Twelve people killed in Israeli attack on Damascus, Bloody weekend in south Lebanon, Hezbollah is ready to listen, Fresh US strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, Rising border tensions between Pakistan and Iran, Lebanon’s Court of Cassation lifts arrest warrants against two former Cabinet Ministers in the Port Blast case, Lebanese officials meet Cyprus’ Head of Intelligence to discuss maritime border and illegal migration’s issues, Israel seeks control of key Gaza-Egypt border area, IRGC’s retaliation against Iraq kills one child, Al Jazeera’s Wael Al Dahdouh out of Gaza for medical treatment, IDF pulls back its 36th Division from the northern Gaza Strip, The European Parliament calls for a conditional permanent cease-fire in the Palestinian enclave
The borders of the Middle East – of the entire Middle East – have trembled. Never before has the unstable balance of borders – from southern Lebanon to Sinai, from Pakistan to Iraq and Syria – shown the collective adoption of deterrence as the preferred military approach.
Favored by mutual media monitoring of both sides in the conflict, the strategy is based on the vigilance that each exercises over the other: each of the actors – whatever the borders in question – while declaring the other reluctant to degenerate into a full-scale war, asserts one’s willingness to engage in conflict if provoked. Nonetheless, the practical plan seems to avoid the possibility of a global extension of the conflict: guided by a realistic assessment of the context, the border armies – often paramilitary militias – have limited their action maneuver to the enemy borders, despite disposing of extremely sophisticated arsenals – and thus postponing the threat of equal, or disproportionate, retaliation to the next enemy offence.
In the absence of a plausible and practicable political solution in the region, the border messaging and threat strategy seems to push and at the same time limit the military escalation that has involved the main players on the Middle Eastern scene in the last three and a half months.
In southern Lebanon, in an increasingly intense war based on strategic messages and brinkmanship, the approach of the resistance parties at the border is one of patience and strategic moderation: the model of retaliation that the pro-Iranian group has adopted after the assassinations of leaders al-Arouri and Tawil, deliberately avoids immediate and uncalculated responses, and takes advantage of border tensions to gain advantages on other fronts. By doing so, in the case of Hezbollah – as Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah underlined in his latest speech – the group exploits the current hostilities as an opportunity to liberate, eventually, disputed Lebanese territories, such as Shebaa Farms in the village of Ghajar – although this opportunity is linked to the cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. And this is even more true if we consider the diplomatic efforts currently underway in the region, to whose requests the Shiite party has declared itself, if not completely in favor, at least ready to listen.
On the other hand, the strategic assassinations that Israel has conducted – not only in southern Lebanon and Beirut, but also in Damascus, Syria – clearly demonstrate the capabilities of Zionist intelligence in eliminating high-profile targets, achieving with strategic precision areas far from borders. With an ever-present but deterrent threat to inflict significant damage on the Lebanese population and infrastructure – drawing parallels to the genocidal destruction inflicted on Gaza – Israel has not only demonstrated its exceptional resourcefulness, but also evoked memories of the 2006 war, perhaps instilling a sense of fear among civilians – crucial support for resistance movements – and pushing Lebanese domestic politics to reopen the controversial, decades-old debate over the presence of Palestinian military elements on its national soil.
Moreover, Israel, despite its claims of being ready for a global war on the northern front, seems less eager for such escalation: this hesitancy likely stems from its current military commitments in Gaza and a considered assessment of its strategic position – especially considering the rising tensions across the Egypt-controlled Philadelphi Corridor.
Therefore, while the war on Gaza is still ongoing, and in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem Israel intensifies raids, murders, and arbitrary arrests, on the other fronts it seems that the primary objective is different from the mere infliction of victims. For Hezbollah, in particular, the attack on the Israeli Meron air base shifted the focus of attention towards the targeting of strategic military installations. The one in Meron – a base known as the ‘eye of Israel’ and overseeing parts of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – was one of the deepest penetrations of the Iran-backed party into the north of the enemy state. This sends a highly-strategic message, calling into question the perceived security of these sites and showing Hezbollah’s reach and military sophistication.
