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Hezbollah stockpiling Iranian weapons at Beirut International Airport, including missiles and explosives, increasing regional security threats.

Netanyahu-Biden Tensions Deepen as Hezbollah Reportedly Prepares for War with Israel

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Top Headlines: 

  • Hezbollah Reportedly Stockpiling Iranian Weapons at Beirut International Airport
  • Netanyahu Reiterates Biden Slowing Israeli Resupply; Gallant in DC for Arms Delivery Negotiations
  • Boycotts Lower Turnout Predictions for Iran’s Tightening Presidential Race
  • Houthis Claim Drone Attacks on Ships Near Haifa; Iran Reportedly Leveraging Piracy Networks
  • Bahrain Prepares to Normalize Relations with Iran

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ISRAEL-HEZBOLLAH CRISIS

  1. Hezbollah Reportedly Stockpiling Iranian Weapons at Beirut International Airport

Shortly after Hezbollah released its second intimidation propaganda video titled “To Whom It May Concern,” showcasing ongoing reconnaissance operations over Israeli territory, including Ben Gurion Airport, Haifa, Hadera Port, and Ashdod Port, and ending with a speech by Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warning that those considering war with Hezbollah will regret it, the UK Daily Telegraph reported that Hezbollah was using Beirut’s international airport to stockpile Iranian-made weapons. According to the report, Rafik Hariri International Airport stores Iranian-made artillery rockets, Fateh-110 and Burkan missiles, and Syrian-made M-600 missiles with ranges over 150 to 200 miles. The report also mentions the presence of AT-14 Kornet laser-guided anti-tank missiles and RDX explosives, a toxic white powder. This report sparked great fear within Hezbollah officials, who quickly condemned the British newspaper for endangering airport workers and spreading “lies and deceptions.” Hezbollah-appointed Transport Minister Ali Hamieh held an emergency press conference where he publicly invited media and ambassadors to inspect the airport, insisting no weapons were stored there and threatened a lawsuit against the British newspaper. Hezbollah analysts compared the situation to past allegations involving Gaza’s Shifa hospital, suggesting the current accusations would justify future actions. Other Lebanese experts analyzed the two consecutive announcements as an intensifying war of intimidation. Israeli analysts commended the Telegraph report as a response to Hezbollah’s video threat, warning that if Hezbollah is storing Iranian weapons at the airport, it could launch them from there, potentially justifying Israeli actions to neutralize the airport. American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, warned that an Israeli invasion of Lebanon targeting Hezbollah could provoke significant support from Iran, heightening risks for U.S. troops in the region. Brown emphasized that Iran is more likely to assist Hezbollah rather than Hamas if they perceive Hezbollah to be significantly threatened.

  1. IDF Intercepts Hezbollah Drone Targeting Israeli Defense Site

Skirmishes of a full fledged war between Hezbollah and Israel continued over the weekend. An IDF Drone strike eliminated Ayman Ratma, Hamas’s director of supplies in Lebanon. Ratma was responsible for directing weapons supplies for Hamas and Jamaa Islamiya, the latter being a branch of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon. On Sunday, Hezbollah announced an air retaliation assault on the former headquarters of the 91st Division in Ayelet HaShahar in the Mishgav region, now home to Rafael Company’s Leshem Institute, an Israeli Ministry of Defense company that develops and exports combat technologies for the Israeli army. The IDF successfully intercepted the drone in the area housing factories of the military industries company, prompting sirens in the central Galilee due to interceptor missiles launched towards the air target. One IDF soldier was severely wounded as a result of the intercepting missile. The soldier was evacuated to receive medical treatment at the hospital. His family has been informed. Later in the day, Lebanese channels reported that the IDF was attacking southern Lebanon with phosphorus bombs.  Overnight, Israeli jets downed another drone from the east launched from Iraq by Iranian proxies who claimed responsibility for the attack on Eilat. 

  1. Canada Plans Largest-Ever Evacuation of Citizens from Lebanon

Canada is preparing for its largest-ever evacuation operation to protect 45,000 Canadians in Lebanon. Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly conveyed the urgency of the situation to Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, noting that military forces have already been dispatched. Katz urged Canada to pressure Iran, Hezbollah’s main supporter, to de-escalate the conflict, stressing that Israel cannot tolerate security threats that displace its residents. It is unclear if similar evacuation plans exist for the 35,000 Canadians in Israel.

