Iran Update - Israel-Hamas War October 7 to December 31, 2023

This page collects the refocused Iran Updates on the Israel-Hamas War from October 7 to December 31, 2023.

Click here to return to the updates page for 2024.


ISW and The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute refocused the Iran Update to cover the Israel–Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance.

We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. ISW and CTP at the American Enterprise Institute provides these updates regularly based on regional events.

For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in ISW's campaign assessments of the Israel-Hamas war. 

 

Iran Update, December 31, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces advanced into Beit Lahiya for clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian militias attempted to defend against Israeli forces operating in Tuffah and al Daraj in Gaza City. Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks in Jabalia City and Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.
  2. Palestinian militias are clashing with Israeli forces in al Bureij in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip.
  3. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis for the fourth straight week as Palestinian militia fighters tried to defend against Israeli advances. Palestinian militias have sustained almost daily attacks on Israeli forces in Khan Younis since Israel forces advanced into the southern Gaza Strip in early December.
  4. Israel has withdrawn five IDF brigades from the Gaza Strip, which is consistent with Israeli forces transitioning to a third phase of operations. The third phase will include the end of major combat operations, a “reduction in forces” in the Gaza Strip, the release of reservists, a “transition to targeted raids,” and the establishment of a security buffer zone within the Gaza Strip.
  5. An unspecified Israeli intelligence officer told the Economist that most of Hamas’ command structure is “gone” and that Hamas is no longer operating as a military organization. CTP-ISW assesses that at least three of 30 Hamas battalions in the five brigades are combat ineffective, at least eight battalions are degraded, and at least 12 battalions are currently under intense IDF pressure.
  6. An Israeli Army Radio correspondent reported that IDF sources believe the intensification of fighting on the ground in the Gaza Strip has contributed to a reduction in Palestinian rocket capabilities. Palestinian militias did not claim any indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
  7. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in six locations across the West Bank.
  8. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. LH Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem stated that LH will not allow displaced Israeli civilians to return to their homes in northern Israel until Israel halts its military operations in the Gaza Strip.
  9. Iranian-backed militants conducted two attacks on US forces stationed at Conoco Mission Support Site and al Omar oil field on December 30. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—conducted two attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 31.
  10. Houthi fighters conducted two attacks on the MV Maersk Hangzhou container ship in the southern Red Sea. The Houthis likely focused on attacking a Maersk-operated vessel in particular because Maersk announced that it would resume its operations in the Red Sea on December 24. These Houthi attacks are part of a broader regional escalation that Iran is leading against the United States and Israel.
  11. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with senior Houthi official Mohammad Abdul Salam in Tehran.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces advanced into Beit Lahiya for clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip. An Israeli Brigade Combat Team identified three Hamas fighters inside a building and directed an airstrike at their position in Beit Lahiya, according to an IDF report on December 31.[1] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—intercepted an Israeli reconnaissance drone in Beit Lahiya on December 31.[2] Israeli forces initially advanced into the Gaza Strip west of Beit Lahiya in late October.[3] Commercially available satellite imagery captured on December 31 shows recently flattened terrain in Beit Lahiya City and north of the city, which suggests that Israeli tanks or bulldozers recently began operating in the area. The Wall Street Journal published a map of the tunnel system that Hamas has created below the Gaza Strip based on data from 2014, which includes an extensive tunnel network in Beit Lahiya.[4] Palestinian militia fighters have used tunnel shafts to maneuver through the strip and to ambush Israeli forces.[5] The IDF has located about 1,500 tunnel shafts and routes in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, according to an IDF report on December 19.[6]

Palestinian militias attempted to defend against Israeli forces operating in Tuffah and al Daraj in Gaza City. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed several attacks on Israeli forces operating in the neighborhoods.[7] The al Qassem Brigades claimed to detonate a Shawaz explosively formed penetrator (EFP) in the neighborhoods, targeting five Israeli vehicles.[8] EFPs are particularly lethal improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate armored vehicles, such as main battle tanks.[9]

Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks in Jabalia City and Sheikh Radwan neighborhood on December 31. CTP-ISW assessed on December 22 that Hamas’ Jabalia al Balad Battalion is degraded and that the Radwan Battalion remains combat effective.[10] Both battalions are facing active and intense IDF pressure, as Israeli forces continue advancing into these areas.[11] Palestinian militias have claimed nearly daily attacks in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood since the humanitarian pause expired on December 1, which suggests that it is one of the remaining areas where they maintain significant defensive infrastructure. The absence of Palestinian attack claims does not necessarily indicate that Hamas lacks the capability to launch attacks in the area, however. Palestinian militias have reported losing contact with specific units for short periods of time in the Gaza Strip, which could have happened in Jabalia City and Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.[12]

Israeli forces continued executing tasks consistent with holding operations in some areas of Gaza City. CTP-ISW reported on December 20 that Israeli forces are transitioning from clearing operations to holding operations in some areas of the northern Gaza Strip.[13] The hold phase is defined by a decreased level of violence but still requires holding forces to engage and eliminate enemy forces and infrastructure to provide security.[14] Palestinian militia attacks in these areas demonstrate that the militias have retained some forces capable of targeting Israeli operations.

  • Israeli forces searched the homes of Palestinian militia fighters in al Shaati refugee camp in northern Gaza City.[15] Unspecified Palestinian fighters had planted IEDs in the vicinity of a kindergarten in advance of the arrival of Israeli forces.
  • Israeli forces conducted an airstrike targeting a suspicious vehicle that Palestinian fighters were driving toward Israeli ground elements in southern Gaza City.[16]
  • The al Quds Brigades detonated a tunnel entrance rigged with explosives targeting Israeli infantrymen in Shujaiya neighborhood, where Israeli forces have been executing tasks consistent with holding operations for over a week.[17]

Palestinian militias are clashing with Israeli forces in al Bureij in the Central Governorate of the Gaza Strip. The al Qassem Brigades published footage on December 31 of its forces moving through buildings to launch rocket propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli tanks—a tactic that the militia has employed heavily across the Gaza Strip.[18] The IDF said that it expanded clearing operations in Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on December 26 to target Hamas’ Bureij Battalion.[19] The IDF Arabic-language media spokesperson repeated on December 31 evacuation orders covering areas of the central Gaza Strip.[20] Residents of al Bureij refugee camp, Badr, northern coast, al Nuzha, al Zahra, al Buraq, al Salam, al Fayha, al Basma, al Bawadi, al Rawdah, and al Safah must move to shelters in Deir al Balah, according to the IDF evacuation orders.[21]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis for the fourth straight week as Palestinian militia fighters tried to defend against Israeli advances. The IDF reported on December 31 that an airborne brigade deployed to Khan Younis in recent days after two months of intense fighting in the northern Gaza Strip.[22] The brigade joined special operations, armored, engineering, and air elements in clearing Khan Younis Governorate of militia infrastructure, such as observation outposts, anti-tank positions, and weapons depots.[23] Palestinian fighters emerged from a tunnel shaft in one encounter and attempted to fire RPGs before Israeli forces returned fire.[24] Israeli air and armored elements killed the remaining Palestinian fighters.[25] The IDF also destroyed unspecified militia infrastructure belonging to the commanders of Hamas’ South Khan Younis Battalion, one of five in the governorate.[26]

Palestinian militias have sustained almost daily attacks on Israeli forces in Khan Younis since Israeli forces advanced into the southern Gaza Strip in early December. The al Qassem Brigades claimed three attacks on Israeli forces using mortars and anti-tank RPGs.[27] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed to target an Israeli tank with an unspecified explosive device north of Khan Younis.[28] The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Resistance Committees—claimed that its fighters targeted an Israeli tank with a tandem-charged anti-tank rocket in Khan Younis.[29] The al Qassem Brigades and National Resistance Brigades claimed separate mortar attacks on Israeli forces east of Khuzaa, where the IDF began clearing operations on December 27.[30]

Israel has withdrawn five IDF brigades from the Gaza Strip, which is consistent with Israeli forces transitioning to a third phase of operations. The IDF confirmed the withdrawals and that it will include some reservists.[31] Some of these brigades had deployed to and fought in the northern Gaza Strip.[32] Three of the five brigades are training brigades, which are responsible for training officers, tank personnel, and non-commissioned officers during peacetime.[33] Israel’s public broadcaster reported on December 23 that the IDF will transition to the third phase of its ground operation in the Gaza Strip in the “coming weeks.”[34] The report said that the third phase will include the end of major combat operations, a “reduction in forces” in the Gaza Strip, the release of reservists, a “transition to targeted raids,” and the establishment of a security buffer zone within the Gaza Strip.

An unspecified Israeli intelligence officer told the Economist on December 30 that most of Hamas’ command structure is “gone” and that Hamas is no longer operating as a military organization.[35] The officer noted that Hamas maintains many fighters who have reverted to guerilla tactics.

CTP-ISW assesses that at least three of 30 Hamas battalions in the five brigades are combat ineffective, at least eight battalions are degraded, and at least 12 battalions are currently under intense IDF pressure.[36] Hamas has a conventional military order of battle but has fought this war and historically as an irregular (guerilla) force. Hamas very likely retains a deep bench of experienced military commanders.[37] Israeli forces are still actively clearing in some parts of the northern Gaza Strip in addition to the Gaza Strip’s Central and Khan Younis governorates, where Hamas maintains combat effective units. Combat effectiveness measures a unit’s ability to perform its mission; a unit is combat ineffective when it is no longer able to complete its mission.[38] The IDF reported on December 26 that all four battalions in Hamas’ Central Gazan Brigade have sustained “some damage” but are “largely functioning.”[39] Hamas’ combat ineffective units are still capable of waging low-level warfare and reconstituting.

An Israeli Army Radio correspondent reported on December 31 that IDF sources believe the intensification of fighting on the ground in the Gaza Strip has contributed to a reduction in Palestinian rocket capabilities.[40] Palestinian militias did not claim any indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip on December 31. CTP-ISW initially assessed that Israeli clearing operations were likely degrading Hamas’ capacity to conduct indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip on December 12.[41]

The IDF estimates that the war will not completely reduce rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel, however. Israeli clearing operations are primarily focused on dismantling Hamas in the Gaza Strip.[42] The IDF noted that the success of their operations in the strip does not preclude a “lone terrorist” from conducting indirect fire attacks into Israel. Several Palestinian militias operating in the Gaza Strip maintain rocket arsenals and have claimed indirect fire attacks into Israel.[43]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in six locations across the West Bank on December 31.[44] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and one of its affiliated groups, the Tulkarm Rapid Response Battalion, claimed that they conducted IED and small arms attacks on Israeli forces around Tulkarm on December 30-31.[45] Unspecified Palestinian fighters threw IEDs at Israeli forces in Nablus, Tulkarm, and Jericho on December 31.[46] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades separately claimed three small arms attacks on Israeli forces and settlements near Qalqilya and Nablus on December 30.[47] Unspecified Palestinian fighters fired small arms and threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces near Hebron on December 30.[48] Fatah organized a demonstration against Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip in Ramallah on December 31.[49]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 31. LH fired anti-tank guided missiles and other unspecified munitions toward three Israeli border positions.[50] Unspecified fighters separately launched rockets toward Metula on December 31.[51] The IDF Air Force conducted airstrikes on LH military infrastructure in Ramiya, southern Lebanon.[52] The IDF stated that LH uses villages along the border to facilitate attacks on Israeli border positions.[53]

LH Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem stated on December 31 that LH will not allow displaced Israeli civilians to return to their homes in northern Israel until Israel halts its military operations in the Gaza Strip.[54] Qassem stated that LH is in a state of war with Israel and that its forces along the border were positioned accordingly.[55] Qassem also warned that Israeli attacks harming Lebanese civilians would lead to a stronger but proportional response from LH.[56] Head of the Maronite Church Bechara Boutros al Rahi called for LH to withdraw its rocket units from civilian areas in southern Lebanon to avoid IDF retaliation.[57]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iranian-backed militants conducted two attacks on US forces stationed at Conoco Mission Support Site and al Omar oil field on December 30.[58] The militants fired three drones at Conoco Mission Support Site and 14 rockets at al Omar oilfield, according to an unnamed US defense official.[59] The attack on Conoco is the largest barrage of rockets fired at US forces in a single attack that CTP-ISW has recorded since the Israel-Hamas war began, although it is possible that comparable or larger attacks have occurred and that such details have not been published. Syrian opposition media reported that Kataib Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Iraqi militias were responsible for the December 30 attacks.[60] CTP-ISW previously assessed that the Iranian-led Axis of Resistance may escalate further against US forces in the region in the coming days, especially around the four-year anniversary of the US killing former IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2024.[61] Iranian leaders have vowed to expel US forces from the region as part of their revenge for the United States killing Soleimani.[62] The IRGC Quds Force engaged senior Iranian-backed Iraqi militia and political leaders likely to discuss their military and political campaign to expel US forces on December 30, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[63]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—conducted two attacks targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 31. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed two separate drone attacks on US forces at Rmelan Landing Zone, Syria, and Erbil International Airport, Iraq.[64]

Kataib Hezbollah (KH) commemorated its fight against the United States in several posts on its Telegram page on December 31. KH claimed that the United States deployed military advisors to Iraq under false pretexts to reoccupy Iraq and reshape the Middle East according to Israeli interests.[65] KH also celebrated the fourth anniversary of the storming of the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019, and 12th anniversary of the US troop withdrawal in 2011.[66] KH also applauded its fighters' continued dedication to removing the United States from Iraq.[67]

Houthi fighters conducted two attacks on the MV Maersk Hangzhou container ship in the southern Red Sea. Likely Houthi fighters conducted a missile attack on the ship on December 30.[68] The USS Gravely destroyer intercepted two anti-ship missiles targeting the Hangzhou, while responding to a distress call from the ship.[69] Four Houthi fast attack craft later approached the Hangzhou, firing on the container ship and attempting to board it.[70] The USS Gravely and USS Eisenhower aircraft carriers sent helicopters to the container ship and issued verbal messages to the Houthi boats, which then fired on the helicopters.[71] The helicopters returned fire in self-defense and sank three of the four Houthi boats, killing ten Houthi members.[72] The fourth Houthi boat fled the area.

Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said that Houthi fighters had been performing their regular duties to provide security and stability in the Red Sea by preventing Israeli ships or ships en route to Israel from passing.[73] Saree accused the United States of attempting to expand the conflict into the Red Sea and warned other countries of being complicit to US efforts.[74] Saree’s statement notably quoted a Quranic verse that LH and the Islamic Resistance of Iraq regularly cite as justification for their attacks on the United States or Israel. The use of the passage across the Axis of Resistance members is likely meant to signal their unity to external actors, while framing their regional escalation as some kind of religious duty.

The Houthis likely focused on attacking a Maersk-operated vessel in particular because Maersk announced that it would resume its operations in the Red Sea on December 24.[75] CTP-ISW previously assessed that the Iranian and Houthi anti-shipping attack campaign is meant to demonstrate the capability and willingness of the Axis of Resistance to threaten multiple strategic maritime chokepoints across the Middle East. The Houthi framing that the anti-shipping attack campaign is meant to only prevent commercial traffic to Israel is inaccurate, as the Houthi attacks have targeted multiple ships with no immediate connection to Israel or Israeli interests. Maersk announced that it would again suspend its operations in the Red Sea—this time for 48 hours—on December 31.[76]

These Houthi attacks are part of a broader regional escalation that Iran is leading against the United States and Israel. This regional escalation is meant to achieve Iran’s broader regional ambitions rather than achieve any discrete effects vis-a-vis the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. This Iran-led escalation includes the almost daily drone, missile, and rocket attacks that Iranian-backed militias have conducted against US forces in Iraq and Syria. Iran and its proxies and partners in the Axis of Resistance are framing falsely this escalation as a response to the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Iran and its Axis of Resistance have a long history of threatening American servicemembers and international shipping prior to the war because it supports their grand strategic objectives in the Middle East. The current escalation is thus meant to help Iran attain regional hegemony, destroy the Israeli state, and expel US forces from the Middle East. The Israel-Hamas war provides informational cover to Iran and the Axis of Resistance, allowing them to misrepresent their long-standing campaigns as meant to support the Palestinian cause.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed recent Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea during a phone call with his British counterpart, David Cameron, on December 31.[77] Abdollahian suggested that Houthi attacks on maritime traffic would continue so long as Israel continues its military operations in the Gaza Strip. Cameron stated that Iran bears responsibility for the Houthi attacks given its long-standing support for the Houthis. The Houthis have conducted an anti-shipping attack campaign around the Red Sea in recent weeks to disrupt commercial shipping to Israel and demonstrate both the willingness and capability of the Axis of Resistance to disrupt maritime traffic around strategic maritime chokepoints.[78]

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with senior Houthi official Mohammad Abdul Salam in Tehran on December 31.[79] Ahmadian praised the Houthis for their support of the Palestinians against Israeli “aggression.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with the family of Qassem Soleimani on December 31.[80] Khamenei praised how Soleimani strengthened the Axis of Resistance and called on the IRGC Quds Force to further strengthen it. IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami and IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani attended the meeting. IRGC-affiliated media emphasized that Khamenei’s insistence on continuing to strengthen the Axis of Resistance was directed at Ghaani.[81]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with the family of IRGC Brigadier General Razi Mousavi, whom Israel killed in an airstrike in Syria, on December 31.[82] Raisi threatened that Israel “would pay the price” for killing Mousavi. Western and anti-regime media have reported that Mousavi headed IRGC Quds Force Unit 2250, which manages Iranian weapons shipments to LH and Iranian-backed militias in Syria.[83] Senior Iranian military and political officials have attended Mousavi’s commemoration and funeral ceremonies in recent days, highlighting his prominence in the regime and its regional project.[84]

Iran Update, December 30, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Annika Ganzeveld, Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Palestinian militias continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods of Gaza City. Israeli forces continued executing tasks consistent with holding operations in some areas of Gaza City. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Beit Lahiya and Sheikh Radwan in the northern Gaza Strip.
  2. Palestinian militias are launching attacks from civilian-populated areas of al Bureij as Israeli forces advance clearing operations in the Central Governorate. Palestinian militias claimed several attacks on Israeli forces north and east of al Bureij, which is consistent with CTP-ISW's observation that the IDF appears to be isolating Hamas’ Bureij Battalion and other Palestinian militias there before reducing them.
  3. The IDF continued to make ground advances in and around Khan Younis. At least five Palestinian militias attempted to defend against Israeli advances into Khan Younis. Palestinian militia fighters attacked Israeli forces south of Khan Younis.
  4. Hamas and PFLP officials messaged a unified and positive position on the Egyptian peace proposal and accused Israel of spreading disinformation about the negotiations.
  5. Palestinian fighters conducted at least two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
  6. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank.
  7. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  8. The Axis of Resistance may escalate further against US forces in the region around the four-year anniversary of the US killing Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2024. The IRGC Quds Force is engaging with senior Iranian-backed Iraqi militia and political leaders likely to discuss their military and political campaign to expel US forces.
  9. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani ordered the opening of Celebration Square in Baghdad’s Green Zone for New Year’s Eve.

10. The Islamic Resistance of Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria.

11. The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—is conducting a series of political maneuvers to try to increase its political influence in Basra.

12. Israel was likely responsible for a series of airstrikes targeting Aleppo International Airport and Iranian and Iranian-backed targets in Albu Kamal, Syria, to interdict Iranian weapons shipments to Lebanese Hezbollah.

13. The Houthi military spokesperson warned the United States against “escalating” with the Houthis and rallying other nations to protect Israeli shipping.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods of Gaza City on December 30. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that it was operating in Daraj and Tuffah on December 21.[1] Palestinian militias have since then claimed several attacks on Israeli forces attempting to clear the remaining areas in the northern Gaza Strip. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—published footage on December 29 of its fighters firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli tanks from destroyed buildings in Darraj and Tuffah.[2] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—fired tandem charged anti-tank rockets and RPGs at Israeli tanks and troop carriers as Israeli forces advanced into the neighborhoods.[3] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—fired tandem charged anti-tank rockets and RPGs at an Israeli tank and bulldozer in Tuffah.[4]

Israeli forces continued executing tasks consistent with holding operations in some areas of Gaza City. CTP-ISW reported on December 20 that Israeli forces are transitioning from clearing operations to holding operations in some areas of the northern Gaza Strip.[5] Violence decreases during a hold phase but is not absent, as the holding force seeks the complete destruction of the enemy force.[6] Palestinian attacks in these areas demonstrate that the militias have retained some forces capable of targeting Israeli operations.

  • Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters on December 30 in Sheikh Ijlin neighborhood for the first time since mid-November.[7] Israeli forces initially advanced toward the neighborhood in southern Gaza City in mid-November.[8] The al Qassem Brigades conducted several attacks, including a complex attack in which its fighters detonated improvised explosive devices (IED) in the path of two Israeli vehicles and subsequently engaged Israeli ground forces.[9]
  • Israeli forces identified Palestinian fighters operating near them in Shujaiya, according to an IDF report on December 30.[10] The IDF stated that it established “operational control” of Shujaiya on December 21 after dismantling Hamas’ battalion there.[11]
  • Israeli forces engaged in a multi-hour battle with Palestinian fighters in Gaza City, according to an IDF report on December 30.[12] Israeli air forces killed more than 15 Palestinian fighters in less than three hours.[13] Israeli ground forces engaged Palestinian fighters following the airstrikes.[14]

The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades conducted a combined operation firing mortars and rockets at an Israeli combat outpost southeast of Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City on December 30.[15] The Hamas Zaytoun Battalion commander is one of the three remaining commanders in the Gaza City Brigade, who held their current positions before the war began, according to Israeli reports on December 21.[16]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Beit Lahiya and Sheikh Radwan in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces destroyed two Hamas-affiliated buildings in Beit Lahiya and found a large quantity of weapons, including explosive devices.[17] The IDF identified two Palestinian fighters observing Israeli forces from a building and directed tank fire at their position.[18] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli special operations forces and detonated a Shawaz explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an Israeli tank in Sheikh Radwan on December 30.[19] Palestinian militias have claimed nearly daily attacks in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood since the humanitarian pause expired on December 1, suggesting that it is one of the remaining areas with significant Palestinian militia defensive capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias are launching attacks from civilian-populated areas of al Bureij as Israeli forces advance clearing operations in the Central Governorate. Israeli forces received intelligence on December 28 that Hamas fighters were hiding inside a school where civilians were sheltering in southern al Bureij.[20] Palestinian fighters fired RPGs and small arms at Israeli forces while hiding behind women and children inside the school, according to the IDF.[21] Israeli forces raided the school and cleared the building of Palestinian fighters.[22] US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields, which intentionally puts these civilians in harm's way, to protect Hamas’ military infrastructure and weapons.[23] Israeli forces in a separate instance encountered Hamas fighters, who launched attacks from civilian sites in al Bureij.[24]

Palestinian militias claimed several attacks on Israeli forces north and east of al Bureij, which is consistent with CTP-ISW's observation that the IDF appears to be isolating Hamas’ Bureij Battalion and other Palestinian militias there before reducing them.[25] The al Qassem Brigades conducted several attacks on Israeli forces in the area, including claiming to use a Shawaz EFP to target an Israeli tank north of al Bureij.[26] Israeli forces face other Palestinian militias in the central Gaza Strip. The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Resistance Committees—claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces north of al Bureij.[27] The al Quds Brigades detonated an unspecified explosive device targeting an Israeli military vehicle east of al Bureij.[28] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—claimed to fire tandem-charge anti-tank rockets at Israeli forces east of Bureij as well.[29]

The IDF continued to make ground advances in and around Khan Younis on December 30. The IDF said it began ground maneuvers deeper into southern Khan Younis on December 30, a day after it said it was expanding operations there.[30] The IDF 98th Division conducted around 50 airstrikes as part of shaping operations to enable ground force maneuvers.[31] Shaping operations conducted through airstrikes change the operational environment in urban areas to favor Israeli clearing operations on the ground.[32] The 7th Brigade Combat Team raided a Hamas military intelligence headquarters in central Khan Younis as part of the clearing operations.[33] Israeli forces also found an al Quds Brigades operations room inside the Hamas compound.[34] This raid could degrade the defensive capabilities of Hamas’ Khan Younis Battalion and al Quds Brigades forces in Khan Younis. Israeli forces separately clashed with Palestinian fighters as Israeli air support struck fighters, weapons manufacturing sites, and a Hamas stronghold in Khan Younis.[35] The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on December 30 that intensified clashes in Khan Younis and Deir al Balah have caused at least 100,000 internally displaced people to arrive in Rafah in recent days.[36]

At least five Palestinian militias attempted to defend against Israeli advances into Khan Younis on December 30. The al Qassem Brigades conducted several attacks on Israeli armor and dismounted infantry on December 30, including sophisticated house-borne IED and EFP attacks.[37] Fighters from the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades fired anti-tank shells and small arms at Israeli armor and dismounted infantry on the advancing line in Khan Younis.[38] National Resistance Brigades fighters clashed with Israeli forces in central Khan Younis.[39] The al Quds Brigades mortared Israeli positions in north and east of Khan Younis.[40]

Palestinian militia fighters attacked Israeli forces south of Khan Younis on December 30. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, al Qassem Brigades, and National Resistance Brigades mortared Israeli forces in Khuzaa, southeast of Khan Younis.[41] The IDF began clearing operations in Khuzaa on December 27.[42] The al Qassem Brigades fired an anti-tank shell at Israeli armor in Khuzaa.[43] The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades each mortared Israeli forces east of Rafah as well.[44]

Hamas and PFLP officials messaged a unified and positive position on the Egyptian peace proposal and accused Israel of spreading disinformation about the negotiations on December 30. Israeli media said that Hamas had “agreed in principle” to the release of further hostages in exchange for a month-long pause in fighting, in contrast to Hamas’ previous position requiring the complete cessation of the conflict.[45] Hamas political officials abroad, such as Osama Hamdan and Hossam Badran, and senior PFLP official Maher Mezher rebuked the claim from Israeli media.[46] Hamdan reiterated that Hamas will only release the Israeli hostages once Israel stops its operation in the Gaza Strip.[47] Badran said that Hamas is discussing all peace proposals with the various factions but that hostages will only be released after the war ends.[48] Mezher said that the Palestinian political factions will deliver an amended proposal to Egypt in the coming days after they met to discuss and revise the Egyptian peace deal proposal on December 27.[49]. Mezher said that the Egyptian proposal is “suitable to be a cornerstone” of a deal.[50] The Israeli security cabinet has indicated that it will not seriously consider the Egyptian three-phase peace plan, as the Egyptian plan would prevent Israel from achieving its stated war aims and is therefore tantamount to a defeat for Israel.[51] The Egyptian proposal would form a transitional government in the Gaza Strip that would include “various Palestinian factions, including Hamas.”[52] Mezher and Hamdan claimed that Israel leaked the story to harm the united Palestinian front against the war and mislead Israelis about the release of hostages due to internal political pressure.[53] The Palestinian leaderships‘ recent comments are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that both Hamas’ political leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar and Hamas’ external political leaders seek to use their Israeli hostages as leverage to maintain their influence in negotiations.[54]

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to pursuing his stated objectives in the war against Hamas and his preparedness to fight for many months on December 30. Netanyahu held a press conference and declared that “the war will continue for many more months.”[55] He also reiterated that Israel would fight until the elimination of Hamas and the release of all hostages.[56] He stated the IDF is employing new methods in the northern, central, and southern Gaza Strip.[57] Netanyahu had further clarified his war objectives of destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza, and deradicalizing “Palestinian society” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on December 26.[58]

Palestinian fighters conducted at least two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on December 30. The al Quds Brigades claimed two rocket attacks targeting southern Israel on December 30.[59] The al Qassem Brigades published footage of its fighters firing approximately ten rockets into unspecified areas of Israel on December 29.[60]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in three locations across the West Bank on December 30. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that it detonated an IED against an unspecified target in Azzun, east of Qalqilya.[61] Hamas praised a car-ramming attack that injured an IDF soldier near Hebron.[62] Palestinian security forces dismantled planted IEDs in Jenin on December 30.[63] Israeli forces conducted raids to arrest wanted Palestinians near Ramallah.[64]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 30. LH fired rockets and anti-tank guided missiles toward three Israeli border positions.[65] LH also claimed that it attacked an Israeli military position in Shebaa Farms with one-way attack drones.[66] Unspecified fighters separately launched rockets toward Yiftah on December 30.[67]

Israeli politicians continue to emphasize that LH must withdraw from Lebanon’s border with Israel. Israeli war cabinet member and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz stated in a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Israel cannot tolerate the threat that LH poses and that LH must withdraw from the border for the sake of regional stability.[68] The chairman of Israeli political party Israel Beitenu and former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman separately called for Israel to control southern Lebanon up to the Litani River until the Lebanese government can exercise its sovereignty over the area.[69]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Axis of Resistance may escalate further against US forces in the region around the four-year anniversary of the US killing Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2024. The United States killed Soleimani and his top Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mehdi al Muhandis, in an airstrike at the Baghdad International Airport in 2020.[70] Iranian leaders have vowed to expel US forces from the region as part of their revenge for the United States killing Soleimani.[71] Iranian-backed militias have conducted an abnormally high rate of attacks around the anniversary of Soleimani’s and Muhandis’ deaths ever year except for the anniversary in January 2023.[72] The absence of an Iranian-led escalation around January 2023 is unsurprising given that the Iranian regime was focused heavily on internal security in the aftermath of the Mahsa Amini protest movement at the time. Iranian proxy and partner militias have conducted a concerted attack campaign targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria in recent months as part of Tehran’s effort to expel US forces, as CTP-ISW has reported extensively. The coincidence of this campaign with the anniversary of Soleimani’s and Muhandis’ deaths presents an increased risk to American servicemembers in the Middle East during this period.

The IRGC Quds Force is engaging with senior Iranian-backed Iraqi militia and political leaders likely to discuss their military and political campaign to expel US forces. The Iranian Embassy in Baghdad organized a ceremony to honor Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mehdi al Muhandis on December 30.[73] The following senior Iranian and Iranian-backed Iraqi actors attended the ceremony:

  • Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Mohammad Kazem al-e Sadegh[74]
  • Former Kataib Hezbollah Secretary General and current Poplar Mobilization Forces (PMF) Chief of Staff Abdul Aziz al Muhammadawi[75]
  • PMF Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh[76]
  • Former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki[77]

The presence of al-e Sadegh is noteworthy given that he is a senior IRGC Quds Force officer. Iranian leaders have long appointed such officers as ambassador to Iraq, highlighting the degree to which the IRGC Quds Force controls and influences Iranian policy toward Iraq. These officers who dual hat as diplomats to Iraq serve as key liaisons between Iranian and Iraqi military and political leaders.

The presence of Mohammadawi and Fayyadh is noteworthy given their influential roles over Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. The PMF is an Iraqi security service containing numerous Iranian-backed Shia militias.[78] Several of these militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, are members of the Islamic Resistance of Iraq which is a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. The Islamic Resistance of Iraq has conducted almost daily attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks as part of their campaign to expel US forces.

IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani appeared to speak on behalf of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in a speech on December 29. Ghaani warned that militias will “put aside their considerations” and “respond” to the United States if the United States continues its “irrational behavior” in Iraq.[79] Ghaani was likely referring to the self-defense strikes that the United States has conducted on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias when he referred to “irrational behavior.” Ghaani ignored in this statement that the United States has a legitimate right to self-defense as it operates in Iraq to fight ISIS at the invitation of the Iraqi federal government. Ghaani’s comment is especially noteworthy given that the IRGC Quds Force—and he as its commander—directs, manages, and supports the Iraqi Shia militias that have been conducting the attack campaign to expel US forces. The IRGC Quds Forces provide military equipment, funding, and training to its proxies and partners throughout the region to support Iran’s pursuit of its strategic objectives, which include expelling the United States from the region.[80] Ghaani’s remark belies repeated claims by Iranian officials that “resistance groups” in the Middle East act independently.[81]

Iranian-backed political actors continued to call for the removal of US forces from Iraq in statements on December 30. Iraqi militia leaders and politicians have increased their calls for the expulsion of US forces since the United States conducted self-defense strikes on three Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Hillah, Babil Province, on December 25.

  • Nouri al Maliki claimed that US forces in Iraq have transformed “from advisory forces into killers” and that the Iraqi people will not accept the presence of foreign forces in Iraq during a speech at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad.[82] Maliki’s claims echo similar ones from other Iranian-backed Iraqi actors that the presence of US forces in Iraq threatens Iraqi security and stability.[83] US advisory forces are currently deployed in Iraq for counter-ISIS operations at the invitation of the Iraqi government and provide planning, operational, intelligence, logistical, and fire support to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).[84] CTP-ISW previously assessed that an Iraqi decision to expel US forces will very likely create space for ISIS to rapidly resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq.[85] The ISF still faces significant deficiencies in logistics, intelligence, and fire support that inhibit its ability to defeat ISIS alone.[86]
  • A member of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al Haq’s political wing, Ali Turki, stated that “dirty American hands” cannot shed the blood of the PMF and ISF.[87] Turki called on the Iraqi federal government to expedite the expulsion of US forces from Iraq.
  • A member of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization’s political wing, Faleh al Khazali, separately stated that the presence of US forces in Iraq is “unjustified” because of the presence of 1.6 million Iraqi security personnel in the country.[88] Other Iranian-backed Iraqi politicians, including Mohammad Shia Sudani, have similarly cited Iraqi forces’ “increased capabilities” as justification for the removal of US forces.[89]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani ordered the opening of Celebration Square in Baghdad’s Green Zone for New Year’s Eve.[90] Sudani ordered that the gates of the Green Zone, where the US Embassy and other government and highly sensitive facilities are located, remain open for an unspecified amount of time after midnight on December 31. PIJ and Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network separately called for demonstrations in front of US embassies across the world on New Year’s Eve to demand an end to “Israeli aggression” in the Gaza Strip.[91]

The Islamic Resistance of Iraq claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria on December 29 and 30.[92] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a rocket attack targeting US forces at al Shaddadi, Hasakah Province, Syria. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also claimed two separate one-way drone attacks targeting US forces at al Harir airbase in Erbil Province, Iraq.

