Iran Updates

The Iran Update aims to inform national security policy by providing timely, relevant, and independent open-source analysis of developments pertaining to Iran and its Axis of Resistance. This update covers political, military, and economic events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. It also provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. The American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project (CTP) and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provide these updates weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Maps

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with support from the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute launched a new interactive map of Iran and the Middle East. The map depicts events in Iran that affect the stability of the Iranian regime, namely anti-regime protests and reported poisoning incidents. It also shows developments in Syria that jeopardize regional stability and pose threats to US forces and interests, including Iranian and Iranian-backed militia positions. ISW created each of these data layer events in accordance with ISW’s research methodology.

Recent Iran Updates
Iran Update, February 18, 2024

Reuters reported on February 18 that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani directed Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to “pause” attacks on US forces during a January 29 meeting in Baghdad.[i] Ghaani met with the leaders of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups less than 48 hours after the Iranian-backed drone attack on January 28 that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan. Kataib Hezbollah responded to Iranian directives from Ghaani by announcing that it would “suspend attacks” on January 30.[ii] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba did not “initially agree” to Ghaani’s directive.[iii] The group said that it would continue attacks targeting US forces on February 2, after Ghaani’s visit.[iv] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit.[v] It has not claimed any attacks after February 4.[vi]

Ghaani’s visit illustrates the degree to which Iran controls its proxy network across the Middle East. Most of Iran’s proxies and partners in Iraq immediately ceased attacks following Ghaani’s order. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba initially did not agree but Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have not resumed attacks targeting US forces since February 4.[vii] Ghaani and Iran can pressure their partners and proxies to pause or resume attacks as needed, however. Nine Iranian and Iraqi sources told Reuters that Ghaani chose to pause attacks to “avoid a similar escalation” to the 2020 escalation cycle that resulted in the US airstrike that killed former IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.[viii] Ghaani could resume attacks in pursuit of Iranian objectives—namely, expelling US forces from Iraq—as needed when or if Iran calculates that the risk of “similar escalation” decreases.

Key Takeaways:

Iraq: Reuters reported on February 18 that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani directed Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to “pause” attacks on US forces during a January 29 meeting in Baghdad. Ghaani’s visit illustrates the degree to which Iran controls its proxy network across the Middle East.
Khan Younis: The Israeli Defense Minister stated on February 18 that Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade has been “defeated and does not function as a military entity in any way.”
Rafah: Israeli War Cabinet Minster Benny Gantz said Israeli forces will enter Rafah at the start of Ramadan if Hamas does not release the remaining Israeli hostages the group holds.
Gantz’s statement reflects a possible change in the Rafah operation’s timeline. Channel 12 reported on February 10 that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a War Cabinet meeting that the IDF would need to complete the operation into Rafah by March 10 due to international pressure.
Yemen: US Central Command conducted five preemptive strikes in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen on February 17 that targeted three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one subsurface naval attack drone, and one surface naval attack drone.

Iran Update, February 17, 2024

Northern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued operations in and around al Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis on February 17. Israeli special operations forces arrested 100 individuals at the Hospital and killed Palestinian fighters operating nearby.
Negotiations: An unspecified senior Hamas member told al Jazeera on February 17 that Hamas plans to suspend ceasefire negotiations with Israel until aid is delivered to the northern Gaza Strip.
Yemen: The Houthi movement said that it launched anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting the Pollux, a Panamanian-flagged and registered and Danish-owned vessel in the Red Sea on February 16 and 17.

Iran Update, February 16, 2024

Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued targeting Hamas commanders and fighters in the northern Gaza Strip.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces found medications belonging to Hamas-held hostages and weapons in Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis.
West Bank: A Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem conducted a shooting attack in Kiryat Malachi on February 16, injuring four and killing two.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: The Israel Defense Forces conducted a training exercise to increase the combat readiness of forces stationed on Israel’s northern border.
Iraq: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with the commander of NATO Allied Joint Force Command Naples to discuss NATO’s Mission Iraq.
Yemen: The Houthis likely conducted a missile attack targeting an unspecified Panama-flagged commercial vessel in the Red Sea.
Iran: Two unspecified Western officials and an IRGC-affiliated individual told the New York Times that Israel was responsible for the February 14 explosions on natural gas pipelines in central Iran.

Iran Update, February 15, 2024

Russian Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov paid an official visit to Iran, likely to discuss Russo-Iranian defense industrial and military cooperation. Minnikhanov visited unspecified “large industries and industrial towns” in Esfahan Province and met with the provincial governor on February 14.[i] Several prominent defense industrial and military sites, including some operated by the IRGC and Defense Ministry for aerospace work, are in Esfahan Province. These sites include the Kashan airfield, for instance, which Russian delegations visited in June and July 2022 to examine Iranian Shahed drones.[ii] The Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, which builds Ababil and Shahed drones, is also located in Esfahan Province.[iii] Minnikhanov’s visit is particularly noteworthy given that Iran is helping to construct a military drone manufacturing facility in Yelabuga, which is in the Republic of Tatarstan.[iv] This factory is expected to produce at least 6,000 drones in the “coming years.”[v]

Minnikhanov is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has extensive ties to Russia’s defense industry. He has served as the head of the Republic of Tatarstan since 2010 and also heads the Russian oil and gas company Tatneft.[vi] Minnikhanov has separately chaired the board of directors for the Tupolev Public Joint Stock Company since September 2021.[vii] Tupolev produces strategic bombers, such as the Backfire and Blackjack bombers, for the Russian armed forces.[viii] The United States sanctioned Minnikhanov in January 2023 for his involvement in the “defense and related materiel and aerospace sectors of the Russian Federation economy.”[ix] Canada sanctioned Minnikhanov in April 2023 for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[x]

Minnikhanov separately met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss “economic cooperation” in Tehran on February 13.[xi] Raisi called for increasing economic, industrial, scientific, and tourism cooperation with the Republic of Tatarstan and other Russian federal subjects. Russian media reported that Raisi will travel to Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, in October 2024 to attend a BRICS summit.[xii]

Some Sunni and Shia Iraqi political factions appear divided on expelling US forces from Iraq.[xiii] Khaled al Dabouni, a member of the Sunni Mutahidun Alliance, stated that Sunni political parties will not support the Iranian-backed effort to remove US forces. Dabouni argued that Iraq needs US forces to confront ISIS because Iraq is currently incapable of doing so by itself. This assertion is consistent with CTP-ISW’s assessment that an Iraqi decision to expel US forces would very likely create space for ISIS to resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq.

The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-aligned Iraqi Shia political parties—and other Iranian-backed Iraqi actors regularly argue that Iraq no longer needs US-led coalition forces because the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) can independently protect Iraq from threats, such as ISIS.[xiv] These statements ignore the deficiencies that the ISF continues to face in terms of intelligence, fire support, and logistics. Iranian-backed Iraqi parliamentarians accused Sunni and Kurdish factions of “boycotting” the February 10 parliamentary session to discuss the removal of US-led International Coalition forces from Iraq, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[xv]

Key Takeaways:

Iran: Russian Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov paid an official visit to Iran, likely to discuss Russo-Iranian defense industrial and military cooperation.
Iraq: Some Sunni and Shia Iraqi political factions appear divided on expelling US forces from Iraq.
Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces reported that it concluded a two-week long, division-sized raid in western Gaza City.
Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued to conduct clearing operations in several sectors of Khan Younis.
West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least six times. Hamas called for three days of demonstrations in the West Bank and abroad.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted eleven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Yemen: The Houthis claimed that they conducted a missile attack targeting a Barbados-flagged, Greek-owned vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

Iran Update, February 14, 2024

Iranian Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei discussed the removal of US forces from Iraq, counterterrorism, and border security with senior Iraqi politicians in Baghdad on February 13 and 14. Iranian judicial officials rarely travel abroad. Acting Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi claimed that the Iraqi Parliament will pass a law in the coming weeks to “completely” end the US presence in Iraq during his meeting with Ejei.[i] Mandalawi described Iraq as a “strong” country that “does not need foreign forces to protect it.”[ii] Prominent Shia cleric Ammar al Hakim separately expressed support for the Iraqi federal government’s negotiations with the United States about the status of US-led international coalition forces in Iraq during his meeting with Ejei.[iii] Ejei expressed support for ending the US-led international coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq.[iv] Facilitating the removal of US forces from the Middle East is one of Iran’s most important strategic objectives and Iran supports Iranian-backed Iraqi actors’ ongoing military and political campaign to expel US forces from Iraq.

Mandalawi and Ejei’s positions support Iran’s goal to remove US forces from Iraq, but these positions ignore the current security situation in Iraq. Iran and its proxies and partners support the effort to expel US forces from Iraq. Mandalawi’s claim that Iraq “does not need foreign forces to protect it” ignores the realities of the US mission in Iraq and the issues plaguing the Iraqi Security Forces. The US mission in Iraq focuses primarily on advising Iraqi general officers and improving the ISF’s deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, and logistics.[v] US forces in Iraq do not conduct combat operations. Iran’s partners in Iraq aim to remove US forces in part because the US support for the ISF strengthens the ISF’s position vis-a-vis the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Iranian-backed actors in the PMF view some ISF units as a possible threat and seek to undermine them. The Counterterrorism Service (CTS), for example, arrested 14 Kataib Hezbollah members in a raid in June 2020.[vi] CTP-ISW continues to assess that an Iraqi decision to expel US forces from Iraq would very likely create space for ISIS to rapidly resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq.[vii]

Ejei separately discussed border security and counterterrorism with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani. The Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office reported that Ejei and Sudani discussed joint efforts to confront terrorism and drug trafficking, while Iranian state media emphasized that Ejei called on the Iraqi government to “fully implement” the March 2023 security agreement between Tehran and Baghdad.[viii] This agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[ix] Iran has historically accused anti-regime Kurdish militant groups and Israel of using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate joint operations into Iran. Ejei also met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif al Rashid.[x]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani visited Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) headquarters in northwestern Iraq on February 12.[xi] Sudani visited an Iraqi Army 21st Division headquarters along the “Wadi al Tharthar line,” an area that extends from Salah al Din Province to the Iraqi border with Syria in western Ninewa Province.[xii] Sudani formed the 21st Division in February 2023 at the request of the Iraqi Defense Ministry.[xiii] Brig. Gen. Imad Ahmed Mohammad assumed command of this division after serving in the Directorate of Military Engineering.[xiv] Sudani also visited the 44th PMF Brigade (Liwa Ansar al Marjaiya) in Hatra, Ninewa Province.[xv] The 44th PMF Brigade is affiliated with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, who is an influential quietist grand ayatollah based in Najaf.[xvi] Hamid al Yasiri commands the brigade.[xvii] Iraqi media reported that Sudani traveled to northwestern Iraq to demonstrate that areas where ISIS members previously infiltrated Iraq from Syria are now safe.[xviii] Sudani reiterated during his visit to these headquarters that Iraq has an “obligation” to end the US-led international coalition’s presence in Iraq.[xix]

Former Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi released a statement on February 14 that warned “war merchants and seditionists from the Islamist parties” against “tampering with the stability of Anbar [Province].”[xx] Halbousi was likely referring to the Shia Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties that are pushing for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq. An independent Iraqi outlet framed Halbousi’s warning within the context of Sudani’s visit to Iraqi Army and PMF headquarters on February 13.[xxi] The outlet suggested that Halbousi might oppose the Shia Coordination Framework efforts to end the US-led international Coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq.[xxii] Halbousi may also have been referring to Shia Coordination Framework efforts to prevent his favored candidate from becoming parliament speaker.

The number of Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Gaza Strip dropped from a daily average of 5 attacks between January 31 and February 6 to a daily average of 2.7 attacks between February 7 and February 13. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters mortared Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip on February 14, but CTP-ISW cannot confirm the point of origin. The IDF conducted a two-week, division-sized clearing operation in early February that targeted Hamas underground infrastructure and fighters.[xxiii] The IDF degraded Hamas units during previous clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip earlier in the war, but Hamas “took advantage” of the IDF’s withdrawal in late December to reconstitute some of its military units.[xxiv] Hamas will likely continue to appoint new commanders in the aftermath of the latest clearing operation and learn from its mistakes to better protect its new leaders from future Israeli operations.[xxv] Hamas retains many experienced commanders—including the Gaza City Brigade commander—who will continue to rebuild the organization between Israeli clearing operations.

Key Takeaways:

Iraq: Iranian Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei discussed the removal of US forces from Iraq, counterterrorism, and border security with senior Iraqi politicians in Baghdad on February 13 and 14. The effort to expel US forces from Iraq supports Iran’s goals but ignores the current security situation in Iraq.
Former Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi released a statement on February 14 that warned “war merchants and seditionists from the Islamist parties” against “tampering with the stability of Anbar [Province].” Halbousi was likely referring to the Shia Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties that are pushing for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq.
The Gaza Strip: The number of Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Gaza Strip dropped from a daily average of 5 attacks between January 31 and February 6 to a daily average of 2.7 attacks between February 7 and February 13.
The IDF conducted a two-week, division-sized clearing operation in early February that targeted Hamas underground infrastructure and fighters.
The IDF degraded Hamas units during previous clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip earlier in the war, but Hamas “took advantage” of the IDF’s withdrawal in late December to reconstitute some of its military units.
Ceasefire Negotiation: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo on February 14 for “low-level” follow-up talks to discuss ceasefire proposals.
Lebanon: Likely Lebanese Hezbollah fighters fired 11 122mm Grad rockets at the IDF Northern Command headquarters in Safed in northern Israel on February 14. The IDF conducted a series of major airstrikes on February 14 that targeted Hezbollah positions and assets in southern Lebanon in response to the attack targeting Safed.

Iran Update, February 13, 2024

Southern Gaza Strip: Israel presented a proposal to move displaced Gazans in Rafah to Egyptian-built tent cities in the southwestern Gaza Strip, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Negotiations: Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan claimed on February 12 that Egyptian and Qatar mediators believe that the Hamas ceasefire proposal that Qatar delivered to Israel “opened a way to reach an agreement.”
Hamdan reiterated Hamas’ longstanding requirements for a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip, which include the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the end of Israeli military operations, humanitarian aid and reconstruction, and a hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal.
Lebanon: France outlined a three-step plan to deescalate the conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border and force Lebanese Hezbollah to withdraw six miles from the Israeli border.
Iran: Former Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director General Ali Akbar Salehi said during an interview on February 11 that Iran is able to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran Update, February 12, 2024

Russia: Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate reported that elements of Lebanese Hezbollah and the IRGC are training Russian drone operators at the Shayrat Air Base in Syria.
Northern Gaza Strip: The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement stated that it reestablished contact with its “combat units” in southwestern Gaza City.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces conducted an overnight raid to rescue Hamas-held hostages in Rafah.
West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters two times.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Iraq: The Iraqi Parliament discussed the removal of US-led international coalition forces from Iraq in a session.
Yemen: The Houthis launched at least two anti-ship missiles targeting a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged commercial vessel carrying Brazilian corn to Iran.
Iran: Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is conducting a regional tour and politically coordinating with senior Axis of Resistance leaders in Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar.

Iran Update, February 11, 2024

Northern and central Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip.
Southern Gaza Strip: Hamas, Egyptian, and Houthi officials issued threats likely to dissuade the IDF from a military operation into Rafah.
West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters twice.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Lebanese Hezbollah conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Syria: Likely Iranian-backed militants tried to conduct a drone attack targeting US forces at Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria.
Yemen: US Central Command forces conducted self-defense strikes targeting Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles and unmanned surface vessels.

Iran Update, February 10, 2024

Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces published details of a division-sized clearing operation it has been conducting for the past two weeks in western Gaza City.
Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.
Political Negotiations: Unidentified Egyptian officials warned that Egypt would suspend the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty if Israel conducted a ground operation into Rafah.
West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Iraq: The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed that the United States violated “the rules of engagement” when it killed senior Kataib Hezbollah member Wissam Mohammed Saber al Saedi.
Yemen: US Central Command forces conducted preemptive, self-defense strikes targeting Houthi unmanned surface vessels and missiles.

Iran Update, February 9, 2024

Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters continued to infiltrate Gaza City on February 9, where they are attacking Israeli forces.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the IDF to draft plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah and to “dismantle Hamas’ battalions in the Rafah area” on February 9.
Iraq: The Central Bank of Iraq revoked the license that allows Iran’s largest bank to operate in Iraq on January 31, according to a Central Bank of Iraq document obtained by Reuters.
Iran: Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is engaging in political coordination with senior leaders in the Axis of Resistance during his visits to Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar.
Two Western intelligence officials told Politico on February 8 that Iran used German financial institutions to funnel money to its regional proxy groups.
Syria: Israel likely conducted missile strikes targeting Iran-affiliated targets in southwestern Damascus, Syria, on February 9.
Yemen: The United States conducted preemptive strikes targeting Houthi missile sites and naval attack drones in Yemen on February 8.

Iran Update, February 8, 2024

Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters are continuing to infiltrate previously cleared areas.
Southern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces 98th Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Khan Younis.
Political Negotiations: Israel reportedly proposed to the United States exiling the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar in exchange for Hamas returning all hostages and an end to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.
West Bank: Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in two locations.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 10 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Iraq: Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are continuing to exploit US military operations in Iraq to amplify pressure on the Mohammad Shia al Sudani administration to expel US forces from Iraq.
Syria: An unspecified Iraqi militia group conducted a drone strike targeting US forces at the al Omar oil field in Deir ez Zor Province, according to regional and local Syrian outlets.
Yemen: The United States conducted self-defense strikes targeting Houthi missile sites in Yemen.

Iran Update, February 7, 2024

US Central Command (CENTCOM) killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander on February 7 who planned and participated in attacks targeting US forces in the region.[i] CENTCOM said the strike was in response to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq’s drone attack on January 28 that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan.[ii] Local Iraqi media reported that the US airstrike hit a vehicle and killed three of its occupants in Mashtal, eastern Baghdad.[iii] Two Kataib Hezbollah commanders, Wissam Mohammed Saber al Saadi and Arkan Aleaoui, were in the vehicle.[iv] The Associated Press cited ”two officials with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq” who claimed that Saadi oversaw KH operations in Syria.[v] An Iraqi journalist identified Aleaoui as a KH field commander.[vi] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said on February 7 that it will retaliate for the US strike in Baghdad if the Iraqi government does not immediately remove US forces from Iraq.[vii]

Iraqis demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Baghdad following Iranian-backed social media calls to storm the embassy on social media.[viii] Pro-Iranian-backed Iraqi militia social media channels issued calls after the US drone strike for demonstrators to gather in Jadiriyah and march towards the embassy.[ix]

Sudani said that the Iraqi Federal government has not had direct contact with the United States since the US airstrikes in Iraq on February 1.[x] Sudani also said that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will be involved in future bilateral negotiations on the status of US and International Coalition forces in Iraq. It is unclear what role the KRG will play in the bilateral negotiations.

The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center reported that Iran accelerated its cyberattacks and influence operations after October 7 to support Hamas and weaken Israel and its allies and business partners.[xi] Microsoft assessed that Iran’s operations immediately after October 7 were “hasty and chaotic,” but that these efforts have “achieved growing success.”[xii] Microsoft said that traffic to Iranian state media websites increased 42 percent between October 7 and October 14 and that the traffic “was still 28 percent above pre-war levels” in early November.[xiii] Microsoft said that the “hasty and chaotic” operations targeting Israel shifted to an “all hands on attack threat environment” in late October.[xiv] It reported that the cyberattacks were increasingly “destructive” and Iran began employing “networks of social media ‘sockpuppet’ accounts.”[xv] Microsoft also said that Iran gradually expanded its operation to target countries other than Israel, including Albania, Bahrain, and the United States.[xvi] Iran also used artificial intelligence for the first time in a cyber or influence operation to replace ”streaming television services…with a fake news video featuring an apparently AI-generated news anchor.”[xvii] This AI-enabled operation targeted audiences in Canada, the UAE, and the United Kingdom.[xviii]

Israel rejected a Hamas three-stage proposal for a ceasefire on February 7.[xix] Hamas’ proposed the February 7 deal after Egypt, the United States, and Israel proposed a separate three-stage agreement on January 31 after talks in Paris.[xx] The January 31 Paris proposal did not include an end to the war.[xxi] Hamas offered a three-stage ceasefire deal that would release all Israeli hostages over a four-month period in exchange for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and discussions on the end of the war.[xxii] Each phase would last 45 days. The deal includes a “comprehensive reconstruction” of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Hamas counterproposal in a national address, but he did not rule out the possibility of further negotiations.[xxiii]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on February 7 that the IDF would prepare to operate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.[xxiv] Israeli officials have said repeatedly that the IDF will clear Rafah.[xxv] Netanyahu’s announcement follows weeks of talks between Israel and Egypt discussing an Israeli operation into Rafah.[xxvi] The Israel-Hamas war has displaced over 50 percent of the Gaza Strip’s two million residents to Rafah.[xxvii] Egypt is concerned that an Israeli military operation in Rafah could force displaced Gazans to flee into the Sinai Peninsula.[xxviii] Western media reported on February 6 that unspecified Egyptian officials said that Israel told Cairo in private that the IDF would allow people in Rafah to evacuate north before beginning operations in Rafah.[xxix]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials on February 7 to discuss negotiations to reach a ceasefire that would release remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip and allow more aid to reach Palestinians.[xxx] Israeli officials told CNN that the IDF briefed Blinken on the upcoming expansion of Israeli ground operations and that Blinken raised concerns regarding the densely populated area, particularly related to the measures the IDF would take to mitigate harm to civilians.[xxxi]

Key Takeaways:

Iraq: US Central Command (CENTCOM) killed a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for Syria on February 7 who planned and participated in attacks targeting US forces in the region. The strike also killed a Kataib Hezbollah field commander.
Iraqis demonstrated outside the US Embassy in Baghdad following Iranian-backed social media calls to storm the embassy on social media.
Iran: The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center reported that Iran accelerated its cyberattacks and influence operations after October 7 to support Hamas and weaken Israel and its allies and business partners.
Negotiations: Israel rejected a Hamas three-stage proposal for a ceasefire on February 7.
Hamas offered a three-stage ceasefire deal that would release all Israeli hostages over a four-month period in exchange for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and discussions on the end of the war.[xxxii] Each phase would last 45 days.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on February 7 that the IDF would prepare to operate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials told CNN that the IDF briefed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the upcoming expansion of Israeli ground operations and that Blinken raised concerns regarding the densely populated area, particularly related to the measures the IDF would take to mitigate harm to civilians.

Iran Update, February 6, 2024

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on February 5 that Israeli operations have dismantled 18 of 24 Hamas battalions, rendering them “no longer [functional] as fighting military” organizations.[i] Gallant and the IDF have not identified a precise definition for “dismantle.” The IDF previously announced Israeli forces had “dismantled” all of Hamas’ battalions in the northern Gaza Strip on January 6.[ii] Hamas cells have continued attacks in the northern Gaza Strip after the IDF withdrew most of its forces on December 31.[iii] The continued Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Strip demonstrate the risk posed by small, networked military cells in the northern Gaza Strip. The size of the cells and the degree of organization and coordination between them is not clear. Palestinian militia activity in the northern Gaza Strip spurred a division-sized IDF clearing operation in western Gaza City over the last week, however.[iv] These cells remain capable of reorganizing into an embryonic military structure.[v] The Hamas Gaza City Brigade commander will continue to support this reorganization.[vi]

A top UN official in Iraq claimed that both US self-defense strikes and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces “recklessly heighten tensions,” which ignores Iran’s role in driving escalation in Iraq. The head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq stated on February 6 that “messaging by strikes only serves to recklessly heighten tension,” in reference to both Iranian-backed attacks and US self-defense strikes responding to these attacks.[vii] Beginning on October 22, Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conducted 33 attacks targeting US forces in Iraq without triggering a US response inside Iraq.[viii] US forces first responded in Iraq to attacks targeting US forces after Kataib Hezbollah fired a ballistic missile targeting a US position in late November 2023.[ix] The United States has the right to protect and defend its personnel in Iraq, who are deployed at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government to fight ISIS. The Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are themselves escalating tensions in Iraq and the region and violating Iraqi sovereignty by continuing to attack US forces unilaterally and without provocation.

Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias reiterated their plans to continue attacking US forces on February 6. The leader of Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said that the “resistance” will expel the United States.[x] A field commander for Ashab al Kahf, a militia close to Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, also warned that Ashab al Kahf will apply “extreme force” until the United States withdraws from Iraq and ends support for Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip.[xi] Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba and Ashab al Kahf both vowed to continue attacking US forces after Kataib Hezbollah announced on January 30 that it suspended “military and security” operations targeting US forces.[xii]

Key Takeaways:

Gaza Strip: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on February 5 that Israeli operations have dismantled 18 of 24 Hamas battalions, rendering them “no longer function as fighting military organizations.” Gallant and the IDF have not identified a precise definition for “dismantle.“
Palestinian fighters are using more sophisticated weapons to attack Israeli forces in the areas Palestinian militias have infiltrated in the northern Gaza Strip.
Iraq and Syria: A top UN official in Iraq claimed that both US self-defense strikes and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces “recklessly heighten tensions,” which ignores Iran’s role in driving escalation in Iraq. Several Iranian-backed Iraqi militias reiterated their plans to continue attacking US forces on February 6.
Yemen: Houthi fighters targeted two merchant vessels in the Red Sea with anti-ship missiles on February 6.

Iran Update, February 5, 2024

Iranian-backed Iraqi officials are using recent US airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to retroactively justify their political pressure on the Iraqi federal government to expel US forces from Iraq. The United States has the right to respond and defend itself against these attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq are themselves violating Iraqi sovereignty by launching attacks from Iraqi territory targeting US forces, who are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and American assets elsewhere in the region. Acting parliament speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi called on the Iraqi federal government to implement the January 2020 parliamentary resolution to expel “all foreign forces” from Iraq while touring the sites of the US strikes in al Qaim and Akashat in western Anbar Province on February 5.[i] Popular Mobilization Forces Chief of Staff and Kataib Hezbollah official Abu Fadak al Muhammadawi and Iranian-backed Badr Organization member and Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee Chairman Abbas Zamili accompanied Mandalawi to al Qaim and Akashat.[ii] The Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee announced in December 2023 a draft resolution in December 2023 that would expel US forces from Iraq.[iii]

Mandalawi is a Shia politician who is close to the Shia Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties. Mandalawi became acting parliament speaker in November 2023, when the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court unconstitutionally dismissed former speaker Mohammad al Halbousi.[iv] The Shia Coordination Framework has sought to postpone the election of a new parliament speaker to replace Mandalawi by invalidating the candidacies of parliament speaker hopefuls.[v] Iranian-backed Iraqi actors filed a lawsuit on January 23 that includes a clause preventing Parliament from resuming the vote for a parliament speaker until the Federal Supreme Court issues a ruling on the eligibility of Halbousi-backed candidate Shaalan al Karim.[vi]

Other Iranian-backed politicians in Iraq also issued statements to increase pressure on Iraqi officials. Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh said that the US airstrikes went “too far” because they targeted a Popular Mobilization Forces facility, adding that the Iraqi people, government, and political forces must end the foreign presence in Iraq.[vii] Fayyadh said that targeting the Popular Mobilization Forces was a “red line” and that US strikes will not go “unnoticed.”[viii] Key Iranian proxy Hadi Ameri and the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Shia parties—called for the expulsion of US forces immediately.[ix] Iran backs some Shia Coordination Framework parties.

Iran’s surrogates in Iraq co-opted and lead the Popular Mobilization Forces. Fayyadh, who leads the PMF, has closely cooperated with Quds Forces operatives to implement Iranian directives in Iraq, including by killing Iraqi citizens during peaceful protests in 2019.[x] The PMF contains many Iranian proxy groups. The US strikes targeted two such groups on February 2.[xi]

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad on February 5.[xii] The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson stated on January 29 that Ahmadian would discuss border security and terrorism with Iraqi officials.[xiii] Ahmadian emphasized Iran’s willingness to cooperate with Iraq during a meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, citing the March 2023 security agreement between the two countries.[xiv] The March 2023 agreement requires Iraqi authorities to disarm and relocate members of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups away from Iran’s borders.[xv] Ahmadian’s visit to Iraq follows the IRGC’s drone and missile strikes targeting alleged Mossad-affiliated facilities and individuals in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan on January 15.[xvi] Iran claims frequently that anti-regime Kurdish groups and Israel use Iraqi Kurdistan to conduct operations in Iran.[xvii]

Ahmadian also likely discussed the recent US strikes targeting IRGC Quds Force and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia targets in Iraq during his meetings with Iraqi officials. Sudani stated that Iraq opposes “any unilateral actions” that violate the principle of “respect for sovereignty” during his meeting with Ahmadian.[xviii] Sudani was likely referring to both the IRGC’s January 15 strikes in Erbil and the February 2 US strikes, which the Sudani administration described as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty on February 3.[xix]

Key Takeaways:

Iraq and Syria: Iranian-backed Iraqi officials are using recent US airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to retroactively justify their political pressure on the Iraqi federal government to expel US forces from Iraq.
The United States has the right to respond and defend itself against these attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq are themselves violating Iraqi sovereignty by launching attacks from Iraqi territory targeting US forces, who are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and American assets elsewhere in the region.
Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad on February 5.
Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Force 162nd Division launched a new, division-size clearing operation in central and northern Gaza City in the past week. CTP-ISW assessed on February 3 that Palestinian fighters infiltrated southwestern Gaza City
The IDF is conducting operations in the northern Gaza Strip to disrupt Hamas' attempts to reconstitute its governing authority.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reiterated that the IDF plans to clear Hamas fighters and military infrastructure from Rafah and the central Gaza Strip on February 5.
Yemen: US Central Command conducted preemptive strikes targeting four Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles and a land-attack cruise missile on February 4.

Iran Update, February 4, 2024

Unspecified officials familiar with the hostage negotiations told the Wall Street Journal that divisions between Hamas’ leadership in the Gaza Strip and its exiled political leadership are impeding negotiations. The officials said that Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, is prepared to accept a six-week pause in fighting and hostage exchange, but that Hamas’ exiled political leadership is calling for more concessions and a permanent ceasefire.[i] Egyptian officials added that Hamas’ political leadership is also demanding the release of 3,000 Palestinian prisoners—including some who took part in the October 7, 2023 attacks—in return for 36 Israeli civilian hostages.[ii] Beirut-based senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on February 3 that Hamas and its allies rejected the six-week pause in fighting in a “united decision.”[iii] Hamdan added that Hamas and its allies are committed to a permanent ceasefire. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader demanded that any negotiations guarantee a “comprehensive ceasefire,” an Israeli withdrawal from and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, and a “clear political solution.”[iv]

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that approving a hostage release deal is “up to Hamas,” but that he is not able to give a precise timetable on a hostage release deal.[v] He added that a deal is not imminent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will not release “thousands” of prisoners in a hostage deal and that a permanent ceasefire will not be part of any hostage release deal.[vi]

Sinwar may calculate that a six-week pause would slow Israel’s momentum sufficiently enough to permanently end fighting and secure Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 31 that US officials are seeking a six-week pause in fighting to “stall Israel’s military momentum and potentially set the stage for a more lasting truce.”[vii] US and Arab officials ”familiar with the negotiations” told the Wall Street Journal that Israel would find it ”difficult to resume the war at its current intensity.”[viii] An interim pause leading to less intense Israeli ground operations or an end to Israeli operations would likely ensure Hamas‘ survival as a governing authority in the Gaza Strip.

Sinwar also likely seeks a pause in fighting to secure short-term military advantage. A six-week pause would enable Sinwar to reorganize his military forces, accelerate their infiltration into areas previously cleared by Israeli forces, and continue the reconstitution of Hamas’ military organization in the northern Gaza Strip free from Israeli interference. An IDF military correspondent reported on February 4 that Hamas’ Gaza City Brigade commander is still alive and a “major factor in Hamas’ reconstitution efforts” in the northern Strip.[ix] This commander, free from the threat of Israeli strikes during a pause, could accelerate these efforts.

Key Takeaways:

Negotiations: Unspecified officials familiar with the hostage negotiations told the Wall Street Journal that divisions between Hamas’ leadership in the Gaza Strip and its exiled political leadership are impeding negotiations.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that approving a hostage release deal is “up to Hamas,” but that he is not able to give a precise timetable on a hostage release deal.[x] He added that a deal is not imminent.
Sinwar may calculate that a six-week pause would slow Israel’s momentum sufficiently enough to permanently end fighting and secure Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip. An interim pause leading to less intense Israeli ground operations or an end to Israeli operations would likely ensure Hamas‘ survival as a governing authority in the Gaza Strip.
Sinwar also likely seeks a pause in fighting to secure short-term military advantage. A six-week pause would enable Sinwar to reorganize his military forces, accelerate their infiltration into areas previously cleared by Israeli forces, and continue the reconstitution of Hamas’ military organization in the northern Gaza Strip free from Israeli interference.
Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters continued their efforts aimed at disrupting Israeli operations in the northern Gaza Strip, primarily in the al Sinaa area of southwestern Gaza City, on February 4.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces have “intensified” fighting in al Amal area of western Khan Younis in recent days.
Yemen: The United States and the United Kingdom conducted strikes targeting 36 Houthi military positions and assets in 13 locations across Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen on February 3.

Iran Update, February 3, 2024

The February 2 US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeted Iranian-backed militia positions along the Euphrates River in Syria, the Iraq-Syria border, and south of Baghdad, Iraq. An anonymous US official told Politico that the United States struck all of its planned targets and several “dynamic targets that popped up as the mission unfolded,” including surface-to-air missile systems and drone launch sites.[i] Two unspecified US officials also told the New York Times that the United States conducted unspecified cyber attacks targeting Iran on February 2.[ii]

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that the strikes hit al Qaim district, Anbar province, targeting the PMF Anbar Operations “mobile” headquarters, an element of the 13th PMF Brigade, and two 45th PMF Brigade positions.[iii] The strikes also hit an artillery position, and multiple “armor” sites. The 13th Brigade is Liwa al Tufuf, an Iranian-backed militia controlled by Kataib Hezbollah.[iv] Liwa al Tufuf has facilitated Iranian supply lines through al Qaim border crossing with Syria.[v] The 45th Brigade is one arm of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy militia. Iranian-backed Badr Organization leader Hadi al Ameri added that the strikes targeted Jurf al Sakhr, a previously Sunni town south of Baghdad that Kataib Hezbollah occupied after committing acts of sectarian cleansing against the previous residents.[vi]

The Iraqi prime minister formally commands the PMF, but “power and political realities“ mean that large portions of the PMF, including Liwa al Tufuf and Kataib Hezbollah, answer to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).[vii] The PMF’s leader, Popular Mobilization Commission Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh, has operated alongside IRGC Quds Force operatives to implement Iranian directives in Iraq.[viii] The Popular Mobilization Commission is technically responsible for ensuring that the militias that make up the PMF answer to the Iraqi government.[ix] Fayyadh’s installation as the chairman and his relationship with the IRGC safeguards the PMF from actual central government control.

A local Syrian source reported that the US strikes targeted Iranian-backed positions in Albu Kamal, a railway crossing west of Albu Kamal, the outskirts of Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor City, Ayyash (west of Deir ez Zor), and Tabani (west of Deir ez Zor).[x] Iranian-backed militias are active in Albu Kamal, Deir ez Zor City, and Mayadeen. The railway crossing west of Albu Kamal runs along the edge of Imam Ali military base, which is a key Iranian military base in Syria.[xi]

Iran, its partners in Iraq, and the Iraqi government falsely claimed that the strikes were violations of Iraqi sovereignty.[xii] Western media outlets reported that Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah launched the attack from Rutba, Anbar province, western Iraq.[xiii] The United States has the right to respond and defend itself against these attacks from Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq are themselves violating Iraqi sovereignty by launching attacks from Iraqi territory targeting US forces in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government and American assets elsewhere in the region.

Key Takeaways:

Iraq and Syria: The February 2 US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeted Iranian-backed militia positions along the Euphrates River in Syria, the Iraq-Syria border, and south of Baghdad, Iraq.
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported that the strikes hit al Qaim district, Anbar province, targeting the PMF Anbar Operations “mobile” headquarters, an element of the 13th PMF Brigade (Liwa al Tufuf), and two 45th PMF Brigade (Kataib Hezbollah) positions.[xiv]
The Iraqi prime minister formally commands the PMF, but “power and political realities“ mean that large portions of the PMF, including Liwa al Tufuf and Kataib Hezbollah, answer to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)
A local Syrian source reported that the US strikes targeted Iranian-backed positions in Albu Kamal, a railway crossing west of Albu Kamal, the outskirts of Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor City, Ayyash (west of Deir ez Zor), and Tabani (west of Deir ez Zor).
Iran, its partners in Iraq, and the Iraqi government falsely claimed that the strikes were violations of Iraqi sovereignty.
Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias are continuing to infiltrate southwestern Gaza City. The militias, including Hamas, have conducted ten attacks targeting Israeli forces in Tel al Hawa since January 31.
The Red Sea: US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces shot down eight Houthi drones over the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea on February 2. CENTCOM also conducted preemptive strikes targeting four drones that the Houthis had prepared to launch towards the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea on February 2.
Iraq: IRGC-controlled and local Syrian media claimed that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted four drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria on February 3. Three ”security sources” told Reuters that there was no attack targeting the al Harir airbase.

Iran Update, February 2, 2024

Iraq and Syria: The United States struck over 85 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria on February 2. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias said that they will continue attacks targeting US forces until US forces are expelled from Iraq.
Northern Gaza Strip: Palestinian militias, including Hamas, attempted to disrupt Israeli operations in the “Passport area,” northwest of the Gaza Interior Ministry in Tel al Hawa neighborhood, Gaza City on February 2.
Central Gaza Strip: The IDF reported that the 99th Division’s operations in the central Strip aim to prevent Hamas fighters from infiltrating Gaza City from the southern Gaza Strip.
Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reported that the IDF has “dismantled” Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade and that the IDF will “continue to Rafah.”
Political Negotiations: Hamas rejected a proposed ceasefire deal that would include “prolonged” pauses in fighting in the Gaza Strip and swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
Iran: Western media reported on February 1 that unspecified elements in the Iranian regime are concerned by Iranian-backed militia attacks against US forces. This framing inaccurately presents the regime as a monolith rather than a government comprised of multiple political factions with a relatively diverse set of foreign policy views.

Iran Update, February 1, 2024

Northern Gaza Strip: A spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister’s office said that the IDF “shifted into a new phase of the fighting” and will “target pockets of resistance” in the northern Gaza Strip.
Political Negotiations: Two Israeli sources told Axios that Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar and Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel discussed future Israeli operations in the southern Gaza Strip during a meeting in Cairo.
West Bank: US President Joe Biden signed an executive order that enables the United States to place financial and visa sanctions on foreign nationals involved in attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.
Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said on February 1 that northern Israelis will only return when it is safe for them to do so during a meeting with the IDF Northern Command and 91st Division commanders.
Iraq: US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby emphasized the role that all of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed militias—plays in attacks on US forces in Iraq.
Syria: Reuters reported on February 1 that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) withdrew several of its senior and mid-ranking officers from Syria ahead of possible US strikes, according to unspecified regional sources “familiar with the matter.

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