11 February 2024

Middle East Crisis Netanyahu Asks Military for Plans to Evacuate Rafah, Where 1.4 Million Are Sheltering

Palestinians searching the debris from a strike in Rafah.Reuters

The rubble of a house in Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza, after an Israeli strike. On Thursday, President Biden sharply escalated his criticism of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.Adel Hana/Associated Press

A funeral in Rafah for three children and the father of one of them. Gazan health authorities say the enclave's death toll has surpassed 27,000.Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israeli soldiers in southern Israel. The military has proposed a significant increase in the length of compulsory service.Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Protesters blocking a road in Tel Aviv during a rally calling for the release of hostages being held in Gaza, a key Israeli demand. 

Here’s what we know:

Israel’s prime minister asked the army to draw up plans to “evacuate the civilian population and topple the brigades” of Hamas in Rafah, the border city where displaced Gazans have sought shelter.

‘We’re Exhausted’: Gazan Voices Fears of Israeli Offensive on Rafah

0:45Roughly 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah in southern Gaza, including many who have been displaced multiple times since the start of the war.CreditCredit...Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has ordered the Israeli military to come up with a plan for civilians sheltering in the southern city of Rafah to evacuate, his office said on Friday, as Israeli leaders have increasingly indicated they intend to ultimately send ground troops into the crowded city.

Has Diplomacy Run Its Course in the Israel-Hamas War?

Steven A. Cook

Continuing efforts to broker a deal throughout the Middle East still could succeed, despite the latest failed effort to pause the fighting in the Gaza Strip and secure a hostage release.

What does Israel’s rejection of the latest cease-fire plan in the Gaza Strip mean for prospects of a pause in the fighting and a hostage release deal?

It is important to keep in mind that the Israeli government’s dismissal of the U.S.-backed deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar on a cease-fire agreement was not a complete rejection. The primary sticking points seem to have been Hamas’s goal of transforming the cease-fire into a sustained truce, its demands that Israel fully withdraw from Gaza during the cessation of hostilities, and the release of 1,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 500 who are serving long-term sentences for violence against Israelis.

Prisoners for hostage deals have become a sensitive political issue in Israel. In 2011, the Israeli government agreed to a deal brokered by Egypt and Germany that exchanged about one thousand Palestinians in Israeli jails for a single Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit, who Hamas had held hostage for five years. Among those exchanged was Yahya Sinwar, reported to be the mastermind of the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel that precipitated the ongoing war in Gaza. Netanyahu’s coalition partner, Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, has been clear that he would bolt the government if the cease-fire included the exchange of large numbers of Palestinians, especially those accused of spilling Israeli blood. Ben Gvir may be bluffing, but it is not likely one that Netanyahu can politically afford to call. At the same time, the prime minister is under heavy pressure from the families of hostages to suspend the war to bring their loved ones home.

Was this a setback for the United States and what options does it have to press for a new deal? What did Secretary of State Antony Blinken find in his recent round of diplomacy in the region?

Ukraine vs Gaza

The Gaza war has fuelled geopolitical trends that compromise Ukraine’s position, and with which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy must contend if Ukraine is to survive.

IIn autumn 2023, Ukraine’s spring offensive ran up against the hard realities of Russian defences. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was hitting other obstacles, too, as his diplomacy felt the impact of shifts in geopolitical trends favouring Russian President Vladimir Putin. They included the rise in the strategic assertiveness of middle powers; the strengthening of like-minded groups of countries who felt disempowered under the post-Second World War dispensations; the promotion of nationalist agendas; and a revalorisation of authoritarian government, of which Putin was the arch-practitioner. That was before 7 October, when Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel and Israel’s ruthless response dislodged Ukraine from the top slot on the global-security agenda. While the course and outcome of the Russia–Ukraine war remain unclear, the Gaza war has undoubtedly fuelled geopolitical trends that compromise Ukraine’s position and which Zelenskyy must contend with if Ukraine is to survive, let alone win.

