12 November 2023

What is America’s Plan B against Iran?


Following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, scarcely a day passes without news of rocket or drone strikes on American targets in Iraq and Syria. Orchestrated by groups identified as proxies of the Iranian government, these attacks persist despite repeated warnings from American officials.

The challenge posed by Iran’s proxy groups has entangled America for several decades — a challenge yet unresolved due to a lack of a clear strategy to contain the Islamic Republic. So, what is America’s Plan B?

Forty-four years ago, the Islamic Republic solidified its existence by taking American diplomats hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This “hostage crisis” heralded a “new Iranian challenge” for America. Anti-Americanism has been a formal and steadfast policy of the Islamic Republic, which perceives the United States not as a “rival,” but an “enemy.” Its domestic, regional and overall foreign policy has been guided by this unchangeable principle.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), especially its extraterritorial wing, the Quds Force, formerly commanded by Qassem Soleimani, has patronized many Islamist groups that have attacked American and its allies’ interests in Iraq and Syria. Hence, we are not merely dealing with ideological enmity; we face an active field enemy that challenges American policies and its allies across the Middle East.

The aim? Complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, weakening America’s allies, and dominating the Middle East.


Brian Carter, Ashka Jhaveri, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, and Amin Soltani

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

CTP and ISW have refocused the update to cover the Israel-Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance. We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

This update has been revised to clarify that the reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah occurred in 2022. A previous version of this update did not specify the year

Key Takeaways:
  • Hamas forces north of Gaza City conducted hit-and-run attacks that harassed Israeli forces, which supports CTP-ISW's previous assessment that Hamas units in the northern Gaza Strip are screening a main defensive effort in central Gaza City.
  • Hamas Political Bureau Deputy Chairman Saleh al Arouri said that Palestinians in the West Bank will respond to the Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip, which is consistent with repeated Hamas calls for further resistance in the West Bank.
  • Hamas political leaders continue to call for Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) to increase its involvement in the Hamas-Israel war to alleviate the pressure that Hamas is facing in Gaza.
  • Brazilian police working with Mossad arrested LH operatives who were planning an attack on Jewish targets in Brazil on November 8.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria on November 8. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed 45 attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East since October 18.

Cyber Escalation in Modern Conflict: Exploring Four Possible Phases of the Digital Battlefield

On October 7, following Hamas’s unexpected attack on Israel, a spectrum of cyber actors turned to social media to both condemn and endorse the attacks. Shortly thereafter, hacktivists joined the fray, engaging in defacements and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on various Israeli and Palestinian websites. While the context of these attacks are unique to the Israel-Hamas War, they do generally echo a playbook we’ve previously observed in other modern military conflicts. These patterns deserve a closer look.

In the midst of the Israel-Hamas War, a digital battlefield has emerged, echoing patterns seen in previous conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine War. This exploration delves into the intricacies of four possible waves of cyberattacks and cyberterrorism. These phases not only illustrate the evolving nature of cyber threats but also blur the lines between virtual and physical battlegrounds. Though the war is still unfolding at a rapid pace, we anticipate that the role of cyber warfare may play out in a similar nature to the Russia-Ukraine War, and demonstrate the following four phases.

We will unravel the following phases:
  • Phase 1: Increase in Scale and Impact of Attacks
In this initial phase, attacks increase in scope, evolving from hashtags to defacements and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

The War in Gaza Is Also Unfolding on Instagram

Yousur Al-Hlou

It’s being captured and narrated by Palestinians, trapped in the besieged enclave with cellphones, a command of English and large Instagram followings.

While Israel and Egypt are preventing most journalists from entering Gaza, these Palestinians are documenting the devastation of Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion in stories and reels. Their posts are intimate and raw — capturing images that mainstream media might consider too graphic to run.

They live the war they’re covering: surviving bombardments, rationing food and water, and sheltering in hospitals.

They are not neutral observers, and in their impassioned posts, they don’t purport to be. Some even accuse them of being propagandists for Hamas, which runs Gaza.

In response to Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, Israel began an intense bombing campaign in Gaza that has killed more than 10,500 people, including over 4,300 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. U.N. experts have declared that “the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide.”

At least 33 Palestinian media workers have been killed inside Gaza, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Yet Palestinians in Gaza keep documenting the brutal war, attracting millions of followers around the world.

