20 December 2023

Iran executes agent of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service

An agent of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service was executed on Saturday in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“This person communicated with foreign services, specifically Mossad, collecting classified information, and with participation with associates, provided documents to foreign services, including the Mossad,” it said.

It did not name the person.

It said the accused had handed classified information to a “Mossad officer” with the aim of “propaganda for groups and organizations opposed to the Islamic Republic”. It did not say where the alleged handover had taken place.

It was not clear when the person was arrested, but IRNA said an appeal had been rejected.

The execution, which took place in a Zahedan jail in Sistan-Baluchestan, came a day after Baluch militants attacked a police station in the province, killing 11 security personnel and wounding several others.

A state funeral was held on Saturday for the men in the town of Rask where the attack took place, according to state television. Two militants of the Jaish al-Adl group were also killed in ensuing clashes.

The impoverished Sistan-Baluchestan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, has long been the scene of frequent clashes between security forces and Sunni militants. The population of the province is predominantly Sunni Muslim, while most Iranians are Shi’ite.

A Palestinian Revival: How to Build a New Political Order After Israel’s Assault on Gaza

Khaled Elgindy

After ten weeks of waging a brutal war in Gaza, Israeli leaders continue to insist that their military campaign will press ahead until Hamas has been eliminated. They have yet to articulate what that would mean in practice or who or what they expect to fill the governance void such an outcome would leave. Given the absence of a clear endgame, there has been no shortage of speculation about what will happen after the bombs stop falling. Mooted “day after” scenarios run the gamut from fanciful notions of an Arab-run trusteeship over Gaza to downright disturbing calls, mostly from Israelis, for the transfer of most or all of Gaza’s population to Egypt. The Biden administration has laid out its own “day after” parameters, which, among other things, rule out the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza or the territory’s reoccupation by Israel. In addition, the administration has said it wants to see a return of a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority (PA)—the Palestinian body nominally in control of parts of the West Bank—to Gaza and, in contrast with the last three years, now says it is serious about a political process that culminates in the two-state solution, with a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The administration’s hopeful vision, however, is likely to run up against some hard realities. For one, no one knows when or how this war will end, and how much of Gaza and how many Gazans will be left when the fighting stops. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will not allow the PA to return to Gaza, promising to keep Israeli forces in Gaza indefinitely, including laying out plans for a permanent “buffer zone” inside Gaza that would further constrict the land available to Palestinians. He has assured his partners in his governing coalition that he is the only leader who can prevent the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Events on the ground are already moving in dangerous directions. The sheer magnitude of death and destruction in Gaza is difficult to fathom. According to Gaza’s health ministry, the Israeli assault has so far killed at least 18,800 people, mostly civilians (including 8,200 children). The operation has uprooted more than 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants and rendered much of northern Gaza uninhabitable. Israel’s severe restrictions on supplies of food, water, and fuel to Gaza’s population have led to widespread outbreaks of disease and hunger and what the United Nations has described as an “epic humanitarian catastrophe” and have even prompted warnings from UN officials and other observers of the possibility of genocide.

What Went Wrong with Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth” Policy?

Abdul Rehman

As Pakistan begins deporting 1.7 million undocumented Afghan refugees, Pak-Afghan relations stand at a historical low. Almost four decades ago, when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan, four million Afghan refugees migrated to Pakistan to seek shelter. Following recent growing tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan gave all undocumented Afghan migrants – many of which have been born and raised in Pakistan – until November 1 to leave the country.

The sudden rush for repatriation of Afghan refugees has raised suspicions. Interim Afghan government spokesperson Suhail Shaheen has described the eviction of Afghan refugees as “pressure tactics against Taliban.” Others argue that Pakistan is pushing for the repatriation of Afghan refugees to pressure the Taliban government to act against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). On the other hand, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar stated that Afghan refugees without legal status have been contributing to the rise in terrorist activities in Pakistan since the Taliban returned to power two years ago.

For decades, Pakistan has sought to acquire greater strategic depth and secure Afghanistan as a place to regroup in the case of a military attack by India. This policy has led Pakistan to meddle in Afghanistan’s domestic politics…further worsening the relationship.

The repatriation push is evidence that Pakistan has not yet learned from its past mistakes in Afghanistan. During the colonial rule of the subcontinent, the British viewed Afghanistan as a buffer to the Russian threat. Pakistan continued this colonial legacy by trying to use Afghanistan to gain a strategic advantage over India with a military policy known as “the strategic depth policy,” which refers to Pakistan’s use of Afghanistan as a ‘military asset’. For decades, Pakistan has sought to acquire greater strategic depth and secure Afghanistan as a place to regroup in the case of a military attack by India. This policy has led Pakistan to meddle in Afghanistan’s domestic politics, inciting deep-seated fears that Pakistan aims only to transform its neighbor into a client state, further worsening the relationship.