The wars in Ukraine and Israel are manifestly different in character and seem to belong on split screens. One is a war of imperial conquest waged by an expansionist military superpower against a sovereign state, the other the fight of a sovereign state against non-state actors and terrorists. But they do share common features and, problematically for Zelenskyy, certain dependencies. Both wars are being fought over sovereignty and territory. The United States and Iran are involved as suppliers of military assistance in each conflict. In both cases, vetoes have neutered the United Nations Security Council and rendered UN agencies powerless. Secondary similarities include the unusually high level of citizen forces mobilised in both Ukraine and Israel; the disruption of global liquefied-natural-gas supplies now that the Gaza war has drawn in the piratical Houthis; and a mediating role for the Arab Gulf states, in particular Qatar, a rising geopolitical entrepreneur.

Why is there still no Gaza ceasefire? Because self-interested world leaders are obstructing it

Simon Tisdall

Netanyahu knows he’s barely clinging to power, Biden is playing a bigger game, and Hamas’s leadership cares little for the vast suffering since 7 October

The people of Gaza cry out for a ceasefire. Each day brings more bloodshed, more devastation, hunger, disease and tears. Spell it out: nearly twenty-eight thousand Palestinian dead. In total, about 100,000 killed, injured or missing. Among the survivors, huge numbers of children, maimed, orphaned, traumatised for life.

Around the world, millions of protesters demand a ceasefire. They appeal to politicians to do more, do anything, to stop the carnage now. In mosques, churches, synagogues, people of all faiths pray the slaughter will end. To Israel’s 1,200 October dead are daily added the lost lives of soldiers sent to avenge them and the hostages cruelly seized by Hamas.

Arab and European governments, the US, Russia, China and Iran all want a ceasefire, or truce, or “humanitarian pause” – or at least, they say they do. Yemen’s Houthis and Iraqi and Syrian militias promise a ceasefire would halt their destabilising attacks. A ceasefire could reduce the risk of catastrophic, escalating regional war.

The global view seems clear. There exists an international consensus, repeatedly expressed through the UN – whose agencies, running out of adjectives to describe the Gaza horrors, are reduced to desperate pleading. This war is inhuman, immoral and unjust. It is hugely damaging, economically and politically. It shames us all and it must be halted, now, immediately. So what’s stopping it? Why on earth is there still no ceasefire?

Each day is a rollercoaster. Officials involved in indirect, Arab-mediated talks express a note of cautious positivity; hopes are dashed, then they revive. For Palestinians trapped in Gaza and for the hostages’ families, it’s excruciating. At this moment, after weekend counter-proposals from Hamas, optimism is rising once again.

They support Palestinians in Gaza. But what do Yemen's Houthi rebels really want?

They have no navy or air force. Their leader has a reputation for living on the move, shuffling between safe houses. And they emerged from a minority Shiite Muslim community in north Yemen’s rugged mountains in the ninth century.

Yet, this seemingly mysterious and hard-to-define group − the Houthis − has been fighting for control of Yemen for more than a thousand years. And now, they have managed to take on the overwhelming military might of the U.S., Britain and their powerful Western allies.

Since November, Iran-linked Houthi rebels have conducted dozens of missile and drone attacks on ships traveling in the Red Sea commercial waterway, a key trade route. The Houthis have sporadically attacked ships in these waters for years, but the attacks have spiked since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. Those increased attacks have prompted a growing number of U.S.-led strikes against Houthi targets including radars, runways, missile launch sites and logistics hubs.

The Houthis have directly connected their increased attacks to Israel's military campaign in Gaza and the skyrocketing Palestinian death toll. Their self-professed aim is to pressure Israel to stop the assault on Gaza that began after the October 7 Hamas attack. But Yemen experts say there is more to it than this.

So, who are the Houthis and what do they actually want?

Aligned with Iran − but only when its suits their interests

Yemen specialists say the Houthis are a political movement, a military force and a religious group. They have been fighting in a civil war in Yemen since 2014 against a fledgling government that is backed militarily by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and − indirectly, through weapons supplies − the U.S. and Britain.

With Imran Khan Jailed, Pakistan’s Election May Be Torpid, But the Aftermath Might Not Be

Joshua Kurlantzick

As I noted in several prior blogs
, Pakistan’s upcoming election this week has already turned into a farce, one that is not free or fair. The military and its judicial allies have essentially ended the career of Imran Khan, still the country’s most popular politician, according to recent polling, and one of the first to ever challenge the military directly. Khan’s confrontation with the military has channeled a wave of Pakistani anger at how the armed forces have dominated politics for years, resulting in protests against military installations that would have been unheard of in the past.

