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The Early Phoenix January 15, 2024

Table of Contents

Missiles Target Area Near U.S. Consulate in Erbil;
IRGC Claims Responsibility.

Top Headlines:

  • Missiles Target Area Near U.S. Consulate in Erbil; IRGC Claims Responsibility.
  • Iran-Pakistan Naval Drills Intensify Near Strategic Strait of Hormuz.
  • Iran-Houthi Axis: U.S. and British Interests Declared ‘Legitimate Targets’
  • Suspension of Qatari Natural Gas Transits Through Bab al-Mandab Strait.
  • Turkiye’s Military Campaign in Northeastern Syria: A Complex Strategy with Far-reaching Effects. 
  • Outrage Over Brutal Torture of Syrian Child in Türkiye: A Stark Reflection of Human Suffering.

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★ IRAQ

  1. Missiles Target Area Near U.S. Consulate in Erbil; IRGC Claims Responsibility.  In a concerning escalation of tensions in the Middle East, ten missiles were launched this morning towards an area near the new, yet unoccupied, building of the American Consulate in Erbil, raising international alarms. The ownership of the targeted area remains unconfirmed, with no immediate clarity on whether it falls under American governmental property. Allied forces responded promptly, successfully intercepting three drones in the vicinity of Erbil Airport. The strikes, which seemed to have narrowly missed American buildings, resulted in no reported material damage, according to statements from two American representatives at the Consulate to Arabic media outlets. Erbil Airport, which experienced a brief operational halt, swiftly returned to its normal schedule following the incident. In a bold declaration, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) claimed responsibility for the missile strikes in Erbil. The IRGC alleged that their targets were the Mossad spy quarters and opposition headquarters located in the region. This claim adds another layer of complexity to the already volatile regional dynamics. Additionally, the IRGC has admitted to conducting strikes in Aleppo, Syria, asserting that their targets were ISIS headquarters. These strikes in Aleppo are described by the IRGC as a form of retaliation for a prior explosion in Karma, occurring a few weeks earlier. This sequence of events marks a significant escalation in regional tensions, particularly concerning Iran’s involvement and its implications for U.S. interests in the area. As details continue to emerge, the international community closely watches the situation, with many awaiting the response of the United States and its allies to this latest development.
  1. U.S. Ambassador Engages in Dialogue on Iraqi and Kurdish Oil and Budget Matters. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Elena Romanowski, engaged in a substantive discussion with Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region, focusing on the collaborative efforts of Iraq and Kurdistan in the realms of oil and budget management. During this dialogue, Ambassador Romanowski commended the commitment to safeguarding American commercial interests. She also strongly condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Birmam and reiterated her support for both Iraq and Kurdistan as they confront these security challenges. This meeting underscores the strategic partnership and mutual interests between the U.S., Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region, particularly in the context of economic stability and counter-terrorism efforts. Ambassador Romanowski’s remarks highlight the importance of continued collaboration in navigating the complex political and economic landscape of the region.
  2. Iraq Aims to Halt International Borrowing and Reassess External Debts. The Iraqi government has set forth a plan to cease non-beneficial international borrowing and to conduct a thorough assessment of its external debts, which currently stand at $25 billion. To facilitate this initiative, a specialized committee has been established to scrutinize the loans, pinpointing the specific entities and projects that have utilized these funds. This strategic move is aimed at enhancing Iraq’s standing in the global financial arena. By focusing on eliminating debts that contribute little to the national economy, the government is taking a significant step towards fiscal responsibility and economic stability. This approach marks a pivotal shift in Iraq’s financial management, prioritizing long-term economic health over short-term financial influxes.

