Top 5 Headlines:
- Deadly Explosions Near Soleimani’s Tomb on Anniversary.
- Saudi Arabia Officially Joins BRICS Group.
- Lapid Criticizes Netanyahu’s Leadership After Controversial Gaza-Congo Migration Plan.
- American Wins $50 Million in Landmark Case Against Syrian Regime for Kidnapping and Torture.
- Houthis Escalate Red Sea Shipping Attacks.
★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- Lapid Criticizes Netanyahu’s Leadership After Controversial Gaza-Congo Migration Plan. Yair Lapid, former Israeli Finance Minister, has strongly denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, particularly highlighting the controversial plan to resettle Gazans in Congo. Lapid, addressing a crowd in Tel Aviv, condemned Netanyahu’s leadership as self-serving and disconnected from the Israeli public. This criticism comes in the wake of Israel’s plan to facilitate “voluntary migration” of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to countries like Congo, a move that Netanyahu argues is a necessary security measure. However, Lapid’s sharp critique extends beyond this proposal, touching on Netanyahu’s economic decisions, mismanagement of U.S. relations, and the Gaza military campaign. This political rift, coinciding with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, reflects the deepening political crisis in Israel. Lapid’s confident stance on his Yesh Atid party’s prospects in the upcoming elections contrasts with the divisive and internationally criticized policies of Netanyahu’s administration, setting the stage for a heated electoral battle.
- IDF Escalates Gaza Operations, Captures Hamas Centers, Suffers Casualties. In a major escalation, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) intensified ground and air operations in the Gaza Strip, focusing on Hamas strongholds. Key achievements include the capture of a crucial Hamas intelligence center in northern Gaza, equipped with an extensive underground tunnel network and communication facilities. This action significantly undermines Hamas’s operational capabilities in both northern and southern Gaza. In parallel, IDF forces intensified attacks in Khan Yunis, encountering terrorists among civilians and uncovering a tunnel in a school. The IDF’s ground offensive, however, resulted in the loss of Sergeant Meron Moshe Gersh from the elite Yahalom unit, increasing the IDF’s casualty count to 175. Additionally, IDF soldiers were injured in a Hezbollah anti-tank missile attack near the Lebanese border.
- Deadly Explosions Near Soleimani’s Tomb: A Merging of Reports. The fourth anniversary of Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s death was disrupted by twin bombings near his grave in Kerman, Iran, resulting in at least 103 fatalities and 211 injuries. This incident, occurring during an event marking Soleimani’s death by a U.S. drone strike, represents the most significant attack in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The bombings, with a second explosion following approximately 20 minutes after the first, suggest a strategy often used in militant attacks, designed to target both civilians and emergency responders. The explosions took place amid a gathering at Soleimani’s gravesite, transforming the event into a scene of chaos. In the wake of the explosions, there has been a lack of consensus among Iranian officials and media regarding the cause. Some state-controlled media and the mayor of Kerman initially attributed the blasts to gas canisters, while other reports indicated the possibility of a deliberate attack, including suicide bombings or planted explosives. The rapidly escalating casualty count and the critical condition of several injured individuals have added to the urgency and complexity of the situation. As investigations continue, the exact nature and perpetrators of the bombings remain unclear, with no group having claimed responsibility for the attack.
- Divine Hotline or Divine Blunder? Khamenei’s Godly Claims Stir Controversy. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, sparked controversy with his claim that God once spoke through him. This statement, made during a meeting with the family of former IRGC operative Qasem Soleimani, contradicts Islamic theology, which holds that God communicated exclusively with Prophet Mohammed. In Shiite traditions, there’s no precedent for God speaking directly to Imam Ali or any other saint, making Khamenei’s claim potentially blasphemous. Faraj Sarkouhi, an Iranian literary critic in exile, described Khamenei’s assertion as indicative of megalomania and narcissism, typical of despots nearing the end of their reigns. Social media users echoed this sentiment, noting that under the Islamic Penal Code, such statements by an ordinary person could be punishable by death for blasphemy. Khamenei, who became Supreme Leader in 1989, initially maintained a lower profile. Over time, however, he grew more authoritarian, consolidating power and gaining reverence from senior ayatollahs. His legitimacy has been increasingly questioned, especially since 2009, with public discontent over economic woes and the regime’s harsh crackdown on protests. The official response to Khamenei’s claim has been muted, with pro-regime media dismissing the controversy as foreign media manipulation. Mehdi Fazaeli, an associate of Khamenei, refuted reports about Khamenei’s health, labeling them as enemy psychological operations. This event underscores the growing disconnect between Khamenei’s statements and public perception, especially amidst Iran’s ongoing socio-political challenges.
