In the MENA region, the Israel-Hamas conflict shows de-escalation signs with Israel’s conditional allowance of limited fuel to Gaza and potential post-war international oversight, but Israeli-Hamas fighting continues. In Gaza city, more than one-third of the pre-war population of 1.2 million has been displaced to south Gaza. Egypt is actively addressing the humanitarian crisis, transferring premature infants from Gaza to Egyptian hospitals and delivering essential fuel supplies.
On the Israel-Lebanon border, clashes between Israel and Hezbollah continue. Hezbollah has raised the stakes by reportedly deploying over 700 fighters near the Golan Heights and claiming attacks on Israeli positions following Israeli airstrikes near Damascus.
In Iraq and Syria, Iranian-backed groups are ramping up attacks against U.S. forces, attributing them to the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq.” The U.S. administration’s limited response has drawn criticism from Arab experts who suggest U.S. restraint might be emboldening the Iranians further. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton leads U.S. legislative efforts for a stronger stance against Iran, focusing on Tehran’s missile and drone programs.
Elsewhere in the region, Turkey navigates NATO negotiations and contributes to Gaza’s humanitarian aid, Yemen deals with a migrant crisis, and Saudi Arabia engages in strategic talks with CARICOM nations, reflecting a complex interplay of geopolitical, humanitarian, and alliance-building activities.
The Early Phoenix
Expert-Selected MENA News Intercepts & Summaries
Top 5 Headlines:
- U.S. Bases in MENA Region Under Coordinated Attack.
- Sen. Cotton Leads U.S. Legislators in Advocating for Firmer Iran Policy, Considering Direct Measures.
- Israeli Cabinet Approves Fuel Entry to Gaza with Conditions.
- Hezbollah Deploys 700 Fighters near Israel’s Golan Heights.
- Israeli Strikes Near Damascus Kill Two Hezbollah-Affiliated Fighters.
United States of America
- U.S. Bases in MENA Region Under Coordinated Attack. American military installations in the MENA region, including Tal Baidar in Syria and Harir Base in Iraqi Kurdistan, were targeted in separate but possibly coordinated attacks attributed to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. The Tal Baidar strike is linked to the Gaza crisis, while the Harir Base drone attack continues a series of aggressions against U.S. interests. These incidents have escalated regional tensions, prompting mediation efforts by the Iraqi Prime Minister amidst stern warnings from the U.S. Secretary of State (El Nashara, New Arab).
- US Considers $1.2 Billion Funding for Israeli ‘Iron Beam’ Directed Energy Weapon. The U.S. administration is contemplating allocating $1.2 billion from its emergency budget to invest in the Israeli directed energy weapon known as the “Iron Beam.” During a recent visit to Israel, the Head of Acquisition Affairs at the U.S. Army, Douglas Bush, viewed the “Iron Beam” prototype, expressing interest in its potential to enhance Israeli air defense capabilities. The technology differs from American laser weapons, offering a unique approach. Congress is yet to approve the funding, with some Republicans advocating for additional support for Israel’s military needs. If approved, a deal may involve intellectual property sharing between American and Israeli companies (Asharq).
- Sen. Tom Cotton and US Lawmakers Push for Tougher Stance on Iran, Mull Direct Action. US lawmakers, led by Senator Tom Cotton, are introducing measures to pressure the Biden administration into adopting a more assertive stance toward Iran. Cotton’s “No ICBMs or Drones for Iran Act” aims to bolster sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone programs, citing concerns about Iranian proxies targeting American troops and the potential threat of Iran possessing long-range missiles. Rep. Elise Stefanik introduced a companion bill in the House to counter Iran’s actions. Additionally, lawmakers are co-sponsoring bills to enforce Iran’s oil sanctions, establish a sanctions enforcement fund, and urge President Biden to consider direct action on Iranian soil in response to threats and aggression (JNS, Iran International).
Israel & Palestinian Territories
- Israeli Cabinet Approves Fuel Entry to Gaza with Conditions. The Israeli War Council, after a lengthy meeting, agreed to allow two fuel tanks daily into Gaza, specifically for United Nations’ water and sanitation needs, on the condition that the fuel does not reach Hamas. This decision, diverging from the previous stance linking fuel entry to progress on the prisoners’ issue, aims to prevent epidemic outbreaks in the region. Additionally, a potential truce and prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas is under discussion, involving the release of 50 Israeli hostages and children in exchange for 50 imprisoned women and children (Al Hadath).
- IDF Recovers Bodies of Israeli Hostages in Gaza as Tensions Persist. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have successfully retrieved the remains of Cpl. Noa Marciano and Yehudit Weiss, who were held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Marciano’s death, initially attributed to an airstrike, raised suspicions due to evidence of bullet injuries and signs of a fall. The recovery operations unveiled underground infrastructure near Shifa Hospital, underscoring the complexity of the situation in the ongoing Gaza conflict (JNS).
