Review of Current Situation in the Middle EastJanuary 8, 2024 in Uncategorized
Tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border have risen in recent months, raising broad concerns about regional stability and security. The increase in tension began on October 7th and has been defined by a succession of important events since then. On December 4th Hamas reportedly established a new movement in Lebanon named Al-Aqsa in order to attack Israel by recruiting young people from camps. Three days following the statement, Hamas began distributing flysheets urging Palestinian youngsters in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camps near Sidon to come together. In response to Hamas’ ‘Al Aqsa flood’ operation, Lebanon has launched a national emergency plan to confront the rising issue. The strategy is intended to shield the Lebanese people against future Israeli occupation forces assault by providing protective measures such as secure refuges and vital goods during times of crisis.
In the midst of regional developments, the first batch of the 22nd Chinese peacekeeping forces arrived, with the following unit consisting of a multi-role engineering company, a construction engineering company, and a level 1+ medical detachment, reaffirming China’s commitment to UNIFIL’s mission in Lebanon.
Souheil Abboud, the president of Lebanon’s Higher Judicial Council, gave an urgent warning about the oncoming collapse of the country’s judicial system against the backdrop of the country’s rising crises and widespread corruption. Abboud emphasised the negative impact of political intervention on judicial efficiency, noting several empty judge seats and widespread obstruction of justice.
Furthermore, according to Lieutenant Colonel Avichay Adraee, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson in Arabic, around one-fifth of the rockets fired by Hezbollah against Israel have landed in Lebanon since the conflict began. In response to Hezbollah’s strikes, Israel has launched many missiles into Lebanon, primarily in the south. This led in the injuries of Hezbollah members, innocent people, and even the mayors of Taybeh on the 11th of December.
With the humanitarian disaster emerging in the region, the European Union announced a 12 million euros initiative in collaboration with the Expertise France to improve the integrity, transparency, and accountability of Lebanon’s public administration. The initiative is intended to last four years and conforms to reform possibilities indicated by the IMF Staff-Level Agreement, as well as modern public administration principles. This programme supplements current activities under the Lebanon Financing Facility for Reform, Recovery, and Reconstruction. The initiative aims to increase public trust in the government’s ability to serve citizens’ interests by supporting oversight organisations critical to combatting corruption and wrongdoing in the public sector. French diplomatic efforts have also been critical, with French Foreign Minister Mme Catherine Colonna visiting Lebanon on December 13th and 14th. In addition, on the 28th, David Cameron visited Lebanon, encouraging caution amid border tensions with Israel. Moreover, late this month Hezbollah accused Israel of hacking on CCTV cameras in southern Lebanon, heightening concerns amongst the Lebanese people.
In December 2023, Syria saw a series of security crises that highlighted the region’s geopolitical complexity. Tensions erupted near the Syria-Lebanon border on December 6th, when Lebanese authorities opened fire on a vehicle, killing a young man. Meanwhile, dispute erupted in northern Deir Ezzor’s Abo Al-Naital Village, when a local shooters group engaged in violent confrontations with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), resulting in the death of the local shooter.
The regional dynamics were heightened further on December 7th, with a significant increase in Israeli military strikes. There have been reports of Israeli missile assaults on Hezbollah positions near Qalamoun, northwest of Damascus. These bombings were part of a larger pattern that included Hezbollah and Iranian militia locations near Sayyeda Zainab and Hujira, south of Damascus. At the same time, Israeli planes began airstrikes in response to a missile launched from Syrian territory into the Golan Heights. Following strikes near Damascus International Airport aggravated the situation, leading in deaths and the loss of crucial infrastructure.
As the Israeli strikes progressed, ISIS increased their activity in several locations of Syria. Notably, two non-Syrian leaders of Iranian militias were killed in Al-Bokamal, Deir Ezzor. The capacity of ISIS to carry out strikes in Al-Jama’iya Checkpoint, Al-Rusafah desert, and Al-Tabqah city, with losses recorded among both government troops and members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), added to the complexity of the fight.
