Only on that basis does a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike have any chance to follow. – New York Times

David Ignatius writes: What Israel hasn’t conceded in the hostages-for-prisoners swap is its ultimate desire to destroy Hamas’s political power in Gaza. “We cannot allow Hamas to emerge from the tunnels, declare victory and rule over Gaza,” said the senior Israeli official. Toppling Hamas from power evidently remains Israel’s one nonnegotiable demand. – Washington Post

Marc Champion writes: Israel, meanwhile, could demonstrate its goal is not collective punishment, by making room for the compromises that would be needed for such a surrender and for a longer-term arrangement in Gaza other than re-occupation. It could also, as Ryan put it, get what it’s doing on the ground in line with a strategic plan — currently missing — for what happens afterward. – Bloomberg

Elliott Abrams writes: Israel began developing Iron Dome in 2007, and the first batteries were in the field four years later. It will take time for Iron Beam to be fully fielded and become part of the shield protecting Israel. But Israel and the United States have developed a critical new kind of air defense for both countries. Iron Beam will save Israeli lives and make those of terrorists harder — cause for real celebration. – New York Post

Audrey Kurth Cronin writes: Israel has few ways to eliminate Hamas’s asymmetric advantages. The country cannot reverse technological change or completely shut down pro-Hamas messaging on social media. But Israel does have the power to react to Hamas’s terror attack strategically, and with restraint. Doing so can sap Hamas of much of its power. Given that Hamas designed its attack to stoke an overreaction from Israel, the best thing Israel can do now is to refuse to play into Hamas’s hands. – Foreign Affairs

Iran

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that the US has identified an uptick in cooperation between Iran and Russia against Israel. – Agence France-Presse

Iran’s police arrested a gunman who opened fire near the nation’s parliament in the central part of the capital, Tehran, state media reported on Tuesday. The official IRNA news agency said police disarmed the man, who was carrying a shotgun. No one was injured. The report did not say when the incident took place. – Associated Press

Iranian lawmakers have approved legislation raising the retirement age for men to 62 and increasing the years of employment required to qualify for a full pension, state media reported. […]Iran has been reeling from a crippling economic crisis marked by inflation of around 50% and a sharp depreciation of the rial against the dollar. – Agence France-Presse

Lina Khatib writes: Washington must take advantage of the Arab League-OIC statement to buy time to develop, together with its Arab allies, a comprehensive strategy toward Iran that puts Iran’s nuclear enrichment, ballistic missile program, regional interventions, and proxy groups in the same priority file—and connect that file to the Israel-Palestine peace process. Only by addressing the Iranian role in this comprehensive way can there be more clarity about what happens to Hamas after the war. – Foreign Policy

Russia & Ukraine

The U.S. fears Iran is preparing to provide Russia with advanced short-range ballistic missiles for its military campaign in Ukraine, U.S. officials said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and European Council chief Charles Michel warned on Tuesday that a European Union meeting next month to decide whether to begin formal accession talks for Kyiv would be difficult. – Reuters

Editorial: But it starts with Ukraine, which as Zelensky says “is in the center of these global risks of this Third World War.” Any kind of victory for Putin is a win for all the forces seeking global chaos: If the West doesn’t stand firm in this small war, it’ll soon be seeing bigger ones. – New York Post

Jillian Kay Melchior writes: Mr. Putin must choose between sinking civilian ships owned by non-Ukrainians or allowing Ukraine’s grain corridor to operate—even though Russia warned it would no longer guarantee the safety of commercial vessels transiting these waters, says Fred Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. So far, Mr. Putin has chosen not to escalate. – Wall Street Journal

Michael Mazza writes: What would be the result if America sacrifices Ukraine on the altar of Taiwan’s security? An insecure Europe vulnerable to Russian aggression, requiring even greater American attention and resources than at present. Any gains in the Indo-Pacific would be fleeting as the unchecked Russian threat required ever more attention and resources to contain. Conversely, Ukrainian victory and the chastening of Russia could finally pave the way for the US to make a real pivot to Asia. – Breaking Defense

Mark Temnycky writes: Russia believed it would conquer Ukraine in a matter of days. Instead, it has been banned from international organizations, and many of its allies have drifted away as its military power wanes while the security and economic attractions of the West grow. What was once seen as the world’s second-strongest superpower has dwindled to a shadow of its former self. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Iraq

The United States conducted a new round of airstrikes — the second in roughly a day — in Iraq early Wednesday, destroying two facilities used by Iranian proxies that had been targeting American and coalition troops, U.S. military officials said. The latest rounds in the tit-for-tat attacks between the United States and Iranian-backed fighters took place in Iraq, in a departure from the United States’ practice of striking mostly targets in Syria. – New York Times

