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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Houthi forces in Yemen have claimed responsibility for a suspected drone attack in Abu Dhabi that killed three people and injured six others. The strikes were aimed at an oil storage site near the airport of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s capital, as well as causing multiple explosions elsewhere in the capital. UAE police have said that the strikes are likely to have been launched by small flying objects. Martin Chulov reports for the Guardian.
The Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes on Yemen’s capital, shortly after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the drone strike in Abu Dhabi. “In response to the threat and military necessity, airstrikes began on Sana’a,” Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al-Ekhbariya said on Twitter. “The vicious attack on the UAE is a hostile act. The Houthi targeting of civilians in the kingdom and the UAE are war crimes whose perpetrators must be held accountable,” the tweet added. Charbel Mallo, Celine Alkhaldi, Sarah Sirgany and Kareem Khadder report for CNN.
The family of a Palestinian American man who died last week after being detained by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank are calling for an international investigation by the U.N. and U.S. The Israeli military has said it is conducting its own investigation into the death of the former Milwaukee grocery store owner. However, the man’s family have said that Israel cannot be trusted to hold accountable troops who allegedly pulled the 78-year-old from his car and left him lying unresponsive on the ground. Dan Simmons, Steve Hendrix and Miriam Berger report for the Washington Post.
Iran is demanding a legal pledge from the U.S. that, if the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is revived, the U.S. will not quit the pact and reimpose sanctions, diplomats involved in the talks have said. The demand appears to be a paramount political objective for Iran, and U.S. and European diplomats have said that they do not believe it is simply a ploy to drag out the talks. “The U.S. has consistently said no president can legally tie the hands of a successor without a treaty that would need to garner the backing of two thirds of the U.S. Senate. The U.S. has also said the current talks should remain focused on restoring the 2015 deal, not seeking new commitments on both sides,” Laurence Norman reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Around half of global cyber defense investment in the past few years has been in Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during a video speech to the World Economic Forum. “Israel has become a powerhouse in cyber defense. I see a bunch of opportunities and we intend to seize them,” Bennett said. Reuters reports.
The U.K. is sending short-range anti-tank missiles to help Ukraine defend itself, the U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said. Wallace told lawmakers that a small team of British troops would also be sent to Ukraine to provide training, adding that there was “legitimate and real cause for concern” that the Russian troops near Ukraine’s border could be used for an invasion. Joseph Lee reports for BBC News.
Microsoft has discovered destructive malware on dozens of Ukrainian government agency and private-sector computers. In a blog post Saturday, Microsoft’s threat intelligence team said that the malware masquerades as ransomware, but rather than encrypting data, the malware, if triggered, wipes computers of data and renders them inoperable, increasing the risk that Ukrainian government agencies could find it difficult to operate in a crisis. Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post.
Ukraine’s former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro O. Poroshenko, returned yesterday to Kyiv, where he faces possible arrest on charges of treason and supporting terrorism. The charges stem from Poroshenko’s policies during his presidency that allowed factories in government-controlled territory to use coal that was purchased from mines in eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists. Poroshenko’s return to Ukraine escalates the long running feud between him and current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, adding internal political turmoil to the mounting threat of a Russian invasion. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
A bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators have met with top Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv. The seven lawmakers held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials in his government, describing the meeting as a show of solidarity with Ukraine. Salvador Rizzo reports for the Washington Post.
Russia has begun moving troops to Belarus for joint military exercises – a move likely to stoke fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The exercises are to be held in the west of Belarus, near the borders of NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and its southern flank with Ukraine, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has said. Andrew Roth reports for the Guardian.
The joint Russia-Belarus military drills next month will involve rehearsals repelling an external attack, both countries have said. “The goal of the exercise is to fine-tune the tasks of suppressing and repelling external aggression during a defensive operation, countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State (Russia and Belarus),” the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Russian Defense Minister Alexander Fomin as saying. Reuters reports.
Senior officials in President Biden’s administration are warning that the Pentagon and the CIA would seek to help any Ukrainian insurgency should Russia invade. How the U.S. might be able to fund and support an insurgency is still being worked out, officials have said. Senior officials have also begun signaling to Russia that even if it managed to swiftly capture territory in Ukraine, Russia eventually would find the costs of an invasion prohibitively expensive in terms of military losses. Helene Cooper reports for the New York Times.
Russia has begun reducing the size of embassy personnel in Kyiv, Ukraine, a move which could constitute political signaling or preparation for a conflict, Ukrainian and U.S. officials have said. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has however said that its embassy in Kyiv is “operating as usual.” Michael Schwirtz and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.
Putin will brief Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Moscow’s talks with NATO when he travels to Beijing next month for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the Kremlin has said. Reuters reports.
The German foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has reiterated that Russia would pay a “high price” if it were to attack Ukraine. Baerbock was seeking to reassure Ukraine that she will not allow Germany to compromise on the basic principles of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty when she meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow today. Patrick Wintour and Philip Oltermann report for the Guardian.
OTHER U.S. RELATIONS
Months before President Biden announced the U.S.’s complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that the Afghan air force would collapse without critical American aid, training and maintenance. The report, which was submitted to the Department of Defense in January 2021 and declassified today, points to the U.S. failure to train Afghan support staff, leaving the Afghan air force unable to maintain its aircraft without American contractors. Kathy Gannon reports for AP.