Similarly, Iran – victim of a tragic IS-claimed attack that inflicted around a hundred victims on the day of commemoration of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in Kerman – has carried out numerous revenge-attacks on targets within its regional neighbors: from the border regions of Iraq and Syria, to Pakistan, the Islamic Republic’s attacks have risen fears of the opening of a full-scale war in the Middle East with grave humanitarian, political and economic consequences.
However, in line with the strategy of the borders regime, responses have been “swift and proportionate,” Pakistan’s former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has posted on X, while commenting on the country’s response to the Iranian strikes – yet questioning the presence of militant groups on either side of the border. “Full spectrum deterrence reasserted militarily – meeting the threat at a level of our choosing and prevailing,” Mazari continued. “But one of the many disturbing questions arising is why both supposedly friendly ‘brotherly’ Muslim countries, with deep historical and social ties, allowed space creation for these militant groups in each other’s territories?” the former Minister continued, calling for the need for “serious introspection” by both states.
After a few days of retaliation, the neighbors appear now to be de-escalating tensions: though, their border security concerns will have deepened, analysts say, as the episode reveals a lack of trust between the neighbors that will continue to plague relations even after the missiles and accusations have subsided.
Bloody weekend: Four people have been killed in an Israeli drone strike on a car near the city of Sour in southern Lebanon on Saturday, according to medical sources speaking to Reuters, citing three security sources. Driving on a road connecting the village of Bazourieh to Burj el-Shemali, two of the dead were members of Hamas – while another was identified as Mohammad Hodroj, a Hezbollah official from Bazourieh.
Later on Sunday, two other people were killed in a strike on a car in Kafra, near Bint Jbeil, local correspondent reported citing medical sources – while six were wounded, including one seriously injured woman. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene of the strike, near a Lebanese army checkpoint. The dead from Sunday’s attack were a civilian – Samar al-Sayed – and a Hezbollah fighter, a source close to the group told AFP, with a security official saying the target was a high-level commander who survived.
The Israeli army said it struck Hezbollah positions in Markaba and an operational command center and military compound, while, according to a statement from the Islamic Health Committee organization, linked to the party, a Hezbollah civil defense center in Kfar Kila was among the targets of the strike, destroying several ambulances. “The criminal policy of the Israeli enemy does not spare rescue workers and medical staff,” the statement reads, as for the second time Israel has targeted such a center, following a strike in Hanin on January 11, in which two rescue workers were killed.
As a response, in a statement published on Telegram, Hezbollah announced that it had retaliated against the Israeli raid on Kafra by striking the Israeli locality of Avivim, opposite the locality of Aitaroun, with missiles “that hit a house and left its inhabitants dead and wounded.”
Having repeatedly bombarded Lebanese border villages, with the violence killing more than 195 people in the country, including at least 144 Hezbollah fighters – according to an AFP tally -, Israel has been strucking deeper than usual into Lebanese territory, some 25 km from the disputed border area.
Ready to listen: Lebanese officials have stated that Hezbollah has rejected the initial proposals from Washington aimed at de-escalating the ongoing conflict with Israel, Reuters reported. These proposals included the idea of relocating Hezbollah fighters away from the border. However, the Iran-backed group is reportedly still receptive to US diplomatic efforts as a means to prevent a devastating war, after US envoy Amos Hochstein having been actively engaged in diplomatic initiatives to enhance security along the Israel-Lebanon frontier, especially as the broader region faces a precarious situation with the potential for a significant escalation, triggered by the war on Gaza.
“Hezbollah is ready to listen,” a senior Lebanese official familiar with the group’s thinking told Reuters, while emphasizing that the group saw the ideas presented by Hochstein on last week’s visit to Beirut as extremely unrealistic – although Hezbollah has not been directly involved in talks, and Hochstein’s ideas were passed on by Lebanese mediators.
One proposal put forward last week recommended a mutual reduction in hostilities along the border, coupled with Israel undertaking less intense operations in Gaza, according to three Lebanese sources and a US official cited by Reuters’ report. Another suggestion involved Hezbollah maintaining its fighters at a distance of at least 7 km from the border, as conveyed to the group, a proposal which significantly differs from Israel’s public request for a withdrawal of 30 km to Lebanon’s Litani River, as outlined in the 2006 UN resolution.