Laos’ Economic Woes Will Continue In 2024

David Hutt

Most mornings your columnist must scroll through feeds of the latest Southeast Asian news headlines. The feed on Laos is, to put it mildly, beginning to get tiresome. For how many months can you read the same headline, “Lao PM Introduces New Measures to Tackle Inflation” or “Lao PM Highlights Key Measures to Address Economic Crisis in Cabinet Meeting,” and then click on the latest economic update and see that, alas, nothing has improved and the same measures (which are actually aspirations) are constantly repackaged anew? See the words of one Laotian interviewed recently by Radio Free Asia. The prime minister “just talks and talks, nothing happens. He has said this many times before, nothing has gotten better. The government can’t do anything; [the government] announces this measure, then that measure – but the inflation and the kip depreciation are still high, way too high.”

In this swirl of apparent nose-to-the-grindstone ministerial work, Vientiane likes to advance two narratives. The first is that Sonexay Siphandone was a new broom when he became prime minister in December 2022. In fact, he had been minister of planning and investment beforehand and was put in charge of the government’s special economic task force under his predecessor early in 2022, so economic failings muddied his hands for longer than is recognized. The second narrative is that Laos’ economic problems are administrative and fiscal, not structural, and that a firmer hand from the central bank could soothe inflation and a collapsed local currency.

Yet Vientiane finds itself in the same situation almost all governments face in an economic crisis. The reasons for the crisis are partly out of its hands – it cannot tell the Federal Reserve what to do about the dollar’s interest rates nor do anything about China’s economic woes, which are drawing down private investment into Laos – and partly because of structural issues that had infected the Lao economy decades ago but which went unnoticed (or unchecked because they created rich income streams for corrupt officials) whilst the economy appeared to be in rude health.

China Railway Plans to Test Vietnam’s Foreign Policy Equilibrium

Brandon Tran

Last month, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh announced plans to upgrade the railway line connecting Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province to Vietnam’s port at Haiphong on the Gulf of Tonkin, as a part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The statement followed the elevation of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership and coincided with plans for increased investment, engagement, and cooperation with other U.S.-aligned states in the Indo-Pacific and preceded high-profile diplomatic engagements with China.

On the surface, the proposal appears to stem naturally from Vietnam’s hedging approach to foreign policy; necessarily, the recent friendly interactions with the U.S. and its allies must be accompanied by overtures and deference to China. Given its implications, however, there are signs that this particular project may not be a Vietnamese balancing initiative but rather a coerced response prompted by China.

The railway line in question starts in Kunming, crosses the border at Hekou-Lao Cai, and runs through Vietnam’s capital Hanoi before terminating at the port city of Haiphong. The railway, which was built by the French in the early 20th century, intersects with the newly completed Fanchenggang-Dongxing railway, the first high-speed railway link to Vietnam’s border, which runs from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to the existing Vietnamese rail network. Taken on their own, these projects simply represent efforts to enhance connectivity and trade between the two countries. It is notable, however, that the railway runs through Vietnam’s resource-rich heartland and connects to the only transportation lines leading out of Vietnam’s extremely profitable Nui Phao mine.

Japan, Malaysia Announce Diplomatic Upgrade, Enhanced Security Cooperation

Sebastian Strangio

Japan and Malaysia have announced the elevation of their relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, with security assistance figuring as a key area of growing cooperation.

The announcement came as Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and his Malaysian counterpart Anwar Ibrahim met on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo on Saturday, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The three-day summit, which ended yesterday, marked 50 years of ties between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The elevation of bilateral relations from the current strategic partnership, formed in 2015, “marks a new chapter in Malaysia-Japan bilateral ties,” the statement added. “Malaysia is confident that this renewed commitment will lead to even closer cooperation and greater benefits for both countries.”

The upgrade was accompanied by the signing of a security assistance deal that includes a grant of 400 million yen ($2.8 million) to boost Malaysia’s maritime security, amid the current growing frictions in the South China Sea. Japan will provide equipment such as rescue boats and supplies under the security deal, Reuters reported. A report from The Star, a Malaysian newspaper, stated that the deal would involve the provision of “monitoring and surveillance equipment.”