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★ IRAN

  1. Iran and Pakistan Conduct Joint Naval Exercises Near Strait of Hormuz. Iran-Pakistan Naval Drills Near Strait of Hormuz. Iran and Pakistan have begun joint naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, a key area in the Persian Gulf. The exercises, involving Pakistani vessels Maddgar and Zhob, aim to strengthen maritime collaboration and regional security. Admirals Qadir and Bilal highlighted the drills’ importance in enhancing independent regional defense capabilities and discussed broader regional concerns, including the situation in Gaza. This collaboration underscores the strategic partnership between the two nations in a globally significant maritime zone.
  2. India and Iran Fortify Ties with New Agreements Post-Blinken-Jaishankar Dialogue. Following a constructive dialogue between Indian External Affairs Minister Subramaniam Jaishankar and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Minister Jaishankar engaged in talks with Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mehrdad Bazarbashi, in Tehran. This meeting culminated in a strengthened commitment to the development of Chabahar Port, a critical component of India-Iran bilateral relations. The ministers reached a consensus to expedite the existing agreement on the development of Chabahar Port. They proposed the formation of a joint transport committee to boost cooperation and optimize the use of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Minister Jaishankar conveyed India’s eagerness to initiate new investments in transportation and transit projects at Chabahar Port. He also extended an invitation to Minister Bazarbashi to visit India, signaling significant advancements in the diplomatic relationship between India and Iran.
  3. Iran-EU Trade Surpasses €3.7 Billion Over 10 Months. According to the latest report from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, trade between Iran and the 27 EU member states exceeded €3.7 billion during the first ten months of the previous year. The report highlights a significant 13% increase in trade volume compared to the same period in the preceding year, with the total reaching €3.761 billion. Germany emerged as the foremost EU trade partner with Iran, accounting for 31% of the total trade volume between Iran and Europe. This substantial growth in trade underscores the deepening economic ties between Iran and the European Union, marking a period of robust commercial exchange and cooperation.
  4. Anticipating Turbulence in Post-Khamenei Iran. As Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s nearly 45-year tenure nears its end, a crucial question looms: what will Iran’s political landscape look like after his death? Contrary to the relatively smooth transition following the death of his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, the post-Khamenei era is expected to be markedly tumultuous. This article suggests that Iran is likely to face heightened political, social, and security conflicts during the power transition. The absence of influential figures capable of guiding this process smoothly is a significant concern. Such a leadership vacuum could exacerbate internal tensions and potentially lead to increased violence within the country. This scenario paints a picture of instability and uncertainty for Iran’s future, signaling a challenging period ahead for the nation.

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★ YEMEN

  1. Iran and Houthis Declare U.S. and British Interests as Targets. In a significant escalation of rhetoric, Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi, during a phone conversation with the head of the Houthi political council, strongly condemned the United States’ actions in Yemen. President Raisi characterized these actions as emblematic of U.S. aggression and a contradiction to the principles of human rights. He also noted that the global community widely condemns these measures, particularly due to Yemen’s support for Palestine. In alignment with Iran’s stance, the Houthi group reaffirmed its unwavering opposition to Israel. In the wake of recent attacks, the group issued a statement declaring American and British interests as legitimate targets for their forces. This declaration is a response to what the Houthis describe as “direct and declared aggression” by the United States and Britain against Yemen, marking a significant intensification in the group’s position and potentially heightening regional tensions.
  2. U.S. Intercepts Houthi Cruise Missile Aimed at American Aircraft Carrier in Red Sea. The U.S. Central Command confirmed that a Houthi cruise missile, which was targeted at an American aircraft carrier in the Red Sea, was successfully intercepted early Monday morning, with no reported losses. This interception was shortly followed by an announcement from Houthi media that six Houthi and two Hezbollah members were killed in a bombing in Hodeidah. Contradicting these reports, a U.S. military official categorically denied any involvement in strikes within Yemen, despite claims of bombing near the port of Hodeidah. However, Houthi-affiliated newspapers have reported that the alleged bombing led to the destruction of a missile platform and a Houthi operations room located within the coastal defense building in the area. This incident highlights the ongoing volatility and complexity of the conflict in Yemen, particularly in relation to U.S. military presence and actions in the region.
  3. Search Underway for Two Missing U.S. Soldiers in Gulf of Aden. A state of heightened concern has emerged following the disappearance of two U.S. Navy soldiers in the Gulf of Aden. The incident occurred during a mission aimed at intercepting a vessel suspected by American authorities of transporting Iranian arms to Yemen. Arab media outlets, referencing a report by the Washington Post, detailed the events leading to the disappearance. The first soldier reportedly slipped and fell into the water while attempting to board the ship under investigation, suspected of carrying illicit arms. In a bid to rescue him, his colleague subsequently jumped into the sea. Intensive search and rescue operations are currently underway in the Gulf of Aden, with efforts focused on locating the missing soldiers. This incident underscores the risks and challenges faced by military personnel in such critical operations and has sparked significant concern and attention.

