Today's D Brief: US warns Iran; Ukrainian progress; Russia’s new drone; Australia’s DC visit; And a bit more.

America’s top diplomat warned Iran against attacking U.S. troops in the Middle East. Speaking at what the Wall Street Journal described as a “tense” meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, State Secretary Antony Blinken said, “If Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security—swiftly and decisively.”

Blinken asked all 15 nations represented Tuesday to pressure Iran against escalation in the region. “Tell Iran, tell its proxies—in public, in private, through every means—do not open another front against Israel in this conflict; do not attack Israel’s partners,” he said. “Act as if the security and stability of the entire region and beyond is on the line,” he added, “because it is.”

Blinken also met with eight Middle East diplomats while in New York on Tuesday. Those included Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Libyan Acting Foreign Minister Taher al-Baour, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, UAE Minister of State Reem Al Hashimy, and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

The leader of Iran-backed Hezbollah met with senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in Beirut on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. According to a short statement the three released afterward, the three armed groups want to stop Israel’s “treacherous and brutal aggression against our oppressed and steadfast people in Gaza and the West Bank,” and they hope somehow for what they called “a real victory for the resistance in Gaza and Palestine.”

Turkey’s president: “Hamas is not a terror organization; it is an organization of liberation, of mujahedeen who fight to protect their land and citizens,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers Wednesday, according to the New York Times, which stressed “these comments go directly against fellow NATO nations including the United States.”

Jordanian King Abdullah II warned his French counterpart the war on Gaza “may lead to an explosion of the situation in the region,” according to a readout from officials in Amman. French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting the region after his American, British, and German counterparts met with officials in Tel Aviv. Macron had suggested the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition expands its targets to include Hamas. However, none of Macron’s western allies seem to share his interest in expanding that other regional conflict, which already spans several continents and nearly a dozen countries. 

Escalation watch: The Israeli air force says it conducted airstrikes on Syrian military targets Tuesday after rocket attacks from the area the day before.  

The view from the White House: “There’s not a place in the world where the Pentagon doesn’t have contingency plans on the shelf,” said John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, to reporters Tuesday. 

Those plans, he continued, “may need updating; but have them on the shelf to help with the evacuation of American citizens. And given what’s going on in the Middle East right now, I think it’s perfectly reasonable.” Indeed, he added, “I think it would be imprudent and irresponsible if we weren’t doing some kind of contingency thinking.”

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 hereOn this day in 1944, the Navy submarine USS Tang, which sank more than 30 ships in just over a year at sea, was struck down in the Taiwan Strait by its own malfunctioning torpedo. Seventy-eight men perished; only nine survived, including the commanding officer, Richard O'Kane, who later received the Medal of Honor due to his vessel’s unparalleled successes.

Ukrainian counteroffensive forces advanced incrementally again this week, with more ground claimed south of Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on Tuesday, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War

Monitoring: Russia may have lost as many as a brigade’s worth of military vehicles over the 10 days ending October 20 in eastern Ukraine, according to a Ukrainian soldier who explained using satellite imagery from Maxar and Planet Lab on Tuesday. The location is near the city of Avdiivka, which Reuters describes as “shattered” and “pounded.” Front lines near the city have been largely frozen for more than a year. 

Accounts of fighting around Avdiivka are at times graphic and almost always harrowing, as this soldier’s account from the trenches on October 19 illustrates. (For example, he cites a “contest of who had more grenades,” a “column of enemy tanks barreling right for us,” and avoiding “encirclement under cover of two Bradleys” provided by the U.S.)

New: Russia’s military is reportedly using a new kind of small, cheap drone to attack Ukrainian troops. They’re being called “Italma” drones, according to ISW; and they’re allegedly “cheaper and lighter, domestically-produced drone variants” of the Iranian-made Shahed drone series, which Russia has used to attack Ukrainian troops and energy infrastructure for the past 12 months. 

Expert opinion: Italmas are produced by a consortium known as ZALA, and feature a “similar delta shape [as Shaheds] but a smaller range of about 200 km,” Sam Bendett of CNA’s Russia Studies program tells The D Brief. “Essentially it answers the calls for combining the lethality of the Lancet loitering munitions with the Shahed’s range,” he added.  

We don’t yet know how many Italmas Russia plans to make; but given the country’s public plans to increase production of ZALA’s Lancets, “there will probably be lots of these Italmas drones in the field soon,” Bendett says. 

One purported drawback with the Italma drones: They can’t carry as large of a payload, which is possibly why they’re presently being deployed simultaneously with Shaheds, ISW said. 

