Today's D Brief: Hamas deputy killed; Deadly bombs in Iran; Long wait for missiles; Awards for Red Sea sailors; And a bit more.
A suspected Israeli drone strike killed a top Hamas official Tuesday evening in southern Beirut. The strike killed seven people, including a 57-year-old Hamas deputy named Saleh al-Arouri, whom the Wall Street Journal described as a “linchpin” for the group’s relations with Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Beirut. Reuters calls the attack Israel’s “first targeted assassination of a Hamas official outside Palestinian Territories” since Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel on October 7.
Israeli officials have not confirmed their involvement. But U.S. and Lebanese officials attributed the attack to Israel, according to the New York Times. The U.S. had a $5 million bounty on Arouri’s head for his involvement in a 2014 kidnapping that led to the deaths of three Israeli teenagers, including a dual Israeli-American citizen.
Arouri had been involved in ceasefire talks with Israel, which Qatar has hosted. Those talks are now suspended indefinitely, Egyptian officials said after the drone strike.
Expert reax: Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute called the developments “unsurprising but also a major escalation” because it could compel Hezbollah to take a more active role in the current Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip—especially since Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed in November any senior leader assassinated in Lebanon would trigger a major retaliation.
A second opinion: “An Israel war with Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, risks drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East. That is a prospect we should strive to avoid,” said Benjamin Friedman, policy director at the Washington-based think tank Defense Priorities. He also suggested the U.S. “should cease missions in Iraq and Syria that put our troops pointlessly in harm’s way. And we should push a negotiated settlement with the Houthis. No U.S. friend or ally should expect us to fight wars that serve their interests and not ours.”’
The Beirut attack comes a day after Israeli jets attacked “military infrastructure” inside Syria as well as “Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure” inside Lebanon, according to the Israeli military.
“If this tragedy doesn't end soon, the entire Middle East might end up in flames,” European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday in Portugal. His advice? “I believe that we have learned in these 30 years that the solution has to be imposed from outside because the two parties will never be able to reach an agreement.” However, Israeli officials have shown little interest in a so-called “two-state solution,” which would grant Palestinians their own state instead of the Gaza enclave host to more than 2 million people before this latest war began three months ago.
Israeli troops are still pushing southward through Hamas-ruled Gaza, where the Palestinian death toll rose above 22,000 this week, Reuters reported Wednesday morning. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War has the latest from the tactical front, here.
Newly declassified U.S. intelligence claims Hamas used Gaza’s largest hospital as a command center and even held “at least a few” hostages there during their October 7 attack. The Associated Press has a bit more on those claims, which back up Israeli allegations about the Shifa hospital complex.
Related reading: “Israel in talks with Congo and other countries on Gaza ‘voluntary migration’ plan,” the Times of Israel reported Wednesday.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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 2020, the U.S. assassinated Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike near Baghdad international airport.
Developing: Two explosions killed more than 100 Iranians in the southeastern city of Kerman on Wednesday. They were traveling to the cemetery containing top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on this day four years ago, when the bombs went off. One key suspect in the case: ISIS in Afghanistan, according to Charles Lister.
The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen attacked several ships in the Red Sea again Tuesday night. No one was harmed, and none of the ships reported any damage, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command. The attack featured “two anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen,” and represented the “24th attack against merchant shipping in the Southern Red Sea since Nov. 19,” Centcom said in a statement on social media. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack; Reuters has a bit more, here.
By the way: The U.S. Navy awarded Combat Action Ribbons to sailors on the guided-missile destroyer USS Carney Tuesday. The awards were for their December 16 engagement when they shot down 14 drones launched by the Houthis over the Red Sea. Some observers—like former Marine Jim LaPorta and Geoff Ziezulewicz of Navy Times, e.g.—took to social media to debate the “combat” involved, since the U.S. is not in an open conflict with the Houthis and the White House has not placed the group on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. FWIW: CARs were awarded to sailors who participated in the late-1980s Persian Gulf convoy operation called Operation Earnest Will.
From the region: “US quietly reaches agreement with Qatar to keep operating largest military base in Middle East,” CNN reported Tuesday; Reuters has similar coverage.
Long waits for new weapons. “Global conflicts and rising threats drive orders for missiles, planes, submarines and other complex weapons systems, but producers are struggling with supply chains and staffing,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The article begins in Kongsberg, Norway, whose eponymous weapons maker is running its factories around the clock—and still the wait times for the combat-proven NASAMS interceptor missile is years long. It takes two years—and more than a thousand sub-suppliers—to make a single missile.
Meanwhile: “I’ve never seen anywhere near so much demand,” said Eirik Lie, president of the defense division of Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace. Read on, here.
New: At least four NATO members have drawn up a plan to buy up to 1,000 Patriot missiles, alliance officials announced Wednesday. The full list of recipients is unclear, but NATO said the deal will benefit “a coalition of nations, including Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain.” Eight European countries use the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system, which has seen heavy use during Russia’s ongoing Ukraine invasion.
Developing: Norway says it is sending two F-16 fighter jets to Denmark to help the Ukrainian pilot training program, which is expected to begin sometime soon. Oslo is also sending 10 instructors for the program, which already features donated F-16s from Denmark and the Netherlands. Read more, here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chinese shipments to Russia of advanced machine tools have increased tenfold since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago. The Financial Times has more.
Russian authorities arrested over 3,000 migrants during New Year’s celebrations and coerced many into signing contracts with the Russian army, according to Novaya Gazeta Europe, reporting Tuesday from St. Petersburg.