syria AND bombing
2021
2022
2023
2024
2023-12-12
  • ![A wrecked car is pictured in a cordoned off area in Holon, Israel on 11 December](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/E90A/production/_131985695_holonstrikeviareuters.jpg)Image source, Reuters Image caption, Holon in central Israel was hit by a rocket attack on 11 December **Israel is on holiday. Schools are out, and away from the frontline areas the shopping centres are full. Cake shops are bursting with the doughnuts that Jews like to eat during Hanukkah, the current religious festival.** It is different the closer you get to the fighting. Along the Gaza border, the area known by Israelis as the "envelope", tanks and troops are moving, civilians are mostly elsewhere and it looks like a war zone. In the north, along the border with Lebanon, communities have also been evacuated and the military continues to exchange fire with Iran's strongest ally, Hezbollah. But casual visitors might be able to deceive themselves that life has somehow returned to "normal" in central Israel, the broad swathe of land between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A sharp reminder of how wrong that impression would be came as I drove down to Tel Aviv. The air raid sirens started, and the red alert app Israelis have on their phones sent out warnings as cars swerved onto the hard shoulder so the people inside could stop to take cover. Other drivers accelerated to speed out of the area. In the confusion, three cars managed to crash into each other. We pulled over as a group of women left their car and held each other in a tight, terrified embrace. Overhead, vapour trails from the Iron Dome anti-missile system arched towards the rockets coming from Gaza, loud explosions cracking across a deep blue sky as they downed most of the projectiles. One man was injured, in Holon, just off the highway. The fact that Hamas can still attack Israel is more proof that it is not beaten. The response of the motorists shows the depth of the trauma Hamas has inflicted on Israel, which is without doubt good news for the leaders of Hamas. Israel believes they are somewhere under Gaza, in some part of the tunnel system. "First of all, forget everything you thought you knew about Israel before 7 October. It's all changed," Amos Yadlin, a retired major-general said as we set up for an interview in his office in Tel Aviv, overlooking Israel's defence ministry. Mr Yadlin was a veteran fighter pilot who retired as head of Israeli military intelligence. We decided to interview him to get an idea of Israel's war strategy. In the end everything he said was just as interesting for what it said about mood in Israel. Mr Yadlin repeatedly compared Israel's fight against Hamas to World War Two. He was defending the huge number of killings by Israel of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and making the point that eliminating Hamas was vital for Israel's future. In a reference to the destruction of Dresden in Germany by the RAF in 1945, Mr Yadlin said: "You bombed Dresden with 120,000 people, killed women, children. We are trying to avoid this collateral damage. We ask them to leave. We ask them to go to the southern part of Gaza." I reminded him that Israel was also bombing the areas they had told Palestinians would be safe. Mr Yadlin insisted Israel was bombing Hamas, not civilians. "No, we didn't bomb them. We bombed the Hamas targets. Only Hamas targets and Hamas uses them as a human shield." Image caption, Israel's war with Hamas is now in its ninth week He dismissed criticisms by the Biden administration in the US that Israel was killing too many Palestinian civilians. He said Israel was more careful about avoiding civilian casualties than the US and UK had been when they were bombing jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. His interpretation is not shared by former generals involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A senior British officer told me he was appalled by Israel's disdain for the laws of war that mandate the protection of civilians. He said it would not be allowed in the British army. Amos Yadlin, who still advises his successors in the Israeli military, believes Israel needs more time to reach its ambitious objectives in Gaza. It wants to rescue its hostages, kill the leaders of Hamas, annihilate it as a military formation that can threaten Israelis and destroy its capacity to govern. I pointed out that even though the US had vetoed the latest ceasefire resolution it was signalling that Israel had weeks not months to finish what it wanted to do. "It is not enough to achieve the goal," said Mr Yadlin. "If there is a ceasefire without returning the rest of the hostages, there will be no ceasefire." Israel has an immensely powerful army and the backing of the US. But it is discovering that for all its deep conviction that it has no choice other than to destroy Gaza to eradicate Hamas, allies as well as critics are appalled by the way it has killed more than 18,000 Palestinians, of which perhaps half were children. Israel has also discovered, as the Americans and others warned, that fighting a determined and prepared enemy in a built-up area is one of the hardest military jobs. As Amos Yadlin indicated, though, the Israelis look determined to push through the criticism to reach their objectives. After that comes the thorny issue about the governance and reconstruction of Gaza. Mr Yadlin said there would be no long Israeli occupation of Gaza, but if the current leadership's determination to control the strip for the foreseeable future does not change, occupation looks certain. * [Israel-Gaza war](/news/topics/c2vdnvdg6xxt) * [Israel](/news/topics/c302m85q5ljt) * [Hamas](/news/topics/cnx753jen5zt)
2023-12-23
  • ![](https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://arc-anglerfish-washpost-prod-washpost.s3.amazonaws.com/public/KOTNZIMHUVBHJEMRENO52LGBGM_size-normalized.png&high_res=true&w=2048) Data from the United Nations shows damage and destruction around al-Rantisi Hospital in northern Gaza. (MAXAR/The Washington Post) The Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip has been unlike any other in the 21st century. In response to the unprecedented assault by Hamas on [Oct. 7](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/10/07/israel-gaza-hamas-attack-palestinians/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template), Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion that began 20 days later have destroyed large swaths of the besieged territory, killed at least 20,057 people and displaced a vast majority of the population. The most ferocious attacks have come from the air, flattening entire city blocks and cratering the landscape. The Washington Post analyzed satellite imagery, airstrike data and U.N. damage assessments, and interviewed more than 20 aid workers, health-care providers, and experts in munitions and aerial warfare. The evidence shows that Israel has carried out its war in Gaza at a pace and level of devastation that likely exceeds any recent conflict, destroying more buildings, in far less time, than were destroyed during the Syrian regime’s battle for Aleppo from 2013 to 2016 and the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in 2017. The Post also found that the Israeli military has conducted repeated and widespread airstrikes in proximity to hospitals, which are supposed to receive [special protection under the laws of war](https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v1/rule28?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template). Satellite imagery reviewed by Post reporters revealed dozens of apparent craters near 17 of the 28 hospitals in northern Gaza, where the bombing and fighting were most intense during the first two months of war, including 10 craters that suggested the use of bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, the largest in regular use. “There’s no safe space. Period,” said Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who visited Gaza on Dec. 4. “I haven’t passed one street where I didn’t see destruction of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.” [Press Enter to skip to end of carousel](https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2023/israel-war-destruction-gaza-record-pace/#end-react-aria4696160058-1) End of carousel The war has wounded more than 53,320 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 7,700 Palestinian children have been killed, and women and children make up around 70 percent of the dead, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which also says that 1.9 million people have been displaced, equivalent to 85 percent of the population. The vast majority of Gazan civilians fleeing the invasion are not allowed by Israel and Egypt to leave. “The scale of Palestinian civilian deaths in such a short period of time appears to be the highest such civilian casualty rate in the 21st century,” said Michael Lynk, who served as the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories from 2016 to 2022. In a reply to questions from The Post, the Israel Defense Forces sent a statement saying: “In response to Hamas’ barbaric attacks, the IDF is operating to dismantle Hamas military and administrative capabilities. In stark contrast to Hamas’ intentional attacks on Israeli men, women and children, the IDF follows international law and takes feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm.” Soon after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, Israeli military leaders signaled their intent to retaliate with widespread devastation. On Oct. 10, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant [told troops](https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/gallant-israel-moving-to-full-offense-gaza-will-never-return-to-what-it-was/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) he had “released all the restraints” and that “Gaza will never return to what it was.” The same day, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari [said](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/10/right-now-it-is-one-day-at-a-time-life-on-israels-frontline-with-gaza?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) that “while balancing accuracy with the scope of damage, right now we’re focused on what causes maximum damage.” In a little over two months, Israeli air forces fired more than 29,000 air-to-ground munitions, 40 to 45 percent of which were unguided, [according to a recent assessment](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/12/14/israel-unguided-dumb-bombs-gaza/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The bombing rate has been about two and a half times as high as the peak of the U.S.-led coalition’s effort to defeat the Islamic State, which [at its height fired](https://airwars.org/research/coalition-air-released-munitions-in-iraq-and-syria-2014-2020/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) 5,075 air-to-ground munitions across both Iraq and Syria in one month, according to data from the research and advocacy group Airwars. “There’s no safe space. Period.” — Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross One hallmark of the 21st century’s most indiscriminate air campaigns, as in Syria and Ukraine, has been the bombing of hospitals, which cannot be attacked under the laws of war unless they are actively being used to “commit acts harmful to the enemy.” The Israeli military made no secret of its view that Gaza’s hospitals were military targets. “Hamas systematically exploits hospitals as a key part of its war machine,” Hagari, the military spokesman, [said](https://www.idf.il/en/mini-sites/hamas-israel-war-23/briefings-by-idf-spokesperson-rear-admiral-daniel-hagari/november-press-briefings/press-briefing-by-idf-spokesperson-rear-admiral-daniel-hagari-november-5th-15-45/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) on Nov. 5. “We will not accept Hamas’s cynical use of hospitals to hide their terror infrastructure.” By Dec. 14, Israeli bombardment and fighting had forced the closure of more than two thirds of the 28 hospitals identified by The Post in northern Gaza. Story continues below advertisement Story continues below advertisement As Israel’s military campaign went on, satellite imagery reviewed by The Post showed how heavy strikes around Gaza’s hospitals destroyed entire neighborhoods, wrecked infrastructure and displaced civilians, often making it impossible for hospitals to function. To assess destruction around hospitals, The Post analyzed U.N. Satellite Center data in areas within 180 meters — the distance at which the smallest commonly used bombs, weighing 250 pounds, can cause enough damage to make a building uninhabitable, and the largest, weighing 2,000 pounds, can damage a structure beyond repair, according to a report by Armament Research Services commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The data showed that Israel’s bombardment and other fighting had damaged structures within 180 meters of all of northern Gaza’s 28 hospitals. Hospitals with damage within 180m ![](https://gfx-data.news-engineering.aws.wapo.pub/ai2html/Gaza_alQuds/BKWS3IDLHFGQHEHHLGYVCMVEP4/Gaza_HospitalDamage-xxsmall.jpg?v=6) Hospitals with damaged structures within 180m Severely/moderately damaged Satellite © Google Earth 2023 ![](https://gfx-data.news-engineering.aws.wapo.pub/ai2html/Gaza_alQuds/BKWS3IDLHFGQHEHHLGYVCMVEP4/Gaza_HospitalDamage-xsmall.jpg?v=6) Hospitals with damaged structures within 180m Severely/moderately damaged Satellite © Google Earth 2023 ![](https://gfx-data.news-engineering.aws.wapo.pub/ai2html/Gaza_alQuds/BKWS3IDLHFGQHEHHLGYVCMVEP4/Gaza_HospitalDamage-medium.jpg?v=6) Hospitals with damaged structures within 180m Severely/moderately damaged Satellite © Google Earth 2023 Across northern Gaza, visual evidence and other accounts showed how Israeli forces shot at, bombed, besieged and raided hospitals. Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital, Gaza’s only cancer treatment center, shut down on Nov. 1 after nearby airstrikes. At least four cancer patients died afterward, [according](https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/turkey-ready-take-cancer-patients-shut-gaza-hospital-2023-11-02/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template#:~:text=The%20health%20ministry%20in%20Gaza,Gaza%2C%20being%20out%20of%20service.) to the health ministry. Al-Rantisi Hospital, the only hospital with a pediatric cancer ward, evacuated on Nov. 10 along with three nearby hospitals after being struck on Nov. 5 and surrounded by Israeli troops days later. Four premature babies left behind on breathing machines at one of the hospitals [would later be found dead](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/03/gaza-premature-babies-dead-nasr/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template). Video shot by a journalist in the parking lot of al-Awda Hospital showed nearby strikes filling the air with dust and smoke and raining debris down on ambulances. Debris falls and fire explodes after an airstrike hits near Al-Awda Hospital in North Gaza, video posted to Telegram on Nov. 9 shows. (Feras al-Ajrami/Instagram) Indonesian Hospital [evacuated on Nov. 22](https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/world/patients-from-gazas-indonesian-hospital-evacuate-south/2023/11/23/9f336a79-7438-4f02-a62d-97a84f09ceb1_video.html?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template), three days after artillery fire struck the hospital and killed 12 people. Israeli raids on Kamal Adwan Hospital over several days in mid-December resulted in the hospital’s “effective destruction” and the death of at least eight patients, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus [tweeted](https://twitter.com/DrTedros/status/1736450549564768742?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) on Dec. 17. In Gaza City, Israeli strikes destroyed much of the neighborhood surrounding al-Quds Hospital, operated by the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Israeli forces pushing toward the center of the city fought with Hamas in the vicinity, and [videos posted](https://twitter.com/PalestineRCS/status/1716224980491374908?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) by the PRCS showed the impact of heavy nearby strikes. On Nov. 12, the hospital [ceased operating](https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/palestine-red-crescent-announces-al-quds-hospital-out-service-enar?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template). Damage within 180m of al Quds Hospital ![](https://gfx-data.news-engineering.aws.wapo.pub/ai2html/Gaza_alQuds/BKWS3IDLHFGQHEHHLGYVCMVEP4/Gaza_alQuds-xxsmall.jpg?v=6) Severely/moderately damaged Satellite © Maxar Technologies 2023 ![](https://gfx-data.news-engineering.aws.wapo.pub/ai2html/Gaza_alQuds/BKWS3IDLHFGQHEHHLGYVCMVEP4/Gaza_alQuds-xsmall.jpg?v=6) Severely/moderately damaged Satellite © Maxar Technologies 2023 ![](https://gfx-data.news-engineering.aws.wapo.pub/ai2html/Gaza_alQuds/BKWS3IDLHFGQHEHHLGYVCMVEP4/Gaza_alQuds-medium.jpg?v=6) Severely/moderately damaged Satellite © Maxar Technologies 2023 “What we have been witnessing is a campaign that was planned, it was a plan, definitely, to close down all the hospitals in the north,” said Léo Cans, head of mission for Palestine with Doctors Without Borders. There have been 239 attacks on health-care workers, vehicles and facilities in Gaza that have killed 570 people since the war started, the WHO said on Dec. 13. The IDF has published videos and images that show weapons and other military items, which it said were found in multiple hospitals. Underneath al-Shifa Hospital, Israeli troops excavated a tunnel with multiple empty rooms, alleging that they had been used by Hamas. The military said Hamas fighters there and elsewhere had fled before Israeli troops arrived and taken materiel with them. None of the [evidence](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/21/al-shifa-hospital-gaza-hamas-israel/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template) was possible to verify independently, because Israel does not allow journalists to enter Gaza except on strictly guided tours. “What we have been witnessing is a campaign that was planned.” — Léo Cans, head of mission for Palestine with Doctors Without Borders “Only the current misuse of the hospital deprives it of its protection, but if that misuse ends, that protection is restored,” said Adil Haque, an international law expert and Rutgers University professor. If there were a tunnel or underground structure beneath the hospital, and troops weren’t sure what was inside them, any doubts should “caution in favor of restraint,” he added. Story continues below advertisement Story continues below advertisement The satellite imagery reviewed by The Post revealed other evidence of how hospitals had come under attack: large craters close to hospitals, many of them bearing the telltale characteristics of large, airdropped bombs. The Post reviewed nearly 100 satellite images taken between Oct. 8 and Dec. 10 and found about three dozen apparent craters within 180 meters of 17 of the 28 hospitals in northern Gaza. At The Post’s request, five satellite imagery analysts reviewed images of each crater large enough to suggest the use of a bomb weighing 2,000 pounds or more. While The Post’s findings represent a conservative undercount of the actual number of bombs dropped near Gaza’s hospitals, the imagery shows that hardly a hospital in the north has been left untouched. Officials at humanitarian and health-care organizations with lengthy experience in major conflict zones said Israel’s war in Gaza was the most devastating they had seen. Tom Potokar, a chief surgeon with the International Committee of the Red Cross working in Gaza for the 14th time, said explosive injuries were responsible for all the wounds he and his colleagues at European Hospital in southern Gaza had been treating. Many patients had necrotic wounds requiring amputation due to the lack of supplies and equipment at battered and besieged hospitals in the north. “For me, personally, this is without a doubt the worst I’ve seen,” said Potokar, who has worked during conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Ukraine. Story continues below advertisement Story continues below advertisement Zaher Sahloul, the president of MedGlobal and a doctor who worked in Aleppo during the battle for the city, said he believed that “what’s happening right now in Gaza is beyond any disaster that I’ve witnessed at least in the last 15 years or so.” Sahloul estimated it will take decades to rebuild the health-care infrastructure destroyed in Gaza and the knowledge and expertise of the scores of doctors and other health-care workers who have been killed. Preliminary data provided to The Post by Airwars suggested that strikes in Gaza were killing civilians at twice the rate of the U.S.-led campaign in Raqqa. Emily Tripp, the director of Airwars, said that the data they provided The Post represented “just a fraction” of the strikes they were currently researching in Gaza, which averaged about 200 strikes per week. In Airwars’s 10 years of work, Tripp said, the group had never documented more than about 250 civilian casualty strikes per month in any conflict. “Make no mistake — U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria, especially in densely populated cities like Mosul and Raqqa, caused devastating civilian harm and destruction,” said Annie Shiel, the U.S. advocacy director at the Center for Civilians in Conflict. “But what we are seeing in Gaza, the level of death and destruction in this relatively short period of time, is absolutely staggering in comparison. Nowhere is safe for civilians.” “For me, personally, this is without a doubt the worst I’ve seen.” — Tom Potokar, a chief surgeon with the International Committee of the Red Cross Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a former high-ranking military lawyer who was responsible for advising Israeli commanders, said that Israel is currently facing “the biggest threat to its existence” from enemies determined to destroy it. Hamas made Gaza a “fortified military area” and operates from within civilian structures, she said, adding that “Hamas’s strategy of using civilians as shields means that attacking its military capabilities leads to unfortunate yet inevitable civilian casualties.” When Israeli commanders weigh civilian harm against military advantage when deciding whether to strike, she said, the “level of threat posed by Hamas \[to Israel\] is a legitimate component of evaluating the military advantage.” Several humanitarian workers interviewed by The Post noted that Israel’s campaign in Gaza, and its destruction of hospitals and homes, will likely create additional suffering, such as hunger, lack of shelter and the spread of communicable diseases, that could eventually kill more people than the bombs and fighting. Sahloul said he believed the only explanation for so many attacks on civilian sites, which should have been protected by the laws of war, was that such attacks were intentional. “People in Syria told me they can tolerate bombs and missiles, but if there’s no doctors in town and no hospitals, they usually leave,” he said. “So I would have to assume that if it is intentional, the goal is to force the population to leave. And when they leave, they don’t come back.” The quality of satellite imagery, irregular coverage and even the angle of a satellite’s camera can all affect the ability to identify clear craters. In some cases, craters could be located but not conclusively attributed to a specific munition or payload size. In other cases, damage from the air campaign was clear, but craters were not visible. The Post relied on a conservative assessment of what is and is not a crater and asked multiple experts to review any crater found in within 180 meters of a hospital in northern Gaza that had diameter of at least 40 feet, or 12.1 meters. Any crater with a diameter greater than 11.7 meters found in light soil like Gaza’s, experts said, suggests a bomb weighing 2,000 pounds or more could have been used. To account for inconsistencies in measurements, The Post relied on the slightly larger, 40-foot diameter. The Post focused its analysis on this size because a 2,000-pound bomb dropped 180 meters away could damage a building beyond repair. At 90 meters, that same munition could destroy a building. Only craters that experts agreed on with high confidence were included in this report. Experts cautioned The Post against ascribing particular damage to particular craters, as the amount of damage caused by a bomb can vary widely, especially in a dense urban environment. Damage depends on nearby structures, building materials, the soil, whether a bomb has been set to explode above or below ground, and other factors. Experts also noted that even the largest munitions can be employed to ensure that nearby civilian infrastructure is not damaged or is minimally affected when they explode. But even then, large munitions have inherent characteristics that can only be mitigated to a certain degree, making collateral-damage assessments done before the munition is used key to avoiding civilian harm, they said. ##### About this story Louisa Loveluck in London, Claire Parker in Cairo, Jonathan Baran in San Francisco, and Cate Brown and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report. Design and development by Junne Alcantara and Irfan Uraizee.
