31 December 2023

Iran-aligned Houthis warn Israel, US against attacking Yemen

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have warned Israel, the United States and other Western allies that any hostile move from foreign forces against the country will have dire consequences and come at great cost.

The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control much of Yemen but are not recognised internationally, have escalated maritime tensions by launching near-daily attacks on vital waterways to pressure Israel in its war against Palestinian armed group Hamas.

Ali al-Qahoum, a member of the Houthi’s Ansarullah politburo, said Yemen was ready with all defensive options to respond to any military moves by the US, Israel or other Western powers.

“The Houthis will not abandon the Palestinian cause, regardless of any US, Israeli or Western threats,” al-Qahoum said in an interview with Lebanon-based Al Mayadeen TV late on Friday, adding that operations against Israel will continue.

The threat comes as two of the world’s largest shipping companies announced they will pause all journeys through the Red Sea after a series of attacks on vessels by the Houthis.

Danish shipping company Maersk said on Friday it was suspending its vessels’ passage through the key Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd said it would pause journeys in the Red Sea until Monday.

Staunch supporters of Palestinians, the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks and said, “We will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports until the food and medicine our people need in the Gaza Strip is brought in.

Wishing for a peaceful 2024 in Gaza, Ukraine, and the world


While I studied at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, our founding dean and senior diplomat Professor Kishore Mahbubani optimistically told us, “War, after centuries of being a scourge for humanity, is now becoming a sunset industry.” Unfortunately, nowadays that “sunset industry” is reviving, from the Russia-Ukraine war to the Israel-Hamas war.

Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and joy, but people in Gaza did not have the privilege of enjoying happiness but instead sorrow and silence due to the raging war, while in the West Bank, this year’s Christmas festivities were canceled in Bethlehem.

According to United Nations statistics, since February 24, 2022, the Russia-Ukraine war has killed at least 10,000 Ukrainian civilians including more than 560 children and injured more than 18,500 people.

And since October 7, 2023, the Israel-Hamas war has caused more than 14,000 deaths, including more than 100 United Nations staff and more than 50 journalists and media workers, and injured more than 33,000 people.

For us, the data may be just some cold numbers, but for those who are suffering from the wars, they are a cruel reality.

Professor Mahbubani may have been overly optimistic about the ending of war, but as a former president of the United Nations Security Council, he was quite right about the West’s double standards, claiming that “the West will take a moral stand only when its fundamental interest is not involved.” Such double standards have once again been applied by the US on Israel and Russia.

The Hezbollah Threat Looms Large Over Israel

Enia Krivine and Shannon Walsh

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah attend a televised speech by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah on August 19, 2022. AFP via Getty Images

The sheer brutality of the Hamas attacks of October 7 shocked decent people around the world. Israelis were deeply shaken by the stunning intelligence failure and the Jewish state’s inability to protect its citizens. But Israelis — and anyone else who had been paying attention — shouldn’t have been surprised by the infiltration, mass murder, and abductions, because Hamas has been explicit about its intentions to carry out an event like October 7 for at least a decade.

But Hamas is not the only genocidal terror regime neighboring Israel. For years, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has been cooking up similar plans to slaughter Israelis via terror tunnels on Israel’s northern border — just as Hamas has used tunnels in Gaza.

If the Jewish state is to survive, the government must regain the trust of its citizens by ensuring that border communities in the north and south will be safe from future attacks.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah first announced his intentions to conquer Israel’s Galilee region in 2011 and even went as far as to create a propaganda video describing the invasion. But Israel did not take these claims seriously until December 2018, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) discovered a Hezbollah terror tunnel in an apple orchard outside Israel’s northern town of Metula. The IDF said at the time that it was likely one of many.

The IDF subsequently exposed six terror tunnels reaching into Israel. Intelligence showed that Hezbollah had plans to launch a war “with a surprise attack, in which commando forces will cross the border and take control of remote communities or military positions,” as Israeli reporter Amos Harel put it. Another account of Hezbollah’s 2018 plans showed that the terrorist group aimed to take Israeli citizens hostage and use them as human shields.

How Israel Could Lose America

Shalom Lipner

Israelis are still reeling from the devastating effects of the most colossal intelligence and operational failure in their country’s 75-year history. Israel’s long-held assumption that “smart fences” and the generous flow of foreign money would keep Hamas contained has unraveled. The October 7 raid on southern Israel left staggering numbers of victims—almost 1,200 dead, thousands wounded, more than 240 abducted and taken to the Gaza Strip as hostages, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Israel’s national trauma will endure for the foreseeable future.

