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The Early Phoenix

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US House Votes on “Anti-normalization with Assad” Bill by Senator Wilson

TOP HEADLINES:

  • US Intercepts Iranian Smuggling Boat
  • EU Launches ‘Aspides Plan’ for Red Sea 
  • Iran Claims Naval Missile Launches and Nuclear Progress
  • Israeli Alert to Cairo on Rafah Hostage Rescue
  • India and UAE Forge Trade Corridor

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★ YEMEN

  1. Houthi Attack on Iranian Ship Sparks Debate.

In the early hours of February 12, Iranian-backed Houthi militants launched two missiles from Yemen-controlled territories toward the Bab el-Mandeb strait. Their target: the MV Star Iris, a Greek-owned cargo vessel flying the Marshall Islands flag, en route to Iran’s Bandar Imam Khomeini port with a cargo of Brazilian corn. Miraculously, the vessel sustained minor damage, and no crew members were injured in the attack. However, the strategic implications of this incident are profound. The timing of the attack raises suspicions as it coincides with the ship’s intended destination in Iran, suggesting a calculated effort by the Houthis to absolve Iran of direct involvement in their operations. This attack, while unsuccessful in causing significant harm, serves Iran’s narrative that it is not orchestrating Houthi aggression in the Red Sea. However, notably absent from official statements by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) is the crucial context surrounding the incident, leaving room for misinterpretation and manipulation of the narrative by involved parties.

  1. US Intercepts Iranian Smuggling Boat Bound for Houthis; Details Withheld. 

In late January, the US Coast Guard intercepted an Iranian smuggling boat in the Arabian Sea, loaded with weapons bound for the Houthis. The vessel, departing from Iran, aimed for southern Oman or Yemen. Despite seizing the cargo, American authorities have yet to officially announce the incident. This seizure underscores Iran’s persistence in arming the Houthis, with recent shipments showing a decline in quality. Iranian attempts to involve Somali gangs in smuggling operations also raise concerns. Efforts to curb such activities involve cooperation with regional allies and enhanced surveillance in the region.

  1. Houthi Leader Warns U.S. About Ground Operations

In a recent interview on Al Jazeera, Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, leader of the Ansar Allah Houthi group, cautioned against potential U.S. ground military operations in Yemen, asserting the militia’s preparedness despite American strikes. Locally, violence intensified in Yemen’s Ibb Governorate with a mass kidnapping and home bombings following clashes resulting in a Houthi leader’s death. Additionally, Human Rights Watch revealed an increase in Houthi recruitment of children as young as 13 since the Israel-Hamas war.

  1. EU Launches ‘Aspides Plan’ to Protect Red Sea Shipping. 

The European Union announced the formation of a naval operation to protect ships in the Red Sea, extending from the Strait of Hormuz to Bab al-Mandab. Led by Admiral Vassilios Griparis from Greece, the fleet aims to safeguard commercial vessels from Houthi attacks and piracy. With a budget of 8 million euros, the mission, named “Aspides Plan,” responds to escalating Houthi attacks on cargo ships, allegedly linked to Israel. 

  1. Saudi Arabia Bolsters Yemen’s Economy with $250 Million Deposit.

Saudi Arabia deposited $250 million to support Yemen’s budget deficit, bolster salaries, and enhance food security. This is part of a $1.2 billion aid package, emphasizing Saudi commitment to Yemen’s stability. Previous support totaled $11.2 billion from 2012 to 2023. 

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★ IRAN

  1. Iranian Foreign Minister and Hamas Leader Discuss Gaza in Doha

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Hamas Political Bureau Chief Ismail Haniyeh discussed the ongoing Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip. The talks, part of Abdollahian’s regional tour, focused on the political and field developments of the situation, emphasizing the urgent need to halt aggression and provide immediate humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the West Bank. 

  1. Sudanese Military Engages with Iran Amidst Proxy War Concerns.

Sudan’s military officials, led by Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, engaged in talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran. This meeting, marking the first high-level visit since the restoration of diplomatic ties in October, highlights Sudan’s intricate position between Iran’s expanding influence and the UAE’s strategic interests in the region. Amidst tensions, Iran’s reported delivery of drones to the Sudanese Armed Forces signals a significant shift, potentially reshaping regional dynamics and stoking fears of a proxy war in Sudan.

  1. Iran Claims Naval Missile Launches and Nuclear Progress.

Iran is claiming that it can now launch long-range ballistic missiles from its warships, signaling a bold move away from its declared defensive military posture. IRGC commander Hossein Salami issued a veiled warning, suggesting Iran’s capability to target any adversary threatening its security. Iran’s nuclear ambitions have also come under scrutiny, with recent remarks from the country’s former atomic energy chief hinting at significant advancements towards nuclear weapon capability. 

