Iran Claims Responsibility for Hijacking Vessel in Oman Causing Oil Prices to Surge Globally
- Armed Iranian Group Boards Vessel Off Oman Amid Houthi Tensions.
- Oil Prices Surge After Reports of Tanker Seizure Near Oman.
- UN Special Envoy Investigates Hamas Sexual Violence Allegations.
- “No Place for the Dollar”: Russian and Iranian Banks Abandon SWIFT.
- Egypt’s Economy Gains from Israel-Hamas Conflict.
- Armed Iranian Group Boards Vessel Off Oman Amid Houthi Tensions. Iranian-trained Houthi rebels, involved in targeting commercial ships in the Red Sea, completed a six-month training program under IRGC’s Quds Force supervision. Subsequently, an Iranian group, wearing military-style attire and masks, boarded a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker off Oman’s coast, heightening maritime security concerns. In response to escalating attacks, the UN Security Council, backed by the US and Japan, called for an immediate halt to Houthi hostilities, facing objections from Russia, China, and Algeria over the resolution’s perceived politicization. Senior Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi criticized the resolution, demanding a cessation of Israeli actions in Gaza and condemning US and British support for Israel, while justifying Houthi actions as defense. The attacks have disrupted global trade, evidenced by a 1.3% drop in November to December 2023, and have pressured retailers to adjust supply chains, fearing further inflation. Despite these tensions, the French Navy asserted its current Red Sea capabilities as adequate, operating in coordination with US-led efforts.
★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- IDF Uncovers Hostage Tunnel in Khan Yunis. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) exposed a significant terror tunnel in Khan Yunis, Gaza, used by Hamas to hold hostages. More than 300 tunnel shafts have been discovered in the area, with 110 hostages released in a previous ceasefire. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is suspected of hiding in Khan Yunis with hostages.
- ISIS-Affiliated Terrorists Arrested in East Jerusalem. Two individuals with ties to ISIS were arrested in East Jerusalem for planning terror attacks, including the preparation of explosive devices and targeting Israeli security forces. One suspect also had illicit material on his phone.
- Netanyahu: Israel Has No Intention of Forcibly Displacing Gaza Residents. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel has no plans for permanent occupation or the forced displacement of civilians in Gaza. He rejected right-wing calls for Israeli settlements in the region and encouraged Palestinian immigration.
- IDF: Slain Journalists Were Terror Operatives. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) presented evidence that two Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza were Hamas and Islamic Jihad members operating drones, posing a threat to Israeli soldiers.
- UN Special Envoy Investigates Hamas Sexual Violence Allegations. UN special envoy Pramila Patten will visit Israel to gather information on sexual violence allegations committed by Hamas during the October 7 attack, meeting survivors and witnesses. Hamas denies the allegations despite mounting evidence.
- Hamas Leaders in Gaza Act Independently, Create Tensions with Abroad Leadership. Hamas leaders in Gaza are making unilateral decisions on fighting and hostages, disregarding the political leadership abroad, leading to contradictions in hostage release negotiations. Families of Hamas leaders are reportedly moving to Egypt.
- Israeli Government Reviews Qatari Deal for Gaza Hostage. Israel considers a Qatari proposal for a hostage release and ceasefire in Gaza, while Hamas seeks the release of Palestinian prisoners and continued rule in Gaza. Egypt mediates negotiations.
- Israeli Justice Ministry: ICJ Won’t Order Gaza War Halt. Israeli officials from the Justice Ministry suggest that while the International Court of Justice (ICJ) may issue orders against Israel, it won’t order a halt to the war in Gaza. Potential orders could include allowing more aid into Gaza, forming an investigative committee, or permitting Palestinians to return to their homes in northern Gaza. The ICJ is currently hearing South Africa’s case accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and calling for an urgent cessation of hostilities. Israel strongly denies genocide allegations, citing self-defense and compliance with international law while blaming Hamas for using civilian areas for military purposes.
- Israeli Chief of Staff: Capable of Reaching Any Village in Lebanon. Israeli Chief of Staff, Aviv Kohavi, stated that Israel’s forces can destroy any village inside Lebanon, escalating tensions with Hezbollah across the border. He conveyed this message to soldiers in Gaza, suggesting the ability to extend the conflict into Lebanese territory if necessary, citing their experience in Gaza. The Israel-Lebanon border has witnessed daily exchanges of fire since the conflict between Hamas and Israel erupted in Gaza.
