Israel–Hamas War (Iran Updates)

 

 



This page collects the refocused Iran Updates that ISW and The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute began publishing on October 7, 2023. ISW and CTP refocused the Iran Update to cover the Israel–Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance.

Click here to view the updates published from October 7 to December 31, 2023.

We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. ISW and CTP at the American Enterprise Institute provides these updates regularly based on regional events.

For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in ISW's campaign assessments of the Israel-Hamas war. 


 

Iran Update, March 2, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

Key Takeaways:

  • 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 penetrators.
  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to operate in the northern and central Gaza Strip on March 2. The IDF 215th Artillery Brigade (162nd Division) directed an airstrike targeting three Palestinian fighters in western Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood.[1] Israeli forces concluded a clearing operation to reduce Hamas fighters and infrastructure in neighborhoods including Rimal on February 15.[2] The IDF joint special operations multidimensional unit and Nahal Brigade killed several fighters in the central Gaza Strip on March 2.[3] The Nahal Brigade has been operating in Zaytoun as part of the IDF’s clearing operation there, which began on February 20.

Hamas fighters in southeastern Zaytoun resumed contact with their headquarters and reported several attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[4] The fighters detonated explosively-formed penetrators and fired anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli armor in the area.[5]

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement claimed to shoot down an IDF reconnaissance drone over Beit Lahia.[6]

The IDF 89th Commando Brigade (98th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.[7] Israeli forces found small arms during a raid targeting a building owned by Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The IDF 7th Brigade directed a series of airstrikes that killed eight Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis, including one who was carrying a suspected IED.[8]

Hamas fighters detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device (HBIED) targeting seven Israeli soldiers in northern Khan Younis on March 2.[9] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, reported that its fighters conducted several attacks using mortars and RPGs in Khan Younis City.[10]

The United States airdropped humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip for the first time on March 2.[11] US Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Jordanian Air Force delivered 38,000 meals along the coastline of the Gaza Strip. US President Joe Biden said on March 1 that the "aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere [near] enough.”[12] An unspecified US official told Axios that he expected more airdrops to take place in the coming days.[13]

A senior US official told reporters that there needs to be a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip to allow for the large-scale delivery of aid.[14] Israel has reportedly agreed to a framework that would release up to 400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 Israeli hostages and a six-week truce.[15]

Palestinian militias have conducted at least two rocket attack from the Gaza Strip targeting southern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cut off on March 1. PIJ fired rockets targeting Ashkelon and other unspecified towns in southern Israel on March 1.[16] The IDF Air Force targeted two areas in the northern Gaza Strip from which Palestinian fighters had previously fired rockets targeting Israel on March 1.[17] PIJ fired another rocket salvo targeting Hatzerim in southern Israel on March 2.[18]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters in two locations across the West Bank since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on March 1.[19]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah has conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on March 1.[20]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

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.[21] Houthi fighters also launched an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory into the Red Sea on March 1. CENTCOM reported that the Houthi attack did not damage any vessels.

Iran Update, March 1, 2024

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Annika Ganzeveld, Ashka Jhaveri, Alexandra Braverman, Johanna Moore, Tor Lansing, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

Iran held separate elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts on March 1.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] The Guardian Council barred former moderate President Hassan Rouhani from running for reelection to the Assembly of Experts, for example.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] These recent numbers are particularly striking given that electoral participation has historically been high in Iran over the past few decades.[9] 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.[10]

This year’s Assembly of Experts election is uniquely significant, as it could very well oversee the succession of Iran’s next supreme leader. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is currently 84 years old and will 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 of 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias defended against Israeli operations in the northern Gaza Strip on March 1. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a new, “division-wide” clearing operation in the Zaytoun neighborhood in eastern Gaza City on February 20.[11] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) published footage on March 1 of its fighters clashing with Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[12] The IDF Nahal Brigade (162nd Division), which has been operating in Zaytoun, killed a Palestinian cell with mortar fire and small arms during clearing operations.[13] The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war, reported that it fired rockets targeting Israeli military positions in the northern Gaza Strip. The PRC’s attack was in response to the humanitarian aid convoy incident on February 28.[14]

The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah and aligned with Hamas in the war, reported that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces east of Jabalia refugee camp.[15] Palestinian Mujahideen Movement fighters similarly fired an unspecified guided munition at an IDF tank east of Jabalia.[16] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran.[17]

PIJ and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades mortared Israeli personnel near the Erez border crossing with Israel.[18]

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis on March 1. Israeli forces expanded clearing operations to “new areas” east and west of Khan Younis on February 21.[19] The IDF 7th Brigade (36th Division) raided the homes of senior Hamas officials in western Khan Younis and located a weapons depot.[20] The IDF Givati Brigade (162nd Division) has been operating in eastern Khan Younis neighborhoods for the past week, approximately two kilometers from the border with Israel.[21]

Palestinian fighters defended against Israeli operations in several sectors of Khan Younis on March 1. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades clashed with Israeli forces in al Qarara north of Khan Younis.[22] The militia also reported that its fighters in western Khan Younis fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and mortars targeting Israeli forces.[23]

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, described high casualties among Palestinian civilians as a means to add international pressure on Israel should the IDF proceed with clearing operations in Rafah.[24] Sinwar’s comments reflect Hamas’ tendency to view civilian casualties as a tool to pressure Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported on February 29 that senior Hamas officials in Doha met in early February 2023 amid concerns that Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip was taking heavy losses.[25] Sinwar delivered a message to the leaders claiming that the military wing is doing fine and is ready for an Israeli offensive into Rafah. Sinwar’s comments regarding civilian casualties are reflective of a broader Hamas mindset. A member of Hamas’ Political Bureau indicated two weeks after the October 7, 2023, attacks that the group was prepared to accept heavy losses for the attack—possibly even including high civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip—in support of Hamas’ effort to destroy the Israeli state.[26] There are over a million displaced Palestinian civilians currently in Rafah.[27]

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.[28] The official said that Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to provide details from Hamas on the status of hostages.[29] Israel also wants Hamas to offer a ”serious response” on the number of Palestinian prisoners Israel would release under a deal.[30] Israel previously refused to further engage in hostage talks because Hamas demanded that Israel release thousands of Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal.[31] Israel has reportedly agreed since then to a framework that would release up to 400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 Israeli hostages and a six-week truce.[32] Israel is waiting to see whether the United States’ pressure on mediators and US President Joe Biden’s recent talks with Egyptian and Qatari officials will prompt Hamas to meet Israeli demands.[33]

Hamas claimed on March 1 that seven hostages died due to Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.[34] Hamas and other Palestinian militias holding hostages in the strip have repeatedly made this claim throughout the war.[35]

Hamas and Fatah agreed to continue meeting with each other after attending talks in Moscow.[36] Several Palestinian factions met in Moscow on February 29 to discuss the formation of a new Palestinian government. Hamas’ political wing published a statement signed by the “Factions that met in Moscow” saying that the talks between several Palestinian factions had been constructive.[37] Fatah emphasized the need for unity among Palestinian factions given the current war in the Gaza Strip after the meeting.[38]

Palestinian militias did not claim any indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on March 1. The IDF Air Force targeted an area in the northern Gaza Strip from which Palestinian fighters previously fired rockets targeting Israel on February 29.[39] The PRC claimed the rocket attack.[40]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters in 13 locations across the West Bank since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 29.[41] Local PIJ battalions claimed to have clashed with Israeli forces seven times around Jaba and Jenin.[42] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades clashed with Israeli forces around Hebron, Jenin, and Tulkarm.[43]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 29.[44]

The IDF is continuing to increase its combat readiness around northern Israel. Former IDF spokesperson Avi Benayahu stated that Israeli forces are conducting training meant to simulate combat against Hezbollah around the Israel-Lebanon border.[45]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Israel was likely responsible for an airstrike that killed an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy officer in Baniyas, Syria, on March 1.[46] Syrian media reported that the officer, Colonel Reza Zarei, had connections to Hamas.[47] Syrian media also reported that the airstrike killed three other individuals, two of whom were members of Lebanese Hezbollah.[48] Iranian state media reported that Zarei was assigned to the IRGC’s 1st Naval District, which is responsible for the Strait of Hormuz.[49]

It is unclear what Zarei was doing in Syria, although his deployment to Syria reflects the greater role that the IRGC services other than the Quds Force have assumed in Iran’s regional activities in recent years. The IRGC deployed its regular ground units, for instance, to fight in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Bashar al Assad, as CTP-ISW has assessed extensively.[50] The IRGC Navy and Aerospace Force have similarly increased their operations in Syria in recent years.[51] The Quds Force remains the lead Iranian entity for managing and supporting the so-called “Axis of Resistance” and conducting extraterritorial operations. But the Quds Force also appears to increasingly share part of that mission with other elements of the Iranian security apparatus.[52]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during phone calls with his Turkish counterpart and the Qatari prime minister on February 29 and March 1, respectively. Abdollahian emphasized the need for cooperation among Islamic countries to end the war.[53] Abdollahian discussed a potential ceasefire, an exchange of prisoners, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip with the Qatari prime minister.[54]

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 on February 29.[55] CENTCOM reported that the drone and cruise missiles presented imminent threats to merchant and US naval vessels in the region.


Iran Update, February 29, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Johanna Moore, Ashka Jhaveri, Alexandra Braverman, Annika Ganzeveld, Andie Parry, Kathryn Tyson, Rachel Friedman, Ahmad Omid Arman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

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.[1] 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.”[2] 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.[3] OIR reported that the redirected resources “hindered momentum” in pursuing OIR’s objectives.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] The increased security threat from militia attacks to US forces required OIR to “cancel or delay engagements” with Iraqi officials.[7] The United States also evacuated and redeployed personnel that then reduced base operations and equipment and facility maintenance.[8] OIR reported that it has furthermore “scaled back Coalition engagements” and logistical support for NATO Mission-Iraq and other supporting entities.[9]

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that it has killed over 450 Palestinian fighters in the past 10 days across the Gaza Strip.[10] Israeli forces have concentrated their clearing operations around Zaytoun in the northern Gaza Strip as well as around western and eastern Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.[11] The IDF added that it has killed over 13,000 Palestinian fighters since the beginning of fighting in the Gaza Strip.[12] Hamas’ military force had approximately 40,000 members prior to the war—not including the forces of other Palestinian militias aligned with Hamas in the war.[13]

The IDF 162nd Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 29.[14] The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) located a small arms lathe and weapons storage facility in Zaytoun.[15] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) published footage of its fighters firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting Israeli armor and special operations forces in Zaytoun.[16] The footage also shows Palestinian fighters detonating a house-borne improvised explosive device (HBIED).

Hamas fighters resumed contact with their command and returned from areas of fighting to report several attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[17] The Hamas fighters reported that they had detonated an HBIED and two explosive-rigged tunnels targeting Israeli forces. Hamas also fired an anti-tank RPG and detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an IDF tank south of Zaytoun. A Palestinian activist reported on February 28 that Israeli vehicles operated in Mughraqa, south of Zaytoun, amid sounds of artillery fire.[18] These fighters' inability to communicate with higher headquarters until returning to rear areas indicates a breakdown of command and control and probably means that Hamas commanders cannot transmit orders to some of their fighters presently engaged with the IDF.

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis on February 29. The IDF 7th Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) killed four Palestinian fighters who attempted to plant a roadside IED in western Khan Younis.[19] The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division), which is operating in eastern Khan Younis, directed an airstrike to kill five Palestinian fighters.[20] PIJ fighters mortared an Israeli supply line in eastern Khan Younis.[21] Israeli forces expanded clearing operations in eastern Khan Younis on February 21, where CTP-ISW assesses that Israeli forces have not yet cleared agricultural and suburban terrain.[22] PIJ and another Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war claimed that their fighters clashed with Israeli forces in eastern Khan Younis on February 29.[23]

Several Palestinian factions, including Fatah, met in Moscow on February 29 to discuss the formation of a new Palestinian government.[24] Hamas’ political wing published a statement confirming the meeting and emphasized that the various factions agree on the need to form a Palestinian state.[25] Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said during the opening remarks that violence will continue in the region until certain things are addressed, namely the issue of creating a Palestinian state.[26] Lavrov claimed that Russia has repeatedly advocated for the resumption of direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Lavrov's statement is consistent with how Russia has framed itself as a possible mediator between Israel and Hamas throughout the war.

The Israeli security establishment believes that the spokesperson for the Hamas police left the Gaza Strip with Egypt’s permission.[27] Unspecified Palestinian sources within the strip reported that the spokesperson’s name was on a list of people set to evacuate through the Rafah crossing.[28] The IDF claimed that Egypt never forwarded his name to Israel as part of the list.[29] The IDF has targeted Hamas’ police and internal security apparatus to disrupt Hamas’ attempts to rebuild its governing authority in the strip.[30] The Civil Police and the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry's Internal Security Forces in the Gaza Strip both employ fighters from the Hamas military wing.[31]

Dozens of individuals died in a crowd near a humanitarian aid convoy in the northern Gaza Strip on February 28.[32] The IDF reported that thousands of Palestinians swarmed 30 aid trucks south of Gaza City.[33] An eyewitness reported that the trucks attempted to escape the area and accidentally rammed people, causing deaths and injuries.[34] The Hamas-run Health Ministry reported that 104 people died and hundreds were injured after Israeli forces opened fire on them.[35] The IDF said that its forces did not fire at the crowd approaching the primary aid convoy.[36] Israeli forces did, however, fire at Palestinians who moved toward Israeli soldiers and a tank, as the Israeli forces concluded that they were “endangering [their] soldiers.”[37] The United States has warned Israel that a “total breakdown of law and order” is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the strip.[38] Aid officials have reported several incidents of unspecified personnel looting aid trucks.[39]

The humanitarian aid convoy incident in the northern Gaza Strip may disrupt negotiations between Israel and Hamas. US President Joe Biden stated that the humanitarian aid incident will likely complicate the hostage release deal and talks on a temporary truce.[40] Hamas released a statement warning that it could stop participating in negotiations following the incident.[41]

The Popular Resistance Committees, a Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war, fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel in response to the humanitarian aid convoy incident.[42]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least seven times in the West Bank on February 29.[43]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have conducted at least nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 28.[44]

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.[45] One senior US official said that an Israeli campaign in Lebanon is a “distinct possibility” in the next several months. The New York Times previously reported in December 2023 that the United States held talks with Israel, Lebanon, and intermediaries for Lebanese Hezbollah to “reduce tensions” on the Israel-Lebanon border.[46]

Israeli airstrike hit a Lebanese Hezbollah truck on the Lebanon-Syria border on February 29, according to Reuters, killing one Hezbollah fighter.[47] Pro-Syrian regime media reported that the airstrike occurred around al Nahariyya, which is on the outskirts of Qusayr.[48] The IDF Air force has increased its strikes into Syria since December 2023 to disrupt the IRGC Quds Force and Hezbollah’s efforts to bring personnel and weapons into Lebanon from Syria[49] previously reported that the Israeli airstrikes are responding to Iranian efforts to accelerate the supply of military equipment to Lebanese Hezbollah.[50]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The IDF Air Force likely conducted a series of airstrikes targeting three Iranian-affiliated targets in the Sayyidah Zainab area of southern Damascus on February 28.[51] Iranian and Iranian-backed forces maintain a headquarters in Sayyidah Zainab and use it to manage Iranian operations throughout Syria.[52]

Houthi-controlled media claimed that the United States and United Kingdom conducted airstrikes on four sites in Hudayduh Governorate, Yemen, on February 29.[53] Al Masirah stated the strikes targeted Ras Issa and al Kuwayzi areas of coastal Yemen. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom have confirmed the strikes at the time of this writing.

Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi claimed the Houthis have attacked 54 vessels since the start of their anti-shipping campaign in November 2023.[54] Abdulmalik said that Houthi forces have used 384 drones and missiles in those attacks. CTP-ISW has recorded at least 97 instances of the Houthis threatening ships around the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in this timeframe, however. The Houthi military spokesperson has only issued statements about Houthi attacks on approximately 36 vessels.[55]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war during a meeting with Omani Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Khalifa al Harthi in Tehran on February 28.[56] Abdollahian thanked the Omani government for supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.[57]

The United Kingdom sanctioned three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force units, two Houthi members, and the IRGC Quds Force deputy commander on February 27.[58] The sanctions targeted individuals and groups that support, enable, or contribute to the Houthis monetarily or militarily. The United Kingdom designated:

  • Ali Hussein Badr al Din al Houthi (the undersecretary in the Houthi-controlled Interior Ministry and the commander of the security and police forces)
  • IRGC Quds Force Units 190, 6000, and 340;
  • Sa’id al-Jamal (An Iran-based Houthi financier whom the United States previously sanctioned in January 2023); and[59]
  • Mohammad Reza Fallah Zadeh (the IRGC Quds Force deputy commander whom the United States similarly sanctioned on February 27).[60]

Iran and Russia are continuing to deepen security and economic cooperation. Russia launched the Iranian Pars-1 satellite into a low earth orbit using a Soyuz rocket on February 29.[61] Iranian state media reported that the Pars-1 satellite has three cameras and will scan Iran’s topography from an orbit of 500 kilometers.[62] Iranian Communications and Information Technology Minister Issa Zareh Pour claimed on February 29 that the Pars-1 satellite’s launch into orbit marks Iran’s 12th satellite launch in the past 25 months.[63] The Russian launch of this Iranian satellite is part of a larger trend in which Moscow has increasingly supported the Iranian space program. Russia previously launched a Kanopus-V satellite—alternatively referred to as the Khayyam in Iran—into orbit in August 2022 on Iran’s behalf.[64] Iran can use satellites capable of collecting imagery to improve its targeting for attacks abroad.[65] IRGC-affiliated media reported in July 2020 that the IRGC used its satellites to collect intelligence on US military positions in the Middle East.[66]

Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji separately announced on February 28 that Iranian and Russian officials signed 11 memorandums of understanding during the 17th annual Iran-Russia Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation in Tehran between February 26-28.[67] The agreements cover business, energy, political, and transportation cooperation. Owji stated that Iranian and Russian officials also discussed “peaceful space and nuclear cooperation,” banking and financial cooperation, the Rasht-Astara and Garmsar-Incheh Borun railways, and the Sirik Power Plant during the economic conference.[68]

Iranian Assembly of Experts member Mahmoud Mohammadi Eraghi claimed that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei opposes hereditary succession during an interview with state-affiliated media on February 29.[69] The Assembly of Experts is an Iranian regime entity constitutionally responsible for monitoring the supreme leader and selecting his successor.[70] Eraghi’s statement is noteworthy because Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, is considered a top contender to become the next supreme leader. Eraghi has served as the head of the supreme leader’s office in Qom since 2019.[71] He represents Kermanshah Province in the Assembly of Experts and is also a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, which is an advisory entity for the supreme leader.[72] Eraghi served as the supreme leader’s representative to the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War, after which he served as the head of the Islamic Propaganda Organization, the head of the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization, and a member of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council.[73]

Iran Update, February 28, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Kathryn Tyson, Johanna Moore, Alexandra Braverman, Rachel Friedman, Amin Soltani, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Note: CTP and ISW have refocused the update to cover the Israel-Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance. We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

Click here to see CTP and ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report. Click here to subscribe to the Iran Update.

Palestinian militias have claimed at least 92 attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun, southeastern Gaza City, between February 19 and February 28.[1] At least seven Palestinian militias conducted attacks on Israeli forces in Zaytoun on February 27 and 28.[2] Palestinian militias have targeted Israeli forces with rocket propelled grenades, mortars, explosively-formed penetrators (EFP), improvised explosive devices, small arms, and rockets in Zaytoun since February 19.[3] These attacks are in response to the ongoing division-sized clearing operation targeting Zaytoun.

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 IDF said that Hamas’ Central and Gaza City Brigades transferred fighters between battalions through tunnel networks.[4] Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh insinuated on February 28 that Israeli clearing operations in Zaytoun had failed, noting that Hamas’ continued attacks in Zaytoun are “the [fiercest] battles” despite Israel‘s 80-day “occupation.”[5]

The IDF 162nd Division continued its clearing operation in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 28. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed Palestinian fighters and located weapons in Zaytoun.[6] The Israeli Air Force conducted airstrikes on a Hamas warehouse in Daraj, north of Zaytoun.[7]

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The IDF continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 28. The IDF 7th Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) raided militia positions and fired a missile targeting five Palestinian fighters in a vehicle in western Khan Younis.[8] The IDF 35th Paratrooper Brigade also fired sniper rifles at several Palestinian fighters operating in western Khan Younis.[9] The 98th Division directed an airstrike on Palestinian fighters attempting an ambush of Israeli fighters in Khan Younis.[10] Palestinian militias conducted at least five attacks targeting Israeli forces operating in central and western Khan Younis on February 28.[11]

The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) continued operations in eastern Khan Younis and directed airstrikes targeting two Palestinian fighters on February 28.[12] Hamas fighters pre-placed and detonated two EFPs targeting Israeli tanks operating in Abasan al Kabira on February 28.[13] Hamas and other Palestinian militias claimed small arms clashes with Israeli forces in Abasan al Kabira and north of the town.[14]

Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh gave a rare recorded public address at a conference in Beirut on February 28.[15] Haniyeh claimed that Hamas has displayed flexibility in negotiations but remains ready to continue fighting.[16] He also warned Israel against imposing additional restrictions for Muslims on access to the al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and called on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank to march on al Aqsa Mosque on the first day of Ramadan, which begins around March 10.[17] Some far-right Israeli ministers have proposed restricting access to the al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, but Israel has not announced a new policy.[18]

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.[19] Israel facilitated the airdrop of aid into Khan Younis and access to the northern Gaza Strip for 31 aid trucks on February 27.[20] Israel is reportedly still considering opening a direct aid crossing from Israel into the northern Gaza Strip to increase aid flows.[21]

Russian state media confirmed that Fatah and Hamas officials will meet in Moscow on February 29 to discuss the formation of a new Palestinian government.[22] Hamas has not independently confirmed its attendance. A senior Hamas delegation last traveled to Moscow in late October 2023 to meet with Russian and Iranian officials.[23] Some smaller political factions actively fighting Israeli forces in Gaza, like the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement, criticized the meeting for excluding other Palestinian groups.[24] Fatah leaders gave unoptimistic statements to media organizations about the meeting.[25] The Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki said that he does not expect “miracles to happen” and added that the time is not right for a ”national coalition government” or a government that includes Hamas. Maliki cited the risk of an international boycott against any government including Hamas.[26] Russia has framed itself as a possible mediator between Israel and Hamas.[27]

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.[28] Reuters reported on February 27 that the parties are discussing the latest ”Paris Proposal” that would require both Israel and the Palestinian militias to completely stop their military operations in the Gaza Strip. The latest proposal would also force Israel to pause aerial surveillance in the Strip for eight hours daily and reposition IDF units away from densely populated areas. The proposal would allow the gradual return of all displaced civilians except military aged males to the northern Gaza Strip.[29] Hamas would release 40 female, child, and elderly hostages in exchange for approximately 400 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under the latest proposal.[30] Israel would also commit to bring in 500 humanitarian aid trucks per day, 200,000 tents, 60,000 caravans, fuel, and heavy machinery to rehabilitate hospitals and bakeries in the Gaza Strip.[31] Hamas representatives have reportedly not provided a full response to the proposal.[32] Hamas Political Bureau member Muhammad Nazal said on February 28 that ”there is no escaping the end of the war” but that Hamas does not have to agree to ”the first stage of the deal.”[33]

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired a rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip targeting Kissufim in southern Israel on February 28.[34]

The IDF Gaza Division and Southern Command directed airstrikes in Central Gaza targeting eight “significant targets,” including a PIJ rocket launcher used to attack Ashkelon on February 27.[35]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least five times in the West Bank on February 28.[36]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, has conducted at least six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 27.[37] Hamas’ military wing said that it fired 40 rockets targeting two Israeli positions in northern Israel.[38] The IDF said that only 15 of the rockets that Hamas fired crossed into Israeli territory. One of the rockets damaged a home in the area.[39]

Unspecified sources familiar with Lebanese Hezbollah decisionmaking told Reuters on February 27 that the group will stop attacks on northern Israel if Hamas agrees to a ceasefire.[40] Hamas is currently considering a proposal that would include a six-week truce with Israel.[41]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Iraqi government may request a sanctions waiver to purchase spare parts for Russian-manufactured helicopters.[42] 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. The US Department of Defense Inspector General’s Q3 Report on Operation Inherent Resolve said that “sanctions related to the war in Ukraine have prevented the acquisition of new parts [for Russian-produced helicopters].”[43] The report added that most of Iraq’s Russian-manufactured helicopters are not airworthy due to ”maintenance constraints, outdated systems, and lack of available spare parts.”[44] Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev has discussed security cooperation with several senior Iraqi political and military officials in a series of meetings since late January 2024. CTP-ISW assessed on February 20 that Russia may be setting conditions to supplant the United States as Iraq’s security partner in anticipation of the United States possibly reducing its military presence in Iraq.[45]

An unspecified “judicial source” told Iraqi Kurdish media that Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit on February 28 that attempted to invalidate Parliament Speaker nominee Shaalan al Karim’s candidacy.[46] The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court stated that the lawsuit does not fall under the court’s jurisdiction. Iranian-backed Iraqi politicians filed a lawsuit on January 13 to invalidate Karim’s candidacy as part of their efforts to install their preferred candidate, Mahmoud al Mashhadani, as speaker.[47]

The Sistan and Baluchistan Province prosecutor said that two unspecified “terrorist operatives” attempted to conduct attacks targeting Iranian security officials in Bampur on February 28.[48] The two fighters attempted to target an Iranian security forces patrol near an Iranian checkpoint in Bampur. The fighters prematurely detonated their explosives, killing one fighter.[49]

This incident is part of an uptick in anti-regime militancy in southeastern Iran since December 2023. Jaish al Adl—a Balochi, Salafi-jihadi group operating along the Iran-Pakistan border—has conducted at least five attacks targeting Iranian security personnel since December 2023.[50] The Iranian Law Enforcement Command killed a purportedly Jaish al Adl-affiliated individual in Bampur City on January 8.[51] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State separately conducted a terrorist attack in Kerman Province in early January 2024, killing over 90 individuals.[52]

The Iranian communications and information technology minister announced on February 28 that Russia will launch the Iranian Pars-1 satellite into orbit on February 29.[53] Iranian state media claimed that Russia will use its Soyuz space launch vehicle to launch the Pars-1 into low earth orbit.[54] Russia similarly launched a Kanopus-V satellite—alternatively referred to as the Khayyam in Iran—into orbit in August 2022 on Iran’s behalf.[55] The IRGC Aerospace Force Command and Iranian Space Organization separately launched multiple Iranian satellites into low-earth orbit between April 2020 and January 2024.[56] Iran can use satellites capable of collecting imagery to help enable targeting capabilities for attacks abroad.[57] Iranian state media reported in July 2020 that the IRGC used its satellites to collect intelligence on US military positions in the region.[58]

CENTCOM and an unspecified coalition warship shot down five Houthi one-way attack drones over the Red Sea on February 27.[59] CENTCOM said that the drones presented an ”imminent” threat to vessels in the Red Sea.

The German frigate Hessen shot down two Houthi one-way attack drones over the Red Sea on February 27.[60] The Hessen identified a suspicious target over the Red Sea on February 26 but did not successfully intercept the target.[61] It is unclear if the Hessen is the unspecified coalition warship noted by CENTCOM.

A Houthi-controlled media outlet said that the United States and United Kingdom targeted Houthi sites on Labwan Island, off the coast of Hudaydah, on February 27.[62] Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom have confirmed the strikes.

Iran Update, February 27, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, Alexandra Braverman, Kathryn Tyson, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said on February 2 that it would continue attacks targeting US forces.[4] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.


Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is building a “well-controlled IDF highway” south of Zaytoun to enable “at least another year” of operations in the Gaza Strip.[10] CTP-ISW previously reported the IDF’s east-to-west road construction on February 19.[11] The IDF has not officially commented on the construction, but two journalists embedded with Israel forces operating in Gaza have published accounts of the construction project.[12] A correspondent from Israel Army Radio, a media organization run by the IDF, said Israeli forces are also building three forward operating bases near the east-west road for future raids and operations in the Gaza Strip.[13]

The IDF 162nd Division continued its clearing operation in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 27.[14] The 932nd Battalion (assigned to the Nahal Brigade) has operated in Zaytoun for a week to “destroy the enemy" in the area.[15] The battalion has raided Hamas buildings, weapons warehouses and observation posts to find intelligence on Hamas operations. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed a Palestinian militia squad with tank fire and destroyed Hamas buildings as part of the division-sized clearing operation.[16] The 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed Palestinian fighters at close range, directed airstrikes targeting Palestinian fighters, and uncovered a weapons factory in Zaytoun.[17]

Palestinian militias claimed at least 16 attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun, southeastern Gaza City on February 27.[18] The groups used rocket propelled grenades, mortars, explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs), improvised explosive devices, and small arms in their attacks.[19] Palestinian Islamic Jihad engineers targeted Israeli infantry by detonating a missile from an F16 that they had rigged as an improvised explosive device in a house near al Dawla roundabout in Zaytoun.[20] The high number of attacks and the use of more sophisticated capabilities — such as EFPs — is inconsistent with an Israeli Army Radio journalist‘s characterization of the fighting on January 27 as “relatively [small in] scale.”[21] Palestinian militias conducted over triple the number of attacks on Israeli forces in southern Gaza City as they did in Khan Younis Governorate on February 27.

The IDF has continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis. The IDF 7th Brigade and 35th Paratrooper Brigade detained Palestinian fighters who tried to hide among evacuating civilians to escape Khan Younis.[22] The 7th Brigade detained Palestinian fighters attempting a similar escape on February 25.[23] The IDF Maglan and Egoz special operations forces continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis over the last week.[24] The special operations forces raided a Hamas compound and seized a large amount of weapons in western Khan Younis on February 27.[25] The special operations forces have killed and detained dozens of fighters per day for the last week.[26] Palestinian militias conducted at least five attacks on Israeli forces operating in central and western Khan Younis on February 27.[27]

The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) conducted clearing operations in the Gaza Strip along the Israel-Gaza border in eastern Khan Younis Governorate.[28] PIJ claimed mortar attacks targeting Israeli forces operating in the border area in Abasan al Kabira.[29]

PIJ fired a rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip targeting Ashkelon on February 27.[30] The rocket barrage caused damage to civilian infrastructure. [31]

The IDF Gaza Division and Southern Command directed airstrikes targeting a Palestinian militia command center in the central Gaza Strip that Palestinian fighters used to direct rocket fire into Israel on February 26.[32] PIJ and the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement both conducted rocket attacks on February 26.[33]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least three times in the West Bank on February 27.[34] Israeli forces killed a senior member in Palestinian Islamic Jihad‘s Tubas Battalion south of Tubas on February 27.[35]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted at least ten attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 26.[36] Lebanese Hezbollah launched approximately 35 rockets targeting an IDF base on Mount Meron that hosts air traffic control, radar, surveillance, communications, and jamming facilities.[37] The IDF said that the attacks did not cause any casualties or damage to the area.[38]

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that Lebanese Hezbollah will "pay a very high price" for its continued attacks targeting northern Israel during a speech at the IDF 146th Division headquarters on February 27.[39] Lebanese Hezbollah said that it fired dozens of rockets targeting the headquarters on the same day.[40]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The United States and the United Kingdom sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and Houthi members on February 27.[41] The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the United Kingdom designated the following individuals and organizations:

  • IRGC Quds Force Deputy Commander Mohammad Reza Falahzadeh for generating revenue to fund Houthi operations
  • Houthi member Ibrahim al Nashiri
  • A Hong Kong-based shipping company that was responsible for facilitating the transport of Iranian commodities sold in China by the Said Jamal network. Said Jamal is a Houthi and IRGC Quds Force financial facilitator sanctioned by the United States on January 12.[42]

Falahzadeh has played a key role in supporting and financing Houthi, Hamas, and Hezbollah operations.[43] OFAC stated that the IRGC Quds Force and the Houthis sell Iranian commodities to foreign buyers to generate funds to support the Houthis. The US State Department designated the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group in January 2024.[44] The US State Department designated the entire IRGC–including the Quds Force–as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April 2019.[45]

US CENTCOM stated that it destroyed three surface naval attack drones and two mobile anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory on February 26 that were ready-to-launch in Houthi-controlled Yemen.[46] Houthi-affiliated media outlets reported on February 26 that the United States conducted airstrikes targeting Houthi positions north of Hudaydah.[47]

 

Iran Update, February 26, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Andie Parry, Annika Ganzeveld, Peter Mills, Alexandra Braverman, Ahmad Omid Arman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 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.[1] The IDF Nahal Brigade and Yahalom combat engineering unit located at least 35 entrances to the 10-kilometer-long complex equipped with plumbing, storage rooms, bedrooms, and military equipment.[2] The tunnel passed under the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital in the central Gaza Strip and extended to al Isra University in southern Gaza City.[3] The IDF said that Hamas used the tunnel system to transfer personnel between the Central Brigade and Gaza City Brigade, particularly between the Zaytoun Battalion, the Nuseirat Battalion, and Sabra Battalion.[4] CTP-ISW previously reported on the cross-governorate tunnel system on February 21 and assessed that Hamas battalions likely used the system to infiltrate previously cleared areas of the northern Gaza Strip.[5] The 162nd Division destroyed the tunnel complex after documenting the route.

The IDF 162nd Division continued clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 26. The IDF 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) “intensified attacks” in Zaytoun and killed over 30 Palestinian fighters.[6] The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) targeted at least 10 Palestinian fighters as part of the division-wide clearing operations in the Gaza City and Central Gaza governorates.[7] 

Palestinian militias claimed at least seven attacks targeting Israeli forces in their continued defense of southern Zaytoun on February 26.[8] Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed several mortar attacks targeting Israeli forces south of Zaytoun.[9] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement targeted Israeli armor with rockets and anti-tank missiles in Zaytoun.[10] Hamas, PIJ, and the National Resistance Brigades mortared Israeli armor and dismounted infantry east of Zaytoun in a combined operation on February 25.[11]

The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 26. The IDF 7th Armored Brigade and Unit 414 directed airstrikes on Palestinian fighters operating in Khan Younis.[12] The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) ambushed and clashed with fighters in western Khan Younis.[13] Israeli forces seized grenades, ammunition, and other unspecified military equipment in clearing operations in Khan Younis.[14]

Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces operating in Abasan al Kabira, east of Khan Younis, on February 26. Hamas targeted about 20 Israeli personnel in Abasan al Kabira with anti-personnel devices.[15] Hamas fighters targeted Israeli armor in the same area.[16] PIJ and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah and aligned with Hamas in the war, both claimed sniper attacks targeting Israeli infantry in eastern Khan Younis.[17]

Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh met with the Qatari Emir to discuss ceasefire negotiations on February 26.[18] US, Qatari, and Egyptian officials proposed a new hostage deal to Israeli negotiators during discussions in Paris on February 24.[19] Israel reportedly agreed to a framework that would release up to 400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 Israeli hostages and a six-week truce under the new proposal.[20] Haniyeh claimed Hamas had shown great “flexibility and seriousness” in its contacts with mediators about the deal on February 26 but accused the Israeli government of stalling.[21]  Haniyeh stated that Hamas’ most important goal is to “stop the humanitarian catastrophe” in the northern Gaza Strip and indicated that food aid for civilians in northern Gaza should not be tied to any other negotiation issues.[22] Senior Israeli officials believe Hamas will not agree to the proposed ceasefire deal based on reports from Qatari mediators that the proposal does “not correspond with Hamas demands.”[23] An Israeli intelligence and military delegation reportedly arrived in Qatar on February 26 to set up an operational center to support negotiations.[24]

The Israeli prime minister’s office said that the IDF presented the war cabinet with a plan for evacuating civilians from combat zones in the Gaza Strip on February 26.[25] The office did not specify the contents of the plan. An Israeli Army Radio correspondent reported that the IDF may allow women and children under the age of 14 to return to the northern Gaza Strip as part of Rafah evacuation plans.[26] The IDF would establish transit corridors and vet those returning to the northern Gaza Strip.[27] The same correspondent stated the IDF discussed establishing tent cities in the central Gaza Strip and Khan Younis for Gazans whose homes were destroyed.[28] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told the families of Israeli hostages on February 26 that Israel would not allow Gazans to return to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip until Hamas releases all the hostages to ”maintain pressure.”[29] Another member of the three-man war cabinet, Benny Gantz, said on February 18 that the IDF would enter Rafah on March 10 if Hamas did not release the hostages it holds.[30]

The Israeli war cabinet approved a “new” unspecified plan to distribute humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip.[31] The war cabinet said that the plan aims to ”prevent the looting that has occurred in the northern Strip” where Israel has accused Hamas of stealing aid.[32] An unnamed Israeli official reported that the war cabinet is considering what organizations can take over the aid provision function from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip.[33] Humanitarian organizations have struggled to provide aid to civilians in the northern Gaza Strip over the past several weeks, citing security breakdowns.[34]

Palestinian militias conducted two rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on February 26. PIJ fired a rocket barrage at the Kissufim military site.[35] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement launched rockets at Reim.[36]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least three times in the West Bank on February 26.[37]

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh resigned on February 26.[38] Shtayyeh had served as prime minister since 2019 and had participated in peace negotiations with Israel since 1991.[39] US and Palestinian officials stated that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will likely appoint a close confidante and chairman of the Palestinian Investment Fund, Mahammad Mustafa, as the next prime minister.[40]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah has conducted at least nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 25.[41] Hezbollah claimed that it intercepted an IDF Hermes 450 drone near Nabatiyeh, southern Lebanon, on February 26.[42] The IDF stated that its David’s Sling medium-range air defense system intercepted one of two surface-to-air missiles fired by Hezbollah targeting the drone.[43] The IDF conducted airstrikes targeting a Hezbollah air defense site that killed two Hezbollah fighters near Baalbek, Lebanon, following the incident.[44] This airstrike is the furthest airstrike inside Lebanon that Israel has conducted since October 7.[45] Hezbollah launched at least 60 rockets targeting an IDF site in the Golan Heights on February 26 in retaliation for the IDF airstrike near Baalbek.[46]

The IDF killed senior Hezbollah commander Hassan Hossein Salami in southern Lebanon on February 26. The IDF described Salami as “commander of the Hajir sector” under Hezbollah’s Nasser unit and stated that Salami had previously organized attacks targeting IDF bases near Kiryat Shmona.[47] Israeli journalists described Salami’s rank within Hezbollah as equivalent to a brigade commander.[48] Hezbollah’s Nasser unit is one of the primary Hezbollah military formations south of the Litani River in Lebanon.[49]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have signaled that they will resume conducting attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—halted its attacks targeting US forces following a one-way drone attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan on January 28.[50] Ashab al Kahf—an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia close to Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba—released statements on February 23 and 25, respectively, vowing to continue conducting attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East as well as Israel.[51] Ashab al Kahf also recently hung posters in Baghdad with an image of Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba Secretary General Akram al Kaabi with the warning “the matter is settled, what is coming is greater.”[52]

Kaabi separately released a statement on February 25 emphasizing that the current pause in attacks is a “temporary tactic” and the “calm before the storm.”[53] Kaabi claimed that “traitors” provided the United States with information about Iranian-backed Iraqi militia positions and that the militias must therefore “reposition” and “change [their] methods and tactics.”[54] Kaabi stated that Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba does not oppose the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad about the status of the US-led international coalition in Iraq but described those who believe that the United States will leave Iraq via negotiations as “delusional.”[55] He claimed that the United States only understands “force and weapons.”[56]

Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Ammar al Hakim discussed the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad about the status of US-led international coalition forces in Iraq during a meeting with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on February 26.[57] The United States and Iraq began these negotiations in late January 2024.[58] Hakim praised the Mohammad Shia al Sudani administration’s efforts to establish “bilateral relationships” with the United States and International Coalition countries.[59] Hakim separately praised the December 2023 provincial council elections for “strengthening” Iraqi democracy but condemned recent “attempts to destabilize [Iraq] by resorting to violence and the use of weapons.” Hakim may have been referring to the recent rise in intra-Shia assassinations across Iraq.[60]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Mohammad Kazem Al-e Sadegh on February 25.[61] Iraqi and Iranian media reported that Sudani and Sadegh discussed “bilateral relations” and Iraqi development projects but did not provide further details about what the two officials discussed.[62] Sadegh is a senior officer in the IRGC Quds Force, which is consistent with the long-standing trend of Iran appointing IRGC Quds Force members to simultaneously work as the ambassador to Iraq.[63]

The Iraqi federal government granted Russian state-owned oil company Gazprom a contract to develop the Nasiriyah oil field in Dhi Qar Province on February 7.[64] The Iraqi state-owned Dhi Qar Oil Company, which is headed by Ali Khudair Abbas al Aboudi, previously operated the Nasiriyah oil field.[65] Aboudi is a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a Shia political party formerly headed by prominent Shia cleric Ammar al Hakim.[66] The Iraqi National Security Service reportedly arrested Aboudi in March 2021 for accepting a $250,000 bribe.[67] Ammar al Hakim currently heads the National Wisdom Movement. The Dhi Qar provincial council elected a National Wisdom Movement member named Mortada al Ebrahimi as Dhi Qar governor on February 5, two days before the Iraqi government granted Russia the development contract.[68] Hakim previously discussed “attracting foreign investments” during a meeting with Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev on January 31.[69]

Local Syrian sources reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is trying to rebuild its military infrastructure in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria, following the February 2 US airstrikes on Iranian and Iranian-backed positions. Four Iranian communications specialists entered Syria from Iraq and began installing advanced communications and surveillance systems on February 22.[70] The communications systems are used by IRGC-backed militias based near Deir ez Zor City. Syrian media reported these same communications systems were previously destroyed in US airstrikes.[71] Several IRGC officials returned to Deir ez Zor Province on February 23, according to other local reports.[72] The IRGC officials left Syria ahead of the February US airstrike. CTP-ISW cannot confirm the local Syrian reporting. 

Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated al Mayadeen reported that the IDF conducted a drone strike around al Qusayr, Homs Province, on the Syria-Lebanon border on February 25.[73] The strike targeted two trucks suspected of transporting Hezbollah military cargo.[74] Hezbollah-affiliated al Manar network claimed the strike killed two members of Hezbollah.[75]

US CENTCOM reported that it intercepted three Houthi one-way attack drones on February 24.[76] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the group launched an unspecified number of drones targeting a US warship on February 24.[77]

Houthi-affiliated media outlets reported that the United States and United Kingdom conducted airstrikes targeting Houthi positions north of Hudaydah on February 26.[78] The United States and United Kingdom has not claimed responsibility for any airstrikes in Yemen at the time of this writing.

The International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) disclosed to UN member states on February 26 that Iran has reduced its stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium since late October 2023.[79] The Iranian regime has, according to an IAEA report, diluted some of this stockpile to 20 percent enriched uranium, thereby reducing its stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium by 6.8 kilograms to 121.5 kilograms.[80] The overall Iranian stockpile of enriched uranium has continued to expand since October 2023, however.[81] Iran has also refused the entry of several weapons inspectors into the country and the inspection of undeclared nuclear material, according to the IAEA.[82]

Iranian media claimed that Iranian security forces killed a Jaish al Adl commander inside Pakistani territory on February 23.[83] Jaish al Adl is a Baloch Salafi-jihadi group that operates along the Iranian border with Pakistan. Iranian media described the commander as “the main perpetrator of recent terrorist operations in southeastern Iran.”[84] There has been an uptick in anti-regime militant activity in southeastern Iran since December 2023. Jaish al Adl conducted a two-stage attack targeting a police station in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, in December 2023.[85] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State also conducted a terrorist attack in Kerman Province in January 2024, killing over 80 individuals.[86] Pakistani media denied on February 24 that Iranian forces killed the Jaish al Adl commander.[87]

The Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) arrested two men accused of being part of Sipah Sahaba in Hormozgan Province on February 25.[88] LEC spokesperson Brigadier General Saeed Montazer al Mahdi stated that the two men arrested had completed ”bomb-making courses” outside of Iran and intended to travel to an unnamed southern city in Iran. Mahdi stated the two had previously been imprisoned in Pakistan from 2010-15 on charges of bombing a Pakistani city. Mahdi described Sipah Sahaba as an “anti-Shia” terrorist group.[89] Sipah Sahaba is a prominent Sunni militant organization that originated in Pakistan.[90]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas during separate meetings at the 55th Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 26. Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with the UN secretary general, International Committee of Red Cross president, Jordanian foreign affairs minister, and Kuwaiti foreign affairs minister on the sidelines of the meeting.[91] Abdollahian separately blamed the United States and Israel for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council meeting.[92]

The 17th annual Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation between Iran and Russia began in Tehran on February 26.[93] Russian and Iranian experts will examine bilateral cooperation in various sectors including oil, nuclear energy, gas, finance and information technology. Iranian media reported the Russian delegation will consist of 160-170 experts from various government ministries and members of the Russian private sector.[94] The 17th Commission is headed by Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak. Iranian media reported that Owji and Novak will preside over the signing of cooperation agreements on oil, energy, and free economic zones between Iran and Russia.[95] The conference will run from February 26 to 28.

Iran Update, February 25, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 25. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) targeted Palestinian fighters, destroyed rocket launch sites, and located weapons during clearing operations in Zaytoun.[1] IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi held a situational assessment meeting in the northern Gaza Strip with the commanders of Southern Command and the 162nd Division.[2] Halevi stated that Israeli forces are returning to previously cleared areas in the northern Gaza Strip “based on better intelligence“ to ”deepen achievements“ against Hamas.[3]

Palestinian militias continued to operate in Gaza City on February 25. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired rockets at an Israeli position east of Jabalia’s eastern cemetery.[4] The IDF 143rd Division directed an airstrike on a Palestinian squad operating a drone in Shati in northwestern Gaza City.[5] The 162nd Division completed a second round of clearing operations in al Shati refugee camp on February 15.[6] PIJ directed sniper fire targeting Israeli forces operating near al Dawla roundabout in Zaytoun.[7] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah and aligned with Hamas in the war, fired rockets at Israeli forces south of Zaytoun.[8]

The IDF has continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis. The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) has operated in Abasan al Kabira and Abasan al Saghira in recent days.[9] The brigade seized a long-range rocket and launcher in a "medical laboratory" in the Abasan area, likely the Algerian Specialized Hospital in Abasan al Kabira.[10] The IDF‘s acknowledgement of its activity in the Abasan al Kabira area is consistent with local Palestinian reports of IDF activity on February 19-20.[11] The IDF 7th Armored Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) detained Palestinian fighters hiding among and evacuating with civilians in western Khan Younis on February 25.[12] The brigade also killed several Palestinian fighters and seized weapons.[13] IDF 98th Division forces killed a Palestinian drone squad in Khan Younis.[14]

The IDF announced on February 25 that its 98th Division commando forces ceased operations at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.[15] Israeli forces detained over 200 individuals and seized weapons from the hospital.[16] The IDF said it brought multiple rounds of humanitarian aid and a generator to the hospital during its operations.[17] The IDF said it will continue to abide by international law when operating in hospitals in the Gaza Strip.[18]

Israeli media reported that the Israeli War Cabinet approved a measure allowing the direct flow of humanitarian aid into northern Gaza Strip on February 24. Channel 12 stated humanitarian aid will begin directly entering the northern Gaza Strip “in the next few days.”[19] Aid currently enters the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing at the southern end of the Gaza Strip and must travel near active fighting in Khan Younis and Zaytoun. Several humanitarian organizations have halted transporting aid to the northern Gaza Strip in the past week, citing security concerns.[20]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters at least six times in the West Bank on February 25.[21]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 24.[22]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The USS Mason intercepted a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile targeting US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor on February 24.[23] CENTCOM reported that neither the USS Mason nor the MV Torm Thor were damaged in the Houthi attack.[24]

The United States and United Kingdom conducted 18 airstrikes targeting Houthi underground missile storage facilities, one-way attack drones, radars, air defense systems, and a helicopter in Houthi-controlled Yemen on February 24.[25]

Iran Update, February 24, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Kathryn Tyson, Johanna Moore, Peter Mills, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 24. The IDF 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) directed an airstrike on Palestinian fighters preparing to launch anti-tank munitions at Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[1]

Palestinian militias continued trying to disrupt Israeli operations in Zaytoun on February 24. The militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[2] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah and aligned with Hamas in the war, fired RPGs, mortars, and rockets and clashed with Israeli forces in Zaytoun and south of Zaytoun.[3] The Mujahideen Brigades fired rockets targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[4] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran.[5] The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine clashed with Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[6] The PFLP is a secular leftist Palestinian faction fighting with Hamas.

