★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- Iran’s Pivotal Figure in the ‘Convergence of the Arenas’ Falls to Israeli Assassination in Lebanon.
On January 2, 2024, the Israeli army markedly shifted its military strategy, employing a new campaign of assassinations and precision strikes. A significant operation in Beirut, Lebanon, led to the elimination of several key Hamas figures. Israeli authorities have declared all Hamas leaders as legitimate targets. Reports emerging from Beirut’s southern district, Dahyah Al Janoubia, suggest that a drone strike there resulted in the deaths of at least six prominent Hamas leaders. The area, a recognized Hizballah stronghold, has been significantly impacted by the strike. Analysts emphasize the strategic significance of the targeted location, particularly its links to Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The precision strike is believed to have hit a third-floor apartment on Hadi Nasrallah Street, an area known for its tight security and reportedly used as a Hamas office. Among the six reported casualties, Hamas has confirmed the death of Saleh al-Arouri, a senior figure within the organization. Additionally, Lebanese sources indicate that Fendi Abu Amer, a top figure in the Qasem Brigade in Lebanon, was also killed in the strike. The Jewish News Syndicate has identified Al-Arouri as a central figure in Hamas, responsible for overseeing operations in Judea and Samaria and serving as the deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau. His recent presence in Lebanon had been a focal point for Israeli intelligence, especially following the October 7 massacre. Al-Arouri, 57, a founding member of Hamas’s military wing and a significant orchestrator of the group’s operations in the West Bank, has long been a central figure in Hamas’s military strategies. His reputed involvement in coordinating attacks against Israel and his ties with Iran and Damascus have marked him as a key player in the region.Following the news of Al-Arouri’s death, Hizballah leader Nasrallah reportedly canceled a scheduled speech, signaling the potential for heightened tensions. Nasrallah has previously vowed retaliation against any Israeli action targeting Palestinian officials in Lebanon. Israeli media speculate on possible responses, including long-range rocket attacks. Al-Arouri’s threats of a “regional war” in response to targeted killings have been met with stern warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In light of these developments, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken has postponed his planned visit to Israel. Originally scheduled for this Thursday, the visit is expected to be rescheduled for next week, though no new date has been confirmed.
- Hamas Sexual Violence on October 7: A Detailed Investigation. On October 7, Hamas perpetrated severe sexual crimes against Israeli women, as detailed in investigations by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Telegraph. These attacks occurred at the music festival near Kibbutz Re’im and other southern Israeli locations. Israeli investigators are analyzing 200,000 photos and videos, along with 2,000 testimonies, to document these crimes, aiming to raise global awareness of sexual violence. Former Israeli deputy attorney general Roy Sheindorf remarked on the unprecedented scale of this investigation, comparing its significance to the Eichmann trial. Evidence includes group rapes, physical mutilation, and victims set on fire. Recently, at least three survivors have come forward, with estimates suggesting at least seven sexual assault incidents. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai described the massacre as systematically cruel, with ongoing investigations revealing further details of the atrocities.
- Israel’s Long-Term Gaza War Strategy into 2024. The Israeli army, anticipating the Gaza conflict to persist through 2024, is adjusting its deployment and combat strategies. This prolonged engagement, reported by the Times of Israel, involves demobilizing five reserve brigades to bolster the economy. Despite ongoing airstrikes and ground battles, the army is preparing for a sustained campaign, adapting to the unique operational needs of different Gaza regions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated the commitment to this extended conflict.
- Israeli Air Force Intercepts Drones Launched from Syria. The Israeli Air Force shot down two drones launched from Syria, claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq in support of Gaza. This incident is part of a series of drone attacks by Iran-backed militias. The IDF also conducted airstrikes in Syria, targeting pro-Iranian fighters and Hezbollah members, resulting in several casualties and material damage.
- Israel Eliminates Hamas Leader Involved in October 7 Attacks. Israeli forces killed Adel Mismar, a Hamas leader who orchestrated the October 7 terrorist attack, resulting in approximately 1200 deaths and 240 hostages. Israel continues its military campaign in Gaza, with over 21800 casualties reported by Hamas-run health ministry, amid a worsening humanitarian crisis. Israel claims over 8000 of the Palestinian casualties were terrorists, a claim not independently verified.
- Netanyahu’s “Philadelphia Corridor” Plan Clashes with Egypt-Israel Peace Agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to control the “Philadelphia Corridor,” a border area between Egypt and Gaza, aims to prevent weapon smuggling into Gaza. This move, seen as an attempt to appease Israel’s right-wing parties amidst ongoing military operations in Gaza, complicates the situation and potentially violates the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement. The corridor, also known as “Salah al-Din Axis,” is a buffer zone established by the peace treaty. Netanyahu’s plan could signify a reversal of Israel’s 2005 Gaza withdrawal and could prompt complaints by Cairo about implications for Egypt’s sovereignty and regional stability.