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ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Netanyahu Reiterates Biden Slowing Israeli Resupply; Gallant in DC for Arms Delivery Negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed appreciation for U.S. support but highlighted a significant reduction in ammunition supplies over the past four months. He mentioned that repeated  quiet requests for expedited shipments had been met with unsatisfactory responses. Netanyahu decided to highlight the issue publicly, believing it would break the impasse. He acknowledged potential backlash, likening it to criticism faced over his positions on the Iran nuclear deal and Palestinian statehood. This criticism came as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant traveled to Washington to negotiate the release of a suspended shipment of heavy bombs. Defense Minister Gallant is also set to meet senior U.S. officials in Washington to discuss the third stage of the Gaza war, developments on the northern front, and regional policies concerning Iran. Meetings are scheduled with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns, and Special Envoy Amos Hochstein. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham after a meeting with the Defense Minister in the US held Iran responsible for any Hezbollah attacks that pose existential threats to Israel and vowed to work with his colleagues in the Senate to monitor the supply of arms shipments to Israel. 

  1. IDF Shifts West Bank Administration Powers to Smotrich Ally

A senior Israeli general approved transferring significant legal powers in the West Bank to a civilian administrator, a close associate of far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. This move, viewed by critics as a step toward de-facto annexation of the West Bank, shifts control of civilian affairs from the military to a civilian within the Defense Ministry. The newly appointed administrator, Hillel Roth, will manage areas such as real estate, land and water arrangements, and urban planning. Critics, including anti-settlement activists and human rights lawyers, argue this change advances Israeli interests and increases civil governance in the West Bank, undermining the military’s long-standing control.

  1. Arab Exports to Israel Surge Despite Gaza Conflict

Despite ongoing conflict in Gaza, exports from Arab countries to Israel significantly increased in May 2024 compared to the same period last year, prompting Palestinian complaints. Egypt’s exports to Israel doubled to $25 million. The United Arab Emirates saw its exports rise from $238.5 million to $242 million. Jordan’s exports increased from $32.3 million to $35.7 million. These economic ties have intensified during the war, raising concerns among Palestinians about the growing trade relationships between Israel and neighboring Arab states. 

  1. Russian Spy Ships Monitor Israel’s New Submarine Trials

Two Russian intelligence ships, Sibiryakov and Wassili Tatischtschew, are reportedly monitoring the sea trials of Israel’s latest submarine, INS Drakon. Built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in Kiel, the submarine is believed to be undergoing tests. Droxford Maritime noted that the Sibiryakov, equipped to record submarine acoustic signatures, operated unusually west of Denmark from June 13-17, likely to gather intelligence on the trials. The Wassili Tatischtschew has also positioned itself off Kiel, supporting suspicions of Russian surveillance. The INS Drakon, with potential strategic missile capabilities, is a high-value target for intelligence gathering due to its role in Israel’s nuclear deterrent.

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YEMEN

  1. Houthis Claim Drone Attacks on Ships Near Haifa; Iran Reportedly Leveraging Piracy Networks

Two commercial ships were damaged off Yemen’s coast following drone and missile attacks by Houthi forces. The British Maritime Trade Operations Authority reported a vessel hit by an unmanned aerial system near Hodeidah, causing damage but no severe injuries among the crew. A second incident involved the Transworld Navigator in the Red Sea and the STOLT SEQUOIA in the Indian Ocean, targeted by drone boats and missiles, respectively. The Houthi military spokesman stated they cooperated with Shia militias in Iraq to attack four ships in Haifa’s port using drones. Two ships carried cement, and two were general cargo vessels. Additionally, the Shorthorn Express, en route to Haifa, was targeted in the Mediterranean. Bloggers note three American aircraft carriers, Ford, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt, are heading to the Mediterranean during reports that indicate growing threat to maritime security in Yemen and East Africa, suggesting coordination between Somali, Houthi, and Iranian pirates. A study, titled “A Rivalry that Threatens Politics and International Security,” asserts that Houthi attacks in the Bab el-Mandab Strait force cargo ships to detour around Africa, creating opportunities for Somali pirates. This alliance, potentially extending 5,000 km, could lead to Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Indian Ocean, aided by Iranian and Somali pirates. The study also links piracy to arms smuggling and suggests that Iran leverages piracy networks to influence East Africa and Yemen.

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IRAN

  1. Boycotts Lower Turnout Predictions for Iran’s Tightening Presidential Race

Recent polls in Iran indicate a tight three-way presidential race among conservative Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, reformist Masoud Pezeshkian, and hardline Saeed Jalili, with Qalibaf leading but unlikely to secure an outright win. Turnout is expected to be slightly higher than the record-low 48.8% in 2021, yet still low, with only 42.5% of respondents confirming their intention to vote in the latest ISPA poll. Over 500 Iranian intellectuals, including Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi, have declared a boycott of the elections, criticizing candidate Masoud Mezikian for aligning with the regime and ignoring past abuses. The election, triggered by President Ebrahim Raisi’s death, features six candidates, and faces significant voter apathy and factional rivalries, posing challenges for a decisive outcome.

