Today's D Brief: US drones over Gaza; Russia ups airstrikes; First woman joins Joint Chiefs; A-10/F-35 flyoff; And a bit more.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke publicly Friday for the first time since Hamas terrorists triggered the current war in Gaza with its Oct. 7 attacks that killed more than 1,400 Israelis. Some observers feared that Nasrallah would announce that his group was formally entering the war. Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, but it’s just one of dozens of militias throughout the Middle East supported by Iran.
Nasrallah confirmed his fighters’ general involvement in support of Hamas, but he insisted the cause is “100% Palestinian,” and is unrelated to regional issues. He also praised militants in Iraq and Yemen for piling on by attacking either Israel or U.S. troops in the region, as Iran-backed groups have dozens of times in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi group has attempted several times from Yemen.
“To those saying we're about to engage in the war, I tell you, we've been involved in this battle since October 8,” Nasrallah said, according to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. “I assure you,” the Iran-backed leader said, “our efforts today will not be the end, and they will not be sufficient."
But Nasrallah vowed to escalate if Hamas is on the brink of defeat—and warned the U.S., “If a war breaks out, your naval fleet will be pointless.” He also, perhaps unsurprisingly, blamed the U.S. for the current conflict, and said Israel’s goal of crushing Hamas is “foolish” and will only make matters worse. Read more at al-Jazeera, which is following the speech on a live blog.
For what it’s worth: The White House said Thursday it doesn’t think Hezbollah wants to throw all its fighters into this conflict. “I don't believe we've seen any indication yet specifically that Hezbollah is ready to go in full force,” John Kirby of the National Security Council told reporters Thursday afternoon.
By the way: Iranian-backed militants attacked northern Israel 28 separate times on Thursday, “which is the largest offensive on this front since the Israel-Hamas War began,” according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Developing: U.S. intelligence officials think the Wagner Russian mercenary group is about to give Hezbollah an SA-22 Pantsir air defense system, which is capable of shooting down aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. “The Russian SA-22 system has been provided to Syria and would be sent to Hezbollah with Assad’s concurrence if the delivery goes through,” a source told the Journal.
New: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected U.S. calls for a temporary ceasefire on Friday, insisting Israel will not stop bombing suspected Hamas locations in Gaza at least until its hostages are released. Netanyahu delivered that public message after a private meeting with U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken. According to Bibi, “Israel refuses a temporary ceasefire that does not include the release of our hostages,” he said Friday, and emphasized, “Israel will not enable the entry of fuel to Gaza and opposes sending money to the [Gaza] Strip.”
“We are trying to fight with minimal danger to our warriors,” he continued, and added, “we will do whatever is needed to defeat our enemies.”
In case you missed it: American surveillance drones are flying over Gaza, U.S. officials told the New York Times on Thursday using open source data from FlightRadar24. “The flights are concentrated in southern Gaza, approximately 15 miles from the Israeli military’s initial push in the north. There appear to be at least six separate MQ-9 aircraft involved in the effort,” according to the Times. Officials in Jordan, which wants a Patriot system inside its borders, said they intercepted a drone on Thursday. The drone was reportedly carrying crystal meth.
And Hamas is now publishing videos of drone attacks on Israeli troops, as these clips collected by Yaroslav Trofimov of the Wall Street Journal illustrate.
An Israeli F-35 shot down a cruise missile recently, and the military’s Arrow Aerial Defense System intercepted a surface-to-surface missile in the Red Sea area, according to footage the Israeli Defense Forces posted to social media on Thursday. The IDF also detonated several tunnels in Gaza; you can watch that footage here.
In another sign of apparently deteriorating regional ties, Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Israel on Thursday. Jordan had done so as well earlier in the week, citing the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has reportedly killed more than 9,000 Palestinians so far.
White House reax: “[T]hese are sovereign nations; they have the right to handle their bilateral diplomatic relations in the way they see fit,” John Kirby told reporters Thursday at the White House. “We're not going to lecture to people about how they handle that,” he said.
- “Middle East-focused Marine command cancels birthday ball,” the Marine Corps Times reported Thursday;
- “House Passes Aid Bill for Israel but Not for Ukraine,” the New York Times reported Thursday from Capitol Hill; Vox has non-paywalled coverage here.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1957, the Soviet Union sent a dog into space for the first time, though it is believed to have died shortly after reaching orbit aboard Sputnik 2.
Russia targets Ukrainian infrastructure with biggest drone strike in weeks. On Friday, waves of drones damaged energy facilities near Odesa and Kherson in Ukraine’s southern region, struck the region of Lviv on the Polish border with Poland, and destroyed houses and commercial buildings in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, officials told Reuters.
Downed: Ukrainian air force officials said it shot down 24 of 40 Shahed drones, plus one X-59 missile.
Reuters: “Officials say Ukraine is bracing for a second winter of Russian air strikes on the energy system, which they warn is more vulnerable than it was last year as it has less excess capacity and little in the way of spare equipment.” More, here.
Allies have been rushing to provide defenses. “Many of the new anti-drone systems the U.S. and others are sending to Ukraine consist of some form of autocannon combined with a radar tracking system and an electronic warfare jammer,” writes D1’s Sam Skove, who lists several of the systems in his report.
But, Skove writes: “Notably absent are some of the most advanced anti-drone systems being developed or purchased for U.S. troops.” Read on, here.
Russia’s response? “You will never defeat Moscow.” (Reuters)
- The U.S. is lining up yet more aid to Ukraine (Reuters, VOA)
- South Korea is mustering banks to help finance a $22 billion arms sale to Poland (Reuters)
The Navy finally has a CNO, and the Joint Chiefs a woman. The U.S. Senate confirmed Adm. Lisa Franchetti as the 33rd chief of naval operations on Thursday, making her the first woman to lead a U.S. military service branch. Also confirmed were the new Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Allvin, and new Marine Corps assistant commandant, Lt. Gen. Chris Mahoney.
All three were confirmed through labor-intensive workarounds to the blanket hold on senior military promotions imposed by GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville. D1’s Lauren C. Williams has more, here.
Said John Kirby of the White House’s National Security Council, speaking to reporters Thursday, “I won't go through all of it, but here's [sic] some of the positions that are being affected by Mr. Tuberville: the Fifth Fleet commander, that's the fleet that's in the Gulf Region; the deputy Fifth Fleet commander; the deputy Central Command commander; the defense attaché to Israel; the commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing; the chief of staff at U.S. Central Command; oh, and here's a good one, the deputy director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy for U.S. Central Command—the person that actually helps write our operational plans and executes policy decisions at that level.”
“And there's more than that,” Kirby said, and added, “it's beyond ridiculous that this one senator is having this kind of an impact on our operational readiness.”
Tuberville’s hold is “also having a deleterious impact on family members,” said Kirby, “and folks who can't get schools for their kids; can't buy or rent houses; you know, don't know where they're going to be living next. It's absolutely ridiculous.”
Lastly: The report on the A-10/F-35 CAS flyoff just surfaced. In 2019, the Pentagon bowed to legal requirement and put Warthogs and JSFs up against each other in a test of close air support capacity. The resulting report was classified and kept from public view...until this week, when the Project on Government Oversight pried loose a heavily redacted version.
So who won? Hard to say; roughly half of the 48-page report is blacked out, including any final judgment by DOD’s Office of Test and Evaluation.
POGO’s take: “Had the F-35 come out as the winner, there can be little doubt that a clear, declarative statement to that fact would have prominently appeared in the opening paragraph of the report.” D1’s Audrey Decker reports.
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