A US warplane killed at least one Iranian-backed militiaman in Iraq after they fired a short-range ballistic missile at American and allied personnel in the country, the Pentagon said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia said five of its members were killed in its stronghold of Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad, in U.S. strikes that Washington said were in response to attacks by Iran-aligned militias against its forces in the region. The U.S. carried out two series of strikes in Iraq on Tuesday and Wednesday, its first publicly reported responses on Iraqi territory to dozens of recent attacks and a sign of escalation in the regional conflict tied to the Israel-Hamas war. – Reuters

Simona Foltyn writes: Months of political deadlock were ultimately settled through a brief but violent confrontation between rival Shiite factions, which left Sadr defeated and shut out of the political process. Halbousi quickly pivoted back to the Coordination Framework, the Shiite alliance that then formed the ruling coalition. A year on, Halbousi’s turncoat brand of politics appears to have caught up with him. “He crossed a red line,” said the Arab diplomat. “It was the first time a Sunni tried to divide the Shia. This has not been forgotten.” – Foreign Policy

Bilal Wahab and Selin Uysal write: Ultimately, however, the pragmatism and restraint exhibited by various Iraqi actors should not be viewed as anything more than tactical and short term. Washington’s main strategic goal remains the same: to strengthen the Iraqi state and weaken the militias. – Washington Institute

Lebanon

Many Israelis who live near the border say their military can’t end the fighting without assuring them that Hezbollah can’t do to them what Hamas did to Israelis in the south. Israeli military officials have amplified the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a decisive blow. – Wall Street Journal

Airstrikes blamed on Israel killed four Lebanese civilians Tuesday, including two journalists, in a fresh escalation of fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, where Hezbollah fighters and Israeli forces have been engaged in daily exchanges of fire over the past six weeks. – Washington Post

The deputy commander of the Lebanese branch of Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades, Khalil al-Kharaz, was eliminated in an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, Hamas told Lebanese media. – Jerusalem Post

Yemen

A vessel seized by Yemen’s Houthi militia in the Red Sea on Sunday was anchored just outside a busy Yemeni port on Tuesday, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by The New York Times. – New York Times

The United States is reviewing “potential terrorist designations” for Yemen’s Houthi rebel group in response to its seizure of a cargo ship, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Tuesday. – Reuters

The helicopter-borne Houthi attack on an Israel-linked ship in the Red Sea highlights the danger now lurking in one of the world’s key shipping routes as the Israel-Hamas war rages, as well as the rebels’ tactics mirroring those of its chief sponsor, Iran. – Associated Press

James Stavridis writes: All of this, of course, should be done in consultation with regional allies, notably Saudi Arabia, which has naval bases and capable warships stationed along the Red Sea. The Houthi video should send a chill down the spine of mariners sailing the waters of the Middle East — but it is also a signal of a new threat to the global economy. – Bloomberg

Middle East & North Africa

Shortly after Hamas militants took hostages during their deadly assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7, the government of Qatar contacted the White House with a request: Form a small team of advisers to help work to get the captives freed. That work, begun in the days after the hostages were taken, finally bore fruit with the announcement of a prisoner swap deal mediated by Qatar and Egypt and agreed by Israel, Hamas and the United States. – Reuters

Jordan said on Tuesday the army had beefed up its presence along its borders with Israel and warned that any Israeli attempt to forcibly push Palestinians across the Jordan River would represent a breach of its peace accord with its neighbour. – Reuters

Zvi Bar’el writes: At the same time, the Americans must deal with the incompetence of the Iraqi government and let Iran escape, for the time being, from punishment. When the United States thinks about the day after the war in Gaza ends, its consideration isn’t only about Gaza but about not damaging its position in the entire region. – Haaretz

Munqith Dagher and Karl Kaltenthaler write: It will be important to assess the depth of Arab anger toward the West and understand if and when there is a point in time where Arab attitudes toward the United States have soured so badly that the United States is no longer viewed as a necessary evil in the region but is instead no longer welcome by most. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea said it had successfully placed its homegrown spy satellite into orbit, a much-anticipated attempt after a pair of failed tries this year and a recent assumption that the Russians would help fix matters. – Wall Street Journal

South Korea said on Wednesday it would suspend parts of a 2018 military agreement with North Korea designed to curb the risk of inadvertent clashes along their shared border, in response to Pyongyang’s claim to have successfully launched a spy satellite. – Reuters

Officials and experts around the world are seeking to independently verify North Korea’s claim this week that it successfully launched its first spy satellite, an effort that South Korea asserts likely included Russian aid. – Reuters

