9 January 2024

The war in Gaza may widen. The Biden admin is getting ready for it.


Biden administration officials are drawing up plans for the U.S. to respond to what they’re increasingly concerned could expand from a war in Gaza to a wider, protracted regional conflict.

Four officials familiar with the matter, including a senior administration official, described internal conversations about scenarios that could potentially draw the U.S. into another Middle East war. All were granted anonymity to speak about sensitive, ongoing national security discussions.

The military is drafting plans to hit back at Iran-backed Houthi militants who have been attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea, according to three U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the discussions. That includes striking Houthi targets in Yemen, according to one of the officials, an option the military has previously presented.

Intelligence officials, meanwhile, are coming up with ways to anticipate and fend off possible attacks on the U.S. by Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria, according to one of the officials. They are also working to determine where the Houthi militants may strike next.

The U.S. has for months behind the scenes urged Tehran to persuade the proxies to scale back their attacks. But officials say they have not seen any sign that the groups have begun to decrease their targeting and worry the violence will only surge in the coming days.

It’s an escalation that could result in President Joe Biden becoming more deeply embroiled in the Middle East just as the 2024 campaign season heats up and his campaign pushes to focus on domestic issues.

The potential for wider conflict is growing, officials said, following a series of confrontations in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran over the past several days. Those have convinced some in the administration that the war in Gaza has officially escalated far beyond the strip’s borders — a scenario the U.S. has tried to avoid for months.

Gradually dismantling Hamas, the IDF is also battling its own government’s impatience


Eighty days into Israel’s war to dismantle Hamas, the cautions issued by Israeli military chiefs from the start that this will be a hard and protracted campaign are proving increasingly accurate.

The IDF is gradually taking apart Hamas’s military capabilities — significantly weakening the terrorist army in northern Gaza, where several Hamas battalions are either no longer functioning or struggling to function, destroying miles of the Hamas underworld, and expanding ground operations in both central Gaza and the Hamas stronghold of Khan Younis to the south.

But Hamas remains largely intact in the south of the Strip, none of its most prominent leaders has yet been eliminated, and its overall commander Yahya Sinwar remains confident that he and the monstrous force he has nurtured will ultimately be able to hold off the Israeli troops and survive to massacre Israelis again and again in the future.

The slaughter of 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7 — the starting point of this war, the blackest day in modern Israel’s history, and the reason why Israel’s military forces cannot rest until Hamas is defanged — has long since receded into irrelevance internationally.

The only country that strategically recognizes the significance of October 7 — recognizes, in other words, that a life-affirming sovereign state that wants to continue to survive in the unforgiving Middle East cannot do so in the shadow of a barbaric, hugely funded terror-state neighbor — is the United States. To Israel’s existential good fortune, the US is also the country most willing and able to back Israel in this war.

Its practical military support is central to Israel’s daily capacity to fight.

A war via cell phone: How the IDF-designed encrypted smartphone is changing the face of battle

Ariela Karmel

Forget F-16s jets or Merkava tanks - for Israeli units entrenched in Gaza for close to three months, the most important technological innovation is the IDF’s encrypted smartphone. Every form of communication from conveying battle strategies to troops, to communicating with the homefront, to intra communications between units on the ground is now conducted via smartphone.

No longer are soldiers in battle forced to rely on cumbersome equipment for the most basic level of communications. Today, most military communications are conducted via a sleek IDF-designed encrypted smartphone launched in 2018. “The military cell phone allows you to have cell phone conversations between devices so that unauthorized people cannot listen to the conversations. Just like our private cell phones, the device allows you to run various encrypted applications,” says Lt. Col. Ofri, an officer in the IDF’s Hoshen unit in the J6 & Cyber Defense Directorate which developed the device. The directorate is responsible for cyber defense, communication, wireless transmission, computerization, and control over intelligence information in the IDF. The Directorate is also focused on combating cyber attacks against Israel and developed the device with these concerns in mind.

The phone has a touch screen, built-in GPS, an 8-megapixel camera and possesses all of the features of a regular phone with an extra long battery-life. “The phone is a fully equipped mobile device, which can make calls, transmit encrypted videos, texts, files, emails and more. We took every possible feature of a regular cell phone, and enabled encryption capabilities. There is, however, no dating application,” Ofri says, smiling.

An edge device, the cell phone utilizes networks across the country, similar to regular cellular networks we use, and the system is powered by “some of the most advanced cellular technologies in the world.” The phone is used widely by various units in the field, though Ofri cannot specify which units or the number of devices in the field for security reasons, though the number has significantly multiplied since the start of the war.

Can the Palestinian Authority Govern Gaza?

