THE EARLY PHOENIX
Israel Advances, Russia Needs Iranian Missiles, and More Assad Drugs for Jordan
January 4, 2024
Top 5 Headlines:
- Hamas Elite Unit Members Surrender to IDF in Khan Yunis.
- Hezbollah Reports 4 Militants Killed, Israeli Sites Hit in Southern Lebanon.
- Jordanian Security Forces Arrest Drug Network Linked to Syrian Smugglers.
- Russia Explores Procurement of Iranian Ballistic Missiles.
- Houthi Militia Launches Anti-Ship Missiles Towards Red Sea.
★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- IDF Destroys Shifa Hospital Tunnels, Accuses Hamas of Using Child Soldiers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that they have destroyed a tunnel network leading to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. The IDF also accused Hamas of employing child soldiers for various tasks, including delivering explosive devices and gathering battlefield information. This comes amid ongoing hostilities in central and southern Gaza. The situation remains volatile, with rocket sirens sounding near the northern Gaza border after a period of relative quiet.
- Hamas Elite Unit Members Surrender to IDF in Khan Yunis. The Israeli army reported the surrender of five members of Hamas’ elite marine commando unit during ongoing battles in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. This development follows the Israeli army’s raids in response to an attack on Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. The surrenders occurred as the IDF destroyed a tunnel opening in Khan Yunis, a crucial access point the elite fighters intended to use for reinforcements.
- IDF Eliminates Islamic Jihad Chief in Gaza. The IDF has reported the elimination of Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza operations chief, Mamdouh Lolo, who played a significant role in planning military and terror operations against Israel. Additionally, there are mentions of IDF training exercises for search and rescue operations, an IDF attack on a rocket launch site in southern Lebanon, and concerns about Hezbollah’s presence near the Israel-Lebanon border.
- Gaza’s Rafah City Welcomes One Million Displaced. The United Nations reports that the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip has become a refuge for over one million displaced individuals, a result of the Israeli bombing campaign that commenced on October 7. Gaza’s overall displaced population, estimated at 1.9 million, constitutes about 85% of the region’s total inhabitants. These displaced families often face repeated relocations in search of safety. UNRWA operates 155 facilities accommodating nearly 1.4 million displaced people, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasizes the absence of safe spaces in Gaza, with many forced to sleep on the streets despite evacuation orders.
- Secret U.S.-Coordinated Operation Extracts American Soldier’s Family from Gaza. A covert operation, coordinated by the United States with support from Israel and Egypt, successfully extracted Zahra Sakak and her brother-in-law Farid from Gaza. Zahra, the mother of an American infantry soldier, Raji Sakak, and her family were caught in the midst of intense Israeli air strikes and fighting. The operation, revealed by an anonymous American official and reported by the Associated Press, marks a rare effort to evacuate American citizens and their close relatives from the conflict zone. Zahra’s evacuation occurred under harrowing conditions, with her and Farid trapped in a building amidst fighters, relying on minimal resources for survival. The U.S. role was primarily in communication and coordination, with no American officials present on the ground. This operation comes as part of broader efforts to assist approximately 300 American citizens and their families still in the besieged Gaza Strip.
6. Iranians Suspect Regime’s Involvement in Kerman Bombing. In the aftermath of the deadly bombing in Kerman, Iran, where more than 100 people lost their lives, Iran initially pointed fingers at old foes, Israel and the US. However, Iranians, who have faced violent suppression, are increasingly looking inward. Many on social media speculate that the attack was orchestrated by the Islamic Republic itself to further its domestic and foreign policies. They highlight the absence of key figures at the scene, raising suspicions of regime complicity. While Iranian officials blame the US and Israel, some believe their own government may be involved, given past incidents.
7. Russia Explores Procurement of Iranian Ballistic Missiles. Russia is reportedly considering the purchase of short-range ballistic missiles from Iran, according to US officials cited by the Wall Street Journal. This move could bolster Moscow’s capacity to target infrastructure in Ukraine, raising concerns about an escalating defense partnership between Russia and Iran. The White House had previously noted signs of this collaboration, suggesting it could extend Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and potentially pose a threat to neighboring countries in the region.
8. Jordanian Security Forces Arrest Drug Network Linked to Syrian Smugglers. Jordanian security forces have apprehended a “dangerous drug network” during a security operation in the country’s eastern region. The operation targeted drug dealers connected to smugglers in Syria and revealed the intricate ties between smuggling gangs from Syria and local groups within Jordan. The situation has escalated to a “war” on Jordan’s northern border, with political cover provided by militias associated with Iran and the Assad regime, according to Jordanian writer and analyst Hussein Al-Rawashdeh. This campaign extends beyond drug smuggling to encompass weapons, necessitating efforts to sever supply chains and maintain border security. Jordanian MP Saleh Al-Armouti called for diplomatic action against the Assad regime, which he claims covers drug smugglers and poses a security threat to Jordan.
9. Assad Appoints U.S. Sanctioned Figure to Air Force Intelligence Role. Bashar al-Assad has appointed Qahtan Khalil as the new head of the Air Force Intelligence Department, replacing Ghassan Ismail. Khalil, known as the “Butcher of Daraya,” faces accusations of involvement in the “Daraya Massacre” in 2012 and the torture of detainees in military prisons. He has been on the US sanctions list since 2021 under the “Caesar Law.” The appointment is seen as an attempt to strengthen security control in southern Syria. Khalil’s promotion to Major General in 2018 and his role in the Air Force Intelligence Department have drawn significant attention and controversy.
