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THE EARLY PHOENIX – Nov 15, 2023

THE EARLY PHOENIX – Nov 15, 2023 – Escalating Tensions: Israel-Hamas War Intensifies as Regional Unrest Grows

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Executive Summary: 

Today’s intercepts paint a vivid picture of a region in flux, underscored by escalating tensions and strategic power plays during the Israel-Hamas War. The U.S. decision to enable a $10 billion fund release to Iran amidst the Gaza conflict is a pivotal moment. This move, while drawing criticism domestically, also spotlights Iran’s growing influence, as seen in their covert training program for Hamas and strengthened ties with Iraq in the energy sector. 

Elsewhere, the intertwining of regional conflicts is evident. The Syrian regime’s procurement of U.S. equipment despite sanctions not only questions the efficacy of international sanctions but also highlights the complex network of alliances and backdoor dealings shaping the Middle East. Meanwhile, France’s legal actions against Bashar al-Assad over chemical weapons use signify a growing international impatience with longstanding conflicts and human rights abuses.

The Gaza conflict remains a litmus test for regional dynamics. The involvement of external actors like Russia, Iran, and even non-state entities like Hamas and Hezbollah illustrate a multifaceted struggle, where national interests, regional alliances, and ideological battles converge. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s spillover effects are palpable, from Hezbollah’s movements on the Lebanon-Israel border to Turkey’s political maneuvering.

In sum, today’s events underscore a complex web of cause and effect, where decisions and conflicts in one part of the region reverberate across borders, shaping the geopolitical landscape in profound ways. The need for nuanced understanding and strategic foresight has never been more critical in navigating these turbulent waters.

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Top 5 Headlines: 

  • U.S. Company Implicated in Supplying Equipment to Syrian Regime Despite Sanctions.
  • France Issues Arrest Warrants for Bashar al-Assad and Brother Over Chemical Weapons Use. 
  • Putin and Sisi Address Gaza Conflict in Phone Call.
  • Turkish Court Commences Trial of 57 Accused of Espionage for Israel.
  • Houthi Group Launches Ballistic Missiles at Israel, Threatens Israeli Ships in Red Sea.

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Currencies:

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United States of America

  1. Biden Administration Approves $10 Billion Iran Fund Release During Gaza Conflict. The Biden administration has allowed Iraq a 4-month waiver to release $10 billion to Iran, previously blocked by US sanctions. This decision, coinciding with the Gaza war and Iran’s support for Hamas, faces criticism for potentially aiding Iran’s malign activities. Critics in Washington, including Senators Risch and Blackburn, express concerns over Iran’s use of these funds, linking them to regional instability and terrorism. Despite assurances of humanitarian use, the move has sparked backlash and legislative attempts to counter the administrations’ Approval (Iran International). Immediately after the approval, Iraq’s electricity minister travels to Tehran for Energy talks.  The visit includes high-level meetings and a focus on advancing smart electricity solutions and renewable energy initiatives, leveraging Iranian technological expertise. This visit underscores the ongoing collaboration between Iraq and Iran in the electricity sector (Tasnim Agency). 
  2. Multiple Attacks on U.S. Bases in Iraq and Syria; Ain al-Assad Base Hit Again. The Pentagon revealed 55 attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria since October 17, resulting in 59 American soldiers sustaining minor injuries. Pro-Iranian groups were held responsible, and the U.S. asserted its right to respond. Meanwhile, Ain al-Assad base in Anbar, Iraq, housing American soldiers, faced another missile attack, following four missiles striking the base on Tuesday. These incidents occur amid concerns, especially from the U.S., about the potential regional escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (Al Jazeera, Al Nahar). 
  3. U.S. Company Implicated in Supplying Equipment to Syrian Regime Despite Sanctions. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) uncovers the Syrian regime’s use of a Cypriot company to evade U.S. sanctions while procuring drilling equipment from the American company “National Oilwell Varco.” Despite sanctions, discussions between the Syrian Oil Company and the Cypriot intermediary reveal attempts to purchase American-made equipment. The investigation raises questions about the effectiveness of sanctions and the role of intermediary companies in facilitating such transactions (Enab Baladi).