Battleship Musashi: Japan's Remarkable 73,000 Ton Monster Warship

Peter Suciu

Battleship Musashi - The Yamato's Sister Ship Met a Similar Fate - In March 2015, following years of meticulous historical research and seafloor terrain analysis, a team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced that they had found one of the most impressive battleships ever built, the Imperial Japanese Navy's Musashi.

The sister ship of the Yamato was discovered by Allen's team aboard his motor yacht, the M.Y. Octopus, at a depth of approximately 3,280 feet (one kilometer) in Philippine waters. Japanese naval historian Kazushige Todaka confirmed its identification.

The 73,000-ton (66,224 metric tons) Musashi and sister ship Yamato had been the largest battleships the world had ever known. Allied forces sunk the Musashi on October 24, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, considered the largest naval battle of World War II and quite possibly the largest naval battle in history. Almost half of the Musashi's 2,399-man crew was lost.

The efforts to find the wreck site had begun 11 years earlier and were based on four different sinking positions in the Sibuyan Sea, including both the "official" Japanese and U.S. Navy positions.
Battleship Musashi, A Mighty Warship

Named after the former Japanese province of Musashi, she was one of three Yamato-class battleships constructed for the Imperial Japanese Navy beginning in the late 1930s.

These would prove to be the most heavily armored warships ever built, while each would also be armed with 46 cm (18.1-inch) naval rifle guns. Those were the most powerful guns ever installed on a battleship, and while these may have matched the United States Navy's 16-inch 50-caliber Mark 7 guns at long ranges, in close-range engagement the penetration power of the Japanese guns was believed to be unsurpassed.
Lackluster Career

Pentagon & Congress Prepare to Stop Chinese "Blockade" of Taiwan


The Pentagon is working closely with Taiwan to develop deterrence strategies and countermeasures in response to a possible Chinese blockade of the island, wherein the PRC uses its large Navy, hypersonic weapons and ballistic missiles to essentially “block” any allied forces from defending Taiwan.

Such a prospect has been on the minds of Pentagon thinkers for quite some time, and now the US Congress shares the concern and is directing the Pentagon to send a report to several Congressional committees outlining the “risks and implications” of a sustained military blockade of Taiwan by China.

“The report shall include the method China is most likely to use to impose a blockade; an identification of indications and warnings of a potential sustained blockade of Taiwan by China; and the likely timelines associated with such indications and warnings,” a report from Taiwan’s Central News Agency states. “It should also include an assessment of the impact of such a blockade on the ability of Taiwan to sustain its self-defense capabilities, economy, and population.”

Military Dimensions to a Blockade

A large-scaled PLA Navy surface warship formation could present significant obstacles for any force hoping to defend Taiwan, in large measure due to the range and nature of the sensors and weapons it operates. For instance, multiple Chinese and western news reports have discussed the PLA Navy’s successful test-launch of its deck-fired YJ-21 hypersonic weapon. Should the PLA Navy operate with a margin of superiority in the realm of hypersonics, then US Navy surface platforms may indeed be challenged to breakthrough a PRC perimeter. Should China have an advantage in the area of hypersonic weapons, some Pentagon observers have expressed concern that the PRC might wish to move quickly to exploit this deficit while there is one. The US Is quickly closing the gap by developing its own hypersonic missiles and plans to have surface destroyers armed with hypersonic weapons in just the next few years.

Australia needs an open-source intelligence agency


Because people have been spying for most of history, it’s easy to forget that our intelligence bureaucracy was developed primarily to fight the Cold War. After the Cold War the digital revolution took off. The consequent transformation of the information environment is the most important development in the history of intelligence, at least since the Second World War.

Australia must adapt its National Intelligence Community (NIC) to the information age. It’s true that Australia and its Five Eyes partners have reformed the intelligence institutions established in the Cold War. But the lodestar of reform for the last two decades has been counterterrorism. The independent review of the NIC, which will submit its report in 2024, should focus more directly than its predecessors did on the challenges of information age.

The sheer volume of information is its most striking feature. Turning torrents of data into useful information increasingly requires specialist skills. The disciplines of collation, verification, curation, and analysis have come to be known as open-source intelligence (OSINT). OSINT organisations, ranging from commercial data brokers to investigative NGOs such as Bellingcat are producing more intelligence that rivals that of secret intelligence organisations.
Secret intelligence is already competing with unverified social media feeds for the attention of ministers.

But OSINT won’t replace secret intelligence. Australia needs – perhaps more than ever – to understand the secret intentions and capabilities of its competitors and adversaries. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the value of both forms of intelligence. OSINT has pierced the fog of war, while the United States and United Kingdom used secret intelligence before Russia’s invasion to alert allies and “pre-bunk” Russian disinformation.