Despite rejecting the proposed solutions and launching rockets in support of Gaza, however, Hezbollah’s willingness to engage in diplomatic discussions suggests a reluctance to escalate the conflict further. This openness persists even after an Israeli strike hit Hezbollah-controlled Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiyeh on January 2, resulting in the death of Hamas’ number two Saleh al-Arouri.
An unknown group: After 100 days since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the name of a new armed group – al-Ezz Islamic Brigades – appeared for the first time in the Lebanese press. The group declared that it executed a military infiltration into the contested Shebaa Farms, currently held by Israel, during the early hours of Sunday, January 14, resulting in “some losses to the Zionist enemy.”
“Our brigade members fought hand-to-hand against a patrol of the Zionist enemy near the site of Ruwaisat al-Alam,” reads the armed group’s statement relayed by the local and regional press, claiming that “three martyrs have fallen in combat, while two others were able to return to Lebanon unharmed.”
The factions involved in military activities in south Lebanon have disclaimed any knowledge of the mentioned group. Sources closely associated with Hezbollah asserted that there is no affiliation with the organization; similarly, both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have denied any connections to the group. The Jamaa al-Islamiya in Lebanon also stated that they are unfamiliar with the group, emphasising that their sole military wing is the Al Fajr forces. Therefore, the question of the identity and the nationality of the group’s militiamen remains unanswered, though it could be a case of non-Lebanese foreign fighters sent to southern Lebanon.
The al-Ezz Islamic Brigades statement on Sunday said that the operation led in Israel was intended to send out three messages: to respond to the assassination of Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri killed by an Israeli air strike in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiyeh; to push the “Zionist enemy” to “put an end to its war against Palestine and Lebanon;” and to stand in solidarity to the Palestinian people in Gaza and to Hamas’s armed wing al-Qassam Brigades.
On the other side, the Israeli army claimed that a patrol in the Har Dov area – the Israeli name for the Shebaa Farms – shot dead “four terrorists” who attempted to infiltrate into Israel. “Israeli soldiers spotted a terrorist cell that entered Israeli territory from Lebanon and opened fire at them. They killed four terrorists,” the army said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
The maritime dossier: On Thursday, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, conveyed during a meeting with Cyprus’s National Security Advisor and Intelligence Service Head, Tassos Tzionis, that the primary motivation for the migration of the majority of displaced Syrians is “economic reasons,” as reported by the state-run National News Agency. According to Bou Habib, approximately 95 percent of displaced Syrians migrate for economic reasons, and he emphasized the need for collaboration with Mediterranean bordering countries to address this issue.
Lebanon currently hosts around two million Syrians, with 800,000 registered with the United Nations. The Lebanese army actively combats sea smuggling operations, arresting both smugglers and potential migrants. In recent months, Cyprus has experienced a notable increase in asylum seekers, predominantly Syrians, arriving by sea from Syria and Lebanon. To address this, Cypriot Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou visited Lebanon on July 27, where agreements were made to enhance information exchange and conduct joint maritime patrols to prevent migrants from leaving Lebanon or Syria.
The meeting also touched upon the maritime borders between Lebanon and Cyprus. While Lebanon understands Cyprus’ desire to settle the demarcation of maritime borders, a finalized deal has not been reached, despite a formula being agreed upon in October 2022.
Bou Habib and Tzionis also discussed the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel, the former warning that, unless a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause is achieved, events similar to those on October 7 may recur.
Free-for-all: Judge Sabbouh Suleiman of the Court of Cassation suspended the arrest warrant against former Minister of Public Works, Youssef Fenianos, and former Minister of Finance – as well current MP Ali Hassan Khalil, officials said on condition of anonymity on Tuesday. The two former ministers were involved in the 2020 Beirut Port Blast case, one of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, which claimed over 220 lives, wounded more than 7,000 individuals, and displaced an estimated 300,000 people.
As the authorities themselves admitted, the catastrophic blast was triggered by a fire in a warehouse, where hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had been unsafely stored for years. The investigation has been at a standstill for months due to blatant interference by political and security officials, some of whom – including Fenianos, Khalil and two other former senior government officials – were being prosecuted by the investigative Judge Tarek Bitar in connection with the case, who accused them of intentional killing and negligence.
