Today's D Brief: Gaza war enters ‘next stage’; Biden pushes ‘2-state solution’; Ukraine’s ‘FrankenSAMs’; WH AI EO; And a bit more

Israeli officials this weekend said they’ve entered “the next stage in the war” against Hamas terrorists, who killed nearly 1,400 Israelis and took more than 220 others hostage in a surprise attack that began just over three weeks ago. More than 8,000 Palestinians are now believed to have been killed by Israeli military retaliation to date, according to the Associated Press, citing statistics from the Gaza Health Ministry. 

Worth noting: “The toll is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence,” AP writes. “Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during the initial attack, also an unprecedented figure.”

Israeli ground forces entered the northern Gaza Strip Friday evening for “expanded ground activities,” officials said the following day. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant formally announced the escalation Saturday, followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said in a press conference that evening, “This is the second stage of the war, whose objectives are clear: to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and bring the hostages home.” 

Internet and phone service in Gaza was cut somewhat mysteriously on Friday as a larger number of Israeli tanks and troops began entering Gaza from the north, adding to a smaller number that had initially penetrated the enclave earlier last week. Those communications services were at least partially restored by Monday following pressure from U.S. officials, according to the Washington Post

The Israeli military’s message Saturday for those living in Gaza: “Relocate south immediately…moving back will be possible when hostilities end.” No one has any good idea when those hostilities will end. Netanyahu, for his part, warned the nation Saturday, “The war inside the Gaza Strip will be long and difficult.” 

  • To get a sense of how the Israeli military views what lies ahead (and what lies beneath Gaza), they released a minute-long video Sunday on YouTube entitled, “A city full of terrorists.”

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin called up Yoav Gallant on Friday and “underscored the importance of protecting civilians…and focusing on the urgency of humanitarian aid delivery for civilians in Gaza,” according to the Pentagon’s readout. Austin also stressed “the need for Hamas to release all of the hostages,” the Pentagon said. 

Also on Friday: U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Glynn returned back stateside after a trip to Israel to help advise on next steps. According to Jared Szuba of al-Monitor, “Make no mistake: what is, has or will unfold in Gaza is purely an Israeli decision,” Marine commandant Gen. Eric Smith told reporters after Glynn’s return.

The latest from Tel Aviv’s public messaging: Israeli airstrikes continue to pound Hamas-held Gaza Monday morning, including militants alleged to be hiding near Al-Azhar University and others “barricaded within civilian buildings and terrorist tunnels,” the Israeli Defense Forces said on social media Monday morning. They also struck military sites inside Syria on Sunday after detecting unspecified projectile launches from that area. 

Spillover watch: Iran-backed militants in the region continued attacking positions inside Israel and against U.S. forces inside Syria over the weekend, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. (View the attacks on U.S. troops in a map here.) 

New: Israeli troops continued pushing deeper into central Gaza on Monday. When asked if the IDF was staging along the road, the commanding officer reportedly replied merely, “we expanded our operations.” 

What’s in a word: New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Patrick Kingsley says Israel has launched an “invasion” of Gaza, and that the word is important. Listen, here

Advice from Capitol Hill: “Israel must understand that the struggle against the Hamas terrorist organization will not be won in weeks or months,” warned Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “It will be a long struggle, one more likely to be won if Israel shows that, unlike Hamas, they value all lives and will work to reduce the suffering of all civilians in this horrific conflict,” he said in a statement over the weekend. 

Second-order effects: NATO officials are growing increasingly anxious over dwindling stockpiles now with two conflicts taking place on the fringes of alliance-member territory, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday from Sweden. 

Of particular note: Arms production costs are beginning to soar. For example, “NATO-standard 155-millimeter artillery shells, one of the West’s most basic armaments, had cost governments about $2,100 apiece before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, said Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer.” That price per shell is now about $8,400. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Monday 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 2015, an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter first fired off its four-barrel 25 mm GAU-22/A gun in flight.

Ukraine is so desperate for air defense weapons, the U.S. is helping piece together uncommonly-linked elements as part of a “FrankenSAM,” or surface-to-air missile program, the New York Times reported Saturday from Brussels.

To the best of our knowledge, the Associated Press first reported on the program about two weeks ago, also reporting from Brussels. The effort, AP reported, is borne in part out of attrition from more than 600 days of an ongoing Russian invasion; but it’s also coming from “congressional gridlock delays funding for the war in Ukraine.” 

Relatedly, Germany and Denmark announced new arms pledges for Ukraine on Friday, including $5.7 billion in MARS II anti-aircraft missiles and an additional IRIS-T SLM air defense system from Berlin, and $520 million worth of T-72 tanks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, artillery ammunition, and drones from Copenhagen

And last Thursday’s U.S. weapons package for Ukraine included “additional munitions for three kinds of air defense systems — including Sidewinder missiles for one of the FrankenSAMS,” the Times reported. 

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, new GOP House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson told right-wing talk network Fox on Sunday that he wants “a stand-alone Israel funding bill” without funding for Ukraine. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is of a different mind than Speaker Johnson, and the Kentucky senator is reportedly spearheading “public and private lobbying efforts to greenlight tens of billions of dollars in Ukraine assistance,” Politico reported Monday. 

McConnell is even appearing alongside Ukraine’s U.S. Ambassador Oksana Markarova in Louisville on Monday to discuss the ongoing Russian invasion. The Hill has more on the Johnson-McConnell tensions, here.

A new executive order on artificial intelligence is to be unveiled by President Biden on Monday. The EO aims “to guide how technologists develop artificial intelligence and how the government prompts and adopts AI tools,” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports. 

What’s inside: “The order lays out some basic safety rules to prevent AI-enabled consumer fraud, requires red-team testing of AI software for safety, and issues guidance on privacy protections. The White House will also pursue new multilateral agreements on AI safety with partner nations and accelerate AI adoption within the government, according to a fact sheet provided to reporters.” Read on, here

And lastly: Charlottesville, Virginia’s massive bronze sculpture of Confederate General Robert E. Lee has been not only taken down, but now it has been melted to become new forms of art that better express the values of the community. 

Lee sat atop his horse Traveller in downtown Charlottesville for nearly 100 years. But a violent rally by far-right supporters of former President Donald Trump led the city to rethink the statue’s prominence, as we discussed in our July 2020 Defense One Radio podcast. 

Jalane Schmidt, director of the University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative's Memory Project, guided us through the downtown area and around the statue of Lee and his horse. She was also present for the news conference explaining the next steps for all that melted bronze. The Associated Press has more from Charlottesville, here. And if you’re on the go, NPR has a five-minute audio report you can listen to, here