A U.S. drone strike blew up a car in the Iraqi capital Wednesday night, killing a high-ranking commander of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah militia who is responsible for “directly planning and participating in attacks” on American troops in the region, the U.S. military said Wednesday. The precision blast hit a main thoroughfare in the Mashtal neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, attracting a crowd as emergency teams picked through the wreckage. It came amid roiling tensions in the region, and will likely further anger Iraqi government leaders, who U.S. officials said were not notified in advance of the strike. Security forces closed off the heavily guarded Green Zone, where a number of diplomatic compounds are located, and there were concerns about social media postings urging protesters to storm the U.S. embassy.
The United States is offering fresh evidence that Houthi attacks on international shipping are being carried out with weaponry designed by Iran, though some analysts and experts warn the findings raise concerns about the effectiveness of the U.S. actions against the Houthis and what it portends of Iran’s weapons development program. The Defense Intelligence Agency late Tuesday issued an unclassified report with details on the drones and missiles the Houthis have used in their more than 40 attacks since mid-November. The report also sheds light on missiles that the Houthis have in their arsenal but have yet to unleash. “Analysis confirms that Houthi forces have employed various Iranian-origin missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles against military and civilian targets throughout the region,” the DIA said in a statement, pointing to an ever-tighter relationship between Tehran and Houthi leadership.
A senior member of the Swedish security police said Thursday that Iran has planned attacks on the country, days after local media reported that two Iranians were deported for a plot to kill three Swedish Jews several years ago. Earlier this week, Swedish broadcast SR reported that two Iranians had been suspected of planning to kill members of the Swedish Jewish community. They were arrested in 2021 and were expelled from Sweden in 2022 without charges, according to Swedish radio. Daniel Stenling, counterespionage head at Sweden’s domestic security agency, told SR on Thursday that Iran “has been preparing and conducted activities aimed at carrying out a so-called physical attack against someone or something in Sweden.” He added, "we have worked on a number of such cases where we have, as we gauge it, thwarted such preparations.” He declined to give specifics.
UANI IN THE NEWS
US Warns Of Attack On Iran; National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan | US May Attack Iran Directly: US NSA Said – This Is The Beginning Of The Campaign, Not The End – It Will Not Allow Our People To Be At Risk | IG News
… Wallace was the US ambassador to the UN. He is also the executive director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). He said the world still has time to wake up from its slumber and immediately destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Western world will have to take the initiative for this. In response to a question, Wallace said – The first principle of UANI is that it must stop any country that supports terrorism and provides any kind of assistance to such groups. If you still don’t do this job, there will be serious consequences.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
An Iran watchdog group says the country has enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear weapon in just one week. The Institute for Science and International Security published the findings in a report on Monday, saying Tehran could produce a total of six bombs in a month. "The volatile situation in the region is providing Iran with a unique opportunity and increased internal justification for building nuclear weapons while the United States and Israel’s resources to detect and deter Iran from succeeding are stretched thin," the report states. "Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities are more dangerous than they have ever been, while its relations with the West are at a low point."
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Intelligence officials had warned for months of a rising risk that Iranian-made weapons would penetrate U.S. defenses in the Middle East and kill American forces — long before last week’s deadly drone strike against a U.S. outpost in Jordan. Officials in the intelligence agencies and at the Pentagon issued those warnings both internally and in briefings on Capitol Hill starting in late October, when Israel invaded Gaza and Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria ramped up their attacks on American forces in response. Those officials claimed that it was only a matter of time before one of the Iranian-made drones targeting American forces in the region got through U.S. air defense systems and caused fatalities, according to two officials familiar with the matter. Both were granted anonymity to speak freely about sensitive internal administration discussions.
