Today's D Brief: US plans retaliation; Israel floods Gaza tunnels; USMC’s new weapon; USAF’s electric plane; And a bit more.

The Iran-backed militia whose drone killed three Americans this weekend says the group will suspend attacks on U.S. forces “in order to avoid embarrassment of the Iraqi government.” The group will now shift to “passive defense,” Abu Hussein Al-Hamidawi, spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, said Tuesday on Telegram in anticipation of “hostile American action.”

Why only now? It’s likely a deliberate effort “to frame the United States as the aggressor if the United States strikes Kataib Hezbollah in retaliation for the Iranian-backed drone strike into Jordan” three days ago, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote in its Tuesday evening analysis. 

Worth noting: “The other two Iraqi groups that are believed to have been involved in strikes [on] U.S. targets — Harakat al Nujaba and Sayyid Shuhada — have not announced they will halt attacks,” the New York Times reported. 

Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement came one day after Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ paramilitary Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani reportedly visited Baghdad. Veteran Middle East analysts such as Randa Slim, Michael Knights, and Charles Lister have insisted for years that Kataib Hezbollah maintains close ties to the IRGC. For example, the group’s prior leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was a U.S.-designated terrorist who died in a car with IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad three years ago. 

Pentagon reax: “I don't have a specific comment to provide, other than actions speak louder than words,” said Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon. He added a short while later, “You know, there has [sic] been three attacks, to my knowledge, since the 28th of January, and I'll just leave it there.”

President Joe Biden said Tuesday he’s decided how to respond to the January 28 attack in Jordan. He did not elaborate. But he did tell reporters at the White House, “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.”

Developing: The U.S. response to Sunday’s deadly drone strike in Jordan will likely occur “over the course of several days” and feature “deliberate strikes on facilities that enabled these attacks,” a U.S. official told ABC News Tuesday evening. 

White House: “It’s very possible that what you’ll see is a tiered approach here, not just a single action but potentially multiple actions...over a period of time,” National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby told reporters onboard Air Force One on Tuesday. 

One U.S. response strategy: Use unclassified intelligence to prove to the public exactly how Iran is linked to these militias; then conduct cyberattacks on Iranian infrastructure, “severing Tehran’s connectivity to its proxy forces, penetrating its oil and gas infrastructure, and reducing its armament production,” advises former NATO commander retired Navy Adm. Jim Stavridis, writing this week in Bloomberg. 

Relatedly, “Israel could help by working with the US and its Arab partners to craft a cease-fire to effect further hostage releases held in Gaza,” he continued, explaining, “If we end up in a serious elevated conflict with Iran, there will have to be less direct US support to Israel, as our weapons systems and ammunition will need to be directed against the mullahs.” More, here

  • ICYMI: We reviewed five possible targets the U.S. could strike in Monday’s newsletter, according to MEI’s Charles Lister.

Update: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again rejected any potential ceasefire with Hamas militants that would withdraw Israeli troops from Gaza, he announced Tuesday in a video on social media. Hamas also wants thousands of its prisoners released, which is something else Netanyahu ruled out. 

New: Israel’s military says it’s begun flooding portions of the tunnel system Hamas fighters have built beneath Gaza. “The [Israeli military] takes into consideration the soil and water systems in the area, matching the method of operation to each specific case,” officials said Tuesday on social media. The New York Times has a bit more.

Displaced Palestinians in destroyed Gaza have so little food they’re eating grass and drinking polluted water, CNN reported Tuesday. The Palestinian death toll, meanwhile, has soared above 26,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, which Israeli intelligence officials reportedly view as reliable. 

From the region: The U.S. Navy shot down another anti-ship cruise missile launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen Tuesday evening just before midnight local time. “The missile was successfully shot down by USS Gravely (DDG 107),” defense officials at Central Command announced afterward. 

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 2007, officials in Boston mistakenly identified battery-powered LED placards promoting the upcoming cartoon movie "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" as improvised explosive devices, triggering panic throughout the city.

Using lessons from Ukraine, the U.S. Marine Corps says it will field squad-level loitering munitions by 2027, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Tuesday. However, as one official explained, the Marines’ global, expeditionary nature means it has different priorities than Ukrainian drone-bombing units with short logistics chains.

Consider, for example, that “fuzes, lithium batteries, and other elements of a loitering munition will have to be stored safely on ships and planes traveling anywhere in the world,” Skove reports. The variation in climate from the sweltering Pacific to the freezing Arctic could also affect the munitions’ battery life. Read more, here

New: Boeing and Saab’s new long-range missiles could arrive in Ukraine as soon as Wednesday (today), Politico reported Tuesday and Reuters confirmed shortly afterward. The weapon has a range of about 90 miles and is known as the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb. “The U.S. military has a similar version of the bomb that is air-launched, but a ground-launched version does not yet exist in U.S. inventory,” Politico reports. 

The U.S. tested the glide bomb two weeks ago off the Florida coast, according to Reuters. Read more, here

Related reading: 

Washington is preparing for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, in part, by stockpiling materiel in the region, Reuters reports. The article points, for example, to vast stocks of gear left in Australia after last summer’s amphibious exercises. Read, here

Opinion: To deter China, transform the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, write former HASC chair Mac Thornberry and CSIS associate Kimberly Lehn at D1. They argue that the four-year-old PDI is a good idea that has fallen short of expectations because it has been underfunded and misused, and they offer recommendations to get it back on track. Read, here.

The U.S. has staked a bold new claim to Arctic territory. In December, U.S. officials declared an area twice the size of California to be part of the country’s “extended continental shelf.” The move mimics previous Russian claims—and is raising eyebrows for much the same reasons. (RFE/RL)

The Air Force tried an electric plane. Now it wants to buy some. BETA Technologies’ ALIA aircraft recently finished a three-month deployment to Duke Field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where it flew more than 55 missions, including cargo and logistics missions and a simulated casualty evacuation. Now the service is “definitely on an acquisition path to get these into the inventory,” said Andrew Lau, AFWERX’s Agility Prime program manager. D1’s Audrey Decker has more, here.

Today on Capitol Hill: The Pentagon’s top cyber official, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, is testifying this morning in front of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. That began at 11 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream, here

And lastly today: After more than 80 years, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10-E Electra plane may have been located in the Pacific Ocean, according to a new grainy sonar image from a company called Deep Sea Vision. The plane in the new image was spotted at an estimated depth of around 16,000 feet “around Howland Island, a mid-Pacific atoll between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii,” the Associated Press reports.  

“The prospect of Earhart's plane lodged in the ocean floor backs up the popular theory that the aircraft ran out of fuel and sank into the water,” NPR reported, noting the lore around the famous pilot’s mysterious disappearance in 1937. “But others have suggested that she and Noonan landed on an island and starved to death.” Continue reading, here