As a result, there is little chance that Khan’s party, which has been hobbled in numerous other ways, will make any significant inroads in parliament. Last week, party members were shot and killed in what some party members say was a “targeted killing.” In addition, other members of Khan’s party have been arrested or barred from leaving the country, perhaps in anticipation of future arrests.

Instead, the way has been cleared for Nawaz Sharif, the ultimate survivor of Pakistani politics, to become prime minister and for his party to gain control of parliament with the armed forces supporting them. Sharif is a man who is, shall we say, flexible in his policy views and approach toward the military and has faced numerous corruption charges for years. Moreover, China is essentially backing the armed forces since Beijing will do anything to preserve stability in Pakistan, one of its most important partners in the world.

Because this seems so preordained, the usual festivities, active campaigning, and yes—fights, attacks, and other types of election-related violence—accompanying prior elections have been tamped down considerably. The public seems to understand that the fix is in and has responded to the election campaign accordingly.

Pakistan at a Crossroads

Saira Bano

Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country and a nuclear-armed nation, grapples with a complex set of challenges: security challenges on its borders, economic strains, and internal political instability. In the realm of security, the nation contends with multifaceted threats, including cross-border attacks from Iran on its western frontier, terrorism originating from Afghanistan, and the strategic concerns posed by its perennial adversary, India, along its eastern border. Economically, Pakistan faces soaring inflation, persistent power shortages, declining exports and remittances, and a diminishing influx of foreign direct investments. On the political front, the election is scheduled for February 8, and there are serious concerns over the fairness of this election due to undue interference of the powerful military in the political process.

Pakistan severed diplomatic ties with Iran following a missile and drone attack by Tehran within its borders. Iran asserted that the strike targeted the militant group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which Iran accuses of orchestrating terrorist attacks within its territory. The group claimed responsibility for an attack on an Iranian police station in December, which killed eleven Iranian security personnel. Pakistan strongly condemned what it deemed a “blatant violation” of its sovereignty by Iran and responded with counter-military strikes within Iran. Despite the Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to Pakistan on January 29, concerns persist regarding potential escalation due to the presence of terrorist groups.

Jaish al-Adl is a Sunni and Baluch separatist group that aims to gain the independence of Baluchistan province from Pakistan and also for Sunni Baluch living in Iran. The Baluch insurgency is an internal security threat to Pakistan. Various Baluch nationalist groups, such as the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), have engaged in armed resistance against Pakistani security forces and attacked a convoy of Chinese workers in Gwadar. The Pakistani military has responded with enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and displacement of civilians, drawing criticism from human rights organizations.

Pakistan’s TTP Challenge and Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations

Nazir Ahmad Mir

Days ahead of Pakistan’s crucial, though highly controversial, national and provincial elections on February 8, over 30 terrorists stormed the Chodwan police station in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in the early hours of February 5, killing 10 security forces. Terror attacks in Pakistan have increased both in number and intensity since the return of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. 2023 recorded a 69 percent increase in terror attacks, killing 974 people and wounding 1,351.

The latest attacks came against the backdrop of the Pakistan chief of army staff’s recent statement, in which he warned that the Pakistani forces were prepared to protect every citizen against enemies of Pakistan. Speaking to students gathered from across the country on January 24, General Asim Munir made it clear who those enemies are: “When it comes to the safety and security of every single Pakistani, the whole of Afghanistan can be damned.” Bringing up the history of the rather strained relations between the two countries, Munir highlighted the fact that Afghanistan had opposed Pakistan’s United Nations membership after its formation in the late 1940s.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have generally had unfriendly relations, barring the brief period when the Afghan Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001. One of the main disputes has been the border between two countries, the Durand Line, leading to other issues like smuggling due to the free movement of the people living across the border and meddling in each other’s internal affairs. The porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains pertinent today, as, according to Pakistan, terrorists use the border to enter Pakistan to carry out subversive activities.

Pakistan Army: The Unyielding Guardian – Analysis

Rajiv Sinha

In Pakistan, the Army is often placed on the pedestal since it is the unifying factor in a fractious landscape. Politicians like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif—the three-time Prime Minister—who tried to roll over the behemoth either paid a dear price or made a compromise. However, Imran Khan thought he was different and could turn the sails against the Army once he assumed power.

