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The Early Phoenix January 25, 2024

Table of Contents

Iranian-Backed Militia Activities Persist in Yemen and Iraq; Israel Counters Solo; Turkey Aligns with Iran in Israel Boycott

TOP HEADLINES:

  • Houthi Strikes Target Yemeni Airport and U.S. Supply Ship
  • Second Drone Strike on Ashdod Port by Iraqi Militias
  • Khamenei Convenes Assembly of Experts To Choose His Caliphate, Excludes Moderates
  • Israel Strikes on Hezbollah Targets in Southern Lebanon and Iran-Hezbollah Airport
  • Turkey Responds to Khamenei’s Call, Halts Trade Dealings with Israel

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★ Yemen

  1. Houthis Disrupt Air Traffic at Yemeni Airports Under Government Control. The Houthi rebels assert their control over Yemeni airports belonging to the legitimate government and prevent a United Nations aircraft from landing, marking the second incident this week.
  2. Houthi Strikes Prompt U.S. Supply Ship Retreat in Red Sea. Houthi forces in Yemen launched attacks in the Red Sea, targeting two American commercial ships escorted by the U.S. Navy. These ships, operated by Maersk Line Limited and transporting supplies for the U.S. Army, were forced to retreat while crossing the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The U.S. Navy intercepted several projectiles during the incident, and the ships, part of the Maritime Security and Voluntary Sealift programs, returned safely to the Gulf of Aden without any damage or crew injuries. In response to the heightened risk, Maersk has suspended transit of its ships in the region. This incident escalates tensions amidst broader geopolitical challenges in the area, including the Yemeni conflict and the recent designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
  3. Houthi-Al-Qaeda Collaboration in Red Sea Attacks. Yemeni sources report meetings in Sanaa and Hodeidah where the Houthis sought Al-Qaeda’s involvement in naval operations targeting Western interests, including suicide attacks. These talks aimed to frame such actions as a ‘jihadist’ duty against American aggression. This collaboration is linked to a series of assassinations in Aden, suspected to involve Al-Qaeda operatives. The U.S., addressing the threat, has launched unilateral airstrikes and re-designated the Houthis as a terrorist group, aiming to disrupt their aggressive maritime activities in the strategically crucial Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
  4. Sanctions on Houthi Leaders: No Ties to American Banks or International Travel. US and UK Impose New Sanctions on Houthi Leaders with No Ties to American Banks or International Travel. The United States and the United Kingdom have opted to intensify sanctions on Houthi leaders in Yemen, known for their pro-Iran alignment. These sanctions target four key individuals and encompass asset freezes and travel restrictions. It’s noteworthy that the sanctioned leaders have no connections to American banks and do not engage in international travel. This action aligns with global endeavors to heighten pressure on the Houthi insurgents, underscoring international concern about the escalating conflict in Yemen.
  5. Global Mining Giant BHP Alters Shipping Routes Due to Houthi Assaults in the Red Sea. In response to intensified Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, coinciding with the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, the Australian mining conglomerate BHP has rerouted most of its Asia-Europe shipments. This strategic shift circumvents the Red Sea, a critical global shipping lane, in favor of longer routes like the Cape of Good Hope. The Yemeni rebels’ focus on targeting vessels they associate with Israel or its allies has disrupted trade flows, compelling not only BHP but also major oil firms such as BP and Shell to seek alternative paths. These reroutings, while ensuring continuity of business, result in slower, costlier deliveries. This development underscores the widening impact of regional conflicts on global trade and the strategic recalibration of shipping routes by multinational companies.