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Israel & Palestinian Territories

  1. Iranian Media Claims Significant Breaches in Israel’s Iron Dome Defense. Iranian reports allege that Hamas successfully exploited vulnerabilities in Israel’s Iron Dome system during the Al-Aqsa Storm operation, launching over 5,000 rockets and causing fatalities among Iron Dome operators. The reports claim cyberattacks on the system and suggest higher casualties than officially acknowledged by Israel (Tasnim Agency).
  2. Israeli Forces Conduct Precision Operation at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Israeli military forces carried out a targeted operation at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, focusing on a specific area within the hospital. The operation, described as precise and intelligence-driven, was aimed at Hamas, according to the IDF (Jewish News Syndicate).  Gaza Hospital Director refutes claims of armed Resistance During IDF Raid, however, and stated that no gunfire originated from Al-Shifa Hospital during the Israeli army’s recent incursion. Despite Israeli claims of Hamas command centers in hospitals, no evidence was found by the IDF during their search. The hospital, currently housing 700 patients and thousands of displaced people, has been surrounded by Israeli forces for six days. Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict has resulted in significant casualties on both sides, with a high number of civilian deaths and injuries reported (MEMO)
  3. Israeli Military Continues Operations in Gaza; Rockets Fired from Lebanon. Israeli forces persist in their ground operation in Gaza, focusing on Al-Shifa Hospital for a targeted mission. Meanwhile, clashes with Hamas and Hezbollah continue, with rockets launched into northern and southern Israel. Internationally, discussions between Netanyahu and Biden focus on efforts to free hostages held by Hamas. The health system in Gaza faces collapse, and international reactions vary, with Turkey and Spain expressing strong criticisms of Israel’s actions (i24).
  4. Jordan’s King Advocates for Two-State Solution in Washington Post Op-Ed. King Abdullah II of Jordan, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, emphasizes the necessity of a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace. He reflects on the negative impacts of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza 18 years ago, contributing to Palestinian division and hindering the peace process. The King calls for international efforts to establish a regional structure for peace, security, and prosperity, warning against the dangers of ongoing conflict and the rise of extremism (i24). 
  5. Macron’s Shift on Israel Stirs Concern Among French Jews. French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent demand for Israel to stop bombing in Gaza, contrasting his earlier support, has alarmed French Jews. They fear this change, seemingly in response to Muslim unrest in France, could incite antisemitism and compromise their safety. Macron’s stance, initially supportive of Israel’s fight against Hamas, appears to have shifted due to internal political pressures in France, raising concerns about the influence of local dynamics on French foreign policy (Times of Israel). 

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Iran

  1. Iran’s Covert Training Program for Hamas Uncovered in Document. A document found in a Hamas vehicle suggests Iran aimed to help Hamas develop its own weapons. The document, a letter from a Hamas commander, requested scholarships for operatives to study in Iran, covering fields crucial for weapons development. Israeli and US officials interpret this as part of Iran’s strategy to bolster Hamas’ military capabilities, making them less reliant on Tehran. The program reportedly includes explicit explosives engineering training, potentially by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This development underscores Iran’s influence in the region and its support for Hamas, which governs Gaza and faces domestic challenges (Iran International). 
  2. Exiled Iranian Prince’s Wife Supports Pro-Israel Rally in D.C. The wife of Iran’s exiled prince joined a pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., alongside Iranian dissidents, to protest anti-Semitism and the recent Hamas attacks on Israel. This gathering reflects a growing sentiment among Iranians against their government’s support of groups like Hamas, especially amid Iran’s economic struggles. The demonstration aligns with increasing public dissent in Iran, where citizens openly challenge state-sponsored anti-Western activities and prioritize national over regional issues (Iran International). 
  3. Russia-Iran Alliance Strengthens in Response to Middle East Conflicts. Arkady Mil-Man from the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies analyzes the changing geopolitical dynamics after the October 7 attack on Israel. He points out Russia’s increased cooperation with Hamas and Iran, forming a new axis in opposition to the West. This development, especially Russia’s backing of Hamas and its strategic partnership with Iran, poses a significant threat to Israel and the region’s stability. Mil-Man underscores the urgency for Western nations to reevaluate their stance on Iran, considering the broader impact on global democracy and security (Friedrich Naumann Foundation). 
  4. Iran-Iraq Collaboration on Joint Industrial Cities Raises Corruption Allegations. An Iranian delegation has arrived in Baghdad to discuss with Iraqi officials the creation of joint industrial cities. This initiative, funded by Iraqi money, is part of an economic cooperation agreement aimed at enhancing bilateral trade. However, the project is mired in controversy, with allegations of corruption and betrayal by the ruling Iraqi government, raising concerns about demographic changes and encroachment on Iraqi lands (Iraqi News). 
  5. Iran-Pakistan Navies Collaborate Against Maritime Terrorism. The naval forces of Iran and Pakistan are intensifying their collaboration to combat maritime insecurity and terrorism. This commitment was highlighted during a meeting in Tehran between Admiral Shahram Irani, Commander of the Iranian Naval Forces, and Admiral Javed Iqbal, Commander of the Pakistani Military University Lahore. The talks focused on enhancing cooperation, information exchange, and leveraging cultural ties to strengthen their joint efforts against maritime threats. The visit also included discussions on academic exchanges and appreciation of the deep-rooted cultural connections between the two nations (Islam Times). 