The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—is conducting a series of political maneuvers to try to increase its political influence in Basra. Basra is an important Shia stronghold in southern Iraq. Current Basra Governor Asaad al Eidani’s political party, the Design Alliance, won 12 out of 23 seats in the recent provincial council elections.[93] Informed sources told an independent Iraqi news outlet that members of the Shia Coordination Framework are lobbying the Iraqi judiciary to rule that a majority of seats in Basra requires 13—not 12—seats.[94] Such a decision would deprive Eidani’s party of a majority. Iranian-backed Iraqi actors have historically co-opted elements of the judiciary to politically benefit themselves and disadvantage opponents, especially in recent years.[95] The independent Iraqi outlet reported that the Shia Coordination Framework is suspicious of Eidani’s ties to rival Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Sadr has previously praised Eidani and members of the Design Alliance.[96]

Israel was likely responsible for a series of airstrikes targeting Aleppo International Airport and Iranian and Iranian-backed targets in Albu Kamal, Syria, on December 29-30 to interdict Iranian weapons shipments to LH. Western and Israeli media reported and several social media accounts circulated reports of the airstrikes.[97] An unspecified American military official denied to Western media that the United States conducted any self-defense strikes.[98] The Syrian Defense Ministry claimed that the airstrike at Aleppo damaged the airport.[99] Israel has historically conducted airstrikes on major Syrian airports to prevent Iranian weapons deliveries to proxy and partner militias in Syria and Lebanon.[100] CTP-ISW has previously written on how the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) uses Iranian regime-affiliated airliners to transport military equipment and personnel to the Levant.[101] The likely Israeli airstrikes at Albu Kamal reportedly hit IRGC and Iranian-backed targets, including weapons depots and truck convoys as they crossed from Iraq into Syria. Those airstrikes killed several Iranian-backed militants, according to social media claims and Western and Israeli media reports. Israeli media reported that the airstrikes at Albu Kamal killed four LH members who were members of a unit responsible for transferring military technologies and weapons from Iran to Lebanon.[102] An Israeli social media account reported that Israel also targeted an IRGC Quds Force unit with similar responsibilities in the same strikes.[103]

The airstrikes follow reports that Israel has targeted IRGC and IRGC-affiliated actors that are trying to prepare LH for a wider conflict with Israel in recent weeks. Israeli media reported that an Israeli airstrike on the Damascus International Airport on December 28 was meant to interdict Iranian weapons transfers to LH.[104] An Israeli airstrike on the IRGC military headquarters in Sayyidah Zainab, Syria, on December 25 killed a senior IRGC commander who oversaw Iranian materiel support to LH.[105] Israeli media further reported that Iran has accelerated its weapons transfers to LH in anticipation of a wider war with Israel.[106]

The IDF stated that unspecified actors fired two rockets from Syria toward northern Israel following the most recent airstrikes on Albu Kumal.[107] This attack is unsurprising given that unspecified actors have repeatedly conducted small-scale indirect fire attacks into Israel immediately in response to Israeli airstrikes in Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.

The Houthi military spokesperson warned the United States against “escalating” with the Houthis and rallying other nations to protect Israeli shipping on December 29. Brigadier General Yahya Sarea emphasized the Houthis’ defensive readiness and commitment to the Palestinian cause, which is consistent with prior Houthi rhetoric.[108] The Houthis have conducted an anti-shipping attack campaign around the Red Sea in recent weeks to disrupt commercial shipping to Israel and demonstrate both the willingness and capability of the Axis of Resistance to disrupt maritime traffic around strategic maritime chokepoints.[109] The United States announced Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 18 to counter Houthi attacks on international shipping.[110]

Senior Iranian military and political officials attended a commemoration ceremony for IRGC Brigadier General Razi Mousavi, whom Israel killed in an airstrike in Syria, on December 30.[111] The Iranian regime previously held a funeral ceremony for Mousavi on December 28.[112] Western and anti-regime media have reported that Mousavi headed IRGC Quds Force Unit 2250, which manages Iranian weapons shipments to LH and Iranian-backed militias in Syria.[113] Many high-ranking IRGC officials attended the most recent commemoration ceremony, including:

  • IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami;
  • IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajji Zadeh;
  • IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pak Pour;
  • IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani; and
  • IRGC Quds Force Deputy Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Fallah Zadeh.

Other notable attendees included Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Interior Minister and former IRGC Quds Force officer Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan, and former IRGC commanders Major General Mohammad Ali “Aziz” Jafari and Major General Mohsen Rezaei. The presence of such senior Iranian military and political officials at Mousavi’s commemoration ceremony and funeral highlights his prominence in the regime and its regional project.

Iran Update, December 29, 2023

click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Brian Carter, and Alexandra Braverman

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Iran has increased its production rate of highly enriched uranium (HEU). This development is consistent with CTP-ISW’s long-standing assessment that Iran has developed a nuclear program that it intends to use to produce a nuclear arsenal.
  2. IDF operations in Daraj and Tuffah may have degraded the al Qassem Brigades’ command and control of its battalion there.
  3. The IDF continued clearing operations near Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on December 29. The IDF also said that it is “expanding operations” in Khan Younis.
  4. Khan Younis Brigade commander Mohammed Sinwar may be increasing his power within Hamas’ military wing at the expense of Mohammed Deif.
  5. Israeli aircraft conducted two airstrikes targeting Damascus International Airport and air defense systems in southern Syria to interdict Iranian weapons shipments to Lebanese Hezbollah on December 28.
  6. Two key Iranian proxies in Iraq called for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq on December 29.
  7. The US Treasury Department sanctioned a Turkish and Yemeni financial network that enabled the IRGC Quds Force to fund the Houthis.

Iran has increased its production rate of highly enriched uranium (HEU). The United States and the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) confirmed in a joint statement on December 28 that Iran has increased its enrichment rate of 60 percent purity uranium.[1] Note: An earlier version of this report misidentified the "E3" as France, Germany, and Italy. The report has been updated to clarify that "the E3" is in reference to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). Iran has been stockpiling 60 percent HEU since April 2021.[2] Iran decreased its enrichment rate and HEU stockpile after it reached an informal nuclear agreement with the United States in August 2023.[3] Western media reported that the United States refroze Iranian financial assets released as part of the agreement in October.[4] Iran’s current stockpile of 60 percent HEU stands at 128.3 kilograms as of October 28.[5]

This development is consistent with CTP-ISW's long-standing assessment that Iran has developed a nuclear program that it intends to use to produce a nuclear arsenal.[6] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) defines 25 kilograms of 20 percent or more enriched HEU as a “significant quantity” for “which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded.”[7] Iran has stockpiled at least five bombs worth of HEU, given Iran’s current stockpile of 128.3 kilograms of 60 percent HEU. Iran previously planned to serially produce nuclear warheads for ballistic and cruise missiles as part of its pre-2003 nuclear weapons program[8] The stockpiling of HEU is one of the key steps Iran would have to pursue to develop an arsenal and has previously conducted work on the other key steps in weaponization and delivery vehicles.[9] The Iranian enrichment infrastructure is also designed for a speedy mass production of HEU and/or weapons-grade uranium for multiple nuclear weapons.[10]

Iran has no use for 60 percent HEU other than for use in a compact nuclear explosive or to further enrich it to 90 percent weapons-grade uranium. Sixty percent HEU can only be used for nuclear weapons and does not have an alternate civilian purpose. The required enriched uranium purity for energy purposes is between 3 to 5 percent, and medical research reactors use 20 percent HEU.[11] Iran is now capable of producing weapons-grade uranium at a much faster rate than it would be if it only had a stockpile of lower than 60 percent enriched uranium.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The IDF appears to be isolating Hamas’ Bureij Battalion and other Palestinian militias in Bureij before reducing them.[12] Geolocated images posted on December 28 showed Israeli tanks south of Bureij after the IDF advanced to the eastern outskirts of Bureij sometime on or before December 27.[13] Israeli forces have also cleared areas north of Bureij near Mughraqa.[14] Israeli forces have not yet advanced to the western side of Bureij, which would isolate the town. The IDF reported on December 28 that its operation in Bureij was in its “final stages.”[15]

Palestinian fighters attempted to defend against the IDF’s advance on December 29. Hamas’ military wing, the al Qassem Brigades, detonated a “minefield” targeting Israeli forces north of Bureij on December 29.[16] The al Qassem Brigades and other Palestinian militias fired small arms and anti-fortification rockets targeting Israeli forces north and east of the town.[17]

IDF operations in Daraj and Tuffah may have degraded the al Qassem Brigades’ command and control of its battalion there. Hamas’ al Qassem Brigades claimed on December 29 that they targeted twenty vehicles over 48 hours in Daraj and Tuffah.[18] Hamas’ military wing usually claims individual attacks targeting Israeli forces. Hamas’ inability to publish individual claims suggests that it lacks reliable communication with individual Hamas units in Daraj and Tuffah. Poor communications also inhibit the command and control of various units. Intense IDF clearing operations reduce communications capabilities by targeting infrastructure and killing individual fighters responsible for communicating with higher headquarters.[19] Hamas and PIJ have also said previously that it has “lost contact” with specific units for short periods in this area.[20] Hamas did not indicate that it lost communication with any forces in Daraj and Tuffah between December 27 and 29. 

The IDF said that it is “expanding operations” in Khan Younis on December 29.[21] The IDF did not specify how it was “expanding operations” in Khan Younis. IDF units have operated in and around Khan Younis since December 2. The IDF said on December 29 that the 7th Armored Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the 900th BCT both continued clearing operations in Khan Younis.[22] The 900th BCT found weapons and IED caches and booby-trapped tunnels that Palestinian fighters had prepared to use for ambushes.[23] The 7th BCT called in close air support to kill a Hamas cell hiding inside a building in Khan Younis.[24]

Palestinian fighters attempted to defend against Israeli advances in Khan Younis on December 29. Hamas’ military wing, the al Qassem brigades, used mortars and anti-tank rockets against advancing Israeli armor and infantry.[25] Fatah’s military wing, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, clashed with an Israeli infantry squad east of Khan Younis.[26]

The IDF continued clearing operations near Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on December 29. The 5th BCT continued clearing operations in Khuzaa on December 29, where it captured anti-tank positions, tunnel shafts, and tunnel routes.[27] PIJ’s military wing, the al Quds Brigades, mortared Israeli forces in Abasan, near Khuzaa, on December 29.[28]

Hamas denied on December 29 that its officials will travel to Egypt after the Wall Street Journal reported that a Hamas political delegation would travel to Cairo to discuss Egypt’s ceasefire proposal.[29]  Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Mardawi denied that Hamas officials would travel to Cairo on December 29 for talks with Egypt on a ceasefire agreement.[30] Mardawi and senior Hamas official and former Gazan Health Minister Bassem Naim reiterated Hamas’ negotiating position in separate statements, saying that Hamas would not negotiate or exchange prisoners without an end to the Israeli ground operation.[31] These comments are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that both Hamas’ political leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar and Hamas’ external political leaders seek to use their Israeli hostages as leverage to maintain their influence in negotiations.[32]

PIJ Deputy Secretary General Mohammed al Hindi said that PIJ seeks to create a “unified Palestinian response” to the Egyptian proposal.[33] This is consistent with CTP-ISW's December 28 assessment that Hamas and its Palestinian allies are using multiple, overlapping negotiations with different external parties to embed themselves in a postwar “unity government.”[34] Hindi claimed that Israel wants to continue its operations after it returns the hostages, which would leave Hamas and PIJ no more leverage with Israel.[35]

Khan Younis Brigade commander Mohammed Sinwar may be increasing his power within Hamas’ military wing at the expense of Mohammed Deif. A veteran French Middle East correspondent reported on December 26 that Mohammed Sinwar had taken over day-to-day control of Hamas’ military wing, the al Qassem Brigades, from Mohammed Deif.[36] The report claimed that while Deif still exerted influence and smoothed over internal differences, Mohammed Sinwar controlled the organization.[37] This report is consistent with the IDF’s bounty on Sinwar, which is 200,000 USD greater than the bounty on Deif.[38]

The greater bounty on Sinwar could also reflect Sinwar’s greater influence within the organization as the IDF gradually degrades and then defeats al Qassem Brigades units elsewhere in the strip.[39] Mohammed Sinwar is the Khan Younis Brigade commander, and Israeli sources call his brigade “strong and well-trained.”[40] IDF military operations degraded the Northern and Gaza City Brigades—which were the strongest Hamas brigades before the war—between the beginning of the ground operation and December 29.[41]

An Israeli journalist reported on December 28 that US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Israeli payments to the Palestinian Authority (PA) on December 24.[42] Israel collects tax revenues for the PA, which Israel has withheld since the October 7 attacks. The tax revenue covers expenses in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel has offered to release the West Bank taxes to the PA but refused to release the Gaza Strip taxes, noting that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and those tax revenues would benefit Hamas. The PA refused to accept the West Bank taxes without the Gaza Strip taxes. The United States proposed that the Israelis send all the tax revenues to Norway, which would then hold the revenues for the Gaza Strip until the Israelis and PA could negotiate a deal for the release of the Gaza Strip revenues. Norway would send the funds for the West Bank to the PA. Israel has not agreed to send the revenues to Norway. Netanyahu told Biden that he did not trust Norway, according to a US official and a “source with knowledge of the call.”

Palestinian fighters conducted four indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on December 29. The al Quds Brigades claimed three rocket attacks targeting southern Israel on December 29.[43] Unspecified fighters also fired one rocket salvo targeting Zikim.[44]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in 13 locations across the West Bank on December 29.[45] The Nablus Battalion of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade attempted to defend against Israeli raids in Balata and Faraa camps. The group fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli vehicles and infantry.[46] Israeli forces arrested 12 people, including two Hamas fighters, and confiscated weapons in West Bank raids on December 29.[47]

Two Palestinian fighters conducted two separate attacks on Israeli checkpoints east of Bethlehem and in Hebron.[48] Hamas claimed the Bethlehem attacker and called for Palestinians to conduct further attacks on Israelis.[49] PIJ celebrated the two terror attacks.[50]

Palestinians held a single demonstration in Tulkarm on December 29, despite calls from Hamas for demonstrations on December 29 across the West Bank and Israel.[51] Hamas had called for Friday demonstrations since December 26.[52] 

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted eight attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 29.[53] LH targeted Israeli military infrastructure, artillery, and soldiers with anti-tank guided munitions, rockets, and other unspecified weapons.[54] PIJ mourned two fighters who died in southern Lebanon on December 29.[55] The PIJ fighters' deaths underscore the role that other Iranian-backed militias play in attacking Israel from southern Lebanon.

LH leaders signaled on December 29 that they are not deterred by Israeli “threats” to invade Lebanon. LH Executive Council Deputy Chairman Ali Damoush stated that LH will continue operations against northern Israel until Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip regardless of the pressures, threats, and sacrifices.[56] Damoush also celebrated that LH’s attacks are creating internal divisions in Israel. Senior Israeli military and political officials have repeatedly signaled that Israel seeks to push LH north of the Litani River using diplomatic measures in accordance with UNSCR 1701.[57] Israeli officials have noted, however, that if diplomacy fails, Israel will resort to military force.[58]

Israeli aircraft conducted two airstrikes targeting Damascus International Airport and air defense systems in southern Syria to interdict Iranian weapons shipments to Lebanese Hezbollah on December 28.[59] An anti-regime reporter said that the airstrike put the runway out of service a day after the Syrian regime reopened it after repairing damage from a previous Israeli airstrike.[60] Israel frequently destroyed Syrian airport runways at the start of the Israel-Hamas war, often bombing the runway hours after the completion of repairs.[61] Israel has conducted previous strikes at the Damascus International Airport to prevent Iranian weapons deliveries.[62]

Israeli media reported on December 29 that Israeli airstrikes on Damascus International Airport”in recent days” intended to thwart weapons ransfers from Iran to Lebanese Hezbollah.[63] This supports CTP-ISW’s previous assessments that Israeli airstrikes on Damascus International Airport disrupt a transportation node through which the IRGC has historically tried to transfer military materiel and personnel to Syria and Lebanon.[64] Ynet reported on December 29 that Iran is accelerating weapons transfers to LH in anticipation of a wider war with Israel.[65] The outlet said that Iran is sending precision-guided missiles, anti-tank missiles, and surface-to-air missiles to LH mostly via the Damascus International Airport.[66] An Israeli airstrike in Damascus killed an IRGC brigadier general who was responsible for managing Iranian weapons shipments to LH and Iranian-backed militias in Syria on December 25.[67]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Two key Iranian proxies in Iraq called for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq on December 29. These are the twelfth and thirteenth statements by top Iranian-backed political leaders, Iranian-backed Iraqi government officials, and major Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups calling for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq since December 5.[68] Smaller front groups for major Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups have called for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq twice since December 5.[69]

Key Iranian proxy and Badr Organization head Hadi al Ameri called on the Iraqi government to set a timetable to end the US presence in Iraq.[70] Ameri claimed that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) can maintain security in Iraq. The US mission in Iraq continues to provide logistics, intelligence, and fire support to the ISF.[71] Corruption and mismanagement within the ISF after the US withdrawal in 2011 contributed to the ISF’s rapid collapse during the ISIS offensive against Mosul and northern Iraq in 2014.[72]

Key Iranian proxy and Popular Mobilization Forces chief Faleh al Fayyadh said that Iraqi sovereignty is only disturbed by the “abnormal presence that we are working to end” on December 29.[73] The United States sanctioned Fayyadh in 2021 for serious human rights abuses during Iraq’s 2019 protest movement, when he worked with then-IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and US-designated terrorist Qais al Khazali to kill hundreds of Iraqi protesters.[74]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a rocket attack targeting US forces at Rumaylan Landing Zone in northeastern Syria on December 29.[75]

The Houthi movement continued its anti-shipping attack campaign on December 28. CENTCOM said that the USS Mason shot down one drone and one anti-ship ballistic missile in the southern Red Sea that the Houthis had fired.[76] The drone and missile did not cause damage to any of the 18 nearby vessels. The Houthis did not claim responsibility for the attack.

The US Treasury Department sanctioned a Turkish and Yemeni financial network that enabled the IRGC Quds Force to fund the Houthis.[77] The US sanctions targeted one Yemeni, one Turkish entity, two Yemeni entities, and one Turkish entity responsible for facilitating financial flows between the IRGC Quds Forces and the Houthi movement. The Treasury Department said that Iranian funding enables Houthi attacks against international shipping in the Red Sea. The sanctions targeted Turkey-based Al Aman Kargo Ithalat Ihracat Ve Nakliyat Limited Sirketi (Al Aman), which Treasury said served as ”a waypoint for money sent by” Iran to Houthi businesses in Yemen. The sanctions also targeted two Yemeni money exchanges tied to the Houthis and one Yemeni national, the president of the Yemeni Currency Exchangers Association in Houthi-controlled Sanaa, Yemen.[78]

Iran hanged four individuals in West Azerbaijan province over alleged ties to the Israeli Mossad on December 29.[79] Iranian media said that the alleged Mossad spies planned to kidnap and interrogate members of Iranian security forces.[80] Iran sentenced six additional individuals to ten years in jail for allegedly communicating with Israel with intent to disrupt Iranian security.[81]

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took credit for two operations that occurred in 2022 against Iran in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on December 28.[82] Bennett said that Israel destroyed a UAV base on Iranian soil in response to attacks against Israel. Bennett said that he also ordered the assassination of an IRGC commander who was responsible for targeting Israeli tourists in Turkey in March 2022.[83]


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Brian Carter, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Key Takeaways:

  1. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani announced that his administration will begin procedures to remove International Coalition forces from Iraq during a press conference on December 28, likely due to pressure from Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. An Iraqi decision to expel US forces will very likely create space for ISIS to rapidly resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq .
  2. Hamas and its Palestinian allies are trying to shape peace negotiations in a way that is incompatible with the stated Israeli war aims. Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar is likely using Israeli hostages he holds as leverage to keep Hamas’ Gaza Strip leaders at the table during these negotiations—rather than delegating such negotiations exclusively to Hamas’ external leadership.
  3. The Israel Defense Forces continued clearing operations in Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF destroyed three tunnel shafts while searching a hospital and school.
  4. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad attempted to defend against Israeli advances in Bureij.
  5. Palestinian militias continued trying to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Khan Younis.
  6. Palestinian fighters conducted three indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
  7. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in 11 locations across the West Bank.
  8. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted eight attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  9. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed attacks on several new locations across the Middle East. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for a rocket attack targeting US forces at US Conoco Mission Support Site in northeastern Syria.
  10. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki met with senior Iranian-backed Iraqi actors.
  11. The Iranian regime held a funeral ceremony for killed IRGC Brigadier General Razi Mousavi in Tehran.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani announced that his administration will begin procedures to remove International Coalition forces from Iraq during a press conference on December 28, likely due to pressure from Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. These militias have used legal, military, and political pressure in recent weeks to expel US forces, as CTP-ISW previously assessed. This pressure, particularly the Iranian-backed attacks on US forces, creates an escalation cycle that triggers US self-defense strikes to protect US servicemembers. The Iranian-backed factions and militias then misrepresent these self-defense strikes as violations of Iraqi sovereignty, which generates domestic pressure on Sudani to remove US forces. This pressure appears to have succeeded at least partly in that Sudani repeated Iranian-backed militia talking points about the United States. Sudani said that that the self-defense strikes are violations of Iraqi sovereignty and were inconsistent with the advisory role of the International Coalition.[1] These claims ignore the fact that the US forces have a right to self-defense and that the Iranian use of client militias and proxies in Iraq to attack US forces in line with Tehran’s regional agenda is itself a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. US advisory forces are currently deployed in Iraq for counter-ISIS operations at the invitation of the Iraqi [2]government. Sudani did not provide a timeline for removing International Coalition forces or describe the mechanism by which they would be removed.[3]

An Iraqi decision to expel US forces will very likely create space for ISIS to rapidly resurge in Syria within 12 to 24 months and then threaten Iraq. The US military mission in these countries is to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS and through cooperation with local partners.[4] The US support to its counter-ISIS partners in both Iraq and Syria is instrumental to successfully defeating ISIS.[5] US forces and infrastructure in Iraq provide the logistical support that enables the presence of US forces in Syria. The expulsion of US forces from Iraq would necessitate a withdrawal from Syria, where ISIS is reconstituting itself in Syrian regime-held territory.[6] CTP-ISW continues to assess that the United States and its partner in Syria have successfully contained but not defeated ISIS and that the US withdrawal from Syria will very likely cause a rapid resurgence in Syria within 12 to 24 months.[7] A resurgent ISIS would then be able to threaten Iraq again. The Iraqi Security Forces still face significant deficiencies in logistics, intelligence, and fire support that inhibit their ability to defeat ISIS alone.[8]

Hamas and its Palestinian allies are trying to shape peace negotiations in a way that is incompatible with the stated Israeli war aims. Hamas representatives met with other Palestinian factions in Beirut on December 27 to discuss the war and a possible ceasefire.[9] The other factions included Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC). These groups called collectively for establishing a national dialogue among all Palestinian factions, a unity government that includes all Palestinian factions, an end to the Israel-Hamas war, and free elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[10] The groups also called for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip. The groups said that the October 7 attack was a “historic turning point” and reaffirmed the importance of the Palestinian issue.[11] They blamed the Oslo Accords for the “decline” of the importance of the Palestinian cause in the Middle East.[12] These principles articulated by the Palestinian factions conflict with Israeli war aims, which Israeli officials have said are to “destroy Hamas, demilitarize Gaza, and deradicalize Palestinian society.”[13] The participation of Hamas and other radical groups, such as PIJ, that seek the destruction of Israel in a future Gazan or Palestinian government is tantamount to an Israeli defeat in this war.

Hamas and its Palestinian allies are using multiple, overlapping negotiations with different external parties to embed themselves in a postwar “unity government” and thereby undermining Israel’s ability to accomplish its war aims. Hamas is engaging in at least four sets of separate negotiations to counter any Israeli and Western efforts to form a governing authority that excludes Hamas. The negotiations in which Hamas representatives are involved include one with Egypt regarding the war itself, a second with its wartime allies in the Palestinian Allied Factions, a third with former Fatah and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, and a fourth with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).[14] Hamas political leaders met with Fatah and PA officials, including a deputy to Mohammed Dahlan and a former PA foreign affairs minister, to discuss integrating Hamas into the PLO after the war.[15] These negotiations will limit Israel’s ability to build a viable postwar governing authority in the form of a “reformed PA” by associating many of a reformed PA’s possible leaders with Hamas.[16]

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar is likely using Israeli hostages he holds as leverage to keep Hamas’ Gaza Strip leaders at the table during these negotiations—rather than delegating such negotiations exclusively to Hamas’ external leadership. CTP-ISW still assesses that Hamas writ large is also using the Israeli hostages as leverage to ensure its continued relevance in postwar negotiations.[17] Sinwar is opposed to negotiations with the PLO because these talks sideline Sinwar. Sinwar asked Hamas leaders outside the Gaza Strip to cease talks with the PLO and PA.[18] Sinwar’s refusal to release hostages is in part to use them as leverage to maintain his influence in the negotiations. Hamas has also repeatedly refused to release its hostages prior to a comprehensive ceasefire, including in the December 28 joint statement after the meeting in Beirut.[19] Sinwar’s ability to agree to or refuse a hostage exchange allows him to maintain his influence within the movement writ large.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued clearing operations in Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods in the northern Gaza Strip on December 28. The IDF said that the 401st and 460th brigade combat teams (BCT) have “eliminated” Palestinian fighters on the ground and used air support since December 26.[20] The Hamas’ military wing, the al Qassem Brigades, and PIJ’s military wing, the al Quds Brigades, are attempting to defend against these operations. The al Qassem Brigades detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) and fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) targeting IDF vehicles in Daraj and Tuffah.[21] The al Quds Brigades also fired RPGs at Israeli vehicles in the neighborhood.[22]

The IDF destroyed three tunnel shafts while searching a hospital and school in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF said that it “investigated” three tunnels near al Rantisi hospital on December 27.[23] The IDF Yahalom Unit—a special operations engineering unit—searched the tunnel as part of the IDF effort to map the tunnel network under the strip. The IDF said that the Yahalom unit discovered that the tunnel is several kilometers long and leads deep into Gaza City. It added that the tunnel is close to a school and that the tunnel was used for military operations.

Hamas and PIJ attempted to defend against Israeli advances in Bureij in the central Gaza Srip on December 28. The New York Times released satellite imagery that showed Israeli forces advancing from two crossings into the Gaza Strip toward Bureij.[24] The IDF said on December 28 that its operations in Bureij were in their “final stages.”[25] The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades continued their efforts to defend against Israeli operations, however. The al Qassem brigades fired multiple RPGs and detonated one EFP targeting Israeli forces east of Bureij on December 28.[26] The al Quds Brigades added that it mortared Israeli forces east of the town.[27]

Palestinian militias continued trying to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Khan Younis on December 28. The al Qassem Brigades attacked Israeli forces at least four times using anti-personnel devices and RPGs in northern and eastern Khan Younis.[28] The al Quds Brigades conducted rocket and mortar attacks on two Israeli positions north of Khan Younis.[29] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah—mortared a concentration of Israeli forces operating in Khan Younis City.[30] The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades fighters and ”special combat units” conducted a complex attack on Israeli forces operating near 5th Street in Khan Younis City using mortars, small arms, and RPGs.[31] The IDF confirmed that reserve forces have been destroying militia infrastructure in Bani Suheila, northeast of Khan Younis[32]

Palestinian fighters conducted three indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on December 28.[33] The al Quds Brigades claimed one rocket attack on Ein Hashlosha.[34]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in 11 locations across the West Bank on December 28.[35] The IDF conducted raids on money transfer locations suspected of providing financial services to Hamas.[36] Palestinian fighters threw Molotov cocktails and detonated IEDs during fighting in Ramallah and Jenin.[37] Israeli forces conducted an airstrike on fighters that Israel said were throwing explosives and firing on its forces.[38]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted eight attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 28.[39] LH claimed five attacks targeting Israeli military facilities along the border.[40]  Unidentified Iranian-backed fighters fired over 50 rockets into the Galilee region.[41] Palestinian media posted footage claiming that a drone was shot down near Acre, north of Haifa.[42] Israeli air defense systems last intercepted a “suspicious target“ over Acre on November 14.[43]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed attacks on several new locations across the Middle East on December 27.

  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed that it conducted an unspecified attack on a “vital target” south of Eliad in the Golan Heights.[44] Israeli media reported that it was a one-way drone attack and marked the first time that such a drone landed in the Golan Heights since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[45] Israeli media also reported that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq may have launched the drone, which caused minor damage but no injuries, from Syria.[46]
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also claimed that it attacked an Israeli “spy center” northeast of Erbil, Iraq.[47] Iranian state media claimed without evidence that the attack killed and injured several individuals.[48] The Iranian regime has historically accused Kurdish opposition groups and Israel of using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate operations into Iran. Iranian media previously claimed that the IRGC targeted an Israeli “spy den” when the IRGC conducted a missile attack on Erbil in March 2022.[49] The IRGC conducted attacks using artillery, missiles, and drones on Kurdish opposition groups, which Iran accused of supporting Mahsa Amini protesters in late 2022.[50] Iranian state media accused Kurdish opposition groups of helping Israel smuggle military equipment into Iran that Israel used in its January 2023 drone attack on a munitions factory in Esfahan.[51]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for a rocket attack targeting US forces at US Conoco Mission Support Site in northeastern Syria on December 28.[52]

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki met with senior Iranian-backed Iraqi actors on December 27 and 28. Maliki met separately with Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) Secretary General Qais al Khazali and Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri.[53] Maliki heads the State of Law coalition, and Ameri heads the We Build coalition. These political parties have respectively won the second highest and highest number of seats in the December 18 provincial council elections thus far. AAH’s media office reported that Maliki and Khazali agreed that US forces in Iraq are “exceeding their advisory capacity” and threatening regional countries.[54] The media office also reported that Maliki and Khazali discussed accelerating the formation of local governments following the elections. Maliki and Ameri similarly emphasized the need for the Independent High Electoral Commission to announce the final provincial council election results.[55] Maliki and Ameri condemned the December 25 US airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah (KH) facilities.

KH spokesperson Mohammad Mohi emphasized on December 27 that KH’s commitment to “resistance” against the United States and Israel is “irreversible.”[56] Mohi vowed that KH will not allow the United States or Israel to "tamper with” Iraqi internal affairs and sovereignty.

The Iranian regime held a funeral ceremony for killed IRGC Brigadier General Razi Mousavi in Tehran on December 28.[57] Iranian officials have accused Israel of killing Mousavi in an airstrike near Sayyidah Zeinab in Syria on December 25. Western and anti-regime media have reported that Mousavi headed IRGC Quds Force Unit 2250, which manages Iranian weapons shipments to LH and Iranian-backed militias in Syria.[58] Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei led prayers and met with Mousavi’s family during the funeral.[59] Khamenei praised Mousavi for his “tireless jihad” and wished for his “companionship with the guardians of God.” Many individuals at the funeral carried flags with the text “I am your opponent” written in Persian and Hebrew.[60] Some attendees carried images of Mousavi together with former IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani.[61] Many current and former high-ranking IRGC officials attended the funeral, including:

  • IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami;
  • IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani;
  • IRGC Quds Force Commander for the Levant Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi; and
  • IRGC Quds Force Deputy Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Fallah Zadeh.

Other notable attendees included Khamenei’s son, Mostafa Khamenei, and Qassem Soleimani’s daughter, Zeynab Soleimani.[62] Zeinab’s husband, Reza Safieddine, is involved in weapons transfers from Iran to LH.[63] The presence of such senior Iranian political and military officials at Mousavi’s funeral highlights his prominence in the regime and its regional project.

IRGC spokesperson Ramazan Sharif promised that on December 28 Iran’s response for the killing of Razi Mousavi will be a combination of “direct action” and indirect action.[64] Sharif vowed that Iran or the Axis of Resistance would avenge the killing of Mousavi.

Iranian hardline Parliamentarian Mojtaba Tavangar claimed that Razi Mousavi was one of the “facilitators” of Hamas’ October 7 attack against Israel.[65] IRGC Commander Hossein Salami said that Mousavi was the ”central pillar” of the IRGC efforts in the Levant, especially in Lebanon and Syria.[66]

Iranian officials made statements countering the claim by IRGC spokesperson Brigadier General Ramazan Sharif that Hamas committed the October 7 attack against Israel to avenge the death of Qassem Soleimani.[67] Sharif walked back his comment on December 28 by stating that the motivations for the October 7 attack were purely related to the struggle of Palestinians rather than Iranian interests.[68] Sharif said that the efforts of Soleimani contributed to the alleged success of the attack but were not the reason for the attack. IRGC Commander Hossein Salami officially declared that October 7 was “completely a Palestinian operation” at the funeral for Razi Mousavi on December 28.[69] Salami stated that the October 7 attack was designed and implemented by Palestinians. Chief of Staff of the Office of the Supreme Leader Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani stated that the story of the Gaza Strip is about the Palestinians—not about Iran.[70] He said that Iran was not involved in the October 7 attack but that the Axis of Resistance” has followed Iran’s example in defending their rights”. He further emphasized that US President Joe Biden should be held accountable for alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Brian Carter, Annika Ganzeveld, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, and Johanna Moore

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are driving an escalation cycle that combines military and political pressure to try to expel US forces from Iraq.
  2. US, UN, Saudi, and Yemeni officials are negotiating an agreement to end the war in Yemen, which will not remove the threat the Houthis pose to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Bab al Mandeb.
  3. The IRGC spokesperson claimed that the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel was retaliation for the United States’ targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani. This was a failed effort to show unity across the Axis of Resistance and portray Iran as a leader.
  4. The IDF officially began operations against Palestinian militias in Khuzaa south of Khan Younis on December 27.
  5. Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and PIJ, affirmed their unity against Israel on December 27. They stressed the need for a reform of Palestinian governance after the end of the war but did not specify what reform would entail.
  6. An Israel Army Radio correspondent reported on December 27 that the IDF intercepted an Iranian-made drone over the Mediterranean Sea that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias launched from Iraq.
  7. Iran and Russia finalized an agreement to conduct trade using their national currencies rather than the US dollar.

Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are driving an escalation cycle that combines military and political pressure to try to expel US forces from Iraq. Iranian-backed militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba said on December 11 that expelling US forces requires political efforts from the government and military efforts from the militias.[1] Iranian-backed attacks against US forces combine both military and political effects to drive US forces from Iraq, which is a long-held objective for Iran and its proxies. Iranian-backed militias—not the United States—are driving the escalation in Iraq by conducting attacks that risk killing US military personnel to trigger US self-defense airstrikes against the militias.[2] These Iranian-backed groups then frame these self-defense airstrikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty to argue that the Iraqi government should expel the United States from Iraq. The United States is in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s government to defeat ISIS, meaning that Iranian-backed attacks on an Iraqi partner are themselves a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.[3]

The Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are using legal and political pressure to drive out US forces, as CTP-ISW has previously assessed.[4] The militias’ military lines of effort create the conditions for Iranian-backed proxies to increase the legal and political pressure on Iraq’s parliament and prime minister. The Badr Organization-chaired Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee drafted a new resolution to expel US forces from Iraq in response to a US self-defense strike targeting Kataib Hezbollah in November, and multiple Iranian-backed politicians have called for the expulsion of US forces in the wake of the December 25 US airstrikes.[5] The November strike was in response to a KH ballistic missile attack targeting US forces in Iraq.[6] Iranian-backed proxies called US forces a “threat” and demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal in separate statements after the December 25 US airstrikes.[7] The US strikes were a response to an Iranian-backed attack that wounded two US service members and severely injured a third.[8] The agreement that allows the US military presence in Iraq is an executive agreement, but a non-binding resolution will still impose political pressure on the prime minister to expel US forces.[9] The prime minister could choose to expel US forces by introducing a timetable, such as the one former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki set in the 2000s.

US, UN, Saudi, and Yemeni officials are negotiating an agreement to end the war in Yemen, which will not remove the threat the Houthis pose to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Bab al Mandeb.

US, UN, Saudi, and Yemeni officials told the Wall Street Journal that there is now an “informal three-year roadmap” to “end” the war in Yemen.[10] The negotiations did not include key Yemeni belligerents.[11] A US official told the Journal that the United States is “separating” the Yemeni “peace” process and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. “Sources familiar with Saudi thinking” said that Riyadh urged Washington not to retaliate against the Houthis, however.[12] Saudi Arabia seeks to prevent US strikes targeting the Houthis, believing that US strikes risk derailing the peace process.[13] Reaching an agreement would not change Riyadh’s calculus, as discouraging US efforts to deter Houthi terrorism and piracy in the Red Sea would prevent a breakdown in the agreement.[14]

The IRGC spokesperson claimed that the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel was retaliation for the United States’ targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani in a failed effort to show unity across the Axis of Resistance and portray Iran as a leader.[15] IRGC Spokesperson Brigadier General Ramazan Sharif claimed that Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 civilians was in response to the United States’ targeted killing of RGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.[16] Iran funded, supported, and provided the weapons and training used in the October 7 attacks, but was reportedly surprised by the scope and timing of the attacks.[17]

Hamas denied the Iranian claim, likely to present itself domestically and internationally as only the defender of Palestine and thereby obfuscate its role as the initiator of the current war and an extension of Iran’s regional project. Iran has provided weapons, materiel, training, and guidance to Hamas, and the group is a member of Iran’s so-called Axis of Resistance.[18] The group's leaders frequently meet with Iranian officials and coordinate their actions with Iran.[19]

Hamas likely seeks to frame itself as the defender of Palestine in part to prevent blowback from its domestic audiences. Palestinians have borne the brunt of Hamas’ decision to launch its war against Israel with the October 7 terrorist attacks. Hamas’ popularity decreased in the Gaza Strip after the 2008 and 2014 Israeli ground operations.[20] Recent polls show that support for Hamas remains high in Gaza, although anecdotal evidence suggests that some Gazans increasingly blame Hamas for starting the war and/or for failing to provide for and protect civilians having begun it.[21] Hamas officials found after Israeli operations in Gaza City in 2014 that the Gazan public "did not feel they were getting the benefits [from Hamas] for tolerating the bombing of Gaza by Israel,” for example.[22] Accepting Iran’s claim that Hamas attacked Israel to avenge the death of an Iranian general could alienate Gazans. Iran’s presentation of the October 7 attacks as an offensive action in response to the Soleimani strike also undermines the current Hamas narratives that it is acting defensively against Israeli "aggression” and on behalf of the Gazan people rather than solely on behalf of Iran.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Hamas used more sophisticated weapons systems as it continued to try to defend against Israeli advances in Jabalia. The al Qassem Brigades—Hamas' military wing—said that it fired an RPO-A thermobaric rocket for the first time during this war at an Israeli special operations forces (SOF) unit in a house on Old Gaza Street in Jabalia.[23] The group also detonated at least one explosively formed penetrator targeting Israeli forces during a six-hour engagement in the al Saftawi area.[24] Al Qassem Brigades fighters also fired two Igla man-portable air defense systems targeting two Israeli helicopters over Jabalia.[25] The group did not shoot down the helicopters.

Palestinian militias other than Hamas continued to attack Israeli forces in Sheikh Radwan. The National Resistance Brigades—the armed wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—and the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—engaged Israeli forces in two separate attacks in Sheikh Radwan.[26]

The Israel Defense Forces Navy provided fire support to Israeli forces in northern al Shati Camp on December 27, which is consistent with holding operations.[27] Violence decreases during a hold phase but is not absent as the holding force seeks the complete destruction of the enemy force.

The IDF continued clearing operations in Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods in Gaza City. An IDF unit captured a rocket launch site and a tunnel shaft in an orchard near Darraj and Tuffah on December 27.[28] Palestinian fighters engaged the IDF with small arms and anti-tank fire as the IDF cleared the orchard.[29] A separate IDF unit called in air support during clearing operations in Darraj to eliminate a large number of Hamas fighters.[30]

The IDF’s line of advance reached eastern Bureij on December 27, according to satellite imagery published by the New York Times.[31] The IDF announced that it began operations in Gaza’s Central Governorate on December 26.[32] Palestinian militias attempted to defend against the Israeli advance using mortars and anti-tank fire.[33] The al Quds Brigades—the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing—claimed that it destroyed an Israeli tank east of Bureij.[34] Hamas’ al Qassem Brigades and the PFLP’s Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades also engaged Israeli forces using small arms and anti-tank fire.[35] The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades said that their “strike unit” attacked Israeli advances towards eastern Bureij.[36]

Palestinian militias continued defensive operations against Israeli clearing efforts in Khan Younis. The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades conducted three attacks with anti-tank rockets targeting Israeli forces and tanks in Khan Younis.[37] The al Quds Brigades ambushed an Israeli infantry unit at close range in Khan Younis.[38] The al Qassem Brigades—Hamas' military wing—attacked Israeli forces at least four times in northern and eastern Khan Younis using mortars, RPGs, and small arms.[39] National Resistance Brigades—the armed wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)— detonated IEDs targeting an Israeli military vehicle in central Khan Younis.[40] The IDF said its forces have fought in Palestinian fighters deep Khan Younis for the past two weeks.[41] The Israeli forces have destroyed tunnel openings, launched dozens of attacks with precision munitions, and raided Hamas outposts during the operation. [42]

The IDF officially began operations against Palestinian militias in Khuzaa south of Khan Younis on December 27. IDF Gaza Division Commander Brigadier General Avi Rosenfeld issued a statement acknowledging that the IDF began operating in the town southeast of Khan Younis to pursue fighters and subterranean infrastructure.[43] Rosenfeld said fighters from Khuzaa participated in the October 7 assault on Nir Oz.[44] Palestinian media reported that Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces advancing southward in the adjacent town to Khuzaa on December 26.[45] The al Qassem Brigades attacked Israeli SOF in a building in Khuzaa on December 25.[46]

The Israeli security cabinet discussed the first section of the Egyptian three-phase peace proposal on December 27.[47] The Israeli security cabinet is a 14-person cabinet.The first phase of the agreement resembles the humanitarian pause and prisoner/hostage exchange Israeli and Hamas completed in late November.[48] The first phase of the agreement would have Hamas release 40 Israeli hostages in exchange for Israel releasing 140 Palestinian prisoners and force the IDF to withdraw from residential areas in the Gaza Strip.[49] The Israeli security cabinet is only discussing this first phase of the proposal. The Israeli security cabinet is not discussing the subsequent phases of the proposal that would release Israeli soldiers from Hamas custody and determine the form of a transitional government in the Gaza Strip that would include “various Palestinian factions, including Hamas.”[50] The security cabinet did not vote on the plan.[51]

Hamas officials have said repeatedly in recent days that they would refuse to release any hostages prior to a complete ceasefire that forces Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and leaves Hamas in power.[52] The third phase proposal and Hamas’ counterproposal are incompatible with Israel’s stated war aims. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his war objectives of destroying Hamas militarily and politically in Gaza on December 25.[53] Any agreement that maintains Hamas’ military and political role in the Gaza Strip would be tantamount to Israel’s defeat in this war because it would preserve Hamas as a governing body and military force, as well as provide Hamas safe haven to reconstitute itself and threaten Israel again in the future.

Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and PIJ, affirmed their unity against Israel on December 27. The Central Command of the Palestinian Forces Alliance met in Beirut to discuss joint goals of withdrawing Israeli forces from Gaza, swapping all Israeli hostages for all Palestinian prisoners, and attaining humanitarian aid for Gaza.[54] The groups that are part of the alliance include Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, and the Palestine Liberation Front. The political factions stressed the need for a reform of Palestinian governance after the end of the war but did not specify what reform would entail.[55] The meeting is notable in context of the Egyptian peace deal that Hamas and PIJ rejected on December 25.[56] A Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee delegation will travel to Cairo in the next few days for talks with Egyptian officials about the Egyptian three-phase peace proposal.[57] The PLO is expected to discuss the makeup of a potential, unified government that would run the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.[58]

Palestinian militias conducted one indirect fire attack into Israel on December 27. The Quds Brigade fired mortars and rockets at Nahal Oz in southern Israel.[59]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in six locations across the West Bank from December 26 through December 27.[60] The Israeli forces conducted a counterterrorism raid in Nur Shams refugee camp on December 26.[61] Israeli forces uncovered IEDs that had been buried under and next to roads its forces were operating on.[62] Palestinian fighters also threw IEDs at Israeli forces during clashes that lasted from December 26 through December 27.[63] Israeli forces ordered an air strike on fighters that it said were throwing explosives at its forces.[64]

Fatah—the political wing of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—called for strikes in the West Bank to mourn the death of six Palestinian fighters who were killed in the Israeli airstrike in Tulkarm.[65] The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed that the six fighters were members of its Rapid Response unit operating in the Nur Shams refugee camp.[66]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed six attacks targeting Israeli civilian and military targets on December 27.[67] LH conducted a combined drone, mortar, and rocket attack targeting Israeli military positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms.[68] The IDF said LH’s three drones did not hit their intended targets.[69] LH said that it launched 30 rockets at Kiryat Shmona in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike that killed three people in southern Lebanon.[70] Israel said that it struck several LH positions in southern Lebanon on December 27.[71]

The IDF continued to discuss the threat that LH poses along Israel’s northern border on December 27. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi held a situation assessment and approved “a variety of” future, unspecified plans in the Northern Command, which is responsible for northern Israel and the border with Lebanon.[72] Halevi stated that the military is “at a very high level of readiness,” and that the IDF needs to be ready for an offensive into southern Lebanon, if necessary.[73] Israeli officials agreed on December 19 to give the Biden administration time for a diplomatic solution between Israel and LH but added that they “wanted to see progress in the next few weeks.”[74] Israeli officials seek to use diplomatic measures to pressure the Lebanese state to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bars LH military units from operating south of the Litani River.[75] The Israeli Army Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said that LH is endangering the stability of the region for the benefit of Hamas and compared LH to Hamas on December 26.[76]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

An Israel Army Radio correspondent reported on December 27 that the IDF intercepted an Iranian-made drone over the Mediterranean Sea that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias launched from Iraq.[77] IDF Army Radio correspondent said that the drone appeared to be heading toward the Karish gas field.[78] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed on December 22 that it had attacked a “vital target” in the Mediterranean Sea.[79] The IDF did not confirm that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted such an attack.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting US forces at Erbil International Airport in Erbil Province, Iraq, on December 27.[80] Kataib Hezbollah, which is a member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, also conducted an attack on US forces at Erbil International Airport on December 25 that wounded three US service members.[81]

The Iraqi Army Chief of Staff announced plans to complete the transfer of security responsibilities from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Interior in 2024.[82] The Iraqi Army has already transferred security responsibilities to local police in various southern and central provinces, including Babil, Najaf, Al Muthanna, and Wasit.[83]

IRGC Quds Force officer Brigadier General Razi Mousavi, who was killed in Syria on December 25, oversaw logistics and acquisitions in Syria, according to former IRGC Quds Force Officer Mansour Hajit Pour.[84] Pour told IRGC-affiliated news outlet Tasnim that Mousavi started his career with the Quds Force in Lebanon 30 years ago.[85] Mousavi also worked closely with Syrian President Bashar al Assad and former IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani to combat ISIS.[86] Pour said that Mousavi’s primary responsibility in Syria was overseeing logistics and providing “strategic products.”[87] Pour’s description is consistent with Western and anti-regime media reporting that said that Mousavi headed Quds Force Unit 2250.[88] Unit 2250 manages Iranian weapons shipments to LH and Iranian-backed groups in Syria.[89] The IRGC Quds Force has coordinated the deployment of hundreds of Iranian-backed fighters in southern Lebanon and southwest Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.[90] These fighters include military engineers and missile experts, among others.[91]

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces held a funeral procession for Mousavi in Najaf, Iraq, on December 27.[92] Mourners carried Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba flags in the funeral procession.[93] Iranian Ambassador to Iraq and former IRGC Quds Force officer Mohammad Kazem al-e Sadegh attended Mousavi’s procession.[94] Iran will hold Mousavi’s official funeral ceremony in Imam Hussein Square, Tehran on December 28.[95]

Atomic Energy Organization head Mohammad Eslami denied on December 27 that Iran has increased its production rate of highly enriched uranium to 60 percent.[96] Eslami’s denial is in response to Western media reports on December 26 that said that Iran increased its production rate of highly enriched uranium to 60 percent.[97] Eslami stated that the reports show “nothing new” and insisted that Iran is operating within the International Atomic Energy Agency framework. Eslami stated that the leaked report is an attempt to turn attention away from the Israel-Hamas war.

Central Bank of Iran Governor Mohammad Farzin traveled to Moscow on December 26 to discuss banking and finalize trade agreements with Russian officials.[98] IRIB reported that the bank managers of the Bank of Russia and the National Bank of Iran established a credit line worth 6.5 billion rubles (approx. $70 million) to allow Iran to import basic goods from Russia. Iran and Russia finalized an agreement to conduct trade using their national currencies —rather than the US dollar— on December 27.[99] Iranian media said that this agreement allows previously established non-SWIFT messaging systems and bilateral brokerage relations to now be used by banks and economic operators.[100]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian traveled to Yerevan, Armenia, on December 27 to discuss peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan with Armenian officials.[101] Abdollahian met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, and National Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan.[102] Abdollahian stated that the United States must end its support for Israel if it seeks a “dignified exit” from the Israel-Hamas war during a press conference with Mirzoyan.[103]

Iran Update, December 26, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Hamas and other Palestinian militias are exploiting the Israeli hostages they are holding to ensure that Hamas and its partners are involved in any negotiations about the future of the Gaza Strip. Hamas having a role in the future of the strip is incompatible with Israel’s stated war objectives of destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza, and deradicalizing “Palestinian society.”
  2. Hamas fighters attacked Israeli forces conducting holding operations in Beit Hanoun. CTP-ISW assessed on December 20 that the IDF transitioned to a hold phase in Beit Hanoun.
  3. Hamas and its militia allies continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Jabalia. The IDF reported that one of Hamas’ battalions used the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia as a headquarters.
  4. The IDF continued clearing operations in Daraj wal Tuffah, Gaza City. Palestinian militias continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Daraj wal Tuffah.
  5. Palestinian militias continued to try to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Khan Younis. Palestinian militias used mortars, small arms fire, and anti-tank rockets to defend against the Israeli advances.
  6. A Hamas security official shot and killed a fifteen-year-old Palestinian boy at an aid distribution site in Rafah, demonstrating the continued breakdown of governance and social order across the Gaza Strip.
  7. Palestinian militias conducted at least two mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip targeting southern Israel on December 25 and five rocket attacks on December 26.
  8. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters across the West Bank in nine locations on December 25 and in four locations on December 26.
  9. Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted from southern Lebanon into northern Israel 10 attacks on December 25 and nine attacks on December 26.
  10. Israeli media reported that LH began withdrawing many of its forces, including Radwan special operations forces, from the Israel-Lebanon border.
  11. The United States conducted airstrikes targeting three Kataib Hezbollah drone facilities in Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, in response to a KH drone attack that wounded three US military personnel at Erbil International Airport earlier that day.
  12. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria.
  13. Iranian Supreme National Defense University President IRGC Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam discussed security and counterterrorism cooperation with Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh in Baghdad.
  14. Israel was likely responsible for an airstrike on the IRGC military headquarters near Sayyidah Zainab, Syria, killing senior IRGC officer Brigadier General Razi Mousavi. The IRGC and senior Iranian officials vowed that Iran would retaliate against Israel for Mousavi’s death.
  15. The Houthis attacked two vessels in the Red Sea as part of the ongoing anti-shipping attack campaign that they and Iran have conducted around the Bab al Mandeb in recent weeks. The IDF intercepted at least one Houthi drone targeting southern Israel.

Hamas and other Palestinian militias are exploiting the Israeli hostages they are holding to ensure that Hamas and its partners are involved in any negotiations about the future of the Gaza Strip. Beginning international negotiations on what the Gaza Strip will look like after the war with discussions on hostage releases has created the opportunity for Hamas and its allies to insert themselves into the discussion on the future of the strip. Hamas and its allies seek to use the hostages as leverage to get Israel to leave the Gaza Strip and end the war on terms favorable to Hamas. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rejected an Egyptian three-phase peace proposal on December 25 that sought to create a long-term ceasefire likely because it did not guarantee an immediate Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.[1] The first phase of the agreement would have Hamas release 40 Israeli hostages in exchange for Israeli releasing 140 Palestinian prisoners.[2] This phase also included the withdrawal of the IDF only from residential areas in the Gaza Strip.[3] Releasing hostages prior to a complete Israeli withdrawal deprives Hamas and its allies of some of their negotiating leverage. The second and third phases of the agreement would have Hamas release female and then male soldiers held hostage in return for Israel releasing additional Palestinian prisoners.[4] The third phase would include the formation of a transitional government in the Gaza Strip that would include “various Palestinian factions, including Hamas.”[5] Hamas officials have said repeatedly in recent days that they would refuse to release any hostages prior to a complete ceasefire that forces Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, leaving Hamas in power.[6] Hamas and its allies are thus exploiting the hostages to ensure it will remain in power after the end of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas' effort to secure its role in the future of the Gaza Strip is incompatible with Israel’s stated war objectives of destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza, and deradicalizing “Palestinian society.”[7] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated these aims in an op-ed on December 26.[8] Any agreement that maintains Hamas’ military and political role in the Gaza Strip would be tantamount to Israel’s defeat in this war because it would preserve Hamas as a governing body and military force and provide Hamas safe haven to reconstitute itself and threaten Israel again in the future. Hamas remains resilient and able to reconstitute its military capabilities, despite its military losses in the war thus far.[9] Israel’s stated war goals are meant to prevent Hamas’ reconstitution by destroying Hamas as a governing body and military force. Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have highlighted that Israel will need to fight a "prolonged” war to achieve these objectives.[10]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Hamas fighters attacked Israeli forces conducting holding operations in Beit Hanoun on December 26. Hamas fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting Israeli forces west of Beit Hanoun on December 26.[11] The IDF said on December 18 that it destroyed Hamas’ Beit Hanoun Battalion.[12] CTP-ISW assessed on December 20 that the IDF transitioned to a hold phase in Beit Hanoun.[13] Violence decreases during a hold phase but is not absent, as the holding force seeks the complete destruction of the enemy force.[14]

Hamas and its militia allies continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Jabalia on December 25 and 26. Palestinian militias ambushed Israeli forces using IEDs, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms.[15] Hamas said that it targeted two separate Israeli combat outposts with thermobaric rockets on December 25.[16] Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) reported that that it used tandem charge rockets to attack advancing Israeli armor in Jabalia on December 26.[17] Hamas and PIJ also conducted a combined complex ambush using standard and thermobaric rockets against Israeli forces sheltering in a home in Jabalia city.[18] The IDF 261st Brigade engaged a Hamas cell that attempted to detonate an IED targeting an IDF tank in Jabalia on December 26.[19] Israeli air and artillery support targeted and killed the enemy Hamas cell.[20]

The IDF reported on December 26 that one of Hamas’ battalions used Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia as a headquarters. The IDF said that its 551st Brigade searched the grounds of the Indonesian Hospital and discovered a Toyota Corolla belonging to the family of one of the Israeli hostages.[21] The IDF reported that it found “bloodstains” and “RPG remains” in the vehicle, adding that the presence of the vehicle at the hospital connects the hospital to Hamas’ October 7 attack.[22] The IDF said that the hospital was a “strategic center of the underground infrastructure” for one of the Hamas battalions operating in Jabalia.[23] The IDF was likely referring to the Khalifa (Jabalia Camp) Battalion, given that the Indonesian hospital is in the Jabalia refugee camp where this battalion operates.[24]

The IDF continued clearing operations in Daraj wal Tuffah, Gaza City, on December 26. The IDF cleared two schools and seized “dozens” of IEDs in UN Relief and Works Agency bags.[25] The IDF also seized rifles and suicide vests. Israeli forces captured grenades, uniforms of Hamas elite forces, and an IED during a separate clearing operation.[26]

Palestinian militias continued to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Daraj wal Tuffah on December 25. The al Qassem Brigades—the military wing of Hamas—and al Quds Brigades—the military wing of PIJ—used snipers and anti-tank rockets against Israeli dismounted infantry and armor in the neighborhood.[27]

The IDF said that it expanded clearing operations in Bureij in the central Gaza Strip targeting Hamas’ Bureij Battalion on December 26. The IDF said that all four battalions in Hamas’ Central Brigade, of which the Bureij Battalion is apart, have sustained “some damage” but are “largely functioning.”[28] The IDF killed the Central Brigade commander in mid-October, but his deputy likely commands the brigade now given that Hamas has a conventional military structure.[29] Hamas and its militia allies attempted to defend against the IDF’s advance. The al Qassem Brigades detonated a booby-trapped tunnel targeting Israeli soldiers east of Bureij, and the National Resistance Brigades mortared Israeli forces near Abu Mutaybaq crossing.[30] The al Qassem Brigades also fired anti-tank rockets targeting advancing Israeli armor.[31]

PIJ mortared advancing Israeli units near Juhor ad Dik, northeast of Bureij, on December 26.[32]

Palestinian militias continued to try to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Khan Younis on December 25 and 26. Palestinian militias used mortars, small arms fire, and anti-tank rockets to defend against the Israeli advances. The al Qassem Brigades claimed seven attacks using mortars and anti-tank rockets on December 25 and 26, targeting Israeli forces north and east of Khan Younis city.[33] The al Quds Brigades said that its forces engaged in "heavy fighting” against IDF forces north and east of the city.[34] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and the National Resistance Brigades similarly attempted to defend against Israeli advances north of Khan Younis on December 25 and 26.[35]  

The IDF 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) destroyed “dozens of tunnel shafts” and discovered and destroyed a weapons factory in Khan Younis on December 25.[36] The IDF also said the 4th BCT destroyed a “concrete factory” that Hamas used to manufacture concrete for building tunnels.[37] The IDF 7th Brigade called in airstrikes targeting a group of Hamas fighters in Khan Younis on December 26, killing 10.[38]

Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, said that Hamas is inflicting “heavy [Israeli] losses” and that the al Qassem Brigades “destroyed” the IDF and will “crush it.” Sinwar claimed that Hamas forces killed at least 1,650 Israeli soldiers and permanently disabled 1,650 more.[39] He added that Hamas has destroyed 750 IDF vehicles “completely or partially.” Sinwar provided no evidence to support his assertions and was likely exaggerating dramatically to frame Hamas as performing better militarily than it actually is. The IDF reported that 161 soldiers have been killed in action as of December 26.[40]

A Hamas security official shot and killed a fifteen-year-old Palestinian boy at an aid distribution site in Rafah on December 24, demonstrating the continued breakdown of governance and social order across the Gaza Strip.[41] The killing sparked clashes between Hamas security officers and the boy’s family in Tal al Sultan. A crowd formed after the killing, burning a Hamas police station and demanding revenge for the boy’s death.[42] A separate video showed plainclothes Hamas officers beating an individual with a stick in Khan Younis.[43] These reports are consistent with the Associated Press’s November 10 reporting, which noted that the strip’s society was “fraying” and that the population was beginning to push back against Hamas’ rule in the southern Gaza Strip.[44]

Palestinian militias conducted at least two mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip targeting southern Israel on December 25 and five rocket attacks on December 26. The al Quds Brigades and the National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed one mortar attack each targeting southern Israel on December 25.[45] The al Quds Brigades claimed five more rocket attacks targeting southern Israel on December 26.[46

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in nine locations across the West Bank on December 25.[47] Palestinian fighters used a combination of IEDs and small arms in three of the nine clashes.[48] Palestinian militias also detonated two separate IEDs targeting Israeli forces in near Ramallah and Bethlehem.[49] Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fighters fired small arms targeting Israeli forces in Tulkarm, Jenin, and Nablus on December 25.[50] Israeli forces arrested 11 people and confiscated weapons and cars in overnight raids throughout the West Bank on December 25.[51]

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in four locations across the West Bank on December 26.[52] Palestinian fighters used a combination of IEDs and small arms in three of the four clashes.[53] Palestinian media said that Israeli forces blew up three houses in Nour Shams refugee camp.[54] The IDF said its forces uncovered IEDs, an IED manufacturing site, makeshift rockets, and small arms in the camp.[55]

Israeli forces arrested several senior Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militia in overnight raids in Ramallah on December 26.[56] The PFLP’s Office of Martyrs, Prisoners, and Wounded said that the arrests were an Israeli attempt to empty the West Bank of any national or political mobilization and that the arrests would only lead to “adverse results.”[57] Palestinians demonstrated in support of the Gaza Strip and Palestinian prisoners in Bethlehem and Nablus on December 26.[58] Several civil society and political groups, including Hamas’ political wing, called for mass demonstrations in the West Bank on December 26.[59]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 10 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 25.[60] LH claimed responsibility for eight of these attacks, targeting civilian and military sites. LH used an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) in at least one of the attacks.[61] The al Qassem Brigades separately conducted an indirect fire attack targeting Israeli forces in northern Israel.[62]

Iranian-backed militias, including LH, conducted another nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 26.[63] LH claimed responsibility for eight of these attacks, targeting military sites. LH used an ATGM in at least one of the attacks and a Burkan short-range rocket in at least one of the attacks.[64] LH also conducted a drone attack on an Israeli military site.[65]

Unspecified militants separately fired a surface-to-air missile targeting an IDF aircraft around the Israel-Lebanon border.[66]

Israeli media reported on December 24 that LH began withdrawing many of its forces, including Radwan special operations forces, from the Israel-Lebanon border.[67] Israeli officials told Israeli media that it is not clear for how long these LH forces will remain deployed away from the border, however. Israeli media attributed the withdrawal to the high rate of casualties that LH forces have incurred.

CTP-ISW is considering the hypothesis that LH Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah ordered the withdrawals to alleviate Israeli concerns about the threat that LH poses. Israeli officials have expressed concerns in recent weeks about the potential for LH to conduct an attack into Israel similar to what Hamas did on October 7.[68] Israeli officials have accordingly discussed called for international diplomatic engagement to get LH to move its forces away from the border in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which prohibits LH forces from operating south of the Litani river.[69] Nasrallah withdrawing forces now without further international negotiations would allow him to redeploy forces to the border at a later date of his choosing.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The United States conducted airstrikes targeting three Kataib Hezbollah (KH) drone facilities in Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, on December 25 in response to a KH drone attack that wounded three US military personnel at Erbil International Airport earlier that day.[70] The US airstrikes killed at least one KH member and wounded at least 16 others.[71] Western observers noted that the earlier KH drone attack was one of the "most serious” attacks conducted by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias since the Israel-Hamas war began.[72] The KH attack put one US servicemember in critical condition.[73] KH has not claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of writing. The Iraqi federal government condemned the US airstrike but also said that the militia attacks against military bases hosting international coalition advisers “violate Iraqi sovereignty.”[74]

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—an Iraqi security service containing several Iranian-backed Shia militias—held a funeral for the KH member who was killed in the US airstrikes.[75] Many individuals at the funeral carried PMF flags, while a small number carried Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) flags.[76] HHN is one of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that has led the attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began. The PMF and KH-affiliated media honored the killed KH member in social media posts.[77] Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Ashab al Kahf published a statement claiming that the US killing of Iraqi militants increases their determination and resolve to expel US forces.[78] Ashab al Kahf added that the United States “will not enjoy security and safety throughout our country and the region as long as there is a pulsing vein in us.”   

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Iraq and Syria on December 25 and 26.

  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack targeting US forces at al Harir Airbase in Erbil Province, Iraq, on December 25.[79] Al Harir Airbase is located approximately 30 miles northeast of Erbil International Airport.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack targeting US forces at al Omar oilfield in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria, on December 25.[80] The group also claimed a rocket attack targeting US forces at al Shaddadi in Hasakah Province, Syria, on December 26.[81]

Iranian Supreme National Defense University (SNDU) President IRGC Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam discussed security and counterterrorism cooperation with Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh in Baghdad on December 26.[82] Moghaddam and Fayyadh discussed “exchanging experiences and information” between the SNDU and PMF. The meeting between Moghaddam and Fayyadh may have been part of ongoing Iranian efforts to professionalize and institutionalize the PMF. Doing so would consolidate Iranian influence in the Iraqi security sector since the IRGC strongly influences various militias under the PMF. Moghaddam previously served as Iran’s police chief between 2005 and 2015.[83] He was instrumental in the Iranian regime’s crackdown on the 2009 Green Movement and was sanctioned by the United States in 2011 for committing human rights abuses.[84] Moghaddam also met with Iraqi National Defense University President Lieutenant General Aqeel Mustafa Mahdi, Iraqi Federal Police head Major General Saleh Naser al Ameri, Iraqi National Security Advisor Qasem al Araji, and Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul al Shammari during his visit to Baghdad between December 24 and 26.[85] Moghaddam may have discussed internal security and his experience suppressing civil unrest during his conversations with Iraqi officials.

Israel was likely responsible for an airstrike on the IRGC military headquarters near Sayyidah Zainab, Syria, on December 25, killing senior IRGC officer Brigadier General Razi Mousavi.[86] Mousavi is the most senior IRGC official killed since Israel assassinated Brigadier General Mohsen Fakhri Zadeh near Tehran in November 2020 and the most senior IRGC commander killed in Syria since 2015.[87] Iranian officials and state media emphasized Mousavi’s close relationship with former IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and former IRGC Quds Force Deputy Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi. They also described him as one of the most important and experienced IRGC commanders in Syria overseeing Iranian support to the Axis of Resistance.[88] Western and anti-regime media reported that Mousavi headed Quds Force Unit 2250, which manages Iranian weapons shipments to LH and to Iranian-backed groups in Syria.[89] Israeli officials told an Israeli journalist that Israel will not accept responsibility for Mousavi’s death.[90] Israel previously conducted an airstrike on Sayyidah Zainab on December 2, killing two IRGC general officers.[91] Israel also conducted airstrikes on Sayyidah Zainab on December 10.[92]

The IRGC and senior Iranian officials vowed that Iran would retaliate against Israel for Mousavi’s death.[93] Western media reported that the IDF was on high-alert and expected large-scale rocket and drone attacks launched from Lebanon and Syria.[94] Iran may be responsible for an explosion that occurred near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi on December 26, which could be part of the Iranian retaliation for Israel killing Mousavi.[95] Iran is likely responsible for previous attacks near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, which makes this hypothesis plausible. An explosion occurred at the embassy in January 2021. Local authorities discovered a note at the scene that stated that the explosion was in response to Israel killing Fakhri Zadeh in November 2020.[96]

The likely Israeli airstrike that killed Mousavi follows other alleged Israeli action against Iranian interests in recent weeks. An Israel-affiliated hacktivist group “Predatory Sparrow” conducted a large-scale cyberattack against gas pumps throughout Iran on December 18.[97] Iran also blamed Israel for a Balochi Salafi-jihadi insurgent attack on a police station in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on December 16.[98] 

The Houthis attacked two vessels in the Red Sea on December 26 as part of the ongoing anti-shipping attack campaign that they and Iran have conducted around the Bab al Mandeb in recent weeks. Houthi military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Sarea claimed that the group fired anti-ship missiles at the Liberia-flagged, Swiss-owned cargo ship MSC United after the crew refused orders from Houthi naval forces.[99] The missiles did not strike the MSC United, which was traveling from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.[100] The Houthis falsely claim that they only target ships headed to Israeli ports or owned by Israelis.[101] The UK Maritime Trade Operations organization announced that two one-way drones exploded near a vessel 50 nautical miles west of Yemen in a separate incident on December 26.[102] Sarea did not claim responsibility for the second attack, and the attack did not cause damage.[103]

The IDF intercepted at least one Houthi drone targeting southern Israel on December 26. The Houthi military spokesperson said that the group launched attack drones at military targets in Eilat and other unspecified locations in Israel.[104] The IDF stated its fighter jets intercepted a hostile aerial target headed to Israel over the Red Sea.[105] Egyptian security sources speaking to Reuters stated that an unspecified actor intercepted a drone over the Egyptian Red Sea town of Dahab.[106]

International shipping giant Maersk announced on December 24 it is preparing to resume shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea since the US established Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect commercial traffic there.[107] Maersk halted traffic through the Red Sea on December 15, a day after the Houthis conducted a missile attack targeting one of its container ships near the Bab al Mandeb.[108] The United States announced Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 18 to address Houthi attacks on international shipping around the Bab al Mandeb.[109] The Iranian regime claimed that the US-led coalition was ”collapsing” on December 23.[110] Maersk’s decision to resume shipping as a result of the coalition refutes the Iranian information operation.