Daniel Byman

At some point, the explosions and gunfire will stop, and the war in the Gaza Strip will end. Someone must then govern Gaza, but the options are poor. Hamas certainly will not be left in charge, since Israelis vow they will never allow the group to rebuild its military capacity and again threaten Israel. Israel could decide to take over the strip itself, but it has little desire to rule over two million hostile Palestinians who would undoubtedly wage a low-level insurgency while Israel’s tottering international legitimacy declines further. Others have proposed an international force composed mostly of troops from Arab states, but the potential Arab participants have declared that a nonstarter.

The best bet, and the preferred approach of the Biden administration, is for the Palestinian Authority to take the helm. Rule by the PA—the governmental body that currently controls parts of the West Bank and that ran Gaza before 2007—is better than a lasting Israeli occupation, chaos, or other options, since the PA favors peace with Israel and has the support of much of the international community. But it is hardly without problems. Because of its corruption, poor track record of governing with the West Bank, and perceived complicity with Israel, the organization lacks legitimacy among Palestinians. In the West Bank, it is increasingly losing the ability to suppress Hamas and stop violence without significant help from Israel. And then there is the problem of the current Israeli government’s lack of enthusiasm for the group: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that expecting the PA to solve Gaza’s problems is “a pipe dream.”

For lasting stability and better governance in postwar Gaza, Israel, the United States, and the world need to bolster the PA and otherwise strengthen moderate Palestinians—a process that should begin now but will take at least several years to complete. In the short term, the PA and its backers should identify plausible technocrats who can help run Gaza in the name of the PA but who enjoy more credibility than the group’s leaders in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the United States should work with Arab countries to train thousands of PA security forces, an effort the Biden administration is already beginning. In the medium term, the governments in the West and the Arab world that fund the PA should use their leverage to encourage the PA’s current generation of sclerotic leaders to retire and push for a new generation of vibrant leaders to replace them.

What Will Hezbollah Do Next?

 Adnan Nasser

In a recent interview with CNN, Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib made a stunning concession that his government cannot control Hezbollah’s decision to enter further hostilities with Israel.

“It’s not like we can order them. We’re not claiming that, but we can convince them, and I think it is working in this direction,” Bou said.

The foreign minister’s interview took place during his visit to Washington, a visit intended to ask the White House to apply more pressure on Israel to proceed with caution in Lebanon. Yet, it was a line that revealed further surrender to the reality: Hezbollah, not Lebanon’s legitimate government, decides the rules of retaliation. A party member of Parliament, Nadim Gemayel, told the National Interest, “What Bou Habib is saying is a declaration that officially accepts the de facto situation.”

The January 2 drone attack into the Hezbollah-controlled Beirut southern suburb of Dahieh that killed Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri, along with six others, brought the war closer to home for the Lebanese people. Israel denied responsibility for the assassinations. Yet, many suspect that Tel Aviv was behind it and are waiting to see how Hezbollah and Hamas will retaliate. By not claiming it was behind the killing of Arouri, the Israelis could accuse Hezbollah of escalating tensions depending on its response.

Tens of thousands on both sides of the border have already fled their homes for fear of Israeli air raids and Hezbollah missile and artillery fire. Hezbollah claims it is fighting the Israelis in support of the Palestinian people. Yet, its constituency lives in Lebanon—most of whom live in south Lebanon and the Dahieh area. If a full-scale war were to break out, they would be the first to feel it.

Is Israel Winning the War on the Tunnels in Gaza?

Daphné Richemond-Barak

In the 10 weeks since Israel launched its ground campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, its troops have detected and mapped the path of a series of underground tunnels—part of a vast network built by Hamas over nearly two decades.

The network—which Hamas fighters use to hide themselves and their captives, plan operations, store weapons, and ambush Israeli soldiers—is a crucial part of the group’s military infrastructure. It has proven to be Israel’s greatest vulnerability in the war. Destroying it is essential to degrading Hamas’s military capabilities and preventing attacks similar to the one that the group carried out on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people. Yet the process has been painstakingly slow and cumbersome.

As the new year begins, a question now looms large for military planners and for analysts seeking to draw lessons from this campaign: How close is Israel to destroying the tunnel network? And how much longer will it take for its troops to prevail over this threat?

Tunnel warfare has always been one of the deadliest and most complicated forms of combat. During World War I, many thousands of British troops died seeking to destroy German underground positions. Years later, the U.S. struggled to defeat deeply entrenched enemies in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Armies faced with these subterranean threats have typically deployed their most powerful weapons, including B-52s, flamethrowers, thermobaric weapons, bunker-buster bombs, and other aerial precision-guided missiles. Often, these measures have fallen short of eliminating an enemy operating from caves, tunnels, and other artificial or human-made subterranean structures.

