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The Region October 16, 2023

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The Region October 16, 2023

Expert Analysis: Today’s edition of the Region highlights a series of events that could potentially impact American interests and national security. The suspension of Saudi-Israeli normalization talks and the unity of Gulf states could signal a shift in regional alliances, affecting U.S. diplomatic leverage. Iran’s actions, from supplying drones to Russia to cyber-attacks on U.S. National Guard communications, pose direct threats to American security and its allies. The situation in Gaza, where 600 U.S. citizens are stranded, requires immediate attention. Secretary Blinken’s regional trip indicates the U.S. is actively engaged, but the rejection of U.S. efforts to freeze Iranian funds by Qatar shows challenges in enforcing American policies. Overall, the U.S. faces multifaceted challenges that require nuanced diplomatic and security responses.

Top 5 Headlines: 

★ Saudi Arabia Halts Normalization Talks, Gulf States Unite for Gaza Ceasefire and Aid.
★ Hezbollah Strategizes Partnership with Hamas in Gaza Conflict.
★ U.S. Bid to Freeze Iran’s $6 Billion Rejected by Qatar.
★ Iran Unexpectedly Announces Hamas’s Willingness to Address Israeli Civilian Captives.
★ China Calls for Ceasefire in Gaza, Sends Special Envoy.

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The Region October 16, 2023

USA: 

Expert Analysis: Iran continues its coordinated efforts to challenge and target the U.S. across multiple fronts. These efforts range from supplying drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine conflict, in violation of Resolution 2231, to claiming successful hacks of communications between high-ranking U.S. National Guard commanders. Additionally, Iran ridicules American policy and undermines U.S. interests and alliances, as evidenced by the recent announcement from the Qatari Prince, who vowed to release the $6 billion withheld in Qatari banks.

  1. US Reveals Recovered Iranian Drone Debris in Ukraine. The United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) showcased recovered Iranian drone parts in Ukraine. These included Shahed 101, 131, and 136 drones used by Russia in attacks since October 2022. The exhibition highlights Iran’s alliance with Moscow, drawing concern from the Pentagon. US Representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, accused Iran of violating Resolution 2231 by supplying drones to Russia, leading to sanctions and calls for collective action. British officials also presented evidence of Iranian involvement in the event (Bayan Media). 
  2. Iranian Media: Cyber Group Hacks US National Guard Commanders’ Comms. Iranian media reports that a group called “the Resistance Front Cyber” has hacked into the communications between two high-ranking U.S. National Guard commanders. The data allegedly reveals insights into U.S. military stances and its support for Israel. The report concludes with a veiled warning to Israel, suggesting that the information could influence future confrontations (Tasnim Agency).
  3. U.S. Bid to Freeze Iran’s $6 Billion Rejected by Qatar. Last week, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo reportedly told House Democrats that a deal had been reached to freeze the funds following a recent Hamas attack on Israel. One day after Secretary Blinken’s announcement in Tel Aviv, denying Iran access to the $6 billion in a Qatari bank, Qatar reiterated its commitment to the Iran deal during a joint statement with Secretary Blinken. Iranian media, including the Tehran Times, criticized the U.S., asserting that the White House recognizes it cannot break the agreement. They emphasized that, upon reviewing Washington’s history, the United States is once again gaining notoriety for withdrawing from agreements, much like its previous leadership did with the JCPOA (Tehran Times). 
  4. 600 U.S. Citizens Stranded in Gaza. Egypt refused to allow Americans and other foreigners to cross through Rafah due to delays in evacuations  that stem from the absence of an agreement with Israel and the US regarding aid distribution. Aid shipments have arrived but await clearance. The situation at the Rafah border crossing remains stalled due to Israeli bombardment (Al Monitor).
  5. Secretary Blinken’s Regional Trip: Visiting 8 Countries During Gaza Crisis. In a recent interview, Secretary Antony Blinken discussed his regional trip to eight countries, focusing on Israel and the Gaza crisis. He stressed the need to prevent the conflict from spreading and highlighted efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of evacuating civilians and facilitating humanitarian corridors. He noted the regional concern and President Biden’s deterrence measures, including aircraft carrier groups. The Secretary expressed determination to secure the release of American hostages in Gaza and reiterated U.S. support for the two-state solution (U.S. Department of State).   
  6. US Deploys AWACS Aircraft and Patriot Missiles to Yemen. Following extensive talks with Lieutenant General Saghir bin Aziz, Yemen’s Chief of General Staff, Commander of the US Central Command, Lieutenant General Michael Eric Kurla, has confirmed the United States’ commitment to supplying Yemen with AWACS aircraft. These aircraft, equipped with early warning, control, and command capabilities, will significantly bolster Yemen’s capacity for monitoring and identifying hostile targets. This decision follows deepening collaboration with Yemen’s legitimate government, underscored by a substantial arms agreement benefiting the national army. United States Ambassador to Yemen, Stephen Fagin also met with the President of the Southern Transitional Council in Riyadh to discuss the developments, the situation in Gaza, and the South’s commitment to stability. (Arabi News). 
  7. Biden: Hamas Doesn’t Represent Palestinian People in 60 Minutes Interview. In a comprehensive 60 Minutes interview, President Biden touched on multiple facets of the Israel-Gaza conflict. He strongly condemned Hamas for its barbaric actions, stating that the group does not represent the entire Palestinian population. While emphasizing the need for a Palestinian authority and a path to statehood, Biden also cautioned against an Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, calling it a “big mistake.” The President reaffirmed his commitment to Israel and outlined U.S. efforts to secure American hostages, deploying military assets to the region and advocating for a humanitarian corridor in Gaza.