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed several Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip between February 23 and 24.[7]

The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on February 24. The IDF 7th Armored Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) “deepened” its operations in western Khan Younis.[8] The brigade located weapons in a re-purposed UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) bag in western Khan Younis.[9] The same brigade raided the house of a senior military intelligence officer in Khan Younis and destroyed a tunnel shaft near the house.[10] The brigade also identified seven Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis and directed an airstrike that killed the fighters.[11] The 35th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) located weapons and clashed with Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.[12] The Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) directed sniper fire targeting several Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis.[13]

Palestinian militias continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Khan Younis on February 24. The al Quds Brigades mortared Israeli forces in Khan Younis.[14] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades conducted mortar and improvised explosive device attacks and clashed with Israeli forces in Khan Younis City and western Khan Younis.[15] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement said that its fighters sniped Israeli soldiers in western Khan Younis.[16]

US, Qatari, and Egyptian officials proposed a new hostage deal to Israeli negotiators during discussions in Paris.[17] An IDF-affiliated media outlet reported that the Israeli delegation returned from Paris and that an unspecified source said, “There is progress in almost all parameters.”[18] However, Israeli war cabinet members said, “Hamas is still far from what Israel is willing to accept."[19] An unnamed foreign diplomat told Israeli media that all sides showed flexibility and that “hopefully” a deal can be reached before Ramadan, which is expected to begin around March 10, 2024.[20] Israeli officials have stated that Israeli forces will enter Rafah at the start of Ramadan if Hamas does not release the remaining Israeli hostages the group holds.[21]

An unspecified Hamas source told Saudi media that Hamas showed flexibility in the duration of the ceasefire, the number of prisoners Israel will release, and the “limits” of an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.[22] The source stated that Hamas waived its previous requirement that Israel release 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Hamas-held Israeli hostages. Israeli media reported that Israel would release 200-300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 24-50 Israeli hostages, according to the new deal.[23]

Three US and Israeli officials told Axios that the Biden administration asked Israel to stop targeting members of the Hamas-run police force who escort aid trucks in the Gaza Strip.[24] The administration warned that a “total breakdown of law and order” is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the strip. The Guardian similarly reported on January 30 that there is a general breakdown in law and order in the Gaza Strip.[25] Aid officials reported several incidents of unspecified personnel looting aid trucks.[26] The IDF has targeted Hamas’ police and internal security apparatus to disrupt Hamas’ attempts to rebuild its governing authority.[27] The Civil Police and the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry's Internal Security Forces in the Gaza Strip both employ fighters from the Hamas military wing.[28]

Unspecified Palestinian fighters conducted one indirect fire attack from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 24.[29]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters at least three times in the West Bank since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 23.[30]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted at least 10 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 23.[31]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

US CENTCOM reported that it destroyed seven Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled Yemen that were ready to fire on February 23.[32] 

Iran Update, February 23, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Kathryn Tyson, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

The Houthis claimed that Saudi Arabia and the United States conducted combined airstrikes in Houthi-controlled territory on February 23, likely to pressure Saudi Arabia to exert its influence on the United States to decrease US strikes targeting Houthi military assets.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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 the Houthis have maintained the ceasefire past its official expiration in October 2022.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.”[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] Axios reported that the plan does not rule out a role for the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, although it does not specifically mention the PA either.[13] 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.”[14]

Key Takeaways:

  • Yemen: The Houthis claimed that Saudi Arabia and the United States conducted combined airstrikes in Houthi-controlled territory on February 23, likely to pressure Saudi Arabia to exert its influence on the United States to decrease US strikes targeting Houthi military assets.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias continued to disrupt Israeli operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.
  • Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh completed a three-day trip to Cairo to discuss a hostage deal.
  • Iran: US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said on February 23 that the United States has not yet confirmed that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to Russia.
  • The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two Iranian and Iran-linked entities on February 23 for facilitating the transfer of Iranian drones to Russia

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias continued to disrupt Israeli operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City on February 23. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters ambushed Israeli armor in Zaytoun using unspecified munitions.[15] Hamas published footage on February 23 that shows its fighters firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[16] Several other Hamas-aligned militias clashed with Israeli forces in Zaytoun.[17] [18] Israeli forces located weapons and military equipment in the area.

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed several Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip on February 23.[19] PIJ fighters mortared Israeli forces east of the central Gaza Strip.[20]

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 23. The 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) continued to direct airstrikes, ambush Palestinian fighters with sniper fire, and clash with Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.[21] Israeli forces raided military infrastructure and located improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other weapons. The IDF Air Force destroyed a weapons depot in western Khan Younis.[22] PIJ and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine fighters detonated explosive devices in two separate attacks targeting Israeli forces in al Amal neighborhood in western Khan Younis.[23] The DFLP is a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war.

Palestinian militias clashed with Israeli forces in eastern Khan Younis on February 23. PIJ fighters detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli engineers in an ambush in eastern Khan Younis.[24] The militia also reported that its fighters fired a tandem-charge anti-tank rocket targeting Israeli forces in the same area.[25]

The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) launched an attack targeting Palestinian fighters and military infrastructure in an unspecified area of Khan Younis.[26] The IDF Air Force struck Palestinian militia sniper positions and weapons storage facilities prior to the attack.[27]

Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh completed a three-day trip to Cairo to discuss a hostage deal.[28] An unspecified Hamas official reported on February 23 that Hamas did not offer a new proposal to Egyptian mediators.[29] Hamas is waiting to see what US, Egyptian, and Qatari mediators can accomplish during talks in Paris, according to the Hamas official. The same official said that Israeli negotiators arrived in Paris on February 23.[30]

Palestinian militias did not conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 23.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters at least six times in the West Bank since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 22.[31] Israeli forces conducted a drone strike that killed a PIJ commander in Jenin.[32]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted at least seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 22.[33]

Israel conducted an airstrike that killed a senior Lebanese Hezbollah member in the group’s elite Radwan Force in southern Lebanon on February 22.[34] Israeli and Lebanese sources reported that the Hezbollah member specialized in operating anti-tank systems and that he had operated in Shebaa Farms during the Israeli-Hamas war.[35]

The Israeli Navy concluded a week-long military exercise in northern Israel on February 23.[36] The Israeli Navy held drills to simulate countering drones, conducting aerial rescue operations, and refueling vessels.[37] Israeli media reported that Israel’s naval exercises are preparations for a potential war with Hezbollah.[38] Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on February 23 that Israel will not wait ”much longer for a diplomatic solution in the north.”[39]

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on February 22 that Iran accelerated the pace of its weapon shipments to Lebanese Hezbollah after the beginning of the Israel-Hamas War.[40] Katz said in a letter to the UN Security Council that Iran’s shipments included ”components for air defense systems, drones, and several different missiles.“[41] The IDF Air Force said on February 3 and 19 that it has struck many Iranian, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syrian targets in Syria since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[42]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said on February 23 that the United States has not yet confirmed that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to Russia.[43] Kirby added that the United States plans to impose additional sanctions on Iran for its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine and that the United States is “prepared to go further” if Iran supplies ballistic missiles to Russia. Kirby noted that Iran seeks a significant amount of Russian military equipment in return for its material support to Russia. Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles to Russia in early January.[44]

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two Iranian and Iran-linked entities on February 23 for facilitating the transfer of Iranian drones to Russia.[45] OFAC designated the following Iranian and Iran-linked entities: 

  • The Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry for helping to finance and produce Iranian drones at the Alabuga facility in Tatarstan, Russia.
  • The Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry-affiliated and UAE-based Generation Trading FZE for facilitating the sale of Iranian drone samples, parts, and ground stations that enable the Russian production of Iranian drones at the Alabuga facility.

Iran’s arms sales to Russia are part of Iran’s efforts to generate revenue to support its deteriorating economy.[46] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Iran could seek to acquire cash from Russia in return for supplying Russia with missiles.[47] The Prana Network hacker group published documents on February 4 alleging that Russia is paying Iran roughly $4.5 billion per year to import the Iranian Shahed series drones.[48]

 


 

Iran Update, February 27, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, Alexandra Braverman, Kathryn Tyson, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said on February 2 that it would continue attacks targeting US forces.[4] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.


Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is building a “well-controlled IDF highway” south of Zaytoun to enable “at least another year” of operations in the Gaza Strip.[10] CTP-ISW previously reported the IDF’s east-to-west road construction on February 19.[11] The IDF has not officially commented on the construction, but two journalists embedded with Israel forces operating in Gaza have published accounts of the construction project.[12] A correspondent from Israel Army Radio, a media organization run by the IDF, said Israeli forces are also building three forward operating bases near the east-west road for future raids and operations in the Gaza Strip.[13]

The IDF 162nd Division continued its clearing operation in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 27.[14] The 932nd Battalion (assigned to the Nahal Brigade) has operated in Zaytoun for a week to “destroy the enemy" in the area.[15] The battalion has raided Hamas buildings, weapons warehouses and observation posts to find intelligence on Hamas operations. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed a Palestinian militia squad with tank fire and destroyed Hamas buildings as part of the division-sized clearing operation.[16] The 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed Palestinian fighters at close range, directed airstrikes targeting Palestinian fighters, and uncovered a weapons factory in Zaytoun.[17]

Palestinian militias claimed at least 16 attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun, southeastern Gaza City on February 27.[18] The groups used rocket propelled grenades, mortars, explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs), improvised explosive devices, and small arms in their attacks.[19] Palestinian Islamic Jihad engineers targeted Israeli infantry by detonating a missile from an F16 that they had rigged as an improvised explosive device in a house near al Dawla roundabout in Zaytoun.[20] The high number of attacks and the use of more sophisticated capabilities — such as EFPs — is inconsistent with an Israeli Army Radio journalist‘s characterization of the fighting on January 27 as “relatively [small in] scale.”[21] Palestinian militias conducted over triple the number of attacks on Israeli forces in southern Gaza City as they did in Khan Younis Governorate on February 27.

The IDF has continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis. The IDF 7th Brigade and 35th Paratrooper Brigade detained Palestinian fighters who tried to hide among evacuating civilians to escape Khan Younis.[22] The 7th Brigade detained Palestinian fighters attempting a similar escape on February 25.[23] The IDF Maglan and Egoz special operations forces continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis over the last week.[24] The special operations forces raided a Hamas compound and seized a large amount of weapons in western Khan Younis on February 27.[25] The special operations forces have killed and detained dozens of fighters per day for the last week.[26] Palestinian militias conducted at least five attacks on Israeli forces operating in central and western Khan Younis on February 27.[27]

The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) conducted clearing operations in the Gaza Strip along the Israel-Gaza border in eastern Khan Younis Governorate.[28] PIJ claimed mortar attacks targeting Israeli forces operating in the border area in Abasan al Kabira.[29]

PIJ fired a rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip targeting Ashkelon on February 27.[30] The rocket barrage caused damage to civilian infrastructure. [31]

The IDF Gaza Division and Southern Command directed airstrikes targeting a Palestinian militia command center in the central Gaza Strip that Palestinian fighters used to direct rocket fire into Israel on February 26.[32] PIJ and the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement both conducted rocket attacks on February 26.[33]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least three times in the West Bank on February 27.[34] Israeli forces killed a senior member in Palestinian Islamic Jihad‘s Tubas Battalion south of Tubas on February 27.[35]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted at least ten attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 26.[36] Lebanese Hezbollah launched approximately 35 rockets targeting an IDF base on Mount Meron that hosts air traffic control, radar, surveillance, communications, and jamming facilities.[37] The IDF said that the attacks did not cause any casualties or damage to the area.[38]

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that Lebanese Hezbollah will "pay a very high price" for its continued attacks targeting northern Israel during a speech at the IDF 146th Division headquarters on February 27.[39] Lebanese Hezbollah said that it fired dozens of rockets targeting the headquarters on the same day.[40]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The United States and the United Kingdom sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and Houthi members on February 27.[41] The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the United Kingdom designated the following individuals and organizations:

  • IRGC Quds Force Deputy Commander Mohammad Reza Falahzadeh for generating revenue to fund Houthi operations
  • Houthi member Ibrahim al Nashiri
  • A Hong Kong-based shipping company that was responsible for facilitating the transport of Iranian commodities sold in China by the Said Jamal network. Said Jamal is a Houthi and IRGC Quds Force financial facilitator sanctioned by the United States on January 12.[42]

Falahzadeh has played a key role in supporting and financing Houthi, Hamas, and Hezbollah operations.[43] OFAC stated that the IRGC Quds Force and the Houthis sell Iranian commodities to foreign buyers to generate funds to support the Houthis. The US State Department designated the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group in January 2024.[44] The US State Department designated the entire IRGC–including the Quds Force–as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April 2019.[45]

US CENTCOM stated that it destroyed three surface naval attack drones and two mobile anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory on February 26 that were ready-to-launch in Houthi-controlled Yemen.[46] Houthi-affiliated media outlets reported on February 26 that the United States conducted airstrikes targeting Houthi positions north of Hudaydah.[47]

 

Iran Update, February 22, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Peter Mills, Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

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.[1] Abdulmalik added that the group would introduce "submarine weapons,” likely referring to unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), but gave no further details.[2] CENTCOM reported that the Houthis used a UUV for the first time to threaten shipping around the Red Sea on February 17.[3] 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.[4] 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 162nd Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza City, on February 22.[5] Israeli forces launched new, “division-wide” clearing operation in Zaytoun on February 20.[6] Israeli forces killed approximately 20 fighters and directed airstrikes to attack over 10 unspecified targets. Palestinian militias, including Hamas, clashed with Israeli forces in Zaytoun using small arms and anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).[7]

Palestinian militias used mortars and rockets in most of their attacks targeting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip on February 22.[8] CTP-ISW cannot determine the point of origin of any of the indirect fire attacks. The militias targeted Israeli positions in Zaytoun as well as in the northeastern Gaza Strip.[9] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement mortared an IDF “dispatch site” east of Beit Hanoun.[10] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas that has expressed close ties with Iran.

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) located and destroyed rocket launchers during clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip on February 22.[11] Palestinian fighters had rigged the launchers to explode, according to the IDF.

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 22. The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) used sniper fire to ambush a Palestinian fighter cell in western Khan Younis.[12] The IDF 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) located weapons and documents affiliated with Hamas during clearing operations in the area.[13] The Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry reported on February 22 that Israeli forces raided Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis shortly after withdrawing from it.[14] Nasser Hospital had been the largest functioning hospital in the Gaza Strip until Israeli forces raided it on February 15.[15] Israel received “credible intelligence” that Hamas-held hostages were in the hospital and detained ”hundreds” of Hamas fighters there.[16]

Hamas said that there may be progress in negotiations with Israel over a prisoner-for-hostage deal. Hamas International Relations head Musa Abu Marzouk said on February 22, “there may be progress in the negotiations of a prisoner swap in the near future.”[17] The Wall Street Journal reported on February 22 that Egyptian officials said that Hamas is ready to lower the number of Palestinian fighters it wants released as part of a deal.[18] Israel previously refused to further engage in hostage talks because Hamas demanded that Israel release thousands of Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal.[19] The Egyptian officials also stated that Hamas will not release Israeli soldiers until there is a permanent ceasefire and a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Hamas wants a plan where more hostages are released only if progress is made in ending the war during a ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized that Israeli forces will continue the ground offensive until Hamas is defeated.[20]

Israel agreed to send negotiators to Paris for hostage talks on February 23 after the United States urged Israel to do so.[21] Israeli media reported on February 22 that the Israeli war cabinet approved sending negotiators to Paris.[22] US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a meeting in Israel on February 22.[23] McGurk told Gallant that there has been progress in the negotiations between Egyptians and Qatari mediators and Hamas, according to three sources with knowledge on the issue who spoke to Axios.[24] CIA director Bill Burns is expected to travel to Paris on February 23 to hold talks with Qatari and Egyptian officials.[25]

Gallant told McGurk that the Israeli government “will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators” while simultaneously “preparing [for] the continuation of intense ground operations” in the Gaza Strip.[26] Netanyahu previously ordered Israeli negotiators exclusively to listen during the most recent meeting between US, Israeli, Egyptian, and Qatari officials on February 13 in Cairo.[27] Gallant emphasized to McGurk that the IDF must “dismantle” the remaining Hamas battalions in the central and southern Gaza Strip.[28]

Palestinian militias conducted two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 22.[29]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters at least four times in the West Bank since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 21.[30]

Three Palestinian attackers fired small arms at Israeli civilian vehicles at an Israeli checkpoint outside of Jerusalem on February 22.[31] The attackers killed one Israeli civilian and injured at least eleven others before Israeli police killed all three attackers at the checkpoint.[32] Several Palestinian militia groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, praised the attack.[33]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah has conducted at least 12 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 21.[34]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

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 on February 22.[35] Halbousi, Coons, and Romanowski discussed the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad about the status of the US-led coalition mission to defeat ISIS. The United States and Iraq began these negotiations in late January 2024.[36] Halbousi described the negotiations as important for creating a “sustainable bilateral partnership” between the United States and Iraq.[37] Halbousi, Coons, and Romanowski also emphasized the need to “maintain security cooperation” between the United States and Baghdad to root out the “remnants of terrorism.” Iran and its Iraqi proxy and partner militias have intensified their campaign to expel the United States from Iraq since October 2023.[38] Halbousi previously released a statement on February 14 warning “war merchants and seditionists from the Islamist parties” against “tampering with the stability of Anbar [Province],” implying that Halbousi might oppose Iranian-backed efforts to expel the United States from Iraq.[39]

Unspecified individuals unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate State of Law Coalition parliamentarian Bagher Kadhim Naser al Saadi in al Jadriyah, Baghdad, on February 22.[40] Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki heads the State of Law Coalition. This assassination attempt comes amid an uptick in likely politically motivated killings between competing Shia factions in Baghdad and southern Iraq in recent weeks.[41] 

The Houthis claimed attacks targeting Israel, a commercial ship, and a US warship on February 22. The group launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles that hit the UK-owned, Palau-flagged MV Islander in the Gulf of Aden.[42] The Houthis separately claimed an attack targeting an unspecified US destroyer in the Red Sea.[43] US CENTCOM stated that it intercepted six Houthi one-way attack drones in the Red Sea.[44] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed the group launched drones and missiles targeting unspecified targets in Eilat, Israel.[45] Israel intercepted a surface-to-surface missile south of Eilat on February 21.[46]

Iranian Strategic Foreign Relations Council Chairman Kamal Kharazi met with senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in Tehran on February 22.[47] Kharazi claimed that “resistance” is the only way for Palestinians to achieve their goals and confront Israel during a meeting with senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan and PIJ Political Bureau member Ali Abu Shahin.[48] Hamdan and Shahin explained the “latest state” of the war in the Gaza Strip and thanked the Iranian regime for supporting Palestinian militias. Hamdan and Shahin are both based in Lebanon. Kharazi is a senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[49]

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei repeated his criticism of unspecified Muslim countries for failing to sever political and economic ties with Israel during a meeting with Quran reciters on February 22.[50] Khamenei has, even before the Israel-Hamas war began, repeatedly called on Muslim countries to isolate Israel.[51]

Iran Update, February 21, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Alexandra Braverman, Kathryn Tyson, Ahmad Omid Arman, Anne McGill, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January.[1] 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.[2]

Iran’s arms sales to Russia are part of Iran’s efforts to generate revenue to support its deteriorating economy.[3] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Iran could seek to acquire cash from Russia in return for supplying Russia with missiles.[4] The Prana Network hacker group published documents on February 4 alleging that Russia is paying Iran roughly $4.5 billion per year to import the Iranian Shahed series drones.[5]

Iran’s provision of these missile systems could improve Russia’s ability to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses. Kremlin-affiliated milblogger Rybar claimed on February 21 that the acquisition of Iranian missile systems enables Russian forces to hit “remote Ukrainian targets.”[6] The Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson said on February 21 that possible Russian acquisition of the ballistic missiles is a ”serious threat for Ukraine.”[7] This Russo-Iranian military exchange is part of the deepening military and security relationship between the two states that CTP has covered extensively.[8] The expansion of these ties accelerated especially after Iran began providing military support to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.[9]

CTP-ISW assessed in September 2023 that Iran and Russia would conclude a drone and missile sale agreement after UNSC Resolution 2231’s missile restrictions expired in October 2023.[10] The expiration of UNSC Resolution 2231 in October provided an opportunity for Iran to meet Russian military needs without being violating sanctions or requiring Russia to do so. Iranian Defense Ministry and IRGC officials also showcased these SRBM and close-range ballistic missile (CRBM) variants to Russian officials in August and September 2023 in Moscow and Tehran, respectively.[11] This showcasing illustrates Iran’s efforts to conclude a sales agreement in advance of the expiration of UNSC Resolution 2231 in October. [12]

The United States, United Kingdom, and Ukraine have previously warned that Iran would supply ballistic missiles to Russia to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[13] US officials said in November that Iran ”may be” preparing to supply short-range ballistic missiles to Russia, and the US National Security Council spokesperson said in January 2024 that Russia was attempting to acquire missiles from Iran.[14]

*Russia would violate its Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) obligations were it to acquire these missile systems. Iran would violate UNSCR 2231 if it had exported these systems prior to the October 18, 2023 expiration. Iran is not an MTCR member-state even though UNSCR 2231 references the MTCR’s banned Category I “complete delivery systems,” systems with a 300 or more-kilometer range and a 500 or more-kilogram payload.[19]

Key: CEP: Circular error probable; SRBM: Short-range ballistic missile; CRBM: Close-range ballistic missile; MaRV: Maneuverable re-entry vehicle; INS: Inertial Navigation System; GNSS: Global Navigation Satellite System; GPS: Global Positioning System.

Russian and Iraqi officials discussed deepening judicial and economic ties on February 21. Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev has discussed security cooperation with a number of senior Iraqi political and military officials in a series of meetings since late January 2024. CTP-ISW assessed on February 20 that 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.

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.[20] The Iraqi Federal Integrity Commission is the judicial body responsible for investigating corruption cases and drafting appropriate legislation. Integrity Commission staff will participate in trainings and lectures held by the Russian Public Prosecution office under the MOU.[21] Hanoun said that the two organizations will hold workshops, meetings, and trainings over the next two years to address anti-corruption efforts, recovering stolen funds, establishing national committees, and coordinating positions in international anti-corruption bodies.[22] He added that the Federal Integrity Commission and Russian General Prosecutor’s office will hold a roundtable discussion covering technologies that combat corruption.[23]

Iranian-aligned Iraqi actors have previously used Iraq’s judicial system to target political opposition. Under its current chairman, the Federal Integrity Commission weaponized legislation that barred candidates with corruption charges from running for office in Iraqi provincial elections in December 2023.[24]

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office oversees subordinate prosecutor’s offices responsible for supervising adherence to the Russian constitution and implementing laws accordingly.[25] 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.[26] Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov is currently sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[27]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani met with the Chairman of the Russian Federation of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs Committee and founder of the Russian oil company Lukoil Vagit Alekperov to discuss Russian development of the West Qurna and Eridu Iraqi oil fields.[28] ExxonMobile transferred its operations at West Qurna oil field to PetroChina on January 1, giving PetroChina a majority share in the oil field.[29] The West Qurna oil field is one of the largest oil fields in the world.[30]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani separately met with the US ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on February 21 to discuss the status of International Coalition forces in Iraq.[31] Sudani denied on February 6 that the Iraqi government had directly discussed bilateral negotiations with the United States since the US airstrikes on February 2.[32]

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. CENTCOM reported that one missile detonated near the ship and caused minor damage. The missile struck the US-owned, Greek-flagged MV Sea Champion while it was transporting grain to the port of Aden, which is controlled by anti-Houthi forces. The MV Sea Champion has delivered aid to Yemen 11 times in the past five years, according to CENTCOM.

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that two brigades launched a new clearing operation in Zaytoun, southern Gaza City.[33] The 401st and the Nahal Brigades (both assigned to the 162nd Division) conducted clearing operations targeting Palestinian militia infrastructure and fighters.[34] The 401st Brigade recently completed a similar clearing operation targeting Hamas forces in western Gaza.[35] The two brigades engaged Palestinian fighters at close range and targeted ”dozens” of Palestinian fighters with airstrikes.[36] An Israeli Army Radio correspondent said that the 162nd Division’s operation in Zaytoun captured ammunition manufacturing sites and a tunnel that connects Gaza City to the central Gaza Strip.[37] Such a tunnel may have enabled Palestinian fighters to infiltrate previously cleared areas of the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli defense minister said that the IDF has not defeated all four Hamas battalions in the central Gaza Strip and intends to dismantle the two remaining battalions in the next phase of operations.[38] The IDF will also target the Rafah Brigade in the next phase, according to the defense minister.

Palestinian militias attempted to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Zaytoun. An Israeli Army Radio correspondent said that Israeli forces sustained casualties in at least three attacks in the Zaytoun area on February 21.[39] The same correspondent noted that Israeli forces encountered significant militia ”resistance” in Zaytoun but not en route to Zaytoun.[40] Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters detonated four explosively-formed penetrators (EFP) targeting Israeli armor in Zaytoun.[41] Other militias targeted Israeli infantry and armor with mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and small arms in Zaytoun.[42]

Israeli forces expanded clearing operations to “new areas” east and west of Khan Younis on February 21. The Givati Brigade killed “many” fighters in new areas of eastern Khan Younis over the past day.[43] ISW-CTP assesses that Israeli forces have not cleared suburban and agricultural land east of Khan Younis. The 35th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) expanded operations targeting Palestinian fighters and infrastructure to new areas west of Khan Younis on February 21.[44]

Palestinian fighters conducted several attacks targeting Israeli forces operating in Khan Younis. The Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—both militias aligned with Hamas in the current war—targeted an Israeli military vehicle in Khan Younis with an EFP.[45] Hamas separately targeted an Israeli tank with an EFP in al Hawuz, western Khan Younis.[46] Hamas fighters also ambushed Israeli SOF and infantry in buildings in the al Hawuz and al Amal areas with rocket-propelled grenades, thermobaric rockets and small arms.[47]

The IDF uncovered and destroyed a 1 km long tunnel used by Hamas leaders in central Khan Younis.[48] Yahalom combat engineers and the 98th Division raided the tunnel to located intelligence and kill the fighters inside. The IDF destroyed the tunnel after raiding it. Hamas equipped the tunnel with several blast doors, fortifications, electricity, and water infrastructure. The IDF said that the tunnel’s defenses and infrastructure likely cost ”millions of shekels.” The IDF also published a map of Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure that it has located throughout the Gaza Strip.[49]

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson warned that all members of “the Hamas apparatus,” including Hamas police officers, are legitimate targets during IDF operations in the Gaza Strip.[50] The spokesperson stated that the IDF would not allow any type of military activity in the Gaza Strip. The UNRWA communications director stated that the Civil Police in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, had stopped providing escorts for aid convoys into the Gaza Strip after Israeli strikes killed eight officers who were accompanying the trucks.[51]

Israel is preparing to attend a high-level ceasefire talks in Paris on February 23, according to Israeli media.[52] Israeli officials are reportedly waiting for progress in the ongoing talks between Hamas and Egyptian officials before confirming their participation. Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Cairo on February 20 to discuss a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war with Egyptian officials.[53]

A journalist working with IDF-operated Israeli Army Radio claimed that Lebanese Hezbollah and ceasefire mediators are pressuring Hamas to drop some of their “high” demands in ceasefire and hostage negotiations.[54] Hezbollah is reportedly pressuring Hamas to drop its demand that Israeli release all its Palestinian prisoners, especially those who have been convicted of severe crimes.[55] Hamas Deputy Chairman in Gaza Khalil al Hayya provided Hamas‘ three priorities in negotiations in a February 19 interview with al Jazeera. These priorities were the providing relief to Gazans to enable them to return to their normal lives, ending the war, and concluding a prisoner exchange that frees 10,000 prisoners in Israeli custody.[56]

PIJ and Popular Resistance Committee fighters mortared Israeli armor and infantry positions east of Jabalia in a combined operation on February 21.[57] The IDF said that mortars fired from Jabalia entered Israeli territory.[58] The 143rd Division identified the mortar launch site and conducted an airstrike minutes after the launch.[59]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least three times in the West Bank after CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 20.[60] Israeli forces detained 40 wanted individuals and confiscated weapons across the West Bank on February 21.[61]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted at least twelve attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel after CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 20.[62]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Houthis likely conducted a missile attack targeting an unspecified commercial vessel in the Red Sea on February 21. The vessel’s crew reported an explosion and flash of light approximately 40 nautical miles west of Houthi-controlled Hudaydah, Yemen.[63] The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported that the vessel and crew were unharmed.[64]

Houthi-controlled media claimed that the United States and United Kingdom conducted three strikes on unspecified targets near Houthi-controlled al Salif on February 21.[65]

Israel likely conducted drone and missile strikes targeting Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated targets in Syria on February 21. These targets included multiple IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah military headquarters and weapons storage facilities in southwest Damascus and Albu Kamal.[66] The IDF Air Force said on February 3 and 19 that it has struck many Iranian, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syrian targets in Syria since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[67]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with senior Sri Lankan officials on February 20 and 21 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.[68] Abdollahian called for an end to the Israel-Hamas war. He also called Israel a “threat to regional security” during separate meetings with the Sri Lankan president and foreign minister.

Iran Update, February 20, 2024

click here to read the full report with maps

Annika Ganzeveld, Andie Parry, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Kathryn Tyson, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

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.[1] Kutrashev also discussed Russian support for the Iraqi armed forces when meeting with Khazali.[2] Iraqi state media reported that Kutrashev and Khazali discussed Russia’s role in “arming and developing the capabilities of Iraqi security and military forces.”[3] 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.”[4]

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.[5] These attacks aim to erode US willingness to maintain a military presence in the Middle East.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] The United States began replacing Iraq’s Mi-17 helicopters with US-made helicopters around February 2023.[10]

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a new, “division-wide” clearing operation in the Zaytoun and Shujaiya neighborhoods in eastern Gaza City on February 20.[11] An Israeli Army Radio correspondent said that two brigades will clear the remaining Hamas infrastructure in eastern Gaza City over the next several weeks.[12] Local Palestinian sources reported Israeli armor operated on Road 8 and near the Dawla Roundabout in southern Zaytoun on February 20. Israeli ground forces have not operated in these areas at a large scale since late December 2023.[13] Israeli forces concluded a similar division-wide clearing operation in western Gaza City on February 15.[14] The IDF disclosed through an Israeli Army Radio correspondent on February 5 that it identified a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) cell in Zaytoun neighborhood as responsible for most of the rocket attacks into Israel in recent weeks.[15]

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson issued evacuation orders for parts of Jabalia and Turkmen neighborhood south of Gaza City on February 20.[16] The order requested residents immediately evacuate to the al Mawasi humanitarian zone in the southwest Gaza Strip. Palestinian journalists reported Israeli ground forces operated within the evacuation zone on February 20.[17]

The IDF assessed that it will complete ground operations in Khan Younis in the next few days, according to an Israeli Army Radio correspondent.[18] Israeli forces operating under the 36th Division, 98th Division, and 162nd Division continued to clear Khan Younis of Palestinian militia infrastructure, weapons, and fighters.[19] Israeli forces are killing about half the Palestinian fighters per day than they did at the start of the operation in Khan Younis, according to unspecified IDF sources.[20] The IDF estimated that it has killed about 2,900 Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis since beginning operations there.[21] The 98th Division, the division leading clearing operations in Khan Younis, will deploy to Rafah or the central Gaza Strip in the coming days.[22]

Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli forces in Khan Younis on February 20. PIJ fighters targeted six Israeli infantrymen who were operating in a building with a thermobaric rocket in western Khan Younis refugee camp.[23] Hamas fighters targeted another six Israeli infantrymen with an explosive device in western Khan Younis City.[24] Both groups claimed the attacks killed and wounded Israeli forces.

US and Israeli officials quoted in Axios disclosed that the IDF may not advance into Rafah until mid-April, despite Israeli officials' public announcements about an earlier timeline.[25] Israeli War Cabinet Minster Benny Gantz said on February 18 that Israeli forces will enter Rafah at the start of Ramadan around March 10 if Hamas does not release the remaining Israeli hostages the group holds.[26] The IDF is expected to present an operational plan for a Rafah ground operation and civilian evacuation to the Israeli security cabinet in the coming days.[27]

The Israeli Chief of Staff Major General Herzi Halevi issued a letter to Israeli commanders stressing the standard conduct of war on February 20.[28] Halevi wrote, “we are not on a killing spree, revenge, or genocide” and issued orders to “not to use force where it is not required, to distinguish between a terrorist and [not] a terrorist, not to take anything that is not ours a souvenir or a military item and not to shoot revenge videos.”[29] He also noted that the IDF would begin to pursue absentee soldiers.

Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Cairo to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza with Egyptian officials on February 20.[30] US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk will hold talks with Egyptian officials on February 21 before meeting with top Israeli officials the next day.[31] The Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson confirmed that all parties are participating in ongoing hostage exchange deal talks.[32] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo for follow-up talks on February 14.[33]

Palestinian militias did not conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on February 20.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times in the West Bank since the CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 19[34]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel|

Lebanese Hezbollah has conducted at least six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW's last data cutoff on February 19.[35]  Hezbollah claimed six attacks using rockets and unspecified guided munitions targeting Israeli forces and military infrastructure north of Margaliot.[36]  The IDF confirmed that Hezbollah fired an anti-tank guided missile that detonated near Margaliot.[37]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The United States and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias reached an “undeclared truce” during a meeting at Baghdad International Airport on January 29, according to an independent Iraqi outlet.[38] The truce followed the one-way drone attack that killed three US service members in northeastern Jordan on January 28.[39] Western media has attributed the attack to Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah.[40] The US delegation’s meetings with Iranian-backed Iraqi militia leaders and Iraqi officials coincided with IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani’s visit to Baghdad on January 29.[41] Reuters reported that Ghaani directed the militias to “pause” their attacks targeting US forces during his visit to Baghdad.[42] Kataib Hezbollah subsequently announced the suspension of its “military and security operations” targeting US forces on January 30.[43] An independent Iraqi outlet claimed that another Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, initially vowed to continue its attacks targeting US forces before suspending its attacks “without an official announcement.”[44] The US Defense Department deputy press secretary stated on February 14 that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria had not attacked US forces since February 4.[45] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has not claimed an attack targeting US forces in this time.[46] An unspecified security source told Reuters on February 10 that US air defense systems intercepted one-way attack drones targeting Conoco Mission Support Site in eastern Syria, however.[47]

The rate of intra-Shia assassinations in Iraq has increased in February 2024, highlighting schisms among between the Shia factions.

  • Unspecified gunmen shot and killed a senior Asaib Ahl al Haq official in Maysan Province on February 4.[48] CTP-ISW previously assessed that followers of Iraqi nationalist Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr may have been responsible.[49] Sadr’s followers, known as Sadrists, have significant influence in Maysan Province, and Sadrist militiamen have previously assassinated local Asaib Ahl al Haq-affiliated officials.[50]
  • Unspecified gunmen shot and killed two of Hadi al Ameri’s relatives in northern Baghdad on February 18.[51] Ameri is the secretary general of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization. The Iraqi Interior Ministry claimed that the gunman assassinated Ameri’s relatives due to a “land dispute.”[52]
  • Unspecified gunmen kidnapped and killed a Sadrist named Ayser al Khafaji in Babil Province on February 19.[53] Sadrist social media accounts blamed Khafaji’s death on Asaib Ahl al Haq.[54] Sadrists and members of the Khafaji clan—a major Shia clan in southern Iraq—gathered in Hillah, Babil Province, on February 20 to protest Khafaji’s death.[55]

The Houthis claimed three drone attacks targeting US and Israeli targets on February 20.[56] Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said that Houthi fighters launched an unspecified number of drones targeting US Navy ships in the Red Sea and Eilat on February 20.[57] He added that Houthi fighters fired anti-ship missiles at the Israeli MSC Silver in the Gulf of Aden on the same date.[58]

An unspecified merchant vessel transiting through the Red Sea reported that two drones followed it for approximately 30 minutes on February 19.[59]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) conducted strikes on Houthi targets on February 19 and 20 that presented “imminent threats” to merchant and US naval vessels in the region.[60] US forces destroyed a one-way attack drone prepared to launch from western Yemen.[61] US and coalition forces separately intercepted 10 one-way attack drones over the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.[62] The USS Laboon intercepted a likely Houthi anti-ship cruise missile ”headed in its direction.”[63]

The French Ministry of Defense reported on February 20 that a French frigate intercepted two Houthi one-way attack drones over the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.[64] The French Ministry of Defense said the drone originated from Yemen.[65]

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said on February 19 that Iran is continuing to produce highly enriched uranium at an elevated rate.[66] Grossi told Reuters that Iran is currently producing 60 percent highly enriched uranium (HEU) at a rate of seven kilograms per month. This rate is higher than its three kilogram per month enrichment rate between June and November 2023. Grossi added that he will travel to Tehran on an unspecified date in the coming weeks. Grossi last visited Tehran in March 2024.[67]

Iran has stockpiled at least five nuclear bombs worth of HEU, given its stockpile of 128.3 kilograms of 60 percent HEU as of October 28, 2023.[68] The IAEA defines 25 kilograms of 20 percent or more enriched HEU as a ”significant quantity” for ”which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive cannot be excluded.”[69] Iran has no plausible civilian use for 60 percent HEU but can use it in a compact nuclear explosive or further enrich it to 90 percent weapons-grade uranium.

 

Iran Update, February 19, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, Amin Soltani, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Note: CTP and ISW have refocused the update to cover the Israel-Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance. We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

Click here to see CTP and ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

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.[1] The Rubymar’s Lebanon-based management company said that the vessel took on water after the missile struck the vessel’s engine room.[2] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the cargo vessel had completely sunk about 22 hours after the attack occurred.[3] 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.[4] The commercial vessel evacuated the Rubymar’s crew to Djibouti.[5] 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.[6] The Houthi military spokesperson falsely claimed that the Houthis “made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”[7]

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.[8] 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.”[9] The UKMTO reported two explosions lightly damaged one vessel 100 NM east of Aden.[10] British maritime security firm Ambrey said that the Sea Champion was “involved“ in the two explosions.[11]

The Houthi movement claimed that it shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over Hudaydah on February 19.[12] The group posted a video showing Houthi surface-to-air missile hitting the drone.[13] 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.”[14] An unspecified US official told Voice of America that the Houthis previously shot down a Reaper drone over Yemen in early November 2023.[15]

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.[16] 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the 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.[17] An Israeli journalist embedded with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to observe the IDF’s construction of the new road. 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. The journalist reported that “the IDF was preparing for a very long stay” near the road.[18] Palestinian fighters have been infiltrating the northern Gaza Strip since early January and attempting to reconstitute their military capabilities and rebuild a governance system there.[19] Hamas’ return to providing services in areas that Israeli forces previously cleared undermines Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas.

Palestinian militias attempted to disrupt Israeli operations in the northern Gaza Strip on February 19. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters fired rockets targeting Israeli forces in southern Gaza City, where the IDF are constructing the new dividing road.[20] Hamas and Palestinian Mujahideen Movement fighters conducted combined attacks using man-portable air defense systems to target Israeli drones and helicopters in southwestern Gaza City.[21] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas that has expressed close ties with Iran. Other Palestinian militias fired rockets targeting an IDF supply line and Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip.[22]

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) identified and killed a Palestinian fighter in Gaza City after the fighter fired a rocket from the central Gaza Strip into Israel.[23]

The IDF reported that Israeli forces are finishing clearing operation in western Khan Younis.[24] Israeli forces “expanded” ground operations in western Khan Younis on January 22 and have engaged Palestinian militias there on a near-daily basis since.[25] Three IDF brigades are operating in western Khan Younis to target Hamas’ battalion in the area and destroy military infrastructure.[26] Israeli forces used a drone to identify a Palestinian militia cell approaching their position in western Khan Younis on February 19 and directed an airstrike to target the cell.[27]

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the current war, detonated an unspecified explosive device and fired a rocket-propelled grenade targeting Israeli armor near Nasser Hospital.[28] Hamas fighters returned from “areas of fighting” in western Khan Younis and reported that they targeted 15 Israeli soldiers inside a house.[29] These fighters’ inability to communicate with higher headquarters until returning to rear areas indicates that their commanders may be unable to transmit orders to fighters engaged with the IDF. Several other Palestinian militia groups experienced similar delays in reporting as Israeli forces advanced across the Gaza Strip.[30]

Russia invited Palestinian factions, including Hamas and PIJ, to meet in Moscow on February 26 for an “inter-Palestinian meeting.”[31] Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and Special Representative for the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian media on February 18 that Russia invited Palestinian factions that are based in different countries, including Syria and Lebanon. Bogdanov did not provide any additional details about the purpose of the meeting.[32] The Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the PA will see if Hamas “is ready to reach an understanding.“[33] A senior Hamas delegation last traveled to Moscow in late October 2023 to meet with Russian and Iranian officials.[34] Hamas praised Russia’s stance toward the Israel-Hamas war after the meeting.[35] Russia has framed itself as a possible mediator between Israel and Hamas.[36]

The Qatari prime minister said that a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas should not require a hostage deal.[37] Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al Thani said that some unspecified countries believe that a hostage deal must be a condition of a ceasefire deal. Thani spoke at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, emphasizing the need to end the war. One of Israel’s stated war objectives is to recover the Hamas-held hostages from the Gaza Strip. Israel-Hamas negotiations have largely stalled since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo for follow-up talks on February 14. Netanyahu refused to send a new delegation because Hamas demanded that Israel release thousands of Palestinian prisoners as part of the hostage deal.[38]

Palestinian militias did not conduct indirect fire attacks into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on February 19.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters six times in the West Bank on February 19.[39] Unspecified Palestinian fighters threw an explosive device at a car northwest of Nablus that was operated by an Israeli civilian.[40] The attack injured one person.

Israeli Army Radio reported that violence in the West Bank increased 350% in 2023 compared to 2022.[41] The IDF recorded 608 shooting, stabbing, explosive, and vehicle ramming attacks in 2023 compared to 170 attacks in 2022.[42] Three hundred shooting attacks took place in 2023, which is the highest number of shootings recorded since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. The report did not specify how many attacks occurred after October 7. Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other Palestinian militia groups have repeatedly called for violent attacks targeting Israeli security forces and Israeli settlers in the West Bank since October 7.[43]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 19.[44] Lebanese Hezbollah claimed three attacks targeting IDF positions along the Israel-Lebanon border.[45]

The IAF conducted airstrikes that targeted two “Hezbollah military depots” near Sidon, Lebanon on February 19.[46] 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.[47] A Reuters journalist reported that the IDF has conducted airstrikes further north into Lebanon at a higher frequency in recent weeks.[48]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Houthi President Mahdi al Mashat issued a decree declaring the United States and the United Kingdom “enemy states of Yemen” on February 19 for their support of Israel.[49] The decree states that Houthi forces should confront the United States and United Kingdom. Houthi attacks have consistently targeted US and UK interests prior to the declaration, however. Most Houthi attack claims now allege that the attacks’ targets are US or UK shipping. The Houthis increased claims focusing on “US or UK shipping” after combined US-UK airstrikes began targeting Houthi positions in Yemen in early January. Houthi attacks prior to early January framed most attacks as targeting Israeli-associated assets. The Houthis fire missiles and drones targeting ships without ties to the United States, United Kingdom or Israel. The Houthis attacked a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship transporting corn from Brazil to Iran on February 12, for example.[50]

The European Council launched a Greek-led, defensive naval coalition to protect commercial vessels from Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The coalition, dubbed Operation Aspides, will be based out of Larissa, Greece and commanded by Greece. The EU mission will not take part in any military strikes and will only operate to provide “maritime situation awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against attacks” at sea.[51]

Western media reported on February 19 that Iranian-backed Shia Afghan militias fighters expressed “anger and frustration” at the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)’s treatment of casualties within their ranks.[52] US airstrikes killed at least 12 fighters in the Fatemiyoun, an Iranian-backed Shia Afghan militia, in Syria on February 2. The New York Times reported that Fatemiyoun members and other unspecified Afghans were angered and frustrated because the IRGC was “silent” on the deaths of the Fatemiyoun fighters. Fatemiyoun members and other Afghans on pro-Fatemiyoun social media channels “questioned” the lack of IRGC acknowledgement of the Fatemiyoun casualties, with some suggesting that the IRGC Quds Forces discriminated against the Afghans. The IRGC ordinarily acknowledges or threatens to avenge the death of its own members. Local Iranian officials, clerics, and an unspecified IRGC representative attended some of the funeral ceremonies inside Iran for the Fatemiyoun fighters who were killed in Syria. Iran evacuated IRGC personnel from its military facilities in Syria but kept Fatemiyoun fighters stationed at those facilities ahead of the US strikes on February 2.[53]

The IDF Air Force said that it has conducted a series of strikes targeting Iranian, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syrian targets inside Syria since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[54] The IDF previously reported on February 3 that it had conducted a series of airstrikes targeting more than 50 Hezbollah and Hezbollah-affiliated targets in Syria since the start of the war.[55]

Iran Update, February 18, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Brian Carter, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, and Annika Ganzeveld

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

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.[1] 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.[2] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba did not “initially agree” to Ghaani’s directive.[3] The group said that it would continue attacks targeting US forces on February 2, after Ghaani’s visit.[4] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit.[5] It has not claimed any attacks after February 4.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

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.”[9] Hamas has not claimed attacks against Israeli forces in Khan Younis since February 13.[10] Other Palestinian militias aligned with Hamas have continued attacks targeting Israeli forces in Khan Younis, however.[11]

Israeli special operations forces continued clearing operations in and around Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 18. Israeli special operations forces (assigned to the 98th Division) began operating in Nasser Hospital on February 15 after receiving “credible intelligence” that Hamas-held hostages were in the hospital.[12] The special operations forces captured Israeli cars that Palestinian fighters stole on October 7 and seized weapons near Nasser Hospital.[13] The 35th Paratrooper Brigade killed Palestinian fighters and confiscated military equipment.[14] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on February 18 that over 200 suspected fighters had surrendered to Israeli forces at Nasser Hospital. Gallant added that the surrender of suspected fighters indicates Hamas' loss of ”fighting spirit.”[15] The IDF said many of the suspected fighters who surrendered participated in the October 7 attack and have links to the hostages held by Hamas.[16]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in additional areas of Khan Younis City. The 7th Brigade raided Palestinian militia weapons caches and killed over 20 fighters in Khan Younis City.[17] The IDF 98th Division directed airstrikes targeting Palestinian fighters and a weapons warehouse.[18]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip. The Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed a Palestinian militia cell transporting weapons near Israeli forces.[19] Israeli aircraft conducted airstrikes targeting a Hamas operational headquarters and additional targets in Nuseirat and Deir al Balah on February 17.[20] The Israeli Defense Minister said on February 18 that the IDF would continue its operations to dismantle Hamas’s remaining six battalions in the central Gaza Strip and Rafah.[21] Hamas did not claim any attacks in the central Gaza Strip on February 18.

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.[22] Ramadan is expected to begin on March 10, 2024. 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.[23] Israeli officials have committed to minimize civilian casualties in operations in Rafah, but they have not publicly outlined a plan for how the IDF would evacuate civilians from Rafah.[24] Israel’s partners and allies, including the United States, have refused to support a Rafah operation without a plan in place to protect civilians. The IDF Chief of Staff stated on February 13 that Rafah contains an estimated 10,000 Hamas fighters and over a million displaced Palestinian civilians.[25] Netanyahu said on February 17 that the IDF would enter Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas battalions even if a hostage deal is achieved.[26] The Israeli Defense Minister said on February 16 that Israel would not evacuate Rafah’s civilian population into Egypt.[27]

Palestinian militias did not conduct indirect fire attacks into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on February 18.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters six times in the West Bank on February 18.[28] Israeli forces killed an al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade commander during an IDF raid in Tulkarm refugee camp.[29]

This map is not an exhaustive depiction of clashes and demonstrations in the West Bank.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 18.[30]

Recorded reports of attacks; CTP-ISW cannot independently verify impact.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

US Central Command (CENTCOM) 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.[31] CENTCOM reported that the Houthis used a subsurface naval attack drone on February 17 for the first time since the Houthis launched their attack campaign targeting international shipping in October 2023.[32] CENTCOM conducted the strikes after determining that the cruise missiles and naval drones were an “imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea.[33]

Iran Update, February 17, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Johanna Moore, Kathryn Tyson, Alexandra Braverman, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

CTP-ISW will publish abbreviated updates on February 17 and 18, 2024. Detailed coverage will resume Monday, February 19, 2024Key Takeaways:

  • Southern 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip on February 17. The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades–the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah–fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades targeting Israeli forces east of Gaza City.[1] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Nahal Brigade and 215th Artillery Brigade (both assigned to the 162nd Division) directed an airstrike on February 17 that targeted Hamas fighters in an unspecified area of the central Gaza Strip.[2] 

Israeli forces continued operations in and around Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 17. Israeli special operations forces began operating in Nasser Hospital on February 15 after receiving “credible intelligence” that Hamas-held hostages were in the hospital.[3]  Shayetet 13 arrested approximately 100 individuals at Nasser Hospital on February 17.[4] The IDF Egoz and Maglan units identified and killed Palestinian fighters operating around the hospital.[5]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis city.[6] The 7th Brigade raided Palestinian militia weapons caches in Khan Younis city and captured small arms and explosives.[7] The IDF 98th Division directed an airstrike that targeted three Palestinian fighters traveling towards a suspected launch position in Khan Younis.[8]

An unspecified senior Hamas member told al Jazeera on February 17 that Hamas plans to suspend ceasefire negotiations with Israel until Palestinians in the northern Gaza strip receive humanitarian aid.[9] Israel’s hostage and missing persons coordinator Gal Hirsch said that Hamas’ demands during ceasefire talks are “disconnected from reality.”[10]

Unspecified Palestinian fighters conducted one indirect fire attack targeting Ashkelon on February 17.[11] The IDF reported that it intercepted an unspecified munition targeting Ashkelon.[12] The Nahal Brigade and 215th Artillery Brigade directed an airstrike that targeted the Palestinian fighters who conducted the attack targeting Ashkelon.[13]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters one time in the West Bank on February 17.[14]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 17.[15]

Unspecified fighters fired rockets from Syria towards the southern Golan Heights on February 16.[16] Israeli forces conducted airstrikes targeting a Syrian Arab Army weapons depot in Mahjah, Daraa Province, Syria, overnight on February 16.[17]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

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.[18] US Central Command (CENTCOM) said that the Houthis launched at least three anti-ship ballistic missiles at the Pollux. CENTCOM added that the attack did not damage the Pollux or any other ships in the area.[19]

CENTCOM conducted two preemptive strikes targeting one mobile anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) and one surface naval attack drone in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen on February 16 and 17.[20] CENTCOM conducted the strikes after determining that the cruise missile and attack drone presented an “imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea.