Western media reported on December 26 that a confidential International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report confirmed that Iran has increased its production rate of highly enriched uranium (HEU).[111] The report was sent to IAEA member states. CTP-ISW is treating this information with some skepticism, as Western media has previously published inaccurate interpretations of unpublished agency reports.[112] The most recent public IAEA reports in November 2023 said that Iran had slowed its enrichment rate of 60 percent HEU.[113] Iran and the United States concluded an informal agreement in August 2023 under which Iran would partially slow down and reverse its nuclear advances in return for the United States unfreezing Iranian financial assets in Qatari banks.[114] The United States reportedly refroze Iranian assets in October 2023 that it had released as part of the agreement.[115]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war and Egyptian-Iranian relations during a phone call with Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry on December 25.[116] The ministers discussed the need for an immediate ceasefire and for the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war and regional maritime security during a phone call with Jordanian Foreign Affairs Minister Ayman Safadi on December 25.[117] Abdollahian said that a ceasefire would ensure the safety of the region. Abdollahian added that Iran is committed to ensuring the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, ignoring the fact that Iran has conducted and facilitated repeated attacks against commercial vessels in these areas in recent weeks.

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal Mekdad in Tehran on December 25.[118] The two emphasized the need for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. Mekdad was in Tehran to attend the Tehran International Conference on Palestine, which the regime held on December 23.[119]

The Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) signed a free trade agreement with Iran on December 25.[120] The agreement will eliminate customs duties on almost 90 percent of goods and establish a preferential regime for most of the trade between Russia and Iran. This agreement serves to replace a similar temporary agreement that has been in force since 2019.[121]

Iran Update, December 24, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Brian Carter, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm EST

Note: ISW and CTP will not publish an Israel–Hamas War (Iran) Update (or maps) tomorrow, December 25, in observance of the Christmas holiday. Coverage will resume Tuesday, December 26.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The Houthi movement likely conducted four attacks targeting civilian and military vessels in the Red Sea. Iran and the Houthis are functioning as a coalition to conduct combined military operations targeting international shipping in the Red Sea.
  2. Multiple Israeli sources told Israeli media that Egypt presented a three-stage ceasefire and hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal to Israel and Hamas. Informed sources told Saudi Arabia-based al Sharq that Hamas “expressed agreement” with a separate Egyptian initiative that seeks to form a “technocratic” Palestinian government after the war.
  3. Israel announced that 15 of its soldiers were killed by enemy action across the Gaza Strip in several engagements.
  4. The Israeli Army Radio’s military correspondent reported that Hamas is implementing lessons learned in the fight against the IDF to improve its ability to defend against IDF operations.
  5. Palestinian militias continued trying to defend against IDF clearing operations in Jabalia. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis.
  6. Palestinian militias conducted at least one rocket attack from the Gaza Strip targeting southern Israel.
  7. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times across the West Bank.
  8. Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  9. Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry Senior Advisor Ali Asghar Khaji discussed the Israel-Hamas war in a meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Vladimir Safronkov in Tehran.

The Houthi movement likely conducted four attacks targeting civilian and military vessels in the Red Sea on December 23.

  • US CENTCOM reported that unidentified fighters fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory into international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea.[1] A Yemeni journalist reported that Houthis launched both missiles from Huban, Taiz governorate.[2] CENTCOM said that no ships reported that they were hit by the missiles.[3]
  • US CENTCOM reported that unidentified fighters targeted the USS Laboon in the southern Red Sea with four drones.[4] CENTCOM reported that the drones originated from Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory. The USS Laboon intercepted all four drones and reported no injuries or damage from the attack.
  • Houthi fighters conducted two attacks targeting the Norwegian-flagged Blaamanen and Indian-flagged Saibaba with one-way attack drones in the southern Red Sea.[5] The Blaamanen reported that the Houthi drone missed the ship. The Saibaban reported that one attack drone hit the ship but did not cause in casualties among the crew. CENTCOM reported that the USS Laboon responded to distress signals from both vessels at approximately 2000 local time.[6]

Iran and the Houthis are functioning as a coalition to conduct combined military operations targeting international shipping in the Red Sea. Iran considers the Axis of Resistance as its unconventional alliance of state, semi-state, and non-state actors.[7] Their anti-US and anti-Israeli ideology unites the Axis of Resistance, creating strategic alignment across its members. Multiple US officials have highlighted the role Iran plays in the targeting and execution of Houthi attacks against international shipping.[8] Iran provides the weapons and uses advisers on the ground in Yemen and at least one spy ship anchored in the Red Sea to support its Houthi partners, who execute the attacks based on Iranian advice and intelligence.[9]

Iranian state media claimed that the US-led Red Sea security coalition, Operation Prosperity Guardian, is collapsing.[10] An Iranian state Arabic-language media outlet claimed that France, Spain, and Italy’s decision to operate outside of Operation Prosperity Guardian was evidence that they and other countries in the coalition are unwilling to be the "aggressor” in the Red Sea to protect Israeli economic interests.[11] The outlet reiterated the Houthi’s false claim that its fighters only target ships en route to Israel. Recent Houthi attacks have targeted many commercial ships not traveling to Israel. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 18 as a multinational security force to address security challenges in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden following Houthi attacks threatening freedom of navigation.[12] Austin reported that the coalition is composed of the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain.[13] Italy and France released separate statements announcing that their forces would operate independently in the Red Sea to secure freedom of navigation and would not operate under Operation Prosperity Guardian.[14] Spanish officials said separately that their forces would only operate under a NATO- or EU-led operations.[15]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Multiple Israeli sources told Israeli media that Egypt presented a three-stage ceasefire and hostage-for-prisoner exchange deal to Israel and Hamas.[16] The first phase of the deal would include Hamas releasing 40 women, the elderly, and sick men in exchange for a two-to-three week pause in fighting. The second phase would include the release of female Israeli soldiers and dead hostages and discussion on the “day after” the war in the Gaza Strip.[17] The third phase would include the release of Israeli men and soldiers in return for the release of Palestinian fighters from Israeli prisons and the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip.

Senior Israeli officials told an Israeli journalist that the Egyptian proposal was not ready and “preliminary” but that the presentation of the proposal was “positive.”[18] One official added that Israel is “considering” the plan, but another official added that it is “difficult to see” how Israel could agree to the plan’s third stage.[19] The official added that the plan’s first stage is nearly identical to the hostage exchange plan that Mossad Director David Barnea proposed to Qatar on December 18, which called for the release of forty Israeli hostages in exchange for at least a weeklong pause in fighting.[20] A senior Israeli official told the journalist that Israeli officials are not sure if Hamas would agree to the plan. Hamas said on December 23 that it will not discuss any prisoner exchange until there is a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.[21] A separate Israeli media outlet reported that Israel is prepared to execute the plan’s first stage, but that the second two phases are unacceptable.[22]

Informed sources told Saudi Arabia-based al Sharq that Hamas “expressed agreement” with a separate Egyptian initiative that seeks to form a “technocratic” Palestinian government after the war.[23] Al Sharq reported on December 24 that Egypt presented the concept to unspecified Palestinian factions. The initiative notably does not contain a provision to disarm or disband Hamas as a governing body or a military force based on the details reported publicly. Israel’s stated objective for the war is the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capacity. Al Sharq reported that Hamas seeks to hold its Israeli hostages as leverage to encourage Israel to end the war.

A Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) delegation traveled to Cairo on December 24, to discuss hostage-for-prisoner exchanges with Egypt, meaning that PIJ would likely be involved in any the Egyptian initiative to end the war and form a “technocratic” government.[24] A PIJ official told Reuters that its talks in Cairo would “center on ‘ways to end’” the Israeli ground operation into the Gaza Strip. The official added that PIJ would not release hostages for prisoners until Israel agrees to a “ceasefire.”

Israel announced that 15 of its soldiers were killed by enemy action across the Gaza Strip in several engagements on December 23 and 24.[25] This rate of casualties makes December 23 and 24 one of the deadliest two-day periods for the IDF since the war began.[26] The IDF has said that 154 of its soldiers have died since the ground operation into the Gaza Strip began.[27]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s war aims in response to criticism from his economy minister on December 24. The minister said that it is “unacceptable that [Israel] would endanger [Israeli] soldiers” by sending troops into uncleared areas without preparatory bombardments.[28] Netanyahu responded that the IDF makes its decisions based on the context on the ground. He also reiterated that Israel "will fight to the end” and that “this will be a prolonged war” aimed at freeing hostages and “eliminating Hamas.”[29]

The Israeli Army Radio’s military correspondent reported on December 24 that Hamas is implementing lessons learned in the fight against the IDF to improve its ability to defend against IDF operations. The correspondent said that Hamas is now executing “guerrilla warfare.” He said that Hamas is learning “how the IDF works and what its weak points are.”[30] The correspondent said that Hamas learned that the IDF uses unarmored vehicles to travel down some roads that Israeli forces believe are safe and that the Hamas has begun to target these unarmored vehicles.[31] He added that the IDF is forced to prioritize "strategic tunnels” due to the large number of Hamas tunnels, which allows Hamas to take advantage of other small tunnel shafts to mount attacks on IDF units.[32]

Palestinian militias continued trying to defend against IDF clearing operations in Jabalia on December 24. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—said that they engaged advancing Israeli forces with thermobaric rockets and anti-tank rockets between an unspecified “military camp” and Jabalia City.[33] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestinesaid that its forces were defending against IDF advances in Jabalia City.[34] The al Qassem Brigades also claimed two attacks in al Qasaib neighborhood in Jabalia, including a combined operation with the al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).[35] The IDF’s 460th Brigade Combat Team reported on December 24 that it killed seven Hamas fighters and destroyed four Hamas observation posts in Jabalia.[36]

Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance in Zaytoun on December 24. The al Quds Brigades claimed that it fired two rocket propelled grenades and detonated an anti-tank sticky grenade targeting Israeli vehicles in Zaytoun.[37]

The al Qassem Brigades also attacked Israeli infantry conducting clearing operations near Juhor ad Dik on December 24.[38] It claimed that the attack killed six Israeli soldiers but provided no supporting evidence.

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis on December 24. Israeli forces captured a weapons and explosives cache in Khan Younis on December 24.[39] The al Quds Brigades shelled advancing Israeli forces east of Khan Younis.[40] The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—said that it attacked Israeli forces advancing east of Khan Younis.[41]

Palestinian militias conducted at least one rocket attack from the Gaza Strip targeting southern Israel on December 24. The al Quds Brigades claimed that it shelled Sufa using mortars on December 24.[42] Palestinian media said that rocket fire targeting two other areas in southern Israel causing sirens to sound off.[43] CTP-ISW could not verify launches or impacts elsewhere in southern Israel, and no Palestinian militias claimed the attacks.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters four times across the West Bank overnight on December 24.[44] Palestinian fighters blocked roads with burning tires and targeted Israeli forces with multiple improvised explosive devices (IED) in Tulkarm and Tulkarm refugee camp.[45] Nablus locals posted footage of heavy fire exchanges between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters.[46]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted six attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 24.[47] LH claimed five attacks targeting civilian and military targets in Israel.[48]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Pentagon confirmed that Iran conducted the one-way drone attack on the Israeli-linked Chem Pluto off the coast of India on December 23.[49] CTP-ISW previously assessed that the attack was likely part of Iran and the Axis of Resistance’s efforts to signal their capability and willingness to attack maritime targets beyond just the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.[50]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry Senior Advisor Ali Asghar Khaji discussed the Israel-Hamas war in a meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Vladimir Safronkov in Tehran on December 24.[51] Khaji and Safronkov discussed “political ways” to end the Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip, implement an immediate ceasefire, and provide humanitarian aid to Gazans.

Iran Update, December 23, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Key Takeaways:

  1. Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are signaling their capability and willingness to attack maritime targets beyond just the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Iran has invested in building “drone carriers” to add to its naval forces in recent years, which will amplify the threat that the Axis of Resistance poses to international shipping and other maritime targets.
  2. Palestinian militias continued trying to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Jabalia and Sheikh Radwan in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces continued executing tasks consistent with holding operations in some areas of Gaza City.
  3. The al Qassem Brigades conducted several complex attacks on Israeli forces conducting clearing operations in Juhor ad Dik.
  4. The IDF spokesperson said that the IDF is in “operational control” of most of the northern Gaza Strip.
  5. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis for the third week as Palestinian militia fighters attempted to defend against Israeli advances.
  6. Israel’s public broadcaster said that the IDF will transition to the third phase of its ground operation in the Gaza Strip in the “coming weeks” and outlined five aspects of the third phase.
  7. Palestinian militias conducted four indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
  8. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters eight times across the West Bank.
  9. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  10. The Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia parties—established a special committee to appoint provincial councils and governors.
  11. The Iranian regime is continuing its diplomatic and informational campaign trying to exploit the Israel-Hamas war to isolate Israel in the international community.

Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are signaling their capability and willingness to attack maritime targets beyond just the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. A one-way drone struck a commercial vessel off the coast of India, causing structural damage to the ship, on December 23.[1] The vessel is partially Israeli-owned.[2] Israeli media reported that Iran was responsible for the attack, which is consistent with the ongoing anti-shipping campaign that Iran and the Houthi movement have conducted around the Bab al Mandeb in recent weeks.[3] This attack follows the Islamic Resistance of Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claiming on December 22 that it conducted an unspecified attack on a “vital target” in the Mediterranean Sea.[4] There is no evidence that the Islamic Resistance of Iraq conducted an attack into the Mediterranean Sea at the time of writing. The claim, nevertheless, signals the readiness of the Iraqi group to participate in the Iran-led attack campaign on maritime targets. Finally, a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, threatened to expand the anti-shipping campaign to the Mediterranean Sea and Strait of Gibraltar on December 23.[5] Naghdi frequently makes inflammatory threats toward Iranian adversaries, but his statement is particularly noteworthy given the drone attack off the Indian coast and the claimed attack by the Islamic Resistance of Iraq. Iran and its Axis of Resistance are likely messaging their capability and willingness to widen geographically their anti-shipping attack campaign in response to the United States forming a multinational naval task force to safeguard commercial traffic around the Red Sea.

Iran has invested in building “drone carriers” to add to its naval forces in recent years, which will amplify the threat that the Axis of resistance poses to international shipping and other maritime targets. Iran has built several forward base ships and other offensive vessels, sometimes constructed from converted commercial tankers, to conduct expeditionary and out-of-area operations since 2021.[6] These Iranian vessels can carry drones as well as other platforms, such as fast attack craft, helicopters, and missiles, which facilitates Iranian force projection. These Iranian ships would not likely survive conventional engagements with the United States. They can, however, support attacks on commercial traffic similar to the recent Houthi attacks around the Bab al Mandeb.

Iranian assistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine will compound further the threat that Iranian drones pose. The war has incentivized Iran and Russia to expand their capacities to manufacture Iranian-designed, one-way attack drones. CTP-ISW previously reported on how Iran is helping to establish drone manufacturing facilities in Russia and Belarus.[7] These facilities will, in theory, allow Russian forces to more rapidly field Iranian-designed drones in Ukraine. The use of Iranian drones in Ukraine is furthermore providing Moscow and Tehran opportunities to test these platforms in a modern combat zone and learn lessons on how to use such platforms more effectively.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias continued trying to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Jabalia and Sheikh Radwan in the northern Gaza Strip on December 23. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—repurposed two unexploded Israeli rocket shells to build and detonate improvised explosive devices (IED) targeting five Israeli tanks in Jabalia on December 23.[8] The militia claimed several other attacks on Israeli infantrymen and vehicles in Jabalia and Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, using anti-personnel munitions, rocket propelled grenades (RPG), and thermobaric rockets.[9] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that it destroyed two Israeli vehicles using unspecified explosives in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.[10] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed that its fighters conducted a sniper attack on Israeli soldiers during clashes in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.[11] Palestinian militias have claimed nearly daily attacks in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood since the humanitarian pause expired on December 1, suggesting that it is one of the remaining areas with significant Palestinian militia defensive capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.[12]

Israeli forces continued executing tasks consistent with holding operations in some areas of Gaza City on December 23. Israeli forces identified three Palestinian fighters firing at them on the outskirts of al Shati refugee camp and directed close air support to attack the fighters.[13] Israeli special operations forces (SOF) located a Hamas headquarters south of Gaza City that included a multi-level tunnel network connected to water and electrical infrastructure.[14] The IDF reported that Palestinian militias used the tunnels as a command-and-control center and that the tunnel allowed fighters to move between different sectors of Gaza City.[15] Israeli military analysts told the Wall Street Journal on December 23 that the IDF is increasing its focus on destroying tunnels in the northern Gaza Strip.[16] The al Qassem Brigades mortared an Israeli combat outpost south of Gaza City.[17] Enemy fighters frequently attack holding forces as they execute defensive and offensive tasks to degrade and destroy the enemy force’s military infrastructure.

The al Qassem Brigades conducted several complex attacks on Israeli forces conducting clearing operations in Juhor ad Dik on December 23. The IDF reported on December 22 that it was clearing the Juhor ad Dik area and that it located rocket launchers that Palestinian fighters used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv.[18] The al Qassem Brigades reported on December 23 that its fighters engaged Israeli forces in ”fierce battles” along Israeli lines of advance.[19] This activity suggests that Hamas forces in the area are trying to execute a deliberate defense against Israeli advances. CTP-ISW previously assessed that Hamas fighters are attacking IDF units south of Gaza City likely from relative safe haven in the Gaza Strip’s central governorate.[20] Palestinian militia fighters are also operating north of Wadi Gaza in Juhor ad Dik proper.

  • The al Qassem Brigades detonated a mine field targeting Israeli forces.[21] The militia also fired anti-tank RPGs at Israeli tanks and mortars and rockets at Israeli forces.
  • The al Qassem Brigades detonated an anti-personnel improvised explosive device (IED) and fired small arms targeting an Israeli patrol.[22]
  • The al Qassem Brigades detonated a tunnel entrance rigged with explosives targeting Israeli SOF, after which the militia fighters mortared Israeli forces.[23]

The IDF spokesperson said on December 23 that the IDF is in “operational control” of most of the northern Gaza Strip.[24] CTP-ISW previously reported that the IDF appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operations in some of parts of the northern Gaza Strip but that the IDF is continuing clearing operations in other areas.[25] IDF units are executing tasks consistent with the US military’s doctrinal definition of a holding operation in al Shati Camp and Beit Hanoun.[26] The IDF is continuing clearing operations in Juhor ad Dik and Jabalia, however (see above). IDF operations in most of the northern Gaza Strip are not consistent with the US military’s doctrinal definition of a holding operation, which “involves disrupting [enemy] activities in an area and providing a good security environment for the population” and “focuses on securing the population.”[27]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis for the third week on December 23 as Palestinian militia fighters attempted to defend against Israeli advances. The IDF reported on December 23 that a SOF unit specializing in guerilla warfare has been operating in Khan Younis for weeks.[28]  The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its forces lured five Israeli SOF engineers into a tunnel rigged with explosives east of Khan Younis. The militia claimed that they killed all five engineers.[29] The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades claimed several mortar and rocket attacks on concentrations of Israeli forces east of Khan Younis, some of whom were advancing into Khan Younis City.[30]

Israel’s public broadcaster said that the IDF will transition to the third phase of its ground operation in the Gaza Strip in the “coming weeks” and outlined five aspects of the third phase. The first phase involved beginning clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip, and the second phase involved expanding clearing operations into the southern Gaza Strip. The report said that the third phase will include the end of major combat operations, a “reduction in forces” in the Gaza Strip, the release of reservists, a “transition to targeted raids,” and the establishment of a security buffer zone within the Gaza Strip.[31] Western media reported previously that this third phase will ”resemble. . . [the] narrow” US counterterrorism campaigns that aimed to kill or capture terrorist leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan.[32] This strategy failed to destroy terrorist organizations in both countries.[33] Targeted raids aimed at killing or capturing terrorist leaders can degrade a terrorist organization but cannot destroy one, particularly one as large, established, and well-organized as Hamas.

Top former Israeli officials and an Israeli war correspondent also published analysis of the war. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel now only has two options to end the war: a “ceasefire with living hostages” or a “forced cessation of hostilities with dead [hostages].”[34] The former head of the IDF Operations Directorate argued that the IDF must remain in the Gaza Strip for six more months to cement its gains and accomplish Israel’s stated political objectives of destroying Hamas.[35] A veteran Israeli war correspondent’s report roughly corroborated that timeline.[36] IDF officials told the correspondent that the IDF can accomplish its objectives but that it will take ”a lot of time” and ”a heavy toll in casualties.”[37] The former Operations Directorate chief said that Israel could turn to former Palestinian Authority (PA) security official Mohammed Dahlan in the aftermath of the war.[38] Dahlan is a top Fatah party official currently exiled in the UAE, who previously led a 20,000-strong PA security force with close ties to the United States and Israel.[39] Dahlan said in a November 2023 interview with Time that he would not participate in a future Palestinian government but that he would help rebuild the Palestinian political system.[40]

Palestinian militias conducted four indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on December 23. The National Resistance Brigade claimed two attacks targeting Kissufim and Holit.[41] The al Quds Brigades conducted one rocket attack targeting Kfar Saad.[42] Unspecified militias conducted one rocket attack targeting Beeri.[43]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters eight times across the West Bank on December 23.[44] The Hornets’ Nest, which is part of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, fired small arms targeting Israeli forces operating in Jenin and Jenin refugee camp on December 22 and 23, respectively.[45] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Tulkarm Battalion of the al Quds Brigades separately fired small arms targeting three Israeli checkpoints around Tulkarm.[46]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted five attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 23.[47] LH claimed three unspecified attacks on IDF positions in northeastern and northwestern Israel.[48]

Israeli media reported on December 22 that the IDF will pull reservists from the line in northern Israel and replace them with regular units after the shift to the third phase of operations in the Gaza Strip.[49]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Shia Coordination Framework (SCF)—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia parties—established a special committee to appoint provincial councils and governors on December 23.[50] Iraq held its first provincial elections since 2013 on December 18. The special committee will be responsible for negotiating with Iraqi political parties to appoint provincial council members and governors based on party seat allocations. The results of the provincial elections, which are not yet finalized, will determine party seat allocations. The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced on December 21 that it will release the final results in the coming days.[51] The Iraqi Council of Representatives passed election law amendments in March 2023 that reestablished a list-based system. Under a list-based system, winning parties determine which of their candidates will be appointed to the seats the party won in the election..[52] IHEC released initial results that show that the SCF parties won over half of the total provincial council seats.[53]

US Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking said that the United States is attempting to “avoid a wider war” and “use the tools available. . . to encourage the Houthis to dial back their reckless behavior” in an interview with the New York Times.[54] The Houthis already widened the war by committing acts of piracy and terrorism targeting international shipping in the Bab al Mandeb and Red Sea.

The Iranian regime is continuing its diplomatic and informational campaign trying to exploit the Israel-Hamas war to isolate Israel. Tehran is especially focused on trying to isolate Israel from Arab and Muslim states.

  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on Muslim states to cut ties and trade with Israel during a speech on December 23.[55] Khamenei stated that Muslim populations abroad should pressure their respective governments to this end. Khamenei’s website framed Muslim states as having a responsibility to prevent commercial goods and energy products from going to Israel. This rhetoric is consistent with Khamenei’s previous calls for an international embargo on Israel since the Israel-Hamas war began.[56]
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke at a regime-hosted international conference on Palestinian issues in Tehran on December 23.[57] Raisi repeated his usual criticisms of the United States and Israel. Raisi also downplayed the role of Hamas’ October 7 attack in initiating the war and instead framed the war as part of a larger historical struggle between Israel and Palestine. Raisi also framed Hamas’ October 7 attack as a defensive measure in response to Israeli “crimes” against the Palestinian people. Raisi called for an immediate ceasefire.
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi on December 23 to discuss bilateral relations and the Israel-Hamas war.[58] Raisi called on Egypt to do everything possible to stop Israeli attacks into the Gaza Strip. Raisi also framed Israel as “a cancerous tumor” and criticized the United States for supporting Israel, according to the official Iranian readout on Raisi‘s website.
 

Iran Update, December 22, 2023

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces are executing tasks consistent with holding operations in Beit Hanoun and al Shati Camp in the northern Gaza Strip.
  2. Palestinian militia fighters are attempting to defend against Israeli advances in dense, urban terrain in the northwestern Gaza Strip.
  3. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to boost humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip, but the resolution did not call for a ceasefire.
  4. Israeli forces located long-range rocket launchers which the al Qassem Brigades likely used to launch a large salvo of rockets at Tel Aviv.
  5. The New York Times reported that the Biden administration is holding talks with Israel, Lebanon, and intermediaries for Lebanese Hezbollah to “reduce tensions” on the Israel-Lebanon border.
  6. Spokesperson for Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Ashab al Kahf Abu Murtaja al Husseini said that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq will reject any discussion on stopping attacks targeting US positions in Iraq.
  7. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack targeting Eilat, Israel on December 21 in retaliation for civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip.
  8. The Wall Street Journal reported that an Iranian spy ship is directing Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. 

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces are executing tasks consistent with holding operations in Beit Hanoun and al Shati Camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces redeployed some units responsible for clearing Beit Hanoun and al Shati Camp and backfilled them with new units in mid-December to hold the cleared areas.[1] The backfilling units are conducting raids against infrastructure and clashing with small cells of Palestinian fighters. These operations aim to secure cleared areas, which is one of the tasks executed during the hold phase. The tactical task of secure is defined by the US military as efforts to prevent a unit, facility, geographic location, or population from being destroyed or damaged.[2] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on December 22 that Israeli forces supported by air support raided a compound in Beit Hanoun last week.[3] The IDF collected weapons, ammunition, and equipment that Palestinian militias captured previously from IDF units. Palestinian fighters also ambushed Israeli forces from a tunnel shaft in a school in Beit Hanoun the day before the unit began operations.[4] Israeli forces have been conducting raids on buildings on the outskirts of al Shati Camp in Gaza City since December 20, to uncover Hamas positions and materials such as weapons, ammunition, and maps.[5]

Israeli forces are continuing to fight Palestinian militias in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood. [6] The IDF located and destroyed a vast underground complex in the neighborhood used by Hamas political and military leaders to manage Hamas operations.[7] Palestinian militia fighters have claimed very few attacks in Rimal since Israeli forces entered the area in mid-November.[8]

Palestinian militia fighters are attempting to defend against Israeli advances in dense, urban terrain in the northwestern Gaza Strip. The IDF released a video on December 22 showing a Palestinian fighter placing a command-wired improvised explosive device (IED) on the side of an alley as Israeli forces moved through Jabalia.[9] An IDF colonel in Jabalia reported that Israeli forces are clearing Jabalia building by building. The colonel said that Palestinian fighters are hiding inside buildings and targeting the IDF units with small arms fire and grenades as they attempt to clear buildings.[10] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—and the al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed a combined ambush on Israeli forces inside a house east of Jabalia.[11]

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—claimed that its fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at Israeli forces as they advanced west of Jabalia in the Shiekh Radwan Neighborhood.[12] Palestinian militias have claimed nearly daily attacks in Sheikh Radwan Neighborhood since the truce ended on December 1, which suggests that it is one of the remaining areas of significant Palestinian militia defensive capabilities in the northern Gaza Strip.[13] CTP-ISW assess that Hamas’ Radwan Battalion remains combat effective but under active and intense IDF pressure.[14]

The al Qassem Brigades claimed on December 22 that its fighters conducted a complex attack on five Israeli soldiers inside a house in Beit Lahia using anti-tank munitions and small arms.[15] The militia posted footage of its forces firing at Israeli soldiers from windows.[16]

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson posted evacuation orders covering specific areas in Nuseirat and Bureij in the central Gaza Strip on X (Twitter) at 02:05 EST on December 22. The orders highlight specific blocks and neighborhoods in the al Bureij refugee camp, Badr, the northern coast, al Nuzha, al Zahra, al Buraq, al Rawda, and al Safa.[17] The spokesperson directed residents to move to shelters in Deir al Balah.[18] Israeli forces expanded clearing operations to target Hamas’ Central Gaza Strip Brigade on December 21.[19]

Palestinian militia fighters south of Gaza City are defending against Israeli advances into the central Gaza Strip. Israeli forces are launching clearing operations targeting Hamas’ Central Brigade into the central Gaza Strip from south of Gaza City.[20] The al Qassem Brigades published footage of its fighters firing at Israeli forces in buildings in Mughraqa.[21] The al Quds Brigades fired an RPG at an Israeli tank in Zaytoun on the Israeli line of advance.[22] Israeli forces conducted clearing operations in the southern Gaza City and Juhor ad Dik where they located weapons including a rocket launcher aimed at southern Israel.[23]

The IDF deployed additional units to support its clearing operations in Khan Younis over the past week. The IDF reported on December 22 that it added a brigade to its offensive operations in Khan Younis.[24] Israeli forces are locating tunnel shafts and intelligence materials during clearing operations in the area. The IDF located a large quantity of weapons, uniforms, IEDs, and other military equipment during a series of offensive operations in Khan Younis. The IDF found National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—posters and flags in one of the raids.[25] There are several Palestinian militias operating in the Gaza Strip to resist Israeli clearing operations.

The Israeli Air Force killed several Hamas military commanders in Khan Younis including a Hamas officer in charge of drones and several field-level commanders al Qassem Brigades’ naval commandos, the Nukhba forces.[26]

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israeli forces are close to killing Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar.[27] Gallant attended an Israeli situational assessment with senior members of the war cabinet on December 22.[28] The IDF believes that Sinwar is hiding underground in the southern Gaza Strip.[29] Gallant noted that the IDF is achieving its operational goals in the northern Gaza Strip.[30]

Palestinian militia fighters are defending against Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis. The al Quds Brigades fired rockets and mortars at two Israeli combat outposts north and east of Khan Younis on December 22.[31] The al Qassem Brigades detonated anti-personnel IEDs and fired RPGs in several separate attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles, primarily in the Mahata area of Khan Younis City.[32] Israeli forces began its operation in Khan Younis on December 3.[33]

The IDF pulled the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade out of the Gaza Strip for a 48-hour “rest” period after the Golani Brigade reportedly accomplished its tactical task of clearing Shujaiya.[34]  Palestinian militias, the Axis of Resistance, and Iranian media inaccurately framed this tactical rotation as a “defeat” for Israeli forces.[35] Defeat occurs when a force can no longer accomplish its assigned objectives.[36] The IDF chose to pull the battalion from the Gaza Strip after the unit experienced 21 days of intense combat in Shujaiya.[37] Israeli officials said the 13th Battalion moved from Shujaiya to Israel for a "breather” after 21 days of intense combat in the Gaza Strip.[38] The unit has lost 44 soldiers since October 7 and faced a complex, multi-part ambush in Shujaiya on December 12, which left nine soldiers dead.[39] 

The PFLP is attempting to create “popular committees” in the Gaza Strip. The group called on “everyone” to unite in support of Palestine and claimed to be working on the committees across the Gaza Strip.[40] The PFLP called for the formation of a unified Palestinian emergency command to confront Israeli military operations on December 10.[41]

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to boost humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip, but the resolution did not call for a ceasefire. The resolution asks the UN Secretary General to appoint an aid coordinator for the Gaza Strip.[42] The United States and Russia abstained from voting. The resolution calls for creating “the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”[43] Russia proposed that the draft be amended to revert to the initial text which called for “an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities.” The United States vetoed the amendment.[44]

Israeli forces located long-range rocket launchers which the al Qassem Brigades likely used to launch a large salvo of rockets at Tel Aviv on December 22.[45] Israeli ground forces identified the launchers during operations in Juhor ad Dik in the northern Gaza Strip and directed an airstrike to destroy them.[46]

The al Quds Brigades conducted two rocket attacks into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on December 22.[47]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in 10 different locations across the West Bank on December 22 compared to the daily average of 8.5 clashes.[48] Palestinian fighters detonated two IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Jenin.[49] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that its fighters fired on Israeli forces stationed at a checkpoint north of Nablus.[50] Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fighters also fired on Israeli forces attempting to enter Qalqilya from Tzufim and Kfar Saba.[51]  

Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah on December 22 in support of Palestinian militias fighting in the Gaza Strip.[52] Hamas issued a call before the demonstrations for Palestinians in the West Bank to march in support of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and for Palestinian militias’ victory against Israel.[53] Palestinians demonstrated in a local square with Hamas flags and chanting following Friday prayers.[54]  This is the second consecutive Friday that Palestinians have demonstrated after Hamas called for protests.[55]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

The New York Times reported that the Biden administration is holding talks with Israel, Lebanon, and intermediaries for Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) to “reduce tensions” on the Israel-Lebanon border.[56] Senior White House adviser Amos Hochstein is leading the US effort that began before October 7, which seeks to adjudicate a demarcation on the Israel-Lebanon border. “Participants in the talks” told the New York Times that Israeli officials proposed a five-kilometer and a ten-kilometer buffer zone between the Israeli border and LH positions. US officials believe that the buffer zone may need to be greater than five kilometers, according to the New York Times. US officials said that they believe LH is “sensitive to local public opinion” and will accept an agreement placing Lebanese Armed Forces along the Israeli border.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had asked the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to conduct joint patrols to visit Lebanese Hezbollah military positions in southern Lebanon as of September 2023..[57] The LAF is hesitant due to a lack of guidance from the Lebanese government on joint patrols, as well as the risk of raising tensions with LH.[58] LH also seeks to keep the LAF weak to cement LH’s power in Lebanon.[59] Agreeing to cede LH-dominated areas of southern Lebanon to the LAF would counter this long-held objective. 

Iranian-backed fighters, including LH, conducted seven attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 22. LH claimed six attacks targeting Israeli positions in northern Israel.[60] Unspecified fighters fired one rocket at civilian targets in Nahariya on December 22.[61] Israeli media reported on December 22 that rocket fire from southern Lebanon killed one Israeli soldier.[62]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Spokesperson for Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Ashab al Kahf Abu Murtaja al Husseini said that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq will reject any discussion on stopping attacks targeting US positions in Iraq.[63] The statement follows meetings between Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani and Secretary General of the Wisdom Movement Ammar al Hakim with US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski discussing ending attacks on US facilities in Iraq.[64] CTP-ISW previously noted that Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are pursuing political and military means to force US forces to withdraw from Iraq.[65] Senior US officials have told the Iraqi government repeatedly that the United States retains the right to respond to threats and attacks on US and Coalition personnel in Iraq.[66]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack targeting Eilat, Israel on December 21 in retaliation for civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip.[67] This is the second attack the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed targeting Eilat since October 18.[68] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed its first attack targeting Eilat on November 3.[69]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also claimed on December 22 that it had conducted an unspecified attack on a “vital target” in the Mediterranean Sea.[70] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq did not identify what its target in the Mediterranean Sea was. Neither US nor Israeli officials have commented on the claimed attack at the time of publication.