On top of that, as reported by AP in September 2020, the United States Treasury had previously imposed sanctions on Fenianos and Khalil, alleging corruption and the provision of “material support” to the militant Hezbollah group.
Following the arrest warrants issued by Judge Bitar in 2021, former Minister Fenianos, in response, requested Bitar’s removal, citing “legitimate suspicion” regarding his handling of the case: a request joined by other politicians and security officials, as criticism and frustration from the victims’ families and rights groups have escalated due to the investigation’s two-year-long stall.
In The Region
The Syrian target: Twelve people, including five advisors to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were killed on Saturday in Damascus in an airstrike blamed on Israel, according to a toll provided on Sunday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, AFP reports. The Observatory told AFP that “Iran-aligned leaders” were meeting in the building where the strike happened, in the high-security neighborhood of Mazzeh, which is home to the United Nations’ headquarters and some embassies.
Iran’s IRGC has confirmed that five of its military advisers were killed in the strike, identified by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as Hojatollah Omidvar, Ali Aghazadeh, Hossein Mohammadi, Saeed Karimi and Mohammad Amin Samadi. The former, Hojatollah Omidvar – also known as Yousef Omidzadeh, Sardar Haj Sadiq Omidzadeh, Abu Sadegh and Haj Sadegh – is believed to be the Deputy intelligence chief of the Quds force in Syria, one of five branches of Iran’s IRGC. As a response, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said in a statement broadcast on state media that “the Islamic Republic will not leave the Zionist regime’s crimes unanswered.” Earlier, the foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Tehran would respond “at the appropriate time and place,” and condemned “an escalation in aggressive and provocative attacks” by Israel.
In recent weeks, after entering what it defined a ‘third phase’ of the conflict, Israel has faced accusations of escalating its attacks on key Iranian figures and their allies in Syria and Lebanon – raising concerns about the potential expansion of the Israel-Hamas war outside the besieged Gaza Strip. Within a month, Razi Mousavi, a high-ranking member of the IRGC’s al-Quds force, was assassinated near Damascus. Shortly thereafter, Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s second-in-command, was killed in a precise strike in Beirut’s southern suburb. Additionally, two members of the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) lost their lives in Baghdad, and Wissam Tawil, an official of Hezbollah’s al-Radwan force, was killed in southern Lebanon.
Iranian retaliation: Ballistic missiles were launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at locations in Idlib, Syria, and Erbil, northern Iraq, on Monday. The attack resulted in the destruction of a medical clinic in Taltita village, Idlib, and the death of Kurdish businessman Peshraw Dizayee, head of Falcon Security and Guarding Company, along with his 11-month-old daughter Jina and three other civilians in Erbil, according to a statement released early on Tuesday by the Security Council of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry justified the bombing, claiming Iran’s “legitimate right” to respond to security threats, after over 90 people lost their lives two weeks earlier during explosions targeting the fourth commemorative march for the late Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force, in Kerman, central Iran. The Revolutionary Guard stated that the targets were “gathering places of terrorist elements,” particularly ISIS, and a “major spy headquarters for the Mossad in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.”
While the United States defined the strikes as “reckless” and imprecise, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry Fuad Hussein condemned Iran’s actions in Erbil and announced plans to take legal measures, including recalling the Ambassador in Tehran, Naseer Abdul Mohsen, and filing a complaint with the UN Security Council. Calling the strikes a clear “violation of international law,” Hussein told CNN on Tuesday that there were no Mossad-affiliated centers operating in Erbil. “The Iranians don’t want to or cannot attack Israel. They search for victims around them, and so they attack Erbil,” he continued, adding that Iraqis are “paying the price” for Iran’s tensions with Israel.
In Pakistan: The Iranian retaliation did not spare neighboring Pakistan, where on Tuesday two children were killed after Teheran struck what it said was an “Iranian terrorist group” in the country, prompting an immediate response from Islamabad to pull its ambassador from Iran and block Tehran’s envoy from returning to Pakistan.