New U.S. Trade Policy Will Empower China’s Tech Takeover

Kent Conrad & Saxby Chambliss

As the global economy grows increasingly digital, official U.S. trade policy is apparently reverting to analog. In a confounding decision at the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) withdrew key trade provisions that would establish ground rules for important twenty-first-century issues, such as cross-border data flows, data localization, and source code transfers.

This short-sighted decision risks undercutting America’s global technology leadership, stifling innovation and entrepreneurship, and handing China a crucial advantage at a critical juncture.

Digital trade is the lifeblood of the new economy, supporting millions of American jobs, accounting for 55 percent of U.S. exports of traded services, and contributing billions of dollars to our economy. Whether in finance, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, or transportation, digital connectivity enables companies large and small to access global marketplaces, collaborate across borders, and build the technologies of tomorrow.

For decades, the United States has led the world in innovation and has been at the forefront of the digital economy. This has been immensely beneficial to our businesses, workers, and overall economy. However, we cannot take our leadership position for granted. To ensure the United States maintains its standing, we must promote a fair and open global digital economy governed by rules that reflect our values and incentivize innovation and entrepreneurship.

That is why successive administrations—both Republican and Democrat—have rightly supported international rules enabling cross-border data flow, opposing mandatory local data storage, and preventing forced software source code transfers.

A top-secret Chinese spy satellite just launched on a supersized rocket


China's largest rocket apparently wasn't big enough to launch the country's newest spy satellite, so engineers gave the rocket an upgrade.

The Long March 5 launcher flew with a payload fairing some 20 feet (6.2 meters) taller than its usual nose cone when it took off on Friday with a Chinese military spy satellite. This made the Long March 5, with a height of some 200 feet, the tallest rocket China has ever flown.

Adding to the intrigue, the Chinese government claimed the spacecraft aboard the Long March 5 rocket, named Yaogan-41, is a high-altitude optical remote sensing satellite. These types of surveillance satellites usually fly much closer to Earth to obtain the sharpest images possible of an adversary's military forces and strategically important sites.

This could mean a few things. First, assuming China's official description is accurate, the satellite could be heading for a perch in geosynchronous orbit, a position that would afford any Earth-facing sensors continuous views of a third of the world's surface. In this orbit, the spacecraft would circle Earth once every 24 hours, synchronizing its movement with the planet's rotation.

Because this mission launched on China's most powerful rocket, with the longer payload fairing added on, the Yaogan-41 spacecraft is presumably quite big. The US military's space tracking network found the Yaogan-41 satellite in an elliptical, or oval-shaped, soon after Friday's launch. Yaogan-41's trajectory takes it between an altitude of about 121 miles (195 kilometers) and 22,254 miles (35,815 kilometers), according to publicly available tracking data.

This is a standard orbit for spacecraft heading into geosynchronous orbit. It's likely in the coming weeks that the Yaogan-41 satellite will maneuver into this more circular orbit, where it would maintain an altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) and perhaps nudge itself into an orbit closer to the equator.

Does America Have an Endgame on China?

Zack Cooper

This fall, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan noted that the Biden administration is “often asked about the end state of U.S. competition with China.” He argued that “we do not expect a transformative end state like the one that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Instead, the Biden administration has identified three lines of effort in U.S. relations with China: investing, aligning, and competing. Investing consists of domestic initiatives in the United States, while aligning involves cooperation with allies and partners. Thus, the only portion of the Biden administration’s China strategy that explicitly centers on China is competition. Yet, competition does not amount to an objective in itself, but rather a description of current circumstances. As White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell has warned, “Competition is not itself a strategy.” Indeed, before taking office, Campbell and Sullivan argued that an approach centered on strategic competition “reflects uncertainty about what that competition is over and what it means to win.” So the question remains: What is America’s vision of success?

Why China’s Growing Challenge To Big Tech Is A Problem For The Pentagon

Loren Thompson

When it comes to innovation, the U.S. economy is a tale of two cities. The biggest U.S. providers of software and services, such as AmazonAMZN +1.7% and MicrosoftMSFT +1.3%, are world-class innovators. American manufacturers of hardware, on the other hand, are barely holding their own against foreign competitors.

The “steady deindustrialization” of the economy, as a recent Pentagon industrial-base assessment put it, has forced the Department of Defense to get increasingly involved in shoring up domestic producers of critical minerals and components used in military systems.

So many companies have moved manufacturing operations offshore that in much of the military supply chain only one domestic source of vital production inputs remains. For example, Fairbanks Morse Defense is the sole surviving U.S. producer of large diesel engines used in warships. Once there were six.

