Today’s D Brief: Houthis sink a ship; Airdropping aid to Gaza; V-22s to return to flight; Russians keep turning up dead; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen sank their first commercial vessel in the Red Sea over the weekend. The Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier Rubymar sank shortly after midnight Saturday morning, nearly two weeks after the terrorist group attacked the ship with ballistic missiles, creating an 18-mile oil slick in the narrow channel and gradually sinking 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer into the busy waterway. 

The Red Sea isn’t terribly deep. Indeed, a quarter of it has less than 50 meters depth. For this reason, “As the [Rubymar] sinks, it also presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes,” U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command headquarters cautioned Saturday. 

So far, risk insurance prices have not spiked “as underwriters had already factored in the casualty” when the ship was struck last month, Reuters reported Monday from London. However, “industry sources said that war risk premiums being quoted for Red Sea voyages had remained around 1% of the value of a ship for some weeks—compared with around 0.5% before the attacks started” in November. 

The U.S. military destroyed another probable Houthi surface-to-air missile before it launched from Yemen Friday afternoon. Later that evening, the Houthis launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea, but it did not strike any vessels or damage anything, according to CENTCOM. 

And Italian sailors shot down a suspected Houthi drone headed for the destroyer Caio Duilio on Saturday. “The drone, with similar characteristics to those already used in previous attacks, was about 6 km from the Italian ship, flying towards it,” the defense ministry said in a statement.


Welcome to this Monday 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 2018, Russian intelligence officials poisoned former British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in Salisbury, England.

Aid for Palestinians: Jordanian and U.S. military aircraft and crew teamed up Saturday afternoon to drop more than 38,000 meals along the Gaza coast amid Israel’s unrelenting war against Hamas. The war is now in its 150th consecutive day. 

U.S. and Jordanian C-130s dropped the bundles between 3 and 5 p.m. local time. “There were 66 total bundles, 22 on each aircraft, which were dropped into Gaza to help alleviate the intense hunger and desperate situation there,” a senior White House official told reporters Saturday. 

U.S. officials are “planning for potential follow-on airborne aid delivery missions” in the coming days and weeks, CENTCOM officials said Saturday. The administration official described it as “part of a sustained effort, in conjunction with our international partners, to scale up the amount of life-saving aid we’re getting into Gaza.”

New: Americans’ opinions of Israel are the lowest they’ve been in two decades—even though 58% still say they have a “very” or “mostly favorable” view of the country at war with Hamas, according to new survey data from Gallup. Sixty-eight percent of Americans felt similarly at this point last year. Meantime, “positive opinions of the Palestinian Authority have dropped from 26% to 18%, [which is] the lowest since 2015,” Gallup reported Monday from data gathered during the first three weeks of February.

Additional reading: 

U.S. voter support for Ukraine seems to hinge increasingly on political affiliation, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. For Republicans, “55% say the U.S. is spending too much on Ukraine aid, compared to 59% in November,” whereas “About 4 in 10 Democrats say the U.S. is spending ‘too little’ on aid to Ukraine in the war against Russia, up from 17% in November,” AP reported Thursday. Pew Research Center reported similar findings in December.

This trend began after Republicans gained an edge in the House after the 2022 midterm elections. Since then, GOP frontrunner former President Donald Trump has helped embolden far-right Republicans to resist additional aid to Ukraine, choosing instead to fixate on immigration at America’s southern border. 

But other Republicans, like Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, are making unsupported allegations of “enormous theft” in Ukraine, which he called “one of the most blatantly, notoriously corrupt places in the world.” For many GOP voters in places like Alabama, such inflammatory talk has helped turn Ukraine into a liberal cause, as the Washington Post reported last week from Tuberville’s backyard. 

U.S.-made chips and Chinese products are flowing to Russia through central Asia, the Wall Street Journal reports. The trade routes through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan—two former Soviet republics—underscore the difficulty of throttling the foreign trade that powers the Russian war on Ukraine. Read on, here.

“Russians Keep Turning Up Dead All Over the World” is the bleak headline on a WSJ article on the suspicious deaths for which Moscow isn’t even denying culpability anymore. “Since the invasion of Ukraine, prominent Russians have died in unusual circumstances on three continents. Some were thought to harbor politically subversive ideas, while others may have been caught up in run-of-the-mill criminal warfare. Some may have actually died of natural causes. But there are enough of them that Wikipedia publishes a running list, at 51 names, entitled ‘Suspicious deaths of Russian business people (2022–2024)’.” Read on (paywalled), here.

The Kremlin has also tightened rules on virtual private networks, the software that many Russians use to evade propaganda and censorship and learn and talk about events. D1’s Patrick Tucker has details, here.

A fintech businessman who fled Germany is living in Russia—and has been exposed as a long-time GRU spy. In 2020, after the financial service company Wirecard “could not locate” 1.9 billion euros, its COO Jan Marsalek disappeared. Now a joint investigation by The Insider, Der Spiegel, ZDF, and Der Standard has apparently found him in Russia, living under a priest’s name. “But Marsalek is not only an internationally accused swindler. He is also an agent of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.” Read on, here.

Related reading: 

Lastly: Ospreys to return to flight this week, more than four months after the Nov. 29 crash of an Air Force V-22 led the Pentagon to ground the tiltrotors. On Friday, SecDef Lloyd Austin met with top service leaders, including for the Navy and Air Force, and endorsed their plans for a “safe and measured return to operations,” AP reported. The Air Force has said that it has identified what failed in the Japan crash, even though it does not know yet why it failed.

ICYMI: The Osprey gets a bad rap, according to Steve Busby, a retired Marine Corps three-star who commanded 3d Marine Aircraft Wing. Read his oped, here.



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