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The Region October 16, 2023

ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Expert Analysis:  Israel is at a diplomatic and strategic crossroads as the Gaza conflict escalates. Preparing for a potential ground incursion, Israel faces limited U.S. support, evidenced by Secretary Blinken’s recent visit. The conflict’s impact on global oil prices could sway international opinion, while worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza increase global pressure. Mixed signals from European, Chinese, and Russian diplomats further complicate Israel’s international standing. Additionally, accusations against Iran suggest a risk of broader regional conflict, stretching Israel’s resources and complicating its strategic position. Overall, Israel confronts a multifaceted challenge that extends beyond the immediate crisis.

  1. Israeli Army Prepares for Gaza Incursion as Hamas Targets Ben Gurion Airport During Blinken’s Visit. In anticipation of a ground incursion into Gaza, the Israeli army intensified its presence along the border, while Hamas struck Ben Gurion Airport during the US Secretary of State’s visit. The Israeli death toll reached 291 with 199 hostages held by Hamas. Blinken’s visit coincided with discussions about President Biden’s potential visit, and he rejected Gaza expulsion plans. Blinken appointed David Satterfield as Gaza aid envoy and confirmed Rafah crossing reopening. Concerns arose over the conflict’s Middle East expansion, including Hezbollah and Iran. The Washington Post reported that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel to discuss the major military offensive in Gaza. The visit comes after President Biden warned against a new Israeli occupation of Gaza. 
  2. Gaza Crisis Deepens as No Ceasefire in Sight, Netanyahu Denies Entry of Aid for Evacuation. The Palestinian-Israeli crisis enters its tenth day with escalating tensions. Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, faces severe shortages of food, water, and safety. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports 2,750 killed and 9,700 injured in Israeli strikes since October 7, with over 1,000 bodies believed under rubble. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu denies a ceasefire or entry of aid for evacuating foreigners, while Hamas denies a humanitarian truce. Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee stated their ongoing targeting of terrorist leaders in Gaza. The casualties include prominent figures such as Moataz Eid, Ali al-Qadi, Jawad Abu Shamala, Zakaria Abu Muammar, Murad Abu Murad, and Bilal al-Qudra. The conflict shows no signs of abating as it enters its tenth day, with continued Israeli airstrikes and rocket launches from Gaza, exacerbating civilian suffering.
  3. Gaza Conflict Rattles Global Markets, Spikes Oil Prices. The escalation in Gaza is affecting global markets, with increased geopolitical risks and potential impact on oil prices. Israel is preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza, causing oil prices to jump six percent. Financial analysts anticipate broader economic repercussions if the conflict expands, including possible interest rate hikes globally.
  4. Israel Evacuates 28 Settlements Near Lebanese Border Amid Escalation. Israel announces the evacuation of residents living within two kilometers of the Lebanese border due to escalating tensions. Hezbollah has launched attacks on Israeli army positions and a northern border village, leading to border clashes last week. 
  5. Conflicting Reports on Rafah Crossing After 5-Hour Ceasefire in Southern Gaza. Aid trucks are lined up at Al-Arish, waiting to enter Gaza, but the convoy remains stalled due to an unstable truce. The U.S. Embassy is unsure about allowing traveler access. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis worsens as fuel reserves in Gaza hospitals are expected to last only 24 hours, putting thousands of patients in jeopardy. U.S. officials are taking steps to mitigate the crisis and are urging Israel to adhere to the laws of war. UN relief operations in Gaza are on the verge of collapse, and the situation continues to be critical.Aid trucks are queued at Al-Arish, awaiting entry into Gaza, but the convoy hasn’t moved due to a faltering truce. 
  6. China Calls for Ceasefire in Gaza, Sends Special Envoy. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza as exceeding self-defense and called for an end to “collective punishment.” Wang also urged the U.S. to play a constructive role and advocated for an international peace meeting. China’s special envoy to the Middle East, Zhai Jun, is set to visit the region next week to push for a ceasefire and peace talks.
  7. Israeli Official Accuses Iran of Opening New Front from Syria. Joshua Zarka, a senior Israeli official, accused Iran of attempting to establish a new front against Israel from Syria. Joel Rayburn, Director of the American Center for Middle East Studies, suggested that Israel’s repeated strikes on Damascus and Aleppo airports indicate efforts to preempt Iranian strategic weapon transfers. Zarka confirmed these observations. The strikes come amid Israel’s concerns about Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in its ongoing conflict with Gaza. Despite the frequency of these strikes, analysts question their effectiveness in preventing Iran’s strategic positioning in Syria.
  8. European Institutions Issue Differing Statements on Gaza War. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, voiced support for Israel’s right to self-defense but refrained from criticizing Israel’s ultimatum to evacuate Gaza homes. Janez Lenarchic, Commissioner for Crisis Management and Humanitarian Aid, highlighted the violation of international law by the Gaza siege. High Representative for European Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, deemed Israel’s warning to Gaza residents “completely unrealistic” and called for maintaining essential services while condemning Hamas attacks. German Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock emphasized the protection of civilians and distinguishing them from terrorists. The Vatican meanwhile, offered to mediate the release of hostages and achieve peace. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State expressed solidarity with Israel and called for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian resistance movement to avoid further bloodshed. 
  9. Russia Implies It Can Help Free Israeli Hostages Through Hamas Contact. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov is considering a meeting with Hamas officials in Qatar to discuss the potential release of Israeli hostages taken during the recent attack on Israel. He highlighted the utility of such meetings in resolving practical issues, including hostage release. Russia has also drafted a UN Security Council resolution increasing the pressure on Israel, with President Vladimir Putin expressing concern about potential civilian casualties in an anticipated Israeli ground assault on Gaza. 
  10. Knesset Members Forced to Evacuate Following Sirens. After multiple speeches from top Israeli leaders addressing the severity of Hamas actions in Israel and pledging to maintain Israeli stability, a live broadcast on Al Hadath abruptly showed Knesset members evacuating the building in disarray upon hearing sirens signaling potential missile attacks. An Al Hadath reporter in Jerusalem later clarified that the missile attack occurred almost simultaneously with Netanyahu’s speech. (Al Hadath). 

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The Region October 16, 2023

IRAN

Expert Analysis: Having enabled and probably directed Hamas to invade Israel and overturn the strategic balance in the region, the Iranian regime is applying all its diplomatic, propaganda, and military leverage not just regionally, but worldwide to try to compel Israel to submit to the new regional power arrangement. In short, Supreme Leader Khamenei and his regime hope to force Israel to accept the presence of a Tehran-sponsored existential threat not just on the northern border (Hizballah) but on the southern border as well.

  1. Iran Unexpectedly Announces Hamas’s Willingness to Address Israeli Civilian Captives. Despite distancing itself from Palestinian actions in Israel, a series of statements from Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian indicate a complex stance. First, speaking from Beirut, Amirabdollahian announced that pro-Iran militants are prepared to act against Israel. Second, during a meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Doha, he criticized the normalization of relations between some regional countries and Israel. Third, in a meeting with Qatar’s Emir, he revealed that Hamas is ready to address the Israeli civilian captive issue. The Iranian Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian also criticized the U.S. for urging restraint while increasing military support to Israel and warned that if Israel continues its actions, the regional status quo could change unpredictably. Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani condemned plans for Palestinian displacement from Gaza, asserting that Palestinians are the land’s “real and eternal owners”. 
  2. Iran’s President Raisi Condemns Israel’s Actions in Gaza While Overlooking Own Army’s Record in Syria. In addition to contacting regional leaders from Iraq, Oman, and Qatar to condemn Israel’s “inhumane actions and killings of innocent people in Gaza”—while overlooking his army’s actions in Syria from 2011 to today—Iran’s President Raisi also reached out to the French leader. Although he claimed to be urging France to help “prevent the oppression” of Palestinians, his real intent was to explicitly state that “the Palestinian resistance factions took their own decisions. 

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The Region October 16, 2023

THE GULF REGION & YEMEN

Expert Analysis: The Gulf region nations, especially those who have already normalized relations with Israel, find themselves in a difficult position due to the ongoing Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and the rising death toll of civilians. Although Secretary Blinken conducted several discussions with Gulf leaders, no consensus was reached on Israel’s planned mission of a ground invasion into Gaza. Arab leaders were unanimous in their call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor into Gaza. This unified stance has had an impact on the American administration, leading both President Biden and Secretary Blinken to caution Israel against a ground invasion.

  1. Saudi Arabia Halts Normalization Talks, Gulf States Unite for Gaza Ceasefire and Aid. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Frahan revealed the kingdom’s decision to halt discussions on normalization through conveying the message to US officials ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit. During the meeting, bin Farahn stressed the necessity of a ceasefire in the Gaza strip and the entry of humanitarian aid. A second visit by the United States Secretary of State to Saudi Arabia followed in the next 72 hours to meet with MBS. The meeting focused on stopping Hamas attacks, securing hostage releases, and preventing the conflict from spreading. Bahrain Crown Prince Slaman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during his meeting with Secretary Blinken also stressed and echoed Saudi Arabia’s calls for the urgent need to protect civilians and ending the escalation of the conflict. The UAE’s position was not different and emphasized the calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities stressing that most of the dead on both sides are civilians. Furthermore, the International Humanitarian City in Dubai initiated an air bridge to deliver urgent medical supplies and relief aid to Gaza through Egypt and Lebanon and UAE’s President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, recently pledged $20 million in aid to Palestinians through UNRWA. 
  2.  Yemen and Kuwait Discuss Relief Oil Shipments at International Meeting. Yemeni government ministers met with their Kuwaiti counterpart during an international conference in Marrakesh. They discussed development projects funded by the Kuwait Fund for Development and explored relief oil shipments for Yemen’s energy sector. Concurrently, Yemen’s Foreign Minister held discussions with the EU’s representatives during the Munich leaders’ meeting in Nairobi where the situation in Yemen was discussed, bilateral cooperation, humanitarian concerns, the role of Yemen’s Central Bank, and the regional developments. 
  3. Gulf Cooperation Council Achieves 7.3% GDP Growth Despite Challenges. Secretary-General Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi Highlights Commitment to Multilateral Cooperation, with Structural Reforms Boosting Business Climate, Competitiveness, and Women’s Workforce Participation, 4.8% Non-Oil Sector Growth. 

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The Region October 16, 2023

EGYPT & NORTH AFRICA

Expert Analysis: Egypt’s stance and criticism of the Gaza crisis have not only grown vocal but have also extended to the decision to deny entry to foreign nationals stranded in the strip. Egypt has insisted on aid entry in exchange for opening the Rafah crossing, but Israel declined the offer. The situation, marked by civilian casualties, was emphasized by Egyptian Secretary of State Shukri during his meeting with his French counterpart. American efforts to mediate a solution between Egypt and Israel have not yielded a successful conclusion thus far.

  1. Egyptian President Sissi Criticizes Israel’s Actions as Collective Punishment. During a meeting with US Secretary of State Blinken, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza, stating that they amount to collective punishment and go beyond the right to self-defense. Egypt is warning about the seriousness of the situation in Gaza and the possibility of residents fleeing to Egyptian territory. Cairo is focused on stopping the escalation, preserving civilian lives, and providing safe corridors for humanitarian aid, fuel, water, and electricity to Gaza. Egypt also strongly rejects any attempts to empty the Gaza Strip of its population and warns against displacement. Egypt has refused the passage of foreign nationals from Gaza through the Rafah crossing, emphasizing the need to facilitate the arrival and crossing of aid into the Gaza Strip amid ongoing Israeli airstrikes and attacks.
  2. Tunisia Refuses to Be Europe’s Immigration Policeman, Demands Equal Partnership. Tunisia’s Foreign Minister, Nabil Ammar, rejects the EU’s attempt to turn his country into a Mediterranean immigration enforcer, citing differences in agreements with Libya and Turkiye. Tunisia stands firm, with President Kais Saied rejecting European aid and calling for clarity in the partnership. Ammar emphasizes Tunisia’s acceptance of migrants. The July agreement with the EU aims to bolster border and immigration control, sparking debate and confusion.

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The Region October 16, 2023

TURKIYE

Expert Analysis: Turkiye’s recent actions and statements reflect a proactive stance in regional affairs. Its engagement with Israel, characterized by public warnings, indicates a willingness to play a significant role in shaping regional stability and diplomatic relations. At the same time, Turkiye is considering the extension of its military presence in Syria and Iraq, demonstrating a strategic, long-term commitment to its regional objectives. This focus aligns with the current international attention on the Israeli-Hamas conflict, providing Turkiye an opportunity to advance its interests in Syria. While there have been calls from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for UN investigations, this could offer Turkiye a platform for dialogue and clarification of its actions. Furthermore, the transfer of foreign detainees between Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and Turkish intelligence underscores Turkiye’s complex but key role in regional security dynamics.

  1. Turkiye Warns Israel Over Potential Gaza Invasion. A Turkish newspaper “Star” report suggests that any Israeli ground invasion in Gaza would result in significant losses for both sides. The report argues that Israel would face difficulty in repairing its damaged image, especially after the strategic blows dealt by Hamas. It also highlights the broader regional implications of the ongoing conflict (Al Jazeera).
  2. Turkiye Condemns Israel’s Gaza Relocation Directive. Turkiye’s foreign ministry criticizes Israel’s directive for Palestinians in northern Gaza to move south, calling it a “clear violation of international law” and inhumane. The ministry urges Israel to cease its “merciless and indiscriminate actions” against civilians in Gaza amid ongoing conflict (TRT World).
  3. Turkish Parliament Reviews Military Extension in Syria, Iraq. On October 17, the Turkish Parliament will review a presidential memorandum to extend the authorization for sending troops to Iraq and Syria for another two years. Additionally, a draft law concerning the regulation of short-term tourist rentals, like Airbnb, will be discussed, with proposed fines for violations (Syria TV).
  4. Israeli-Hamas Conflict Distracts from Turkiye’s Syria Operations. The Israeli-Hamas conflict has diverted Western attention from Turkiye’s military activities in northeastern Syria, says former US Representative Tom Garrett. Turkiye has targeted infrastructure in the region, exploiting the West’s focus on the Middle East crisis to gain concessions. The U.S. has deployed aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, raising concerns about the conflict’s potential expansion (North Press).
  5. Autonomous Administration Calls for UN Investigation into Turkish Actions in Syria. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has called on the United Nations to form a committee investigating Turkiye’s recent attacks on the region’s infrastructure and civilians. Badran Jia Kurd, co-head of the Department of Foreign Relations, appealed for specialized teams to assess the impact and urged for accountability for war crimes (North Press). 
  6. Tahrir Al-Sham Hands Over Detainees to Turkish Intelligence. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham handed over three foreign fighters to Turkish intelligence at the Bab al-Hawa crossing north of Idlib. The detainees, an Iranian, a Frenchman, and a Qatari, were arrested more than a year ago on charges of collaboration. This continues the ongoing process of transferring foreign detainees between the two entities (North Press).

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The Region October 16, 2023

IRAQ

Expert Analysis: The ongoing and relentless Turkish airstrikes persist in the Kurdistan region, undermining Iraq’s sovereignty. Iraq’s issuance of multiple arrest warrants against Iraqi officials after the disappearance of a substantial sum of money underscores the pervasive corruption engulfing the country. Furthermore, the capture of five ISIS members indicates the ongoing resurgence of ISIS and the failure of proactive and preventive social and security measures, despite purported American support in this matter. Russia’s exploration of energy collaboration with Iraq and Iran poses new challenges to American interests in the region. Saudi Arabia’s decision to establish a car production plant in Iraq signifies the country’s expanding economic potential, an area the United States could benefit from if explored further.  

  1. Nine Areas in Iraq, Struck by Turkiye During Ongoing Operations. Since last Monday, Turkish airstrikes have targeted multiple areas in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, including Soran, Sidkan, Qandil, Kani Masi, Al-Zab, Amadiyah, Zakho, and surrounding regions. A recent statement by the Kurdistan Region’s Counter-Terrorism Service reported a Turkish drone strike in the Amadiya district of Dohuk Governorate, resulting in the death of a prominent leader and two companions. These ongoing operations have led to the deaths of hundreds of Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants and the destruction of their headquarters and weapons stores, according to the Turkish Ministry of Defense.
  2. Iraq Issues 34 Arrest Warrants for Missing 120 Billion Dinars. Grappling with its own turmoil, after the disappearance of 120 Billion Iraqi Dinars, Iraq’s Federal Integrity Commission announced issuing 34 arrest and summon warrants against former members of the House of Representatives, ministers, two former and one current governor in addition to eleven general directors of governorate councils.  
  3. Iraqi Forces Capture 5 ISIS Members in Nineveh. Iraq’s Joint Operations Command announced the arrest of 5 ISIS members in Nineveh Governorate. The detainees, apprehended by intelligence units specialized in counterterrorism, confessed to their affiliation with ISIS and receiving money for their activities. They will face legal proceedings under Iraqi law.
  4. Russia Explores Energy Collaboration with Iraq and Iran, While Iraq Expands Economic Horizons. Russia is making strategic moves in the Middle East, considering joint energy projects with Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, the Ministry of Oil recently signed energy contracts with the UAE’s Crescent Petroleum and is in discussions with Russia’s Kazpromneft for potential joint projects, enhancing energy prospects. Meanwhile, in Iran, talks are underway for gas exports to alleviate the country’s winter gas shortage. These agreements signify a shift in regional energy dynamics, providing economic benefits and diversifying energy partners for Iraq and Iran. Iraq, on the other hand, is making significant strides on multiple economic fronts. The country is gearing up to establish an advanced car production plant for renowned German brands Mercedes-Benz and MAN Truck & Bus in collaboration with Saudi Arabia, promising both economic development and regional cooperation. 

