The D Brief: Israel’s next move; Floating-pier progress; China’s stealth bomber; Asia’s climate threat; And a bit more.

After 199 days of fighting, “Israel has not achieved its primary goals of the war: freeing hostages and fully destroying Hamas,” the New York Times reminded readers Monday in a report on the progress and future of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s virtually unrestrained revenge campaign in Gaza. After Hamas terrorists attacked Israel and killed more than 1,200 people on October 7, Israel’s military responded with an invasion of Gaza that’s believed to have killed at least 30,000 people to date, and possibly more than 34,000, according to local health officials.  

Now, “Both sides are bracing for a larger operation in the southern city of Rafah, Hamas’s last stronghold that Israel has not invaded,” the Times reports. The Wall Street Journal similarly reported Monday an Israeli invasion of Rafah is imminent. Meanwhile, current U.S. officials are urging caution while former officials point to the 2016-2017 multinational operation to remove ISIS from the city of Mosul as a possible model for Rafah. And those warnings come after U.S. intelligence officials publicly predicted just last month (PDF), “Israel probably will face lingering armed resistance from Hamas for years to come, and the military will struggle to neutralize Hamas’s underground infrastructure, which allows insurgents to hide, regain strength and surprise Israeli forces.”

Will an offensive in Rafah solve Bibi’s problems? Almost certainly not. However, Israeli officials believe Hamas’ remaining four battalions worth of fighters are hiding in Rafah (that’s an estimated 4,000 troops). But Israel is probably going to need to evacuate the nearly one million civilians also living in Rafah or else risk even more isolation on the world stage. 

Developing: Officials in Cairo say Israel wants the U.S., Egypt, the UAE and others to help evacuate Rafah, and they think it can be done in two to three weeks—ahead of a ground campaign the Israelis think will take just six weeks, according to the Journal

It’s not clear that any decisions have been made yet about the future of Rafah. But the evacuation of its civilians has been a growing concern for U.S. officials like National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and State Secretary Antony Blinken as the White House tries to limit its own international blowback for supporting Israel’s defense. 

Also developing: The Senate is on the brink of approving a $26 billion aid package for Israel, including about $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza. That approval is expected Tuesday, after which President Biden has said he’s eager to sign it into law. 

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1908, Congress created the Medical Reserve Corps, the official predecessor organization of the Army Reserve.  

You may be wondering: What’s the status of that floating pier project Biden ordered the military to build for Gaza? Pentagon officials initially announced the start of those operations in March, and said it could take around 60 days to complete. Five Army ships and three Navy vessels are expected to participate in the project known as JLOTS, for Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore. 

One of the Navy’s ships intended for that pier project caught on fire and had to return to Florida, Navy Times reported late last week. It was the cargo ship 2nd Lt. John P. Bobo, whose engine room caught fire Thursday while in transit to Gaza. On Monday, defense officials said their latest estimates still expect the pier to “become operational by the end of this month, or early May.” (That’s the same estimate given last Wednesday.)

“All the pieces and parts are nearly in place to begin the actual construction of the pier,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Monday. “Israel has agreed to provide security on the ground in Gaza,” he explained. And according to the department’s current plans, “when the causeway is put onto the beach there will be no U.S. forces on the ground to receive the end of the causeway and to anchor it into the ground,” Ryder said. 

New from the State Department: The last two years have been miserable for basic human rights in several countries around the world, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported Monday. 

“China, Iran, and Russia, which U.S. officials frequently call out as human-rights abusers, got notably worse,” Tucker writes. “But some U.S. allies, including Israel and Ukraine, were cited for increased reports of human-rights violations, particularly in the treatment of prisoners.” But some of the worst abuses cited in the State Department’s latest “Human Rights Report” were performed by Russian troops in Ukraine. Those invading troops “employ violence against civilians as a deliberate tool of warfare,” the report states. Continue reading, here. 

Related reading: 

Navy leaders are speaking publicly today around Washington, with Secretary Carlos Del Toro set to talk about “Maritime Power for Global Security” with the Stimson Center at 1:30 p.m. ET (details here). And an hour later, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti joins the ongoing “Smart Women, Smart Power” interview series from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. More, here. 

And the Space Force will unpack its inaugural Commercial Space Strategy in an event hosted by the Atlantic Council. The service’s Lt. Gen. Shawn Bratton, deputy chief of space operations, strategy, plans, programs, and requirements, joins the council for that one, which begins at 4 p.m. ET. Details here.  

Australia is getting a sub drone. When Anduril announced its Ghost Shark undersea drone effort last week, officials couldn’t even describe its expected size or potential missions. But they said that their May 2022 deal with the Royal Australian Navy and Defence Science and Technology Group was on track to deliver prototypes over the next three years.

But the company also took a swipe at the U.S. Navy. “It’s not an accident that the Ghost Shark program is happening in Australia,” Christian Brose, Anduril chief strategy officer, told reporters. “You know, there just wasn’t an opportunity to do this in the United States by virtue of the Navy’s program of record. I think what we’ve proven—or [are] in the process of proving—is these kinds of capabilities can be built much faster, much cheaper, much more intelligently.” D1’ Patrick Tucker has more, here.

China’s new stealth bomber “nowhere near as good” as U.S. planes, intel official says. “The thing with the H-20 is when you actually look at the system design, it’s probably nowhere near as good as U.S. [low-observable] platforms, particularly more advanced ones that we have coming down. They’ve run into a lot of engineering design challenges, in terms of how do you actually make that system capability function in a similar way to a B-2 or B-21,” the official said Monday. D1’s Audrey Decker reports, here.

When it comes to climate change, Asia in the crosshairs. While U.S. defense planners brace for possible future conflict with China, a UN agency said Tuesday climate change is hitting China’s neighbors around Asia more than any other region of the world. That’s according to a new report published this week by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. 

What’s going on: “Asia is warming faster than the global average,” with highs “recorded from western Siberia to central Asia, as well as from eastern China to Japan,” Reuters wrote Tuesday off the new report. 

“For example, Tropical Cyclone Mocha, the strongest cyclone in the Bay of Bengal in the last decade, hit Bangladesh and Myanmar,” a UN official said in that report. “At the same time, the impact of an increasing number of heatwaves was also more severe,” she added. 

“Specifically, floods were the leading cause of death in reported events in 2023 by a substantial margin,” and that included incidents in Yemen, India, and Pakistan. 

Big picture: “The year 2023 was the warmest year on record according to six globally averaged datasets,” the report’s authors write. “The nine years 2015 to 2023 were the nine warmest years on record in all datasets,” they continue. 

A separate study published last week in the journal Nature predicted “Climate change may cost $38 trillion a year by 2049,” as Axios reported Thursday. 

Worth noting: “The new research is likely an underestimate of the economic hit from climate change since it does not include the impacts of sea level rise, stronger hurricanes, heat waves and human health effects, along with other costly influences,” Axios writes. Read more at Nature.

Related reading: “Department of Defense Announces Winners of the 2024 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards,” the Defense Department reported Monday.

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