 

Iran Update, February 16, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip. 

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued targeting Hamas commanders and fighters in the northern Gaza Strip on February 16. The IDF 215th Artillery Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed an aide to the Sabra Battalion commander in Hamas’ Gaza City Brigade.[1] Israeli forces killed the previous Sabra Battalion commander in November 2023.[2] Hamas has likely replaced the Sabra commander since his death as part of its effort to reconstitute itself militarily in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli aircraft struck a vehicle and killed three Hamas fighters in the northern Gaza Strip.[3]

Palestinian militias conducted two indirect fire attacks targeting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip.[4] CTP-ISW cannot determine the point of origin at this time.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip on February 16. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed several Palestinian fighters, and the IDF Air Force targeted a Palestinian fighter squad near Israeli ground forces.[5]

Israeli forces found medications belonging to Hamas-held hostages and weapons in Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 16.[6] Israeli special operations forces began operating in Nasser Hospital on February 15 after receiving “credible intelligence” that Hamas-held hostages were in the hospital.[7] Israeli forces detained 20 fighters who participated in the October 7, 2023, attack as well as dozens of suspects for questioning.[8] The IDF Maglan Unit (assigned to the 98th Division) found mortars, grenades, and weapons belonging to Hamas in the hospital area.[9] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, claimed attacks targeting Israeli forces in the vicinity of Nasser Hospital for the third consecutive day.[10]

The IDF reported on February 16 that it has been causing “significant damage” to Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade.[11] Israeli forces killed several Palestinian fighters, raided military targets, and disarmed an improvised explosive device (IED) in Khan Younis.[12] Several Palestinian militias attempted to defend against Israeli clearing operations, primarily in eastern Khan Younis, on February 16.[13] Israeli forces began conducting clearing operations in Khan Younis in early December 2023.[14]

Israel withdrew the IDF 646th Paratroopers Brigade from Khan Younis on February 15.[15] Only Israeli regular units remain in the Gaza Strip.[16]

Hamas policemen shot and killed a child, who was attempting to take food from a humanitarian aid truck in Rafah.[17] Riots erupted in the border area between Rafah and Egypt in response to the incident. The child’s family issued a statement holding Hamas responsible.[18] Israeli media reported that an unnamed Hamas official on the border denied the incident, saying that “there is no truth in what is being spread in the media and social networks.”[19]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel will not evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah to Egypt.[20] Gallant reported that Israel is “thoroughly planning future operations in Rafah” but did not offer more details.[21] Egypt has repeatedly raised concerns that an Israeli operation into the southern Gaza Strip will cause a flood of Palestinian refugees into Egypt and has even taken to reinforcing its border with the strip.[22]

US President Joe Biden reiterated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel must have a plan for ensuring the safety of civilians in Rafah before proceeding with a military operation.[23] An Israeli official reported that the conversation lasted 40 minutes. Israel has not publicly outlined a plan for how it would evacuate civilians from Rafah in the event of a military operation there.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog “secretly” met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdulrahman al Thani to discuss the release of Hamas-held hostages in the Gaza Strip, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.[24] The two met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo for follow-up talks on February 14 due to Hamas’ demand that thousands of Palestinian prisoners be released as part of the deal.[25] An Israeli official told Axios that there is some progress and that Hamas may be willing to “soften its position.”[26]

Palestinian militias conducted three indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on February 16. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fired rockets targeting an Israeli military site and Ashkelon from the northern Gaza Strip.[27] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters also fired rockets targeting Ashkelon.[28] An Israeli military correspondent reported that three rockets landed in the sea.[29] The launches demonstrate that Palestinian militias in the northern Gaza Strip retain some ability to fire rockets into Israel, despite Israeli operations.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

A Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem conducted a shooting attack in Kiryat Malachi on February 16, injuring four and killing two.[30] Israeli media reported the gunman fired at a bus stop.[31] The Mujahideen Brigades boasted that terror attacks like this one evade Israeli security. Hamas responded to the attack by repeating its previous calls for Palestinian civilians to conduct terror attacks targeting Israelis.[32] Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF found an identification card in the attacker’s vehicle and used it to identify the perpetrator.[33] Local footage showed Israeli forces engaged in clashes with unidentified Palestinian fighters in Shuafat shortly after the shooting attack.[34] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the attack north of Kiryat Malachi “reminds us that the whole country is a front and that the murderers, who come not only from Gaza, want to kill us all.”[35]

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank. The al Quds Brigades, which is the militant wing of PIJ, in Jenin fired at Israeli forces stationed at the Dotan checkpoint, south of the Israeli Mevo Dotan settlement.[36] Israeli forces arrested one wanted individual in Aqaba, east of Tubas, for shooting at Israeli forces.[37] Unidentified Palestinian fighters threw improvised explosive devices at Israeli forces around Aqaba.[38] Unidentified Palestinian fighters separately clashed with Israeli forces in Aboud.[39]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

The IDF Northern Command conducted a training exercise on February 16 to increase the combat readiness of forces stationed on Israel’s northern border.[40] The IDF 1st Golani Brigade of the 36th Armored Division and reserve forces from the 146th and 210th Divisions conducted a multi-day exercise to simulate combat on the border. Armored, infantry, engineering, and artillery units practiced camouflage techniques, open-field combat, and evacuations.

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 16. Hezbollah conducted two rocket attacks targeting IDF facilities in Ruwaisat al Alam and al Malikiyah.[41] Hezbollah targeted Israeli forces at the Zibdin and Ruwaisat al Alam barracks in Shebaa Farms, using unspecified guided munitions.[42] Hezbollah targeted Israeli forces in a fifth attack in an unspecified area of northern Israel.[43]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with the commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Allied Joint Force Command Naples Admiral Stuart Munsch to discuss NATO’s Mission Iraq (NMI) on February 16.[44] Sudani and Munsch discussed NMI’s intelligence sharing with and training Iraqi security officers as well as logistical issues for NMI following a withdrawal of international coalition forces from Iraq.[45] NMI works with Iraqi security forces in a ”non-combat advisory and capacity-building” capacity to ”prevent the return of ISIS/Daesh, fight terrorism, and stabilize their country.”[46] NMI operates in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government.[47]

Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri nominated Mohammed Jassim al Amiri on February 16 as a compromise candidate for governor of Diyala Province.[48] Mohammed Jassim al Amiri is the 28-year-old son of the president of Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court, Judge Jassim Mohammad Aboud.[49] Ameri claimed that his nomination was an attempt to break the political deadlock delaying the appointment of a governor. Provincial councils are responsible for voting a governor into office, under Iraqi law.[50] Ameri’s decision to nominate the candidate for Diyala Province is particularly noteworthy given the military and political influence the Badr Organization has historically had there.

Demonstrators blocked roads in Baqubah, Diyala Province, to protest Ameri’s nomination for provincial governor.[51] The Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Shafaq reported that demonstrators set fire to tires in the street and set up a tent on the road connecting Baqubah to Muqdadiyah and Balad Ruz. Demonstrators called for the provincial council to reinstate the former governor of Diyala Province, Muthanna al Tamimi, as governor.[52]

The Houthis likely conducted a missile attack targeting an unspecified Panama-flagged commercial vessel in the Red Sea on February 16.[53] The UK Royal Navy’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and British maritime security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel’s captain reported an explosion but that the crew and vessel were unharmed. UKMTO and the Associated Press reported that missile fire caused the explosion.[54]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) conducted preemptive strikes targeting Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) in Yemen on February 15.[55] CENTCOM struck three mobile ASCMs that the Houthis had prepared to launch against vessels in the Red Sea. CENTCOM conducted the strikes after determining that the ASCMs presented an “imminent” threat to US ships and merchant vessels in the Red Sea.

CENTCOM Deputy Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper stated that Iran directly supports the Houthis’ attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea during an interview with CBS News on February 15.[56] Cooper stated that Iranian support has been “critical” for the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping. Cooper also stated that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is “inside Yemen, and they are serving side by side with the Houthis, advising them and providing target information.” CENTCOM Commander General Michael Kurilla separately told CBS News that the IRGC has continued supplying ”advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis. . . to undermine the safety of international shipping.”[57]

Other American officials and outlets have similarly detailed the IRGC’s direct involvement in the Houthi attacks in recent months. The US deputy national security adviser stated in December 2023 that the IRGC is helping Houthi forces plan and execute drone and missile attacks targeting ships.[58] The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2023 that the IRGC intelligence gathering ship Behshad, which is stationed in the Red Sea, provides the Houthi movement with real-time intelligence, enabling them to target ships that have gone silent.[59] US outlet Semafor reported on January 15 that the IRGC Quds Force placed drone and missile operators and trainers as well as intelligence personnel on the ground in Houthi-controlled Yemen to direct attacks and provide tactical intelligence support to the Houthis.[60] The US Treasury Department sanctioned the Houthi “procurement director” on January 25 for coordinating with the IRGC to smuggle Iranian-provided drones, missiles, and other weapons components into Yemen.[61]

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.[62] The sources stated that the attacks on the pipelines required ”deep knowledge” and ”careful coordination.” The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the article. The sabotage disrupted the gas supply to several villages. Iranian officials stated there were no casualties.[63] IRGC-affiliated media reported that the explosions were a ”terrorist act of vandalism.”[64] Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji noted on February 14 that the gas pipelines are ”targets” for the United States and its allies, though he did not name Israel specifically.[65]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed Israeli operations around Rafah in a phone call with Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal bin Farhan on February 16.[66] The ministers called for an end to the Israel-Hamas war and humanitarian aid provision to the Gaza Strip.

Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) officers arrested two Jaish al Adl fighters allegedly responsible for a December 2023 attack on a police headquarters in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[67] The LEC spokesperson stated that the LEC also seized firearms and “related equipment” from the fighters. Jaish al Adl militants killed at least 11 LEC officers in a two-stage attack targeting a police station in Rask on December 15, 2023.[68] This incident is part of an uptick in anti-regime militancy in southeastern Iran since December 2023.[69]


Iran Update, February 15, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

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.[1] 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.[2] The Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, which builds Ababil and Shahed drones, is also located in Esfahan Province.[3] 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.[4]  This factory is expected to produce at least 6,000 drones in the “coming years.”[5]

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.[6] Minnikhanov has separately chaired the board of directors for the Tupolev Public Joint Stock Company since September 2021.[7] Tupolev produces strategic bombers, such as the Backfire and Blackjack bombers, for the Russian armed forces.[8] 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.”[9] Canada sanctioned Minnikhanov in April 2023 for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[10]

Minnikhanov separately met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss “economic cooperation” in Tehran on February 13.[11] 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.[12]

Some Sunni and Shia Iraqi political factions appear divided on expelling US forces from Iraq.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on February 15 that it concluded a two-week long, division-sized raid in western Gaza City.[16] Several Israeli regular units and special operations forces (SOF) advanced into Gaza City over a few hours—a short period relative to the week that it took Israeli forces to maneuver into Gaza City during the initial phase of clearing operations in November 2023.[17] Israeli forces cleared military infrastructure, located intelligence materials and weapons, and killed around 120 Palestinian fighters during the raid.[18] The IDF previously announced that Israeli forces had “dismantled” all of Hamas’ battalions in the northern Gaza Strip on January 6.  Hamas exploited Israeli withdrawals in late December 2023 to infiltrate areas where Israeli forces previously cleared and reconstitute some of its militia units.[19]

The IDF continued targeting Hamas commanders and fighters in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces killed the al Shati Battalion commander in Hamas’ Gaza Brigade on February 14.[20] The IDF 215th Artillery Brigade killed at least 15 Hamas fighters, including a security official, in Gaza City and other parts of the northern Gaza Strip on February 15.[21] The IDF is continuing to search for the Hamas Gaza Brigade commander, who is responsible for some of Hamas’ reconstitution efforts.[22] Hamas will almost certainly continue to replace commanders killed and/or detained by Israel and learn from its mistakes to better protect its leadership from future Israeli operations.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip on February 15. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, targeted an Israeli military vehicle with an unspecified explosive device in the northern Gaza Strip.[23] Palestinian militias fired mortars and rockets targeting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip, although CTP-ISW cannot confirm the point of origin.[24] The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) clashed with Palestinian fighters and directed an airstrike to kill a Hamas commander in the central Gaza Strip.[25]

Israeli SOF operated in Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 15 to locate Palestinian fighters and Hamas-held hostages.[26] Israeli forces received “credible intelligence” that Hamas-held hostages were in the hospital and that their bodies may remain on the complex grounds.[27] Hamas rejected such claims and denied that it was operating in the hospital.[28] The IDF confirmed that its forces detained several suspects inside Nasser Hospital, including three Hamas fighters who participated in the October 7, 2023, attack.[29]

Nasser Hospital is the largest functioning hospital in the Gaza Strip. The IDF briefed its forces on the importance of preventing harm to patients, medical teams, and medical equipment prior to entering the hospital complex.[30] Doctors Without Borders staff in the hospital reported on February 15 that the situation is ”chaotic” and called on Israel to stop its operations.[31] Israel assesses that Hamas has used over 85 percent of major medical facilities in the Gaza Strip for military operations.[32]

The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in several sectors of Khan Younis on February 15. The 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) raided the homes of senior Hamas officials’ family members.[33] Hamas used these homes for military purposes, according to the IDF. Israeli forces detained Palestinian fighters, who participated in the October 7, 2023, attack, including those from Hamas’ elite Nukhba unit.[34] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed on February 15 that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in the vicinity of Nasser Hospital for the second consecutive day.[35] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters launched mortars and rockets targeting an Israeli supply line east and northeast of Khan Younis.[36]

Egypt is constructing a walled “enclosure” in the Sinai Desert to address concerns that an Israeli operation into Rafah will cause a surge of Palestinian refugees into Egypt, according to Egyptian officials.[37] The enclosure is meant to accommodate over 100,000 people, but an Egyptian official said that Egypt would limit the number of refugees to below the enclosure’s capacity. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concern in recent weeks that an Israeli operation into Rafah could create a flow of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai Peninsula.[38] Egypt has added other fortifications to the border and deployed approximately 40 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to the Rafah border crossing over the past several weeks.[39] Israel has not publicly outlined a plan for how it would evacuate civilians from Rafah in the event of a military operation there.

The US Central Intelligence Agency director met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on February 15 to discuss the recent hostage negotiations, according to Israeli media and two sources familiar with the meeting.[40] Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo on February 14 after the Israeli, US, and Egyptian intelligence chiefs met with the Qatari prime minister to broker a deal for hostages’ releases and an extended pause in fighting in the Gaza Strip.[41]

PIJ fighters fired rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Ashkelon in southern Israel and the periphery of the Gaza Strip on February 14.[42] These attacks occurred after CTP-ISW's data cutoff from the previous update.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least six times across the West Bank. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades conducted three attacks targeting Israeli forces in the northern West Bank with small arms fire and explosive devices on February 14.[43] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades conducted a separate small arms attack targeting the Shaked settlement south of Jenin.[44] Unidentified Palestinian fighters targeted Israeli forces with small arms fire and threw Molotov cocktails in Arroub refugee camp and Beitunia.[45]

Hamas called for three days of demonstrations in the West Bank and abroad from February 16 to 18. Hamas in Ramallah and al Bireh called on local Palestinians to hold demonstrations on February 16 after Friday prayers in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.[46] Hamas also called for demonstrations in Arab countries on February 17 and globally on February 18.[47]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted eleven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 15.[48]

Israel conducted an airstrike on February 15 that killed a Hezbollah Radwan Unit commander and his deputy in Nabatiya, Lebanon.[49] One source “familiar with Hezbollah thinking” told Reuters that the Israeli airstrike was an “escalation” but “within [the] unwritten rules of engagement]” between Hezbollah and Israel.”[50] The IRGC Quds Force established the Radwan Unit, which is Hezbollah’s special operations forces unit focused on infiltrating Israeli territory.[51]

Israel held a military exercise to increase the national readiness to handle several scenarios in case of a “multi-arena war.”[52] The exercises included scenarios involving damage to Israel's electricity sector and threats to civilians, such as mass shootings. The IDF, Ministry of Defense, and National Emergency Authority organized the exercise, which follows an Israeli assessment of the northern Israel border with Lebanon.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed on February 15 that it conducted a drone attack targeting an unspecified “military target” in the Golan Heights.[53] CTP-ISW cannot verify this claim.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other unspecified Arab countries are restricting US military operations out of US bases in their countries, according to a Politico report citing US and other Western officials “familiar with the issue.”[54] An unidentified US official said that Arab countries, especially those “attempting a detente with Iran,” are “increasingly restricting” US self-defense strikes. Another Western official specified that the UAE is attempting to portray itself as a neutral actor between the United States and Iran to pacify domestic popular opinion. Another official added that some countries are restricting airspace and facilities for assets used in strikes targeting Iranian-backed actors in the region. An unidentified US Department of Defense official cited in the report rejected reports of tensions between the United States and UAE over these issues. Pentagon spokesperson Major General Pat Ryder separately said in a statement to Politico that the United States and US Central Command (CENTCOM) maintain “the capability. . . to defend our forces and conduct self-defense strikes at the times and places of our choosing.”

The Houthis claimed that they conducted a missile attack targeting a Barbados-flagged, Greek-owned vessel in the Gulf of Aden on February 15.[55] Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree stated that the Houthis will continue conducting such attacks in the Red Sea until Israel and Hamas reach a ceasefire agreement.[56] The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations agency separately posted that a vessel reported an explosion approximately 85 nautical miles east of Aden.[57]

The United States conducted preemptive strikes targeting Houthi missile sites and naval attack drones in Houti-controlled areas of Yemen on February 14.[58] US forces conducted four strikes against seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, three drones, and one explosive mobile unmanned surface vehicle that the Houthis were ”prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.”

CENTCOM reported on February 15 that a US Coast Guard cutter intercepted a shipment of Iranian weapons bound for Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.[59] CENTCOM said that the US Coast Guard seized medium-range ballistic missile components, explosives, one-way surface and sub-surface naval attack drone components, military-grade communication and network equipment, anti-tank guided missile launcher components, and other unspecified military equipment.[60] US and allied naval forces routinely interdict Iranian shipments to the Houthis in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.[61]

Three unspecified US officials told NBC News on February 15 that the United States recently conducted a cyberattack on the Iranian Behshad intelligence-gathering ship.[62] The US officials said that the cyberattack was part of the US response to the January 28 Iranian-backed attack that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan. The cyberattack was reportedly meant to hinder the Behshad’s ability to share targeting intelligence with the Houthis.[63]  The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2023 that the Behshad, which is stationed in the Red Sea, provides the Houthi movement with real-time intelligence, enabling them to target ships that have gone silent.[64] Western media and officials said in December 2023 that the IRGC is helping Houthi forces plan and execute the Houthi drone and missile attacks on ships.[65]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian criticized recent Israeli operations in Rafah during separate phone calls with Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha and Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmad Attaf on February 15.[66]

Iran Update, February 14, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Annika Ganzeveld, Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, Alexandra Braverman, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET 

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.[1] Mandalawi described Iraq as a “strong” country that “does not need foreign forces to protect it.”[2] 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.[3] Ejei expressed support for ending the US-led international coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] This agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[9] 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.[10]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani visited Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) headquarters in northwestern Iraq on February 12.[11] 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.[12] Sudani formed the 21st Division in February 2023 at the request of the Iraqi Defense Ministry.[13] Brig. Gen. Imad Ahmed Mohammad assumed command of this division after serving in the Directorate of Military Engineering.[14] Sudani also visited the 44th PMF Brigade (Liwa Ansar al Marjaiya) in Hatra, Ninewa Province.[15] The 44th PMF Brigade is affiliated with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, who is an influential quietist grand ayatollah based in Najaf.[16] Hamid al Yasiri commands the brigade.[17] Iraqi media reported that Sudani traveled to northwestern Iraq to demonstrate that areas where ISIS members previously infiltrated Iraq from Syria are now safe.[18] Sudani reiterated during his visit to these headquarters that Iraq has an “obligation” to end the US-led international coalition’s presence in Iraq.[19]

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].”[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Kathryn Tyson, Alexandra Braverman, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks targeting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the northern Gaza Strip on February 13. IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that the IDF would continue to operate in the northern Gaza Strip.[1] He added that the northern Gaza Strip remains “isolated” from the remainder of the Strip because the IDF does not want civilians to reenter areas where Palestinian militia fighters are continuing to operate.[2] The al Quds Brigades posted footage of the group’s previous targeting of Israeli forces in western Gaza City but did not claim new attacks.[3]

The Nahal Brigade (operating under the 162nd Division) killed at least 10 Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip, including a Palestinian anti-tank cell.[4]

Israeli forces continued operations in several areas of Khan Younis Governorate. Israeli forces concentrated on clearing western Khan Younis between January 22 and February 10.[5] Palestinian militias have resumed attacking Israeli forces in eastern, southern, and northern Khan Younis governorate after February 8. The militias focused most of their attacks in western Khan Younis between January 25 and February 8.[6]

Palestinian militias attacked Israeli forces north of Khan Younis on February 13. Hamas conducted at least four attacks on Israeli personnel and armor in the al Qarara area, north of Khan Younis on February 13, including a house-borne improvised explosive device attack targeting Israeli forces as they entered a home there.[7] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters also targeted Israeli forces with small arms in northern Khan Younis.[8]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis and clashed with Palestinian fighters there. The IDF 7th Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) raided militia infrastructure, conducted patrols, and killed over thirty Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.[9] The 35th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) killed two Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis who were hiding among civilians to disguise their movement.[10] Local Palestinian sources reported that Israeli forces advanced to the gates of the Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 13 and ordered the occupants to evacuate the grounds.[11]  

The 646th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) engaged Palestinian fighters and captured Hamas weapons caches during clearing operations in Abasan al Saghira, east of Khan Younis, during the last week.[12] The 646th Brigade evacuated thousands of civilians from a humanitarian shelter that Hamas fighters were using for refuge. The 646th Brigade detained and killed dozens of Palestinian fighters as the fighters attempted to evacuate alongside the civilians in the shelter.[13]

Palestinian fighters attempted to defend against the 646th Brigade’s operations in Abasan al Saghira. Palestinian fighters detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device that killed three Israeli soldiers, including a battalion commander, during the brigade’s operations in the town on February 13.[14] Hamas fighters also fired small arms targeting seven 646th Brigade soldiers in Abasan al Saghira on the same day.[15]

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.[16]  Unspecified Egyptian officials said the Israeli proposal plan would obligate Egypt to 15 camps in the Gaza Strip containing 375,000 tents with funding from the United States and unspecified Arab partners. The camps would contain medical clinics, and Israel would coordinate with Egypt to permit the evacuation of wounded Gazans. The Israeli and Egyptian governments did not comment on the alleged proposal. The IDF Chief of Staff stated on February 13 that Rafah contains an estimated 10,000 Hamas fighters and over a million displaced Palestinian civilians, which requires the IDF to evacuate Rafah before beginning major clearing operations in the city.[17]

Israel is also considering other plans to evacuate the population from Rafah. Israel’s public broadcaster reported that Israel is considering other plans to enable operations in Rafah by evacuating the population from Rafah to Khan Younis or by allowing some civilians to return to designated zones in the northern Gaza Strip.[18] The IDF Chief of Staff said that the IDF would not allow northern Gaza residents to return as long as militant activity persists in the northern Gaza Strip, however.[19]

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.”[20] 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.[21] An unspecified Hamas source told CNN on February 13 that the next 24 hours are critical to the ceasefire negotiations.[22] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’ previous three-stage ceasefire and hostage exchange proposal on February 7.[23] Hamas’ February 7 proposal is the last publicly acknowledged proposal. The United States, Egypt, and Qatar are continuing to mediate negotiations between Israel and Hamas.[24] 

Palestinian militias launched at least two rocket salvoes from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 13. The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement fired a rocket salvo from the Gaza Strip into a town in southern Israeli adjacent to Beit Lahia.[25] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) fired an unspecified number of rocket salvoes at unspecified Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.[26]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times across the West Bank on February 13.[27] Israeli security forces shot and captured one attacker who attempted to run over civilians with his vehicle near Gush Etzion.[28] The IDF detained 18 wanted individuals across the West Bank on February 13.[29] The IDF separately reported that Israeli security forces detained a Hamas fighter in Jenin. The IDF described the fighter as the head of ”Hamas’ military infrastructure in Jenin”.[30]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 13.[31] Hezbollah fired anti-tank guided missiles targeting Kiryat Shmona. The Hezbollah attack targeting Kiryat Shmona injured two Israeli civilians.[32]

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.[33] An unspecified French diplomat told Reuters that France delivered the proposal to Israel, the Lebanese government, and Hezbollah.[34] The proposal calls on Israel and Hezbollah to end military operations—including airstrikes and cross-border attacks—along the Israel-Lebanon border. Hezbollah would then withdraw at least six miles north of the border. The Lebanese Armed Forces would backfill Hezbollah to serve as a buffer between the border and Hezbollah forces. Israel and Lebanon would resume negotiations to demarcate the border between the two countries in the plan’s third stage. A Hezbollah official said in response that the group would not negotiate until Israel stopped military operations in the Gaza Strip.[35]

Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on the state of the Israel-Hamas war on February 13. Nasrallah said that Hezbollah will not escalate against Israel unless Israel escalates against Hezbollah.[36] He added that Hezbollah will continue its attacks into northern Israel until Israel ends its operations in the Gaza Strip.[37] Nasrallah demanded that the Lebanese government set ”new conditions” on UN Security Council 1701. Nasrallah said the government should not ”implement” 1701, which says that Hezbollah cannot deploy military forces south of the Litani River.[38]

Israeli media reported on February 13 that Lebanese Hezbollah has incorporated hundreds of Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters in Syria into Hezbollah’s Radwan Force.[39] The Radwan Force is an elite Hezbollah unit. Hezbollah has enabled Palestinian militias to conduct attacks targeting Israel from southern Lebanon since the war began.[40]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Russian Ambassador to Iraq offered condolences to the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh for the deaths of Popular Mobilization Forces members in the February 2 US airstrikes.[41] The February 2 airstrikes targeted two Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in Anbar and Babil provinces.[42]

Iranian militias transported weapons from Iraq through the unofficial and Iranian-backed militia-controlled al Sikka crossing into Syria on February 13.[43] The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia group Liwa al Tafuf facilitates the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)’s movement between Iraq and Syria and weapons shipments into Albu Kamal, Syria from Iraq.[44] The United States targeted Liwa al Tafuf and the al Sikka crossing on February 2 in response to the January 28 Iranian-backed attack in Jordan that killed three US servicemembers.[45]

Israel likely conducted a drone strike targeting an IRGC missile storage facility in al Mayadin, Deir ez Zor Province, Syria on February 13.[46] Israel has conducted a series of airstrikes during the Israel-Hamas War targeting IRGC and IRGC-affiliated military facilities, weapons warehouses, and personnel in Syria. These strikes are Israel’s response to Iranian attempts to accelerate weapons shipments to Lebanese Hezbollah through Syria.[47]

Local Syrian media reported that unspecified Iran-backed militias targeted US forces stationed at the al Omar oil field in eastern Syria on February 13.[48] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—has regularly conducted drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria since October 18, 2023, but it did not claim this attack.[49]

The IRGC fired short and medium-range ballistic missiles from a forward base ship in the Gulf of Oman toward central Iran during a military exercise on February 12.[50] The IRGC Navy and Aerospace Force launched the missiles from the Shahid Mahdavi forward base ship using a launcher disguised as a shipping container.[51] The ability to launch ballistic missiles from a containerized launcher means that Iran has the capability to hide the launcher on otherwise unassuming, civilian container ships. Iran could use these container ships as commerce raiders to attack merchant shipping and disrupt maritime traffic without a requirement for land-based launchers.[52] Iranian officials and media used this event to signal the IRGC’s ability to directly target Iran’s adversaries, including Israel.[53]

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.[54] Salehi claimed that Iran has the components it requires to make nuclear weapons and noted that these parts have non-weapons related purposes. Salehi was responding to a state television presenter’s question about Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi called for transparency from the Iranian nuclear program and expressed concern over Salehi’s remarks during the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13.[55]

An unspecified Iranian official and “two others briefed on the matter” told Western media on February 13 that the IRGC recalled its senior commanders from Syria ahead of US strikes on February 2.[56] The unspecified Iranian official told the Financial Times that Iran sought to avoid direct confrontation with the United States by recalling its commanders. The New York Times similarly reported on February 2 that Iran recalled its senior commanders from Iraq and Syria ahead of the US strikes.[57] The United States struck over 85 IRGC Quds Force and Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria on February 2 in response to the January 28 Iranian-backed attack in Jordan that killed three US servicemembers.[58]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian implied that Israel will not achieve its war time goals in a meeting with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh. Abdollahian implied the Israel will not achieve its goals, citing Hamas’ participation in “political negotiations” with Israel, the United States, Qatar, and Egypt.[59] Abdollahian claimed that the United States and Israel recognize Hamas as a “party to political negotiations“ in the war and the group‘s “irreplaceable role and position. He also ”praised” the Axis of Resistance for its “brave support” of  the Palestinian people.

Abdollahian is using his ongoing regional tour to coordinate politically with Axis of Resistance leaders, including Haniyeh. Abdollahian met with Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut on February 10.[60] He separately met with senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine officials in Beirut on the same date.

Abdollahian separately met with the Qatari prime minister and foreign affairs minister and the Qatari emir in separate meetings in Doha on February 13.[61] Abdollahian and the Qatari leaders discussed a political solution to the Israel-Hamas war in both meetings. The Qatari prime minister and foreign affairs minister stressed the necessity contain the scope of the war.[62] This marks Abdollahian’s fifth trip to Doha since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[63]

Barron’s reported that Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK)-affiliated hackers said that they conducted a cyberattack targeting the Iranian parliament’s website and the Iranian parliament-affiliated news agency.[64] The United States listed the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization between 1997 and 2012.[65] MEK claimed that it penetrated 600 Parliament-affiliated servers. The group published hundreds of pages of material that it acquired during the cyberattack on its Telegram channel.

 

Iran Update, February 12, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Annika Ganzeveld, Ashka Jhaveri, Brian Carter, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, Karolina Hird, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement stated that it reestablished contact with its “combat units” in southwestern Gaza City on February 12.[5] The militia fighters reported that they detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device targeting Israeli forces. The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran.[6] The inability of these fighters to communicate with higher headquarters indicates that their commanders may be unable to transmit orders to fighters that are engaged with Israeli forces.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in eastern Khan Younis on February 12. Most of the engagements between the IDF and Palestinian militias occurred in eastern Khan Younis. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) reported that its fighters conducted a complex ambush targeting Israeli forces in Maan, southeast of Khan Younis.[7] Hamas and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fighters reported that their fighters conducted separate attacks targeting Israeli forces east of Khan Younis.[8] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah. The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) targeting Israeli armor in a combined attack in Khan Younis.[9]

Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks in western Khan Younis on February 12 for the first time since Israeli forces “expanded” ground operations there on January 22.[10] The IDF reported on February 11 that its 84th Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) “deepened” the damage it inflicted on Hamas’ Western Khan Younis Battalion.[11]

The IDF reported on February 11 that Israeli forces have operated in the Amal Hospital in western Khan Younis in recent days.[12] The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that Israeli forces entered the hospital on February 9.[13] The IDF 84th Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) and Israeli special operations forces (SOF) detained about 20 Palestinian fighters, including some Hamas fighters hiding in the hospital.[14] The IDF said that Israeli forces searched the hospital without firing weapons and without harming medical staff or patients. The IDF briefed its forces on the importance of preventing harm to civilians "in accordance with international law” before the 84th Givati Brigade and SOF entered the building.[15] The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit under the Israeli Defense Ministry, supported the distribution of dozens of oxygen cylinders to the hospital after the operation.[16]

Israeli forces conducted an overnight raid to rescue Hamas-held hostages in Rafah on February 12.[17] An IDF armored brigade and other Israeli security services used "highly sensitive and valuable intelligence” to launch the raid.[18] Israeli SOF rescued two Hamas-held hostages and exfiltrated them from the Gaza Strip.[19] The operation marks the second time since October 7, 2023, that Israeli forces have successfully retrieved hostages from the Gaza Strip.[20] The IDF Air Force provided air support to suppress the local Hamas battalion during the raid.[21] The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that Israeli airstrikes killed approximately 100 people.[22] The US State Department spokesperson said on February 12 that the United States does not view the Israeli airstrikes in Rafah as “the launch of a full-scale offensive.”[23]

Two unspecified security officials told CNN on February 12 that Egypt has increased security along its border with the Gaza Strip as a “precautionary measure” in anticipation of an Israeli ground operation into Rafah.[24] An eyewitness told CNN that the Egyptian Army reinforced checkpoints near the Rafah crossing and prepared roads in an unspecified manner for the deployment of tanks and military equipment. Egypt has added other fortifications to the border and deployed approximately 40 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to the Rafah border crossing over the past two weeks.[25] Egypt has repeatedly expressed concern that an Israeli operation into Rafah could create a flow of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai Peninsula.[26]

Israeli media reported that the IDF plans to release a report on alleged war crimes its service members have committed during the Israel-Hamas war.[27] The IDF told Haaretz that the Israeli General Staff investigative team is working to ”examine reports and complaints of the violation of Israeli and international law in the course of the fighting.” The IDF said that the team is collecting data regarding various wartime events and that the investigation is in its initial stages.

The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement fired a rocket salvo from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 12.[28]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters two times across the West Bank on February 12.[29] The IDF killed on February 11 an unspecified fighter who attempted to stab an IDF soldier.[30] Israel police killed a separate attacker who also attempted to stab police officers.[31] The IDF detained 17 wanted individuals across the West Bank overnight on February 11.[32]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 12.[33] The IDF Air Force targeted a Hezbollah field commander, who was responsible for the Maroun al Ras region, in an airstrike near Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon.[34] The commander survived the attack.[35]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Senior Kataib Hezbollah official and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Chief of Staff Abu Fadak (Abdul Aziz) al Mohammadawi stated that the Iraqi federal government and Islamic Resistance in Iraq will “coordinate” before any retaliation for the US strike that killed a Kataib Hezbollah commander in Baghdad on February 7.[36] Abu Fadak said that the “greatest revenge” for the US strike will be the expulsion of “foreign forces” from Iraq.[37]

Abu Fadak’s remarks are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that the primary objective driving the Iranian-backed attacks on US forces is expelling these forces from the region. Iranian-backed militias are using Israeli operations as an excuse to attack US forces, when the actual objective of these attacks is to advance the long-standing Iranian effort to erode American influence in the Middle East. Iranian-backed militias have thus exploited the Israel-Hamas war to justify their attacks and partially obfuscate the core objective driving their escalation. Iran and its Axis of Resistance will almost certainly continue their decades-long effort to expel US forces from the Middle East regardless of whether there is a ceasefire agreement in the Israel-Hamas war.

The US force presence in Iraq aims to defeat ISIS at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government. CTP-ISW continue to assess that ISIS could resurge in Syria and then threaten Iraq 12 to 24 months after a US withdrawal.[38] The expulsion of US forces from Iraq would require the United States to end operations in Syria because US forces there rely on Iraqi bases for logistics and other support. The expulsion of US forces from Iraq would benefit ISIS by constraining US support to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which still faces deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, and logistics.[39]

The Iraqi Parliament discussed the removal of US-led international coalition forces from Iraq in a session on February 10. Over 100 parliamentarians called for an emergency parliamentary session following the February 7 US strike that killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander in Baghdad.[40] Acting Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi ordered the formation of a parliamentary committee to “support” the Iraqi federal government’s negotiations with the United States to end the US-led international coalition’s mission in Iraq.[41] Washington and Baghdad began talks about the status of the US-led coalition mission to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 27.[42] Mandalawi also submitted a January 2024 draft law to the Parliamentary Security and Defense and Legal Committees.[43] The draft law calls for the removal of all foreign forces from Iraq.[44] The law would also require Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani to author a report detailing how his administration would end the US presence in Iraq.[45]

Iranian-backed actors control the Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, which is reviewing this draft law. Badr Organization member Abbas Zamili heads the committee. Zamili described the US presence in Iraq as a “threat to Iraqi security” and called for accelerating the removal of US forces on February 4.[46] Mandalawi and PMF Chief of Staff Abu Fadak were with Zamili when he made these remarks.[47] The Security and Defense Committee previously announced a draft resolution in December 2023 to expel US forces from Iraq.[48]

Iranian-backed Iraqi parliamentarians accused Sunni and Kurdish factions of hampering the parliamentary efforts to expel the United States from Iraq. Parliamentarians affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al Haq, and the Badr Organization accused Sunni and Kurdish politicians of “boycotting” the February 10 parliamentary session discussing the removal of US-led international coalition forces.[49] A member of Asaib Ahl al Haq’s political wing called for Kurdistan Democratic Party Chairman Masoud Barzani and the leaders of other unspecified political blocs to be “punished for their support of the US presence in Iraq.”[50] National Progress Alliance member Nihal al Shammari denied that Sunni and Kurdish parliamentarians "boycotted” the February 10 session and claimed that only 60 members of the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—attended the session.[51] The Shia Coordination Framework controls 138 out of 329 seats in Iraq’s parliament.[52]

The Houthis launched at least two anti-ship missiles targeting a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged commercial vessel carrying Brazilian corn to Iran on February 12.[53] The Houthis claimed that they targeted an "American” ship.[54] The Greek shipping company that owns the vessel is listed publicly in the United States but is not US-owned.[55]

Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security and Law Enforcement Majid Mir Ahmadi announced on February 10 that Iranian security forces killed an Islamic State member attempting to enter Iran from Iraq.[56] Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) border guards recently arrested several unspecified individuals attempting to smuggle weapons from Iraq into Ilam Province on February 6.[57]

Unspecified individuals shot and killed two Basij members near the Zahedan-Bam railway in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on February 11.[58] The Basij is a regime-run, paramilitary organization responsible for civil defense and social control in Iran.[59] This incident is part of an uptick in anti-regime militancy in southeastern Iran since December 2023. Jaish al Adl—a Balochi, Salafi-jihadi group operating on the Iranian border with Pakistan—has conducted at least five attacks targeting Iranian security personnel since December 2023.[60] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State separately conducted a terrorist attack in Kerman Province in early January 2024, killing over 90 individuals.[61]

IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami claimed on February 12 that the IRGC Navy and Aerospace Force jointly launched a long-range ballistic missile from a warship for the first time.[62] Salami did not specify the type of missile launched or when it occurred.

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. Abdollahian discussed developments in the Gaza Strip, southern Lebanon, and the “other fronts of the Axis of Resistance” during a meeting with Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut on February 10.[63] Abdollahian also called on Palestinian militias to adopt a “unified position” on unspecified political initiatives to end the war.[64] Abdollahian made this statement on February 10 during a meeting in Beirut with Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Deputy Secretary General Jamil Mazhar.[65] Abdollahian also met with the Lebanese prime minister, foreign affairs minister, and parliament speaker during his visit to Beirut.[66] This trip marked Abdollahian’s third visit to Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began.[67]

Abdollahian criticized US efforts to create “political plans” for the post-war Gaza Strip during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus on February 11.[68] Abdollahian emphasized that Palestinians and the leaders of Palestinian militias can and should “decide the management of the post-war Gaza Strip and West Bank.”[69] Abdollahian also met with Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal Mekdad in Damascus on February 11.[70]

Abdollahian traveled to Doha on February 12, marking his fifth visit to Qatar since the Israel-Hamas war began.[71] Abdollahian could meet with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Doha. Abdollahian has previously met with Haniyeh and other Hamas officials during his recent visits to Doha.

Iran Update, February 11, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip on February 11. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) mortared Israeli military positions east of Gaza City.[1] The PFLP is a secular leftist Palestinian faction fighting with Hamas. The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement fired rockets at an Israeli military position in southeast Gaza City.[2] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) clashed with and killed Palestinian fighters targeting Israeli forces with anti-tank missiles in the central Gaza Strip.[3] Israeli aircraft targeted a weapons warehouse and Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip.[4]

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western and eastern Khan Younis on February 11. The IDF 35th Paratroopers Brigade and 89th Commando Brigade (both assigned to the 98th Division) clashed with Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.[5] The 646th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) launched a new clearing operation in eastern Khan Younis and detained approximately 60 Palestinian fighters.[6] Palestinian militias mortared Israeli forces in eastern Khan Younis.[7] The IDF 98th Division directed airstrikes targeting three weapons depots and a Palestinian militia squad in Khan Younis.[8] The commander of the 98th Division stated that Israeli forces have “dismantled and destroyed” Hamas in Khan Younis both under and above ground.[9]

The IDF reported on February 11 that its 84th Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) “deepened” the damage it inflicted on Hamas’ Western Khan Younis Battalion.[10] Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade is composed of five battalions.[11] The Givati Brigade killed about 100 Palestinian fighters in several clashes using tanks, small arms, and air support “in the last few weeks.” Israeli forces “expanded” ground operations in western Khan Younis on January 22.[12]

Hamas, Egyptian, and Houthi officials issued threats likely to dissuade the IDF from a military operation into Rafah on February 11. An unspecified senior Hamas official speaking to a Hamas-affiliated outlet said that an Israeli ground incursion into Rafah would “torpedo” hostage exchange negotiations.[13] Two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat told the Associated Press that an Israeli ground operation in Rafah would freeze the Egypt-Israel Camp David Accords peace treaty.[14] A senior Houthi official warned that the Houthi movement would intensify attacks against Israel if the IDF entered Rafah.[15] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with ABC that Israeli forces would “provide safe passage” to Gazan civilians from Rafah to unspecified, already cleared areas north of Rafah and reiterated that the IDF will enter Rafah in the near future.[16]

Palestinian fighters did not conduct any indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on February 11.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters twice across the West Bank on February 11.[17]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 11.[18]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Likely Iranian-backed militants tried to conduct a drone attack targeting US forces at Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria, on February 10.[19] US air defense systems intercepted the drones.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted self-defense strikes targeting Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) and unmanned surface vessels (USV) on February 10.[20] CENTCOM forces struck three mobile ASCMs and two USVs north of Hudaydah in Yemen. CENTCOM conducted the preemptive, self-defense strikes after determining that the ASCMs and USVs presented an “imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea.

Iran Update, February 10, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl 

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in “intense” fighting with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip on February 10.[1] Hamas fighters fired anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting Israeli forces southwest of the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.[2] Palestinian media reported on February 10 that Israeli artillery targeted areas in eastern Jabalia.[3] The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed and detained an unspecified number of Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip.[4] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters mortared Israeli forces east of Maghazi in the central Gaza Strip.[5]

The IDF published on February 10 details of a division-sized clearing operation it has been conducting for the past two weeks in western Gaza City.[6] The IDF 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) and Israeli special operations forces (SOF) killed approximately 120 Palestinian fighters and destroyed Hamas infrastructure in al Shati refugee camp and the Tal al Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City. Israeli forces located a Hamas “data center” underneath the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in addition to weapons inside the headquarters.[7] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken photos of the tunnel underneath the UNRWA headquarters on February 7.[8]

The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 10. The IDF 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division), 35th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division), and the 646th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) found large quantities of weapons and clashed with Palestinian fighters.[9] PIJ fighters returned from the areas of fighting in western Khan Younis and reported several attacks targeting Israeli forces.[10] A physician at Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis reported that Israeli tanks reached the hospital gates on February 10.[11] Associated Press reported that the IDF said that it is not currently operating inside the hospital and called the surrounding area “an active combat zone.”[12]

The IDF conducted an airstrike targeting three Hamas members, including two senior military operatives, in Rafah.[13] Western media and Palestinian sources reported that Israeli airstrikes in Rafah killed two policemen and three senior officers in the Civil Police on February 10.[14] One of those killed was Ahmed al Yaqoubi, who was ”responsible for security for senior Hamas leaders and served as a senior commander in the Rafah district.”[15] The IDF identified another member as Iman Rantisi, who was Yaqoubi’s deputy, according to Palestinian sources.[16] The IDF has targeted Hamas’ police and internal security apparatus to disrupt Hamas’ attempts to rebuild its governing authority.[17] The Civil Police and the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry's Internal Security Forces in Gaza both employ fighters from the Hamas military wing. [18]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the IDF to complete clearing operations in Rafah before Ramadan begins on March 10, according to an unidentified Israeli source.[19]

Unidentified Egyptian officials warned that Egypt would suspend the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty if Israel conducted a ground operation into Rafah.[20] The 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty limits the Egyptian military presence in the Sinai Peninsula.[21] Egypt has deployed approximately 40 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to the Rafah border crossing and added additional fortifications to the border over the past two weeks in anticipation of a potential wave of refugees from Rafah.[22] Israel approved previous Egyptian requests to surge forces into the Sinai for counterterrorism operations[23]

Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns will travel to Cairo on February 13 to discuss resuming hostage release negotiations with Egyptian officials, according to unidentified US and Israeli officials.[24]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times across the West Bank on February 10.[25]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 10.[26]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraq militias—claimed that the United States violated “the rules of engagement” when it killed senior Kataib Hezbollah member Wissam Mohammed Saber al Saedi (Abu Baqr al Saedi).[27] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq called on its supporters to take up arms against the United States and join an Iranian-backed militia. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani previously claimed that the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias agreed to pause attacks targeting US forces in exchange for a pause in US strikes.[28]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed an attack on an unspecified “vital” target near the Dead Sea on February 10.[29]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted preemptive, self-defense strikes targeting Houthi unmanned surface vessels (USV) and missiles on February 9.[30] CENTCOM forces struck two USVs, four anti-ship cruise missiles, and one land attack cruise missile in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. CENTCOM conducted the preemptive, self-defense strikes after determining that the USVs and missiles presented an “imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea.

Iran Update, February 9, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Johanna Moore, Kathryn Tyson, Amin Soltani, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Talia Tayoun, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters continued to infiltrate Gaza City on February 9, where they are attacking Israeli forces. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Mujahideen Brigades fighters conducted a combined attack that targeted a group of Israeli soldiers and vehicles near Eastern Cemetary, between eastern Jabalia and the Israel-Gaza Strip border.[1] Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—a leftist group aligned with Hamas in the current war—fired rockets and mortars targeting Israeli forces operating in Gaza City.[2] Israeli forces also directed an airstrike targeting Palestinian fighters near a Hamas military position during clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip.[3]

Palestinian fighters continued attacks targeting Israeli forces in the central Gaza Strip. Al Quds Brigades fighters launched rockets targeting Israeli vehicles in the central Gaza Strip.[4] The Al Aqsa Martyrs‘ Brigades targeted an Israeli soldier with sniper fire east of al Maghazi refugee camp.[5] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are a self-identified military wing of Fatah, a Palestinian nationalist organization.

Israeli forces continued clearing operations and targeted raids in Khan Younis on February 9. The Egoz Unit (assigned to the IDF 89th Commando Brigade) and the 35th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) seized several small arms clashes during raids on Palestinian militia “compounds” in western Khan Younis.[6] The IDF 646th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) captured tunnel shafts, explosives, and small arms.[7] The brigade also captured a rocket launch site near a kindergarten.[8]

Palestinian fighters continued attacks targeting Israeli forces in Khan Younis on February 9. PIJ and Hamas fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades and other unspecified munitions at Israeli armored vehicles advancing in an unspecified area of Khan Younis City.[9]

Palestinian fighters did not conduct any indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on February 9.