Islamabad accused Iran of violating Pakistani airspace, denouncing the attacks as a “violation of international law,” while Iranian state media said missiles targeted two bases of armed group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), blacklisted by Iran as a “terror” group, which, early in December, claimed responsibility for a police station attack in the Iranian town of Rask on the southeastern border province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which killed 11 Iranian security personnel. The attack was condemned by Pakistan.
“None of the nationals of the friendly and brotherly country of Pakistan were targeted by Iranian missiles and drones,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. Commenting on the threats received by Jaish al-Adl, he claimed that “the group has taken shelter in some parts of Pakistan’s Balochistan province,” adding that “we’ve talked with Pakistani officials several times on this matter.”
In response, on Thursday, Pakistan’s air force launched retaliatory air strikes on Iran, allegedly targeting fighters’ positions, which, according to the Iranian state media, killed at least nine people. Codenamed ‘Marg Bar Sarmachar’ (Death to Sarmachar) – from the local Baloch word meaning ‘fighter’ and used by armed groups operating in the cross-border region – the so-called operation resulted in the death of a “number of terrorists,” Pakistan said, without specifying how many people had been killed.
Thursday’s attack – which according to local sources took place some 20-50 km inside Iranian territory – was the first missile attack on Iranian soil since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, when the conflict ended leaving an estimated half a million people dead.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Pakistan’s charge d’affaires (the highest diplomatic position in the absence of an ambassador) in Tehran to “offer explanations” for the attacks, while, during a briefing released on Thursday morning, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Baloch stated that “we absolutely respect the territorial sovereignty of Iran, but cannot allow any action against us,” and that “Pakistan has the capacity to respond to any kind of military aggression.”
Iran and Pakistan have frequently had to navigate tensions along their 900 km-long volatile border. Al Jazeera realized a timeline of past instances of violence, some of which have soured the diplomatic relationship between the neighbors.
Reactions: Global reactions to the rising tensions at the Iran-Pakistan border did not wait to come, with world leaders calling for calm in the region.
To begin with, issuing a statement on Wednesday, Pakistan-neighboring India expressed high concerns and, ahead of Islamabad’s retaliatory strikes, the Ministry of External Affairs made clear India’s “uncompromising position of zero tolerance towards terrorism,” describing the deadly clashes as “a matter between Iran and Pakistan”.
In China, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said both Iran and Pakistan should “avoid actions that would lead to an escalation of tension,” in a moment where also Turkey called for calm, as – speaking at a news conference in Jordan – Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Turkey recommended that the sides do not escalate further and that calm should be restored as soon as possible.
Russia’s Foreign Minister issued a statement asking Pakistan and Iran to de-escalate tensions and to pursue diplomacy, calling “on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to resolve emerging issues exclusively through political and diplomatic means,” followed by EU spokesman Peter Stano, who commented the attacks as “of utmost concern for the European Union because they violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries, and they have also a destabilizing effect on the region.”
Last, the US State Department firmly condemned the Iranian missile strikes in Pakistan, as well as those in Iraq and Syria, denouncing Tehran of violating the “sovereign borders of three of its neighbors.”
The Houthi front: The United States has carried out new strikes against the Houthis in Yemen, targeting an anti-ship missile that was “ready to launch,” the US Middle East Military Command (CENTCOM) posted on X, stating that “at approximately 4 a.m. Sanaa time, US forces conducted airstrikes against a Houthi anti-ship missile that was aimed at the Gulf of Aden and ready to be launched.” “The missile posed a threat to merchant ships and US Navy vessels in the region. US forces therefore struck and destroyed it in self-defense,” it added, claiming that “this action will make international waters safer and more secure for the US Navy and merchant ships.”
The Houthis, who control most of Yemen, say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians under attack from Israel in Gaza; though, since last week, the US has been launching attacks on Houthi targets in the country already shattered by a decade-long civil war, returning the Iran-backed group to a list of what the United States consider terrorist organizations. After the US and UK have been carrying out a series of aggressions against Yemen, including strikes on the capital Sanaa and the coastal governorate of Hodeidah – raising global fears of a cycle of new escalations -, Mohammad al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi movement’s political bureau, declared that an inevitable response is coming, promising “unforeseen surprises” and predicting that a shift in rules of engagement will now oversee the Red Sea.