The World Won’t Be the Same After the Israel-Hamas War

Stephen M. Walt

Will the latest Gaza war have far-reaching repercussions? As a rule, I think adverse geopolitical developments are usually balanced by countervailing forces of various kinds, and events in one small part of the world tend not to have vast ripple effects elsewhere. Crises and wars do occur, but cooler heads typically prevail and limit their consequences.

But not always, and the current war in Gaza may be one of those exceptions. No, I don’t think we are on the brink of World War III; in fact, I’d be surprised if the current fighting leads to a larger regional conflict. I don’t rule this possibility out entirely, but so far none of the states or groups on the sidelines (Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Turkey, etc.) seem eager to get directly involved, and U.S. officials are trying to keep the conflict localized as well. Because larger regional conflict would be even more costly and dangerous, we should all hope these efforts succeed. But even if the war is confined to Gaza and ends soon, it is going to have significant repercussions around the world.

To see what these broader implications may be, it is important to recall the general state of geopolitics just before Hamas launched its surprise attack on Oct. 7. (For a trenchant summary of these conditions, watch John Mearsheimer’s recent lecture here). Before Hamas attacked, the United States and its NATO allies were waging a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Their goal was to help Ukraine drive Russia from the territory it had seized after February 2022 and to weaken Russia to the point that it could not undertake similar actions in the future. The war was not going well, however: Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive had stalled, the balance of military power seemed to be shifting gradually toward Moscow, and hopes that Kyiv could regain its lost territory either by force of arms or through negotiations were fading.

The Makings of a Disaster


Hamas’s operational success on October 7 has placed Iran, and with it Hezbollah, between a rock and a hard place as they try to calibrate their response to the ongoing conflict with Israel. If they use all the firepower at their disposal, there could be a rapid escalation into a broader regional war, and perhaps even a global conflict. And if they remain on the sidelines, this could undermine their “unity of the arenas” strategy, in which they sought to heighten coordination among members of the so-called Axis of Resistance, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, pro-Iranian militias from the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and Ansar Allah, better known as the Houthis, in Yemen.

The speech on Friday of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah reflected this unease. He lauded the October 7 operation, clarified that it was purely Palestinian, and expressed full solidarity with the Palestinian armed factions. But Nasrallah refrained from expanding the conflict with Israel. In the face of mounting criticism by some Hamas leaders for not doing more, he clarified that Hezbollah’s actions along Lebanon’s southern border were reducing Israeli pressure on Hamas. While the fighting seems relatively contained for now, Nasrallah implied that it might escalate in the future, depending on the situation in Gaza and Israeli actions in Lebanon. He also reminded his audience that Israel has often been forced to step back from its maximalist positions, as in the 2006 war when it had to accept a prisoner swap after a 33-day bombing campaign in Lebanon, which Israel had prepared by saying it sought Hezbollah’s elimination.

Iran has spent the better part of the last four decades building up its network of influence across the region and carving out successive circles of deterrence around Israel. This began with Hezbollah, which was created in 1982–1984, in the aftermath of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that forced the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leadership out of the country. Iran has invested time and billions of dollars to build up a network of allies and proxies that spans the Middle East. It has taken advantage of political opportunities and security vacuums to establish or support the array of nonstate actors in the Axis of Resistance.

Five Questions About Gaza


A day after the horrific attacks of October 7, I was not only shocked but also profoundly unsure about what would happen next. Some things were already clear. Immediately, the political actors retreated into their own bubbles and any sense of common humanity disappeared. I was confident that these actors would behave with the same disregard for long-term consequences that had led them so deeply into the current situation.

But where their impulses would lead them and what they would actually be able to do was less clear. As a result, I could not see a clear outcome except that “when the dust settles, the people of Israel-Palestine will be left facing each other with more bitterness, but with no more tools to craft a less violent future.”

A month later, things are a bit clearer. Most of those earlier suspicions have been borne out to a degree that dismays me. Last week, I wrote a prognosis based on the idea that the dust may not settle in Gaza. That piece was motivated in part by an unfortunate pattern that I saw arising: When analysts finally turned to the question of outcomes, they proposed arrangements that were based on unrealistic hopes and sometimes profound misunderstandings. (There were calls, for instance, to restore Gaza to the Palestinian Authority’s control, and also to devise a new school curriculum—but of course, school curriculums in Gaza have been among the few remaining ways that the ministries in Ramallah have been effective in Gaza).