Some domestic manufacturers are investing heavily in new technology, but the evidence suggests they are losing the race to China. Chinese companies routinely beat their American counterparts to market with new commercial products like drones, or offer their products at prices that U.S. companies can’t match.

This does not bode well for the future of the U.S.-China military competition. The Pentagon has been seeking innovations that will enable it to stay a generation ahead of military rivals, but it looks unlikely that edge can be provided by the nation’s manufacturing sector. China’s share of global manufacturing is now bigger than that of America, Japan and South Korea combined.

Russia's MiG-31 Is Now a Shocking Hypersonic Missile Truck

Peter Suciu

The Mystique of the MiG-31 Lives On - Last week, the Russian Aerospace Forces announced that it had struck targets in Ukraine with Kh-47 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles fired from Mikoyan MiG-31 jet fighters. The Ukrainian Air Force confirmed the missile launches in the vicinity of Starokostiantyniv in the Khmelnytskyi region by Russian forces.

In October, Russian state media outlet Tass reported that MiG-31 fighters armed with hypersonic weapons would begin conducting patrols over the Black Sea, on the orders of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

"In fulfillment of the political decision by the country's leadership, MiG-31 aircraft with Kinzhal missiles are ready for patrolling in the airspace over the Black Sea and are just waiting for an order to come," a Kremlin told Tass.

The MiG-31 (NATO reporting name Foxhound) aircraft were escorted by Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name Flanker), the Kremlin announced.

It was also in October that MiG-31 fighters in service with the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet conducted dogfight drills at stratospheric altitudes.

During the training exercises, a MiG-31 fighter was reported to have climbed to an altitude of over 11,000 meters over the Barents Sea where it intercepted and notionally destroyed an intruder.
The Mikoyan MiG-31 in the Crosshairs

The long-range, two-seat supersonic aircraft has maintained a certain mystique in the West, in part because there remains much speculation over all of its capabilities.

Europe’s Emerging War Fatigue: Polling Suggests a Shift in Attitudes Toward Ukraine

Susi Dennison and Pawel Zerka

It has now been almost 700 days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although most European leaders remain firm in their staunch support for Kyiv, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to maintain that same level of support among their publics. Cost-of-living concerns are leading many Europeans to question the sustainability of continued funding for Ukraine, and the outbreak of war in the Gaza Strip has divided Europe’s attention in recent weeks. Meanwhile, although Kyiv’s counteroffensive continues, it has not yet delivered substantial territorial gains. The momentum generated by Ukraine’s success in the first year of the conflict has given way to a sense that, despite ongoing fighting, the frontline is not moving, and the risk of a frozen conflict is growing.

These concerns help explain the shift in attitudes on display in the surveys conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). This public opinion polling suggests that Europeans’ support for Ukraine’s continued fight has started to decline. The change, so far, has not been big—but its direction leaves no place for doubt. According to ECFR’s earlier poll, conducted in January 2023 in ten European countries, 38 percent on average wanted Ukraine to regain all its territory. But, according to ECFR’s latest survey from September and October, this number has dropped to 34 percent. The percent of people who think that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine needs to end as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine losing some territory to Russia, has essentially held steady at 28 to 29 percent. As a matter of comparison, the September data for the United States shows 43 percent supporting Ukraine as it continues to fight while just 17 percent prefer the war to end as soon as possible.

European support for Ukraine has not yet gone wobbly, but it might soon—not least because some politicians, in a heated election year, could try to get ahead of the trend. To avoid such an outcome, European leaders must do a better job of giving their constituents a convincing theory of how Ukraine can win the war and why it is essential to Europe’s future that it does. If they fail to do so, Kyiv may find itself losing crucial support in the weeks and months to come.


Nicole Wolkov, Daniel Mealie, and Kateryna Stepanenko

Key takeaway: Ukrainian strikes against Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets have changed Russian naval operating patterns, causing the BSF to move some ships away from its main base in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea and hampering the BSF’s ability to interfere with maritime trade in the western part of the Black Sea. Ukrainian strikes have likely caused the BSF to set conditions for a more permanent basing pattern along the eastern Black Sea coast as it transfers naval assets away from Crimea and expands a small port in de facto Russian-controlled Ochamchire, Abkhazia. Ukrainian strikes against BSF assets have successfully facilitated the use of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain corridor as international support for the corridor continues to increase despite Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and military threats against it.

