Iran Shielded From Consequences For Destabilizing The Region

Iran Shielded From Consequences For Destabilizing The Region


Iran Shielded From Consequences For Destabilizing The Region 

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (ODNI) annual threat assessment report underscored Iran’s role as regional menace, arguing it has been “orchestrating anti-Israel and anti-U.S. attacks from Lebanon to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait while shielding Iranian leaders from significant consequences.” The IRGC-backed ‘Islamic Resistance in Iraq’ conducted the lion’s share of the over 165 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria in the period of three months following their opening drone attack on Ain Al-Assad Airbase on October 17. The Iran-backed Iraqi militias within the ‘Islamic Resistance in Iraq’ continue to exhibit tactical restraint, that is, they have temporarily paused their attacks against the U.S. for the time being. However, this umbrella group has claimed additional strikes against Israel in the past week, while arms and funding flow unobstructed and undeterred to these groups under the IRGC’s supervision.  

Because the dozen or so rounds of U.S. retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria targeted the Islamic Republic’s proxies rather than its own assets, a significant deterrence deficit has emerged in which Iran can safely push the tempo and lethality of attacks. Last week, the commander of CENTCOM Gen. Eric Kurilla testified before Congress to this point, saying, “Iran is using all of its proxies in the region…[without] paying the cost.” He also said, “There has to be cost imposition on Iran” to prevent it from continuing to support the Houthis. The same principle applies to Iran’s ongoing support for other terrorist outfits in the region.  

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

Israel Targets Hamas Deputy Military Commander In Central Gaza 

Israel struck the presumed location of Marwan Issa, who is second-in-command of the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. On March 15, Israeli security officials assessed that Issa was confirmed dead, making him the highest-ranking commander killed to date. He was the third senior-most member in the Gaza Strip, after Yahya Sinwar, the leader of the group in Gaza, and Mohammed Deif, top commander of the armed wing; and he was a mastermind behind October 7. Saleh Al-Arouri, who was killed in January in southern Lebanon, was before Issa the highest-ranking target to be neutralized; he was deputy to Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ politburo who is based in Qatar.  

Palestinians Linked To Fatah Arrested In Italy Plotting Terror Attacks 

Three Palestinian men were arrested in Italy for plotting attacks against unspecified targets in an undisclosed location. Italian police said the cell and its members were linked to the armed wing of the Fatah movement, known as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the U.S. and Israel have designated as a terrorist organization. The suspects were thought to be members of a unit known as the Tulkarem Brigades. An Italian court is reportedly deliberating over Israel’s extradition request for one of the suspects charged in Italy with conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and subversion of the democratic order. Police said the suspects engaged in religious and propaganda activities to recruit for suicide bombing missions against civilian and military targets on foreign soil. There had been a series of arrests of individuals with suspected ties to Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany in late 2023. At around the same time, police in Austria and Bosnia arrested armed Afghan and Syrian refugees with photos of Jewish and Israeli targets on their mobile phones.  

Iran Looks To Establish Foothold In Gaza Through Aid Delivery 

The Iranian Red Crescent was revealed early in the week to have ongoing operations in Gaza, notwithstanding Arabic media reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had rejected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s request to deliver aid through Egypt. Sisi fears Iran would utilize seemingly innocuous humanitarian efforts to establish a foothold in Gaza. In fact, an Iranian flag could be seen above a food distribution center in Gaza, suggesting that Iranian operations were already underway on the ground. The President of Iran’s Red Crescent stated his organization has been delivering aid. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson added that the aid had been delivered via Egypt.  

Sisi’s fears are grounded in historical precedent. Afterall, Iran has used humanitarian aid convoys, not to deliver food and medicine as claimed, but to conceal and transfer material. This happened recently in February 2023 in the aftermath of the earthquake that rocked Syria and Turkey. For at least seven weeks, Iranian planes landed on a daily basis at airports in Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia. The apparent humanitarian element merely provided cover for the IRGC to conduct arms transfers.  

Israel Foils Terrorist Attack, But Threats Emanate From The West Bank 

The IDF and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, neutralized an individual in the West Bank enroute to execute an imminent terrorist attack. IDF Duvdevan Unit commandos killed the terrorist as he was heading towards Israel, armed with a firearm and primed explosive device. Israel has warned that the IRGC will look to stoke tensions in the West Bank during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. According to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the IRGC and Hezbollah wish to provoke Palestinians in the West Bank and Arabs and Muslims in the region to attack Israel on the religious holiday. The minister added, while speaking to the Duvdevan Unit, Tehran is “linked to everything happening in the West Bank and is trying to push weapons, ammunition, guidance, information, deception processes, and perception into it." He also told troops to prepare for acts of terrorism to rise during Ramadan, noting that Iran is actively seeking to smuggle arms into the West Bank.  