Britain rolled out the red carpet for South Korea’s president on Tuesday at the start of a state visit intended to deepen diplomatic and business ties between the two countries as they launch talks on a new free trade agreement. – Reuters

Using fake names, sham LinkedIn profiles, counterfeit work papers and mock interview scripts, North Korean IT workers seeking employment in Western tech companies are deploying sophisticated subterfuge to get hired. – Reuters

China

China’s efforts to forge new economic and diplomatic alliances through its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative are now well known. But Beijing is also extending its presence and power globally in quieter, smaller or surprising ways. – Washington Post

The Chinese government has expanded its campaign of closing mosques to regions other than Xinjiang, where for years it has been blamed for persecuting Muslim minorities, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday. – Associated Press

Josh Rogin writes: Leaders in Washington and Taipei can’t allow optimism about the U. S-China relationship to obscure the fact that Xi is rapidly altering the status quo around Taiwan and interfering in Taiwanese politics more than ever before. Xi has revealed his true intentions. Ignoring his ominous words and actions would be the most dangerous policy of all. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: Actually, the biggest favor Biden could render Xi, the Chinese people and the world would be a clear, official U.S. declaration that America will defend Taiwan. In contrast to the policy of strategic ambiguity and doubt, it is the only sure way to deter a strategic miscalculation by Xi that could plunge China and the U.S. into a major military conflict and bring about Biden’s nightmare scenario: World War III. – The Hill

South Asia

India and Australia on Tuesday said they were committed to boosting economic and strategic ties, as their top diplomats shared concerns over China, regional security and the Israel-Hamas war. – Associated Press

New Delhi will host a meeting of the Quad, a regional partnership that comprises Japan, India, US and Australia, early next year as the group looks to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. – Bloomberg

Sri Lanka plans to conclude free trade agreement (FTA) talks with Thailand in December and sign a deal on Feb. 3, Sri Lanka’s cabinet spokesperson said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Asia

The militaries of the Philippines and the United States launched joint patrols on Tuesday in waters near Taiwan, officials of the Southeast Asian nation said, a move likely to fan further tension with China. – Reuters

Taiwan cannot afford chaos or “experiments” when it comes to being president, the front-runner to be the island’s next leader said on Wednesday as the opposition remained mired in a bitter dispute on mounting a joint presidential challenge. – Reuters

Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka told parliament on Wednesday the Pacific Islands nation was likely to collaborate with China on a key port modernisation and shipyard project, after discussing it in a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping. – Reuters

Claude Barfield writes: Thus, on the strategically vital trade front, the US remains AWOL in Asia. China, meanwhile, is a leading member of the Indo-Pacific-wide Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and is pushing for membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an earlier version of which President Donald Trump unwisely left. Well played, America—more own goals. – American Enterprise Institute

Europe

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia will agree to greater cooperation on issues from energy to defence at an intergovernmental summit in Berlin on Wednesday, the first in seven years, according to government sources. – Reuters

The European Union faces growing animosity across the Muslim world and beyond due to accusations of pro-Israel bias and double standards over the war in Gaza, the bloc’s foreign policy chief has warned. – Reuters

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev accused France on Tuesday of creating conditions for a new war in the South Caucasus by supplying arms to Armenia. – Reuters

The Finnish Border Guard said on Tuesday Russian authorities were likely heavily involved in transporting migrants to two border crossings that remain open as Finland seeks to curb the flow of migrants from Russia. – Reuters

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seeking sweeping new powers to detect and punish what he sees as foreign influences in the European Union nation, the latest in a series of increasingly autocratic moves under his decade-long rule. – Bloomberg

Megan K. Stack writes: Underneath this train metaphor, I thought I detected a threat. I asked Mr. Bryson if he anticipated instability. “Of course you’re going to have instability,” he shot back. “Do they think unionists are going to have our rights and our identity subjugated, and we’re not going to fight back politically?” That last word landed, I thought, like a last-minute addition. “Of course there’s a higher chance of armed conflict,” Mr. Bryson continued. “But que será, será. We’re not accepting it, come what may.” – New York Times

Africa

South African lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of closing down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and suspending all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is agreed in its war with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza. – Reuters

Nigerian and German companies on Tuesday signed two accords in Berlin that include a $500 million renewable energy pact and a gas export deal, further strengthening economic ties between the two nations, a presidential spokesperson said. – Reuters

President Joe Biden promised to visit Africa this year, but 2023 is drawing to a close with no trip in sight yet. Nor has Biden given any public indication he plans to attend the U.N. climate change conference that starts next week in Dubai. – Associated Press