The situation became charged in the aftermath of the Panama Leaks in 2016 and the ouster of Nawaz Sharif from power, as he was again at odds with the Establishment in yet another bid to assert his constitutional authority. He called for “vote ko izzat do” (respect the mandate) and obliquely referred to interference by “khalayee makhlooq” (invisible hands or the Boys) without taking names for fear of the militarised politics.

Earlier, just before General Qamar Javed Bajwa took over as Chief of Army Staff in November 2016, there was a social media campaign highlighting that there were Ahmadiya links in his family, just as the stories alleging that the next Army Chief General Asim Munir was a Shia—his wife Irum is. The aim was to undermine the tenures of the two Army men. The effort failed to queer the pitch as the two emerged stronger with the Establishment corralling the wagons and rallying behind their leaders.

The hybrid experiment of placing Imran Khan on the Prime Minister’s chair in August 2018 under the watch of General Bajwa soon unravelled, given the egocentric and eccentric approach to all things related to governance by the new PM. The “on the same page” rhetoric soon fell apart with Imran Khan trying to assert his power and interfere in the inner workings of the Army, thereby crossing a real red line. Ironically, it was Imran Khan who had given General Bajwa a three-year extension in 2019 as Army Chief, but the two developed unbridgeable differences pushing the Establishment towards removing yet another PM from office but through the constitutional means of a no-confidence motion as governance and the economy spiralled south.

U.S. Defense Requires Greater Civil Support to Counter China’s Cyber Aggression

Bob Kolasky

While much of Washington was transfixed recently by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologizing at a Senate hearing to families who had lost loved ones to online harassment, the national security community’s attention was focused on another Capitol Hill gathering related to digital malfeasance.

The country’s four top cybersecurity officials—the newly appointed National Cyber Director and the heads of U.S. Cyber Command, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)—delivered a dramatic message to a House panel: the country’s critical infrastructure is under cyberattack from the Chinese government.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) multi-pronged assault on the U.S. economic and national security was the defining threat of a generation.

What was especially interesting about the hearing to cybersecurity professionals was not that the message was new. The U.S. government has long experienced foreign governments, including the Chinese government, attempting to (and sometimes successfully) breach critical infrastructure systems. In 2018, for example, the then-Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, said: “The warning lights are blinking red on cyber attacks.” Similarly, protecting critical infrastructure has been the pillar of every national cyber strategy of the 21st Century.

What has changed is that the capability of the Chinese cyber actors has grown and that the last couple of years have taught us that countries with adversarial interests to the United States and our allies are willing to change their strategy and deploy aggressive actions.
Risk management approach front and center

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Iraq Militia Leader Behind Deadly Attack on American Base

Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef

WASHINGTON—A U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed a commander of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia blamed for a deadly strike at a U.S. base in Jordan last week, part of a sharpened effort by the Pentagon to deter attacks on its forces.

The commander, of the Iraqi militia group Kataib Hezbollah, was responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on American forces in the region, the Pentagon said.

The U.S. strike in Iraq on Wednesday was part of a more aggressive tack against leaders of the Iran-aligned groups responsible for at least 168 attacks against American forces based in the region. Despite the U.S. campaign, Iranian-backed militias have continued targeting U.S. forces.

Kataib Hezbollah acknowledged the U.S. strike and said, “This calls for steadfastness on the path of jihad,” which often refers to armed struggle. Iraq’s pro-Iran Al-Nujaba movement, part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, called for revenge against America, its partners and interests. “Our response will be decisive, and these crimes will not go unpunished,” it said in a statement, adding: “Let this be our path and our foremost cause from now on and onwards.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani on Thursday accused the U.S. of violating his country’s sovereignty, according to a spokesman, adding that the strike would push Baghdad to terminate the mission of the U.S.-led military coalition.

Sudani has previously called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq but in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month didn’t set a deadline. The coalition was formed in 2014 to mentor and support Iraqi forces in regaining control of their country after Islamic State militants seized swaths of northern and western Iraq.

'Swarm of suicide drones' attacks US army base in Syria in retaliation for Baghdad airstrike


Explosions have been reported near a US army base in Syria, by the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese media network Al Mayadeen, on Wednesday.

The American base in the Al-Omar oil field in the Kurdish-controlled region of northeastern Syria, close to the city of Deir ez-Zor, American troops have been present here since at least 2017.