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★ Iraq

  1. Second Drone Strike on Ashdod Port by Iraqi Islamic Resistance. On January 25, 2024, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched a drone attack on Israel’s Ashdod port, marking their second such strike. This follows their recent attacks on three U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, including Ain al-Assad. The group claims these operations as part of their ongoing campaign against Israeli occupation, citing retaliation for perceived aggressions against Palestinians in Gaza.
  2. Iranian-affiliated Iraqi Parties Begin Political Pressure Operations to Expel U.S. Forces. After the leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, Falih Al-Fayyadh, affirmed that the PMF’s role is solely related to Iraq’s financial aspect and securing its supplies, and that it is the strong arm of Imam Khomeini’s project, with the PMF remaining Imam Khamenei’s sword until the achievement of Iraq’s integration with Iran, which is the primary goal of establishing the PMF, and its role is to defend this project, political parties in the Iraqi parliament have started working to exert pressure to end the presence of U.S. forces in the country. Ali Hussein, a member of the Fatah Alliance, emphasized that the supreme will in Iran seeks to expel U.S. forces from Iraq. The Saqaroun bloc in the Iraqi parliament announced its determination to confront the ongoing American airstrikes on PMF facilities.

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★ Iran

  1. Khamenei Convenes Assembly of Experts for Succession, Excludes Moderates. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is convening Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a crucial step in determining his successor, signaling a potential shift in the nation’s leadership. This gathering, scheduled for March 1, is expected to select the next Supreme Leader, as Khamenei, nearing 85 and facing health issues, prepares for a transition of power. However, in a strategic move that underscores his autocratic governance style, Khamenei has systematically excluded moderate and pragmatist figures, such as former President Hassan Rouhani, from participating in this pivotal process. This exclusion is emblematic of Khamenei’s broader approach to solidifying hardline control over Iran’s political landscape, effectively sidelining voices that might advocate for reform or engagement with the West. 
  2. Iran Expands Regional Influence through Drone Proliferation in Sudan. Iran has escalated its influence in the Middle East by providing “Muhajir 6” drones to the Sudanese army, a move confirmed by Western officials and satellite imagery at Sudan’s Wadi Saydna base. These advanced surveillance and munition-carrying drones signify a deepening military bond between Tehran and Khartoum, amidst rising tensions and potential civil unrest in Sudan. This strategic arms transfer, reflecting Iran’s support for various regional factions, coupled with renewed diplomatic engagements between Sudan and Iran, signals a significant shift in regional power dynamics and poses critical implications for U.S. interests in the region.

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★ Syria

  1. Explosions in Homs Amid Suspected Israeli Airstrike on Iranian Sites, Regime Silent. A series of explosions, including a powerful blast that reverberated across the city of Homs in central Syria, has raised suspicions of an Israeli airstrike targeting Iranian militia locations. Despite widespread reports, there has been no official confirmation of this incident, and the regime and its official media have remained conspicuously silent regarding these unexplained explosions. Military observers suggest that the Israeli airstrikes were directed at Iranian installations in the northern countryside of Homs, particularly in the village of Al-Mukhtariyeh, known for housing facilities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard militia and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
  2. U.S. Pentagon Debunks Russian Misinformation, Reasserts Strong Military Presence in Syria. Russian sources have been spreading misleading information about a potential withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, contradicting official statements from the Pentagon. Reports in Arabic media indicate that the Russian government is advising the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to strengthen ties with the Assad regime, based on these unfounded rumors originating from Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Defense has emphatically denied these rumors, reaffirming the strategic significance of the American military’s presence in the region. 
  3. Astana 21: A Continuation of Status Quo with a Sole Focus on Israeli Strikes. Contrary to what the Syrian opposition claimed about the outcomes of The 21st International Meeting on Syria in Astana, involving Iran, Russia, and Turkey, the announced results are no different from Astana 1-21. The only difference is the joint condemnation issued about the Israeli strikes on Iranian militias in Syria. The only thing discussed about Idlib was the sustainable normalization of the situation in and around the Idlib de-escalation area, including addressing the humanitarian situation there.