Israel has learned this the hard way. The discovery in 2014 of cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas between the Gaza Strip and Israel brought home the significant security risk that they pose, particularly when they come near the civilian population.

Israel/Gaza: Retrospect and Prospect


In a previous post I looked back on my assessments of the Russo-Ukraine war. This piece addresses the Israel- Hamas War. I have not written as much on the substack on this topic, although I have contributed a few pieces elsewhere. From the start it was clear that the stakes were high and that there was no obvious route to victory for either side.

Hamas gave no impression of having thought through the implications of the vicious attacks on 7 October, other than to force the plight of the Palestinians back on to the international agenda, and perhaps using hostages to extract Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Israel rushed into a strategy with objectives that were going to be difficult to obtain, though the effort to do so would have dire consequences for the Gazan population. The only outcome I could imagine that might resolve the conflict, at least in the short-term, would be one that took the future of Gaza out of the hands of both Israel and Hamas. That remains my view (and that of many others), although in this post I will explore why it is hard to identify the mechanisms that could allow it to happen.

I had been sceptical for many years of Israeli claims that they had the Palestinian issue under control, but with no evidence to the contrary. As Arab states were sorting out their relations with Israel while leaving the Palestinians behind I was beginning to wonder if the widespread Israeli assumption that they could keep the Palestinians boxed in was correct. The piece I was planning to write on Israel was going to be on the deep divisions that had opened up in the state as a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-serving judicial reforms. In this I would have noted the determination of those regularly demonstrating against the government’s proposals not to get sidetracked by the Palestinian issue, even though the extremists brought into the coalition to give Netanyahu his slight majority in the Knesset were deliberately stirring things up in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

When the attack came my initial efforts were focused on working out why everybody had been caught by surprise, including me, and providing some general background on Israeli-Palestinian relations. This was true of the first substack I wrote but also other pieces for the Financial Times and New Statesman. The combination of Israeli fury and the collapse of their security concept for Gaza, which relied on threats and bribes, meant that their response was not going to be restrained. The logic of their new security concept, immediately adopted, that Hamas as a military entity must be eliminated and no longer operate out of Gaza, required the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to fight their way through the Strip. Although there were some initial signs of hesitation that is what they attempted. The four considerations that might have encouraged hesitation –the fate of the hostages seized on 7 October, the economic strain of a long war, the prospect of a wider war involving Hezbollah, and the humanitarian distress bound to accompany an intensive fight – are still present as the IDF appears to have shifted to a less intensive strategy.

Moon landing apart, Indian science punches far below its weight

Shivakumarriah v. wanted to get his head examined. Not that his behaviour had been odd of late. The 61-year-old civil contractor was on a routine visit to the Indian Institute of Science (iisc) in Bangalore, the country’s leading research institution and one of his clients, when he heard about a study into the human brain. So he offered his up for inspection.

He arrived at the sleek new Centre for Brain Research (cbr) in iisc’s lush campus early one morning in November. Clinicians took his height, weight and blood and checked his heart. A neuropsychologist conducted a cognitive assessment. Another clinician checked his gait and balance, looked at the back of his eyeballs for a test known as optical coherence tomography, and, after a light lunch, led him to another room for an mri.

Learning from Failure: Afghanistan as a Microcosm for Strategic Competition

Paul Bailey

Why should the U.S. military and political leadership care about Afghanistan? Isn’t Afghanistan a story about sunk costs whose lessons only apply to counter terrorism or counter insurgency? Absolutely not. Rather, the U.S. military must understand its failures in Afghanistan to succeed in strategic competition. Failure to learn and adapt could end in similar disaster with greater strategic consequences.

In 2020, the world watched as the U.S. military scrambled to the exits while the Afghan government and military imploded, leaving the country in shambles. Credible analysis calls the war in Afghanistan an unmitigated strategic failure that demands accountability. Conveniently, the U.S. leadership have plenty to distract from failure in Afghanistan due to crisis in Israel, conflict in Ukraine, potential war over Taiwan, and the dominance of strategic competition with China, Russia, and Iran, not to mention the ever-simmering crisis with North Korea. The U.S. military has now shifted priorities to strategic competition and confronting and deterring the “pacing” threat. Unfortunately, the ghost of Afghanistan will not go away that easily. Not only will Afghanistan continue to matter due to residual terrorist safe havens, but strategic competition also harkens back to the Cold War where competition played out over irregular conflicts in Afghanistan, El Salvador, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Strategic competition, in fact, possesses numerous parallels with the multi-decade U.S. conflict in Afghanistan. This article posits that Afghanistan represents a microcosm for strategic competition and that the U.S. military’s success in this competition requires learning from failure in Afghanistan. Most centrally, the U.S. military failed to effectively wage a political warfare campaign in Afghanistan. To better enable future success, the military needs to apply analysis-based political warfare frameworks, employ hybrid methods to support political-military objectives, and adapt legacy manpower and deployment models. Left unlearned, military leaders and practitioners will continue to repeat similar mistakes across ongoing irregular battlefields in strategic competition.