In the immediate aftermath of the assault, the Israeli government declared an emergency mobilization of the Israel Defense Forces, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committing to “finish” a war that Israelis “didn’t want.” Now approaching its three-month mark, Operation Swords of Iron—as the Israeli military action in Gaza was initially dubbed—continues unabated, after a brief hiatus in late November during which 105 civilians were freed from Hamas captivity. Netanyahu has announced that the campaign’s aims are to eliminate Hamas, recover all the kidnapped Israeli citizens, and ensure that no element in Gaza can threaten Israel again. But the timetable for the completion of the ambitious IDF offensive remains nebulous, as do the contours of a feasible endgame for Gaza.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that Israel’s latitude to pursue its stated war objectives would be vastly constrained were it not for the emphatic support of the United States. As the fighting persists and gaps emerge between the U.S. and the Israeli positions, Israel has strong reasons to invest in keeping its primary alliance intact. To ensure that its bond with the United States survives this war, Israel must not only manage the current military campaign judiciously but also tackle domestic political problems and determine once and for all how it plans to settle its conflict with the Palestinians.


In Dealing With the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, America Has No Easy Way Out

Aaron David Miller and Daniel C. Kurtzer

Wars in the Middle East rarely end cleanly. Some observers, however, have expressed the hope that the Israel-Hamas war could upend a dangerous status quo and eventually lead to more stability in the region. The war is often compared to the October 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the combined forces of Egypt and Syria, largely because of the magnitude of Israel’s intelligence failures, the Israeli public’s loss of faith in their government, and the national trauma that followed.

But the truth is that any meaningful comparison ends there. More than 2,800 Israelis were killed in the Yom Kippur War. Yet that conflict never incorporated the kind of sadistic, indiscriminate torture, killing, and hostage-taking that Hamas perpetrated in October 2023—nor the subsequent large-scale airstrikes by Israeli forces that have already resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. The 1973 war lasted merely three weeks and quickly entered a relatively well-structured disengagement agreement brokered by the United States, launching a process that led to a landmark Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty signed by two strong leaders: the charismatic, heroic Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and the tough Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

By contrast, the two traumatized societies that emerge from the current war will face a level of anguish, casualties, and devastation that will demand a herculean task of physical reconstruction and psychological healing. As many as 1,400 Israelis and 18,000 Palestinians have died so far. Some 150,000 Israelis and more than 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced from their homes. In the West Bank, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raids and extremist settler vigilantism have already led to the deaths of over 260 Palestinians, the arrests of nearly 2,000, and the displacement of almost 1,000 from their lands. The ideas that Israel, after completing its military operations to disable Hamas, will make a full exit from Gaza and that the Palestinian Authority (PA) can quickly and authoritatively take over are not realistic. And this war does not have heroic leaders: both sides suffer from profoundly ineffectual governance.

The Year of the Israel-Hamas War

Jennifer Williams

Hamas killed some 1,200 people when it attacked Israel on Oct. 7. It also sparked a conflagration in the Middle East that has reverberated around the world, upending diplomatic efforts years in the making, calling into question much of the conventional wisdom about the underlying dynamics of the conflict and the region, creating or exacerbating political schisms in the United States and Europe, and opening rifts both new and old among global powers.

A new book examines how India can set up new and world-class semiconductor facilities

Pranay Kotasthane & Abhiram Manchi

India only has a few fabrication facilities owned and operated by the government for critical infrastructure needs in space and defence. Prior attempts to attract private investments in these fields have failed due to cost disadvantages and uncertainty of the investment climate. These challenges remain. Combining these barriers with the fact that nearly every major chip-producing country when the chips are down is aggressively trying to localise leading-edge fabrication facilities, India is on a weak wicket.

However, not all is lost. Unlike in the past, India now has a thriving fabless design market. Rising geopolitical concerns over China and Taiwan have made companies look at India favourably. Finally, while countries such as the US, Taiwan and Japan are chasing leading-edge nodes, India’s growing electronics assembly market offers a new-found opportunity for specialised trailing-edge fabs. For instance, a large volume of components in analogue mixed-signal and radio frequency chips used in phones, wireless devices, automobiles and medical equipment are made using older technology (>90 nm). Recognising these developments, the Indian government deftly changed its policy, promising up to 50 per cent upfront financial support even for trailing edge nodes

The big concern of industry players in the past was that government support for fabs should be upfront and not as a reimbursement. With the government committing to upfront capital support for 50 per cent of the project cost, it seems highly likely that India will have a semiconductor fab, although one that’s based on old technology.

How to Thwart China’s Bid to Lead the Global South

Happymon Jacob

When India chaired the G-20 summit in New Delhi in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped the meeting, sending the country’s premier, Li Qiang, in his place. The Chinese government did not account for Xi’s decision to miss such a high-profile event, but some observers suspected that it was the summit’s location that made Xi reluctant to attend. After all, the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was using the G-20 as an occasion to style India as a champion and potential leader of the global South. Xi was wary of lending his stature to such

A Grim Year for the Chinese Economy

James Palmer

It’s been nothing but grim news for the Chinese economy this year. A hoped-for COVID-19 recovery never materialized after years of repression left the public wary of spending, giving it a case of what economist Adam Posen dubbed “economic long COVID.” (Hear him discussing that idea on FP Live.) Real estate giants have been on the brink of collapse all year. Even the Communist Party has reluctantly acknowledged the scale of the problems it faces, although officials claim that things can only get better. And Chinese dictator Xi Jinping needs someone to blame for everything going wrong.

