Iran-backed Iraqi Militants Claim To Shoot Down A $30 Million U.S. Drone Over Diyala

Iran-backed Iraqi Militants Claim To Shoot Down A $30 Million U.S. Drone Over Diyala


Iran-backed Iraqi Militants Claim To Shoot Down A $30 Million U.S. Drone Over Diyala 

According to Iranian state media, an MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed in the Diyala province of eastern Iraq, while on a mission flying out of Kuwait. Iran-backed militia groups reportedly claimed to have shot down the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with an Iranian missile. The Pentagon does not appear to have confirmed this incident to date. 

This would not be the first time an Iranian proxy shot down the MQ-9 Reaper drone, which is equipped with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and combat capabilities. In August 2019 and October 2017, the Houthis downed the same drone with surface-to-air (SAM) missiles that the U.S. believed were provided by Iran. 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) itself downed a U.S. Global Hawk drone, worth an estimated $130 million, operating over international waters in the Persian Gulf in June 2019, which led the Trump administration to consider kinetic action against the regime. It ultimately did not take this action. 

Iraq Recalls Its Ambassador To Tehran After Iran Fires Missiles On Civilian Targets In The Kurdish Region Of Iraq 

On January 15, the IRGC fired ballistic missiles into Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region. The IRGC claimed it targeted Israeli positions and opposition groups after missiles impacted near the U.S. consulate, striking the villa of a prominent Kurdish businessman named Peshraw Dizayi and killing him and his daughter. A Dutch baby was also killed in the strikes, leading the Netherlands to summon Iran’s ambassador.    

After the Erbil strike, Iraq’s foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Tehran and filed a complaint against Iran at the U.N. Security Council. Prime Minister of the Kurdish region of Iraq Masrour Barzani added that Iran’s claims of an Israeli “spy headquarters” in the area were baseless. Iran made those same claims in March 2022, after it bombed the villa of another prominent Kurdish businessman, Baz Karim Barzanji, in Erbil.  

Iraq’s Prime Minister Balances Competing Pressures From His Constituency And The U.S.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani remains under pressure from hardline members of his political coalition to expel all the 2,500 U.S. troops currently stationed at bases in Iraq. He said, “the justifications for the international coalition have ended,” while also reportedly expressing his interest in a continuation of strong U.S. ties.  

The U.S. troops remain in Iraq in a training, advising, assisting, and intelligence-sharing role within a counterterrorism mission focused on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They reportedly do not engage in combat missions, but instead work with local partners, including elements within Iraq’s security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, to conduct such operations targeting ISIS cells. A complete withdrawal of U.S. troops would risk a resurgence of ISIS, as happened the last time the U.S. completely withdrew its forces in 2011. The U.S. and coalition forces redeployed to Iraq in 2014 to fight ISIS.  

Sudani is attempting to balance pressure from his constituency, which is aligned with the Iran-backed militias, and the U.S. He does not want to lose critical U.S. support in the security sector, which amounted to $250 million in foreign military financing in fiscal year 2023. He will likely try to renegotiate the terms of the U.S. presence to placate while not acceding to the maximalist demands of the Iran-backed Iraqi factions.  

Iraq receives extensive U.S. military aid and advanced U.S. weapons deals despite the fact that its security sector is dominated by Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state entity that receives state funding while largely retaining loyalty to Tehran. 

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

Israeli Armed Forces Continue Uncovering Vast Tunnel Network Beneath Gaza 

Initially estimated by Israeli officials to be 250 miles in length, Hamas’ tunnels are now assessed to be almost twice that. According to Israeli officials, Hamas is thought to have built 450 miles of tunnels with nearly 5,700 entry shafts over the past decade and a half in which it has ruled over Gaza. Hamas’ leadership, weapons, and ammunition are hidden below ground, along with weapons manufacturing sites.  