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Syria 

  1. France Issues Arrest Warrants for Bashar al-Assad and Brother Over Chemical Weapons Use. French judges have issued arrest warrants for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two aides on charges related to the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, Damascus, in 2013. The warrants come after a lawsuit filed by human rights organizations, citing testimonies from survivors of the attacks. The Association of Victims of Chemical Weapons in Syria welcomed the decision, highlighting the historic move to not grant immunity to the President, as the use of chemical weapons requires direct approval from the head of state (Zaman Al Wasl). 
  2. Tension in Al-Hawl Camp as Women Arrested Following Protests. Security forces in northeastern Syria’s Al-Hawl camp detained several women who protested against the separation of their children from the camp. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been transferring children aged 12 to 15 to special centers for rehabilitation, fearing they might be influenced by ISIS ideology. The arrests come after families staged a sit-in protest (Syria TV).

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Lebanon 

  1. Amal Movement Increases Presence on Lebanon-Israel Border. Lebanese daily Al-Modon reports a significant deployment of Amal Movement operatives along the Lebanon-Israel border since mid-October 2023. These operatives, aligned with Hezbollah, have been engaging in operations against Israel. This follows a speech by Nabih Berri, Amal’s leader, urging readiness against future aggression. The movement’s increased border activity, including military training and maneuvers, suggests a strategic partnership with Hezbollah in the region’s ongoing conflicts (MEMRI).
  2. Hezbollah Deputy Leader Vows to Defend Against Israel in Case of War. Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General, Sheikh Naeem Qassem, affirmed the group’s readiness to confront Israel in the event of war. He stated that they do not fear Israel’s threats and would defend themselves with all their strength. Qassem emphasized that the timing of any potential conflict would depend on developments in Gaza and Israel’s decisions, leaving open the possibility of an escalation (ElNashra). 

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Iraq

  1. Iraq’s Supreme Court Removes Speaker Al-Halbousi, Sparking Political Turmoil. Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court has removed Parliament Speaker Muhammad Al-Halbousi, causing political upheaval. This decision, which also affects MP Laith Al-Dulaimi, has led to resignations and boycotts by some political parties. Al-Halbousi vows to defend his constitutional rights, while others support the court’s authority, raising tensions ahead of December 18 provincial elections (Iraqi News, Asharq). 

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Turkiye

  1. Erdogan Warns Netanyahu: Your Nuclear Arsenal Won’t Save You, Your End Approaches. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a stern message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that Israel’s nuclear arsenal wouldn’t protect them. Erdogan criticized Israel’s actions, calling it a terrorist state and expressing support for the Palestinian cause amid the ongoing Israeli-Gaza conflict (Hurriyet). 
  2. Turkish Court Commences Trial of 57 Accused of Espionage for Israel. The trial of 57 individuals accused of spying for Israeli intelligence begins in Istanbul, Turkey, with charges related to obtaining confidential state information for political or military espionage purposes. The case, which started in December last year, alleges the establishment of a remote operations team by the Israeli Intelligence Service, using internet-based mobile phone apps and social media for communication and fund transfers. Turkish media previously reported the discovery of Mossad cells in Istanbul involved in monitoring activities of individuals and Palestinian organizations in Turkey (Al Jazeera). 
  3. Parliamentary Panel to Begin Discussions on Sweden’s NATO Bid. A parliamentary panel is set to deliberate on Sweden’s application to join NATO, with discussions commencing on November 16. The accession protocol, submitted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is under review by the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Sweden and Finland decided to apply for NATO membership in response to Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. While Turkey approved Finland’s bid, the process with Sweden faced challenges due to anti-Turkey protests in Stockholm. Amendments to anti-terror laws and lifted arms sales restrictions paved the way for an agreement between President Erdoğan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (Hurriyet Daily). 