Meanwhile, Japanese shipping firm Nippon Yusen – the country’s biggest shipper by sales – announced it is rerouting all its vessels away from the Red Sea, citing the escalating security escalations in the area. On Tuesday, a spokesperson from the firm confirmed that they “have suspended navigation through the Red Sea by all ships we operate,” adding the decision was to “ensure the safety of crews.” The company, also known as NYK Line, has moreover instructed its vessels navigating near the Red Sea to wait in safe waters and is considering route changes, the spokesperson said – being the latest operator to cease traversing the key shipping corridor following an advisory from the Combined Maritime Forces to stay clear of the region.
Out of Gaza: Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief Wael Al Dahdouh left the Gaza Strip on Tuesday night to head to Qatar for medical treatment, after being wounded in an Israeli attack that killed his colleague and cameraperson Samer Abudaqa while reporting on the conflict. Al Dahdouh, who has been the face of Al Jazeera Arabic’s coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza, arrived in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Tuesday night, via Egypt.
“Just now, we welcomed our esteemed colleague, Wael Al Dahdouh, to Doha as he arrives to receive medical treatment,” Al Jazeera’s managing editor Mohamed Moawad posted on X. “Wael’s unwavering dedication during his coverage in Gaza, where he tragically lost his family, is a testament to his resilience and commitment. We stand united in support, offering our heartfelt wishes for his recovery and well-being.”
It is the first time that Al Dahdouh left the besieged enclave since the start of the conflict in early October: since then, he has faced immense personal loss, after he lost his wife Amna, son Mahmoud, daughter Sham and grandson Adam in October – when an Israeli air raid hit the home they were sheltering in at the Nuseirat refugee camp -, and earlier this month also his eldest son Hamza, journalist for Al Jazeera, was targeted by an Israeli missile strike in Khan Younis.
Despite experiencing profound personal tragedy, Al Dahdouh has not only provided solace to his family, friends, and colleagues – but has also persevered in front of the cameras, reporting with unwavering determination on the dire situation in Gaza. In an interview with US broadcaster NBC on Sunday, he acknowledged the high cost but emphasized the lack of alternatives. He stated, “at the end of the day, we ask ourselves, ‘What is the other option?’ We sit in our homes, waiting for missiles to land. Leave this job, give up this humanitarian message that we delivered? This is definitely not an option,” highlighting his commitment to his role and credibility despite the challenges.
Only in Gaza, nearly 100 journalists have been killed since October. Data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shows that more journalists were killed in the first 10 weeks of the conflict than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year.
What they left: On Monday, the Israeli army pulled back its 36th Division from the Gaza Strip, allowing for rest and training amidst an ongoing and lethal offensive in the Palestinian enclave. Israeli Army Radio reported that, despite the withdrawal of one division, three other divisions will continue to operate in Gaza as part of the ongoing military campaign, including the significant 98th division in the central Strip, along with special forces. Although the specific troop numbers are undisclosed, each division consists of multiple brigades, potentially comprising thousands of soldiers.
Interpreted as a component of the Israeli army’s preparations for a prolonged conflict in the Gaza Strip, this strategic shift was criticized by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who argued that a “rocket barrage” launched from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday morning serves as evidence that the occupation of the Gaza Strip is necessary for achieving the combat objectives.
This dissent highlights the growing divisions among lawmakers regarding the ongoing military offensive in the besieged enclave. In fact, while some far-right politicians are advocating for a full re-occupation of the Gaza Strip, potentially including the return of Jewish settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing pressure from the United States to involve the Palestinian Authority prominently, has recently stated that Israel has “no intention of permanently occupying Gaza.”
At the same time, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has indicated that the “intensive maneuvering stage” of Israel’s military offensive in northern and southern Gaza is nearing its end. The military is actively working to eliminate pockets of resistance in northern Gaza through a combination of raids, airstrikes, special operations, and additional activities. Originally planned to last about three months after the October 7 attacks, Gallant underscored the military’s flexibility to adapt operations based on evolving circumstances on the ground and intelligence assessments. Saying that there is no “complete solution” to the pockets of Hamas resistance that have so far withstood the Israeli offensive in northern Gaza, Gallant highlighted that there is still fighting, as already on Tuesday several Israeli tanks returned to areas they had previously withdrawn from, and fighting intensified to levels not seen since before the new year, as Reuters reported.