- The Israeli army accuses Hezbollah of using human shields in southern Lebanon and diplomatic efforts to implement Resolution 1701. Israeli aircraft targeted Hezbollah sites in the village of Ramia in southern Lebanon, accusing the party of hiding behind civilians in the village used as a base for its attacks. Israel declares that Hezbollah’s actions constitute a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. In 2023, the United States and France began a diplomatic mission to encourage Lebanon to comply with the resolution, focusing on establishing a demilitarized zone in southern Lebanon, excluding the Lebanese army and UNIFIL forces. The diplomatic efforts included discussions with the U.S. Congress and French officials, aimed at keeping Lebanon out of conflicts and fully implementing the resolution, especially establishing a Hezbollah-free zone south of the Litani River. Lebanese diplomats visited France to emphasize the importance of stability in southern Lebanon and the commitment to a ceasefire. Concerns remain about the possibility of war in the region.
- Operation ‘Prosperity Guardian’ Strikes in Red Sea; Iran Counters with Deployment of 1960s-era Warship. Days after the United States and 20 other countries announced a global coalition to protect international shipping in the Red Sea, the U.S. Navy, in a novel direct engagement, responded to two distress signals from the MAERSK Hangzhou: the first, an alert to a missile strike, and the second, a hijacking attempt by Houthi militants. CENTCOM reports that the USS GRAVELY successfully intercepted and destroyed two anti-ship ballistic missiles launched from Yemen, targeting the ships involved in the rescue operation. The hijacking attempt was thwarted when U.S. forces struck Houthi small boats that opened fire on Navy ships and U.S. helicopters. Notably, the U.S. Marines initially attempted verbal communication with the small boats before the militants resorted to gunfire. Three of the four boats were hit, resulting in the loss of all crew members, while the fourth boat escaped. In a swift reaction, Iran sent its vintage destroyer Alborz and the military ship Bushehr into the Red Sea, positioning them in the Bab Al Mandab Strait purportedly to protect maritime interests. The aging destroyer Alborz, an Alvand-class frigate, Vosper Mark 5, provided to Iran by Great Britain, has been in service since 1968 and is a sister ship to an Iranian warship sunk by the U.S. Navy during the 1988 Tanker War in the Persian Gulf. The Bushehr, a Mahdavi and Soleimani-class ship as reported by Iranian government media in May 2023, is equipped with missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers.
- Iran’s Supreme Leader Credits Soleimani for Strengthening Gaza Resistance. In a recent address, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, commemorated the upcoming fourth anniversary of General Qasem Soleimani’s assassination. He highlighted Soleimani’s pivotal role in reinforcing resistance movements in the region and specifically attributed Hamas’s prolonged resistance in Gaza to the previous efforts of Soleimani in bolstering the resistance front. During his televised speech, Khamenei asserted that Soleimani’s killing has intensified the resistance’s resolve against the United States and Israel. “The jihad of resistance will persist with increased vigor, and the fighters in this holy war are destined for a definitive victory,” he proclaimed. This came after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards recently retracted a statement by IRGC spokesperson Ramadan Sharif, who had claimed Hamas’s “Al-Aqsa Flood,” also known as the October 7 Massacres, was part of Tehran’s retaliatory actions for Soleimani’s assassination. In a separate incident but not less important, Iranian Foreign Minister Abdullahian, in a meeting with influential clerics in Qom, disclosed interactions with the United States regarding regional resistance groups, including Yemen’s Houthis. He revealed that the U.S. requested Iran to restrain these groups from targeting American and Israeli interests, but Abdullahian claimed that these groups operate based on their assessments and interests, independent of Iranian directives. He emphasized that America’s involvement in the conflict disqualifies it from demanding restraint from others.
★ THE GULF REGION & YEMEN
- UAE Inaugurates 6 Desalination Plants in Rafah for Gaza Residents. UAE State Minister Sheikh Shakhbout bin Nahyan officially opened 6 UAE desalination plants in the Egyptian city of Rafah that will provide water to Gaza’s population. These plants will produce 1.2 million gallons of water daily, benefiting 600,000 people. The UAE continues to send humanitarian aid to Gaza amid the ongoing Israeli attacks, with over 13,322 tons of assistance delivered in Operation Heroic Knight 3.
- Former Saudi Intelligence Chief: Hamas Shattered Israel’s Image. Former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal said that Hamas’ actions in October (Operation Al-Aqsa Storm) broke Israel’s perception of invincibility and revived the Palestinian issue in the region. He emphasized the global impact of the attack on Israel’s image and the renewed focus on Palestinian rights.
- Pentagon Plans Strikes on Houthi Bases in Yemen. The Pentagon has reportedly developed detailed plans for military strikes on Houthi bases in Yemen, including missile and drone facilities. Some US officials advocate for aggressive action against the Houthis, while others fear US involvement in Yemen could backfire and benefit Iran.
