Today's D Brief: Gaza-war diplomacy; Barrage on Kyiv; Congress saves F-22s; DOD’s latest arms request; And a bit more.

As Israel’s invasion of Gaza advances southward, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin called up his Saudi and Israeli counterparts on Thursday. The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen were the primary focus of Austin’s chat with Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman. The Houthis have been attacking Israel with ballistic missiles, which the U.S. and Israel have shot down; and the Houthis have attacked several ships in the Red Sea that they say belong to Israel. 

The Saudis have allegedly asked the U.S. “to show restraint in responding to attacks by Yemen's Houthis,” Reuters reported Wednesday. Recall that the Saudis launched their war in Yemen back in March 2015, and haven’t managed to accomplish much of anything in the more than eight years since. The Houthis, meanwhile, have virtually locked down the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and do not appear to be under any reasonable threat to relinquish power there. 

Why restrain the U.S. response? Ostensibly as part of an effort to keep the Israeli-Hamas war from broadening across the region, according to “two sources familiar with Saudi thinking.” But it could also be a Saudi attempt to try to continue to profit from warming ties with Iran, which were announced back in the spring. Other sources told Reuters the Saudis are aligned with the Houthis when it comes to trying to pressure Israel to stop its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 

Iranian-linked groups like the Houthis want to “significantly raise the prospect of a regional war to force a cease-fire” in Gaza, according to “two Iranians affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” speaking to the New York Times on Friday. 

Iranian-backed Iraqis are also working to evict U.S. forces from the region, analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote atop their Thursday evening coverage of Iran. U.S. troops have come under attack from militias in Iraq and Syria more than 70 times since Hamas attacked Israel in early October. 

The idea is “to impose a cost on the United States for supporting Israel while also eroding American willingness to remain militarily in Iraq and Syria,” ISW writes. 

War on ISIS update: The U.S. military killed four alleged Islamic State militants and detained 33 others in operations across Iraq and Syria during the month of November, officials at the Pentagon’s Tampa-based Central Command said this week.

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1991, the Soviet Union officially dissolved with the signing of the Belovezha Accords.

Kyiv’s military says it shot down 14 of 19 Russian cruise missiles targeting Ukraine on Friday. At least one person was killed and eight others were wounded, according to Reuters, which called the barrage “the first big salvo of missiles Russia has fired at targets, including the Ukrainian capital, in weeks.”

Unsurprisingly, Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin announced on Friday that he’s running for president again in upcoming elections, which are scheduled for March 17. No one expects him to lose; another term could keep him in power until 2030, more than three decades after he first became prime minister in 1999.

Russian state TV celebrated Republican lawmakers for blocking the White House’s supplemental aid bill for Ukraine this week on Capitol Hill. “The downfall of Ukraine means the downfall of Biden!” one presenter shouted. “Two birds with one stone!” he said. 

“Well done, Republicans! They’re standing firm! That’s good for us,” said another. The Daily Beast has more. 

Stateside reax: “Authoritarian leaders including President Xi are watching,” Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner wrote on social media Thursday. “Any lawmaker who is serious about combatting [sic] the rise of China needs to be committed to passing aid to Ukraine,” he stressed. 

Flashback to an Associated Press headline from 90 years ago: “Washington Not Alarmed As Hitler Rises to Power” (via historian Michael Beschloss)

ICYMI: The Pentagon is nearly out of money to replace weapons sent to Ukraine, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush told the audience at Defense One’s Future of Defense Acquisition event on Thursday. 

Developing: DOD is preparing to ask Congress to approve $1 billion to replace weapons sent to Ukraine, a request that will essentially exhaust funds available under presidential drawdown authority, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported Thursday.

New: Germany just announced a new package of supplies for Ukraine, including more 155mm ammunition, more than 150 reconnaissance drones, off-road trucks, grenade launchers, first aid kits, and more.

And the U.S. wants to sell Germany 80 MK 54 Lightweight Torpedoes for about $300 million. The Pentagon’s arms export agency has details, here.

Related reading: 

Congress moves to save F-22s from the boneyard, once again. The conference version of the 2024 NDAA, released on Wednesday, would “block the Air Force’s request to retire older F-22 Raptors, despite pleas from the service that it would cost too much money to get them battle-ready,” D1’s Audrey Decker reports.

But the bill OKs the discard of roughly 300 aircraft, including of A-10 Warthogs and F-15C and -D fighters. It limits F-15E retirements and requires the service to keep at least 1,112 tactical combat aircraft. More, here.

Two key House lawmakers seek investigation into Osprey program. Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and John Garamendi, D-Calif., the chairman and ranking member of the HASC’s readiness subcommittee, are seeking to launch a formal Congressional review of the entire $58 billion program to develop, buy, and operate the V-22 tiltrotor. (Bloomberg)

Is the Navy still flying the V-22? DOD grounded its Ospreys on Dec. 6, a week after the Nov. 29 crash of an Air Force CV-22 killed all eight aboard. But a statement issued by the Carl Vinson carrier strike group seems to suggest that its CMV-22Bs, which are the carrier’s main logistics aircraft, are still flying. (USNI News)

Army welcomes first PrSMs. That would be the Precision Strike Missile, whose 400km+ range is meant to make it the service’s main long-range strike weapon. “The delivery of Precision Strike Missile Increment 1 Early Operational Capability missiles follows successful production qualification testing in November at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico,” the Army said in a Friday statement.

Related reading:Defense Acquisition Trends 2023: A Preliminary Look,” which is a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, published Thursday.

And lastly this week: The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled a new Army vs. Navy Rivalry Bobblehead doll/figurine set ahead of Saturday afternoon’s Army vs. Navy game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The $50 duo features Army Black Knights mascot Army Mule and Navy Midshipmen mascot Bill the Goat standing on a mini football field.

Fine print: These things aren’t “expected to ship [until] February 2024,” the manufacturer says. Learn more, here

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!