2023-12-25
  • ![Pope Francis delivers his Christmas Day message (25/12/23)](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/1330C/production/_132140687_rtrpope5cf298a34f5a388a66e85354805e4943cb599cb40_388_3394_19111000x563.jpg)Image source, Reuters Image caption, The Pope lamented the civilian victims of the Israel -Gaza war **The Pope has called for an end to the war in Gaza and for the freeing of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.** In his traditional Christmas Day message, Pope Francis also called for more aid to Gaza in order to solve a "desperate humanitarian situation". The war between Israel and Hamas began on 7 October, when Hamas gunmen attacked Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostage. More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombing, Hamas says. Speaking to thousands of worshippers gathered at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, the Pope lamented violence against Israelis and Palestinians. "I bear in my heart the sorrow of the victims of the abominable attack of 7 October and I reiterate my urgent appeal for the liberation of those still being held hostage. "I plead for an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims, and I call for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid," he said. Israel says 132 people are still being held hostage in Gaza after others were released, and one rescued. Turning to other conflicts across the world, the Pope also called for "peace for Ukraine", where the war with Russia has been going on for nearly two years. He also said that he prayed "that political and social stability will soon be attained" in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, countries rocked by years of war and unrest. Pope Francis expressed his wish for peaceful solutions for other troublespots, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, parts of Africa and North and South Korea. He also spoke up for millions of migrants around the world, highlighting those killed "in odysseys undertaken in desperation and in search of hope", calling them "the little Jesuses of today". * [Christmas](/news/topics/c630drz91jyt) * [Vatican City](/news/topics/c8nq32jwjjmt) * [Pope Francis](/news/topics/cdl8n2edgr5t) * [Christianity](/news/topics/cvl7md487j8t)
2024-01-03
  • A pair of explosions on Wednesday at a memorial for Iran’s former top general, Qassim Suleimani, killed at least 103 people and wounded an additional 211, according to Iranian officials, sowing fear in a country where domestic unrest and the prospect of a spiraling regional war have left many on edge. Iranian officials told state media that a pair of bombs had been placed in bags along the road toward a cemetery in the city of Kerman, and exploded as a vast procession of people made their way there to commemorate the fourth anniversary of General Suleimani’s death. The architect of the axis of regional militias backed by Iran’s hard-line government, he was killed in an American drone strike. The attack in Iran on Wednesday led to finger-pointing, confusion and speculation after no group took responsibility. Many Iranians, already disenchanted by their leaders, were outraged that the authorities had failed to provide adequate security for an event attended by thousands of people. Officials in the government blamed the two countries Tehran has long cast as archenemies, Israel and the United States. International intelligence experts and analysts said the attack bore the hallmarks of terrorist groups, not of Israel. Iranian officials said the roadside bombs appeared to have been detonated via remote control. “I heard the explosion 25 meters away from me,” a male witness to the bombing told the local Rah-e-Arman-e-Kerman News Agency. “On the ground, there were all women and children like withered flowers.” Videos posted on social media and verified by The New York Times show people screaming and running away as smoke rises southwest of the cemetery. Videos also show civilians carrying injured people on stretchers and ambulances driving through the crowds that had gathered along a road near the site. “God help us — everyone is killed,” some of the wounded, bloodied in the attack, can be heard screaming. The attack came at a time of heightened anxiety in Iran and across the region. For years, Sunni terrorist organizations including the Islamic State have conducted attacks on civilians across the Middle East, from Iraq to Lebanon to Afghanistan, but in Iran, there have been only a handful over the past 20 years. Then on Oct. 7, the Iranian-backed group then in control of Gaza, Hamas, led an attack on Israel that killed an estimated 1,200 people, and the Israeli military invaded. The war has laid ruin to Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and killed more than 20,000 people, the majority of them women and children, according to health officials there. Two other Iranian allies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, have opened multiple fronts against Israel, disrupting international shipping and escalating the threat of a regional war. So far, Iran has not gotten directly involved in the war. In late December, Israel assassinated a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander who was in charge of procuring weapons for Hezbollah and Syrian militants. Then on Tuesday, a senior Hamas official who was a close liaison with Iran and Hezbollah was killed in a Beirut, Lebanon, suburb dominated by Hezbollah. In the aftermath of the attack in Kerman, two people closely affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards and familiar with internal debates among Iranian decision makers say, the country’s military and political leaders quickly decided to hold Israel responsible for the bombings. Even if a terrorist or opposition group claims responsibility for the attacks, they said, Iran would insist Israel had a hand in it. That assessment contrasted sharply with the analysis by U.S. intelligence agencies, according to three American officials. Early assessments indicate that Israel was not involved, the officials said. The bombing, analysts said, bore the hallmarks of Islamist terrorism. It was also not in keeping with Israel’s usual methods when striking Iran, said Ali Vaez, the Iran project director at Crisis Group. While Israel has regularly carried out covert operations in Iran, they have been targeted against specific individuals, like Iranian scientist or officials, or at nuclear or weapons facilities. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a statement blaming the attack on Iran’s “malicious and criminal enemies,” though he stopped short of naming any group or country. Mr. Khamenei vowed that Iran’s enemies should know that “this tragedy will have a strong response.” Both Iran’s president and the deputy head of Parliament were more pointed in their accusations. “We tell the criminal America and Zionist regime that you will pay a very high price for the crimes you have committed and will regret it,” said President Ebrahim Raisi. The deputy Parliament head, Mojataba Zolnouri, said that it was “clear from the style of the attacks that it is the Zionist regime,” and that “the Islamic Republic holds the right to response, but will determine the time, date and place of revenge itself.” The calls for retribution notwithstanding, the two people familiar with Iran’s internal discussions said that Ayatollah Khamenei has been more cautious, instructing military commanders to pursue “strategic patience” and avoid getting Iran into a direct military confrontation with the United States at all costs. The people said he had ordered the military to limit retaliation to covert operations against Israel or proxy militia attacks on U.S. bases in Syria and Iraq. Mr. Khamenei, they said, views the recent assassinations of an Iranian commander in Syria, the Hamas official in Beirut and the attacks in Kerman as a coordinated campaign by Israel to distract from the international outrage over the war in Gaza. Analysts said there were numerous possibilities for who might have attacked the cemetery, including Sunni Muslim terrorist organizations like the Islamic State or Iranian separatist groups. But whoever was behind the bombing, its human cost “has not been seen on this scale inside Iran,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. Just before the explosions in Kerman, videos show, a dense crowd of thousands were walking along a road lined with food and drink stalls and flags as a prayer from speakers. Then a huge blast rocked the area. The air filled with screams, and people scattered in all directions, videos showed. “Unfortunately, many of the injured people are in critical condition,” said Babak Yektaparast, a spokesman for the country’s emergency relief operations. He said all medical facilities in the province of Kerman were on standby to treat patients and emergency airplanes were being deployed for medical evacuations to hospitals in Tehran. Image![A crowd, mostly of women in black head scarves, one holding up a picture of Qassim Suleimani.](https://static01.nyt.com/images/2024/01/03/multimedia/03iran-blasts-add-plcb/03iran-blasts-add-plcb-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale) Mourners in Tehran in 2020 after the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who led the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ powerful Quds Force.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times Iran declared a national day of mourning for Thursday and emergency officials issued a call for blood donations. Iran’s interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, told state television that most of the casualties were from the second explosion, which followed the first by minutes and occurred as crowds gathered to help the wounded. A second, delayed explosion is a common tactic among terrorist groups. Mr. Vahidi said the city of Kerman was now under the control of security and military. Although terrorist attacks in Iran are rare, they are not unheard-of. In 2017, the Islamic State launched twin attacks in Tehran, killing 12 people in strikes on Parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini. In August and October of 2022, Islamic State gunmen raided a religious shrine in the city of Shiraz, opening fire on people praying and killing dozens. The explosions on Wednesday came four years to the week after the [American drone strike](https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/02/world/middleeast/qassem-soleimani-iraq-iran-attack.html) killed General Suleimani, the longtime commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ powerful Quds Force, at Baghdad airport. In life, General Suleimani was hailed in Iran and in parts of the wider region as a hero for [building](https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/obituaries/qassem-soleimani-dead.html) and arming a network of proxy militias to counter the influence of the United States and Israel across the Middle East. To this day, he continues to enjoy near-mythic status among pro-government Iranians. His funeral in 2020 drew more than a million mourners, according to official estimates. Every year, on the anniversary of his assassination, some Iranians hold processions and ceremonies in his honor. On Wednesday, some Iranians on social media were blaming the government and local security officials for failing to secure such a high-profile event. During the funeral ceremony for General Suleimani in 2020, a stampede along the same road as the explosions killed 60 people. Leily Nikounazar, Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
  • ![Photo released by Argentina's security ministry](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/0B2B/production/_132195820_gc6_autx0aale2d.jpg)Image source, Twitter/@PatoBullrich Image caption, Argentina's security minister released a blurred photo of one of the suspects **Police in Argentina have arrested three men from Lebanon and Syria suspected of planning a "terrorist act" in the South American country.** They had booked into a hotel near the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and were reportedly waiting for the arrival of a large parcel from Yemen. The city is currently hosting the Pan-American Maccabiah Games, which brings together thousands of Jewish athletes. Argentina is home to Latin America's largest Jewish community. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said the government had received information from the US and Israel about a potential threat to the Maccabiah Games. "Three people suspected of belonging to terrorist cells are being investigated," she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. Speaking to reporters, she said the three men were arrested on 30 December. "There was particular information which worried us, and that was that they had rented \[rooms\] in a hotel which is no more than two blocks from the Israeli embassy." She added that while the men had arrived on different flights "they are linked". The minister also said the suspects were waiting for a parcel to be delivered from Yemen. The security ministry described the parcel as "an international shipment" which it said weighed 35kg (77lb). They did not specify what the contents may have been. The Jewish community of Buenos Aires has been the target of two deadly bomb attacks in the past. In 1992, 29 people died when a suicide bomber drove a lorry loaded with explosives into the Israeli embassy. But the most deadly attack happened in 1994, when 85 people were killed in the bombing of the Amia Jewish cultural centre in the capital. Argentina accused Lebanon's Hezbollah of being behind both attacks, which the Islamist group denied. Security experts believe Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, has been active on the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Two months ago, Brazil said it had foiled an attack on its soil following the arrest in São Paulo of two men suspected of being linked to Hezbollah. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by the UK, the US, Argentina, Israel and Gulf Arab countries among others. * [Middle East](/news/world/middle_east) * [Argentina](/news/topics/c77jz3mdm3rt) * [Hezbollah](/news/topics/c8nq32jwj2lt)
2024-01-08
  • Soon after Hamas’s 7 October attack and Israel’s retaliatory bombing campaign in Gaza, pundits began debating the odds of escalation. For its part, the Biden administration has tried to prevent the fighting between Hamas and the [Israel](https://www.theguardian.com/world/israel) Defense Forces (IDF) from spreading to other areas of the Middle East, if only to spare the roughly 45,000 US troops based there from another ill-fated war. [ From Gaza to Ukraine, brute force threatens to triumph in 2024 ](https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/06/from-gaza-to-ukraine-brute-force-threatens-to-triumph-in-2024) “Escalation” lacks a singular meaning. For some, it connotes a vast increase in death and destruction after at least one warring party starts using weapons that are far more powerful than it had employed previously. For others, escalation refers to wars that spread because additional countries or armed groups decide to join the fighting. Israel’s war in Gaza has already escalated in both these respects, albeit only to a limited extent. The magnitude and scale of the firepower that the IDF has used in Gaza has increased substantially, even before its ground invasion began at the end of October. According to [a recent estimate](https://www.wsj.com/world/middle-east/gaza-destruction-bombing-israel-aa528542), 70% of Gaza’s homes and half of all other buildings are damaged or demolished. More than 22,000 residents have been killed and [85%](https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/12/israel-working-expel-civilian-population-gaza-un-expert-warns) have been displaced from their homes – and within 90 days. The magnitude of the devastation has prompted comparisons to the Allied bombing of [Dresden and Hamburg](https://www.ft.com/content/7b407c2e-8149-4d83-be01-72dcae8aee7b) during the second world war. The Israel-Hamas war has also expanded to other places. There are daily skirmishes along the Israel-Lebanon border between Israel and the Iran-aligned Shia militia Hezbollah. Approximately [150,000 people](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/world/middleeast/israel-lebanon-hezbollah-civilians.html) have fled northern Israel and southern Lebanon, and, despite American attempts at mediating a solution that would push Hezbollah further away from the border, the firefights [continue](https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-strike-on-southern-lebanon-takes-out-4-hezbollah-fighters-including-commander/). > The region’s major powers have not entered the fray. But there are plausible scenarios in which they could Furthermore, the IDF has been attacking Iranian proxies in Syrian-controlled territory, targeting [air defense systems](https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-hits-syrian-air-defence-base-southern-syria-intel-sources-2023-12-28/), weapons depots and even [senior Iranian generals](https://apnews.com/article/syria-israel-iran-irgc-damascus-airstrike-7ee8496d727ba69834002f0444515a36). In Yemen, the Houthis, another Iranian-linked militia, have attacked Red Sea shipping lanes more than two dozen times, prompting the US to create an international maritime coalition to maintain freedom of navigation and, along with 11 other nations, to [issue a warning](https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/01/03/a-joint-statement-from-the-governments-of-the-united-states-australia-bahrain-belgium-canada-denmark-germany-italy-japan-netherlands-new-zealand-and-the-united-kingdom/?utm_source=twitter): cease or face the consequences. Still, the region’s major powers have not entered the fray. But there are plausible scenarios in which they could. One involves an Iranian attack on Israel, perhaps in response to increasing IDF strikes against Hezbollah or an Israeli military strike in Syria that kills numerous advisers or officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Israel has [already killed](https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/article-780016) several IRGC officers since the war in Gaza began, including, on Christmas Day, [Sayyed Razi Mousavi](https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-air-strike-syria-kills-senior-iranian-revolutionary-guards-member-2023-12-25/), a general overseeing the supply of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. Another pathway to escalation is Iranian retaliation for an American attack on the Iran-backed, Yemen-based Houthis, an option that the Biden administration [has reportedly considered](https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/biden-officials-weigh-military-options-houthis-yemen-red-sea-rcna132179). Indeed, on 31 December, an American destroyer downed Houthi missiles that targeted a cargo ship in the Red Sea and then fired on Houthi boats that attacked the same vessel, killing the Houthi fighters onboard. However, incidents like these are not likely to compel [Iran](https://www.theguardian.com/world/iran) to take direct aim at Israel or American warships. Iranian leaders understand that Israel sees it as that country’s biggest threat and would retaliate in force if Iran made the reckless decision to target its territory. Plus, Iran could not exclude the possibility that the US would attack if Israel were bogged down in a two-front war. Above all else, Iranian leaders are rational actors concerned about preserving their state and will therefore avoid steps that could trigger a runaway spiral that drags their country into a war with Israel or the United States – one it would probably lose. > There’s no indication that pressure from ‘the street’ will force any major Arab country to intervene militarily to support Gazans The war could also spread if Israel attacked Iran in order to stop its support for [Hezbollah](https://www.theguardian.com/world/hezbollah), particularly if the latter launched a fusillade of rockets and missiles on Israeli cities and towns from southern Lebanon. But in practice, Hezbollah has chosen a middle-ground strategy, engaging in localized attacks against Israeli military posts along the border but nevertheless avoiding strikes on a scale that could cause significant Israeli casualties and lead to a full-scale war that Lebanon can’t absorb. And the IDF has demonstrated ample capacity to punish Hezbollah without having to take the drastic step of also striking Iran directly. The prospects of Arab countries entering the war are also slim. The huge death toll created by Israel’s relentless attacks on Gaza have produced outrage and sparked [demonstrations](https://carnegieendowment.org/2023/11/01/pay-attention-to-arab-public-response-to-israel-hamas-war-pub-90893%23:~:text=Protests%252520have%252520swept%252520across%252520the,assault%252520and%252520horrifying%252520living%252520conditions.) across the Arab world as well as [mounting opposition](https://carnegieendowment.org/2023/11/01/pay-attention-to-arab-public-response-to-israel-hamas-war-pub-90893%23:~:text=Protests%252520have%252520swept%252520across%252520the,assault%252520and%252520horrifying%252520living%252520conditions.) in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the normalization of relations (past or prospective) with Israel. Yet there’s no indication that pressure from “the street” will force any major Arab country to intervene militarily to support Gazans. Arab states want the war in Gaza to end as soon as possible, which direct Arab participation would probably prevent. Furthermore, some of these states, notably Egypt, have little sympathy for Hamas. The war in Gaza is certainly horrifying, but the risks of it escalating remains low, even if they cannot be ruled out entirely. * Rajan Menon is the director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities, a professor emeritus of international relations at the City College of New York, and a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies * Daniel R DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a syndicated foreign affairs columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Newsweek * _**Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our [letters](https://www.theguardian.com/tone/letters) section, please [click here](mailto:[email protected]?body=Please%20include%20your%20name,%20full%20postal%20address%20and%20phone%20number%20with%20your%20letter%20below.%20Letters%20are%20usually%20published%20with%20the%20author%27s%20name%20and%20city/town/village.%20The%20rest%20of%20the%20information%20is%20for%20verification%20only%20and%20to%20contact%20you%20where%20necessary.).**_
2024-01-14
  • We all woke on Friday to the news of [US/UK airstrikes](https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2024/jan/12/explosions-yemen-us-uk-launch-airstrikes-houthis-red-sea-attacks-video) on Yemen. Our TV screens were filled with images of RAF bombers taking off into a Mediterranean night sky, and seemingly random explosions briefly illuminating nameless, darkened landscapes, as in some slow-motion video game. But real strategic objectives are involved here, and real people: British and American pilots risking their lives, Yemenis on the ground beneath the bombs. It is a disconcertingly familiar set of images, evoking the US/UK/France bombing of [Syria in 2018](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/14/syria-air-strikes-us-uk-and-france-launch-attack-on-assad-regime), the British-French bombing of Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in [Libya in 2011](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/aug/25/libya-conflict-british-french-soldiers-rebels-sirte), and the “shock and awe” campaign in [Iraq in 2003](https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/mar/19/2003-iraq-invasion-legacy-west-international-law-ukraine). How did these end? Not so well. But nor did the one that didn’t happen: the proposed Obama-led US/UK/France airstrikes on Bashar al-Assad’s forces after they used chemical weapons against their own population in 2013. In August 2013, I was UK national security adviser. I vividly remember sitting in the basement of No 10 one sunny Saturday afternoon, listening to a Barack Obama phone call to David Cameron. The US proposition was limited: “surgical” airstrikes on Syrian government forces, if possible as soon as Sunday evening. But UN inspectors were still in [Syria](https://www.theguardian.com/world/syria), and the timetable slipped, creating time for national security council and cabinet discussions and, fatefully, the recall of parliament. > Some saw this a strategic tipping point from which the west has never recovered As the public records will eventually show, there was a proper process. The MoD and the military crawled over the US plans and targets and concluded that, far from shock and awe, the proposition was, if anything, too limited, too surgical, and an insufficiently tough signal to Assad. The FCO analysed the likely international reaction. The lawyers built the case for the action being consistent with international law. At the NSC, solemn-faced cabinet ministers spoke in turn: most supported, two sat on the fence. It was the antithesis of much-criticised “sofa government”. And yet, in the end, what was it worth? In the House of Commons, MPs voted to absolve their consciences over their support for the 2003 Iraq invasion and the [day was lost by 13 votes](https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/aug/30/cameron-mps-syria): the first time a British government had lost a vote on military action [since 1782](https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/01/how-cameron-lost-battle-syria-vote). A few days later, [Obama abandoned his plans](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/30/obama-strike-syria-britain-vote) for US airstrikes, settling for a deal involving Syrian promises to surrender their chemical weapons capability. Obama later asserted that was one of the best decisions he ever took: read [David Cameron’s autobiography](https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/22/for-the-record-david-cameron-review) for a sharply different view. The Assad government eventually won its civil war, at the cost of the comprehensive destruction of the country, while Russia and Iran extended their reach and influence. Some saw this as a strategic tipping point from which the west has never recovered. So, the historical precedents are discouraging. Interventions led to western forces getting bogged down in seemingly endless wars. Standing back surrendered territory and advantage to our enemies. Can the story be different this time? The case for action is strong. Some 15% of global trade passes through the Red Sea. [Houthi attacks](https://www.theguardian.com/business/2024/jan/11/global-trade-falls-houthi-attacks-merchant-ships-red-sea) might claim to single out shipping bound for Israeli ports, but the reality is that they are indiscriminate and target whoever is passing. And sending cargo vessels around the much longer Cape of Good Hope route adds hugely to shipping costs. According to Copenhagen-based shipping analyst Peter Sand, $1m worth of extra fuel per voyage. These extra costs surface at the shopping till and risk renewed inflation just as central banks are getting it under control. They would compound economic woes on both sides of the Atlantic. Biden’s ratings are under water in part because of widespread despair about the American economy, while the Conservatives are facing a headwind comprising low to non-existent growth, a cost of living crisis, high energy and mortgage costs and stubborn inflation. > Conservatives are facing a headwind comprising low to non-existent growth, a cost of living crisis, high energy and mortgage costs and stubborn inflation And surely two of the most powerful and advanced air forces in the world can see off some 20,000 [Houthi militia](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/12/yemen-houthi-rebels-who-are-they-what-attacking-us-uk-airstrikes-red-sea-crisis)? Well, maybe. The Saudis and Emiratis, with their expensive, western-supplied aircraft, spent seven years trying to bomb the Houthis into defeat and failed. US and UK airstrikes will certainly do substantial damage to Houthi capability, destroying radar stations, command and control centres and stocks of drones, missiles and helicopters. But they won’t get it all. The Iranians appear ready to pay for indefinite restocking. Some of the weapons of this particular war, such as drones and small, fast boats, are inexpensive and can be acquired in bulk. Yet, these weapons can do significant damage to large, expensive western vessels: we know from the Falklands how destructive a single missile can be. The 20-odd US warships in the eastern Mediterranean and Gulf will be costing billions. And the Americans know most of the shipping going through the Red Sea and Suez Canal is destined for European, not US, ports. All of which means that this is a high-risk operation, riven with uncertainty. Yet there is something old-fashioned, almost quixotic, about what Joe Biden and [Rishi Sunak](https://www.theguardian.com/politics/rishi-sunak) are doing. They may not realise it, but they are actually followers of the great 19th-century American naval strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, who wrote in his definitive work, _The Influence of Sea Power Upon History_: “Whoever rules the waves rules the world.” Moreover, they are standing up for the postwar world order. International law should prevail, western values should dominate, anarchy should be challenged, order be restored – and the sea lanes should be kept open. But in this age of the populist and the strongman, the political careers of Biden and Sunak hang by a thread. Both face elections within the next 12 months. Both are well behind in their opinion polls. This could be a turning point for one or the other. Or it could be the last gasp of the old order. I for one hope their intervention succeeds. Sir Kim Darroch was UK national security adviser from 2012-2015 and British ambassador to the US from 2016-2019 _**Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])**_
2024-01-16
  • ![Damaged building in Irbil, northern Iraq, following overnight Iranian ballistic missile strikes (16 January 2024)](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/D267/production/_132336835_gettyimages-1928404466.jpg)Image source, AFP Image caption, Authorities in Iraq's Kurdistan Region said four people were killed in the overnight strikes **The US has condemned Iran over ballistic missile attacks near Iraq's northern city of Irbil, calling them "a reckless and imprecise set of strikes".** Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they struck what they claimed were Israeli "spy headquarters" in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. Four people were killed and six wounded in Monday's attack, according to the Kurdistan Region Security Council. Iraq denounced the attacks, calling them a violation of its sovereignty. Israel's government has not commented on the Iranian claims. In a separate development, Kurdistan authorities said on Tuesday morning they had shot down three armed drones flying over Irbil airport, where US and international forces are stationed, Reuters reported. Authorities did not provide information on damage or casualties. The Iranian strikes come amid rising tensions in the region since the war between Israel the Iran-backed Palestinian group Hamas broke out in the Gaza Strip on 7 October. The conflict has increasingly started to spill over to involve militias allied to Iran operating in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. "We will continue to assess the situation, but initial indications are that this was a reckless and imprecise set of strikes," Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement. "The United States supports the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Iraq," she said, adding that no US personnel or facilities were targeted. Iran's Revolutionary Guards said that "one of the main Mossad espionage headquarters in Iraq's Kurdistan Region was destroyed with ballistic missiles". A statement said it was "in response to the recent atrocities of the Zionist regime". Image caption, Iraq's government condemned Iran's "aggression" on Irbil Iran has carried out missile attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan before, targeting what it said were sites used by Iranian separatist groups and agents of Israel. The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masrour Barzani, condemned the latest attack on Irbil as a "crime against the Kurdish people". A prominent businessman, Peshraw Dizayee, was among four civilians killed, Mr Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party said. The Revolutionary Guards also said they had targeted Islamic State (IS) group positions in Syria on Monday night. Explosions were heard in the north-western city of Aleppo and its countryside, where "at least four missiles that came from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea" fell, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said. The Revolutionary Guards said the strikes in Syria were in retaliation for this month's [suicide bombing that targeted crowds marking the anniversary](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67888283) of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani's assassination by the US. That attack in Kerman, in southern Iran, killed at least 94 people and wounded many more.