- Gaza Strip Plunges Into Darkness and Desperation. The Gaza Strip is facing a dire crisis as a lack of fuel has led to the shutdown of all internet and phone networks, isolating the territory from the outside world. Amid Israel’s offensive and the potential expansion of a ground invasion, residents are receiving evacuation notices in the south. With severe shortages of food, clean water, and basic necessities, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has reached a critical point. The conflict has already resulted in a high number of casualties, with thousands reported missing (AP).
- Israeli Military Targets Senior Hamas Figures in Underground Strikes. The Israeli military has launched airstrikes targeting underground infrastructure in Gaza, where senior political and military leaders of Hamas were believed to be hiding. While the military did not confirm the deaths of these leaders, it highlighted severe damage to the underground sites. The strikes are part of ongoing operations in Gaza, with the Israeli army indicating it is close to dismantling the Hamas “military regime” in the northern part of the territory. Leaflets urging civilians to evacuate southern Gaza suggest a potential expansion of operations, amid a conflict that has resulted in significant casualties (Times of Israel).
- Israel Agrees to International Control of Gaza Post-War. Israel has conveyed to the United States its agreement for international forces to oversee the Gaza Strip following the conclusion of the ongoing conflict. This development emerged from discussions between Brett McGurk, the US President’s envoy to the Middle East, and Israeli officials in Tel Aviv. The proposal, initially suggested by Germany and debated within the European Union, aims to stabilize the region post-conflict. Israeli officials clarified that their acceptance does not equate to Israeli civilian control or settlement establishment in Gaza. This agreement comes amid a prolonged conflict in Gaza, which has resulted in significant casualties and injuries (TRT Arabic).
- Gaza’s Population Dwindles to 807,000 During Ongoing Conflict. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that the number of residents in Gaza and its northern regions has decreased to approximately 807,000 during the current military operations by the Israeli army. This estimate, based on data including mobile phone signal analysis, shows a substantial reduction from the 1.2 million inhabitants before the conflict. The report underscores the difficulties in accurately locating these individuals due to the ongoing conflict. Significant displacement has occurred, with about one-third of the population from northern Gaza moving to the central and southern regions, increasing their population to 1.43 million. The Israeli army’s evacuation orders and the resulting widespread displacement have markedly changed the demographic composition of the Gaza Strip (Al Hurra).
- Escalation in the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank is experiencing heightened tensions with seven Palestinians killed in Israeli raids. Israel has approved fuel truck deliveries to Gaza amid UN warnings of potential starvation in the area. The decision, influenced by the U.S., aims to support civilian needs and facilitate hostage negotiation progress. Meanwhile, Israeli and Hezbollah forces have exchanged fire along the Israel-Lebanon border, and the U.S. has conducted airstrikes against Iran-linked groups in Syria. The situation remains volatile with ongoing military actions and humanitarian concerns (Al Monitor).
- Iran Criticizes Western Nations for Anti-Iran Resolution, Accuses Them of Ignoring Israeli Actions in Gaza. Nasser Kanaani, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, condemned Western countries for passing a human rights resolution against Iran while allegedly overlooking Israel’s actions in Gaza. He labeled the resolution as politically motivated, one-sided, and unrealistic, asserting it disregards Israel’s “atrocities” in Gaza. Kanaani emphasized Iran’s commitment to human rights and its willingness to engage in constructive dialogues, criticizing the West for hypocrisy and dishonesty in human rights defense (Tasnim Agency).
- Iran’s Quds Force Vows Full Support to Hamas in Conflict with Israel. Esmail Qaani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, pledged unwavering support to Hamas in its conflict against Israel. This commitment was conveyed in a letter to Muhammad Deif, head of Hamas’s military wing, following reports of Iran’s initial reluctance to join the war due to lack of prior notice. Qaani emphasized the unity of the resistance axis, which includes groups like Hezbollah, in standing against Israel. The letter comes amid ongoing tensions and attacks in the region, with Iran’s involvement in the conflict being debated internationally (Times of Israel).
- Ayatollah Khamenei Urges Guardian Council to Ensure Vibrant Parliamentary Elections. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, has emphasized the need for the Guardian Council to facilitate the groundwork for dynamic parliamentary elections. Meeting with jurists, legal experts, and members of the Guardian Council, he expressed gratitude for their efforts and highlighted the Council’s role in overseeing the electoral process. Khamenei underscored the collective responsibility to ensure an enthusiastic election atmosphere for the upcoming Islamic Shura Council (Parliament) elections, set to commence on March 1 (Fars News).
- Israeli Strikes Near Damascus Kill Two Hezbollah-Affiliated Fighters. Two individuals linked to Hezbollah were killed in Israeli airstrikes targeting areas around Damascus, as reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The strikes, which have increased amid regional tensions, hit a Hezbollah warehouse and other locations in the Al-Bahdalia and Sayyida Zeinab areas. The Observatory noted the deaths of two pro-Iranian fighters of non-Syrian nationality and significant material damage, including the warehouse’s destruction. Syrian air defenses claimed to have intercepted most of the missiles. These incidents are part of a series of Israeli actions in Syria, primarily targeting Iranian and Hezbollah assets (Al Hadath).