- UK Prepares for Strikes on Houthis in Yemen. The UK reportedly plans to join Western allies, including the United States, in launching coordinated missile strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, both in the Red Sea and on the Yemeni mainland. The British Royal Air Force may participate in the airstrikes, and a warning statement to the Houthi rebels is expected. Despite concerns, military action is considered a last resort to protect shipping and deter further hostilities. I will find it
- Maersk Halts Red Sea Crossings Due to Houthi Attacks. Danish shipping company Maersk temporarily suspended all Red Sea crossings for 48 hours following Houthi attacks. Houthi rebels, allied with Iran, have targeted ships in the Red Sea in support of Hamas, escalating tensions in the region.
- Coalition Announces Arrest of Senior ISIS Intelligence Officer in Eastern Syria. The international coalition, in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), announced the arrest of a senior leader of ISIS in Syria’s Hasakah province. The operation targeted an ISIS media official responsible for intelligence, communication, and operations in the Syria-Iraq border region. The coalition emphasized that ISIS remains a threat to the United States and its partners in the region.
- Secret Telegram Reveals Russian Officer Insulting Syrian Regime Leadership. A confidential telegram addressed to Syria’s defense minister exposes a Russian officer insulting and accusing the Syrian army’s leadership, including Bashar al-Assad, of chaos and corruption. This incident is not the first instance of Russian officials demeaning the Syrian regime, causing tensions in their relationship.
- Flights Between Damascus and Cairo Resume After Over Two Months. Damascus-Cairo flights have resumed after a halt of more than two months due to Israeli airstrikes that temporarily disabled Damascus International Airport. Flights resumed without an official announcement from Syrian authorities. The move eases pressure on Latakia Airport, the only operational international airport in Syria, which has been strained due to the closure of Damascus and Aleppo airports.
- Israel Intercepts Third Syrian Drone in a Week. Israel intercepted a Syrian drone over the Golan Heights, marking the third security incident in a week in the region. Recent events include rocket attacks from Syria and the killing of an Iranian general in an Israeli airstrike, contributing to heightened tensions.
- Iraqi Militia Targets Israeli Positions in North and South. An Iran-backed militia calling itself the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” announced it targeted the Golan Heights and the Israeli port of Eilat in two separate attacks by drones. The group stated its commitment to continuing operations against the enemy.
- Tension in Iraq After Militia Targets Peshmerga Forces. A recent drone attack on a Peshmerga base in Erbil, allegedly carried out by Iran-backed militias, has escalated tensions between Kurdistan and Baghdad. Kurdistan Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, urged the federal government in Baghdad to consider such attacks on the region as attacks on all of Iraq and take appropriate measures to stop them. The ongoing clashes highlight the need for a comprehensive response from the Iraqi government.
- Drone Downed Above Ain al-Assad Base in Iraq. Iraqi military sources reported that air defenses shot down an armed drone above Ain al-Assad Air Base in western Iraq, hosting US and other international forces. This incident followed the downing of another drone near Erbil Airport in northern Iraq. Washington has recorded 103 attacks on its forces in Iraq and Syria since October 17, 2023, with tensions rising amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.
- Iraqi Armed Groups Target US Al-Rmeilan Base in Syria. Iraqi armed factions, self-named the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” announced a drone attack on the US Al-Rumeilan base in Syria’s Hasakah province. The attack is part of their resistance against US presence in Iraq and the region, responding to Israel’s actions in Gaza.
- Iraqi Security Arrests 14 Foreign Armed Attack Plotters. Iraq’s National Security Agency announced the arrest of 14 foreign individuals who had planned to carry out armed and suicide attacks within the country. The suspects were recruited outside Iraq, and their capture followed months of intelligence efforts.
★ EGYPT & AFRICA
- Egypt Joins BRICS in 2024, Eyeing Economic Opportunities. Egypt officially joins BRICS in 2024, a move Egyptian experts deem crucial for economic reform and reducing reliance on the US dollar. Facing a hard currency crisis and inflation, Egypt sees BRICS membership as a chance to boost trade, use local currencies in transactions, and attract direct investments. This step is expected to lessen dollar demand, potentially easing trade and investment conditions, and enhancing Egypt’s global trade footprint.
- Turkey’s Naval Maneuver Sparks Tension with Russia. A Chinese media report highlighted rising tensions between Turkey and Russia due to Turkey allowing the UK’s Sandown-class minehunters to pass through the Dardanelles Straits. This move, which reportedly surprised Moscow, marks a significant turn in the complex Turkey-Russia relationship. Despite Turkey imposing conditions on Russian warship passage, Russia has not openly responded, but President Putin is reportedly angered by Erdogan’s actions, suggesting a potential confrontation in their personal meetings.
- Turkish Intelligence Arrests ISIS Leader Planning Attacks. Turkey’s Intelligence Agency (MIT) apprehended Abdullah al Jundi, an ISIS ringleader in Aleppo who was plotting attacks against Turkish forces in Operation Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch zones. The operation also led to the seizure of digital material revealing ISIS plans, disrupting their activities. Turkey has actively fought ISIS since 2013, following multiple ISIS attacks inside Turkey.
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