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.[10] Netanyahu said that the IDF must conduct clearing operations in Rafah to destroy Hamas. Destroying Hamas is one of Israel’s stated war aims.[11] He added that the civilian population must be evacuated from Gaza to achieve this objective. The US National Security Council spokesperson said that the White House is not aware of any "imminent“ plans for the IDF to conduct operations in Rafah. He added that “absent any full consideration of protecting civilians at [the scale of the number of people in Rafah]“ the United States would not support a Rafah operation.[12]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank on February 8 and 9.[13] Unspecified fighters conducted three attacks targeting Israeli forces in Beit Furik, Tulkarm, and Kafr Qaddum.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted nine cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 9.[14]

The commander of the IDF Northern Command said that the IDF is preparing for an “expansion of the war” in Lebanon during a meeting with northern Israeli town councils.[15] The councils represented Israeli towns that the IDF evacuated due to the threat of Lebanese Hezbollah attacks. The commander said that the IDF’s goal is to “change the security situation” to enable the return of northern Israeli residents.[16] The head of the Meta Asher town council said that he “told the commanding general that [he hopes] the political echelon will let the IDF act” against Hezbollah.[17] Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they are attempting to reach a diplomatic agreement wherein Hezbollah will withdraw north of the Litani River in Lebanon, but that Israel may need to resort to military action against Hezbollah in the absence of a diplomatic solution.[18] UNSC Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Lebanon War, stipulates that Hezbollah cannot maintain military positions south of the Litani.[19]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraqi politicians continued to call for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq in response to the February 7 US strike in Baghdad that killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander.[20] A Sadiqoun member of parliament called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad al Sudani on February 9 to take ”immediate action” to end the US presence in Iraq.[21] The Sadiqoun bloc is the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al Haq’s political arm in Iraq’s Parliament.[22] Iraqi Deputy Parliament Speaker Shawkhan Abdullah called on the UN to prevent ”military attacks” targeting Iraq during a February 9 UN session with other heads of parliament from around the world.[23] Abdullah said that the Iraqi government has the authority to take ”all legal and diplomatic measures to stop attacks and protect [Iraqi] national sovereignty.”[24] Abdullah is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party from Sulaymaniyah, a province in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan Regional Prime Minister and top KDP leader Masrour Barzani said on February 9 that the Kurdistan Region required greater US support to counter ”threats,” referencing Iran’s January 15 drone and missile attack that targeted Erbil.[25]

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.[26] Reuters reported that the Central Bank of Iraq canceled the license due to international sanctions on the bank, the bank’s losses accrued in Iraq, and its limited activities in Iraq. The US Treasury Department sanctioned Bank Melli Iran in 2018 for transferring funds to Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups via the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).[27] The Central Bank of Iraq dated this document January 31, two days after US Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson discussed US sanctions on Iraqi actors and companies with Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council President Faiq Zaidan on January 29.[28]

Two Western intelligence officials told Politico on February 8 that Iran used German financial institutions to funnel money to its regional proxy groups.[29] Politico reported Western intelligence officials notified German financial authorities that Iran used Varengold Bank AG in Hamburg, Germany, to transfer funds to Iranian proxy groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis, for an unspecified number of years. The unspecified Western intelligence officials also said that the IRGC Quds Force-linked front companies used the German bank. The IRGC Quds Force is responsible for providing financial and material support to Iranian proxy groups across the Middle East. Politico reported that the US Treasury Department had previously sanctioned the unspecified Iranian front companies for their connections to the IRGC Quds Force. The IRGC Quds Force routinely utilizes international money laundering and oil smuggling networks to financially support Iranian proxy groups.[30]

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.[31] Abdollahian arrived in Beirut on February 9 to meet with unspecified “senior Lebanese officials" and ”resistance” leaders.[32] Abdollahian will travel to Damascus, Syria, and Doha, Qatar, in the coming days.[33] Abdollahian met with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh during his last visit to Doha.[34] Abdollahian repeatedly engaged in political coordination with senior Axis of Resistance leaders during similar visits to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar between October 12 and November 3, 2023, as CTP-ISW reported.[35]

Israel likely conducted missile strikes targeting Iran-affiliated targets in southwestern Damascus, Syria, on February 9. Local Syrian sources reported that Israel targeted IRGC-affiliated positions near the Mezzeh Military Airport in southwestern Damascus.[36] Pro-Syrian Regime sources claimed that Syrian air defense systems shot down the drones.[37] A UK-based Syrian outlet claimed that the strikes targeted Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militia positions and an Iranian cargo plane that landed at the airport several hours before the strike.[38] The IDF has conducted a series of airstrikes targeting Syrian airports and other facilities in Syria to degrade Iran’s ability to move weapons to Hezbollah.[39] Hezbollah uses these weapons to support attacks into northern Israel.

Lebanese Hezbollah said on February 8 that an Israeli airstrike killed three of its fighters in Homs City, Syria, on February 7.[40] Hezbollah claimed that Israel struck a residential building in which the three fighters were planning to hold a meeting.

The United States conducted preemptive strikes targeting Houthi missile sites and naval attack drones in Yemen on February 8.[41] The United States conducted seven strikes targeting four Houthi naval attack drones and seven Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that Houthi fighters had prepared to launch at ships in the Red Sea. Houthi and other regional sources reported that US forces targeted al Jabanah, al Durayhimi, and al Kathib in Hudaydah Governorate and al Qutaynat in Saada Governorate.[42] Houthi leader Abdulmalik al Houthi said on February 8 that the US strikes will not deter the Houthis.[43] The US previously conducted strikes against Houthi missile sites in Yemen on February 7.[44]

 


Iran Update, February 8, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

Key Takeaways:

  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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters are continuing to infiltrate previously cleared areas in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Unit 414 Intelligence Battalion (assigned to the 143rd Division) directed a drone strike on February 8 targeting a Palestinian militia squad that was attempting to “transfer technological systems” to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip.[1] Unit 414 previously encountered Palestinian fighters that were attempting to establish a Hamas reconnaissance position in Beit Hanoun on February 6.[2] CTP-ISW assessed on January 22 that Hamas and other Palestinian militias are likely in the early stages of reconstituting their military capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.[3]

The IDF 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed 10 Palestinian fighters in several clashes in the northern Gaza Strip on February 8.[4] Palestinian militias, including Hamas, claimed attacks targeting Israeli forces in Gaza City using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).[5] A Palestinian activist reported clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in several neighborhoods of western Gaza City, including Sheikh Ijlin and Tal al Hawa, on February 8.[6]

The IDF 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis on February 8. The 35th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) “increased attacks” in western Khan Younis, according to the IDF.[7] Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters, raided military facilities, and located weapons, including long-range rockets. Palestinian militias have been conducting a deliberate defense against Israeli ground operations in western Khan Younis since the IDF began operating there on January 22.[8]

The IDF 35th Paratroopers Brigades (assigned to the 98th Division) and 84th Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed over 20 Palestinian fighters during attacks in Khan Younis on February 8.[9] Several militias aligned with Hamas in the war attacked Israeli forces in southern and western Khan Younis.[10] The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC) reported that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Khan Younis.[11] The PFLP-GC is a Palestinian faction based primarily in Syria.[12] The faction receives support from Iran and has cooperated with other elements of Iran’s “Axis of Resistance,” such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.[13] CTP-ISW has not previously observed the PFLP-GC attacking the IDF in the Gaza Strip since the war began.

The IDF published on February 8 footage of a conversation with a detained commander in Hamas' elite Nukhba unit.[14] The commander Muhammad Nasser Suleiman Abu Namer, who the IDF detained in Khan Younis, told Israeli Shin Bet officers that he and two other Hamas fighters “didn’t want to fight” and turned themselves over to Israeli forces approaching them in tunnels in Khan Younis. Namer urged other Palestinian fighters to surrender in the footage. Namer has been a member of Hamas since 2009.[15]

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, according to six unspecified Israeli officials.[16] A senior adviser to the Israeli government said that the idea of exiling Sinwar and other Hamas leaders has been “on the table” since November 2023, referring to the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Israeli officials have vowed to kill Sinwar and other planners of the October 7, 2023, attack.[17] Sinwar founded and led Hamas’ internal security apparatus and is responsible for the deaths of many Israelis and Palestinians in that role.[18] Israel proposed exiling Sinwar as part of several suggestions sent to the United States.[19] These suggestions included replacing Hamas with “hand-picked” civilian leaders and reforming the education system in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement fired rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting 13 locations in southern Israel, as the group commemorated the anniversary of its launch on February 8.[20] The group is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran.[21] The group announced on February 8 that Israeli airstrikes killed five of its military council members.[22] Israeli Army Radio reported that Palestinian fighters fired the rockets from the northern and central Gaza Strip.[23] The launches demonstrate that Palestinian militias in the northern and central Gaza Strip retain some ability to fire rockets into Israel, despite Israeli operations. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war, reported that its fighters fired a rocket salvo targeting a town in southern Israel bringing the total number of targeted locations on February 8 to 14.[24] Palestinian militias have not claimed responsibility for this many rocket attacks since December 4, 2023.[25]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in two locations across the West Bank on February 8.[26]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 10 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 8.[27] Hezbollah launched rockets at an IDF base on Mount Meron that hosts air traffic control, radar, surveillance, communications, and jamming facilities.[28] Hezbollah said that it conducted the rocket attack ”in retaliation” for an Israeli strike on a car in Nabatiyeh, southern Lebanon.[29] Hezbollah has previously targeted the Meron Base in response to Israeli strikes in Lebanon and not as part of its regular attack campaign along the border.[30] Hezbollah fighters also targeted the headquarters of the IDF 769th Eastern Brigade (assigned to the 91st Galilee Division) in Kiryat Shmona, seriously injuring one IDF soldier.[31]

The IDF Northern Command Commander Major General Uri Gordin visited Israeli forces in training on February 8.[32] The IDF 36th Division, which operated in the northern Gaza Strip in 2023, is part of the force training to increase ”readiness for the operational plans against the northern enemy in defense and attack.”[33] The IDF began this week a series of intensive platoon- and battalion-level training focused on combat in densely populated neighborhoods in winter conditions.[34]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

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. The United States killed on February 7 a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander who planned and participated in attacks targeting US forces in the region.[35] The Iraqi Parliament announced that it will convene on February 10 to discuss “attacks on Iraqi sovereignty.”[36] An Iranian-backed Badr Organization member stated that Parliament will meet to draft a law requiring the Iraqi federal government to implement the January 2020 non-binding parliamentary resolution to expel “all foreign forces” from Iraq “by the end of next June.”[37] It is unclear whether this parliamentarian was referring to June 2024 or 2025. The Iraqi Parliament passed this resolution after the United States killed IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. Acting Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi recently expressed support for implementing the January 2020 non-binding resolution on February 4.[38] Mandalawi is affiliated with the Shia Coordination Framework, which is a coalition of prominent Iraqi Shia parties, including some closely tied to Iran. Another Badr Organization member stated that Mandalawi agreed to put a January 2024 draft law to remove “all foreign troops” from Iraq on Parliament’s agenda[39] This draft law differs from the January 2020 resolution in that it requires Prime Minister Sudani to author a report detailing how his administration would end the US presence in Iraq.[40]

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors also criticized how the Sudani administration is approaching negotiations with the United States over this issue. The United States and Iraqi federal government announced in late January 2024 the beginning of “working group meetings” to evaluate the status of the US-led Global Coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS.[41] The next such meeting will take place on February 11.[42] Politico previously reported that senior Iraqi advisors to Sudani told the US State Department that Sudani does not seek the expulsion of US forces.[43] The head of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc stated that negotiating with the United States after its February 7 strike “will represent an insult to Iraq.”[44] A former commander of Kataib Hezbollah similarly described negotiations with the United States as “shameful and flawed.”[45]

Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are trying to rally Iraqi citizens against the United States. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba released a statement on February 8 calling on the Iraqi people to help the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and “men of resistance” confront the United States.[46] Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada similarly called on Iraqis to “join” and “rally around” Iraqi militias that are “resisting” the United States on February 8.[47] These militia calls follow a large demonstration against the United States in front of the US Embassy in Baghdad immediately after the US strike that killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander on January 7.[48]

An American analyst provided new details about the senior Kataib Hezbollah official, named Wissam Mohammad Saber al Saedi (Abu Baqr al Saedi), whom the United States killed in a precision strike in Baghdad on February 7.[49] Saedi headed the PMF Central Security Directorate in Rusafa and suppressed protesters during the popular Tishreen protest movement that began in October 2019.[50] The Tishreen movement erupted in response to high unemployment, poor government service provision, and rampant corruption within the government.[51] 600 protesters died during the first six months of the protests.[52]

Saedi was involved in the February 2022 Alwiya Waad al Haq (the Righteous Promise Brigades) attacks targeting “vital facilities” in the United Arab Emirates.[53] Alwiya Waad al Haq threatened to attack US forces in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.[54] CTP-ISW previously assessed that this group was likely a front for Kataib Hezbollah.[55]

Saedi was additionally involved in Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria.[56] An Axis of Resistance-affiliated Iraqi Telegram channel claimed on February 7 that Saedi conducted “relief work” in Syria following the February 2023 earthquake.[57] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Iran and its proxy and partner militias exploited the February 2023 earthquake to move advanced weaponry and military equipment into Syria.[58]

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander said on February 8 that unspecified US officials told the SDF that US forces would not withdraw from Syria.[59] SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi said that a US withdrawal from Iraq could cause a US withdrawal from Syria.[60] The United States and Iraqi federal government announced on January 25 that they will soon start negotiations to discuss Iraq’s current security arrangement with US-led coalition forces.[61] These negotiations could precipitate the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and, in turn, a scaling back of US forces in Syria.[62] The US force presence in Syria relies on US logistical networks in Iraq. A US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria would likely create space for ISIS to quickly resurge, as CTP-ISW has assessed.[63]

An unspecified Iraqi militia group conducted a drone strike targeting US forces at the al Omar oil field in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria, on February 8, according to regional and local Syrian outlets.[64]

The United States conducted self-defense strikes targeting Houthi missile sites in Yemen on February 7.[65] US forces struck two Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles and a land attack cruise missile. US CENTCOM said that the Houthi missiles were prepared to launch and posed an ”imminent” threat to US ships and merchant vessels in the Red Sea. Houthi and other regional sources reported that US forces targeted missile sites in al Salif and Ras Issa in Hudaydah Governorate and al Qutaynat in Sadaa Governorate.[66] Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul Salem said that the strikes will not deter the Houthis from conducting further attacks.[67]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei discussed the Israel-Hamas war in a meeting with Iranian regime officials and representatives from other Muslim countries on February 7.[68] Khamenei claimed that the war illustrates that the current world order is “invalid and unsustainable and will disappear.” Khamenei claimed that the withdrawal of pro-Western forces “from this issue” is the solution to the war. Khamenei reiterated his months-long call for all countries to sever economic and political relations with Israel.

Iran Update, February 7, 2024

click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Alexandra Braverman, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

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.[1]  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.[2] Local Iraqi media reported that the US airstrike hit a vehicle and killed three of its occupants in Mashtal, eastern Baghdad.[3] Two Kataib Hezbollah commanders, Wissam Mohammed Saber al Saadi and Arkan Aleaoui, were in the vehicle.[4] The Associated Press cited ”two officials with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq” who claimed that Saadi oversaw KH operations in Syria.[5] An Iraqi journalist identified Aleaoui as a KH field commander.[6]  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.[7]

Iraqis demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Baghdad following Iranian-backed social media calls to storm the embassy on social media.[8]  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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] Microsoft assessed that Iran’s operations immediately after October 7 were “hasty and chaotic,” but that these efforts have “achieved growing success.”[12] 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.[13] Microsoft said that the “hasty and chaotic” operations targeting Israel shifted to an “all hands on attack threat environment” in late October.[14] It reported that the cyberattacks were increasingly “destructive” and Iran began employing “networks of social media ‘sockpuppet’ accounts.”[15] Microsoft also said that Iran gradually expanded its operation to target countries other than Israel, including Albania, Bahrain, and the United States.[16] 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.”[17] This AI-enabled operation targeted audiences in Canada, the UAE, and the United Kingdom.[18]

Israel rejected a Hamas three-stage proposal for a ceasefire on February 7.[19] 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.[20] The January 31 Paris proposal did not include an end to the war.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on February 7 that the IDF would prepare to operate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.[24] Israeli officials have said repeatedly that the IDF will clear Rafah.[25] Netanyahu’s announcement follows weeks of talks between Israel and Egypt discussing an Israeli operation into Rafah.[26] The Israel-Hamas war has displaced over 50 percent of the Gaza Strip’s two million residents to Rafah.[27] Egypt is concerned that an Israeli military operation in Rafah could force displaced Gazans to flee into the Sinai Peninsula.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters continued to infiltrate western Gaza City, where they are attacking Israeli forces. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi met with division commanders in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6.[33]  Halevi said that Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip are killing Palestinian fighters, commanders, and destroying infrastructure. Palestinian militias claimed most of their attacks in the Gaza Strip on February 7 in western Gaza City.[34] The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) launched one-way attack drones targeting Israeli forces western Gaza City in one such attack.[35] A Palestinian activist reported clashes between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces in several neighborhoods of western Gaza City, including al Shati Camp, Sheikh Ijlin, and Tal al Hawa.[36]

Israeli media reported on February 7 that Israeli forces located a large Hamas underground tunnel underneath a UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) headquarters in Rimal neighborhood, Gaza City.[37]

The IDF 98th Division located two interconnected tunnel complexes in Khan Younis that Hamas used to hold hostages.[38] The IDF reported that senior Hamas officials used the complex before Hamas repurposed it to hold hostages. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the tunnels and found a cell for holding hostages. The tunnel system is under central Khan Younis City. The IDF estimates that Hamas invested millions of shekels into its construction.

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis on February 7. The 35th Paratroopers Brigade and the 89th Commando Brigade (both assigned to the 98th Division) clashed with Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis and raided military infrastructure.[39] The IDF reported that the 646th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) redeployed to Khan Younis after the brigade conducted clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip.[40] Hamas and several Palestinian militias allied with Hamas attempted to disrupt Israeli operations in Khan Younis.[41] The militia fighters targeted Israeli forces with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), thermobaric rockets, and unspecified explosive devices.[42]

Saudi Arabia told the United States that it will not normalize relations with Israel “unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized.”[43] The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry called on permanent members of the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state ”on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.“ US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on January 10 that normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel is still possible.[44]

The IDF published details of a law that would increase the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve in the military.[45] The law will increase the age at which reservists become exempt from reserve duty.  The IDF will also call upon reservists more frequently and increase regular service to three years. Israeli Army Radio reported on February 7 that due to ”the war and the large number of casualties...the number of combat forces in the IDF“ declined.[46] The IDF published on January 15 that 188 Israeli troops have died in the ground offensive and that 1,113 IDF soldiers have sustained injuries.[47]

Palestinian militias did not conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 7.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in 10 locations across the West Bank on February 7.[48] Israeli forces conducted raids in the Noor Shams and Jenin refugee camps.[49] The IDF detained 21 wanted individuals across the West Bank.[50]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 7.[51]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Jordanian Armed Forces clashed with Iranian-backed drug smugglers on the Jordan-Syria border on February 7.[52] Western media reported that the Jordanian armed forces killed three of the smugglers.[53] Local Syrian media said that the smugglers belonged to Lebanese Hezbollah.[54]

This clash is part of increasing Jordanian operations against smuggling networks in southwestern Syria. Jordanian forces have clashed with Iranian-backed smugglers along the Jordan-Syria border three other times since December 2023, including once on February 5.[55] The Jordanian Royal Air Force has also struck Iranian-backed drug smugglers three times since December 2023. Western media reported in January that Western and Jordanian officials said that Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups are driving the increase in drug smuggling into Jordan.[56] The Syrian regime, Lebanese Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed militias mass produce Captagon in Syria and smuggle it through Jordan to the Gulf Arab states. This smuggling and distribution cartel generates billions of dollars in revenue for Iran and its Axis of Resistance.[57]

Raisi administration officials held several meetings with Sudanese Armed Forces-affiliated Foreign Affairs Minister Ali al Sadiq Ali to discuss Israel and bilateral relations. Ali claimed that Israel is driving the continuation of the Sudanese civil war in retaliation for Sudan’s support of the Palestinian people in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian.[58] Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said that isolating Israel is one of Iran’s ”basic policies” and added that he supported the establishment of a strong government in Sudan.[59] Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian separately expressed his desire to resume full diplomatic relations between Sudan and Iran.[60] Iran and Sudan maintained a strong relationship from the 1980s until the mid-2010s, when Sudan began improving its relationship with Saudi Arabia.[61]

Iran likely seeks to increase economic investment in Sudan to generate revenue for the Iranian economy, including by selling Sudan combat drones. Western media reported on January 24 that Iran had supplied the Sudanese Armed Forces with combat drones.[62] French media previously reported on January 23, 2023 that Iran had likely supplied Sudan with Mohajer-6 drones as early as 2019.[63] The IRGC and regime-affiliated outlets have repeatedly encouraged increased investment in Africa to obtain gold payments that Iran can use to evade sanctions.[64] Iranian economic investment in Africa has increased during the Raisi administration.[65] CTP-ISW previously assessed in June 2023 that Iran’s increased economic investment in Africa is part of the Raisi’s effort to generate revenue through economic trade with non-Western countries.[66]

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a meeting with Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul Amir al Shammari on February 7.[67] Vahidi thanked the Iraqi government for supporting the Palestinian people. Vahidi said that Iraq ”took good positions” in the United Nations Security Council by condemning the February 2 US strikes that targeted Iranian-backed militia positions in Iraq and Syria.[68]

Iranian media reported that Iranian security forces arrested several unspecified individuals across Iran for espionage and terrorism “directed by a center in Azerbaijan.” Iranian media reported that the suspects were planning to conduct “sabotage operations” in Iran.[69] The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on February 2 that it identified ”a significant number of [Israeli] spies and terrorists” working in Iran.[70] Iran frequently arrests individuals in Iran‘s East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan provinces that it accuses of spying for Israel.[71]

An Artesh-controlled social media account warned that Iran would respond to any “terrorist action” targeting IRGC spy ship Behshad in the Red Sea.[72] The Behshad assists Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by providing the Houthis with real time intelligence on ships operating in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.[73] The Behshad held a position near the Dahlak archipelago in the Red Sea prior to entering the Gulf of Aden on January 11.[74] An online shipping tracker reported that Houthi attacks targeting ships in the Gulf of Aden increased after January 11.[75] The Behshad is currently anchored off the coast of Djibouti City.[76] Iran claims that the Behshad is participating in a counterpiracy mission in the Red Sea.[77] AP noted that Iran has not publicly participated in any recent operations countering Somali piracy.[78]


Iran Update, February 6, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Andie Parry, Kathryn Tyson, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

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.[1] 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.[2] Hamas cells have continued attacks in the northern Gaza Strip after the IDF withdrew most of its forces on December 31.[3] 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.[4] These cells remain capable of reorganizing into an embryonic military structure.[5] The Hamas Gaza City Brigade commander will continue to support this reorganization.[6]

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.[7] Beginning on October 22, Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conducted 33 attacks targeting US forces in Iraq without triggering a US response inside Iraq.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters are continuing to infiltrate previously cleared areas of the northern Gaza Strip. CTP-ISW assessed on February 3 that Palestinian fighters infiltrated southwestern Gaza City.[13]

The IDF said that Hamas is attempting to restore its “intelligence collection” capacity in the northern Gaza Strip, likely to aid its attacks on Israeli forces and reestablish control over the local population. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Unit 414 Intelligence Battalion (assigned to the 143rd Division) directed airstrikes targeting four Palestinian fighters in Beit Hanoun who attempted to establish a Hamas reconnaissance position in the area.[14]  Palestinian militants last conducted attacks from Beit Hanoun on January 25.[15]

Palestinian militias have conducted several combined attacks in the areas that they have infiltrated in the northern Gaza Strip since mid-January.[16] This trend indicates several militias have infiltrated into the previously cleared zones and that they are closely collaborating against Israeli forces. The Palestinian militias arrayed against the IDF in the Gaza Strip organized themselves into a “Joint Operations Room" in 2018 to fight the IDF.[17] This force is led by Hamas' military wing.

Palestinian fighters are using more sophisticated weapons to attack Israeli forces in the areas Palestinian militias have infiltrated in the northern Gaza Strip. PIJ fighters detonated an explosively-formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an Israeli military vehicle in western Gaza City, where the 162nd Division launched a new, division-size clearing operation last week.[18] Local Palestinian journalists reported that Israeli forces pulled a “charred” military vehicle from the attack site, corroborating PIJ’s attack claim.[19]

Elements of the IDF 143rd Division directed an airstrike targeting a PIJ fighter in the Deir al Balah area on February 6.[20] The IDF said that the PIJ fighter participated in the attack in Nir Oz on October 7.[21] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade said separately that an Israeli airstrike killed one of its senior commanders in Deir al Balah between February 3 and 4.[22] Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks on Israeli forces in the central Gaza Strip on February 6.

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 6. The IDF said that the IDF 98th Division killed “dozens” of Palestinian fighters and detained over 80 others on February 5 and 6 in western Khan Younis, including fighters that the IDF suspects participated in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.[23] The Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed over 15 fighters in multiple engagements with Palestinian militias in the same area.[24] The IDF 646th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) killed a Palestinian fighter hiding in a building in western Khan Younis.[25] The IDF 646th Brigade and the Egoz Unit located small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and EFPs during raids in the area.[26]

Palestinian militias continued to attempt to defend against Israeli clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 6. Hamas’ military wing detonated EFPs and fired thermobaric and anti-tank rockets at IDF forces in several areas of western Khan Younis.[27] PIJ’s military wing fired rocket-propelled grenades at Israeli armor and fired small arms targeting Israeli forces in western Khan Younis.[28] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades also detonated EFPs and fired anti-tank weapons and small arms at Israeli forces in the same area.[29]

The Qatari prime minister said during a press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 6 that Qatar had received a "positive response" from Hamas on the framework of a hostage exchange agreement.[30] Blinken said that the United States is reviewing Hamas’ response to the deal and that he will discuss Hamas’ response with Israeli officials during his visit to Israel on February 7. Hamas said on February 6 that the group dealt with the proposal with a “positive spirit,” including by reiterating Hamas’ demands for a "comprehensive and complete ceasefire.”[31] Netanyahu said on January 21 that Israel will not accept a comprehensive ceasefire, which has been an obstacle for several weeks during the negotiations.[32] The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office released a statement acknowledging that it received Hamas’ response.[33]

IDF published captured Hamas documents showing that Iran supplied Hamas and Yahya Sinwar with millions of dollars of operational funding. Israeli forces found six years of financial documents outlining 150 million dollars of funding to Hamas and Sinwar.[34] The IDF also uncovered about 5.5 million dollars in cash during the raid.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters eight times across the West Bank.[35] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Jenin, Tulkarm, and Beit Ummar detonated improvised explosive devices and fired small arms targeting Israeli forces during Israeli raids in the West Bank.[36] The IDF said unidentified Palestinian fighters shot at an Israeli settlement in Merav, east of Jenin.[37]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted ten attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 6.[38] Hezbollah claimed nine of the attacks.[39]

Iranian-backed militias fired one rocket salvo into the Golan Heights from southwestern Syria on February 5.[40]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting Eilat, Israel, on February 5.[41] CTP-ISW cannot verify this claim.

The Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Border Guards arrested several unspecified individuals attempting to smuggle weapons from Iraq into Ilam Province, Iran on February 6.[42] The LEC Border Guards commander said that the LEC identified and arrested the smugglers with support from the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry and unspecified Iraqi forces. Iranian security forces interdicted anti-regime Kurdish separatist weapon shipments from Iraq into Kurdistan Province and Ilam Province, Iran in September 2023.[43] Iranian officials have long expressed concerns that Israel and anti-regime Kurdish militant groups are using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate operations targeting Iran.[44] Iranian forces conducted airstrikes into Iraqi Kurdistan in March, September, October, and November 2022 and in January 2024 in response to these perceived threats.[45]

The LEC arrested several likely Salafi-Jihadi insurgents throughout southeastern Iran on February 5 and 6. LEC officers arrested one suspected ISIS fighter and one suspected Ansar ul Furqan fighter in two separate incidents in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[46] Ansar ul Furqan is a Balochi Salafi-jihadi group linked to al Qaeda.[47] LEC officers arrested one individual suspected of killing a senior LEC officer in Fars Province.[48] Balochi Salafi-jihadi militant group Jaish al Adl has conducted at least five attacks targeting Iranian security personnel since December 2023, including one assassination targeting an LEC officer.[49] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State separately detonated two suicide vests in Kerman Province on January 3, killing over 90 individuals.[50]

Houthi fighters targeted two merchant vessels in the Red Sea with anti-ship missiles on February 6.[51] Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea claimed that Houthi fighters successfully hit the Greek-owned and Marshall Islands-flagged Star Nasia and the UK-owned Morning Tide merchant vessels.[52] An unidentified Greek official said that the attack damaged the Star Nasia but that the attack did not harm any crewmembers.[53] The Morning Tide’s owners reported that a separate attack caused an explosion near the Morning Tide, but that the explosion did not damage the ship.[54] Sarea falsely claimed that the Star Nasia was US-owned.[55] Houthi supreme leader Abdulmalik al Houthi alleged that the United States is attempting to camouflage its vessels by operating its ships under different flags.[56]  Sarea stated that the Houthis will continue attacks on US and UK targets in the Red Sea in response to US and UK strikes.[57] He also said the Houthis will continue attacks targeting Israeli vessels and vessels en route to Israel.[58] 

US Central Command (CENTCOM) conducted two self-defense strikes targeting Houthi one-way naval surface attack drones in Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory.[59] CENTCOM said that the drones presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.[60]  

Iran Update, February 5, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Annika Ganzeveld, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

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.[1] 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.[2] The Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee announced in December 2023 a draft resolution in December 2023 that would expel US forces from Iraq.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] Fayyadh said that targeting the Popular Mobilization Forces was a “red line” and that US strikes will not go “unnoticed.”[8] Key Iranian proxy Hadi Ameri and the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Shia parties—called for the expulsion of US forces immediately.[9] 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.[10] The PMF contains many Iranian proxy groups. The US strikes targeted two such groups on February 2.[11]

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad on February 5.[12] The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson stated on January 29 that Ahmadian would discuss border security and terrorism with Iraqi officials.[13] 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.[14] The March 2023 agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[15] 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.[16] Iran claims frequently that anti-regime Kurdish groups and Israel use Iraqi Kurdistan to conduct operations in Iran.[17]

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.[18] 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.

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 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) 162nd Division launched a new, division-size clearing operation in central and northern Gaza City in the past week.[20] The IDF withdrew a large number of forces from the northern Gaza Strip on December 31 after months of fighting there.[21] CTP-ISW assessed on February 3 that Palestinian fighters infiltrated southwestern Gaza City.[22] The IDF 162nd Division commander said on February 5 that the Nahal Brigade and 401st Brigade began conducting new clearing operations to reduce Hamas fighters and infrastructure in al Shati camp and Rimal neighborhood in western Gaza City. An Israeli Army Radio correspondent said on February 4 that the 162nd Division’s operation aims to target Hamas underground infrastructure over two weeks.[23] Palestinian militias continued attacks targeting IDF forces during these operations in western Gaza City.[24]

An Israeli Army Radio correspondent said that Palestinian fighters are hiding among civilians in humanitarian shelters to evade capture and facilitate infiltration in the northern Gaza Strip.[25] The IDF is evacuating the entire population from the shelters in the northern Strip to find and detain the fighters.[26] The correspondent said that the IDF captured over 70 ”high-level” Hamas and PIJ fighters over the last week using this method.[27] The IDF estimates there are 200,000 Gazans in the northern strip, mostly concentrated within humanitarian shelters.[28] The IDF is continuing to search for Hamas Gaza City Brigade commander Izz al Din al Hadad, who has evaded capture and is responsible for Hamas’ reconstitution efforts in the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF.[29] Hadad’s capture would slow but not stop Hamas’ reconstitution and infiltration in the Gaza City area.

The IDF is conducting operations in the northern Gaza Strip to disrupt Hamas' attempts to reconstitute its governing authority.[30] Israeli operations are targeting Hamas’ police and internal security apparatus.[31] The Civil Police and the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry‘s Internal Security Forces in Gaza both employ fighters from the Hamas military wing.[32] An Israeli Army Radio correspondent estimated that half of Hamas’ police officers are also fighters in the group’s military wing, the al Qassem Brigades.[33]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stressed on February 5 that establishing a political alternative to Hamas is crucial to the success of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.[34] Gallant’s statement about establishing a civil alternative echoes the four-pronged security and governance plan he articulated for the Gaza Strip on January 4.[35] The lack of a suitable political alternative has enabled Hamas to begin rebuilding its governance system in the northern Gaza Strip as it infiltrates into areas where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations.[36]

Israeli forces and Palestinian militias clashed three times in the central Gaza Strip. The al Quds Brigades claimed mortar attacks on Israeli infantry and armor east of Maghazi and east of Deir al Balah.[37] Israeli forces struck a five-man Hamas cell operating near Israeli forces in the Central Gaza Strip.[38]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 5. The 646th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) cleared militia sites, captured weapons, killed at least 10 Palestinian fighters, and directed airstrikes targeting Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis.[39] The Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) cleared Hamas infrastructure and killed dozens of Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.[40]

Palestinian militias continued to attempt to defend against Israeli operations in the Khan Younis. Militia groups claimed 11 attacks on Israeli forces in Khan Younis on February 5.[41] Hamas’ militant wing conducted a complex attack on Israeli armor using improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades in the al Amal area in Khan Younis.[42] Hamas and PIJ’s militant wings conducted a combined attack on an Israeli tank in the same area of western Khan Younis.[43]

The IDF is increasing its focus on degrading Hamas and PIJ rocket capabilities. The IDF concentrated on other tactical objectives during earlier phases of the ground operation. An Israeli Army Radio correspondent said that the IDF estimates Hamas has about 1,000 rockets left in its arsenal.[44] These rockets are mostly in small, relatively simple underground launch silos, which enable Hamas and its allies to disguise and protect their rocket infrastructure. Hamas fighters launched a rocket salvo targeting Tel Aviv from disguised, buried launch silos only 20 to 30 meters from Israeli troops, which illustrates the challenges involved in detecting and destroying similar sites.[45] Unspecified senior IDF officials told the correspondent that it will take up to two years to completely wipe out Hamas’ rocket launch capability in the Gaza Strip.[46] The IDF also added that a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) cell operating in Zaytoun, southern Gaza City, is responsible for most rocket attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.[47]

Palestinian militias did not conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on February 5.

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.[48] The IDF said on February 2 that the 99th Division’s operations in the central Gaza Strip aim to prevent Hamas fighters from infiltrating Gaza City from the southern Gaza Strip.[49] Gallant did not specify a timeline for the operation, nor did he address where the Gazan civilians sheltering in Rafah would be moved during an operation in Rafah. An unspecified senior Israeli official said on February 4 that Israel would work with Egypt to evacuate Gazans northward before any ground offensive begins in Rafah.[50]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for impeding hostage negotiations by making demands Israel “will not agree to.”[51] Netanyahu said that defeating Hamas will take “months, not years” in a Likud party meeting on February 5.[52] Netanyahu reiterated that Israel seeks to completely defeat Hamas and that the IDF will need to operate in all areas of the Gaza Strip to defeat Hamas. Israel’s public broadcaster reported on January 31 that Hamas was demanding the release of all elite Nukhba unit fighters currently held in Israeli jails.[53] The Nukhba unit is an elite Hamas unit that participated in the October 7 attack on Israel. Egyptian officials reported that Hamas political leadership demanded the release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners, including two top Palestinian leaders.[54]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades battalions in Nablus, Tulkarm, and Tubas attacked Israeli forces during Israeli raids in the West Bank on February 5.[55] The IDF said that it conducted raids in Nablus, Hebron, and Tulkarm arresting 33 “wanted persons.”[56] Unspecified Palestinian militia fighters fired small arms targeting Israeli forces in Hebron on February 5.[57]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 5.[58] Hezbollah claimed four attacks.[59]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada announced on February 4 that it will continue conducting attacks targeting US forces.[60] Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah announced on January 30 that it suspended its “military and security operations” targeting US forces.[61] Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement followed a visit by IRGC-QF commander Esmail Qaani in the wake of the January 28 attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan.[62] Western media reported that Kataib Hezbollah, which is part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, launched the one-way drone attack from western Iraq.[63] The Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada spokesperson stated on February 4 that the February 2 US airstrikes on IRGC Quds Force and Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria will not deter Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada’s “resistance operations” targeting US forces.[64] The United States conducted the airstrikes on February 2 in response to the January 28 attack. Several other Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, including Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, also announced between January 31 and February 2 that they will continue attacking US forces.[65]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a drone attack that killed six US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) members at the al Omar oil field in eastern Syria on February 4.[66] The SDF said that “Iran-backed militias” targeted a training ground at al Omar, killing the SDF members.[67] US forces are stationed at al Omar but the attack did not injure any.[68] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack on a backup Telegram channel that it created in October 2023. The group started using the backup on February 2.[69]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed separate drone attacks targeting US forces at Harir Airbase in Erbil Province, Iraq, and Rumaylan Landing Zone in Syria on February 3.[70] CTP-ISW previously reported that IRGC-controlled and local Syrian media claimed that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted these attacks.[71] Three ”security sources” told Reuters on February 3 that there was no attack targeting the al Harir airbase.[72] US Department of Defense Press Secretary Major General Patrick Ryder confirmed on February 5 that there have been two attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East since February 2. Ryder did not specify where the attacks occurred and stated that no US forces were injured in the attacks.[73]

Unspecified gunmen shot and killed senior Asaib Ahl al Haq official Naji al Kaabi (Abu Ali) in Maysan Province on February 4.[74] Kaabi was responsible for Asaib Ahl al Haq relations in Maysan Province.[75] The deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces 43rd Brigade blamed Kaabi’s death on “unruly militias.”[76] The 43rd Brigade is part of Asaib Ahl al Haq, an Iranian-backed militia.

Followers of Iraqi nationalist Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr may have assassinated Kaabi. Sadr’s followers, known as Sadrists, have significant influence in Maysan, which is a Sadrist stronghold. Sadrist militiamen have previously assassinated local Asaib Ahl al Haq-affiliated officials.[77] Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali issued a de-escalatory statement calling on Asaib Ahl al Haq members to avoid actions “contrary to Sharia, the law, or tribal customs” following Kaabi’s death.[78] This suggests that Khazali is attempting to avoid an outright confrontation with other groups in the province.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev on February 5, likely to discuss the recent US strikes targeting IRGC Quds Force and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia targets in Iraq.[79] The United States conducted strikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in Anbar Province and Jurf al Sakhr, Babil Province, on February 2 in response to the January 28 drone attack that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan.[80] Iraqi state media reported that Sudani and Kutrashev discussed “efforts to prevent further escalation” in the region.[81] Kutrashev emphasized Russia’s support for “stability and security” in Iraq.[82] Russian state media has not published an official readout of the meeting at the time of writing. Kutrashev has held a series of meetings with senior Iraqi officials, including Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh, Iraqi President Abdul Latif al Rashid, and Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Ammar al Hakim, since January 23.[83] Kutrashev told Russian media on January 25 that Russia seeks to expand its “presence” in Iraq and “invest additional resources in areas related to security.”[84]

Sudani also met with Chinese Ambassador to Iraq Cui Wei on February 5.[85] Sudani and Cui Wei discussed Sino-Iraqi economic cooperation, including Chinese companies’ participation in the Development Road project. Iraq launched the Development Road project in March 2023 to connect the Grand Faw Port in southern Iraq to Turkey by road and rail.[86] Sudani said that major powers should help end the Israel-Hamas War.

A pro-Syrian Arab Army source reported that the Jordanian Army fired anti-aircraft guns across the Syria-Jordan border targeting an agricultural area near Daraa City.[87] The source did not specify what the Jordanian Army targeted. The Jordanian military has conducted three airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed drug-smuggling networks in southwestern Syria since December 2023.[88] Jordanian forces have also clashed with Iranian-backed drug smugglers along the border twice since December 2023.[89]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) conducted preemptive strikes targeting four Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles and a land-attack cruise missile on February 4.[90] CENTCOM said that the missiles were “an imminent threat to US Navy ships” and commercial shipping in the Red Sea-Gulf of Aden region.[91]

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani and Deputy Commander Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh attended the funeral of an IRGC Quds Force officer on February 4.[92] Anti-Iranian regime media reported that an Israeli airstrike in Syria killed IRGC Quds Force officer Saeid Alidadi on February 2.[93] Alidadi served as an IRGC Quds Force military “advisor” in Syria.[94] Iran uses the title of ”advisor” to describe IRGC Quds Force operatives deployed to Syria in support of the Bashar al Assad regime since 2011.[95] Iran did not announce his rank.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei criticized unspecified Islamic countries for continuing economic relations with Israel during a gathering with Artesh Air Force and Air Defense Force commanders and servicemembers on February 5.[96] Khamenei stated that Muslim nations must deliver a ”decisive blow” to Israel by cutting off economic relations. Khamenei criticized unspecified Islamic countries for providing economic aid and “weapons” to Israel. Khamenei also called on Islamic states to cut economic and political ties with Israel prior to the Israel-Hamas war.[97]

Iran Update, February 4, 2024

click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Annika Ganzeveld, and Alexandra Braverman

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

CTP-ISW will publish abbreviated updates on February 3 and 4, 2024. Detailed coverage will resume Monday, February 5, 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3] 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.”[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.”[7] 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.”[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] He added that a deal is not imminent.
  • Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the 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.[11] CTP-ISW assessed on February 3 that Palestinian fighters infiltrated southwestern Gaza City.[12] Hamas and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist militia aligned with Hamas in the current war, claimed four separate attacks targeting Israeli forces in al Sinaa on February 4.[13] Hamas fighters also targeted Israeli armor with rocket-propelled grenades in the al Sabra area, southwest of Gaza City.[14] The 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed seven Hamas fighters in the northern Gaza Strip.[15]

Palestinian fighters targeted Israeli infantry and armor with small arms fire and RPGs in Khan Younis City on February 4.[16]

Israeli forces have “intensified” fighting in al Amal area of western Khan Younis in recent days.[17] The IDF said al Amal neighborhood is a Hamas stronghold.[18] The 35th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) raided Hamas military infrastructure in the neighborhood.[19]

The Givati Brigade raided the main headquarters of Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade in the southern Gaza Strip on February 4.[20] The IDF said that Hamas used the facility to train fighters for the October 7 attacks and to military direct operations.[21] Mohammad Sinwar, the commander of the Khan Younis Brigade and brother of Hamas political leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar, had a main office in the compound.[22] Israeli forces also raided a ”combat management” building in western Khan Younis used by a senior Khan Younis commander on February 4.[23] The forces killed Palestinian fighters and captured weapons warehouses and weapons manufacturing equipment in the raid.[24]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias eight times across the West Bank on February 4.[25] Israeli forces detained four wanted individuals and confiscated weapons in overnight raids across the West Bank on February 4.[26]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted at least eight attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 4.[27]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

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.[28] The targets included “multiple underground storage facilities, command and control, missile systems, UAV storage and operations sites, radars, and helicopters.”[29] US Central Command said that the strikes targeted facilities used by the Houthis to attack international shipping and US Navy ships in the region.[30] Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea claimed that the United States and the United Kingdom conducted 48 strikes and warned that the strikes will not go “without response and punishment.”[31]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) conducted preemptive strikes targeting seven Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles prepared to launch toward ships in the Red Sea on February 3.[32] CENTCOM determined in both instances that the cruise missile presented an “imminent threat” to commercial vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea.

IRGC-controlled media claimed on February 3 that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian backed Iraqi militias—conducted two rocket attacks targeting US forces at Conoco Mission Support Site in northeastern Syria.[33] CTP-ISW cannot verify these claims. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq did not claim responsibility for either of the attacks on its Telegram account.

Iran Update, February 2, 2024

Brian Carter, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Kathryn Tyson

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

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.[1] Two unspecified US officials also told the New York Times that the United States conducted unspecified cyber attacks targeting Iran on February 2.[2]

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that the strikes hit the 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.[3] 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.[4] Liwa al Tufuf has facilitated Iranian supply lines through al Qaim border crossing with Syria.[5] 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.[6]

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).[7] The PMF’s leader, Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh, has operated alongside IRGC Quds Force operatives to implement Iranian directives in Iraq.[8] The Popular Mobilization Commission is technically responsible for ensuring that the militias that make up the PMF answer to the Iraqi government.[9] 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).[10] 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.[11]

Iran, its partners in Iraq, and the Iraqi government falsely claimed that the strikes were violations of Iraqi sovereignty.[12] Western media outlets reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah launched the attack from Rutba, Anbar province, western Iraq.[13] 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.[14]
  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters continued their efforts aimed at disrupting Israeli operations in the northern Gaza Strip on February 3.[15] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah, fired small arms and mortars targeting Israeli forces in central and western Gaza City.[16] The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist militia aligned with Hamas in the current war, targeted Israeli forces in western Gaza City.[17] Hamas fighters mortared Israeli forces in the al Jamia area, in southwestern Gaza City.[18]

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.[19]

Palestinian fighters targeted Israeli forces with small arms fire and mortar rounds in Khan Younis City on February 3.[20]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 3.[21] Israeli forces raided a building used by Palestinian fighters and captured weapons and tunnel shafts inside.[22]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias seven times across the West Bank on February 3.[23] Israeli forces detained seven wanted individuals and confiscated weapons in the West Bank on February 3.[24]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 3.[25]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

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.[26] CENTCOM conducted the preemptive self-defense strikes after determining that the drones presented an “imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships.

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.[27] IRGC-controlled media claimed that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces at al Harir Airbase, Erbil Province and Ain al Assad Airbase, Anbar Province, Iraq.[28] Three “security sources” told Reuters that there was no attack targeting the al Harir airbase.[29] IRGC-controlled and local Syrian media also claimed that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces stationed at the al Tanf garrison, Homs Province, and Rumaylan Landing Zone, Hasakah Province, Syria.[30] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq did not claim either of the attacks in Iraq and Syria on its Telegram account.

 

Iran Update, February 2, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Brian Carter, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, and Nicholas Carl 

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.[1] The strike involved “numerous aircraft to include long-range bombers flown from [the] United States” using “more than 125 precision munitions.”[2] The strikes targeted operations and intelligence centers, rockets, missiles, drone storage facilities, and “logistics and munition supply chain facilities” of the IRGC and Iranian-backed militia groups.[3] 

US President Joe Biden called these strikes the beginning of the US response to the January 28 Iranian-backed attack in Jordan that killed three US servicemembers but vowed that the response will “continue at times and places of our choosing.”[4] US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that the strikes are the “start of the response” and that Biden has already “directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on US and Coalition forces.[5]

Iranian-backed Iraqi militias said that they will continue attacks targeting US forces until US forces are expelled from Iraq. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba Secretary General Akram al Kaabi said on February 2 that Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba will continue attacks targeting US forces until they are removed from Iraq and until Israel stops operations in the Gaza Strip.[6] He also said that he respected Kataib Hezbollah’s decision to pause its attacks targeting US forces and ”looked forward“ to Kataib Hezbollah resuming attacks targeting US forces. The IRGC Quds Force supports Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba.[7] Ashab al Kahf, a militia close to Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, announced on February 1 that it would continue attacks until US forces left Iraq.[8] The group claimed that Iraqi militias make their own ”independent decisions,” which is a reference to Kataib Hezbollah’s decision to pause attacks targeting US forces.[9]

Western media reported on February 1 that unspecified elements in the Iranian regime are concerned by Iranian-backed militia attacks against US forces.[10] This framing inaccurately assumes the regime is a monolith rather than a government comprised of multiple political factions with a relatively diverse set of foreign policy views. Western media suggested that some Iranian authorities are concerned that the combined Iranian and Houthi attack campaign targeting international shipping could adversely affect the economic interests of Iranian partners, such as China and India.[11] This notion is unsurprising given the relatively diverse stances across the Iranian political establishment. The reports do not, however, indicate conclusively that the senior Iranian leadership responsible for national security policy and the Iran-led regional escalation are reconsidering their current approach. Prominent Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have celebrated the attacks on commercial vessels in recent weeks.[12]

Western media also reported on February 1 that US intelligence officials assess that Iran does not exercise full control over the proxy and partner militia groups that are attacking US service members in the Middle East.[13] This assessment is consistent with how Iran has led and influenced its so-called ”Axis of Resistance” for decades. Tehran has long provided financial, military, and political support to like-minded actors across the region in exchange for some degree of control and influence over their activities.[14] Iran uses its proxy and partner militias, in part, to obfuscate Iranian responsibility for their actions. Iran has demonstrated on many occasions the ability to stop militia attacks on US positions, however, which highlights that Iran can restrain its militias in Iraq and Syria.[15]

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the 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. Hamas’ military wing claimed two attacks targeting Israeli forces operating in the area.[16] The IDF conducted an airstrike targeting the Gazan Interior Ministry on January 31.[17] Hamas controls the Gazan Interior Ministry. The ministry’s Internal Security Forces are comprised of Hamas al Majd operatives who target supposed “collaborators” with the Israeli state.[18] Turkish state-controlled media reported that the Internal Security Forces continued to operate in the northern Gaza Strip during Israeli ground operations.[19] The al Majd has continued to warn Gazans against accidentally engaging with Israeli security officials and issued periodic reminders about operational security during the ground operation.[20]

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.[21] The IDF 99th and 162nd Divisions continued to conduct clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip on February 2.[22] The IDF 646th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the IDF 99th Division) captured a Palestinian militia rocket manufacturing facility in Nuseirat on February 2.[23] The IDF also said that the 179th Armored Brigade (assigned to the IDF 99th Division) killed “hundreds” of Hamas fighters.[24]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reported that the IDF has “dismantled” Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade and that the IDF will “continue to Rafah.”[25] Gallant did not explain how the IDF would conduct an operation into Rafah. The war displaced over 50 percent of Gaza’s population of two million to Rafah.[26] CTP-ISW assesses that the IDF has degraded but neither defeated nor destroyed Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade. Other Palestinian militias also support Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas operates as the leader of a 12-militia coalition defending against the Israeli ground operation.[27]

Hamas and its partner militias continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 2. Hamas claimed two attacks targeting Israeli forces in western Khan Younis.[28] Both Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the self-affiliated military wing of Fatah, mortared Israeli forces in western Khan Younis.[29] PIJ also fired a thermobaric rocket at Israeli forces in western Khan Younis.[30]

The IDF continued clearing operations in Khan Younis on February 2. The 89th Commando Brigade, 35th Paratrooper Brigade, and the 84th Givati Brigade (all assigned to the IDF 98th Division) continued operations aimed at destroying Hamas’ military infrastructure.[31] An IDF special operations forces (SOF) unit also raided a mosque that Hamas had repurposed as a military position.[32] The SOF unit discovered small arms, communication devices, explosives, and a tunnel entrance.[33] This is notable, given Hamas’ repeated claims that it does not use civilian infrastructure for military operations.