A Sinjari Yazidi activist said that the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) instructed its members in Sinjar to collect votes in favor of a militia-supported candidate.[71] The same activist said that the militia-backed candidate won the seat, thus filling the Yazidi quota on the provincial council.[72] Iranian-backed Iraqi militias within the PMF have attempted to increase their influence in Ninewa province in recent months. Mohammed Shia al Sudani appointed PMF-linked interim Governor of Ninewa Abdul Qadir al Dakhil. Kataib Hezbollah (KH)’s 47th PMF Brigade’s 2nd Regiment also deployed to Sinjar, ostensibly for election security.[73] Ninewa province locals warned that militias had begun to interfere in provincial elections in September 2023.[74]

The Wall Street Journal reported on December 22 that an Iranian spy ship is directing Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.[75] This spy ship is likely the Behshad, which is an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp intelligence gathering ship operating off the Dahlak archipelago in the Red Sea.[76] The Journal reported that the Iranian spy ship provides the Houthis with real-time intelligence, which enables them to target ships that have gone silent to avoid detection. This reporting is consistent with previous Western media reporting and statements from US officials that the IRGC is involved in planning and executing the Houthis’ drone and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea.[77] The IRGC Quds Force might have used the Behshad, or its predecessor the Saviz, to provide explosive-laden drone boats to the Houthis in recent years.[78] The Saviz might have similarly been supporting Houthi attacks on commercial tankers in the Bab al Mandab Strait and facilitating the smuggling of personnel and materials into Yemen via small dhows prior to the Israeli limpet mine attack on the Saviz in April 2021. [79]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call with Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General Ibrahim Taha on December 21.[80] Abdollahian condemned Israeli action in the Gaza Strip and expressed Iran’s readiness to provide humanitarian aid. Iran has regularly used the OIC in Iran’s attempts to rally the Arab and Muslim world around the Palestinian cause and against Israel since October 7.[81]

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war at the Ancient Civilizations Forum hosted in Tehran on December 21.[82] Abdollahian called on all countries with ancient cultures to work together to stop Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. Italian, Armenian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Bolivian officials attended the forum.[83] The forum is a joint Chinese-Greek initiative that the two states started in 2017.[84]

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 22.[85] The readouts for the phone call did not elaborate on Lavrov and Abdollahian’s discussion. Iranian and Russian officials have discussed the provision of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and a permanent ceasefire during their previous phone calls.[86]

The Iranian ambassador to Turkey discussed the Israel-Hamas war with a Turkish National Assembly Foreign Policy Commission member in Ankara on December 22.[87] The two discussed the provision of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and called for an immediate ceasefire. This follows meetings between senior Iranian leaders and the Turkish Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Yildiz on December 20 and 21.[88]


Iran Update, December 21, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces have expanded clearing operations to target Hamas’ Central Gaza Strip Brigade, as Israeli forces transition into holding operations in parts of the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian militias tried to defend against Israeli advances toward the central Gaza Strip.
  2. The IDF stated that it established “operational control” of Shujaiya after dismantling Hamas' battalion there. Palestinian militias other than Hamas continue to attack Israeli forces around Shujaiya and the surrounding neighborhoods.
  3. Israeli forces continued engaging Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip, which is consistent with the nature of holding operations. The IDF announced that it plans to target the three seniormost commanders remaining in Hamas’ Northern Gaza Strip Brigade.
  4. Palestinian militia fighters continued conducting a deliberate defense against Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis.
  5. Hamas claimed that all Palestinian groups agree that they will not accept a hostage exchange with Israel until there is a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
  6. Palestinian militias conducted six indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The al Qassem Brigades fired a large salvo of rockets at Tel Aviv.
  7. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in seven locations across the West Bank. Hamas called for Palestinians to demonstrate across the West Bank on December 22 in support of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and for Palestinian militias’ victory against Israel.
  8. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 15 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  9. Iraqi state media, citing the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission, released preliminary results for the provincial council elections. The We Build Coalition, led by Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri, has won 43 seats.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces have expanded clearing operations to target Hamas’ Central Gaza Strip Brigade, as Israeli forces transition into holding operations in parts of the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on December 21 that it conducted an operation in the Bakshi neighborhood, south of Gaza City, targeting Hamas’ Nuseirat Battalion.[1] This battalion is part of the Central Gaza Strip Brigade, which CTP-ISW assessed remains combat effective at this time.[2] The IDF stated that it plans to establish “operational control . . . in the center of the Gaza Strip in the buffer zone between the north of the Gaza Strip and the central camps.”[3] Hamas maintains five geographical brigades in the Gaza Strip.[4]

Palestinian militias tried to defend against Israeli advances toward the central Gaza Strip. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—and the al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed a combined attack on an Israeli tank using an improvised explosive device (IED) in Mughraqa, north of Wadi Gaza.[5] The al Qassem Brigades claimed four other attacks on Israeli forces and tanks in Mughraqa using anti-personnel munitions, anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), and sniper rifles.[6] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Hamas fighters are attacking IDF units south of Gaza City likely from relative safe haven in the Gaza Strip’s central governorate.[7]

The IDF stated that it established “operational control” of Shujaiya on December 21 after dismantling Hamas' battalion there.[8] Israeli forces have targeted Hamas’ ”core capabilities” in the neighborhood and plan to continue limited operations to destroy remaining Hamas fighters and military infrastructure.[9] IDF officials stated that Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion has conducted ”almost no. . . attacks” on Israeli forces over the past week, according to an Israeli defense correspondent.[10] The correspondent reported that Israeli forces are conducting an ”operational hold“ in Shujaiya[11] The al Qassem Brigades have not claimed an attack in Shujaiya[12] Israeli forces destroyed the headquarters of Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion on December 15.[13] Israeli progress in Shujaiya and throughout the rest of Gaza City is consistent with CTP-ISW's observation that Israel appears to be in the final stages of its clearing operation in parts of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias other than Hamas continue to attack Israeli forces around Shujaiya and the surrounding neighborhoods. IDF Arabic-language spokesperson reported on December 21 that Israeli forces are operating in Shujaiya, Daraj, and Tuffah neighborhoods of Gaza City.[14] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Shujaiya on December 21.[15] The al Quds Brigades detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli forces east of Shujaiya on December 20.[16] The IDF faces a loose coalition of Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip—not just Hamas.

Israeli forces continued engaging Palestinian fighters in the northern Gaza Strip, which is consistent with the nature of holding operations. Israeli forces identified Palestinian fighters in al Shati camp and called in an airstrike on December 21.[17] Palestinian militias have not claimed an attack in al Shati camp since November 22.[18] The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades claimed multiple attacks on Israeli forces south of Jabalia City and in Jabalia refugee camp on December 21.[19] The al Qassem Brigades claimed to use a Shawaz explosively formed penetrators (EFP) to target an Israeli tank north of Jabalia City.[20] The IDF reported on December 19 that it completely “dismantled” Hamas’ three battalions operating in Jabalia.[21] Enemy fighters frequently attack holding forces during holding operations as the holding forces conduct defensive and offensive operations to degrade and destroy the enemy force’s military infrastructure. Holding operations allow the IDF to protect local populations by securing areas in the Gaza Strip against Hamas re-infiltration.

The IDF announced that it plans to target the three seniormost commanders remaining in Hamas’ Northern Gaza Strip Brigade. IDF Arabic-language spokesperson reported on December 21 that Israel has killed four of the seven senior brigade commanders in Hamas’ Northern Gaza Strip Brigade.[22] The three remaining are the overall brigade commander and commanders of the Sheikh Radwan Battalion and Zaytoun Battalion. Palestinian militias have consistently claimed attacks on Israeli forces in Sheikh Radwan as part of their defense of the greater Jabalia area.[23]

The al Quds Brigades claimed to intercept an Israeli multirole drone in the northern Gaza Strip on December 21.[24] The militia reported that the drone identifies locations and targets for Israeli warplanes in addition to having combat capabilities.[25] The IDF has not commented on the incident at the time of writing.

Palestinian militia fighters continued conducting a deliberate defense against Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis on December 21. The al Qassem Brigades mortared Israeli forces near the Zalal mosque, from where Palestinian militia fighters have conducted indirect fire attacks repeatedly since December 6.[26] Militia fighters targeted Israeli tanks east of Khan Younis with anti-tank munitions.[27]The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Khan Younis on December 21.[28]

Palestinian militia fighters ambushed Israeli forces from a tunnel, which Israeli forces later destroyed, in Khan Younis on December 21.[29] The militia fighters threw explosives and fired small arms killing three Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces returned to the site and, with engineering forces, blew up the tunnel shafts.[30]

Hamas claimed that all Palestinian groups agree that they will not accept a hostage exchange with Israel until there is a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Hamas reported on December 21 that there is a Palestinian national decision not to move forward in hostage negotiations.[31] Hamas rejected an Israeli proposal for a week-long truce in the Gaza Strip in return for the release of 40 Israeli hostages on December 20.[32] Hamas and PIJ officials told Egyptian mediators that Israel must stop its offensive in the Gaza Strip before they discuss any potential deal.[33]

The al Qassem Brigades fired a large salvo of rockets at Tel Aviv on December 21.[34] The militia regularly fires rockets at Tel Aviv in response to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.[35] The launch demonstrates that Palestinian militias have retained some rocket capabilities capable of reaching Tel Aviv, despite Israeli clearing operations. The IDF reported on December 21 that Israeli forces destroyed a rocket launcher with rockets loaded and aimed at Israel during clearing operations in Khan Younis.[36]

Palestinian militias conducted six total indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on December 21. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades conducted four attacks into southern Israel, some of which targeted Israeli military positions.[37] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—fired mortars at Sufa in southern Israel.[38]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in seven locations across the West Bank on December 21.[39] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that it conducted an IED attack targeting Israeli forces in al Marj, Qalqilya.[40] Unspecified Palestinian fighters threw homemade explosives at the gates of the Beitar Illit settlement, west of Bethlehem.[41]

Hamas called for Palestinians to demonstrate across the West Bank on December 22 in support of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and for Palestinian militias’ victory against Israel.[42] This is the second consecutive Friday that Hamas has called for demonstrations to take place in the West Bank.[43]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 15 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 21.[44] LH claimed four anti-tank fire attacks and one rocket attack on civilian targets in northern Israel.[45] LH also claimed five attacks on Israeli military targets.[46]

The IDF conducted airstrikes strikes into Syria on December 21 in retaliation for unspecified militants launching four rockets into the Golan Heights.[47] This marked the 19th indirect fire attack from Syria targeting Israel since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraqi state media, citing the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), released on December 20 preliminary results for the provincial council elections.[48] Iraq held provincial council elections on December 18 for the first time since 2013.[49] The results show that political parties and coalitions aligned with the Shia Coordination Framework—a loose coalition of Iranian-backed political parties—have won the most seats so far.[50] These parties and coalitions, including the We Build Coalition, State of Law, and State Forces Coalition, have won 101 out of 285 seats.[51] IHEC has not yet published official seat allocation results.[52] IHEC spokesperson Jumana al Ghalai announced on December 20 that IHEC still needed to count approximately six percent of the votes and that the election results could change after the count is finished.[53] The Iraqi state media results only account for 275 of the 285 seat allocations.

The We Build Coalition, led by Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri, has won 43 seats.[54] This coalition won the most votes in southern Iraq, including in Al Qadisiyah, Babil, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Najaf provinces.[55] The State of Law, which is headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, has won 35 seats.[56] The State Forces Coalition, which includes parties headed by National Wisdom Movement head Ammar al Hakim and former Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi, has won 23 seats.[57]

National Wisdom Movement member Rahim al Aboudi said after the release of the preliminary results that the Shia parties will work together to develop a “true democracy” in Iraq and an Iraqi state that has an “administration [that is] is decentralized.”[58] The parties and coalitions aligned with the Shia Coordination Framework had previously announced that they would run on separate lists in the election but govern jointly after the election.[59]

The two main Sunni parties that competed against the Shia Coordination Framework-aligned parties, which are the National Progress Alliance and the Sovereignty Alliance, have won 22 and 14 seats, respectively.[60] The National Progress Alliance, which is headed by former Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi, won the most votes in the capital, Baghdad.[61] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Halbousi's removal from his post in November 2023 was part of political efforts to reduce the US military presence in Iraq.[62] The Sovereignty Alliance is headed by US-sanctioned and Iran-linked businessman Khamis al Khanjar.[63]

US CENTCOM confirmed that unspecified militants conducted a rocket attack targeting US forces at Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq, on December 20.[64] The attack did not cause any injuries or damage to the base. Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve informed Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) of the point of origin of the attack. The ISF subsequently seized a flatbed truck that was modified to launch rockets near the point of origin. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that have attacked US forces in Iraq and Syria almost daily in recent weeks—has not claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of writing.

The Houthi movement is continuing to conduct an information operation that aims to frame any US response to the Houthi attacks on international shipping as an escalation. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced on December 18 that the United States established a 10-nation combined maritime operation to counter Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[65] Houthi Political Bureau member Hizam al Asad claimed that the operation is part of US efforts to “militarize the Red Sea” during an interview with Iranian state media on December 21.[66] Asad added that the United States is “unjustifiably escalating tensions,” which could drive the situation “out of control.” Asad warned that the Houthi movement is prepared to confront the United States if it “commits stupidity” and that the Houthis can surprise and harm its enemies “in various ways.” The Houthis have conducted almost daily drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb since December 9.[67]

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi thanked Kuwait for opposing normalization with Israel during a phone call with new Kuwaiti Emir Mashal al Ahmad al Jaber al Sabah on December 20.[68] The two discussed bilateral relations. Raisi criticized the interference of foreign powers in the Middle East, specifically referencing interference in the Israel-Hamas war. The Kuwait emir said that Kuwait supporting the Palestinian people is “fixed and unchanged”.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during two separate phone calls with his counterparts from South Africa and Oman on December 21.[69] Abdollahian thanked South African Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor for her country’s “strong and clear” support for Palestinians.[70] Abdollahian praised the joint effort by the two nations to condemn alleged Israeli crimes. Abdollahian spoke with his Omani counterpart, Badr al Busaidi, about a lasting ceasefire.[71] Abdollahian said that the United States bears responsibility for Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Busaidi stressed the need for a lasting ceasefire and humanitarian aid for citizens in the Gaza Strip.

Senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Yildiz in Tehran on December 20 and 21.[72] Iranian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister for Policy Ali Bagheri Kani discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Yildiz on December 20.[73] The two also discussed the need for unconditional aid in the Gaza Strip and preventing the alleged displacement of Palestinian civilians. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed bilateral relations and regional developments with Yildiz on December 21.[74]

 

Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan visited Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, on December 21 following recent anti-regime militant attacks in the province.[75] The Balochi Salafi-Jihadist group Jaish al Adl conducted a two-stage attack on a police station in Rask on December 15, killing 11 Law Enforcement Command (LEC) officers.[76] Likely Jaish al Adl fighters also conducted an improvised explosive device attack targeting an IRGC Special Forces Brigade near Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, on December 19.[77] Radan visited the police station that was attacked and thanked Sunni and Shia police officers for uniting to “defend the homeland.” Radan warned that Iran will take severe revenge against terrorists and claimed that Iran reserves the right to pursue terrorists “anywhere.” Radan additionally conducted an aerial visit of Iran’s southeastern borders and called on the Pakistani government to increase its border security efforts. Iranian military officials have previously pressured the Pakistani government to crack down on Jaish al Adl "safe havens and cells” in Pakistan.[78]

Iran Update, December 20, 2023

click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Kathryn Tyson, Andie Parry, and Alexandra Braverman

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces are transitioning from clearing operations to holding operations in some areas of the northern Gaza Strip.
  2. Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi threatened to target US warships in the Red Sea.
  3. Israel and Hamas continued negotiations for a new humanitarian pause in fighting in exchange for Israeli hostages being held in the Gaza Strip.
  4. PIJ Secretary General Ziad al Nakhalah and a PIJ delegation will travel to Cairo in the coming days to discuss ceasefire negotiations with Egyptian officials.
  5. Iranian military leaders view current Hamas operations in the Gaza Strip as the prelude to a long-term war to destroy Israel.
  6. Iraqi political parties and coalitions aligned with the Shia Coordination Framework—a loosely aligned coalition of pro-Iranian political parties—have won the most seats in the provincial council elections.
  7. Iraqi media claimed on December 20 that unspecified militants attacked US forces at Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq

Israeli forces are transitioning from clearing operations to holding operations in some areas of the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces in some areas of the northern Gaza Strip, such as Beit Hanoun and the al Shati camp, are beginning to execute tasks analogous to the US military definition of a holding operation. A holding operation “involves disrupting [enemy] activities in an area and providing a good security environment for the population” and “focuses on securing the population.”[1] The Israeli Defense Minister said on December 18 that the IDF is preparing to transition to a “day after” the war and that Israel will begin bringing back the local population in some areas of the strip.[2] The IDF redeployed some of the units responsible for clearing Beit Hanoun and al Shati camp and backfilled them with new units to hold the areas.[3] The backfilling units are continuing lower intensity operations, such as raids against infrastructure and clashing with small cells of Palestinian fighters.[4] The hold phase is defined by a decreased level of violence, but it still requires holding forces to engage and eliminate enemy forces and infrastructure to provide security.[5]

Doctrinally sound holding operations would enable the Israel Defense Forces to protect local Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and Israeli citizens in southern Israel. Holding operations consist of both offensive and defensive tasks that secure the population and prevent enemy forces from securing terrain.[6] US military doctrine defines the tactical task ”secure“ as efforts to prevent a unit, facility, geographic location, or population from being destroyed or damaged.[7]  Holding forces execute defensive tasks, such as capturing enemy weapons caches and securing terrain.[8] They also conduct offensive operations, including raids against enemy leaders and disruption operations targeting enemy support structures among the population.[9] Holding operations allow the IDF to protect local populations by securing areas in the Gaza Strip against Hamas re-infiltration while protecting Israeli citizens in southern Israel by continuing to dismantle Hamas military infrastructure.

The holding phase is a lengthy transitional period that seeks to create a minimally acceptable security environment to provide space for the creation of a new political order. This phase can take many months. In US doctrine and practice, the holding force will increasingly execute stability tasks and operations—such as restoring essential services and supporting dislocated civilians—as the hold phase continues.[10] Stability tasks and operations during the holding phase help set conditions for the new political order and prevent a collapse of social order.

Houthi Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi threatened to target US warships in the Red Sea in a speech on December 20.[11] The United States announced on December 18 that it established a 10-nation combined maritime operation to counter Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[12] Abdulmalik said that the Houthis would attack “US battleships, interests, and navigation” if the United States “escalates further” and targets Yemen or the Houthis.[13] The US Navy no longer operates battleships. Abdulmalik also accused the United States of “militarizing the Red Sea and asked that Arab countries leave the Houthis to respond to a “direct war” with the United States and Israel.[14] Abdulmalik claimed falsely that the Houthis would not target European vessels in the Red Sea as long as the vessels do not go to Israel.[15] The Houthis have repeatedly targeted European vessels that were en route to destinations other than Israel, such as Italy.[16]

The Houthi Supreme Political Council similarly criticized the US-led coalition as a “hostile step aimed at protecting Israel.”[17] The council said that it will hold the United States responsible for anything that comes from the “militarization” of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The Houthi movement is conducting an information operation that aims to frame any US response to Houthi acts of piracy and terrorism targeting international shipping as an escalation. The Houthi movement is claiming to support the Palestinian cause while criticizing the US-led coalition. The Houthis and Iran are attempting to demonstrate the threat that the Axis of Resistance poses to global shipping and major maritime routes in the Middle East, as CTP-ISW previously assessed.[18] This effort is not specific to the Israel-Hamas war. Tehran has had a long-standing goal to develop the military capabilities and proxies that it requires to disrupt traffic around both the Bab al Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz.[19] In this context, the United States is responding to multiple Houthi acts of piracy and terrorism which aim to disrupt all international trade in the Red Sea, not just to Israel. Several of the vessels that the Houthis have attacked were bound for destinations other than Israel.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian fighters fired at Israeli forces in Beit Hanoun with small arms on December 20. The IDF reported that one Palestinian fighter attempted to conduct a drive-by shooting targeting Israeli reservists in Beit Hanoun on December 20.[20]  Palestinian media also reported armed clashes between Palestinian fighters and the IDF in Beit Hanoun.[21] These attacks are consistent with the doctrinal definition of a holding operation. Enemy fighters frequently attack holding forces during holding operations as the holding force conducts defensive and offensive operations to degrade and destroy the enemy force’s military infrastructure.[22]

The IDF continued clearing operations in Jabalia on December 20. The IDF’s 551st Brigade Combat Team and Nahal Brigade captured Hamas rockets and conducted airstrikes to eliminate Palestinian militia anti-tank team positions.[23] Palestinian fighters also clashed with advancing Israeli forces near al Sikka Road and the Civil Administration Site in Jabalia on December 20, according to Palestinian media.[24]

Palestinian militia fighters continued their efforts to defend against Israeli advances in Jabalia and Shujaiya. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)--claimed that its fighters detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an IDF bulldozer and Israeli infantry east of Shujaiya.[25] The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—attacked IDF units in Tal al Zaatar, near Jabalia refugee camp, on December 20.[26] The group fired rocket-propelled grenades targeting Israeli forces in Shujaiya.[27] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—used rocket-propelled grenades to attack Israeli armor in eastern Jabalia on December 20.[28]

Palestinian militia fighters conducted attacks behind the forward line of Israeli advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The al Qassem Brigades attacked an eight-vehicle Israeli convoy in Sabra and Tal al Hawa on December 20.[29] CTP-ISW assesses that the al Qassem Brigades’ Sabra-Tal al Islam (Tal al Hawa) Battalion is degraded, but not combat ineffective.[30] Al Qassem Brigades fighters also detonated anti-personnel improvised explosive devices (IED) targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun neighborhood, southern Gaza City.[31]

Palestinian fighters continued using sophisticated tactics to defend against Israeli clearing operations in Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades detonated IEDs targeting Israeli troops in two separate booby-trapped tunnels northeast and east of Khan Younis on December 20.[32] The group also attacked Israeli armor north and east of Khan Younis using rocket-propelled grenades.[33]

Israeli forces in Khan Younis raided Palestinian militia infrastructure on December 20. The 7th Brigade Combat Team discovered “underground infrastructure” including unspecified “water and electrical systems” in the homes of senior Hamas leaders in central Khan Younis.[34] The IDF’s 55th Brigade Combat Team also captured a militia weapons cache in Khan Younis.[35]

Israel and Hamas continued negotiations for a new humanitarian pause in fighting in exchange for Israeli hostages being held in the Gaza Strip. Egyptian officials claimed that Israeli negotiators proposed a one-week pause in fighting to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip in exchange for 40 women, children, and elderly men held hostage.[36] Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have rejected any hostage release until a ceasefire is implemented and Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip.[37] PIJ is expected to participate in hostage negotiations with Hamas for the first time since the Israel-Hamas began.[38] PIJ observed the previous humanitarian pause in fighting but was not a party to negotiations.[39] An unidentified Israeli official stated that negotiations are still in the early stages.[40] Mossad Director David Barnea traveled to Doha, Qatar on December 18 to begin negotiations.[41]

PIJ Secretary General Ziad al Nakhalah and a PIJ delegation will travel to Cairo in the coming days to discuss ceasefire negotiations with Egyptian officials.[42] Nakhalah claimed that his delegation’s primary goal is to establish a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, remove Israeli forces from the territory, and begin reconstruction in the strip.[43] PIJ Deputy Secretary General Muhammad al Hindi said that PIJ will not negotiate any hostage release until these demands have been met.[44]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in nine locations in the West Bank on December 20. Palestinian fighters detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in four towns in the northern and central West Bank.[45] Palestinian fighters also fired small arms at Israeli forces in seven towns.[46] The Jenin Battalion of the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade claimed that its fighters fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Yamoun.[47] The Qalqilya Battalion of the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade fired small arms targeting an Israeli checkpoint near Qalqilya on December 19.[48] Israeli forces arrested 17 Palestinians, 11 of whom were affiliated with Hamas, during overnight raids in the West Bank on December 20.[49] The IDF confiscated small arms, ammunition, military equipment, and vehicles during the operations.[50] 

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted eight attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 20.[51] LH claimed that its fighters fired surface-to-air missiles targeting IDF helicopters operating over Shomira, Even Menachem, and Shtula.[52] LH also claimed two rocket strikes on IDF positions near Khirbet Maar and Shtula.[53]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh in Doha on December 19.[54] Haniyeh praised Iran and other regional actors for their support of the Palestinian people.[55] Haniyeh also denied the IDF’s claim that it controls part of the North Gaza Governorate.[56] Abdollahian said in a press conference after the meeting that Haniyeh claimed that Hamas has only used 14 percent of its defense capabilities and manpower.[57] This is Abdollahian’s fourth trip to Doha since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[58]

Abdollahian also met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al Thani in Doha.[59] The two discussed the Israel-Hamas war and the likelihood of an imminent permanent ceasefire. Abdollahian questioned an unconfirmed US claim that an agreement on the Israel-Hamas war could be reached before the end of the year.[60] Abdollahian also said that indirect and direct diplomatic negotiations show that the region is gradually moving towards a ceasefire within an unspecified time frame.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi urged the Pakistani government to improve border security during a phone call with Pakistani President Arif Rahman Alavi.[61] Raisi’s statement comes after Balochi Salafi-jihadi fighters attacked a police station on December 15 in the Sistan and Baluchistan province, Iran.[62] Raisi also called for increased bilateral cooperation between Iran and Pakistan particularly in the energy sector. Raisi reiterated the importance of coordinated action by Islamic countries to end the Israel-Hamas war.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on December 19.[63] The two spoke about the need for an immediate ceasefire and the provision of aid for the Palestinian people.

Iranian military leaders view current Hamas operations in the Gaza Strip as the prelude to a long-term war to destroy Israel. IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami stated the Palestinian resistance is practicing and gaining the necessary experience in “the formula for destroying Israel” during a meeting of provincial IRGC commanders in Khuzestan Province.[64] Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani said on November 18 that Israel’s military and intelligence failures since October 7 provide lessons for future action against it.[65] IRGC commanders previously framed Hamas’ al Aqsa Flood operation as a prelude to future attacks on Israel. Former IRGC Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari framed the attack as a “warmup” to prepare and train for future operations against Israel in an interview on October 15.[66] Salami described Hamas’ operation as the “first stage” of Israel’s “hasty collapse” on the same day.[67] Salami previously outlined what he considered to be the formula for destroying Israel during an interview with the Supreme Leader’s website in August 2022. Salami argued that Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian militias needed to conduct more ground operations and urban combat inside Israel that would destabilize and generate internal displacement leading to Israel’s collapse.[68]

US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met with senior Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government officials in Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq, on December 19 and 20.[69] Nuland congratulated Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani on the “successful” provincial council elections.[70] Sudani emphasized his government’s commitment to protecting diplomatic missions, embassies, and international coalition advisors in Iraq. Nuland separately discussed the provincial council elections with National Wisdom Movement head Ammar al Hakim.[71] The National Wisdom Movement won the third most seats in the elections.[72]

Nuland discussed protecting diplomatic missions and US and coalition forces in Iraq during a meeting with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Nechirvan Barzani.[73] Nuland and Barzani also discussed the “political and security” situation in Iraq as well as relations between Erbil and Baghdad. Nuland also met with KRG Prime Minister Masoud Barzani. Nuland and Barzani discussed the risk of the reemergence of ISIS and emphasized the need for the KRG, Iraqi central government, and US-led international coalition to cooperate to combat terrorism.[74]

Iraqi media claimed on December 20 that unspecified militants attacked US forces at Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq.[75] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—has not claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of writing.

 

Iran Update, December 19, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Peter Mills, Kathryn Tyson, Brian Carter, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm ET

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israel has degraded Hamas’ North Gaza Brigade, which is consistent with CTP-ISW's observation that Israel appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operation in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian militias continued attacks targeting Israeli forces east of Jabalia.
  2. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.
  3. Palestinian militias are continuing to use the relative safe haven of the Gaza Strip’s Central Governorate to attack Israeli forces south of Gaza City.
  4. Palestinian fighters continued to conduct a deliberate defense against Israeli advances in Khan Younis. The IDF deployed an additional brigade to Khan Younis
  5. Palestinian militias mortared Israeli forces in the central and southern Gaza Strip. The al Qassem Brigades conducted at least two indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
  6. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters seven times across the West Bank. Hamas continues to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinian militias in the West Bank.
  7. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  8. Israel seeks a deal to push Lebanese Hezbollah forces “roughly six miles” from the Israel-Lebanon border to prevent possible LH cross border attacks, according to US and Israeli officials.
  9. The Iraqi High Electoral Commission released preliminary results for the Iraqi provincial council elections. Shia parties, including those affiliated with Iran, won the largest count of votes in Baghdad and most of Iraq’s southern provinces.
  10. The Jordanian Air Force conducted airstrikes on Iran-linked drug smuggling targets in Salkhad, Suwayda Province, Syria.
  11. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Operation Prosperity Guardian in response to Houthi attacks on international shipping around the Red Sea. The Houthi attack campaign targeting commercial shipping continues to achieve one of its desired effects of disrupting Red Sea maritime traffic headed to Israel.
  12. Fighters from the Balochi Salafi-jihadi group Jaish al Adl were likely responsible for an improvised explosive device attack targeting an IRGC Special Forces Brigade near Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israel has degraded Hamas’ North Gaza Brigade, which is consistent with CTP-ISW's observation that Israel appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operation in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced the beginning of clearing operations in Jabalia on November 18.[1] The IDF reported on December 19 that it completely “dismantled” Hamas’ three battalions operating in Jabalia.[2] About 500 suspected Palestinians fighters surrendered to Israeli forces in the Jabalia refugee camp, some of whom belong to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).[3] Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF fought “hard battles” in Jabalia against Palestinian militias for more than two weeks until Israeli forces had killed over 1,000 fighters.[4] IDF Brigadier General Itzik Cohen said that the fighting in Jabalia "resulted in the dismantling of the military capacity” of Hamas’ North Gaza Brigade.[5] The IDF estimated on December 19 that there are only a few militia fighters left in the Jabalia area.[6]

Palestinian militias continued attacks targeting Israeli forces east of Jabalia. Palestinian militias continued to defend against Israeli advances east of Jabalia city. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed two attacks on Israeli forces using thermobaric rockets and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) in Tal al Zaatar, north of Jabalia refugee camp.[7] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of PIJ—mortared Israeli forces in the same area.[8] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—claimed a complex attack on Israeli forces advancing in the Jabalia refugee camp using small arms and RPGs.[9] The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Resistance Committees—claimed an attack on Israeli forces east of Jabalia city for the first time since December 13.[10]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on December 19. The IDF located an IED planted inside a clinic in Shujaiya in addition to finding other weapons in the area.[11] The al Quds Brigades claimed that its fighters clashed with seven Israeli infantrymen on the Israeli forward line of advance in the neighborhood.[12] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades also said that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in central Shujaiya.[13]

Israeli special operations forces operated inside a Hamas tunnel system in Gaza city on December 19. The Israeli defense minister said on December 12 that Israeli troops had descended deep underground to locate Hamas bunkers, command centers, communication rooms, and weapon storage sites.[14] Hamas published a video showing a dead Israeli working dog in a Hamas tunnel in Sheikh Radwan on December 15, demonstrating the presence of both Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in the tunnels.[15] Palestinian militia fighters have used tunnel shafts to maneuver through the strip and to ambush Israeli forces[16] The IDF has located about 1,500 tunnel shafts and routes in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip.[17]

Palestinian militias are continuing to use the relative safe haven of the Gaza Strip’s Central Governorate to attack Israeli forces south of Gaza City. The al Qassem Brigades claimed three attacks using thermobaric rockets and RPGs on Israeli forces in Mughraqa, just north of Wadi Gaza.[18] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—mortared Israeli vehicles advancing north of Juhor ad Dik.[19] The IDF reported on December 19 that Israeli forces destroyed a tunnel shaft south of Gaza City.[20] Israeli forces conducted an airstrike targeting a large number of militia fighters who fled into a building.[21]

Palestinian fighters continued to conduct a deliberate defense against Israeli advances in Khan Younis on December 19. The al Quds Brigades shelled Israeli support sites and ground lines of communication (GLOC) as part of the Palestinian militias’ efforts to disrupt and harass Israeli GLOCs in Khan Younis.[22] Palestinian militias previously targeted the Israeli GLOC on December 15.[23] Palestinian fighters also attacked Israeli artillery units east of Khan Younis with mortars on December 19.[24] The IDF moved elements of its Artillery Corps into the Gaza Strip on December 10.[25]

The al Qassem Brigades attacked Israeli infantry conducting clearing operations in urban areas of Khan Younis on December 19. Al Qassem Brigades fighters rigged a house to explode in Khan Younis, detonating it when Israeli forces entered the building.[26] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that it trapped Israeli forces in a house and detonated anti-personnel charges and thermobaric shells in a separate incident.[27] The al Qassem Brigades claimed both attacks killed and wounded Israeli forces but did not provide evidence for the claim. Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli infantrymen and vehicles in Khan Younis using RPGs, mortars, and rockets.[28]

The IDF deployed an additional brigade to Khan Younis on December 19. IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari stated that the IDF is expanding clear operations around Khan Younis by deploying an additional brigade and engineering force to the area.[29] The IDF 55th Brigade continued operations in Khan Younis by raiding weapons storage facilities, clearing houses, and engaging in close-range clashes with Palestinian fighters on December 19.[30]

Israel conducted an airstrike to kill a Hamas financier, Subhi Ferwana, who the IDF said was a vital resource for the al Qassem Brigades.[31] The IDF reported that Ferwana was involved in transferring millions of dollars to Hamas and its al Qassem Brigades. The militia used the funds to pay salaries and build its military capabilities during the war.[32]

Palestinian militias mortared Israeli forces in the central and southern Gaza Strip on December 19. Israeli forces have not commenced major, large-scale clearing operations in most of the central Gaza Strip at this time. The al Quds Brigades mortared Israeli soldiers east of Maghazi in Gaza’s Central Governorate.[33] The al Qassem Brigades launched mortars at Israeli forces east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.[34]