Review of China space activities in 2023


2023 has been an unprecedentedly busy year for China’s space industry. Space station missions, satellite internet tests, a new launch record, moon partnerships, crewed lunar landing plans and a breakthrough year for commercial launch startup are just some of the highlights as Chinese space activities continue to grow in scope and intensity. Here I give a brief review some of the major developments and notable trends that emerged during the year.

China attracts partners for Moon base project

The China-led International Lunar Research Station is seen as a competitor to the U.S. Artemis project and this year it began formally collecting partners for the megaproject. Russia, despite for a long time not being mentioned in presentations and press in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, remains a core, if diminished, partner. China’s new Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL) stated in June that the country aimed to set up an organizing body, the ILRSCO, by October this year and forge agreements with founder partners. Cooperation deals were still being made in December, but China has already garnered support from some of its more likely allies. Absent are European nations it hoped to attract when officially announcing the project back in 2021. Below is a list of known ILRS participants as of late December 2023.

Iran Dragging Syria Into Another War

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its all-time favorite Hezbollah have directly fought in Syria in support of the Assad regime since 2012. Iranians militarily and economically have heavily invested in Syria as the view from Tehran is that its alliance with Syria is among the oldest and most sustainable in the region. Preserving Syria’s geostrategic orientation as part of its axis of resistance is an objective universally shared among Iranian leaders. It serves as a centerpiece of its strategy of “forward defense” against the United States and Israel. This approach of Iran has openly come into the public domain now as Syria is rapidly becoming a hot battlefield between Iran and Israel. Recently an Israeli air strike on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus killed a senior adviser in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to reports from Iranian state media. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, is one of the top IRGC commanders in Syria. Moreover, Mousavi is one of the oldest IRGC commanders in Syria and Lebanon, he’s been functioning in this area since the 1980s. In a statement read on Iranian state TV, the IRGC said that the “usurper and savage Zionist regime will pay for this crime”. It’s expected that Iranians will retaliate to revenge this major loss and escalation is highly anticipated.

This killing of a senior Iranian operative didn’t occur all of a sudden. Israelis have been picking up and attacking Iranian targets in Syria in response to attacks on Israeli territory by Iranian militias based in Syria for quite some time now. Previously also Israel has carried out several of its strikes inside Syria’s territory in response to rocket and mortar attacks from the country. Israel has also launched air raids on Syria’s two main airports, Damascus and Aleppo, knocking both out of service for a while. Since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict next door in Gaza, Syria has been experiencing the spillover effect. But now Iran is actively using Syria as a second front against Israel to boost the morale of its proxies in Gaza. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict one of the most important objectives of Tehran was to create the conditions for an encirclement maneuver of the Israeli state. To achieve this Iranians pre-positioned men and military equipment along the Syrian-Israeli border and especially on the outskirts of the Golan Heights.

Iran is providing Houthis key 'tactical intelligence' for Red Sea attacks, US says

Mike Brest, Defense Reporter

Tehran is enabling the Houthis' attacks in Red Sea waterways by providing them with essential intelligence for those missions, according to the National Security Council.

Iran's support for the Yemen Shia Islamist rebel group has been years in the making. However, President Joe Biden's administration provided details on Dec. 22 of their involvement in the attacks against commercial vessels largely in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The narrow passageway leads into the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and separates Yemen from Eritrea and Djibouti on the waterway's African side.

In recent weeks, the Houthis have launched more than 100 one-way drones and ballistic missile attacks targeting at least 10 merchant vessels. In one particular incident on Nov. 19, they took the international crew of 25 people on the merchant vessel Galaxy Leader hostage, and they remain held in Yemen.

"We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. This is consistent with Iran's long-term material support and encouragement of the Houthis' destabilizing actions in the region," National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told the Washington Examiner. "Iranian support to these Houthi operations remains critical. We know the intelligence picture which the Houthis use to operate in the maritime space is reliant on Iranian-provided monitoring systems."

Iran has provided advanced weapons systems to the Houthis including drones, land-attack cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles since 2015 that have been used in these attacks, she added. Watson said they have found near-identical features — including a landing skid under the main airframe, a V-style tail wing, an air data collector on the nose cone, and flight control surfaces on the ends of the wings — between known Iranian drones and ones used by the Houthis this fall.

Iran Threatens to Take Red Sea Disruption to New Waters

Elisabeth Braw

So risky has the Red Sea become since Houthi militants started their attacks on shipping that, since late November, over 350 container ships—plus all manner of tankers, bulk carriers, car carriers, and other merchant vessels—have diverted to other routes. That means massive logistical challenges that involve not just new charts and more fuel but getting crews and cargo to alternative staging posts. Because shipping is extraordinarily efficient, most won’t notice a thing. But if the attacks on shipping continue, we’ll start paying for the service. And we would do well to anticipate Houthi-like campaigns in other waters.

Peering Into the Crystal Ball: 10 National Security Predictions for 2024

Robbie Gramer

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Robbie and Jack here. Hope everyone got a nice holiday break and spent time with their family, friends, and loved ones relaxing and, more importantly, nagging them all to subscribe to Foreign Policy. (Hey, the best things in life aren’t free.)