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.[34] The deal was not fundamentally different from any of the preceding three-stage deals.[35] The Wall Street Journal reported on February 1 that Israel and Hamas were considering a three-part agreement for a six-week ceasefire. The deal included a six-week ceasefire and resumption of aid in the Gaza Strip, which would be followed by Hamas releasing female Israeli soldiers. Hamas would release male Israeli soldiers and the bodies of dead hostages in the final phase of the deal. Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh rejected the deal because it did not include “a complete end to [the Israeli operation],” and a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.[36] This has been Hamas’ long-held negotiating position after the collapse of the pause in fighting in early December.[37]

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that Hamas seeks to release “thousands of Palestinian prisoners,” including top Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader Ahmed Saadat.[38] Hamas’ ability to secure the release of these two leaders would help it cement its role as the leader of the Palestinian factions by demonstrating its laurels as a leader of the alliance of Palestinian militias prosecuting the war.

PIJ and the PFLP claimed a combined indirect fire attack targeting an IDF base near Tel Aviv on February 2.[39]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there 

The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Jenin on February 2.[40] Israeli forces arrested 15 individuals across the West Bank on February 2.[41]

Hamas’ military wing in Jenin called on supporters in the Middle East and Europe to send money to support the group in a Telegram post.[42]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 2.[43] 

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Grossi told Western media on February 1 that Iran has slowed its production rate of 60 percent enriched uranium.[44] The New York Times noted that it is not clear when exactly Iran began to slow its production rate of highly enriched uranium (HEU).

The United States and the E3 (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) confirmed in a joint statement on December 28 that Iran had increased its enrichment rate of highly enriched uranium.[45] Iran decreased its enrichment rate and highly enriched uranium stockpile after it reached an informal nuclear agreement with the United States in August 2023.[46] Iran has no use for 60 percent HEU other than for use in a compact nuclear explosive or to further enrich it to 90 percent weapons-grade uranium.

The IDF Air Force likely conducted airstrikes targeting an IRGC weapons storage facility and the IRGC military headquarters at Sayyida Zeinab, Syria on February 1.[47] IRGC-controlled media reported that the IDF Air Force strikes killed an IRGC military adviser.[48] Since early December 2023, Israel has targeted IRGC Quds Force weapons shipments and personnel responsible for supplying Lebanese Hezbollah through Syria.[49] Israeli media said on December 29 that Israel’s strikes are responding to Iranian efforts to accelerate the supply of military equipment to Lebanese Hezbollah. Lebanese Hezbollah is using the Iranian-provided equipment to support attacks into northern Israel.[50]

The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security also announced on February 2 that it identified Israeli military facilities and personnel in 28 unspecified countries.[51]

The Houthis launched one surface-to-surface missile targeting Eilat, Israel on February 2.[52] Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea claimed that the attack was part of the Houthi movement’s "moral and humanitarian duties” to support Palestinians in Gaza.[53] Israel’s Arrow air defense system intercepted the surface-to-surface missile over the Red Sea.[54]

 


Iran Update, February 1, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Kathryn Tyson, Annika Ganzeveld, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, Alexandra Braverman, Brian Carter, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

Key Takeaways:

  • 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."

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to operate in the northern Gaza Strip. The commander of the IDF Southern Command met with division commanders and IDF personnel in the northern Gaza Strip on February 1.[1] He said that the IDF can operate and attack Palestinian fighters in "the heart of” Gaza City despite the IDF’s withdrawal. 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.[2] The IDF 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) raided unspecified Hamas-affiliated military buildings and killed fighters in the northern Gaza Strip on February 1.[3]

Palestinian militias, including Hamas, attempted to disrupt Israeli raids in Gaza City on February 1. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters claimed that they fired a thermobaric rocket targeting Israeli infantry inside a building in western Gaza City.[4] Hamas published footage that showed its fighters firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting Israeli forces in Tal al Hawa in southwestern Gaza City and Sheikh Radwan in northwestern Gaza City.[5] Hamas claimed two attacks targeting Israeli forces in Sheikh Radwan on February 1.[6] CTP-ISW previously reported on January 16 that Palestinian militias had renewed attacks in Sheikh Radwan during January.[7]

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip on February 1.[8] Israeli forces directed an airstrike targeting a Palestinian militia cell in an unspecified location in the central Strip. Hamas fighters fired RPGs at Israeli armor in Bureij and Maghazi.[9] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah and aligned with Hamas in the current war, also clashed with Israeli forces east of Bureij.[10]

The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 1. The IDF 35th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the IDF 98th Division) killed fighters in western Khan Younis City in “close-range incidents.”[11] The 98th Division destroyed a long-range rocket launcher in western Khan Younis.[12]

Palestinian militias continued to attempt to defend against Israeli operations in the southern Gaza Strip. Hamas’ military wing fired a thermobaric rocket and a tandem rocket targeting Israeli forces in western Khan Younis City.[13] The military wing of PIJ engaged Israeli forces in small arms clashes southwest and west of Khan Younis.[14] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades clashed with and mortared Israeli forces in separate engagements in Khan Younis.[15]

Israel told Egypt that it would not operate in Rafah until it allowed civilians to evacuate the area. 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.[16] Egypt has expressed concern that an operation could create a flow of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai Peninsula.[17] Unspecified sources familiar with the details of the negotiations told an Israeli Army Radio correspondent on February 1 that Egypt and Israel are “on the way to finding solutions [to the issues over Rafah and Philadelphi].” The correspondent added that Israel has not decided where it will evacuate the civilian population.[18] The correspondent reported that in the Israeli-Egyptian agreement over the Philadelphi Corridor, Israel will have “some influence” along the border but there will not be a permanent Israeli force presence.[19] The Philadelphi Corridor is a 14-kilometer-long strip of land between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. An unspecified Arab Gulf country will finance the construction of an underground wall to prevent smuggling via tunnels if Egypt agrees to the plan.[20]

The IDF’s Home Front Command eased restrictions on civilian activities in southern Israel on February 1.[21] IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said that Israel will allow educational activities in schools near “protected” areas in the Gaza Envelope. The Gaza Envelope describes populated areas in southern Israel that are within seven kilometers of the Israel-Gaza border. Hagari also said that the IDF is allowing gatherings of 100 people in open-air settings and 300 in indoor settings in the envelope. Hagari said that gathering size limits are lower in some areas, including Kissufim and Nahal Oz. Palestinian militias have repeatedly targeted some of these areas, including Kissufim and Nahal Oz, with rocket and mortar fire in January.[22]

Palestinian militias conducted two indirect fire attacks into southern Israel on February 1. The military wing of PIJ fired mortars targeting Israeli forces in Kissufim.[23] The Mujahideen Brigades fired rockets at an Israeli military base and ”airstrip“ in Reim.[24] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces clashed in four locations across the West Bank on February 1.[25] The Tubas Battalion of Hamas and the Tubas Battalion of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades conducted multiple attacks on Israeli forces during an Israeli raid in Tubas.[26]

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.[27] The US State Department sanctioned four Israeli West Bank settlers after the executive order went into effect.[28] The order also allows the United States to sanction individuals who direct, order, or fail to enforce policies that lead to acts of violence against Palestinian civilians.[29] Axios reported that the Biden “administration had considered including ultranationalist Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich on the list of sanctioned individuals, but it ultimately decided to leave them off for now and focus on those who perpetrated attacks.”[30]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on February 1.[31]

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.[32] Israeli media reported separately that local residents will not return until mid-2024.[33]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack targeting the port of Haifa, Israel on February 1.[34] CTP-ISW has not observed any evidence that this attack took place. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq later deleted the claim on its Telegram channel after posting the claim.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Committee Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh discussed security and counterterrorism cooperation with Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev in Baghdad on February 1.[35] Fayyadh and Kutrashev discussed “exchanging experiences” between the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Russia. The PMF is an Iraqi security service that contains several Iranian-backed Shia militias. Kutrashev told Russian media on January 25 that Russia seeks to expand its “presence” in Iraq and “invest additional resources in areas related to security.”[36] Kutrashev met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif al Rashid and Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Ammar al Hakim on January 23 and 31, respectively.[37]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein discussed the “repercussions” of the January 28 attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan in a phone call with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan on February 1.[38] Western media previously reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah conducted the one-way drone attack targeting US forces in Jordan.[39] The Iraqi federal government condemned the attack and called for an end to “the cycle of violence” on January 29.[40] Hussein and Farhan emphasized the need for continued cooperation and communication between Baghdad and Riyadh to prevent an “all-out war” in the Middle East and to safeguard the security of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.[41]

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. Kirby said that the United States does not take Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement that it will suspend its attacks targeting US forces “at face value,” and added that Kataib Hezbollah is not the only Iranian-backed militia attacking US forces.[42] Kataib Hezbollah suspended attacks on US forces on January 30 following the January 28 attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan.[43] Western media previously reported that Kataib Hezbollah launched the January 28 one-way drone attack from southwestern Iraq.[44] Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement also followed Iraqi media reports that IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani traveled to Baghdad on January 29 to “stop [the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias'] military escalation” against US forces.[45]

Kirby’s statement is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Iran and Kataib Hezbollah are conducting an information operation to distance Iran from the January 28 attack.[46] Iranian officials denied Iran's involvement in the attack and Kataib Hezbollah claimed in its January 30 announcement that Iran opposes “pressure and escalation” against US forces in Iraq and Syria.[47]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said that it conducted strikes targeting a Houthi drone ground control station and 10 one-way attack drones on January 31.[48]  A senior US defense official in Bahrain told a CBS reporter that F-18 aircraft struck the targets in western Yemen as the Houthis prepared to launch the drones.[49] Local Yemeni sources reported the strikes hit Hudaydah city.[50]

CENTCOM said that it intercepted two Houthi attacks on international shipping on February 1.[51] US forces shot down one drone over the Gulf of Aden. US forces also destroyed a Houthi one-way attack naval surface drone maneuvering towards international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. CENTCOM said that the naval surface drone “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the area.”[52] The Houthis first used a naval surface drone during the Israel-Hamas war to attack international shipping lanes on January 4.[53]

The Houthi movement claimed that it fired anti-ship ballistic missiles at the Liberian flagged, Bermuda-owned KOI cargo ship in the Red Sea on January 31.[54] CENTCOM said that it monitored two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired toward the KOI in the Red Sea on February 1.[55] CTP-ISW cannot confirm whether the Houthis conducted more than one attack on the KOI. The Houthis claimed that the KOI was bound for an Israeli port.[56] Marine Traffic, a maritime analytics provider, reported that the KOI is bound for Djibouti in eastern Africa, not Israel.[57]

The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the group targeted an unspecified British commercial vessel with anti-ship missiles in the Red Sea on February 1.[58] The spokesperson did not name the vessel or clarify when the attack occurred. He said that the attack was in retaliation for US-UK strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen. He also claimed that the vessel was headed to an Israeli port.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the West Bank, the Israel-Hamas war, Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, and other unspecified regional developments with the Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal bin Farhan by phone on January 31.[59] The Saudi Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the two officials discussed the latest developments in the Gaza Strip, focusing on security and humanitarian concerns. The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry reported that the two ministers discussed ending the war and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. It added that they discussed restoring peace in the region. Abdollahian invited Farhan to visit Iran in the future, according to the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry.

CBS News reported on February 1 that the United States will conduct multiple strikes targeting Iranian personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria over the coming days, according to unspecified US officials.[60] CBS News reported that the strikes will be in retaliation for the January 28 Iran-backed militia drone attack targeting US forces in Jordan, which killed three US servicemembers and injured at least 30 others.[61]

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.”[62] Local Syrian media also claimed on January 31 that the IRGC withdrew a senior officer from Syria.[63] Reuters caveated that the Iranian commanders would continue to remotely oversee Iranian efforts inside Syria with support from Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq. This caveat illustrates that Iran remains committed to its long-term project in Syria, even if it has temporarily recalled some of its officers to prevent further losses.[64] Israel already conducted a series of strikes in December 2023 and January 2024 that killed multiple senior IRGC officers in Syria.[65]

The Iranian interior minister discussed the Israel-Hamas war with the Saudi ambassador to Iran in a meeting in Tehran on January 30.[66] The Iranian minister called the situation in the Gaza Strip “the most important issue of the Islamic world,” before also highlighting the importance of distributing humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip. The Saudi ambassador said that the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are on the “natural and correct path,“ according to the Iranian readout. The Iranian interior minister previously served as Iranian defense minister and Quds Force commander. The Saudi Foreign Ministry did not publish a readout.


Iran Update, January 31, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Johanna Moore, Kathryn Tyson, Annika Ganzeveld, Peter Mills, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET 

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in western and southwestern Gaza City. Palestinian fighters likely infiltrated these areas during January.
  • Political Negotiations: An unspecified senior Hamas official told Reuters on January 30 that mediators provided a ceasefire proposal of unspecified length to Hamas.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias six times in the West Bank on January 31.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that northern Israel may lose power in the event of a wider war with Lebanon during a meeting with the heads of local municipalities in northern Israel.
  • Iraq and Syria: An “informed source” told Iraqi media that IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani traveled to Baghdad on January 29 to “stop [the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias'] military escalation” against US forces.
  • Iran: Iranian officials are attempting to deter a US response to the January 28 attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan. Iranian officials warned on January 30 and 31 that Iran would respond “decisively” to any US retaliation targeting Iran.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in western and southwestern Gaza City. Palestinian fighters likely infiltrated these areas during January. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 5th Infantry Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) killed an unspecified number of Palestinian fighters on the outskirts of al Shati camp.[1] The IDF resumed operations in al Shati camp on January 29.[2] The 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed at least 16 Hamas fighters in the northern Gaza Strip during operations on January 31.[3] Israeli forces raided a school in the northern Gaza Strip, detaining ten Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters. The IDF also destroyed five rockets during the raid that Palestinian fighters had prepared to launch.[4] A local Palestinian journalist also reported that Israeli tanks have taken up positions in several areas in western Gaza City.[5]

Hamas and PIJ fighters attempted to defend against Israeli raids in the Tel al Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City.[6] CTP-ISW previously reported that Palestinian militias infiltrated some areas in southwestern Gaza City, including Tel al Hawa, on or before January 19.[7] Hamas published footage on January 31 that shows Hamas rocket teams firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting Israeli tanks.[8] The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist militia aligned with Hamas in the current war, mortared Israeli vehicles in Tel al Hawa.[9] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement clashed with Israeli infantrymen in western Gaza City.[10] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the current war.

Israeli airstrikes struck the Hamas-run Interior Ministry’s headquarters in Gaza City on January 31. Local residents and Hamas-affiliated media reported the incident, according to Reuters.[11] Hamas appointed the current undersecretary of the interior ministry in 2021 and a founder of the al Qassem Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, previously served as Hamas-run interior minister between 2009 and 2014.[12] The ministry’s undersecretary in Gaza now functions as the de facto minister for the Gaza Strip. Hamas has been attempting to rebuild its governance system in the northern Gaza Strip as it infiltrates into areas where Israeli forces operated previously.[13] There is currently no functioning civil apparatus in the northern Gaza Strip, which enables Hamas-backed governing structures to reemerge in some areas. Hamas’ return to providing services undermines Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas.

The IDF withdrew the 5th Infantry Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) from the northern Gaza Strip.[14] The 646th Reserve Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) is the only reserve brigade still operating in the Gaza Strip. The withdrawal of the 5th Infantry Brigade is consistent with the Israeli third phase of operations, which reportedly includes the release of reservists and a transition to targeted raids.[15]

Israeli forces engaged Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip on January 31. The IDF Nahal Brigade clashed with armed Palestinian fighters in unspecified areas of the central Gaza Strip.[16] PIJ’s military wing said that it targeted Israeli forces east of Bureij with mortar and rocket attacks.[17]

The IDF 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations focused on western Khan Younis on January 31. The 7th Brigade Combat Team (assigned to the 36th Division) raided a PIJ munitions manufacturing facility in western Khan Younis.[18] The IDF destroyed manufacturing equipment, weapons, and tunnels in the facility.[19] The IDF said that the raid “damaged” PIJ’s ability to “produce rockets for a significant period of time.”[20] IDF 35th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the IDF 98th Division) and other units in the 98th Division directed airstrikes targeting Palestinian fighter cells in western Khan Younis.[21] The IDF 414th Reconnaissance Battalion and elements of the 143rd Gaza Division also directed strikes targeting Hamas fighters in Khan Younis.[22] The 414th Reconnaissance Battalion previously operated in Bureij in the central Gaza Strip.[23]

Palestinian militias continued to attempt to defend against Israeli forces in western Khan Younis. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and the military wings of Hamas and PIJ conducted at least 9 attacks on Israeli forces in western and southern Khan Younis using mortars, rockets, anti-tank RPGs, and small arms.[24] PIJ’s military wing fired mortars and rockets at Israeli forces operating in eastern Khan Younis.[25] The group also detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli armor in Jurat al Aqqad in western Khan Younis.[26]

Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip have been implementing a plan to flood Hamas’ tunnel system with seawater.[27] Israeli officials have been sharing information with foreign media about the operation for months.[28] Israel only recently allowed journalists to report details of the flooding plan. The IDF said that the flooding operation is one of many methods for destroying Hamas’ tunnels. Israel previously informed the United States in early November that it was considering flooding the tunnels and in December the Wall Street Journal reported that the IDF began flooding the tunnels.[29]

An Israeli Army Radio correspondent cited unspecified Israeli security sources that reported on January 31 that the IDF has only destroyed a few kilometers of the tunnel system. The sources added that the IDF is experiencing issues achieving sufficient water pressure to flood tunnels further inland.[30] The sources admitted that they did not have a “decisive solution” to deal with tunnels in Gaza prior to the war.[31] The New York Times reported on January 16 that the IDF now believes that there are more tunnels underneath the Gaza Strip than the IDF previously believed.[32]

The IDF declared the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt a closed military zone on January 31.[33] The decision follows protesters attempting to block humanitarian aid convoys destined for the Gaza Strip from crossing for inspection.[34] The IDF created a closed military zone at Kerem Shalom crossing on January 28 amid similar demonstrations.[35]

An unspecified senior Hamas official told Reuters on January 30 that mediators provided a ceasefire proposal of unspecified length to Hamas. The deal involves a three-stage truce, during which Hamas would release the remaining civilians held hostage in the Gaza Strip, then soldiers, and finally the bodies of killed hostages.[36] Hamas is still considering the proposal. Israeli security cabinet Minister Miri Regev said that the Israeli government would likely approve the deal despite opposition from far-right ministers.[37] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on January 30 that he would not release “thousands” of Palestinian prisoners or remove Israeli forces from Gaza until achieving total victory, however.[38]

Israel’s public broadcaster reported that Hamas demanded for Israel release all elite Nukhba unit fighters as part of hostage negotiations.[39] Hamas has not made this claim publicly but has repeatedly raised it with negotiators, according to the public broadcaster.[40] The Nukhba units are Hamas’ special operations forces that participated in Hamas‘ October 7th attacks.[41] These forces also form the nucleus of Hamas’ military capabilities.[42] The release of Nukhba fighters would permit Hamas to more rapidly reconstitute by providing it with hardened, elite combat veterans that could train new recruits.

The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement conducted two rocket attacks into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on January 31.[43] The group fired one salvo at Reim military base and one salvo at Beer Sheva. The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas.[44] The group has expressed close ties with Iran.[45]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias six times in the West Bank on January 31.[46] Israeli forces detained 14 wanted individuals and confiscated weapons across the West Bank.[47]

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told IDF commanders on January 31 that the IDF will not allow Palestinian militia fighters to use hospitals in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Lebanon as shelter.[48] Halevi made this remark after an IDF raid in the West Bank on January 30 in which Israeli forces killed three Palestinian militia fighters inside a hospital. Israel said that the fighters were planning an attack on Israeli citizens.[49]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted ten cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 31.[50]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that northern Israel may lose power in the event of a wider war with Lebanon during a meeting with the heads of local municipalities in northern Israel.[51] Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about the threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel.[52] Gallant said on January 4 that Israel prefers a diplomatic solution to Hezbollah’s attacks targeting northern Israel, but he added that there is a "short window of time” to find a diplomatic solution.[53]

Israeli media reported that the IDF withdrew soldiers from Israeli towns on the northern Israeli border with Lebanon on January 31.[54] Unspecified officials told Israeli media that the move is intended to prevent damage to homes in northern Israel near areas where IDF soldiers are located.[55] Hezbollah targets Israeli military positions in northern Israel daily.

The Israeli Air Force struck Syrian military infrastructure in Daraa city, southern Syria on January 31 following an attack from Syria into the Golan Heights on January 30.[56] Syrian opposition media reported that the strike injured Syrian Military Security head Louay al Ali and two other officials in the local Military Security branch.[57] Ali previously served as the head of military intelligence in Daraa.[58]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Houthi movement targeted at least one US vessel in the Red Sea on January 30 and 31.[59] CENTCOM reported that the USS Gravely shot down a Houthi anti-ship cruise missile in the Red Sea on January 30.[60] CNN reported that the Houthi cruise missile came within a mile of the Gravely before the Gravely intercepted the missile.[61] This is the closest a Houthi missile has come to a US warship.[62] The USS Carney separately intercepted several Houthi drones and an anti-ship ballistic missile on January 31.[63] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the group fired multiple unspecified anti-ship missiles that hit an ”American commercial ship” on January 31 after the US airstrikes in Saada.[64] US officials reported that the Houthis did not hit any US warships or commercial vessels on January 31.[65]

US aircraft destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile in Saada, Yemen, on January 31 that was ready-to-fire and “presented an imminent threat to US aircraft.”[66]

An “informed source” told Iraqi media that IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani traveled to Baghdad on January 29 to “stop [the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias'] military escalation” against US forces.[67] Ghaani’s visit to Baghdad followed the January 28 one-way drone attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan.[68] Western media previously reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah launched the drone from western Iraq.[69] Ghaani met with militia leaders from the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that includes Kataib Hezbollah.[70] Ghaani asked the militia leaders to “calm the security situation.” Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement on January 30 that it suspended its “military and security operations” against US forces notably came after Ghaani’s reported visit.[71]

A member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq said that it will continue attacks targeting US and “Israeli forces” in Iraq after other militias suspended their attacks.[72] The group, Faylaq al Waad al Sadiq (The Truthful Promise Corps), has unconfirmed ties to Iranian-backed Iraqi militias Asaib Ahl al Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba. Faylaq al Waad al Sadiq proclaims adherence to Wilayat al Faqih, which is the founding principle of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[73] Wilayat al Faqih refers to a governing system in which a supreme clerical leader provides guardianship over the state. Faylaq al Waad al Sadiq previously condemned the Islamic Resistance of Iraq’s December 8 attack that targeted the US Embassy in Baghdad on the grounds that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq should only target military forces that “threaten the security of Iraq.”[74]

The US Treasury Department’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson met with senior Iraqi officials on January 28 and 29 to discuss illicit financial activity in the Iraqi financial system.[75] Nelson met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani, Central Bank of Iraq chief Ali al Allaq, Chief Justice of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council Faiq Zaidan, and Transport Minister Razzaq Muhaibis, Trade Bank of Iraq Chairman Bilal al Hamdani, and representatives from privately owned banks in Baghdad.[76] CTP-ISW previously reported that Nelson and Zaidan may have discussed the US Treasury Department‘s decision to sanction Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad for aiding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and its militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.[77] An unidentified senior US Treasury official cited by Reuters claimed that the United States “expects” the Iraqi government to “identify and disrupt” Iranian-backed financial networks in Iraq that support Iranian-backed Iraqi militias.[78]

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enhancement Network issued a notice that isolated the al Huda Bank from the US financial system, citing a “primary money laundering concern.” The Treasury Department said that Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias used the bank to launder funds.[79] The Office of Foreign Assets Control also imposed sanctions on the al Huda Bank CEO.[80]

Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Ammar al Hakim met with Russian Ambassador Elbrus Kutrashev on January 31.[81] Hakim’s office reported that Hakim and Kutrashev discussed strengthening bilateral relations between Iraq and Russia and domestic Iraqi politics, including ongoing provincial council appointments. Hakim and Kutrashev also discussed establishing a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and post-war reconstruction efforts in Gaza.

Iranian officials are attempting to deter a US response to the January 28 attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan. Iranian officials warned on January 30 and 31 that Iran will respond “decisively” to any US retaliation targeting Iran. Western media previously reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah conducted the one-way drone attack targeting US forces in Jordan.[82] Multiple US officials, including US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, said that the United States may use a “tiered approach” involving “multiple” operations and targets to respond to the attack.[83] IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami warned on January 31 that Iran will respond to any US “threat.”[84] Multiple Iranian officials, including Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, warned that Iran will respond to “attacks” and “threats” targeting Iran “decisively” and “immediately.”[85] Iranian officials often use fiery rhetoric like this during periods of heightened tension with the United States.

The Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for security and law enforcement discussed Iranian training to support the Syrian security forces in counter terrorism and drug trafficking with the Syrian interior minister in Damascus on January 29.[86] The Iranian Interior Ministry oversees the Law Enforcement Command (LEC), which is the Iranian national police force. The LEC has many subordinate units conducting internal security-related activities, including intelligence gathering on criminals, protest suppression, border security, and counterterrorism.[87]

Iran Update, January 30, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, Brian Carter, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters clashed in western Gaza City where Palestinian militias have likely infiltrated. The Guardian reported that Hamas is returning to the northern Gaza Strip and rebuilding a system of governance there.
  • Central Gaza Strip: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters, including conducting an airstrike on Palestinian fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades. Palestinian fighters separately mortared Israeli forces.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued conducting clearing operations around Khan Younis. Palestinian fighters continued conducting a deliberate defense against Israeli forces in western Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Hamas is considering a new hostage-for-prisoner proposal. Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh will soon travel to Cairo to discuss the proposal.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias 10 times. Israeli forces killed three Palestinian fighters affiliated with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a hospital in Jenin.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. Unidentified militants launched rockets from Syria into the Golan Heights.
  • Iraq and Syria: Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah are conducting an information operation to distance Iran from the January 28 one-way drone attack that killed three US service members in northeastern Jordan.
  • Yemen: Houthi Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser al Atifi said that the Houthis are prepared for a long-term confrontation with US and UK forces in the Red Sea.
  • Iran: The Iranian Law Enforcement Command Border Guards commander announced that it killed a member of the Baloch militant group, Ansar al Furqan, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters clashed on January 30 in western Gaza City where Palestinian militias have likely infiltrated. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) resumed operations in western Gaza City on January 28 and 29.[1] The IDF 401st Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed “many” Palestinian fighters in al Shati refugee camp on January 30.[2] The IDF 5th Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) separately engaged Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip.[3] The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson issued a warning to Hamas operatives in al Shati refugee camp on January 30, calling on them to surrender.[4] The spokesperson published an infographic of Hamas commanders in the Shati and Sheikh Radwan battalions of Hamas’ Gaza Brigade whom the IDF has killed.[5] Palestinian sources reported on January 30 that Israeli forces clashed with and detained Palestinian fighters in Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City.[6]

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) claimed several attacks targeting Israeli forces in northern, southern, and western Gaza City on January 30.[7] Other Palestinian militias are similarly defending against Israeli raids in the northern Gaza Strip. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah and aligned with Hamas in the current war, fired unspecified munitions at Israeli forces advancing in Gaza City.[8]

This activity is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Hamas and other Palestinian militias are likely infiltrating some of these areas.[9] CTP-ISW defines infiltration as the process by which “an attacking force conducts undetected movement through or into an area occupied by [opposing] forces to occupy a position of advantage behind those [opposing] positions while exposing only small elements to [opposing] defensive fires.”[10]

The Guardian reported on January 30 that Hamas is returning to the northern Gaza Strip and rebuilding a system of governance there.[11] A former official from Israel’s National Security Council said that Hamas is policing in the northern Gaza Strip and governing trade. A Tel Aviv-based think tank researcher similarly reported that Hamas has re-established control in parts of the Gaza Strip where the IDF previously operated, namely al Shati refugee camp, Jabalia refugee camp, and Shujaiya. Several sources discussed the general breakdown in law and order in the Gaza Strip. Aid officials reported several incidents of unspecified personnel looting aid trucks, primarily in the central Gaza Strip.

This reporting is consistent with CTP-ISW’s assessment that Palestinian militias are likely infiltrating into areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations.[12] Hamas’ return to providing services in areas that Israeli forces previously cleared undermines Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas.

Western media appears, however, to have exaggerated Hamas' infiltration into the northern Gaza Strip by framing it as preparation for a "new offensive" against Israel.[13] Hamas and other Palestinian fighters are likely in the early stages of the reconstitution of their governance and military capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.[14] But these efforts do not necessarily indicate that Hamas is preparing for an offensive campaign in the way that Western media has suggested.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip on January 30. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) directed a drone strike targeting Palestinian fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) in the central Gaza Strip on January 30.[15] PIJ fighters mortared a concentration of IDF personnel east of Maghazi.[16]

The IDF 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis on January 30. The 35th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) and 7th Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) killed Palestinian fighters and located weapons in western Khan Younis.[17] The 98th Division directed the IDF Air Force to destroy the rocket launchers from which Hamas fighters fired rockets targeting Tel Aviv in Khan Younis on January 29.[18] The IDF reported that the launchers were loaded and that the Air Force also destroyed an unspecified military asset belonging to Hamas’ anti-tank unit.[19]

Palestinian militias continued to execute a deliberate defense against Israeli forces in western Khan Younis. PIJ fighters targeted four IDF tanks with RPGs west of Khan Younis on January 30.[20] Other Palestinian militias, including Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, continued to target Israeli forces in western Khan Younis with RPGs and explosive devices.[21] Palestinian militias separately contested Israeli operations in southwestern Khan Younis.[22]

Hamas is considering a new hostage-for-prisoner proposal.[23] An unspecified senior Hamas official told Reuters on January 30 that the proposal involved a three-stage truce, during which Hamas would release remaining civilians held hostage in the Gaza Strip, then soldiers, and finally the bodies of killed hostages. Reuters reported that the proposal is part of what appears to be the most “serious peace initiative for months.” The ceasefire proposal follows talks involving the US, Israeli, and Egyptian intelligence chiefs and the Qatari prime minister.[24] Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh confirmed that Hamas received a ceasefire proposal and affirmed that the groups’ top priority is the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.[25] Haniyeh will travel to Cairo to discuss the proposal.[26] Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip have previously insisted that they will only accept a deal that ends the war permanently.[27] The proposal, as outlined by the Hamas official, does not include the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Shin Bet director met with his Egyptian counterpart to discuss expanding Israeli operations to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.[28] Two unspecified Israeli sources told Axios on January 30 that the two officials discussed cooperating to prevent weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip that would enable Hamas to rearm itself. Egypt is concerned that an Israeli military operation in Rafah along the Philadelphi Corridor—a 14-kilometer stretch of land between Egypt and the Gaza Strip—could create a flow of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai Peninsula. Israel informed Egypt that it is planning a military operation to secure the Egypt-Gaza Strip border in early January.[29] The Wall Street Journal reported that the timing of the Israeli operation will depend on negotiations with Egypt regarding Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip and a ceasefire.[30]

Palestinian militias did not claim any indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip on January 30.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias 10 times across the West Bank. Israeli forces conducted raids, detained six wanted individuals, and captured currency and weapons during operations in Tulkarm, Nour Shams, Nablus, Ein Arik, Azzun, and Tarqumiya.[31] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militia aligned with Hamas in the current war, claimed that it detonated IEDs and fired small arms targeting Israeli forces in Tulkarm and Jenin on January 29 and 30.[32] Hamas fighters separately fired small arms targeting Israeli forces conducting raids in Jenin on January 30.[33]

Israeli forces killed three Palestinian fighters affiliated with Hamas and PIJ in a hospital in Jenin on January 30.[34] The IDF conducted a joint operation with Shin Bet and undercover Israeli police to target a founder of and spokesperson for Hamas’ Jenin Brigade.[35] The IDF said that the target was planning to execute an attack like Hamas’ October 7, 2023, attack in the “immediate time frame”.[36] Israeli forces killed two other Palestinians affiliated with PIJ’s Jenin Brigade during the operation.[37] IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi stated that the IDF is not seeking to fight in hospitals but that the IDF will go wherever necessary to eliminate Hamas.[38] Hamas and PIJ both condemned the operation and acknowledged the fighters’ affiliation with their respective organizations.[39]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 30.[40] This number of attacks marks a significant decrease from the 15 attacks conducted by Iranian-backed militias, including Hezbollah, into northern Israel on January 29.[41]

Unidentified militants launched rockets from Syria into the Golan Heights on January 30.[42] The IDF responded by shelling the attack’s point of origin in Syria.[43]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah are conducting an information operation to distance Iran from the January 28 one-way drone attack that killed three US service members in northeastern Jordan. Kataib Hezbollah announced the suspension of its “military and security operations” against US forces on January 30 and claimed that Iran objects to “pressure and escalation” against US forces in Iraq and Syria.[44] Western media previously reported that Kataib Hezbollah conducted the January 28 drone attack into Jordan.[45] Iranian officials previously denied Iranian involvement in the attack, claiming that the attack is part of a conflict only between “resistance groups and the US military,” adding that these “resistance groups...do not take orders” from Tehran.[46] Iran provides “extensive training, funding, logistic support, weapons, and intelligence” to Kataib Hezbollah.[47] Iran also materially supports more broadly the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which is a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that includes Kataib Hezbollah. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has attacked US forces in Iraq and Syria over 160 times since the Israel-Hamas war began.[48] This information operation sets conditions for Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi factions to frame the United States as the aggressor if the United States strikes Kataib Hezbollah in retaliation for the Iranian-backed drone strike into Jordan.

US President Joe Biden announced on January 29 that he decided on the US response to the Jordan attack, adding that the United States does not seek to expand the war in the Middle East.[49] Biden did not provide details about what course of action the United States will take. US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby added in separate comments that the United States may use a “tiered approach” involving “multiple actions” to respond to the attack.[50]

A Kataib Hezbollah official told Western media that the group decided to halt its attacks targeting US forces following separate Iraqi federal government contacts with US officials and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias “to prevent escalation after the Jordan attack.”[51] Iraqi social media sources claimed that a “high-level” US delegation traveled to Baghdad on January 29 to discuss the attack, but they did not provide evidence to corroborate their claims.[52] An “informed source” told Iraqi media that the Iraqi federal government asked the United States to avoid conducting retaliatory strikes inside Iraqi territory to prevent “any escalation and security tension inside Iraq.”[53] The United States has previously conducted strikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militia facilities in response to militia attacks that injured US personnel.[54] Iranian-backed Iraqi actors incorrectly frame these US self-defense strikes as “violations” of Iraqi sovereignty to pressure the Iraqi federal government to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. 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.[55]

The Iraqi parliament speaker election is driving tensions between Iranian-backed Iraqi actors.[56] Iraqi parliamentarians voted for a new parliament speaker on January 13 after the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court removed the previous incumbent, Mohammad al Halbousi, in November 2023.[57] Halbousi’s candidate, Shaalan al Karim, won the most votes in the first round of voting.[58] No candidate secured the 165 votes required to become parliament speaker, however. Iranian-backed Iraqi actors, particularly Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali and State of Law Coalition head Nouri al Maliki, are trying to prevent Karim from becoming parliament speaker. Khazali and Maliki hope to instead install their preferred candidate, Mahmoud al Mashhadani.[59] The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reported on January 29 that the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties—charged acting Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi with ensuring that Mashhadani becomes parliament speaker.[60] Such a demand is not legal under the Iraqi constitution. Parliamentarians aligned with Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al Haq also claimed after the January 13 vote that members of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and the Iraqi Shia National Wisdom Movement voted for Karim.[61] The Victory Alliance, headed by former Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, recently denied that members of the Victory Alliance political party voted for Karim.[62]

Syrian Kurdish news outlet North Press Agency (NPA) claimed that Israel killed eight Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in an airstrike in Sayyida Zeynab, Damascus, on January 29.[63] NPA identified two of the Hezbollah fighters as Hussein Khalil Hashem and Hussein Fadel Awada. Hezbollah claimed both fighters but did not specify how they died.[64]

Houthi Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser al Atifi said that the Houthis are prepared for a long-term confrontation with US and UK forces in the Red Sea.[65] Atifi added that US and UK interests in the Red Sea will be considered ”legitimate targets.” Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi previously identified US and UK vessels as ”legitimate targets“ on January 18.[66]

The Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Border Guards commander announced that the LEC killed a member of the Baloch militant group, Ansar al Furqan, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 30.[67] The LEC Border Guards commander said that the LEC killed the fighter in Jakigur, Rask County, near the Iran-Pakistan border. The LEC killed one other Baloch fighter in Jakigor on January 29.[68] Ansar al Furqan previously claimed to attack IRGC personnel near the border in December 2023 and conducted another attack targeting a police station in Zahedan on January 25.[69]

Salafi-jihadi groups and other insurgents have increased the rate of their attacks targeting the regime in southeastern Iran since December 2023. Salafi-jihadi and Balochi militant group Jaish al Adl has conducted at least five attacks targeting Iranian security personnel in this period.[70] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State separately detonated two suicide vests conducted a terrorist attack in Kerman Province on January 3, killing over 90 individuals.[71] Iran retaliated for this uptick in militancy by conducting drone and missile attacks on alleged Islamic State positions in Syria on January 15 and alleged Jaish al Adl targets in Pakistan on January 16.[72]

Iran Update, January 29, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Annika Ganzeveld, Brian Carter, Peter Mills, Andie Parry, and Kathryn Tyson

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET 

Key Takeaways:

  • Jordan: Iran and its proxies are advancing an information operation to obfuscate the origin of the January 28 attack that killed three US service members in Jordan. Statements from Kataib Hezbollah before the attack and Iraqi militia actions afterward suggest that the attack came from Iraq.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias are continuing to conduct attacks against Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip as they infiltrate previously cleared areas.
  • Central Gaza Strip: The IDF reported that the Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) raided a building and seized a weapons cache in an unspecified area of the central Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the IDF 98th Division) captured Palestinian militia weapons caches and killed five Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces conducted raids, detained "wanted individuals,” and captured weapons during operations in the West Bank.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: LH claimed 13 attacks targeting Israeli forces and border outposts. LH has claimed on average six attacks per day in January 2024.
  • Syria: Unspecified militants conducted an attack targeting US forces at al Shaddadi, Hasakah Province, Syria.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces resumed operations in western Gaza City on January 28 and 29. Local Palestinian journalists and activists reported at 1832 ET (0132 local on January 29) on January 28 that the IDF moved into areas near al Shifa Hospital and the Rimal, Nasser, and Wahda neighborhoods.[1] A Palestinian journalist also said that the IDF conducted airstrikes and fought engagements with Palestinian militias in the Zaytoun, Tel al Hawa, and Sheikh Radwan areas.[2] The IDF issued evacuation orders for the residents of western Gaza City at 0232 ET (0932 local) on January 29.[3] The IDF reported at 1402 ET on January 29 (2102 local) that “during the night hours [local time],” the IDF moved into western Gaza City from the north, south, and west.[4] The IDF said on January 29 that the 5th Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) captured Palestinian militia weapons caches, tunnels, and observation posts, during the operation in al Shati Camp.[5]

Palestinian militias infiltrated some areas in southwestern Gaza City, including Tel al Hawa, on or before January 19. Palestinian journalists reported that Palestinian fighters engaged Israeli forces in southwestern Gaza City on January 19 and 21.[6] CTP-ISW defines infiltration as the process by which “an attacking force conducts undetected movement through or into an area occupied by [opposing] forces to occupy a position of advantage behind those [opposing] positions while exposing only small elements to [opposing] defensive fires.”[7]

Palestinian militias are continuing to conduct attacks against Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip as they infiltrate previously cleared areas. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) claimed that it conducted an indirect fire attack targeting a “major [IDF] logistical support” position near the Sudaniya area, north of Shati camp.[8] PIJ published a video that did not show the results of the attack.[9] The IDF has maintained a position near Sudaniya since the beginning of the war. Fatah’s self-affiliated military wing, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, fired small arms targeting Israeli forces northeast of Sudaniya, near al Atatra, on January 27.[10]

The IDF continued clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip on January 29. The IDF reported that the Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) raided a building and seized a weapons cache in an unspecified area of the central Strip.[11] The IDF said that the brigade killed “dozens” of Palestinian fighters on January 28 and 29.

The IDF’s 98th Division captured a major tunnel complex under Bani Suheila that served as a command-and-control site for the Hamas Eastern Khan Younis Battalion on January 28.[12] The IDF reported that the Eastern Khan Younis Battalion commander used the tunnel on October 7 to direct the attack. The system included an operations center, a “battalion combat management” facility, and sleeping quarters for Hamas commanders and fighters.

The IDF continued clearing operations in western Khan Younis on January 29. The 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the IDF 98th Division) captured Palestinian militia weapons caches and killed five Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis.[13] The 35th Paratroops Brigade (assigned to the IDF 98th Division) also killed four Palestinian fighters before the fighters could attack IDF forces near the al Amal Hospital.[14]

Palestinian fighters attempted to defend against Israeli clearing operations in western Khan Younis on January 29. Palestinian Islamic Jihad detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli armor near Hassan Salama Mosque in western Khan Younis on January 29.[15] Other Palestinian militias, including Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, continued to target Israeli forces in western Khan Younis with small arms and shoulder-fired rockets.[16]

Hamas’ military wing fired one rocket salvo targeting Tel Aviv on January 29.[17] Hamas last conducted a rocket attack on January 18.[18] The group last targeted Tel Aviv on January 8.[19]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and US Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs David Satterfield that he would not allow the rebuilding of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.[20] Israeli and US officials told Axios that Lew and Satterfield asked Gallant if Israel’s one-kilometer security buffer zone in the Gaza Strip “was a basis for settlements.”[21] Gallant responded that the buffer zone “would be temporary and for security purposes only.”[22] A senior Israeli official told Axios that the IDF operations branch head said during that meeting that allowing Israeli civilians to enter the buffer zone would “contradict the security purpose.”[23]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias 14 times across the West Bank on January 29.[24] Israeli forces conducted raids, detained "wanted individuals,” and captured weapons during operations in the West Bank.[25]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 15 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 29.[26] LH claimed 13 attacks targeting Israeli forces and border outposts.[27] LH has claimed on average six attacks per day in January 2024. LH used Burkan and Falaq rockets in seven of its attacks on January 29.[28] The Burkan and Falaq rockets have 300 to 500-kilogram and 50 to 120-kilogram warheads respectively, making them a more destructive weapon system than the smaller rockets LH typically employs.[29]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Israel conducted an airstrike targeting an “Iranian military advisor center” in Sayyida Zainab, Damascus on January 29.[30] Iran’s ambassador to Syria denied that the targeted location was an Iranian “military advisory center,” and claimed that no Iranian citizens died in the strike.[31] Syrian opposition media reported that the airstrike killed four people, including IRGC members.[32] Israel previously killed two IRGC general officers in an airstrike in Sayyida Zainab on December 2.[33] Iranian-backed militia groups and the IRGC maintain a headquarters in Sayyida Zainab and use it to facilitate Iranian lines of effort elsewhere in Syria.[34]

Unidentified gunmen killed nine Pakistani auto repair workers in Saravan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, on January 27.[35] No group claimed responsibility for the attack, although a Pakistani journalist speculated that the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) or Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) conducted the attack.[36] Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani condemned the attack on January 27.[37] Pakistani officials ordered the Iranian government to conduct an immediate investigation into the attack.[38] This attack comes amid a rise in insecurity in southeastern Iran. Iran and Pakistan also recently exchanged missile and drone strikes targeting terrorist groups in the two countries.

The Iranian Law Enforcement Command Border Guard commander announced on January 29 that it “destroyed” a “terrorist” cell near Jakigour, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[39] The commander added that Iranian border guards killed one “terrorist” and wounded two others who were attempting to enter Iran to conduct “subversive actions.” The border police found three hand grenades, three grenades, and a suicide vest following the clash.

Iranian officials are seeking to strengthen security and counterterrorism cooperation with neighboring countries following an uptick in terrorist activity in Iran since December 2023. Jaish al Adl—a Balochi Salafi-Jihadist group that operates along the Iranian border with Pakistan—conducted a two-stage attack targeting a police station in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province in December 2023.[40] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State also conducted a terrorist attack in Kerman Province on January 3, killing over 80 individuals.[41]

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Syed Asim Munir, Foreign Affairs Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani, and caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 29.[42] Abdollahian and Munir discussed increasing intelligence sharing and coordination to confront common threats such as terrorism. They also agreed to dispatch military liaison officers to each other’s countries.[43] Abdollahian said separately during a press conference with Jilani that Iran and Pakistan will not allow terrorists to threaten their national security. Abdollahian added that terrorists operating along the Iran-Pakistan border are backed by “third parties.”[44] Abdollahian’s visit to Islamabad follows the IRGC’s strikes targeting Jaish al Adl fighters in Baluchistan Province, Pakistan on January 16.[45] The Pakistani armed forces responded to the IRGC’s strikes by conducting strikes targeting Baloch separatists near Saravan, Iran, on January 18.[46]

Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani announced on January 29 that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian will travel to Iraq to discuss border security and terrorism.[47] 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.[48] Iraqi Kurdish media denied Iran’s claims regarding a Mossad presence in Erbil.[49] Iranian officials accused Israel of being behind the December 15 and January 4 attacks in Rask and Kerman.[50] Iran has historically accused anti-regime Kurdish militant groups and Israel of jointly using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate operations into Iran.

The Iranian regime falsely claimed that Iran had no role in the January 28 one-way drone attack that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan. Western media outlets reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah launched the attack from Rutba, Anbar province, western Iraq.[51] The drone bypassed US air defenses by trailing a US drone that was returning to base in Jordan at the same time.[52] Iranian officials claimed that the attack is part of a conflict only between “resistance groups and the US military,” adding that these “resistance groups . . . do not take orders” from Tehran.[53]

Iranian officials frequently consult with their Iraqi proxies and partners, including Kataib Hezbollah, during periods of increased military action in the region. The Iranian supreme leader, for example, has issued fatwas that have ordered Iraqi militias to cooperate with one another and to listen to IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani as the supreme leader’s representative.[54] Social media users and Iraqi sources claimed that IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani traveled to Baghdad on January 28.[55] CTP-ISW cannot independently verify these claims. Ghaani would likely use such a visit to meet and coordinate with Iran’s Iraqi partners and proxies ahead of an expected US strike in response to the attack in northeastern Jordan. Ghaani frequently travels to Baghdad to meet and plan with Iran’s Iraqi partners and proxies, presumably to ensure alignment.[56] CTP-ISW also reported in June 2023 that Iraqi proxies stopped threatening to attack US forces following IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani’s visit to Baghdad that month.[57] The cessation of proxy threats suggested that Ghaani had directed the proxies to deescalate.

Kataib Hezbollah’s statements before and Iraqi militia actions after the January 28 attack suggest that the attack came from Iraq. Kataib Hezbollah said on January 25—three days before the attack in Jordan— that it would expand its scope of militia attacks to include additional US interests in Iraq and the Middle East.[58] Kataib Hezbollah published this statement in response to the January 23 US airstrikes targeting three Kataib Hezbollah facilities.[59] A telegram account affiliated with Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr reported that Iraqi Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh ordered Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to vacate their bases in al Qaim, Jurf al Sakhr, and Albu Aitha. The order suggests that Fayyadh fears a US strike in response to Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks on US forces in Jordan.[60] US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Kataib Hezbollah controls the al Qaim border crossing between Iraq and Syria.[61] The group also committed acts of sectarian cleansing in Jurf al Sakhr, which it now controls.[62]

Iran and its proxies are advancing an information operation to obfuscate where the January 28 attack that killed three US service members took place to falsely frame the attack as part of the Iran-backed campaign to expel US forces from Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed on January 28 that it conducted one-way drone attacks targeting US forces in Rukban and al Tanf, Syria.[63] Al Tanf is 20 kilometers north of Tower 22, the US military base where three US service members died on January 28. Tower 22 is located in northeastern Jordan, near Jordan’s border with Iraq and Syria, and it supports the United States’ ongoing counter-ISIS mission.[64] US officials reported that Iranian-backed proxies launched another drone attack targeting al Tanf an hour and a half after the attack on Tower 22.[65] The Jordanian government spokesperson said that the January 28 attack on US forces targeted only al Tanf and falsely added that the attack that killed US service members did not take place in Jordan.[66] This statement is similar to the Iranian state media reporting, which emphasized that the attack took place in Syria, not in Jordan.[67]

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali met with the Houthi representative to Iraq in Baghdad on January 28.[68] Khazali praised the Houthis for supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and for threatening US interests in the Red Sea. The Houthis have conducted more than 30 attacks targeting international shipping since the Israel-Hamas war began in October 2023.[69]

Unspecified militants conducted an attack targeting US forces at al Shaddadi, Hasakah Province, Syria, according to a US journalist.[70] Axis of Resistance-affiliated media claimed that the militants used rockets to conduct the attack.[71]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it conducted a drone attack targeting an unspecified Israeli “military target” in Israel on January 29.[72] Israeli officials did not confirm the attack.

US Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson met with Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council President Faiq Zaidan to discuss US sanctions on Iraqi actors and companies on January 29.[73] Nelson and Zaidan may have discussed the US Treasury Department’s recent decision to sanction Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad for aiding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and its militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.[74] The US Treasury Department identified the Iraqi al Huda Bank as a “conduit for terrorist financing” and imposed sanctions on the bank’s owner on January 29.[75] The Treasury Department reported that al Huda used its access to US dollars to support the IRGC and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al Haq.

Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea falsely claimed that the Houthis launched anti-ship missiles targeting the USS Lewis Puller in the Gulf of Aden on January 29.[76] The Houthis said that the attack was "defensive,” given that the Lewis Puller provides logistical support to US forces conducting operations against the Houthis. An anonymous US defense official told the Associated Press the attack did not occur.[77] The Houthis also falsely claimed an attack on a US-contracted logistics ship on January 22. The US Navy called the January 22 claim “patently false.”[78] The Lewis Puller thwarted an Iranian weapon smuggling attempt to the Houthis in the Red Sea on January 11.[79]

Iran Update, January 28, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps 

Nicholas Carl, Ashka Jhaveri, and Alexandra Braverman

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST  

Key Takeaways:

  • Jordan: An Iranian-backed militia conducted a one-way drone attack targeting US forces in northeastern Jordan, killing three American service members and wounding another 25. This attack is part of the ongoing Iranian-led campaign to expel US forces from the Middle East. The Iranian-backed attack highlights the growing prominence of Jordan in Iranian regional strategy.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces 5th Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) located and destroyed a tunnel route.
  • Central Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) clashed with Palestinian fighters.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces withdrew the 4th (Kiryati) Brigade and 55th Paratrooper Brigade from Khan Younis.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in seven locations, primarily around Jenin.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iraq and Syria: The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for five attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria.

An Iranian-backed militia conducted a one-way drone attack targeting US forces in northeastern Jordan on January 28, killing three American service members and wounding another 25.[1] This attack is part of the ongoing Iranian-led campaign to expel US forces from the Middle East. CTP-ISW has reported extensively in recent months on how Iranian-backed militias have used military and political pressure to catalyze a US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria.[2] These militias have conducted over 170 attacks targeting US positions as part of this effort since October 2023.[3] The militias have framed their attacks as responses to the Israel-Hamas war when the attacks are in actuality part of the larger Iranian project in the Middle East. Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” view the Israel-Hamas war as an opportunity to accelerate their campaign to expel US forces, as they have used the war to narratively justify their attacks.

The Axis of Resistance is demonstrating its readiness to sustain and even further escalate its attack campaign, despite the United States and Iraqi federal government announcing that they will negotiate over the status of US forces in Iraq. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on January 25 that Washington and Baghdad will soon hold “working group meetings” to evaluate the status of the US-led coalition mission to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[4] Such negotiations could precipitate the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The United States reportedly dropped a precondition requiring that Iranian-backed militias stop their attacks before such negotiations.[5] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, vowed on January 26 to sustain its attacks, asserting that the United States only understands “the language of force.”[6]

Iranian-led efforts to expel the United States from Iraq would complicate sustaining a US force presence in Syria. US forces and military infrastructure in Iraq provide logistical support that enables the US force presence in Syria. The United States withdrawing from Iraq would therefore necessitate the withdrawal of many US forces from Syria. The Axis of Resistance could launch a concerted effort to expel US forces from Jordan to deprive the United States of another avenue from which it could support an American force presence in Syria.

The United States leaving Iraq and Syria risks allowing ISIS to resurge there. CTP-ISW continues to assess that the United States and its partners in Syria have successfully contained but not defeated ISIS and that a US withdrawal from Syria would very likely cause a rapid ISIS resurgence there within 12 to 24 months.[7] A resurgent ISIS could then threaten Iraq. Iraqi security forces still face significant deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, and logistics that will impede their ability to defeat ISIS alone.[8]

The Iranian-backed attack highlights the growing prominence of Jordan in Iranian regional strategy. Jordanian territory offers multiple ground routes through which Iran could move military materiel into the West Bank. Tehran has sought to develop its militia capabilities and infrastructure in the West Bank in recent years, but the Israel-Hamas war has highlighted Iranian shortcomings there.[9] Recent clashes and Israeli raids in the West Bank have revealed that the Palestinian militias there remain relatively disorganized and still use rudimentary capabilities compared to the militias in the Gaza Strip. Iranian leaders could conclude that they need to invest further in building their networks into Jordan to develop their militia infrastructure in the West Bank more effectively. The Jordanian armed forces have conducted four airstrikes into Syria targeting Iranian-affiliated smuggling networks since the war began, suggesting either a change in Iranian-backed smuggling patterns and/or a change in Jordanian tolerance of them.[10] Iran likely directed the drone attack into Jordan partly to message to Jordanian leaders the capability and willingness of the Axis of Resistance to escalate.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 5th Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) located and destroyed a tunnel route in the northern Gaza Strip on January 28.[11] The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) separately mortared IDF armor and dismounted infantry east of Jabalia. Palestinian militias have likely reinfiltrated these areas around Jabalia and are contesting IDF raids there.[12]

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) clashed with Palestinian fighters in the central Gaza Strip on January 28.[13]

Palestinian militias continued to conduct a deliberate defense against Israeli clearing operations in western Khan Younis on January 28. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli armor and dismounted infantry in al Amal neighborhood in western Khan Younis.[14] Other Palestinian militias are operating in western Khan Younis, including the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah.[15]

The IDF withdrew the 4th (Kiryati) Brigade and 55th Paratrooper Brigade from Khan Younis on January 28.[16] An Israeli Army Radio correspondent reported that the 646th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) is expected to deploy to Khan Younis. The 646th brigade is currently operating in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip.[17]

Israeli media reported that Palestinian militias have slightly increased in recent days the number of rocket attacks they are launching from areas where Israeli forces operated previously in the northern Gaza Strip.[18] The launches demonstrate that Palestinian militias in the northern Gaza Strip retain some ability to fire rockets into Israel, despite Israeli operations. CTP-ISW previously reported that Hamas fighters are reinfiltrating areas that Israeli forces cleared in the northern Gaza Strip, which will facilitate Hamas’ reconstitution.[19] Israeli media speculated that the IDF could be leaving a power vacuum by exiting without designating a Palestinian civil authority to govern in areas of the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli media further reported there is growing fear amongst Israeli military leadership that Hamas will be able to reconstitute in these areas.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that as much as 80 percent of Hamas’ tunnels remain intact in the Gaza Strip.[20] The tunnels run for over 300 miles underneath the Gaza Strip. The New York Times reported on January 16 that the IDF now believes that there are more tunnels underneath the Gaza Strip than previously thought.[21]

Palestinian fighters fired three rocket salvos from the Gaza Strip into Israel on January 28.[22]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in seven locations across the West Bank, primarily around Jenin.[23]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 28.[24]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

See the topline of this report for coverage of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq's attack into Jordan.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for five attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria.[25] The group targeted three positions in Syria, one in Jordan, and one in Iraq.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed that it fired unspecified munitions at an Israeli military site in Zuvulun, Israel.[26] The group has claimed two other attacks targeting Israel in recent days.[27]

Iran Update, January 27, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps 

Andie Parry, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters claimed clashes with Israeli forces. Hamas and other Palestinian fighters have contested Israeli raids in certain areas of the northern Gaza Strip throughout January 2024. 

  • Central Gaza Strip: Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s militant wing targeted an Israeli supply line with mortars and rockets.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces 98th Division destroyed weapons warehouses and clashed with Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis. Several Palestinian militias, including Hamas, continued to execute a deliberate defense against the Israeli ground operations in Khan Younis, particularly west and south of the city.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 14 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iraq and Syria: The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for four attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria.
  • Yemen: US Central Command announced that the United States struck a Houthi anti-ship missile that was prepared to launch and presented an imminent threat to commercial vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters claimed clashes with Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, targeted Israeli forces in the al Atatra area north of Gaza City.[1] Hamas and other Palestinian fighters have contested Israeli raids in certain areas of the northern Gaza Strip throughout January 2024.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)’s militant wing targeted an IDF supply line into the central Gaza Strip with mortars and rockets on January 27.[2]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 98th Division destroyed weapons warehouses and clashed with Palestinian fighters in western Khan Younis on January 27. The IDF stated its 89th Commando forces have killed over 100 Palestinian fighters operating in western Khan Younis in the past week.[3] The IDF Magallan Unit operating under the 89th Commandos raided Palestinian militia weapons sites as the corresponding fire group conducted airstrikes on three Palestinian fighters burying charges near IDF ground forces.[4] The Egoz Command Unit raided a house that belonged to an associate of Yahya Sinwar and a weapons warehouse in Khan Younis.[5]

Several Palestinian militias, including Hamas, continued to execute a deliberate defense against the Israeli ground operations in Khan Younis, particularly west and south of the city. The militant wings of Hamas, PIJ, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) claimed several attacks targeting Israeli infantry and armor with small arms, RPGs, and mortars in western Khan Younis.[6] The DFLP is a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war.

Palestinian militias conducted two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on January 27. PIJ fired rockets targeting Sderot and Nir Am.[7]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank.[8] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades targeted Israeli forces three times using small arms fire and IEDs.[9] Its fighters also fired on an Israeli settlement near Hebron.[10]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 14 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 27.[11] This rate of attacks is well over double this week’s average of 5.8 attacks per day. Hezbollah conducted 13 attacks primarily targeting Israeli military forces and infrastructure.[12]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for four attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed separate drone attacks targeting US forces at al Omar oilfield and Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province on January 26.[13] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a rocket attack targeting US forces at Conoco on January 27.[14] The group also claimed a drone attack targeting US forces at Ain al Assad airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq, on January 27.[15]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that the United States struck a Houthi anti-ship missile that was prepared to launch and presented an imminent threat to commercial vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea on January 27.[16] Houthi-controlled outlet al Masirah claimed on January 27 that the United States and United Kingdom conducted two airstrikes targeting Ras Issa, which is Yemen’s main oil export terminal.[17] It is unclear whether the CENTCOM announcement and al Masirah claim are referring to the same incident. The US strike follows the Houthis’ anti-ship missile attack targeting the British-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged commercial oil tanker Marlin Luanda on January 26.[18] The attack caused a 19-hour fire at one of the vessel’s tanks, making it the “most damaging” Houthi attack since the Houthis started their attack campaign targeting international shipping in October 2023.[19]

 

Iran Update, January 26, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, Johanna Moore, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: The Islamic Resistance in Iraq released a statement rejecting the US and Iraqi decision to begin negotiations over the status of US-led coalition forces in Iraq and vowed to continue attacking US forces. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq will likely continue to attack US forces in Iraq and Syria to pressure the Mohammad Shia al Sudani administration to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
  • Yemen: The Houthis conducted multiple attacks on a US Navy warship and two commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden. CENTCOM reported that the Houthis fired one anti-ship ballistic missile targeting the USS Carney. two missiles exploded within a few hundred meters of the Panama-flagged commercial tanker Achilles around the same time as the attack on the USS Carney.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed military infrastructure and clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip. Hamas and other Palestinian fighters have contested Israeli raids in certain areas of the northern Gaza Strip throughout January 2024.
  • Central Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias conducted multiple attacks on Israeli forces in the central Gaza Strip. Hamas’ military wing detonated explosives in a tunnel entrance targeting Israeli infantrymen near the Maghazi refugee camp.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias conducted seven indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah, and the Tubas Battalion of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad military wing claimed that they targeted Israeli forces with explosives and small arms fire in Tubas.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 26. Hezbollah conducted three attacks targeting Israeli forces using rockets and other unspecified munitions.
  • Iran: The Iranian regime denied a recent Wall Street Journal report that the United States secretly warned Iran that the Islamic State was preparing to conduct the January 3 terrorist attack in Kerman.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed military infrastructure and clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip on January 26. The IDF Navy provided fire support to the IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division), which was operating in Beit Lahia as of January 7.[1] The IDF 5th Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) killed six fighters and directed IDF Air Force strikes on Hamas military infrastructure in the northern Gaza Strip.[2]

Hamas and other Palestinian fighters have contested Israeli raids in certain areas of the northern Gaza Strip throughout January 2024. Hamas’ military wing clashed with the IDF in the Sheikh Ijlin neighborhood, Gaza City.[3] Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) military wing claimed that it shot down an Israeli drone conducting intelligence activities near Shujaiya in the northern Gaza Strip.[4]

Palestinian militias conducted multiple attacks on Israeli forces in the central Gaza Strip on January 26. Hamas’ military wing detonated explosives in a tunnel entrance targeting Israeli infantrymen near the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.[5] The group also fired Yasin-105 anti-tank rockets and detonated an explosively-formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli Merkava tanks in the same area.[6] PIJ’s military wing fired a tandem-charge anti-tank rocket targeting IDF armor east of the Maghazi refugee camp.[7] PIJ mortared Israeli infantry and vehicles east of the Maghazi camp.[8] The group mortared IDF infantry near the Bureij refugee camp and al Musaddar village in the central Gaza Strip.[9]

The IDF 98th Division continued operations in Khan Younis on January 26. The IDF 636th Reconnaissance Unit is using drones to target and track Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis.[10] The unit has located about 200 tunnel shafts and destroyed 10 rocket launchers and other Palestinian militia-affiliated infrastructure. The 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) directed an airstrike targeting four Palestinian fighters who fired anti-tank munitions at Israeli forces in Khan Younis.[11] The Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) used sniper weapons and tank fire to kill six Palestinian fighters during clearing operations in Khan Younis.[12]

Several Palestinian militias including Hamas continued to execute a deliberate defense against the Israeli ground operations in Khan Younis, particularly west of the city. The 98th Division began an “expanded” ground operation in western Khan Younis on January 22.[13] Hamas, PIJ, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) claimed several attacks targeting Israeli personnel and armor with IEDs, mortars, and rockets in western Khan Younis.[14] The DFLP is a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war. The military wing of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, clashed with and fired mortars at Israeli forces in Khan Younis.[15]

Al Jazeera reported that the Israeli military believes that Hamas has returned to providing services in areas where the IDF has reduced its presence.[16] An Israeli Army Radio journalist similarly reported on January 16 that Hamas is trying to restore its control over the civilian population in the northern Gaza Strip, in part, by rehabilitating local police there.[17] The reporting is consistent with CTP-ISW’s assessment that Palestinian militias are likely infiltrating into areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations.[18] Hamas’ return to providing services in areas that Israeli forces previously cleared undermines Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas.

The US State Department temporarily paused funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on January 26 following evidence that its staff were involved in the October 7 attack.[19] Israeli authorities provided evidence to UNRWA that showed 12 staff members participated in the October 7 attack. Israel also provided evidence showing the use of the agency’s vehicles and facilities during the attack.[20] UNRWA reported on January 26 that it would terminate the staff member’s contracts “immediately” and launch an investigation into the allegations.[21] The United States will review the allegations and the steps that the UN is taking to address them.[22]

Palestinian militias conducted seven indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on January 26. PIJ fired rockets targeting five locations in southern Israel, including Ashkelon, Sderot, and Nir Aam.[23] The Mujahideen Brigades fired rockets at what it claimed is an IDF headquarters for the Gaza Division’s ”Northern Brigade” and at Nahal Oz.[24] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and has expressed close ties with Iran.[25]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank on January 26. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah, and the Tubas Battalion of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad military wing claimed that they targeted Israeli forces with explosives and small arms fire in Tubas, on January 25 and 26.[26] Hamas’ military wing and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fired small arms targeting Israeli forces near Jenin and Qalandiya respectively.[27] The IDF reported that Israeli forces arrested five wanted persons across the West Bank and seized small arms and ammunition on January 26.[28]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 26.[29] Hezbollah conducted three attacks targeting Israeli forces using rockets and other unspecified munitions.[30] Hezbollah targeted Israeli forces at the Gonen barracks using an Iranian-made Falaq-1 rocket system.[31] Hezbollah said that this was the first attack in which it used the Falaq-1 during this war. The IDF intercepted an unspecified aerial target over Kfar Rosh HaNikra.[32] 

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Houthis conducted multiple attacks on a US Navy warship and two commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden on January 26. CENTCOM reported that the Houthis fired one anti-ship ballistic missile targeting the USS Carney.[33] Carney intercepted the missile and suffered no casualties or damage.[34] UK Maritime Trade Operations reported that two missiles exploded within a few hundred meters of the Panama-flagged commercial tanker Achilles around the same time as the attack on the USS Carney.[35] The Houthis claimed that they fired multiple anti-ship missiles that hit and set the British-owned Marshall Islands-flagged commercial oil tanker Marlin Luanda on fire on January 26.[36]

Reuters reported on January 25 that unspecified Iranian sources said that China asked Iran to prevent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[37] China warned that if Houthi attacks harmed Chinese interests, it would impact China’s business with Iran. Houthi spokesperson Mohammad Abdulsalam said on January 25 that Iran has not conveyed any message from China to the Houthis regarding scaling back attacks in the Red Sea.[38]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched two one-way attack drones targeting US forces stationed at Ain al Assad Airbase on January 25 and 26.[39] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq said both attacks are part of its ongoing campaign to expel US forces from Iraq.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq released a statement on January 26 rejecting the US and Iraqi decision to begin negotiations over the status of US-led coalition forces in Iraq and vowed to continue attacking US forces.[40] The United States and the Iraqi federal government announced on January 25 that they will soon begin negotiations on Iraq's current security arrangement with US-led coalition forces.[41] These negotiations could precipitate the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. US-led coalition forces are currently deployed in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to fight ISIS.[42] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed that the announcement of the start of negotiations is a US attempt to “buy time to carry out more crimes” against Iraq.[43] The group also vowed to continue attacking US forces in the region and claimed that the United States only understands “the language of force.”[44] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has conducted over 150 attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.[45] A senior leader of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed proxy militia that is part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, also described the upcoming negotiations as a US effort to “deceive” Iranian-backed Iraqi militias on January 26.[46]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq will likely continue to attack US forces in Iraq and Syria to pressure the Mohammad Shia al Sudani administration to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The Iraqi federal government has executive agreements with the United States that govern the US force presence in Iraq. This means that Prime Minister Sudani is the only individual who can order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.[47] Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conduct attacks targeting US forces with the expectation that the United States will respond with self-defense strikes. The militias subsequently frame these self-defense strikes as “violations” of Iraqi sovereignty to mount pressure on the Sudani administration to order the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also stated that the United States and Iraq should not hold talks until the United States proves its commitment to withdrawing US forces from Iraq, removes its military aircraft and drones from Iraq, and removes US advisers from the Joint Operations Command (JOC).[48] The Joint Operations Command coordinates the efforts of regional operations commands across Iraq and US advisers work alongside the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in an advise and assist role to help the ISF fight ISIS.[49] US advisers assist the ISF at the strategic and operational levels. Removing US advisers from the JOC would further hamper the ISF’s ability to defeat ISIS. The ISF already faces deficiencies in planning, fire support, intelligence, and logistics that prevent it from defeating ISIS alone.[50]

Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada Secretary General Abu Ala al Walai called on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to launch the “second phase” of operations against the United States and Israel on January 23.[51] Walai made this call following the January 23 US airstrikes that targeted three Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq.[52] Walai specified that the “second phase” of operations will block Israeli maritime activity in the Mediterranean Sea and render Israeli ports inoperable. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted separate attacks targeting the Israeli port Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, on January 23 and 25.[53] Israeli officials did not confirm the attacks. CTP-ISW cannot verify that these attacks occurred.

The Balochi militant group Ansar al Furqan claimed that it fired small arms targeting a police station in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 25.[54] The Zahedan Law Enforcement Commander announced that two “terrorist operatives” fired small arms at the police station and subsequently fled.[55] This incident is part of a rise in terrorist activity and insecurity in southeastern Iran since December 2023. Jaish al Adl—a Balochi Salafi-Jihadist group that operates along the Iranian border with Pakistan—conducted a two-stage attack targeting a police station in Rask, Sistan, and Baluchistan Province, in December 2023.[56] Eleven police officers died in the attack. The Afghan branch of the Islamic State also conducted a terrorist attack in Kerman Province on January 3, killing over 90 individuals.[57]

The Iranian ambassador to Pakistan and the Pakistani ambassador to Iran returned to their posts following the exchange of strikes between Iran and Pakistan between January 16-18.[58] Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Iran and expelled the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan following the IRGC’s drone and missile strikes on Jaish al Adl targets in Pakistan on January 17.[59] The Pakistani armed forces responded late on January 17 with strikes targeting Baloch separatists in three locations near Saravan, Iran.[60] The return of the Iranian and Pakistani ambassadors to their posts is part of Iranian and Pakistani efforts to de-escalate tensions and restore bilateral relations in the aftermath of the strikes.

The Iranian regime denied a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report that the United States secretly warned Iran that the Islamic State was preparing to conduct the January 3 terrorist attack in Kerman.[61] The United States provided Iran with intelligence, including the location of the attack, that the Iranian regime could have used to thwart the attack.[62] “Informed [Iranian] sources” denied the WSJ reporting on January 26.[63] An unidentified security official also claimed that a US warning to Iran would have been meant to protect the United States from Iran’s “response [to the attack].”[64] This statement is consistent with Iranian officials’ efforts to place blame for the January 3 attack on the United States and Israel.[65] 

 


Iran Update, January 25, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Ashka Jhaveri, Alexandra Braverman, Kathryn Tyson, Johanna Moore, Andie Parry, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq: The United States and the Iraqi federal government will soon begin negotiations on Iraq's current security arrangement with US-led coalition forces, which could involve US forces withdrawing from Iraq. Iranian-backed Iraqi actors praised the US and Iraqi decision to begin negotiations about the status of US-led coalition forces in Iraq.
  • Yemen: Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi falsely claimed that Houthi attacks on maritime traffic in the Red Sea have not significantly impacted maritime trade. Abdulmalik separately reiterated the false Houthi narrative that the anti-shipping attacks have only targeted Israel-linked vessels and further claimed that the Houthis have allowed almost 5,000 non-Israel-linked vessels to freely operate in the Red Sea.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to engage Palestinian fighters throughout the northern part of the strip. CTP-ISW previously assessed that Hamas and other Palestinian militias are reinfiltrating areas that Israeli forces previously cleared.
  • Central Gaza Strip: Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine conducted a combined attack targeting an Israeli supply line. The operation marks the third claimed indirect fire attack targeting Israeli supply lines in recent days.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued conducting clearing operations in Khan Younis. Palestinian fighters continued conducting a deliberate defense against Israeli clearing operations in western and southern Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: US Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns will meet with the Qatari prime minister and the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence chiefs in the coming days to broker a deal for the release of hostages and a pause in fighting in the Gaza Strip.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighter four times in the northern West Bank, primarily around Jenin and Tubas.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iran: The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States secretly warned Iran that the Islamic State was preparing to conduct the January 3 terrorist attack in Kerman.

The United States and the Iraqi federal government will soon begin negotiations on Iraq's current security arrangement with US-led coalition forces, which could involve US forces withdrawing from Iraq. US-led coalition forces have been deployed to Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government since 2014 to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[1] US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on January 25 that the US-Iraq Higher Military Commission (HMC), which is comprised of US and Iraqi federal government officials, will soon hold “working group meetings” to evaluate the status of the US-led Global Coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS.[2] Unspecified sources told Western media that the United States dropped a condition requiring Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to stop attacking US forces in Iraq before negotiations start.[3] Austin said that US defense professionals will advise the HMC on the “threat from ISIS, operational and environmental requirements, and the Iraqi Security Forces’ (ISF) capability levels.”[4] Austin added that the HMC meetings will “enable the transition to an enduring bilateral security relationship” between the United States and Iraq.[5] This statement is consistent with previous statements from Mohammad Shia al Sudani administration officials that the Iraqi federal government seeks to establish “bilateral relationships” with the United States and International Coalition countries.[6]

The Iraqi Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed on January 25 the start of negotiations about the presence of US-led coalition forces in Iraq in the near future.[7] The ministry announced that the HMC meetings aim to “initiate the gradual and deliberate reduction of [International Coalition] advisers on Iraqi soil” and "end the coalition's military mission against ISIS.” The ministry additionally expressed support for establishing comprehensive relations with coalition countries.[8]

US forces and military infrastructure in Iraq provide critical logistical support that enables the presence of US forces in Syria. A US military withdrawal from Iraq would therefore necessitate the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.[9] CTP-ISW continues to assess that the United States and its partners in Syria have successfully contained but not defeated ISIS and that a US withdrawal from Syria would very likely cause a rapid ISIS resurgence in Syria within 12 to 24 months.[10] A resurgent ISIS would then be able to threaten Iraq. The ISF still faces significant deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, and logistics that will impede its ability to defeat ISIS alone.[11]

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors praised the US and Iraqi decision to begin negotiations about the status of US-led coalition forces in Iraq. The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—released a statement on January 25 lauding the Sudani administration’s efforts to “redraw” Iraq’s relationship with the US-led Global Coalition.[12] This statement is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Iranian-backed Iraqi actors have used military and political pressure in recent months to expel US forces from Iraq. The framework expressed support for the “transition to comprehensive bilateral relations with the coalition countries in the political, economic, cultural, security and military fields,” although it is not clear whether the framework shares Sudani’s interpretation of bilateral relations. CTP-ISW previously assessed that Sudani is attempting to retain some US presence in Iraq and that his approach conflicts with Iranian-backed Iraqi actors’ maximalist demands to immediately remove all US forces from Iraq.

Iranian-backed militias and political factions in Iraq would likely frame a US departure from Iraq as a victory for Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance.” An Iraqi parliamentarian affiliated with the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, Mustafa Sanad, claimed on January 25 that US-led coalition forces “will leave [Iraq] under the influence of weapons.”[13] Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have attacked US positions in Iraq and Syria over 150 times since the Israel-Hamas war began to impose a cost on the United States for supporting Israel and to erode willingness to remain militarily in the Middle East.[14] Sanad’s statement highlights Iranian and Axis of Resistance leaders’ theory that relatively low levels of militant pressure will gradually diminish the willingness of the US political establishment to sustain deployments in the Middle East.[15]

Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi falsely claimed that Houthi attacks on maritime traffic in the Red Sea have not significantly impacted maritime trade. Abdulmalik made the statement in a speech on January 25 criticizing recent US strikes targeting Houthi military targets.[16] Major shipping companies have rerouted their operations away from the Red Sea in response to Houthi attacks, disrupting supply chains and driving higher inflation rates.[17] Maritime traffic through the Suez Canal decreased by 30 percent in early January 2024 compared to the previous year.[18] Reuters reported on January 11 that Houthi attacks caused a 40 percent decrease in US dollar revenues from the Suez Canal from 2023 to 2024.[19] Approximately 10 to 12 percent of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, generating roughly eight billion dollars of revenue.[20] Abdulmalik claimed that the Houthis have used 200 drones and 50 missiles thus far in their anti-shipping attack campaign, which, if true, demonstrates the relatively little the Houthis had to spend to disrupt a major corridor for international trade.

Abdulmalik separately reiterated the false Houthi narrative that the anti-shipping attacks have only targeted Israel-linked vessels and further claimed that the Houthis have allowed almost 5,000 non-Israel-linked vessels to freely operate in the Red Sea since the onset of their attack campaign.[21] The Houthis have repeatedly targeted merchant vessels with no obvious connections to Israel, as CTP-ISW has continually reported.[22]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Several Palestinian militias attacked Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip on January 25. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired rockets at Israeli infantry northwest of Beit Hanoun.[23] The militia previously fired a rocket salvo from Beit Hanoun toward southern Israel on January 15.[24] Separately, Hamas and the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement, which is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas and that has expressed close ties with Iran, fired rockets at a group of Israeli forces in a combined attack northwest of Gaza City.[25] The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is a secular Palestinian faction fighting with Hamas, mortared Israeli forces in eastern Jabalia.[26] Hamas and other Palestinian fighters have contested Israeli raids in this area throughout January 2024. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 5th Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) killed an unspecified number of Palestinian fighters and located weapons in the northern Gaza Strip.[27]

PIJ and the PFLP conducted a combined attack targeting an Israeli supply line in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip on January 25.[28] The PIJ operation marks the third indirect fire attack that the group has claimed targeting Israeli supply lines in recent days.[29] The IDF Yiftach Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) raided several buildings in the central Gaza Strip.[30] Israeli forces identified Palestinian fighters in a building in the area and directed a helicopter strike targeting it.[31]

Palestinian fighters continued conducting a deliberate defense against Israeli clearing operations in western and southern Khan Younis on January 25. Hamas’ military wing fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting two Israeli tanks west of Khan Younis City.[32] PIJ’s military wing fired small arms and mortars and RPGs and detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli armor and infantry in western and southern Khan Younis.[33] The military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which is a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in the war, clashed with the IDF in western Khan Younis.[34] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—fired small arms and ”appropriate weapons” at the IDF in western Khan Younis City.[35]

The IDF continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis on January 25. The IDF 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) conducted several raids in Khan Younis.[36] The IDF Egoz Unit fired an Iron Sting precision mortar and killed three fighters. The Egoz Unit also eliminated four fighters in clashes in a building in Khan Younis. The IDF said that the Egoz Unit adapted a method of sniper fire to target Palestinian fighters exiting tunnels. The Maglan Unit (assigned to the 98th Division) raided the military headquarters of a commander of PIJ’s information unit.[37] The Maglan Unit also raided a Hamas military headquarters and located military equipment and weapons. IDF paratroopers expanded raids and eliminated multiple fighters in the al Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis.[38] The paratroopers directed an airstrike on four fighters approaching IDF soldiers in the area. A Palestinian journalist published footage of what the journalist said was the IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) demolishing buildings in Khan Younis.[39]

US Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns will meet with the Qatari prime minister and the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence chiefs in the coming days to broker a deal for the release of hostages and a pause in fighting in the Gaza Strip.[40] An unspecified senior Israeli official told Axios that Burns’ meeting is crucial to reaching a breakthrough in talks on a new deal that would include a two-month pause in fighting in exchange for Hamas releasing all Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip.[41] Another senior Israeli official said that Hamas must recognize that Israel will not agree to ending the war or releasing Hamas’ desired number of Palestinian prisoners as part of the deal.[42] The United States, Egypt, and Qatar have in recent days pushed a new diplomatic effort to end the Israel-Hamas war.[43]

Israel proposed a two-month pause in fighting on January 21 in exchange for Hamas releasing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip.[44] Hamas reportedly rejected the Israeli proposal, likely because it did not include measures to end Israel’s plan to destroy Hamas. Egypt also rejected the proposal because it did not include an agreement to end the war, according to the Wall Street Journal.[45]

The military wing of the DFLP fired mortars targeting IDF vehicles at the Karm Abu Salem site in southern Israel.[46]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighter four times in the northern West Bank on January 25. Israeli forces conducted operations around Jenin governorate and identified road-buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Jenin refugee camp.[47] PIJ fighters detonated an IED targeting an Israeli armored vehicle in the camp.[48] PIJ claimed it damaged the vehicle and wounded Israeli soldiers inside. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah, claimed it targeted Israeli forces with explosives and small arms fire in Jenin City.[49] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades also posted footage showing Palestinian fighters targeting Israeli forces at the Tayasir checkpoint in Tubas.[50] Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian fighter in Bir al Basha, who fired on Israeli forces.[51] Hamas later claimed that the Palestinian fighter was a Hamas member.[52]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 25.[53] Hezbollah launched two one-way attack drones at Israeli Iron Dome air defense batteries in Kfar Blum.[54] Hezbollah has only claimed one other attack on Iron Dome batteries during the Israel-Hamas war.[55] Hezbollah drone attacks into Israel are relatively rare, as the group more commonly uses anti-tank munitions in its regular attacks on Israeli targets.

The IDF Air Force struck a Hezbollah military runway 10 miles from the Israel-Lebanon border shortly after Hezbollah conducted the drone attack into Israel.[56] The IDF said that Hezbollah’s air unit uses the runway and its facilities to conduct attacks into Israel.[57] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant released Israeli intelligence in September 2023 that demonstrated the IRGC’s role in constructing the airstrip.[58]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah called for expanding the scope of militia attacks to include additional US interests in Iraq and the Middle East in response to the January 23 US airstrikes targeting three Kataib Hezbollah facilities.[59] The United States conducted the airstrikes in response to a Kataib Hezbollah ballistic missile and rocket attack targeting Ain al Asad airbase that left four US personnel with traumatic brain injuries.[60] Kataib Hezbollah is part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraqa coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that have conducted over 150 attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.[61]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for four attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria on January 24 and 25.[62] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed attacks targeting US forces at US Conoco Mission Support Site in northeastern Syria, Erbil International Airport in Erbil Province, Iraq, and Ain al Asad airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq, on January 24.[63] The group did not specify what munitions it used in these attacks. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq separately claimed a drone attack targeting US forces at Erbil International Airport on January 25.[64]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also claimed that it conducted a drone attack targeting the Israeli port of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, on January 25.[65] The group targeted Ashdod for the first time on January 23.[66]

The United States and United Kingdom sanctioned four Houthi officials on January 25.[67] The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) stated that the US and UK designated these individuals for supporting the recent Houthi attacks targeting commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The US and UK designated the following individuals:

  • Houthi “Defense Minister” Mohamed al Atifi
  • Houthi “maritime forces commander” Muhammad Fadl Abd al Nabi
  • Houthi “coastal defense forces chief” and “naval college director” Muhammad Ali al Qadiri
  • Houthi “procurement director” Mohammad Ahmad al Talibi

OFAC noted that Talibi coordinates with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to smuggle Iranian-provided drones, missiles, and other weapons components into Yemen.[68] US outlet Semafor reported on January 15 that the IRGC Quds Force has overseen the transfer to Yemen of the drones and missiles that the Houthis have used in their attacks targeting maritime shipping in the Red Sea.[69] Semafor also reported that the IRGC Quds Force placed drone and missile operators and trainers as well as intelligence personnel on the ground in Houthi-controlled Yemen to direct Houthi drone and missile attacks and provide tactical intelligence support to the Houthis.[70] UK outlet Daily Telegraph reported on January 10 that the IRGC trained a group of 200 Houthis at the Khamenei Academy of Naval Sciences and Technology in northern Iran prior to the Houthi attacks.[71]

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the United States secretly warned Iran that the Islamic State was preparing to conduct the January 3 terrorist attack in Kerman.[72] WSJ reported that the United States passed actionable intelligence to Tehran prior to the attack. Anonymous US officials said that the information provided regarding the location and time were specific enough that the regime could have thwarted the attack. The Islamic State killed at least 94 people in the Kerman attack.[73]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a joint statement on the Israel-Hamas war and Iranian-Turkish relations after Raisi’s visit to Ankara on January 25.[74] The joint statement condemned Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. The statement noted the need for “decisive measures” to stop Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. Raisi and Erdogan expressed their desire for unspecified “competent courts” to try Israeli military and political leaders. The two leaders also expressed Iran’s and Turkey’s willingness to jointly combat terrorism.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine on January 25.[75] Raisi condemned the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian threatened in a press conference on January 25 that any country normalizing ties with Israel will pay a “heavy price” on January 25.[76] Abdollahian was responding to a reporter asking whether Iran supported the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed diplomatic relations in March 2023.[77]

The Iranian deputy foreign affairs minister discussed the Israel-Hamas war with the Norwegian deputy foreign affairs minister on January 24.[78] The Iranian deputy foreign affairs minister condemned the war and called for an immediate ceasefire. Norway’s special representative for Yemen and the Middle East also attended the meeting.

The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry senior adviser discussed the Israel-Hamas war in separate meetings with senior Turkish and UN officials during the latest round of Astana talks in Kazakhstan on January 25.[79] The Iranian official criticized the United States over its support for Israel. He said that all regional countries have been negatively impacted by the Israel-Hamas war. Representatives from Iran, Russia, and Turkey released a joint statement at the end of the talks on January 25, condemning Israeli airstrikes in Syria.[80] Israeli airstrikes in Syria on January 20 killed at least five IRGC officers in Syria.[81]

Iran Update, January 24, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, Johanna Moore, Kathryn Tyson, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Note: CTP and ISW have refocused the update to cover the Israel-Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance. We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

Click here to see CTP and ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report. Click here to subscribe to the Iran Update.

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 215th Artillery Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) directed airstrikes to kill many Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours.
  • Central Gaza Strip: Israeli forces destroyed an underground tunnel route 1.5 kilometers from the Israeli border that connects the northern and southern Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters defended against Israeli clearing operations in western, southern, and eastern Khan Younis on January 24.
  • Political Negotiations: Israel and Hamas continued indirect talks regarding a ceasefire on January 24. Hamas demanded a total Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
  • West Bank: CTP-ISW did not record any clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militias in the West Bank on January 24.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 24.
  • Iraq: The United States conducted airstrikes targeting three Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq in al Qaim, Anbar Province, and Jurf al Sakhr, Babil Province, on January 23.
  • Yemen: Houthi fighters fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting two US-flagged ships transporting US military supplies through the Gulf of Aden on January 24
  • Iran: Iranian officials discussed the Israel-Hamas war with senior Russian officials on January 24.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 215th Artillery Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) directed airstrikes to kill many Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours.[1] CTP-ISW previously reported that Hamas fighters are already reinfiltrating areas that Israeli forces cleared in the northern Gaza Strip, which will facilitate Hamas’ reconstitution.[2] The Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) military wing published footage on January 24 of its fighters firing mortars targeting an Israeli supply line east of Jabalia.[3] The militia claimed that it targeted an Israeli supply line east of Jabalia in a combined operation with Hamas fighters on January 22.[4]

Israeli forces destroyed an underground tunnel route 1.5 kilometers from the Israeli border that connects the northern and southern Gaza Strip.[5] The IDF 646th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) and engineers destroyed the tunnel system last week during operations north of Bureij, in the central Gaza Strip. Israeli forces located anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers, warheads, and equipment for rocket production and launch systems in the tunnels. The 646th Brigade previously located an underground tunnel route beneath Salah al Din Road on January 16, which the IDF said Palestinian militias used to move fighters between the northern and southern Gaza Strip.[6]

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip. The Yiftach Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) fired at an armed Palestinian fighter who was observing them on January 24.[7] Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks targeting Israeli forces in the central Gaza Strip on January 24.

Palestinian fighters defended against Israeli clearing operations in western, southern, and eastern Khan Younis on January 24. Hamas and other Palestinian militias claimed several attacks targeting Israeli forces in western Khan Younis where Palestinian militias are continuing to execute a deliberate defense against Israeli offensive operations.[8] Hamas claimed that its fighters detonated explosives that Israeli forces had planted to demolish a building in western Khan Younis.[9] The group conducted a similar attack on January 22 that killed 21 Israeli soldiers in the central Gaza Strip.[10] Hamas and PIJ also conducted a combined attack that targeted an Israeli tank with an anti-tank RPG in western Khan Younis on January 24.[11] Hamas mortared Israeli forces advancing east of al Fukhari in southern Khan Younis.[12] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) reported that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces as they advanced in western, southern, and eastern Khan Younis.[13]

The IDF reported on January 24 that the 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.[14] Israeli forces are “increasing the pressure” on Hamas and targeting Hamas squads with sniper fire, tanks, and airstrikes.[15] Israeli forces operating in the center of the Khan Younis refugee camp encountered many Palestinian fighters and raided Hamas facilities in the area.[16]

The top US Middle East mediator, National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, arrived in Qatar on January 24 for negotiations over the release of Hamas-held hostages in the Gaza Strip.[17] McGurk will discuss a new hostage deal with Qatari officials. The discussions will also focus on humanitarian assistance, IDF operations, and the protection of civilian life in the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas continued indirect talks regarding a ceasefire on January 24.[18] Israeli media reported on January 24 that Hamas suspended negotiations for a hostage deal with Israel, according to two sources privy to the details of the negotiations.[19] The sources said that Hamas demanded a total Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.[20]

PIJ’s military wing claimed that its fighters fired rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting nearby Israeli towns on January 24.[21]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

CTP-ISW did not record any clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militias in the West Bank on January 24. Israeli forces detained seven wanted individuals across the West Bank.[22] Israeli forces also destroyed the home of a Hamas fighter who killed four Israelis in an Israeli settlement south of Nablus in June 2023.[23]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 24.[24] Israeli forces struck multiple Lebanese Hezbollah military targets in southern Lebanon on the same day.[25]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The United States conducted airstrikes targeting three Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq in al Qaim, Anbar Province, and Jurf al Sakhr, Babil Province, on January 23.[26] The United States conducted the strikes in response to a Kataib Hezbollah ballistic missile and rocket attack targeting Ain al Assad Airbase on January 20 that left four US personnel with traumatic brain injuries and injured at least one Iraqi Security Forces member.[27] The US strikes targeted the 45th Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Brigade’s 3rd Regiment in al Qaim and the 46th and 47th PMF brigades in Jurf al Sakhr.[28] US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Kataib Hezbollah commands and mans the 45th, 46th, and 47th PMF Brigades.[29] US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Kataib Hezbollah controls the al Qaim border crossing between Iraq and Syria.[30] The group also committed acts of sectarian cleansing in Jurf al Sakhr, which it now controls.[31] Kataib Hezbollah does not allow the Iraqi government access to Jurf al Sakhr, which is notable because it means that the Iraqi government does not have control over the town.[32] US Central Command reported that the strikes targeted KH's “headquarters, storage and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.”[33] Iran uses the al Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing to transport air defense equipment, precision-guided munitions, and other weapons into Syria.[34]

Numerous Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN), and the Badr Organization reiterated their demand for the removal of US forces from Iraq following the US strikes.[35] HHN repeated the claim that US self-defense strikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militia facilities "violate” Iraqi sovereignty.[36] Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conduct attacks targeting US forces, which provoke US self-defense strikes. The militias then incorrectly characterize these self-defense strikes as "violations” of Iraqi sovereignty to pressure the Iraqi federal government to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The United States reserves the right to protect its forces in Iraq, which are deployed at the invitation of the Iraqi government to fight ISIS.[37]

Iranian-backed political factions also condemned the US strikes. State of Law Coalition member Turki al Utbi stated on January 24 that the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—will meet within 72 hours to discuss efforts to pressure the Iraqi federal government to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.[38] The State of Law Coalition is headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and is part of the Shia Coordination Framework.[39] Interim Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi also condemned the US strikes and separately announced that Parliament will hold a session on January 27.[40] Mandalawi is a member of the Shia Coordination Framework and the Independent Iraq Alliance.[41] It is unclear whether the parliament session will focus on the US strikes or another topic, such as the parliament speaker vote.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iran-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three strikes on US positions in Iraq and Syria on January 24.[42] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq attacked US forces at Erbil International Airport and Ain al Assad Base in Iraq.[43] The group attacked US forces in Syria at Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province.

Houthi fighters fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting two US-flagged ships transporting US military supplies through the Gulf of Aden on January 24.[44] US Central Command reported that the USS Gravely intercepted two of the anti-ship ballistic missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile landed in the sea.[45] The two ships operated by Maersk’s US subsidiary Maersk Line, Limited (MLL) also reported seeing explosions near the vessels, according to a statement from Maersk.[46] MLL provides transportation for the US government and its vessels are enrolled in the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA). These programs partner US-flagged merchant vessels with the US Department of Defense (DOD) to support DOD operations in emergency situations.[47] MLL announced that it will suspend transits through the Red Sea until further notice due to increased risk to its vessels.[48]

CENTCOM conducted airstrikes targeting two anti-ship ballistic missiles in Houthi-controlled territory of Yemen on January 23.[49] CENTCOM reported that the missiles were aimed at the southern Red Sea, were prepared to fire, and posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy in the region.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war in separate meetings with the French, Algerian, and Malaysian foreign ministers in New York on January 23.[50]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke about the Israel-Hamas war and Turkish-Iranian relations at a press conference prior to departing for Turkey on January 24.[51] Raisi called the Israel-Hamas war one of the most important regional issues. Raisi condemned US support for Israel. Raisi reiterated Iranian calls for increased isolation of Israel.[52] Raisi will meet with senior Turkish leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his visit to Ankara beginning January 24.[53]

Supreme Leader Military Affairs Adviser Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi discussed the Israel-Hamas war with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Iran delegation head Vincent Cassard in Tehran on January 24.[54] Safavi called for the ICRC to play a role in bringing about a ceasefire and increasing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. Safavi served as the IRGC commander from 1997 to 2007 before becoming the Supreme Leader’s military affairs adviser. [55]

Iranian officials discussed the Israel-Hamas war with senior Russian officials on January 24. The Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian called for an immediate end to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip during a meeting with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Pastrushev in Moscow.[56] A senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official and former Persian Gulf Affairs director general also called for an immediate ceasefire during a meeting with the Russian President's Special Representative for Syrian Affairs in Astana, Kazakhstan.[57] Iranian and Russian officials have engaged in political coordination vis-a-vis the Israel-Hamas war since at least October 26, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[58]

Iran Update, January 23, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Alexandra Braverman, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, Brian Carter, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  • Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias claimed attacks in areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. The claimed attacks are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Hamas and other Palestinian militias are likely in the early stages of reconstituting their governance and military capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • Central Gaza Strip: Hamas’ military wing conducted a complex attack that killed 21 Israeli soldiers in the deadliest single attack since Israeli ground operations began. The IDF Chief of Staff said that the fallen soldiers were conducting a defensive activity that will allow Israeli residents to return to their homes surrounding the Gaza Strip.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces located an underground weapons production facility that the IDF said is the largest it has found to date. Palestinian militias are continuing to execute a deliberate defense against Israeli operations in western Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Israel proposed a two-month pause in fighting in exchange for Hamas releasing over several phases the remaining hostages held in the Gaza Strip. An anonymous Egyptian official told the Associated Press that Hamas rejected the proposal.
  • West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters twice in the West Bank. The IDF detained eight wanted individuals and confiscated weapons.
  • Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah claimed three attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. Israeli media reported that the IDF Air Force destroyed an unspecified military asset used by Hezbollah but operated by Iran.
  • Iraq: The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Shia political factions—discussed Iranian-backed militia efforts to “provoke” US self-defense strikes in a meeting.
  • Syria: Israel likely conducted two airstrikes targeting an IRGC weapons storage facility and an Iranian-backed militia truck transporting weapons around Albu Kamal, Syria.
  • Yemen: US and UK forces conducted combined strikes on eight Houthi military targets in Yemen. The Houthis are harassing UN operations and personnel in Yemen.
  • Iran: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei criticized Islamic countries for not demanding a ceasefire for the Israel-Hamas war during a meeting with the Tehran branch of the Martyrs’ Commemoration National Congress.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias claimed attacks on January 23 in areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. The claimed attacks are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Hamas and other Palestinian militias are likely in the early stages of reconstituting their governance and military capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.[1] Hamas’ military wing used thermobaric rockets, sniper rifles, and mortars to target Israeli forces southwest of Gaza City.[2] Hamas claimed that its fighters seized three drones south of Zaytoun and detonated a mine field targeting Israeli vehicles in Juhor ad Dik.[3] Several Palestinian militias separately claimed attacks and published footage of their fighters targeting Israeli armor and dismounted infantry east of Jabalia.[4] Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said on January 23 that Israeli forces are continuing to fight in the northern Gaza Strip.[5]

Hamas’ military wing conducted a complex attack that killed 21 Israeli soldiers in the deadliest single attack since Israeli ground operations began. The IDF reported that Palestinian fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli forces near two buildings that the IDF had rigged to demolish and a nearby Israeli tank 600 meters west of Kissufim on January 22.[6] The RPG detonated the IDF explosives on the two buildings, causing the buildings to collapse. The collapsing buildings and firefight killed 21 IDF soldiers.[7] Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack on January 23.[8] The group claimed that its fighters fired an "anti-personnel” rocket at Israeli engineers, causing a secondary detonation that collapsed the building. The fighters simultaneously fired an anti-tank RPG at an Israeli tank and detonated a mine field in the area. Israeli media and Hamas reported that the fighters responsible for the attack escaped.[9]

The IDF Chief of Staff said during a visit to the site of the complex attack on January 23 that the fallen soldiers were conducting a defensive activity in the border area that will allow residents of the towns surrounding the Gaza Strip in Israel to return.[10]

Israeli forces located a large underground weapons production facility in the southern Gaza Strip.[11] The IDF said that this facility is the largest facility it has found to date. The IDF 7th Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) searched the 1.5-kilometer-long tunnel network during clearing operations in Khan Younis.[12] Palestinian fighters opened fire from tunnel entrances and detonated improvised explosive devices at tunnel entrances to prevent Israeli forces from entering the complex. Israeli forces captured the weapons production facility and a large lathe for producing rockets. Israeli forces destroyed the underground tunnel system as part of their effort to degrade Hamas’ weapons and rocket production capabilities.[13]

Palestinian militias are continuing to execute a deliberate defense against the Israeli ground operation in western Khan Younis. The military wings of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Fatah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed most of their attacks targeting Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip on January 23 in western Khan Younis.[14] PIJ claimed that it targeted an Israeli tank with an explosively formed penetrator (EFP).[15] Hamas fighters prevented an Israeli quick reaction force from removing an immobile tank after the fighters fired an RPG at it on January 21.[16]

The IDF reported on January 23 that its 98th Division encircled Khan Younis.[17] IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that Israeli forces killed more than 100 operatives in western Khan Younis on January 23.[18] The 98th Division is executing an “expanded” clearing operation in western Khan Younis to “dismantle” Hamas’ military forces in Khan Younis.[19]

Israel proposed a two-month pause in fighting in exchange for Hamas releasing over several phases the remaining hostages held in the Gaza Strip.[20] The first phase would have Hamas return women, men over 60 years old, and hostages in critical medical condition. Israeli media reported that the "next phases" would include the release of female IDF soldiers, civilian males under the age of 60, Israeli male soldiers, and the bodies of hostages. An anonymous Israeli official told an Israeli journalist that the proposal includes redeploying the IDF out of main population centers in the Gaza Strip to allow Palestinian civilians to return to these areas. The official added that this proposal does not include the release of all 6,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. An anonymous Egyptian official told the Associated Press that Hamas rejected the proposal, likely because it included no measures to end the Israeli effort to destroy Hamas.[21] Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel accused the Israeli government of “not being serious” about the negotiations because the proposal did not include an agreement to end the war, according to the Wall Street Journal.[22]

The Israeli proposal is very similar to the US-Egyptian-Qatari plan that the Wall Street Journal reported on January 21.[23] The Wall Street Journal reported that Hamas would release all remaining Israeli hostages under this plan in exchange for Israel releasing an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners over a 90-day pause in fighting. This pause—according to the US-Egyptian-Qatari proposal—would lead to a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, the normalization of Israeli-Saudi relations, and the relaunching of the process to form a Palestinian state.