- Khamenei Advocates for ‘Jihad of Clarification’ to Counter Enemies. Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, emphasized the need for a “jihad of clarification” to thwart enemy schemes. Addressing Ahl al-Bayt elegists and eulogists, he underscored their role in this jihad, coinciding with national Women’s Day and the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Hazrat Fatemeh Zahra. Khamenei highlighted Zahra’s legacy in this form of jihad and revered Imam Khomeini for his significant role in it, attributing the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty and the establishment of a religious democratic government to Khomeini’s efforts in jihad of clarification. Khamenei also paid tribute to Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top terror commander, assassinated by the US military. He stressed the importance of participating in elections as a national duty, warning against any opposition to them as an act against the Islamic Republic and Islam. Additionally, he condemned external attempts to diminish the nation’s role in governance, advocating for jihad of clarification to counter these actions and clarify the truth. Khamenei further pointed to the situation in Gaza, declaring it the current frontline of the Islamic world and praising the people of Gaza for standing against the United States and global arrogance.
- American Wins $50 Million in Landmark Case Against Syrian Regime for Kidnapping and Torture. The American law firm Miller & Chevalier secured a $50 million compensation judgment against the Syrian regime for the kidnapping and torture of Kevin Dawes, an American citizen. Dawes, a photojournalist, was detained in 2012 by Syrian regime forces and subjected to harsh conditions and torture in a windowless cell, leading to severe physical and psychological trauma. The US District Court ruling, issued by Judge Rudolph Contreras, strongly condemned the Syrian regime’s actions as reprehensible. Dawes’s release in 2016 was facilitated by information from a fellow prisoner, British surgeon Abbas Khan, who later died in custody. The compensation for Dawes will be sourced from the Terrorism Victims Fund, established with proceeds from Syrian regime sanctions. This ruling is a significant step in holding human rights violators accountable and represents a victory for victims of torture, symbolizing progress in the fight against state-sponsored human rights abuses.
- “Citizenship in Exchange for Enlistment” – Leaked Video Shows Syrian Fighters in Ukraine. A leaked video from inside a military base in Moscow reveals Syrian and Arab fighters who reportedly volunteered to join the Russian army in Ukraine. The video shows them receiving military uniforms before being deployed to military sites near the Ukrainian border. Russia continues to recruit Syrians, offering them Russian citizenship upon arrival. Hundreds of Syrians are preparing to travel to Russia, driven by economic hardship rather than a desire to fight. Russia has eased the process of granting citizenship to foreigners who contract with the Russian military during the conflict in Ukraine, attracting recruits from various countries.
- Boat Carrying Dozens of Syrian Refugees Disappears Between Lebanon and Cyprus. A boat carrying dozens of Syrian refugees disappeared on the night of December 12, 2023, after leaving the Lebanese coast. Three out of four boats attempting irregular migration from northern Lebanon to Cyprus safely arrived with 170 passengers, leaving concerns about the fate of the fourth boat carrying 85 Syrian refugees, including 35 children, 50 men, and women.
- Syrian Central Bank Further Devalues the Syrian Pound. The Syrian Central Bank has once again reduced the value of the Syrian pound, setting the exchange rate at 13,000 Syrian pounds per US dollar, according to the exchange and remittance bulletin. The Syrian pound continues to depreciate, losing over 180% of its value in 2023 alone.
- Escalating Hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah announced it targeted a group of Israeli soldiers near the Al-Marj site, resulting in casualties. In response, Israel conducted airstrikes and artillery shelling in South Lebanon, particularly around the towns of Merkaba, Rab Thilaine, and Hula. This exchange of fire follows the assassination of Hamas Deputy Head Saleh Al-Arouri in Beirut, attributed to an Israeli strike, which Hezbollah vowed would not go unanswered. The Israeli army’s use of phosphorus bombs in its bombardment of Southern Lebanese towns has further heightened tensions. This series of events signals a dangerous development in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the axis of resistance, exacerbating regional instability and undermining the security and sovereignty of Lebanon.
- Nasrallah’s Bluster Masks Helplessness Post Al-Arouri Killing. In a charged speech following Hamas leader Saleh Al-Arouri’s assassination, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah vehemently criticized Israel, projecting a guise of strength to conceal his actual impotence. He claimed the Palestinian issue was reenergized by Hamas’s ‘flood of Al-Aqsa’, accusing it of disrupting peace efforts, and portrayed Israel’s assassination as a desperate bid for victory. Asserting readiness for an unrestricted war, Nasrallah’s rhetoric appeared more as performative defiance than a reflection of Hezbollah’s true strategic position. His accusations against the U.S. and vows of retaliation were seen as efforts to rally support amidst growing challenges. Nasrallah’s impassioned yet seemingly overcompensatory speech reveals a leader’s attempt to mask vulnerabilities and maintain influence in a complex and tension-filled regional context.
