September 28, 2022

Iran Updates

The Iran Update aims to inform national security policy by providing timely, relevant, and independent open-source analysis of developments pertaining to Iran and its Axis of Resistance. This update covers political, military, and economic events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. It also provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. The American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project (CTP) and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provide these updates weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Maps

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with support from the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute launched a new interactive map of Iran and the Middle East. The map depicts events in Iran that affect the stability of the Iranian regime, namely anti-regime protests and reported poisoning incidents. It also shows developments in Syria that jeopardize regional stability and pose threats to US forces and interests, including Iranian and Iranian-backed militia positions. ISW created each of these data layer events in accordance with ISW’s research methodology. Learn more about the map here.

      

Previous versions of static maps are available in our past publications.

Recent Iran Updates

Iran Update, March 4, 2024

Iran reportedly requested Sudanese permission to establish a permanent naval base on the Red Sea coast, which would support Iranian out-of-area naval operations and attacks on international shipping. The Wall Street Journal reported the Iranian request on March 3, citing a senior Sudanese intelligence official.[i] Ahmad Hasan Mohamed—an intelligence adviser to the Sudanese military leader—said that Iran offered “a helicopter-carrying warship” in exchange for Sudan allowing Iran to establish the base. Mohamed stated that Iran wanted the base to gather intelligence on maritime traffic around the Suez Canal and Israel and to station warships at the base. The Wall Street Journal report is consistent with Iranian leaders advocating for building a naval base along the east African coast in recent years.[ii] Mohamed added that Sudan rejected the Iranian request. Both the Iranian and Sudanese foreign affairs ministries have refuted the Wall Street Journal report.[iii] The report follows Sudanese Armed Forces-affiliated Foreign Affairs Minister Ali al Sadiq Ali traveling to Tehran and meeting with senior Iranian officials in early February.[iv]

The Iranian request to establish a naval base in Sudan is part of growing military cooperation between the two countries. Western media previously reported in January that Iran had recently supplied the Sudanese Armed Forces with Mohajer-6 multirole drones.[v] The Iranian effort to establish a naval base likely reflects how Tehran views its defense exports as a means of facilitating the expansion of its overall military influence abroad.

Iran may be attempting to compete with other rival Gulf Arab states in Sudan. The United Arab Emirates is the main backer of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) owing to various ties between the RSF head (Hemedti) and the emirates.[vi] Abu Dhabi has invested in Sudan as part of its larger strategic effort to expand its influence along the Red Sea with friendly states and client ports.[vii] The United Arab Emirates has funded and supplied the RSF with weapons and used neighboring Chad as a logistics hub for these efforts.[viii]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iran: Iran reportedly requested Sudanese permission to establish a permanent naval base on the Red Sea coast, which would support Iranian out-of-area naval operations and attacks on international shipping.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters defended against Israeli clearing operations in the northern and central Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued conducting clearing operations around northern Khan Younis.
  • Negotiations: Hamas reportedly made the return of civilians to the northern Gaza Strip a priority in ceasefire negotiations with Israel.
  • Iraq: Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi discussed unspecified bilateral cooperation with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski and other US officials.
  • Yemen: The Houthis launched anti-ship missiles that damaged the Liberian-flagged MSC Sky II commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden. The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the group launched an unspecified number of anti-ship ballistic missiles and drones targeting US warships in the Red Sea.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • West Bank: Israeli media reported that Shin Bet arrested four “ISIS-inspired” Palestinians who planned to attack the IDF near Hebron.

Iran Update, March 3, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) concluded a two-week long operation in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City on March 3. The continued Palestinian militia attacks demonstrate that Israeli forces have not fully cleared Zaytoun and Palestinian militias in southern Gaza City likely retain some capacity to fight despite the official end of the re-clearing effort.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces expanded clearing operations in Khan Younis on March 3.
  • Ceasefire Negotiations: Hamas responded to the most recent ceasefire proposal with demands for a permanent ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
  • Northern Israel: The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed a drone attack targeting a chemical plant at the Haifa Port on March 1.
  • Red Sea: Italian destroyer Caio Duilio intercepted an unspecified drone flying towards the ship in the Red Sea on March 2.

Iran Update, March 2, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to operate in the northern and central Gaza Strip on March 2. Hamas targeted Israeli forces in Zaytoun with rocket-propelled grenades and explosively-formed
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The IDF 89th Commando Brigade (98th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.
  • Humanitarian Aid: The United States airdropped humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip for the first time on March 2.
  • Yemen: US CENTCOM conducted a preemptive strike targeting a surface-to-air missile that Houthi fighters had prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory into the Red Sea.

Iran Update, March 1, 2024

Iran held separate elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts on March 1.[i] These elections will likely preserve and possibly even reinforce hardliner influence in the Iranian regime. Parliament is the primary legislative body in the Iranian regime, though it is a relatively weak institution in the Iranian political landscape. One of Parliament’s most important roles is selecting a parliament speaker, who will serve ex officio on more prominent regime policymaking bodies, such as the Supreme National Security Council, Supreme Economic Coordination Council, and Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. Iranian parliamentarians serve four-year teams. Hardline political factions currently dominate Parliament and will likely continue doing so after the votes are counted. The Assembly of Experts is an Iranian regime entity constitutionally responsible for monitoring the supreme leader and selecting his successor.[ii] Assembly members serve eight-year terms and are almost exclusively senior Shia clerics.

The Iranian regime is continuing to engineer national elections to consolidate hardline influence in the political establishment. The Guardian Council—a regime body responsible for supervising elections and vetting candidates—barred many moderate and reformist candidates from competing in the March 1 Assembly of Experts and parliamentary elections.[iii] The Guardian Council barred former moderate President Hassan Rouhani from running for reelection to the Assembly of Experts, for example.[iv] The Guardian Council previously disqualified 80 percent of candidates in the 2016 Assembly of Experts elections and 49 percent of candidates in the 2020 parliamentary elections.[v] The Guardian Council often disqualifies moderate and reformist figures to guarantee hardliner victories in these races. The Guardian Council spokesperson claimed on February 28 that the council had disqualified only 25 percent of parliamentary candidates for the most recent vote, although it is unclear how accurate this number is.[vi] Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei personally approves directly or indirectly the members of the 12-person Guardian Council, suggesting that the council operates with the backing of the supreme leader.

Voter turnout appeared to hit a record low, likely reflecting the population’s growing disillusionment with the regime. Initial reports indicate that voter participation was around 27 percent nationally and 12 percent in Tehran on March 1.[vii]  A voter turnout of approximately 30 percent would mark a record low for public participation in parliamentary elections since the Iranian revolution. Voter participation in parliamentary elections previously reached a record low of 42.5 percent in 2020. Voter participation in the presidential election in 2021 similarly hit a record low of 48.8 percent.[viii] These recent numbers are particularly striking given that electoral participation has historically been high in Iran over the past few decades.[ix] Regime officials have repeatedly called on the population to participate in the elections, likely reflecting concerns about low voter turnout amid calls for boycotting the elections.[x]

This year’s Assembly of Experts election is uniquely significant, as it could very well oversee the succession Iran’s next supreme leader. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is currently 84 years old and would be 92 by the time of the next Assembly of Experts election in 2032. This cohort of the Assembly of Experts will at least formally choose Khamenei’s successor if he dies or otherwise leaves his post before then.

Key Takeaways:

  • Iran: Iran held separate elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. These elections will likely preserve and possibly even reinforce hardliner influence in the Iranian regime. Voter turnout appeared to hit a record low, likely reflecting the population’s growing disillusionment with the regime. This year’s Assembly of Experts election is uniquely significant, as it could very well oversee the succession Iran’s next supreme leader.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias defended against Israeli operations in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: An unspecified senior Israeli official reported that Israel will not continue ceasefire negotiations until Hamas provides information on the status of the hostages it holds in the Gaza Strip.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters in 13 locations across the West Bank.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Syria: Israel was likely responsible for an airstrike that killed an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy officer in Baniyas, Syria.
  • Yemen: US CENTCOM intercepted a drone over the Red Sea and conducted two preemptive strikes targeting six mobile, anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled Yemen.

Iran Update, February 29, 2024

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces has impeded the US-led international campaign to defeat ISIS in recent months, according to the Lead Inspector General’s quarterly report.[i] US advisory forces are deployed to Iraq under Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) at the request of the Iraqi federal government to advise and assist partner forces to “independently maintain the enduring defeat of ISIS.”[ii] The Iranian-backed attack campaign targeting US forces has required OIR to divert resources from supporting Iraqi partners to instead address “increased” and “immediate” threats.[iii] OIR reported that the redirected resources ”hindered momentum” in pursuing OIR’s objectives.[iv] The previous OIR quarterly report at the end of 2023 said that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) already faces deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, logistics, and planning that prevent it from defeating ISIS alone.[v]

The escalation cycle fueled by Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks negatively affected the relationship between US advisers and their Iraqi partners, according to the report.[vi] The increased security threat from militia attacks to US forces required OIR to “cancel or delay engagements” with Iraqi officials.[vii] The United States also evacuated and redeployed personnel that then reduced base operations and equipment and facility maintenance.[viii] OIR reported that it has furthermore ”scaled back Coalition engagements” and logistical support for NATO Mission-Iraq and other supporting entities.[ix]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces has impeded the US-led international campaign to defeat ISIS in recent months, according to the Lead Inspector General’s quarterly report.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The IDF 162nd Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City. Hamas fighters resumed contact with their command and returned from areas of fighting to report several attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Dozens of individuals died in a crowd near a humanitarian aid convoy in the northern Gaza Strip. The incident may disrupt negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least seven times in the West Bank.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: US officials are increasingly concerned that Israel will launch a ground incursion into Lebanon in early spring or summer 2024, according to unnamed Biden administration officials.
  • Syria: Israeli airstrike hit a Lebanese Hezbollah truck on the Lebanon-Syria border, according to Reuters, killing one Hezbollah fighter.
  • Yemen: Houthi-controlled media claimed that the United States and United Kingdom conducted airstrikes on four sites in Hudayduh Governorate, Yemen.
  • Iran: Iran and Russia are continuing to deepen security and economic cooperation.
  • The United Kingdom sanctioned three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force units, two Houthi members, and the IRGC Quds Force deputy commander.

Iran Update, February 28, 2024

  • Gaza City: Palestinian militias have claimed at least 92 attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun, southeastern Gaza City, between February 19 and February 28. This high attack rate involving at least seven Palestinian militias using sophisticated military capabilities indicates that Palestinian fighters have retained military capacity in southern Gaza City despite two Israeli clearing operations there.
  • The militias likely infiltrated into previously cleared areas of southern Gaza City from the uncleared central Gaza Strip. The militias also likely reactivated dormant cells after the Israelis decreased the size of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) contingent in the northern Strip.
  • The attacks in Zaytoun are in response to the ongoing division-sized clearing operation targeting Zaytoun. The IDF 162nd Division continued its clearing operation in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 28.
  • Rafah: IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said on February 27 that Israel seeks to ensure displaced Gazan civilians have access to food, aid, medicine, and hospital facilities in a separate, safer zone before conducting ground operations in Rafah.
  • Negotiations: Israeli negotiators are expected to leave Qatar on February 29 if there is no significant breakthrough in ceasefire talks, according to two Israeli sources familiar with the process.
  • Yemen: CENTCOM and an unspecified coalition warship shot down five Houthi one-way attack drones over the Red Sea on February 27.
  • Iraq-Russia: The Iraqi government may request a sanctions waiver to purchase spare parts for Russian-manufactured helicopters. A Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee member cited by an independent Iraqi news outlet said that there is an “unannounced” effort to resolve the shortage of parts for Iraq’s Russian-made helicopters.

Iran Update, February 27, 2024

Two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated sources told the New York Times that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias “fiercely resisted” IRGC Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani’s orders in late January to halt attacks targeting US forces in the region.[i]  The two IRGC-affiliated sources claimed that Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba commanders refused to stop attacking US forces during a meeting with Ghaani in Baghdad, which Reuters reported occurred on January 29.[ii] Iranian and Iraqi sources added that senior Iraqi Shia clerics in Najaf and influential Iraqi politicians, including the Iraqi prime minister, convinced Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba to halt the attacks.

The timeline of events indicates that Ghaani was instrumental in convincing Kataib Hezbollah to pause attacks, not Iraqi leaders. Kataib Hezbollah responded to Iranian directives from Ghaani by announcing that it would “suspend attacks” on January 30—roughly 24 hours after the meeting with Ghaani on January 29. Reuters reported that Ghaani directed Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to “pause” attacks on US forces during the January 29 meeting. A senior Iranian-backed Iraqi militia commander told Reuters that Ghaani’s influence was essential in convincing Kataib Hezbollah to pause attacks. Reuters added that one group, presumably Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, did not “initially agree” to Ghaani’s directive.[iii] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said on February 2 that it would continue attacks targeting US forces.[iv] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit.[v]

Iraqi Shia clerics in Najaf may also lack the influence to convince Kataib Hezbollah to cease attacks. Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba are loyal to the Iranian supreme leader, not Iraqi Shia clerics in Najaf.[vi] It is not clear why Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba would follow orders from Iraqi Shia clerics over Ghaani, who speaks for the Iranian supreme leader.[vii]

Ghaani’s visit to Baghdad illustrates both the extent of and limits to Iran’s control of its proxy network in the Middle East. Most of Iran’s proxies and partners in Iraq immediately ceased attacks following Ghaani’s directive, though it is possible additional pressure from the Iraqi government further reinforced Ghaani’s orders. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba initially did not agree to stop attacks, but Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have not resumed attacks targeting US forces since February 4. The Iraqi prime minister has ample reason to attempt to stop Iranian-backed attacks against US forces to avoid additional US airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. The attacks—and the ensuing US airstrikes—undermine the prime minister’s ability to retain even a small international coalition presence to support Iraqi forces against ISIS.[viii]  Ghaani and Iran can pressure their partners and proxies to pause or resume these attacks as needed, however. Ghaani represents the Iranian supreme leader, to whom groups like Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba proclaim loyalty, meaning that many Iranian-backed groups will respond as Ghaani directs.[ix]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: Two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated sources told the New York Times that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias “fiercely resisted” IRGC Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani’s orders in late January to halt attacks targeting US forces in the region.
  • The timeline of events indicates that Ghaani—not Iraqi leaders—was instrumental in convincing Kataib Hezbollah to pause attacks. Kataib Hezbollah responded to Iranian directives from Ghaani by announcing that it would “suspend attacks” on January 30—roughly 24 hours after the meeting with Ghaani on January 29.
  • Iraqi Shia clerics in Najaf may also lack the influence to convince Kataib Hezbollah to cease attacks. Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba are loyal to the Iranian supreme leader, not Iraqi Shia clerics in Najaf.
  • Ghaani’s visit to Baghdad illustrates both the extent of and limits to Iran’s control of its proxy network in the Middle East. Most of Iran’s proxies and partners in Iraq immediately ceased attacks following Ghaani’s directive, though it is possible additional pressure from the Iraqi government further reinforced Ghaani’s orders.
  • Gaza City: The IDF 162nd Division continued its clearing operation in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 27. Palestinian militias claimed at least 16 attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun, southeastern Gaza City on February 27.
  • Iran and Yemen: The United States and the United Kingdom sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and Houthi members on February 27.

Iran Update, February 26, 2024

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern and Central Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces announced that its 162nd Division uncovered a Hamas tunnel network connecting the Central Gaza Governorate to the northern Gaza Strip over the past several weeks.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis. Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces operating in Abasan al Kabira, east of Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh met with the Qatari Emir to discuss ceasefire negotiations.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least three times in the West Bank. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh resigned.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted at least nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iraq: Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have signaled that they will resume conducting attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East.
  • Syria: Local Syrian sources reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is trying to rebuild its military infrastructure in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria.
  • Yemen: US CENTCOM reported that it intercepted three Houthi one-way attack drones.
  • Iran: The International Atomic Energy Organization disclosed to UN member states that Iran has reduced its stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium since late October 2023.

Iran Update, February 25, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces has continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least six times in the West Bank.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Yemen: The USS Mason intercepted a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile targeting US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor.

Iran Update, February 24, 2024

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Political Negotiations: US, Qatari, and Egyptian officials proposed a new hostage deal to Israeli negotiators during discussions in Paris.
  • Yemen: US CENTCOM reported that it destroyed seven Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled Yemen that were ready-to-fire.

Iran Update, February 23, 2024

The Houthis claimed that Saudi Arabia and the United States conducted combined airstrikes in Houthi-controlled territory on February 23, likely pressure Saudi Arabia to exert its influence on the United States to decrease US strikes targeting Houthi military assets.[i] A Houthi-controlled media outlet claimed that the alleged US-Saudi strikes hit unspecified targets in Amran, Marib, Saada, Hajjah, Taiz, Dhamar, Sanaa, Bayda, and Hudaydah provinces. The Houthi outlet also claimed that the strikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. A Saudi strike on Houthi-controlled territory would constitute a violation of the Yemeni ceasefire that went into effect in April 2022.[ii]  Saudi Arabia seeks to maintain its truce with the Houthis and has discouraged US attacks against the Houthis during the current escalation in the Red Sea.[iii] CTP-ISW has not recorded any indications that Saudi Arabia conducted an airstrike into Houthi-controlled territory on February 23. Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government, and Houthis have maintained the ceasefire past its official expiration in October 2022.[iv]

The Houthis are "fortifying” missile launch sites according to individuals “with knowledge of the situation” cited by Bloomberg on February 22, which will enable the Houthis to continue offensive attacks on military and civilian vessels in the Red Sea.[v] The sources claimed the Houthis are “fortifying” missile launch positions in the mountains and increasing one-way surface naval attack drone and one-way subsurface naval attack drone tests. This is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment on February 22 that Iran and the Houthis are likely using their attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to test and refine their approach to striking naval targets.[vi] Houthi attacks provide Iran and the Houthis opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of different strike packages to understand how they can evade and overwhelm US air and maritime defenses more effectively. The Houthi effort to better defend its launch sites enables to Houthis to continue offensive operations—namely, cruise and ballistic missile fire—that test US defense capabilities.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) conducted six preemptive strikes targeting Houthi one way attack drones and mobile anti-ship ballistic missiles and intercepted three one-way attack drones since CTP-ISW's last data cut off on February 22.[vii] CENTCOM stated that it intercepted two mobile anti-ship cruise missiles and conducted four preemptive strikes targeting “Iranian-backed Houthi [drones]” on February 22. CENTCOM intercepted three one-way attack drones operating near commercial vessels in the Red Sea on February 23.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.[viii] The proposal is the first time Netanyahu has presented a written position on his post-war plans. A senior aid to Netanyahu said the goal of the plan was to present principles that would get the “broadest consensus possible.”[ix] Israeli media reported that Israel will continue its military operations in the Gaza Strip with the aim of destroying the military capabilities and governance infrastructure of Hamas and PIJ, securing the return of hostages, and preventing further threats from the Gaza Strip.[x]

The proposal covers long-term plans related to security, governance, and reconstruction. The IDF will maintain “operational freedom” in the Gaza Strip and establish a buffer zone along the Israeli border under the proposal.[xi] Israel will also control the Gaza-Egypt border and monitor demilitarization efforts in the Gaza Strip. Unspecified "local elements with management experience" will be responsible for civilian management and public order in the strip.[xii] Axios reported that the plan does not rule out the role for the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, although it does not specifically mention the PA either.[xiii] Lastly, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip will only be possible after the completion of the demilitarization process and the beginning of a “de-radicalization process.”[xiv]

Iran Update, February 22, 2024

Iran and the Houthis are likely using their attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to test and refine their approach to striking naval targets. Houthi leader Abdulmalik al Houthi stated on February 22 that the group will “escalate” its operations targeting shipping around the Red Sea.[i] Abdulmalik added that the group would introduce "submarine weapons,” likely referring to unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), but gave no further details.[ii] CENTCOM reported that the Houthis used a UUV for the first time to threaten shipping around the Red Sea on February 17.[iii] The Houthis--enabled directly by Iran--have used combinations of cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aerial, surface, and underwater drones to attack civilian and military vessels around the Red Sea since November 2023. Iranian military advisers are providing targeting intelligence to support the Houthis’ attacks targeting US naval vessels.[iv] US naval vessels have regularly intercepted Houthi munitions targeting civilian and military vessels off the coast of Yemen. These Houthi attacks provide Iran and the Houthis opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of different strike packages to understand how they can evade and overwhelm US defenses more effectively.

Key Takeaways:

  • Yemen: Iran and the Houthis are likely using their attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to test and refine their approach to striking naval targets.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces 162nd Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Hamas said that there may be progress in negotiations with Israel over a prisoner-for-hostage deal.
  • Iraq: Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi discussed the US military presence in Iraq with US Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons and US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski.
  • Iran: Iranian Strategic Foreign Relations Council Chairman Kamal Kharazi met with senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in Tehran.

Iran Update, February 21, 2024

Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January.[i] The three unspecified Iranian sources said that Iran provided roughly 400 SRBMs to Russia, including the Fateh-110 and the Zolfaghar. The sources said that Iran has sent at least four SRBM shipments to Russia since Iran and Russia concluded a missile sale agreement in late 2023. One Iranian official said that Iran will continue to ship missiles to Russia because Iran is ”allowed to export weapons to any country” it wishes, given the October 2023 expiration of UN missile restrictions on Iran under UNSC Resolution 2231. UNSC Resolution 2231 suspended nuclear-related UN sanctions and established sunset dates for missile and other arms-related sanctions on Iran. A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger said on February 21 that Iran began missile shipments to Russia in early January, following the UN missile restrictions expiration.[ii]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iran: Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January. Iran’s arms sales to Russia are part of Iran’s efforts to generate revenue to support its deteriorating economy.
  • Iran’s provision of these missile systems could improve Russia’s ability to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses.
  • Iraq-Russia: Russian and Iraqi officials discussed deepening judicial and economic ties on February 21.
  • Iraqi Federal Integrity Commission Chairman Haider Hanoun, who is affiliated with the Badr Organization, and Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for anti-corruption coordination and training on February 21.
  • Iranian-aligned Iraqi actors have previously used Iraq’s judicial system to target political opposition.
  • ISW previously reported on the Kremlin‘s use of the Russian Prosecutor General‘s Office to seize and nationalize assets from Russians and to widely apply administrative law to stifle any perceived source of opposition.
  • Yemen: US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported on February 21 that Houthi fighters fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting the MV Sea Champion, which was transporting humanitarian aid to Yemen, on February 19.
  • Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that two brigades launched a new clearing operation in Zaytoun, southern Gaza City.

Iran Update, February 20, 2024

Russia may be setting conditions to supplant the United States as a security partner in Iraq in anticipation of the United States possibly reducing its military presence there. Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev has met with several senior Iraqi political and military officials to discuss security cooperation since late January 2024. Kutrashev met with:

  • Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Ammar al Hakim on January 31;
  • Iraqi Popular Mobilization Committee Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh on February 1;
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani on February 5; and
  • Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali on February 20.

Kutrashev’s meetings notably included discussing deepening security cooperation with prominent Iranian-backed security figures. Kutrashev and Fayyadh discussed “exchanging experiences” between Russia and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which is an Iraqi security service that contains several Iranian-backed Shia militias.[i] Kutrashev also discussed Russian support for the Iraqi armed forces when meeting with Khazali.[ii] Iraqi state media reported that Kutrashev and Khazali discussed Russia’s role in “arming and developing the capabilities of Iraqi security and military forces.”[iii] Engaging Khazali on this subject is especially noteworthy, given that he heads Iranian-backed militia Asaib Ahl al Haq, which is part of the PMF. Kutrashev and Khazali also discussed counterterrorism cooperation. Kutrashev previously told Russian media in January 2024 that Russia seeks to expand its “presence” in Iraq and “invest additional resources in areas related to security.”[iv]

Iran and its Iraqi proxy and partner militias have intensified their campaign to expel the United States from Iraq since October 2023 and have accordingly launched regular attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria within this timeframe.[v] These attacks aim to erode US willingness to maintain a military presence in the Middle East.[vi] The United States and Iraqi federal government began negotiations over the status of the US-led international coalition in Iraq in late January 2024, which is around the same time that Kutrashev’s meetings began.[vii] The United States and international coalition forces are deployed in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Russia may seek to replace the United States as the main provider of military equipment and training to the Iraqi armed forces. An Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee member claimed on February 20 that the United States has threatened to stop providing military equipment and training to Iraq to pressure the Iraqi federal government to keep US forces.[viii] CTP-ISW cannot verify this claim. Russia could exploit a potential vacuum in US military support to Iraq by providing Iraqi forces with small arms and spare parts in the short-term. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would likely prevent it from being able to supply Iraqi forces with high-end systems, such as tanks, helicopters, and aircraft, however. The US Defense Department reported in February 2023 that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has hindered Iraq’s ability to access spare parts for its Russian-designed Mi-17 helicopters.[ix] The United States began replacing Iraq’s Mi-17 helicopters with US-made helicopters around February 2023.[x]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: Russia may be setting conditions to supplant the United States as a security partner in Iraq in anticipation of the United States possibly reducing its military presence there.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces launched a new, “division-wide” clearing operation in the Zaytoun and Shujaiya neighborhoods in eastern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces assessed that it will complete ground operations in Khan Younis in the next few days, according to an Israeli Army Radio correspondent.
  • Political Negotiations: Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Cairo to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza with Egyptian officials.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted at least six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Yemen: The Houthis claimed three drone attacks targeting US and Israeli targets.
  • Iran: International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said that Iran is continuing to produce highly enriched uranium at an elevated rate.

Iran Update, February 19, 2024

The Houthi movement launched an anti-ship ballistic missile that struck and disabled the UK-owned, Belize-flagged Rubymar cargo ship in the Bab al Mandeb strait on February 18.[i] The Rubymar’s Lebanon-based management company said that the vessel took on water after the missile struck the vessel’s engine room.[ii] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the cargo vessel had completely sunk about 22 hours after the attack occurred.[iii] Neither the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) nor CENTCOM has said that the Rubymar sunk. A warship operating under the auspices of Operation Prosperity Guardian and a commercial vessel responded to the attack.[iv] The commercial vessel evacuated the Rubymar’s crew to Djibouti.[v] This incident marks the first time that a crew has had to abandon ship after a Houthi attack since Houthi attacks began during this round of escalation on November 19.[vi] The Houthi military spokesperson falsely claimed that the Houthis ”made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”[vii]

The Houthi movement claimed two attacks targeting a US-owned, Greece-flagged vessel and a Marshall-Islands flagged vessel in the Gulf of Aden on February 19.[viii] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the Houthis fired anti-ship missiles at the US-owned and Greece-flagged Sea Champion and the Marshall Islands-flagged Navis Fortuna. The spokesperson said that the ships were both ”American.”[ix] The UKMTO reported two explosions lightly damaged one vessel 100 NM east of Aden.[x] British maritime security firm Ambrey said that the Sea Champion was “involved“ in the two explosions.[xi]

The Houthi movement claimed that it shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over Hudaydah on February 19.[xii] The group posted a video showing Houthi surface-to-air missile hitting the drone.[xiii] The video also showed the drone’s wreckage. The Houthi military spokesperson did not specify what type of missile system the Houthis used to shoot down the drone. Two US officials told the New York Times that the Pentagon is investigating the cause of the drone ”crash.”[xiv] An unspecified US official told Voice of America that the Houthis previously shot down a Reaper drone over Yemen in early November 2023.[xv]

Local Houthi-affiliated media reported that US forces conducted a strike against an unspecified target in al Jabbana, Hudaydah Province. The Houthi movement spokesperson condemned US and UK strikes against Houthi targets near the time of the incident.[xvi] CENTCOM has not confirmed the airstrike.

Key Takeaways:

  • Yemen: The Houthi movement launched an anti-ship ballistic missile that struck and disabled the UK-owned, Belize-flagged Rubymar cargo ship in the Bab al Mandeb strait on February 18. This incident marks the first time that a crew has had to abandon ship after a Houthi attack since Houthi attacks began during this round of escalation on November 19.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces are constructing a road in the Gaza Strip to divide the northern Gaza Strip from the southern Strip and facilitate Israeli raids. An IDF battalion commander working on the road said that Israeli forces will use the road to protect the area and control the flow of Gazans from north to south.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The IDF reported that Israeli forces are finishing clearing operation in western Khan Younis.
  • Negotiations: The Qatari prime minister said that a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas should not require a hostage deal.
  • Palestinian Politics: Russia invited Palestinian factions, including Hamas and PIJ, to meet in Moscow on February 26 for an “inter-Palestinian meeting.” The Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the PA will see if Hamas “is ready to reach an understanding.”
  • Lebanon: The IAF conducted airstrikes that targeted two “Hezbollah military depots” near Sidon, Lebanon on February 19. This is the first time since October 7 Israel has conducted airstrikes in Sidon, which is roughly 30km north of the Litani River and 40km south of Beirut.

Iran Update, February 18, 2024

Reuters reported on February 18 that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani directed Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to “pause” attacks on US forces during a January 29 meeting in Baghdad.[i] Ghaani met with the leaders of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups less than 48 hours after the Iranian-backed drone attack on January 28 that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan. Kataib Hezbollah responded to Iranian directives from Ghaani by announcing that it would “suspend attacks” on January 30.[ii] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba did not “initially agree” to Ghaani’s directive.[iii] The group said that it would continue attacks targeting US forces on February 2, after Ghaani’s visit.[iv] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit.[v] It has not claimed any attacks after February 4.[vi]

Ghaani’s visit illustrates the degree to which Iran controls its proxy network across the Middle East. Most of Iran’s proxies and partners in Iraq immediately ceased attacks following Ghaani’s order. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba initially did not agree but Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have not resumed attacks targeting US forces since February 4.[vii] Ghaani and Iran can pressure their partners and proxies to pause or resume attacks as needed, however. Nine Iranian and Iraqi sources told Reuters that Ghaani chose to pause attacks to “avoid a similar escalation” to the 2020 escalation cycle that resulted in the US airstrike that killed former IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.[viii] Ghaani could resume attacks in pursuit of Iranian objectives—namely, expelling US forces from Iraq—as needed when or if Iran calculates that the risk of “similar escalation” decreases.

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: Reuters reported on February 18 that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani directed Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to “pause” attacks on US forces during a January 29 meeting in Baghdad. Ghaani’s visit illustrates the degree to which Iran controls its proxy network across the Middle East.
  • Khan Younis: The Israeli Defense Minister stated on February 18 that Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade has been “defeated and does not function as a military entity in any way.”
  • Rafah: Israeli War Cabinet Minster Benny Gantz said Israeli forces will enter Rafah at the start of Ramadan if Hamas does not release the remaining Israeli hostages the group holds.
  • Gantz’s statement reflects a possible change in the Rafah operation’s timeline. Channel 12 reported on February 10 that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a War Cabinet meeting that the IDF would need to complete the operation into Rafah by March 10 due to international pressure.
  • Yemen: US Central Command conducted five preemptive strikes in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen on February 17 that targeted three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one subsurface naval attack drone, and one surface naval attack drone.

Iran Update, February 17, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued operations in and around al Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 17. Israeli special operations forces arrested 100 individuals at the Hospital and killed Palestinian fighters operating nearby.
  • Negotiations: An unspecified senior Hamas member told al Jazeera on February 17 that Hamas plans to suspend ceasefire negotiations with Israel until aid is delivered to the northern Gaza Strip.
  • Yemen: The Houthi movement said that it launched anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting the Pollux, a Panamanian-flagged and registered and Danish-owned vessel in the Red Sea on February 16 and 17.

Iran Update, February 16, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued targeting Hamas commanders and fighters in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces found medications belonging to Hamas-held hostages and weapons in Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis.
  • West Bank: A Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem conducted a shooting attack in Kiryat Malachi on February 16, injuring four and killing two.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: The Israel Defense Forces conducted a training exercise to increase the combat readiness of forces stationed on Israel’s northern border.
  • Iraq: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with the commander of NATO Allied Joint Force Command Naples to discuss NATO’s Mission Iraq.
  • Yemen: The Houthis likely conducted a missile attack targeting an unspecified Panama-flagged commercial vessel in the Red Sea.
  • Iran: Two unspecified Western officials and an IRGC-affiliated individual told the New York Times that Israel was responsible for the February 14 explosions on natural gas pipelines in central Iran.

Iran Update, February 15, 2024

Russian Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov paid an official visit to Iran, likely to discuss Russo-Iranian defense industrial and military cooperation. Minnikhanov visited unspecified “large industries and industrial towns” in Esfahan Province and met with the provincial governor on February 14.[i] Several prominent defense industrial and military sites, including some operated by the IRGC and Defense Ministry for aerospace work, are in Esfahan Province. These sites include the Kashan airfield, for instance, which Russian delegations visited in June and July 2022 to examine Iranian Shahed drones.[ii] The Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, which builds Ababil and Shahed drones, is also located in Esfahan Province.[iii] Minnikhanov’s visit is particularly noteworthy given that Iran is helping to construct a military drone manufacturing facility in Yelabuga, which is in the Republic of Tatarstan.[iv]  This factory is expected to produce at least 6,000 drones in the “coming years.”[v]

Minnikhanov is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has extensive ties to Russia’s defense industry. He has served as the head of the Republic of Tatarstan since 2010 and also heads the Russian oil and gas company Tatneft.[vi] Minnikhanov has separately chaired the board of directors for the Tupolev Public Joint Stock Company since September 2021.[vii] Tupolev produces strategic bombers, such as the Backfire and Blackjack bombers, for the Russian armed forces.[viii] The United States sanctioned Minnikhanov in January 2023 for his involvement in the “defense and related materiel and aerospace sectors of the Russian Federation economy.”[ix] Canada sanctioned Minnikhanov in April 2023 for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[x]

Minnikhanov separately met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss “economic cooperation” in Tehran on February 13.[xi] Raisi called for increasing economic, industrial, scientific, and tourism cooperation with the Republic of Tatarstan and other Russian federal subjects. Russian media reported that Raisi will travel to Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, in October 2024 to attend a BRICS summit.[xii]

Some Sunni and Shia Iraqi political factions appear divided on expelling US forces from Iraq.[xiii] Khaled al Dabouni, a member of the Sunni Mutahidun Alliance, stated that Sunni political parties will not support the Iranian-backed effort to remove US forces. Dabouni argued that Iraq needs US forces to confront ISIS because Iraq is currently incapable of doing so by itself. This assertion is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that an Iraqi decision to expel US forces would very likely create space for ISIS to resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq.

The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-aligned Iraqi Shia political parties—and other Iranian-backed Iraqi actors regularly argue that Iraq no longer needs US-led coalition forces because the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) can independently protect Iraq from threats, such as ISIS.[xiv] These statements ignore the deficiencies that the ISF continues to face in terms of intelligence, fire support, and logistics. Iranian-backed Iraqi parliamentarians accused Sunni and Kurdish factions of “boycotting” the February 10 parliamentary session to discuss the removal of US-led International Coalition forces from Iraq, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[xv]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iran: Russian Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov paid an official visit to Iran, likely to discuss Russo-Iranian defense industrial and military cooperation.
  • Iraq: Some Sunni and Shia Iraqi political factions appear divided on expelling US forces from Iraq.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces reported that it concluded a two-week long, division-sized raid in western Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued to conduct clearing operations in several sectors of Khan Younis.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least six times. Hamas called for three days of demonstrations in the West Bank and abroad.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted eleven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Yemen: The Houthis claimed that they conducted a missile attack targeting a Barbados-flagged, Greek-owned vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

Iran Update, February 14, 2024

Iranian Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei discussed the removal of US forces from Iraq, counterterrorism, and border security with senior Iraqi politicians in Baghdad on February 13 and 14. Iranian judicial officials rarely travel abroad. Acting Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi claimed that the Iraqi Parliament will pass a law in the coming weeks to “completely” end the US presence in Iraq during his meeting with Ejei.[i] Mandalawi described Iraq as a “strong” country that “does not need foreign forces to protect it.”[ii] Prominent Shia cleric Ammar al Hakim separately expressed support for the Iraqi federal government’s negotiations with the United States about the status of US-led international coalition forces in Iraq during his meeting with Ejei.[iii] Ejei expressed support for ending the US-led international coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq.[iv] Facilitating the removal of US forces from the Middle East is one of Iran’s most important strategic objectives and Iran supports Iranian-backed Iraqi actors’ ongoing military and political campaign to expel US forces from Iraq.

Mandalawi and Ejei’s positions support Iran’s goal to remove US forces from Iraq, but these positions ignore the current security situation in Iraq. Iran and its proxies and partners support the effort to expel US forces from Iraq. Mandalawi’s claim that Iraq “does not need foreign forces to protect it” ignores the realities of the US mission in Iraq and the issues plaguing the Iraqi Security Forces. The US mission in Iraq focuses primarily on advising Iraqi general officers and improving the ISF’s deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, and logistics.[v] US forces in Iraq do not conduct combat operations. Iran's partners in Iraq aim to remove US forces in part because the US support for the ISF strengthens the ISF's position vis-a-vis the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Iranian-backed actors in the PMF view some ISF units as a possible threat and seek to undermine them. The Counterterrorism Service (CTS), for example, arrested 14 Kataib Hezbollah members in a raid in June 2020.[vi] CTP-ISW continues to assess that an Iraqi decision to expel US forces from Iraq would very likely create space for ISIS to rapidly resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq.[vii] 

Ejei separately discussed border security and counterterrorism with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani. The Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office reported that Ejei and Sudani discussed joint efforts to confront terrorism and drug trafficking, while Iranian state media emphasized that Ejei called on the Iraqi government to “fully implement” the March 2023 security agreement between Tehran and Baghdad.[viii] This agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[ix] Iran has historically accused anti-regime Kurdish militant groups and Israel of using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate joint operations into Iran. Ejei also met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif al Rashid.[x]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani visited Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) headquarters in northwestern Iraq on February 12.[xi] Sudani visited an Iraqi Army 21st Division headquarters along the "Wadi al Tharthar line,” an area that extends from Salah al Din Province to the Iraqi border with Syria in western Ninewa Province.[xii] Sudani formed the 21st Division in February 2023 at the request of the Iraqi Defense Ministry.[xiii] Brig. Gen. Imad Ahmed Mohammad assumed command of this division after serving in the Directorate of Military Engineering.[xiv] Sudani also visited the 44th PMF Brigade (Liwa Ansar al Marjaiya) in Hatra, Ninewa Province.[xv] The 44th PMF Brigade is affiliated with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, who is an influential quietist grand ayatollah based in Najaf.[xvi] Hamid al Yasiri commands the brigade.[xvii] Iraqi media reported that Sudani traveled to northwestern Iraq to demonstrate that areas where ISIS members previously infiltrated Iraq from Syria are now safe.[xviii] Sudani reiterated during his visit to these headquarters that Iraq has an “obligation” to end the US-led international coalition’s presence in Iraq.[xix]

Former Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi released a statement on February 14 that warned “war merchants and seditionists from the Islamist parties” against “tampering with the stability of Anbar [Province].”[xx] Halbousi was likely referring to the Shia Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties that are pushing for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq. An independent Iraqi outlet framed Halbousi’s warning within the context of Sudani’s visit to Iraqi Army and PMF headquarters on February 13.[xxi] The outlet suggested that Halbousi might oppose the Shia Coordination Framework efforts to end the US-led international Coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq.[xxii] Halbousi may also have been referring to Shia Coordination Framework efforts to prevent his favored candidate from becoming parliament speaker. 

The number of Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Gaza Strip dropped from a daily average of 5 attacks between January 31 and February 6 to a daily average of 2.7 attacks between February 7 and February 13.  Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters mortared Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip on February 14, but CTP-ISW cannot confirm the point of origin. The IDF conducted a two-week, division-sized clearing operation in early February that targeted Hamas underground infrastructure and fighters.[xxiii] The IDF degraded Hamas units during previous clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip earlier in the war, but Hamas “took advantage” of the IDF’s withdrawal in late December to reconstitute some of its military units.[xxiv] Hamas will likely continue to appoint new commanders in the aftermath of the latest clearing operation and learn from its mistakes to better protect its new leaders from future Israeli operations.[xxv] Hamas retains many experienced commanders—including the Gaza City Brigade commander—who will continue to rebuild the organization between Israeli clearing operations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: Iranian Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei discussed the removal of US forces from Iraq, counterterrorism, and border security with senior Iraqi politicians in Baghdad on February 13 and 14. The effort to expel US forces from Iraq supports Iran’s goals but ignores the current security situation in Iraq.
  • Former Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi released a statement on February 14 that warned “war merchants and seditionists from the Islamist parties” against “tampering with the stability of Anbar [Province].” Halbousi was likely referring to the Shia Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties that are pushing for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq.
  • The Gaza Strip: The number of Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Gaza Strip dropped from a daily average of 5 attacks between January 31 and February 6 to a daily average of 2.7 attacks between February 7 and February 13.
  • The IDF conducted a two-week, division-sized clearing operation in early February that targeted Hamas underground infrastructure and fighters.
  • The IDF degraded Hamas units during previous clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip earlier in the war, but Hamas “took advantage” of the IDF’s withdrawal in late December to reconstitute some of its military units.
  • Ceasefire Negotiation: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo on February 14 for “low-level” follow-up talks to discuss ceasefire proposals.
  • Lebanon: Likely Lebanese Hezbollah fighters fired 11 122mm Grad rockets at the IDF Northern Command headquarters in Safed in northern Israel on February 14. The IDF conducted a series of major airstrikes on February 14 that targeted Hezbollah positions and assets in southern Lebanon in response to the attack targeting Safed.

Iran Update, February 13, 2024

  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israel presented a proposal to move displaced Gazans in Rafah to Egyptian-built tent cities in the southwestern Gaza Strip, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Negotiations: Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan claimed on February 12 that Egyptian and Qatar mediators believe that the Hamas ceasefire proposal that Qatar delivered to Israel “opened a way to reach an agreement.”
  • Hamdan reiterated Hamas’ longstanding requirements for a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip, which include the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the end of Israeli military operations, humanitarian aid and reconstruction, and a hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal.
  • Lebanon: France outlined a three-step plan to deescalate the conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border and force Lebanese Hezbollah to withdraw six miles from the Israeli border.
  • Iran: Former Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director General Ali Akbar Salehi said during an interview on February 11 that Iran is able to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran Update, February 12, 2024

  • Russia: Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate reported that elements of Lebanese Hezbollah and the IRGC are training Russian drone operators at the Shayrat Air Base in Syria.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement stated that it reestablished contact with its “combat units” in southwestern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces conducted an overnight raid to rescue Hamas-held hostages in Rafah.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters two times.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iraq: The Iraqi Parliament discussed the removal of US-led international coalition forces from Iraq in a session.
  • Yemen: The Houthis launched at least two anti-ship missiles targeting a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged commercial vessel carrying Brazilian corn to Iran.
  • Iran: Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is conducting a regional tour and politically coordinating with senior Axis of Resistance leaders in Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar.

Iran Update, February 11, 2024

  • Northern and central Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Hamas, Egyptian, and Houthi officials issued threats likely to dissuade the IDF from a military operation into Rafah.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters twice.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Syria: Likely Iranian-backed militants tried to conduct a drone attack targeting US forces at Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria.
  • Yemen: US Central Command forces conducted self-defense strikes targeting Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles and unmanned surface vessels.

Iran Update, February 10, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces published details of a division-sized clearing operation it has been conducting for the past two weeks in western Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Unidentified Egyptian officials warned that Egypt would suspend the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty if Israel conducted a ground operation into Rafah.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iraq: The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed that the United States violated “the rules of engagement” when it killed senior Kataib Hezbollah member Wissam Mohammed Saber al Saedi.
  • Yemen: US Central Command forces conducted preemptive, self-defense strikes targeting Houthi unmanned surface vessels and missiles.

Iran Update, February 9, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters continued to infiltrate Gaza City on February 9, where they are attacking Israeli forces.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the IDF to draft plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah and to “dismantle Hamas’ battalions in the Rafah area” on February 9.
  • Iraq: The Central Bank of Iraq revoked the license that allows Iran’s largest bank to operate in Iraq on January 31, according to a Central Bank of Iraq document obtained by Reuters.
  • Iran: Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is engaging in political coordination with senior leaders in the Axis of Resistance during his visits to Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar.
  • Two Western intelligence officials told Politico on February 8 that Iran used German financial institutions to funnel money to its regional proxy groups.
  • Syria: Israel likely conducted missile strikes targeting Iran-affiliated targets in southwestern Damascus, Syria, on February 9.
  • Yemen: The United States conducted preemptive strikes targeting Houthi missile sites and naval attack drones in Yemen on February 8.

Iran Update, February 8, 2024

  1. Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters are continuing to infiltrate previously cleared areas.
  2. Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis.
  3. Political Negotiations: Israel reportedly proposed to the United States exiling the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar in exchange for Hamas returning all hostages and an end to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.
  4. West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in two locations.
  5. Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 10 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  6. Iraq: Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are continuing to exploit US military operations in Iraq to amplify pressure on the Mohammad Shia al Sudani administration to expel US forces from Iraq.
  7. Syria: An unspecified Iraqi militia group conducted a drone strike targeting US forces at the al Omar oil field in Deir ez Zor Province, according to regional and local Syrian outlets.
  8. Yemen: The United States conducted self-defense strikes targeting Houthi missile sites in Yemen.

Iran Update, February 7, 2024

US Central Command (CENTCOM) killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander on February 7 who planned and participated in attacks targeting US forces in the region.[i]  CENTCOM said the strike was in response to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq’s drone attack on January 28 that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan.[ii] Local Iraqi media reported that the US airstrike hit a vehicle and killed three of its occupants in Mashtal, eastern Baghdad.[iii] Two Kataib Hezbollah commanders, Wissam Mohammed Saber al Saadi and Arkan Aleaoui, were in the vehicle.[iv] The Associated Press cited ”two officials with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq” who claimed that Saadi oversaw KH operations in Syria.[v] An Iraqi journalist identified Aleaoui as a KH field commander.[vi]  Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said on February 7 that it will retaliate for the US strike in Baghdad if the Iraqi government does not immediately remove US forces from Iraq.[vii]

Iraqis demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Baghdad following Iranian-backed social media calls to storm the embassy on social media.[viii]  Pro-Iranian-backed Iraqi militia social media channels issued calls after the US drone strike for demonstrators to gather in Jadiriyah and march towards the embassy.[ix]

Sudani said that the Iraqi Federal government has not had direct contact with the United States since the US airstrikes in Iraq on February 1.[x] Sudani also said that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will be involved in future bilateral negotiations on the status of US and International Coalition forces in Iraq. It is unclear what role the KRG will play in the bilateral negotiations.

The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center reported that Iran accelerated its cyberattacks and influence operations after October 7 to support Hamas and weaken Israel and its allies and business partners.[xi] Microsoft assessed that Iran’s operations immediately after October 7 were “hasty and chaotic,” but that these efforts have “achieved growing success.”[xii] Microsoft said that traffic to Iranian state media websites increased 42 percent between October 7 and October 14 and that the traffic “was still 28 percent above pre-war levels” in early November.[xiii] Microsoft said that the “hasty and chaotic” operations targeting Israel shifted to an “all hands on attack threat environment” in late October.[xiv] It reported that the cyberattacks were increasingly “destructive” and Iran began employing “networks of social media ‘sockpuppet’ accounts.”[xv] Microsoft also said that Iran gradually expanded its operation to target countries other than Israel, including Albania, Bahrain, and the United States.[xvi] Iran also used artificial intelligence for the first time in a cyber or influence operation to replace ”streaming television services...with a fake news video featuring an apparently AI-generated news anchor.”[xvii] This AI-enabled operation targeted audiences in Canada, the UAE, and the United Kingdom.[xviii]

Israel rejected a Hamas three-stage proposal for a ceasefire on February 7.[xix] Hamas’ proposed the February 7 deal after Egypt, the United States, and Israel proposed a separate three-stage agreement on January 31 after talks in Paris.[xx] The January 31 Paris proposal did not include an end to the war.[xxi] Hamas offered a three-stage ceasefire deal that would release all Israeli hostages over a four-month period in exchange for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and discussions on the end of the war.[xxii] Each phase would last 45 days. The deal includes a “comprehensive reconstruction” of the Gaza Strip.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Hamas counterproposal in a national address, but he did not rule out the possibility of further negotiations.[xxiii]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on February 7 that the IDF would prepare to operate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.[xxiv] Israeli officials have said repeatedly that the IDF will clear Rafah.[xxv] Netanyahu’s announcement follows weeks of talks between Israel and Egypt discussing an Israeli operation into Rafah.[xxvi] The Israel-Hamas war has displaced over 50 percent of the Gaza Strip’s two million residents to Rafah.[xxvii] Egypt is concerned that an Israeli military operation in Rafah could force displaced Gazans to flee into the Sinai Peninsula.[xxviii] Western media reported on February 6 that unspecified Egyptian officials said that Israel told Cairo in private that the IDF would allow people in Rafah to evacuate north before beginning operations in Rafah.[xxix]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials on February 7 to discuss negotiations to reach a ceasefire that would release remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip and allow more aid to reach Palestinians.[xxx] Israeli officials told CNN that the IDF briefed Blinken on the upcoming expansion of Israeli ground operations and that Blinken raised concerns regarding the densely populated area, particularly related to the measures the IDF would take to mitigate harm to civilians.[xxxi]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: US Central Command (CENTCOM) killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for Syria on February 7 who planned and participated in attacks targeting US forces in the region. The strike also killed a Kataib Hezbollah field commander.
  • Iraqis demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Baghdad following Iranian-backed social media calls to storm the embassy on social media.
  • Iran: The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center reported that Iran accelerated its cyberattacks and influence operations after October 7 to support Hamas and weaken Israel and its allies and business partners.
  • Negotiations: Israel rejected a Hamas three-stage proposal for a ceasefire on February 7.
  • Hamas offered a three-stage ceasefire deal that would release all Israeli hostages over a four-month period in exchange for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and discussions on the end of the war.[xxxii] Each phase would last 45 days.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on February 7 that the IDF would prepare to operate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Israeli officials told CNN that the IDF briefed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the upcoming expansion of Israeli ground operations and that Blinken raised concerns regarding the densely populated area, particularly related to the measures the IDF would take to mitigate harm to civilians.

Iran Update, February 6, 2024

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on February 5 that Israeli operations have dismantled 18 of 24 Hamas battalions, rendering them “no longer [functional] as fighting military” organizations.[i] Gallant and the IDF have not identified a precise definition for “dismantle." The IDF previously announced Israeli forces had “dismantled” all of Hamas’ battalions in the northern Gaza Strip on January 6.[ii] Hamas cells have continued attacks in the northern Gaza Strip after the IDF withdrew most of its forces on December 31.[iii] The continued Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Strip demonstrate the risk posed by small, networked military cells in the northern Gaza Strip. The size of the cells and the degree of organization and coordination between them is not clear. Palestinian militia activity in the northern Gaza Strip spurred a division-sized IDF clearing operation in western Gaza City over the last week, however.[iv] These cells remain capable of reorganizing into an embryonic military structure.[v] The Hamas Gaza City Brigade commander will continue to support this reorganization.[vi]

A top UN official in Iraq claimed that both US self-defense strikes and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces “recklessly heighten tensions,” which ignores Iran’s role in driving escalation in Iraq. The head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq stated on February 6 that “messaging by strikes only serves to recklessly heighten tension,” in reference to both Iranian-backed attacks and US self-defense strikes responding to these attacks.[vii] Beginning on October 22, Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conducted 33 attacks targeting US forces in Iraq without triggering a US response inside Iraq.[viii] US forces first responded in Iraq to attacks targeting US forces after Kataib Hezbollah fired a ballistic missile targeting a US position in late November 2023.[ix] The United States has the right to protect and defend its personnel in Iraq, who are deployed at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government to fight ISIS. The Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are themselves escalating tensions in Iraq and the region and violating Iraqi sovereignty by continuing to attack US forces unilaterally and without provocation.

Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias reiterated their plans to continue attacking US forces on February 6. The leader of Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said that the “resistance” will expel the United States.[x] A field commander for Ashab al Kahf, a militia close to Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, also warned that Ashab al Kahf will apply “extreme force” until the United States withdraws from Iraq and ends support for Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip.[xi] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba and Ashab al Kahf both vowed to continue attacking US forces after Kataib Hezbollah announced on January 30 that it suspended “military and security” operations targeting US forces.[xii]

Key Takeaways:

  • Gaza Strip: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on February 5 that Israeli operations have dismantled 18 of 24 Hamas battalions, rendering them “no longer function as fighting military organizations.” Gallant and the IDF have not identified a precise definition for “dismantle.“
  • Palestinian fighters are using more sophisticated weapons to attack Israeli forces in the areas Palestinian militias have infiltrated in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • Iraq and Syria: A top UN official in Iraq claimed that both US self-defense strikes and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces “recklessly heighten tensions,” which ignores Iran’s role in driving escalation in Iraq. Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias reiterated their plans to continue attacking US forces on February 6.
  • Yemen: Houthi fighters targeted two merchant vessels in the Red Sea with anti-ship missiles on February 6.

Iran Update, February 5, 2024

Iranian-backed Iraqi officials are using recent US airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to retroactively justify their political pressure on the Iraqi federal government to expel US forces from Iraq. The United States has the right to respond and defend itself against these attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq are themselves violating Iraqi sovereignty by launching attacks from Iraqi territory targeting US forces, who are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and American assets elsewhere in the region. Acting parliament speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi called on the Iraqi federal government to implement the January 2020 parliamentary resolution to expel “all foreign forces” from Iraq while touring the sites of the US strikes in al Qaim and Akashat in western Anbar Province on February 5.[i] Popular Mobilization Forces Chief of Staff and Kataib Hezbollah official Abu Fadak al Muhammadawi and Iranian-backed Badr Organization member and Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee Chairman Abbas Zamili accompanied Mandalawi to al Qaim and Akashat.[ii] The Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee announced in December 2023 a draft resolution in December 2023 that would expel US forces from Iraq.[iii]

Mandalawi is a Shia politician who is close to the Shia Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties. Mandalawi became acting parliament speaker in November 2023, when the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court unconstitutionally dismissed former speaker Mohammad al Halbousi.[iv] The Shia Coordination Framework has sought to postpone the election of a new parliament speaker to replace Mandalawi by invalidating the candidacies of parliament speaker hopefuls.[v] Iranian-backed Iraqi actors filed a lawsuit on January 23 that includes a clause preventing Parliament from resuming the vote for a parliament speaker until the Federal Supreme Court issues a ruling on the eligibility of Halbousi-backed candidate Shaalan al Karim.[vi]

Other Iranian-backed politicians in Iraq also issued statements to increase pressure on Iraqi officials. Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh said that the US airstrikes went “too far” because they targeted a Popular Mobilization Forces facility, adding that the Iraqi people, government, and political forces must end the foreign presence in Iraq.[vii] Fayyadh said that targeting the Popular Mobilization Forces was a “red line” and that US strikes will not go “unnoticed.”[viii] Key Iranian proxy Hadi Ameri and the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Shia parties—called for the expulsion of US forces immediately.[ix] Iran backs some Shia Coordination Framework parties.

Iran’s surrogates in Iraq co-opted and lead the Popular Mobilization Forces. Fayyadh, who leads the PMF, has closely cooperated with Quds Forces operatives to implement Iranian directives in Iraq, including by killing Iraqi citizens during peaceful protests in 2019.[x] The PMF contains many Iranian proxy groups. The US strikes targeted two such groups on February 2.[xi]

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad on February 5.[xii] The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson stated on January 29 that Ahmadian would discuss border security and terrorism with Iraqi officials.[xiii] Ahmadian emphasized Iran’s willingness to cooperate with Iraq during a meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, citing the March 2023 security agreement between the two countries.[xiv] The March 2023 agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[xv] Ahmadian’s visit to Iraq follows the IRGC’s drone and missile strikes targeting alleged Mossad-affiliated facilities and individuals in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan on January 15.[xvi] Iran claims frequently that anti-regime Kurdish groups and Israel use Iraqi Kurdistan to conduct operations in Iran.[xvii]

Ahmadian also likely discussed the recent US strikes targeting IRGC Quds Force and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia targets in Iraq during his meetings with Iraqi officials. Sudani stated that Iraq opposes “any unilateral actions” that violate the principle of “respect for sovereignty” during his meeting with Ahmadian.[xviii] Sudani was likely referring to both the IRGC’s January 15 strikes in Erbil and the February 2 US strikes, which the Sudani administration described as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty on February 3.[xix]

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq and Syria: Iranian-backed Iraqi officials are using recent US airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to retroactively justify their political pressure on the Iraqi federal government to expel US forces from Iraq.
  • The United States has the right to respond and defend itself against these attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq are themselves violating Iraqi sovereignty by launching attacks from Iraqi territory targeting US forces, who are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and American assets elsewhere in the region.
  • Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad on February 5.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Force 162nd Division launched a new, division-size clearing operation in central and northern Gaza City in the past week. CTP-ISW assessed on February 3 that Palestinian fighters infiltrated southwestern Gaza City
  • The IDF is conducting operations in the northern Gaza Strip to disrupt Hamas' attempts to reconstitute its governing authority.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reiterated that the IDF plans to clear Hamas fighters and military infrastructure from Rafah and the central Gaza Strip on February 5.
  • Yemen: US Central Command conducted preemptive strikes targeting four Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles and a land-attack cruise missile on February 4.

Iran Update, February 4, 2024

Unspecified officials familiar with the hostage negotiations told the Wall Street Journal that divisions between Hamas’ leadership in the Gaza Strip and its exiled political leadership are impeding negotiations. The officials said that Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, is prepared to accept a six-week pause in fighting and hostage exchange, but that Hamas’ exiled political leadership is calling for more concessions and a permanent ceasefire.[i] Egyptian officials added that Hamas’ political leadership is also demanding the release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners—including some who took part in the October 7, 2023 attacks—in return for 36 Israeli civilian hostages.[ii] Beirut-based senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on February 3 that Hamas and its allies rejected the six-week pause in fighting in a “united decision.”[iii] Hamdan added that Hamas and its allies are committed to a permanent ceasefire. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader demanded that any negotiations guarantee a “comprehensive ceasefire,” an Israeli withdrawal from and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, and a “clear political solution.”[iv]

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that approving a hostage release deal is “up to Hamas,” but that he is not able to give a precise timetable on a hostage release deal.[v] He added that a deal is not imminent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will not release “thousands” of prisoners in a hostage deal and that a permanent ceasefire will not be part of any hostage release deal.[vi]

Sinwar may calculate that a six-week pause would slow Israel’s momentum sufficiently enough to permanently end fighting and secure Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 31 that US officials are seeking a six-week pause in fighting to “stall Israel’s military momentum and potentially set the stage for a more lasting truce.”[vii] US and Arab officials ”familiar with the negotiations” told the Wall Street Journal that Israel would find it ”difficult to resume the war at its current intensity.”[viii] An interim pause leading to less intense Israeli ground operations or an end to Israeli operations would likely ensure Hamas‘ survival as a governing authority in the Gaza Strip.