The U.S. military remained heavily involved, carrying out attacks in Syria against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps targets and targeting suspected terrorists. These operations, together with the continuous insurgency against U.S. forces, created a complicated security environment in which regional conflicts intermingled. Additonally, explosions heard on December 11th at the U.S.’ Al-Shaddadi facility in Hasakah, assumed to be an attack by the Iraqi resistance. Meanwhile, in the Hasakah countryside, Syrian Arab Army soldiers evicted a mixed convoy of U.S. and Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters.
Concerns turned to humanitarian and environmental issues as the month continued. The link of combat and public health was emphasised by a hepatitis outbreak in Daraa governorate, which was fuelled by contaminated drinking water and worsened by state neglect. Furthermore, the cut-off of water to Hasakah city, which has been under Turkish-backed control since October, has added to the hardships of a besieged populace. In the middle of these security concerns, the Orontes River was confronted with a new hazard in the shape of an invasive Nile flower, which had a negative impact on the local livelihoods.
Taiwan made an important diplomatic move on the 13th by signing an aid arrangement with the U.S. to promote development initiatives in north-eastern Syria. The aid, focused at Hasakah and Deir Ezzor, aims to promote public health, improve quality of life, and educate first responders, all while helping to the rebirth of civil society.
Further, on the 15th, Russian air forces intervened, initiating airstrikes on terrorist hideouts in the White Desert to disrupt planned acts of sabotage targeting oil and gas installations, highways and government military positions.
The return of Syrian government second-in-command Maher al-Assad coincided with the approval of a legislation authorising the regime to oversee and invest in confiscated assets. This contentious measure, which went into force retroactively, tightened the regime’s control even more and prompted fears about state-sanctioned asset confiscation, replicating Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Turkish security forces killed PKK/YPG terrorists in northern Syria on the 20th, underlining Turkey’s continuous military actions in the region. Simultaneously, an ISIS-planted landmine killed seven members of Syria’s security forces, highlighting the country’s ongoing threat from terrorist elements. Landmines exploded in Homs in western Syria and the capital of the Homs Governorate where pro-Iran militants attacked American positions in eastern Syria. On the 23rd, ISIS carried out three strikes in regions held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), resulting in a few casualties. While on the 19th, Jordan carried airstrikes on farms and a military base near Al-Suwaidaa resulted in casualties. During an attempted smuggling across the Syrian Jordanian border, Syria seized a number of Captagon tablets and narcotic hashish packets. On the 29th, Israel escalated its military efforts by carrying out an aircraft attack against a critical Syrian air defence installation in southern Syria. Simultaneously, in a dramatic escalation, as eleven Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders were killed in an attack on Damascus International Airport.
Finally, Razi Mousavi, a long-time advisor to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, was assassinated by an Israeli attack in the Sayida Zeinab, Syria on the 25th. The incident heightened existing tensions, with Iran threatening Israel with retaliation.
The month of December saw major escalation in the Israel-Hamas conflict, with a number of incidents ranging from difficult political conversations to increased military actions. The conflict between Palestinian militias and Israeli soldiers in Khan Younis laid the ground for a fresh round of violence. The al Qassem Brigades’ claim of responsibility for an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) strike that killed Israeli soldiers. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) responded quickly, releasing details on the December 10th operations in the Shujaiya neighbourhood. The 282nd Fire Brigade carried out strikes on over 20 targets, including weapons storage facilities and booby-trapped residences, highlighting the conflict’s urban warfare issues. Additionally, the al Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for the explosion of a house in Shujaiya that contained 13 Israeli soldiers looking for a tunnel access.
In mid-December, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken supported the emergency delivery of roughly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition to Israel, citing Israel’s ongoing conflict with Hamas as justification.
With Hezbollah’s involvement, the conflict’s regional implications became increasingly obvious. Hezbollah targeted three Israeli military outposts near the Lebanese border: Ramim, Metulla, and the Birket Rishe. The tension reached a breaking point with a Hezbollah missile attack on Kiryat Shmona, demonstrating the group’s willingness to strike against perceived Israeli offences. Meanwhile, the Yemeni Houthis’ warning that ships avoid sailing towards Israel underlined the possibility of regional spillover and the junction of many geopolitical fault points.
