Today’s D Brief: Biden seeks ‘pause’ in Gaza; Ukraine general’s grim assessment; US, China set nuke talks; USMC’s Smith ‘stable’ in hospital; And a bit more...

U.S. President Joe Biden was speaking at a fundraiser in Minnesota Wednesday evening when he was interrupted by a man who shouted, “As a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire right now.” The man was referring to the ongoing Israeli counteroffensive in the Hamas-held Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 8,800 Palestinians since October 7, when Hamas terrorists killed 1,400 Israelis in a surprise attack of almost unspeakable brutality

“I think we need a pause,” Biden replied to the heckler. “A pause means give time to get the prisoners [more than 200 hostages held by Hamas] out” of Gaza, the president said.

John Kirby of the White House’s National Security Council elaborated a bit on this apparent new goal of the administration while speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday. “We’re just not at that point now where we think a general ceasefire is the right approach,” he said

“We continue to support the idea of temporary pauses in the fighting so that aid can get in, people can get out, we can get our hostages out,” he added. However, he cautioned, “there are many factors and many players in being able to put pauses in place, and we’re working at that very, very hard.”

Pause or not, Kirby said, “Hamas can’t be the future of governance in Gaza...Now, what comes next after the conflict, we don’t have all the answers to that. But we are working with our partners in the region to explore what governance in Gaza can and should look like over the long term. Whatever it is,” he said again, “it can’t be Hamas.” After all, Kirby explained, a Hamas official by the name of Ghazi Hamad told a Lebanese news outlet just this week, “Israel is a country that has no place on our land.  We must remove that country.”

“Hamas is willing to continue this fight and will continue to try to slaughter innocent Israelis,” Kirby warned reporters Wednesday. “Those are chilling comments,” he said. “We all ought to pay attention to them, and we need to take them seriously.”

But Israel seems to be losing some international support after an airstrike on a refugee camp in Gaza Tuesday. Officials there say 195 people were killed and 120 are still missing after bombs cratered the Jabalia refugee camp and leveled entire apartment buildings. Israel says it killed a top Hamas commander and ruptured portions of the group’s tunnel system underneath Gaza. 

UN flags apparent disproportionality: The United Nations' top human rights officer said Wednesday that given “the scale of the destruction following Israeli airstrikes on Jabalia refugee camp, we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he’s “appalled over the escalating violence in Gaza,” including “the killing of Palestinians, including women and children, in Israeli air strikes in residential areas of the densely populated Jabalia refugee camp,” he said in a statement through his spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday.

The king of Jordan, too, is growing increasingly upset over Israel’s Gaza invasion, and his Foreign Ministry Wednesday summoned its ambassador to Israel while also instructing Israel’s ambassador to Jordan to stay away due to Israel's “raging” war on Gaza.

“The world seems unable, or unwilling, to act,” Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief, said in his own statement Wednesday. “This cannot go on,” he warned. “We need the hostages to be released immediately and unconditionally...Repeated humanitarian pauses would allow us to provide more aid to those in need across Gaza, thus alleviating people’s suffering and reducing the risk of civil disorder.”

The White House, meanwhile, is pushing for the evacuation of foreigners from Gaza, including about 500 who were able to depart for Egypt on Wednesday. “596 more are expected to exit on Thursday,” al-Jazeera reports, citing the Gaza Borders and Crossings Authority. “Some injured Palestinians have also been allowed to leave for medical treatment,” AJ added. 

But the U.S. is not advocating for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza, Kirby told reporters Wednesday. “We want to make sure that the people of Gaza, should they want to go back home, can go back home,” he said. “But if they want to get out in the interim, they should be able to get out. There is no U.S. policy or endorsement for some sort of permanent settlement” outside of Gaza. 

There are also “no plans or intention to put U.S. military troops on the ground in Gaza now or in the future,” said Kirby, a day after the U.S. ordered 300 troops to the Middle East. But White House officials “are talking to our partners about what post-conflict Gaza should look like,” Kirby continued. “If that means some sort of international presence, then that’s something we’re talking about. But there’s been no decisions about that at this point.”

Spillover watch: Hezbollah militants say they shot down an Israeli drone again this week over the Israel-Lebanon border; if true, it would be the second time that’s happened this week, according to al-Jazeera

And in case you missed it, Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen are trying to attack Israel with missiles and drones, too. So far, those projectiles have been shot down by U.S. Navy and Israeli interceptors. Reuters has more on why the Houthis would want to widen this conflict, reporting Tuesday, here

Can the U.S. defense industry keep up with the need to arm allies Israel and Ukraine at the same time? The NSC’s John Kirby was asked this Wednesday while the new speaker of the House changed his tone on simultaneous military support for Ukraine and Israel more akin to what the White House is asking for in its $105 billion supplemental aid bill. 

