Pause In Iraqi Militia Attacks Against U.S. Holds

Pause In Iraqi Militia Attacks Against U.S. Holds


Pause In Iraqi Militia Attacks Against U.S. Holds 

On March 21, Iranian state media reported the ‘Islamic Resistance in Iraq,’ comprising Kataib Hezbollah (KH), Harakat Al-Nujaba, Harakat Ansar Allah Al-Awfiya, and Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, claimed a drone strike on an Israeli power plant. The IRGC-linked Tasnim news described the attack as the “second phase of the operation to…support the people of Gaza.”  

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on March 21, CENTCOM commander Erik Kurilla said that “in the past six months, we have seen every proxy in the Iranian threat network operationalized in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and Yemen," which echoed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Annual Threat Assessment, dated February 2024. Kurilla attributed the current pause in attacks in Iraq and Syria to deterrence from strikes against KH and Harakat al-Nujaba leadership, adding that deterrence is temporary. 

Iran has sought to distance itself from the militia attacks, of which there have been over 165 against the U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since October 17. For instance, Supreme Leader Khamenei, speaking before a crowd in Iran on occasion of the Persian New Year, refuted the U.S. accusation that Iran is “orchestrating” the attacks. 

The U.S. And Iran Hold Secret Talks In Oman 

An unofficial truce between Iran and the Iraqi government—reportedly responsible for the Iran-backed militias’ current tactical restraint—may have formed the basis for indirect talks between Iran and the U.S, which Iran reportedly requested via Omani intermediaries. The Iranian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani reportedly asked the U.S. to broker a ceasefire in Gaza in exchange for the Iran-backed militias standing down in the region, while claiming, like Khamanei, that these groups are not under the operational control of Iran. Still, if the Iraqi militias’ fail to obtain their maximalist demands in the ongoing U.S.-Iraq bilateral negotiations, they will likely escalate against U.S. forces. 

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

Israel Terminates Multiple Senior Hamas Commanders 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that he and his war cabinet had approved plans for the offensive on Rafah. On March 22, Netanyahu said to U.S. Secretary of State Blinken that “we won't be able to beat Hamas without entering Rafah and killing the rest of their battalions that are there. [Netanyahu] told him that I hope we do this with U.S. support, but if we need to – we will do it alone.” 

The U.S. national security advisor confirmed that Marwan Issa, deputy to military chief Mohammed Deif and a mastermind of October 7, was killed in an Israeli airstrike last week. A former Israeli intelligence official said that the intelligence for this strike was likely acquired from a human asset with seniority in the terrorist organization, especially noting that the groups’ high-level communications depend on couriers rather than signals. Issa was terminated along with brigade commander Razi Abu Tomeh, dealing a severe blow to the groups’ leadership, its ability to operate militarily, and its governance capabilities. 

On March 21, various anonymous sources revealed that Israel has accumulated a massive trove of data on the internal operations of Hamas. Israel acquired a more detailed view of Hamas’ command and control and its communications. The sources indicated that the information had been acquired during the offensive in Gaza via hard drives, cell phones, and laptops and supported by U.S. signals intercepts.    

The IDF also neutralized Faiq Mabhouh during a raid at the Al-Shifa complex. He was a senior Hamas security official believed to be responsible for “synchronization” of various Hamas units based in Gaza and the brother of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, whom Israel assassinated in 2010 in the UAE. The raid witnessed heavy exchange of gunfire between Israeli troops and Hamas. Over 40 armed terrorists were killed in this previously-cleared area, and  80 people were detained over the duration of a five-hour battle. Five senior Hamas operatives were neutralized in a single Israeli airstrike in Rafah on March 18.  

U.S.-Mediated Hostage Negotiations In Qatar Continue 

Hamas and Israel resumed another round of hostage negotiations on March 18 in Qatar, with the U.S, Egypt and Qatar mediating. The framework for a deal reportedly entailed a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the release of 40 hostages. One of the sticking points, however, has been Hamas’ demand that Israel allow displaced Palestinians currently in the south to return to the north, which would allow the terrorist group to rebuild in previously cleared areas. Further, their demand to choose the Palestinian prisoners to be released has been another obstacle. 

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Hezbollah Remains Intransigent, Launching Daily Attacks 

Hezbollah has launched daily attacks on Israel’s north, displacing hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes in northern Israel, creating a situation that no Israeli government can tolerate. Israel will likely take action against Hezbollah if it continues to refuse to remove its troops from the border, as the window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution closes. While Hezbollah has calibrated its attacks to avoid escalation, it has shown no willingness to withdraw its forces from the border or cease its fire. 

Meanwhile, Israel’s counterstrikes have increased in intensity and reach, targeting sites deeper into Lebanon, including Hezbollah’s Baalbek stronghold, and the group’s leadership in southern Lebanon and in Syria. Until Iran changes its calculation so that it views the costs of escalation outweighing the benefits, it will continue to arm, support, and direct proxies around the region. 

Hezbollah Operative Apprehended At The Southern Border Of The U.S. 

A member of Hezbollah sought to infiltrate the southern border in order to carry out a mass casualty attack targeting New York City. The Lebanese individual was apprehended by U.S. border patrol and admitted his ties to the group, adding that he was looking to build a bomb and detonate it somewhere in New York. On January 2, a known or suspected terrorist (KST) with Iranian nationality tried to come in through the northern border near Niagara Falls but was apprehended. 

On March 20, U.S. officials testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security on the current threat posed by the Iran-helmed ‘Axis of Resistance’ against the safety of Americans. In the hearing, Robert Wells, assistant director for the FBI’s counterterrorism program, noted that Hezbollah is “likely to continue conducting intelligence collection, financial activities and procurement efforts” in order to attack Americans. Carrie Thompson, chief of intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), noted that Hezbollah is present in South America, conducting money laundering and drug smuggling to Europe and the Middle East. 


Israel Conducts Airstrikes Against Hezbollah Targets In Syria 

After a projectile was launched towards Israel from Syria, on March 16, Israeli fighter jets struck a Hezbollah weapons depot near Damascus. A local war monitor indicated that two military targets were hit the Qalamoun mountains. These attacks came as the Syrian defense minister was visiting Iran. Then, on March 17, Syrian media reported multiple Israeli strikes, which injured a soldier and resulted in damage. This round of airstrikes occurred soon after Iran’s defense minister, at the meeting with Syria’s defense minister, stated Iran’s intention to “utilize its full capabilities…[to bolster Syria’s] defense and deterrence.” On March 19, Israel targeted a Hezbollah weapons and ammunition storage facility, causing secondary explosions.