Today's D Brief: SecDef in Mideast; Hungary blocks EU aid to Kyiv; US warship downs ‘drone wave’; Arizona sends Guard to border; And a bit more.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is in the Middle East for meetings with several officials this week, including Israel’s military chief on Monday and various Kuwaiti officials Sunday following the passing of Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah the day prior at age 86. 

Israel’s military ended last week on a tragic note after its troops killed three hostages who were waving a white flag when they were shot during ground operations in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military chief of staff afterward reminded his troops to “take two seconds” before firing similarly in the future. The New York Times has a bit more on the three who were killed Friday: Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz, and Samer Talalka. 

Another Israeli attack killed one journalist and wounded another. As they visited a school hit with Israeli airstrikes earlier on Friday, an Israeli drone returned to attack the school a second time, killing al-Jazeera cameraman Abu Daqqa. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 64 journalists have been killed covering the Israel-Hamas war, which began more than two months ago. 

Update: Almost 19,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting so far, according to the United Nations, citing data from the Gaza Ministry of Health. At least 1,200 Israelis are believed to have perished since Hamas launched its brutal surprise attack on October 7—though more recent estimates have ranged downward, possibly closer to 700, as France24 reported last week. 

Developing: CIA chief William Burns is in Warsaw for talks about resuming hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas, Axios reported Monday.  

SecDef Austin dropped by Tel Aviv on Monday partly to urge greater scrutiny on the part of Israeli war planners as they continue with their mission of crushing Hamas’ military capabilities. It’s unclear when that mission could wrap up, but Israeli military chief Yoav Gallant last week said accomplishing his objectives will take “more than several months.” 

The Pentagon’s top commander in the Middle East also traveled to Israel for talks with officials in Tel Aviv on Friday. Army Gen. Michael Kurilla “and the Israeli leaders discussed strategic matters, the current security situation, humanitarian assistance, and civilian harm mitigation efforts,” U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command said Sunday. Kurilla had previously visited Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria days before heading to Tel Aviv. 

As global support for Israel declines, Israeli officials spent the weekend directing attention to an exceptionally wide tunnel its troops discovered underneath Gaza. The tunnel was discovered weeks ago, but officials on Friday emphasized certain aspects for media outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. The tunnel was wide enough for a car, and included a makeshift railway. It also descended as much as 50 meters and ended about 400 meters from Israel’s border. 

Britain and Germany’s top diplomats urged Hamas to lay down its arms to begin a “sustainable cease-fire” as soon as possible, according to a joint op-ed published Saturday by The Sunday Times of London. While also pushing for a two-state solution, which Israeli officials have rejected, Foreign Secretaries Annalena Baerbock of Germany and David Cameron of the UK argue, “Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful coexistence with Palestinians…They have a right to eliminate the threat posed by Hamas. But too many civilians have been killed.” 

“Our goal cannot simply be an end to fighting today. It must be peace lasting for days, years, generations,” Baerbock and Cameron wrote. “We therefore support a cease-fire, but only if it is sustainable.” 

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called his Emirati counterpart Sunday to discuss a wide range of issues, including “countering threats from the Houthis to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” according to the White House’s readout.

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The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have managed to disrupt naval shipping around the globe. Late last week, industry titan Maersk announced it was temporarily halting use of the Red Sea after weeks of constant Houthi missile and drone attacks on ships (Reuters). French company CMA CGM and German transport company Hapag-Lloyd also suspended Red Sea transit over the weekend, the BBC reported Saturday. British oil giant BP announced a similar re-routing of its vessels this weekend, too; however the Wall Street Journal reports “Oil was still sailing through the Red Sea on Monday.” 

By the way: The UAE is reportedly pushing the U.S. to attack the Houthis, but the Saudis are still of a different mind, Bloomberg reported Monday. The Emiratis and the Saudis, you may recall, support different factions in the ongoing war in Yemen; so it’s a considerable challenge to align those interests into a single strategy at the moment. 

New: SecDef Austin said Monday that he’s building an international coalition to address the Houthi threat. He plans to meet with regional officials to “address the threat in a meaningful way in the future,” Austin said Monday while standing beside his Israeli counterpart. Several outlets reported an ongoing coalition known as Operation Prosperity Guardian is in the works. Read more at the Guardian or The Drive.