- Hezbollah’s Mahdi Scouts: A Veil for Militant Indoctrination. The Mahdi Scouts, operating under Hezbollah in Lebanon, present a significant concern as they function as educational incubators for future militants. Established in 1985 and deeply rooted in Hezbollah’s strongholds, this organization strategically targets young individuals, embedding militant ideology from a tender age. Their activities, disguised as traditional scouting, are heavily laced with Hezbollah’s doctrines, including concepts of “holy jihad” and allegiance to the “guardian jurist.” This indoctrination extends to both male and female members, preparing them for roles within Hezbollah’s military and political wings. This systematic cultivation of young minds into a loyalist base not only strengthens Hezbollah’s influence within Lebanon but also poses a grave risk to regional stability. The global scrutiny from organizations like the World Organization of the Scout Movement highlights the alarming nature of such groups, exploiting youth education for extremist purposes.
★ THE GULF REGION & YEMEN
- Houthis Escalate Red Sea Shipping Attacks. The Houthi group in Yemen has intensified attacks in the Red Sea, recently targeting the MSC United cargo ship and falsely claiming an attack on the Malta-flagged freighter CMA CGM TAGE, which they believed was Israel-bound. The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) reported no crew harm, while CMA CGM confirmed the vessel was undamaged and headed to Egypt. These attacks, part of over 100 launched by the Houthis against various international ships, threaten a critical global trade route accounting for 12% of the world’s commerce. In response to these persistent threats, shipping companies have significantly raised prices, and some, like Maersk, have halted Red Sea services.
- Container Ship Reports Three Explosions Near Yemen. On January 2, 2024, the British maritime security company Ambrey reported that a container ship flying the Maltese flag had reported three explosions nearby off the coast of southwestern Yemen. Ambrey stated that the ship’s captain had been in communication with a coalition warship, and another nearby vessel reported sighting a small boat approximately 50 meters away from the incident site.
- Saudi Arabia Officially Joins BRICS Group. Saudi Arabia has officially become a full member of the BRICS group, which previously included Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This expansion also added Iran, the UAE, Egypt, Argentina, and Ethiopia to the group. Saudi Arabia’s membership comes amidst geopolitical tensions between the US and China, and the kingdom’s concerns about the US’s reduced commitment to Gulf security.
- Saudi Arabia Approves Investment Cooperation Agreement with Turkiye. Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet, under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has approved the cooperation agreement on promoting direct investments previously signed with Turkiye. Details about the agreement were not disclosed. This agreement was signed during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Saudi Arabia on July 17, 2023.
- Qatari Guard Commander Discusses Military Cooperation in Ankara. Qatari Guard Commander, Major General Haza’a bin Khalil Al-Shahwani, visited the Turkish capital, Ankara, to discuss military relations between the two countries. During the visit, he met separately with the Turkish Minister of Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, and the Chief of the Turkish Gendarmerie, General Arif Çetin. Discussions focused on mutual security and military cooperation, aiming to enhance and develop bilateral ties.
- Arab Strategic Forum in Dubai Envisions the World in 2024. The Arab Strategic Forum in Dubai, titled “The Political and Economic State of the Arab World in 2024,” gathered elite officials and thought leaders to discuss the political and economic situation in the Arab world. The forum aimed to forecast political and economic changes, Arab roles in regional and global shifts, and the upcoming challenges. Key discussions included the Gulf states’ economic influence and the impact of hosting global events, like the Qatar 2022 World Cup and Saudi Arabia’s 2034 World Cup. Experts also highlighted regional crises such as the Gaza conflict and Sudan’s internal issues.
- Jordan Receives Final Installment of $38 Million Saudi Grant. The Jordanian government has received the fifth and final installment of a $250 million grant pledged by Saudi Arabia in 2018 to support Jordan’s general budget over five years (2018-2022). The grant aims to alleviate economic challenges faced by Jordan, following commitments made during a summit in Mecca in 2018, where Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait promised a package of economic aid worth $2.5 billion.
- Iran’s Basij and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Stage Joint Display in Shatt al-Arab. Iran’s Basij naval forces and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces are set to hold their first-ever joint display in the waters of Shatt al-Arab in Iraq. The event, organized by the Third Naval Region of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), takes place near a memorial for Iranian casualties in the 1986 Faw Offensive against Iraq.
- Australian Inquiry into Declassified Iraq War Documents. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has ordered an investigation into the non-disclosure of declassified documents related to Australia’s involvement in the U.S.-led Iraq invasion from 20 years ago. These documents, released by the National Archives of Australia, were initially withheld due to their association with the National Security Committee, a subcommittee responsible for national security and foreign policy decisions. Albanese aims to determine whether the documents were withheld for political reasons and calls for transparency regarding Australia’s participation in the war.
