Russia’s Black Sea Naval Ambitions;Jews and Muslims in U.S. disagree on Israel’s conduct in Gaza, poll finds;After voting to legalize weed, Marylanders are mixed on impact, poll finds:Defense Briefing20240322

Welcome to our “Defense Briefing” show, folks! Today, we’re diving into a mix of intriguing news from around the globe, so buckle up for a quick roundup of what’s happening in our world.

First off, Russia’s making waves in the Black Sea, quite literally, with plans to build a new naval base in Abkhazia. This move comes after Ukraine has given Russia’s Black Sea Fleet a tough time, sinking their ships and raining on their naval parade. Meanwhile, NATO’s not just watching from the sidelines; Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently visited Georgia to chat about Russia’s maritime ambitions. It’s like the plot of a spy thriller, but with more boats and fewer martinis.

Switching gears, let’s talk about the U.S., where opinions are as mixed as a bag of jelly beans. A recent poll found Americans divided over Israel’s actions in Gaza, with a stark contrast between Jewish and Muslim perspectives. And in Maryland, folks are scratching their heads over whether legalizing weed was a high point or a low blow for the state. It seems like the jury’s still out, but hey, at least they’re having a conversation about it.

Last but not least, sports fans had their hearts racing as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament kicked off with some stunning upsets. Duquesne pulled off a victory against BYU, marking their first win in the tournament since 1969. Talk about a long-awaited triumph! Meanwhile, international politics and military moves continue to unfold, with the U.S. and Israel experiencing a bit of a chill in their relationship over the Gaza conflict. And in a heartwarming turn of events, the “Ghost Army” of World War II, known for their cunning deception tactics, received Congressional Gold Medals. It’s a reminder that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes even inflatable ones.

So, there you have it, a whirlwind tour of today’s news landscape. Don’t forget to stay tuned for more detailed coverage on these stories. Thanks for joining us on “Defense Briefing,” and please continue to watch for more in-depth content.

Russia’s Black Sea Naval Ambitions
Foreign Policy

Russia is planning to construct a new naval base in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia located along the Black Sea coast. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been decimated by Ukraine over the past two years, with many powerful Russian warships being damaged or destroyed. The construction of a new base in Abkhazia would provide Russia with a safer harbor for its warships, further away from the threat of Ukrainian drones and missiles. While the base currently consists of just one pier, it could be expanded in the future if Russia decides to commit more resources to the project. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently visited Georgia to discuss Russia’s Black Sea ambitions and the future of the region.

Jews and Muslims in U.S. disagree on Israel’s conduct in Gaza, poll finds
Washington Post

A survey by the Pew Research Center has found that Americans are divided over Israel’s conduct in the Gaza conflict and the reasons behind the war. The poll found that 38% of US adults think Israel’s conduct has been acceptable, while just over 34% said it was unacceptable. However, the survey also revealed stark differences along religious lines, with 62% of American Jews saying Israel’s conduct is acceptable, compared to just 5% of American Muslims. The poll also found that younger people were more opposed to Israel’s actions than older adults.

After voting to legalize weed, Marylanders are mixed on impact, poll finds
Washington Post

A new poll by the Washington Post-University of Maryland suggests that about one-third of voters in the state think legalising recreational cannabis has been good for Maryland, while another third think it’s been bad. The rest say it has been neither good nor bad. The poll also found that 50% of those surveyed opposed allowing a cannabis shop to open in their neighbourhood, and 35% were strongly opposed. Prince George’s County, an affluent majority-Black suburb of Washington, had the highest levels of opposition. Maryland voted to legalise recreational cannabis in 2022, with 2 in 3 voters approving. So far, the state has seen $332 million in retail sales in the first six months since legalisation. However, the poll suggests that only 1 in 7 voters have purchased cannabis products since sales started. The poll also found that 89% of voters who hadn’t bought cannabis products said they were unlikely to do so in the next few years. The poll was conducted by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement.

Houthis tell China, Russia their ships won’t be targeted in Red Sea
The Sydney Morning Herald

China and Russia have reportedly reached an agreement with Houthi rebels that their ships can sail through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden without being attacked. In exchange, the two countries may provide political support to the Houthis, potentially including blocking resolutions against the group. The talks are said to have been prompted by increased nervousness among world powers about the group’s missile and drone attacks on ships in the region since November 2020. The Houthis claim to be targeting ships linked to Israel, the US and UK but appear to have mis-identified some vessels.