So, if the question is not “tell me how this ends” but “tell me how this will evolve,” the answers are still a bit hazy. Many of the uncertainties are known: What will Israel actually accomplish? How many more people will die? How serious are the growing signs of U.S.-Israel tension? But to know more about likely trajectories, I wish to draw attention to five questions that may only be answered by events.

Israel Could Lose

Jon B. Alterman

Israel’s army has a remarkable record of winning. It won conventional wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973; it forced the Palestine Liberation Organization to give up armed struggle in 1996; and it has deterred Hezbollah since a 2006 campaign laid waste to the group. The military is strong not merely because of U.S. support, but also because everything about Israeli military—from its doctrine, organization, and training to its leadership and personnel—makes it by far the most formidable fighting force in the Middle East.

Most discussions about the war in Gaza assume that, in the end, Israel will win. The stakes are so high for Israel, and Israel’s edge over Hamas is so large, that any outcome other than victory is unthinkable. The only questions are in what timeframe and at what cost.

And yet it is quite possible that the war in Gaza will be the first war in Israel’s history that the army has fought and lost. That loss would be catastrophic for Israel and deeply damaging to the United States. Precisely because of that, it must be considered.

Israel’s military has largely avoided the checkered history that has afflicted the United States since the Vietnam War began, after which a record of muddled outcomes began. The U.S. military ended engagements in Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti without clear victories, but they were of a small scale. The post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Syrian-Iraqi border area were serious efforts with serious resources behind them, but years of fighting, billions of dollars, and thousands of U.S. deaths failed to secure victory.

It’s Time for the G9


At a dangerous time in the world—with violence in the Middle East and escalating economic and security challenges to the democratic market economies from Russia and China—national alignments continue to shift. A headline in the New York Times last month proclaimed, “With Putin by His Side, Xi Outlines His Vision of a New World Order”—a disconcerting pronouncement at any time, especially now. And just a few weeks ago, the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—moved to expand their ranks by inviting Saudi Arabia and the UAE to join their group of emerging economies. In issuing the invitation, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “I would like to assure all our colleagues that we will continue the work that we started today on expanding the influence of BRICS in the world.” Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the expansion would “inject new impetus into the BRICS cooperation mechanism and further strengthen the power of world peace and development.”

While the United States has strong—and indeed strengthening—relations with key BRICS members, such as India and Brazil, the addition of more nations to a group dominated by Russia and China raises the question: shouldn’t the democratic free-market countries try to grow their team as well? For the United States, the “core team” for more than fifty years has been the other G7 members: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom. The G7 was created before the end of the Cold War and in a different geopolitical moment, and aside from an ill-fated effort to add Russia in the late 1990s, its membership has not changed. But as the world faces the economic fallout from Russia’s attack on Ukraine and rising economic and geopolitical tensions with China, and given the complexities of working within the G20, perhaps now is the time to add some new countries to the G7 core group.

Given that the group is already Eurocentric, with Japan the only Asian member, and given the challenge posed by China, adding additional nations in that region seems sensible. The two largest economies by GDP that are neither BRICS members nor existing G7 members are South Korea and Australia, both of which would be excellent additions. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has devoted considerable efforts to strengthening ties with both nations, as critical economic and security partners in the region.

What Swirls Beneath Research Activity of Chinese Ships in the Indian Ocean?

Rathindra Kuruwita

The Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 is seen berthed at Colombo harbor, Sri Lanka, Oct. 26, 2023.

On October 31, Sri Lankan and Chinese researchers on board the Chinese research vessel Shi Yan 6, which recently docked at Colombo port in Sri Lanka, began two days of “marine scientific” research off the Sri Lankan coast.

The docking of the Shi Yan 6 a few days earlier had stirred strong responses from India and the United States. The same thing happened last year when another Chinese ship, the Yuan Wang 5, had docked at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Sabry acknowledged that the Sri Lankan government had come under pressure from India and other parties to halt the arrival of the Chinese research vessel. He emphasized the complexity of the situation due to geopolitics and the need to be prepared to handle these pressures while maintaining good relations with all involved parties.