- Khamenei Issues Hebrew Warning Amid Blinken’s Middle East Visit. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a stern warning in Hebrew on Twitter, emphasizing that “crimes will not be forgotten,” though he did not specify Israel. Khamenei has previously made similar hostile comments, such as accusing Israel of bringing “disaster” upon itself. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed Iran’s support for Houthi rebels during his Middle East trip, warning of consequences for their actions and urging Iran to cease its support for the group.
- Iran Cracks Down on Social Media Critics After Bombings. Iran has arrested dozens of individuals, including public figures, for posting “false and offensive” statements on social media regarding recent bombings in Kerman. The arrests and censorship have sparked criticism of the government’s response to the attacks.
- International Manhunt for Kerman Terror Attack Suspects. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry expands the search for individuals involved in the Kerman terrorist attack, with 35 arrested domestically and a hunt initiated for suspects abroad. The main instigator, Abdullah Tajiki, a Tajik national, and his associate, Bazirov Israeli, were identified in the attack that targeted General Soleimani’s mausoleum, resulting in dozens of casualties.
- Canada to Take Iran Plane Strike Case to ICAO. Canada is moving forward with the case against Iran’s missile strike on a Ukrainian plane to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to seek justice for the victims’ families.
- Iran to Establish International Maritime Environment Research Center. Iran plans to create an International Maritime Environment Research Center on Hormuz Island in the Hormuz Strait region to address environmental concerns in the Pars Energy Special Economic Zone. VP Ali Salajeqeh emphasizes the need for pollution reduction and environmental protection in the area, with a focus on cooperation among regional countries and industries.
- “No Place for the Dollar”: Russian and Iranian Banks Abandon SWIFT. Russia and Iran plan to establish joint investment committees for bilateral projects. Direct transactions between Russian and Iranian banks remove the final obstacle to expanding trade, mutual settlements, and cooperation, including infrastructure and energy projects.
- Iran-Backed Militia Targets US Facility Near Erbil Airport. An Iran-backed militia, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, attempted to attack a US facility near Erbil Airport using an armed drone. The attack was thwarted, and there were no reported casualties. Tensions in the region have risen due to the Gaza war and Iran’s proxies’ actions against US interests.
- Effective Airstrikes Pursuing ISIS Remnants in Iraq. Iraq’s strategic approach of using airstrikes in pursuit of ISIS remnants is proving successful in reducing the group’s activities and curbing their movements in liberated provinces. Security forces recently announced the killing of three ISIS members in an airstrike in Kirkuk, underscoring the effectiveness of this strategy.
- US Intelligence Warns of Potential Hezbollah Attacks. American intelligence agencies have issued a warning about the possibility of Hezbollah conducting attacks within the United States, surpassing the capabilities of other groups, including ISIS, according to Politico magazine. Intelligence assessments indicate an increased risk of Hezbollah targeting Americans in the Middle East or even launching attacks within the United States.
- Lebanon Proposes Border Plan to UN Without Mentioning Hezbollah. Lebanon presents a UN-backed roadmap aiming to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, addressing all 13 disputed border points and proposing border demarcation following the 1949 armistice agreement. However, the plan omits mention of Hezbollah, raising doubts about its feasibility amid ongoing clashes between Israel and the group. The roadmap calls for Israel to withdraw to agreed international borders and includes areas like the Shebaa Farms. Lebanon seeks UN support to strengthen its armed forces in southern Lebanon through UNIFIL. Recent skirmishes continue to erupt between Israeli forces and Hezbollah along the border.
- Germany Commits €15 Million for Lebanese Army Support Amid Border Tensions. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pledges €15 million to enhance the Lebanese military’s capacity to secure its border with Israel and mitigate the risk of regional escalation.
★ The Arabian Gulf
- Oil Prices Surge Amid Reports of Tanker Seizure near Oman. Oil prices jumped nearly 2% after reports of an armed group boarding an oil tanker east of Oman. The vessel, previously accused of carrying sanctioned Iranian oil, was en route to Iran’s Bandar Jask.
- Washington Commends Saudi Efforts in Combating and Financing Terrorism. The U.S. State Department’s 2022 report on counterterrorism praised Saudi Arabia’s efforts in fighting and financing terrorism, noting enhanced security standards, border control, counter-extremism laws, and international cooperation, resulting in a significant decrease in terrorist attacks.