- Hezbollah Deploys 700 Fighters near Israel’s Golan Heights. Lebanese Hezbollah, reportedly consisting of over 700 elite fighters, has been deployed near Israel’s Golan Heights in Syria. These fighters, trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and hailing from various Middle Eastern countries, have been positioned in areas bordering the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Their deployment has raised tensions, particularly as clashes persist between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon (New Arab).
- Hezbollah Claims Strikes on Israeli Forces. According to Hezbollah media, the group has launched multiple attacks against Israeli military positions along the Lebanese-Palestinian border. They claim successful strikes on Israeli gatherings and sites, including Al-Raheb, Birkat Risha, and Metulla, and targeting an Israeli special forces vehicle near Al-Manara (Al Mayadeen).
- Türkiye’s Fuat Oktay Delays Decision on Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid. The Turkish Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, led by Chairman Fuat Oktay, has postponed the decision on Sweden’s NATO membership bid. The debate on Sweden’s accession protocol was adjourned due to the need for further clarification on certain issues and concerns related to Türkiye’s security. Türkiye has accused Sweden of being lenient toward groups it considers threats, including PKK and FETÖ members, and has expressed frustration over protests in Sweden. Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan initially lifting objections, the final decision remains pending (Hurriyet).
- Families of Israeli Hostages Appeal to President Erdogan for Humanitarian Intervention. The families of Israeli hostages, who have been held by Hamas for 42 days, have written a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking his humanitarian intervention. They express deep concern for the well-being of the hostages and request assistance in ascertaining their condition, providing medical care, and securing their immediate release. The families highlight their inability to communicate with their loved ones and appeal to Erdogan’s influence in the region to support their cause (Hurriyet).
- Turkish Weapons Factory Expands and Modernizes with New Investments. Turkiye’s Machinery and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) is enhancing its capabilities and expanding its production through new investments at the Çankırı Weapons Factory. The modernization project aims to increase the factory’s production capacity for various weapon systems, including anti-aircraft guns, grenade launchers, automatic grenade launchers, anti-aircraft machine guns, and howitzers. This initiative is supported by customs duty exemptions, VAT exemptions, tax reductions, and investment contributions. The Çankırı Weapons Factory plays a crucial role in reducing Turkey’s reliance on foreign sources for medium-caliber weapon systems, contributing to the country’s defense industry (Daily Sabah).
- Kurdish Autonomy at Stake as Election Delays and Political Divisions Intensify in Iraq. The upcoming Kurdish parliamentary elections in Iraq, delayed to February 2024, are exacerbating political rifts, particularly between the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Disagreements over election laws and power sharing, along with Baghdad’s growing influence over Kurdish autonomy, are key concerns. The elections are crucial for the future of Kurdish autonomy, with the risk of increased political fragmentation (Amwaj).
- Egypt Steps Up to Support Gaza’s Premature Infants and Hospital Fuel Needs. Egypt is orchestrating the transfer of 36 premature babies from Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital to its medical facilities, confronting challenges due to disrupted communications and hazardous transportation conditions. Concurrently, Egypt has successfully facilitated the delivery of 150,000 liters of diesel to hospitals in Gaza, showcasing its pivotal role in mitigating the region’s humanitarian crisis. The Palestinian Red Crescent, struggling with communication breakdowns and a scarcity of ambulances, plays a vital role in this transfer. Complicating the situation, Al-Shifa Hospital faces intense bombing, with Israel alleging its use by Hamas militants, a claim refuted by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. These events highlight the severe conditions in Gaza and the critical importance of Egypt’s involvement (Al Hadath).
The Gulf Region & Yemen
- Saudi-CARICOM Summit Paves the Way for Strategic Partnership. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led the inaugural Saudi-CARICOM summit in Riyadh, marking a significant step in strengthening relations. The leaders discussed common interests, emphasizing cooperation and sustainable development. They issued a joint statement focusing on peace, stability, and prosperity, with plans for enhanced cooperation in areas such as education, health, tourism, and investment. The summit also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Green Middle East Initiative and set the stage for future collaboration, with a follow-up summit planned for 2026. The trade exchange between Saudi Arabia and CARICOM countries in 2023 is expected to exceed 203 million Saudi riyals (Asharq).
- French Minister of Armed Forces Engages in Diplomatic Talks in Qatar. French Minister Sébastien LeCournot held discussions with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani in Doha. They discussed enhancing cooperation between France and Qatar as part of LeCournot’s regional tour, which includes Gulf countries, Egypt, and Israel. The talks follow his recent meeting in Riyadh with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman and are taking place amid ongoing Israeli aggression in Gaza and concerns about Western bias in favor of Israel in the region (Khaleej Online).
- Multiple Migrant Boat Tragedies Off Yemen’s Coast. Two separate incidents off Yemen’s coast have resulted in significant loss of life among African migrants. The first incident involved a boat carrying 75 migrants, primarily from the Horn of Africa, sinking near Mokha, with 26 rescued and 49 missing. The second, a boat carrying around 90 migrants, including 60 women, capsized off Yemen’s coast en route from Djibouti, leaving over 64 feared dead. These tragedies underscore the perilous journey migrants undertake to reach Yemen, often aiming for the Gulf region, and highlight the urgent need for safer migration pathways (Al Hadath).
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