The base was attacked by a "swarm of suicide drones" according to Egypt-based Bayan-gate news and is the second attack of its kind this week against US bases in the region.

The attack has been linked to the retaliatory US airstrikes against Iranian-aligned groups and their positions, by Arab media.

The American airstrikes were a response to the three American servicemembers killed at a base in Jordan, near the Syrian border earlier this week.

The Houthis’ Next Target May Be Underwater

Keith Johnson

In the midst of the 12-week campaign by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen to disrupt the critical shipping corridor of the Red Sea, a new worry is creeping in: that the Houthis may target the bevy of subsea cables that carry nearly all the data and financial communications between Europe and Asia.

Biden keeps killing Iran's militia pawns - but he's too scared to strike against the REAL enemy in Tehran. That's why American troops are STILL in the Ayatollah's crosshairs, say Mideast experts


Mark Dubowitz is the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and David Adesnik is an FDD senior fellow and director of research.

Nearly 72 hours out from President Joe Biden's retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed militias, who killed Americas and we're left asking: was that it?

The U.S. attacks have reportedly failed to stop Tehran from continuing to arm militants across the region – and Tuesday, Yemeni rebels unleashed a new barrage of rockets on cargos ships traversing vital shipping lanes in the Rea Sea.

'Have no doubt — we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing,' the President vowed.

That was over a week ago.

Iran may have stepped into the ring with the world's heavyweight – but Biden's America is too afraid to throw a straight counterpunch.

The airstrikes over the weekend may have seemed impressive — 85 different targets in Syria and Iraq, plus another 36 in Yemen.

But did the targets have any real value?

There's still have no word on that from the U.S. military – or anyone else.

If the US Hits Iran Harder, Be Ready for Blowback

Hal Brands

If the Pentagon hits Iran hard, will Iran back down or fight back?

That’s a critical question as Washington wages its latest Middle Eastern war, in response to attacks by Tehran’s legion of lethal proxies. The answer can be informed by revisiting what happened four years ago, when the US — following another spate of Tehran-backed attacks — escalated matters dramatically by killing Qassem Soleimani, the notorious commander of Iran’s Quds Force.

Today, many hawks say the Soleimani strike proved that Iran doesn’t want a showdown, so dialing up US attacks on Tehran’s interests is the best way of securing its restraint. The real lesson, however, is more complicated: It can certainly pay to punch Iran, but only if the US is ready for the counterpunch.

The Soleimani killing occurred against the backdrop of a decades-long US-Iran rivalry, and amid a spike in tensions during the presidency of Donald Trump. In 2018, Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) and began pummeling Tehran with sanctions. Iran responded by getting violent.

In June 2019, Iran shot down a US reconnaissance drone; in September, it carried out missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure. In December, Iranian proxy groups launched escalating attacks against US military facilities in Iraq that resulted in the death of an American civilian contractor; on New Year’s Eve, Iranian-backed “demonstrators” invaded the US Embassy compound in Baghdad. In early January 2020, Soleimani was traveling in the region to rally his troops for a bigger wave of attacks. But US intelligence pinpointed his location, and just after he landed in Baghdad, a drone-fired missile ended his life.

The strike was a sharp, unexpected blow, which surprised Iranian and American observers alike. It was Trump’s effort to cut through a familiar tangle of problems.

The dismissal of Valery Zaluzhny is a crucial new phase in the war

News is hardly the best word to describe an announcement that has been rumoured for weeks but never quite come about. Even so, when Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, at last replaced Valery Zaluzhny with
Oleksandr Syrsky as the commander of his armed forces, as part of a broader reorganisation on February 8th, it was as if something momentous had just happened.

This is partly because of General Zaluzhny’s crucial role in the country’s valiant, against-the-odds repulse of Russian forces in the early days of the invasion, and his popularity among his troops and Ukraine’s civilians. But the general’s dismissal is arresting for another, more important reason. It marks a new and crucial phase in the war—one that Mr Zelensky is in danger of getting wrong.

