Iraqi Prime Minister To Visit Washington Next Week

Iraqi Prime Minister To Visit Washington Next Week


Iraqi Prime Minister To Visit Washington Next Week 

The U.S. is engaged in bilateral negotiations with the government of Iraq on the presence of American troops in the country, currently in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to ensure the Islamic State (ISIS) cannot reconstitute. A U.S. State Department official noted Iraqis tend to support strong U.S.-Iraq bilateral ties, given the U.S. counterterrorism role and the rise of ISIS in 2014; whereas the Iran-backed Iraqi militias demand a complete U.S. withdrawal.  

On April 11, a U.S. State Department official said the U.S. military presence in Iraq will not be the primary focus of talks when Iraqi Prime Minister Sudani leads a delegation of cabinet ministers to Washington next week. The focus of his meetings with U.S. officials, including the president and secretary of defense, will reportedly be the economy, education, environment, and U.S. support for development.  

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

U.S. and Israel Prepare For Iranian Retaliation 

This week, several reports indicated Iran would retaliate for the Israeli airstrike against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi. Earlier in the week, the IRGC reportedly provided the supreme leader with attack options, including the use of medium-range ballistic missiles launched from Iran, which would mark a major escalation and invite devastating reprisals on Iranian soil. On April 12, U.S. Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin publicly warned Iran that its response would be met with decisive U.S. force. With the threat of regime-destabilizing strikes inside Iran, it is unlikely Iran will respond directly.  

U.S.-Mediated Hostage Talks in Cairo See No Movement 

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) William Burns was in Cairo on April 7 to present a proposal to Israel, Hamas, Qatar and Egypt for a six-week ceasefire, during which 40 Hamas-held hostages (of the 100 currently in the terror groups’ captivity) would be released in exchange for 900 Palestinian prisoners, including 100 serving long-term sentences and some of which have been sentenced on terrorism charges. However, later reports indicated Hamas does not have 40 living hostages for such a deal.  

Hamas demands a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Israeli troops; a proposition Israel is unwilling to countenance given its war aims of defeating Hamas. Additionally, Hamas has demanded that displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza be allowed to return to the north, which carries significant logistical and vetting challenges to prevent the return of Hamas fighters to previously-cleared areas. Two days after the CIA director presented his plan, Hamas rejected the offer. On the following day, Hamas’ political chief Ismail Haniyeh’s sons were killed in an Israeli airstrike near Al-Shati camp in Gaza. The Israeli military confirmed the strike, noting that the Haniyeh’s sons were militants in the armed wing of Hamas.   

Israel Pulls Ground Troops From Southern Gaza 

On April 7, Israel announced the withdrawal of troops from parts of southern Gaza, including the city of Khan Younis, a former Hamas stronghold which had been the site of intense fighting earlier in the war. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has assessed that its “98th division dismantled Hamas’s Khan Younis brigades and killed thousands of its members,” so that there was no longer a need to operate there. The IDF added it will “preserve [its] freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence based-operations.” Israeli defense officials, however, insist that the army will operate in Rafah, the plans for which have already been approved by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.  

Iran Smuggles Weapons To The West Bank 

Iran is smuggling weapons to terrorists in the West Bank, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The efforts to surge arms have been underway for at least two years, with Iran intending to establish another front vis-à-vis Israel, in addition to those in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. There are multiple routes to the West Bank managed by covert Iranian operatives: one through Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, where Bedouin smugglers bring the weapons to criminal gangs at the Jordanian border with the West Bank; and one through Lebanon, which also relies on criminal gangs. Iran is also increasing the potency of the weapons it transfers, from small arms like hand guns and rifles to anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).  

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Hezbollah Brigade Commander Killed In Southern Lebanon 

On April 8, Hezbollah brigade commander Ali Ahmed Hassin was killed in an Israeli strike in Sultaniyeh. Hassin was responsible for multiple aerial attacks into northern Israel since the war in Gaza began. Tit-for-tat violence continued throughout the day, as Hezbollah claimed a drone strike on a naval base in Rosh HaNikra. Israel targeted Hezbollah positions in response.  

Due to the daily cross-border attacks, about 60,000 Israelis have evacuated northern Israel. In order to reestablish security in this area, Israel has escalated military pressure against the Iran-backed terror group, striking deeper into Lebanese territory against higher value targets in lieu of a diplomatic solution. Hezbollah remains in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which resolved the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, requiring Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from the border behind Litani River.  

Israel Prepares For War With Hezbollah 

Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon and Syria have eliminated 265 Hezbollah operatives since the start of the war in Gaza. Hezbollah has at the same time conducted increasingly frequent attacks against northern Israel. The terror group has launched more attacks than at any time since the 2006 war. Although earlier in the war against Hamas, Hezbollah was calibrating its attacks to prevent escalation that could lead to all-out war, the terror group has expanded its attacks from exclusively military targets to residential areas of northern Israel. On April 7, the IDF released a statement that logistical planning was completed for a “broad mobilization of IDF troops.”   

Hezbollah Secretary-General Issues Threats Against Israel 

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah issued a statement in response to the strike that killed Zahedi in Syria last week. He referred to the presumed Israeli strike as the "highest-profile Israeli attack in Syria in years” and to the target of that strike as Iran’s top “advisor” in Syria and Lebanon. As head of Department 2000, the Quds Force commander Zahedi was in charge of weapons transfers through Syria and Lebanon. Furthermore, a conservative newspaper in Iran revealed Zahedi was involved in the planning and implementation of Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack, contradicting Iranian officials who deny Iran’s involvement in the attack. Given his military role, Zahedi was deemed as a threat to Israel and a legitimate military target.  


Iran’s Foreign Minister Travels To Syria 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Damascus around one week after the Israeli strike on Zahedi. Syria was the second stop in a regional tour, following Muscat, where he met Omani officials and a representative of Yemen's Houthis. While in Syria, Abdollahian met with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, one of Iran’s few regional allies.