Another border: A fire exchange took place on Monday night on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip near the al-Awja crossing point, known in Israel as Nitzana, an Egyptian army spokesperson said on Tuesday, adding that it had foiled a drug trafficking attempt. The statement claimed one person to be killed and six arrested, while Israel said one of its troops was “slightly injured” in the gunfire.
Various forms of smuggling are prevalent in the Sinai Peninsula, often traversing the Philadelphi Corridor – a 14-kilometre stretch under Egyptian control along the southern border of the Gaza Strip, which Israel has been trying to take under its full control. Historically, the Philadelphi Corridor has been pivotal for Hamas’ strength, facilitating weapon smuggling through underground tunnels: activities that Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has made efforts to thwart, aligning in part with Israeli security interests.
Since the outbreak of the war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emphasized the need to shut this crucial border area between Gaza and Egypt, the only part of the border with the Palestinian enclave that is still not fully under the Israeli army’s control – and where the Rafah crossing is located -, suggesting Israel’s intent to control all access to the post-war Gaza Strip.
Testing the delicate balance with Egypt, which has publicly rejected Israel’s desire to control the corridor while implementing its own security measures, the episode sheds light on Israel’s strategic issue of dominating the border zone, questioning Cairo’s sovereignty over a zone established under the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, whose control was ceded to Egyptian and Palestinian authorities after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the enclave in 2005.
With conditions: The European Parliament on Thursday called for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, but on condition that all Israeli hostages be released immediately and Hamas dismantled.
This non-binding resolution received support from 312 lawmakers, while 131 voted against it, and 72 abstained. Within the 27-nation EU, there has been difficulty in establishing a unified stance on the conflict, with some countries like Germany strongly supporting Israel and others taking a more pro-Palestinian stance. These divisions were evident in the European Parliament, where the center-right European People’s Party initially opposed an unconditional cease-fire, arguing that it could limit Israel’s right to self-defense.
Putting the two-state solution back on track, in the resolution MEPs called for “an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories” and stressed that “Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law,” as well as strongly condemning “the rise in extremist settler violence committed against Palestinians” and calling for “EU restrictive measures to be imposed on extremist settlers violating human rights and international law.” In addition, the European Parliament underlined its strong support for the International Criminal Court’s and International Court of Justice’s work, and called for “those responsible for terrorist acts and for violations of international law to be held to account,” citing the taking of hostages and deliberate attacks on civilians as “serious violations of international law.”
What We’re Reading
Multidimensional poverty: Lebanon’s political and economic crisis has resulted in widespread poverty, collapsing public services, growing community tensions, as well as global food and fuel crises. NOW’s Maan Barazy explored the heavy legacy of 2023 on the country’s fragile economic, educational, health and social sectors.
Beyond the noise: Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail revealed for NOW the intricate interplay of diplomacy and power in the Middle East’s current geopolitical landscape, from Hamas’s aggression, Israeli military responses, to Houthi attacks, and the ensuing military reactions – showing that what appears as disorder is, in reality, a complex dance of diplomatic manoeuvring and strategic recalibrations.
Regional escalation: Interviewing Lebanese analyst Imad Salamey and Lebanese journalist and analyst Ali Al Amin, NOW’s Dana Hourany analysed the multiple fronts of Iran’s influence in the region amidst complex geopolitical dynamics, anticipating possible post-war scenarios of Iran’s allies – the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hashed Al Shaabi in Iraq – receiving increased financial and military support and emerging politically strengthened.
On January 18, Anthony Tawil and Cedric Kayem released a special episode of their Maabar, an on-going podcast series tracing the modern history of Lebanon through the stories of those who have lived it. Cutting across two genres -oral history and documentary – the cascade of stories paints a people-centred, multi-perspective view of what took place and the meanings they carry. In their last release ‘Do It For The Picture’ they immersed themselves in the Civil War through the compelling experiences of war photographers and journalists.