Today's D Brief: Cross-border violence in Israel; Lukashenko’s wrinkle; Army’s drone platoons; Navy’s robot ships; And a bit more.

As Gaza braces for a possible Israeli offensive in Rafah, Iran-backed Hezbollah militants launched about 30 rockets from Lebanon toward the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, Israel’s military said Wednesday. The attack killed at least one factory worker in what Reuters described as “the biggest escalation between the old enemies since a month-long conflict in 2006.” 

Israeli airstrikes Tuesday had killed seven people in the Lebanese town of Hebbariyeh; the strikes targeted a Hezbollah relief center in the village. Al-Jazeera has a bit more. Israeli forces separately killed three Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jenin, including one trying to throw a bomb at soldiers and two others who perished in an airstrike, officials said Wednesday. 

New: A majority of Americans, 55 percent, now disapprove of Israel’s war in Gaza, according to survey results published Wednesday by researchers at Gallup. In November, that number was 45 percent. 

There’s been an even steeper drop in the number of those who approve of Israel’s handling of its war. Fifty percent approved in November; now only 36 percent approve. Relatedly, on Monday the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, with the U.S. refusing to veto the measure in a rare public break with Israeli officials. Israel’s top diplomat said they plan to ignore the resolution. (Gallup’s polling was conducted before the measure passed this week.)

Poopy messaging: It would seem that a few of the disapproving Americans took it upon themselves to grace the homes of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with bags of manure over the past several days. Politico has more on that.

Read more:

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Patrick Tucker. 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 1999, a U.S. F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft was shot down over Yugoslavia by a Soviet-made S-125 Neva/Pechora surface-to-air missile. Fortunately, the pilot safely ejected, and was rescued eight hours later.

The Russia-friendly leader of Belarus contradicted the Kremlin’s narrative about the Friday attack at a Moscow music hall that killed at least 140 people. Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the attackers were linked to Ukraine in his public remarks Saturday. Putin said the suspects were fleeing toward Ukraine when they were apprehended. Alexander Lukashenko of Minsk, however, told reporters Tuesday the four men were fleeing toward Belarus when they were captured. 

Digging deeper: Geolocated footage of their capture placed them “about 95 kilometers from the Ukrainian border at the closest point, or 130 kilometers from where [highway] E101 crosses into Ukraine,” analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote in their Tuesday evening assessment. 

That location “is notably about 124 kilometers from the Belarusian border, and about 25 kilometers away from the A-240 highway that runs to Gomel, Belarus,” which would seem to suggest “the attackers were initially traveling along the A-240 highway towards Belarus but saw roadblocks or other deterrents and shifted their course east through forest roads to the E101 route,” ISW notes. 

“Lukashenko has very little evident incentive to lie about the facts of the attack in this way,” ISW writes. But his Tuesday remarks may offer him a kind of protection. Read more, here

According to one of Putin’s top intelligence officials, “The United States, Britain, and Ukraine are behind the terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall,” the chief of Russia's Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov reportedly said this week, according to Russia’s state-run news service TASS

“They have a long record of this sort,” he said, which is admittedly a far cry from proving his allegations. “This is what both the chiefs of Ukraine's special services and the British special services are aiming at,” he added. “U.S. special services have repeatedly mentioned this, too,” he said.

After looking over some of the most recent coverage of the attack within Russian media, “Overall, there’s an odd disconnect,” notes Russia-watcher Mark Galeotti of the UK’s Royal United Services Institute. “The official line, that Ukrainians recruited jihadists, is being parroted, but often with little conviction,” he said Wednesday. “Despite talk of consequences, nothing is really emerging, leaving the authorities looking rather weak,” said Galeotti. 

Hey, young U.S. nerds: CNA's Russia Studies Program in northern Virginia is newly hiring two junior research positions for its Russian political-military portfolio (job postings here and here). “Russian-language aptitude is strongly encouraged, but native speaker is not required,” says CNA’s Julian Waller. They’re looking for “people knowledgeable on the Russian Armed Forces, Russian military doctrine, strategic deterrence issues, and/or the Russian economy. But other related dimensions and issue-areas are welcome,” he says. 

Additional reading: 

The U.S. Army may stand up new drone and robot platoons into armored brigade combat teams, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Tuesday from the AUSA Global Force conference in Hunstville, Alabama. “ The Army has 11 armored brigade combat teams in the active force and five in the national guard, meaning that, at a minimum, the Army could field 16 RAS platoons if every brigade was assigned a platoon,” says Skove. 

The Navy’s 4th Fleet is using seven robot ships to monitor the waters north of Haiti for human smugglers, which is an increasingly dangerous phenomenon. “They actually served as a deterrent, and folks who would actually run a migration ship north—maybe into the United States or somewhere else into the Caribbean—no longer did it, because they realized that they were being watched,”  Rear Adm. James Aiken, the commander of U.S. 4th Fleet, told Defense One. Aiken made his remarks as part of the State of Defense series. 

Happening today: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti will discuss the state of the Navy with Defense One Executive Editor Bradley Peniston Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. Topics include modernizing the fleet, preparing for future conflicts, and how the service is working to deter Russia and China. Registration required (it’s free); details here

And tomorrow afternoon, Air Force chief Gen. David Allvin will sit down with Defense One’s Audrey Decker for a similar discussion, with an emphasis on the 2024 budget, rising global threats, and recruiting. More information, here

Developing: Space Force is setting up a Futures Command in order to more clearly “forecast future threats, develop and validate concepts, and conduct wargames to better understand what satellites and systems the service needs,” Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports. The new command could start operations early next year. 

And lastly: Remember Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on the promotions of top-ranking Defense Department nominees? Tuberville cited the military’s reproductive travel policy as his motivation to protest; that policy offers travel allowances for service members who needed reproductive healthcare if they were in a state that outlawed abortion. 

Update: That DOD program was used only 12 times between last July and December and the total costs for using that program came to about $45,000, according to Defense Department data released Tuesday. Read more, here.