“As [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] said [at a senate appropriations hearing Tuesday], he’s confident that the defense industrial base will be up to that task to improve and accelerate the production of munitions that we need not only to help Ukraine and now Israel but to replenish our own stocks,” Kirby told reporters. “And as you saw in the supplemental, there is a significant chunk of funding in there designed to do that—to be able to replenish our own shelves.”

About House Speaker Mike Johnson’s change of tone on Israel and Ukraine, Senate Republicans say Johnson told them Wednesday that he would support more military aid to Ukraine—but (at least right now) it has to come in a separate bill from additional aid to Israel, according to Politico. Speaker Johnson also said he’s interested in a funding bill that lasts through only Jan. 15; the current stopgap funding bill, passed hours before a shutdown deadline in late September, is set to end on Nov. 17. NBC News has more from the budget debates dividing the GOP-led House from the Democrat-led Senate, here; ABC News has similar coverage, here.  

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1917, the British government issued its “Balfour Declaration” (named for its author Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour), as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling during the latter half of the First World War. The declaration conveyed Britain's support for an eventual “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, and would eventually lead to a British administration of post-war Palestine following the Versailles Treaty of 1919.

Ukraine’s top military officer shared a particularly grim outlook for the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Just like in the first world war we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” said Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, in an interview this week with the Economist.

General Zaluzhny’s assessment is sobering: “[T]echnology has its limits,” the Economist writes. “Even in the first world war, the arrival of tanks, in 1917, was not sufficient to break the deadlock on the battlefield: it took a suite of technologies, and more than a decade of tactical innovation, to produce the German blitzkrieg in May 1940. The implication is that Ukraine is stuck in a long war—one in which [Zaluzhny] acknowledges Russia has the advantage. Nevertheless, he insists that Ukraine has no choice but to keep the initiative by remaining on the offensive, even if it only moves by a few metres a day.” 

  • More behind the paywall, here; Reuters has its own coverage here, as does the New York Times, here; or read over a nine-page assessment penned by Zaluzhny himself (PDF), here

Meanwhile, Russian invasion forces attacked 118 Ukrainian towns and villages in a 24-hour window this week, the BBC reported Wednesday. That total was “more than on any other day this year, says Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko.” 

Russian drones also struck the Kremenchuk oil refinery in central Ukraine on Tuesday, despite Ukraine claiming to have shot down 18 of 20 drones and missiles launched overnight. 

Elsewhere, some 40,000 Russian troops are allegedly encircling the contested town of Avdiivka, “which is now a political, rather than a tactical, aim,” one analyst wrote this week, according to Reuters reporting Wednesday from Kyiv. 

New: Two purchases of Swiss ammunition for Ukraine appear to violate Geneva’s prohibition on such transfers, while other Ukrainian arms deals have been concluded at exorbitant prices. That’s according to Ukrainian import records that illustrate Kyiv’s desperate hunt for defense materiel for its fight against Russian invaders, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Wednesday. 

Extra reading: 

Update on Commandant’s health: A Marine Corps statement on Wednesday says Gen. Eric Smith “was admitted to a local Washington, D.C. hospital on Oct. 29, 2023, after suffering a medical condition near the home of the Commandants at Marine Barracks Washington. He is currently listed in stable condition and is recovering in a leading hospital in our Nation’s capital. His family has requested privacy at this time, as Gen. Smith continues his recovery. Updates to his condition will be provided as appropriate. Visitors have been limited to his family at their request.”

ICYMI: While Smith recovers, a 3-star is leading the Corps because a GOP senator’s blanket hold on promotions has prevented the appointment of an assistant commandant.

Related: GOP senators—yes, Republicans—spent four hours challenging Sen. Tommy Tuberville by bringing individual promotions to the Senate floor on Wednesday. “Tuberville, R-Ala., stood and objected to each nominee — 61 times total, when the night was over — extending his holds on the military confirmations and promotions with no immediate resolution in sight. But the extraordinary confrontation between Republicans, boiling over almost nine months after Tuberville first announced the holds over a Pentagon abortion policy, escalated the standoff as Defense Department officials have repeatedly said the backlog of officials needing confirmation could endanger national security.” AP has more, here.

China, US to meet for nuclear arms-control talks. While the discussions are merely a get-to-know-you meeting, they are the first since the Obama administration. Wall Street Journal: The Monday meeting “will focus on ways to reduce the risk of miscalculation,” U.S. officials said. 

“The discussion doesn’t signal the start of formal negotiations to set limits on each side’s nuclear forces, as Washington has long done with Moscow. Instead, Monday’s session will provide American officials with an opportunity to probe their Chinese counterparts about Beijing’s nuclear doctrine and the ambitious buildup of its nuclear arsenal, which for decades has been much smaller than the U.S.’s and Russia’s.” Read on.

Related reading:

  • What China might want out of the talks: a 2020 analysis by Gregory Kulacki, China Project Manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Reuters: “Putin revokes Russia's ratification of nuclear test ban treaty”
  • GOPers McCaul, Rogers, Risch, and Wicker issue statement on Russian move