Predictions for 2024: Brace for geo-strategic impact. A look at what else will go wrong next year – or not

History is not just on the move again, it is at a gallop.

Since the seismic political shocks of 2014-2016, we have become desensitised to the regular occurrence of epochal events that, in other times, would have prompted deep debates and soul-searching across society – let alone serious solutions from responsible statesmen.

In retrospect, the three main upheavals that began a decade ago fractured the post-1945 international system, as well as the domestic political settlement, at the very heart of the West – in the UK and US – inaugurating a new cycle in human affairs.

We are only now beginning to truly feel the effects of this transformational forcefield rippling through the world and it will likely outlive all of us reading this today.

The first shock that shook the world was Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014 and the subsequent “hybrid” (ie unacknowledged) invasion of Ukraine via the Donbas.

Arising from the murky circumstances of the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv in late 2013, which appears to have been influenced by Europe and the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene into what had become a Ukrainian civil war between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces largely in Donbas set the scene for the war that only expanded in February 2022.

This was the first return of large-scale conventional warfare in Europe since 1945 and the first outright territorial annexation of another country’s sovereign territory since at least the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. It re-opened the Pandora’s box of land-grabs by force – and we may never be able to close it again.

Opinion: The big risks facing the world in 2024

Frida Ghitis

Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

Every year matters, every year is pivotal and every year brings surprises — good and bad. But it’s impossible to escape the sense that the world stands near a precipice and that in 2024 we will either take a step forward, upending the world order, or a step back, returning to a version of “normalcy.”

What will 2024 bring? “Predictions are tough, especially about the future,” goes the quip, a truism attributed to Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr, and many others. The obviousness highlights just how uncertain the future is — as we learned in 2020 — and how frustrating the quest for answers can be, given the magnitude of the stakes.

Without a doubt, the US election is one of the dominant concerns around the globe today. I have lost count of how many people have told me during recent travels how worried and baffled they are that Americans might return former President Donald Trump to the White House. In fact, The Economist magazine declared that “Donald Trump poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024,” describing him as a shadow looming over us all.

The election will determine whether Trump’s chaotic presidency with its authoritarian traits was only a fluke of US history, or whether it is the Joe Biden presidency that amounts to no more than a four-year pause in America’s descent into authoritarian isolationism.

The Biden Administration Is Quietly Shifting Its Strategy in Ukraine


For two years, Biden and Zelenskyy have been focused on driving Russia from Ukraine. Now Washington is discussing a move to a more defensive posture.

President Joe Biden has shifted from promising the U.S. would back Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” to saying the U.S. will provide support “as long as we can” and contending that Ukraine has won “an enormous victory already. | Evan Vucci/AP

Michael Hirsh is the former foreign editor and chief diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek, and the former national editor for POLITICO Magazine.

With U.S. and European aid to Ukraine now in serious jeopardy, the Biden administration and European officials are quietly shifting their focus from supporting Ukraine’s goal of total victory over Russia to improving its position in an eventual negotiation to end the war, according to a Biden administration official and a European diplomat based in Washington. Such a negotiation would likely mean giving up parts of Ukraine to Russia.

The White House and Pentagon publicly insist there is no official change in administration policy — that they still support Ukraine’s aim of forcing Russia’s military completely out of the country. But along with the Ukrainians themselves, U.S. and European officials are now discussing the redeployment of Kyiv’s forces away from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s mostly failed counteroffensive into a stronger defensive position against Russian forces in the east, according to the administration official and the European diplomat, and confirmed by a senior administration official. This effort has also involved bolstering air defense systems and building fortifications, razor wire obstructions and anti-tank obstacles and ditches along Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, these officials say. In addition, the Biden administration is focused on rapidly resurrecting Ukraine’s own defense industry to supply the desperately needed weaponry the U.S. Congress is balking at replacing.

Ukraine drives Russia back at sea and in the air, but concedes land

John Psaropoulos

Ukraine claimed an ammunition-laden Russian ship and five Sukhoi fighters and bombers this week but made a tactical retreat in the east to preserve its fighting force.

Ukrainian fighter planes launched cruise missiles against the Novocherkassk, a Ropucha-class landing ship at a port in Feodosia, on the eastern side of the Crimean peninsula, on the night of December 25-26.

Ukrainian Air Force chief Mykola Oleshchuk posted video of a massive explosion that came after the initial impact of the missiles had set the ship alight, suggesting the Novocherkassk was laden with weapons or munitions that detonated.

Russia’s defence ministry admitted only that the ship had been damaged, but daytime satellite pictures showed the burned ship half-submerged at its berth on December 27.

“We can see how powerful the explosion was, what the detonation was like. After that, it’s very hard for a ship to survive, because this was not a rocket, this is the detonation of munitions,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ignat told Radio Free Europe.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said on Telegram that one person had been killed and the Russian RIA news agency said four people had been injured, but the death toll may have been as high as 80, the Ukrainian navy said, citing reports that 77 personnel were on board the ship at the time of the blast.

