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The Early Phoenix

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Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad Engage Israel

TOP HEADLINES:

  • US Congress Passes Anti-Normalization Law Against Assad Regime.
  • Explosions Target Iranian Gas Pipelines.
  • Cyberattack Targets Iranian Parliament.
  • Lebanese Rally for Saad Hariri’s Return.
  • Hamas and Islamic Jihad Engage Israeli Forces.

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Missile Attack from Lebanon Hits Israeli City of Safed.

A missile barrage launched from Hezbollah-controlled regions in Lebanon struck the northern Israeli city of Safed, resulting in the death of Sergeant Omer Sarah Benjo, aged 20, and injuries to seven others. Described by Israeli media as a severe assault, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia reportedly utilized precision missiles in the attack, launching eight missiles in two volleys that inflicted significant casualties and damage. This incident, marking a rare escalation on the northern front in recent years, has heightened tensions significantly.

Israeli National Security Minister Itman Ben Gvir interpreted the strike as an act of war, prompting calls for an immediate security cabinet convening. Defense Minister Benny Gantz attributed responsibility not only to Hezbollah and other terrorist factions but also to the Lebanese government, criticizing it for permitting missile launches from its territory.

In retaliation, the Israeli military executed strikes in Lebanon, reportedly eliminating at least four individuals. Among the targets were positions of Hezbollah’s Al-Radwan Special Forces. Tragically, a Lebanese security source reported to Agence France-Presse that a woman, her child, and her husband’s son were among those killed in a raid targeting Al-Sowaneh, with a fourth civilian fatality occurring in Edchit. Additionally, nine individuals were wounded in the Israeli counter strikes on southern Lebanon, marking a significant flare-up in the longstanding conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

  1. Hamas and Islamic Jihad Engage Israeli Forces.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, targeted a house with Israeli forces near Khan Yunis, resulting in Palestinian casualties, including women and children, due to Israeli airstrikes and artillery. The Gaza Health Ministry reported 103 deaths and 145 new infections within 24 hours, while the Israeli army confirmed 15 soldiers injured. Additionally, the Al-Quds Brigades – Jenin Brigade, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, reported clashes with the Israeli army in Jenin city. In other related news, The World Health Organization warned of a potential health system collapse if Rafah is attacked, with the UN cautioning against a possible massacre. Gaza hospitals struggle with overcrowding and supply shortages, leading to amputations due to treatment shortages.

  1. West Bank Developments: Raids and Arrests.

Israeli army forces stormed towns in Hebron, Nablus, and Ramallah. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club and the Prisoners‘ Affairs Authority reported the arrest of more than 7,000 Palestinians, pointing to systematic Israeli violations and brutality. In Qalqilya, the young man, Muhammad Sharif Hassan Salmi, was killed by Israeli bullets, in an incident that sparked widespread anger. France and Britain imposed sanctions on extremist settlers, in response to increasing violence against Palestinians, reflecting mounting international condemnation against Israel’s policies. Attacks on Palestinians and their property by settlers, protected by forces, have increased significantly.

  1. Israel-Hamas Talks Stalled as Truce Negotiations Hit Roadblock.

Despite diplomatic efforts, Israel and Hamas remain deadlocked in negotiations. Israel considers extending the truce but demands a reduction in Palestinian prisoner release requests. Talks in Cairo, led by Mossad Chief David Barnea, failed to yield progress, focusing on assessing proposals rather than presenting new Israeli initiatives. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of an Israeli security services-crafted truce proposal has sparked tensions. Meanwhile, Hamas engages in negotiations with American, Qatari, and Egyptian officials to seek common ground amidst ongoing impasses.

  1. Moody’s Downgrades Israel’s Credit Rating.

Moody’s adjusts Israel’s credit rating to “negative outlook,” citing growing financial and social challenges. The assessment highlights fiscal weaknesses, exacerbated by the new government’s policies since December 2022, diminishing Israel’s ability to manage debt and deficits. Expectations of larger deficits and increased public debt, coupled with growing social risks, raise concerns about Israel’s stability. The negative outlook warns of potential downgrades unless the government addresses these challenges effectively.