No. 11 Duquesne upsets 6th-seeded BYU for 1st win in NCAA men’s tournament since 1969

The 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began with a series of first-round games on Thursday. No. 11 seed Duquesne defeated No. 6 seed BYU 71-67 in a close game. No. 11 seed Oregon upset No. 6 seed South Carolina 87-73, with Jermaine Couisnard scoring 40 points against his former team. No. 7 seed Dayton overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat No. 10 seed Nevada 63-60. No. 3 seed Illinois beat No. 14 seed Morehead State 85-69, with Marcus Domask recording a triple-double. No. 3 seed Creighton defeated No. 14 seed Akron 77-60, with Ryan Kalkbrenner scoring 23 points. Top seed North Carolina easily beat No. 16 seed Wagner 90-62, with RJ Davis scoring 22 points. No. 2 seed Arizona defeated No. 15 seed Long Beach State 85-65.

Schumer says Netanyahu ‘lost his way.’ Would a new leader change course?
Washington Post

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing low popularity among Israeli voters, with his governing coalition being the most right-wing in Israel’s history. However, the reasons for his unpopularity are mostly tied to domestic politics rather than his government’s handling of the war in Gaza. The Israeli public has shown overwhelming support for the war, with polling indicating that around 80% of Jewish Israelis believe Israel should not take into consideration the suffering of the Palestinians until hostages are held in Gaza. The Israeli public has been largely silent on the devastation in Gaza, with no major political figure speaking out against the war. Despite the growing international alarm over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Israeli public has little faith in the Palestinian Authority and is skeptical of the Biden administration’s idea of revitalizing Palestinian officials and their security forces to help stabilize post-war Gaza. While many Israelis want new elections, this may not dramatically shift Israel’s approach to Gaza and the Palestinians. It is unclear when new elections might be held, but Netanyahu is already in campaign mode and itching for a confrontation with President Biden that could re-energize his base.

Intel CEO says Biden wants chip factories ‘bigger’ and 'sooner’
Washington Post

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has said that President Biden is pushing for new federally funded chip factories to be operational sooner. The comments were made following reports of delays and rising costs in Washington’s attempt to revitalise US high-tech manufacturing. Intel is set to receive $8.5bn in grants and $11bn in loans to help reshore some of its computer-chip production from abroad. Gelsinger called the grants and other support for US chipmakers “the most important piece of industrial policy since World War II”.

Famed battleship USS New Jersey floating down Delaware River to Philadelphia for maintenance
Associated Press

The USS New Jersey, a decommissioned battleship turned floating museum, is being moved down the Delaware River to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for extensive maintenance work. The work is expected to take two months to complete and includes repainting the hull, fixing the anti-corrosion system and inspecting through-hull openings. The battleship, which was built in the 1940s, is the most decorated battleship in Navy history and served in multiple conflicts. The move down the river is described as a “once in a generation occurrence” and there are concerns about the ship’s age, but officials believe things will go smoothly.

World War 2 ‘Ghost Army’ honoured by Congress

US President Joe Biden has signed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the “Ghost Army”, a secretive unit known for its clever ruses during World War Two. The unit used inflatable vehicles and special effects to deceive the Germans about Allied war plans, confusing them about the size and location of Allied troops. The Ghost Army is credited with saving the lives of between 15,000 and 30,000 soldiers. Three surviving veterans will be awarded the medal in Congress on Thursday.

Blinken huddles on Gaza with Arab diplomats in Cairo as US-Israel relations sour
Associated Press

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with top Arab diplomats in Cairo on Thursday to discuss post-conflict plans for Gaza. The meeting came as relations between the US and Israel soured further over Israel’s war against Hamas, particularly its intention to mount a major military operation against the southern city of Rafah. Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to discuss ideas for Gaza’s future. A top official from the Palestine Liberation Organization also attended. The ministers were expected to discuss the cease-fire talks and ways to increase urgent humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza by land, air, and sea. The outcome of the meeting between Blinken and the Arab ministers was not immediately clear. Earlier in the day, Blinken met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who stressed the need for an immediate cease-fire and warned against the “dangerous repercussions” of any Israeli offensive in Rafah.

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