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★ SYRIA

  1. Turkiye’s Military Operations in Northeastern Syria: Strategic and Humanitarian Implications. Turkiye’s intensified airstrikes in northeastern Syria have marked a significant escalation in its military strategy, with extensive consequences. The campaign, involving over 70 air strikes, has targeted a broad range of sites, including military installations, oil and gas facilities, and essential civilian infrastructure like public hospitals, schools, and water wells. Notable targets include the Suwayda Gas Plant and the oil refinery in Gir Beri, leading to substantial fires and damage.This expansive approach has not only disrupted the region’s economic infrastructure but also significantly affected civilian life. Power outages have been reported across numerous villages, and essential services have been severely impacted. The strikes have also damaged civil and security infrastructures, including an Internal Security Forces checkpoint and residential areas, raising concerns about potential violations of international humanitarian law. The Syrian Observatory has documented casualties among regime forces and civilians, including injuries to children, indicating the profound humanitarian impact of these operations. The Turkish campaign appears to be driven by objectives to weaken local powers and assert geopolitical influence, but it has also raised serious questions about the long-term stability of the region and the protection of non-combatants in conflict zones. 
  2. Pentagon Deploys Additional 1,500 Soldiers to Combat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon has made a decisive move by deploying 1,500 soldiers from the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Syria and Iraq. This deployment is part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the ongoing mission to combat ISIS in the region. The troops, who were honored in a special ceremony, represent the largest deployment of New Jersey Army soldiers since 2008. This significant increase in military personnel underscores the United States’ continued commitment to the fight against ISIS and the stabilization of the region.
  3. Syria and Iran Set to Launch Joint Insurance Company and Implement Customs Clearance. The Syrian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has announced the establishment of a joint insurance company between Syria and Iran, marking a significant step in bolstering trade relations between the two nations. Additionally, the implementation of customs clearance procedures between Syria and Iran has been agreed upon, further facilitating bilateral trade. An integral part of this development is the agreement to conduct transactions in local currencies, aiming to enhance trade exchange. This move is anticipated to substantially boost economic and trade cooperation between Syria and Iran in the near future, reflecting a deepening of commercial ties and a shared commitment to mutual economic growth.

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Intensifying Israeli Operations Amid Internal Crises. Israeli operations continue in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, reaching a critical juncture in the conflict with Hamas, with no imminent ceasefire in sight. These operations have focused on confiscating military equipment from Hamas leadership, targeting weapon storage facilities and other key military infrastructures. In the north, Israeli forces reported the elimination of five Hamas members, bringing the total number to approximately 9,000. Concurrently, Hamas released a video of three Israeli hostages taken on October 7, appealing to the Israeli government for their release. Abu Ubaida, spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, stated uncertainty regarding the fate of other Israeli hostages in Gaza, suggesting that many might have been killed, and attributing responsibility to Israel. The Israeli War Council faces internal strife, impacting the execution of its war strategy in Gaza. Disputes include budget allocation, war priorities, detainee repatriation, and policies regarding the West Bank and Palestinian workers. Tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant are particularly influential, complicating the management of military operations. A recent Israeli Cabinet session, which discussed the 2024 budget encompassing war costs in Gaza, witnessed withdrawals by several ministers amid escalating tensions with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Education Minister Yoav Kisch exited the session following a heated debate with Smotrich, amid discussions on increasing VAT and reducing coalition party funding. The Israeli Shin Bet reported Iranian efforts to infiltrate and manipulate social media targeting families of hostages in Gaza, aiming to incite discord within Israeli society. These operations included photographing homes of Israeli officials and recruiting agents, showcasing Iran’s strategy of influence. Israeli forces conducted a raid on An-Najah National University in Nablus, arresting nine individuals from a Hamas student cell, with additional arrests made in a joint operation between the Israeli army and Shin Bet. The Israeli Defense Minister accused Turkiye of being Hamas’ ‘executive arm’ ‘ following the arrest of Israeli footballer Sagiv Yehezkel in Turkiye for expressing solidarity with Israel during a match. Turkiye alleged that Yehezkel incited hatred, leading to his exclusion from his club. Israeli media reported that most Hamas military leaders have fled Beirut, fearing Israeli assassinations after the drone strike killing of deputy leader Saleh Al-Arouri. Hamas officials relocated to Syria and Turkiye, while Ghazi Hammad sought refuge in Qatar. Al-Arouri’s two sisters were detained in the West Bank.