The attack was an example of the success Ukraine has had this year in striking Russian assets at range, partly thanks to Storm Shadow and SCALP missiles it has received from Britain and France, and partly thanks to the aerial and surface drones it has been developing.

From Russia with love: How Moscow courts the global south

Kadri Liik
Russia’s war on Ukraine has locked Moscow and the West in a contest for global support. Both would like the rest of the world to side with them against the other.

But they are both likely to ultimately realise that the rest of the world is not swayed by narratives, but by pragmatic engagement.

This type of transactional relationship comes easier to Moscow than it does to the West, as evidenced by Russia’s past outreach efforts.

Since the beginning of the war though, Russia has become a one-issue country with all its foreign relationships now subordinate to the war effort.

Russia’s resources to engage with different regional agendas and partners’ needs have shrunk and it is compensating by doubling down on propaganda. The war has forced Moscow to audit its foreign policy priorities and caused policy changes on several files.

The West has an opportunity to profit from Russia’s weakened position in this context. But it needs to learn to adapt its normative positions to a more pragmatic approach that focuses on its partners’ – as well as its own – needs.

It was a few months into Russia’s war on Ukraine when reaching out to the global south became a topic of discussion in the West. Having been shocked by the invasion, Europe speedily heaped new sanctions on Russia, bussed millions of Ukrainian refugees to safety, and scrambled to send arms to Kyiv. By summer 2022, though, when Russia had retreated from the outskirts of Kyiv and the West began to consider its longer-term strategy regarding the war that by then was there to stay, winning over the rest of the world emerged as one of the ideas.

The U.S. Army Will Soon Get ‘Loitering Munitions,’ Better Known as Kamikaze Drones

In the near future, American infantry troops will have the ability to search for and eradicate targets dozens of miles behind enemy lines. Under Project LASSO, the U.S. Army plans to arm its Infantry Brigade Combat Teams with loitering munitions—drones that not only scout the battlefield but can destroy any worthy target they come across. Loitering drones like the Switchblade 600 will allow even troops on foot to be able to hit targets dozens of miles away.

The Queen of Battle

Among armies the infantry is known as the “Queen of Battle.” One reason is because the infantry are, like the queen in chess, the decisive piece that wins or loses the game. Similarly, infantry are slow, moving on foot much of the time.

The need for lightweight, man-portable weapons affects infantry firepower. A battalion of 600 soldiers, for example, can reach out and destroy tanks at ranges of up to 8,200 feet, the range of a Javelin anti-tank missile. It can reach out with M240 medium machine guns up to 5,900 feet and drop 81mm mortar bombs on targets at ranges of up to 3.6 miles.

Ukraine joins the West for Christmas — but Biden just filled its stocking with coal

Kelly Jane Torrance

Christmas Day was like no other this year in Ukraine.

In a major blow to Moscow’s ambitions to control the Black Sea, Kyiv that night destroyed the Novocherkassk, a landing ship moored in Crimea that Russia used to transport tanks, troops and drones.

Ukraine took out more than 1,000 Russian soldiers, 37 armored personnel vehicles and 22 tanks on Dec. 25 alone — along with two fighter jets and dozens of drones Christmas Eve.

“We don’t even need Christmas,” Yuriy Sak, an adviser to the strategic-industries minister, chuckled by phone Wednesday from Kyiv. “We have plenty to celebrate.”

But in fact Ukraine did get Christmas — the first time since the public holiday was changed to Dec. 25 from the Jan. 7 Orthodox date as part of the country’s move toward the West and away from its murderously aggressive neighbor.

Ukraine’s military victories seemed a good omen of the year to come as Russia’s full-scale invasion approaches the two-year mark.

So why, just days later, did the Biden White House practically throw its ally under the bus?

Battle-hardened but buoyant Ukrainians gathered Christmas Eve and Day across the country to celebrate — and pray for peace.

“It was amazing to see how people actually got together on the 25th. The governor, the mayor, the victorious and glorious soldiers of the Ukrainian army were all gathered in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is in the city center of Kharkiv. It’s a church that needs reconstruction, but it has amazing atmosphere,” Maria Mezentseva, a member of parliament from the city just 25 miles from Russia, told me.

Russia Fires 122 Missiles and 36 Drones in What Ukraine Calls the Biggest Aerial Barrage of the War

Illia Novikov & Hanna Arhirova

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia launched 122 missiles and 36 drones against Ukrainian targets, officials said Friday, killing at least 18 civilians across the country in what an air force official said was the biggest aerial barrage of the 22-month war.

The Ukrainian air force intercepted 87 of the missiles and 27 of the Shahed-type drones overnight, Ukraine’s military chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi said.

Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk wrote on his official Telegram channel: “The most massive aerial attack” since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

According to the Ukrainian air force, the previous biggest assault was in November 2022 when Russia launched 96 missiles against Ukraine. This year, the biggest was 81 missiles on March 9, air force records show.

Fighting along the front line is largely bogged down by winter weather after Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive failed to make a significant breakthrough along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) line of contact.