Niger’s junta on Tuesday asked West Africa’s regional court to order the lifting of sanctions imposed on the country by its neighbors following a July coup in which the democratically elected president was deposed. – Associated Press

Congo’s foreign minister and the head of the United Nations stabilization mission in Congo signed agreements Tuesday to end the presence of U.N. peacekeepers after more than two decades in the Central African nation. – Associated Press

The U.S., Norway, and the UK are urging the government of South Sudan to withdraw its troops from the disputed region of Abyei amid violence in which at least 27 people have been killed in recent days. – Associated Press

Latin America

The Pentagon is increasingly concerned that China’s growing network of facilities in Latin America and Antarctica for its civilian space and satellite programs has defense capabilities. – Washington Post

The victory of Argentina’s libertarian President-elect Javier Milei at the weekend has sparked mixed reactions worldwide – including hostility from some Latin American leftists, tentative support from others, and a pledge from China to work with him despite his critical comments. – Reuters

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Tuesday he had told European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen that he wants to clinch a trade deal between the European Union and Mercosur while still presiding over the South American bloc. – Reuters

This year, running for President of South America’s second-largest nation, Mr. Milei said Argentina’s main partners should be the United States and Israel. Now, as President-elect, Mr. Milei confronts a quiet buzz-saw of Russian funded, anti-American disinformation on Latin American websites and social media. – New York Sun

United States

Electronics worth a year-high $74 million, such as solar panels and microchips mostly from Malaysia and Vietnam, were denied entry in the United States in September or were checked for components from forced labour in China, official data show. – Reuters

Some Biden administration officials quietly say the hostage exchange agreement is the clearest signal yet its strategy toward the Israel-Hamas war is working. – Politico

Salena Zito writes: Mr. Rowe said that when the protests at the elite universities started to unfold after the October 7 massacre, he wondered what seemed so familiar. “And the answer isn’t because it’s familiar in terms of bad behavior. It was familiar because it’s another thing that never happens at schools where people go to learn a skill.” – New York Sun

Cybersecurity

The websites of two government ministries in Bahrain briefly became inaccessible Tuesday night after a cyberattack took them down, purportedly over the island kingdom’s stance on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. – Associated Press

Australia will give cyber health checks for small businesses, increase cyber law enforcement funding and introduce mandatory reporting of ransomware attacks under a security overhaul announced on Wednesday after a spate of attacks. – Reuters

Australia said on Wednesday it would spend A$26.2 million ($17 million) to establish “rapid assistance” teams to respond to cyber crises in the Pacific region, and another A$16.7 million to identify cyber vulnerabilities in the Pacific Islands. – Reuters

Earlier this month, the American defense giant Boeing joined one of corporate America’s fastest growing clubs: firms who have been breached by a new generation of increasingly brazen cybercriminals. – CyberScoop

Defense

Swarms of killer drones are likely to soon be a standard feature of battlefields around the world. That has ignited debate over how or whether to regulate their use and spurred concerns about the prospect of eventually turning life-or-death decisions over to artificial intelligence programs. – New York Times

The Pentagon is likely to decide by mid-December what drones will make up the initial phase of its new Replicator program intended to deploy thousands of pilotless aircraft in 2025 to counter China’s numeric superiority in weapons systems such as ships, according to the Defense Department’s No. 2 official. – Bloomberg

The U.S. military lacks the ability to quickly deploy personnel that can fend off malevolent actors trying to shape public opinion and must act now to build up such “information forces,” according to a newly revealed Pentagon strategy. – Defense News

The first production F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with an early, incomplete version of the software powering a key upgrade was flown last week at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility, the company told Defense News. – Defense News

Long War

Somalia has one year to expel the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militant group from the country, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on Tuesday, with the deadline for remaining African Union peacekeepers to leave looming next December. – Reuters

Colin P. Clarke and Michael Kenney write: The fallout could lead to an even more extreme iteration of the group — Hamas 2.0 — that could rise from the ashes in Gaza and continue perpetrating acts of violence and terrorism against Israel. If that were to happen, Hamas would prove similar to ISIS in at least one unwelcome respect: its resilience. – Politico

Sara Harmouch writes: Decades of conflict have left the West weary and dismissive, but underestimating al-Qaeda’s resolve is a critical error. Wishful thinking won’t eradicate terrorism, and complacency invites it home. History’s lessons are clear: the Taliban’s rise foretold 9/11, the Islamic State’s growth unleashed international terror, and vacuums in Iraq and Afghanistan nurtured extremism. The resurgence of Hamas is a reminder that terrorism’s embers still burn, unseen but ever-present. In our battle against terror, miscalculating al-Qaeda’s threat could be our gravest oversight — for what is unseen often poses the greatest danger. – War on the Rocks