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★ LEBANON

  1. Nasrallah Highlights Israel’s Setbacks in Gaza, Warns of Escalating Conflict in the Red Sea and Regional Fronts. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, marked the one-week anniversary of the killing of leader Wissam Tawil in an Israeli raid by emphasizing Israel’s failure to meet its objectives in the Gaza conflict. He underscored Israel’s inability to dismantle the Hamas movement, recover Israeli prisoners, displace the people of Gaza, or gain control of the Strip. Nasrallah praised the resilience and resistance of the Gaza populace in the face of ongoing Israeli bombardment. Addressing regional threats, Nasrallah remarked that American and Western endeavors to quell supportive fronts for Gaza have been unsuccessful. He affirmed Hezbollah’s and the Houthis in Yemen’s continued backing and support. He criticized American and British strikes on the Houthis in Yemen, asserting that these actions have jeopardized navigation in the Red Sea and warning that attacks on Israeli ships are likely to persist.
  2. New Armed Groups Emerge in Lebanon Post-October 7 Attack. A report by Al-Arabiya has shed light on the emergence of new armed factions in Lebanon following the October 7 attack. Notably, the “Fajr Forces,” linked to the Islamic Group, have claimed responsibility for four assaults on Israeli targets. Another group, the “Al-Ezz Brigades,” has acknowledged conducting an infiltration operation in the Shebaa Farms. This operation, executed under the cover of night and aided by foggy conditions, reportedly resulted in a confrontation with an Israeli patrol, leading to the deaths of four militants, as stated by Israeli media sources. The report suggests that the rise of these previously unknown groups could potentially serve Hezbollah’s interests. Researcher Makram Rabah commented on the situation, noting that any military action in southern Lebanon is likely to occur with Hezbollah’s consent, indicating the influential role the organization plays in the region’s security dynamics.

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★ The Arabian Gulf

  1. Qatar Temporarily Halts Natural Gas Transit Through Bab al-Mandab Strait. Qatar has temporarily ceased the transportation of liquefied natural gas through the strategically important Bab al-Mandab Strait, as reported by Bloomberg. This suspension arises amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea, largely due to Houthi attacks on commercial vessels and the subsequent American-British military response. The halt underscores the escalating security risks in the region, prompting Western nations to deploy battleships and establish an alliance to safeguard maritime navigation.
  2. Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, and Pakistan Forge Military Alliance to Boost Joint Defense. Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, and Pakistan are moving towards a strengthened military partnership, focusing on advanced cooperation in defense industries and technology. Key aspects of the signed agreements include localizing drone production, developing munitions, and manufacturing optical sensors. This alliance is indicative of a shared commitment to bolster defense capabilities and pursue self-reliance, while reinforcing the fraternal and historical ties among the three nations.
  3. Air Strikes on Houthis Stir Regional and Gulf Concerns. The escalation of air strikes by the United States and Britain against the Houthis in Yemen has heightened apprehensions among Gulf countries. There are growing fears of the conflict’s potential to escalate further, impacting regional security. This military action, a counter to Houthi activities in the Red Sea, exacerbates tensions in an already volatile region. Gulf countries find themselves in a precarious situation, balancing their aspirations for regional stability with their economic and development agendas.
  4. Saudi Foreign Minister Leads Delegation to Davos World Economic Forum. Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi Foreign Minister, heads to Davos, Switzerland, to lead the Kingdom’s delegation at the 2024 Davos World Economic Forum. The delegation aims to engage in discussions on regional and international challenges and explore avenues for international cooperation. Additionally, they will present the progress under Saudi Vision 2030 and highlight investment opportunities within Saudi Arabia.