  • A deadly Iranian ballistic missile strike in northern Iraq on Tuesday drove a wedge — at least temporarily — between Baghdad and Tehran, adding to the already volatile and tense situation in the Middle East. The Iraqi government recalled its ambassador to Tehran and summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad to the Foreign Ministry after at least eight ballistic missiles launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps struck overnight in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, killing four civilians, including an 11-month-old girl. The strike came amid widespread fears that the devastating war in Israel could spiral into a more deadly confrontation. The war has already sparked a low-level regional conflict between Iranian proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and the United States and other Western powers. The United States, France and Britain denounced the latest Iranian attack, which shook Erbil and set off sirens at the United States Consulate and at the airport, which was forced to suspend flights. “They are contributing to the escalation of regional tensions and it must stop,” Catherine Colonna, France’s minister for Europe and foreign affairs, said in a statement, referring to Iran. Iran said the attack was retaliation for the suicide bombing this month that [killed 84 people](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/world/middleeast/us-isis-iran-general-suleimani.html?searchResultPosition=2) at a memorial procession for the revered Iranian military leader, [Qassim Suleimani](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/03/world/middleeast/who-is-qassim-suleimani.html). The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, and other Iranian missiles on Tuesday targeted Idlib, Syria, where the Islamic State still has a presence. Iran also said the strike in Kurdistan was aimed at Israeli operatives, whom it asserted had been in Iraq and had been involved in the bombing. Iraq’s national security adviser, Qassim Al-Araji, said that explanation was “baseless,” using some of the strongest language Baghdad has used against Iran, which has close political and military ties with the government in Tehran. “The house that was bombed belonged to a civilian businessman,” said Mr. Araji, who rushed to Erbil from Baghdad a few hours after the bombing. Mr. Araji, who is the Iraqi government’s point man on a number of sensitive issues related to Iran, has a long history of working closely with Tehran and is rarely publicly critical. His comment on Tuesday suggested that Baghdad felt it was being undermined by its neighbor. Those killed in the strike included Peshraw Dizayee, a Kurdish businessman; his daughter, Zina; her babysitter; and a visiting business acquaintance, Karam Mikhail. Iran has sent conflicting signals about its general intentions in the region, saying privately that it wants to avoid a larger conflict, but at the same time making bullish pronouncements promoting its proxy forces in the Middle East and making clear that it wants them to keep the pressure on Israel’s allies through attacks on U.S. bases and on shipping lanes in the region. The damage inside a home after the Iranian missile strike on Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region.Credit...Gailan Haji/EPA, via Shutterstock Such regular [attacks by Iran’s proxies](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/14/world/middleeast/us-iran-mideast-war.html) and allies raise the risk of killing U.S. or allied troops or civilian sailors, which could make the situation more volatile and deadly. The strike on Erbil may have been an effort to convince Iranians that despite Tehran’s intelligence and security forces’ inability to prevent the attack on the memorial procession, the government was taking steps to punish the perpetrators, analysts said. It is not the first time the Revolutionary Guards have targeted Kurdistan. There were at least two attacks in 2022 and many during Iran’s 2019 protests, which Iranian government leaders said were being encouraged by Iranian dissidents sheltering in Kurdistan. But the attack this week played into the fraught politics surrounding the Iraqi government’s effort to end the U.S. troops’ presence on its territory. U.S. forces have been in Iraq since 2014 to help the country fight the remnants of the Islamic State and suppress its return. Iran also wants the American troops to withdraw because it perceives their presence as a security risk since the two countries are enemies. Iraq has been caught in the middle. Iraq’s Parliament — which now includes many lawmakers with ties to Iran — recently voted to have the troops leave. After a U.S. strike killed a leader in an Iranian-linked militia in Baghdad, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced that he wanted to begin determining how the troops’ departure should be carried out, and set up a committee to work out the details. He did not specify a date, but recent interviews by The New York Times with many of the people involved have suggested that unlike in the past, when the Iraqi government said it wanted the troops to leave but did little to achieve that end, this time, it is serious. But Tuesday’s strike could make the negotiations considerably more difficult. A protest in front of U.N. headquarters in Erbil on Tuesday after an Iranian missile strike.Credit...Azad Lashkari/Reuters One of several constraints in negotiating a departure — in addition to worries about an Islamic State resurgence — has been the Kurds, who have a close relationship with the United States and have benefited from the sustained U.S. presence. U.S. troops protected the Kurds in 2014, when Islamic State militants came within a few miles of the Kurdish capital. Kurdish leaders were already reluctant to approve the departure of U.S. troops, but the attack on the Kurdish capital seemed to deepen that view. “We don’t think that terrorism has ended, and last night’s event is an indication that instability in the region is still very much at stake,” said Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Kurdistan, who sharply condemned the attack on Erbil at a news briefing while attending the 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, condemned the attack by Iran during a meeting with Mr. Barzani on Tuesday, when they also discussed the importance of resuming oil exports from Iraq to its Kurdistan region. They noted that the exports were key to supporting the region’s stability and Kurds’ livelihoods, according to a statement from the White House. Responding to a reporter’s question of whether instability in the region would require keeping the U.S. troops in place, Mr. Barzani said, “We need international cooperation and support to bring more stability to Iraq and the region as a whole.” Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Kamil Kakol from Sulimaniyah, Iraq.
  • Iran has launched airstrikes in [Pakistan](https://www.theguardian.com/world/pakistan) on what it described as bases for a Sunni militant group, potentially further raising tensions in region already inflamed by Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Pakistan said the attacks late on Tuesday killed two children and wounded three others in an assault it described as an “unprovoked violation” of its airspace. Confusion followed the announcement from Iran as state media reports on it soon disappeared. However, the attack inside of nuclear-armed Pakistan by Iran threatens the relations between the two countries, which long have considered each other with suspicion while maintaining diplomatic relations. The attack also followed [Iranian strikes on Iraq and Syria less than a day earlier](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/16/iran-claims-it-has-attacked-an-israeli-spy-base-in-kurdistan), as Tehran lashed out after a dual suicide bombing claimed by the Sunni militant group Islamic State that killed more than 90 people. [Iran](https://www.theguardian.com/world/iran)’s state-run IRNA news agency and state television said that missiles and drones were used in the strikes in Pakistan to target the Jaish al-Adl militant group. Press TV, the English-language arm of Iranian state television, attributed the attack to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Jaish al-Adl, or the “Army of Justice,” is a Sunni militant group founded in 2012 which largely operates across the border in Pakistan. The militants have claimed bombings and kidnapped Iranian border police in the past. Iran has fought in border areas against the militants, but a missile-and-drone attack on Pakistan is unprecedented for Iran. Iranian reports described the strikes as happening in the mountains of Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a strongly-worded rebuke of the strikes. “Pakistan strongly condemns the unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran which resulted in the death of two innocent children while injuring three girls,” the statement read. “This violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is completely unacceptable and can have serious consequences.” It added: “Pakistan has always said terrorism is a common threat to all countries in the region that requires coordinated action. Such unilateral acts are not in conformity with good neighbourly relations and can seriously undermine bilateral trust and confidence.” Two Pakistani security officials said the Iranian strikes damaged a mosque in Balochistan’s Panjgur district, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) inside Pakistan from the Iranian border. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to journalists. The attack came even as Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. What the men discussed was not immediately clear. Balochistan has faced a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades. Baluch nationalists initially wanted a share of provincial resources, but later initiated an insurgency for independence. Iran has long suspected Sunni-majority Pakistan as hosting insurgents, possibly at the behest of its regional arch-rival Saudi Arabia. However, Iran and Saudi Arabia reached a Chinese-mediated détente last March, easing tensions. Meanwhile, attacks by militants entering from Iran have targeted Pakistani security forces. In April 2023, a militant attack from across the border with Iran killed four Pakistani soldiers in Balochistan province. Late Monday, Iran fired missiles into northern Syria targeting the Islamic State group and into Iraq at what it called an Israeli “spy headquarters” near the US consulate compound in the city of Irbil. On Tuesday, Iraq called the attacks, which killed several civilians, a “blatant violation” of Iraq’s sovereignty and recalled its ambassador from Tehran.
2024-01-17
  • Save The United States faced intensifying military action by Iran and its allies on Tuesday, an escalating threat to the Biden administration’s effort to contain violence across the Middle East following the launch of Israel’s war with Hamas militants. A drumbeat of tit-for-tat incidents between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed armed groups, including [a new round of strikes](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/16/israel-hamas-war-news-gaza-palestine-updates/#link-SWOTIKVEZ5BGFBX6NBRNQGJCJE?itid=lk_inline_manual_4) Tuesday against Houthi militants in Yemen, and Iranian strikes into Iraq and Syria on Monday, served as a test of Washington’s attempt to limit regional instability and avoid a direct confrontation with Tehran. The incidents also highlight the potential for miscalculation as military action accelerates and the United States continues support for its close ally Israel, whose response to Hamas’s bloody Oct. 7 attacks has killed more than 24,000 people in the [Gaza Strip](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/10/09/gaza-strip-israel-hamas-explained/?itid=lk_inline_manual_5), most of them Palestinian civilians, and galvanized opposition across the Arab world to Israel and its chief backer. Tuesday’s strike on the Iranian-linked Houthi movement in Yemen, the third such attack in the past week, targeted four sites where the rebels were preparing to launch missiles against commercial shipping vessels, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The Houthis, one powerful faction in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, have framed their campaign against merchant ships transiting the region, which has included more than 30 drone and missile attacks since November, as retaliation for Israel’s [war in Gaza](https://www.washingtonpost.com/israel-hamas-war/?itid=lk_inline_manual_10). The group almost immediately made good on its vow to continue its campaign, launching an anti-ship ballistic missile that struck the Maltese-flagged ship M/V Zografia. No one was injured and the ship continued its voyage. The recent violence has also revived concerns about militant networks not involved in Iranian-linked groups’ backlash to Israel’s operation in Gaza. The [rare airstrike into Syria by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/16/iran-missile-attack-iraq-irbil-syria/?itid=lk_inline_manual_13) on Monday targeted what Tehran said were sites linked to the Islamic State, the extremist group that claimed responsibility for a [deadly twin bombing](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/03/iran-qasem-soleimani-explosion-kerman/?itid=lk_inline_manual_13) this month in the Iranian city of Kerman. While that action appeared unrelated to recent violence pitting Israel and the United States against Iranian-sponsored militants, Iran also conducted a strike on what Iranian officials described as [an Israeli spy site](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/16/iran-missile-attack-iraq-irbil-syria/?itid=ap_susannahgeorge&itid=lk_inline_manual_15) in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that prompted outcry by officials in Baghdad and Irbil, the capital of the semiautonomous northern region. Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen who is now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said Iran appeared determined, like the United States, to stay out of a direct conflict with the U.S. military and its allies. He pointed to the fact that the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah, Iran’s largest and most powerful proxy, had not unleashed the full power of its vast missile arsenal against Israel in recent months. On Tuesday, Israeli forces conducted [dozens of strikes](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/16/israel-hamas-war-news-gaza-palestine-updates/#link-ULWBUGZM6ZF4DPR4R3Z2DFP4MY?itid=lk_inline_manual_16) across the border into southern Lebanon. Likewise, while Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria have launched regular attacks on U.S. military facilities in both countries, they often fall far from their purported targets and inflict limited damage. In what has appeared to be a parallel American bid at restraint, retaliatory U.S. strikes have been limited in scope, though an airstrike in Baghdad earlier this month killed a militia commander accused of orchestrating violence against Americans deployed there. Feierstein said that while Iran appears determined to refrain from direct involvement in the Gaza situation, the current U.S.-Houthi showdown may serve Tehran’s interests. “Their partner in the ‘axis of resistance’ is standing up on behalf of Palestinians, but it’s not crossing American red lines,” he said, referring to a loose coalition of groups that, along with Iran, seek to push back against U.S. influence in the region. “It’s not likely to get us into a conflict with Iran directly, and so everybody can live at this level that they’re at right now.” How long that status quo can be maintained is unclear. The United States positioned additional military assets in the Middle East following Hamas’s attacks into Israel, hoping to deter armed groups linked to Iran from seizing an opportunity to strike their shared enemy Israel and its sponsor, the United States. The U.S. military also established a stepped-up [multinational effort to deter maritime attacks](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/12/10/houthi-attacks-naval-task-force/?itid=lk_inline_manual_23) that have significantly disrupted commercial shipping in the Red Sea. John Kirby, a spokesman with the White House National Security Council, said Tuesday that when the United States launched [dozens of strikes in Yemen last week](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/01/11/us-strike-yemen-houthis-red-sea/?itid=ap_alexhorton&itid=lk_inline_manual_25), senior U.S. officials “fully anticipated” that the Houthis would “probably conduct some retaliatory strikes.” He said that while the United States believed it could not permit the attacks on commercial ships, neither did it seek war with the Houthis. “We’re not looking to expand this,” Kirby said. “They still have time to make the right choice, which is to stop these reckless attacks.” As part of its evolving response to the Houthi actions, the Biden administration is planning to place the Yemeni group back on a list of global terrorist organizations, two people familiar with the decision said on Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of an anticipated administration announcement. The decision to name the Houthis as specially designated global terrorists marks a reversal of a step the administration took in early 2021 out of concern about exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen. U.S. forces have also sought to stem the Houthi campaign in part by interdicting the supply of weapons from Iran to Yemen. On Thursday, Navy SEALs boarded a small ship in the Arabian Sea, finding Iranian-made missile warheads and related weapons components. Two troops were lost at sea during the operation, [prompting a search-and-rescue operation](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/01/15/navy-seals-missing-iran-warheads/?itid=lk_inline_manual_31) that was still underway Tuesday. Iran’s strikes in Iraq hit the “espionage headquarters” of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency that had been used to plan “terrorist” acts against Iran, the Revolutionary Guard said in a statement. Iraqi and Kurdish officials deny the claims. The Israeli prime minister’s press office declined to comment on Iran’s assertions. Iraq’s national security adviser said he visited a home of one of the victims of the strike. “It was revealed that the claims suggesting the targeting of a Mossad headquarters have no basis in truth,” Qasim al-Araji said [in a post on X](https://twitter.com/qassimalaraji/status/1747222838111514668?s=46&t=IVwGkK1UdrQKOfa5FDgKSg), the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Iraq recalled its ambassador from Tehran following the strikes, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday. [The ministry also said](https://twitter.com/Iraqimofa/status/1747185035969532117) Iran’s top diplomat in Baghdad had been summoned over the attack and was handed a “protest note.” U.S. officials said no American personnel were injured in the strikes but condemned Iran’s actions. “We oppose Iran’s reckless missile strikes, which undermine Iraq’s stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a [statement](https://www.state.gov/condemnation-of-irans-attacks-in-erbil/). The risks of regional conflagration were further underscored Tuesday by a spate of Israeli airstrikes into Lebanon, marking an escalation in the ongoing confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Also on Tuesday, Iran conducted airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Pakistan. Pakistan’s government condemned the action by its neighbor, saying civilians were killed. _Michael Birnbaum, Kyle Melnick and Niha Masih contributed to this report._
  • After [hitting targets](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/17/world/asia/iran-pakistan-strike.html) in neighboring Pakistan, Iraq and Syria with missiles, Iran talked tough on Wednesday, playing up — to friends and foes alike — not only its military capabilities but its determination to strike enemies at will. “We are a missile power in the world,” Iran’s defense minister, Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, [told reporters](https://en.mehrnews.com/news/210929/Iran-has-no-restrictions-in-defending-national-interests) after a cabinet meeting, according to state media. “Wherever they want to threaten the Islamic Republic of Iran, we will react, and this reaction will definitely be proportionate, tough and decisive.” Iran’s show of strength was meant to reassure conservatives domestically and militant allies abroad, and to warn Israel, the United States and terrorist groups that Iran will strike back if attacked, according to two Iranians affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards who were familiar with the planning, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters. Supporters of Iran’s authoritarian clerical regime have been incensed by recent attacks on Iran that made it appear vulnerable, demanding a powerful response. Yet for all the missiles launched and all the belligerent words, Iran once again appeared to stop short of a major escalation that might further inflame an intensifying regional conflict centered on the war between an Iranian-backed armed group, Hamas, and Iran’s regional archenemy, Israel. Analysts say Iran wanted the attacks to be measured, flexing its muscles without getting into a direct fight with Israel, the United States or their allies. By Tuesday morning, murals and banners appeared around Tehran praising the missile attacks and vowing vengeance against Iran’s enemies. At Palestine Square, a mural on a building depicted a missile being fired, with a caption warning in Hebrew and Persian, “Prepare your coffins.” Iran’s defense minister, Mohammad Reza Ashtiani.Credit...Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Some conservative Iranians celebrated the missile strikes as a defiant warning to regional enemies. “The message was clear,” Ruhollah Ahmadzadeh Kermani, an analyst in Tehran, said Tuesday [on social media.](https://twitter.com/ahmadzadeIR/status/1747343751243001939) “The Islamic Republic is right next to your ear. If Israel’s fake regime makes a strategic mistake, it won’t see the next 25 days, not 25 months or years.” Iran fired missiles into three countries that are, to varying degrees, friendly to it: Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. That makes military retaliation unlikely, though the attacks ruffled feathers — Iraq and Pakistan both recalled their ambassadors to Tehran, and Pakistan barred Iran’s ambassador, who was abroad, from re-entering the country. According to Iran, the attack in Syria targeted the Islamic State; the one in Pakistan struck another terrorist group, Jaish al-Adl; and the one in Iraq, in the northern Kurdish region, was aimed at what Tehran says is an Israeli base for intelligence gathering. Source: Institute for the Study of War By Pablo Robles In the past, Iran has often lashed out at its enemies by proxy, relying on the armed groups it funds and supports — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen — and sometimes disavowing any involvement in attacks. But this week, Iran acted on its own and announced its actions, publicly framing the missile strikes as vengeance. It said it had attacked targets connected to major terrorist attacks, including one earlier this month that was the country’s deadliest ever. It also said it was retaliating for the assassinations last month of two [senior Iranian commanders in Syria](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/26/world/middleeast/iran-military-official-israel-syria.html), for which Iran has blamed Israel. Gen. Amirali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Forces who commanded the Iranian attacks, told state television on Tuesday that Israel’s covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear and military facilities, and the assassination of its nuclear scientists, were planned from a facility in Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, that was struck. Iran has also accused Israel of involvement in a recent attack by the Islamic State. “We had to confront this and retaliate the blood of our martyrs,” General Hajizadeh said. The home of an Iraqi Kurdish businessman in Erbil was hit this week in an Iranian missile strike.Credit...Gailan Haji/EPA, via Shutterstock Israel has not responded to the claim that the target in Erbil was an Israeli spy outpost. Iraqi officials rejected the accusation, saying only civilians had been killed, including a businessman, his 1-year-old daughter, her babysitter and another businessman visiting the house. While the Iraqi government does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, the Kurdish regional government has a long history of close ties with Israel. Two senior U.S. official [told The New York Times](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/world/middleeast/iran-israel-attack-drone-site.html) in 2022 that Israel had conducted intelligence operations against Iran from Kurdistan; days earlier, Iran had fired a barrage of missiles at targets in northern Iraq that it said were linked to Israel, in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian drone factory. The Iranian strike in Syria on Monday targeted the Islamic State, and was in retaliation for [suicide bombings this month in Kerman](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/world/middleeast/us-isis-iran-general-suleimani.html), Iran, that killed nearly 100 people. Iran and its proxies spent years battling the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. The group claimed responsibility for the Kerman bombings, but U.S. officials say it was probably the work of an affiliate based in Afghanistan, not militants in Syria. A funeral in Tehran one of the victims of the Islamic State attack in Kerman this month.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria lodged no objection to the missile attack this week, which struck a part of the country controlled by a rebel group. For a decade, Mr. Assad has relied heavily on Iran to fight the Islamic State and other opposition forces in his fractured country, where other countries — including Israel, the United States and Turkey— have dropped countless munitions, acting unilaterally in the name of fighting terrorism. On Tuesday, Iran attacked what it said was a base in Pakistan for Jaish al-Adl, an armed separatist militant group from the Baluch minority that both countries have struggled for years to contain. The group, which operates in a remote, mountainous region that straddles the boundary between the two countries, claimed responsibility for a December attack that killed 11 security officers in Rask, a town in southeastern Iran, near the border. On Wednesday, a colonel in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was shot and killed in the border region, and Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility. Pakistan and Iran have traded accusations in the past of sheltering militants along their shared border, and Iran argued that weak Pakistani border control measures had helped the militants carry out the December attack. Pakistan denounced the Iranian missile strike. But Iranian media reported Wednesday that the two countries’ foreign ministers spoke by phone and discussed sharing intelligence on Jaish al-Adl. Pakistani security officials at a roadside checkpoint in Baluchistan Province on Wednesday, the day after Iran targeted locations there.Credit...Fayyaz Ahmed/EPA, via Shutterstock The risk of adding further tension to its relationships seemed to be worthwhile for an Iranian government eager to erase the impression left by its security failings. The Islamic State bombings in Kerman, in particular, rattled a country that has tried as much as possible to maintain stability by keeping Iran’s regional conflicts from bleeding onto Iranian soil. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who is also the commander in chief of Iran’s armed forces, has steered clear of direct conflict with the United States or Israel. But he pledged a forceful response after the bombing, which several Iranian leaders rushed to blame on Israel. Sanam Vakil, an Iran expert at Chatham House, a London-based research organization, said the fact that Iran suffered such a deadly terrorist attack on its own soil suggested the risks of its activities across the region. Iran has tried to “export” its conflicts abroad “rather than manage them closer to home,” she said. Yet “the great irony for Iran,” she added, “is that being so present beyond its borders has attracted high-level security risks inside Iran.” To Iranians who despise Iran’s leadership for its political repression, corruption and economic mismanagement, the retaliatory strikes were no more than empty chest-thumping. “Security isn’t provided by missiles,” said Ali, 55, a disabled veteran of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, arguing that official negligence was to blame for the killings in Kerman, his home city. “This regime’s biggest mistake was that they forgot the people. They think they can stick around by relying on missiles.” Leily Nikounazar and Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting.
