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A curated weekday guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.
ISRAEL JUDICIAL REFORM
Civil unrest broke out in parts of Israel yesterday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for criticizing the government’s judicial overhaul, which Gallant said is causing turmoil in the military and threatens Israel’s security. The firing also prompted Israel’s leading research universities to announce that they are closing their classrooms for the immediate future. Israel’s consul-general in New York resigned following the escalating unrest. Israel’s largest workers’ union called for a general strike today. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu had been expected to make a televised statement today relating to the contentious judicial overhaul. However, amid reports that his nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart, the statement was postponed while Netanyahu met heads of the parties. A source in Netanyahu’s Likud party and another source closely involved in the legislation said Netanyahu would suspend the overhaul. Maayan Lubell reports for Reuters.
Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has agreed with ultra-Orthodox parties that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should suspend the judicial overhaul legislation. Only Jewish Power leader Ben-Gvir continues to demand that the legislation continues. Anshel Pfeffer stated on Twitter.
Flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport have been grounded after the head of the airport workers’ union called a strike. “I ordered the immediate halt of takeoffs at the airport,” said Pinchas Idan, chair of the Israel Airport Authority workers committee. Only flights already in the air and due to arrive in Tel Aviv will be allowed to land. Sarah Provan reports for the Financial Times.
RUSSIA, UKRAINE DEVELOPMENTS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, marking Moscow’s latest attempt to use the threat of a nuclear war to ramp up tensions with the U.S. and NATO over the invasion of Ukraine. Putin said Russia would not transfer control of the weapons to Belarus or violate its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. Putin said he made the decision after the U.K. announced earlier this week that it had supplied anti-tank rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, which he framed as part of a nuclear escalation of the conflict. Max Seddon and Felicia Schwartz report for the Financial Times.
The E.U. threatened sanctions against Belarus after Russia announced it would store tactical nuclear weapons in the Kremlin-aligned country. The E.U.’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Josep Borrell, said the plan was a “threat to European security,” though European and U.S. officials played down any immediate risk. Borrell added that the E.U. “stands ready to respond with further sanctions [and that] Belarus can still stop it; it is their choice.” Bryan Pietsch and Jennifer Hassan report for the Washington Post.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia cannot start until Western allies send more weapons. Ukraine’s allies have promised more tanks, artillery, and longer-range missile systems. However, some countries struggle to deliver what they pledged, while others take more time than expected to get the equipment to Ukraine. James Landale reports for BBC News.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on Friday oversaw an attack simulation of an underwater drone capable of carrying nuclear warheads that could target the vessels and ports of the U.S. and its allies. The exercise aimed to simulate the infiltration of enemy waters and create a “radioactive tsunami” to destroy enemy and naval vessels and ports, state media said. “The diversification of weapons systems makes it increasingly difficult for the U.S. and its allies’ existing defense systems to intercept North Korean attacks,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University. Dasl Yoon reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou left for China today on a landmark trip, saying he hoped to bring about peace and improve relations through the interactions of young people. Ma is a senior member of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which favors close ties with China, although it denies being pro-Beijing. Ma is not scheduled to meet any senior Chinese officials, but the head of his foundation said last week that Ma would be “at his host’s disposal” if they arrange such a get-together. Fabian Hamacher and Ann Wang report for Reuters.
Syria’s foreign ministry yesterday condemned U.S. strikes on Deir Al-Zor, saying Washington had lied about what was targeted and pledging to “end the American occupation” of its territory. The U.S. said it carried out strikes on facilities affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria after a drone attack killed a U.S. contractor in Syria. Reuters reports.
The U.N. Human Rights Council published a report raising concerns over the health care at Guantánamo Bay. The report focused on the case of Abd Al-Hadi Al-Iraqi, a former commander of insurgents in wartime Afghanistan who is in his 60s, and cites descriptions of his alleged mistreatment. The report was dated Jan. 11, 2023, the 21st anniversary of the opening of the detention facility for suspected enemy combatants in the war on terrorism. It was kept confidential for two months and released after the U.S. government did not respond. Carol Rosenberg reports for the New York Times.
Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Ghana yesterday as part of her three-nation tour in a bid to reset relations with African nations where China has gained a substantial economic foothold. Harris is set to hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia and make announcements about public-private sector investments. Eugene Daniels reports for POLITICO.
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS – TRUMP HUSH MONEY PROBE
Former President Trump, who is facing a potential indictment, took a defiant stance at a rally on Saturday, disparaging the prosecutors investigating him as he rallied supporters in Waco. “You will be vindicated and proud,” Trump said, “the thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited, and totally disgraced.” Some of Trump’s recent rhetoric, including at the rally, has echoed language he used before the Jan. 6 Attack. Jill Colvin and Michelle Price report for AP News.
Joe Tacopina, an attorney for former President Trump, yesterday called Trump’s social media attacks on the officials involved in New York’s hush-money probe “ill-advised” but declined to condemn the posts directly. Trump’s posts included a warning of “death and destruction” should he face a criminal indictment. In another post that has since been deleted, Trump shared an article with a picture of him holding a baseball bat next to a photo of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Kelly Garrity reports for POLITICO.
House Republicans, in a letter on Saturday, pressed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to cooperate with their request for information about the potential indictment of former President Trump over his role in paying hush money to adult actor Stormy Daniels. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY), and House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil (R- W.I.) wrote in the letter, “this matter does not simply involve local or state interests … Rather, the potential criminal indictment of a former President of the United States by an elected local prosecutor of the opposing political party (and who will face the prospect of re-election) implicates substantial federal interests, particularly in a jurisdiction where trial-level judges also are popularly elected.” Natalie Andrews reports for the Wall Street Journal.
OTHER DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS
Efforts to deny Chinese companies on the Commerce Department’s Entity List access to Western technology are being hampered by a technicality that some former senior officials say is a loophole in the U.S. export-control regime. Listed companies can still buy U.S. goods through subsidiaries that are not on the Entity List. Industry officials say some U.S. companies intend to keep selling high-tech goods to Chinese companies in that manner. Ian Talley, Asa Fitch, and Clarence Leong report for the Wall Street Journal.
Parts of Twitter’s source code, the underlying computer code on which the social network runs, were leaked online, according to a legal filing. Twitter moved on Friday to have the leaked code taken down by sending a copyright infringement notice to GitHub, the online platform for software developers where the code was posted. While GitHub complied and took down the code that day, it appears it was public for at least several months. The leaked code could include security vulnerabilities that might give hackers or other motivated parties the means to extract user data or take down the site. Ryan Mac and Kate Conger report for the New York Times.
The Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui indicted in New York earlier this month in a billion-dollar fraud case controls the conservative social media platform Gettr and used it to promote propaganda, former employees have said. Gettr doled out tens of thousands of dollars to right-wing figures, including Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, and altered information on Gettr users that law enforcement agencies had sought, according to former employees and internal company documents. The revelations show that a man accused of massive fraud rose high in Trump’s political sphere and dictated messaging at a social media site that reaches millions of Americans. Joseph Menn reports for the Washington Post.