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★ YEMEN

  1. US Targets Houthi Threats in Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) has taken action against Houthi forces following two attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. A critical anti-ship cruise missile system in Houthi territory was destroyed on February 13th, with a subsequent anti-ship ballistic missile launch occurring later that evening. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Ansar Allah movement, has publicly declared these maritime attacks as victories against Israeli presence. The US Department of Defense warns that despite significant impact on Houthi military capabilities, the group still possesses a considerable arsenal.

  1. UN Security Council Addresses Yemen Crisis.

The UN Security Council convened on February 14 to deliberate on the intensifying situation in Yemen, highlighting the surge in Houthi assaults on maritime lanes and the counter-actions by American and British forces. The meeting highlighted peace efforts in Yemen, led by UN envoy Hans Grundberg. The United States urged global action on Iran amidst Houthi provocations. Grundberg emphasized regional discord’s impact on Yemen’s peace. Saudi Arabia and Oman’s contributions to UN mediation were praised, urging Yemeni factions to prioritize peace over hostilities. The dire humanitarian situation in Yemen was also addressed, urging increased international aid.

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★ SYRIA

  1. US Congress Passes Anti-Normalization Law Against Assad Regime.

The US Congress, on February 14, overwhelmingly passed the “Anti-Normalization of the Assad Regime Law” with 389 votes in favor. Senator Joe Wilson hailed the legislation as a stride towards facilitating Syria’s democratic transition, explicitly attributing the plight of the Syrian people to the actions of Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran. Via a tweet, Wilson warned against any attempts to normalize relations with Assad, underscoring the House’s commitment to a liberated Syria. The law introduces measures for greater UN funding transparency and the safeguarding of humanitarian assistance, reinforcing the US stance against normalization with Assad’s government.

  1. SDF Repels Syrian Regime-Linked Infiltration in Deir ez-Zor.

On Wednesday, the SDF media center reported the thwarting of the regime-supported mercenaries‘ move towards the towns of Dhiban, Al-Kashma, and Al-Shafah. The defensive action forced the assailants to retreat, resulting in numerous casualties within their ranks. While the SDF statement did not specify its own losses, social media sources claim the clash led to the death of seven government force members, highlighting the ongoing tensions and confrontations in the region.

  1. Coalition Retaliates Against Iranian Militias in Deir ez-Zor.

In a responsive action to missile attacks on the American Al-Omar field base, the international coalition conducted airstrikes on Tuesday evening in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, targeting Iranian militia positions. The strikes resulted in the deaths of two militia members. Additional reports indicate that three members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, including a notable leader, were also killed in the coalition’s bombings within the Al-Mayadeen desert.

  1. Israeli Strike on Al-Nayrab Airport in Aleppo Injures Three.

An Israeli air strike targeted Al-Nayrab Airport in Aleppo, confirmed by the Russian Reconciliation Center, injuring three airport employees. This statement contradicts earlier denials by the Syrian regime of the incident. Launched from Lebanese airspace, two Israeli F-16 fighters fired cruise missiles at the facility. This latest attack is part of a series of Israeli operations against Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed militias, leading to both human and material losses across Syria.

  1. Ukraine Exposes Russian Recruitment of Syrian Fighters for War Efforts.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense has disclosed information revealing Russia’s enlistment of 141 Syrian individuals to partake in the conflict in Ukraine. According to details, the training for these recruits is being conducted at military installations near Aleppo and Kuweires Airport. The Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate further highlighted that Moscow is facilitating the naturalization of these conscripts by providing Russian passports, coupled with the lure of substantial salaries for security-related roles. An initial group of approximately 1,000 Syrian youths has been mobilized through Syrian travel agencies, with plans for their subsequent relocation to the Hmeimim Air Base, gearing up for their involvement in the ongoing war against Ukraine.