Bigger picture: “Russia is likely trying to expand and diversify its arsenal of drones, missiles, and guided bombs for strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure in advance of the fall-winter season, and increased use of Italmas drones is likely part of the wider munitions diversification effort,” ISW wrote Tuesday. Read more, here

Looking ahead to the winter, “I am personally more worried about dwindling Ukrainian air defense missile stockpiles than the rationing of artillery ammunition” along contested front lines in the south and the east, analyst Franz-Stefan Gady, who has visited Ukraine in the last several months, said on social media Tuesday. 

Denmark’s new military chief Troels Lund Poulsen visited Kyiv Tuesday. “We discussed further steps to strengthen our air capabilities and air defense,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy said of their meeting afterward. Poulsen was just appointed to his new post near the end of August. 

Zelenskyy also made a bold claim: “The Russian fleet is no longer capable of operating in the western part of the Black Sea, and is gradually retreating from Crimea,” he said in an address to Czech lawmakers Tuesday, without supporting evidence—though Ukraine has claimed occasional drone and missile strikes on Russian occupying and naval forces in Crimea over the past several weeks. “This is a historic achievement,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday. 

Going further, he continued, “there are no longer any safe bases or entirely reliable logistical routes for Russian terrorists in Crimea and the occupied parts of the Black Sea and Azov coast,” Zelenskyy said. “As of now, we have not yet achieved full fire control over Crimea and its adjacent waters,” he cautioned. “But we will,” he added. “It's just a matter of time.”

Useful context: “Ukraine is keen to show that billions of dollars’ worth of weapons supplied by its Western allies have allowed it to make progress in the fighting, as the conflict enters its 21st month amid a broad stalemate,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday following Zelenskyy’s remarks.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, some Republican senators are seeking changes to the White House’s urgent $106 billion supplemental request to continue funding military support to Ukraine and Israel, as well as additional money for the Pacific region and for the U.S.-Mexico border. There are some fractures in GOP support for Ukraine in the upper chamber, including among Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Florida’s Rick Scott, according to the Wall Street Journal. But even if a bill passes in the Senate, its fate is entirely unclear in the lower chamber, whose Republican majority still cannot agree on a speaker. 

Developing: Latvia wants to buy six M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, from the U.S., the Pentagon’s arms export agency announced Tuesday. The costs would only run about $220 million. Congress could object, but that’s unlikely. Details, here

Lithuania wants three dozen AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, which could cost about $100 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has more from Monday’s announcement, here

And the Brits want to spend about a billion dollars for 3,000 Joint Air-to-Ground Missiles. “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a NATO Ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” DSCA said Monday. 

New: Australia just announced another $20 million in military aid to Ukraine. That assistance will come “in the form of innovative and locally-developed industry equipment,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media Tuesday evening. 

Included: “Demining equipment, portable x-ray machines, a 3D metal printer, and counter drone systems,” Australia’s military said in a statement

They’re also sending an E-7A Wedgetail aircraft to Germany “in support of multinational efforts helping protect a vital gateway of international humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine,” the defense ministry said Tuesday, and emphasized, “The E-7A Wedgetail will not operate inside Russian, Belarusian or Ukrainian airspace.” 

Australia’s Prime Minister Albanese is visiting the White House Wednesday along with his wife, Jodie Haydon. Albanese and President Joe Biden have scheduled a press conference shortly after noon, before meeting again in the evening for a state dinner on the South Lawn. 

The B-52s had planned to perform (the band, that is; not the aircraft). But the U.S. Marine Band and the Army and Air Force Strolling Strings were called into action instead, according to the New York Times. The evening’s menu, in case you’re curious, “features root vegetables, short ribs and ice cream—a presidential favorite—for dessert.”

Critical minerals will be a big topic of discussion for Biden and Albanese, Reuters reported Tuesday in a preview. That will include plans to form a “task force to boost private investment in Australia's rare earths industry and reduce global reliance on China,” White House officials said. 

Australia is the world's largest supplier of lithium, Albanese told reporters after meeting with officials like Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington on Tuesday. 

Another topic: “We expect the situation in the Middle East to come up in the conversations with Prime Minister Albanese tomorrow,” John Kirby of the National Security Council told reporters Tuesday at the White House, without elaborating much on that particular angle. “All I can tell you is we’re going to continue to make sure Israel has the tools and the capabilities that they need to defend themselves,” he added.  

Albanese visited Arlington National Cemetery on Monday. He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and paid his respects to an Australian laid to rest at Arlington (Francis Milne).

On the horizon: The prime minister has planned a trip to China for official talks beginning November 4. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and its largest iron ore customer. “This will be another step to stabilise relations between Australia and China, in the interests of both our countries,” Albanese wrote on social media over the weekend. 

And this afternoon on Capitol Hill: The House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee are meeting with Pentagon and Navy officials to discuss “The Submarine Industrial Base and its Ability to Support the AUKUS Framework,” which refers to the U.S., British, and Australian trilateral agreement announced two years ago. That’s scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET. Details, here