  1. The US Seizes Boeing 747 Cargo Plane Linked to Iran’s IRGC.

The US government has seized a Boeing 747 cargo plane, previously owned by an airline linked to Iran’s IRGC, which was grounded in Argentina in June 2022 on suspicion of illegal activities. The Justice Department stated that the US-built plane had been brought to Florida and would be disposed of. Argentina had grounded the plane after its unannounced arrival from Mexico to an airport in Buenos Aires on June 8, 2022. The plane originally belonged to Iran’s Mahan airline, affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and sanctioned by the US for transporting arms to Syria and supporting terrorism.

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★ IRAQ

  1. PM Barzani and Erdogan Discuss Recent Developments in Iraq

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in The meeting occurred during the World Governments Summit, where Prime Minister Barzani’s participation was at the invitation of UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

  1. Iran’s Energy Influence in Iraq: Political and Economic Pressures Revealed.

Recent disclosures by the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity reveal a 25% loss in electrical output due to decreased gas imports from Iran, underscoring Iran’s significant role as a key energy supplier to Iraq. This revelation comes just two weeks after Iran announced the commencement of construction on a new nuclear power plant in Hormozgan Province, ostensibly aimed at expanding its nuclear energy capabilities for peaceful electricity generation. However, the discrepancy between Iran’s stated intentions and its actions in leveraging energy supplies for political gain raises questions about the true nature of its nuclear program. 

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★ LEBANON 

  1. Hezbollah Strikes Israeli Targets, Israel Confirms Strike on Police Station. 

Hezbollah confirmed the deaths of five members in southern Lebanon and claimed responsibility for seven operations targeting Israeli sites. They claimed to have struck an Israeli soldiers’ gathering in Birkat Risha with Burkan missiles, and targeted Zarit and Baranit barracks with Falaq 1 missiles. Conversely, Israeli news outlet 24 reported a separate incident where Hezbollah targeted an Israeli police building in Kiryat Shmona. Israeli fighters retaliated with raids on Khiam, Taloussa, Blida, Maroun al-Ras, and Jabal Balat. The Israeli army announced that one of its drones crashed in Lebanese territory “due to a technical defect.”

In other related news, Ynet reported that Hezbollah rejected the French Border Agreement. France submitted a proposal to Beirut, aiming to halt hostilities with Israel and resolve the disputed border, calling for a withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters from the border area and Lebanese army deployment. Tensions persist as Western envoys pursue diplomatic options to quell the conflict, with both sides seeking to avoid full-scale war amidst escalating violence. Hezbollah’s Hassan Fadlallah stated that no deal on the Lebanon-Israel border can be reached until the Gaza fighting ceases, asserting Israel lacks the authority to impose terms.

  1. Hariri Holds Talks with New US Ambassador in Beirut. 

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri convened at the Center House in Beirut, engaging in discussions with the new American Ambassador Lisa Johnson. Ambassador Johnson characterized the meeting as “excellent” upon departure. Hariri, who re-entered Beirut to mark the 19th anniversary of his father Rafik Hariri’s martyrdom, previously withdrew from politics amidst nationwide protests in 2019. Despite being designated to form a technocratic government in 2020, Hariri faced challenges in garnering consensus and eventually stepped down. Reports indicate further meetings planned with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and discussions potentially involving ex-PSP chief Walid Jumblat.

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★ SYRIA

  1. UN Rights Office Confirms Syrian Refugees’ Fears of Regime Returns.

A United Nations Human Rights Office report exposes grave violations against Syrian refugees returning to their country, particularly targeting women with torture and sexual violence. The report documents abuses by government, de facto authorities, and armed groups, including arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and enforced disappearance. It raises concerns about forced returns from countries like Turkey and Lebanon and emphasizes the need for voluntary, safe, and dignified returns amidst Syria’s ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis.

  1. US Congressman Joe Wilson Spearheads Anti-Normalization Law Against Assad Regime.

US Congressman Joe Wilson has announced the imminent voting on his proposed legislation aimed at combating normalization with the Assad regime in Syria. The law, known as the Anti-normalization Law with the Assad Regime of 2024, is set to be binding on all current and future US administrations, effectively stifling any recognition or normalization attempts with the Assad government. Congressman Wilson’s bill prohibits the US from acknowledging any government led by Bashar al-Assad and opposes other countries’ recognition of his regime, imposing sanctions and reporting requirements on those engaged in such activities. The legislation further extends to punishing individuals or entities providing support to the Assad administration, including publishing lists of those involved in projects exceeding $50,000. This robust measure signifies a firm stance against the Assad regime’s actions and aims to prevent circumvention of sanctions by targeting key enablers, including family members and entities associated with the regime.