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★ Lebanon

  1. IDF Strikes Iran-Hezbollah Airport in Major Escalation. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched an attack on a crucial Hezbollah-Iran airstrip at Kilat Jaber, marking a significant escalation in the ongoing tensions. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had previously revealed images of this joint Hezbollah-Iranian terror base, located just 20 kilometers from Israel’s border. Gallant emphasized that the airstrip displayed Iran’s flag, signifying its involvement in plotting against Israel. He warned that Iran, often using Hezbollah and other proxies, remains the most significant threat to Israel’s security. The IDF’s action aims to prevent the transformation of Syria into a Hezbollah stronghold armed with powerful rockets, underscoring the high stakes in the region.
  2. Hezbollah Launches Aerial Attacks on Israel as Israeli Escalation Continues in Lebanon. According to Hezbollah media, the group carried out an aerial attack using drones on sites affiliated with the air defense system and Iron Dome platforms near the settlement of ‘Kfar Blum’ in Israel, resulting in direct hits. They also targeted the Jal Al-Alam and radar sites in the Lebanese Shebaa Farms with missile weapons, causing direct damage. These attacks come amid ongoing Israeli shelling in southern regions and an Israeli airstrike targeting Mount Haneen. Israeli forces also conducted airstrikes in the Mount Jbour area in the Jezzine district. Israeli military performed sweeping operations around the Hadab site using medium and heavy machine guns. This situation is accompanied by intense Israeli fighter jet flights in the south.
  3. Israeli Military Strikes Hezbollah Targets in Southern Lebanon; Warns of Escalation. The Israeli army conducted airstrikes on Hezbollah military positions in Tyre and Al-Mughira, southern Lebanon. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, in a meeting with Italian counterpart Antonio Taiani, threatened Lebanon with severe military repercussions if Hezbollah does not withdraw from the northern Israeli border. Katz emphasized the necessity of Hezbollah’s withdrawal for Lebanon’s stability, citing potential severe impacts on Lebanese civilians. Concurrently, Katz acknowledged Italy’s role in combating Hamas’ financing in Europe and sought continued support in this endeavor. The ministers also discussed enhancing bilateral cooperation in energy, tourism, and humanitarian initiatives for the Palestinian population. 
  4. Increasing Challenges of Illegal Migration and Its Impact on Cyprus and Lebanon. The National Security Advisor and Director of Cypriot Intelligence, Tassos Tzionis, visited Lebanon to discuss the issue of Syrian refugees. The visit comes amidst concerns in Cyprus about a potential new wave of migration due to the conflict in southern Lebanon. Cyprus’ infrastructure is not capable of addressing this issue alone and relies on European assistance. More than 80% of migrants to Cyprus are fleeing in search of job opportunities, with approximately 25% of them aiming to reach other European countries and using Cyprus as a transit point.

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★ Israel & Palestinian Territories