The differences between the actor-turned-politician and his battle-hardened commander were partly about culture and personality. After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th 2022, these differences were unimportant—indeed, they may even have been a strength. In an inspiring example of Ukraine’s “networked” culture, each component of the country’s resistance focused on its own task. Rather than exert central control, Mr Zelensky got on with being patriot-in-chief, giving voice to his nation’s defiant refusal to yield in the face of Russia’s aggression. General Zaluzhny, who had in effect already been at war with Russia for years, focused on the fighting. Only as the Russian and Ukrainian armies dug themselves in, and the front lines stagnated, did these frictions start to cause harm.

It is no secret that, as their relationship worsened, the two men also came to differ about what to do on the battlefield. Mr Zelensky and his administration held General Zaluzhny responsible for last year’s failed counter-offensive. They wanted the Ukrainian army to prepare for further attacks and had been pressing him to draw up battle plans and to take on the unpopular burden of mobilising more troops.

Who is Ukraine’s new army chief appointed by Zelenskyy?

In this undated photo provided by the Ukrainian Armed Forces Press Office Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Oleksandr Syrsky pose for a photo in Kyiv, Ukraine. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky removed Valery Zaluzhny and appointed Oleksandr Syrsky as new Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)Read More

FILE - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talks to the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky during a visit to the front-line city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Nov. 30, 2023. Behind them left to right are: Roman Mashovets, deputy head of the Presidential Office, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov center, and Head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak. Oleksandr Syrsky was appointed as new Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

Zelensky Removes His Top General, in Major Shake-Up of Ukraine Military

Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora

Gen. Valery Zaluzhny led the effort that thwarted Russia’s initial assault on Kyiv. But his troops have struggled to make progress recently, and tensions have mounted with the civilian leadership.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday removed his top general as part of a sweeping overhaul of his military command, the most significant shake-up in Ukrainian leadership since Russia invaded almost two years ago.

The dismissal ended weeks of speculation about the fate of the commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, whose relationship with Mr. Zelensky had deteriorated as Ukraine failed to make a breakthrough in its counteroffensive last summer and fall. Mr. Zelensky was prepared to fire the general 10 days ago before temporarily backing off, Ukrainian officials have said.

The upheaval comes at a difficult moment for Ukraine in the war, amid intensified Russian attacks, partisan wrangling in the United States over providing aid to the government in Kyiv and the tensions between Ukraine’s civilian and military leadership.

General Zaluzhny will be replaced by Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the head of Ukraine’s ground forces, the president said.

While praising General Zaluzhny, who has led the nation’s military since Russia’s full-scale invasion two years ago, Mr. Zelensky said “urgent changes” were needed to ensure victory.

“Starting today, a new management team will take over the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said in an evening address to the nation, adding that he had met with General Zaluzhny and thanked him for his service.

Moscow’s Aerospace Forces: No air of superiority

Russia’s air force has underperformed in Moscow’s war on Ukraine, suffering notable losses of some key aircraft. Air parity, not air superiority, remains the status between the adversaries, a situation that Ukraine needs to sustain.

As Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine heads into its third year, shortcomings within the country’s Aerospace Forces (VKS) are becoming ever more apparent. The VKS has failed to gain air superiority against a numerically inferior opponent, has insufficient intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, lacks adequate numbers of precision-guided weapons and has suffered meaningful losses of aircraft and attack helicopters. The bottom line is that the VKS has often been ineffective, not inactive.

The VKS has suffered substantial losses. The Kamov Ka-52 Hokum B attack helicopter fleet lost 40% of its pre-war strength, with the Mil Mi-35 Hind and Mi-28N Havoc B inventory reduced too, even if less severely. Russia’s inventory of Mi-8MTPR-1 Hip electronic warfare helicopters is also at least 20% smaller than at the outset of the fighting. Those losses, along with others, like two-seat Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback fighter ground-attack aircraft and Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack aircraft, are reflected in the upcoming 2024 edition of The Military Balance.

Painful lessonLosses are mounting, as evidenced by Ukraine’s air defenders downing a Beriev A-50 Mainstay B airborne early warning aircraft and damaging an Ilyushin Il-22M Coot B command-post aircraft on 14 January 2024. Both represent a blow to the service in operational capacity and in morale. The IISS assesses that the VKS has only eight Mainstays left operational Last month’s losses of the high-value platforms compound the VKS’s deficiency in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collectors.