  • Iranian military officials were hailing one of the [biggest projections of force](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/16/iran-launches-airstrikes-on-sunni-militant-bases-in-pakistan) in its recent history as Pakistan warned Tehran of “serious consequences” to a “completely unacceptable” attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan that left six dead or injured including two children. Iran said its attack mounted on Tuesday using “precision missile and drone strikes”, destroyed two strongholds of the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl in the Koh-e-Sabz area of Pakistan’s south-west Balochistan province. The missile strikes were part of Iran’s sweeping reprisals across Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan and Pakistan, designed to exact revenge for a suicide bombing mounted by Isis-K, the Afghan branch of Islamic State, that killed 85 Iranians in the south-eastern city of Kerman on 3 January. Iran claims that Israeli intelligence has been working with Isis-K, but the geographic breadth of the Iranian response adds to the fears of a further escalation of violence throughout the region sparked by the 7 October attacks by Hamas and Israel’s bombardment in Gaza. Seeking to pre-empt criticism that it had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty, Iran said the attacks on terrorists were no different from the kind of assassination operations mounted by the US across the Middle East and Asia. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, said “there is no more important issue for Iran than its security”. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who is in [Davos](https://www.theguardian.com/business/davos), Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, said it was Washington’s full support for Tel Aviv that is the “main root of insecurity in the region”. He said Iran’s recent actions were in self-defence, but the Kurdish prime minister, Masrour Barzani, cancelled a planned meeting with Amir-Abdollahian in Davos after Iran’s strike on what Tehran said was an Israeli “espionage headquarters” in [Erbil](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/16/iran-claims-it-has-attacked-an-israeli-spy-base-in-kurdistan) in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. The Kurdistan Regional Government has categorically rejected the allegation that Israeli intelligence were present. [map](https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2024/01/regional_violence_map/giv-13425oIwjOYlhZXNA/) Tuesday’s strike into Pakistan was the first time Iran had struck so severely inside the nation’s sovereign territory. Ironically, the strike came as Pakistan and Iran’s naval forces were in the midst of a joint exercise designed to underscore the close security cooperation between the two countries. Pakistan recalled its ambassador from Iran on Wednesday, with the foreign ministry describing the airstrike as an “unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran … inside Pakistani territory”. “It is even more concerning that this illegal act has taken place despite the existence of several channels of communication between Pakistan and Iran,” the ministry said. The Iranian charge d’affairs was summoned to give an explanation. ![Pakistan recalls envoy from Iran after 'illegal' missile strikes – video](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/4f94a560047b7424c9077030b3b3f09bd73074fb/240_18_1463_823/1463.jpg?width=465&dpr=1&s=none) Pakistan recalls envoy from Iran after 'illegal' missile strikes – video China’s foreign ministry urged Islamabad and Tehran to “exercise restraint, avoid actions that would lead to an escalation of tension and work together to maintain peace and stability”. The Jaish al-Adl militant Sunni group said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had used six attack drones and a number of rockets to destroy two houses where the children and wives of its fighters lived. The Sunni group had previously claimed responsibility for an attack on a police station in the city of Rask in Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan province on 15 December. The attack left 12 Iranian police officers dead. On Wednesday, a former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officer was reportedly abducted and shot dead in an apparent act of retaliation. Authorities in Pakistan’s Balochistan province said the Iranian raids had killed two girls and injured at least four others. The girls, aged eight and 12, were killed in houses that were damaged in the attack in the village of Koh-e-Sabz in Kulag, about 37 miles (60km) from Panjgur district, on Tuesday evening, according to the district’s deputy commissioner, Mumtaz Khetran. In Tehran, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also hailed Iran’s revenge raids on Monday night in Ebril and in Idlib, Syria. The attacks in Syria were both directed at Islamic State in revenge for the Kerman bombing, and for the assassination in December of Sayyed Razi Mousavi, one of the top IRGC commanders in Syria just outside Damascus. Senior Iranian commentators were hailing the breadth and scale of the Iranian response as marking a move away from the Iranian policy of “strategic patience”, and taking Iran closer to a direct confrontation with Israel and the US, not just in the Middle East. The official line however remains one of not seeking escalation. Vali Nasr, professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, said: “Iran and Hezbollah do not want Israel and the US to dictate the pace of the Gaza war, for Israel to finish Gaza on its own schedule and then decide what they are going to do with Hezbollah and then the Houthis and to decide what is the end game. Iran and Hezbollah want to deny Israel and the US a chance to dictate the new order that is going to emerge in the Middle East and they are opening as many fronts at the same time to deny them that capability.” IRGC commanders claimed on Tuesday that “advanced equipment” was destroyed during the ballistic missiles attack on Erbil the previous night, which claimed the lives of at least four civilians, and wounded 17 others. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, IRGC’s air force commander, told Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Tuesday after the attacks that while the targeted area in Erbil “outwardly looked like a villa”, it was allegedly revealed that it was “a concrete fortress used for espionage” and what he referred to as “special terrorist operations”. Hajizadeh added: “Advanced equipment in the two-storey underground facility and the elements that needed to be eliminated were indeed eliminated.” Iraq’s national security adviser, Qasim al-Araji, stated on Tuesday on X: “The claims that a Mossad headquarter was targeted \[in the attack\] are baseless.” Iraqi national security officials were mounting an investigation into the attack, and the Iraqi foreign minister, Fuad Hussein, said the people of Iraq were paying the price for tensions between Washington and Tehran. Iraq said a key target appeared to be the home of a successful Kurdish businessman, Peshraw Dizayee, the owner of Falcon Group which runs big projects such as Empire World, a private real estate development company. Apart from Dizayee, the strike’s victims include his 11-month-old daughter, Zhina, a housekeeper and the Iraqi businessman Karam Mikhail, who was visiting his Kurdish friend. Dizayee’s older son, Roj, 25, lost a hand in the strike. Rawan, his other son, is slightly injured. Iraq said it had formally launched a complaint with the UN security council. The IRGC also said the attack on targets in Idlib involved the longest range strike it had ever mounted adding the missiles covered 1,200 miles. There were reports that one of the buildings struck was empty and Iran may have been acting on outdated intelligence. Iran claimed operatives that are part of “Isis Khorasan” are trained in this area and are then transferred by the US to Afghanistan to infiltrate Iran for terrorist activities. It also alleges that Israel maintains covert bases in Azerbaijan to create dissent against Iran.
2024-01-18
  • ![grab](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/49B1/production/_132356881_90a56aeef8385af87b7855e353a62b60584fa879.jpg)Image source, EPA **Pakistan has launched missile strikes into Iran, killing nine people, after Iran carried out strikes in Pakistan late on Tuesday.** Pakistan said its strikes had hit "terrorist hideouts" in Iran's south-eastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. Iran condemned the attack, which it said killed three women, two men and four children. The reciprocal air strikes come as tensions in the Middle East are high with several overlapping crises. Israel is fighting the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza and exchanging fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria are targeting US forces, and the US and UK have struck the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, who have been attacking shipping. Pakistan's foreign ministry said its strikes around the Iranian city of Saravan had come in light of "credible intelligence of impending large-scale terrorist activities" and added that it "fully respects" Iran's "sovereignty and territorial integrity". In its own statement, Pakistan's army said the "precision strikes" were conducted with drones, rockets and long-range missiles and targeted the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Balochistan Liberation Front. Both groups are part of a decades-long struggle for greater autonomy in Balochistan, a remote region in south-western Pakistan. Pakistan had fiercely condemned [Iran's strike on Tuesday](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-67999465), which struck an area of Pakistan's Balochistan province near the Iranian border and which Islamabad said killed two children. Iran insisted its strikes were aimed only at Jaish al-Adl, an ethnic Baloch Sunni Muslim group that has carried out attacks inside Iran, and not Pakistan's citizens. Iranian state media reported on Thursday that Tehran had summoned Pakistan's chargé d'affaires over the strikes. Pakistan had earlier recalled its ambassador and blocked the Pakistani envoy from returning. China, Turkey and the Taliban government in Afghanistan have all called for restraint and dialogue. Earlier in the week Iran also attacked targets in Iraq and Syria. It said it had hit Islamic State and Israel's Mossad spy agency, both of which it said had been involved in a bomb attack in the Iranian city of Kerman earlier this month which killed 84 people. Iran and Pakistan have complicated but cordial relations. Their ministers met at Davos this week and their navies conducted joint exercises in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. The two countries have similar concerns about the lawless border area, where drug smugglers and militant Baloch groups are very active. After both sets of air strikes, each side seemed anxious to emphasise that these did not represent attacks on a brotherly neighbour. Tehran's reaction to the Pakistani strike appears relatively muted and the authorities have said that the victims, who included women and children, were not Iranian nationals. Michael Kugelman, South Asia director at the Wilson Center, said that while Pakistan's retaliation raises the risk of escalation, "it also provides an opportunity to step back from the brink". "In effect, the two sides are even now. Islamabad had a strong incentive to try to restore deterrence, especially with Iran on the offensive around the wider region deploying direct strikes and proxies to hit out at threats and rivals. In effect, if Pakistan had held back, it would have faced the risk of additional strikes," he said. Others suggested that the government in Islamabad was under domestic pressure to respond. The country, which saw its former leader Imran Khan removed nearly two years ago, is holding an election next month. "There was a lot of public pressure on the government to do something and so they have done this just to prove that they are not less than \[Iran\], this act of sabre-rattling," said retired Lt General Asif Yaseen, a former Pakistani defence secretary. But he said he had a "gut feeling that this will stop here for both the countries" and Pakistan could now be in a position to restart dialogue with Iran. Some commentators have suggested Iran's strikes on Iraq, Syria and Pakistan this week were also driven by the current turbulent dynamics in the Middle East. Tehran has said it does not want to get involved in the wider Israel-Gaza conflict, but groups that it backs have been targeting Israel and its allies to show solidarity with the Palestinians. However Shashank Joshi, defence editor at The Economist, said he does not believe the strikes are an outcome of the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel, which killed about 1,300 people and triggered Israeli retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, which officials from the Hamas-run health ministry there say has killed about 24,000 people. "The story here is about Iran flexing its muscles, perhaps outraged by what it saw as a grievous assault on its country," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, referring to the deadly bomb attack in Kerman earlier this month, which he described as "the worst terrorist attack in Iran since the revolution of 1979". "Iran is wounded and is lashing out. I don't think there's any compelling reason to say the bombing was caused by, or is an outcome of 7 October," he said. He adds that this is "not the first time there have been border tensions, but it is by far and away the most serious escalation in tensions that I can remember".
  • Israel and Gaza. Yemen and the Red Sea. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq — and now Pakistan, too. At every flashpoint in a set of conflicts spanning 1,800 miles and involving a hodgepodge of unpredictable armed actors and interests, there’s been a common thread: Iran. Tehran has left its imprint with its behind-the-scenes-backing of combatants in places like Lebanon and Yemen, and with this week’s direct missile strikes [on targets in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/17/world/asia/pakistan-iran-strike.html?searchResultPosition=5). The Iran connection stems partly from Iran’s decades-long efforts to deter threats and undermine foes by building up like-minded militias across the Middle East. In addition, Iran itself, like neighboring countries, faces armed separatist movements and terrorist groups in conflicts that readily spill over borders. But what does Pakistan have to do with Gaza? Here’s a look at how Iran ties together recent tensions. Demonstrators shouting anti-American slogans outside the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.Credit...Mohammad Sayad/Associated Press Ever since the 1979 revolution that made Iran a Shiite Muslim theocracy, it has been isolated and has seen itself as besieged. Iran considers the United States and Israel to be its biggest enemies — for more than four decades its leaders have [vowed to destroy Israel](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/01/world/middleeast/iran-israel-hamas.html?searchResultPosition=18). It also wants to establish itself as the most powerful nation in the Persian Gulf region, where its chief rival is Saudi Arabia, an American ally, and has often had hostile relations with the Saudis and some other predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab neighbors. With few other allies, Iran has long armed, trained, financed, advised and even directed several movements that share Iran’s enemies. Though Iranian forces have been involved directly in wars in Syria and Iraq, Tehran has mostly fought its enemies abroad [by proxy](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/14/world/middleeast/us-iran-mideast-war.html?searchResultPosition=5). Iran, which calls itself and these militias the “Axis of Resistance” to American and Israeli power, sees it all as “part of a single struggle,” said Hasan Alhasan, a senior fellow for Middle East Policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a policy analysis group. Iranian leaders call their approach a forward defense strategy, saying that to defend itself, the country must take action outside its borders. “If they are to avoid fighting the Americans and Israelis on Iran’s soil, they’ll have to do it elsewhere,” Mr. Alhasan said. “And that’s in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan.” How well the strategy works [is open to question](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/05/world/middleeast/iran-terrorism-isis-israel.html?searchResultPosition=8). Terrorist groups have attacked recently on Iranian soil. And for years Israel has carried out targeted attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, [killing some of its key figures and destroying facilities.](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/13/world/middleeast/israel-poison-iranian-scientists.html) By Lazaro Gamio While Iran wants to project its power and influence, it is reluctant to directly engage the United States or its allies, courting major retaliation or all-out war. How secure Iran’s leaders feel in their grip on power is unclear. But they know that decades of sanctions and embargoes have degraded Iran’s military forces and its economy, and that their repressive government faces [intense domestic opposition](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/15/world/middleeast/iran-protests-tehran-metro-shooting.html). Iran has hoped to compensate for its vulnerabilities by developing nuclear weapons, which would put it on par with Pakistan and Israel — and ahead of Saudi Arabia. But so far its nuclear program has not produced a bomb. Investing in proxy forces — fellow Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, and the Sunni Hamas in the Gaza Strip — allows Iran to cause trouble for its enemies, and to raise the prospect of causing more if attacked. “Proxy forces have allowed Iran to maintain some level of plausible deniability, while asymmetrically supplying Tehran with a means to effectively strike Israel or apply pressure to it,” the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point [wrote in a December report.](https://ctc.westpoint.edu/the-path-to-october-7-how-iran-built-up-and-managed-a-palestinian-axis-of-resistance/) Iranian officials have publicly denied being involved in or ordering Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people. But they also [praised the assault as a momentous achievement](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/13/world/middleeast/hamas-iran-israel-attack.html), and warned that their regional network would open [multiple fronts](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/16/world/middleeast/iran-gaza-israel-hamas.html?searchResultPosition=8) against Israel if the country kept up its retaliatory war against Hamas in Gaza. Some of those proxies have, in fact, stepped up attacks on Israel, but have avoided full-fledged warfare. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, speaking in Lebanon.Credit...Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times [Hezbollah](https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/27/world/middleeast/hezbollah-iran-syria-israel-lebanon.html) in Lebanon, widely considered to be the most powerful and sophisticated of the Iran-allied forces, was founded in the 1980s with Iranian assistance, specifically to fight the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. The group, which is also a political party in Lebanon, has fought multiple wars and border skirmishes with Israel. Hezbollah has been trading fire across the border with Israel’s military almost daily since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks, but it has thus far refrained from [fully joining the fight](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/31/world/middleeast/hezbollah-lebanon-israel-gaza.html). The [Houthi movement in Yemen](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/11/world/middleeast/houthi-yemen-red-sea-attacks.html) launched an insurgency against the government two decades ago. What was once a ragtag rebel force gained power thanks at least in part to covert military aid from Iran, [according to American and Middle Eastern officials and analysts.](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/17/world/middleeast/yemen-houthis-gulf.html) The Houthis seized much of the country in 2014 and 2015, and a Saudi-led coalition stepped into the civil war on the side of the Yemeni government. A de facto cease-fire has held since 2022, with the Houthis still in control of Yemen’s northwest and its capital, Sana. Since the war in Gaza began, the Houthis have waged what they call a campaign in solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli bombardment. They have launched missiles and drones at Israel, and have disrupted a significant part of the world’s shipping by attacking [dozens of](https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/STATEMENTS/Statements-View/Article/3643121/us-centcom-statement-on-27th-houthi-attack-on-commercial-shipping-lanes-in-the/) vessels heading to or from the Suez Canal. That has transformed the Houthis into a force with a global impact, and prompted the United States and Britain, with help from allies, to [carry out missile strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/11/us/politics/us-houthi-missile-strikes.html). Hamas, in the Palestinian territories, has also received weapons and training from Iran, and has fought repeated wars with Israel. The funeral of a victim of the terrorist bombing in Kerman, Iran, this month in Tehran.Credit...Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times It has a lot to do with the government’s problems at home. As tensions rise across the region, Tehran has increasingly become a target. Last month, a separatist group attacked a police station in southeastern Iran, killing 11 people. Two [senior Iranian commanders were assassinated in Syria](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/26/world/middleeast/iran-military-official-israel-syria.html), and Iran blamed Israel. Then this month, suicide bombings in Kerman, Iran, [killed almost 100 people](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/world/middleeast/us-isis-iran-general-suleimani.html) — the deadliest terrorist attacks since the Islamic Republic was founded. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Iran analysts, and Iranians close to the military, say the government wanted to make a show of force with an eye to the hard-liners who make up its base of support, and were already incensed at Israeli attacks. Iran went on the offensive. It said this week that it had fired missiles at the Islamic State in Syria, and at what it said was an Israeli base for intelligence gathering in northern Iraq. (The Iraqi government denied that the building struck was tied to Israel.) It also fired into Pakistan. “Iran has signaled clearly that it is not willing to deploy those capabilities for anything less than the defense of their homeland,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, a policy group. The separatist group Jaish al-Adl wants to create a homeland for the Baluch ethnic group out of parts of Iran and Pakistan, and it operates on both sides of the border. It also took responsibility for the deadly attack last month on an Iranian police station. The two countries have accused each other of not doing enough to prevent militants from crossing the border. Iran said its strikes in Pakistan targeted bases for Jaish al-Adl, but Pakistan pushed back against Iran’s reasoning, citing what it said were civilian casualties. On Thursday, Pakistan responded by bombing what it said were terrorist hide-outs inside Iran. Pakistan and Iran have had mostly cordial relations, and the frictions between them have little to do with Iran’s other regional conflicts. But Iran’s decision to strike inside Pakistan has the potential to damage its relationship with Pakistan. At a time when the region is already on edge, a miscalculation could be especially dangerous. Vivian Nereim, Salman Masood and Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.
2024-01-20
  • ![The Israel Gaza Briefings: Lyse Doucet](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/5CDF/production/_132357732_briefings_header_doucet-nc.png) **These are shape-shifting times in the Middle East.** This week, out of the blue, [Iran suddenly attacked targets in "friendly" Pakistan](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-67999465), sparking an unprecedented tit-for-tat across their volatile border and a sharp spike in tension on a far edge of the grievous Israel-Gaza war. Iran wanted a message to be heard loud and clear - at home, and a long way beyond. "It has showcased its missile arsenal and its willingness to use it," says Vali Nasr, professor of international affairs and Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University. "It was a message also likely intended for Israel and the US in the midst of the Gaza war, especially with the potential escalation in Lebanon and Yemen." Like most observers, he believes "for now Iran is not looking to escalate". Ever since the Gaza war exploded after Hamas's murderous 7 October assault on southern Israel, it has been darkened by fears of an even more dangerous contagion. No-one, including Iran and its principal partner Hezbollah, as well as the United States, wants to see an even hotter conflagration. Iran's war has been a web of shadow wars. It sits at the fulcrum of what it calls an "axis of resistance", the alliance of Tehran-backed groups dotting the region, from Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, to the Houthis in Yemen, and well-armed groups in both Iraq and Syria. Most have been designated as terrorist entities by some Western states. Their military prowess is rooted in Iran's accelerated arming and training; each actor also has agendas and ambitions of its own. Fires have been burning on all these fronts, and sometimes blazing, with efforts to douse the flames lest they provoke crippling Israeli and American reprisals. When Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) carried out these first direct strikes since this crisis erupted, they trained their sights on Pakistan and two other friendly countries. They may have seen them as areas of least resistance beyond the highly combustible landscape of their "axis of resistance". Iran's elite force unleashed a barrage of ballistic missiles and suicide drones against what it called an intelligence centre for Israel's Mossad spy agency in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, and at "anti-Iran terror groups" including Islamic State in rebel-controlled swathes of Syria. Image source, Getty Images Image caption, A site targeted by Iran's IRGC missile attacks in Irbil, Iraq Each operation was said to have its own specific retaliatory rationale. Iran says it had to aim fire at Iranian Baloch separatists operating in restive southwest Pakistan. "An attack was imminent. They had gathered and were leaving the base," says Prof Seyed Mohammad Marandi at the University of Tehran. He also points to last month's killing of 11 Iranian police officers in its tense province of Sistan and Balochistan. Pakistan also spoke of an "impending attack" when it then fired its own salvos two days later into southern Iran against what it said were bases of its own Baloch nationalists, which it called "terrorist targets". This cross-border tension has simmered for decades; this is its worst moment. Northern Iraq and Syria, closer to the Gaza epicentre, were about settling separate scores. "The attacks in Iraq and Syria were retaliation for the general as well as the atrocity in Kerman," explains Prof Marandi. He's referring to last month's assassination just outside Damascus of [one of the IRGC's most senior men, Sayyed Razi Mousavi](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67820538), which was widely reported as the work of an Israeli air strike. Then, earlier this month, a double suicide bombing [shattered a memorial service in Iran for Qasem Soleimani](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67888283), the top commander assassinated by an American drone in Iraq four years ago. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in Iran since the 1979 revolution. "Iran has been under pressure to react, including to the killing of senior Hamas and Hezbollah commanders in Lebanon, but it doesn't want to get directly embroiled in any escalation by hitting Israel or the US," says Mohammad Ali Shabani, editor of Amwaj media, which provides in-depth analyses of the region. "We are going to continue to see a slow boil," he says. These are also tough times at home for Iran's ruling clerics. They've faced unprecedented women-led protests over social freedoms and more, as well as financial woes stemming from international sanctions, alleged corruption, and mismanagement. And there has been blowback after these latest operations, with angry denunciations from Iraq, as well as the Arab League, and an even more forceful rebuke from Pakistan. "They did not think through that striking in Pakistan territory could just have no repercussions," remarks former Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. "Their action created a crater of distrust. It will take hard work and persistence to fill." There are wars within wars in every corner of this conflict. Pakistan also had to be seen to be setting its own red lines in a neighbourhood where age-old rival India, as well as Taliban-run Afghanistan, were watching closely. Accusations and more of harbouring hostile forces have long been hurled across those borders too. This past week has been a reminder, if one was needed, of the unpredictability and peril in this moment of a widening and worsening Israel-Gaza war. Any day can be a flare-up on one or multiple fronts - and there are the longer-term risks being shaped in a region where fault lines were deeply and darkly etched long before Hamas's 7 October attacks. Israel's largest loss of life in a single day since the founding of its state, as well as the seizing of more than 250 hostages, sparked a military campaign causing a staggering number of civilian deaths and turning much of Gaza into an unliveable wasteland. It has enraged and emboldened this Iran-backed military alliance of militant non-state actors. They've been drawing closer for years. Now they've forged a far more vocal and visible league. For Iran's adversaries, the proverbial "we need to do something about Iran" may now be even riskier. It may also mean confronting Tehran's staunchest allies across the region. "Tehran has achieved what the Pentagon calls military 'overmatch' - a level of capability in which a country has weaponry that makes it extremely difficult to check or defeat," says Robin Wright, author of several books on Iran and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars. This current escalation has not been cost-free. US salvos against Iranian-backed fighters in Iraq are reported to have significantly damaged their infrastructure. The Pentagon says its air strikes [against Houthi targets in Yemen](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67614911), in an effort to stop their attacks on vessels in the vital Red Sea shipping lanes, have destroyed a quarter of the Houthi arsenal. But on the balance sheets of some of Iran's allies, they believe they're winning far more than they're losing. Standing up for Gazans has galvanised their popularity on Arab streets. Yemen's Houthis in particular are relishing being catapulted into the centre of world attention. Minds are already focused on the "day after", when this Israel-Gaza war ends, including in Tehran, which has long prided itself on its "strategic patience". "Iran is playing a broader longer game," points out Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House. "It perhaps anticipates that after Gaza winds down Israel is going to be more provocative towards Iran, so it is preparing for a longer fight." Iran's long-term goals include keeping the US out of its backyard, and avoiding a direct confrontation with Israel and America. That means careful calculations on where and how it strikes in a hazardous region where the risks of miscalculation are always dangerously high. * [Pakistan](/news/topics/c008ql15vpyt) * [Israel-Gaza war](/news/topics/c2vdnvdg6xxt) * [Israel](/news/topics/c302m85q5ljt) * [Yemen](/news/topics/c77jz3mdq72t) * [Iran](/news/topics/cjnwl8q4ggwt) * [Houthis](/news/topics/clrl4zn7plnt) * [Iraq](/news/topics/cvenzmgyljrt) * [United States](/news/topics/cx1m7zg01xyt) * [Syria](/news/topics/cx1m7zg0w5zt)