Ebrahim Raisi's special envoy for Afghanistan has claimed that Iran has fighters ready to support the war in Gaza amid its regional proxy war against Israel and the US. In an interview with the Afkar Network, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi said, "Although Afghanistan is farther from Gaza, if necessary, more than one brigade from this country will go to support Gaza." Iran-backed Hamas invaded Israel on October 7 in what was the most deadly single day for Jews since the Holocaust. Since then, Israel's relentless retaliation and the US support for its right to defend itself has sparked a regional proxy war. Iran's militias in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen have joined the fight in support of Hamas in Gaza. Kazemi-Qomi's statement comes after the Iranian regime launched a multi-platform campaign to recruit fighters for the Hamas conflict against Israel. Despite Iranians branding it as a propaganda stunt, the regime initiated the campaign through various outlets including websites affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards and the state broadcaster.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian security forces have arrested several people who entered Iran from the Republic of Azerbaijan, alleging that they planned to perform sabotage operations within the country. IRGC-linked Tasnim News Agency reported Wednesday that “Several foreign spies and terrorists, under central guidance, entered Iran from the Republic of Azerbaijan with the intention of carrying out sabotage operations within the country, but they were identified and arrested before taking action.” Iran's intelligence agencies frequently announces busting spy networks and detaining saboteurs within Iran borders, although subsequent information about trials and convictions is scarce. Such incidents have been on the rise in recent years, with clandestine attacks targeting nuclear facilities, and military installations. Iran’s intelligence apparatus lost significant face after sabotage attacks on its Natanz nuclear facility in 2020 and 2021. While the Iranian government often attributes such incidents to Israel, Israeli officials have never officially claimed responsibility.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Three US lawmakers have asked the Justice Department to investigate the International Crisis Group, after a report by Iran International revealed that the ICG signed an undisclosed deal with the Iranian government in 2016. In a letter dated February 5 addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, a copy of which was obtained by Iran International, US Representative Jim Banks (R-IN), Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Mike Waltz (R-Fl) call for an investigation into the potential violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by the ICG, a think tank that advises the US government. An investigation by Iran International, published last week, showed that the Iranian government in 2016 signed a previously undisclosed agreement with the International Crisis Group, and used the organization to lobby the Obama administration on its behalf about nuclear issues.
Republican Senator of Tennessee, Bill Hagerty, gives his insight on why he thinks a Ukraine aid bill may not pass in the Senate, and why he thinks the US government needs to focus on its Southern border first. He also discusses what steps President Biden should be taking in regards to the airstrikes on Iran-backed proxies. Senator Hagerty speaks with Kailey Leinz and Joe Mathieu on Bloomberg's "Balance of Power."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Syrian Kurdish forces will retaliate against any further attacks by Iran-backed Shiite militia groups, a top Syrian Kurdish official said Wednesday. In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Democratic Unity Party, which shares power in the Syrian Kurds’ self-declared government in northeast Syria, warned, “If they repeat their attacks, our guys will respond very forcefully. Their aim, obviously, is to blow up our partnership with the United States. We will not be deterred,” Muslim said. Muslim was referring to the attack early Monday on a training camp run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Deir Ezzor, an Arab majority province bordering Iraq, that left six of its fighters dead. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed Shiite militias, claimed responsibility for the drone strike on the facility near the al-Omar field, which contains Syria’s largest proven reserves of oil and gas. US special operation forces are based near al-Omar to fend off potential moves by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reclaim the fields, which are the main source of income for the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria.
A hacker group has claimed to have gleaned the production costs of the Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones being used extensively in Russian attacks on targets in Ukraine. The Prana Network said it had compromised the email servers of the Iranian company Sahara Thunder, which is believed to act as a front for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to produce the now-infamous attack drones.
CHINA & IRAN
... In the other complaint, the U.S. government accused two Iranian men of trying to illegally procure American goods and technology for Iran’s aerospace industry. The technology, according to court documents, involved firefighting equipment and flame detectors. The charges are the latest in a series of legal actions aimed at cutting off Iran, Russia and China from American technology. A year ago, the Justice and Commerce Departments formed the Disruptive Technology Strike Force to enforce export control laws and disrupt production of weaponry in Iran meant for Russia and Iranian proxy groups. It was also intended to stall China’s efforts to develop advanced military technology.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq Thursday sharply criticized a U.S. drone strike that the U.S. military said killed a leader of an Iranian-backed militant group, with an Iraqi spokesman calling the attack “a blatant assassination” that showed “no regard for civilian lives or international laws.” Yehia Rasool, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, said the U.S.-led coalition that has operated in Iraq to counter the Islamic State group “consistently deviates from the reasons and objectives for its presence on our territory.” “The trajectory compels the Iraqi government more than ever to terminate the mission of this coalition, which has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict,” Rasool said in a statement. U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, said the strike on Tuesday killed a commander of the militant group Kataib Hezbollah who was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.”
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Russian and Iranian government officials have not been invited to this year's Munich Security Conference, as they did not seem open to meaningful dialogue, according to the man chairing the annual event. The conference, attended by the world's defence and security elite and sometimes known as "Davos for defence", will take place in the southern German city on Feb. 16-18. The event will open days before the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and four months after the start of the Israel-Hamas war, which has deepened instability across the Middle East as Western nations battle Iran-backed groups in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.