Today's D Brief: Mideast missile attacks; SEALs missing after boarding; Taiwan election results; Ukraine’s command posts; And a bit more.
Iran carried out a ballistic missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan and inside Syria on Monday while its proxies in Yemen attacked several more ships off the Yemeni coast over the weekend and through Tuesday. Tehran’s Tasnim news agency carried the government’s claim of responsibility for the Monday attacks in Erbil, Iraq, and Idlib, Syria, and said they fired at least two dozen missiles.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps targeted Kurdish construction and private security magnate Peshraw Dizayee, Middle East analyst Charles Lister said. Dizayee appears to have perished in the attacks, which decimated several buildings, as Tasnim illustrated Tuesday with several social media posts. Iraq’s government condemned the attacks, and promised to investigate.
ICYMI: Turkey’s military also carried out airstrikes this weekend inside Iraq and Syria. “The defense ministry said that aircraft struck targets in Metina, Hakurk, Gara and Qandil in northern Iraq, but didn’t specify areas in Syria,” the Associated Press reported Saturday. That attack followed an assault from Kurdish forces Friday evening on a Turkish base inside Iraq; that assault killed nine Turkish troops.
Bigger picture: “Anyone arguing a regional war isn’t already underway in the Middle East is kidding themselves,” Lister said on social media, and warning, the situation across the region “could get a lot worse.”
Developing: IRGC commanders “are on the ground in Yemen and playing a direct role in Houthi rebel attacks on commercial traffic in the Red Sea,” Semafor reported Monday, citing U.S. and Middle East officials. Leading that push is a man named Gen. Abdul Reza Shahlai, who evaded a U.S. drone strike inside Yemen four years ago. Read more, here.
Rewind: Two Navy SEALs were lost at sea during a nighttime naval interdiction operation off the Somali coast Thursday evening. (Update: The D Brief initially noted the SEALs had perished; but that is not yet confirmed.) The SEALs were conducting “a complex boarding” of a small boat suspected of carrying illicit cargo to Yemen from Iran, U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command announced Tuesday, after an initial notification of the missing sailors on Friday.
“As two members of the SEAL team tried to board the vessel Thursday night in rough seas, one of the commandos apparently slipped off the boarding ladder,” the New York Times reported Friday. “Another member of the team then jumped into the water to try to rescue the sailor, the officials said. Both soon disappeared in the swells,” officials told the Times.
The interdicted dhow was found to contain “Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components,” as well as “propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles,” CENTCOM said. The episode marks the first such seizure of Iranian missile parts by the U.S. Navy since November 2019. The Navy said the dhow was unsafe, and sank it. The future of its 14 crewmembers were being determined in an unspecified manner, but “in accordance with international law,” according to CENTCOM. (View pictures of the vessel via CENTCOM’s Twitter account, here.)
The same morning, U.S. air and naval forces in the region conducted their retaliatory airstrike campaign against dozens of alleged Houthi missile and radar targets across Yemen, as we reported in our newsletter Friday.
After that initial salvo on Friday, the U.S. military attacked a different radar site inside Yemen early Saturday. Crew on board the USS Carney used Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles to hit a site at about three in the morning, military officials at Central Command said afterward.
About 36 hours later, the Houthis tried to attack the USS Laboon with an anti-ship cruise missile on Saturday afternoon. But an unspecified U.S. fighter aircraft shot the missile down near the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah, CENTCOM said.
Twenty-four hours later, on Sunday, the Houthis struck a U.S.-flagged container ship, M/V Gibraltar Eagle, with an anti-ship ballistic missile. However, the ship’s crew “reported no injuries or significant damage and is continuing its journey,” CENTCOM said Sunday. That ship was reportedly carrying steel products. (Two hours earlier, the Houthis allegedly tried to do the same thing, but that “missile failed in flight and impacted on land in Yemen,” CENTCOM said.)
By the way, the Houthis vowed to widen their attacks in the Red Sea. “The ship doesn't necessarily have to be heading to Israel for us to target it; it is enough for it to be American,” Houthi spokesman Nasruldeen Amer reportedly told al-Jazeera. “The United States is on the verge of losing its maritime security,” he said Monday.
Another ship was hit with a missile while sailing near the Yemeni port city of Aden on Monday, British maritime authorities said. Fortunately the vessel and crew were declared safe, and the ship proceeded to its next port.
The suspected Iranian spy ship, MV Behshad, is sailing off the coast of Aden, British security analysts EOS Risk Group said Monday on social media, and noted that the ship’s crew “is likely providing targeting data to the Houthis ashore in Yemen.”
New: A separate attack on Tuesday struck the cargo hold of a different ship as it transited the southern Red Sea, the Brits announced. It’s unclear if any of the crew were harmed or the nature of the possible damage from that “unknown object.”
What now for the White House? Re-designate the Houthis as a terrorist group, argues Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, based in Washington. Once that's done, he advises White House officials to order “increasingly aggressive strikes on Houthi military infrastructure if Houthi attacks continue,” then find out what the Pentagon needs in order to seize more weapons Iran is sending the Houthis.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1945 and and two days after the Soviets invaded eastern Germany, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler moved into his underground bunker, where he stayed for three and a half months before committing suicide as the Red Army approached his stronghold in Berlin.
Taiwan elects pro-independence president. William Lai’s victory is the third straight for the Democratic Progressive Party, which has taken a harder line than the rival Kuomintang on the topic of self-governance for the island. Politico: “The election has been billed as the first major global geopolitical watershed of 2024, pitting the U.S. against China in a battle for regional influence. Beijing cast the vote as a choice between war and peace, and stressed the inevitability of the democratic island reunifying with the Communist mainland.” More, here.
Philippines to develop South China Sea islands. Manila's military chief Romeo Brawner said the country would seek to install desalinization plants and other infrastructure on at least eight small islands in the region. (Reuters) It’s a page out of Beijing’s book, of course, which CSIS has been tracking: “Since 2013, China has engaged in unprecedented dredging and artificial island-building in the Spratlys, creating 3,200 acres of new land, along with a substantial expansion of its presence in the Paracels.”
Lessons from Ukrainian command posts. “I don't think people have fully realized how much of a game-changer Starlink has been,” Nathan Chan, a former communications officer in the Marines who fought as a civilian with Ukrainian forces at Bakhmut last year. “When I was in the Marine Corps, we basically hauled this huge truck out there, which gave us like four megabits per second,” Chan told D1’s Sam Skove. Now even untrained personnel can get 100 megabits a second.
Pentagon interest. The experiences of Chan and others in Ukraine are informing U.S. Army and Marine Corps efforts to shrink their own command posts. Read on, here.
Ukraine claims to down two Russian command aircraft. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s military commander, said his forces had destroyed a Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft and an Ilyushin Il-22 command-and-control aircraft on Monday. Russia bloggers claimed the Il-22 had managed to land with wounded aboard. (AP)
European Union to audit arms sent to Ukraine. Financial Times: “Brussels is conducting an audit of how much weaponry EU member states have provided to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country, in response to claims that some capitals have failed to send as much as they could.”
Foreign aid to Kyiv has dwindled in recent months, but EU leaders are working to gather approval for at $50 billion in new arms, while the Biden administration is struggling to win approval for about $60 billion in new aid. More, here.
UK gives $3.2 billion. On Friday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new package of $3.2 billion in aid for Ukraine on Friday during a visit to Kyiv. (AP)