U.S. athletes heading to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games have been advised to use disposable or “burner” phones instead of their personal devices due to possible surveillance during the Games. In an advisory document in September and a bulletin in December the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee advised athletes that “every device, communication, transaction and online activity may be monitored. Your device(s) may also be compromised with malicious software, which could negatively impact future use.” Rachel Bachman and Louise Radnofsky report for the Wall Street Journal.
One of the most powerful weapons in the U.S. Navy’s arsenal, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine carrying 20 Trident ballistic missiles and dozens of nuclear warheads, made a rare port call in Guam over the weekend. The USS Nevada made the first visit of a ballistic missile submarine to Guam since 2017 and only the second announced visit since the 1980s. “The port visit strengthens cooperation between the United States and allies in the region, demonstrating U.S. capability, flexibility, readiness, and continuing commitment to Indo-Pacific regional security and stability,” a U.S. Navy statement said. Brad Lendon reports for CNN.
OTHER GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS
Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man responsible for killing 77 people by setting off a bomb outside the Norweigian prime minister’s office in Oslo and opening fire at a youth summer camp organized by the left-leaning Labor Party, is to ask a court today for early release from his 21-year prison sentence. Amy Cheng reports for the Washington Post.
Far-right French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour has been found guilty of inciting racial hatred and fined $11,400. The accusations centered around Zemmour’s description of unaccompanied child migrants as “thieves,” “killers,” and “rapists” during a TV debate in September 2020. Rick Noack reports for the Washington Post.
Over 12,000 detainees are held officially in prisons and detention facilities across Libya and thousands more are held illegally, often in “inhumane conditions in facilities controlled by armed groups or ‘secret’ facilities,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said in the report. Edith M. Lederer reports for AP.
The FBI is investigating the attack on a synagogue in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday as an act of terrorism, as the investigation expands to the U.K. Police in the northwest of England have taken into custody and questioned two teenagers as part of the investigation, and the FBI has described the standoff as a “terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.” Mary Beth Gahan, Brittany Shammas, William Booth and Jennifer Hassan report for the Washington Post.
The British man who took the four people hostage was already known to U.K. security service MI5. Malik Faisal Akram from Blackburn in northwest England had previously been on MI5’s watchlist as a “subject of interest” and was investigated in late 2020. However, by the time he flew to the U.S. two weeks ago he had been assessed to not be a risk. Frank Gardner and Doug Faulkner report for BBC News.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have warned that faith-based communities will likely remain targets for violence. In a letter, top officials from the FBI and DHS urged state and local partners to evaluate their security postures for mass gathering events and at houses of worship. Geneva Sands reports for CNN.
Officials are investigating whether the British man who attacked the synagogue is linked to a 2010 terror case. The FBI said that the attacker spoke of the case of Aadia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist who was accused of trying to kill American soldiers and plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty, and who has now spent almost 12 years in federal prison. The service was being live-streamed and audio was captured of Akram demanding the release of Siddiqui. Zia ur-Rehman and Michael Levenson report for the New York Times.
Following the attack, congregations are considering how they can be more secure and better protect themselves against future threats. The rabbi, Charlie Cryton-Walker, has been called heroic for his cool head and the decisive leadership that led to the dramatic escape of three hostages. However, “by Rabbi Cryton-Walker’s own account, and that of another hostage, Jeffrey Cohen, it was years of security training, prompted by threats to synagogues, that allowed them to escape,” Ruth Graham, Jacey Fortin and Troy Closson report for the New York Times.
Rabbi Cryton-Walker has described how he threw a gun at the attacker to allow him and two others to escape. BBC News reports.
OTHER U.S. DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
The Senate today will begin to debate new voting rights protections, despite the measures being unlikely to succeed due to two key Democratic defections. The Senate will debate legislation that would combine two separate bills already passed by the House and fold them into an unrelated measure, allowing the Senate to bring the bill directly to the floor and avoid an initial filibuster. However, Republicans would still be able to block the legislation from coming to a final vote, and Democrats lack the unanimous support needed in their party to change Senate rules to push through the legislation themselves. Catie Edmondson reports for the New York Times.
Democrats are starting to concede the looming defeat of the election reform legislation, as two democratic centrists, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), refuse to revisit their defense of the Senate filibuster. Marianne Levine, Nancy Vu and Sarah Ferris report for POLITICO.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s family marked the Federal holiday yesterday with a march in Washington calling for voting rights protection. The leaders of the march, which police estimated had about 2,000 participants at its peak, urged people to call on Congress to enact changes to elections law nationwide in lieu of celebrations. Eliza Collins and Alan Cullison report for the Wall Street Journal.
The 10 largest U.S. airlines have warned that the impending switch-on of 5G mobile phone services, scheduled for tomorrow, will cause “major disruption” to flights. Airlines fear C-band 5G signals will disrupt planes’ navigation systems, particularly those used in bad weather. In a joint letter to U.S. aviation authorities, the airlines’ chief executives warned that “immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies.” Jonathan Josephs reports for BBC News.
An overview of the upcoming 5G rollout in the U.S. and the potential threat to airline safety is provided by Reuters.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has tested positive for Covid-19 and is isolating, the Pentagon has said. Gen. Milley has received all the Covid-19 vaccines, including the booster, and “is experiencing very minor symptoms and can perform all of his duties from the remote location,” a spokesperson said. Nancy A. Youssef reports for the Wall Street Journal.
COVID-19 has infected more than 66.42 million people and has now killed over 851,700 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been close to 331.0 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5.54 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian.