Nasrallah Gives Speech, Addresses IED in Megiddo

Nasrallah Gives Speech, Addresses IED in Megiddo

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Nasrallah Gives Speech, Addresses IED in Megiddo

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech this week to mark the passing of one of the group’s founding commanders, Hussein al-Shami. During the speech, Nasrallah addressed the recent improvised explosive device (IED) detonated at a traffic junction in the northern Israeli city of Megiddo by an individual who had infiltrated Israel from Lebanon and was subsequently neutralized by Israeli security forces.

Nasrallah declined to claim the attack for Hezbollah, saying his silence was part of the “psychological war with the enemy,” and was intended to leave Israel “confused.” He added that Hezbollah is “not required to comment on every incident.” Nasrallah ended with a threat to Israel, saying “any Zionist attack on Lebanon, military or security, in any region and against any person in Lebanon, whether he is Lebanese or Palestinian or of another nationality, will be met with a swift response from the resistance.”  

Hezbollah Increases Deployment Along Israel’s Northern Border 

Reports from Hebrew media indicate that Hezbollah has increased its deployment along Israel’s northern border in recent weeks, contributing to the growth in friction between the two foes over the past month. According to Israeli media, over 1000 Hezbollah-affiliated individuals have deployed along the border without arms. At least 400 of them are Palestinians from refugee camps in Sidon and Tyre in south Lebanon, Hamas affiliates whom Hezbollah recruited with money to deploy along the border.  

The reports indicate that these individuals are not members of Hezbollah, and are Sunnis and not Shia. The development occurred after a recent meeting between Hamas members and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut, where the two sides decided to coordinate all forms of activities in Lebanon, leading to the de facto placement of Hamas fighters under Hezbollah command as the need arose. 

So far, these 400 Hamas affiliates deployed along the border have been involved in acts of vandalism and chaos – throwing stones at IDF soldiers, hurling curses, and damaging the Israeli security fence, all the while increasing tensions along the border. 

Israel and Syria 

U.S. Retaliates in Syria After American Contractor Killed in Drone Strike Implicating Iran 

The U.S. military carried out multiple air strikes in Syria on Thursday night against Iran-aligned groups who it blamed for a deadly drone attack that killed an American contractor, injured another, and wounded five U.S. troops earlier in the day, the Pentagon said. 

Both the attack on U.S. personnel and the retaliation were disclosed by the Pentagon at the same time late on Thursday. The attack against U.S. personnel took place at a coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria at approximately 1:38 PM (1038 GMT) on Thursday, it said. 

The U.S. intelligence community assessed that the one-way attack drone was Iranian in origin, the military said, a conclusion that could further aggravate already strained tensions between Washington and Tehran. 

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the retaliatory strikes were carried out at the direction of President Joe Biden and targeted facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). "The air strikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC," Austin said in a statement.

The drone attack caused wounds that, for three service members and a contractor, required medical evacuation to Iraq, where the U.S.-led coalition battling the remnants of Islamic State has medical facilities, the military said. The other two wounded American troops were treated at the base in northeast Syria, the Pentagon said. The number of casualties - one killed and six wounded - is highly unusual, even though attempted drone attacks against U.S. personnel in Syria are somewhat common. U.S. troops have come under attack by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since the beginning of 2021, according to Army General Erik Kurilla, who oversees U.S. troops in the Middle East as the head of Central Command.  

After the U.S. strike, a U.S. base at the Al-Omar oil field in Syria was reportedly targeted with a missile attack on Friday morning. 

Syria, Saudi Arabia to Restore Diplomatic Ties

Syria and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reopen their embassies after cutting diplomatic ties more than a decade ago, three sources with knowledge of the matter said, a step that would mark a leap forward in Damascus's return to the so-called Arab fold. 

Contacts between Riyadh and Damascus had gathered momentum following an agreement to re-establish ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, a regional source aligned with Damascus said. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, agreed to meet soon and pave the way for the re-opening of embassies under a deal to re-establish ties.  

The re-establishment of ties between Riyadh and Damascus would mark the most significant development yet in moves by Arab states to normalize ties with Assad, who was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria's civil war began in 2011. The two governments were "preparing to reopen embassies after Eid al-Fitr,” a Muslim holiday in the second half of April, a second regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters. 

The decision was the result of talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official, according to one of the regional sources and a diplomat in the Gulf. The Gulf diplomat said the high-ranking Syrian intelligence official “stayed for days” in Riyadh, and an agreement was struck to reopen embassies “very soon.” 

One of the regional sources identified the official as Hussam Louqa, who heads Syria's intelligence committee, and said talks included security on Syria's border with Jordan and the smuggling of captagon, an amphetamine for which there is a thriving market in the Arab Gulf, from Syria. Saudi state television later confirmed that talks were ongoing with the Syrian foreign ministry to resume consular services, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official. 

Saudi's foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud earlier this month said engagement with Assad could lead to Syria's return to the Arab League, but it was currently too early to discuss such a step. The diplomat said the Syrian-Saudi talks could pave the way for a vote to lift Syria's suspension during the next Arab summit, expected to be held in Saudi Arabia in April.  

Israel Strikes Aleppo Airport 

An Israeli airstrike hit Syria's Aleppo airport on Wednesday causing damage and shutting down the airport, the defense ministry said, without mentioning any casualties, in the second such attack on the facility this month. "Around 3:55 am (0055 GMT), the Israeli enemy carried out an air attack...targeting Aleppo international airport, leading to some material damage," a defense ministry statement said." A number of missiles" were fired from the Mediterranean west of the coastal city of Latakia, it added. Transport Ministry official Suleiman Khalil told AFP technicians were assessing the damage. The airport reopened for operations on Friday.

Regional intelligence sources said the attack hit an Iranian arms depot. Two regional intelligence sources said the strike hit an underground munitions depot linked to the nearby Nairab military airport, where missile systems delivered on several Iranian military planes had been stored. In the last year, pro-Iranian militias have expanded their influence in Syria's northern Aleppo province, where they maintain several major bases and extensively support local paramilitary groups that operate there, the two sources added.  

Nairab military airport has been used regularly for Iranian arms deliveries and the movement of troops, the intelligence sources said. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. Iran has increased the use of the airport to deliver more arms during the past month, taking advantage of heavy air traffic as cargo planes offload relief aid following February's deadly earthquake, three Western intelligence sources say.  

Palestinian Islamic Jihad Accuses Israel of Assassinating Commander in Damascus 

Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a statement this week accusing Israel of assassinating one of its commanders, 31-year old Ali Ramzi al-Aswad, in a shooting attack in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Al-Aswad was known by the nickname “Al-Muhandis,” or “the Engineer.” The PIJ statement announcing Al-Aswad’s death did not elaborate on his role in the militant organization or why he would have been a target for assassination by Israel, but his nickname suggests that he may have been involved in the development or construction of explosive devices, similar to Hamas’ Yahya Ayyash, who was assassinated by Israel in 1996.