Ukrainian forces launched a successful preemptive strike campaign against the Russian BSF in the summer and fall of 2023, which aimed to disrupt Russia’s efforts to impose a de facto blockade on Ukrainian ports and to undermine the BSF’s ability to conduct naval operations in the Black Sea. In summer 2023, Russia sought to use its withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative to posture the BSF in a way that would deter Ukraine and international community from maritime activity in the Black Sea – effectively establishing a de facto blockade on Ukrainian ports without having to enforce an actual blockade. The United Nations (UN) and Turkey had originally brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative with Russia in July 2022 that allowed cargo ships to sail between ports in Odesa Oblast and the Bosphorus Strait without fear of Russian attacks.[1] Russian officials began signaling their intent to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in May 2023 shortly after agreeing to extend the deal until July 18, likely in an effort to set information conditions for the de facto blockade.[2] Ukrainian forces, however, began setting military conditions to prevent Russia from establishing such a de facto blockade by launching an intricate missile and drone campaign targeting BSF assets and vessels starting in June 2023.[3] The Ukrainian strike campaign inhibited Russia’s ability to use the BSF to halt maritime activity in western Black Sea and helped Ukraine deprive Russian forces of the maritime initiative in the Black Sea.

Newly Formed Operation Prosperity Guardian To Protect Red Sea Shipping


During his visit to the Middle East next week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will announce the formation of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a new international effort deal with Houthi threats, a U.S. military official told The War Zone. That information comes as U.S. and British warships shot down drones the Houthis launched in a wave from Yemen early Saturday morning local time, marking the latest escalation of attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

The Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Carney downed 14 drones today, a U.S. military official told The War Zone. The Type-45 destroyer HMS Diamond downed one drone targeting merchant shipping in the Red Sea with a Sea Viper missile, U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement. It was the first time the Royal Navy shot down an aerial target in anger since the First Gulf War in 1991 when the Type 42 Destroyer HMS Gloucester destroyed an Iraqi Silkworm missile bound for a U.S. warship.

The two destroyers, which were in constant communications, shot down the drones during a 45-minute attack wave near the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the official told us, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

While the British say the drones were attacking a merchant ship, the Carney engaged the drones because there were so many at once they were deemed a threat to the ship, the official said.

The official declined to say what weapons the Carney used because the U.S. does not want the Houthis to be able to figure out its munitions stocks.

In a Tweet, CENTCOM stated the drones "were shot down with no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries. Regional Red Sea partners were alerted to the threat."

What Transitioning Away From Fossil Fuels Really Means

Cameron Abadi

Nearly 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists had access to this year’s annual COP summit in Dubai—the U.N.-led conference on climate change—almost four times as many as were present at the previous year’s edition. Fossil fuels were also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a huge sticking point in the negotiations, with oil-producing countries at loggerheads with most other parts of the world. There were even rumors—which ultimately proved unfounded—that this might be the first time that a COP summit would conclude without any agreement at all. Policymakers and economic actors are now trying to figure out what the agreement entails.

The Atrophy of American Statecraft

Philip Zelikow

The world has entered a period of high crisis. Wars rage in Europe and the Middle East, and the threat of war looms in East Asia. In Russia, China, and North Korea, the United States faces three hostile states with nuclear weapons and, in Iran, another on the verge of acquiring them. Beyond the headlines, states are failing in Africa, Latin America, and Southwest Asia, and enormous migrations are in motion. Having just weathered a pandemic that was the costliest crisis since 1945, the United States must now contend with other urgent transnational challenges, such as managing energy transition amid a deteriorating climate, the rapid development of artificial intelligence, and a global capitalist system under more pressure than it has been for decades. Unpacked, each one of these issues has its own set of complex problems that few understand. And on almost every issue, whether they like the Americans or resent them, people in the world look to the U.S. government for help, if only in organizing the work.

The Americans cannot meet this demand. Their supply of effective policies is limited. The United States does not have the breadth and depth of competence—capabilities and know-how—in its contemporary government. The problem has existed for decades, as has been depressingly evident from time to time. What is new is the context. The current period of crisis challenges the United States and the other countries of the free world more than anything has in at least 60 years. They will have to cultivate new qualities of practical leadership.

Saying what to do is the easy part. Designing how to do it is the hard part. “Ideas are not policies,” Dean Rusk observed while serving as U.S. secretary of state. “Besides, ideas have a high infant-mortality rate.” An even more experienced statesman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, commented that “hope flies on wings, and international conferences plod afterwards along dusty roads.”

Russia’s tiny, Pyrrhic advances in Ukraine’s east

Mansur Mirovalev

Russian forces are close to rolling into a Ukrainian stronghold of immense strategic and symbolic importance.