Front-line Ukrainian infantry units report acute shortage of soldiers

Isabelle Khurshudyan and Anastacia Galouchka

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military is facing a critical shortage of infantry, leading to exhaustion and diminished morale on the front line, military personnel in the field said this week — a perilous new dynamic for Kyiv nearly two years into the grinding, bloody war with Russia.

In interviews across the front line in recent days, nearly a dozen soldiers and commanders told The Washington Post that personnel deficits were their most critical problem now, as Russia has regained the offensive initiative on the battlefield and is stepping up its attacks.

One battalion commander in a mechanized brigade fighting in eastern Ukraine said that his unit currently has fewer than 40 infantry troops — the soldiers deployed in front-line trenches who hold off Russian assaults. A fully equipped battalion would have more than 200, the commander said.

Another commander in an infantry battalion of a different brigade said his unit is similarly depleted.

The soldiers interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly and could face retribution for their comments.

A Ukrainian soldier walks near a firing position in Donbas. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

A deputy battalion commander checks the position of his soldiers in Donbas. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

A deputy battalion commander speaks on his phone in a house in Donbas that serves as a temporary base. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

The United States Has Been a Bulwark for Ukraine. What Happens if Support Collapses?

David E. Sanger

BERLIN — A year ago, when Washington and much of Europe were still awash in optimism that Ukraine was on the verge of repelling Russia from its territory, it seemed inconceivable that the United States would turn its back on the victim of Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Now, even as Senate Democrats try to salvage an aid package for Ukraine, that possibility remains real. And the political moment feels a long way from 14 months ago when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine stood before a joint session of Congress, wearing his signature drab green sweater, and basked in a minute-long standing ovation.

The turnaround has surprised the White House. Even if the Senate manages to advance military aid, there are still plenty of reasons to doubt that the money will come through, including deep opposition among Republicans in the House and former President Donald Trump’s push for a more isolationist stance.

President Joe Biden’s aides insist they are not yet scrambling for other options.

“We’re not focused on Plan B,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said in Brussels on Wednesday after a NATO meeting with his counterparts. “We’re focused on plan A,” which he said meant passing a bipartisan aid package that will enable Ukraine to “defend effectively and to take back territory that Russia currently occupies.”

But behind the scenes there is a lot of discussion, in Washington and Europe, about other options, including seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets that are stashed in Western nations — a process that is turning out to be a lot more complicated than it first seemed.

Making Attrition Work: A Viable Theory of Victory for Ukraine

The most effective way for Ukraine to rebuild its advantage is to mount an effective defence in depth, which will reduce Ukraine’s losses and ammunition requirements.

As the Russia–Ukraine war enters its third year, Ukraine faces a daunting task: how to restore its military advantage. The 2023 summer offensive, which dragged into autumn, was unsuccessful. Planning for the offensive appears to have been overly optimistic and poorly connected to how the Ukrainian armed forces actually fight, despite numerous analyses warning that the operation would prove costly and difficult, and that manoeuvre warfare was unlikely to attain a quick breakthrough against a well-prepared defence.

Conditions are not propitious for another major ground offensive in 2024. Our observations during field trips to Ukraine over the past year indicate that, to maximise Ukraine’s chances of eventual victory, Western countries need to recognise that the driving engine of Ukraine’s effectiveness has been a destruction-centred approach, resulting in high levels of attrition – that is, reducing an enemy’s capacity to fight by inflicting higher losses in personnel and materiel than one’s own side is suffering, which privileges firepower over mobility and direct attack or prepared defence over flanking action. Attempts at manoeuvre against a prepared defence have consistently floundered, especially in the absence of a decisive force advantage. While manoeuvre is still relevant on the battlefield, it will need a lot of help from attrition to bear fruit.

The West should focus on resourcing Ukraine’s ability to establish a decisive advantage in fires – meaning, typically, tube and rocket artillery, battlefield strike drones, long-range precision-strike systems and support by tactical aviation. No less important, the West needs to help Ukraine scale its capacity to employ units so that it can exploit that advantage in offensive operations. Western countries should also help Ukraine ramp up industrial production of those capabilities that provide the greatest advantages in an attritional war. The West will need to be appreciative of Ukrainian force structure and military culture, as well as the challenges posed by an increasingly mobilised military, which means avoiding the temptation to try to convert the Ukrainian military to a more Western, manoeuvre-centred way of fighting.