10. Hezbollah Warned Hamas Leader of Israeli Tracking Prior to Assassination. Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas leader, was assassinated in a strike in Beirut, Lebanon, following a warning from Hezbollah that Israel was tracking him. The attack’s method, whether by fighter jet or UAV, remains unclear. Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported radar detection of Israeli aircraft over Beirut before the strike, which targeted a building without intending to destroy it, aiming only at the Hamas officials. Al-Arouri’s assassination, which also killed six other Hamas operatives and wounded five, is seen as a significant Israeli message.
11. Hezbollah Reports 4 Militants Killed, Israeli Sites Hit in Southern Lebanon. Hezbollah confirmed the deaths of four of its militants in Israeli raids targeting southern Lebanon, including a strike on a senior official’s home. Additionally, Hezbollah claimed successful attacks on the Israeli Al Jardah checkpoint. Concurrently, the Israeli army has been actively targeting Hamas anti-tank units in Gaza and conducting security operations in the West Bank.
★ THE GULF REGION & YEMEN
12. Houthi Militia Launches Anti-Ship Missiles Towards Red Sea. The US Central Command (Centcom) reported that the Houthi militia fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles from their Yemeni-controlled areas toward the southern Red Sea. The attack occurred in the evening, with the missiles landing in the surrounding waters, causing no reported damage to ships in the region. Centcom expressed concern over the Houthi actions, which have posed a threat to sailors and disrupted international trade, marking the 24th attack against commercial ships since November 19. The British Maritime Trade Operations Authority also reported three explosions near a commercial ship in the Bab al-Mandab Strait.
13. Houthi Assaults in Red Sea Escalate Shipping Costs and Disrupt Global Trade Routes. The aggressive actions by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, including missile strikes and attempted detentions of cargo ships in the Red Sea, have led to a significant surge in sea freight prices. These incidents, particularly an attack on a Maersk ship and ongoing threats, have forced 18 shipping companies to modify their routes, notably avoiding the key passage to the Suez Canal and rerouting around South Africa. This diversion is adding approximately 10 extra days to voyages, impacting global trade and inflating shipping costs. Despite these increases, rates remain below the peak levels experienced during the 2021 pandemic. The Houthi’s attacks, considered a support gesture for Hamas in Gaza, have escalated tensions and costs in maritime shipping.
14. United Nations Postpones Prisoner Negotiations Due to Houthi Refusal. The United Nations has indefinitely postponed negotiations on prisoners and detainees between the Yemeni government and the Houthi coup group, originally scheduled for next week in Jordan. This delay is attributed to the Houthi group’s refusal and obstinacy, similar to their previous actions in obstructing negotiations. Yemeni officials accuse the Houthis of exploiting humanitarian issues for political and media gains, without considering their moral responsibility towards captives. The Houthi group’s demands include guarantees from the United Nations to implement previous agreements. The Yemeni government emphasizes the importance of releasing all detainees according to the “all for all” rule, with a particular focus on the release of Muhammad Qahtan.
15. US Drone Strike Targets Key Leader in Baghdad. An American official confirmed that the US military conducted a drone strike in Baghdad, targeting a leader in an Iraqi armed faction responsible for attacks on US forces. The strike resulted in the death of the faction’s senior leader, Abu Taqwa al-Saidi, and another individual. This armed group is linked to Iran and is identified as the “Al-Nujaba Movement.” Reports indicate that a drone fired four missiles during the attack. Al-Saidi played a significant role in the movement’s “Special Operations” and had responsibilities related to security in the Baghdad region during battles against ISIS. The incident has escalated tensions in the region, with the Al-Nujaba Movement vowing retaliation against the United States. This comes amid a series of attacks in Iraq and Syria, often attributed to Israeli involvement, while the US maintains a presence in Iraq to assist local forces in countering the resurgence of ISIS.
★ EGYPT & AFRICA
16. Iranian Cyber Attacks Target Egypt & Africa. A recent wave of cyber attacks targeting Egyptian telecommunications in three African countries, including Egypt, Sudan, and Tanzania, has been claimed by the Iranian hacker group “Muddy Water.” These attacks coincide with the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran, exemplified by a similar cyber attack by an Israeli group on Iranian gas stations. Despite no official confirmation from Cairo, these incidents raise concerns about Egypt’s cybersecurity, especially considering its crucial role in the Gaza diplomatic process and as an aid corridor. Experts suggest that these attacks aim to gather intelligence and exert pressure on Egypt regarding its stance on the Gaza crisis. Iran’s use of cyber operations as a political tool has escalated since 2009, targeting communications and energy sectors in the Middle East and North America.
17. Turkish Intervention in Syrian Conflict: Navigating National Interests and the Fate of Syrians. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan emphasized Turkey’s efforts to prevent a new conflict between the Syrian regime and the opposition, underscoring the need to maintain the status quo as per the Astana Agreement. Fidan highlighted multiple reasons for Turkey’s involvement, including mitigating refugee influx and curbing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) advantage in the conflict. He stressed the significance of diplomatic and intelligence efforts to preserve the current balance and prevent further escalation. Additionally, Fidan noted Turkey’s cooperation with Erbil in combating terrorism, particularly against the PKK, reflecting Turkey’s strategic interests in the region amidst the ongoing Israeli aggression against Gaza. This statement raises questions about the real stakeholders in the Syrian conflict and who ultimately gets to decide the fate of the Syrian people.
18. Iranian President Raisi Postpones Türkiye Visit Following Deadly Kerman Blasts. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has canceled his scheduled visit to Türkiye in the wake of twin terrorist attacks in Kerman, Iran, which resulted in over 100 fatalities. The visit, initially planned to address issues including the Gaza humanitarian crisis and Red Sea tensions, was postponed after a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who expressed condolences and condemned the attacks. The Kerman blasts, occurring on the 4th anniversary of Qassem Soleimani’s death, targeted a commemoration ceremony, killing 103 and injuring 211. This postponement reflects the impact of internal crises on international diplomatic engagements.
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