Mark Twain Would Understand the Venezuela vs. Guyana Crisis

James Holmes

Humorist Mark Twain reputedly wisecracked that “history never repeats itself but it rhymes.” Twain would instantly grasp the recent news out of the Caribbean Sea, which rhymes, imperfectly, with events that took place during his lifetime. Last month the Venezuelan government directed state-owned enterprises to search out oil and minerals in the Essequibo region, a resource-rich borderland claimed by both Venezuela and neighboring Guyana. Government spokesmen in Caracas claim that Venezuelans overwhelmingly endorsed such a move during a referendum.

Despite a ruling from the International Court of Justice instructing Venezuela to stay its hand while the court adjudicates the territorial dispute, President Nicolás Maduro announced that he would “immediately” grant licenses permitting exploration and extraction to go forward. Maduro also announced that the Venezuelan armed forces would institute a military command to operate in Essequibo.

Needless to say, these actions did not sit well in Guyana. Its mineral wealth aside, Essequibo comprises about two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass. Letting Venezuela get its way, in other words, would verge on a national death sentence. Consequently, President Irfaan Ali vowed to ready the country’s defense forces while also holding out hope that diplomacy could resolve the dispute. That means not just pursuing one-on-one diplomacy but reaching out for foreign support. For example, Guyana, an erstwhile British colony, remains a member of the Commonwealth. At the behest of the British Ministry of Defense the Royal Navy diverted an offshore patrol vessel, HMS Trent, from counterdrug duty to Georgetown to mount a show of support.

During a meeting, Ali and Maduro agreed not to use force to settle the quarrel. But neither did they give ground on their territorial claims. The impasse persists. How the International Court of Justice will rule, and whether the disputants will obey its ruling, remains to be seen.

Defending the Year of Democracy

Kat Duffy and Katie Harbath

This year, over 80 national elections are scheduled to take place, directly affecting an estimated 4.2 billion people—52 percent of the globe’s population—in the largest election cycle the world will see until 2048. In addition to the U.S. presidential election, voters will go to the polls in the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and dozens of other countries. Collectively, the stakes are high. The candidates that win will have a chance to shape not only domestic policy but also global issues including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and Internet governance.

This year’s elections are important for reasons that go beyond their scale. They will be subject to a perfect storm of heightened threats and weakened defenses. Commercial decisions made by technology companies, the reach of global digital platforms, the complexity of the environments in which these platforms operate, the rise of generative AI tools, the growth of foreign influence operations, and the emergence of partisan domestic investigations in the United States have converged to supercharge threats to elections worldwide.

Each election will, of course, be affected by local issues, the cultural context, and the main parties’ policies. But each will also be challenged by global threats to electoral integrity and, by extension, democracy. Governments, companies, and civil society groups must invest to mitigate the risks to democracy and track the emergence of new and dangerous electoral threats. If they get to work now, then 2024 may be remembered as the year when democracy rallied.


Elections take place within local contexts, in local languages, and in accordance with local norms. But the information underpinning them increasingly comes from global digital platforms such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Telegram, TikTok, WhatsApp, and YouTube. Voters rely on these commercial platforms to communicate and receive information about electoral processes, issues, and candidates. As a result, the platforms exert a powerful sway over elections. In a recent survey by Ipsos, 87 percent of respondents across 16 countries with elections in 2024 expressed concern that disinformation and fake news could impact the results, with social media cited as the leading source of disinformation, followed by messaging apps. Although voters use these social media platforms, they are generally unable to influence the platforms’ decisions or priorities. Platforms are not obliged to fight information manipulation, protect information integrity, or monitor electoral environments equitably across the communities in which they operate. Nor are they focused on doing so.

What Taiwan Can Learn from the Houthis

Ben Ollerenshaw 

The present conflict in the Red Sea has, for the first time, brought the world’s attention to the potential of low-cost drones in naval warfare. Many commentators have expressed surprise that the Houthis, by employing a new generation of cost-efficient weapons, have been able to exert sea denial and drain the coffers of the mighty U.S. Navy. This is true, but it is also beside the point; American resources are so much greater than the resources of Yemen that the United States can prevail regardless of inefficiency. The question we ought to be asking is not “what can Yemen achieve with these new weapons,” but “what can China do with equivalent or better weapons?”

