The War in Gaza: Phase Three

Happy Wednesday! Disney might still be sore about losing its copyright for Steamboat Willie, but we’ve got a new character idea: this real-life mouse who apparently loves to tidy things up at night in a Welsh man’s shed.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency and imposed a nationwide curfew on Monday in response to what he described as an “internal armed conflict” amid escalating gang violence throughout the South American country in recent days. The escapes of prominent gang leaders, Fabricio Colón Pico and José Adolfo Macías Villamar, from police custody on Sunday precipitated the chaos, which included explosions, prison riots, police kidnappings, and armed gangsters taking over a live television broadcast. Noboa has ordered the country’s “armed forces to execute military operations under international humanitarian law to neutralize the identified groups,” labeling 22 gangs as terrorist organizations.
  • Doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center disclosed in a statement on Tuesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December. Austin’s hospitalization last week was the result of complications that developed from a surgery he had on December 22 to treat the cancer, during which he was under general anesthesia. The White House also disclosed that, although President Joe Biden was informed last Friday of Austin’s early January hospitalization, the White House didn’t know about his cancer diagnosis until yesterday. The White House ordered a review of administration procedures on Tuesday making clear that cabinet secretaries should inform the White House “in the event of a delegation of authority or potential delegation,” but White House spokesman John Kirby said Biden still has “full faith and confidence” in Austin. 
  • Meta announced Tuesday that it will begin blocking certain types of harmful content from teenage users’ Facebook and Instagram accounts, including videos and posts related to self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders. “Now, when people search for terms related to suicide, self-harm and eating disorders, we’ll start hiding these related results and will direct them to expert resources for help,” the company said in a blog post about the changes, clarifying that teens wouldn’t see such content in their feeds even if shared by someone they follow. The changes come as dozens of states are suing Meta over the alleged harm the company’s platforms and features have imposed on younger users. 
  • President Joe Biden on Monday renominated Julie Su to serve as the secretary of labor, after her original nomination stalled in the Senate for more than 10 months. Su has been serving as the acting secretary since Marty Walsh left the role in February 2023 to become the head of the National Hockey League Players’ Association. Republican senators uniformly opposed her nomination, and the Biden administration appeared unable to get some moderate Democrats on board last summer. It’s unclear so far if any of the holdouts on Su have changed their position.
  • Robert Woodland Romanov, a Russian-American dual citizen, was arrested in Russia on Friday on drug charges, according to a statement from the Ostankino District Court of Moscow released Tuesday, and he will remain in detention for two months pending an investigation and trial. Romanov is the latest of several American citizens to be arrested and detained in Russia in recent years: WNBA player Brittney Griner was detained for 10 months on accusations of carrying narcotics in her luggage and was eventually freed in a prisoner swap. Marc Fogel, a 62-year-old schoolteacher arrested on drug charges more than two years ago, remains behind bars. Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine and security executive, has been held in Russia since 2018—wrongfully, according to the U.S. State Department—and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been detained since last March.
  • A federal appeals court on Tuesday considered former President Donald Trump’s claims of immunity from prosecution related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. A three-judge panel heard oral arguments from Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, and James Pearce, a Justice Department prosecutor working under special counsel Jack Smith. At one point during the hearing, the panel presented a hypothetical situation, positing the president ordered Seal Team Six to assassinate a political rival—and asked if that would be covered by presidential immunity. Sauer said the president would be immune from prosecution unless he was first impeached and convicted. The judges reacted skeptically to Sauer’s response, but also expressed uncertainty about how they’d rule on the appeal and concern over the scope and ramifications of a decision on presidential immunity.  
  • Mike Roman—a former Trump campaign aide and current co-defendant with Trump in the Georgia election interference case—accused Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney leading the case, of having an improper relationship with a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, also working on the case. Roman’s lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, filed a motion on Monday asking the judge to disqualify Willis from the case and dismiss the entire criminal indictment. Merchant alleged in the filing that Willis and Wade have vacationed together, creating a financial conflict of interest since Willis hired Wade, who has received more than $650,000 in legal fees from the county since January 2022. The filing did not include evidence to prove the allegations, but claimed unnamed sources “have confirmed” the pair’s relationship. A spokesperson for Willis said her office would respond to the allegations “through appropriate court filings.”
  • Republican Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana—former Vice President Mike Pence’s brother—announced on Tuesday that he will retire from Congress at the end of his current term. “In 2017, I ran for Congress because I was ready to serve again,” the 67-year-old said in a statement. “As a former Marine Officer, I approached the job with purpose. After three terms, I’ve made the decision to not file for reelection.” Across the aisle, 84-year-old Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, from Maryland, quashed speculation yesterday that he would retire, announcing he’ll run for his 23rd congressional term.

Greenlighting Phase Three

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his official visit as part of Middle East Tour, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 9, 2024. (Photo by Kobi Gideon (GPO) / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his official visit as part of Middle East Tour, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 9, 2024. (Photo by Kobi Gideon (GPO) / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

At a campaign stop on Monday at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina—the site of a horrific, racially motivated shooting in 2015 that left nine black Americans dead—President Joe Biden’s speech was interrupted by protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Responding to the protesters, Biden seemed to confirm his role in encouraging a shift in Israel’s military strategy. “I’ve been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza,” he said.

Over the past several days, Israeli military officials have confirmed their intentions to shift toward what they’re calling “phase three” of the war against the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, which is said to include more precision strikes aimed at terrorist leadership and fewer troops and airstrikes. As the war nears its hundredth day and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have cleared out much of the terrorist infrastructure in northern Gaza, Israeli leaders have determined—perhaps in response to pressure from the United States and elsewhere—it’s time for a shift in strategy.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, chief spokesman for the IDF, told the New York Times on Monday that the Israeli military would begin altering its approach as the bulk of the fighting moves to southern Gaza: “surgical missions” focused on eliminating leadership and infrastructure and rescuing hostages. “The challenge in southern Gaza, and especially in places like Khan Yunis and Rafah, is they’re already pretty densely populated, and now they’re swarmed with refugees, and most of the Hamas fire is there,” Bruce Hoffman, senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations, told TMD. “So after [95 days], the wholesale bombing of targets in southern Gaza is going to be very difficult because of the even worse population density than existed in the north.”

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