Today's D Brief: Explosions over Iran; What’s in the House aid bills; Army’s deepfakes; New ‘reusable’ rocket idea; And a bit more.

Israeli aircraft allegedly attacked an Iranian military base near the city of Isfahan, in central Iran, around 5 a.m. on Friday. The drones were small exploding variants similar to ones Israel has used at least five times going back to August 2019, according to the New York Times

At least three explosions were spotted in the sky over Isfahan; an Iranian general went on state TV to explain that those were “related to the shooting of air defense systems at a suspicious object that did not cause any damage.” It’s unclear yet whether the attack caused any casualties. 

Background: Israeli officials have been warning for days that a direct attack on Iranian soil was likely, following Iran’s unprecedented Saturday barrage of some 300 drones and missiles, a few of which hit Israeli air bases. That attack was largely thwarted by Israeli and allied missile-defense elements in the region. In terms of damage, Friday’s attack on Iran appears to have been similarly minimal. 

IAEA officials said they confirmed the purported Friday attacks did not hit or harm Iran’s nuclear sites, the agency announced on social media. IAEA chief Rafael MarianoGrossi meanwhile called for “extreme restraint from everybody” in the region. 

Local reax: “Some Israelis suggested the aim was to demonstrate the capability to attack without causing harm,” Reuters reported from Jerusalem. “One newspaper likened it to a biblical story of the future King David snipping a piece from the robe of a foe when given a chance to kill him.”

Expert reax: “No country has claimed responsibility,” which seems to suggest the “public message—or lack thereof—is part of package and allows for de-escalation,” said Dana Stroul of the Washington Institute, who recently departed the Pentagon after a few years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. “But this strike is clearly intended to not escalate the situation further. If everyone decides that further rounds of state-on-state attacks are not in their interest, this chapter can closes [sic]…for now.” Reuters has more on the so-far “muted” response from both Israeli and Iranian officials Friday, here

Developing: The White House is mulling “more than $1 billion in new weapons deals for Israel including tank ammunition, military vehicles and mortar rounds,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. 

Involved: “$700 million in 120 mm tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and less than $100 million in 120 mm mortar rounds.” Those deals would be on top of, or in addition to, possible legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill this week, and they could take “months or years to be delivered,” the Journal reports.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1993, the FBI’s siege of the heavily-armed Branch Davidian cult outside Waco, Texas, came to an ignominious end after 51 days. Seventy-six of the cult members were killed on the final day when fires engulfed the compound while surrounded by federal agents. The deadly siege helped galvanize the American militia movement through the 1990s, including far-right terrorist Timothy McVeigh, as the 2023 Netflix documentary, “Waco: American Apocalypse” recounted.

House aid bills take a step forward. On Thursday evening, the House Rules Committee voted 9-3 to advance three bills to provide aid to Israel, Ukraine, and other allies. The vote, NPR writes, “enables the full House to vote on the rule and begin debate on the foreign aid bills. Various pieces of the package are expected to pass with bipartisan coalitions this weekend.”

What’s in the bills? According to NPR:

  • $26.4 billion for Israel-related aid. The bill includes $14 billion to Israel to help “defend itself against Iran and its proxies,” $9 billion for humanitarian assistance in the region, and $2.4 billion to “reimburse U.S. military operations in response to recent attacks.”
  • It’s not immediately clear what the $2.4 billion will pay for. The U.S. Navy, which has expended the lion’s share of U.S. ordnance in fighting off Iran’s weekend attack on Israel as well as Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping, has spent not quite $1 billion on these operations, Secretary Carlos Del Toro said earlier this week.
  • Nearly $61 billion for Ukraine, but as a loan, not the outright aid that the Senate approved. The bill covers artillery shells and air-defense missiles, but also long-range ATACMS rounds. Some details: nearly $14 billion for “advanced weapons systems and defense equipment,” $13.4 billion to replenish the Pentagon’s arsenal, $7.3 billion for current U.S. military operations in the region, and $13.7 billion to buy U.S. defense systems for Ukraine.
  • $8 billion to “counter communist China and ensure a strong deterrence in the region,” the bill says. That includes $2 billion for foreign military financing for Taiwan, $2 billion to restock U.S. arsenals of weapons already sent to Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific countries, and more than $3 billion “to develop submarine infrastructure,” NPR reports.

How U.S. Army special operators use deepfakes and drones to train for information warfare. “With a sample of your voice and a gaming laptop, this Army psychological operations instructor can make you appear to say anything: an order for pizza, a call to the doctor, or just hello,” writes D1’s Sam Skove, reporting from Fort Liberty, N.C., “In peacetime, it’s a party trick. In war, it’s a tool that can be used for deception, luring enemies into traps, or encouraging defection by mimicking the voices of enemy soldiers.” Read on, here.

ULA has an ambitious plan to “reuse” its Vulcan rocket: keep its upper stage in space. Faced with competitors building their own reusable heavy-lift rocket, United Launch Alliance is devising plans to keep the upper stage of its Vulcan Centaur rockets in orbit, where they might tug satellites or counter Chinese threats. D1’s Audrey Decker has more, here.

And lastly this week, six researchers in Europe say they’ve found evidence that war makes people more religious. To investigate, they dove into data around America’s Vietnam draft lottery after sorting and analyzing religious imagery in hundreds of thousands of gravestones of deceased Americans.

What they found: “People who were randomly drafted into war are at least 20% more likely to have religious gravestones,” and “This effect sets in almost immediately, persists even after 50 years, and generalizes across space and societal strata.”

Why the researchers chose this line of inquiry: If war makes people more religious, “a vicious cycle may unfold, which in all likelihood would be a major driver of the cultural evolution of both war and religion,” they explained in their introduction. Going further, they add, “a possible rise in religiosity among those who have been at war would increase the share of religious voters. And, as most religious voters side with conservative parties, war would influence election outcomes.” 

There are also, of course, documented positive “downstream consequences” of rising religiosity, they note. Those include increases in “fairness, tolerance, humanitarian concerns, parochial altruism, norm conformity, and physical and mental health.” 

But there are documented costs as well, including “reduced cognitive flexibility, less trust in science, less educational mobility, slower economic growth, more prejudice, higher levels of aggression, and extremist intergroup violence, including support for suicide attacks,” the authors warn.  

Read over the full research for yourself, published Wednesday, here. (Hat tip to John Holbein of the University of Virginia for noticing this work.)