Amid these warnings, Hamas sent a delegation led by Khalil Al-Hayya and Osama Hamdan to meet Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Pro-Hezbollah media described Khalil as Hamas’ deputy chief in the Gaza Strip, a rank which if true would make him a high-value target. Iranian state-run media Mehr News reported that Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem said, “Arab and Muslim countries must contribute, even a little, to disturbing and hurting the occupying Israeli regime,” which highlights how Hezbollah and Iran are aiming to incite anti-Israel aggression in the West Bank and throughout the region.  

Hamas Executes Clan-Based Leader In Gaza For Allegedly Cooperating With Israel On Humanitarian Aid Distribution 

A member of the Doghmush clan was executed, after unconfirmed reports alleged that Israel contacted the clan’s leader in order to request his assistance overseeing aid distribution. The clan is known to have clashed with Hamas in the past and is indeed trained and armed. Hamas’ decision to murder this individual for allegedly cooperating with Israel will complicate future humanitarian efforts, particular the aspect of possibly recruiting partners and volunteers.  

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Hezbollah Launches 100 Rockets Towards Israel, Its Largest Attack 

Hezbollah fired a barrage of 37 rockets towards the Mount Meron area on March 10; injuries and damage were not reported. Tit-for-tat strikes escalated as the week moved forward, with Hezbollah launching at least 100 Katyusha rockets towards Israel on March 12, and thereafter claiming retaliation for an Israeli airstrike that hit targets in Baalbek the night before. Hezbollah command centers and depots in Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold deep in northeastern Lebanon that had been used to stage operations in Syria, were again struck by Israel in response to the large rocket barrage fired at Israel. The IDF said that it has struck more than 4,500 Hezbollah targets since the start of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, many of them linked to the groups’ elite Radwan Unit. Three hundred operatives have been killed in the strikes, including five senior commanders, and 750 have been injured.  

Hezbollah Remains Intransigent, Increasing Likelihood Of All-Out War 

U.S.-led negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah have foundered, as Hezbollah sticks to a set of demands which are non-starters in Israel’s point of view. Hezbollah has not agreed, for instance, to remove its troops from southern Lebanon, an Israeli requirement predicated on the return of Israeli citizens who have departed their homes in the north to avoid the cross-border fire. On March 15, Netanyahu described Hezbollah’s demands as “absurd,” underscoring how elusive a deal has become on the northern front.  

The terrorist group for its part has calibrated its escalation to avoid inflicting major damage or casualties, while claiming solidarity with Hamas. Based on U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701, Israel has the legal right to invade Lebanon and push the Hezbollah forces back in order to enforce a buffer zone near the border. Afterall, Hezbollah is not in compliance with UNSCR 1701, the terms of which required it to move its forces behind the Litani River as a condition of the ceasefire which ended the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.  

‘Axis of Resistance’ leaders IRGC-Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah recently convened in Beirut to discuss the potential for a full-scale Israeli offensive into Lebanon. Nasrallah reportedly expressed to Qaani he didn’t want Iran to get pulled into the war, saying, “This is our fight.” Anonymous Iranian officials, however, also said that Iran may feel pressured to intervene more forcefully if and when its Lebanese extension and most valuable regional asset faces such an assault.  

Senior Hamas Member Neutralized in Southern Lebanon 

On March 13, the IDF also neutralized a senior Hamas member in southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel. The drone strike attributed to Israel exploded a car carrying Hadi Mustafa, whose rank Hamas later downplayed. The IDF confirmed his assassination and added that he had been responsible for targeting Israeli and Jewish people worldwide and particularly in Europe. According to reports from January 2024, several high-value Hamas targets at the helm of this global network, namely Arouri and Khalil Harraz, a senior commander in the Al-Qassam Brigades, were killed in targeted assassinations in Lebanon.  

Illegal Money Transfers, Thriving In Lebanon, Benefit Hamas and Hezbollah 

Given the failure of Lebanon’s banking system, illegal money transfer operations have flourished. Along with cash transfers, the dominant form of payment in Lebanon’s economy, these transfer businesses allow Hamas and Hezbollah to finance their fighting ability. On a trip to Lebanon where he met with Lebanese political leaders, a senior U.S. Treasury Department official conveyed specific concerns regarding “the movement of Hamas funds through Lebanon, Hezbollah funds from Iran into Lebanon and then out into other regional areas,” according to another Treasury official speaking anonymously.  


Iran-Backed Militias In Syria Pose Significant Threat To Israel 

Israel does not appear to have conducted strikes in Syria over the past week, nor have the myriad militias in Syria launched attacks of their own. Yet, there remains a significant risk of future attacks emanating from Syria, both targeting Israel proper and U.S. military bases. As noted in November 2023, not only Hezbollah and its Radwan Unit are deployed to Syria, including near the border with Israel; militia groups backed by Iran and based in Syria pose a significant threat to the Jewish nation, as they are believed to have relocated towards the east, nearer to the border with Israel. Among others, some of the most highly indoctrinated and ideologically loyal fighters stood up and actively resupplied by the IRGC, namely the Shiite Afghan-majority Fatemiyoun and the Shiite Pakistani-majority Zainabiyoun militias, have transferred forces eastbound in preparation for escalation with Israel.