  • [Skip to content](https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/20/world/israel-hamas-news/the-united-states-destroyed-a-houthi-missile-in-the-militarys-latest-airstrike#site-content)[Skip to site index](https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/20/world/israel-hamas-news/the-united-states-destroyed-a-houthi-missile-in-the-militarys-latest-airstrike#site-index) Gaza City Jan. 21, 1:59 a.m. U.S. aircraft on the tarmac at Al Asad Air Base after it was struck by rockets in January 2020.Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times At least two U.S. service members stationed in western Iraq were injured on Saturday when their air base came under heavy rocket and missile fire from Iran-backed militias, as the ripple effects of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip continued to roil the Middle East. Ever since Hamas, also an ally of Iran, charged into Israel and carried out terror attacks on Oct. 7, Israel has retaliated with an overwhelming and ferocious offensive, and groups sympathetic to Hamas’s cause have attacked Israeli and American targets. A U.S. official cautioned that initial information was sketchy and that the number of injured could grow as damage reports from officers in Iraq are passed up the chain of command. A number of American military personnel were being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries. One Iraqi soldier was injured as well, said Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, the military spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia al Sudani. The attack against Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, which came at 6:30 p.m. local time, were the latest and the most serious of roughly 140 such rocket and missile strikes against U.S. troops based in Iraq and Syria since the Gaza war started. At least 10 rockets and seven short-range ballistic missiles were fired at the base, with two making it through air defense systems, in the most successful attack the militias had carried out so far. The attack was another example of the region being pulled into a broader conflict. Israel and Hezbollah, another Iranian ally, [have traded fire across the Lebanese border](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/09/world/middleeast/israel-hezbollah-commander-airstrike.html?). A Houthi militia in Yemen, also backed by Iran, [has fired missiles and drones at commercial ships in the Red Sea](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/15/world/middleeast/houthis-ships-red-sea.html?) and Gulf of Aden, calling it a retaliation for the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The United States and its allies have fired back, [striking inside Yemen multiple times](https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/19/world/israel-hamas-news/the-us-again-strikes-houthi-missile-sites-in-yemen?smid=url-share). The hostilities have spread from there. In recent days, [Iran fired missiles](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/16/world/middleeast/iraq-us-europe-iran-attack-kurdistan.html) into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, calling it a defensive strike against terrorist groups, but also claiming to have gone after an Israeli intelligence base. Pakistan said it had swiftly struck back with airstrikes inside Iran. Then on Saturday, [Iran accused Israel of launching an airstrike](https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/20/world/israel-hamas-news/the-united-states-destroyed-a-houthi-missile-in-the-militarys-latest-airstrike#a-new-attack-in-syria-raises-tensions-between-iran-and-israel) on the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed five Iranian military figures. Soon after, the missile and rocket barrage hit American troops at the air base in Iraq. The Al Asad Air Base, in Iraq’s western desert, is now primarily used by Iraqi forces but still has a U.S. contingent. In all, there are 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria, helping to support Iraq and Kurdish Syrian forces in the fight to tamp down the remains of the Islamic State. American officials in Washington said on Saturday it was not immediately clear if the militia attacks in Iraq were related to the earlier strikes in Syria. There have been 140 militia attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria in the past three months, with 57 in Iraq and 83 in Syria, Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Thursday. Nearly 70 U.S. personnel have suffered injuries in the attacks, including traumatic brain injuries, but all but a handful of the troops have been able to return to duty relatively quickly, Pentagon officials have said. Iranian-linked militias in Iraq, known collectively as the Axis of Resistance and who count themselves as part of Iran’s network of allies across the Middle East, claimed in a statement that this latest attack was a response to Israel’s war in Gaza. There was no mention of the strike in Syria. Iranian and Syrian media blamed Israel for a strike that ripped through a Damascus residential area on Saturday.Credit...Firas Makdesi/Reuters Iran accused Israel on Saturday of launching an airstrike on the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed five Iranian military figures, the latest sign of the growing turmoil from the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza spreading in the region. The head of intelligence in Syria for the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards force, the Quds Force, and his deputy were among those killed, according to Iranian media and an Israeli defense official. The strike intensifies an already volatile mix of tensions in the region. Iranian state media reported that President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the strikes on Syria, saying, “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not leave the crimes of the Zionist regime unanswered.” Iran — a longstanding adversary of Israel — supports with funds and weapons militias around the Middle East. That includes Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7; Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has been trading fire with Israel; and the Houthis in Yemen, who have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea to protest Israeli attacks in Gaza. Israel and Iran have been locked in a shadow war for years, long before the latest war in Gaza began. They have traded covert attacks by land, sea, air and in cyberspace. Israel has conducted targeted killings of key Iranian figures and strikes aimed at crippling Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities. It has also tried to chip away at Iranian supply lines to its proxy forces in the region. The Revolutionary Guards said in a statement that five of its members who were in Syria as military advisers were killed along with several Syrians. The Syrian news agency SANA said Syrian civilians were among the dead. Syria is a close ally of Iran and a conduit for Iranian weapons shipments to its proxies, especially Hezbollah. Iranian media identified the Quds Force intelligence chief in Syria as Gen. Hojatallah Omidvar, known as Haj Sadegh Omidzade. General Omidvar oversaw intelligence sharing and gathering with proxy militias and coordinated weapons distribution throughout the region, according to an Iranian affiliated with the Guards and Israeli defense officials. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the general. The airstrike caused a powerful explosion when it hit a four-story residential building and killed five people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria. Videos posted on Iranian media showed a collapsed building surrounded by debris. Tensions escalated in December when Iran accused Israel of killing a senior commander of the Quds Forces with [a missile strike on Syria](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/26/world/middleeast/iran-military-official-israel-syria.html). Israel declined to comment directly on Iran’s accusation at the time. The Iranian killed at that time was identified as Brig. Gen. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser to the Revolutionary Guards. He was said to have helped oversee the shipment of missiles and other arms to Hezbollah, which has been attacking Israel from the north ever since the latest war began in Gaza, following the deadly Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Iran launched a missile strike this week on the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, saying it was aimed at an Israeli base for intelligence gathering. Iran said its attacks over the past week were in retaliation for, among other things, the assassinations last month of two [senior Iranian commanders in Syria](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/26/world/middleeast/iran-military-official-israel-syria.html) that it blamed on Israel. Israel has not responded to the claim that the target in Erbil was an Israeli spy outpost. But Iraqi officials rejected the accusation, saying that only civilians had been killed, including a businessman, his 1-year-old daughter, her babysitter and another businessman visiting the house. Senior American officials have [said that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, has conducted operations against Iran out of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/world/middleeast/iran-israel-attack-drone-site.html). Iran [also hit targets in Syria and Pakistan with missiles](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/16/world/middleeast/iraq-us-europe-iran-attack-kurdistan.html) over the past week, hoping to signal to hard-line supporters at home that it was not passive in the face of threats. Supporters of Iran’s authoritarian clerical regime have been incensed by recent attacks on Iran that made it appear vulnerable, demanding a powerful response. But, so far, Iran has appeared to stop short of a major escalation. Analysts say Iran wanted the attacks to be measured, flexing its muscles without getting into a direct fight with Israel, the United States or their allies. In the past, Iran has often lashed out at its enemies through its proxies, relying on the armed groups — including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis — and sometimes disavowing any involvement in attacks. But this week, Iran acted on its own and announced its actions, publicly framing the missile strikes as vengeance. Iran said it had attacked targets connected to major terrorist attacks, including one earlier this month that was the country’s deadliest ever. Ronen Bergman and Victoria Kim contributed reporting. — [Raja Abdulrahim](https://www.nytimes.com/by/raja-abdulrahim), [Hwaida Saad](https://www.nytimes.com/by/hwaida-saad) and [Farnaz Fassihi](https://www.nytimes.com/by/farnaz-fassihi) Mourners attending the funeral of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, a 17-year-old Palestinian American teenager who was killed in the occupied West Bank on Friday.Credit...Marco Longari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Family members of a Palestinian American teenager who was fatally shot in the occupied West Bank demanded on Saturday that authorities find the killer of the 17-year-old, who was hit by a barrage of gunfire, his cousin said, as the two were setting out to have a picnic near their village. The death of the teenager, whom the family identified as Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, came as tensions have been rising between Israel and the United States. The State Department confirmed that an American was killed in the West Bank on Friday without releasing identification and called on Israel to provide more information about the death. Without naming the teenager or confirming his death, the Israeli police said in a statement on Saturday that they were investigating the shooting. The police said that an Israeli civilian and an off-duty policeman had fired at “individuals purportedly engaged in rock-throwing activities.” The Israeli army was investigating whether a soldier was also involved in the shooting, according to a military spokesman. The military and the police did not respond to requests for comment beyond their initial statements. A distant cousin, Mohammad Ejak, 16, said Tawfic was shot while driving to a grove of olive trees owned by the family, about a 15-minute drive from their village of Al-Mazra’a ash Sharqiyeh, near Ramallah. “We did not throw any rocks at anyone’s car, and we didn’t even get out of our own car before the shots were fired at us,” said a visibly shaken Mohammad, who attended Tawfic’s funeral on Saturday. Mohammad said he did not know where the gunshots came from and ducked below the dashboard when he heard the gunfire. Tawfic was born to Palestinian parents and raised in a suburb of New Orleans, where he attended the Muslim Academy Gretna Islamic School. The family, who have four other children, decided to return to live in the occupied West Bank when Tawfic was 16, about a year and a half ago, family members said. “Where is my son’s killer?” asked Hafeth Abdel Jabbar, Tawfic’s father, during the funeral. “He is an American citizen who was shot in cold blood, and as an American, he should be protected.” Nabil Abukhader, the principal of the Muslim Academy in Gretna, La., and the head of the local mosque that the family attended, said the teenager had hoped to improve his Arabic while in the West Bank. He described him as a quiet, polite and “very respectful” teenager who helped his father with his shoe and clothing stores and often took his siblings to school. The young man was planning to study business administration at the University of New Orleans, to help grow his father’s businesses, said Mr. Abukhader, who spoke with The New York Times from New Orleans. The West Bank has been increasingly on edge, as violence and Israeli military raids have spiraled since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel. More than 340 Palestinians in the territory have been killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers and civilians since Oct. 7, according to the U.N. A two-day raid by the Israeli military [killed at least eight people](https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/19/world/israel-hamas-news/at-least-8-people-are-killed-in-a-2-day-israeli-raid-in-the-west-bank-palestinians-say?smid=url-share) this week. John F. Kirby, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said in a State Department briefing on Friday that the United States had extended its condolences to relatives of the American who was killed, without directly naming the person, and was “working to understand the circumstances of the incident.” “We’re seriously concerned about these reports,” Mr. Kirby said. “The information is scant at this time. We don’t have perfect context about exactly what happened here.” But, he added, “We’re going to be in constant touch with counterparts in the region to get more information.” Anushka Patil and Gaya Gupta contributed reporting. Attacks on commercial ships by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group have imperiled global shipping routes in the Red Sea.Credit...Luke Dray/Getty Images The U.S. military said that it had conducted an airstrike in Yemen early Saturday morning that destroyed a Houthi anti-ship missile, the latest in a series of American strikes aimed at stopping the Iranian-backed group from firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The strike hit a Houthi missile that was aimed at the gulf and was prepared to launch, the military said. It was the seventh time in 11 days the U.S. Navy launched attacks on Yemeni territory. “U.S. forces determined the missile presented a threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region, and subsequently struck and destroyed the missile,” U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said in a statement. The statement did not say what types of weapons were used in the airstrikes, but previous strikes have used cruiser missiles and munitions dropped by fighter jets. The Houthis, an armed group that controls the west of Yemen and much of its Red Sea coast, have said that they will keep up their attacks on ships in what they say is a protest against Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip against Hamas. The group’s ideology is built largely on its opposition to Israel and American influence in the region. Earlier this month, the United States and its allies, including Britain, began conducting airstrikes in Yemen with the goal of deterring the Houthis from conducting further attacks on shipping lanes around the Red Sea, which are [critical for global trade](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/06/business/red-sea-shipping-houthi.html). There have been [back-to-back U.S. airstrikes in recent days.](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/19/world/middleeast/israel-hamas-yemen-usa-houthi.html?smid=url-share) Smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on Saturday.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Israeli airstrikes pounded the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis on Saturday, killing nearly a dozen people, Gazan officials said, after days of similar attacks in the enclave’s south, where more than a million Palestinians have fled to escape Israel’s war. Israeli bombing continued in other parts of Gaza as well, killing dozens, according to Palestinian state media and health authorities. On Saturday, the Gaza Health Ministry said at least 160 people had been killed in the coastal enclave over the previous 24 hours, raising the Palestinian death toll from the three-month-old Israeli offensive to nearly 25,000, the majority of them women and children. The Israeli strikes on Khan Younis targeted the areas around two major hospitals, where tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians had sought refuge, as well as near schools, witnesses say. Schools and hospitals have become overcrowded shelters but have not been spared from Israel’s unrelenting assault on the besieged territory. A number of airstrikes and artillery shells hit the vicinity of the Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, according to the Palestine Red Crescent, which runs the hospital. A doctor at a second hospital in Khan Younis, Nasser Medical Complex, said that Israeli troops and tanks have taken up positions near the hospital compound, and fears are growing that the soldiers will raid the hospital as they have other medical centers, including Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals for military operations, a charge Hamas and hospital administrations deny. The doctor, Mohammad Abu Moussa, said many people have fled Nasser hospital in recent days, taking what little possessions they have with them, including bedding and tents. Hospital staff, including doctors and nurses, are also leaving, he said. “Even the wounded are fleeing,” Dr. Abu Moussa said. The Israeli military said on Saturday it had killed a squad of fighters from Hamas, the armed group which controls Gaza, in close-quarters combat in Khan Younis. The military said it conducted a “targeted raid” on Hamas “infrastructure” where dozens of rocket launchers were located. Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, has left nowhere safe, the United Nations, aid organizations and residents say. Even areas where the Israeli military has ordered people to go have come under attack. The overwhelming Israeli air and ground offensives came after Hamas carried out cross-border attacks into southern Israel on Oct. 7 and killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities. The Israeli bombing offensive has pushed more than a million Palestinians into an ever smaller corner of Gaza, trapping people between a closed Egyptian border and an advancing Israeli military. They are squeezed into an extremely crowded area near the border in the Rafah province, the United Nations says. Egypt has refused to let Gazans cross into Sinai, fearing they will never be allowed to return home by Israel. The Israeli army has also attacked the central city of Deir al-Balah, another place where Gazans had fled to seek safety, forcing them toward Rafah, U.N. officials said. Mohammed Aborjela, 27, a project coordinator with the development organization Youth Without Borders, said in an interview that he had been sheltering at Nasser hospital for weeks, along with thousands of other displaced people. “It was considered one of the safe places in Khan Yunis,” he said. “Three days ago, at night, there was a very violent bombardment around Nasser Hospital,” he said. The sounds of combat and tank fire pierced the air. There were no warnings from the Israeli military beforehand, he said. Mr. Aborjela said he packed his belongings, fled the hospital and moved about half a mile away toward the coastline. Israeli airstrikes are still hitting nearby, he said. “People are running in the streets now, not knowing where to go,” he said. Many people are trying to get to Rafah or to Al-Mawasi, a coastal area west of Khan Younis. “But they have no money to transport their belongings or to set up tents in other places.” At times there is a lull in the bombardment, he said, but it never lasts. Airstrikes eventually start again, and the Israeli military continues to advance southward, deeper into Khan Younis. “No one understands what’s happening,” he said. Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting. President Biden expressed optimism that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel could still consensus. “There are a number of types of two-state solutions,” he said.Credit...Anna Rose Layden for The New York Times President Biden pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state after the war in Gaza is over and raised options that would limit Palestinian sovereignty to make the prospect more palatable to Israel. Hoping to overcome Mr. Netanyahu’s strenuous resistance, Mr. Biden floated the possibility of a disarmed Palestinian nation that would not threaten Israel’s security. While there was no indication that Mr. Netanyahu would ease his opposition, which is popular with his fragile right-wing political coalition, Mr. Biden expressed optimism that they may yet find consensus. “There are a number of types of two-state solutions,” the president told reporters at the White House several hours after the call, their first in nearly a month amid tension over the war. “There’s a number of countries that are members of the U.N. that are still — don’t have their own militaries. Number of states that have limitations.” He added, “And so I think there’s ways in which this could work.” Asked what Mr. Netanyahu was open to, Mr. Biden said, “I’ll let you know.” But he rejected the notion that a so-called two-state solution is impossible as long as Mr. Netanyahu is in power — “no, it’s not” — and he brushed off the idea of imposing conditions on American security aid to Israel if the prime minister continues to resist. “I think we’ll be able to work something out,” Mr. Biden said. A day later, however, Mr. Netanyahu appeared not to have been swayed by Mr. Biden’s pitch. “I shall not compromise on full Israeli security control of the entire area west of Jordan River — and that is irreconcilable with a Palestinian state,” he said in a post on social media. The last time the two leaders were known to have talked was on Dec. 23, in a call that was later [described as especially tense](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/31/us/politics/us-israel-hamas-war.html). The call on Friday came a day after Mr. Netanyahu had told reporters in Israel that he had [rebuffed Mr. Biden’s efforts](https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/18/world/middleeast/netanyahu-palestinian-state-israel-gaza-war.html?smid=url-share) to pressure him into a two-state solution. “The prime minister needs to be able to say no, even to our best friends,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters. Mr. Biden has argued that the creation of a Palestinian state that guarantees Israel’s security is the only viable long-term resolution to a conflict that has dragged on for decades, repeating a position held by most American presidents and European leaders in recent history. In the meantime, Mr. Biden has suggested that a [“revitalized” version of the Palestinian Authority](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/24/world/middleeast/palestinian-authority-gaza-war.html), which partially governs the West Bank, take over Gaza as well once Hamas has been removed from power there — another idea Mr. Netanyahu has rejected because he considers the authority corrupt and compromised by support for terrorists. “The president still believes in the promise and the possibility of a two-state solution,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House after the call, which he said lasted 30 to 40 minutes. “He recognizes that’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of leadership — there in the region particularly, on both sides of the issue. And the United States stands firmly committed to eventually seeing that outcome.” Mr. Kirby said the two leaders also discussed hostages held by Hamas, humanitarian aid to Gaza, the release of tax payments to the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and the shift in Israel’s military strategy to more surgical operations. But Mr. Kirby revealed no specific new agreements and confirmed that the leaders continued to disagree about the prospect of a Palestinian state. Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu have known each other for decades, and the relationship between the left-leaning president and right-leaning prime minister [has long been complicated](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/23/us/politics/us-israel-biden-netanyahu.html). They squared off last year over Mr. Netanyahu’s attempt to strip away some of the power of Israel’s judiciary and over Mr. Biden’s drive to negotiate a new nuclear agreement with Iran. After the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas killed 1,200 in Israel, they put their differences aside to [embrace one another both figuratively and literally](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/18/world/middleeast/biden-israel-visit-gaza-hospital-strike.html). But as Israel’s war against Hamas has devastated much of Gaza, reportedly killing more than 24,000 combatants and civilians, they have grown increasingly at odds again. The long gap between calls in itself was an indication of friction. In the two and a half months between the Oct. 7 attack and their pre-Christmas conversation, Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu spoke 14 times, or roughly once every five and a half days. This time it took 27 days to reach out again. But Mr. Kirby sought to play down the discord, characterizing their clashes as honest disagreements between friends. “We’re not going to agree on everything,” he said. “We’ve said that. Good friends and allies can have those kinds of candid, forthright discussions and we do.” He rejected the perception that Mr. Biden was trying to coerce Mr. Netanyahu into accepting a Palestinian state. “This isn’t about trying to twist somebody’s arm or force a change in their thinking,” he said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has made clear his concerns about that. President Biden has made clear his strong conviction that a two-state solution is still the right path ahead. And we’re going to continue to make that case.” Mr. Kirby cautioned Mr. Netanyahu about his use of language, referring to the prime minister’s statement that Israel must maintain security control over Gaza and the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu, speaking in Hebrew, referred to “all the territory west of the Jordan” but some translated it incorrectly into English as [“from the river to the sea,”](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/09/us/politics/river-to-the-sea-israel-gaza-palestinians.html) wording that has drawn criticism. The latter phrase, often used by Palestinians and their supporters, is taken by many backers of Israel as an antisemitic statement advocating the eradication of Israel, which lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, as do the Palestinian territories. The House [censured Representative Rashida Tlaib](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/07/us/politics/tlaib-censure-house-israel-gaza.html#:~:text=Twenty%2Dtwo%20Democrats%20joined%20most,for%20the%20destruction%20of%20Israel.), Democrat of Michigan, in November for using that phrase. Asked about Mr. Netanyahu’s comment, Mr. Kirby said, “It’s not a phrase that we recommend using because of that context.” Carol Sutherland contributed translation. — [Peter Baker](https://www.nytimes.com/by/peter-baker) Reporting from Washington Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards marching at a military parade in Tehran, the capital, in 2018.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Iran has accused Israel of an airstrike that killed five Iranian military figures, including the chief of intelligence in Syria for the overseas arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, known as the Quds Force. The Quds Force supports and liaises with militias around the Middle East, including Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon; and the Houthis in Yemen and Kataib Hezollah in Iraq, as well as other Iraqi armed groups. Here’s a closer look at the powerful Iranian force. Founded in the early days of the 1979 Iranian revolution, which brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps started as a military force assigned to safeguard the new government and Mr. Khomeini, who as supreme leader was Iran’s most powerful theological and political figure. The Guards reported directly to Mr. Khomeini and later to his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, so their power cannot easily be checked by other Iranian institutions. The Guards have vastly expanded since their founding and now constitute one of the three main branches of Iran’s armed forces, along with the army and the police. The Guards have specialists in ballistic missile technology and asymmetric warfare, along with their own air force, navy and intelligence service. Critics accuse the Guards’ intelligence operatives of tracking down anyone deemed an enemy of the state. The U.S. government has designated the Guards a foreign terrorist organization. While the army defends Iranian territory, the Guards were set up to safeguard against internal uprisings and threats from ideological opponents, within or outside the country. Guards members view themselves as keepers of Iran’s revolutionary flame. The Guards are best known for the power they project outside Iran through the training of proxy militias in foreign countries. The Guards also differ from other branches of the armed forces in the strong influence they wield over who gains political power. The Guards directly and indirectly control billions of dollars in contracts in construction, electricity and engineering, as well as in other strategic fields such as telecommunications and media. Many large companies are either tied to individuals in the force or run by former members. The most elite members of the Guards militarily are in their overseas arm, the Quds Force, numbering a few thousand. Quds Force members are believed to carry out clandestine operations including assassinations, and are experts in asymmetric warfare. They have recruited, organized, trained and armed state and nonstate actors across the Middle East. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico speaking during a news conference in Mexico City on Friday. Mr. López Obrador said that his government “does not take sides with either Israel or Palestine.”Credit...Jose Mendez/EPA, via Shutterstock Mexico and Chile have asked prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes against civilians committed by the Israeli military and by Hamas fighters in the three-month conflict that has devastated the Gaza Strip. The decision by Mexico and Chile adds to the international pressure on Israel, which [has already been accused of genocide by South Africa](https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/11/world/israel-hamas-war-gaza-news?smid=url-share#the-international-criminal-court-will-investigate-attacks-that-killed-journalists) before a different international tribunal — the International Court of Justice, which is the U.N.’s highest court. [In a statement released Thursday,](https://www.gob.mx/sre/prensa/remision-de-la-situacion-de-palestina-a-la-corte-penal-internacional-cpi) the Mexican foreign ministry said it had filed the request to the I.C.C., based at The Hague, “because of a growing concern about a recent escalation in violence, especially against civilians.” It cited “numerous reports from the United Nations that detail many incidents that could constitute crimes under the I.C.C.’s jurisdiction.” In Chile’s capital, Santiago, the Chilean foreign minister, Alberto van Klaveren, [told reporters](https://www.reuters.com/world/mexico-chile-refer-israel-hamas-conflict-court-over-possible-crimes-2024-01-18/) his nation was “interested in supporting the investigation into any possible war crime” by either side in the conflict. In November, the I.C.C. received a similar request for an investigation into the war from five other countries — South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti. It is not clear what effect their petitions might have. The I.C.C.’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, does not need such a request to pursue a case and said in November that [the court would investigate the matter as part of an existing inquiry](https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/statement-prosecutor-international-criminal-court-karim-aa-khan-kc-situation-state-palestine#:~:text=It%20is%20ongoing%20and%20extends,the%20nationals%20of%20States%20Parties.). The court was already investigating [allegations of war crimes](https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/middleeast/israel-palestinians-gaza-icc.html?) by Israel and by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza and the West Bank that date back to Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014. This month, Mr. Khan said his investigators would review attacks that have killed journalists in Gaza in recent months, and in early December, during a visit to the West Bank, Mr. Khan publicly warned Israel to respect the international rules of war. The court was created two decades ago as a standing body to investigate war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity under a treaty known as the Rome Statute. As a criminal tribunal that can prosecute individuals, it differs from the International Court of Justice, a civil tribunal that hears disputes between countries. Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, but the Palestinian Authority does. The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led gunmen attacked several Israeli towns and military bases, killing about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and seizing about 250 hostages, more than half of whom are still being held captive, Israeli officials say. Israel has said the attackers committed atrocities, including raping numerous women. The Israeli military’s retaliation has devastated Gaza. Health authorities there say nearly 25,000 people have died in a bombing campaign and ground invasion, the majority of them women and children. Nearly two million people are displaced. The scale of the destruction has drawn condemnation and outrage from U.N. officials, the United Nations General Assembly and many countries. Israeli officials have repeatedly denied allegations of intentionally targeting civilians, committing war crimes or carrying out a genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including in arguments before the International Court of Justice. They maintain the Israeli military has tried to warn noncombatants in advance to move out of combat zones, and they argue that civilian casualties are hard to avoid because Hamas fighters use hospitals, mosques and schools for military operations and have built extensive tunnels underneath residential buildings. 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2024-01-22
  • Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad is denying U.S. allegations that have resulted in it being hit with sanctions from the Treasury Department WASHINGTON -- The U.S. on Monday hit [Iraq](https://abcnews.go.com/alerts/Iraq)i airline Fly Baghdad and its CEO with sanctions, alleging assistance to Iran's military wing, and imposed a fifth round of sanctions on the militant group Hamas for abuse of cryptocurrency since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The sanctions come as Israel's bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip continues — killing 25,000 Palestinians so far, according to the Gaza Strip Healthy Ministry — and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq launch regular strikes against bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq and [Syria](https://abcnews.go.com/alerts/TurkeySyriaEarthquake). In the new sanctions, the Treasury Department said Fly Baghdad and CEO Basheer Abdulkadhim Alwan al-Shabbani have provided assistance to Iran's military wing and its proxy groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. “Iran and its proxies have sought to abuse regional economies and use seemingly legitimate businesses as cover for funding and facilitating their attacks,” Treasury Undersecretary Brian E. Nelson said in a statement. “The United States will continue to disrupt Iran’s illicit activities aimed at undermining the stability of the region.” The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans. Fly Baghdad denied the U.S. allegations and said it would take legal action to demand compensation for losses resulting from the sanctions “as it is clear that the decision was based on misleading and false information and cannot stand before the law.” The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control also designated three leaders and supporters of an Iran-aligned militia in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah, as well as a business that it says moves and launders funds for the organization. Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, an umbrella group of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq calling itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has launched strikes against bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The group has said that the strikes are in retaliation for Washington’s backing of Israel in the war in Gaza and that it aims to push U.S. troops out of Iraq. Most of the strikes have fallen short or been shot down and have not caused casualties, but on Saturday a missile salvo launched at al-Asad airbase in western Iraq injured a number of U.S. personnel and one Iraqi military service member stationed there. Some of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, officially operate under the control of the Iraqi military as part of a coalition known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which was a key player in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group when it rampaged across Iraq and Syria, seizing wide swaths of territory. In practice, however, the groups largely operate outside of state control. In addition on Monday, the U.S. sanctioned a network of Hamas-affiliated financial exchanges in Gaza, including financial facilitators that transferred funds through cryptocurrency from Iran to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The U.K. and Australia coordinated with the U.S. on these sanctions. Hamas has said it planned for a potentially long fight and was "ready to do whatever is necessary for the dignity and freedom of our people.” \_\_\_ Associated Press writer Abby Sewell reported from Beirut, Lebanon.