Austin also extended the regional deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier late last week. The USS Normandy guided-missile cruiser is also remaining in the region at Austin’s orders. According to the Associated Press, “As of Friday, there are 19 U.S. warships in the region, including seven in the eastern Mediterranean and 12 more stretched down the Red Sea, across the Arabian Sea and up into the Persian Gulf.”

ICYMI: Crew on board the U.S. Navy’s USS Carney shot down 14 drones “launched as a drone wave from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen” on Saturday, CENTCOM said in a statement afterward.   

The Houthis attacked Liberian flagged Motor Vessel AL JASRAH with a drone on Friday, causing a fire on board the ship. A separate ballistic missile attack hit the Liberian flagged MV PALATIUM 3 on Friday, also causing a fire. “No injuries have been reported by any of the three ships attacked, but this latest round of attacks is yet another demonstration of the great risk to international shipping caused by these Houthi actions,” U.S. officials at CENTCOM said Friday.

Developing: Hacktivists say they’ve attacked Iranian oil pumps in a cyber operation “target[ing] the national fuel supply system,” according to a statement posted to social media early Monday.

European, U.S. officials warn Ukraine will be crushed without more help. As a subset of GOP lawmakers block White House efforts to extend U.S. aid, U.S. and European officials tried to explain why Ukraine needs it. “There is no guarantee of success with us, but they are certain to fail without us,” a senior U.S. military official told CNN.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the east and south has sputtered against Russian defenses, even with U.S. aid, one European diplomat noted, adding: “If looking at taking and holding further territory, it is hard to see how that could succeed without continued U.S. support.”

Hungary’s authoritarian government vetoed a European Union proposal to extend aid to Kyiv on Friday, though the EU is to restart debate in January, CNN reported.

Want a vision for Ukrainian success? Estonia’s defense ministry lays out theirs in 24 pages, here.

Tanks and other heavy armor will need to get more mobile to survive on tomorrow’s battlefield, a new RUSI report says. Its new report on the future of British Army heavy armor also offers a list of “secondary requirements,” including “better use of deception and decoys to counter improved enemy ISTAR capabilities, and the potential integration of uncrewed ground vehicles to add situational awareness and defensive capabilities without increasing vehicles’ weights.” Read, here.

A collection of raw Russian intelligence disappeared under Trump, CNN reports. “A binder containing highly classified information related to Russian election interference went missing at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, raising alarms among intelligence officials that some of the most closely guarded national security secrets from the US and its allies could be exposed, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.” Read on.

Reuters has compiled a list of Trump’s foreign-policy proposals. The GOP frontrunner “has said that under his presidency, America would fundamentally rethink ‘NATO's purpose and NATO's mission.’ He has also said that he would ask Europe to reimburse the United States for ‘almost $200 billion’ worth of munitions sent to Ukraine,” Reuters reports. “On the campaign trail, he has also floated sending armed forces into Mexico to battle drug cartels and slapping expansive tariffs on friends and foes alike.” More, here.

Observers have long noted that U.S. partners in the Pacific could decline to host new American weapons. But few expected Palau to do so. ABC Pacific has a brief item about it.

More reading:

  • North Korea carried out another intercontinental ballistic missile test—WH
  • Why the Indian Ocean could be China's Achilles' heel in a Taiwan war—Reuters

And lastly: Arizona's Democratic governor ordered National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border region to “assist law enforcement agencies with enforcement activities,” Gov. Katie Hobbs announced Friday. 

The order follows the recent closure of a port of entry at Lukeville by Customs and Border Protection officials in early December. It also follows a request to the White House to reassign Guard troops to that port of entry. However, “Despite continued requests for assistance, the Biden administration has refused to deliver desperately needed resources to Arizona’s border,” Hobbs said in a statement. 

“Arizona can’t stand alone,” Hobbs wrote on social media. “We need additional resources & manpower from the federal government to reopen the Lukeville crossing, manage the flow of migrants, and maintain a secure, orderly and humane border.” Read more at AP or The Hill.