The al Qassem Brigades conducted at least two indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip on December 19. The al Qassem Brigades fired a barrage of rockets at Tel Aviv.[35] The al Qassem Brigades also filmed its fighters launching rockets from the Gaza Strip at unspecified locations in Israel. [36] The al Quds Brigades and other Palestinian militias did not claim indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 19. The low rate of indirect fire attacks into Israel is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Israeli forces are likely degrading Hamas’ capacity to conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters seven times across the West Bank on December 19.[37] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Azzun, west of Nablus.[38] Unspecified fighters "confronted“ Israeli forces during Israeli operations in Aqraba, southeast of Nablus, as well.[39] The IDF demolished the Aqraba home of a Palestinian fighter, who attacked Israelis in the West Bank in August 2023.[40] The Jenin Battalion of the al Quds Brigades separately fired small arms at Israeli forces in Jenin.[41]

The IDF arrested ten individuals across the West Bank, including four Hamas fighters.[42]

Hamas continues to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinian militias in the West Bank. The al Qassem Brigades said that it launched rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel on December 19 to commemorate Palestinian fighters killed in the West Bank.[43] The al Qassem Brigades said that it wrote the names of militia fighters from the West Bank-based Lions’ Den militia and al Qassem Brigades on the rockets. The Lions’ Den and Hamas have expressed support for and alignment with one another throughout the Israel-Hamas war.[44] Hamas has repeatedly called for escalation against Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank, especially since the war began.[45]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 19.[46] LH claimed two anti-tank guided missile attacks targeting Israeli military positions.[47] The al Qassem Brigades fired a 12-rocket salvo targeting civilians in Kiryat Shmona.[48] The group claimed that it conducted the attack in retaliation for Israel’s ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

Israel seeks a deal to push LH “roughly six miles” from the Israel-Lebanon border to prevent possible LH cross border attacks, according to US and Israeli officials.[49] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that they seek to prevent LH from returning the positions along the Israel-Lebanon border that Israeli airstrikes have destroyed since October. Austin said Washington understood Israeli concerns and asked for “time and space” for diplomatic efforts to remove LH from the border. Netanyahu and Gallant agreed to give the Biden administration time for a diplomatic solution but added that they “wanted to see progress in the next few weeks,” according to Israeli officials. Israeli officials seek to use diplomatic measures to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bars LH military units from operating south of the Litani River.[50]

The deputy chairman of the LH Executive Council said on December 19 that Israel is “too weak” to attack or “impose [its] conditions” on Lebanon. LH Executive Council Deputy Chairman Ali Damoush said that the “only option” to protect Lebanon is “resistance, not the international community, the United Nations, or the [UN] Security Council.”[51] The LH Executive Council is responsible for implementing the group’s policy in specific areas, including media, health, social, education, and political issues.[52] It notably does not implement foreign policy.[53] LH Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah manages LH’s external relations directly, rather than through the Executive Council.[54] Damoush said that Israel is “too weak” to carry out its “threats” to use military force to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701.[55]

Israeli tanks fired at and artillery shelled a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) outpost in southern Syria on December 18 in retaliation for rocket fire from Syria toward the Golan Heights earlier that day.[56] The IDF said that unspecified fighters fired several rockets from Syria. The rockets did not land in the Golan Heights, however.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) released preliminary results for the Iraqi provincial council elections on December 19.[57] Iraq held provincial council elections on December 18 for the first time since 2013.[58] Iraqi provincial councils are authorized to appoint and remove governors as well as approve provincial director-general positions and approve provincial security plans.[59]

  • Parties and coalitions aligned with the Shia Coordination Framework—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi parties—won the largest count of votes in Baghdad and most of Iraq’s southern provinces.[60] The We Build Coalition, which is headed by Iranian-backed Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri, won the most votes in Al Qadisiyah, Babil, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Najaf provinces in southern Iraq.[61] These provinces are predominantly Shia.[62] Poor Iraqi Shia in southern Iraq have historically supported Iraqi nationalist Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who has competed with Iranian-backed parties for political influence on several occasions in recent years. Sadr called for a boycott of the provincial council elections, claiming that participation in the elections “would reinforce the dominance of a corrupt political class.”[63] Maysan Province recorded the lowest voter participation rate of 29 percent.[64] The State of Law Coalition, which is headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, won the highest number of votes in southern Iraq’s Muthanna province.[65] Maliki and his party are part of the Shia Coordination Framework.
  • The Diyalatna al Watan Alliance, which appears to be affiliated with the Badr Organization, won the most votes in Diyala Province.[66] Diyala is a diverse province that includes Shia and Sunni Muslims as well as various ethnic groups, including Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen.[67] The Diyalatna al Watan Alliance reposted a statement from Badr Organization Secretary General Hadi al Ameri thanking citizens for voting in the elections.[68]
  • The Nineveh Liahliha Party, which is led by former Nineveh Governor Najm al Jubouri, won the most votes in Nineveh Province.[69] Najm al Jubouri submitted his resignation as the governor of Nineveh on November 26.[70] IHEC barred al Jubouri from running in the provincial elections based on corruption charges brought against him by the Accountability and Justice Commission.[71] The Shia Coordination Framework enabled Jabouri’s disqualification, as the coalition spearheaded a series of amendments to Iraq’s election laws in March 2023, one of which barred individuals charged with corruption from participating in elections.[72] Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani appointed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)-affiliated Abdul Qadir al Dakhil as the acting governor of Nineveh on November 27.[73] The Kurdish Democratic Party won the second highest number of votes in Nineveh Province.[74]
  • The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan won the most votes in Kirkuk Province.[75] Kirkuk Province recorded the highest voter participation rate of 65 percent.[76]

The 28th PMF Brigade deployed to Khanaqin, Diyala Province on December 19.[77] The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq established the brigade in 2014 and its founder, Jalal al Din al Saghir, has previously pledged allegiance to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[78] PMF spokesperson Sadiq al Husseini said on December 19 that the PMF would extend its “security alert” in Diyala Province for 24 hours to support security forces in the “post-general voting phase.”[79]

The Jordanian Air Force conducted airstrikes on Iran-linked drug smuggling targets in Salkhad, Suwayda Province, Syria, on December 18.[80] The targets facilitated drug smuggling from Syria into Jordan and the Gulf states. The airstrikes follow small arms clashes between the Jordanian forces and Iran-linked individuals trying to smuggle drugs and weapons through the Jordan-Syria border between December 12 and 18.[81] The weapons included rocket launchers, anti-personnel mines, and other explosives. Jordan previously conducted airstrikes in Suwayda targeting Iran and LH-linked targets tied to drug smuggling in May 2023.[82]

Jordanian officials have previously expressed concern about Iran-linked security threats beyond drug and weapons smuggling.[83] The Jordanian armed forces shot down three drones that entered Jordan from Syria in August 2023.[84] Jordanian officials linked the drones to Iran-backed militias in Syria. Iranian-backed militias in Syria often use these drones to fly drugs over the border, but the drones could also be used to conduct attacks on civilian and military targets inside Jordan, including US forces stationed inside the country.[85] Iran-backed groups have also used Jordanian territory to smuggle weapons into Israel and the West Bank.[86]

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 18 in response to Houthi attacks on international shipping around the Red Sea.[87] A senior US military official stated that the Houthis have conducted one-way drone and missile attacks targeting 10 merchant vessels linked to over 35 different nations in recent weeks.[88] Operation Prosperity Guardian will operate under Combined Maritime Task Force 153, which was established in April 2022 to improve maritime security in the Red Sea.[89] The United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain will support the US-led effort.[90] Politico reported that ten more countries have signed onto the new maritime task force but that they do not want to be publicly named as participating in the operation.[91] Austin encouraged the 39 members of Combined Maritime Task Force 153 to work with the United States to deter future Houthi aggression in the Red Sea on December 19.[92]

The Houthi attack campaign targeting commercial shipping continues to achieve one of its desired effects of disrupting Red Sea maritime traffic headed to Israel. The Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO, which is the world’s fourth largest shipping company, announced it was suspending shipments through the Red Sea on December 19.[93] Shipping companies with a combined market share of over percent of global shipping have announced that they will no longer travel through the Red Sea in recent days in response to Houthi aggression.[94]

Senior Houthi officials are continuing to threaten attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam accused the United States of “militarizing” the Red Sea and claimed that the US-led coalition would not alter the Houthis’ support for Palestine.[95] Salam threatened that the Houthis would continue attacks in the Red Sea until humanitarian aid is allowed into the Gaza Strip.[96] The conditions in which the Houthis would cease attacks are unclear given that humanitarian aid has entered the Gaza Strip on several occasions in recent weeks.[97] Houthi Supreme Political Council member and key powerbroker Mohammed al Houthi falsely claimed on December 19 that the Houthis do not want to close the Bab al Mandeb to trade and that the Houthis only target Israeli ships and ships heading to Israel.[98] Several of the ships that the Houthis have attacked in recent days were en route to destinations outside of Israel, such as Saudi Arabia.[99]

Fighters from the Balochi Salafi-jihadi group Jaish al Adl were likely responsible for an improvised explosive device attack targeting an IRGC Special Forces Brigade near Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, on December 19. A 110th Salman Farsi Independent Special Forces Brigade support vehicle struck a roadside IED near Zahedan.[100] Iranian media stated that there were no injuries or significant damage to the vehicle. No group has claimed responsibility at the time of writing. Jaish al Adl conducted a two-stage ambush and raid targeting an Iranian police station in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, on December 15, killing 11 Law Enforcement Command officers.[101] Iranian officials blamed Israel for the December 15 attack.[102] Iranian judicial authorities executed an unspecified individual in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on December 16 for allegedly cooperating with the Mossad to assist anti-regime militias in the province.[103] Jaish al Adl has previously conducted IED attacks in Iran, although such attacks are very rare.[104]

The Iranian ambassador to Russia read a statement by Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow on December 19.[105] The CSTO is a Russia-led collective defense military alliance. Ghalibaf in the statement called for establishing a Palestinian state in Jerusalem to achieve regional stability.[106] Ghalibaf also stated that regional conflicts should be solved by regional powers and warned international actors not to get involved. implying that the United States should not involve itself in the Israel-Hamas war. The Belarusian, Kazakhstani, and Tajikistani parliamentary heads attended the CSTO session as well.[107]

Iranian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri Kani met with Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Yoko Kamikawa in Tokyo on December 19.[108] The two discussed bilateral relations and the Israel-Hamas war. Bagheri called for an immediate ceasefire and claimed that ethnic cleansing is occurring in the Gaza Strip without providing evidence. Kamikawa emphasized the need to send humanitarian aid to the citizens of the Gaza Strip.

Iran Update, December 18, 2023 

Ashka Jhaveri, Amin Soltani, Andie Parry, Alexandra Braverman, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, and Peter Mills

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israel appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operation in the northern Gaza Strip.
  2. The IDF reported on December 18 that Israeli forces destroyed Hamas’ Beit Hanoun Battalion.
  3. The al Qassem Brigades still has two units that are not committed to combat in the Rafah and the Central governorates that it could draw on to defend Khan Younis.
  4. Palestinian militias conducted three indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
  5. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times across the West Bank.
  6. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  7. The Houthis claimed to have conducted two drone attacks targeting the Norwegian-owned, Cayman Islands-flagged Swan Atlantic tanker and Swiss-owned, Panama-flagged MSC Clara container ship in the Red Sea.
  8. Israel conducted airstrikes targeting the IRGC headquarters at Sayyida Zainab, Damascus.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israel appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operation in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli ground forces advanced into the northern Gaza Strip on October 27.[1] Israeli clearing operations have relied on ground, air, and naval forces to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure, namely its tunnel system and command structure.[2] Palestinian militia fighters have clashed with Israeli forces in virtually all neighborhoods of the northern Gaza Strip since October 27.[3] The Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF has killed between 6,000 and 7,000 Palestinian militia fighters since the war began. Operations in the northern Gaza Strip likely resulted in most of the deaths.[4] CTP-ISW defines “degrade” as a temporary effect whereby a unit’s losses seriously impede its ability to continue executing assigned missions while the unit remains able to operate.[5]

Israeli forces are engaged in intense fighting against Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza city.[6] A commander in the IDF noted that Shujaiya “was and still is an established stronghold” of Hamas. Palestinian militia fighters have attacked Israeli forces throughout clearing operations in Shujaiya using a variety of munitions, such as explosively formed penetrators and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) to resist Israeli advances.[7] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on December 18 that its forces had captured and destroyed a central square in Shujaiya.[8] CTP-ISW has reported that the Shujaiya Battalion is also facing active and intense IDF pressure as Israel takes out its infrastructure and command structure.[9]

Commercially available satellite imagery captured on December 18 shows flattened terrain throughout Shujaiya neighborhood and Jabalia city, which indicates that Israeli tanks or bulldozers have been actively operating there since early December. Israel identified Jabalia and Shujaiya as targets for Israeli clearing operations.[10] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on December 11 that Hamas’ Jabalia and Shujaiya Battalions are “on the verge of being dismantled.”[11]

The IDF reported on December 18 that Israeli forces destroyed Hamas’ Beit Hanoun Battalion.[12] Israeli forces took control of the battalions’ command and control centers including its underground headquarters and other militant infrastructure.[13] The IDF 252nd Reserve Division completed its operations in the area and handed over responsibility to the Gaza Division.[14] An Israeli war correspondent noted that the announcement indicates the military has firm control over the sector.[15] Israeli ground forces began operating in Beit Hanoun on October 27 and have faced almost daily Palestinian militia attacks on and behind the forward line of advance, with various munitions, including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).[16] The IDF Chief of Staff told forces in the Gaza Strip on November 21 that it had caused very serious damage to the Beit Hanoun Battalion.[17]

Palestinian militias in the northern Gaza Strip will likely continue to target Israeli forces on and behind the Israeli forward line of advance. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed two complex attacks on Israeli forces in Beit Lahiya.[18] Militia fighters detonated IEDs and fired a thermobaric rocket at Israeli forces in one of the attacks.[19] The militia posted a video of an attack and claimed to fire a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at an Israeli jeep operating behind the Israeli line of advance.[20] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed sniper attacks against Israeli forces in Shujaiya and mortar Israeli forces in Juhor ad Dik on December 18.[21] Fighting behind the Israeli forward line of advance is consistent with the doctrinal definition of "clear,” which is a tactical task that "requires the commander to remove all enemy forces and eliminate organized resistance within an assigned area.”

Israeli forces detained Hamas and PIJ fighters in Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City last week. The IDF reported on December 18 that its forces detained several fighters belonging to Hamas and PIJ after intense clashes in Rimal last Friday.[22] Israel said it detained a member of the al Qassem Brigades’ naval commandos, the Nukhba forces, as well as a fighter who participated in the October 7 attacks.[23]

Palestinian fighters continued their attempts to resist Israeli forces as the IDF continued its advance in Khan Younis on December 18. The al Quds Brigades mortared Israeli soldiers in central and eastern Khan Younis and took control of an IDF quadcopter surveillance drone in eastern Khan Younis.[24] The al Qassem Brigades fired mortars, RPGs, and anti-personnel shells at Israeli forces and tanks in eastern and northern Khan Younis.[25] The IDF said its Special Forces Unit 217 has been fighting in the heart of Khan Younis for two weeks, raided a tactical tunnel system, and destroyed a drone manufacturing site.[26] Israeli aircraft struck Hamas fighters and infrastructure with direction from ground forces in Khan Younis on December 17 and 18.[27] These Israeli operations degrade Hamas’ ability to resist IDF advances in the southern Gaza Strip.

The al Qassem Brigades still has two units that are not committed to combat in the Rafah and the Central governorates that it could draw on to defend Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades maintain five geographic brigades in the Gaza Strip.[28] Israeli forces have not yet expanded clearing operations to the areas of responsibility of the Central Brigade in the Central governorate or the Rafah Brigade in Rafah governorate. An Israeli defense correspondent reported on December 18 that Hamas is transferring forces from the rest of the Gaza Strip to support its Khan Younis Brigade.[29] The same correspondent noted that the IDF assesses that it will take several months to defeat the Khan Younis Brigade.[30]

The Israeli defense minister expressed a vision for the next stage of operations in the Gaza Strip during a press conference with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on December 18. Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said that some regions of the Gaza Strip are close to being able to transition to a “day after” the war and Israel can start working on bringing back the local population.[31] Gallant stated that this transition will be possible even while other parts of the Gaza Strip remain in active conflict.[32] Gallant also noted that Israel will not control Gaza in any civilian way.[33] Austin said that he spoke with Gallant about the military campaign's objectives, phasing, and protecting civilians.[34]

Hamas has continued to issue hostage propaganda since Israeli forces mistakenly killed three Israeli hostages in Shujaiya on December 15 and as hostage exchange negotiations resume. The al Qassem Brigades posted a video of three elderly male hostages calling on Israel to agree to a hostage/prisoner swap with no conditions and to not let them “grow old” in the Gaza Strip.[35] Hamas translated a hostage's statement as “we do not want to be casualties as a direct result of IDF airstrikes,” echoing a repeated and false information operation that Israeli airstrikes are killing the hostages.[36] PIJ claimed an Israeli airstrike killed an elderly Israeli hostage a day before the group released her through the temporary pause deal in late November.[37] Hamas Gaza leadership member Ghazi Hamad claimed that Israel is purposely killing the Hamas-held hostages in airstrikes and in the December 15 incident so that it doesn’t have to complete a hostage/prisoner swap.[38] Hamas has continued to message in recent days that it will not enter hostage negotiations until Israel stops its ground operation in the Gaza Strip.[39] CIA Director Bill Burns, Israeli Mossad head David Barnea, and the Qatari prime minister met to restart hostage negotiations on December 18, however.[40]

Palestinian militias conducted three indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip on December 18. The al Quds Brigades fired rockets and mortars at Nahal Oz in southern Israel.[41] The militia separately claimed to fire rockets east of Rafah along the border with Israel.[42] The al Qassem Brigades fired rockets at Kissufim, where Israeli forces used a border crossing to enter the southern Gaza Strip.[43]

Israeli forces operating in Khan Younis reported on December 18 that they destroyed rocket launchers aimed at Israeli territory.[44] IDF Home Front Command lifted workplace and educational restrictions in Ashkelon in southern Israel after a situational assessment regarding the threat of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.[45] The IDF evacuated and designated the periphery of the Gaza Strip as a military zone on October 11.[46] Israeli clearing operations and lifted restrictions in southern Israel are consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Israeli forces are likely degrading Hamas’ capacity to conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel.[47]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times across the West Bank on December 18.[48] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades engaged Israeli forces in small arms clashes and detonated IEDs targeting these forces in Azzun, west of Nablus.[49] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades separately fired on an Israeli civilian vehicle near Ramallah.[50] Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces and detonated IEDs targeting these forces in the al Fara refugee camp near Tubas.[51] Hamas’ West Bank branch said that Israeli forces killed four fighters during the clashes.[52]

The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades said that Israeli forces killed five fighters during clashes in the Noor Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm on December 17.[53] The Noor Shams Camp branch of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades said that Israeli ”crimes will not go unnoticed” and called on fighters across the West Bank to unite against Israeli forces.[54] The Qalqilya branch of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades called for further attacks on Israeli forces in revenge for the killing of Palestinian fighters in Tulkarm and Jenin.[55] A Palestinian journalist said that members of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hamas, and the al Quds Brigades participated in a memorial service for fighters killed in Tulkarm.[56]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted nine attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 18. LH claimed an attack on an IDF Iron Dome air defense system for the first time since the Hamas-Israel war began on October 7.[57] The IDF has not acknowledged the attack on the Iron Dome system. LH attacked Israeli forces near Hanita and fired rockets targeting Kiryat Shmona in retaliation for an IDF airstrike in Lebanon near the funeral of an LH fighter.[58] Unspecified fighters carried out four rocket attacks, one anti-tank guided missile attack, and launched one drone into northern Israel on December 18.[59] The IDF reported that it responded to LH attacks with artillery fire and airstrikes targeting LH rocket launchers and other unspecified military infrastructure in Lebanon on December 18.[60]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iraq held provincial council elections on December 18 for the first time since 2013.[61] Iraqi provincial councils are authorized to appoint and remove governors, approve provincial director-general positions, and approve provincial security plans.[62] The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced midday on December 18 that only 17 percent of registered voters had cast votes.[63] Iraqi media claimed after the closing of the polls that voter participation had reached 38 percent and that voter participation was highest in the northern province of Kirkuk.[64] IHEC announced that it will release the results of the election on December 19.[65]

Iraqi media reported several instances of voter intimidation and violence at voting centers on December 18. Unidentified individuals threw IEDs at two voting stations in Kufah, Najaf Province.[66] Iraqi Joint Operations Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Qais al Muhammadawi separately announced that unspecified individuals hurled a stun grenade toward a voting center in Najaf.[67] Supporters of an unspecified political alliance stormed a voting center in Baghdad and demanded that voters vote for a member of their alliance.[68] Iraqi officials emphasized that the elections passed smoothly and without any major security incidents.

The Houthis claimed to have conducted two drone attacks targeting the Norwegian-owned, Cayman Islands-flagged Swan Atlantic tanker and Swiss-owned, Panama-flagged MSC Clara container ship in the Red Sea on December 18.[69] The Houthi Navy initially deployed unspecified “craft” with armed personnel to direct the ships to alter course before attacking them.[70] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the group conducted drone attacks on the two ships.[71] US officials stated, on the other hand, that multiple unspecified “projectiles” had been launched from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.[72] It is unclear what munitions the Houthis used to conduct the attacks at the time of writing. The USS Carney responded to the Atlantic’s distress call.[73] Western media reported that the Atlantic was damaged in the attack.[74] The UK Maritime Trade Operations reported an explosion in the water near a vessel south of the port of Mokha in Yemen.[75] The Houthis have expanded their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea to include all vessels traveling to Israel after having threatened to do so on December 9 and 12.[76]

The Houthi anti-shipping attack campaign continues to achieve one of its desired effects of disrupting Red Sea maritime traffic headed to Israel. The British petroleum company BP, Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen Line, and Belgian oil tanker company Euronav announced on December 18 that they will suspend shipping operations in the Red Sea.[77] Norwegian energy group Equinor similarly stated that it had rerouted an unspecified number of ships away from the Red Sea.[78] The above companies cited the “deteriorating security situation” in the area and concern for the “safety of ships and crew.” The Hong Kong-based shipping company Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) similarly announced on December 17 that it would immediately stop shipping goods to and from Israel.[79] Global shipping giants, such as Mediterranean Shipping Company, CMA CGM, Maersk, and Hapag-Lloyd, previously announced that they would pause operations around the Red Sea but did not specify how it would affect their services to Israel.[80]

Israel conducted airstrikes targeting the IRGC headquarters at Sayyida Zainab, Damascus on December 17.[81] The Syrian Defense Ministry stated that Israel conducted airstrikes near Damascus which injured two Syrian Arab Army soldiers.[82] Iranian-backed militia groups and the IRGC maintain their main headquarters in Sayyida Zainab and use it to facilitate Iranian lines of effort elsewhere in Syria.[83] Syrian opposition news outlet Eye of Euphrates reported on October 30 that the senior-most IRGC commander in Syria has coordinated all attacks on US forces in Syria through a joint operations room based in Sayyida Zainab.[84] Israel has regularly conducted airstrikes on the headquarters and recently killed general officers in IRGC Quds Force Unit 340, which is responsible for providing technical military support and training to members of the Axis of Resistance.[85] There is no reason to believe that Israel has targeted the same unit or capabilities as it is not clear what area of the Sayyida Zainab headquarters was targeted and the headquarters is a sprawling facility.

The Jordanian armed forces clashed with Iran-backed militias attempting to smuggle weapons and drugs through the Jordan-Syria border on December 18.[86] Jordanian state media stated that this was the largest armed cross-border weapons and drug smuggling operation in recent years.[87] Several Jordanian army personnel and smugglers were injured or killed during the clash. The Jordanian army similarly announced that it had neutralized an unspecified number of drug smugglers attempting to smuggle Captagon into the country on December 12.[88] The Syrian regime and Iran-backed militias mass produce the drug in Syria and smuggle it through Jordan to the Gulf Arab states, generating billions of dollars of revenue for the malign actors.[89] Jordanian and Western officials have stated that Iran and LH have been behind the surge in drug and weapons smuggling from southern Syria into Jordan.[90] The Jordanian armed forces conducted air strikes on Iran-linked drug factories in southern Syria in May 2023.[91]

Jordanian officials have been concerned about Iranian threats to their security beyond drug and weapons smuggling.[92] The Jordanian Armed Forces shot down three drones that traveled into their airspace from Syria in August 2023, which Jordanian officials linked to Iran-backed militias in Syria.[93] Jordan also borders Iraq and the West Bank whose local governments and security institutions are infiltrated by Iran-backed militias that can then infiltrate Jordan from all directions. Some Western analysts have noted that Jordan is home to millions of displaced refugees from Iraq, Syria, and the West Bank which Iran can recruit for its militant groups.[94] Many of the Palestinian civil society organizations in Jordan are reportedly linked to Iran-sponsored groups.[95]

An Israel-affiliated hacktivist group “Predatory Sparrow” conducted a large-scale cyberattack against gas pumps throughout Iran on December 18.[96] The cyberattack disabled between 60-70% of the gas stations around the country.[97] President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed the fuel stations were experiencing a disruption and ordered the Ministry of Oil to investigate this.[98] Iranian media outlets and Oil Minister Javad Owji stated that the oil disruption was a result of a cyberattack by Israel and the United States.[99] Iran also recently blamed Israel for the December 15 Jaish al Adl attack in Sistan and Baluchistan province.[100]

The "Predatory Sparrow” group claimed responsibility on X for the attack and warned this was only a small part of their capabilities.[101] They further stated that they were acting in response to Iranian provocations in the region and warned Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei directly that ”playing with fire has a price.” According to Israel Army Radio correspondent Doron Kadosh, Israel claimed responsibility for the attack.[102] Israel warned Iranian emergency services before the attack in a form of cyber “roof-knocking”.[103] The “Predatory Sparrow“ group has targeted IRGC-affiliated industries in the past and attributed responsibility to Israel. [104]

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the recent attack on an LEC Headquarters in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, during a phone call with his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani on December 18.[105] The two foreign ministers discussed the Israel-Hamas war. Jilani emphasized Pakistan’s commitment to cooperating with Iran to counter terrorism.

Iran Update, December 17, 2023 

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Kathryn Tyson, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces uncovered an advanced and extensive Hamas tunnel system in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli officials reported that Mohammad Sinwar—the brother of Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar—headed the tunnel building project.
  2. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya and Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip. The al Qassem Brigades have not claimed an attack on Israeli forces in Shujaiya since December 14.
  3. Palestinian militias continued attacking Israeli forces near Juhor ad Dik. CTP-ISW previously assessed that Palestinian militias may be using relative safe haven in the central Gaza Strip to enable attacks on Israeli forces around Juhor ad Dik.
  4. The IDF reported that it raided the outpost of Hamas’ Deir al Balah Battalion.
  5. An Israeli defense correspondent reported that Hamas is transferring forces from the rest of the Gaza Strip to support its Khan Younis Brigade.
  6. Israeli forces advanced to the central square in Bani Suheila as Palestinian militias attempted to resist Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis.
  7. Telecommunications services are returning to parts of the Gaza Strip after a multi-day communications blackout.
  8. Palestinian militias conducted six indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
  9. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters for several hours in Tulkarm area. Palestinian fighters separately clashed with Israeli forces around Hebron.
  10. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 11 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  11. The Houthi anti-shipping attack campaign continues to achieve one of its desired effects of disrupting maritime traffic headed to Israel.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces uncovered an advanced and extensive Hamas tunnel system in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on December 17 that its forces had uncovered four kilometers of the tunnel near the Erez crossing in recent weeks.[1] The tunnel is wide enough for vehicles to pass through it, reinforced with concrete, and connected to electricity and communications infrastructure.[2] Israel said one section of the tunnel is the largest that it has discovered in the Gaza Strip and 400 meters from Israeli territory.[3] The IDF stated that it was not familiar with the tunnel route nor its enormous scope prior to the war.[4] The Wall Street Journal published a map of the tunnel system that Hamas has created below the Gaza Strip based on data from 2014, which includes a singular tunnel running south of the Erez checkpoint.[5] The IDF published a map on December 17 of the entire tunnel network that it has uncovered, which shows a notable expansion of the tunnels’ coverage and complexity compared to the 2014 data.[6]

Israeli officials reported that Mohammad Sinwar—the brother of Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar—headed the tunnel building project.[7] Mohammad Sinwar is Hamas’ head of logistics and manpower.[8] The IDF published a video of Mohammad Sinwar driving a car through what they said is the tunnel.[9] Another video of the tunnel shows Hamas fighters using a large tunnel drill that allowed them to develop and expand the tunnel.[10] The IDF found inside the tunnel system unspecified digging machines, which Israel had not previously observed Hamas use to construct tunnels.[11] Israel estimates that Hamas has spent millions of dollars its tunnel infrastructure throughout the Gaza Strip.[12] IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters that Hamas has diverted building materials, especially concrete, away from civilian infrastructure to build its tunnels.[13]

The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—conducted a complex attack targeting the IDF at the Erez crossing on October 29.[14] The fighters infiltrated Israeli territory via a tunnel west of the checkpoint, presumably the same one Israel has uncovered. Hamas maintains approximately 500 kilometers of tunnel underneath the Gaza Strip and has consistently used it to maneuver and launch attacks on Israeli forces.[15] The tunnels also conceal operations rooms, weapons stockpiles, and rocket firing positions.[16] Israeli officials have emphasized their intention to eliminate Hamas’ tunnel network.[17]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya and Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on December 17. Israeli forces raided an apartment building in Shujaiya and found weapons, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), grenades, and a tunnel shaft.[18] The IDF conducted an airstrike to destroy the tunnel shaft in addition to an arms depot in the house of a Hamas operative.[19] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that its fighters clashed with seven Israeli infantrymen and fired at them with small arms and anti-personnel munitions in Shujaiya.[20]

The al Qassem Brigades have not claimed an attack on Israeli forces in Shujaiya since December 14. CTP-ISW previously assessed that Israeli clearing operations may be disrupting Palestinian militia fighters’ ability to frequently communicate with each other.[21] Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion is also facing active and intense IDF pressure as Israel takes out its infrastructure and command structure.[22] Israeli forces destroyed the headquarters of Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion on December 15.[23]

Israeli forces located a tunnel shaft in a child’s room during clearing operations in Jabalia.[24] The al Quds Brigades claimed that its fighters targeted four Israeli vehicles with tandem-charge rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and anti-armor grenades in the vicinity of Jabalia.[25] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—claimed that its fighters fired RPGs at Israeli forces in Jabalia.[26]

Palestinian militias continued attacking Israeli forces near Juhor ad Dik on December 17. The al Quds Brigades claimed to mortar a concentration of Israeli forces in Juhor ad Dik on December 17.[27] The al Quds Brigades and al Qassem Brigades also claimed to conduct a combined attack targeting an Israeli Merkava tank with an unspecified explosive device in al Mughraqa, west of Juhor ad Dik.[28] The al Quds Brigades and the al Qassem Brigades have claimed several combined attacks throughout the Israel-Hamas War.[29] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Palestinian militias may be using relative safe haven in the central Gaza Strip to enable attacks on Israeli forces around Juhor ad Dik.[30] The tactical coordination on the ground and coordination at the senior level between these militias is consistent with the reality that the IDF is facing a coalition of several Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF reported on December 17 that it raided the outpost of Hamas’ Deir al Balah Battalion. The IDF confiscated military training manuals and intelligence materials during the raid.[31] CTP-ISW previously reported that Israeli forces are attempting to dismantle Hamas in Deir al Balah.[32] Israeli ground and naval forces have destroyed Hamas militant infrastructure, including observation posts and weapons storage facilities, in the central Gaza Strip.[33] The Deir al Balah Battalion, which is part of Hamas’ Central Brigade, released a training video prior to beginning of the war showing its militia fighters practicing close-quarters combat in urban environments.[34]

An Israeli defense correspondent reported that Hamas is transferring forces from the rest of the Gaza Strip to support its Khan Younis Brigade.[35] Palestinian militia fighters whom Israeli forces detained in the Gaza Strip told the IDF during questioning about the reinforcements.[36] The al Qassem Brigades maintain five geographic brigades in the Gaza Strip.[37] The Israeli Army Radio journalist covering the story noted that the IDF assesses that it will take several months to defeat the Khan Younis Brigade.[38] Israel has identified Khan Younis and Rafah as Hamas strongholds given the presence of Hamas leadership and military infrastructure there.[39]

Israeli forces advanced to the central square in Bani Suheila on December 17 as Palestinian militias attempted to resist Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis. The IDF 7th Brigade Combat Team reached the square, suggesting that the IDF advances from the north and east have linked up east of Khan Younis.[40] Israeli forces have found about 30 tunnel shafts, attacked Palestinian militia positions and observation posts, confiscated weapons, and obtained intelligence materials in the Khan Younis area over the past week.[41] The al Quds Brigades fired mortars, small arms, and anti-armor munitions at Israeli infantrymen and vehicles advancing north and east of Khan Younis.[42] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters mortared Israeli forces east of Khan Younis.[43]

The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed that its fighters mortared Israeli military vehicles east of Rafah.[44] Detained fighters from the Gaza Strip said during questioning that Israeli forces were not yet operating in Rafah.[45]

Telecommunications services are returning to parts of the Gaza Strip after a multi-day communications blackout.[46] The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRSC) and NetBlocks reported that the Gaza Strip was experiencing the longest telecoms blackout since the beginning of the war.[47] Palestinian telecommunications company Jawwal reported on December 17 that its teams had repaired a damaged site to restore services in the northern Gaza Strip.[48] NetBlocks reported on December 17 that internet connectivity is being restored in parts of the Gaza Strip, noting that service remains significantly below pre-war levels.[49]

UN aid convoys began entering the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing on December 17. Israel said that UN aid trucks will undergo security checks at the crossing and be directly transferred into the Gaza Strip via the crossing.[50] Israel said that the opening will increase the daily volume of humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip.[51] The Kerem Shalom crossing was previously only an inspection site for humanitarian aid trucks.[52]

Hamas continued to message that it will not enter hostage negotiations until Israel stops its ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ political wing posted on its Telegram on December 16 affirming its position not to resume negotiations with Israel until the end of fighting in the strip.[53] Hamas Political Bureau member and representative of Gaza city Khalil al Hayya gave an interview to al Jazeera on December 17 similarly messaging that that Hamas would be ready for a comprehensive hostage deal once Israeli clearing operations conclude.[54]

Unspecified diplomatic sources told CNN that Mossad director David Barnea met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani to discuss resuming hostage negotiations.[55] The sources noted that the meeting was “positive” without expanding further.[56] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office told CNN on December 15 that Israel believes there are 132 hostages still in the Gaza Strip, 112 of whom are thought to be alive and 20 of whom are thought to be dead.[57]

Palestinian militias conducted six indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on December 17. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades each conducted two rocket attacks into southern Israel.[58] The Mujahideen Brigades—the militant wing of the Palestinian Mujahideen Movement—claimed to fire rockets at an Israeli military position in southern Israel.[59] The militia has cooperated with the al Quds Brigades prior to the Israel-Hamas war.[60] Palestinian media reported an additional rocket attack into southern Israel.[61]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters for several hours in Tulkarm area on December 17.[62] Palestinian fighters detonated IEDs and fired small arms at Israeli forces within the Noor Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm.[63] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—claimed ambushes and IED attacks targeting Israeli forces.[64] The militia’s Tulkarm Branch called on all al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades branches to ”strike terror in the hearts” of Israelis by attacking Israeli forces and positions.[65] The group also alluded to a ”surprise” in the next few days. The IDF Air Force conducted drone strikes in Tulkarm and killed at least four militants during the operation.[66] Israeli forces also uncovered ready-to-use IEDs.[67] Palestinian fighters separately clashed with Israeli forces around Hebron.[68]

Palestinians gathered at Arab American University in Jenin to demonstrate in support of the Gaza Strip on December 17.[69] Several demonstrators wore Hamas regalia. Palestinian civil society groups called for additional demonstrations and strikes in the West Bank on December 18.[70] A global strike in support of Palestine is planned for December 18 as well.[71]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 11 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 17.[72] LH launched six rockets targeting Israeli forces near Honin.[73] LH separately fired anti-tank rockets targeting Israeli military assets and infrastructure in the Dovev area.[74] The IDF said that an Israeli tank attacked the source of the fire.[75] The IDF Air Force also said that it struck LH cells and military infrastructure in Lebanon on December 17.[76]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Houthi anti-shipping attack campaign continues to achieve one of its desired effects of disrupting maritime traffic headed to Israel. Hong Kong-based shipping company Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) announced on December 17 that it would immediately stop shipping goods to and from Israel.[77] The company cited “operational issues” for the policy.[78] OOCL is the first global shipping company that CTP-ISW has observed to specifically halt operations to Israel since the Houthis began their campaign against international shipping around the Bab al Mandeb in November.[79] Global shipping giants, such as Mediterranean Shipping Company, CMA CGM, Maersk, and Hapag-Lloyd, previously announced that they would pause operations around the Red Sea but did not specify how it would affect their services to Israel.[80] Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam commended OOCL’s decision to stop sending ships to Israeli ports and falsely asserted that the Houthis are only attacking ships linked to Israel on December 17.[81] Several of the ships that the Houthis have attacked in recent days were en route to destinations outside of Israel, such as Saudi Arabia.

