🌍 Iran-backed group kills three US servicemen in drone attack

Plus: The US recognises China

Hi Intriguer. Yesterday’s Australian Open final reminded me of this legendary essay by the late David Foster Wallace, capturing the “near-religious experience” of watching elite tennis.

Some folks have (as David did) a gift for finding the beauty and significance in things the rest of us might shrug off as routine.

And to me that seems like a gift worth cherishing, particularly as today’s briefing dives into the weekend’s deadly drone strike on a US base.

- Jeremy Dicker, Managing Editor

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TODAY’S NEWS

Plausible. The ICJ’s interim ruling on Friday found that South Africa’s genocide claims against Israel were “plausible”. While it considers the full case (a process that will take years), the court called on Israel to prevent genocide, and facilitate aid in Gaza, though it didn’t order an outright ceasefire. The court also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Hamas hostages.

Suspended. Various countries (like Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, the US, and the UK) have suspended funding for the main UN agency for Palestinians after it fired 12 employees for possible involvement in the October 7 attacks on Israel. Others like Ireland and Norway say they’ll continue to support the UN agency while it investigates the allegations, noting its role in providing aid to 2 million Gazans.

Liquidated. A court in Hong Kong has issued a liquidation order for Evergrande, China’s erstwhile property giant that racked up $300B in debt during the country’s real estate boom. With that boom now a bust, Evergrande was valued at just $275M on the stock exchange earlier today, down 99% from its peak. The court’s decision now sets off a complicated process to carve up the company.

Military regimes leave ECOWAS. Military leaders in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have announced they’re pulling their governments out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), claiming the regional bloc has been infiltrated by “foreign powers”. ECOWAS suspended all three states and imposed sanctions on Mali and Niger following their coups in recent years.

Ukraine uncovers $40M procurement scam. Ukraine’s intelligence agency says it’s arrested five people suspected of embezzling $40M in government funds earmarked for the purchase of 100,000 mortar shells. Kyiv has launched several investigations to weed out corruption as part of its EU accession talks.

TOP STORY

Iran-backed group kills three US servicemen in drone attack

US President Joe Biden has announced that three US servicemen were killed and at least another 34 injured in a drone attack on a US base at the Jordan-Syria border yesterday (Sunday) morning.

The drone struck in the early morning as troops were asleep in a barracks, causing high casualties. The US is investigating why its air defences failed.

Who did this?

A broad, Iran-backed collective has claimed responsibility for various attacks over the weekend, but the specific culprit here is likely Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite group that fought coalition forces in Iraq. The US hit one of its sites in Iraq just last week, and killed its leader with a drone strike in 2020.

Various Iranian-backed groups in the region have now launched 150+ drone and other strikes on US forces since the Hamas attacks of 7 October, wounding at least 70. But this is the first that’s killed US military personnel.

Why'd they do this?

The US-Iran rift goes back decades, but these days Iran and its proxies want to:

  • Punish the US for defending Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks

  • Isolate Israel, which Iranian leaders have long pledged to destroy

  • Stop the US and its partners from curbing Iran's regional ambitions

  • Seek security by destabilising and then controlling their periphery, and

  • The Iranian regime's "death to America" narrative also helps it retain power at home while cultivating influence abroad

What's a US base doing on the Jordan-Syria border?

The US base (‘Tower 22’) started out as a place for the US to train Syrian rebels fighting against the Assad regime, and later to train Kurdish rebels fighting against ISIS. These days, it’s part of a string of US bases in the immediate area aiming to disrupt Iranian supply lines to its regional proxies.

How has the world responded?

Iranian state media outlets are reporting Iran’s denial of any involvement, while Hamas claims the attack was “a message to the US administration that unless the killing of innocents in Gaza stops, it must confront the entire nation”.

Interestingly, Jordan (a US ally) initially denied the attack occurred on its own soil - Jordan doesn't generally acknowledge the base's existence in public, in an effort to avoid inflaming anti-US sentiment.

As for President Biden, he’s saidwe will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing.”

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

Technically this is an escalation in outcome rather than intent - i.e., it’s the exact same outcome Iran's proxies have pursued via 150+ attacks on US forces since October 7th. But one of those attacks has now cost US servicemen lives, and so the US is now preparing a military response.

The challenge will be in crafting something that threads the various US interests at stake here. It wants to:

  • Retaliate, but not escalate

  • Deter an adversary without destabilising a region

  • Use force that's proportionate but still effective

  • Show control befitting a superpower, but without looking weak

  • Impose costs on an adversary that's seeking to hurt the US from behind a veil of proxies and plausible deniability, and

  • Do all this knowing that players like Russia, North Korea, and China will watch the US response very, very carefully.

Is all this possible? Yes. Is it easy? No.

Also worth noting:

  • The US is working on new technologies to boost its drone defences.

  • The US reportedly warned Iran in advance about the deadly ISIS bombings that took 84 Iranian lives earlier this month.

  • Separately on Sunday, Iran says it conducted a simultaneous launch of three satellites for the first time, after five earlier failed attempts.

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MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇨🇳 China: The Ministry of State Security is warning China’s citizens against “exotic beauties” that may lure them into working for foreign spies. China is no stranger to using this ‘honey trap’ method, but its decision to warn its own citizens reflects a sense of insecurity in Beijing.

  2. 🇪🇺 EU: The EU has published a statement criticising the US state of Alabama for executing a death row prisoner with nitrogen gas last week. The US partner called the method “particularly cruel” and reiterated it “opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances”.

  3. 🇹🇻 Tuvalu: Initial results from Friday’s election suggest Prime Minister Kausea Natano has lost his seat in Tuvalu (pop: 11,000), where the parliament has a total of 16 seats. Natano had pledged to continue to support Tuvalu’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan if re-elected.

  4. 🇺🇸 US: President Joe Biden has paused all export permits for liquefied natural gas (LNG) while the Department of Energy draws up new approval criteria for environmental considerations. The order impacts a dozen new LNG projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

  5. 🇰🇪 Kenya: A Kenyan court has ruled against a government plan to lead a multinational peacekeeping force to Haiti to help restore order in the violence-hit country. The UN Security Council had greenlit Kenya’s mission last October.

EXTRA INTRIGUE

🤣 Your weekly roundup of the world’s lighter news 

TODAY IN HISTORY

Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter at the White House. Credits: US National Archives and Records Administration. 

On this day in 1979, China’s Deng Xiaoping met US President Jimmy Carter at the White House, marking the first-ever official visit by a paramount leader of China to the US. Deng’s visit came after the reestablishment of formal US-China ties (and the severing of formal US-Taiwan ties) earlier that month on January 1.

DAILY POLL

What do you think is the most important factor when buying a new product?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Last Thursday’s poll: Where do you think the ICJ will land in its interim ruling? [The ICJ handed down its interim ruling on Friday]

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🇿🇦 It'll rule mostly in South Africa's favour (57%)

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇮🇱 It'll rule mostly in Israel's favour (35%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (8%)

Your two cents:

  • ✍️ D.G.K: “The ruling will be all bluster and no substance. Both parties will come away with their own interpretation of the ruling.”

  • 🇿🇦 L.E: “Having had many family members of previous generations killed in the Holocaust, I certainly hope that the Palestinians are protected from the extensive overreach of Israel. I don’t know the legal twists of the IJC, but I can recognize genocide when I see it.”

  •  🇮🇱 L.M: “The premise of the charge is an insult to the definition of genocide.”

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