The consensus that SM-2 and ESSM surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), fighter aircraft, and five-inch guns are now being used to engage kamikaze drones in the Red Sea is concerning for the United States. For example, the Iranian Shahed-136 drone, which has been extensively used in Ukraine, has an estimated range of 1,350 nautical miles, has reportedly been used to attack ships at sea this year, and reportedly costs no more than $50,000. In the context of naval warfare, it is misleading to characterize these weapons as drones; they are, in fact, a new class of cheap anti-ship missile (we will call them CASMs) potentially far more effective than the flashy, expensive anti-ship ballistic missiles which have attracted so much more attention in the past decade. No existing kinetic defenses are even remotely suitable for engaging such weapons.

The Inadequacy of Current Kinetic Defenses

Traditionally, warships have been defended from incoming anti-ship missiles by surface-to-air missiles, which trade short range for high speed and accuracy. As a consequence of these tradeoffs, naval SAMs are generally of the same order of cost as the anti-ship missiles they are intended to intercept.

Myanmar says an ethnic alliance has seized a key city bordering China

Myanmar's military government has acknowledged that it withdrew its forces from a key city on the northeastern border with China after it was taken over by an alliance of ethnic armed groups it has been battling for months.

The fall of Laukkaing late Thursday is the biggest in a series of defeats suffered by Myanmar's military government since the ethnic alliance launched an offensive Oct. 27. It underlines the pressure the government is under as it battles pro-democracy guerrillas in the wake of a 2021 military takeover as well as ethnic minority armed groups across the country.

Ethnic armed organizations have battled for greater autonomy for decades, but Myanmar has been wracked by what amounts to civil war since the army seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking nationwide armed resistance by pro-democracy forces.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance that took Laukkaing is composed of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army. The MNDAA is a military force of the Kokang minority, who are ethnic Chinese.

Photos and videos on social media showed a vast amount of weapons that the alliance claimed to have captured.

Laukkaing is the capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, which is geographically part of northern Shan state in Myanmar.

Myanmar government spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told the Popular News Journal, a pro-army website, on Saturday that the military and its local commanders relinquished control of Laukkaing after considering many aspects, including the safety of the family members of the soldiers stationed there.

Competing armed groups pose new threat to Rohingya in Bangladesh

More than six years after the Myanmar military perpetrated a ‘textbook case of ethnic cleansing’ against the Rohingya population of northern Rakhine State, killing at least 6,700 and pushing more than 700,000 across the border into Bangladesh, the Rohingya refugees are at their most vulnerable since the crisis began. Driving this insecurity is an escalating conflict between Rohingya militant and criminal groups.

The violence has been exacerbated by the role of Bangladeshi security forces, who have contributed, in part deliberately, to the rise of armed actors in the camps. Moreover, policies put in place by Dhaka prevent Rohingya refugees from pursuing education and earning sustainable livelihoods. Combined with a decline in donor support, those policies risk fuelling a vicious cycle of insecurity.

As the situation in Bangladesh becomes increasingly untenable, the Rohingya refugees are left with no good options. The camps are increasingly miserable and desperate. Dhaka is unwilling to consider integrating the Rohingya into Bangladesh and most Rohingya have no desire to stay indefinitely anyway. Bhasan Char, a US$300 million development built by Bangladesh on a silt island in the Bay of Bengal to host Rohingya, has fallen out of favour with Rohingya because of its isolation and poor services, and now looks like an afterthought on the part of a Bangladeshi body politic pressing for repatriation. Third- country resettlement remains out of reach for all but a lucky few, and with rare exceptions the Rohingya are unwelcome throughout the region.

Across the border, Myanmar as a whole and Rakhine in particular are vastly changed from when the Rohingya fled in 2017. The military responsible for their expulsion is now back in power in Naypyidaw, locked in a violent struggle with opposition forces that continues to escalate across the country. In Rakhine, conflict has resumed between the military and the Arakan Army (AA), a powerful armed group that has gained significant control over the state but whom the Rohingya do not trust. With few indications that a durable peace will emerge, the underlying conditions that forced the Rohingya to flee Rakhine largely persist, frustrating prospects for safe returns to their home villages.

US Intelligence Shows Flawed China Missiles Led Xi to Purge Army

Peter Martin and Jennifer Jacobs

US intelligence indicates that President Xi Jinping’s sweeping military purge came after it emerged that widespread corruption undermined his efforts to modernize the armed forces and raised questions about China’s ability to fight a war, according to people familiar with the assessments.