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The Region October 16, 2023

SYRIA

Expert Analysis: In a precarious situation due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, Assad’s actions—or lack thereof—speak volumes about his uncertain future and reliance on external support. Despite the incapacitation of Syria’s airports by Israeli strikes, Assad has yet to issue a formal condemnation. Instead, he reached out to Putin, a move that seems optimistic given Russia’s own challenges in Ukraine, vulnerability to China, and economic struggles. State-run news agency SANA reported that Assad views the Israeli strikes as confirming a criminal approach, while a Syrian military source suggested the attacks aimed to divert global attention from Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza. As Assad continues to align with Iran’s aggressive stance toward Israel, he risks becoming a secondary or tertiary concern for Israel, which has shown its capability to strike anywhere under his control. This alignment could be a risky gamble, potentially hastening his reckoning. Interestingly, Iran’s suspension of “Hajj” trips to Syria, officially tied to the Gaza situation, coincides with these airstrikes. 

  1. Israel Targets Aleppo Airport Again, Halting Operations. For the second time in 48 hours, Israeli fighters have targeted Aleppo International Airport with missiles, rendering it non-operational. The attack comes in response to a missile launched from Syria towards Israel, according to an Israeli army spokesman (Aleppo Today).
  2. Iran suspends “Hajj” trips to Syria indefinitely, citing conditions in Gaza. Of course, the decision has nothing to do with the concurrent Israeli strikes on Syria’s airports that put them out of service. The last flight from Tehran to Damascus carried 85 “Iranian pilgrims.” These “Hajj trips” had resumed on a limited basis last year but were halted again due to aviation issues. The religious tourism to Syria typically attracts visitors from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, with a focus on Shiite places and shrines.
  3. SDF and International Coalition Ramp Up Security Operations in Northeastern Syria. The Self-Administration’s Internal Security forces (Asayish) and the international coalition have intensified security operations in northeastern Syria. A recent operation east of Deir ez-Zor resulted in the arrest of three individuals. The coalition also conducted a helicopter raid in Al-Shahil village, arresting several people. These operations are part of a broader effort to target ISIS cells in the region (Enab Baladi). 

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The Region October 16, 2023

LEBANON

Expert Analysis: Hezbollah is carefully aligning itself with Hamas in the Gaza conflict, aiming for a partnership that maintains its legitimacy and flexibility. The group’s cautious approach seeks to prevent the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from escalating into a broader regional issue involving Iran. This strategy is particularly noteworthy given the U.S. focus on Hamas, which leaves Hezbollah as a secondary target. On the domestic front, former MP Walid Jumblatt’s meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri highlights a desire for Lebanon to maintain a neutral stance in the Israel-Gaza conflict. Jumblatt’s call for a return to the two-state solution reflects a broader international perspective, advocating for diplomatic resolutions to ongoing tensions. Overall, Lebanon appears to be navigating a complex regional landscape with a focus on strategic partnerships and diplomatic solutions.

  1. Hezbollah Strategizes Partnership with Hamas in Gaza Conflict. In the second week of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation led by Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah is positioning itself as an equal partner in the conflict. Initially cautious to not appear as the aggressor against Israel, Hezbollah has been strategizing to join the confrontation in a way that allows for flexibility and legitimacy. The group has prepared justifications for its delayed direct involvement, aiming to avoid transforming the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a broader regional dispute involving Iran. This comes as the U.S. urges Israel to focus on confronting Hamas, leaving Hezbollah as a secondary target. As conflict with Hamas continues, Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi warns Hezbollah against opening a second front, threatening Lebanon’s destruction if it does. Iran’s foreign minister meets Hezbollah in Beirut, indicating preparedness for conflict. The situation intensifies as the U.S. and UK move warships to the region, signaling support for Israel (Al Nahar, Iran International). 
  2. Jumblatt Advocates for Lebanon’s Neutrality in Israel-Gaza Conflict. Former MP Walid Jumblatt met with Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss Lebanon’s stance amid the Israel-Gaza conflict. Jumblatt expressed hope that Lebanon would remain neutral unless provoked by Israel. He criticized the ongoing aggression and called for a return to the two-state solution, citing international perspectives including that of former French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin (LBC News).

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