The D Brief: Israel advances amid global outcry; 15 die in Russian strike on garden store; US pols visit Taiwan; US IO is ‘weak’; And a bit more.

Invading Israeli tanks and six brigades of troops are pouring into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, ignoring the pleas of protesters and select leaders and organizations around the world, including Spain, Ireland, and Norway—who have chosen Tuesday to formally recognize the state of Palestine despite the wishes of Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli forces are coming off another outrage-inducing airstrike that killed nearly four dozen Palestinians at a camp for displaced people in Rafah on Sunday. Israeli military officials insist they killed two Hamas militant leaders in the strike, which triggered fires that burned many of the civilians on location, Israeli Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Tuesday. “This is a devastating incident which we did not expect,” he said. 

“Despite our supreme effort not to harm uninvolved civilians, a tragic accident occurred to our regret last night,” Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers Monday. He added in a bit of explanation and defense, “For us, every uninvolved civilian who is hurt is a tragedy. For Hamas, it’s a strategy. That’s the whole difference.”

Context: “The airstrike came just days after the United Nations’ top court demanded that Israel halt some operations in Rafah, with the outcry over the civilian deaths echoing the one that followed an Israeli strike in April that killed seven aid workers in Gaza from World Central Kitchen,” the Wall Street Journal reports. 

New: At least 21 people in Rafah were killed Tuesday after “four [alleged Israeli] tank shells hit a cluster of tents in Al-Mawasi, a coastal area that Israel had advised civilians in Rafah to move to for safety,” Reuters reports from Cairo. Israeli military officials said they were unaware of the incident. 

Rafah used to be where Palestinians fled Israeli incursions from the north of Gaza after Netanyahu ordered an invasion to kill all the remaining members of Hamas scattered throughout the besieged enclave. But one million people have fled Rafah in over the last three weeks as the Israeli advance appeared increasingly likely, according to the United Nations. 

“Day after day, providing assistance & protection becomes nearly impossible,” the UN’s refugee agency for Palestine said Tuesday on social media. The Israeli advance on Rafah is happening “with nowhere safe to go & amidst bombardments, lack of food & water, piles of waste & unsuitable living conditions,” they added. 

Even China piped up to oppose the Rafah advance, with a foreign ministry spokesman stating Tuesday that Beijing “opposes any violation of international law” and “strongly urges Israel to listen to the voice of the international community and stop attacking Rafah.”

By the way: Hamas terrorists launched eight rockets at Tel Aviv on Sunday, breaking a four-month lapse in such attacks. Israel’s military said it intercepted all eight rockets, with no harm to anyone on the ground. 

Developing: “Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, are reportedly considering resuming attacks targeting US forces” throughout the Middle East, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War warned Monday evening, citing a Lebanese news outlet.

Worth noting: “The Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have not altered their long-standing strategic objective to remove US forces from Iraq and these militias retain the capabilities to resume attacks at any time and for any reason,” ISW wrote. 

From the region: The Iran-backed Houthis appear to have attacked a Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier, which is now “taking on water about 54 nautical miles southwest of Yemen's port city of Hodeidah,” Reuters reported Tuesday, citing British security firm Ambrey. 

FWIW: U.S. military officials have not reported any successful attacks on vessels in the region over the past several days, though such reports from CENTCOM are usually about 12 to 24 hours behind actual events.

Today in the DC region: Angolan Minister of National Defense João Ernesto dos Santos is visiting the Pentagon for talks with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1905, the final naval battle of the Russo-Japanese War ended with the defeat of the Imperial Russian Navy in the Tsushima Strait, between Japan and the Korean peninsula.

At least 15 Ukranians died in a Russian strike on a shopping center in Kharkiv on Sunday. The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen writes that locals’ “stoic composure cannot conceal the fact that Ukraine is in its worst crisis since the first few months after Russia’s full-scale invasion more than two years ago. The garden centre attack was one of many strikes here in the north east, as well as on the eastern front, and south near Kherson.

Industrial might: Russian “factories are producing more weapons and ammunition than much bigger and more advanced Western economies are doing for Ukraine,” Bowen reports. Russian troops are also “configuring attacks to take advantage of Ukrainian weakness, especially in air defences,” he writes. Read more, here.

Russia’s military claims to have invaded two more Ukrainian villages in the east and the north—Ivanivka in the Kharkiv region and Netailove in Donetsk, Reuters reported Monday.  

Ukraine, Belgium sign security pact. The agreement will see Belgium deliver 30 F-16 fighter jets, at least 977 million euros in military aid to Ukraine this year, and more over the next decade, Reuters reports.

By the way: President Biden will welcome Prime Minister Alexander De Croo of Belgium for a meeting at the White House on Friday, the White House announced Tuesday. 

Developing: Defense contractor Northrop Grumman just signed a deal with officials from Norway’s Andøya Space rocket launch site and spaceport on the northern island of Andøya, the U.S.-based firm announced Tuesday from Oslo. The agreement will involve Grumman’s specialists helping Norway develop (emphasis added) “advanced autonomous maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to meet Norway’s priorities,” Northrop Grumman said Tuesday. 

About that site: “Andøya Space offers launch services for sounding rockets, a launch site for launching small satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits, and an advanced test range for military applications in northern Norway,” Grumman said. Read more, here

And: Russia is to build Central Asia's first nuclear power plant in Uzbekistan. Reuters has that, here.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers paid a visit to Taiwan’s new president on Monday, just days after China sent more than 100 warplanes and dozens of warships into seas and airspace around this island, which “has seen a dramatic increase in congressional visits over the past three years, as lawmakers have expressed growing concerns about the potential for a Chinese invasion of the island,” the Washington Post writes.

But the following day, Taiwan’s own legislature passed a law “seen as favourable to China.” Though January elections made William Lai Ching-te the third straight member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to hold the presidency, the DPP narrowly lost control of the legislature to the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) and smaller partner Taiwan People’s Party. On Tuesday, the opposition coalition ignored widespread popular protests and passed a law that reduces presidential independence and budgetary power. More, here.

Developing: “Researchers at UC Berkeley have found a Chinese dataset which consists of ‘608 oblique and satellite images of American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and other allied destroyers and frigates’,” Ulrike Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations flagged on social media after reading an AI-focused newsletter from Jack Clark.  

From the region: 

  • “North Korea says its attempt to put another spy satellite into orbit has failed,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday; NK News has a few more specifics, here
  • “America’s New Island Fighters Are Preparing for Conflict—a Stone’s Throw From Taiwan,” reports the Wall Street Journal from the Philippines;
  • “China's rejection of Guatemalan shipments could be related to Taiwan ties, Guatemala president says.” That’s from Reuters.
  • “Sydney judge says US ex-fighter pilot accused of training Chinese aviators can be extradited to US,” AP reports.

Losing hearts and minds: The desperate state of US influence operations. Several of the nation’s top practitioners in psychological operations, including key officials with the Departments of Defense and State, gathered earlier this month to discuss how the United States is positioned to influence global perceptions, particularly around critical national-security issues. “The unanimous verdict: We’re doing miserably, especially in comparison to China and Russia,” writes D1’s Patrick Tucker. Read on, here.

And lastly: Space Force workers might soon be doing classified work at home. “GDIT calls it the Enigma Project: a digital environment that allows users from government, academia, industry, and others to access classified and unclassified information from a single device,” writes D1’s Lauren C. Williams. The company is developing it under an $18 million contract issued last year. More, here.