Over the past 15 years, several Chinese research vessels and warships have visited Sri Lankan ports with limited media attention. It is only over the last couple of years that Chinese vessels arriving in Sri Lanka have received heightened scrutiny.

Air Quality Woes: A Joint Struggle for India and Pakistan

Abdul Waheed Bhutto

Life in major cities of India and Pakistan – Faisalabad, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, and more – is profoundly impacted by persistent air pollution. These cities routinely grapple with elevated levels of airborne contaminants, especially during specific periods of the year. The interplay of factors including industrial emissions, vehicular exhaust, construction endeavors, and the recurring problem of crop residue burning during winter all contribute to the decline in air quality.

Once more, Lahore, Delhi, and Karachi face the unwelcome distinction of being among the world’s most polluted cities, even before the arrival of the winter season in 2023. Air quality is generally classified as healthy up to a value of 50, moderately tolerable up to 100, and perilous beyond 150. During the last weekend of October 2023, Lahore recorded air pollution levels ranging from 376 to 510, with New Delhi clocking in at 333.

These disconcerting statistics underscore the gravity of the air quality predicament, reinforcing the urgency of adopting effective measures to address this critical issue impacting millions of urban residents in the region.

The health repercussions of air pollution in cities are extensive and multifaceted. These bustling urban areas, besieged by elevated air pollution levels, confront a spectrum of health issues that affect people of all age groups. Major health concerns linked to substandard urban air quality encompass respiratory problems like the worsening of pre-existing conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), amplified cardiovascular risks such as heart attacks and irregular heartbeats, increased susceptibility to lung ailments, decreased lung function, and hindered growth in children, potentially resulting in lifelong respiratory difficulties.

Adjusting Pakistan’s Tech Sector Priorities

Kashif Hussain

In a series of statements, top government officials have predicted optimistic figures for Pakistan’s future information technology (IT) exports. The former minister of Information Technology, Syed Aminul Haque, had expressed the determination to push Pakistan’s IT exports to $15 billion from the existing $2.6 billion over the next few years. The current caretaker minister, Dr. Umar Saif, has shown a similar resolve to take the sector’s exports to $10-20 billion.

These hovering claims are the result of the IT sector’s positive performance over the last couple of years. With a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30 percent, Pakistan’s IT sector has demonstrated a phenomenal upward growth of 178 percent over the last five years. In terms of growth, the sector surpasses all other local industries in services and even the textile sector.

The unprecedented growth in IT exports was partly the result of COVID-19 restrictions, when the majority of operations were shifted to online, web-based tasks. Pakistan’s IT exports grew from $1.29 billion in 2019 to $1.72 billion in 2020 and $2.45 billion in 2021. That, in turn, encouraged the bulging youth population of the country to learn IT-related skills, which not only resulted in a boom in freelancing but also helped to elevate the sector’s growth.

However, against the towering ambition to take exports to $10-20 billion in the next five years, the sector has remained stagnant in the current fiscal year. Although the IT sector of Pakistan has demonstrated significant growth during the last couple of years, the government must take drastic measures to streamline its approach, and facilitate the private sector adopting innovative initiatives. Only then can Pakistan attain sustainable IT export growth.

Military-ruled Myanmar Hosts Joint Naval Exercise With Russia

Grant Peck

The military-run Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar is holding its first joint naval exercise with Russia, state media reported Tuesday, with the two nations carrying out maneuvers in the Andaman Sea.

Reports in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that the maritime security exercise between Myanmar and Russia was being held Tuesday to Thursday 157 kilometers (85 miles) west of Myeik in Myanmar’s far south. Some Russian navy vessels sailed from Yangon to take part, state television MRTV reported Tuesday.

The three-day joint drill involves aircraft and naval vessels from the two countries, and focuses on defending against threats from air, sea, and land as well as other maritime security measures, the reports said.

Russia is a major supporter and arms supplier of Myanmar’s military government, which was installed after the army seized power and ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Russia defends Myanmar’s military government in international forums, and the ruling generals return the favor by generally supporting Moscow’s foreign policy agenda.

Myanmar has been treated as a pariah state by many Western nations since the takeover and the violent suppression of protests against it, which has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and given rise to an armed resistance movement that battles the army in many parts of the country.

China’s State Security Departments and Nationwide System

Mercy A. Kuo

The Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Alex Joske ̶ senior risk advisor at McGrathNicol, former analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and author of “Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World“ (Hardie Grant Books, 2022) – is the 390th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Explain China’s state security system structure and the role of provincial organs.