2024-01-24
  • ![Fighters lift flags of Iraq and paramilitary groups, including Kataib Hezbollah, during a funeral in Baghdad for five militants killed in a US strike in northern Iraq, on 4 December 2023](https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/32E7/production/_132413031_gettyimages-1819960553-1.jpg)Image source, Getty Images Image caption, Fighters lift flags of Iraq and paramilitary groups, including Kataib Hezbollah, during a funeral for militants killed in a US strike in northern Iraq last month **The Iraqi government has strongly condemned US strikes which targeted sites used by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq on Wednesday.** A spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said they "blatantly" violated his country's sovereignty. The US said its "proportionate" attacks had targeted "Iran-affiliated groups". The paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) said the "treacherous" US action killed one of their fighters. The PMF, which is dominated by Iran-backed Shia Muslim militias, said a number of other fighters were injured in strikes on their bases in al-Qaim, a town on the Syrian border in western Anbar province, and in Jurf al-Nasr, in the central province of Babil. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes on three facilities belonging to the Kataib Hezbollah militia and other groups were "in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks" against US and other international forces in Iraq and Syria. Major General Yehia Rasool, a spokesman for Prime Minister Sudani, said in a statement that the US action was "contributing to a reckless escalation". "This unacceptable act undermines years of co-operation... at a time when the region is already grappling with the danger of expanding conflict, the repercussions of the aggression on Gaza," he added, referring to the war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. He added that Iraq would treat the US operations "as acts of aggression" against its people on their land, and urged the international community to help restore peace. Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Iraq national security adviser Qassem al-Aaraji said the US action would "not help bring calm". He added that "the US should pile on pressure for a halt to the Israeli offensive in Gaza rather than targeting and bombing the bases of an Iraqi national body". Last week, four US military personnel were injured in a ballistic missile and rocket attack on Iraq's Al Asad airbase, in Anbar province. The Pentagon said on Tuesday that they had returned to duty and that there was no significant damage to facilities. The US military's Central Command (Centcom) said an Iran-backed militia targeted the airbase, which hosts American troops. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed it was behind that attack. The umbrella group emerged in late 2023 and is comprised of several Iran-affiliated militias operating in Iraq. It has claimed other attacks against US forces in recent weeks. Mr Austin said: "We do not seek to escalate conflict in the region. We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities." "We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks." Image source, Getty Images Image caption, Missiles and rockets were fired at the Al Asad airbase last Saturday In a separate statement, Centcom said the strikes were carried out at 00:15 local time on Wednesday (21:15 GMT Tuesday). "These strikes targeted \[Kataib Hezbollah\] headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities," it added, without mentioning their locations. Kataib Hezbollah, or Brigades of the Party of God, is a powerful Iraqi Shia militia that receives financial and military support from Iran. It is believed to have strong links with Iran's Quds Force, the overseas operations arm of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps. Since 2009, the US has designated the group as a terrorist organisation, accusing it of attacking US and Iraqi forces in Iraq on behalf of Iran, and of threatening Iraq's stability. Saturday's attack on Al Asad airbase followed a US drone strike in Baghdad earlier this month in which a high-ranking PMF commander was killed. US troops in Iraq and Syria have been attacked dozens of times by Iran-aligned fighters since the war in Gaza started in October. The US and UK have also carried out strikes on Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi movement in response to its missile and drone attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Meanwhile, Iran has carried out a number of missile strikes over the last week against targets in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, which it claimed were linked to the Islamic State group, Israel and a Baloch separatist group respectively. Last Saturday, Iran [accused Israel of carrying out an air strike in the Syrian capital, Damascus](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-68040493), which killed five senior members of Iran's security forces. * [Israel-Gaza war](/news/topics/c2vdnvdg6xxt) * [Iran](/news/topics/cjnwl8q4ggwt) * [US Armed Forces](/news/topics/cp7r8vglg45t) * [Iraq](/news/topics/cvenzmgyljrt) * [United States](/news/topics/cx1m7zg01xyt)
2024-01-25
  • Denmark’s defence ministry said it would launch a review after evidence emerged showing its air force participated in airstrikes on Libya that killed 14 civilians in 2011, the first time any of the 10 countries involved in the Nato bombing campaign has acknowledged a possible link to non-combatant casualties. Documents released under freedom of information show the Danish air force had concluded privately as long ago as 2012 that two F-16 attacks were connected to civilian casualty reports compiled by the UN, media and human rights groups. However, this acknowledgment was not made public at the time, effectively preventing a relative of the Libyans killed from seeking compensation or redress, because he did not know which country may have been behind the bombing. Nato attacks involving Danish fighter jets in which non-combatants were killed include: * An [airstrike on Surman](https://airwars.org/civilian-casualties/lib2011-114-june-20-2011/), nearly 40 miles west of Tripoli, on 20 June 2011 that killed 12 civilians, including five children and six members of one family. A surviving family member said the target was solely a residential compound, owned by a retired Libyan government member, but Nato said at the time it was “a legitimate military target”, despite [reports of non-combatant deaths](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gGrm_g5lRs). * The [bombing of an apartment block in Sirte](https://airwars.org/civilian-casualties/lib2011-164-september-16-2011/), central Libya, on 16 September 2011 that killed two, a man and a woman who was five months pregnant. Although there were unconfirmed reports of snipers on the rooftop, questions were raised in the aftermath over whether an attack would have been proportionate, given civilians were killed. The Danish defence ministry said in a statement that while the events took place many years ago, it had begun a review. “The Minister of Defence has requested the Defence Command to assess whether the documents in question indicate that there were ramifications of such magnitude that an investigation should have been conducted at that time within the coalition or Nato framework,” it added. One newly released document, written in English and sent in May 2012 from Danish military command to the country’s Nato representatives, said “Danish aircraft participated in a number of the specific attacks” listed as having caused civilian casualties by investigators from the UN international commission of inquiry on Libya, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times. “Civilian casualties during the conduct of these attacks cannot be ruled out,” the Danish internal review, previously marked secret, concluded. However, the review also argued there was “no evidence or indication that Danish aircraft have caused such casualties”, because “there were no Nato troops on the ground to estimate the effects of attacks”. Instead, Denmark relied on remote pilot observations and other reconnaissance to reach an ambiguous verdict. ![Document extract](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/89d1d7d81446c7e46ab03a012fdad824c954e851/95_61_1647_297/master/1647.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none) Extract of the document sent in May 2012 from Danish military command to the country’s Nato representatives. Further air force documents, in Danish, confirm the country’s F-16s participated in the airstrikes on Surman and Sirte on the basis of the dates of each. In each case, a second country was involved, but its name remains redacted, meaning it remains possible another country’s military delivered the deadly bombs. The Danish admission of a link with the airstrikes follows a joint investigation between [Altinget](https://www.altinget.dk/artikel/forsvaret-hemmeligholdt-rapporter-i-aarevis-danmark-draebte-med-al-sandsynlighed-civile-i-libyen), a Danish news site, the civilian harm watchdog [Airwars](https://airwars.org/investigations/denmark-civilians-libya-2011/), and the Guardian. One expert said the Danish military’s failure to acknowledge the possibility of causing civilian casualties at the time was a missed opportunity to improve standards of accountability – and to allow victims to seek compensation. Marc Garlasco, an adviser to the UN-established international commission of inquiry on Libya, which investigated human rights violations by all parties in the conflict, said he found the disclosures in the documents “quite galling” because Nato had refused to answer questions about civilian casualties at the time. “It is greatly disappointing that there wasn’t enough transparency that they put this out at a time back when it could be useful. Useful not only for lessons learned so that lives could be saved in the future but also useful for the victims of these strikes – that they could have an understanding of why their family members were killed and could potentially receive some kind of compensation for their loss,” he said. Aerial bombardment is at the heart of modern warfare, used repeatedly by the west against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, by Russia in Syria and Ukraine and most intensively by Israel in Gaza. However, militaries, including those in the west, have often been reluctant to admit when civilians were killed and wounded. The UK says only [one civilian was killed](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/16/uk-air-war-isis-ends-five-years) during a nine-year campaign of bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria in which 4,324 missiles or other weapons were launched, a near perfect record that [experts have questioned](https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/apr/04/only-civilian-victim-uk-bombing-campaign-is-syria-iraq-military). ![Pictures of people on a board erected on a street](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/254ef8110626ab552afd0dd14e0ee8a78658cefd/0_166_1824_1094/master/1824.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none) Pictures of people killed at the residential compound in Surman, including five children. Photograph: Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch Responding to the Danish disclosure, a Nato official said the Libyan campaign was conducted with “unprecedented precision” and that “exceptional care was taken to minimise risks to civilians”. Although the official conceded the risks “can never be zero”, they insisted that all locations bombed during the operation were “legitimate military targets”. Nato had no first-hand evidence of civilian casualties, because alliance soldiers were not allowed to inspect casualty sites. “There was no invitation from the Libyan authorities for Nato to send personnel into the country to review strikes,” the Nato official said. Ten nations, including six from [Europe](https://www.theguardian.com/world/europe-news), participated in the bombing missions as part of Nato-led Operation Unified Protector, the codename for the western intervention in Libya, which ran for six months from 31 March 2011. It helped lead to the overthrow of the dictator Col Muammar Gaddafi but also ushered in a long period of instability in the north African country, which remains divided between east and west after a period of civil war. As well as Denmark, countries involved in bombing targets in Libya included the US, UK, France, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Norway, which are all Nato members, plus Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. A Dane, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, headed Nato at the time. ![Khaled al-Hamedi](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/1bec6ea5acc5dba81ac8efd42fd4e2cfb578ccb9/0_727_4414_2648/master/4414.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none) Khaled al-Hamedi, whose wife and two children were killed in the strike at Surman, tried to bring a claim against Nato. Photograph: Hamada Elrasam/Altinget/Airwars Other Nato airstrikes, not involving Denmark, have been linked to civilian fatalities, including a bombing in Majer on 8 August 2011, where a UN investigation concluded that an initial bombing killed 16 civilians – and then after rescuers had arrived, a follow-up attack killed a further 18. Until now no country has accepted a link between their air force and a particular bombing, shielding their activities under the umbrella of Nato. As a result it has not been possible for family members of victims to seek redress in that country’s courts. One man, Khaled al-Hamedi, whose wife and two children were killed in the strike at Surman, tried to bring a claim against Nato, but it failed when the Belgian court of appeal concluded in 2017 the military alliance had immunity from prosecution. The strike targeted a large family compound belonging to Hamedi’s father, a senior figure in Gadaffi’s regime with links to the Libyan leader’s family. The younger Hamedi described the site as residential, while Nato said it was a command and control node. Having been shown the documents, he said he would discuss with his lawyer about bringing a claim against the Danish military. “I want them first to declare their mistake to us,” he said, and that as well as seeking compensation he wanted Denmark, or whoever was responsible, “to say sorry as well”. ![Khaled al-Hamedi holds a document while reading it](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/adb3e81370af0141094e36532a3ed84257f220c2/0_0_5168_3448/master/5168.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none) Khaled al-Hamedi being shown the previously secret military reports. Photograph: Hamada Elrasam/Altinget/Airwars Denmark, in common with other western nations, had a policy in which a military officer, known as a “red card holder”, could refuse to let that country’s air force fly on a mission if, as stated in one of the Danish documents, it was “suspected that it would cause civilian casualties”. Pilots were supposed to abort missions if they suspected attacks would cause civilian casualties. Tessa Gregory, a partner at the British public law firm Leigh Day, said if militaries were not prepared to examine reports of civilian casualties and acknowledge mistakes, they risked giving the impression they were above the law. She said: “In military operations where it is alleged that civilian casualties have occurred it is imperative that those allegations are properly investigated and that victims are given enough information to seek redress under international and domestic legal mechanisms. Without transparency it is likely a culture of impunity will flourish.” * _This investigation is part of collaboration between the Guardian, Altinget and Airwars. It was supported by Journalismfund.eu._
2024-01-29
  • As the United States mulls its response to a drone attack that [killed three U.S. troops and injured at least 34](https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/01/28/americans-killed-drone-jordan/?itid=lk_inline_manual_2), it treads a risky line, where any misstep could embroil Washington and its allies more deeply in a war with Iran and its proxies. Biden has vowed retaliation following the Sunday attack that was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group for Iranian-linked militias including Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Speaking to CNBC on Monday morning, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States would react “in a time in a manner of our choosing.” “We don’t want a wider war with Iran,” he said. “We don’t want a wider war in the region, but we’ve got to do what we have to do.” The United States has not confirmed that the Islamic Resistance carried out the attack, and Kirby said Monday that Washington is still working through the intelligence. However, the attack “clearly had all the earmarks” of a group or groups supported by Kataib Hezbollah, he said. Washington has struggled to contain the spillover as the enormous toll of Israel’s military operations in Gaza — with more than 26,000 people killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry — has reverberated across the Middle East. But despite those efforts, conflict has erupted on multiple fronts. The U.S. deaths on Sunday in Jordan were the first in more than 170 attacks on U.S. military bases in the region, mainly Syria and Iraq, since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, according to the [Institute for the Study of War](https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/iran-update-january-28-2024). The United States has carried out dozens of attacks in retaliation, including one in Baghdad that [killed a senior Nujaba commander](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/01/04/us-strike-baghdad/?itid=lk_inline_manual_11). Washington has also intervened to [bomb Iranian-linked Houthis](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/01/11/us-strike-yemen-houthis-red-sea/?itid=lk_inline_manual_11) in Yemen in response to their blocking of international shipping routes in what they say is retaliation against Israel. Now, with American blood spilled, the message of deterrence is expected to be more robust, raising the danger of further escalation. Driving home the complexity of the multifront conflict, more cross-border strikes were reported in the region Monday morning: Iraqi militias claimed to have targeted Israel, while Iran and Syria accused Israel of striking in Damascus. The killing of the U.S. soldiers adds “further anxiety that a regional war is actually here,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at London’s Chatham House think tank. The chances of containment all hinge on “who, what, when and how the Biden administration responds,” she said, adding that she expected “surgical” U.S. strikes against Iranian-linked assets outside Iran to follow. Iran, for its part, tried to distance itself from the attack on the U.S. troops. “The resistance groups in the region do not take orders from the Islamic Republic of Iran in their decisions and actions,” said [Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani](https://en.irna.ir/news/85369016/Regional-resistance-groups-take-no-order-from-Iran-in-their-actions). He described the accusations against Tehran as “baseless.” Kanaani said Iran has worked to calm regional tensions “through diplomatic means,” but he accused the United States of “exacerbating insecurity” by maintaining a military presence in Iraq, Syria and launching strikes on Yemen. The United States has stationed a few thousand troops in Iraq and Syria for nearly 10 years with the stated mission of preventing the resurgence of the Islamic State group. The actions through proxies give Iran a cloak of plausible deniability, said Vakil. “Iran certainly is trying to take advantage of the [war in Gaza](https://www.washingtonpost.com/israel-hamas-war/?itid=lk_inline_manual_25) to showcase its transnational axis,” Vakil said, adding that “at the same time Iran itself doesn’t want to bear the cost of sponsoring the axis.” Tehran is banking on the fact that the Biden administration doesn’t want to see the war spread, she said, but it is a “very dangerous gamble.” Escalation concerns within the Biden administration surged in recent weeks and spurred a renewed diplomatic push to get Israel and Hamas back to the negotiating table, according to two officials briefed on the talks. U.S. officials began increasing pressure on Israel and Hamas to reach an agreement after a spike in Red Sea attacks triggered a U.S.-led bombing campaign against Houthi rebels, the officials said. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. The proposal that Hamas and Israel are considering calls for a lengthy pause in fighting and a phased hostage release that U.S. officials are hopeful could evolve into a permanent cease-fire. The Biden administration is eager to cool regional hostilities and shift the focus back to its ambitious diplomatic effort to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Houthi rebels have said the Red Sea attacks will cease once the war in Gaza ends. But hawkish Republicans are now calling for a direct hit on Iran in response to Sunday’s attack. “Hit Iran now. Hit them hard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) [posted on X](https://x.com/LindseyGrahamSC/status/1751657471280652397?s=20), formerly Twitter. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Biden had left U.S. forces as “sitting ducks” in the region. “The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East,” he said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also portrayed Iran — and its nuclear program — as existential threats to Israel. “If Iran is doing all this now, when it does not possess nuclear weapons, imagine how essential it is to prevent it from having nuclear weapons,” [he said earlier this month](https://news.yahoo.com/said-don-t-attack-iran-132800208.html#:~:text=Iran%20is%20behind%20these%20organizations,can%20destroy%20Israel%2C%20Netanyahu%20said.&text=%22If%20Iran%20is%20doing%20all,nuclear%20weapons%2C%22%20he%20said.). Iran has also accused Israel of carrying out a Jan. 20 strike on the Syrian capital, Damascus, which it said killed five Iranian military advisers. Israel has not confirmed or denied the attack, but Netanyahu has said Israel is “acting against Iran all the time, everywhere.” It’s just one of multiple spheres of conflict. While Hezbollah has so far appeared to show little desire to escalate a war with Israel and diplomats scramble to avert all-out war on that front, the two sides have been regularly trading fire over the border between southern Lebanon and northern Israel. Iraqi militias showed little sign that they planned to relent on Monday, as the Islamic Resistance announced its drone attack within Israel. The group said in a statement that a dawn strike targeted a “Zionist military base” in retaliation for “massacres” committed against Palestinians in Gaza, without giving further details. The Israeli military declined to comment on whether there were any strikes or infiltration of its airspace. Syrian state media later said Israel launched an air attack from the direction of the Golan Heights, “targeting a number of points south of Damascus.” There were conflicting reports about what was hit and whether Iranians or local citizens were killed. The state news outlet Sana first reported that “Iranian advisers” and civilians were killed, but later changed the story to remove the reference to the advisers. Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, also [denied](https://twitter.com/Ambassador_HA/status/1751943242365407535) that an Iranian installation was targeted and said no Iranian citizens or advisers were killed. The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani urged an “end to the cycle of violence” on Monday. “Iraq expresses readiness to work on establishing fundamental rules to avoid further repercussions in the region and prevent the widening of the conflict,” according to a statement. “The impact of these developments threatens regional and international peace and security, undermines efforts against terrorism and drugs, and jeopardizes trade, economy, and energy supplies.” Iraq and the United States also held the first round of talks Saturday regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, according to the prime minister’s office. But Iran’s “Axis of Resistance is demonstrating its readiness to sustain and even further escalate its campaign, despite the United States and Iraqi federal government announcing that they will negotiate over the status of U.S. forces in Iraq,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a research note Sunday. About 350 troops are stationed at the base that was targeted Sunday. A U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the incident said the drone struck the living quarters of the base and caused injuries that ranged from cuts and bruises to brain trauma. Eight personnel were evacuated out of Jordan “for higher level care, but they are in stable condition,” U.S. Central Command said in a [statement](https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/3658552/update-us-casualties-in-northeast-jordan-near-syrian-border/). _Morris reported from Berlin. George from Dubai. Mustafa Salim in Baghdad, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Niha Masih in Seoul and Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan, Alex Horton and Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report._
2024-01-30
  • Iran has emerged as the chief architect in multiple conflicts strafing the Middle East, from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. It trained and helped arm the Iraqi militias that killed three U.S. service members with a drone in Jordan this weekend. It supplied Hamas and Hezbollah in their clashes with Israel. It launched missiles at anti-Iranian militants inside Pakistan in response to the bombing of a local police station in December. And it has helped Houthi warriors in Yemen attack container ships in the Red Sea to protest the war in Gaza. All of which, taken together, threaten a wider war. Why is Iran suddenly involved in so many conflicts? Today’s newsletter will try to answer that question. Since the 1979 takeover of Iran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country’s Islamic revolutionary government has had one overriding ambition: to be the lead player shaping the future of the Middle East. Seen another way, it wants Israel weaker and the United States gone from the region after decades of primacy. Like Israel, Iran sees existential threats everywhere and seeks to counter them. Iran, which has a Shiite majority, has wary, if not hostile, Sunni Arab neighbors. Its archenemy, Israel, has the reach to damage Iran. And since 2003, Iran has been surrounded by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and more recently in Syria. The troops in Afghanistan are gone now, but the rest remain, including the ones attacked by drone on Sunday. To achieve regional hegemony and safeguard its theocracy, Iran has responded on three fronts: military, diplomatic and economic. Those efforts have become more assertive in the past year, especially since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and [log into](https://myaccount.nytimes.com/auth/login?response_type=cookie&client_id=vi&redirect_uri=&asset=opttrunc) your Times account, or [subscribe](https://www.nytimes.com/subscription?campaignId=89WYR&redirect_uri=) for all of The Times. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. Already a subscriber? Log in. Want all of The Times? Subscribe.