The corruption inside China’s Rocket Force and throughout the nation’s defense industrial base is so extensive that US officials now believe Xi is less likely to contemplate major military action in the coming years than would otherwise have been the case, accord

Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program is Accelerating Because of Joe Biden

Fred Fleitz

According to a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, Iran increased the rate of its production of near weapons-grade uranium (60% uranium-235) in late November 2023. This increase ended a slowdown of Iran’s 60% uranium enrichment that began in mid-2023 and increased the number of nuclear weapons it could theoretically make and the amount of time to construct them.

Iran’s recent ramp-up of uranium enrichment followed warnings last year that the number of nuclear weapons Iran could construct has become dangerously high.

A March 2023 assessment report by the Institute for Science and International Security indicated that Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium (90% uranium-235) for one nuclear weapon in 12 days. In mid-November, the Institute assessed Iran was capable of making enough weapons-grade uranium “for six nuclear weapons in one month, eight in two months, ten in three months, eleven in four months, and twelve in five months.”

Iran enriching uranium beyond the 60% level is reportedly a red line for Israel and could trigger Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Although it is not clear whether or when Iran will make the jump to weapons-grade enrichment, alarms were raised in mid-November that Iran has taken steps to prevent the IAEA from detecting just such a move when it barred the agency’s most experienced and expert inspectors from entering the country. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi called this “a serious blow” to his agency’s capability to conduct meaningful inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities.

This means Iran could start enriching uranium to weapons-grade at any time without being detected.

If Iran took this step, any weapons-grade uranium it enriched would be in the form of a gaseous uranium compound that would need to be processed into uranium metal to fuel a nuclear weapon. This would take about a year. Iran would probably conduct one or two underground nuclear tests before adding a nuclear weapon to its arsenal. Any one of these moves could trigger Israeli airstrikes.

Iraq moving to remove US-led military coalition, prime minister says


Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani on Friday said he would set up a dialogue to discuss the removal of the U.S. military presence in his country after an American strike killed an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad on Thursday.

In an address, al-Sudani said the agreement under which American troops are based in Iraq states the equal sovereignty of both countries, which was violated by the U.S. strike.

“We have repeatedly emphasized that in the event of a violation or transgression by any Iraqi party, or if Iraqi law is violated, the Iraqi government is the only party that has the right to follow up on the merits of these violations,” al-Sudani said in remarks shared by his office.

“We affirm our firm and principled position in ending the existence of the international coalition after the justifications for its existence have ended,” he added.

The prime minister said he was in the process of setting up a bilateral dialogue with the U.S. to discuss the removal of some 2,500 American troops in his country.

“It is a commitment that the government will not back down from, and will not neglect anything that would complete national sovereignty over the land, sky, and waters of Iraq,” he said.

The U.S. strike on Thursday killed Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, the leader of an Iranian-backed militia group Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), after landing near a security headquarters in Baghdad.

Questions mount over Defense secretary’s undisclosed hospitalization


Questions on Sunday continued to mount over Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization, with several political figures raising concerns over the public’s and President Biden’s unawareness that the nation’s most senior defense official was unable to execute his official duties for days.

News of Austin’s hospitalization became public Friday, when the Pentagon announced he was recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland after experiencing “complications following a recent elective medical procedure.” The Pentagon said he was admitted four days prior on New Year’s Day.

A Pentagon spokesperson Sunday confirmed to The Hill that Austin remains hospitalized but said they cannot disclose information on his condition or what prompted the visit due to “privacy reasons.”

“This has been an evolving situation, in which we had to consider a number of factors, including medical and personal privacy issues,” the spokesperson said, adding that Austin was doing “well.”

The White House deferred questions about Biden’s unawareness to the National Security Council, who declined to comment.

Several reports swirled over the weekend that indicated Austin was admitted to the intensive care unit of the medical center, according to NBC News and The New York Times.

Austin resumed his full duties Friday from the hospital, the Pentagon said.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, whom reports indicate carried out the duties of Defense secretary in the first few days of Austin’s hospitalization, was also left in the dark about Austin’s location until Thursday, CNN reported, citing two defense officials.



One of the US special operations community’s most important programs might be in jeopardy according to the government watchdog’s latest assessment.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) slow down its Armed Overwatch program and conduct further planning and analysis of the command’s actual requirements.

The Armed Overwatch program plans to acquire 75 AT-802U Sky Warden light aircraft to provide close air support capabilities to special operations forces around the world.


The Armed Overwatch program remains key for the special operations community.

In its latest report on the Armed Overwatch program, GAO found that when SOCOM and the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) conducted their analysis on how many aircraft they would need for the Armed Overwatch program they “relied on unproven assumptions” that don’t justify the number of 75 aircraft that they have requested.