Ukrainian officials have urged the country’s Western allies to provide it with more air defenses to protect itself against aerial attacks like Friday’s one. Their appeals have come as signs of war fatigue strain efforts to keep support in place.

Western officials and analysts have warned that Russia had limited its cruise missile strikes in recent months in an apparent effort to build up stockpiles for massive strikes during the winter, hoping to break the Ukrainians’ spirit.

At least 86 people were injured and an unknown number were buried under rubble during the roughly 18-hour onslaught, Ukrainian officials said. Among the buildings reported to be damaged across Ukraine were a maternity hospital, apartment blocks and schools.

A new study reports 309 lab acquired infections and 16 pathogen lab escapes between 2000 and 2021

Matt Field 

In the fall of 2019, workers at a veterinary research center in the northwestern Chinese city of Lanzhou began to fall ill with a disease that caused fever, muscle aches, and other symptoms. Workers at a nearby plant that made brucellosis vaccines had been using expired disinfectant to treat waste gas; the gas was contaminated with aerosolized Brucella bacteria and wafted on southeast winds to the research facility. Eventually over 10,000 people were infected with the disease, which can cause long-term illness. This was just one of 16 times a pathogen escaped from a laboratory setting between 2000 and 2021, according to a new study in The Lancet Microbe.

An international team of researchers looked for all the cases of infections acquired in a laboratory or times a pathogen accidentally “escaped” from a laboratory setting. They found 309 laboratory-acquired or -associated infections from 51 pathogens; eight of these cases were fatal, including one of “mad cow” disease. The 16 incidents they found of a pathogen escaping a lab setting included well-publicized accidents such as the time where a West Nile researcher became infected with the first SARS virus in 2003 after handling contaminated samples in Singapore. He went on to expose 84 contacts and risked re-igniting the 2002-2004 SARS epidemic, by then quiet in Singapore. In another case, US government workers taking inventory in preparation for a move at the National Institutes of Health found old vials labeled “variola,” a reference to the virus that causes smallpox, in an unsecured refrigerator in 2014.

The study comes at a time when the US government and other groups are re-assessing biosecurity protocols for studies involving potentially pandemic agents. Many experts have called for a strengthening of global oversight over pathogen research. The new study on accidents points to one area, where the risks associated with research and biotechnology remain murky: “[Without] globalised formal reporting requirements, the data summarised here could only represent the tip of the iceberg,” the authors wrote.

The nuclear year in review: A renewed interest in nuclear weapons—for and against

François Diaz-Maurin

As we wrap up the year, one event—or rather a non-event—stands out: Russia has not used nuclear weapons in Ukraine. This is not a trivial outcome. One year ago, concerns among experts and officials over this possible scenario was at their highest, with repeated, thinly veiled threats to use them and Russia’s new policy to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. Prospects were so grim that UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted these nuclear concerns in opening his annual remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

That Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to use nuclear weapons can be subject to different interpretations. His decision may have been based on moral concerns, fear of international backlash, or fear of uncontrollable escalation. But the decision could well also be the result of a sudden realization that nuclear weapons, practically speaking, have no military value on the battlefield.

Nearly two years into the war, however, the risk of nuclear weapon use in Ukraine cannot been dismissed completely: Russia continues to consider part of Ukraine as its own territory, and Russia’s nuclear doctrine states that it may use nuclear weapons to defend its territory. No one can know how the Kremlin would react should Ukraine make any breakthrough in these territories after the winter is over or if Russia’s economy of war starts to crack. And one fact is obvious: Both countries consider this war to be existential and have no intention of stopping the fight.

What War Games Really Reveal

Jacquelyn Schneider

Last January, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives created a special committee to examine the economic and military challenges China poses to the United States. Mike Gallagher, a Republican representative from Wisconsin who is one of Washington’s most vocal China hawks, was an obvious choice to lead the panel. For the past year, Gallagher has used the committee to sound the alarm on China and rally support for new measures that could hinder Beijing in its competition with the United States.

In his quest to build political consensus around a tougher approach to China, Gallagher (and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi) has employed one particularly effective tool: the war game.

In April, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers to spend an evening playing a war game that simulated a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan. In Gallagher’s opening remarks, he said he hoped that playing the game would impart “a sense of urgency” and demonstrate “that there are meaningful things we can do in this Congress through legislative action to improve the prospect of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Players were asked to act as advisers to the president, recommending diplomatic, economic, and military responses to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. These members of Congress gathered around a campaign map, their foreign and domestic moves adjudicated by a war-gaming facilitator from a Washington think tank. Their goal was to deter China, represented by a team made up of think-tank staff members. According to Gallagher, the game revealed that the United States needed to “arm Taiwan to the teeth”—a strong endorsement for a multibillion-dollar package of Taiwanese military aid that his China committee was considering at the time. Since then, Gallagher has taken his war game on the road, playing a version with Wall Street executives in New York City in early September, and he says he plans to play a similar game with leaders of American technology companies.