  1. IDF Operations Undermine Hamas Capabilities: Over 100 Operatives Surrender.  The recent operations of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have significantly weakened Hamas, as evidenced by the surrender of over 100 operatives and the loss of numerous fighters in recent conflicts. The IDF’s focused campaign in Gaza has led to a substantial reduction in the group’s influence and infrastructure. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant highlighted these developments, pointing to the diminishing operational capabilities of Hamas. 
  2. Deadly Raid on UN Shelter in Gaza: Israeli Military Investigates, Hamas Rocket Fire Suspected. On January 24, 2024, a bombing at an UNRWA vocational training center in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, left 9 dead and 75 injured. The center was sheltering displaced Palestinians. During this time, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were targeting Hamas military leaders in nearby tunnels. Initially, the IDF speculated the incident could be due to accidental Hamas rocket fire, but later excluded IDF air strikes or artillery as causes. Investigations continue into IDF ground activities near the shelter, including the potential role of Hamas in the incident. The U.S. condemned the attack, labeling it tragic and expressing concern, without assigning blame. The IDF’s Khan Yunis operation aimed at dismantling Hamas’s military framework, leading to the evacuation of around half a million people. The situation in Gaza, worsened by this event, is deemed catastrophic, with the U.S. focusing on providing aid.
  3. Hamas Suspends Prisoner Exchange Talks with Israel. In response to Israel’s ceasefire initiative, Hamas has announced the suspension of negotiations on a prisoner and detainee exchange deal. As reported by Israeli media, this decision was conveyed through Qatari mediators. Hamas demands the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip as the first phase of any deal, and emphasizes the need to end the war. 
  4. Escalation Between Hamas and Israel Over October 7 Events: Mutual Accusations and Calls for International Investigation. The events surrounding October 7 cast a shadow over the relations between Hamas and Israel, with both sides exchanging accusations regarding targeting civilians. Hamas vehemently denies engaging in hostile actions against civilians, justifying its operations as a reaction to what it considers injustices faced by the Palestinian people and ongoing occupation. Hamas insists it targeted only Israeli military sites, affirming its commitment to ethical standards. On the other hand, Israel rejects Hamas’s narrative, pointing to significant civilian casualties among Israelis. Israel bases its accusations on visual evidence and testimonies, including investigations conducted by international bodies such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.
  5. Israel’s Defense at the International Court of Justice: Confronting Genocide Accusations in Gaza. Israel has countered South Africa’s genocide allegations related to its military campaign in Gaza. Israel presented over 30 declassified documents, including orders from its war government and military leaders, to refute claims of genocide and demonstrate efforts to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. These documents, reviewed by The New York Times, show Israeli attempts to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza, including food, water, and medical supplies, as directed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The defense focuses on disproving the alignment of Israeli leaders’ statements with actual executive decisions, emphasizing actions taken to assist civilians in Gaza. The Court’s impending decision, expected on Friday, will address South Africa’s request for emergency measures, not the central genocide allegation, which requires extended deliberation. A ruling against Israel could lead to increased political pressure and potential sanctions, following a conflict that resulted in significant casualties on both sides.
  6. Israel Considers Water Agreement Termination as Jordan Critiques Gaza War Boldly. Israel is reportedly considering the termination of the water agreement with Jordan following what they perceive as “anti-Israel” statements from high-ranking Jordanian officials. Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, has been particularly audacious in his criticism of Israel’s actions in the Gaza conflict, stating that “nothing justifies the war in Gaza” and labeling it as “blatant aggression.” The current water agreement involves Israel providing 100 million cubic meters of water annually to Jordan in exchange for electricity production in Jordan for Israel. The growing tension between the two nations highlights the significance of Safadi’s outspoken stance on the Gaza war.

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★ Egypt

  1. Egypt Bolsters Border Security with Gaza. Egypt has taken significant security measures along its Gaza border, including establishing a 5-kilometer buffer zone and destroying over 1500 tunnels flooded with seawater. This move comes amid rising diplomatic tensions with Israel, as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declined a phone call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, professional communication continues between Israeli officials and Egypt’s head of intelligence, Abbas Kamel. President al-Sisi expressed concern about Israel’s policies in Gaza, emphasizing the need to keep the Rafah crossing open for humanitarian aid. These actions coincide with heightened security concerns in the Red Sea, highlighting Egypt’s strategic importance in the region.

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★ The Arabian Gulf

  1. Israeli Minister Smotrich Accuses Qatar of Funding Terrorism and Supporting Hamas. Israeli Minister Smotrich, known for his extremist views, levels serious accusations against Qatar. The minister, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, stated on the XN platform, “Qatar is a state that supports and funds terrorism,” adding that the emirate, as a patron of Hamas, bears significant responsibility for the massacres committed by Hamas against Israeli citizens.
  2. Kuwait Implements Precautionary Measures to Safeguard Oil Tankers Amid Red Sea Tensions. Kuwait Oil Tanker Company has taken precautionary measures to safeguard its fleet of oil tankers in the Red Sea amidst rising tensions in the region, temporarily suspending their passage through the Red Sea pending a continuous review of the situation. The company remains committed to fulfilling its contracts with various countries using foreign tankers despite this suspension.
  3. The World Is Changing: Saudi Arabia’s Tentative Steps Towards Alcohol Legalization. Saudi Arabia has announced plans to open its first alcohol store in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, exclusively for non-Muslim diplomats, marking a cautious shift in its long-standing prohibition policy. This move, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” reform agenda, aims to diversify the economy and modernize the society while maintaining cultural values. The store’s opening has elicited mixed reactions, reflecting the nation’s struggle to balance traditional norms with progressive changes. While the initiative currently affects a limited demographic, it signals a potential gradual shift in Saudi Arabia’s approach to alcohol, amidst debates over its impact on the country’s identity and the thriving black market.

