The D Brief: DOD’s Rafah concerns; Mideast diplomacy; ‘SOF renaissance’; Hurricane hunters’ woes; And a bit more.

Updated: The U.S. paused the shipment of 3,500 bombs to Israel over White House concerns about their possible use during a ground offensive into Rafah, administration officials said Tuesday. 

Background: The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that “up to 6,500” bomb guidance kits for Israel were on hold. U.S. officials on Tuesday elaborated somewhat, explaining that President Biden paused a shipment of 1,800 bombs weighing 2,000 pounds and 1,700 separate bombs weighing 500 pounds, according to CNN, the New York Times, the BBC, NBC News, ABC News, the Associated Press, and the Washington Post. Sales of those 6,000-plus guidance kits are under review, but they’re not part of the 3,500 bombs paused last week, officials said. 

“We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000-lb bombs,” which may refer to Mk-84s or BLU-109 penetration bombs, “and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza,” a U.S. official told ABC News. 

For the record: “We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” the official said. However, “Israel already has a large [missile] arsenal, making the halt unlikely to stop an offensive” in Rafah, NBC News reports. 

Pentagon: “We are not supportive of a large ground incursion into Rafah,” Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Tuesday. “There are over one million people sheltering there,” she said. “We want to make sure that civilian casualties are limited, that there is no harm done. So we have made those concerns voiced both publicly and privately.”

Worth noting: According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, more than 34,000 people have been killed across the enclave since Israel’s military response to the October 7 surprise attack by Hamas that killed at least 1,200 Israelis. The lopsided casualty figures have helped fuel growing protests against Israel that have been simmering at universities across the U.S. and abroad over the past several weeks. 

Singh continued: “We have been very clear that we want to see Israel comply with humanitarian laws and the laws of armed conflict. This is something that it's an interagency process that between the State Department, other agencies, we are reviewing.” 

Coverage continues below.

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 1927, celebrated French World War I pilots Charles Nungesser and François Coli departed Paris en route to New York for the first non-stop transatlantic flight. Unfortunately, their Levasseur PL.8 biplane was last reported over Ireland before disappearing, likely somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again.

Developing: CIA Director William Burns is in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the New York Times reported Wednesday. “Burns has been shuttling across the region in recent days in an attempt to clinch a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that would see the release of hostages held in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners held in Israel,” the Times writes. 

The Pentagon’s top officer in the Middle East visited Egyptian officials Monday and Tuesday in Cairo. “The leaders focused their discussions on regional security concerns in Gaza and the Red Sea, alleviating humanitarian suffering in Gaza, and the need to reestablish stability following the current regional conflicts,” defense officials from Central Command said Tuesday. “Egypt plays a critical role in regional security and has been instrumental in enabling humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza,” CENTCOM’s Army Gen. Erik Kurilla said in a statement

From the region: U.S. and allied naval forces destroyed two more aerial drones apparently launched by Iran-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen shortly before midnight Tuesday morning. The Houthis tried to send a third drone during that same time period, but it allegedly crashed somewhere in the Gulf of Aden, CENTCOM said Tuesday. 

The Houthis also launched another anti-ship ballistic missile at an unspecified ship in the Gulf of Aden early Tuesday, but no vessels in the area reported damages or injuries from that launch, according to CENTCOM. The vessel could be the Panama-flagged cargo ship, MSC Diego, which reported two explosions nearby about the same time CENTCOM says the missile was launched. 

Additional reading: 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., are testifying on this year’s defense budget request before senate appropriators. That began at 10 a.m. ET. Details and livestream, here

This afternoon, Air Force officials are scheduled to discuss modernization with a Senate Armed Services subcommittee at 4 p.m. ET. Details here

And top officials in missile defense are headed before a different Senate subcommittee almost an hour later, at 4:45 p.m. ET. Details and livestream, here.

AI, new tech are creating a “a bit of a special ops renaissance” because distributed AI and autonomy can give smaller teams an edge against larger adversaries, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command said Tuesday.

But those adversaries’ efforts still concern U.S. SOCOM and its foreign partners, Gen. Bryan Fenton said at the SOF Week convention here. The “shared sight picture amongst all of us in this decisive decade: autocrats and terrorists alike seek to up-end the free and open international system, from the PRC to Russia, from Iran to North Korea, and violent extremist organizations.” D1’s Patrick Tucker reports from the SOF Week convention in Tampa.

The Pentagon is starting to do real work with AI, like sifting recruits’ medical records, but there’s a long way to go, JCS Chairman Brown said Tuesday. 

“I think last year it felt like we put AI on PowerPoint slides as if it was going to solve our problems. I felt the same way probably about 15 years ago with cyber. And now that we have a better understanding, I do see some use,” Brown said during a keynote at an AI and national security conference hosted by the Special Competitive Studies Project in Washington, D.C. D1’s Lauren C. Williams has more, here.

Lastly: Hurricane Hunters are chasing more storms—and say they need more aircraft to do it. Created in 1996 to fly six months out of the year, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron now flies 10 months a year with the same amount of planes and people. And demand for the Air Force Reserve squadron during hurricane season has increased by 18 percent since 2018, said Maj. Chris Dyke, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer. D1’s Audrey Decker flew with the 53rd and brought back this report