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Hamas Operative Captured in Jenin Raid; Israeli Forces Wounded

Israeli forces captured a senior Hamas operative, Omar Fayed, during an operation in Jenin, where two Border Police officers were lightly wounded. Fayed, responsible for attacks on Israeli forces, was apprehended along with 18 other terrorism suspects across Judea and Samaria. The operation also uncovered booby-trapped tunnels and seized illegal weapons. Additionally, Israeli forces thwarted a vehicular assault in Gush Etzion. These efforts signify ongoing Israeli measures to combat terrorism in the region, with over 3,100 arrests made since October, targeting Hamas affiliates in particular.

  1. Senate Passes $95 Billion Aid Bill.

In a pre-dawn session, the Democrat-led US Senate approved a $95.34 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan with a 70-29 vote, surpassing the required threshold. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the bipartisan support, emphasizing the bill’s significance for national and allied security. However, the bill faces uncertainty in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Mike Johnson criticized its lack of conservative border provisions. Despite President Biden’s urging, the bill’s fate remains uncertain, highlighting the complex dynamics shaping US foreign aid policy.

  1. Israeli Army Reports Loss of Soldiers in Khan Yunis Battle.

The Israeli army confirmed the deaths of three reserve soldiers, including a senior officer, in clashes in Khan Yunis, adding to the toll of Israeli forces in the Gaza ground offensive, which now stands at 232. Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Yacoub al-Kubi, Major Yair Cohen, and Sergeant Ziv Chen, all from the 630th Battalion of the Southern Brigade, were killed in the southern Gaza Strip. Two other soldiers sustained serious injuries in the same engagement. 

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★ EGYPT

  1. Quartet Meets in Cairo to Address Gaza Truce.

Top officials from the U.S., Israel, and Qatar convened in Cairo with Egyptian counterparts to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza amid escalating tensions. The talks center on releasing prisoners and calming the conflict as international pressure mounts.

  1. Israeli Report Signals Cairo on Gaza Rescue Operation.

An Israeli report revealed that Tel Aviv notified Cairo of a recent operation by Israeli forces in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, aimed at freeing Israeli hostages. Security officials informed Egyptian counterparts about Israel’s limited “localized operation” to rescue hostages, following media reports and Egyptian concerns over potential escalation. 

  1. Proposal Emerges to Relocate Displaced Gazans from Rafah.

Egypt and Israel explore alternatives to the impending ground military operation in Rafah. A reported Israeli proposal suggests relocating displaced Palestinians to the western coast of Gaza, establishing camp villages funded by the United States and Gulf partners. The plan aims to ensure the safety of over a million Gazans, with tentative sites identified south of Al-Mawasi camp and Sharm Park. As displaced individuals begin migrating towards central Gaza, the situation underscores the delicate balance in regional dynamics and ongoing efforts to navigate complex geopolitical challenges.

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★ TURKYIE

  1. Erdogan’s UAE Visit Precedes Egypt Trip.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in the UAE, discussing bilateral ties and regional concerns with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, particularly addressing Israeli actions in Gaza. Erdogan also attends the World Government Summit in Dubai before heading to Egypt, focusing on enhancing cooperation and addressing the Gaza conflict with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

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★ THE ARABIAN GULF

  1. India and UAE Forge Trade Corridor, Strengthen Bilateral Ties.

India and the UAE solidified their economic partnership with the signing of investment and trade agreements, highlighted by a significant framework deal for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE also emphasized diplomatic ties, marked by discussions with Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The agreements underscore the growing collaboration between the two nations since Modi’s landmark visit in 2015, with trade reaching $85 billion between 2022 and 2023. Modi’s visit, including the inauguration of the largest Hindu temple in the Middle East, not only aims to energize the Indian expatriate community but also aligns with his government’s narrative, focusing on Hindu nationalism and fostering support from overseas Indians, potentially influencing India’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

  1. PLO: Saudi-Led Effort to Halt Conflict

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) announced a Saudi-led Arab initiative aimed at ending hostilities and fostering a political resolution for a Palestinian state. Secretary of the Executive Committee, Hussein Al-Sheikh, outlined three objectives: ceasefire, political settlement, and internal Palestinian governance. Al-Sheikh condemned Israeli actions in Gaza and welcomed Hamas’s potential inclusion in the PLO.

  1. Qatar Concludes Iranian FM’s Visit, Discussing Gaza Situation.

Qatar wraps up Iranian FM’s visit, focusing on the Gaza crisis. Talks emphasized strong bilateral ties and Iran’s diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Iranian Foreign Minister Abdullahian praised Qatar’s mediation role and criticized the US stance. Meanwhile, Qatar condemns Israeli attacks on Rafah, highlighting risks to ceasefire negotiations and humanitarian consequences.

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📌 Incase you missed it,

📰 Iran’s Imminent Game: Steering Assad Toward an Inevitable Clash with Israel

🌍 The Region – Feb 12, 2024

📰 The Early Phoenix Feb 8, 2024

🔗 Follow the latest news from the American Center for Levant Studies via Google News

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