Unspecified Arab officials told the Wall Street Journal that four unspecified Arab states and Saudi Arabia proposed a separate plan for the Gaza Strip’s post-war governance.[24] Egyptian and Saudi officials said that the primary obstacle is the creation of a Palestinian state—a step that Israel has continually rejected.[25] The five Arab countries said that they will train Palestinian security forces, “revive and reform” the Palestinian Authority, and eventually “help organization elections,” according to the Arab officials. Egyptian and Saudi officials said that they are still finalizing the plan.[26]

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson posted new evacuation orders covering specific areas in western Khan Younis on X (Twitter) at 03:52 EST on January 23.[27] The orders highlight specific blocks and neighborhoods in al Nasr, al Amal, the city center, and the refugee camp. The spokesperson told residents to immediately move to the al Mawasi Humanitarian Zone.

The Gaza Strip is experiencing the tenth telecommunications blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began. NetBlocks reported on January 23 that the Gaza Strip entered the second day of the telecommunications blackout.[28]

The al Quds Brigades and al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades launched mortars from the Gaza Strip in a combined operation targeting Nahal Oz in southern Israel on January 23.[29] The al Quds Brigades is the militant wing of PIJ. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters two times in the West Bank on January 23.[30] The IDF detained eight wanted individuals and confiscated weapons during operations in the West Bank.[31] The IDF said that Israeli forces shot an individual armed with a knife as the individual approached an Israeli post near Ramallah.[32]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah claimed three attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 23.[33] Hezbollah launched at least 15 rockets targeting an IDF base on Mount Meron that hosts air traffic control, radar, surveillance, communication, and jamming facilities.[34] The IDF stated that the attack caused minor damage to the base but that it did not impact the base’s reconnaissance capabilities.[35] Hezbollah stated that it targeted Mount Meron ”in retaliation“ for recent unspecified assassinations in Lebanon and Syria.[36] Israel has targeted Iranian and Hezbollah military commanders responsible for facilitating the movement of Iranian-provided materiel that Hezbollah uses to target northern Israel. Hezbollah targeted Mount Meron for the first time on January 6 after Israel killed Hamas Political Bureau Deputy Chairman Saleh al Arouri in Beirut on January 2.[37]

Israeli media reported that the IDF Air Force destroyed an unspecified military asset used by Hezbollah but operated by Iran.[38] Israeli media has provided no further details on the incident at the time of writing.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraqa coalition of Iran-backed Iraqi militiasclaimed responsibility for two one-way drone attacks and a rocket attack targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria. The group claimed two one-way drone attacks targeting US forces at Ain al Assad airbase in western Iraq on January 23.[39] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also fired a rocket salvo targeting US forces at the Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province on January 22, after CTP-ISW’s data cutoff that day.[40] CTP-ISW reported on January 22 that the group fired two previous barrages of rockets targeting US forces at the Conoco Mission Support Site earlier on January 22.[41]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also launched one unspecified drone targeting the Israeli port of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv.[42] This is the first Islamic Resistance in Iraq attack targeting Ashdod during the war.

The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Shia political factions—discussed Iranian-backed militia efforts to “provoke” US self-defense strikes in a meeting on January 22.[43] Coordination Framework leadership discussed “solutions” to the Iranian-backed militia ”provocation” of US forces. An MP from the Iranian-backed Badr Organization’s Fatah Alliance said that these solutions include the removal of US forces from Iraq. Many parties within the Shia Coordination Framework, including the Fatah Alliance, are political wings of Iranian-backed militias that have been waging a campaign combining political and military pressure to remove US forces from Iraq.[44] Iranian-backed Iraqi groups and politicians frequently frame US self-defense strikes as crimes and violations of Iraqi sovereignty to pressure the Iraqi government to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.[45]

Israel likely conducted two airstrikes targeting an IRGC weapons storage facility and an Iranian-backed militia truck transporting weapons around Albu Kamal, Syria, on January 23.[46] Israeli media reported that the strike on the truck killed at least two Iranian-backed militia members.[47] Syrian media reported that the militia members belonged to the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces.[48] Israel has conducted a series of airstrikes since early December 2023 targeting IRGC Quds Force weapons shipments and personnel responsible for supplying Lebanese Hezbollah through Syria.[49] Israeli media said on December 29 that Israel’s strikes are responding to Iranian efforts to accelerate the supply of military equipment to Lebanese Hezbollah, which is using the Iranian-provided equipment to support attacks into northern Israel.[50]

US and UK forces conducted combined strikes on eight Houthi military targets in Yemen on January 22.[51] Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands supported the operation, which targeted Houthi missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, radars, and deeply buried weapons storage facilities. The UK Defense Ministry stated that four of its aircraft struck targets near ”Sanaa airfield.”[52] Sanaa airfield probably refers to Dailami airbase, which is north of Sanaa. The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that US and UK forces struck targets in four governorates.[53] The spokesperson also stated the Houthis will respond to the strikes. US CENTCOM stated that the strikes aimed to degrade the Houthi capability to conduct attacks on international commercial shipping and US and UK ships. CENTCOM added that the strikes “are separate and distinct” from Operation Prosperity Guardian, which is a multinational coalition protecting freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, Bab al Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden.

The Houthis are harassing UN operations and personnel in Yemen. The Houthi Foreign Affairs Ministry ordered on January 20 the UN resident coordinator in Sanaa to expel all UN humanitarian workers with US or UK citizenships by February 18.[54] The Houthi ministry also ordered the United Nations to stop recruiting US and UK citizens as employees within Yemen. The internationally recognized Yemeni government’s information minister separately claimed that Houthi air traffic control threatened to shoot down a UN plane that was en route to Marib Governorate on January 23.[55]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei criticized Islamic countries for not demanding a ceasefire for the Israel-Hamas war during a meeting with the Tehran branch of the Martyrs’ Commemoration National Congress on January 23.[56] Khamenei urged Islamic countries to take actions, such as severing their respective political and economic relations with Israel.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed recent Israeli airstrikes targeting IRGC assets in Syria with UN Special Representative for Syria Geir Pederson in New York on January 23.[57] Abdollahian called on the international community to halt the Israeli strikes in Syria.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, at a meeting in New York on January 23.[58] Abdollahian demanded that Russia use its role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to more actively secure a ceasefire to the war. Lavrov criticized the United States for obstructing the previous ceasefire resolution in the UN Security Council on January 9.[59] Abdollahian said that he hopes that Russian President Vladimir Putin would sign a bilateral comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement with Iran during Putin’s upcoming visit to Tehran.

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war in a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib in New York on January 23.[60] Abdollahian condemned Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. 

Iran Update, January 22, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, Amin Soltani, and Kathryn Tyson

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • The Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces “expanded” ground operations in Khan Younis to “dismantle” Hamas’ military forces in Khan Younis.
  • The Northern Gaza Strip: Hamas and other Palestinian fighters are likely in the early stages of the reconstitution of their military and governance capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • The West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters seven times across the West Bank on January 22.
  • Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 22.
  • Iraq: The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad for aiding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and its militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Syria and Iraq on January 22.
  • Yemen: The Houthis claimed that they conducted a missile attack targeting an American military cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden on January 22.
  • Iran: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) held a funeral ceremony in Tehran on January 22 for three IRGC Quds Force officers that Israel killed in Syria. Israel’s strike on January 20 was a response to Iran’s efforts to accelerate its supply of military equipment to Hezbollah, which is using the equipment to support attacks into northern Israel.

Israeli forces “expanded” ground operations in Khan Younis to “dismantle” Hamas’ military forces in Khan Younis.[1] The IDF 98th Division is executing the “expanded” ground operation in western Khan Younis. Palestinian militias are continuing to execute a deliberate defense against the Israeli ground operation in western Khan Younis. Israeli media described the operation as the “fiercest battle” between the IDF and Palestinian militias.[2] The operation aims to “dismantle” Hamas’ military forces in Khan Younis over “several days” by raiding Hamas outposts, “strongholds,” and capturing Hamas infrastructure.[3] An Israeli military correspondent reported that the 98th Division isolated the Khan Younis Refugee Camp after airstrikes overnight on January 21 and 22.[4] See the Gaza Strip Axis for more details on this development.

The IDF told the military correspondent that it is “aware of the sites where civilians are sheltering” in Khan Younis.[5] The IDF also told the Washington Post that it still considers Mawasi a “safer zone.”[6] Israeli forces are operating along the easternmost edge of the al Mawasi Humanitarian Zone. See the Gaza Strip Axis for more details on this development.

Hamas and other Palestinian fighters are likely in the early stages of the reconstitution of their military and governance capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF has decreased its footprint in the northern Gaza Strip since December 31, which created an absence of authority in some areas of the Gaza Strip.[7] There is no functioning civil authority in the northern Strip, which permits Hamas-backed governing structures to reemerge in some areas. The Israeli Army Radio’s military correspondent reported on January 16 that Hamas is attempting to reconstitute its local Police in the northern Gaza Strip and that the humanitarian aid arriving in the northern Strip comes immediately “into the hands of Hamas.”[8]

Hamas and other Palestinian fighters are already contesting Israeli raids into the northern Gaza Strip, which indicates that Hamas is reconstituting some of its military capabilities. A local Gazan activist reported on January 20 that Israeli forces reentered the Strip east of Jabalia from the Gaza “envelope.”[9] The Gaza Envelope describes populated areas in southern Israel that are within seven kilometers of the Israel-Gaza border. Hamas and other Palestinian fighters have engaged Israeli forces east of Jabalia since January 18, when Hamas claimed five attacks targeting Israeli forces.[10] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a Palestinian Islamist group backed by Iran and aligned with Hamas, mortared an Israeli supply line east of Jabalia in a combined operation with Hamas fighters on January 22.[11] PIJ fighters also fired small arms at an Israeli combat outpost near the Eastern Cemetery east of Jabalia on January 22.[12]

Hamas and other Palestinian militias are also reconstituting militarily elsewhere in the northern Gaza Strip. Local Gazan activists and journalists reported heavy fighting in Tel al Hawa near the al Katiba Square in southwestern Gaza City on January 21.[13] Israeli forces are continuing to conduct operations in southern Gaza City, as CTP-ISW has previously reported.[14]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The IDF Yiftach Brigade engaged two Hamas cells in the central Gaza Strip on January 22.[15] The IDF said that the brigade killed both groups of Hamas fighters. 

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)’s military wing claimed two attacks targeting Israeli forces in the central Gaza Strip on January 22. PIJ published a video on January 22 that showed its fighters firing a sniper rifle from a hide site targeting several Israeli soldiers east of Bureij.[16] PIJ also launched one Badr-1 rocket targeting Israeli soldiers east of Maghazi.[17] The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a leftist Palestinian militia aligned with Hamas in this war, ambushed an Israeli infantry unit that breached a house in Bureij on January 22.[18]

The IDF withdrew the 900th “Kfir” Brigade from Bani Suheila for a “short [rest and recuperation] and training period.”[19] Unspecified Israeli forces backfilled the brigade. An Israeli military correspondent reported that the Kfir Brigade will resume its operations according to the IDF’s requirements.

For Israel’s “expanded” operation in Khan Younis, see topline.

Palestinian militias are continuing to execute a deliberate defense against the Israeli ground operation in western Khan Younis amid the IDF’s “expanded” ground operation in Khan Younis. Palestinian militias claimed 11 attacks targeting Israeli forces in western Khan Younis city.[20] Israeli media and Palestinian militias both reported “fierce” combat in western Khan Younis on January 22.[21] The DFLP claimed that it clashed with Israeli forces near al Aqsa University, which is on the edge of the al Mawasi Humanitarian Zone.[22] The al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is a nationalist militia aligned with Hamas in this war, also said that it engaged Israeli forces operating in the Austrian Quarter, near Nasser Hospital.[23] Local Palestinian sources also claimed that IDF armor deployed “near” Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis.[24]

Protesters and relatives of the hostages stormed the Israeli Knesset to demand the government do more to secure the release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip on January 22.[25] Knesset security staff were unable to prevent the entry of protesters to the Knesset Finance Committee session. Many protesters wore photos of family members being held in the Gaza Strip on their shirts. This protest follows an earlier demonstration calling for new elections outside the Knesset on Monday morning.[26] Non-voting Israeli war cabinet member Gadi Eisenkot stated on January 19 that the only way to secure the release of the hostages is with a ceasefire.[27]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters seven times across the West Bank on January 22.[28] This number of attacks is consistent with the daily attack rate over the past week. The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—claimed on January 22 that it conducted a combined attack with the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades south of Jenin. This is the group’s first attack in the West Bank since October 12.[29]

Israeli forces arrested 15 wanted individuals in raids across the West Bank.[30]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 22.[31] The Israeli Air Force responded by striking Lebanese Hezbollah military infrastructure in multiple areas in southern Lebanon.[32]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Syria and Iraq on January 22.[33] The group fired two barrages of rockets targeting US forces at the Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province.[34] The group separately claimed a drone attack targeting US forces at Ain al Asad airbase in western Iraq.[35] The drone attack is the first on Ain al Asad airbase since the Islamic Resistance in Iraq fired multiple ballistic missiles at the base on January 20. The missile strikes injured US and Iraqi service members.[36]

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad for aiding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and its militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon on January 22.[37] The Department of the Treasury stated that Fly Baghdad has carried weapons and military personnel to the Damascus International Airport for a range of Iranian-backed groups over the past several years. Fly Baghdad has supplied these groups with Iranian-made Fateh missiles, Zulfiqar missiles, al Fajr rockets, as well as AK-47s, RPG-7s, grenades, and machine guns. Kataib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al Haq used the airline to transport fighters, weapons, and US currency to Lebanon and Syria.

The Houthis claimed that they conducted a missile attack targeting an American military cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden on January 22. The group claimed to fire missiles at the US-flagged heavy load carrier Ocean Jazz but did not state whether they hit the vessel.[38] Shipping monitors did not report an incident in the Gulf of Aden on January 22 and unidentified US defense officials said the Ocean Jazz was not targeted by the Houthis.[39] The group’s military spokesperson threatened that the Houthis intend to respond to US and UK strikes on Houthi naval missiles and other military targets in Yemen.[40]

EU member states “agreed in principle” to deploy military assets to protect merchant shipping in the Red Sea on January 22.[41] The German outlet Der Speigel citing unspecified diplomats reported that the EU-led operation will ”ideally start next month” and will involve sending European warships and early warning systems to the region.[42] The planned operation does not include participation in US strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.[43] EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell said after a meeting with European foreign ministers that the operation’s details still require unanimity.[44] The Houthi military spokesperson said on January 22 that the group would target all threats in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Houthis would likely interpret the EU‘s protection of merchant shipping as a threat to its anti-shipping campaign. Italy, France, and Spain did not join the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian in December, despite a contradictory announcement from the US Defense Secretary.[45]

The Houthis are seeking new weapons from Iran, according to a January 21 report by Politico. Politico cites US and Western intelligence that the Houthis are lobbying Iran for additional weapons needed to launch missiles at freighters.[46] US naval forces seized an illegal shipment of Iranian-made ballistic and cruise missile components en route to Yemen on January 11.[47] Iran’s provision of these kinds of weapons to the Houthis enables their attacks on international shipping around the Red Sea. Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi claimed on January 21 that US strikes on the Houthis will develop the group’s military capabilities, instead of degrading the Houthi’s military capacity to target global shipping routes.[48]

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) held a funeral ceremony in Tehran on January 22 for three IRGC Quds Force officers that Israel killed in Syria.[49] The IRGC announced on January 20 that Israel killed five IRGC officers in an airstrike on al Mazzah, Damascus.[50] Among the killed were Brigadier General Sadegh Omid Zadeh, who was the IRGC Quds Force’s intelligence deputy in Syria, and his deputy, ”Haj Gholam.”[51] Omid Zadeh, also known as Hojjat Ollah Omidvar and ”Hajj Sadegh,” was reportedly an adviser to former IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and responsible for directing Iranian-backed militias in Syria to conduct attacks against US forces.[52] High-ranking IRGC officials, including IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami, attended the ceremony.[53]

Iranian officials and state media vowed retaliation against Israel for killing the five IRGC officers.[54] Israel previously conducted strikes targeting senior IRGC officers involved in transferring military equipment to Lebanese Hezbollah through Syria on December 2 and 25, 2023.[55] Israel was responding to Iran accelerating its supply of military equipment to Hezbollah, which is using the equipment to support attacks into northern Israel.[56]

An Iranian soldier shot and killed five fellow soldiers at an Artesh military facility near Kerman on January 21.[57] The Artesh is Iran‘s conventional military and is separate from the IRGC. The Artesh Southeastern Regional Headquarters commander said that the Artesh and Law Enforcement Command arrested and interrogated the individual. Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said that the incident was not terrorism.[58] Iranian officials and state media have provided no further information on the individual and his motive at the time of writing.

The Iranian and Pakistani foreign affairs ministries announced on January 22 that the two countries plan to renormalize diplomatic relations.[59] Iran conducted drone and missile strikes on Salafi-jihadi, Baloch militant headquarters inside Pakistan on January 16.[60] Pakistan recalled its ambassador and expelled the Iranian ambassador on January 17. Both sides adopted de-escalatory rhetoric following the strikes.[61] Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the renormalizing diplomatic ties and his upcoming visit to Pakistan on January 29 during a phone call with his Pakistani counterpart before the foreign affairs ministries’ announcements on January 22.[62] Pakistan responded by conducting strikes on Baloch separatists inside Iran on January 17.[63]  Ambassadors from both countries will return to their posts on January 26.[64]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with the Kuwaiti Parliamentary Friendship Group head in Tehran on January 22.[65] Abdollahian praised Kuwait for its position in support of the Palestinian people and claimed that Israel is attempting to compensate for its failures in the Israel-Hamas war by resorting to acts of “blind” terrorism.

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Algerian Parliament Deputy Speaker and Algerian-Iranian Parliamentary Friendship Group head Moussa Kharfi in Tehran on January 22.[66] Abdollahian thanked Algeria for its support of the Palestinian people and emphasized that the Palestinian issue is of strategic importance to Algeria.


Iran Update, January 21, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, Amin Soltani, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

CTP-ISW published abbreviated updates on January 20 and 21, 2024. Detailed coverage will resume Monday, January 22, 2024.

Key Takeaways:

  • The United States, Egypt, and Qatar are pushing a new, multi-part plan to end the Israel–Hamas war. The US-Egyptian-Qatari plan will enable Hamas to reconstitute and present a continued threat to Israel. This proposed plan, as reported, does not include any provisions to disarm Hamas.
  • Israeli forces raided an underground tunnel in a civilian area of Khan Younis that previously held Israeli hostages.
  • Palestinian militias conducted five indirect fire attacks targeting southern Israel on January 21.
  • Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in four locations across the West Bank on January 20 after CTP-ISW's data cutoff.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel targeting Israeli towns and military facilities on January 21.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for two one-way drone attacks targeting US positions in Syria on January 21.

The United States, Egypt, and Qatar are pushing a new, multi-part plan to end the Israel–Hamas war.[1] The plan contains three parts that will occur over a 90-day period, according to the Wall Street Journal. Hamas would first release all civilian hostages in return for Israel releasing “hundreds” of Palestinian prisoners. Israel would also withdraw its forces from population centers in the Gaza Strip, allow freedom of movement throughout the Gaza Strip, end “surveillance,” and double the flow of humanitarian aid into the strip. Hamas would release all female Israeli soldiers and return the bodies of dead hostages to Israel in the second stage. Finally, Hamas would release the remaining Israeli soldiers and fighting-age males, while Israeli forces withdraw from the strip completely. An Egyptian official told the Wall Street Journal that the parties to the agreement are considering “safety guarantees” for Hamas’ political leadership and the formation of an “international fund” for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. After the 90-day period, the plan would lead to a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the relaunching of a process to form a Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of a “ceasefire” in exchange for the release of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas in a video published on January 21.[2] Netanyahu was not explicitly responding to the US-Egyptian-Qatari plan. Netanyahu noted that an end to the war that leaves Hamas intact means that the next October 7 attack is “a matter of time.” Netanyahu laid out the Israeli war aims—"deradicalization” of Palestinian society, demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and the destruction of Hamas—in the Wall Street Journal on December 25, 2023.[3]

The US-Egyptian-Qatari plan will enable Hamas to reconstitute and present a continued threat to Israel. This proposed plan, as reported, does not include any provisions to disarm Hamas. Hamas will be able to rebuild its governance capabilities in the Gaza Strip, which allowed it to generate funds for its operations prior to its October 7 attack.[4] Hamas would essentially have access to the same resource pools that it had prior to the war. Hamas fighters are already reinfiltrating areas that Israeli forces cleared in the northern Gaza Strip, which will facilitate Hamas’ reconstitution.[5] This reinfiltration process would accelerate under the implementation of the first phase of the proposed plan, in which Israeli forces would leave Gazan cities and towns.[6] “Safety guarantees” for Hamas’ political leadership would protect some of the planners of the October 7 attacks, possibly including Yahya Sinwar. Sinwar is Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip. He closely collaborates with Hamas military leaders Mohammad Deif and Marwan Issa.[7] Sinwar also founded and led Hamas’ internal security apparatus and is responsible for the deaths of many Palestinians and Israelis in that role.[8]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces raided an underground tunnel in a civilian area of Khan Younis that previously held Israeli hostages.[9] Palestinian fighters moved the hostages prior to the tunnel’s capture by Israeli forces. The IDF said that the tunnel entrance was inside the home of a Hamas fighter. Palestinian fighters placed boobytraps inside the tunnel and posted guards outside the tunnel. The IDF killed the guards to make entry into the tunnel system. Israeli forces discovered five prison cells where Hamas kept the hostages. Israeli forces also captured Hamas intelligence documents and weapons inside the tunnel. The IDF said that there were 20 hostages held in the tunnel system at a time, according to unspecified testimonies. The IDF said that Hamas held some of the hostages who it released in the November 2023 exchange deal inside this tunnel.[10] The IDF published children’s drawings as proof the hostages had been held there. Israeli media reported that the drawings belonged to five-year-old Emilia Aloni, one of the hostages freed in November 2023.[11] The IDF destroyed the tunnel after IDF forces searched it.

The Yiftach Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) conducted clearing operations in Maghazi in the central Gaza Strip.[12] Yiftach Brigade armor and engineers destroyed a Hamas weapons factory and a rocket launch site in Maghazi camp.[13] Palestinian fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades at the brigade during the operation. The IDF said that the brigade killed over 30 Palestinian fighters during the engagement.[14] The military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the al Quds Brigades, conducted indirect fire attacks on Israeli armor and infantry advancing north from Bureij, roughly a kilometer north of Maghazi.[15] Al Quds Brigades “snipers” fired at Israeli forces northeast of Bureij camp.[16]

Palestinian militias claimed attacks targeting Israeli forces in Jabalia on January 21. The al Qassem Brigades—the military wing of Hamas—fired anti-tank munitions at Israeli armor in Jabalia City. The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—and the National Resistance Brigades—the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed that it clashed with Israeli dismounted infantry east of Jabalia refugee camp.[17] The National Resistance Brigades also fired thermobaric rockets at Israeli infantry.[18]

Palestinian militias conducted five indirect fire attacks targeting southern Israel on January 21. This is the largest number of indirect fire attacks into Israel since January 7.[19] Three Palestinian militias mortared Israeli armor at the Sufa military site near the southern tip of the Gaza Strip.[20] The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the military wing of the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement, the Mujahideen Brigades, launched rockets at Nahal Oz in a combined operation on January 21.[21] The al Quds Brigades launched rockets at Kissufim.[22]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in four locations across the West Bank on January 20 after CTP-ISW's data cutoff.[23]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel targeting Israeli towns and military facilities on January 21.[24] LH said it fired rockets at a civilian area in retaliation for an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon that unsuccessfully targeted a senior LH field commander.[25]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting an unspecified Israeli military site in the Golan Heights.[26] The group said that the attack occurred on January 20.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for two one-way drone attacks targeting US positions in Syria on January 21.[27] The group claimed a one-way drone attack targeting US forces stationed at al Shaddadi in Hasakah Province and US forces stationed at al Omar oil field in Deir ez Zor Province.

Iran Update, January 20, 2024


Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm ET

Key Takeaways:

  • Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in eastern Jabalia on January 20. A local Gazan activist also reported that an Israeli armor convoy reentered eastern Jabalia from the Gaza “envelope.”
  • The IDF 7th Armored Brigade continued clearing operations in Khan Younis City on January 20.
  • Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces three times across Nablus Governorate in the West Bank on January 19.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted three attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel targeting Israeli military facilities.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a missile attack targeting US forces at Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq, on January 20.
  • The IRGC announced on January 20 that Israel killed five IRGC “advisors” in an airstrike on Al Mazzah, Damascus, Syria
  • US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted two separate preemptive airstrikes on January 19 and 20 targeting anti-ship missiles that the Houthis had prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen towards the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in eastern Jabalia on January 20. The al Qassem brigades fired small arms and Yasin-105 rockets at Israeli forces in the al Jaabari area of eastern Jabalia.[1] A local Gazan activist also reported that an Israeli armor convoy reentered eastern Jabalia from the Gaza “envelope.”[2] The Gaza Envelope describes populated areas in southern Israel that are within seven kilometers of the Israel-Gaza border. Commercially available satellite imagery also shows fresh tank tracks east of Jabalia, corroborating this report.

The al Quds Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, fired small arms at Israeli forces advancing in Bureij and Maghazi in the Gaza Strip’s Central Governorate.[3]

The IDF 7th Armored Brigade continued clearing operations in Khan Younis City on January 20.[4] Israeli forces raided a militia compound, destroyed six rocket launchers, and found a tunnel shaft in the surrounding area.

Palestinian fighters conducted multiple mortar attacks targeting Israeli forces operating in Khan Younis. The al Quds Brigades fighters mortared an Israeli combat outpost in southern Khan Younis and an Israeli position at Rumaydah, east of Khan Younis City.[5] The al Qassem Brigades mortared Israeli forces advancing in the northern and southern areas of Khan Younis.[6]

The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigade—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine —claimed one rocket attack targeting unspecified targets in Israel.[7]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces three times across Nablus Governorate in the West Bank on January 19.[8]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted three attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel targeting Israeli military facilities.[9]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a missile attack targeting US forces at Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq, on January 20.[10] A US official told Reuters that “multiple theater ballistic missiles” hit the airbase, causing several minor injuries to US personnel and “severe injuries” to Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) members.[11]

The IRGC announced on January 20 that Israel killed five IRGC “advisors” in an airstrike on Al Mazzah, Damascus, Syria.[12] Among the killed individuals were Brigadier General Sadegh Omid Zadeh, the IRGC Quds Force’s intelligence deputy in Syria, and Omid Zadeh’s deputy, Haj Gholam.[13] A June 2023 Washington Post article citing leaked documents, which CTP-ISW has not reviewed, reported that Omid Zadeh worked with Iranian proxies in Syria, such as LH, to develop EFPs to target US forces.[14] The Washington Post reported, citing the leaked documents, that Omid Zadeh was responsible for “identifying US Humvee and Cougar armored vehicles in Syria” as EFP targets.

Iranian officials vowed retaliation against Israel for the killing of the five IRGC officers. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani stated that Iran reserves the right to respond to Israel’s “organized terrorism” at an “appropriate time and place.”[15] Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf similarly stated that Israel will face a “harsh punishment” for killing the IRGC officers.[16]

US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted two separate preemptive airstrikes on January 19 and 20 targeting anti-ship missiles that the Houthis had prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen towards the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.[17] CENTCOM conducted the self-defense strikes after determining that the anti-ship missiles presented an "imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships.

Iran Update, January 19, 2024

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Johanna Moore, Peter Mills, and Brian Carter 

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • The Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting the Marshall Islands-flagged, US-owned, Greek-operated Chem Ranger commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden on January 18. 
  • The Houthis continued to frame US airstrikes in Yemen as part of a US regional “escalation” on January 19. The Houthis and their allies throughout the region—including Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq—threatened on January 17 and 18 to expand the war in the Middle East by targeting other US and UK interests outside of the Red Sea region. 
  • Iranian officials explicitly stated on January 19 that the January 15 IRGC missile strikes in Idlib Province, Syria, were meant to signal Iran’s ability to attack Israel directly. 
  • Iranian-backed political actors are continuing to try to pressure the Iraqi federal government to expel US forces from Iraq.  
  • Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are continuing to try to install their preferred candidate as Iraqi parliament speaker. 
  • Palestinian fighters continued to attack Israeli forces in three areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. 
  • Israeli forces under the command of the Menashe Brigade concluded a 45-hour counter-terrorism operation in Tulkarm on January 19. 
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it shot down a US Air Force (USAF) MQ-9 Reaper drone in Diyala Province, Iraq, on January 18. 
  • Iran and Pakistan continued to deescalate tensions following the exchange of strikes on each other’s territory in recent days. 

The Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting the Marshall Islands-flagged, US-owned, Greek-operated Chem Ranger commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden on January 18.[1] The missiles landed in the water near the ship but did not damage the ship or its crew.[2] This attack marks the third Houthi attack on a US-owned ship this week.[3] The Houthis have conducted 30 attacks targeting international shipping in the Red Sea and surrounding waters since October 17.[4]

The Houthis continued to frame US airstrikes in Yemen as part of a US regional “escalation” on January 19. The Houthis and their allies throughout the region—including Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq—threatened on January 17 and 18 to expand the war in the Middle East by targeting other US and UK interests outside of the Red Sea region.[5] Houthi spokesperson Mohammad Abdulsalam said that the United States is protecting Israel by conducting airstrikes in Yemen.[6] US airstrikes seek to degrade the Houthis’ ability to conduct piratical and terrorist attacks on global shipping in the Red Sea.[7] The United States conducted preemptive strikes on January 17 targeting 14 missiles that the Houthis had prepared to fire on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.[8] Abdulsalam said that the Houthis do not want the conflict to expand but that the Houthis will continue targeting Israeli ships.[9] Abdulsalam also said that the Houthis do not intend to target Saudi Arabia or the UAE and added that the Houthis' truce process with Saudi Arabia is ongoing.[10] Abdulsalam acknowledged that the Houthis have benefitted from Iranian military support but that the Iranians do not control Houthi decision-making.[11]

A senior Houthi official claimed that the Houthis will provide safe passage to Chinese and Russian ships in the Red Sea.[12] Houthi official Mohammed al Bukhaiti told Russian media that the Houthis would only target ships linked to Israel and its allies. The Houthis launched an anti-ship ballistic missile targeting a Russian tanker south of Yemen on January 12, however.[13]

Iranian officials stated on January 19 that the January 15 IRGC missile strikes in Idlib Province, Syria, were meant to signal Iran’s ability to attack Israel directly. Armed Forces General Staff-affiliated media said that IRGC missile strikes in Idlib targeted the Islamic State (IS), “Jabhat al Nusra,” and the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP).[14] Jabhat al Nusra rebranded as Hayat Tahrir al Sham in 2017.[15] Tehran Interim Friday Prayer Leader Kazem Sedighi said during his sermon on January 19 that the IRGC launched the missiles from Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran—rather than Kermanshah Province in western Iran—to demonstrate that IRGC missiles can reach Israeli territory.[16] Western media noted on January 17 that the range at which the IRGC fired the Kheibar Shekan missile toward Idlib is nearly the range required for Iran to target Tel Aviv, Israel.[17] Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf warned on January 19 that the IRGC will “change the angle” of its missiles to target Israel if Israel “makes a mistake.”[18] Ghalibaf was implying that Iran has the capability to strike Israel directly but has thus far chosen not to.  

Iranian-backed political actors are continuing to try to pressure the Iraqi federal government to expel US forces from Iraq. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ahmed al Asadi claimed that US forces have committed “repeated crimes” in Iraq during an interview with Asaib Ahl al Haq-controlled Al Ahed on January 18.[19] Asadi also stated that Iraqi sovereignty is “a red line.” Iranian-backed Iraqi actors frequently frame US self-defense strikes against Iranian-backed Iraqi militias as crimes and violations of Iraqi sovereignty to pressure the Iraqi federal government to order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.[20] Asadi is a member of the We Build Coalition, a political party headed by Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri.[21] Asadi previously served as the spokesperson for the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi security service containing several Iranian-backed Shia militias.[22] He also leads the 6th PMF Brigade (Kataib Jund al Imam).[23] The Fatah Alliance, which is also headed by Ameri, appointed Asadi as its spokesperson in 2018.[24]

State of Law Coalition member Adnan al Sayadi claimed that the presence of US forces in Iraq is “absolutely unjustified” and that Iraq can solve its “crises and problems” without foreign support during an interview with Al Ahed on January 18.[25] Iranian-backed Iraqi actors frequently argue that the presence of US-led coalition forces is no longer justified because the Iraqi Security Forces can independently protect Iraq from threats such as ISIS. The Iraqi Security Forces still face significant deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, and logistics that will impede their ability to defeat ISIS alone.[26]

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are continuing to try to install their preferred candidate as Iraqi parliament speaker. Iraqi parliamentarians voted for a new speaker on January 13, but no candidate won the 165-vote majority required.[27] The National Progress Alliance candidate, Shaalan al Karim, was 13 votes short of winning the speakership.[28] The National Progress Alliance is headed by former Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi, whom the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court dismissed in November 2023.[29] Iraqi media previously reported that members of the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—are trying to prevent Karim from becoming parliament speaker and instead install their preferred candidate, Mahmoud al Mashhadani.[30] Mashhadani is a member of the Azm Alliance, which is headed by Muthanna al Samarrai.

Iranian-backed Badr Organization member Yousef al Kalabi accused Karim of “glorifying” Saddam Hussein’s regime during an interview with Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH)-controlled Al Ahed on January 18.[31] Iranian-backed politicians in Iraq frequently use accusations of ”terrorism” or ”support for Saddam Hussein” to enflame anti-Sunni sectarian sentiment.[32] Several representatives, including a member of AAH’s political wing, similarly called for referring Karim to the Accountability and Justice Commission for “promoting and glorifying Saddam Hussein’s regime” on January 14.[33] Kalabi also claimed that two representatives supporting Karim offered bribes to other representatives to sway the election results in favor of Karim.[34]

Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri claimed on January 18 that a new parliament speaker will soon be elected “within the [Shia Coordination] Framework.”[35] Ameri’s statement is noteworthy given that the Shia Coordination Framework is not responsible for and does not have the authority to choose the parliament speaker. Iraqi parliament speakers are elected by the Council of Representatives and must win an absolute majority of 165 votes to win the speakership.[36]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters continued to attack Israeli forces in three areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. CTP-ISW previously assessed on January 16 that Hamas is likely reinfiltrating some of these areas.[37] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 5th Infantry Brigade (assigned to the 143rd Division) clashed with several armed Palestinian fighters on January 19 in unspecified areas of the northern Gaza Strip.[38] The IDF used air support and tank fire to assist its forces during the clashes.[39] A Palestinian activist reported on January 19 that Israeli vehicles reentered several towns and neighborhoods of the northern Gaza Strip and engaged Palestinian fighters.[40]

The military wing of Hamas, the al Qassem Brigades, claimed that it detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) and anti-personnel improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Israeli forces east of Jabalia.[41] Palestinian militias have sustained daily attacks on Israeli forces around Jabalia since January 16.[42] The last time Palestinian militias claimed attacks in the Jabalia area for four consecutive days was between December 24 and 27, 2023.[43] The al Qassem Brigades detonated an anti-personnel IED and fired small arms at Israeli soldiers inside and around a building in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City on January 19.[44]

Palestinian militias are also attacking Israeli forces in southwestern Gaza City, namely in Zaytoun and Sheikh Ijlin neighborhoods. The al Qassem Brigades conducted multiple attacks targeting Israeli forces and armor in southern Gaza City on January 19.[45] The military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al Quds Brigades, mortared an IDF position in Zaytoun.[46] A Palestinian activist noted on January 19 that Israeli forces had advanced into Sheikh Ijlin and that IDF ”snipers” remained in Zaytoun.[47]

The IDF 179th Armored Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip on January 19.[48] Palestinian fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting the 179th Armored Brigade during its operations, according to the IDF. Israeli forces captured small arms, RPGs, and other unspecified military equipment in the building that the Palestinian fighters fired from.[49]

The IDF 7th Armored Brigade (assigned to the 36th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis on January 19.[50] Israeli forces raided a training camp of Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade and located tunnels, weapons, and life-size models of Israeli tanks and military vehicles.[51] The IDF reported that the camp served as a meeting place for senior Hamas officials.

Palestinian fighters continued their attempt to defend against Israeli clearing operations in several sectors of Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades reported on January 19 that its fighters returned from the front lines in eastern Khan Younis City and reported that they fired an anti-tank guided RPG at an Israeli tank.[52] The militia also claimed that it detonated a Shawaz EFP targeting three Israeli tanks. Al Qassem Brigades fighters also fired a sniper rifle targeting Israeli ground forces in the same sector.[53] The self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the National Resistance Brigades claimed separate attacks on Israeli forces and armor south of Khan Younis City.[54]

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed regional security Israel’s shift to “low-intensity operations” in the Gaza Strip in a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on January 18.[55] The pair also discussed humanitarian aid distribution in the Gaza Strip and “instability in the West Bank.” Austin “emphasized” the importance of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip and “acknowledged” Israeli security “concerns” on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Hamas International Relations head Musa Abu Marzouk met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on January 19 to discuss “achieving a ceasefire.”[56] Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas’ Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip, accompanied the Hamas delegation.[57] Russian officials “stressed the need for the speedy release of civilians, including three Russian citizens,” held hostage by Hamas since October 7, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.[58] Bogdanov added that Russia “supports the rights of the Palestinian people.”[59]

The Gaza Strip continues to experience the longest, largest-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began. NetBlocks reported on January 19 that the Gaza Strip entered the eighth day of the telecommunications blackout.[60] The director of a Palestinian telecommunication provider told CNN on January 19 that Israeli military activity has severed the underground fiber optic line connecting internet and cellphone towers in the Gaza Strip to Israel and the West Bank.[61]

The al Quds Brigades launched one rocket salvo from the Gaza Strip targeting an unspecified location in southern Israel on January 18 after CTP-ISW's data cutoff.[62] CTP-ISW previously reported that only the al Qassem Brigades launched a rocket salvo into southern Israel on January 18.[63]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces under the command of the Menashe Brigade concluded a 45-hour counter-terrorism operation in Tulkarm on January 19. Israeli forces “searched” approximately 1,000 buildings and arrested over 37 wanted individuals, including several unidentified senior militia members.[64] IDF engineering forces identified “dozens” of IEDs buried under roads in Tulkarm.[65] Unspecified Palestinian fighters detonated multiple IEDs targeting Israeli vehicles in Tulkarm. Palestine media claimed that one IED disabled an Israeli armored vehicle.[66] Israeli forces destroyed five weapons manufacturing facilities, four militia observation posts, and over 400 charges, and seized various small arms and military equipment.[67] Israeli forces also directed an airstrike that targeted Palestinian fighters who had targeted Israeli forces with IEDs.

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces three times across the West Bank.[68] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that its fighters attacked an Israeli vehicle outside Ramallah.[69] Unidentified Palestinian fighters set fire to tires in the street in an attempt to restrict the movement of Israeli forces operating in Tammoun, Tubas.[70]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed three attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 19.[71] LH continued to target Israeli military positions along the Israel-Lebanon border. The IDF Air Force struck LH military infrastructure, including rocket launch sites, in multiple locations in southern Lebanon.[72]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it shot down a US Air Force (USAF) MQ-9 Reaper drone in Diyala Province, Iraq, on January 18.[73] The group claimed that the USAF launched the drone from Ali al Salem Airbase in Kuwait. An unspecified Pentagon official confirmed to Kurdish media that a US drone “crashed” in Diyala Province.[74] IRGC-affiliated media published videos of the MQ-9 crashing in Diyala Province.[75]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting US forces at Erbil International Airport in Erbil Prvince, Iraq, on January 18.[76]

Iran and Pakistan continued to de-escalate tensions following the exchange of strikes on each other’s territory in recent days. The IRGC conducted drone and missile strikes on two Jaish al Adl headquarters in Koh Sabz, Baluchistan Province, Pakistan on January 16.[77] The Pakistani armed forces responded with cross-border strikes targeting Baloch separatists in three locations near Saravan, Iran, on January 17.[78] Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian reiterated Iran’s respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and emphasized that Pakistan is Iran’s “friend, brother, and neighbor” during a phone call with his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani on January 19.[79] Iranian state media reported that Abdollahian and Jilani "agreed to reduce tensions.”[80] The Pakistani Foreign Ministry similarly reported that Jilani underscored the "close brotherly relations” between Iran and Pakistan and called for cooperation between the two countries based on the "spirit of mutual trust and cooperation.”[81]

The Sistan and Baluchistan Province Law Enforcement commander announced the arrest of four individuals who shot at an unspecified “military headquarters” in Saravan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 19. The commander said that Law Enforcement Command officers found handguns and a Kalashnikov rifle.[82] The shooting follows a rise in insecurity and terrorist activity in southeastern Iran since mid-December. The Baloch Salafi Jihadi group Jaish al Adl has conducted three attacks in Sistan and Baluchistan since December 15.[83] The Afghan branch of the Islamic State—named the Islamic State Khorasan Province—conducted a suicide attack on January 3 during a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the United States killing Qassem Soleimani in Kerman Province.[84]

 

Iran Update, January 18, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps 

Ashka Jhaveri, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Andie Parry, Annika Ganzeveld, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, Alexandra Braverman, Brian Carter, and Nicholas Carl 

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • The Pakistani armed forces conducted cross-border attacks targeting Baloch separatists in three locations near Saravan, Iran. Iranian officials and state media attempted to deescalate after the Pakistani airstrikes.
  • The Houthi supreme leader, Abdulmalik al Houthi, stated that US and UK vessels have become legitimate targets for Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Kataib Hezbollah Secretary General Abu Hussein al Hamidawi said that the group would interpret an attack on the Houthis as an attack on KH in a letter to the Houthi supreme leader.
  • Palestinian fighters are attacking Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. This activity is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Hamas is likely reinfiltrating some of these areas.
  • Israeli forces destroyed Hamas’ main weapons manufacturing facility in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip. Israeli clearing operations are likely one of the factors constraining Palestinian militias‘ ability to conduct indirect fire attacks into Israel.
  • The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) raided an outpost of Hamas’ Southern Khan Younis Battalion in southern Khan Younis City. Palestinian fighters launched multiple attacks targeting Israeli forces in and around Khan Younis City.
  • Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters six times across the West Bank. Israeli forces continued raids targeting Palestinian fighters in the Tulkarm refugee camp.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah claimed five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. Unspecified fighters launched three rockets into the Golan Heights from Syria as well.
  • Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh, Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri, and State of Law Coalition head Nouri al Maliki discussed efforts to “strengthen national sovereignty” in a meeting.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani reiterated that he seeks to restructure the presence of US-led coalition forces in Iraq during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
  • Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian discussed the January 15 IRGC drone and missile strikes in Erbil, Iraq, with Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem al Araji in a phone call.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting US forces in Himu, northeastern Syria.
  • The Jordanian Royal Air Force conducted airstrikes targeting Iranian-linked drug smuggling operations in southern Syria.

The Pakistani armed forces conducted cross-border attacks targeting Baloch separatists in three locations near Saravan, Iran, on January 17.[1] Pakistan announced that it fired a combination of drones, rockets, and air-launched standoff munitions to target Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) sites in Iran.[2] The BLA and BLF are Baloch ethno-separatist groups that maintain ongoing insurgencies inside Pakistan. Pakistan framed the strikes as responses to Iran’s failure to prevent Baloch separatist groups based in Iran from conducting attacks inside Pakistan.[3] Pakistani media reported that the strikes killed and/or injured seven BLF fighters.[4] Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry officials emphasized that the strikes did not target the Iranian regime. The Pakistani strikes follow the IRGC’s drone and missile strikes on two Jaish al Adl headquarters in Koh Sabz, Baluchistan Province, Pakistan on January 16.[5]

Iranian officials and state media attempted to deescalate after the Pakistani airstrikes on Saravan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 18. The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the Pakistani Charge d’affaires and condemned the Pakistani strikes but added that Iran will not allow unspecified “enemies” to strain the “good and brotherly” relations between Iran and Pakistan.[6] Media outlets tied to the Iranian armed forces highlighted that the Pakistani strikes did not target the Iranian state, referencing the statement from the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry. The outlets also emphasized that Pakistan respects Iran’s territorial integrity.[7] Several national and provincial Iranian security officials reported that there were 10 to 12 civilian causalities from the strikes but added that those individuals were not Iranian nationals.[8]

The Houthi supreme leader, Abdulmalik al Houthi, stated that US and UK vessels have become legitimate targets for Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[9] Abdulmalik made the statement in a speech criticizing US support for Israel on January 18 after US strikes targeted 14 ready-to-launch missiles in Houthi territory on January 17.[10] The Houthis claimed that they attacked an “American ship” for the first time on January 15.[11] The group previously claimed falsely that it targeted only vessels that aided Israel, were bound for Israel, or were Israeli-owned.[12] The Houthis have repeatedly targeted merchant vessels without connections to Israel, however.[13] Abdulmalik made veiled threats on January 11 that the Houthi attacks would target the vessels of other countries that supported US strikes on Houthi military targets.[14]

Kataib Hezbollah (KH) Secretary General Abu Hussein al Hamidawi said that KH would interpret an attack on the Houthis as an attack on KH in a letter to the Houthi supreme leader on January 17.[15] Houthi Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and influential powerbroker Hussein al Ezzi threatened on January 16 that the Houthis could expand their targeting of commercial shipping beyond the Bab al Mandeb through coordination with unspecified actors.[16] These statements are meant to underscore further to the international audience the extent to which Iran’s ”Axis of Resistance” can fight as a regional coalition. KH is a member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which has claimed over 100 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.[17]

The United States conducted preemptive strikes on January 17 and 18 that targeted Houthi missiles prepared to fire on merchant vessels.[18] CENTCOM stated the missiles posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region and that the US strikes will degrade the Houthi’s capability to continue attacks on international shipping. Local Yemeni sources reported that the first round of strikes hit five governorates in Yemen.[19]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters are attacking Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. This activity is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Hamas is likely reinfiltrating some of these areas. Palestinian militia activity increased slightly during the past week in the northern Gaza Strip after Israeli forces reduced their presence there and transitioned to targeted raids. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli armored personnel carriers east of Tuffah neighborhood in Gaza City.[20] The militia also fired a thermobaric rocket at Israeli forces in Sheikh Ijlin.[21] The militia separately claimed five attacks targeting Israeli armor and dismounted infantry east of Jabalia using mortars and RPGs.[22] The military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the al Quds Brigades, fired anti-tank guided missiles and small arms targeting Israeli forces as they advanced east of Jabalia.[23] A Palestinian activist reported on January 18 that Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters clashed on the outskirts of Jabalia.[24]

Israeli forces continue to operate in the northern Gaza Strip to destroy militia infrastructure and locate remaining Palestinian fighters. The IDF Air Force conducted several airstrikes on January 18, targeting Palestinian fighters who posed a threat to Israeli ground forces.[25] The Yiftach Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) identified Palestinian fighters rigging a vehicle to explode, which later detonated during a firefight.[26] The 179th Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) located explosively formed penetrators (EFP), RPGs, and military equipment in Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City on January 18.[27]

Israeli forces destroyed Hamas’ main weapons manufacturing facility in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip. The facility included weapons manufacturing sites, including some meant for rockets, and a command-and-control site located along the Salah al Din Road west of Bureij.[28] Israeli forces recently located additional manufacturing facilities in Maghazi, Bureij, and Nuseirat.[29] The IDF 36th Division, Yahalom Combat Engineering Unit, and Israeli air elements discovered and destroyed dozens of tunnel shafts that connected hundreds of kilometers of underground passages.[30] The New York Times reported on January 16 that the IDF now believes that there are more tunnels underneath the Gaza Strip than previously thought.[31]

Israeli clearing operations are likely one of the factors constraining Palestinian militias‘ ability to conduct indirect fire attacks into Israel. Israeli forces have destroyed several rocket launchers and stockpiles during clearing operations in the Gaza Strip.[32] The rate of cross-border indirect fire attacks claimed by Palestinian militias from the Gaza Strip decreased from an average of roughly 13 daily attacks between October 11 and November 23 to an average of roughly 4.6 attacks between December 1 and January 18. The humanitarian pause lasted from November 23 to December 1. Militia fighters continue to use mortars and rockets to defend against Israeli ground operations in the Gaza Strip, however.[33]

The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) raided an outpost of Hamas’ Southern Khan Younis Battalion in southern Khan Younis City on January 18.[34] The battalion‘s outpost included office space and multiple training facilities. The outpost served as the office for the battalion‘s commander and other unspecified Hamas commanders. The IDF seized intelligence files, "combat management documents,” and various small arms and explosives. Israeli forces conducted airstrikes targeting Palestinian fighters while operating in southern Khan Younis area.[35]

Palestinian fighters launched multiple attacks targeting Israeli forces in and around Khan Younis City on January 18. The al Qassem Brigades targeted Israeli armored and engineering units in Khan Younis City using Yassin 105 anti-tank RPGs.[36] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that it detonated a house borne IED (HBIED) in Bani Suheila, killing and wounding 30 Israeli soldiers clearing the building.[37] The al Qassem Brigades did not provide evidence for its assertion. Al Qassem Brigades fighters targeted Israeli forces in a house in eastern Khan Younis using a thermobaric munition, killing five Israeli soldiers.[38] The National Resistance Brigades—the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed that its fighters targeted an Israeli armored vehicle using a tandem charged rocket in Batn al Sameen in western Khan Younis City.[39] The al Quds Brigades claimed its fighters fought Israeli forces advancing in central, eastern, and southern Khan Younis City.[40]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released evidence of Gazan Education Ministry staff participating in military training as part of the al Qassem Brigades.[41] The IDF posted three images showing official al Qassem Brigades documents requesting certain teachers be given leave for training. The IDF said that the al Qassem Brigades delivered the letters directly to the head of the Gazan Education Ministry in Khan Younis.[42]

Israeli forces killed the Hamas officer responsible for interrogating suspected spies in the Gaza Strip on January 17. The IDF reported that the officer's death “significantly impacts” Hamas’ ability to develop and enhance its capabilities to strengthen and improve itself as an organization.[43] 

The Gaza Strip continues to experience the longest, largest-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began. NetBlocks reported on January 18 that the Gaza Strip entered the seventh day of the telecommunications blackout.[44]

The al Qassem Brigades fired rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Kissufim in southern Israel on January 18.[45]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters six times across the West Bank on January 18.[46] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Zawata, near Nablus. The group also clashed with Israeli forces in Qalqilya, injuring an Israeli Border Police officer.[47]

Israeli forces continued raids targeting Palestinian fighters in the Tulkarm refugee camp on January 18.[48] The operations have been ongoing for over 35 hours at the time of writing. The IDF said that it has arrested 15 wanted individuals and destroyed weapons, explosives, and military equipment.[49] The IDF also said that Israeli forces have killed eight Palestinian fighters during operations in the Tulkarm camp, including in an Israeli airstrike.[50] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and al Quds Brigades clashed with Israeli forces in Tulkarm and the Tulkarm refugee camp, respectively, during the operations.[51]

An attacker attempted to stab Israeli police officers at a bus stop in Jerusalem on January 18.[52] The attacker wounded two people before Israeli police killed the attacker. An Israeli source said that the attacker is suspected of carrying out a separate attack on a tourist in Tel Aviv earlier on January 18. The motive of the attack is unclear.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 18.[53] LH continues to target Israeli military positions along the Israel-Lebanon border. The IDF Air Force attacked LH military infrastructure, including rocket launch sites, in multiple locations in southern Lebanon.[54]

Unspecified fighters launched three rockets into the Golan Heights from Syria on January 18.[55] Israeli forces responded by shelling the rocket launch sites in southern Syria.[56]

Unnamed Lebanese officials stated that LH rebuffed US proposals to deescalate fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border. Western media reported that LH rejected a US proposal to pull LH fighters seven kilometers away from the border with Israel.[57] Israeli and Western media reported that LH said that it will continue launching rockets targeting Israel until there is a full ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.[58] Unnamed Lebanese officials stated LH is open to the Lebanese government mediating a deal with Israel over unspecified disputed areas along the Israel-Lebanon border once the Israel-Hamas war ends.[59]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh, Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri, and State of Law Coalition head Nouri al Maliki discussed efforts to “strengthen national sovereignty” in a meeting on January 18.[60] Fayyadh, Ameri, and Maliki probably discussed the ongoing Iranian-backed military and political campaign to expel US forces from Iraq. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—has attacked US positions in Iraq and Syria over 100 times since the Israel-Hamas war began.[61] Several of these militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, are part of the PMF.[62] The militia attacks on US forces prompt US self-defense strikes, which Iranian-backed Iraqi actors then misrepresent as “violations” of Iraqi sovereignty. They use these supposed “violations” to pressure the Iraqi federal government to order the complete removal of US forces from Iraq. The United States reserves the right to protect its forces in Iraq, which are deployed at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government to fight ISIS.[63]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani reiterated that he seeks to restructure the presence of US-led coalition forces in Iraq during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 17 and 18. Sudani stated that he plans to end the presence of US-led coalition forces in Iraq but remains open to cooperating with countries in the US-led coalition on “armament, training, and equipment.”[64] Sudani made this statement during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on January 17. NATO has a separate mission in Iraq that does not operate under the US-led coalition. Sudani similarly said in an interview with Reuters on January 10 that Iraq remains open to engaging in security cooperation with the United States, including with the United States advising and training the Iraqi Security Forces.[65] Sudani also told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on January 18 that he hopes to engage in “bilateral security coordination” with “friendly countries” following the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces.[66] These statements are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Sudani is trying to retain some international military presence in Iraq, such as through bilateral security agreements with International Coalition member countries.[67] The continued presence of US forces would fail to meet Iranian-backed Iraqi militia demands for a complete and immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Iraq.