Israel Transitions To A New Phase Of The War In Gaza, Withdraws Troops From North 

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that the IDF will be scaling back the intensity of its operations in northern Gaza, and he added that the IDF would soon shift to a new phase of the war in southern Gaza as well, explaining that Hamas’ “battalion structure [in Khan Younis] has been dismantled.” Nevertheless, Israeli forces are expected to operate at a large-scale in Khan Younis during the coming months.  

Special operations units will likely continue with capture-or-kill raids targeting Hamas leaders and to conduct hostage rescue missions. An architect of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, Yahya Sinwar remains a top priority, believed to be holed up somewhere deep underground in Khan Younis, his hometown, and surrounded by hostages being used as human shields.  

Thousands of Israeli troops have been withdrawn from Gaza. With fewer troops deployed to Gaza, the IDF will free up forces that can be redeployed to other potential hotspots like the West Bank or the northern front with Lebanon to prevent or contain escalation in those areas. 

The risk of withdrawing large numbers of troops from Gaza, however, is that the terrorist groups based there could reconstitute and improve their capabilities to target Israel again. Hamas has not yet been eliminated, though its ability to conduct large-scale operations has been severely degraded and thousands of its fighters have been killed or detained.   

On January 16, Hamas launched a large barrage of rockets into Israel from an area from which the IDF had recently withdrawn before establishing operational control, underscoring the risks of a premature withdrawal.   

Israel Refutes Hamas’ Claim That Hostages Were Killed By Israeli Military Action In Gaza 

The IDF reported that the discovered remains of two Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped and held hostage in Gaza by Hamas indicated that they were not killed by Israeli military action, as Hamas had claimed. Their bodies had no signs of trauma or bullet wounds, revealing that they were likely killed by the terrorist group, though medical officials have been thus far unable to determine the precise cause of death. Given the lack of physical trauma, they may have been poisoned or suffocated. The IDF has confirmed 27 hostage deaths and believes that over 100 hostages remain in Hamas’ captivity, some of which are presumed dead.   

The U.S. Intelligence Community Raises Hamas’ Priority Level 

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has reportedly set up a task force devoted to gathering intelligence on Hamas and facilitating hostage rescue missions. According to the New York Times, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) raised Hamas’ priority level, freeing up additional resources that the CIA can use to gather information on Hamas.  

The CIA has declined to comment on the task force, but current and former officials said it would likely allocate resources for recruiting human assets. This goal will be challenging in the context of limited communications and physical access into Gaza and will likely require close coordination with Israel’s intelligence services and military.  

Palestinian Car-Ramming Attack Kills and Wounds Dozens in Israel 

On January 15, Palestinian terrorists carried out a lethal car-ramming attack against pedestrians in Raanana, Israel, killing one woman and wounding dozens. Israeli police said the terrorists had illegally entered Israel from the West Bank city of Hebron. 

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Threats Emanate From Israel’s Northern Border With Lebanon 

On January 14, Hamas terrorists attempted to infiltrate Israel’s northern border with Lebanon on foot. The assault team was heavily armed with anti-tank missiles, grenades, automatic weapons, and large quantities of ammunition. The infiltrators penetrated a few hundred yards into the Mount Dov area, still far from residential areas, before they were spotted by IDF soldiers, fired upon, and neutralized.  

Later that day, Hezbollah fired an antitank missile into Israel, striking a house and killing a farmer and his mother. The cross-border attack, which provoked retaliatory Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah, underscores the risk to civilian lives as a result of Hezbollah deploying its forces close to the Israeli border in contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which requires Hezbollah to keep its forces behind the Litani River. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens have been internally displaced because of Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel.  


The IRGC Conducts Ballistic Missile Attack On Idlib 

Along with the above-mentioned strikes in Iraq on January 15, the IRGC also claimed to have struck ISIS targets in Syria in retaliation for the terrorist groups’ suicide bombings in Kerman, Iran. The IRGC launched the precision guided Khaibar-Shekan ballistic missile at groups allegedly located in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province and other areas of Syria. The strike on Idlib—some 1,300 km away from the launch site—represented the longest distance ballistic missile strike the IRGC has conducted in its history and showed that Iran has the capability to reach Israel.