- $11.2 Billion Turkish Exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2023. Turkey’s 2023 exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE amounted to $11.2 billion, a significant increase from the previous year’s $6.3 billion. The growing political and diplomatic ties, coupled with agreements between Turkey and Gulf nations, fueled this surge in exports, with the UAE ranking 9th and Saudi Arabia 20th in Turkey’s list of top importing countries. Further trade growth is anticipated in 2024.
- Egypt’s Economy Gains from Israel-Hamas Conflict. The US has approved a potential military equipment sale to Egypt, worth up to $200 million, reinforcing its status as the second-largest recipient of US military aid with $1.3 billion annually. This decision comes amid Egypt’s improving economic prospects following the Gaza war. Europe has extended unexpected loans, the IMF has softened its stance, and the US Treasury has engaged positively with Egyptian economic officials. Additionally, the American media and Congress have shown minimal opposition to arms deals. Gulf states and Saudi Arabia’s support further bolster Egypt’s economy, indicating a period of recovery and growth.
- Regional Dynamics Shift Amid Egypt’s Military Upgrades and Israeli-Palestinian Tensions. Egypt is testing India’s Akash air defense system, capable of countering various aerial threats and engaging targets up to 45 kilometers away, signaling strengthened military ties between Egypt and India. Concurrently, Israel’s Likud party faces a delicate decision about voluntary migration from Gaza, which Egypt opposes, and must address the Rafah issue, affecting its relations with Egypt. At the Aqaba Summit, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority strongly opposed Israeli plans for Palestinian displacement, advocating for international support of Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli aggression in Gaza. Egypt also rejects a US-proposed UN mission in Northern Gaza, perceiving it as a threat to Palestinian rights and a cover for Israeli actions.
- Egypt Addresses Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea. Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly emphasizes the importance of maritime security in the Red Sea during a meeting with Maersk International officials. The discussion also touches on Houthi attacks and their impact on maritime security and the global economy, as well as the desire to resume Houthi maritime activities through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal for cost and time efficiency, with the Suez Canal Authority aiming to restore security in the Bab el-Mandeb area in collaboration with Maersk Group.
- Drug Smugglers Detained in Jordan Linked to Syrian Regime’s Intelligence. “Sweida 24” network revealed the connection between drug smugglers arrested in Jordan and the Syrian regime’s intelligence. Jordanian military operations intensified along the Syrian border, leading to the capture of over twenty smugglers. The detained individuals primarily hail from Daraa, Sweida, and Damascus provinces, especially the Alawite-dominated areas. Smugglers were linked to the final phase of drug transportation from Syria to Jordan, earning $5,000 to $7,500 per successful shipment.
- ISIS Claims Responsibility for Attacks on SDF in Deir al-Zour. ISIS has claimed responsibility for recent attacks targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour. The attacks involved gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades, resulting in casualties among SDF members. However, an SDF military source stated that there were no casualties or injuries, with only material damage reported.
- Former Syrian Officer Faces War Crimes Charges in Sweden. A former Syrian officer, Mohammad Hamou, residing in Sweden, is on trial in Stockholm for alleged war crimes committed in Syria in 2012. He is accused of participating in indiscriminate attacks on the cities of Hama and Homs, with seven civilian witnesses, including Syrians from the affected cities, scheduled to testify during the trial.
- Erdogan on Successful Operation Against MOSSAD Agents: This is Just the Beginning. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented on the successful operation against MOSSAD agents in Turkey, emphasizing that it’s only the first step and warning that those who threaten Turkey will come to understand the nation better. He praised the National Intelligence Organization for its effective operations in exposing espionage networks.
- Turkish Intelligence Chief Emphasizes Turkey’s Role in Regional and Global Peace. Turkey’s intelligence chief, Ibrahim Kalin, stressed the importance of Turkey’s role in achieving regional and global peace during the 97th anniversary of the Turkish Intelligence Organization. He highlighted Turkey’s strength and its comprehensive strategy to protect the nation, addressing various security challenges. Kalin also emphasized the need for a just and inclusive global security framework and the importance of addressing the basic rights of the Palestinian people for lasting stability in the Middle East.
- Kremlin Emphasizes the Need for “Constant Communication” Between Putin and Erdogan. The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, stressed the importance of continuous communication between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, highlighting its significance for bilateral relations. Peskov also mentioned ongoing efforts to achieve peace between Russia and Ukraine amid the ongoing conflict.
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