Further, on December 23rd, Israeli forces made significant advances into the West Bank. Tulkarem and Bethlehem became the flashpoints for violence between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian people. On December 27th, a viable avenue for humanitarian help arose amid the growing fighting. Israel agreed to a proposal for a humanitarian sea corridor into Gaza, which has the backing of Cyprus and the United Kingdom. Moreover, internal Israeli unrest reached a boiling point on December 30th, when hundreds of protesters filled the streets of Tel Aviv. The protestors were demanding a cease-fire, the release of Israeli detainees, and the cessation of civilian fatalities in Gaza.
Jordan has recently found itself at the crossroads of several difficulties, demonstrating the region’s complexity and dynamism. In the face of global developments, the Kingdom has been actively involved in resolving both internal and foreign challenges.
The continued dispute in Gaza has drawn international attention, and Jordan, led by King Abdullah II, has played a critical role in diplomatic attempts to settle the problem. King Abdullah’s constantly appeals for a quick cease-fire along with Egypt and raises his concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Jordan’s aggressive commitment in seeking solutions to the Israel-Hamas conflict is shown by the recent meeting between King Abdullah II and French President Emmanuel Macron in Aqaba on the 21st of December. The King emphasised the need of international cooperation in facilitating the supply of humanitarian supplies to Gaza, alluding to the potential consequences of continued Israeli assault.
Jordan has experienced internal issues, particularly in the area of human rights. On the 7th of December Human Rights Watch reports have highlighted concerns about Jordan’s security forces’ systematic targeting of LGBTQ+ people. Jordanian police have been accused of assaulting the LGBTQ+ community by forcing individuals to reveal their sexual orientation to their conservative families and shutting down LGBTQ+ organisations. Human rights organisations claim abductions, harassment, and monitoring of activists, with current targeting growing.
Jordan’s army launched a raid on drug traffickers near the Syrian border on the 12th, resulting in the deaths of many individuals involved in the trafficking of the drug Captagon. This amphetamine-like stimulant, which is commonly made in Syria, is transported through Jordan into the Gulf nations, providing significant funding to Syria’s government and Iran-aligned militias who control areas of southern Syria. Despite the operation, several smugglers were able to return to Syria, taking advantage of the two nations’ large and partly desert 370km (230-mile) border. On the same day, Jordan signed a deal with the United States to receive a grant of 845.1 million US dollars. This award, which is part of Jordan’s yearly U.S. financial aid, is meant to promote the execution of different development projects and economic reforms in areas such as public finance, water, energy, education, health, and housing. Zeina Toukan, Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, emphasised that the award will help to reduce Jordan’s state budget deficit, giving critical assistance for the country’s economic growth.
Jordan effectively prevented repeated efforts by Syrian groups to smuggle weapons and drugs into its borders on the 21st. These group, allegedly run by Syrian security forces, Hezbollah, and Iran, were designed to feed Palestinian groups in the West Bank. Notably, on December 18, 2023, the Jordanian army revealed the foiled of a large-scale smuggling operation including narcotics, machine guns, and, crucially, rockets—a major increase in smuggled armament. The operation came during a time of heightened smuggling attempts, and on that day, severe confrontations erupted on the Syrian border between Jordanian border guards and armed groups attempting to smuggle in contraband, injuring Jordanian soldiers. In response to the danger, Jordan launched numerous airstrikes in southern Syria, targeting smugglers’ operations near the border. According to government spokesperson Muhannad Mubaidin, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi talked with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and stressed that smuggling attempts by Iran-affiliated militias in Syria must stop.
Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian shepherds east of Khalat Makhol in the northern Jordan Valley on the 27th. The attackers apparently targeted the shepherds when they were seeking to reach pastures east of Khalat Makhol, impeding their entry to the region. At the same time, Israeli authorities apprehended two shepherd children, Hussein Yousef Bisharat, 16, and Mohammad Yousef Bisharat, 13.