  • Iran has told the US via intermediaries that if it strikes Iranian soil directly, Tehran will itself hit back at American assets in the Middle East, drawing the two sides into a direct conflict. The warning comes as Iran waits on high alert to see [how Joe Biden responds to the death of three US servicemen](https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2024/jan/28/us-service-members-killed-drone-attack-jordan) deemed by Washington to have been killed by a Tehran-backed militia based in Syria. US bases in Syria and Iraq have suffered more than 160 attacks of varying seriousness since [Hamas’s 7 October assault on Israel](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/07/secret-hamas-attack-orders-israel-gaza-7-october). Amid fears of a US reprisal, the Iranian rial fell to its lowest point in 40 years against the dollar, even as Tehran reiterated that the strike was the work of independent “resistance groups” – Iran’s standard response to US accusations that itproliferates military turmoil across the region by [arming and training the groups](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/06/middle-east-crisis-grows-does-iran-have-control-proxy-forces). Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the US and the EU. The value of Iran’s national currency has fallen by 15% since 7 October. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for tighter controls on liquidity at a meeting with business leaders, reflecting his concern that inflation was crushing living standards, and creating a difficult atmosphere in advance of nationwide parliamentary elections in November. Inflation is running at 40%. Now, Iranian media is openly speculating on the nature of possible reprisals – largely basing their discussions on US media reports. Both sides have emphasised they are not seeking an open war, but Tehran considers that a US attack on its territory is a red line that will be met with an appropriate response. As tensions rose, the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the British ambassador, Simon Shercliff, on Tuesday to demand the UK ends its allegations that Iran is attempting to intimidate Iranian dissidents living in Britain. The Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, struck a confident note that events across the region were still trending in Iran’s direction. He said the White House knew well that “a political solution” was required to end the carnage in the besieged Gaza Strip and the current crisis in the Middle East. He said: “Diplomacy is moving forward on this path. Benjamin Netanyahu is nearing the end of his criminal political life.” With a US attack on Iranian positions inside [Syria](https://www.theguardian.com/world/syria) seen as the most likely option, Iran’s deputy interior minister, Seyyed Majid Mirahmadi, in a meeting with his Syrian counterparts discussed the crisis and insisted the so-called “axis of resistance” was on the verge of victory. Javad Zarif, the former Iranian foreign minister, said he believed Israel’s “aura of invincibility” had cracked. In an interview he claimed: “The foreign policy of the Israeli regime is based on two axes: oppression and invincibility.” Zarif said Israel’s war policy had three pillars: the war must be outside Israel, it must be surprising, and it must end quickly. He said that both Israel’s two foreign policy axes and its three military policy pillars had been broken by the 7 October attack. But Iran itself faces its own challenges: unrest has broken out across Kurdistan after [the execution on Monday of four Kurds](https://www.voanews.com/a/iran-hangs-4-kurds-on-israel-spying-conviction/7461458.html) accused by the regime of co-operating with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agencies. Images circulating online show deserted streets and shuttered shops in Sanandaj, Saqqez, Mahabad, Bukan, Dehgolan and other cities. The four men, all members of the leftwing Komala party, were executed for allegedly plotting a bombing in Isfahan last summer in collaboration with Israel. Mehdi Saadati, a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said: “These executions are a lesson for anyone who wants to stand against the will of the Iranian nation because the Iranian nation will punish them for their deeds.” But it remains unclear if the latest repression is linked to a nervousness in Iran at the degree of support for the regime’s interventionist foreign policy. Although support for Palestinians is widespread through Iranian society, the regime is worried that the state of the economy and general political disaffection could drive down turnout at parliamentary elections in March, undercutting its claim to legitimacy. In an attempt to boost participation in the vote, the number of ballot boxes has doubled, and candidates are being given additional time on TV and radio to try to generate an atmosphere of excitement. There is no “postal voting” but numerous mobile stations are to be deployed. Turnout in the 2020 parliamentary elections was recorded as below 42.5%, with voting in the capital, Tehran, dropping to 26.2% – the lowest figures since the 1979 revolution. Something similar is expected this time round. But if turnout falls below 40%, it would be a blow to the regime’s prestige, and confirm the revolution is surviving off a mixture of repression and alienation.
  • _You’re reading an excerpt from the Today’s WorldView newsletter._ [_Sign up to get the rest free_](https://www.washingtonpost.com/newsletters/todays-worldview/?itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1&itid=lk_inline_manual_1)_, including news from around the globe and interesting ideas and opinions to know, sent to your inbox every weekday._ **As much as the White House may be seeking restraint, events on the ground in the Middle East are accelerating in a worrying direction.** Israel continues its onslaught in Gaza — a punishing military campaign, launched in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist strike on southern Israel, that has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians and provoked a ruinous humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, flash points are erupting elsewhere in the shadow of the ongoing war. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have paralyzed global shipping moving through the Red Sea and provoked a U.S.-led bombing campaign. Israel has engaged in limited strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran-linked targets in Syria, including an attack Monday south of Damascus that killed several people, [according to reports](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/29/several-people-killed-in-israeli-strikes-on-iran-linked-site-in-syria). Then, there’s the most immediate challenge for Washington: An Iraq-based, pro-Iran militia claimed responsibility for a drone attack at the end of the weekend that [killed three U.S. troops](https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/01/29/jordan-drone-attack-us-confusion/?itid=lk_inline_manual_8) and wounded at least 34 others at a base along the Jordanian border with Syria. It’s likely the deadliest attack on U.S. troops since October, as militia groups affiliated with Iran in both Iraq and Syria have carried out at least 160 attacks on U.S. military targets. The U.S. has carried out dozens of its own retaliatory strikes. Some 2,500 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Iraq, and about 900 more in Syria. [President Biden](https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/candidates/joe-biden-2024/?itid=lk_inline_manual_9) signaled the need for an American response. “While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq,” Biden said in a statement. “And have no doubt — we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing.” **Leaders in the region warn of a widening arc of violence**. “We are seeing that the situation is boiling up here and there, and everyone, unfortunately, is dancing at the edge,” Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said at [a think tank event](https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/news/transcripts/qatars-prime-minister-on-israel-hamas-hostage-negotiations-and-the-prospects-for-a-two-state-solution/#:~:text=I%27m%20president%20and%20CEO,of%20the%20state%20of%20Qatar.) on Monday during a visit to Washington. He added that continued spillover from Israel’s Gaza war is bound to undermine regional security and even jeopardize the difficult project of indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which holds dozens of Israeli hostages in captivity, that Qatar is trying to help mediate. But, no matter fears of a spiraling conflagration, hawkish Republicans have called for an escalation against Iran. Some lawmakers want U.S. attacks within Iranian territory. “The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East,” [said](https://www.axios.com/2024/01/28/gop-biden-iran-soldier-deaths) Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “Anything less will confirm Joe Biden as a coward unworthy of being commander in chief.” Cooler heads may prevail in the White House, though the Biden administration has to walk a tricky tightrope, with the storms of domestic politics on one side and bubbling cauldron of the Middle East on the other. “We don’t want a wider war with Iran,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby [said](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/29/us-strike-jordan-drone-attack/?itid=lk_inline_manual_15) Monday. “We don’t want a wider war in the region, but we’ve got to do what we have to do.” Analysts suggest the United States may continue with its “surgical” strikes on Iranian-linked targets outside of Iran — in other words, actions that stave off a direct confrontation. The regime in Tehran maintains that it is not directing orders to many of its putative proxies and is often not aware of their intentions and planned actions. The attack on the U.S. logistics base in Jordan may be part of a broader Iranian campaign — but it also could have been [a lone, opportunistic attempt](https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/29/mega-bomb-middle-east-biden-iran) by an Iraqi faction that proved unexpectedly impactful. **That plausible deniability is a deliberate strategy**. “Iran certainly is trying to take advantage of the [war in Gaza](https://www.washingtonpost.com/israel-hamas-war/?itid=lk_inline_manual_25&itid=lk_inline_manual_18) to showcase its transnational axis,” Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at London’s Chatham House think tank, told my colleagues, adding that “at the same time Iran itself doesn’t want to bear the cost of sponsoring the axis.” Some hawks in Washington [want to call Iran’s bluff](https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2024/01/iran-problem/677282/). But others contend that now is hardly a moment to ratchet up hostilities. “As the U.S. counseled Israel after Oct. 7, based on the lessons America learned from its reactive response to Sept. 11, one should not allow an adversary to seize control of one’s own strategy and tactics,” noted Paul Salem, head of the Middle East Institute think tank. “The U.S. will definitely respond to this latest Iranian-backed attack — as it should. But Washington should choose the extent and timing of that response according to its own strategic priorities, not out of the news-cycle urgency of a social media-driven political need for a knee-jerk reaction.” The stakes are undeniably immense. An open conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces would likely stymie hopes for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. “It would almost certainly trigger an all-out Hezbollah attack on Israel. It could turn local firefights into raging infernos in Iraq and Syria, and destabilize friendly regimes in Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf,” [observed the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall](https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/29/mega-bomb-middle-east-biden-iran). But that’s not all. “An open-ended US-Iran confrontation would divide, perhaps permanently, the western democracies between those, such as the UK, that would back Washington, and those, such as France, Germany and Italy, that might sensibly prioritize renewed diplomatic outreach to Tehran,” he added. “It would assist China in furthering its anti-democratic geopolitical ambitions and Russia in justifying its aggression in Ukraine.”
2024-02-02
  • ![](https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2024/02/02/gettyimages-1973655397_custom-de35611f3cd77e5c62ce983030e8bed2a4978207-s1100-c50.jpg) President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the dignified transfer of the remains of three U.S. service members killed in a drone attack on a U.S. military outpost in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Friday. Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images The U.S. military has mounted a series of air and missile strikes against Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria, NPR has confirmed, in retaliation for a suicide drone strike [that killed three American soldiers on Sunday at a remote base in Jordan](https://www.npr.org/2024/01/28/1227487411/jordan-drone-strike-kills-3-americans). The airstrikes, which used more than 125 precision munitions, came at 4 p.m. ET Friday and struck more than 85 targets, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. "The facilities that were struck included command and control operations, centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aired vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces," CENTCOM said, referring to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters Friday that in all seven facilities used by IRGC and its proxies were hit — three in Iraq and four in Syria. The strikes, he said, occurred over 30 minutes. The Iraqi government was informed beforehand, he said. The targets were chosen to avoid civilian casualties, he said. The U.S. strikes are far more extensive and deadly than those that have been launched since last October, when the Israeli-Gaza war began and pro-Iranian groups like the Houthis in Yemen and militias in Iraq started an uptick of attacks. That's because the Jan. 28 attacks on a U.S. support base in Jordan was the highest death toll of troops in the Middle East in at least a decade. [Three Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia](https://www.npr.org/2024/01/28/1227464410/3-us-troops-killed-25-wounded-drone-strike-jordan-syria-mideast) were killed when an attack drone slammed into their sleeping quarters. Another three dozen were wounded, a handful seriously. President Biden traveled Friday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where [the bodies of the three soldiers returned](https://www.npr.org/2024/02/02/1228453624/biden-dover-service-members-killed-in-jordan) in flag-draped silver cases. In a statement after the strikes, Biden said: "Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond." The U.S. attacks were telegraphed for days. Biden told reporters outside the White House earlier this week he had decided on a response. And lawmakers were told by senior administration officials that the president wanted military options "a level or two up" from the "whack-a-mole strikes we had been doing on (militia) storage and launch sites." National Security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the initial American strikes were likely just the beginning. "It's very possible you will see a tiered approach here," Kirby said, "not just a single action, but potentially multiple actions over a period of time." Republican lawmakers have pressed Biden to strike Iran itself because it has trained and supported the militia groups that have targeted American troops, while Democrats — and Biden himself — have been more reluctant about targeting Iran and widening the Israeli-Gaza war into a regional conflict. ### Calls for a more aggressive military response Retired Adm. James Stavridis [wrote in Bloomberg](https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2024-01-29/how-the-us-can-strike-back-at-iran-after-deadly-drone-attack) that the deaths of the three American soldiers required Biden to respond with a "new level of force." That should include "continuous strikes against proxy targets in Syria and Yemen," while working with Iraq "to expand strikes to their country." Stavridis also said the U.S. should be "prepping for a significant cyber attack" on Iran, including severing its ties to its proxy forces, penetrating its oil and gas infrastructure and reducing its armament production. Brad Bowman, a Middle East analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said it was essential for the U.S. to "hit back hard to restore tattered American deterrence." But he worried whether the U.S. troops in the region had enough defenses to "prepare for the inevitable counterpunch that will come after U.S. airstrikes." Pentagon officials have been reluctant to talk openly about the possibility of any increased American defenses in the region. Charles Lister, an analyst at the Middle East Institute, said it appeared the Biden administration was moving from strikes to deter Iranian-backed militias and Iranian units themselves to efforts that would degrade their power. It all seems like a "campaign," he said, rather than a "single round of strikes." Lister said that beyond the Iranian-backed militias, there are "plenty of target options" including bases in Syria where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is located to Iranian naval assets, such as the MV Behshad, an Iranian cargo ship suspected of being a spy platform helping Houthi militants target shipping in the Red Sea. "But that'd feed into the 'regional war' language that the Biden administration remains keen to avoid," Lister said. ### Ongoing attacks The Iranian-backed militias have mounted more than 165 drone, missile and rocket attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since last fall. Most led to minor injuries, though one service member took some shrapnel to the head and was sent back to the U.S. for further treatment. The U.S. has repeatedly hit targets in Syria and Iraq, though the militias continue to strike at American targets — part of Iran's strategy of pushing the U.S. out of the region. Last October, the U.S. responded with airstrikes by bombing weapons and storage facilities in Syria with F-16 jets. A few weeks later, the U.S. hit more targets in Syria, including those used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its allies. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, nine workers in the facilities were killed in the strikes. On Nov. 21, 2023, U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship retaliated against the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, striking a vehicle near Abu Ghraib, Iraq, in response to an attack the day before. U.S. forces at al Asad Airbase west of Baghdad. According to U.S. assessments, several Iran-backed fighters were killed in the strike. The next day, U.S. fighter jets conducted airstrikes on Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah facilities, killing over eight fighters. And there were two strikes in December by the U.S. in Iraq, hitting militants near Kirkuk, and killing five as they attempted to fire on U.S. forces. Another one hit a militia base in Hillah, killing one militant and wounding 20 others. ### What is the "axis of resistance" and Kataib Hezbollah? The so-called ["axis of resistance"](https://www.npr.org/2023/10/26/1208456496/iran-hamas-axis-of-resistance-hezbollah-israel) is a network of Iran proxy groups across the region. It includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, a coalition of militias in Iraq that go by the name the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, Ansar Allah — Houthi forces — in Yemen and Iran-linked groups in eastern Syria. Kataib Hezbollah (which means Party of God Brigades) is not a subsidiary of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, but both have close links to Iran. KH is considered the most powerful of the Iran-backed militias in the Iraq-based resistance, which has claimed about 160 attacks on U.S. forces since the beginning of the Gaza war. It was one of the many Shiite militias that fought ISIS starting in 2014 and along with others, was incorporated into Iraq's official security forces in 2019. Before the Gaza war, the group was known for attacks on the U.S. military which it considers to be occupying forces in Iraq, including using roadside bombs manufactured in Iran. The U.S. [killed the founder of KH](https://www.npr.org/2020/01/04/793618490/who-was-the-iraqi-commander-also-killed-in-baghdad-drone-strike), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in the same drone strike four years ago in Baghdad that killed Iranian general Quassem Soleimani. Muhandis was also a senior Iraqi government security official and that killing dramatically raised tension in Iraq with U.S. forces. On Jan. 24, the U.S. struck three bases of Kataib Hezbollah in retaliation for strikes that included an attack on the Ain al-Asad base in Western al-Anbar. U.S. officials have said that the attack on a remote U.S. base in Jordan that killed three service members last week had the fingerprints of KH. Iran does not exert complete command over the proxies and most, like Lebanon's Hezbollah, have their own domestic agendas. ### An evolving mission for U.S. troops U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 to fight ISIS alongside Iraqi forces. And now there are 2,550 — not in combat, but assisting Iraqis in going after the remnants of ISIS. Now, many of the U.S. troops are stationed in northern Iraq in Erbil, and those troops also support the anti-ISIS fight next door in Syria. The U.S. also provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Iraq in aid, government development, humanitarian assistance, demining efforts and military sales --more than $16 billion, covering everything from F-16 aircraft to helicopters and radar and small arms. In addition, the U.S. has provided Iraq with excess defense equipment over the recent years — 300 large armored vehicles, Humvees, helicopters, body armor — all of which contributed to the ISIS fight. Still, the U.S. airstrikes have created a political problem for the Iraqi government, some of whose parliamentarians have ties to Iran and want to see U.S. forces withdraw from the country. And the latest strikes will certainly add to that headache. Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani came to power because Iran, and the militias it supports, backed him. So in between anger over the U.S. role in supplying Israel with weapons for the war in Gaza, and anger over U.S. breaches of Iraqi sovereignty, he faces intense pressure about the future of U.S. forces in Iraq. Now the U.S. and Iraq are talking about an "evolving" mission for U.S. troops, and there seems to be a disconnect. An adviser to the Iraqi prime minister said the aim is to come up with what he called a specific and clear timetable for the gradual reduction of the U.S.-led coalition troops in Iraq and to an end to the U.S.-led anti-ISIS mission. The government spokesman, Bassem al-Awadi, told Iraqi state TV viewers that Sudani had repeatedly made clear that Iraq's stability required ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq. "He literally said that ending the mission of the international coalition in Iraq is necessary for Iraq," said al-Awadi. "He used the term necessity. And I assure you that when the prime minister uses a term, he means it." That's not how the U.S. sees it. In a background call recently senior Pentagon and State Department officials said the talks are not about a withdrawal of U.S. troops. They said it's about shaping the future of the U.S. military presence. That presence will be determined, they say, by the strength of ISIS and the capability of Iraqi forces.
2024-02-03
  • There’s a whip-smart 10-year-old girl in Gaza who speaks good English, displays a radiant smile and seemed to have a bright future. The daughter of an X-ray technician, she had been accepted to an international exchange program and was supposed to be leaving soon. Instead, she’s lying in a hospital bed with a badly infected wound in her thigh from a bomb blast. A photo shows a football-size open wound, with a chunk of her femur missing. “She was supposed to be in Japan,” said Dr. Samer Attar, an orthopedic surgeon who cared for the girl and told me about her. “Now she’s lying in bed deciding whether to have her leg removed.” I’ve known Dr. Attar for a decade, ever since he volunteered to work in secret hospitals in Aleppo, Syria, to save victims of Russian bombings. A professor at Northwestern University School of Medicine, [he has worked in war zones](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/20/opinion/international-world/syria-ukraine-doctor-volunteer.html) and crisis areas around the world, including Ukraine and Iraq — and recently, at hospitals in Gaza, through the medical volunteer organizations [Rahma Worldwide](https://rahmaww.org/) and [IDEALS](https://www.ideals.org.uk/aboutus.html). Dr. Attar said the girl needed an amputation at the hip to save her life. Her dad, struggling to come to terms with how his and his daughter’s lives have collapsed, is resisting for now. Over the years, I’ve covered many bloody wars and written scathingly about how governments in [Russia](https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/16/opinion/ukraine-russia-war.html), [Sudan](https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-a-rain-of-bombs-in-the-nuba-mountains.html) and [Syria](https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/opinion/sunday/kristof-Grandma-Faces-Down-War-in-Syria.html) recklessly bombed civilians. This time, it’s different: My government is on the side engaged in what President Biden has referred to as “[indiscriminate bombing](https://apnews.com/article/biden-israel-hamas-oct-7-44c4229d4c1270d9cfa484b664a22071).” This is not the same as deliberately targeting civilians, as those other countries did — but this time, as a taxpayer, I’m helping to pay for the bombs. Gaza is also different from Syria and Ukraine, of course, in that Israel did not start this war. Instead, Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas in a rampage of murder, torture and rape. Any government would have struck back, and Hamas maximized the suffering of civilians by using them as human shields. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and [log into](https://myaccount.nytimes.com/auth/login?response_type=cookie&client_id=vi&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F02%2F03%2Fopinion%2Fgaza-israel-war-children.html&asset=opttrunc) your Times account, or [subscribe](https://www.nytimes.com/subscription?campaignId=89WYR&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F02%2F03%2Fopinion%2Fgaza-israel-war-children.html) for all of The Times. Thank you for your patience while we verify access. Already a subscriber? [Log in](https://myaccount.nytimes.com/auth/login?response_type=cookie&client_id=vi&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F02%2F03%2Fopinion%2Fgaza-israel-war-children.html&asset=opttrunc). Want all of The Times? [Subscribe](https://www.nytimes.com/subscription?campaignId=89WYR&redirect_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2024%2F02%2F03%2Fopinion%2Fgaza-israel-war-children.html).