Troops have almost surrounded Avdiivka, a southeastern town which has been nearly razed to the ground after almost a decade of assaults by pro-Moscow separatist fighters.

The town is strewn with craters from explosions, burned-out armoured vehicles and the uncollected bodies of Russian soldiers and separatists who doubled their efforts in October.

Avdiivka is just 20km (12 miles) north of the separatist capital of Donetsk and is crucial to the Kremlin’s objective of seizing the entire southeastern Donbas region that has been partly controlled by rebels since 2014.

The Kremlin shifted to this strategy a year ago after its blitzkrieg to conquer all of Ukraine failed and its forces withdrew from around Kyiv and most of Ukraine’s north.

But Kyiv’s long-awaited summer counteroffensive to regain areas lost to Russia last year hasn’t yielded tangible results. Ukrainian forces lack air support and medium-range missiles to disrupt Russian supply lines and break through heavily fortified Russian defence installations along the crescent-shaped, 1,000km-long front line.

Counterattacking Ukrainian forces largely consist of recently trained servicemen who replaced dead and wounded veterans. They lack battlefield cohesion and had not expected to encounter thousands of kilometres of newly built Russian trenches and tunnels, some of which lie 30 metres (33 yards) underground.

15 robots powered by AI and their insane demo

Bijin Jose

Elon Musk, recently showcased his latest creation, the Optimus Gen-1. Following advancements in large language models, it seems the race to create the most powerful AI-backed robot is intensifying. The Tesla Optimus account shared a demo video of Optimus Gen-1, which triggered a conversation around AI robots.

Robotics and its confluence with Artificial Intelligence are fascinating domains. In the last couple of years, numerous robotics companies around the world have experimented with AI to showcase their stellar robots. These robots are not only scientific marvels but also can be potential assistants for humans, as seen in popular Hollywood sci-fi movies. Here’s a look at some recent stellar robotics demonstrations, similar to Musk’s Optimus Gen-1.

Boston Dynamics Atlas

US-based robotics and automation company, Boston Dynamics created its bipedal humanoid robot Atlas in 2013. The company has been innovating with the robot ever since. Earlier this year, the company shared a short clip of Atlas showcasing its newly acquired skills. Atlas is shown interacting with various objects. The humanoid is seen assisting a worker by picking up an object and delivering it to the worker who is on scaffolding. Atlas is capable of somersaulting and backflipping.

Optimus Gen-2

Elon Musk’s Tesla recently unveiled its humanoid robot Optimus Gen-2. This robot is capable of doing much more than merely walking and talking. The demo began with showcasing previous versions of the robot. The latest Optimus Gen-2 comes with faster walking speed, tactile sensing on fingers, hand movements, and more. It is also known as Tesla Bot and was first announced at the AI Day event in 2021.

A suspected cyberattack paralyses majority of gas stations across Iran

Nearly 70% of Iran’s gas stations went out of service on Monday following possible sabotage — a reference to cyberattacks, Iranian state TV reported.

The report said a “software problem” caused the irregularity in the gas stations. It urged people not to rush to the stations that were still operational.

Israeli media, including the Times of Israel, blamed the problem on an attack by a hacker group dubbed “Gonjeshke Darande” or predatory sparrow.

State TV quoted a statement by the Oil Ministry as saying more than 30% of gas stations remain in service. The country has some 33,000 gas stations.

In recent years, Iran has seen a series of cyberattacks on its filling stations, railway system and industries.

Surveillance cameras in government buildings, including prisons, have also been hacked in the past.

In 2022, the Gonjeshke Darande group hacked a major steel company in the southwest of the country. A cyberattack on Iran’s fuel distribution system in 2021 paralyzed gas stations across the country, leading to long lines of angry motorists. The hacking group claimed responsibility for the attack on fuel pumps.

The country disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus — widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation — disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

Iran, long sanctioned by the West, faces difficulties in getting up-to-date hardware and software, often relying on Chinese-manufactured electronics or older systems no longer being patched by manufacturers. That would make it easier for a potential hacker to target. Pirated versions of Windows and other software are common across Iran.

Top cybersecurity data breaches in 2023

Despite advancements in digital infrastructure, data breaches persist, posing substantial threats to both government and private organisations. Safeguarding the data of millions of citizens and users is a humongous task. Governments around the world, along with corporations, struggle to ensure that user data is kept safe. However, no security is fool-proof as evidenced by reports of data leaks around the world.

MOVEit cyberattack

In May 2023, a ransomware gang abused a zero-day exploit to compromise the security of over 2,000 organisations worldwide according to a report from Emisoft. These included New York City’s public school system, British Airways and BBC.