  1. Assad Regime’s Alleged Drug Bust Raises Doubts.

The Assad regime’s customs officials claim a major drug seizure in Latakia, allegedly uncovering one million Captagon pills disguised as “tomato paste.” While over 120 kilograms of narcotics were reported seized, skepticism arises regarding the regime’s involvement in drug trafficking. Critics doubt the authenticity of the regime’s anti-narcotics efforts, citing allegations of its complicity in the drug trade within Syria and globally. Reports of drugs openly sold in regime-controlled areas, allegedly with intelligence services’ involvement, cast doubt on the regime’s sincerity in combating narcotics.

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★ IRAN

  1. Revolutionary Guard’s Role in Iran’s Nuclear Expansion.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is actively involved in expanding Iran’s nuclear capabilities. An official disclosed the Guard’s participation in constructing new units at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, including two projects with a combined output of over 2,100 megawatts. Initiated in 2014 with Russia’s Atomstroyexport and a $10 billion investment, this development raises significant concerns over the dual-use potential of Iran’s nuclear advancements.

  1. IRGC Conducts Missile Drills Targeting Mock Israeli Air Base.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) successfully executed military drills simulating attacks on a scaled-down model of Israel’s Palmachim Air Base using “Emad” and “Qadr” ballistic missiles. These exercises, commemorating Revolutionary Guard Day, demonstrated the missiles’ enhanced warheads and modified designs, achieving striking precision within a 4-meter margin at a range of 1,700 kilometers. This provocative maneuver underscores escalating tensions and the IRGC’s advancing missile capabilities.

  1. Cyberattack Targets Iranian Parliament Amid Anti-Government Protests.

The “Intifada to Overthrow” group, linked to the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran, launched a cyberattack on the Iranian parliament’s websites amid escalating anti-government protests. This attack, preceding the March legislative elections, is part of a series targeting Iran’s government infrastructure. Sensitive information, including Tehran’s evasion tactics against U.S. sanctions, was exposed. The leaks reveal methods of document falsification and the use of foreign intermediaries in illicit commercial operations. Authorities are working to restore services and investigate the breach.

  1. Explosions Target Iranian Gas Pipelines; Authorities Maintain Supply Continuity.

Two significant explosions, described by Oil Minister Javad Oji as “terrorist sabotage,” struck gas pipelines in southwestern Iran. Despite the severity, the Iranian government claimed that gas supplies to industrial and administrative sectors remain unaffected. Minister Oji confirmed there were no casualties from the incident, and the National Gas Company has effectively managed the situation. Repair efforts are actively underway, with expectations to restore gas flow within 12 to 14 hours, reinforcing Iran’s resilience in maintaining essential services amidst challenges.

  1. Iran Open to Defense Talks with Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s Defense Minister expressed readiness for discussions with Saudi Arabia on defense and security cooperation, stressing regional collective security. The minister highlighted Iran’s willingness to collaborate with not only Saudi Arabia but also other Gulf nations. The Saudi ambassador echoed these sentiments, describing the relationship as “brotherly and friendly.” This announcement follows a positive phone call between military officials from both countries aimed at strengthening ties.

  1. Pure Islamic Ideology’s Influence on Iran’s Politics: Analysis.

Iran’s political landscape is deeply influenced by pure Islamic governance, with shifts in emphasis on religious ideologies over time. Following Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s passing, cleric Ebrahim Raisi has come into focus, potentially signaling a move towards more religiously-driven politics. Yazdi’s legacy includes the establishment of religious schools promoting his ideologies, fostering extremist elements in government and religious spheres. This shift prompts questions about Iran’s long-term political stability amid ideological competition. As Iran grapples with internal discord and external criticism, the future role of religious ideology in its politics remains uncertain, challenging its resilience to domestic and international pressures.