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★ Türkiye

  1. Turkish Central Bank Raises Key Interest Rate to 45%. On Thursday, the Turkish Central Bank took a significant step to address the continuing financial difficulties in Turkey by raising the key interest rate from 42.5% to 45%. This substantial increase in borrowing costs is part of a broader tightening of monetary policy aimed at combating record inflation. Official data had previously shown a staggering 64.77% annual inflation rate in December, and this upward trend is expected to persist due to a substantial increase in the minimum wage. The recent rise in inflation has been driven by various sectors, including hotels and restaurants (93.2% increase), education (82.1% increase), and food and non-alcoholic beverages (72% increase). The Turkish Central Bank’s move reflects ongoing efforts to stabilize the economy after a period of monetary easing, and it underscores the challenges posed by inflation and economic fluctuations in Turkey.
  2. Turkey Responds to Khamenei’s Call, Halts Trade Dealings with Israel. Turkey announced the removal of Israel from its targeted export markets list. This decision comes despite the trade exchange between Turkey and Israel reaching record levels, with Turkish exports to Israel valued at $5.42 billion in 2023, making Israel the 13th largest market for Turkish exports. Since October 7, 701 Turkish ships have arrived in Israel, averaging eight ships a day, including 480 direct voyages between Turkey and Israel and 221 via Turkey. The Turkish Ministry of Trade also halted its support for joint conferences between the two countries, impeding the efforts of the Turkish trade attaché in Israel to foster commercial relations.
  3. Iran-Turkey Talks Yield Support for Palestinian Groups; Economic Deals Signed. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, culminated in a declaration of support for Palestinian groups and the signing of ten agreements, primarily focusing on enhancing economic cooperation. The leaders jointly expressed their backing for what they termed “the Islamic resistance in Palestine,” a statement made amidst ongoing tensions in Gaza, where Israel is actively countering Hamas, backed by Iran and allied with Turkey. This stance, juxtaposed with Turkey’s continued economic engagements with Israel, reveals complex regional dynamics. Further, the visit underscores both nations’ ambitious goal to boost bilateral trade to $30 billion annually, despite a recent decrease in trade volume, which saw a 16% decline to $4.4 billion in the first 10 months of 2023.
  4. Biden Seeks Congress Approval for Sale of F-16 Fighter Jets to Turkey Following Sweden’s NATO Entry. Following Sweden’s NATO application approval, President Biden has initiated the process to seek Congressional approval for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. The US State Department expressed its support for Turkey’s efforts to modernize its F-16 fleet but emphasized Congress’s pivotal role in this process. Ambassador Jeff Flake, in an exclusive interview with Reuters, revealed that once the official ratification document is received in Washington, the State Department will promptly notify Congress about the fighter jet sale. Additionally, President Biden has sent letters to key Congressional committees, welcoming the Turkish Parliament’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. This move underscores the strategic importance of maintaining strong defense ties in the region.
  5. Why is Russia Getting Involved in US-Turkey Montreux Convention Talks? US Deputy Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander’s recent statement on the Montreux Convention raised questions about potential changes to the treaty. Wallander emphasized the need for collaboration with Black Sea coastal countries, including Turkey. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov responded, indicating that Turkey, as the guardian of the convention, would strictly implement its provisions if the USA sought amendments

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📌 Incase you missed it,

📰 The Early Phoenix January 24, 2024

📰 The Early Phoenix January 19, 2024

📰 The Early Phoenix January 18, 2024

🌍 The Region – January 22, 2024

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