Sinwar also likely seeks a pause in fighting to secure short-term military advantage. A six-week pause would enable Sinwar to reorganize his military forces, accelerate their infiltration into areas previously cleared by Israeli forces, and continue the reconstitution of Hamas’ military organization in the northern Gaza Strip free from Israeli interference. An IDF military correspondent reported on February 4 that Hamas’ Gaza City Brigade commander is still alive and a “major factor in Hamas’ reconstitution efforts” in the northern Strip.[ix] This commander, free from the threat of Israeli strikes during a pause, could accelerate these efforts.

Key Takeaways:

  • Negotiations: Unspecified officials familiar with the hostage negotiations told the Wall Street Journal that divisions between Hamas’ leadership in the Gaza Strip and its exiled political leadership are impeding negotiations.
  • US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that approving a hostage release deal is “up to Hamas,” but that he is not able to give a precise timetable on a hostage release deal.[x] He added that a deal is not imminent.
  • Sinwar may calculate that a six-week pause would slow Israel’s momentum sufficiently enough to permanently end fighting and secure Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip. An interim pause leading to less intense Israeli ground operations or an end to Israeli operations would likely ensure Hamas‘ survival as a governing authority in the Gaza Strip.
  • Sinwar also likely seeks a pause in fighting to secure short-term military advantage. A six-week pause would enable Sinwar to reorganize his military forces, accelerate their infiltration into areas previously cleared by Israeli forces, and continue the reconstitution of Hamas’ military organization in the northern Gaza Strip free from Israeli interference.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters continued their efforts aimed at disrupting Israeli operations in the northern Gaza Strip, primarily in the al Sinaa area of southwestern Gaza City, on February 4.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces have “intensified” fighting in al Amal area of western Khan Younis in recent days.
  • Yemen: The United States and the United Kingdom conducted strikes targeting 36 Houthi military positions and assets in 13 locations across Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen on February 3.

Iran Update, February 3, 2024

The February 2 US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeted Iranian-backed militia positions along the Euphrates River in Syria, the Iraq-Syria border, and south of Baghdad, Iraq. An anonymous US official told Politico that the United States struck all of its planned targets and several “dynamic targets that popped up as the mission unfolded,” including surface-to-air missile systems and drone launch sites.[i] Two unspecified US officials also told the New York Times that the United States conducted unspecified cyber attacks targeting Iran on February 2.[ii]

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that the strikes hit al Qaim district, Anbar province, targeting the PMF Anbar Operations “mobile” headquarters, an element of the 13th PMF Brigade, and two 45th PMF Brigade positions.[iii] The strikes also hit an artillery position, and multiple “armor” sites. The 13th Brigade is Liwa al Tufuf, an Iranian-backed militia controlled by Kataib Hezbollah.[iv] Liwa al Tufuf has facilitated Iranian supply lines through al Qaim border crossing with Syria.[v] The 45th Brigade is one arm of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy militia. Iranian-backed Badr Organization leader Hadi al Ameri added that the strikes targeted Jurf al Sakhr, a previously Sunni town south of Baghdad that Kataib Hezbollah occupied after committing acts of sectarian cleansing against the previous residents.[vi]

The Iraqi prime minister formally commands the PMF, but “power and political realities“ mean that large portions of the PMF, including Liwa al Tufuf and Kataib Hezbollah, answer to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).[vii] The PMF’s leader, Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh, has operated alongside IRGC Quds Force operatives to implement Iranian directives in Iraq.[viii] The Popular Mobilization Commission is technically responsible for ensuring that the militias that make up the PMF answer to the Iraqi government.[ix] Fayyadh’s installation as the chairman and his relationship with the IRGC safeguards the PMF from actual central government control.

A local Syrian source reported that the US strikes targeted Iranian-backed positions in Albu Kamal, a railway crossing west of Albu Kamal, the outskirts of Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor City, Ayyash (west of Deir ez Zor), and Tabani (west of Deir ez Zor).[x] Iranian-backed militias are active in Albu Kamal, Deir ez Zor City, and Mayadeen. The railway crossing west of Albu Kamal runs along the edge of Imam Ali military base, which is a key Iranian military base in Syria.[xi]

Iran, its partners in Iraq, and the Iraqi government falsely claimed that the strikes were violations of Iraqi sovereignty.[xii] Western media outlets reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah launched the attack from Rutba, Anbar province, western Iraq.[xiii] The United States has the right to respond and defend itself against these attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq are themselves violating Iraqi sovereignty by launching attacks from Iraqi territory targeting US forces in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government and American assets elsewhere in the region.

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq and Syria: The February 2 US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeted Iranian-backed militia positions along the Euphrates River in Syria, the Iraq-Syria border, and south of Baghdad, Iraq.
  • The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that the strikes hit al Qaim district, Anbar province, targeting the PMF Anbar Operations “mobile” headquarters, an element of the 13th PMF Brigade (Liwa al Tufuf), and two 45th PMF Brigade (Kataib Hezbollah) positions.[xiv]
  • The Iraqi prime minister formally commands the PMF, but “power and political realities“ mean that large portions of the PMF, including Liwa al Tufuf and Kataib Hezbollah, answer to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)
  • A local Syrian source reported that the US strikes targeted Iranian-backed positions in Albu Kamal, a railway crossing west of Albu Kamal, the outskirts of Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor City, Ayyash (west of Deir ez Zor), and Tabani (west of Deir ez Zor).
  • Iran, its partners in Iraq, and the Iraqi government falsely claimed that the strikes were violations of Iraqi sovereignty.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias are continuing to infiltrate southwestern Gaza City. The militias, including Hamas, have conducted ten attacks targeting Israeli forces in Tel al Hawa since January 31.
  • The Red Sea: US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces shot down eight Houthi drones over the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea on February 2. CENTCOM also conducted preemptive strikes targeting four drones that the Houthis had prepared to launch towards the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea on February 2.
  • Iraq: IRGC-controlled and local Syrian media claimed that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted four drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria on February 3. Three ”security sources” told Reuters that there was no attack targeting the al Harir airbase.

Iran Update, February 2, 2024

  • Iraq and Syria: The United States struck over 85 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria on February 2. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias said that they will continue attacks targeting US forces until US forces are expelled from Iraq.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias, including Hamas, attempted to disrupt Israeli operations in the “Passport area,” northwest of the Gaza Interior Ministry in Tel al Hawa neighborhood, Gaza City on February 2.
  • Central Gaza Strip: The IDF reported that the 99th Division’s operations in the central Strip aim to prevent Hamas fighters from infiltrating Gaza City from the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reported that the IDF has “dismantled” Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade and that the IDF will “continue to Rafah.”
  • Political Negotiations: Hamas rejected a proposed ceasefire deal that would include “prolonged” pauses in fighting in the Gaza Strip and swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
  • Iran: Western media reported on February 1 that unspecified elements in the Iranian regime are concerned by Iranian-backed militia attacks against US forces. This framing inaccurately presents the regime as a monolith rather than a government comprised of multiple political factions with a relatively diverse set of foreign policy views.

Iran Update, February 1, 2024

  • Northern Gaza Strip: A spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister’s office said that the IDF “shifted into a new phase of the fighting” and will “target pockets of resistance” in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • Political Negotiations: Two Israeli sources told Axios that Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar and Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel discussed future Israeli operations in the southern Gaza Strip during a meeting in Cairo.
  • West Bank: US President Joe Biden signed an executive order that enables the United States to place financial and visa sanctions on foreign nationals involved in attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said on February 1 that northern Israelis will only return when it is safe for them to do so during a meeting with the IDF Northern Command and 91st Division commanders.
  • Iraq: US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby emphasized the role that all of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed militias—plays in attacks on US forces in Iraq.
  • Syria: Reuters reported on February 1 that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) withdrew several of its senior and mid-ranking officers from Syria ahead of possible US strikes, according to unspecified regional sources “familiar with the matter.

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