Bilateral Negotiations Between U.S. and Iraq See No Iraqi Attacks Against The U.S.

Bilateral Negotiations Between U.S. and Iraq See No Iraqi Attacks Against The U.S.


Bilateral Negotiations Between U.S. and Iraq See No Iraqi Attacks Against The U.S. 

Iran-backed proxies in Iraq have dialed back their aggression, according to a Reuters report published on February 18, in part because Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani ordered them to do so. Indeed, there have been no reported attacks since February 10, the day before which the U.S. and Iraq resumed negotiations over the U.S. troop presence in the country.  

The temporary pause in attacks could indicate that Qaani’s reported effort to rein in the militias succeeded, and that he exercises control over the militias at this time. It also shows that Iran fears escalation in the likes of late 2019, when Kataib Hezbollah (KH) launched a deadly rocket attack at K-1 airbase in Iraq, setting in motion a chain of events that would culminate in the assassination on January 3, 2020 of IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and then-de facto leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the founder of KH. However, the militias are also weighing how attacks against the U.S. could disrupt the negotiations in which they aim to achieve their long-standing goal of evicting the U.S. military from Iraq.  

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

IDF Clears Terrorist Safe Havens Throughout The Gaza Strip 

After urging civilians to evacuate, Israeli troops entered Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis on February 15 and arrested dozens of Hamas operatives. Medicines written out in the names of Israeli hostages were discovered, along with caches of weapons.  

The terror group exploits hospital grounds to stage weaponry and shelter leadership, leading Israel to prioritize clearing operations in and around hospitals. Earlier in the war, for instance, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raided the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, finding weaponry and tunnels. Similarly, last week the IDF unearthed a Hamas communications and intelligence center beneath the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNWRA) head office. On January 30, Israeli commandos executed a daring raid at Ibn Sina Hospital, during which several targets were neutralized as they were allegedly plotting an imminent attack.  

Israel Prepares Rafah Offensive, Pressuring Hamas To Release The Hostages 

The IDF reported that since the war in Gaza began, the IDF Air Force has conducted over 31,000 strikes—over 1,000 of which occurred in Lebanon and scores of which were in Syria. Further, the IDF said that 12,000 Hamas fighters have been killed, with thousands of others taken off the battlefield either due to injuries or because they surrendered or were detained.  

On the border with Egypt, Rafah has become a safe haven to escape heavy bombing in the north, not only in the view of civilians but also Hamas. Rafah is now densely populated, providing value to the terrorist group as a place to shelter from airstrikes. Hamas thereby ensures a high civilian death toll and more international pressure for a ceasefire that would allow the Hamas terrorist group to survive, an outcome Israel has vowed not to accept. 

Reports indicate that Israel has set a deadline for Hamas to release the hostages or face an imminent offensive on Rafah. A former defense minister and member of Israel’s war cabinet Benny Gantz said, “if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, to include the Rafah area.” The threat of a Rafah offensive along with apparent pressure from Hezbollah, its fellow member in the Iran-helmed ‘Axis of Resistance,’ may have persuaded the group to soften its position in the hostage negotiations, leading some observers to predict a hostage deal may be near.  

Documents Reveal Hamas Financial Holdings Throughout Middle East and North Africa 

Hamas siphons money from United Nations (U.N.), European Union (E.U.), and Palestinian Authority aid programs and other charitable donations from around the world and receives financing from Iran and Qatar, its main benefactors. Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ senior Gaza-based leader and one of the group’s early fundraisers, was instrumental in attracting revenue from these foreign powers, including when he was held in an Israeli prison. According to a former Israeli official who interrogated Sinwar for more than 150 hours, Sinwar was able to establish covert communications with Tehran. Furthermore, Hamas owns holding companies throughout the MENA region. At least 40 companies—valued at $422 million—constitute Hamas’ portfolio. They are spread out in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, the Gulf and Turkey, with a majority of the assets in real estate.  

Israel Prepares For Security Presence In Gaza Strip To Follow Troop Drawdown 

Engineering teams in Gaza are updating and widening a road that bisects the enclave from east to west in preparation for the next phase of the war, which could see less troops deployed to Gaza with sustained targeted raids against Hamas. The road is expected to facilitate troop movements and resupply for these operations. 

Three Palestinian Terrorists Attack A Busy Motorway In Israel 

An Israeli citizen was killed and eight others were wounded when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on motorists traveling on Highway 1 near Ma’aleh Adumim. They were armed with an M-16 rifle, a submachine gun, grenades, and ammunition, and may have targeted this section of the roadway given the traffic that accumulates there due to a checkpoint that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank. Armed civilians responded, killing the three terrorists on the scene.  

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Israel’s Targeted Assassination Campaign Against Hezbollah Commanders In Lebanon Yet To Provoke Strong Response From Hezbollah 

On February 19, Israeli airstrikes against a weapons depot set off a massive explosion in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon, further north than most of the Israeli strikes against Hezbollah positions that have occurred to date. According to the IDF spokesperson, the strikes were directed as retaliation for a drone attack by Hezbollah in northern Israel. The IDF Air Force also carried out at least two strikes on targets near Ghaziyeh later that day.  

More than 200 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since October 7. On February 22, Hezbollah announced the death of two more commanders. One of them, Hassan Saleh, was said to be a member of the elite Radwan Unit and was known to be a missile expert. Israel has neutralized several senior commanders from Hezbollah via strikes in Lebanon over the past few weeks, including Wissam Tawil on January 8 and Muhammad Al-Debes last week. Both Tawil and Debes were members of the Radwan Unit. Hezbollah has not shown a willingness to escalate in response to these strikes.  


IRGC And Hezbollah Train Russian Drone Operators In Syria 

Ukrainian intelligence asserts that IRGC and Hezbollah operatives train Russian soldiers in Syria on how to operate the Shahed-136 suicide drone, which is to date Russia’s weapon of choice given its low price and capability; and how to operate the ISR and combat drone, the Ababil-3, and the Raad drone. Meanwhile, Iran has been surging weapons through Syria intended for its Lebanon-based proxy, seeing the potential for escalation with Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) of these developments, listing the UNSC Resolutions that these shipments violate and adding that Israel has “an inherent right…to defend its citizens and its territory.”