In its assessment titled Special Operations Forces: DOD Should Slow Acquisition of Armed Overwatch Aircraft Until It Conducts Needed Analysis, GAO found that SOCOM and AFSOC could do with a much smaller fleet, though the report didn’t specify exactly how many aircraft would suffice.

Now the ball is back in SOCOM’s court, and it will need to justify the 75 aircraft to move the program forward or propose an adjusted number.

Russia Moves Forward With Plans to Buy Iranian Ballistic Missiles

Michael R. Gordon, Gordon Lubold and Benoit Faucon

Russia is planning to buy short-range ballistic missiles from Iran, a step that would enhance Moscow’s ability to target Ukraine’s infrastructure at a critical moment in the conflict, U.S. officials said.

Moscow’s plans have provoked deep concern within the Biden administration and come as support wanes in Congress for continued U.S. military assistance for Ukraine. Lawmakers have yet to pass a bill that would provide additional funding for Ukraine.

“The United States is concerned that Russian negotiations to acquire close-range ballistic missiles from Iran are actively advancing,” one of the U.S. officials said. “We assess that Russia intends to purchase missile systems from Iran.”

Iran-backed groups form a land bridge across the Middle East and connect in an alliance that Tehran calls the “Axis of Resistance.” Here’s what to know about the alliance that includes Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Photo Illustration: Eve Hartley

Delivery of the Iranian missiles could happen as soon as this spring if the purchase proceeds, but U.S. officials don’t believe the deal has been completed.

The Iranian missiles would add to Moscow’s recent acquisitions. Russia has already begun to receive ballistic-missile launchers and several dozen ballistic missiles from North Korea, the officials said.

U.S. officials said that Moscow’s desire to acquire Iranian missiles was evident in mid-December when a Russia delegation visited an Iranian training area to observe ballistic missiles and related equipment displayed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, including its short-range Ababil missile.

How to Build Ukraine’s Defense Industry

Mykola Hryckowian

Assistance to Ukraine has become a sticking point in Congress, with no aid package expected until later this year. Both Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have clearly stated that supporting Ukraine is in the U.S. interest. But one of Congress’ main complaints is that the Biden administration has not articulated a strategy for Ukrainian victory.

That’s a fair criticism. It is evident that the Russo-Ukraine War has become one of attrition. So, besides sending much-needed military aid (such as ATACMS, F-16s, and munitions), more is needed to help end the war and create a lasting peace.

Here, a robust and sustainable Ukrainian defense industry is critical. Historical examples include Israel, South Korea, and Turkey, each of which has a solid domestic defense manufacturing sector that satisfies its security needs and contributes to the security of its allies. Ukraine can achieve this with U.S. and European cooperation in reviving its defense sector.

Ukraine is no stranger to defense manufacturing and has many current and former successes in the field. The country was a major high-tech weapons designer and producer for the USSR, and several of these legacy enterprises have successful systems used today in the war (among them the Neptune anti-ship missile, the Stugna ATGM, and the Vilkh MLRS). Since 2014, the Ukrainian private defense sector has taken off and, in cooperation with state-owned enterprises, has developed and is supplying new weaponry to the front, such as the Bohdan Self-propelled Howitzer. The private sector has become innovative in developing AI, UAVs, unmanned sea drones, and robotic combat systems that have proven pivotal in battle. Recently, Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s state arms producer, announced initiatives to mass-produce long-range kamikaze drones, another key technology used in the current conflict. Since 2014, the industry has also self-organized into several manufacturing associations, such as the Association of Ukrainian Defense Manufacturers (AUDM) and the National Association of Ukrainian Defense Industries (NAUDI).

Russia, China and the Threat to the North Pole

Mark Green

Despite a slow-burn conflict growing in the Arctic, the U.S. military presence in the region has waned substantially following the Cold War. The Coast Guard is our first line of defense there, but the service may not be ready for the mission.

While the U.S. sits on the sidelines, adversaries like Russia and China are investing in their economic and military capabilities in the High North. We must address growing U.S. vulnerabilities before it’s too late. We should begin by passing an appropriations package that includes funding for a commercially available icebreaker.

The Coast Guard is the primary enforcer of U.S. sovereignty in the region. It performs search-and-rescue operations, enforces U.S. laws in our waters off Alaska, and operates the nation’s icebreaker fleet, which allows the U.S. access to polar regions.

Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, deputy commandant for operations for the Coast Guard, testified before the House Homeland Security Committee in November that the Coast Guard needs as many as nine icebreakers to maintain U.S. power and presence in the Arctic. We have only two aging icebreakers, which require regular substantial repairs.