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SYRIA

  1. Drones Target U.S. Base in Eastern Syrian Desert

Arabic media reported that drones targeted the U.S. military’s Al-Tanf base on Saturday near the Iraqi border in eastern Syria. The attack was thwarted by the base’s air defenses, which intercepted and destroyed a drone entering from the eastern side. The base is situated in the 55-kilometer zone at the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle. The drone attack took place less than 24 hours after reports that Iran-backed militia forces had been targeted by airstrikes near the Syria-Iraq border, though the U.S.-led international coalition denied on Saturday that any such airstrikes had taken place.

  1. Russian Troops Try to Negotiate Calm Between Assad Regime and Druze Locals in Suwaydah

The Assad security forces set up a new checkpoint at the northern entrance of Suwayda, sparking significant unrest. The checkpoint, overseen by armed faction leaders linked to security branches, aims to pursue fugitives, enforce compulsory service, and arrest political activists, according to local sources. This move has raised fears among civil activists, who predict increased violence and targeted assassinations. The checkpoint’s establishment coincided with the disappearance of Sheikh Raed Al-Matni, a supporter of the local movement, leading local factions to detain several regime officers as leverage to uncover his fate. This detention prompted armed clashes, including attacks on a Baath Party building. Following these clashes, a temporary truce was established to negotiate the checkpoint’s removal, with Russian mediators involved. The situation remains fragile, with ongoing negotiations to prevent further escalation and potential violence if an agreement is not reached.

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IRAQ

  1. Rising Fires in Iraq Spark Concerns Over Arson

Recent fires across Iraq, particularly in Basra, have raised suspicions of arson as investigations remain inconclusive. Over the past two weeks, multiple fires have caused fatalities, injuries, and significant property damage, including a major incident at a hospital under construction in Baghdad. The Ministry of Interior has called for heightened vigilance and investigations, yet results remain undisclosed. Observers question the causes, suggesting possible negligence or intentional acts linked to corruption or political rivalries. The Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee demands comprehensive investigation results within 15 days to address these concerns and improve fire safety measures.

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 THE GULF

  1. Bahrain Prepares to Normalize Relations with Iran

The 19th Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) meeting began in Tehran on June 24, attended by 41 delegations from Asian countries and international organizations. Iran, as the current ACD chair, hosted this significant event under the leadership of Caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri, emphasizing enhanced cooperation and multilateralism. Notably, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani’s participation marked a pivotal moment, signaling progress towards resuming Bahrain-Iran diplomatic relations, severed since 2016. Al-Zayani’s discussions with Baqeri, focusing on mechanisms for direct talks and addressing security concerns, suggest a swift restoration of ties. This development aligns with the broader regional trend of improving relations, following the recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  1. Saudi Border Guards Foil Smuggling of 505 kg of Khat

Saudi border guards in Jazan thwarted an attempt to smuggle 505 kilograms of the narcotic khat plant and 11 kilograms of hashish. The seized items were handed over to the competent authorities after completing regulatory procedures. Citizens and residents are urged to report drug-related activities to the authorities via designated hotlines and email. Saudi Arabia continues its rigorous efforts against drug smuggling and promotion, with the Ministry of Interior and security sectors actively combating psychotropic substances through monitoring, planning, and intensive security campaigns.

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 EGYPT

  1. Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Visits Beirut Airport to Dispel Claims of Hezbollah Weapons Stockpile

Ambassador Alaa Moussi of Egypt inspected Beirut International Airport to show support for Lebanon and urge calm amid recent tensions. This visit was part of a tour with other ambassadors in response to a report by The UK Telegraph alleging Hezbollah weapons storage at the airport. Moussi criticized the British newspaper for its claims and emphasized the need for a positive atmosphere to address regional issues.

  1. Consul General of Egypt in Hong Kong Inaugurates New Coptic Orthodox Church Headquarters

Ambassador Baher Shweikhi, Consul General of Egypt in Hong Kong, attended the inauguration of the new headquarters of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church in Hong Kong. A high-level church delegation, sent by Pope Tawadros II, participated in the celebration. Ambassador Shweikhi hosted a dinner for the visiting delegation, including Bishop Youssef, Bishop Royce, and other clergy. Father Daoud Hanna, pastor of the Egyptian Church in Hong Kong, expressed gratitude for the Consulate’s support and involvement with the local Egyptian Coptic community.

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📌 In case you missed it,

📰  THE EARLY PHOENIX June 21, 2024

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