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★ EGYPT

  1. China Calls for International Peace Conference to Address Gaza Crisis. During a press conference in Cairo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi advocated for an international peace conference to address the ongoing conflict in Gaza and halt the current escalation. Emphasizing the urgent need for a ceasefire and rapid humanitarian assistance, he highlighted the plight of the two million Palestinians living under challenging conditions. In a show of support, China committed to providing emergency humanitarian aid to Gaza. These proposals were a key focus of discussions during Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo.
  2. Egypt’s Import of Israeli Gas Hits 900 Million Cubic Feet Daily, Aims for Global Export. An Egyptian government official disclosed that in January 2024, Egypt imported an average of 900 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from Israel, primarily for re-export to international markets, including Europe. This significant volume marks Egypt’s return as a major global exporter of liquefied natural gas. Plans are underway for Egypt to increase gas imports in 2024-2025, aiming to boost its export capabilities, following a halt in exports for domestic consumption. 
  3. International Union of Muslim Scholars Plans Gaza Entry via Rafah Crossing with Egypt’s Coordination. The International Union of Muslim Scholars has announced plans to organize a delegation to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, in coordination with Egypt. The Union emphasized the importance of exerting pressure to safeguard Gaza and defend Palestinian rights. Meanwhile, Egypt refuted claims of closing the Rafah crossing and accused Israel of impeding the delivery of aid to Gaza.

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★ TURKIYE

  1. Turkiye Intensifies Military Operations in Northern Iraq and Syria. Turkiye has ramped up its military operations in northern Iraq and Syria in retaliation against Kurdish militant attacks. The Turkish Ministry of Defense announced the successful targeting of 29 “terrorist” locations in both regions through air strikes. These strikes, which targeted hideouts, shelters, and oil facilities, were a response to the recent deaths of nine Turkish soldiers during conflicts with Kurdish fighters. The Turkish government underscored that precautions were taken to safeguard civilians and historical sites. Additionally, Turkiye conducted a special operation in northern Iraq, resulting in the demise of Fayeq Aiden, a key recruiter for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Europe. Another operation led to the neutralization of PKK leader Hawallya Marjan in the Matina area, in collaboration with Turkish forces in Iraq. These actions are part of Turkiye’s ongoing campaign against the PKK, which operates in various regional countries.
  2. Brutal Torture of Syrian Child in Turkiye Sparks Outrage.  A harrowing incident in Gaziantep, southern Turkiye, has highlighted the violence and discrimination faced by Syrian refugees. Fourteen-year-old Syrian refugee Ahmed Zeinab was subjected to brutal torture by a group of Turkish youths following a dispute during a football match. The torture methods included beating with metal tools, hair pulling, attempted suffocation, and burning with cigarettes. Believing Ahmed to be dead, the assailants abandoned him roadside. Two suspects have been apprehended, with the search continuing for others. This incident has ignited widespread condemnation among both Turkish and Syrian communities, with calls for stronger protection of Syrian refugees and stringent action against the perpetrators.
  1. Turkiye to Implement Marine Traffic Monitoring System in Northern Cyprus. Turkiye’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Abdulkadir Oraloglu, announced plans to establish a “Marine Traffic Services System” in Northern Turkish Cyprus. This initiative is designed to monitor maritime activities and safeguard Turkiye’s interests in the Mediterranean Sea. The system will track navigational traffic and issue alerts in cases of maritime accidents or oil spills. This development is aimed at bolstering Turkiye’s strategic presence in the eastern Mediterranean region.

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📌 In case you missed previous versions:

📰 Early Phoenix January 12, 2024

📰 Early Phoenix January 11, 2024

📰 Early Phoenix 10-1-2024

📰 Early Phoenix 9-1-2024

🌍 Region January 8, 2024

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