China’s state security system refers to the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and its network of regional agencies across China. The structure of this system follows the general pattern of the rest of the Chinese bureaucracy. The central agency – the Ministry of State Security – exercises some degree of coordination and leadership over counterparts at lower levels of the bureaucracy.

Every province of China has its own state security department that is a provincial government agency while also being part of the national state security system. This is very different to how intelligence work is done in the West, where it is generally the sole remit of federal or central governments.

The vast majority of China’s state security personnel are working in these provincial agencies. By extension, they probably carry out the majority of foreign intelligence operations. As I point out in my paper, most known examples of MSS operations were actually carried out by agencies such as the Shanghai State Security Bureau or Guangdong State Security Department.

Rare Earths in the South China Sea: Adding Fuel to the Geopolitical Fire

Tobias Burgers and Scott N. Romaniuk

As the green energy revolution continues to progress and gain traction in Europe, the United States, and China, there is a noticeable surge in the demand for rare-earth metals (REMs), which are among the vital building blocks for clean energy technology. The 17 elements that make up REMs, also known as rare-earth elements, are lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, scandium, and yttrium. Countries are actively seeking to acquire these vital resources, leading to a competitive race among nations.

The term “rare-earth elements” was first attributed to these compounds when they were discovered during the 18th and 19th centuries. At the time, “earths,” was a designation used to describe materials that displayed resistance to further modification when subjected to heat. In contrast to other types of earth materials, such as lime or magnesia, these “rare earths” were discovered to be rather limited in abundance.

Despite their current prevalence in comparison to their historical availability and application, the perceived scarcity of these resources is assessed and established based on the level of competition surrounding them. Although most REMs do not exhibit the level of scarcity that their classification implies, they are now essential to modern technology and lifestyles.

Moreover, the concentrated and economically feasible deposits of REMs are far less prevalent, rendering their identification and extraction more challenging.

REMs occupy a pivotal role in a diverse array of items that are integral to the continuous shift toward sustainable energy. From solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, wind farms, and electric vehicles to electric networks, battery storage, and hydrogen, REMs are indispensable to producing these systems and instruments. REMs also serve a vital role in the production of various goods that are integral to numerous aspects of society and daily life. These goods encompass a wide range of items, from guided missiles to items used by civilians around the world: hybrid and electric vehicles, flat-screen televisions, computer monitors, smartphones, and digital cameras, as well as fluorescent and light-emitting diode (LED) lights.

Beijing Tightens Its Grip on the Critical Minerals Sector

Christina Lu

Facing a flurry of Western efforts to de-risk critical mineral supply chains, China is racing to tighten its grip on the sector, both by unleashing punishing export curbs to spook competitors and by ramping up global investment.

After a decadeslong push, Beijing dominates the supply chains that turn raw materials, including cobalt and rare earths, into the powerful finished products underpinning missile guidance systems, renewable energies, and electric vehicles. But rising tensions have accelerated Western efforts to slash this dependence. To wean itself off of Beijing, Washington is using the Inflation Reduction Act to catalyze its own industry; European Parliament passed the Critical Raw Materials Act, meant to do much the same. Australia, a mineral powerhouse, announced last month that it plans to double investment in its sector.

China is busy firing back. In its latest warning shot, Beijing further tightened the screws on its competitors on Tuesday by announcing rare-earth export restrictions that would force firms to disclose the resources’ types and ultimate destinations for the next two years. China overwhelmingly dominates the production, refining, and processing of rare earths—which are crucial to everything from F-35 fighter jets and submarine sonar to offshore wind turbines—making the elements, and access to them, a strategic chokepoint.

Even with the entry of new players, Chinese companies are also moving full-speed ahead in securing a raft of new partnerships for minerals like lithium in Latin America and Africa. Chinese investment in overseas mining and metals projects is set to hit a record this year as Beijing moves to reinforce its command of these supply chains, according to a report released by China’s Fudan University in July, although it’s unclear if this momentum will continue into the new year.

How Will the Ukraine War End? With China Emerging as a Superpower

Edward Salo

In this scenario, I project that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict could potentially pave the way for China's emergence as a superpower.