  • ![](https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2024/02/03/gettyimages-1957843383_custom-be41b69fe2e9f588bcd779f698a6b06a48cf26c1-s1100-c50.jpg) Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani chairs a meeting with top-ranking officials of the Iraqi armed forces and of the U.S.-led coalition about the future of American and other foreign troops in the country, in Baghdad on Jan. 27. Hadi Mizban/POOL/AFP via Getty Images BAGHDAD – Iraqi government officials on Saturday condemned [U.S. airstrikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq](https://www.npr.org/2024/02/02/1228132782/us-biden-iran-drone-response-strike), saying the attacks showed that U.S. forces had become a threat to their host country — a sentiment that will likely hasten demands for the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq to leave. Militia officials named 16 fighters they said were killed in the strikes late Friday, including five medics they said died when an airstrike hit a base hospital in western al-Anbar province. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — made up of armed groups that are now part of Iraqi government security forces — said seven of the 16 fatalities were killed when the U.S. bombed its al-Anbar province operations headquarters. It said at least 36 more people were injured and searches were ongoing for missing fighters. The mayor of al-Qaim, a city close to the border with Syria where some of the targets were located, told NPR by phone that at least one civilian was also killed in the strikes and at least five homes near the operations headquarters were destroyed. "We had information that the area would be bombed a day or two before," said the mayor, Turki Muhammad Khalaf. He said many of the residents near the base had evacuated their homes as a precaution. The U.S. said it launched the attacks as retaliation for [the killing of three U.S. soldiers](https://www.npr.org/2024/01/28/1227464410/3-us-troops-killed-25-wounded-drone-strike-jordan-syria-mideast) in a drone attack last Sunday on a remote base in Jordan, also close to borders with Syria and Iraq. The U.S. blamed the strike on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of militias, and said it believed the attack bore the fingerprints of Kataib Hezbollah, the most powerful militia in the group. Kataib Hezbollah said after the attack in Jordan that it was suspending strikes on U.S. targets to avoid "embarrassing" the Iraqi government, which has come under intense U.S. pressure to try to halt the attacks. By Saturday evening, the militia had not commented on the Friday night attacks. Another militia group, Harakat al-Nujaba, [told the Associated Press](https://apnews.com/article/iraq-iran-syria-jordan-strikes-us-2f235ac0d00edc266576ef0d76fa33e4) that the U.S. must understand that "every action elicits a reaction" but that the group did not want to escalate regional tensions. A spokesman for the group told the AP the targeted bases were mostly empty at the time of the U.S. attacks. The Iraqi government spokesman condemned the strikes targeting the Popular Mobilization Forces as "blatant aggression" and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. The PMF was formed from dozens of militias which answered a call by Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric to fight the Sunni militant group ISIS in 2014 after Iraqi army divisions collapsed in the face of the ISIS onslaught. The Iraqi government declared three days of mourning for the dead. "This aggressive airstrike will push the security situation in Iraq and the region to the brink of the abyss," said Basim Alawadi, the government spokesman. "We assert that the presence of the international coalition, which deviated from its assigned tasks and granted mandate, has become a reason for endangering security and stability in Iraq. It also serves as a justification for entangling Iraq in regional and international conflicts." Alawadi said U.S. claims that it had informed the Iraqi government of the strikes beforehand were not true, calling it "intentional deception." Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and senior Iraqi military leaders have told Western diplomats they believe the U.S.-led coalition and the intelligence, surveillance and technological assets it provides are still needed in Iraq, but it appears to have become politically untenable for those forces to stay in Iraq. Sudani last week convened a meeting of Iraqi and U.S. military officials for what he described as the start of a timetable for a departure of U.S.-led forces. The U.S. maintains about 2,500 service members in Iraq and another 900 in neighboring Syria. Although their mission is helping Iraq and Syrian Kurds fight ISIS, the U.S. government's focus on isolating Iran has sparked concern in Iraq and Iran that that is now the major preoccupation of the U.S. military presence here. The militias are in part a legacy of the security vacuum after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, when U.S. occupation authorities disbanded Iraq's armed forces. Al-Qaida sprung up in that vacuum, launching waves of bombing attacks on both U.S targets and undefended Shia shrines and neighborhoods, prompting the rise of Shiite militias to counter both them and the U.S. forces. Iraq quickly spiraled into a civil war. Dozens of militias formed when ISIS – a successor to al-Qaida in Iraq – burst onto the scene in 2014. Many of those militias were incorporated into Iraq's official security forces and put on the Iraqi government payroll with the defeat of ISIS in Syria five years later. Although they are nominally under the command of the Iraqi prime minister, many of the major groups have stronger links to Iran. Some of the Iran-linked militias based in Iraq are part of The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose group that escalated attacks against U.S. military targets from Iraq and Syria after the start of the Gaza war. Militia leaders have said they will stop attacks against the U.S. when the war in Gaza, in which the U.S. supplies weapons to Israel, stops. _Awadh al-Taie contributed reporting from Baghdad._
2024-02-05
  • Fear of another earthquake grips millions in Syria’s last rebel-held province, even the lucky few who managed to find new homes after theirs were destroyed. Many began pitching tents as the anniversary approached, wary of having to flee their houses once again. When the earthquakes struck in the early hours of 6 February last year, people in Idlib said they thought the ground violently shaking meant airstrikes ordered by the government in Damascus. Now the rumble of airstrikes makes them fearful that another quake is happening. Tremors, whether from an aftershock or airstrike, are enough to send six-year-old Jinan running fearfully into the tent where she now lives alongside her younger brother, Abdullah, their grandparents and 18 other orphans. The earthquakes changed Jinan and Abdullah’s lives and their [frightened faces](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/14/get-me-out-of-here-survival-of-syrian-siblings-filmed-trapped-in-rubble), trapped between layers of rubble, came to symbolise Idlib’s suffering when footage of their plight was widely circulated. “We can deal with bombings, but not another earthquake,” said their uncle, Omar Rahal, who shot the video, offering a little gallows humour. “This is our reality.” Reconstruction has been slow in an enclave where Rahal and others complain about being forgotten by the world. As those in Idlib attempted to recover from deadly earthquakes that killed an estimated 8,000 people across Syria, more than half in the north-west, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus scaled up a deadly bombing campaign in the enclave. One particularly vicious campaign of strikes early last September killed 45 people in Idlib and devastated multiple pieces of civilian infrastructure, adding to the destruction wrought by the quakes, which damaged thousands of schools, medical centres and homes. The UN said late last year that the violence in northwestern Syria had returned to levels not seen for four years. Around 3.4 million people are now internally displaced after fleeing fighting, some of them for a second or even third time due to the earthquakes; 43,000 people forced to move by the earthquakes are yet to return home. “Many families came here as they thought it was safer, but after they lost their home here, they decided to go back to their villages, as they simply had nowhere else to go,” said Dalal Albesh, who runs the Zumoruda women’s centre in the town of Salqeen in Idlib. The town welcomed many fleeing the bombardments before it was badly hit by the earthquakes. “They went back to their old homes and risk their lives to live near the frontlines,” she said. “A few of them who used to have lands with olive trees decided to deal with the risk of being near the frontlines, so they could at least have an income. If you go to the camps, there’s very little to do there, and people have very few choices in this situation.” ![Man leans over boy in bed](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/6861c25fba1c8b2306842632a41bd01fecebaaf4/0_105_6720_4032/master/6720.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/feb/05/one-year-on-orphaned-siblings-are-haunted-by-syrian-earthquake#img-2) Omar Rahal with Jinan at the hospital Idlib, Syria. Photograph: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian Jinan and Abdullah are attempting to heal from their injuries, sustained when their family home crushed them, while living in a tent. Rahal is haunted by the experience of rushing to his cousin Mahmoud’s house in the Idlib town of Al Haram after the earthquakes struck, only to hear Jinan’s voice calling to him from under the rubble, begging him to rescue her and her brother. He could hear their mother, Sara, imploring him to save her children before she was crushed to death by the layer of concrete that had been their ceiling. Rahal tunnelled through the rubble to speak to Jinan and Abdullah, promising that he would either get them out or die trying. He recorded a video of the trapped children for his colleagues in the local police force, to help them figure out how to bring the right equipment, but it soon reached millions of viewers online. He eventually managed to pull both children from under the rubble of their home, their mother’s limp arm outstretched towards the pair. Jinan’s leg was impaled on a piece of metal, leaving her with deep nerve damage that has required seven surgeries and a course of physiotherapy. Rahal had to fight to find doctors willing to forgo amputating her leg. Her recovery, he said, has been made slower and harder in the tent; they face brutal heat during the summer and cold rains in winter. Jinan started school last September, limping to attend class with the other children. Abdullah suffered burns from battery acid, leaving deep wounds that still require surgery on his feet. Not yet two, he is still trying to understand what he lost. “He’s young, but you can see that when he looks at the burns and scars on his leg, these symbolise that overnight he lost most of his family,” said Rahal. “He had a mother, father and five other sisters just a day before. In one night they lost it all.” ![Tents in refugee camp](https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/d6bf1afaa75ff4f1280196652e56f0dbf9269af7/0_247_5472_3283/master/5472.jpg?width=445&dpr=1&s=none)[](https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/feb/05/one-year-on-orphaned-siblings-are-haunted-by-syrian-earthquake#img-3) The Maram camp for internally displaced people in Syria’s north-western Idlib province in March last year. Photograph: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Reconstruction efforts in Idlib are also deeply intertwined with diplomatic struggles over the lone crossing into the territory, with the UN now dependent on Damascus’ authorisation to bring in vital aid. The UN has also [warned](https://www.unocha.org/news/syria-humanitarian-situation-unsustainable-and-insupportable-top-un-aid-official-tells) that a drop in donations has jeopardised their ability to provide services in Idlib; its funding for northwest Syria is running at a third of its target amount. Then there are the rising prices for even the most basic goods. Rahal pointed to the food baskets containing items such as sugar and bread that used to come as part of the aid packages, where “we would receive enough for the whole house, but it’s halved”. Others working in aid in the north-west said that local authorities, linked to the deeply conservative militant group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an offshoot of the jihadist Nusra Front, keep a close watch on humanitarian organisations operating in Idlib, implicitly warning them against working on any issues that might challenge their authority. Rahal mulled the feeling among his extended family as the anniversary of the earthquake approached, recalling how Jinan began to cry on seeing videos of her deceased sister and mother that her grandmother played on her phone recently. “We are all too aware of what we lived through and what happened, and the huge impact it had on our lives,” he said. “Hopefully the kids will forget with time.”
2024-02-06
  • Since Friday, the US military has launched [dozens of airstrikes](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/02/us-airstrikes-iraq-syria-drone-attack) on targets in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Joe Biden’s administration portrayed the wave of attacks as a response to a drone strike that killed three US troops at a military base in Jordan on 28 January, and to ongoing attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi militia. “If you harm an American, we will respond,” the US president said on Friday, adding that there will more retaliation to come. Biden, the president who withdrew the last US troops and ended America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan, could now become the same leader who started a new regional war in the Middle East that entangles the US in a conflict with [Iran](https://www.theguardian.com/world/iran) and its allied militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. For now, the fallout from US reprisals seems to be contained, especially since Biden did not order the Pentagon to strike targets inside Iran. But Biden has promised [more US attacks](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/04/houthis-vow-more-red-sea-attacks-after-third-wave-of-us-uk-strikes-on-yemen) on Iranian-backed Shia militias operating in Iraq and Syria, including on bases where members of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards train and advise the militias. And that’s where the US military and Iran’s allies are caught in a loop of tit-for-tat escalation: attacks on US bases in the region, or shipping vessels in the Red Sea, lead the Pentagon to hit back, risking new reprisals that could spiral out of control. The US keeps hoping that its overwhelming military power will create a “deterrent” and stop the militias from carrying out new attacks. Despite Biden’s insistence as a presidential candidate and in his first year in office that he wanted to end the “forever wars” that the US unleashed after 9/11, the president is once again hoping to bomb his way out of a problem in the Middle East. The cognitive dissonance of unleashing more bombing to achieve stability is even more stark because Biden and his top aides have insisted that their highest priority since the brutal 7 October attacks by Hamas militants inside [Israel](https://www.theguardian.com/world/israel) has been to prevent Israel’s devastating invasion of Gaza from spreading into a regional conflict. > Without a huge airlift of US weapons since October, Israel would run out of bombs to drop on Gaza Yet Biden has dodged the most straightforward path to avoid the escalation he rightly fears: for the US to withhold military assistance to Israel so that it accepts an immediate ceasefire and ends its war on Gaza. That would be the most effective way to de-escalate the conflict on all fronts. For its part, Iran has used the so-called “axis of resistance”, a network of regional militias funded and supported by the Revolutionary Guards, to strike at Israeli and US targets across the region in an attempt to increase pressure on Israel and Washington to stop the Gaza war. The alliance includes Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, the powerful Lebanese militant group [Hezbollah](https://www.theguardian.com/world/hezbollah), and several Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. Since October, these militias launched [more than 150 attacks](https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-backed-attacks-us-troops-middle-east-since-oct-7-2024-01-28/) against US troops stationed in Iraq and Syria; remarkably, there were no US casualties until the 28 January drone strike on the US base in Jordan, which led to the most recent escalation. The Houthis, meanwhile, started firing missiles and drones at shipping vessels sailing through the Red Sea, prompting the US and Britain to launch a series of air and missile strikes against [dozens of targets](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/12/us-uk-air-strikes-yemen-houthi-rebels-red-sea-crisis) in Yemen last month. All of Iran’s allies have said they would stop their attacks once Israel ends its bombardment of Gaza. In late November, when Israel and [Hamas](https://www.theguardian.com/world/hamas) agreed to a week-long truce to exchange some of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoner, the militia attacks on US forces and on shipping in the Red Sea largely stopped. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed regional chaos and allowed Iran to increase its influence in Baghdad and elsewhere, Tehran has worked to enhance its power by funding, training and arming militias across the Middle East. But the Iranian regime, led by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, does not want to confront the US directly, fearing devastating reprisals. While Tehran is supporting some of the recent attacks by its allies, even US intelligence officials acknowledge that Iran [does not have full control](https://www.politico.com/news/2024/02/01/iran-proxies-intel-houthis-00139099) over the various militias in its alliance. The Houthis and other militias have their own agendas, and they have basked in the attention they’re receiving for standing up against Israel and the US to defend the Palestinian cause. Iran has made clear that it does not want to escalate the conflict and will avoid responding to US strikes on its allies unless Washington directly attacks Iranian territory. But the spiral of attacks and counterattacks still carries a risk of miscalculation, especially since Biden has a clear way out of this vicious cycle: forcing Israel to end the Gaza war. Biden has significant leverage over the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is trying to prolong and expand the conflict to [avoid an investigation](https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-idf-should-have-opened-a-probe-into-the-events-of-october-7-a-long-time-ago/) into whether his government could have prevented the Hamas attacks and a series of personal corruption charges that have dragged through the Israeli courts for years. Without a huge airlift of US weapons since October, Israel would run out of bombs to drop on Gaza. But Biden has refused to use that leverage to force Netanyahu’s government to accept a ceasefire. In fact, the Biden administration has gone out of its way to hide the extent of US arms shipments and other recent [military aid to Israel](https://www.vox.com/world-politics/2023/11/18/23966137/us-weapons-israel-biden-package-explained) – unlike the [detailed breakdowns](https://www.cfr.org/article/how-much-aid-has-us-sent-ukraine-here-are-six-charts) that Washington has provided of its billions of dollars in weapons shipments to Ukraine. > Biden has the power to restrain Israel – he has simply refused to use it Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have provided Israel with [more than $130bn](https://www.state.gov/u-s-security-cooperation-with-israel/) in military assistance since the Israeli state was founded in 1948. After the October attacks, Biden rushed to request that Congress [approve $14.3bn](https://www.axios.com/2023/11/04/us-israel-aid-military-funding-chart) in new weapons for Israel. While that package still hasn’t been approved by US legislators, the Biden administration has bypassed congressional review to quickly replenish Israeli stockpiles. In December, the US twice invoked emergency provisions to ship tens of thousands of artillery shells and other munitions to Israel. Recent reports in the [Israeli press](https://www.ynetnews.com/article/h1wp1rncp) make clear that because of a global shortage of ammunition that started with the Ukraine war, Israel would not be able to sustain its bombardment of Gaza without the US resupplying the Israeli military. In fact, Israeli officials in December said they had to reduce the frequency of air attacks on Gaza to “manage the economy of armaments” to sustain a protracted war. According to Israeli sources, the US has delivered more than 25,000 tons of weapons through 40 ships and 280 aircraft landings since October. The ammunition shortage has so deeply alarmed Netanyahu that he is pushing Israel’s homegrown defense industry to dramatically ramp up its [production of weapons](https://www.timesofisrael.com/is-pm-serious-about-expanding-local-arms-production-reducing-dependence-on-imports/), especially bombs and other ordnance. “Israel is preparing the defense industries to disconnect from dependency on the rest of the world,” the prime minister said last month, in comments that were barely noticed outside Israel. In the meantime, Biden has the power to restrain Israel – he has simply refused to use it. Biden is also aware of the responsibility that comes with providing an ally like Israel with a virtually unlimited pipeline of weapons to continue its war. On 30 January, reporters at the White House asked Biden whether he holds Iran responsible for the killing of three US soldiers in Jordan. “I do hold them responsible in the sense that they’re supplying the weapons to the people who did it,” Biden [said](https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/01/30/remarks-by-president-biden-before-marine-one-departure-43/). It was a remarkable admission by the US president, and it poses a basic follow-up question: does Biden think the same about the more than [27,000 deaths in Gaza](https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/live-updates-death-toll-gaza-passes-27000-south-106861226) enabled by a steady supply of US weapons he has provided to Israel? * Mohamad Bazzi is director of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, and a journalism professor at New York University
2024-02-15
  • When the Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday unleashed its deadliest airstrikes on Lebanon since the start of the conflict in October, killing at least 10 civilians and six Hezbollah fighters, [the IDF said several of the targets were](https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1757780895526719560) sites associated with the organization’s elite Radwan force. Long barely known, the force’s fighters put on a show last year for local and foreign reporters who were invited on a media tour of one of its training camps on a pleasant spring day in southern Lebanon. The demonstration gave a rare glimpse of a group that has increasingly become a focus of Israeli operations. On a hill near the village of Aaramta, about 15 miles from the Israeli border, the group conducted what its [channel](https://english.almanar.com.lb/1842568) dubbed “Hezbollah Wargames.” Drones carrying the Hezbollah and Lebanese flags fluttered above as the paramilitaries drilled below, firing explosives at targets, fighting hand to hand and simulating cross-border attacks on mock Israeli outposts. The show of fighters — many of them strongly built, all wearing balaclavas — was intended to publicly flex Hezbollah’s military muscle. They were members of the al-Hajj Radwan force, an elite fighting unit within Hezbollah. Here’s what to know about these forces. The unit was created to launch offensive attacks, including forays into Israel, an official close to Hezbollah told The Washington Post. The unit is believed to have been engaged in the fighting along the Lebanon-Israel border since Oct. 7. Israeli officials have long expected it would be at the helm of any future Hezbollah foray into Israel. Israel estimates the unit’s strength at thousands of operatives. Its goal, the Israel Defense Forces says in a recent video, is to “conquer the Israeli Galilee.” “Deployed along the Blue Line in between Israel and Lebanon” — the border monitored by U.N. peacekeepers — “the Radwan unit keeps a close watch on northern Israel, and are always collecting information,” the IDF says. The unit was formed in 2006 as the Intervention Force. It was renamed in 2008 to honor senior Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah, who was killed that year in a [joint Mossad-CIA operation](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-and-mossad-killed-senior-hezbollah-figure-in-car-bombing/2015/01/30/ebb88682-968a-11e4-8005-1924ede3e54a_story.html?itid=lk_inline_manual_17). Mughniyah fought under the nom de guerre “Radwan,” the Islamic angel who guards the heavens. The Radwan force gained prominence for its performance in brutal fighting to wrest territory in Lebanon and Syria back from the Islamic State. Hezbollah dispatched fighters to Syria to help prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad and his regime are part of what Iran terms its “axis of resistance” — governments and military groups whose interests align with those of Iran and that oppose Israel. It also includes [Hamas](https://www.washingtonpost.com/israel-hamas-war/?itid=lk_inline_manual_21), the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq. Many Radwan fighters are battle-hardened. “Most of them fought in Syria,” according to the official close to the group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject. “They fought in hard conditions: desert, mountains, snow,” he said. As a result, “their training is of a higher \[caliber\]; their expertise is better.” The official said the group is seen as having proved its fighting ability against the Islamic State in several places in Syria: in Qusayr, near the Lebanese border; in the central ancient city of Palmyra, as a key ally in helping Assad [recapture the area](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syrian-army-retakes-the-ancient-city-of-palmyra-from-the-islamic-state/2017/03/02/fe770c78-ff63-11e6-9b78-824ccab94435_story.html?itid=lk_inline_manual_24); and in Bukamal, an eastern area bordering Iraq. Since Oct. 7, Israeli military leaders have sought to raise awareness of the Radwan force. In its video, the IDF [identifies its leader as Haytham Ali Tabatabai](https://twitter.com/idf/status/1747677099421204955?s=12). The State Department has said Tabatabai “commanded the group’s special forces in both Syria and Yemen” and works as “part of a larger Hizballah effort to provide training, materiel, and personnel in support of its destabilizing regional activities.” > Highly trained and heavily armed, the Radwan Unit—Hezbollah’s elite special forces—pose an imminent threat toward Israel’s northern border. [pic.twitter.com/Cem12Li4IS](https://t.co/Cem12Li4IS) > > — Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) [January 17, 2024](https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1747677099421204955?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw) The State Department [added](https://rewardsforjustice.net/rewards/haytham-ali-tabatabai/) Tabatabai to its list of specially designated global terrorists in 2016 and has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information on him. The killing in early January of a Radwan commander, [Wissam al-Tawil](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/08/israel-hamas-war-gaza-news-palestine-updates/?itid=lk_inline_manual_31), attracted more attention to the group. It was the first death of a commander announced by Hezbollah since Oct. 7. The killing was unusual in that Israel publicly claimed credit. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a televised interview that his country had killed Tawil as “part of the war.” Israel rarely announces or even confirms involvement in targeted killings abroad. A week earlier, senior [Hamas official Saleh Arouri](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/01/02/beirut-hamas-arouri-killed-israel/?itid=lk_inline_manual_32) and six other people were killed in a precisely targeted attack in a crowded residential neighborhood just outside Beirut. Hezbollah and Hamas blamed Israel; Israel has not acknowledged a role in the attack. Tawil is far from the only member of the Radwan force to have been killed since Oct. 7 on the Lebanese-Israeli border, where Hezbollah and Israel have been exchanging fire daily. Nearly 50 Radwan fighters were killed between Oct. 7 and Jan. 25, according to the official close to the group. [They include Abbas Raad](https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/11/23/israel-hamas-war-news-hostage-deal-gaza-palestine/#link-ZQBUZMGG4JATRKT444GL7SJ4KA?itid=lk_inline_manual_36), the son of Mohammed Raad, a Hezbollah member in the Lebanese parliament. A Post count of Hezbollah death announcements indicates that 172 Hezbollah members have been killed in Syria and Lebanon during that time. The existence of the unit, “with its reported independent chain of command and its own brigades and battalions, points to how sophisticated Hezbollah has become militarily, beyond its advancement in weapons,” said Amal Saad, a lecturer in politics and international relations at Cardiff University who researches Hezbollah. Rarely do irregular armed forces or non-state actors have such sophisticated special operators, she said. The unit is one reason Hezbollah’s military force is viewed as a hybrid actor, an irregular force that’s becoming increasingly conventional. Israel seems to share that view. “They have tools that they did not have in 2006,” Lt. Col. Shlomi Binder told Haaretz in 2022, “chief among them a plan and the ability to attack in our territory.” Binder, then commander of Israel’s Division 91, said Hezbollah had improved its defense abilities and increased the array of weapons targeting Israeli positions. “One of the clear signs of the transition from guerrillas to an army is the development of broad offensive formations, and not just a specific or defensive attack,” Binder said. “This is not necessarily bad for us. The more they become an army and produce regular patterns, the more they create targets for us to attack. An army needs to move, gather forces. It leaves traces.” _Lior Soroka in Tel Aviv contributed to this report._