The D Brief: Israel eyes ‘Phase C’; Ike ends Red Sea ops; B-21’s cost cleared to rise; Meet SecDef’s chief-of-staff pick; And a bit more.

Israel’s military chief is visiting Washington Monday while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu considers broadening his regional war against Hamas to include Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon—potentially moving troops from the Gaza operation north in the coming days. 

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein on Monday following talks with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in Washington on Sunday. Gallant said Saturday his trip to the U.S. was based on an invitation by Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, according to Israeli National News.

“We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in additional areas,” Gallant said. “The transition to ‘Phase C’ in Gaza is of great importance [and] I will discuss this transition with U.S. officials, touching on how it may enable additional things.” 

Phase C, also known as Phase 3, refers to a continuation of fighting against Hamas, but at a lower intensity, according to the Times of Israel. “The transition to ‘Phase C’ in the war in Gaza will impact developments on all fronts,” Gallant said in a statement Monday, emphasizing “Israel is preparing for every scenario both militarily and diplomatically.”

“The intensive phase of the war is about to end,” Netanyahu said Sunday in an interview on Israel’s Channel 14. “It doesn't mean that the war is about to end but its intensive phase is about to end in Rafah,” he added. “We will continue afterward to mow the lawn; we will not give up on that,” he continued, according to NBC News. And after that, “we will have the option to move part of the force to the north. We will do that,” Netanyahu said. 

Bibi also accused the U.S. of withholding ammo to the Israelis. “Certain items have trickled in, but the great mass of ammunition has stayed behind,” he said. The Wall Street Journal reports that White House officials insist they’re only “only holding up a single shipment of high-tonnage bombs that it doesn’t want Israel to use in densely populated areas of Rafah.” “We have made our position clear on this repeatedly, and we are not going to keep responding to the Prime Minister’s political statements,” a White House officials said Sunday. 

Pentagon warning: An Israeli advance on Lebanon could “drive up the potential for a broader conflict” in the region, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Charles Brown said Sunday (Reuters) while traveling with reporters to Cape Verde in Africa. 

“From our perspective, based on where our forces are, the short range between Lebanon and Israel, it's harder for us to be able to support them in the same way we did back in April,” Brown said Sunday. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with 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 just last year, Russian mercenary financier Yevgeny Prigozhin launched a short-lived insurrection against the Russian government, driving tanks through Russian cities and toward Moscow before he was convinced to halt. Almost exactly two months later, Prigozhin’s plane exploded en route from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, killing all 10 people on board.

Update: After more than 250 days at sea, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier has departed the Red Sea, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder announced Saturday. 

The carrier deployed to the region a week after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin extended Eisenhower’s deployment twice since then. While in the region, the carrier and its crew “protected ships transiting the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb and the Gulf Aden, rescued innocent mariners against the unlawful attacks from the Iranian-backed Houthis, and helped to deter further aggression,” Ryder said. 

Next up: The USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is scheduled to backfill the Eisenhower sometime next week, following a scheduled exercise in the Indo-Pacific, said Ryder. 

Trivia: “Ike has deployed for more days than any other U.S.-based carrier for the last five years,” U.S. Naval Institute News reported over the weekend. The “Roosevelt is the second busiest aircraft carrier in the past five years,” they added. 

The Iran-backed Houthi in Yemen attacked another commercial vessel with aerial drones over the weekend. 

Involved: M/V Transworld Navigator, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned, and operated bulk cargo ship headed to Egypt from Malaysia. The early morning incident Sunday marked the fourth time this particular ship came under attack from the terrorist group, U.S. defense officials at Central Command said in a statement. 

“The crew reported minor injuries and moderate damage to the ship, but the vessel has continued underway,” CENTCOM said. 

Big picture: Houthi attacks on commercial shipping off Yemen’s coast have killed four sailors and sunk two ships—the M/V Tutor just last week, and M/V Rubymar in early March—since the naval campaign began as a response to Israel’s Gaza invasion eight months ago. 

Another ship—chemical tanker Stolt Sequoia—was allegedly attacked by Houthi cruise missiles Friday more than 120 nautical miles east of the Yemeni port city of Aden, according to a Houthi military spokesman. An incident in a similar location was reported by British maritime authorities Sunday, who said the vessel “suffered flooding that cannot be contained.” The crew were reportedly forced to abandon ship in roughly the last known location of the Stolt Sequoia. 

However, the actual status of the tanker is unclear since an official from the firm that owns the Stolt Sequoia reportedly said in a statement Monday the ship was not attacked and the crew is safe. 

U.S. forces in the region say they destroyed three Houthi drone boats in the Red Sea on Saturday. The Houthis also launched three anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Gulf of Aden on Saturday. But according to CENTCOM, “There were no injuries or significant damage reported by U.S., coalition, or merchant vessels.”

B-21’s cost likely going up. After losing $1.17 billion—and counting—on the first five lots of B-21 Raiders, Northrop Grumman has negotiated a higher cost ceiling on the next 19 aircraft, the company said in a June 18 release. The company, whose leaders have sworn off fixed-price contracts, says it is still discussing the terms of next lots, but says the average price per stealthy jet will remain under the program’s “key performance parameter” of $500 million in 2010 dollars (more than $700 million today). Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports, here.

New: Derek Chollet tapped for Pentagon chief of staff. SecDef Lloyd Austin has picked Chollet, who has been called the State Department’s “Swiss Army knife” and who has served as assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, to replace Kelly Magsamen, who is stepping down this month. Chollet’s earlier nomination to lead Pentagon policy met resistance from GOP senators, the Washington Post notes.

Want to know how Chollet thinks? Read his nearly two dozen op-eds for Defense One, and listen to his 2022 appearance on the Defense One Radio podcast.

Inside the Texas factory that’s helping to boost U.S. 155mm ammo production. “Armed with a slice of a $1 billion contract, defense contractor General Dynamics is leaning on complex machines to make ammunition faster and more efficiently,” writes the Wall Street Journal. Once the factory in Mesquite opens the first of its three planned production lines this fall, the Pentagon will be halfway toward its goal of boosting 155mm procution from 30,000 to 100,000 shells per month. Read on, here.

One pilot-AI startup is buying another in the quest for self-flying tankers and dogfighting robots. Decker reports, here

And still more:

  • GAO: Pentagon background-check systems at risk of hacking, GAO says—Defense One
  • ICYMI: US blacklists Kaspersky software over alleged Kremlin ties—Nextgov/FCW