I contend that the Chinese believe that Western nations will eventually tire of providing support to the Ukrainians, particularly if the war reaches a stalemate. This continued support for an unsuccessful war will ultimately weaken Western political leaders during upcoming elections, and usher in an era dominated by isolationist-minded politicians who won't advocate for the support of the Ukrainians. Furthermore, the ongoing provision of increasingly advanced weaponry to the Ukrainians will lead to depleted Western armories, which will take years to replenish, leaving those nations vulnerable to threats elsewhere.

As China sees diminishing returns from supporting the Russian war efforts, they may begin to suggest a cease-fire. Given the prevalence of isolationist governments in the West, these nations may encourage Ukraine to engage in negotiations.

At the same time, President Putin may step down due to health issues or other concerns, and a new hardline leader may take his place, unencumbered by Putin's controversial reputation. The Western media may portray this new leader as a centrist who is eager to end the conflict, placing even greater political pressure on Ukraine.

Decision time in Ukraine — will Biden make the right choice?


Contrary to recent arguments presented by John Mearsheimer and retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, Ukraine’s counteroffensive has not failed. But it has reached a transition point, and decisions must be made.

We are now 20 months into a war that then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told us would last three days. Russian planners estimated 10 days.

A Ukrainian military once considered inferior to Russia’s has militarily succeeded, defeating Russians on every battlefield in Ukraine. They have killed more than 300,000 Russian soldiers, and according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “recaptured half the territory that Russia initially seized in its invasion.” That is not failure.

Brussels and Washington still have time to ensure Ukrainian sacrifices and victories on the battlefield remain relevant, but Washington’s current strategy to help defend Ukraine will not defeat the Russian military. Moscow can continue to generate more manpower through mobilizations, conscription, mercenaries and foreign fighters to feed into the Ukraine meat grinder. It has turned to North Korea to sustain its insatiable appetite for artillery munitions.

This is becoming the war of attrition many feared it would evolve into, and now the term “stalemate” is creeping into the conversation.

We have long cautioned that the Biden administration’s “just enough” strategy to sustain Ukraine is a losing strategy. And politics, namely a presidential election cycle, appears to be undermining President Biden’s promise that the U.S. will “stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Carbon neutrality is harder than you think, but it’s worth it


For years now, corporations have been flooding headlines with their ambitious pledges to achieve carbon neutrality. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and even BP, have vowed to do more to reduce their carbon footprint. But like a well-intentioned new year’s resolution, their commitment to these pledges wavers with passing time. Reducing carbon emissions, it turns out, is a lot easier to pledge than it is to do.

It’s a pattern we’re all familiar with. Every New Year, we’re bombarded with a cacophony of resolutions — vows to eat healthier, exercise more, stop drinking, etc. All of these pledges are made with good faith and earnestness. Just as individuals may cut out junk food and start to work out, corporations may at first zealously move toward carbon neutrality by purchasing energy from alternative sources, changing manufacturers or suppliers, and finding alternative infrastructure.

As with New Years resolutions, the first steps can be incredibly tangible and surprisingly easy to implement. The short-term success of a company that cuts carbon emissions by 20 percent feels great. But it can also fool one into a false sense of accomplishment, which one may later use as an excuse to stop trying when the going gets tough.

Delta Airlines is now facing a massive class action lawsuit for claiming to be carbon neutral, but only achieving that neutrality by buying carbon offsets. Amazon ditched an 11-year plan to make half of its deliveries carbon neutral just four years in. BP backed away from backing away from fossil fuels after watching the impact its renewable generation businesses were having on its balance sheet. Even the federal government has made a myriad of climate pledges, only to discard them later.


Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, Amin Soltani, and Frederick W. Kagan