- Iraq Implements Ban on Dollar Transactions for Five Countries, Including Iran. Iraq’s central bank has enforced a plan to ban the use of the US dollar from January 1st onwards, affecting five countries, including Iran. The move aims to control exchange rate fluctuations and reduce the gap between the official and black market exchange rates. As a result, transferring funds to Iran will require currency purchase from the free market, incurring about a 20% difference in exchange rates.
★ EGYPT & AFRICA
- Hamas and Islamic Jihad Suspend Talks with Israel After Al-Arouri’s Assassination. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have informed Cairo of their decision to suspend negotiations with Israel regarding a ceasefire following the assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri, Hamas’s deputy leader, in an Israeli attack in southern Beirut’s suburb. The move is seen as a response to the perceived Israeli aggression, with Hamas emphasizing that such actions won’t break the spirit of resistance.
- Egypt Freezes Mediation Role After Assassination of Al-Arouri. Egypt officially informed Tel Aviv of the freezing of its role as a mediator between Israel and Palestinian factions in protest of the assassination of Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’ deputy head of the political bureau. Following Al-Arouri’s assassination, Hamas reportedly instructed mediators to halt discussions on any ceasefire or prisoner exchange with Israel, aiming to prevent further escalation.
- Sisi Emphasizes Priority of Ceasefire in Gaza. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi conveyed to a US congressional delegation that the current priority is achieving a ceasefire, protecting civilians, and ensuring sufficient humanitarian aid for Gaza residents. Egypt also emphasized the importance of avoiding the escalation of conflicts in the region and holding Israel accountable for violations.
- Egypt Refrains from Joining International Coalition Against Houthis. Despite escalating conflict with Houthi rebels and their attacks on ships in the Red Sea, Egypt remains uninterested in participating in the international coalition to protect the waters. Egypt opts for a balanced stance to facilitate communication with all parties during wartime, preventing regional expansion.
- Erdogan to Host Reisi and Putin: Key Regional Talks in Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is preparing to host significant diplomatic talks in Ankara with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The discussions are set to encompass a wide range of critical regional issues, including the Gaza ceasefire, prisoner exchanges, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the Black Sea Grain Initiative. A key focus will be strengthening economic ties, with an ambitious target to boost trade to $100 billion. For President Raisi’s visit, the agenda includes pressing matters like the Gaza conflict, cooperation in the South Caucasus, counter-terrorism efforts, and enhancing economic relations, possibly through new border crossings. Discussions will also delve into the situations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the South Caucasus, along with a concerted effort to combat terrorism, particularly against the PKK and PJAK. Raisi’s trip signifies a crucial phase in the ongoing high-level dialogue between Iran and Turkiye, aiming to address both bilateral and regional challenges.
- Turkish Authorities Thwart ISIS Attack on Religious Sites Amid Alleged Mossad Plot. Turkish intelligence and police forces successfully foiled an ISIS plot to attack churches and synagogues across multiple cities in Türkiye. Surveillance operations led to the identification and subsequent arrest of suspects involved in the ISIS cell, who were reportedly conducting detailed reconnaissance on their targets. This development coincides with separate allegations that Israel’s Mossad is orchestrating violence and chaos in Türkiye. These allegations involve plans to incite tensions and manipulate public opinion, potentially through attacks on Jewish organizations or figures, with the blame being shifted onto Palestinians. Additionally, there are claims that Mossad might utilize terrorist groups like the PKK and ISIS to further unrest and target political figures, aiming to provoke disputes between Arab populations and Türkiye. These events highlight significant security challenges in Türkiye, involving both domestic and international actors.
- Turkiye’s Export Boom and Special Energy Deal with UAE Boosts Gulf Relations. Turkiye, under President Erdogan, has seen a remarkable surge in exports in 2023, especially to key Gulf countries and Russia. The total export revenue hit a record high of $255.8 billion, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Russia leading the increase. The UAE topped the growth chart with a 63.4% rise, while Saudi Arabia followed closely with an impressive 150.4% increase, and Russia with 16.9%. This significant growth in exports is attributed to Turkiye’s strategic shift in economic policies and its efforts to strengthen ties with Gulf nations and Russia. Complementing this economic success, details have emerged about a special energy agreement signed between Turkiye and the UAE during President Erdogan’s visit to Abu Dhabi. The deal, worth nearly $18 billion, facilitates UAE companies to invest in Turkiye’s nuclear, wind, and solar energy sectors for a combined capacity of 28,500 MW. Notably, this agreement offers the UAE exclusive investment rights, exempting them from bidding and competition, and providing a ‘friendly’ dispute resolution mechanism outside of court. These developments underscore Turkiye’s deepening economic and diplomatic relationships with the Gulf region.
📌 Incase you missed it,