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★ IRAQ

  1. Iraq and Iran Pledge Joint Efforts Against Regional Threats.

Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani emphasized the need to strengthen judicial cooperation with Iran during a meeting with Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei. This collaboration targets drug trafficking and terrorism. Al-Sudani also condemned what he termed as “malicious” influences from the United States and Israel in the region. Additionally, Muhammad Sayhoud Al-Sudani from the State of Law coalition announced plans for the withdrawal of American troops, reportedly supported by Imam Khamenei

  1. Iraq Eyes Enhanced Energy Cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani stressed closer collaboration with Saudi Arabia under OPEC to stabilize the global energy market. In talks with Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, Al-Sudani welcomed Saudi investment in Iraq, emphasizing economic and bilateral ties. The meeting highlighted a joint solar energy project with Total Energies and Saudi’s ACWA Power, advancing cooperative ventures between the two nations. In other related news, Iraq pledged to align its oil production with OPEC+ agreements. This decision aims to rectify any production increases beyond agreed limits, using secondary source reports to validate data. It reaffirms Iraq’s commitment to the production adjustments set during the 35th OPEC+ Ministerial Meeting in June 2023, emphasizing its role in global oil market stability.

  1. Iraqi Refugee Sentenced in Plot to Assassinate George W. Bush.

An American court has sentenced Iraqi refugee Shihab Ahmed Shihab to over 14 years in prison for attempting to smuggle an ISIS assassination squad into the United States to kill former President George W. Bush. Shihab, who pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists, was motivated by grievances over the chaos in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion. His conviction has raised concerns about vulnerabilities within the American immigration system, highlighting his entry into the U.S. with a visa obtained from a corrupt official and attempts to remain in the country through fraudulent asylum claims and a sham marriage. Shihab faces the possibility of deportation after serving his sentence.

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★ LEBANON

  1. Lebanese Phalange Party Slams Iranian Minister’s Visit.

The Lebanese Phalange Party criticizes Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s Beirut visit, calling his comments on Lebanon’s security a sovereignty breach. They accuse Lebanese leaders of neglecting public interests, alleging ties to harmful external agendas. The party also condemns the lack of justice in Rafik Hariri’s assassination, blaming Lebanese authorities for inaction against the perpetrators.

  1. Lebanese Rally for Saad Hariri’s Return to Politics on Rafik Hariri’s Memorial.

In Beirut, thousands commemorated the assassination of Rafik Hariri, urging his son, Saad Hariri, to re-enter the political fray. Saad, having just returned from the UAE, reiterated his support for the Lebanese despite previously stepping back from politics and skipping the 2022 parliamentary elections. The crowd, brandishing Future Movement flags, voiced a strong desire for Hariri’s leadership to restore Lebanon’s security and stability amidst ongoing political deadlock and severe economic turmoil. Participants highlighted Hariri’s critical role in consolidating unity and securing international backing for Lebanon.

  1. Geagea Calls Out Election Disruption by Hezbollah Allies in Meeting with UN Coordinator.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, voiced strong objections against Hezbollah and its allies for undermining the presidential elections during his discussions with Joanna Wronczka, the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. Accusing them of double-dealing and sidelining the Lebanese public’s interests, Geagea highlighted the need to respect the diverse political landscape revealed by the 2022 parliamentary elections. He emphasized the importance of representing all Lebanese viewpoints and reiterated the urgency of addressing the Beirut port explosion through an international inquiry to ensure accountability and justice.

  1. Cyprus Negotiates with Lebanon on Return of Rescued Syrian Migrants.

Cyprus is in talks with Lebanon to repatriate 116 Syrian migrants rescued near Cypriot shores, aiming to enforce a previous pact on handling unauthorized immigration. Despite Lebanon’s reluctance, citing its own critical migration issues, the Cypriot government persists, with the Interior Minister highlighting Lebanon’s immigration challenges. Concurrently, Cyprus’s President urges the EU to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to secure zones within Syria. Meanwhile, Lebanese officials have curtailed attempts by migrants to reach Europe, amid reports by the UN of a significant exodus of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Europe by sea in 2023.