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The Gulf Region & Yemen

  1. Qatar Mediates Potential Israel-Hamas Deal for Hostage Release and Ceasefire. Qatar is actively mediating a potential agreement between Israel and Hamas, aiming for the release of about 50 civilian hostages from Gaza and a three-day ceasefire. The proposed deal, involving coordination with the US, also includes the release of Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails and an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza. While Hamas has agreed in principle, Israel is still negotiating the details (Jerusalem Post).
  2. Houthi Group Launches Ballistic Missiles at Israel, Threatens Israeli Ships in Red Sea. The Yemeni Houthi group, Ansar Allah, fired ballistic missiles at Israel, including Eilat, amid the Israeli-Gaza conflict. Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi threatens Israeli ships in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab. Israel’s “Arrow” defense system intercepted a Red Sea missile in response, heightening regional tensions. Source of the projectile remains undisclosed (Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya). 

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Africa

  1. Putin and Sisi Address Gaza Conflict in Phone Call. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi held a phone conversation to discuss the escalating situation in the Gaza Strip. They expressed deep concern over civilian casualties, including children and women, and emphasized the urgency of halting the violence, releasing prisoners, and providing medical aid to civilians. Both leaders reiterated their commitment to a peaceful resolution based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel, in accordance with international law. Putin also acknowledged Egypt’s assistance in evacuating Russian citizens from Gaza (Anadolu Agency). 
  2. Egypt Condemns Israeli Finance Minister’s Statements on Gaza Displacement. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry criticized recent statements by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who suggested the voluntary evacuation of Gaza residents to other countries as a humanitarian solution. Shoukry denounced these remarks as a violation of international and humanitarian law, emphasizing that any attempts to justify or promote the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza are wholly rejected by Egypt and the international community. He highlighted that the displacement in Gaza results from military targeting and siege tactics, constituting a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 (Sky News Arabia). 
  3. Israeli Shin Bet Chief in Egypt for Talks on Hostage Release Deal. Ronen Bar, the head of Israel’s Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet), is in Cairo for discussions with senior Egyptian officials about a potential agreement to release hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Despite ongoing negotiations, significant progress has yet to be made, as confirmed by US President Joe Biden. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that details of any agreement would be disclosed upon tangible developments. Qatar, leading mediation efforts, has urged both Israel and Hamas to reach a deal, highlighting the worsening situation in Gaza and its impact on the hostage situation and ceasefire efforts (Sky News Arabia).  
  4. Egypt Mobilizes to Aid Newborns from Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Amid Crisis. The Egyptian Ministry of Health is preparing to receive 36 newborns from Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital following a power outage. Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar has organized 36 ambulances with portable ventilators at the border. The transfer is considered dangerous due to the need for mobile incubators and immediate care upon arrival. Coordination with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society is underway, with urgency emphasized as delays increase the risk to the infants’ lives. This initiative follows the Israeli army’s operation against Hamas in Al-Shifa Hospital and the dire situation in the hospital, which includes fuel exhaustion affecting incubators (Al Hurra).
  5. Chevron Restarts Gas Flow from Israel to Egypt After Month-Long Halt. Chevron has resumed the flow of natural gas from Israel to Egypt through the Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline, following a suspension exceeding a month due to the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The halt, which began on October 10, was a result of Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood” initiated by the Palestinian resistance, including Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades. The pipeline, crucial for transporting gas from the Leviathan offshore field to Egypt, had significantly impacted gas exports. Additionally, Eni, an Italian energy company, anticipates resuming liquefied natural gas exports from Egypt by December or January, aligning with the seasonal decline in Egypt’s energy demand (Al Jazeera). 

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