In 2012 the Coast Guard established the Polar Security Cutter program to modernize our outdated icebreaker fleet and to deliver the first new icebreaker by 2024. But a lack of U.S. shipbuilding expertise and business infrastructure is delaying construction until at least 2028, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Today, the Arctic Ocean is more navigable than ever, empowering allies and adversaries to take a new and more urgent interest in the region. As one of only eight Arctic states, the U.S., along with our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, benefits from proximity to natural resources, including an estimated 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural-gas reserves, shipping routes, fishing waters and a chance at development. This interest also makes the High North a flashpoint in a new era of great-power competition.

Never again? Dachau’s lessons for Ukraine


It’s hard to visit Dachau, but not only for the reasons you might think.

At the first concentration camp Hitler established, back in 1932, the horrors of the Holocaust are clearly and unsparingly presented. It is impossible not to shudder in terror when walking into the gas chamber and then to the adjacent crematoria. The Nazi’s killing plan was chillingly efficient, at least until they ran out of coal for the ovens and had to resort to burying their torture victims in mass graves.

It is also difficult to visit Dachau because every German school student is required to visit a concentration camp prior to high school graduation. Some schools ask their students to forgo breakfast on the day of the visit, in the belief that even this small discomfort may prompt greater empathy for those who experienced the full horrors of the Holocaust. On the Monday I recently visited, there were literally hundreds of students in groups of about 20 touring Dachau under the supervision of their teachers. They were dressed like the high school kids they were and displayed the varying level of interest in the lessons they were being taught that I would have expected from their American peers; on balance, they treated the day with the seriousness it deserved.

I applaud the government of Germany for establishing the policy requiring every student to learn this bitter part of their country’s history; indeed, every nation would benefit from such an open examination of the worst things it has done. The memorial that states “Never Again” in several languages is apt.

Unfortunately, the horrors documented at the national memorial in Dachau are happening again, right now, several hundred miles to the east. Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine has been followed by the kidnapping of Ukrainian children and the rape, torture and murder of Ukrainian civilians in a tragic echo of the Nazi techniques honed at Dachau. It is bitter irony that Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the Ukrainians Nazis while replicating their tactics.

What happened to the artificial-intelligence investment boom?

Many economists believe that generative artificial intelligence (ai) is about to transform the global economy. A paper published last year by Ege Erdil and Tamay Besiroglu of Epoch, a research firm, argues that “explosive growth”, with gdp zooming upwards, is “plausible with ai capable of broadly substituting for human labour”. Erik Brynjolfsson of Stanford University has said that he expects ai “to power a productivity boom in the coming years”.

For such an economic transformation to take place, companies need to spend big on new software, communications, factories and equipment, enabling ai to slot into their production processes. An investment boom was necessary to allow previous technological breakthroughs, such as the tractor or the personal computer, to spread across the economy. From 1992 to 1999 American nonresidential investment jumped by 3% of gdp, for instance, driven in large part by extra spending on computer technologies. Yet so far there is little sign of an ai splurge. Across the world, capital expenditure by businesses (or “capex”) is remarkably weak.

Making sense of 2023’s tsunami of AI policy changes


Few events better characterized 2023’s tsunami of pronouncements about regulating artificial intelligence (AI) than Pope Francis’s plea for the world. 2023 saw thousands of AI policy pronouncements, proposals, laws, orders and regulations, as well as an avalanche of headlines, talking heads, hearings, conferences, editorials and scholarly publications. It’s no wonder that Pew Research reports a majority of Americans are worried about AI.

Underlying this are numerous fears — some generated by a century of science fiction stories about robots running amok and others generated by documented problems such as students using AI to cheat, mass AI copyright infringement, realistic AI-generated impersonations of officials, AI-controlled cars getting into accidents, people losing jobs as they are replaced by AI, and more. Media hyperbole has left many wondering whether humanity is at the dawn of a new “AI age” comparable to the Bronz Age or the Industrial Revolution.

A little background is probably useful. (Full disclosure: I was on the executive team of an early-mid 1990s IBM experiment to launch a consumer-facing AI business. The technology wasn’t ready, so the business was quietly folded, although within a year, IBM’s Deep Blue AI beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov in a famous chess match.)

First, not only is there no agreed-upon definition of AI, there is no agreement as to whether there is an agreed definition.

When asked whether there is an official definition of AI, Google’s Bard responds, “There isn’t one single, universally accepted definition. … However, there are some general concepts that most definitions of AI agree on.” Conversely, Microsoft-affiliated ChatGPT responds “Yes, AI refers to the development of computer systems capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as….” Although the 38-member-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has worked for years to define artificial intelligence, AI experts from these countries (which are mostly European and do not include China, Russia or India) have offered an evolving definition that is accepted as “universal by some countries.