Threat actors used an exploit in Progress Software’s enterprise file transfer protocol, MOVEit transfer, to steal data from government, public, and business organisations.

The company released a patch for the vulnerability after the damage was done. IBM was sued as its servers were breached. The attack and its fallout also prompted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public companies to issue disclosures within four days of discovering a cybersecurity incident.

Aadhaar data breach of 815 million citizens, India

In October, Resecurity, an American cyber security company, said that the personally identifiable information of 815 million Indian citizens, including Aadhaar numbers and passport details, were being sold on the dark web.

While threat actors declined to specify how they obtained the data - without which the source of the data leak is difficult to ascertain - threat actors claimed they had access to a 1.8 terabyte data leak impacting an unnamed “India internal law enforcement agency”.

17,000 WordPress sites hacked

Over 17,000 WordPress websites fell victim to a campaign that exploited known flaws in premium theme plugins. The attack campaign utilised a flaw to inject Linux backdoors into websites to redirect visitors to fake tech support pages, phony lottery winnings, and push notification scams; these were likely part of scams or sold as a service to scammers.

Cyber Chaos 2023: Decoding the Year’s Most Daring Hacks

Ashish Khaitan

The year 2023 stands as a pivotal moment in the ongoing evolution of cyber threats. Witnessing the emergence of new threat actors and the resurgence of previously banned groups targeting global organizations, the cyber landscape in 2023 has borne the brunt of a relentless onslaught.

Given the widespread reliance on digital technologies, this era has provided an ideal environment for cybercriminals and state-sponsored hackers to exploit vulnerabilities. Faced with this escalating threat landscape, the cybersecurity industry has been compelled to take decisive action in order to mitigate these risks.

The Cyber Express delves deep into the significant cyberattacks of 2023, unraveling the tactics employed, and the industries affected, and drawing critical lessons that will shape future cybersecurity efforts.

2023: The Gargantuan of Cyberattacks and Data Breaches

In 2023, the world experienced a concerning surge in cyberattacks, with data breaches and security lapses becoming frequent headline fodder. The sheer scale and sophistication of these attacks presented formidable challenges for organizations, governments, and individuals alike.

The widespread dependence on digital technologies created an ideal environment for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities, resulting in a global upswing in cyberattacks. This surge has already left a noticeable mark on cyberspace and security.

The Saga of MOVEit Cyberattacks

One of the most notorious cyberattacks of 2023 was the series of breaches leveraging Progress Software’s MOVEit Transfer file management program. The attacks, carried out by a group known as “cl0p,” compromised data over hundreds of organizations globally, affecting nearly 40 million people. MOVEit Transfer, a widely used file management tool, became the entry point for hackers to access sensitive data such as social security numbers, medical records, and billing information.

Microsoft’s Digital Crime Unit Goes Deep on How It Disrupts Cybercrime


Governments and the tech industry around the world have been scrambling in recent years to curb the rise of online scamming and cybercrime. Yet even with progress on digital defenses, enforcement, and deterrence, the ransomware attacks, business email compromises, and malware infections keep on coming. Over the past decade, Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) has forged its own strategies, both technical and legal, to investigate scams, take down criminal infrastructure, and block malicious traffic.

The DCU is fueled, of course, by Microsoft's massive scale and the visibility across the internet that comes from the reach of Windows. But DCU team members repeatedly told WIRED that their work is motivated by very personal goals of protecting victims rather than a broad policy agenda or corporate mandate.

In just its latest action, the DCU announced Wednesday evening efforts to disrupt a cybercrime group that Microsoft calls Storm-1152. A middleman in the criminal ecosystem, Storm-1152 sells software services and tools like identity verification bypass mechanisms to other cybercriminals. The group has grown into the number one creator and vendor of fake Microsoft accounts—creating roughly 750 million scam accounts that the actor has sold for millions of dollars.

The DCU used legal techniques it has honed over many years related to protecting intellectual property to move against Storm-1152. The team obtained a court order from the Southern District of New York on December 7 to seize some of the criminal group’s digital infrastructure in the US and take down websites including the services 1stCAPTCHA, AnyCAPTCHA, and NoneCAPTCHA, as well as a site that sold fake Outlook accounts called Hotmailbox.me.

The strategy reflects the DCU’s evolution. A group with the name “Digital Crimes Unit” has existed at Microsoft since 2008, but the team in its current form took shape in 2013 when the old DCU merged with a Microsoft team known as the Intellectual Property Crimes Unit.