The Russian military command will likely struggle to redeploy combat-effective reinforcements to respond to ongoing Ukrainian operations in eastern Kherson Oblast while conducting defensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and sustaining other offensive efforts in eastern Ukraine. Russian milbloggers claimed on November 9 that Ukrainian forces established control over new positions in Krynky (30km northeast of Kherson City and 2km from the Dnipro River) and conducted assaults towards Russian positions south and southwest of the settlement.[1] A Russian milblogger claimed that there are reports that Ukrainian forces advanced to forest areas south of Krynky.[2] Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces also attacked near Poyma (12km east of Kherson City and 4km from the Dnipro River), Pishchanivka (13km east of Kherson City and 3km from the Dnipro River), and Pidstepne (17km east of Kherson City and 4km from the Dnipro River) and are trying to establish positions between Pidstepne and Kozachi Laheri (23km northeast of Kherson City and 2km from the Dnipro River).[3] Ukrainian military observer Konstyantyn Mashovets stated that Ukrainian forces have established continuous control of positions from the Antonivsky railway bridge north of Poyma to the Antonivsky roadway bridge north of Oleshky (7km south of Kherson and 4km from the Dnipro River) as of November 9 and have cut the Oleshky-Nova Kakhovka (53km northeast of Kherson City) road in at least two areas.[4]

Elements of the Russian 18th Combined Arms Army’s (CAA) 22nd Army Corps (formerly of the Black Sea Fleet) and 70th Motorized Rifle Division as well as the 177th Naval Infantry Regiment (Caspian Flotilla) appear to be the main Russian forces responding to Ukrainian ground operations on the east bank of Kherson Oblast.[5] The Russian military reportedly formed the 18th CAA from other units previously operating in the Kherson direction, and it is unlikely that new units of the 18th CAA are comprised of fresh forces or staffed to doctrinal end strength.[6] Elements of the 177th Naval Infantry Regiment previously defended positions in western Zaporizhia Oblast for almost the entirety of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and have likely suffered significant casualties.[7]

The Devil Went Down to Georgia: Executing Cyberspace Resistance to Counter Russia

Mark Grzegorzewski

Amidst the focus on Russia’s military engagements in Ukraine over the past year, not enough attention has been given to the cyber resilience needs of other countries on the periphery of the former Soviet Union. Notably, Georgia, Lithuania, and Poland warrant particular attention as they could become the next targets if Russia shifts its focus from Ukraine. Georgia, a victim of a Russian invasion in 2008 and a cyber-driven influence campaign in 2019, presents a compelling case study. Drawing from Ukraine’s experiences, Georgia can translate those insights into robust cyber resilience strategies to defend itself against future Russian aggression.

Recommended strategies include forging closer ties with the U.S. to bolster the capacity of Georgia’s cybersecurity, re-allocating resources to reduce the impact of Russian cyber operations and activities, and presenting a strengthened front to deter Russian cyber operatives. Moreover, experience is an unparalleled resource, and the Georgians can learn from Ukraine’s experience. In fact, there is a strong correlation between the experience Ukrainian cyber operators gained in the years of cyber conflict following the initial 2014 Russian invasion and today’s digital stalemate between Ukraine and Russia. In essence, nearly a decade of conflict honed the Ukrainians resistance capabilities, enabling them to counter Russian cyber operations effectively.

Given its proximity and history, Georgia has likely kept a close eye on how Russia executed irregular warfare in Ukraine since at least 2014, and ideally learned from those experiences to prepare itself for resistance should Russia return. Learning from the Ukrainian experience would enable Georgia to brace itself for Russian cyber effects, especially should a momentarily debilitated Russia seek to reassert its regional dominance by targeting countries within its sphere of influence.

The myth of the national security sweater, or why Israel is not the string that will unravel US hegemony for good


As the Israel-Hamas conflict moves into another week, politicians and national security experts of all stripes are trotting out a tired equation regarding American national security interests: that [fill in blank event: terrorism, civil uprising, minority oppression, cross-border incursion] in [fill in blank region: Middle East, Eastern Europe, East Asia, South America] is indicative of declining U.S. power, and the U.S. must reassert unipolar global hegemony or risk existential threats.

We’ve seen the same narrative told over the past decade regarding Libya, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, Ukraine and now Israel. Each issue or conflict is the proverbial string being pulled that will unwind the entire sweater, leaving the U.S. exposed to be picked apart by our enemies.

This idea was on full display when President Biden addressed the nation following his visit to Israel and meeting with regional leaders. In a moment reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration 20 years ago, Biden looped Russia, China and Iran into the problem, before offering a $106 billion spending package as the solution. In a similar line of thinking, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) labelled these countries the new Axis of Evil and called for a more aggressive global posture to put them in their places.