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian discussed the January 15 IRGC drone and missile strikes in Erbil, Iraq, with Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem al Araji in a phone call on January 18.[68] Araji is also a member of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization.[69] The IRGC conducted drone and missile strikes targeting what it claimed were Israeli Mossad-affiliated facilities and individuals in Erbil.[70] Ahmadian emphasized that Iran will not tolerate any Israeli operation in Iraq. Iranian officials said on January 17 that the IRGC strikes in Erbil were targeting “Mossad agents,” not Iraq.[71] Iranian leaders have long accused Mossad of maintaining a network in Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate operations into Iran. Iraqi state media did not widely cover the phone call between Ahmadian and Araji.

IRGC-affiliated media claimed that it likely killed a second Mossad-linked individual in the January 15 IRGC drone and missile strikes in Erbil, Iraq.[72] Iran did not provide evidence for these claims. Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional officials called Iran’s claims that Mossad operated a headquarters in Erbil as ”unfounded” and " baseless.”[73] Iranian state media alleged that Iraqi citizen Suleiman Amin Nader, also known as Azhi Amin, directed terrorist operations in Iran, including by aiding the assassination of senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhri Zadeh in November 2020. An Erbil-based, Kurdistan-focused freedom of expression and human rights watchdog reported that Azhi Amin was a PUK intelligence official who defected.[74] Amin began supporting Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official and Kurdish Regional Prime Minister Masoud Barzani after his defection, according to the watchdog.[75] The watchdog also reported Amin was not present where the IRGC struck with drones and missiles. KDP media reported on January 17 that the strike in Erbil killed a prominent businessman, his daughter, and one of his employees at his house.[76]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting US forces in Himu, northeastern Syria, on January 18.[77] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq last targeted US forces in Himu on January 10.[78]

The Jordanian Royal Air Force conducted airstrikes targeting Iranian-linked drug smuggling operations in southern Syria on January 17.[79] The strikes targeted two sites in Suwayda Province—one warehouse and two houses.[80]

Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan traveled to China to increase security and law enforcement cooperation.[81] Radan met with Chinese Public Security Minister Wang Xiaohong and Chen Wenqing, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo who oversees intelligence, law enforcement, and legal affairs.[82] Radan discussed strengthening cooperation to combat cybercrimes, drug trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism.[83] Chinese state media reported that Radan and Wang side a memorandum of understanding to strengthen law enforcement cooperation.[84] Radan commented that he hopes the agreement will facilitate Sino-Iranian cooperation to combat terrorism.[85] Wang additionally proposed the formation of a trilateral security institution between China, Iran, and Pakistan to combat terrorism.[86]

Radan’s visit could be part of the Iranian effort to build an increasingly adaptive and sophisticated police and surveillance state.[87] Iranian leaders have tried to replicate the success that the CCP has had imposing social control over its respective population.[88] Iranian leaders have, in particular, embraced emerging technologies, such as advanced algorithms, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition, to this end.[89] Radan traveled to Moscow in June 2023 for similar discussions on increasing Iranian law enforcement and security cooperation with Russia.[90]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron in Davos on January 18.[91] Abdollahian said that the United States and United Kingdom have no right to hold the security of the region “hostage” to benefit Israel. Cameron asked Abdollahian to use Iran’s influence to stop Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Abdollahian discussed fighting regional terrorism with the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Hakan Fidan on January 18.[92] Abdollahian stated that it was necessary to maintain good relations between Iran and Turkey in light of ”some issues of recent days.” Abdollahian stated it was the responsibility of every country in the region to decisively fight terrorism. The Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister gave a statement following the call and urged Iran and Pakistan to avoid escalation in the region.[93]

Artesh Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Erani announced on January 18 that the Alborz destroyer is escorting Iranian commercial ships in the Red Sea.[94] IRGC-affiliated media previously reported that the Alborz destroyer entered the Red Sea on January 1.[95] The Artesh is Iran’s conventional military and has larger surface combatants than the IRGC Navy. The Alborz has routinely conducted “anti-piracy” operations in the area since 2010 and operated around the Red Sea at least since December 2023.[96]

 

Iran Update, January 17, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Peter Mills, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, Amin Soltani, Kathryn Tyson, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Note: CTP and ISW have refocused the update to cover the Israel-Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance. We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

Click here to see CTP and ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Key Takeaways:

  • Palestinian fighters are attacking Israeli forces in areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces conducted clearing operations previously.
  • The Gaza Strip is experiencing the longest, largest-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began.
  • Israel and Hamas began implementing a deal on January 17 that aims to supply medicine for Israeli hostages in exchange for additional humanitarian flow into the Gaza Strip.
  • IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that the likelihood of war in northern Israel is “higher than before” on January 17 while attending IDF drills simulating an offensive in Lebanon.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani is attempting to retain some US presence in Iraq by restructuring Iraq’s security agreement, despite pressure from Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to expel US forces entirely. This policy is at odds with Iranian-backed Iraqi actors’ maximalist demands to immediately remove all US forces from Iraq.
  • The US State Department redesignated the Houthis as specially designated global terrorists on January 17.
  • The Pakistani government has strongly condemned and warned of possible retaliation for the IRGC strikes.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters are attacking Israeli forces in areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces conducted clearing operations previously. CTP-ISW reported on January 16 that Palestinian militias have renewed attacks in the northern Gaza Strip, particularly around Jabalia and Sheikh Radwan.[1] Hamas’ military wing, the al Qassem Brigades, conducted five attacks in Jabalia, Sheikh Radwan, and Karama neighborhoods on January 17.[2] The self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and small arms at Israeli forces in Karama as well.[3] A Palestinian journalist reported on January 17 that Israeli forces entered Rimal neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City. CTP-ISW assessed on January 16 that Palestinian militias are likely reinfiltrating this area.[4] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on January 17 that its forces directed an airstrike that targeted two Palestinian fighters in Sheikh Ijlin neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City. The IDF also found large amounts of weapons in the area.[5]

Palestinian militia activity renewed slightly during the past week in other locations where Israeli forces have conducted clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip, as well. The al Qassem Brigades and the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the National Resistance Brigades, claimed that they attacked Israeli forces east of Tuffah.[6] The IDF conducted raids in Tuffah up until January 7.[7] The National Resistance Brigades also fired small arms at Israeli infantrymen north of Shujaiya.[8] 

The IDF 646th Paratrooper Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) located rocket launchers that Hamas used to attack Israel on January 16.[9] The 99th Division has been conducting clearing operations in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip for nearly a week.[10] Israeli media reported that the al Qassem Brigades fired the rocket salvo into southern Israel from areas in the central Gaza Strip where Israeli forces recently withdrew.[11]

Palestinian militias launched several attacks on Israeli forces operating in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip on January 16. The al Qassem Brigades reported on January 16 that its fighters returned from the areas of fighting in Maghazi and reported several different attacks in the area on Israeli infantry and armor.[12] The militia targeted an Israeli military bulldozer with an anti-tank improvised explosive device in a combined attack with the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the al Quds Brigades.[13] The al Quds Brigades fighters returned from areas of fighting in Bureij and reported that they conducted several attacks using rocket-propelled grenades and mortars targeting IDF forces near Bureij using rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.[14] A Palestinian journalist reported on January 17 that Israeli forces are operating in Deir al Balah, Nuseirat, Bureij, and Maghazi.[15]

The IDF 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis on January 17. Israeli forces resupplied the 98th Division by airdrop in southern Khan Younis City sometime in the last few days.[16] The IDF has conducted five aerial supply operations since the beginning of the fighting.[17] The 7th Armored Brigade directed a helicopter attack targeting two Palestinian fighters who launched mortars at them in Khan Younis.[18]

Hamas and other Palestinian militias are continuing their efforts to defend against Israeli armor and dismounted infantry since December 3. The al Quds Brigades fired an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) that targeted an IDF combat outpost in southern Khan Younis City on January 17.[19] The al Qassem Brigades also targeted Israeli armor and other IDF units using anti-tank RPGs and mortars in and south of Khan Younis City.[20] A Palestinian journalist reported on January 17 that fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis was the most intense in over two months of fighting.[21]

The Gaza Strip is experiencing the longest, largest-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began.[22] A Palestinian telecommunications company said that the blackout was a result of damaged infrastructure in the southern city of Khan Younis.[23] Repair crews are unable to reach the damaged sites due to airstrikes and fighting between the IDF and Palestinian fighters in the city according to the company.[24] NetBlocks reported on January 17 that telecommunications have been offline in the Gaza Strip for six days.[25]

Israel and Hamas began implementing a deal on January 17 that aims to supply medicine for Israeli hostages in exchange for additional humanitarian flow into the Gaza Strip.[26] An anonymous Israeli official told the Washington Post on January 17 that at least one plane carrying medicine landed in Egypt. The Washington Post reported that Hamas Politburo member Musa Abu Marzouk said on X (formerly Twitter) that the delivery of humanitarian aid includes 140 types of medicine that the Red Cross will deliver to four hospitals in the Gaza Strip. The medicine will then be distributed to additional, unspecified locations, including to hostages.[27] The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, reported on January 17 that trucks carrying medicine will undergo a security check at the Kerem Shalom crossing.[28]

Hamas’ senior representative to Lebanon Osama Hamdan delivered a speech that criticized Israel’s “third phase” of operations in the Gaza Strip.[29] Hamdan said that the United States and Israel are falsely describing the third phase of operations in the Gaza Strip to mislead the public. Israeli media began reporting in December 2023 that the IDF would transition to a third phase of operations that includes securing a buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip and transitioning to targeted raids.[30] Israeli officials have confirmed that the IDF is shifting to fewer ground forces and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.[31]

Palestinian militias did not claim any indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip on January 17.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in four locations across the West Bank. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades detonated IEDs and fired small arms targeting Israeli forces during Israeli raids in Tulkarm and Nour Shams refugee camp on January 17.[32] The IDF conducted an airstrike targeting Palestinian fighters who detonated explosive devices targeting Israeli forces during the fighting in Tulkarm.[33] The IDF also conducted another airstrike targeting an al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades commander in Balata camp, Nablus, who the IDF said was planning an attack against an unspecified target.[34] Palestinian media reported the two airstrikes in Tulkarm and Nablus killed a total of 11 people, including nine fighters.[35] Palestinian fighters detonated an IED targeting Israeli vehicles in Nablus on January 16.[36]

Hamas’ senior representative to Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, called for Palestinian militias to escalate operations against Israel in the West Bank on January 17.[37] Hamdan also called on Palestinian Authority security forces to join Hamas. The Jenin Battalion of the al Qassem Brigades claimed that repeated IDF operations in the last three years failed to weaken Palestinian militias in Jenin and that now Palestinian militia groups are expanding into Tulkarm.[38]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on January 17.[39] The al Qassem Brigades said that it fired 20 rockets targeting Israeli forces in Liman.[40] The group said that the attack was in response to Israeli "massacres” against civilians in the Gaza Strip and Israeli attacks targeting Iranian-backed fighters in southern Lebanon.[41] The al Qassem Brigades also said that it fired a rocket salvo towards Liman on December 25.[42] The IDF said that the Israeli Air Force attacked LH infrastructure in multiple locations in southern Lebanon on January 17.[43]

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that the likelihood of war in northern Israel is “higher than before” on January 17 while attending IDF drills simulating an offensive in Lebanon.[44] Israeli officials, including Halevi, have expressed concerns about the threat that LH poses to Israel and the potential for LH to conduct an attack into Israel like Hamas’ attack on October 7.[45] Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they seek a diplomatic solution to push LH fighters north of the Litani River, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, but that Israel will use military force if diplomatic efforts fail.[46]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani is attempting to retain some US presence in Iraq by restructuring Iraq’s security agreement, despite pressure from Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to expel US forces entirely. Sudani said that his administration would review Iraq’s relationship with the International Coalition and establish bilateral agreements with member countries. Iraq discussed this measure with the United States during the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue in August 2023.[47]  The US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue in August 2023 included the discussion of expanding US-Iraq security cooperation beyond the current counter-ISIS framework under Operation Inherent Resolve to include joint military exercises, training, and officer exchange programs.[48] The diplomatic advisor to the prime minister stated that "the goal is not to get the [United States] out,” but that Iraq needs to “set a timetable” to transition from the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to a "bilateral agreement.”[49]

This policy is at odds with Iranian-backed Iraqi actors’ maximalist demands to immediately remove all US forces from Iraq. CTP-ISW has previously assessed that Iranian-backed Iraqi actors have fueled an escalation cycle that aims to prompt US self-defense strikes, which they then misrepresent as violations of Iraqi sovereignty.[50] They use these supposed “violations” to demand the complete removal of US forces from Iraq. The Conquest Alliance, the Iranian-backed Badr Organization’s arm in parliament, submitted a draft law to the Council of Representatives on January 13 that would require Sudani to detail plans to end the US presence in Iraq.[51] The inclusion of this requirement is a key difference between the draft law and the 2020 nonbinding resolution that called for the expulsion of US forces.[52] The draft law was 77 signatories short of a majority needed to be presented for a vote.[53] Sudani’s current policy leaves open the possibility for continued US military cooperation in Iraq, though it is still unclear what that bilateral relationship would look like.

The US State Department redesignated the Houthis as specially designated global terrorists (SDGTs) on January 17.[54] The designation requires US financial institutions to freeze any Houthi assets, but it will not take effect until mid-February. The State Department said that this 30-day delay would ensure the sanctions do not hinder humanitarian aid going to the Yemeni people.[55] US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated that the United States would reevaluate this designation if the Houthis halted their attacks in the Red Sea.[56] The United States briefly listed the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization from January to February 2021. The Biden Administration lifted the designation in February 2021, citing humanitarian concerns.[57]  

Houthi Deputy Foreign Minister and powerbroker Hussein al Ezzi threatened on January 16 that the Houthis would consider any measure that harmed Yemeni interests as a declaration of war.[58] Ezzi warned that the Houthis could expand their targeting of commercial shipping beyond the Bab al Mandeb through coordination with unspecified actors.[59] Ezzi controls the Houthi foreign affairs file, not the official foreign minister.[60] The Houthi spokesperson further reiterated that the US SDGT designation would not change Houthi support for Palestine on January 17.[61]

The Houthis said that they fired an unspecified missile that hit a US-owned Marshall Islands-flagged commercial vessel while the vessel transited the Gulf of Aden on January 17.[62] The UK Maritime Trade Operations reported that the vessel briefly caught fire but was able to continue to its next port of call.[63]  The UK Maritime Trade Operations said that a drone targeted the vessel, not a missile.

Syrian, Western, and Iranian media provided further details on January 17 about the January 15 Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps missile strike on Syria. UK-based Syrian opposition media Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Syrian humanitarian organization reported that the Iranian missile strike targeted an empty, non-operational medical clinic in Idlib.[64] Bloomberg reported that the range at which the IRGC fired the Kheibar Shekan missile on January 15 is nearly the range required for Iran to target Tel Aviv, Israel.[65] Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS)-controlled media highlighted that the missile’s name references a Jewish fortress captured by Muslim armies during the Battle of Kheibar in 628. AFGS-controlled media also noted that the purpose of the missile is to target Israel.[66] Israeli media and Iranian officials and media said on January 16 that the IRGC ballistic missile attacks in Idlib, Syria were the furthest that Iran has ever fired a missile.[67]

Western media reported on January 17 that India is attempting to persuade Iran to help shield Indian exporters from Iran-backed Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.[68] Reuters said that the Indian defense ministry improved its surveillance capabilities in the region and that Indian naval vessels are escorting Indian container ships transiting the Red Sea. The Indian foreign minister met with the Iranian president, Supreme National Security Council secretary, and foreign minister in Tehran on January 15.[69] The Iranian and Indian foreign ministers discussed maritime security in the Red Sea during their meeting.[70] The Houthis conducted a drone attack targeting the Gabon-flagged Sai Baba commercial vessel with 25 Indian crew members on December 24.[71]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the IRGC’s January 15-16 strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria with US media during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The IRGC struck actors in Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria that Iranian leaders accused of trying to destabilize and undermine the regime.[72] Abdollahian described the strikes to CNBC on January 16 as acts of “legitimate self-defense" aimed at combatting terrorism.[73] Abdollahian separately told CNN on January 17 that Iran respects Iraq and Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it will not allow terrorists in Pakistan or “Israeli currents” in Iraqi Kurdistan to threaten Iran’s national security.[74] Abdollahian emphasized that the IRGC drone and missile strikes in Erbil targeted “Mossad agents,” not Iraq. Abdollahian also claimed that the IRGC acted within the framework of the March 2023 security agreement between Tehran and Baghdad. The March 2023 agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[75] Abdollahian may have made this statement in response to Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet al Abbasi’s warning on January 17 that the Iraqi federal government may suspend the agreement with Iran in response to the IRGC’s strikes in Erbil.[76] Abbasi is a member of a Sunni coalition named the National Resolution Alliance (Al Hasm Alliance).[77]

Abdollahian also claimed that Pakistan is Iran’s “friend and brother” and that the IRGC strikes in Pakistan did not kill any civilians. Abdollahian likely made this last statement in response to the Pakistani government’s claim that the airstrikes killed two children.[78] Abdollahian similarly emphasized that the IRGC strikes only targeted members of the Baloch Salafi-Jihadi group Jaish al Adl in a phone call with Pakistani Foreign Affairs Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani on January 17.[79] The Iranian readout of this phone call emphasized Iran’s respect for Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, while the Pakistani readout focused on Jilani’s condemnation of the strikes as “an egregious violation of international law and the spirit of bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran.”[80]

The Pakistani government has strongly condemned and warned of possible retaliation for the IRGC strikes. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry warned on January 17 that Pakistan retains the right to “respond” to the strikes and that “the responsibility for the consequences [of the strikes] will lie squarely with Iran.”[81] Pakistan also recalled its ambassador to Iran and expelled the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan on January 17.[82] Pakistan media reported that Pakistan also closed its border with Iran.[83] The Pakistani Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee held a meeting on January 17 to discuss possible responses to the strikes.[84]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with various foreign leaders while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 16 and 17. Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war and bilateral counterterrorism efforts with the interim Prime Minister of Pakistan hours before the IRGC strike on Pakistan on January 16.[85] Abdollahian said fighting terrorism was one of the most important issues facing Iran and Pakistan. Abdollahian discussed Palestinian self-determination with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on January 17.[86] Abdollahian also discussed the need for a ceasefire with the Norwegian Foreign Minister on January 17.[87] Abdollahian further reiterated the need for a Palestinian-led effort to decide the governance of the post-war Gaza Strip and warned that the Israel-Hamas war could spread throughout the Middle East during the meeting.

Iranian security forces repulsed three Jaish al Adl fighters who attempted to cross the Iran-Pakistan border on January 17.[88] Iranian media reported that the Jaish al Adl fighters planned to conduct attacks in Iran.[89] Iranian security forces killed one fighter. Iranian forces injured two other fighters, who escaped. Iranian security forces captured weapons, ammunition, explosives, and hand grenades that the trio attempted to bring across the border.

Jaish al Adl claimed responsibility for killing an IRGC Ground Forces Colonel in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 17.[90]  Colonel Hossein Ali Javadanfar was a member of the IRGC Ground Forces 110th Farsi Independent Special Forces Brigade.  Jaish al Adl conducted at least four other attacks targeting Iranian security personnel inside Iran between December 15, 2023, and January 16, 2024.[91]

 

Iran Update, January 16, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  • Palestinian militias are likely re-infiltrating into areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations.
  • The IDF 646th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip.
  • The New York Times reported that the IDF now believes that there are more tunnels underneath the Gaza Strip than previously thought.
  • The 98th Division conducted clearing operations focused on locating Hamas leadership and degrading Hamas’ Khan Younis Battalion in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • The IDF announced Special Forces Unit 217 (Duvdevan) operating under the 89th Commando Brigade withdrew from the southern Gaza Strip.
  • A low-level Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander told Israeli intelligence he received military training in Iran before Hamas’ October 7 attack.
  • Hamas and Israel reached a deal to supply medicine to Israeli hostages in exchange for additional humanitarian aid inflows to the Gaza Strip.
  • The al Qassem Brigades fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
  • Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times across the West Bank.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Iran conducted three drone and missile strikes abroad.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it conducted a long-range cruise missile attack targeting Israel.

Palestinian militias are likely re-infiltrating into areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. CTP-ISW has observed renewed militant activity in several neighborhoods across the northern part of the strip in recent weeks, as Israeli forces have transitioned to less intense fighting there. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed on December 31, 2023, that it withdrew five brigades from the northern Gaza Strip and said that it would transition to targeted raids with its remaining forces.[1] CTP-ISW assessed on January 2 that the IDF transitioning to this new phase of operations will very likely enable Hamas to reconstitute itself militarily.[2]

Palestinian militias have renewed attacks particularly around Jabalia, Sheikh Radwan, and southern Gaza City.[3] Palestinian militias have claimed several attacks on Israeli forces in Jabalia, despite the IDF reporting on December 19, 2023, that it “dismantled” Hamas’ three battalions there.[4] There are similar reports of militant activity around Sheikh Radwan after there has been no major activity there since December 30, 2023.[5] A Palestinian journalist reported on January 9 clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in Sheikh Radwan.[6] The military wing of Hamas, the al Qassem Brigades, claimed to have conducted an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attack on January 16 targeting an Israeli armored personnel carrier in Sheikh Radwan. CTP-ISW previously reported that the al Qassem Brigades and other Palestinian militias are not destroyed around southern Gaza City, where Palestinian militias have continued to attack Israeli forces.[7]

There is a similar but more limited renewal of Palestinian activity in other locations that Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations around the northern Gaza Strip as well. The militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the al Quds Brigades, fired a rocket salvo from Beit Hanoun toward Sderot in southern Israel on January 15.[8] The IDF separately engaged Palestinian fighters in Shaati refugee camp and Beit Lahia on January 16.[9] Israeli Army Radio furthermore reported on January 16 that the Israeli military establishment believes that Hamas is trying to restore its control over the civilian population in the northern Gaza Strip, in part, by rehabilitating local police there.[10]

Israeli forces are returning to areas that they had recently left, according to Reuters, which is consistent with the likely re-infiltration of Palestinian militants.[11] A Palestinian journalist similarly reported on January 9 and 16 that Israeli forces have “repositioned” themselves in Gaza City after they had withdrawn earlier.[12]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The IDF 646th Paratroopers Brigade (assigned to the 99th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip on January 16. The Israeli forces, including Yalam forces and engineering elements from the 99th Division, destroyed a Hamas underground tunnel route beneath Salah al Din Road.[13] The IDF reported that the tunnel is about nine meters deep and used to transport fighters between the northern and southern Gaza Strip. The al Qassem Brigades mortared Israeli forces as they advanced into Nuseirat on January 16.[14]

The New York Times reported on January 16 that the IDF now believes that there are more tunnels underneath the Gaza Strip than previously thought. Anonymous senior Israeli defense officials speaking to the New York Times increased their estimate of the tunnel network’s length to between 350 and 450 miles from 250 miles in December 2023.[15] The defense officials assessed there are close to 5,700 separate tunnel entrance shafts in the Gaza Strip.[16] Israeli forces have discovered many of the tunnels through documents uncovered during their ground operations in the Gaza Strip.[17]

The 98th Division conducted clearing operations focused on locating Hamas leadership and degrading Hamas’ Khan Younis Battalion in the southern Gaza Strip on January 16. IDF commando forces raided the offices of senior Hamas commanders in the South Khan Younis Battalion and found weapons, ammunition, grenades, and surveillance cameras[18]. Israeli Defense Minster Yoav Gallant stated on January 15 that IDF operations in the southern Gaza Strip are “focused on the head of the snake, the Hamas leadership.”[19][20] Israeli artillery shelled a PIJ headquarters in Khan Younis.[21] The IDF 7th Brigade Combat Team directed several airstrikes on Palestinian fighters in Khan Younis, and the IDF 35th Paratroopers Brigade Combat Team killed Palestinian fighters with tank fire.[22]

Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli forces operating in the Khan Younis area on January 16. Palestinian militias claimed seven mortar attacks on Israeli armor and dismounted infantry in eastern, southern, and central Khan Younis.[23] The National Resistance Brigades was the only group to claim close-range small arms clashes and IED attacks on Israeli forces in Khan Younis on January 16.[24] The militias’ high proportion of mortar attacks compared to other weapons systems in Khan Younis is anomalous. The IDF published documentation that Palestinian fighters launched rockets from the premises of Nasser Hospital at Israeli forces conducting clearing operations in northern Khan Younis at some point in the last week.[25]

The IDF announced Special Forces Unit 217 (Duvdevan) operating under the 89th Commando Brigade withdrew from the southern Gaza Strip on January 16.[26] The Duvdevan Unit will conduct operations in the West Bank. The unit raided Palestinian militant infrastructure in southern Khan Younis and clashed with a militia squad before withdrawing from the strip. The IDF withdrew the 36th Division from the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip a day prior on January 15.[27]

A low-level Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander told Israeli intelligence he received military training in Iran before Hamas’ October 7 attack. The platoon-level commander from Sheikh Radwan was detained by Israeli forces on December 20, 2023, and made the statements during recorded questioning by Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet.[28] The PIJ fighter stated that he and 15 to 20 other PIJ members from the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Lebanon were sent to a 15-day sniper training course at an Iranian base.[29] He alleged that other PIJ fighters received artillery and officer command courses at unspecified military bases in Iran. The US State Department and Treasury Department said in November 2023 that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps enables PIJ’s operations through the transfer of funds and the provision of both weapons and operational training.[30]

Several drug smugglers exchanged fire with Israeli forces on the Egypt-Israel border on January 15.[31] The IDF reported the clash along the Nitzana border area lightly injured one soldier as about 20 people approached the border.[32] The Egyptian army spokesperson said Egyptian authorities thwarted the smuggling attempt after the cross-border fire.[33] The Nitzana border area is about 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Israel reached a deal to supply medicine to Israeli hostages in exchange for additional humanitarian aid inflows to the Gaza Strip on January 15.[34] The Qatari Foreign Ministry announced Israel will permit higher levels of medicine and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip in exchange for Qatari representatives delivering medicine to Israeli hostages under the agreement.[35] Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's office said two Qatari Air Force planes are expected to arrive in Egypt on January 17, after which Qatari representatives will transfer the medicine to the hostages inside the Gaza Strip.[36] The agreement comes as Hamas heightened its effort to spread hostage propaganda.[37] CTP-ISW assessed on January 15 that Hamas’ increased hostage propaganda was likely intended to generate public pressure on the Israeli government to stop operations in the Gaza Strip and agree to a hostage/prisoner swap.[38]

The Gaza Strip is experiencing the longest, large-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began. NetBlocks reported on January 16 that telecommunications have been offline in the Gaza Strip for over 96 hours.[39]

The al Qassem Brigades fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on January 16.[40] Israeli media reported that the militia fired a rocket salvo into southern Israel from areas in the central Gaza Strip where Israeli forces recently withdrew.[41] The IDF withdrew the 36th Division from the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip on January 15.[42]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times across the West Bank on January 16.[43] This rate of kinetic activity is a decrease from the average, as Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters have clashed around nine times per day over the past week.[44] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades engaged Israeli forces in small arms clashes in three locations.[45] Palestinian fighters separately detonated an IED targeting Israeli vehicles, including a bulldozer, in Nablus.[46]

The IDF arrested over 20 wanted individuals across the West Bank on January 16.[47] The IDF said that it questioned dozens of suspects in Bnei Naim in relation to a car-ramming attack in Ranaana, Israel, on January 15.[48]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.[49] LH targeted Israeli forces and military infrastructure. Israeli forces struck LH positions, including munitions storage facilities in Wadi Saluki, southern Lebanon.[50] Israeli aircraft targeted LH anti-tank guided missile teams in Kafr Kila as well.[51]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iran conducted three drone and missile strikes abroad on January 15-16. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) struck actors in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan that Iranian leaders have accused of trying to destabilize and undermine the regime. Iranian officials and media have portrayed these groups as agents and/or accomplices of Israeli intelligence services.

  • The IRGC conducted drone and missiles strikes targeting what it claimed to be Israeli Mossad-affiliated facilities and individuals in Erbil, Iraq on January 15.[52] The IRGC stated that the attacks were meant to retaliate for recent terror attacks inside Iran and for Israel killing senior IRGC commanders in Syria.[53] Iranian officials and state media have accused Israel of supporting the December 15 and January 3 terror attacks in Rask and Kerman. IRGC-affiliated media also claimed that the strikes around Erbil targeted an Iraqi Kurdish businessman whom the IRGC accused of protecting Mossad agents, providing unspecified logistical support for Mossad operations inside Iran, and transferring Iraqi oil to Israel.[54] Iran similarly targeted an Iraqi Kurdish businessman whom it had accused of cooperating with Israel when it conducted missile strikes around Erbil in March 2022.[55] Iran has historically accused anti-regime Kurdish militant groups and Israel of jointly using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate operations into Iran.[56] Iran has previously attacked Iraqi Kurdistan to counter these perceived threats.[57]
  • The IRGC similarly claimed that it conducted missile strikes targeting the Islamic State (IS), the al Nusra Front, and the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) in Haram, Idlib Governorate, Syria, on January 15.[58] The IRGC justified its strikes on the basis that the above groups use their facilities to train IS fighters before transporting them to Afghanistan to then conduct attacks into Iran.[59] CTP-ISW previously reported that the Afghan branch of IS, named the IS Khorasan Province (ISKP), has command and control over IS cells composed of Uzbek and Tajik nationals in Idlib.[60] ISKP fighters, including two Tajik nationals, have conducted three terrorist attacks inside Iran since October 2022.[61] Iranian officials accused Israeli intelligence services of directing ISKP to conduct these attacks.[62] Iran also accuses Israel and the United States of having created IS and affiliated organizations to undermine Iran’s stability and create divisions between Muslims in the region.[63]
  • The IRGC conducted drone and missile strikes on two Jaish al Adl headquarters in Koh Sabz, Baluchistan Province, Pakistan on January 16.[64] The strikes follow an uptick in terrorist activity in southeastern Iran in recent weeks. Jaish al Adla Balochi, Salafi-jihadi group operating on the Iranian border with Pakistanconducted at least four attacks targeting Iranian security personnel inside Iran between December 15, 2023, and January 16.[65] Iranian officials blamed Israel for the attack on December 15.[66]

It is noteworthy that the IRGC used the Kheibar Shekan ballistic missile for the first time since it entered production in 2022 in Syria on January 15.[67] The name of the missile, translatable as “Fortress Breaker,” notably references a Jewish fortress conquered by Muslim armies during the Battle of Kheibar in 628.[68]2 Israeli media noted and Iranian officials and media emphasized that the IRGC ballistic missile attacks on Syria constituted the greatest distance that Iran has ever fired a missile.[69] The Kheibar Shekan missile is also the progenitor model of the Houthi Hatem ballistic missile.[70] The Houthis have used missiles of Iranian origin in their ongoing attacks on commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea.[71]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it conducted a long-range cruise missile attack targeting Israel on January 16.[72] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq did not specify where exactly in Israel the attack targeted. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq stated that it used an “Arqab” cruise missile in the attack. The group last claimed that it used an “Arqab” missile in an attack targeting Haifa, Israel, on January 7.[73]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi praised the Houthis for supporting Palestinians during a phone call with Houthi President Mehdi al Mashat on January 14.[74] Raisi stated that the US-UK combined strikes on Houthi facilities revealed the “aggressive” nature of the United States.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned the United States and the United Kingdom “to stop the war” against the Houthis during a press conference with his Indian counterpart, Subramaniam Jaishankar, in Tehran on January 15.[75] Abdollahian reiterated the false Houthi narrative that the Houthis only target Israeli ships. Abdollahian added that the Houthis will stop their anti-shipping attack campaign when the Israel-Hamas war ends. Jaishankar also met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian during his visit to Tehran.[76]

US naval forces seized an illegal shipment of Iranian missiles sailing to Yemen on January 1.[77] US forces seized Iranian-made ballistic and cruise missile components, including warheads for Houthi medium-range ballistic missiles. Iran providing these kinds of weapons to the Houthis continually enables their attacks on international shipping around the Red Sea.

IRGC advisers and officers are operating on the ground in Yemen to directly facilitate Houthi attacks targeting international shipping and Israel, according to US outlet Semafor.[78] The IRGC placed drone and missile trainers and operators in Houthi-controlled Yemen, according to unspecified US and Middle Eastern officials. IRGC personnel on the ground are providing tactical intelligence support to the Houthis. Semafor reported that the IRGC Quds Force has overseen the transfer of the drones and missiles that the Houthis have used in their attacks targeting maritime shipping in the Red Sea and targets in Israel in recent weeks.

The Houthis continued their attack campaign targeting international shipping on January 16. The Houthis launched anti-ship ballistic missiles into international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea.[79] A missile launched from the Houthi-controlled area of Yemen separately hit a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier in the Red Sea.[80]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei praised the Houthis during a speech to Friday prayer leaders in Tehran on January 16.[81] Khamenei stated the Houthi attacks against shipping done on behalf of the Palestinian people deserve admiration and appreciation.[82] Khamenei claimed the Houthis struck an “existential blow” to Israel. Khamenei voiced his support for the Houthis continuing their destabilizing regional activities against maritime shipping in the Red Sea.

Several international companies halted operations in the Red Sea on January 16. Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen announced its suspension of shipping through the Red Sea.[83] British energy company Shell similarly halted all shipping operations through the Red Sea indefinitely.[84] The US Department of Transportation renewed its warning to American merchant ships to avoid the southern part of the Red Sea until further notice.[85]

The United States conducted a strike targeting four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles in Yemen on January 16.[86] An unnamed US official told Reuters that the Houthis were preparing the missiles to target ships.


Iran Update, January 15, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Annika Ganzeveld, Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Johanna Moore, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  • Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are trying to install their preferred candidate as Iraqi parliament speaker as part of their ongoing campaign to expel US forces from Iraq.
  • Israeli forces have continued targeting the remaining Palestinian fighters and militia infrastructure in the northern Gaza Strip.
  • The IDF announced that it withdrew the 36th Division from the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip.
  • The IDF 646th Paratroopers Brigade Combat Team (assigned to the 99th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in Nuseirat in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip.
  • The IDF 98th Division continued clearing operations in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Hamas’ “Khan Younis Brigade is gradually disintegrating as a fighting force.”
  • The Gaza Strip is experiencing the longest, large-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began.
  • The al Quds Brigades fired rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Sderot in southern Israel.
  • The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades announced the establishment of a “military council” to plan attacks on Israeli targets “in every corner of the Earth.”
  • Two West Bank residents conducted a car-ramming attack in Raanana, killing one civilian and wounding 17 others.
  • Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters five times across the West Bank, compared to the weekly average of nine attacks per day.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah conducted eight attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech detailing the state of the Israel-Hamas war and ongoing Iranian-backed escalation against the United States throughout the region.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed four attacks on three US positions in Iraq and Syria.
  • The Houthis continued attacking and harassing US naval forces and commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are trying to install their preferred candidate as Iraqi parliament speaker as part of their ongoing campaign to expel US forces from Iraq. Iraqi parliamentarians voted for a new speaker on January 13, but no candidate won the 165 votes required.[1] Parliament has had an acting speaker since the Federal Supreme Court dismissed Mohammad al Halbousi in November 2023.[2] The following candidates won the highest number of votes:

  • National Progress Alliance (headed by Mohammad al Halbousi) candidate Shaalan al Karim: 152 out of 165 votes;
  • Sovereignty Alliance (headed by Khamis al Khanjar) candidate Salem al Issawi: 97 out of 165 votes;
  • Azm Alliance (headed by Muthanna al Samarrai) candidate Mahmoud al Mashhadani: 48 out of 165 votes.[3]

The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties—is maneuvering to prevent Karim from becoming parliament speaker. Iranian-backed Badr Organization member and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) spokesperson Yousef al Kalabi and Fatah Alliance member Faleh al Khazali filed a lawsuit to the Federal Supreme Court on January 13 to invalidate Karim’s candidacy for parliament speaker.[4] Several representatives, including a member of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al Haq’s (AAH) political wing, separately called for Karim to be referred to the Accountability and Justice Commission for “promoting and glorifying Saddam Hossein’s regime.”[5] The Accountability and Justice Commission was formed in 2008 to prevent “the return of the Baath’s ideology, power, or practices.”[6] Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani promised Sunni politicians in October 2022 that he would dissolve the commission when he came to power because Sunni politicians had accused Shia political actors of using the commission to sideline them from decision making.[7] The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission recently prevented former Ninewa Governor Najm al Jubouri from running in the provincial council elections due to corruption charges brought up against him by the Accountability and Justice Commission.[8]

The Shia Coordination Framework likely views blocking Karim as necessary to expel US forces. AAH-controlled outlet Al Ahad interviewed a “political analyst” on January 13 who implied that the election of Karim as parliament speaker would impede efforts to expel US forces from Iraq.[9] An independent Iraqi outlet reported on January 13 that former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and AAH Secretary General Qais al Khazali want Mashhadani to become parliament speaker.[10] Maliki and Khazali may regard Mashhadani as more amenable to pursuing the expulsion of US forces than Karim. The Iranian-backed Badr Organization announced on January 13 the submission of a draft law that requires the removal of US forces from Iraq, which CTP-ISW assessed was meant to increase pressure on Sudani to facilitate a US exit.

The Shia Coordination Framework also appears to be maneuvering to consolidate its control over the Iraqi Parliament. Unspecified members of the Shia Coordination Framework submitted a request to interim Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi on January 13 to “limit” the parliament speaker’s powers.[11] It is unclear exactly what these proposed limitations involve. Mandalawi is affiliated with the Shia Coordination Framework. Iraq has an informal sectarian power-sharing system, in which the parliament speaker is always Sunni, the prime minister is always Shia, and the president is always Kurdish.[12] Iranian-backed actors already control large parts of Iraq’s executive, judiciary, and legislative branches and security services.[13] Diluting the authorities of the parliament speaker may further facilitate Iranian encroachment into Iraq.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces have continued targeting the remaining Palestinian fighters and militia infrastructure in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on January 13 that it activated its joint special operations multidimensional unit in the northern Gaza Strip.[14] The unit uses advanced drones and a combination of technological capabilities to identify targets and direct fire. It has destroyed dozens of anti-tank positions, observation posts, and weapons warehouses, and killed Hamas fighters. Israeli forces directed an airstrike targeting Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip on January 15.[15]

Palestinian militias, including Hamas’ al Qassem Brigades, are not destroyed in the northern Gaza Strip and maintain a presence there, however. The military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the National Resistance Brigades, claimed six attacks on Israeli forces around Gaza City on January 15, using a man-portable air-defense system, mortars, and an unspecified explosive.[16] The military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the al Quds Brigades, fired rockets at Israeli positions in the northern Gaza Strip.[17]

The IDF announced on January 15 that it withdrew the 36th Division from the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip.[18] Israeli media began reporting in December 2023 that the IDF would transition to a third phase of operations that includes securing a buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip and transitioning to targeted raids.[19] Israeli media reported that the IDF will decide where the 36th Division will deploy after a period of rest and training.[20] The 36th Division, which includes the Golani Infantry Brigade and 188th Armored Brigade, operated in several neighborhoods of Gaza City and the central Gaza Strip for over 80 days.[21] The 36th Division is normally assigned to the IDF Northern Command, which oversees Israel's northern borders. The withdrawal follows the IDF’s confirmation on December 31 that it withdrew five brigades from the northern Gaza Strip.[22] Three IDF divisions remain in the Gaza Strip.

CTP-ISW warned on January 2 that the third phase of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, as described, will very likely enable Hamas to reconstitute itself militarily.[23] Israeli forces have degraded several Hamas units in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas’ military forces are neither defeated nor destroyed at this time. Palestinian militias continue to operate across the Gaza Strip and have targeted Israeli forces in areas where Israel has degraded the local Hamas units.

The IDF 646th Paratroopers Brigade Combat Team (assigned to the 99th Division) continued to conduct clearing operations in Nuseirat in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip on January 15.[24] Israeli forces located facilities for constructing mortar shells and rockets. The IDF also located eight Hamas fighters hiding in a school area and a nearby weapons storage facility. The al Qassem Brigades mortared Israeli forces east of Bureij.[25] The National Resistance Brigades fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at an advancing Israeli vehicle northeast of Nuseirat and mortared Israeli armor and dismounted infantry elsewhere in the central Gaza Strip.[26]

The IDF 98th Division continued clearing operations in the southern Gaza Strip on January 15. The 7th Armored Brigade raided a Hamas operational headquarters and confiscated small arms, grenades, RPGs, and diving equipment belonging to Hamas’ naval force.[27] Fighters of the 98th Division directed an airstrike on two Hamas operatives loading ammunition onto a truck in Khan Younis.[28] Israeli forces also destroyed two weapons depots and attacked Hamas military buildings in Khan Younis.[29] Four Palestinian militias claimed to attack Israeli forces with RPGs, mortars, small arms, and anti-personnel shells on January 15, which is consistent with the weaponry Israeli forces have located during clearing operations in the southern Gaza Strip.[30]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on January 15 that Hamas’ “Khan Younis Brigade is gradually disintegrating as a fighting force.”[31] Gallant added that the IDF’s “intensive phase” in the southern Gaza Strip will end soon and that the IDF is focused on targeting Hamas leadership there.[32] The al Qassem Brigades claimed five attacks on Israeli forces operating in Khan Younis.[33] Hamas and other Palestinian militias are conducting a deliberate defense in Khan Younis, conducting daily attacks on Israeli armor and dismounted infantry since December 3.[34]

Current and former Israeli and Egyptian officials told the Wall Street Journal that Israel informed Egypt that it is planning a military operation to secure the Egypt-Gaza Strip border.[35] The IDF refers to the 14-kilometer stretch of land between Egypt and the Gaza Strip as the “Philadelphi Corridor.”[36] The operation would involve replacing Palestinian border authorities with Israeli ones. The Wall Street Journal reported that the timing of the Israeli operation will depend on negotiations with Egypt regarding Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip and a ceasefire.[37] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel must control the border area to block Hamas from smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.[38] Unspecified Egyptian sources told Reuters on January 9 that Egypt rejected an Israeli proposal for greater Israeli oversight over the buffer zone on the Egypt-Gaza Strip border.[39]

Hamas resumed issuing Israeli hostage propaganda on January 14 and 15. The al Qassem Brigades published a series of videos of three Israeli hostages that raise questions about whether the hostages are alive.[40] The final video revealed that two of the hostages had died from what Hamas claimed were Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, while the third sustained a head injury. The remaining hostage, Noa Argamani, narrated how she purportedly survived two Israeli airstrikes with help from al Qassem Brigades fighters and appealed to the Israeli government to “stop this madness and bring us home to our families.”[41] IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Hamas’ claim that the IDF targeted a building where three Israeli hostages were being held is a lie.[42] Al Qassem Brigades military spokesperson Abu Obeida similarly spread hostage propaganda on January 14, claiming that the al Qassem Brigades had lost track of many of its hostages in tunnels in the Gaza Strip due to Israeli airstrikes.[43] Hamas last issued these types of videos and other hostage related propaganda during hostage negotiation talks in mid-December 2023.[44]

Hamas’ video campaign is likely intended to generate public pressure on the Israeli government to stop operations in the Gaza Strip and agree to a hostage/prisoner swap. Palestinian militias’ demands for a renewed hostage-for-prisoner deal include the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and an end to the war, neither of which are compatible with stated Israeli war aims.[45] The newly issued propaganda is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that both Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, and Hamas’ external political leaders seek to use their Israeli hostages as leverage to maintain their influence in negotiations.[46] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on January 15 that only military pressure will enable Israel to free the hostages held by Hamas.[47]

The IDF published on January 15 a data set summarizing its operations in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Lebanon since the war began.[48] Israeli forces have killed over 9,000 Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ military force is approximately 40,000.[49] The data shows that Israeli forces have killed two Hamas brigade commanders, 19 battalion commanders, and over 50 company commanders as part of its effort to destroy Hamas’ command-and-control network in the Gaza Strip. 188 Israeli troops have died in the ground offensive and 1,113 sustained injuries.[50]

The Gaza Strip is experiencing the longest, large-scale internet blackout since the Israel-Hamas war began. NetBlocks reported on January 15 that telecommunications have been offline in the Gaza Strip for over 72 hours.[51]

The al Quds Brigades fired rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Sderot in southern Israel on January 15.[52]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades announced the establishment of a “military council” on January 14 to plan attacks on Israeli targets “in every corner of the Earth.”[53] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that it would exact a severe cost on Israelis and that the United States would not be able to intervene. The militia also warned that its fighters would target Israeli civilians living in settlements until