Today's D Brief: Israel preps ground incursion; Zelenskyy at NATO; Disinfo spreads on X; Army hunts for its gear; And a bit more.

After conducting waves of punishing airstrikes on Tuesday, Israeli troops appear poised to begin a ground operation into Hamas-ruled Gaza following the arrival of the first planeload of unspecified U.S. weapons for Israel to the Nevatim air base late in the evening. 

The death toll is believed to have risen past 2,000 so far for Israelis and Palestinians combined caught in the middle of Hamas’ latest and largest outburst of violence to date. Hamas militants have fired more than 4,500 rockets into Israel from Gaza since initiating the latest wave of violence over the weekend, according to Israel’s military. 

“This was an act of sheer evil,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a televised address Tuesday. “Hamas offers nothing but terror and bloodshed with no regard to who pays the price.” 

“So, in this moment, we must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel,” the president said. “And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack.” That includes “surging additional military assistance, including ammunition and interceptors to replenish [the] Iron Dome” air defense system, he said. 

New: The U.S. Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group arrived on location to the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, the U.S. military’s Tampa-based Central Command announced afterward. The group includes eight squadrons of attack and support aircraft, as well as a missile cruiser and four missile destroyer vessels. It happens to be the Ford’s first global deployment.

“Let me be clear: We did not move the carrier for Hamas,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday. “We moved the carrier to send a clear message of deterrence to other states or non-state actors that might seek to widen this war.”

Sullivan also said U.S. officials are involved with “contingency planning for any and all escalation scenarios,” and that they’re “consulting with allies and partners as well about all of the potential scenarios that might unfold in the days ahead.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called his counterpart Yoav Gallant on Tuesday to reaffirm “the U.S. commitment to expedite air defense capabilities and munitions requested by Israel in support of their efforts to defend the Israeli people,” the Pentagon said in a statement

The U.S. Air Force also sent a C-17 to pick up U.S. troops on the ground in Israel after the attack Saturday. A “small number” of U.S. military personnel in Israel flew home on the transport aircraft after a bilateral exercise was canceled because of the war, a spokesperson told Defense One’s Audrey Decker on Tuesday. 

Turkey’s leader Recep Erdogan is angry over Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza, and said Tuesday, “I need to reveal something: The U.S. has 23 bases in Syria.” Reuters notes that Turkey, “which backed Palestinians in the past and hosted members of Hamas, had been working to mend ties with Israel after years of animosity before the latest violence.”

Erdogan also predicted the U.S. carrier group will escalate the violence, telling reporters in Ankara on Tuesday, “What will the aircraft carrier of the U.S. do near Israel, why do they come? What will boats around and aircraft on it do? They will hit Gaza and around, and take steps for serious massacres there.”

And the leader of a prominent regional militia said his fighters are ready to attack “the American enemy in its bases and disrupt its interests if it intervenes in this battle.” That’s according to Ahmad al-Hamidawi, who leads Kataib Hezbollah. He said in a statement Wednesday that his group has “missiles, drones, and special forces” that are prepared to widen the conflict, the Associated Press reports. 

Was Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system overwhelmed by Hamas’ initial attack? ABC News doesn’t offer an answer, but it does assess the capabilities of that system in a sort of explainer published Tuesday, here

Get some insight into the man leading Hamas’ attacks, Mohammed Deif, via a review published Tuesday by Reuters. He’s a mysterious figure who shuns cameras and prefers to be presented as a man in the shadows. 

Monitoring: U.S. officials still haven’t found direct evidence showing a link between Hamas and Iran in terms of planning and executing this latest attack. “We are talking to our Israeli counterparts on a daily basis about this question,” Jake Sullivan said Tuesday in Washington. “But as I stand here today, while Iran plays this broad role — sustained, deep, and dark role — in providing all of this support and capabilities to Hamas, in terms of this particular gruesome attack on Oct. 7, we don’t currently have that information,” he said. “We will continue to look for it. And if we find it, we will share that with you.”

From the region: Review more than two dozen maritime harassment actions initiated by Iran between January 2021 and July 2023, via an impressive multimedia presentation published recently by Ryan Brobst and Bradley Bowman of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1954, the French military formally withdrew from North Vietnam five months after losing the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, which led to the 1954 Geneva Conference that set the terms for France’s October exit.

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy visited NATO headquarters Wednesday for the 16th meeting of the Pentagon-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group. “We're here to deliver what it takes, for as long as it takes, so that Ukraine can live in freedom,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Wednesday at the start of the meeting in Brussels.

“As winter approaches, our task in this Contact Group is twofold,” Austin said. First, “we're here to dig deep to meet Ukraine's most urgent needs—especially for air defense and ammunition.” And secondly, “we're also here to discuss how to balance our immediate support to defend Ukraine with our longer-term assistance.” That includes building what Austin described as “capability coalitions” similar to the ones already initiated for German-made Leopard tanks and for F-16 pilot training. 

Ukraine wants more Western training. The U.S. and allies have already increased their training of Ukrainian officers and noncommissioned officers, at Ukraine’s request, and may begin training the trainers as well, military officers involved in the effort said Tuesday. Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Tuesday from AUSA in Washington.

NATO defense chiefs will meet again Thursday in Brussels for the latest defense ministerial at alliance headquarters. Those talks will focus on not just Ukraine, but also on Iraq and Kosovo, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. 

NATO officials will also discuss “the recent damage to undersea infrastructure between Estonia and Finland,” Stoltenberg said. Reuters has a bit more on that developing situation, here

China near missile-submarine “breakthroughs.” Reuters reports that regional diplomats say “evidence is mounting” that China will have its Type 096 ballistic missile submarine operational before the end of the decade, with breakthroughs in its quietness aided in part by Russian technology.

U.S. Navy sailor sold sensitive info to China. Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, pleaded guilty to conspiring with the intelligence officer and receiving a bribe, according to a Justice Department release. “Between August 2021 and at least May 2023, Zhao admitted receiving at least $14,866 in at least 14 separate bribes from the intelligence officer...Zhao specifically admitted to transmitting plans for a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific theatre, operational orders, and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system located in Okinawa, Japan.” More, here.

U.S. restricts trade with 42 Chinese companies over Russia support. Among other limits, the new export controls will restrict the flow of U.S.-origin integrated circuits, “including microelectronics that Russia uses for precision guidance systems in missiles and drones launched against civilian targets in Ukraine,” Reuters reports.

US: Niger takeover is indeed a coup. The formal declaration comes after two months of Biden administration efforts to get the military plotters to walk back their July seizure of the government. D1’s Caitlin M. Kenney has a bit more.

Lastly: The Army doesn’t know where a lot of its excess arms and gear are. As allies’ needs soar, officials are racing to get a clearer picture of what's available, Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo and Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George said at AUSA. “I’m working really hard with Army Materiel Command to find ways to more rapidly and in the digital fashion to catalog what we currently have, not relying on the clipboard and supply soldier who's sitting there taking notes and putting it on a piece of paper,” Camarillo said. D1’s Marcus Weisgerber reports, along with why the Army has a tougher time than the Navy or Air Force, here.