The Promise and Peril of Geopolitics

Hal Brands 

Alexander Dugin is a bit of a madman. The Russian intellectual made headlines in the West in 2022, when his daughter was killed, apparently by Ukrainian operatives, in a Moscow car bombing likely meant for Dugin himself. Dugin would have been targeted because of his unapologetic, yearslong advocacy for a genocidal war of conquest in Ukraine. “Kill! Kill! Kill!” he screeched after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first invasion of that country in 2014, adding: “This is my opinion as a professor.” Even at his daughter’s funeral, Dugin stayed on message. Among her first words as an infant, he claimed, were “our empire.”

30 December 2023

How Surprise Attack is Possible

Phil Wasielewski

Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, and the subsequent fighting in Gaza has again plunged the Middle East into a situation bordering on apocalyptic. The horrors of the attack are compounded by the shock that Israel’s vaunted intelligence services were seemingly caught unawares after decades of exceptional performance. Recently, a rather damning report claims that Israeli intelligence intercepted Hamas’ attack plan but that the plan was considered “aspirational” and incapable of being implemented.

How could this happen?

The truth will probably not be fully known until an impartial and dispassionate investigation can be conducted, similar to the Agranat Commission that reviewed Israeli intelligence and defense shortcomings prior to the October War of 1973. When an investigation of the Hamas surprise attack is completed, it will likely provide not lessons learned but lessons relearned regarding not only intelligence collection and analysis, but also military and political judgements. These judgements will likely have been clouded by four attributes of human nature that are a common factor in surprise attacks. If the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence, then the four horsemen of surprise attack are Ambiguity, Misperception, Deception, and Preconception.

Ambiguity, information open to more than one interpretation, is the constant companion of intelligence work. Rarely, if ever, do sources provide a clear view of enemy capabilities, plans, and intentions. Instead, they offer partial views, and sometimes even erroneous ones, either on purpose or by human error. Studies of past surprise attacks show that victims often had indications of the attack (signals) but were unable to recognize them because of the ambiguous nature of the reporting, as well as the plethora of competing and contradictory reports (noise). In November 1941, most in Washington and Hawaii assumed that war with Japan was coming, but also assumed that Japan would strike only the mineral rich colonies of Southeast Asia and not also Pearl Harbor.

Sino-Indian Border Infrastructure in the Indian Defense Ministry’s Year End Review

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

The Indian Ministry of Defense released its Year End Review 2023 a few days ago. The review provides a state of play on areas under its purview including defense production and exports, major defense acquisitions, border infrastructure, and individual service updates from the Indian army, navy and air force.

Much of what India is attempting to do in the defense realm has to do with China and its growing military prowess. However, a look at past year-end reviews demonstrates that it is not always so overt in doing so. In this regard, the Year End Review for 2020 was an exception, as there was a special emphasis on China’s aggressive behavior. The review came only a few months after the Galwan clash, in which India lost 20 soldiers, so this is maybe not so surprising. But since then, it appears that India has gone on to do a more general review that scans all the major developments concerning the Indian Ministry of Defense.

Even though there was no specific mention of China in this year’s review, the construction of border infrastructure along the India-China border is accelerating and there is a detailed appraisal of the current status in the review. This is important given that India and China are still locked in a conflict with a total of around 150,000 troops standing by on both sides of the border. Many commentators have suggested that it was the infrastructure race that led to the Chinese actions in 2020.

Upgraded infrastructure comes with enormous benefits, from better trade to commercial prospects. It’s also a critical enabler for applying military power. In the case of India and China, there has been an evident military imbalance as far as defense platforms, military units, and the physical infrastructure. China’s focus on building modern state-of-the-art infrastructure across the border and in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) has had an important bearing in terms of its ability to get troops to the border. The extensive road network in Tibet as well as the rail links that China has developed in these areas have facilitated troop mobilization by road and rail in a short time span. Further, China’s establishment of oil and logistic depots all along the border areas says a lot about the advanced infrastructure capabilities that China has put in place, which in turn put India at a significant disadvantage.

What Lies Ahead for Bangladesh

Aaqib Md Shatil

Dhaka University authorities canceled a discussion on recent changes in the national curriculum just hours before it was to take place on December 13 after reportedly receiving a call from a “special place.” The person in charge, a professor at the university, defended the move by saying that the panelists were suspected of discussing things that are “anti-government.” These “cannot be allowed” at the university, he said.

Those familiar with the idea of “thought policing” will find some uncanny similarities to the situation in Bangladesh. This disturbing trend of refusing to listen to any argument but the ones supportive of the regime, that too in the confines of academia, is one of the many symptoms seen in totalitarian regimes.

In a few weeks, Bangladesh will vote in deeply flawed elections. The ruling Awami League (AL) seems set to tighten its authoritarian grip over power in a lopsided election that is being boycotted by the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Ahead of the election, there is a palpable fear of the AL taking to totalitarian rule in the months ahead.

Italian polymath, Umberto Eco, who grew up during the time of fascist dictator Mussolini, wrote an essay when he was 10 years old on why Italians should die for Mussolini’s glory and Italy’s immortal destiny. His answer was in the affirmative and he won the first prize in the competition.