Of course, Iran is the only of those actors likely to have any connection to the Israel-Hamas conflict, given its adversarial history with Israel. Even so, the U.S. and Israel do not currently have any intelligence that Iran supported or was directly involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. And while the destruction of Israel is still a central tenet of the Iranian regime, realistic military assessments indicate that a direct assault or obvious proxy attack would be catastrophic for the Iranian military — a fact that is likely understood by leaders in Tehran.


Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, and Frederick W. Kagan

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on November 8. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) and Bakhmut directions.[1] Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted assaults near Robotyne, Novoprokopivka (just south of Robotyne), and Verbove (9km east of Robotyne).[2] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated during a video address to the Reuters NEXT conference in New York on November 8 that Ukrainian forces have a battlefield plan for 2024 that he cannot disclose.[3] Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces have several paths for future advances in southern Ukraine, eastern Ukraine, and Kherson Oblast. There are also plans to advance to specific occupied cities.[4] Ukrainian forces continue counteroffensive operations without interruption in several sectors of the front, and Ukrainian officials continue to indicate that these operations will continue into this winter.[5]

Select Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian commanders may be making operational and tactical decisions using maps of the battlefield in Ukraine that differ from tactical reality. A Russian milblogger claimed that the Russian General Staff uses battlefield maps that differ from tactical reality in response to another milblogger who questioned why Russian forces were not striking alleged large Ukrainian force concentrations close to the frontline.[6] The Russian milblogger claimed that Russian personnel on the front have access to the “real” map and that Russian commanders order Russian forces to conduct routine assaults to make gains that align the “real” map with the Russian General Staff’s map.[7] A separate milblogger claimed that there had been previous individual cases of Russian battalion and regiment-level assault operations aimed at achieving compliance with inaccurate maps of the frontline but that this is the first time that he has heard of a wider operational imperative to make advances that comply with a reported General Staff map.[8]

What Does the Conflict in the Middle East Mean for Ukraine?

Iliya Kusa

Ukraine has never shown a close interest in conflicts in the Middle East, but the current flare-up in the Palestinian-Israeli enmity has presented Kyiv with a dilemma. At first, the Ukrainian government reacted to the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7 the same way as most other countries: by condemning the Palestinian militants and expressing their condolences to the Israelis. But the subsequent actions of the Israeli army in Gaza have impacted on attitudes to Israel. The United States and most other Western countries still support Israel, while many countries of the so-called Global South have condemned it for its indiscriminate airstrikes against Gaza and insist that it also bears some responsibility for the outbreak of violence.

As a result, Ukraine has found itself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it’s important for Kyiv to emphasize its unity with the West and not to fall out with Israel, a valuable potential ally. On the other hand, overly enthusiastic support for the Israelis could damage Ukraine’s relations with countries in the Global South, for whose sympathies Kyiv has been actively vying with Moscow.

For most Ukrainians, the Arab world is seen as something distant and foreign, while there are many socio-cultural and business ties between Ukraine and Israel. In addition, Israel is broadly seen as a good example of a state that has successfully repelled attacks from aggressors for decades and at the same time is prosperous and technologically advanced: everything that Ukrainians would like their own country to be.

There was a lot of talk and intensive study of the “Israeli model” in Ukraine following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, including the organization of its security forces and formation of a strong coalition of allies. The increasingly protracted nature of the hostilities in Ukraine has only increased interest in the Israeli example of how a country can adapt to war while thriving economically.

Brooklyn Busts: Several Indicted in New York for Smuggling Sanctioned Goods to Russia

Catherine Putz

U.S. authorities arrested a trio in New York late last month on allegations that the three operated a scheme to route millions of dollars worth of semiconductors, integrated circuits, and other dual-use electronic parts to Russia via front companies in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn resident and dual Tajik-Russian citizen Salimdzhon Nasriddinov, 52, and married Russian couple Nikolay Goltsev, 37, and Kristina Puzyreva, 32, of Montreal, Canada, were arrested on October 31 on conspiracy and other charges related to sanctions evasion and violation of U.S. export controls.

In a statement outlining the allegations, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said, “As alleged, the defendants evaded sanctions, shipping equipment to Russia vital for their precision-guided weapons systems, some of which has been used on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

The scheme outlined by U.S. officials focuses on two corporate entities registered in Brooklyn, SH Brothers Inc. and SN Electronics, through which the accused allegedly purchased and shipped approximately $7 million in dual-use electronics – via around 300 shipments – to sanctioned end users in Russia.