Biden Makes Americans Targets in the Middle East, Then Campaigns on Their Deaths

Doug Bandow

There may be nothing crasser than a politician seeking reelection. Nevertheless, President Joe Biden has set a new low. He chose to leave thousands of U.S. military personnel needlessly scattered about the Middle East under regular attack from multiple militant groups. After three Americans were killed, he flew to Wilmington, Delaware, and used the dead as props in his reelection campaign.

The president, with the first lady and defense secretary in tow, attended the “transfer ceremony” at Dover Air Force Base for the remains of those who died. Placing his hand over his heart, he carefully posed for the public. By all appearances, he viewed himself as another victim, distressed by the vagaries of a dangerous world that he must tame.

He told family members of those who died, along with the rest of us: “These service members embodied the very best of our nation: Unwavering in their bravery. Unflinching in their duty. Unbending in their commitment to our country—risking their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in the fight against terrorism.” He added somberly that “they risked it all.”

They did, but not by choice. It was the U.S. government that made them risk it all by deploying them to a dangerous area in a chaotic region with little to do other than act as targets for those who view Washington as an enemy. Nor were those killed risking their lives “for the safety of their fellow Americans.” That claim is similar to the standard pitch made on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Veterans Day, that those who fill Arlington National Cemetery and other hallowed grounds died “in defense of our country and its freedoms.”

With new hires and a fresh vision, the Pentagon unveils DIU 3.0


Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visits Doug Beck, Director, Defense Innovation Unit, Moffett Field, Calif, Dec. 1, 2023. Secretary Austin spend time with DIU personnel who are accelerating the adoption of leading commercial technology throughout the military and growing the national security innovation base.DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

With an explicit goal of addressing staffing shortfalls and other obstacles to accomplishing its mission, the Defense Innovation Unit is entering its next era: DIU 3.0.

The military innovation hub’s director Doug Beck (a Navy reserve captain and former Apple executive) unveiled his strategic vision for DIU 3.0 in a 9-page plan on Wednesday.

“The imperative for DIU 3.0 is clear. Against a backdrop of international challenges and with the world’s most capable technology sector, we can and must do more to identify and adopt impactful commercial technologies at speed and scale. With recent changes and support from DOD leadership and Congress, we are now poised to help our partners across the department, interagency, commercial tech sector, and allied and partner nations meet these goals,” Beck wrote.

But at multiple points, he also spotlights how insufficient staffing levels, slow procurement pathways and other challenges have kept DIU from being able to deliver the complete strategic impact with dual-use technologies the U.S. now requires.

“Even signature examples of DIU projects (e.g., maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology and the commercial space and communications solutions playing critical roles in Ukraine) are viewed tepidly by some in the private sector because the lack of a reliable path to scale results in lower risk-adjusted investment returns relative to the broader commercial tech market,” Beck said.

Charting a Path to Thoughtful Allied Space Power

Bruce McClintock, Andrew Radin, Cortney Weinbaum, Stephanie Anne Pillion, Bonnie L. Triezenberg, Jonathan Cham, Daniel Elinoff, Maggie Habib, Mark Hvizda, Kotryna Jukneviciute

Recent U.S. strategy documents have stressed clearly and consistently that close cooperation with allies is central to U.S. strategy, especially in space. However, allies have grown increasingly vocal about a "say-do gap" between what the United States says in high-level policy statements and what it does to make tangible progress toward allied space cooperation. This gap has created a perception among some allies that such cooperation is an afterthought rather than a consciously planned activity undertaken "by design."

RAND Project AIR FORCE researchers examined how to improve integration in the space domain between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the allies identified in U.S. strategy documents. The RAND team evaluated the incoherence of U.S. allied space policy, including that of U.S. information disclosure policy, and the space-related goals, organizations, and activities of six allies: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The team also conducted case studies of allied integration in three other domains: nuclear weapons cooperation, a combined operations center at the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and allied intelligence sharing with the U.S. intelligence community (IC).

Drawing from these assessments, the RAND team reached six key findings:Entities across the DoD space enterprise—including the U.S. Space Force (USSF), the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), and the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy (OSD(P))—lack a consistent vision and desired end state for partnering with allies.

DoD space enterprise roles and responsibilities remain ambiguous and disputed. Separate entities develop separate allied space cooperation approaches with separate engagement activities.