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★ EGYPT

  1. Erdogan and Sisi Commit to Renewed Ties and Cooperation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s landmark visit to Cairo—the first since 2012—marks a pivotal moment in Turkish-Egyptian relations alongside President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Both leaders have committed to revitalizing their countries’ relationship, aiming to increase bilateral trade to $15 billion in the coming years. The visit, characterized by the signing of key agreements and a mutual dedication to enhancing cooperation across various sectors, including energy and defense, symbolizes a thaw in relations that had cooled following political upheavals. Additionally, both leaders emphasized the importance of addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, with Sisi calling for a ceasefire and Erdogan underscoring the value of their partnership. This historic meeting signifies a new chapter of collaboration, following a period of gradual diplomatic engagement and the recent normalization steps like the exchange of ambassadors and discussions on defense cooperation.

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★ TURKYIE

  1. Putin Plans Pre-Election Visit to Türkiye.

The Kremlin has disclosed plans for President Vladimir Putin to visit Türkiye ahead of Russia’s mid-March elections, marking his first trip to a NATO country since the Ukraine conflict began. This long-anticipated visit, previously delayed, underscores Ankara’s role in negotiating Russia’s re-engagement with the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The meeting between Putin and Turkish officials is poised to address significant disagreements over regional conflicts in Syria, Libya, and the South Caucasus, highlighting its critical diplomatic implications. Originally expected on February 12, the visit’s planning illustrates the complexities of aligning such high-profile engagements with the demands of Russia’s electoral calendar.

  1. Türkiye Shifts Export Focus Amid Declining Trade with Israel.

In response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, Türkiye has notably reduced its export reliance on Israel, seeking alternative markets as diplomatic and commercial ties have been halted since October. This redirection has resulted in a 50% decrease in Turkish exports to Israel, affecting key industries including steel, grains, and produce. Consequently, Türkiye is increasingly focusing on other markets, notably Germany, the United States, and Iraq, to compensate for the downturn in trade with Israel.

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★ THE ARABIAN GULF

  1. UAE Launches Major Solar Project with French and Korean Partners.

The UAE is embarking on a significant expansion of its solar energy capabilities with the launch of the Al Ajban solar power plant, a $748 million venture in collaboration with France’s EDF and Korea Western Power. Positioned east of Abu Dhabi, the 1.5 gigawatt facility is slated for completion by July 2026, promising estimated revenues of $2.24 billion over three decades. Designed to power 160,000 homes and cut emissions by over 2.4 million metric tons a year, the project underscores the UAE’s commitment to diversifying its energy portfolio and advancing its carbon reduction objectives.

  1. Saudi Arabia’s “Sah” Sukuk Attracts Strong Interest in First Offering.

Saudi Arabia’s inaugural government savings sukuk, named “Sah,” has seen robust demand, closing its first issuance with applications totaling 861 million riyals ($229 million) and fully subscribed by 35,000 savers. Offering an annual return of 5.64%, this initiative aligns with Vision 2030’s goals to boost individual savings rates and enhance financial literacy among citizens. By introducing “Sah” and similar products, the Kingdom aims to encourage regular saving habits and educate the public on the significance of savings for future financial security. The next issuance of “Sah” sukuk is anticipated in March 2024, continuing this effort to broaden the financial options available to Saudi residents.

  1. Saudi Arabia Ends Year with $21.6 Billion Budget Deficit.

Saudi Arabia reported a budget deficit of 80.946 billion riyals ($21.6 billion) for the last fiscal year, marking a significant shift from an earlier estimated surplus of 104 billion riyals. The total expenditures reached 1.293 trillion riyals against revenues of 1.212 trillion riyals, with oil revenues contributing 754.6 billion riyals. The deficit, particularly pronounced in the year’s final quarter at 37 billion riyals, was attributed to decreased oil revenues stemming from a voluntary production cut aimed at stabilizing the market. This outcome underscores the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts to navigate the complexities of global energy dynamics and resource management within its economic strategies.

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📌 Incase you missed it,

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

📰 The Early Phoenix Feb 13, 2024

🌍 The Region – Feb 12, 2024

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

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