This story takes us to Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who argued that the key difference between autocracy and totalitarianism is that autocracy is defined by prohibitions, i.e., the understandings of what people must not do, whereas totalitarianism includes both prohibitions and imperatives or prescribed behavior i.e. the understandings of not just what they should not do, but also what they should do. So, in addition to the repression in authoritarian states, in totalitarian states, the mobilization of the masses to follow the state’s prescribed behaviors without question is crucial.

Washington’s flawed Myanmar policy

Brahma Chellaney

As the Israel–Hamas war rages, the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza is grabbing headlines—as well it should. But another armed conflict, in Myanmar, is also causing mass suffering, with more than two million people internally displaced and over a million more streaming into neighbouring Bangladesh, India and Thailand. And it’s attracting far less international attention.

This is not to say that outside forces aren’t engaged in the conflict in Myanmar. On the contrary, the United States seems to view supporting the rebel and pro-democracy groups attempting to overthrow the military junta—which returned to power in a February 2021 coup—as a kind of moral test. But its approach is doing Myanmar little good.

After the military overthrew Myanmar’s nascent civilian government—to which it had begun ceding power barely six years earlier—US President Joe Biden’s administration reimposed wide-ranging sanctions, which it has since ratcheted up. But, so far, the sanctions have left Myanmar’s military elites relatively unscathed, even as they have unravelled the economic progress made over the past decade and inflicted misery on ordinary citizens.

The Biden administration has also deepened engagement with the so-called National Unity Government that was formed as an alternative to the junta. Though the US, like the rest of the world, has refrained from formally recognising the shadow government, that hasn’t stopped the Biden administration from providing ‘non-lethal aid’ to its notional army, the People’s Defence Force, as well as to ethnic insurgent organisations and pro-democracy groups, under the BURMA Act. And the US has a history of interpreting ‘non-lethal’ rather loosely. Non-lethal support for Syrian rebels, for example, included enhancing their operational capabilities on the battlefield.

The battle for the Arctic


The Arctic Circle runs for nearly 10,000 miles. Inside it, just four million people live on this vast, desolate expanse of land, sea and ice. Comprising four per cent of the Earth’s surface, the Arctic is fiercely inhospitable and mostly still untouched.

Much of the Arctic consists of the northern reaches of eight sovereign states. Norway borders Russia in the Arctic, but only at its easternmost tip in the north. Finland has a much longer, 830-mile border with Russia, the northern part of which lies inside the Arctic Circle. Russia itself boasts half of the Arctic Ocean’s coastline and half of the Arctic’s population. Then there is Sweden, Denmark (which owns Greenland), Iceland, Canada and the US, whose Alaskan territory is separated from Russia by the 55-mile-wide Bering Strait.

In the West, many have long regarded the Arctic as an unsullied jewel of the Earth. More recently, Western elites have tended to talk about the Arctic almost entirely in terms of climate change. It is presented as a beleaguered refuge for species under threat, from polar bears to walruses to grey whales. Some now believe that climate change is about to doom the Arctic ice itself to extinction.

As a result of this narrow environmentalist view of the Arctic, many Westerners are missing the main event: a spreading series of stand-offs – exacerbated by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – between Russia and its seven Arctic neighbours.

A potential war zone

The Arctic has long been a potential arena for war, especially nuclear war. American and Russian submarines stationed there boast intercontinental ballistic missiles and act as strategic nuclear deterrents. For Moscow, the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far north-west forms a gateway for vessels from its massive fleet of mainly nuclear-powered submarines. Through the so-called GIUK gap, the gap between Greenland, Iceland and the UK, Russia’s subs can reach the Atlantic.

The West Must Face Reality in Ukraine


Harvard’s Graham Allison recently commented that, while China “is and will be the fiercest rival a ruling power has ever faced,” the current “demonization” of the country “confuses more than it clarifies.” To “create and sustain a strategy for meeting the China challenge,” Allison insists, the United States “must understand China for what it is” – neither “ten feet tall” nor “on the brink of collapse.” Post-Soviet Russia has never received such consideration.

On the contrary, the US has spent decades caricaturing Russia as both a quintessential villain and a fragile has-been. After Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, then-President Barack Obama dismissed it as a “regional power” displaying its own weakness. And following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the apparent assumption was that Russia – and Vladimir Putin’s regime – would quickly crumble under the weight of Western sanctions.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was fueled by delusion. But that does not mean that the West’s assessment of the situation was sensible. On the contrary, most Western observers seemed to be able to imagine just two scenarios: either Putin takes Kyiv in a matter of days, turning Ukraine into a Kremlin puppet, or Russia is quickly defeated, forcing Putin to withdraw his troops and recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

This helps to explain why, when Russia’s initial offensive stalled, then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, visiting Kyiv, reportedly recommended that Ukraine should “just fight,” rather than negotiating a peace deal. Better to let Russia lose – weakening the country’s economy, depleting its military, and damaging Putin’s position, possibly beyond repair – than to reward it for its invasion.