Iran Update, December 16, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. The Israel Defense Forces concluded its probe into the accidental killing of three hostages by an IDF unit in Shujaiya.
  2. Mossad Direct David Barnea met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al Thani to begin negotiations to free additional hostages.
  3. Hamas fighters are attacking IDF units near Juhor ad Dik likely from Hamas’ relative safe haven in the Gaza Strip’s Central Governorate.
  4. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya, Jabalia, and Sheikh Radwan.
  5. Palestinian fighters continued their attempts to resist Israeli forces as the IDF continued its advance in Khan Younis.
  6. The al Quds Brigades conducted two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip targeting Sufa, southern Israel.
  7. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters around Nablus. The al Qassem Brigades reiterated calls for militia attacks on Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank.
  8. Lebanese Hezbollah conducted six cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  9. An Iraq-focused journalist said that Iraqi Security Forces arrested Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba fighters in connection to the December 8 rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.
  10. The Houthis refocused their attack campaign to target Israel directly rather than international shipping and may have concluded that they achieved their objective of halting shipping through the Red Sea.
  11. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks against US forces in Syria.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) concluded its probe into the accidental killing of three hostages by an IDF unit in Shujaiya on December 15.[1] The IDF said that three shirtless individuals, whom the IDF later identified as hostages, waving a white flag exited a building “several dozen meters” from an IDF position.[2] An IDF soldier immediately opened fire at the three individuals in contravention of the IDF’s standing orders that forbid shooting at surrendering individuals.[3] The soldier’s fire killed two of the hostages and wounded a third. An IDF battalion commander gave an order to ceasefire. A different IDF soldier opened fire on the third wounded man in contravention to the direct ceasefire order, killing the man.

The Israeli defense minister and the IDF chief of staff took personal responsibility for the deaths of the three hostages.[4] Halevi highlighted that both shooters violated the IDF’s standing order that forbids shooting at any individual raising a white flag and asking to surrender.[5]

Hamas continued its information operation blaming the Israeli ground operation for hostage deaths and framed hostage deaths in the context of the December 15 incident. This information operation aims to undermine support for the war in Israel and increase pressure on Israeli leaders to pursue a ceasefire. Hamas official Osama Hamdan restated Hamas’ current negotiating position on December 16.[6] The current position which forbids exchanging further hostages before the end of the Israeli ground operation.[7] Hamdan said that Israel will not recover the hostages through the ground operation. Hamas posted a video called “time is running out,” showing hostages speaking before showing the dead body of one of those hostages.[8] Hamas framed the video in the context of the IDF’s accidental killing of the three hostages on December 15. Hamas also published a graphic showing a hostage in a coffin with the caption ”the choice is yours, whether in coffins or alive.” The group’s military spokesperson said that Israel is continuing to ”gamble the lives of its soldiers” held hostage by Hamas. The spokesperson claimed that Israel ”deliberately executed” the three hostages in the December 15 incident.[9]

Mossad Direct David Barnea met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al Thani to begin negotiations to free additional hostages.[10] A source “familiar with the meeting” told an Israeli journalist that the talks are “just beginning” and the process of negotiations would be “long.” CIA Director William Burns and Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamal were “briefed” on the meeting and will help secure a new hostage deal, according to two sources familiar with the meeting between Barnea and Thani. It is notable in this context that Hamas’ current position is that no hostages will be exchanged before the end of the Israeli ground operation.

Hamas fighters are attacking IDF units near Juhor ad Dik likely from Hamas’ relative safe haven in the Gaza Strip’s Central Governorate. Multiple Hamas fighters raided the IDF’s combat outpost near Juhor ad Dik on December 16. The group claimed that it killed ten Israelis and posted a video showing its fighters, killing one IDF soldier.[11] Hamas and other Palestinian militias have conducted three raids against an IDF outpost in the Juhor ad Dik area since December 3, which suggests Hamas and other Palestinian fighters are using the central Gaza Strip to launch operations against Israeli forces near Juhor ad Dik.[12] The IDF has not conducted clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip, and CTP-ISW has previously assessed that all four Hamas battalions in the central Gaza Strip remain combat effective.[13] Both the al Qassem Brigades--Hamas’ militant wing--and the al Quds Brigades--Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)’s military wing--shelled Israeli positions near Juhor ad Dik on December 16.[14]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya, Jabalia, and Sheikh Radwan on December 16. Israeli forces finished clearing the Kamal Adwan Hospital in Jabalia on December 16. The IDF said that Hamas used the hospital as a military compound.[15] The IDF recovered RPGs, explosives, and intelligence material. Israeli forces also detained 90 fighters in the area. Palestinian fighters continued to attack Israeli forces in Jabalia with small arms and anti-tank rockets.[16] Hamas published a video showing a dead Israeli working dog in a Hamas tunnel in Sheikh Radwan on December 15. The group has continued to attack Israeli forces with rocket-propelled grenades, thermobaric rockets, and small arms in Sheikh Radwan.[17] The commander of the 188th Brigade said that his brigade destroyed Hamas infrastructure and that it is currently clearing Shujaiya in a statement on December 16.[18] Unspecified Palestinian fighters fired at 188th Brigade soldiers from a tunnel shaft near a school on Shujaiya. The IDF destroyed the tunnel shaft in response.[19]

Israeli troops also raided two schools in Rimal on December 16, killing 25 Hamas fighters and detaining 50 more.[20]

Palestinian fighters continued their attempts to resist Israeli forces as the IDF continued its advance in Khan Younis on December 16. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades shelled Israeli forces along the Israeli ground line of communication northeast of Khan Younis on December 15 in a combined operation.[21] The al Qassem Brigades also used rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, other explosive devices to attack Israeli armor and other vehicles east of Khan Younis on December 16.[22] The group fired rockets at Israeli infantry east of Khan Younis city on December 16, which it claimed killed one Israeli soldier. Hamas continued to resist Israeli forces north of Khan Younis.[23] Hamas’ militant wing detonated one explosively-formed penetrator targeting an Israeli armored personnel carrier north of Khan Younis city.[24]

The al Qassem Brigades conducted a complex, multi-stage ambush targeting Israeli forces east of Khan Younis on December 16.[25] The brigades’ fighters detonated two anti-personnel improvised explosive devices (IED) targeting seven Israeli infantrymen east of the city. An Israeli quick reaction force (QRF) responded to the initial ambush. The al Qassem Brigades fighters ambushed the QRF by detonating a third anti-personnel IED. Hamas’ militant wing claimed that both attacks killed and injured Israeli soldiers.

The IDF said that it raided apartments in Khan Younis on December 16.[26] The IDF’s 4th Brigade Combat Team discovered weapons and underground infrastructure in the complex.

The al Quds Brigades conducted two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip targeting Sufa, southern Israel, on December 16.[27] Palestinian militias conducted no other attacks targeting Israel on December 16.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters around Nablus on December 16. Palestinian fighters conducted three small arms attacks and three IED attacks in Nablus refugee camps.[28] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—claimed two of the small arms attacks and one of the IED attacks.[29] The group also claimed an attack on Israeli forces near Tulkarm.[30]

The al Qassem Brigades reiterated calls for militia attacks on Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank on December 15.[31] Al Qassem Brigades spokesperson Abu Obeida released a statement in which he called for Palestinians to fight Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank.[32] Obeida stated that Israel “seeks to kill our people everywhere” and that Palestinians have a duty to confront Israel.[33] Obeida had threatened on December 10 that Hamas would conduct additional terror attacks against Israeli civilians.[34] Hamas and the al Qassem Brigades have repeatedly called for an uprising and mobilization in the West Bank but have received little response, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[35]

The IDF did not acknowledge that Israel forces conducted overnight raids in the West Bank on December 16. The Palestinian Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs Authority, which is part of the Palestinian Authority, said Israeli forces arrested 16 Palestinians, however.[36]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted six cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 16.[37] LH launched two attack drones at Israel forces near Margaliot.[38] The IDF intercepted one drone but the other struck a group of Israeli soldiers, killing one and wounding two.[39]LH last claimed a drone attack that injured Israeli forces on December 10.[40] LH has only claimed eight drone attacks on Israeli positions along the Lebanese border since the Israel-Hamas war began, although the IDF frequently intercepts ”suspicious” aerial targets originating from Lebanon.[41] LH filmed the December 16 drone attack with multiple cameras and released a polished propaganda video.[42] LH frequently posts video compilations of its attacks on Israeli communications and military infrastructure but usually without the production quality shown in this most recent video.[43] The rising quality of LH’s videos and map graphics indicate that LH operations are increasing in professionalism along the Israel-Lebanon border, which could drive recruitment

Separately, LH conducted two consecutive attacks on Israeli infantry at the Birkat Risha site along the Lebanon-Israel border.[44] LH conducted three other attacks on IDF positions using rockets and unspecified munitions on December 16.[45]

The United States and a regional security source speaking to CNN said that Israel has struck Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) positions 34 times since October 7.[46] Biden administration officials have conveyed to Israel that the strikes on LAF positions are unacceptable. A senior US official said that some of the strikes were clearly accidental, while the purpose of other strikes was not clear. UNSC Resolution 1701 permits the LAF to have a military presence south of the Litani river near the Israeli border but prohibits LH presence.[47]\

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

An Iraq-focused journalist said that Iraqi Security Forces arrested Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba fighters on December 14 in connection to the December 8 rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.[48] A senior Iraqi security official told the journalist that the militias ”crossed lines” and that the situation is ”serious.”[49] CTP-ISW previously reported that the ISF arrested militia members on December 14, but the Iraqi government did not specify to which militia the fighters belonged.[50] The Iraqi central government has previously arrested KH and KH-linked fighters. The Iraqi judicial system released the fighters on both occasions after armed Iranian-backed fighters stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone. Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) raided a Kataib Hezbollah compound in June 2020, arresting 14 KH fighters.[51] Then-Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi’s government released the KH fighters after KH fighters—led by Iranian proxy and KH leader Abu Fadak al Muhammadawi—stormed the Green Zone.[52] Kadhimi’s government also arrested the commander of KH-affiliated Liwa al Tafuf in May 2021, but released the commander after 12 days.[53] The commander’s arrest caused an armed standoff between PMF fighters and ISF units in the Green Zone.[54]

The Houthis refocused their attack campaign to target Israel directly rather than international shipping on December 16 and may have concluded that they achieved their objective of halting shipping through the Red Sea. The Houthi spokesperson announced the group launched tens of drones targeting sensitive targets in Eilat, Israel, on December 16.[55] The spokesperson said that Houthi Movement Supreme Leader Abdulmalik al Houthi ordered the attack to achieve victory for the Palestinian people and that attacks on Israel will continue until Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip halts. US Central Command said that the USS Carney shot down 14 attack drones launched as a drone wave from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen in the Red Sea.[56]  Egyptian air defenses also intercepted a “flying object“ in the Gulf of Aqaba near Eilat.[57] British warship HMS Diamond intercepted a single attack drone it suspected of targeting merchant shipping in the Red Sea on December 16.[58] The Houthis did not claim to target commercial shipping on December 16, however.

The Houthi anti-shipping campaign has likely achieved its desired effect for the moment. Two additional shipping giants, Swiss-based MSC and the French shipping group CMA CGM, suspended their ships’ transit through the Red Sea on December 16 after the Houthi attacks. Major international shipping companies, such as Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, had responded on December 15 to the Houthi attacks by pausing their operations through the Red Sea and routing ships instead around Africa.[59] Maersk alone accounts for roughly 17 percent of global shipping.[60] The Houthis have conducted almost daily drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb since December 9. The most recent attacks occurred on December 15, when the Houthis struck two vessels off the coast of Yemen.[61]The Houthi military spokesperson framed these attacks as part of their ongoing attack campaign targeting all commercial maritime traffic headed to or affiliated with Israel and vowed to continue these attacks.[62]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks against US forces in Syria on December 16.[63] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single drone attack against US forces at the Rumalyn Landing Zone in Hasakah Province, Syria. The group has claimed at least five attacks on Rumalyn Landing Zone since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single drone attack against US forces at US base Conoco Mission Support Site in northeastern Syria. The group has claimed at least 13 attacks on Conoco since the start of the war. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single drone attack against US forces at al Omar oil field. The group has claimed at least four attacks on al Omar since the start of the war.

Iran is blaming Israel for the December 16 attack on a police station in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Iranian Interior Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi stated that Israel supports armed groups seeking to create insecurity in Sistan and Baluchistan Province during his visit to the site of the attack.[64] Vahidi subsequently repeated the accusation during his remarks at the funeral ceremony for the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) officers killed during the attack.[65] Iranian judicial authorities, furthermore, executed an unspecified individual in Sistan and Baluchistan Province they accused of cooperating with the Israeli Mossad to assist anti-regime militant groups in the province.[66] Jaish al Adl– a Balochi anti-regime group operating around the Iran-Pakistan border--conducted a two-stage attack targeting a police station in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on December 15, killing 11 LEC officers.[67]

Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement calling for an immediate end to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip on December 16 in Beijing.[68] The statement also called for the provision of humanitarian aid and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The statement follows the Iranian deputy foreign affairs minister’s visit to Beijing on December 15 to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and the Iran-Saudi normalization process with his Chinese and Saudi counterparts.[69]

 

Iran Update, December 15, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Ashka Jhaveri, Nicholas Carl, Johanna Moore,

Peter Mills, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, and Kathryn Tyson

Key Takeaways:

  1. Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to demonstrate their capability to control a key maritime route and chokepoint in the Middle East.
  2. The Houthis have conducted almost daily drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb since December 9.
  3. The Houthi attack campaign signals to the international community that the Axis of Resistance can imperil ships around the Bab al Mandeb in addition to the Strait of Hormuz.
  4. Israeli forces destroyed the headquarters of Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion in the northern Gaza Strip.
  5. Israeli clearing operations may be disrupting Palestinian militia fighters’ ability to frequently communicate with each other.
  6. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 11 cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  7. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in Tel Aviv that Israel will transition to the next phase of the war, which will focus on targeting leadership and intelligence operations rather than high-intensity clearance operations.
  8. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a one-way drone attack targeting US forces in Iraq.
  9. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba Secretary General Akram al Kaabi released a statement justifying resistance against the United States in Iraq.

 Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to demonstrate their capability to control a key maritime route and chokepoint in the Middle East. The Houthis have conducted almost daily drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb since December 9. The most recent attacks occurred on December 15, when the Houthis struck two vessels off the coast of Yemen.[1] The Houthi military spokesperson framed these attacks as part of their ongoing attack campaign targeting all commercial maritime traffic headed to or affiliated with Israel and vowed to continue these attacks.[2]

The Houthi attack campaign signals to the international community that the Axis of Resistance can imperil ships around the Bab al Mandeb in addition to the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran has long worked to establish the military capabilities and posture necessary to disrupt traffic around these strategic chokepoints. US officials and Western media have reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is directly involved in planning and executing the attacks with the Houthis.[3] The IRGC similarly threatens international shipping around the Strait of Hormuz to impose pressure on foreign adversaries.[4] The IRGC, for instance, conducted an attack campaign around the Strait of Hormuz in 2019 that is similar to the one that the Houthis are now waging.[5]

These attacks are disrupting all traffic in the Red Sea, not just traffic bound for Israel. Several of the vessels that the Houthis have attacked were headed to destinations other than Israel, demonstrating the threat that the Houthis pose to global shipping more broadly.[6] Major international shipping companies, such as Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, have responded to the Houthi attacks by pausing their operations through the Red Sea and routing ships instead around Africa.[7] Maersk alone accounts for roughly 17 percent of global shipping.[8] Other companies are reportedly scaling back their operations in the Red Sea as well.[9]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces destroyed the headquarters of Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli air, artillery, and engineering forces took over the compound in Shujaiya after ground forces clashed with Palestinian militia fighters.[10] Palestinian fighters in a tunnel shaft attempted to detonate an improvised explosive device targeting Israeli forces in Shujaiya.[11] The IDF responded by destroying the tunnel.[12] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—and the al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—did not claim any attacks on Israeli forces in the Shujaiya neighborhood on December 15. CTP-ISW previously reported that Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion remains capable of executing its defense mission in Shujaiya, indicating that it is not combat ineffective.[13] This is despite several Israeli military sources reporting that Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion is “dismantled” and lost its “command and control” capabilities.[14] IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip on December 14 that they are facing challenging terrain in the Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods.[15] An Israeli journalist embedded with the IDF’s Kfir Brigade in Shujaiya reported on December 11 that Hamas forces in Shujaiya are ”waging a guerrilla war” and have not ”abandoned the fight.[16]

Israeli clearing operations may be disrupting Palestinian militia fighters' ability to frequently communicate with each other. The disruption of Palestinian fighters’ communications would make it more difficult for fighters to transmit reports to the media officials responsible for generating attack claims. This disruption may be contributing to the lower rate of attack claims in Shujaiya, for example. Residents told Reuters on December 15 that there is intense fighting across the northern Gaza Strip, including Shujaiya, Zaytoun, and Tuffah where Israeli forces are attempting to dismantle the Shujaiya Battalion.[17] The al Quds Brigades posted on its Telegram channel on December 15 that it had resumed contact with its forces east of Gaza City.[18] The ground forces relayed their various attack claims. The al Qassem Brigades have similarly posted several times in the past week that its forces relayed their various kinetic engagements after returning from the front lines in the northern Gaza Strip.[19] CTP-ISW did not observe the militias using language that suggests that there is a significant strain on communication networks at any other point in the war.

The residents also reported fighting in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, southwest of Jabalia city where Israeli forces have been operating since November 18.[20] The al Quds Brigades claimed that its fighters targeted three military vehicles with tandem shells in Beit Lahiya, northwest of Jabalia city.[21] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades claimed two clashes with Israeli forces in the Jabalia refugee camp and Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, southwest of Jabalia city.[22]

Israeli forces mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip as a threat and killed them during clearing operations in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza city. The IDF confirmed the incident and the identities of the hostages on December 15.[23] The Israelis were taken hostage during Hamas’ October 7 attack.[24]

Palestinian militia fighters attempted to lure Israeli forces into a tunnel using simulated sounds of children.[25] The IDF reported on December 15 that its forces encountered a tactically sophisticated Hamas ambush involving a speaker system set up outside a tunnel system that runs through civilian infrastructure, including a school, clinic, and mosque.[26] Israeli forces identified anti-tank positions and a minefield during the operation.[27] The ambush demonstrates that Hamas retains a degree of tactical effectiveness that allows its fighters to undertake complex tactical tasks.

Palestinian militias continued attacks on Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance in the northern Gaza Strip, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces inside an Israeli combat outpost in the Juhor ad Dik area.[28] The militia separately claimed that it fired a thermobaric rocket at an Israeli-held building in Juhor ad Dik.[29] Israeli forces crossed into the central Gaza Strip from near Juhor ad Dik at the beginning of the ground operation.[30] Palestinian militia fighters have claimed several indirect fire attacks on Israeli forces south of Gaza City, which suggests that they are attempting to harass and disrupt the Israeli ground lines of communication that support offensive operations in the northern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias continued to resist Israeli advances in the southern Gaza Strip on December 15. Al Qassem Brigades fighters detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device targeting Israeli forces east of Khan Younis on December 15.[31] The al Quds Brigades also posted videos showing its forces mortaring Israeli units east of Khan Younis.[32]

Palestinian media reported that Palestinian militias engaged Israeli forces with small arms east of Rafah on December 15.[33] CTP-ISW has not previously observed ground clashes in eastern Rafah after Israeli forces entered the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces targeted Hamas military infrastructure in Khan Younis and Rafah as part of Israeli efforts to degrade Hamas’ military capacity. IDF special operations forces and ground forces units continued raids and clearing operations in the southern Gaza Strip.[34] The IDF said that it discovered tunnel shafts in Khan Younis, including one tunnel shaft with motorcycles inside that the IDF said Hamas used in the October 7 attacks.[35] An IDF raid also targeted the home of Hamas’ North Khan Younis Battalion rocket artillery commander.[36] The IDF reported that it killed the North Khan Younis Battalion commander on October 27.[37] Hamas‘ formal military structure means that it will likely rapidly replace the rocket artillery commander with his deputy, ensuring continuity of command and rapid reconstitution of Hamas‘ military forces.[38]

Israeli forces conducted airstrikes targeting Hamas military infrastructure near the Egyptian-Gaza Strip border in Rafah governorate. The airstrikes targeted buildings and other areas that the IDF said Hamas uses for smuggling weapons.[39] Hamas has historically used a system of tunnels to smuggle weapons into the Strip, rather than formal border crossings.[40]

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in Tel Aviv that Israel will transition to the next phase of the war, which will focus on targeting leadership and intelligence operations rather than high-intensity clearance operations.[41] Sullivan was in Israel to meet with a number of Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.[42] Sullivan declined to specify a time frame for the end of high-intensity clearing operations to avoid “telegraph[ing] for the enemy what the plan is.”[43] A senior administration official said on background in a White House press briefing that ”reporting on timeframes” for the phases of the war was ”not entirely accurate.”[44] The New York Times cited four US officials on December 14 who claimed that Biden wanted the war to shift to a more targeted, narrow campaign in about three weeks.[45]

Palestinian militias conducted six indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on December 15.[46] The al Qassem Brigades fired a barrage of long-range rockets at Jerusalem for the first time since October 22.[47] The al Quds Brigades claimed that it fired rockets at Jerusalem on December 1.[48] The al Quds Brigades claimed three rocket attacks into southern Israel on December 15 including at an Israeli military site.[49][50]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces three times in the West Bank on December 15.[51] This rate of activity is less than the daily average of 9.7 attacks per day. The Jenin Battalion of the al Quds Brigades claimed that it conducted an attack using small arms fire and explosives on Israeli forces at a checkpoint to Mevo Dotan.[52] The militia fighters also claimed that they placed an anti-personnel explosive device in an Israeli military vehicle and then detonated it.[53] This is the first time that the al Quds Brigades has claimed such an attack since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Hamas in the West Bank successfully organized protests in Nablus on December 15. Hamas distributed a flyer on December 14 calling for Palestinians in Nablus to protest after Friday prayers in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.[54] Palestinian sources published footage of marches in Nablus with Hamas flags and posters of Hamas fighters who had died since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[55]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 11 cross-border attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 15.[56] LH targeted Israeli military sites in northern Israel eight times, including two attacks using Burkan rockets.[57] The warheads for Burkan rockets range from 300 to 500 kilograms, making them a more lethal weapon system than the smaller rockets LH typically employs.[58] LH separately fired rockets and mortars at the IDF’s Ramim barracks in northern Israel.[59] The IDF said it intercepted a drone from southern Lebanon over Israeli airspace.[60] A second drone fell near an IDF post.[61]

LH published a summary of its attacks into Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.[62] LH claimed that it has conducted over 500 operations in over 50 locations in northern Israel since October 8. LH’s attack claim is mostly consistent with CTP-ISW's documentation of approximately 440 total attacks since October 8.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a one-way drone attack targeting US forces in Iraq on December 15. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq said that it targeted US forces at Ain al Assad airbase with a one-way drone.[63]

Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh met with interim Ninewa Governor Abdul Qadir al Dakhil on December 15 to discuss improving security in the province for the upcoming provincial elections.[64] Dakhil worked as head of the Supreme Council for the Reconstruction of Mosul. Kataib Hezbollah members also escorted Dakhil in Ninewa Province after Dakhil was appointed as acting governor.[65] Fayyadh and Dakhil’s meeting is notable in the context of other Iranian-backed proxy activity in Ninewa. The Kataib Hezbollah-affiliated 47th Brigade’s 2nd Regiment deployed to Sinjar, Ninewa province on December 14.[66] This regiment is reinforcing other 47th Brigade units that were ostensibly providing security for voting centers during the provincial elections. The Soufan Center reports that Iranian-backed militias intimidated voters during the 2021 federal elections.[67] Ninewa province locals warned that the militias prevented political opposition from registering to run for provincial elections.[68]

Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) Secretary General Akram al Kaabi released a statement justifying resistance against the United States in Iraq following the arrest of unspecified individuals tied to the December 8 attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.[69] Spokesperson for the Iraqi Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Major General Yahya Rasool announced on December 14 that Iraqi security forces arrested individuals connected to the rocket and mortar attacks targeting the US Embassy.[70] US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski thanked Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani for arresting the individuals “responsible for the terrorist attacks” on the embassy.[71] Kaabi claimed that the United States stole resources and interfered in Iraq’s internal affairs and argued that he was justified and “expressing popular will” by conducting attacks on the United States.[72] He declared that if this made him a terrorist, then “let the world witness that I am a terrorist.” Kaabi is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Department of the Treasury.[73]

The Balochi Salafi-jihadi group Jaish al Adl conducted a two-stage attack targeting a police station in Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on December 15.[74] The Jaish al Adl fighters raided the police station, which prompted Iran’s Law Enforcement Command to dispatch a quick reaction force (QRF). The fighters then laid an ambush targeting the QRF. The two-stage attack killed at least 11 LEC officers and injured eight more. The LEC killed two Jaish al Adl fighters during the attack. Jaish al Adl conducted a similar attack on a police station in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on July 8 that killed two LEC officers.[75] Jaish al Adl said after the July 8 attack that civil disobedience is insufficient to secure Balochi rights and it vowed to conduct more ”targeted and harmful” attacks in the future. Jaish al Adl issued threats against the regime in October 2022 following security forces’ violent suppression of protesters in Zahedan on September 30, 2022, an event that became known as “Bloody Friday.”[76]

The Iranian deputy foreign affairs minister discussed the Israel-Hamas war with his Chinese and Saudi counterparts in Beijing on December 15.[77] The deputy foreign affairs ministers of all three countries emphasized the need for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and an independent Palestinian state. The overall purpose of the meeting was to discuss recent progress in the Chinese-mediated normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf spoke on the phone with Algerian Assembly President Ibrahim Boughali about the Israel-Hamas war on December 15.[78] Ghalibaf reiterated his desire to hold a meeting of the Permanent Committee on Palestine to examine practical solutions for the Palestinian people. 


 

Iran Update, December 14, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, Johanna Moore, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.

Note: CTP and ISW have refocused the update to cover the Israel-Hamas war. The new sections address developments in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as noteworthy activity from Iran’s Axis of Resistance. We do not report in detail on war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We utterly condemn violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

Click here to see CTP and ISW’s interactive map of Israeli ground operations. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces are engaged in intense fighting around Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods of Gaza city. Hamas is trying to defend against an Israeli advance toward Shujaiya from southern Gaza city.
  2. Palestinian fighters continued to resist Israeli forces’ northeastward advance in Khan Younis.
  3. Palestinian militias conducted two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
  4. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times in the West Bank. Israeli forces concluded an over two-day-long operation in Jenin.
  5. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  6. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a one-way drone attack targeting US forces in Syria.
  7. Iraqi military spokesperson Major General Yahya Rasoul claimed that Iraqi security services arrested “a number of perpetrators” responsible for the December 8 attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.
  8. The Houthis conducted a missile attack targeting the Danish-owned, Hong Kong-flagged Maersk Gibraltar container ship near the Bab al Mandeb.
  9. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian continued his meetings with his foreign counterparts in Geneva.
  10. European authorities arrested seven individuals linked to Hamas in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands for allegedly planning terror attacks targeting Israeli and Jewish civilians in Europe.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces are engaged in intense fighting around Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods of Gaza city. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip that they are facing challenging terrain in these areas.[1] These remarks are unsurprising in part because Shujaiya is one of the most densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip.[2] Israeli forces searched on December 13 a school compound that Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion used.[3] Israeli forces also cleared nearby tunnels.[4]

The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—is trying to defend against an Israeli advance toward Shujaiya from southern Gaza city. The militia claimed to target Israeli forces with unspecified explosives in Shujaiya on December 14.[5] The militia also used rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) to target Israeli tanks and military vehicles in Shujaiya and Zaytoun.[6] Other Palestinian militias are operating in Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods to defend against Israeli advances as well. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that its fighters ambushed Israeli forces and targeted Israeli military vehicles in both neighborhoods.[7] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—clashed with Israeli forces in Shujaiya with unspecified weapons.[8]

The IDF announced on December 14 that Palestinian militias conducted a complex ambush on Israeli forces at some point in the past week in the Jabalia refugee camp. Palestinian fighters conducted small arms, anti-tank guided missile, and IED attacks from multiple directions targeting Israeli forces there.[9] Israeli forces also at some point in the past week conducted a drone strike on Palestinian fighters who were conducting anti-tank attacks in the camp.[10]

The IDF is using combined arms maneuver, involving dismounted infantry, armor, air, and reconnaissance elements, to degrade Hamas’ battalions in the Jabalia area.[11] The IDF destroyed militia infrastructure and found weapons in the Jabalia refugee camp in addition to directing a helicopter assault on a Hamas sniper position on December 13.[12]

Palestinian militias are attempting to resist Israeli advances west of Jabalia city. The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters fired a thermobaric rocket targeting Israeli forces in a building in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza city.[13] The militia separately claimed to target three Israeli tanks and two bulldozers with anti-tank munitions southwest of Jabalia city.[14]

 

Israeli forces detained 70 Palestinian militia fighters in the northern Gaza Strip on December 14. The IDF published documentation of Palestinians leaving the Kamal Adwan Hospital, some of whom carried weapons.[15] Israeli forces located buildings in the vicinity of the hospital that Hamas fighters used.[16] Israeli forces removed the detainees from the field for interrogations, which supports Israel in uncovering information regarding the locations of Hamas military infrastructure, according to the IDF.[17] The Hamas-run Health Ministry spokesperson accused Israel of preventing medical staff from providing care to ten injured people in the hospital.[18] Israel has repeatedly reported that Hamas uses hospitals for military activity.[19]

Israeli forces uncovered weapons inside a car near the house of senior Hamas member and spokesperson Mushir al Masri in Beit Lahiya during a raid several weeks ago.[20] The IDF found small arms and grenades inside the car in addition to a driver's license belonging to Masri.[21] The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson noted that the findings from the raid are evidence of how connected Hamas’ militant and political wings are.[22]

Palestinian militias continued attacks on Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The al Quds Brigades shelled Israeli forces in Netzarim southwest of Gaza city.[23] The al Qassem Brigades targeted six Israeli tanks in the Beit Lahiya area north of Gaza city with anti-tank munitions.[24] The militia claimed its fighters used anti-personnel devices and small arms to target Israeli forces and military vehicles in addition to using rocket and mortars to attack Israeli combat outposts.[25]

Palestinian fighters continued to resist Israeli forces’ northeastward advance in Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades claimed at least one combined mortar attack on advancing Israeli forces east of Khan Younis.[26] Hamas and PIJ leadership have coordinated closely against Israel throughout the war.[27] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Khan Younis.[28] Israeli forces conducted several raids in Khan Younis and destroyed tunnel shafts, a rocket launching site, and a weapons storage facility.[29]

Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh gave a televised address discussing the war on December 13.[30] Haniyeh said Hamas is certain that the Israeli clearing operations will end because of the Palestinian militia fighters’ capabilities. Haniyeh referenced the complex, multi-part ambush targeting an Israeli patrol and quick reaction force in Shujaiya on December 12 as evidence of the militias’ success. Haniyeh called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and dismissed any arrangements for a post-war Gaza Strip without Hamas.[31]

Hamas representative to Lebanon told Iranian state media that Hamas is prepared for a prolonged fight in the Gaza Strip, which is consistent with Hamas and the Axis of Resistance consistently messaging that the defense of the Gaza Strip is sustainable. Hamas Representative Osama Hamdan gave an interview to Press TV, which is an English-language outlet that the Iranian regime uses for messaging to English-speaking audiences, on December 13.[32] The Wall Street Journal similarly reported on November 4 that Hamas has privately stated that its weapons arsenal can sustain a prolonged conflict.[33] The Lebanese foreign affairs minister claimed that Hamas told Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian shortly after the war began that it could fight for months without additional weapons.[34]

Palestinian militias conducted two indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on December 14. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades both claimed responsibility for separate attacks on Sufa in southern Israel.[35] The IDF reported on December 13 that Hamas has fired 116 rockets from the Israeli-declared al Mawasi humanitarian zone in southern the Gaza Strip into Israel.[36]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times in the West Bank on December 14.[37] The al Qassem Brigades’ Qabatiya Battalion engaged Israeli forces in small arms clashes and detonated IEDs targeting these forces in Jenin.[38] Palestinian fighters also clashed with Israeli forces in the Jenin refugee camp.[39] Israeli forces conducted drone strikes in Jenin, which Palestinian authorities said killed at least two people.[40] Palestinian fighters separately clashed with Israeli forces in Beita, near Nablus.[41] The IDF said that it detained 14 individuals, including three Hamas fighters, in overnight raids across the West Bank.[42]

Israeli forces concluded an over two-day-long operation in Jenin on December 14. The IDF, Shin Bet, and Israeli Border Police have conducted widespread “counterterrorism” operations in Jenin since December 12.[43] The IDF said that it searched hundreds of buildings and detained over 60 wanted individuals for questioning.[44] The IDF said that it confiscated weapons and destroyed underground shafts, observation posts, and explosives laboratories.[45] The IDF said that it killed more than 10 ”terrorists” during its operations in Jenin.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted four attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 14.[46] This rate of attack marks a noteworthy dip from the average rate of 12 attacks per day since December 1. LH claimed three of the four attacks, which targeted Israeli military positions along the border.[47] Unidentified Palestinian fighters conducted one rocket attack into northern Israel targeting civilian areas.[48]

 

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for a one-way drone attack targeting US forces in Syria on December 14.[49] The group claimed that it targeted US forces at al Shaddadi, Hasakah Province, Syria. The group has claimed 11 previous attacks on al Shaddadi since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Iraqi military spokesperson Major General Yahya Rasoul claimed that Iraqi security services arrested “a number of perpetrators” responsible for the December 8 attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.[50] Rasoul stated that Iraqi security services also arrested individuals who provided logistical and other unspecified forms of support to the perpetrators. Rasoul previously claimed on December 9 that an investigative team would work with local authorities to identify and arrest individuals responsible for the attacks.[51] Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani ordered the establishment of a working group to investigate the attacks on December 9.[52] US officials have urged the Iraqi central government to protect US personnel in Iraq, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[53]

The Houthis conducted a missile attack targeting the Danish-owned, Hong Kong-flagged Maersk Gibraltar container ship near the Bab al Mandeb on December 14. The Houthi Navy initially directed the Gibraltar to alter course to Yemen before firing a missile at the ship.[54] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the Houthis also launched a drone to target the ship, although there is no evidence to support this claim.[55] US Central Command stated that there were no injuries or damage from the missile attack.[56] A US official similarly told the Associated Press that the Houthi missile missed its target.[57] The Houthis threatened on December 9 and 12 to expand their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea to include all vessels traveling to Israel.[58] Western media reported that ship was headed to Jedda, Saudi Arabia.[59]

The UKMTO reported that unknown actors boarded an unspecified vessel 700 nautical miles east of the coast of Bosaso, Somalia on December 14.[60] The UKMTO reported that it received a distress call from the vessel as it was boarded. It is unclear what party was responsible for the boarding at this time.

Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani warned the United States against getting involved in the Red Sea on December 14.[61] Ashtiani stated the “foolish” decision by the United States to create a multi-national naval task force in the Red Sea would “face extraordinary problems”.[62] Ashtiani stated there is no more room in the region for outsiders to establish a presence. Ashtiani was responding to the United States discussing establishing an international naval task force to safeguard commercial shipping around the Red Sea.[63]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian continued his meetings with his foreign counterparts in Geneva on December 14. Abdollahian met with his Japanese counterpart, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s interior minister, and the UN high commissioner for refugees.[64] Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war in each of these meetings. Abdollahian also held a phone call with his Brazilian counterpart on December 14 to discuss bilateral relations and the Israel Hamas war.[65]

European authorities arrested seven individuals linked to Hamas in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands on December 14 for allegedly planning terror attacks targeting Israeli and Jewish civilians in Europe. German federal prosecutors reported that the four individuals arrested in Berlin and the Netherlands had long-standing ties to Hamas’ military wing, the al Qassem Brigades.[66] Hamas leaders based in Lebanon tasked these individuals with procuring weapons for terror attacks against Jewish institutions, according to German prosecutors.[67] Danish intelligence stated that the three individuals arrested in Denmark were preparing a terror attack but did not release further details.[68] The Israeli prime minister’s office stated that the seven arrested individuals were acting on behalf of Hamas and that Mossad would continue to assist partners around in the world in countering terrorist activity.[69]

 

Iran Update, December 13, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, and Johanna Moore

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Hamas conducted a complex, multi-part ambush targeting an Israeli patrol and quick reaction force in Shujaiya’s kasbah on December 12.
  2. Israeli forces are continuing to degrade Hamas forces by targeting military infrastructure and weapons caches throughout the Gaza Strip.
  3. Hamas published a video of its fighters engaging Israeli forces from a school in Khan Younis. The video is notable as Hamas claims that its military forces do not use civilian infrastructure for military operations.
  4. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters 19 times in the West Bank.
  5. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted ten attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  6. The Israeli Air Force conducted an airstrike targeting Syrian Arab Army military infrastructure and positions within Syrian territory on December 12 according to a post from the IDF.
  7. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for two one-way drone attacks targeting US positions in Syria.
  8. The Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel after Houthi fighters failed to hijack the ship.  

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Hamas conducted a complex, multi-part ambush targeting an Israeli patrol and quick reaction force (QRF) in Shujaiya’s kasbah on December 12.[1] Hamas ambushed an Israeli fireteam entering a three-building complex during Israeli clearing operations in Shujaiya. Hamas fighters detonated an IED and fired small arms at the Israeli fireteam during the initial ambush.[2] Israeli forces nearby lost contact with the Israeli fireteam inside the building and launched a QRF to rescue the fireteam.[3] One Israeli force moved north of the three-building complex, while another moved south.[4] Hamas fighters continued to attack the QRF by setting off IEDs and throwing grenades at Israeli forces.[5] Israel recovered the bodies of the Israeli fireteam, but five additional Israeli soldiers died during the rescue operation including a battalion commander, three company commanders, and the “head of the Golani Brigade’s forward command team.”[6]

Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion remains capable of executing its defense mission in Shujaiya, indicating that it is not combat ineffective. Several Israeli military sources, including the Israeli defense minister, have said since December 11 that Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion is “dismantled” and lost its “command and control” capabilities.[7] The complex, multi-part nature of this ambush requires significant coordination between multiple Hamas tactical units. This suggests that at least some elements of Hamas‘ Shujaiya Battalion remain able to conduct military operations to defend Shujaiya.

Israeli forces are continuing to degrade Hamas forces by targeting military infrastructure and weapons caches throughout the Gaza Strip. The IDF said that its ground, air, and naval forces had attacked over 250 militant and infrastructure targets across the Gaza Strip on December 13.[8] The Israeli Defense Minister said on December 12 that Israeli troops had now descended deep underground to locate Hamas bunkers, command centers, communication rooms and weapon storage sites.[9] Israeli forces used drones to conduct reconnaissance of tunnels underneath Gaza city at the beginning of the ground operation.[10]

Palestinian militias claimed that they fired small arms targeting Israeli forces along the Israeli line of advance in the northern Gaza Strip on December 13. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces in the Sheikh Radwan, Rimal, Shujaiya, and Zaytoun neighborhoods.[11] The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades fighters said that they ambushed Israeli forces in the Mughraqa area.[12] The Al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Resistance Committees—also said that it targeted Israeli forces with small arms fire and improvised explosive devices in the Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods.[13] National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed that it detonated IEDs and fired small arms targeting Israeli forces in Shujaiya.[14] 

The al Qassem Brigades is attempting to defend against an Israeli advance towards Shujaiya from southern Gaza City. The al Qassem Brigades posted a video showing its forces detonating an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an Israeli tank in Zaytoun, southwest of Shujaiya.[15] The militia also shelled Israeli command posts with rockets and mortars in southern Gaza city.[16] The brigades did not provide any proof that their attacks were successful in either destroying Israeli armor or hitting Israeli command posts.

Israeli forces continued targeting Hamas’ military infrastructure during clearing operations in Khan Younis. Israeli forces destroyed Hamas operations centers and outposts in Bani Suheila, east of Khan Younis City.[17] Other Israeli units discovered “significant” tunnel shafts.[18]

Hamas published a video of its fighters engaging Israeli forces from a school in Khan Younis. The IDF also said that it raided a school in Khan Younis after Palestinian fighters fired at IDF forces from the same school.[19] Hamas published a video of its fighters firing at IDF forces from the same school.[20] Hamas‘ video is notable in the context of the group’s repeated claims that its military forces do not use civilian infrastructure for military operations.[21] The IDF also said that it discovered and destroyed an underground complex close to the school.[22]

Hamas and other Palestinian militias are attempting to blunt the Israeli advance in Khan Younis. Al Quds Brigades fighters east of Khan Younis mortared Israeli forces near the al Zalal Mosque, and the al Qassem Brigades fired rocket-propelled grenades and detonated EFPs targeting Israeli tanks east of Khan Younis city.[23] Al Qassem Brigades fighters also detonated EFPs and conducted hit-and-run attacks targeting Israeli armor north of the city.[24] Al Qassem Brigades fighters attacked Israeli forces advancing in western Khan Younis city with mortars.[25]

The IDF advised residents in central Khan Younis to evacuate towards al Zuhor, al Shaboura, and Tal al Sultan in Rafah governorate on December 13.[26]

Hamas stated its terms for freeing the Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip. Hamas National Relations official and former al Qassem Brigades senior leader Mahmoud Mardawi stated that Israel must withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and commit to a ceasefire before negotiations can resume on prisoner swaps and unspecified other issues.[27] Mardawi confirmed that Hamas is in contact with third-party mediators.[28] The al Qassem Brigades released a propaganda poster on December 12 with the words “without a conditional exchange [the prisoners] will not emerge alive,” which is part of an information operation that aims to undermine Israeli public support for the ground operation in the Gaza Strip.[29] Israeli forces recovered the bodies of two hostages held in the Gaza Strip on December 12.[30]

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted five indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 13. The al Quds Brigades and the al Qassem Brigades both claimed responsibility for two attacks in southern Israel.[31] The National Resistance Brigades claimed responsibility for a rocket attack targeting an Israeli military site in southern Israel.[32]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters 19 times in the West Bank.[33] Thirteen of those clashes occurred in Jenin Governate.[34] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade—a self-affiliated militant wing of Fatah—claimed two attacks targeting Israeli forces in Jenin and one attack on an IDF checkpoint near Nablus.[35] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that it detonated an IED targeting an IDF vehicle during Israeli operations in Jenin.[36] The IDF reported that it has searched 400 buildings, captured six IED manufacturing facilities, and arrested hundreds of individuals in Jenin since December 12.[37]  

Hamas circulated flyers in the West Bank calling for a mass protest on December 15 under the slogan of “victory for Gaza.”[38] Hamas condemned Israeli operations in Jenin and claimed that the IDF arrested at least 120 individuals in Jenin.[39] Hamas framed Israeli operations in Jenin as an extension of Israel’s ”comprehensive war against our people [Palestinians]”.[40] PIJ stated that its forces in Jenin would continue to escalate against Israel alongside other Palestinian militia groups.[41]

A Palestinian think tank reported survey results showing that Palestinian support for Hamas in the West Bank has tripled since September.[42] The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reported that support for Hamas in the West Bank has increased from 12 percent in September to 44 percent in December.[43] The director of the center added in November that the hostage/prisoner release deal between Hamas and Israel was the most important factor increasing support for Hamas. The center said that Palestinian support for armed groups in the West Bank has increased in response to Israeli settler attacks from 47 percent in September to 56 percent in December.[44]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted ten attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 13.[45] LH claimed six attacks targeting Israeli military positions along the border.[46] Unidentified Palestinian fighters conducted four separate rocket attacks into northern Israel targeting civilian areas.[47]

The Israeli Air Force conducted an airstrike targeting Syrian Arab Army military infrastructure and positions within Syrian territory on December 12 according to a post from the IDF.[48]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for two one-way drone attacks targeting US positions in Syria on December 13. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single drone attack targeting US forces stationed at the al Tanf garrison.[49] The group has claimed eight attacks against al Tanf since October 19. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq also claimed a single drone attack targeting US forces stationed at Rukban.[50] The group has claimed two attacks against Rukban since October 23.

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah (KH) announced on December 12 that it will support “righteous” and “jihadist” candidates in the upcoming provincial council elections on December 18.[51] KH defined these candidates as individuals who “provide services” to Iraqi citizens and defend citizens’ “rights and dignity.” Iraqi provincial councils are authorized to appoint and remove governors, approve provincial director-general positions, and approve provincial security plans.[52] KH reiterated that its political party, Harakat Hoquq, will not be running in the provincial elections.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Iranian-backed Iraqi militias’ attacks on US forces and diplomatic personnel in Iraq and Syria during a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani on December 13.[53]  Blinken emphasized Iran’s support for these militias and stated that the attacks undermine Iraq’s sovereignty and independence. Blinken thanked Sudani for referring to recent attacks as “acts of terrorism” and for his pledge to pursue the perpetrators of the December 8 rocket and mortar attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles targeting a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel on December 13 after Houthi fighters failed to hijack the ship.  The UK Maritime Transit Operations authority reported that a small boat carrying three armed individuals approached the M/T Ardmore Encounter and directed the Encounter to alter course to Yemen.[54] An armed security team aboard the Encounter fired warning shots at the boat, causing it to flee.[55] The Houthis then fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles which hit the water within 200 meters of the Encounter.[56] The Ardmore Encounter is a Marshall Islands-flagged commercial tanker carrying jet fuel from India.[57] The US destroyer USS Mason shot down a Houthi-operated drone while responding to the Houthi attack on the Encounter.[58] Key Houthi powerbroker and Member of the Houthi Supreme Political Council Mohammad Ali al Houthi advised ships in the Red Sea not to cut off their communications systems and to quickly follow the orders of the Houthi Navy.[59] The Houthis threatened on December 9 and 12 to expand their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea to include all vessels traveling to Israel.[60] CTP-ISW cannot determine if the Encounter was traveling to Israel.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on December 13 that the Houthis “crossed a red line” in the Red Sea.[61] Herzog called for strengthening the US-led international coalition in the Red Sea to prevent the Houthis from posing a threat to international trade.[62] The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is pushing allies and partners to reinforce a pre-existing task force, Combined Task Force 153, which is responsible for international maritime security in the Red Sea.[63]

An Israeli OSINT social media account reported that an IRGC-affiliated cargo transport plane landed in Moscow on December 13.[64] The airliner is operated by Pouya Air, which the United States and European Union sanctioned in 2011 and 2023 for transferring military materials throughout the Middle East behalf of the IRGC Quds Force.[65] Flightradar24 data shows that a Pouya Air-operated Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane departed from Tehran on December 13.[66] Flightradar24 incorrectly reported that a Pouya Air aircraft flew to Russian-occupied Crimea on September 7.[67]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held separate meetings with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon during the World Refugee Forum in Geneva on December 13.[68] Abdollahian reiterated calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and highlighted the need for increased humanitarian support for Palestinians in Gaza.[69] This is part of the Iranian effort to rally support against Israel among the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Iran Update, December 12, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Brian Carter, Kathryn Tyson, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways: 

  1. Palestinian militias are attempting to resist Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis. The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson reiterated orders to residents in Khan Younis and the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate using the Salah al Din Road to Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
  2. Israeli forces are likely degrading Hamas’ capacity to conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The number of indirect fire attacks conducted daily by Hamas has decreased significantly since October, which is consistent with the assessed degradation of Hamas’ indirect fire capacity.
  3. The IDF reported that Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya, Zaytoun, and Jabalia over the past week. Palestinian militias continued attacks on Israeli forces advancing in Shujaiya neighborhood.
  4. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters 17 times in the West Bank.
  5. Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah, conducted 11 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  6. The Houthis conducted an anti-ship cruise missile attack on the Norwegian tanker STRINDA around the Bab al Mandeb.
  7. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for two attacks targeting US positions in eastern Syria.
  8. Iranian and Iraqi judicial officials discussed prosecuting the “perpetrators” of the January 2020 US airstrike that killed then-IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani as part of the broader Iranian effort to undermine anti-Iran elements of the Iraqi Security Forces.
  9. The secretary general of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Badr Organization, Hadi al Ameri, called on the Iraqi central government to expel the US-led international coalition from Iraq.
  10. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war in separate phone calls with his Russian and Chinese counterparts.

 

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip.
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias are attempting to resist Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed that it detonated multiple claymore-type, anti-personnel mines targeting ten Israeli soldiers east of Khan Younis.[1] The militia also claimed that it inflicted five casualties during a small arms clash with Israeli forces along the Israeli forward line of advance in al Qarara, north of Khan Younis .[2] The al Qassem Brigades separately mortared Israeli soldiers advancing north and east of Khan Younis.[3] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that it conducted four mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli forces advancing into Khan Younis. Al Quds Brigades fighters fired tandem-charge rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at an Israeli armored personnel carrier east of Khan Younis.[4] The National Resistance Brigade—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—used mortars against Israeli forces advancing east of Khan Younis.[5] Residents published footage of audible small arms fire east of Khan Younis on December 12.[6] The BBC reported on December 11 that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had captured most of the four main towns east of Khan Younis.[7]

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson reiterated orders to residents in Khan Younis and the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate using the Salah al Din Road to Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip.[8]

Israeli forces are likely degrading Hamas’ capacity to conduct indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Israeli forces have captured large Hamas weapons caches as they have advanced around and into Khan Younis over the past week.[9] Israeli forces, for instance, captured a Hamas weapon cache that included approximately 250 rockets, mortars, and RPGs.[10] The Givati Brigade destroyed a weapons factory in the Khan Younis area.[11] The Israeli 162nd Division identified a rocket launcher site while Palestinian militants attempted to launch rockets at Sderot and directed an airstrike at the site on December 12.[12] Israeli forces have discovered other rocket launchers and rockets during clearing operations in the Gaza Strip throughout the ground operation as well.[13] An unspecified senior military source told Israeli Army Radio on December 10 that Hamas has ”hundreds” of medium- and long-range rockets left in its arsenal, however.[14]

The number of indirect fire attacks conducted daily by the al Qassem Brigades has decreased significantly since October, which is consistent with the assessed degradation of Hamas’ indirect fire capacity. The al Qassem Brigades has conducted on average about two indirect fire attacks per day since December 6. The al Qassem Brigades claimed an average of about eight attacks per day on Israel between December 1 and December 6, which immediately followed the expiration of the humanitarian pause. This rate demonstrates a noteworthy drop from the average of 12 attacks per day between October 11 and October 16 in the early days of the war.

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted at least four indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 12. The al Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for one attack in southern Israel.[15] The National Resistance Brigades claimed responsibility for a rocket attack targeting an Israeli military site in southern Israel.[16] Israeli Army Radio reported red alerts in two towns surrounding the Gaza Strip on December 12, although it is unclear whether there were attacks in these areas.[17]

The IDF reported on December 12 that Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Shujaiya, Zaytoun, and Jabalia over the past week. The IDF reported that its units in these areas have clashed with Palestinian fighters, destroyed tunnels, and seized explosives and weapons.[18] The IDF also reported that it seized memory cards storing unspecified Hamas data about the October 7 attack into Israel. These continued operations in these areas are consistent with the stated IDF priority of clearing Shujaiya and Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip. Clearing operations of the sort that the IDF is conducting frequently take weeks, if not months, to complete.[19]

Palestinian militias continued attacks on Israeli forces advancing in Shujaiya neighborhood on December 12. The al Qassem Brigades claimed that it detonated unspecified anti-armor improvised explosive devices targeting seven IDF vehicles.[20] The group said that it killed the crew of one armored personnel carrier. The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters killed several Israeli soldiers who attempted to help the crew of one stricken Israeli tank.[21] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters killed 11 Israelis during fighting in Shujaiya and seized Israeli equipment.[22]

Palestinian militias continued attacks on Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The al Quds Brigades claimed that its fighters and al Qassem Brigades fighters conducted a combined attack targeting an Israeli position in a house in the Fallujah area of Jabalia refugee camp on December 12.[23] The al Qassem Brigades separately fired a thermobaric rocket targeting Israeli troops in Sheikh Radwan neighborhood on December 12.[24]

The IDF said on December 12 that its navy has destroyed several unmanned submarines in the Gaza Strip and its surrounding waters throughout the Israel-Hamas war.[25] The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson published a graphic of several Hamas naval personnel whom the IDF has killed during the war.[26] The spokesperson said Israel has killed most of the leaders of Hamas’ naval force and hundreds of Hamas members specializing in naval warfare.[27]

Israeli forces recovered the bodies of two hostages held in the Gaza Strip.[28] The IDF said its forces sustained casualties during an operation to identify the locations of the bodies.[29] The Israeli prime minister’s office revised the number of hostages in the Gaza Strip from 137 to 135.[30]

Anonymous US officials reported that Israeli forces began flooding Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip with seawater to degrade Hamas’ underground network. US officials briefed on Israeli military operations told the Wall Street Journal that the IDF had started its plan, according to the Wall Street Journal on December 12.[31] Israel previously informed the United States in early November that it was considering flooding the tunnels and that Israel assembled at least five pumps north of Shati refugee camp in mid-November.[32]

Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel to screen humanitarian aid going into the Gaza Strip. Israel will screen the aid before it enters the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt.[33] The United Nations, international aid agencies, and Palestinian relief workers have warned of spreading hunger in the Gaza Strip.[34]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters 17 times in the West Bank. Fourteen of those clashes occurred in Jenin Governate.[35] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade—a self-affiliated militant wing of Fatah—fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Jenin.[36] An IDF drone strike killed four al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fighters who were attacking Israeli forces in Jenin.[37] Palestinian fighters also fired small arms and threw IEDs at Israeli forces in three nearby towns, as Israeli forces approached Jenin.[38] The IDF reported that it seized small arms and bomb-making equipment and disabled IEDs in Jenin.[39] Palestinian media reported that Israeli forces arrested 70 individuals in Jenin.[40] CTP-ISW separately observed three demonstrations in Hebron against Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip.[41]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Iranian-backed fighters, including Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), conducted 11 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 12.[42] The attacks targeted primarily military positions. Unspecified fighters launched one rocket salvo targeting the town of Kiryat Shmona.[43] Israeli media separately reported that an anti-tank guided missile hit a civilian building in Baram, northern Israel.[44] LH claimed eight of the 11 attacks into northern Israel.[45]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Houthis conducted an anti-ship cruise missile attack on the Norwegian tanker STRINDA around the Bab al Mandeb on December 11.[46] The Houthi spokesperson claimed the attack on December 12.[47] CENTCOM said that the missile was launched from Houthi-controlled territory and that the attack caused a fire but did not result in any injuries.[48] CENTCOM also said that the USS Mason provided assistance to the STRINDA after the attack. The French FREMM Multi-Mission Frigate Languedoc also said that it “intervened” in a drone attack on the STRINDA while patrolling off the coast of Yemen on December 11.[49] The STRINDA’s owner reported that the tanker was carrying feedstock for biofuel and headed to Italy through the Suez Canal.[50] The Houthi spokesperson contrastingly claimed that the tanker was carrying oil to Israel and that the Houthis fired on the tanker after its crew ignored their warnings.[51] The attack follows a Houthi threat on December 9 to expand their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea to include all vessels traveling to Israel.[52]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for two attacks targeting US positions in eastern Syria on December 12. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed separate rocket attacks targeting US forces at al Omar oil field and Conoco Mission Support Site in Deir ez Zor Province.[53] The group has claimed four attacks on al Omar oil field and seven attacks on Conoco since the Israel-Hamas war began.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq resumed its attacks on US forces on December 3, two days after the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip expired on December 1.[54] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq escalated further on December 8 by conducting more attacks than usual on US forces, claiming responsibility for eleven attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.[55]

Iranian and Iraqi judicial officials discussed prosecuting the “perpetrators” of the January 2020 US airstrike that killed then-IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani as part of the broader Iranian effort to undermine anti-Iran elements of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).[56] Iranian Judiciary Deputy Chief for International Affairs Kazem Gharib Abadi called on the Iraqi judiciary to “accelerate” its investigation into the airstrike during a meeting Iraqi judicial officials in Tehran on December 5. Gharib Abadi also called on the Iraqi judiciary to submit its indictments to an Iraqi court to begin the prosecution of the “perpetrators” of the strike. Iran and its Iraqi proxies and partners have repeatedly attempted to target Iraqi security officials whom they believe were involved in the January 2020 US airstrike. Iranian-backed Iraqi factions have targeted actors close to former Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi, in particular. Kataib Hezbollah has accused Kadhimi of assisting the United States in the airstrike.[57] Kadhimi removed Iranian-backed actors from the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) and the Iraqi National Security Service (NSS) during his tenure to make these organizations more effective.[58] These efforts caused Iran and its local proxies and partners to view the INIS and NSS as threats to the Iranian project in Iraq. NSS spokesman Arshad al Hakim notably announced that “outlaw groups” damaged the NSS's headquarters at the same time as the mortar and rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 8.[59]

The December 5 meeting between Iranian and Iraq officials is noteworthy given the ongoing efforts by Iranian-backed Iraqi actors to use legal and political pressure to expel the US forces from Iraq.[60] The present conditions in the Iraqi political landscape are reminiscent of the conditions in 2020-21, when Iranian-backed Iraqi factions conducted a similar effort to remove US forces. The Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee announced on December 6, 2023, a draft resolution to expel US forces from Iraq in response to US self-defense strikes on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias.[61] The Iraqi parliament similarly passed a resolution on January 5, 2020, calling on the Iraqi prime minister to order the withdrawal of “all foreign troops” Iraq.[62] Iranian-backed Iraqi fighters have additionally increased their rate of attacks on US forces since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023 to a level that CTP-ISW has not observed since 2020.[63]

The secretary general of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Badr Organization, Hadi al Ameri, called on the Iraqi central government to expel the US-led international coalition from Iraq during a campaign speech in Wasit Governate, eastern Iraq, on December 12.[64] Ameri emphasized that the Iraqi Army, Popular Mobilization Forces, and Federal Police can defend Iraq without foreign support, implying that US forces are no longer necessary to fight ISIS. Ameri’s statement follows the Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee’s announcement on December 6 that it has drafted a resolution to expel US forces from Iraq.[65] The head of this committee is notably a member of the Badr Organization.[66]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war in separate phone calls with his Russian and Chinese counterparts on December 11 and 12.[67] Both Abdollahian and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized the need for an immediate ceasefire and international assistance to civilians in the Gaza Strip. The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced that the two ministers agreed to accelerate work on an unspecified “new and big” bilateral agreement.[68] Moscow and Tehran have significantly deepened their strategic partnership in recent years, as Iran has provided military support to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Abdollahian separately warned that if Israel does not stop its attacks on the Gaza Strip, “there is a possibility that an explosion will occur in the region and all sides will lose control” during his call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Abdollahian added that the United States is unable to grasp the risk that the Israel-Hamas war might spill over across the Middle East.[69]Abdollahian has repeated this rhetoric almost daily since the war began, warning that the war could expand if the United States and Israel do not pursue a permanent ceasefire.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian arrived in Geneva for the three-day World Refugee Forum on December 12.[70] Abdollahian plans to discuss the Israel-Hamas war with other foreign officials on the sidelines of the forum.[71]


Iran Update, December 11, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Brian Carter, Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, and Alexandra Braverman

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces are degrading Hamas’ battalions in Shujaiya and Jabalia.
  2. Palestinian militias continued to resist Israeli advances in Khan Younis. Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted seven indirect fire attacks into Israel.
  3. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times in the West Bank.
  4. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias attacked nine Israeli towns and military positions.
  5. Top Israeli security and military officials discussed how to deal with the threats on Israel’s northern border.
  6. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba Political Council called for simultaneous political and military actions to expel the United States from Iraq.
  7. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks on US positions in Iraq and Syria.
  8. US officials are continuing to pressure the Iraqi central government to protect US personnel in Iraq.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces are degrading Hamas’ battalions in Shujaiya and Jabalia. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on December 11 that Hamas’ Jabalia and Shujaiya Battalions are “on the verge of being dismantled.”[1] CTP-ISW defines “degrade” as a temporary effect whereby a unit’s losses seriously impede its ability to continue executing assigned missions while the unit remains able to operate.[2] Israeli forces captured Hamas military infrastructure in Jabalia, including explosives manufacturing facilities, training facilities, and weapons caches.[3] The loss of these facilities will temporarily negatively affect Hamas’ Jabalia al Balad Battalion’s ability to execute its assigned missions, which include using improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades to resist Israeli advances.

Palestinian fighters are continuing to resist Israeli advances in Shujaiya and Jabalia. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an Israeli military vehicle as it advanced in Shujaiya on December 11.[4] The al Quds Brigades also attacked Israeli infantry at close range in Shujaiya.[5]  An Israeli journalist embedded with the IDF’s Kfir Brigade in Shujaiya reported that Hamas forces in Shujaiya are ”waging a guerrilla war” and have not ”abandoned the fight,” suggesting elements of Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion remain combat effective.[6]

Israeli forces are also continuing their advance in southern Beit Lahiya, north of Jabalia city and camp. The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters fired a thermobaric rocket targeting Israeli special forces in a building in the Beit Lahia Project area.[7]

Palestinian fighters are continuing to attack Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of troops, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. Al Quds Brigades fighters sniped two Israeli soldiers near Zaytoun on December 10.[8]

Palestinian militias continued to resist Israeli advances in Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades claimed three mortar attacks on Israeli forces as Israeli units advanced north and east of Khan Younis.[9] The militia claimed that it targeted an Israeli combat outpost in one of the attacks.[10] The al Qassem Brigades separately claimed that it targeted two Israeli tanks north of Khan Younis using anti-tank munitions.[11] The al Quds Brigades claimed two mortar attacks on Israeli forces in Khan Younis.[12] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—clashed with Israeli forces in the western Satar area north of Khan Younis.[13] The Israeli media outlet Ynet News reported on December 11 that a militia fighter used a tunnel entrance inside a building to plant and detonate an anti-personnel device near Israeli forces in al Qarara, northeast of Khan Younis.[14]

Israeli Defense Minister Gallant noted that Hamas is “still organized militarily” in the southern Gaza Strip.[15] The BBC reported that Israeli tanks are advancing slowly and approaching the eastern part of Khan Younis where Israel has reportedly captured four villages.[16] The IDF reported on December 11 that it has supplied seven tons of logistical supplies to its forces currently fighting in Khan Younis.[17] Israeli forces have been operating in Khan Younis to target Palestinian militia strongholds and leaders for the past week.[18]

Israeli forces have detained more than 500 Palestinian militia fighters in the Gaza Strip in the last month. The IDF reported on December 11 that it has detained more than 350 Hamas fighters and more than 120 PIJ fighters, some of whom were taken for further investigation in Israel.[19] The Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine told the Washington Post that Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law allows Israel to hold Palestinians from the Gaza Strip ”in what is effectively administrative detention, a form of incarceration without charge or trial that authorities can renew indefinitely.“[20] An anonymous Israeli security official told the Wall Street Journal that the IDF assumes that military-aged males remaining in evacuated areas are militia fighters, as they have issued several evacuation orders to residents.[21] Residents told the Wall Street Journal that the IDF is detaining military-aged males for questioning.[22]

The Wall Street Journal reported that Yahya Sinwar “cut off communications” with negotiators ”to pressure Israel to agree to a pause to” allow Hamas to “regroup.”[23] Sinwar told Egyptian negotiators that the war will “last for weeks.”

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)’s communications director reported a near “total breakdown of civil order” around its aid deliveries in the Gaza Strip, which is consistent with previous reports about governance breakdown in the strip.[24] The policy lead at Oxfam—an anti-poverty non-profit—said the situation in the Gaza Strip was “absolute chaos” on November 28.[25] The Associated Press also reported that Gazans in the southern Strip were “openly challenging” Hamas’ authority on November 12.[26]

The UNRWA communications director also said that UNRWA takes reports of Hamas members using UNRWA facilities and assets “very, very seriously.”[27] The director added that UNRWA struggles to get information from northern Gaza due to a lack of access, however.

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted seven indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 11. The al Qassem Brigades claimed responsibility for three rocket attacks, including two at Tel Aviv.[28] The al Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for three attacks in southern Israel.[29] The National Resistance Brigades claimed responsibility for a rocket attack targeting an Israeli military site in southern Israel.[30]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters nine times in the West Bank on December 11.[31] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade—a self-affiliated militant wing of Fatah—fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Mount Gerizim, near Nablus.[32] The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fired small arms targeting Israeli forces in two separate attacks near Jenin.[33] Unspecified Palestinian fighters fired on an Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank and also fired across the West Bank-Israel border towards an Israeli settlement.[34]

West Bank residents held widespread strikes across the West Bank on December 11. CTP-ISW recorded 26 strikes across the West Bank, including in major cities such as Hebron, Jenin, and Jerusalem.[35] The strikes come after Palestinian activists and organizations called on December 10 for a global strike in response to Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip.[36] The strikes also followed a call by Hamas for strikes in the West Bank on December 10.[37] Hamas has repeatedly called for an escalation of anti-Israel demonstrations and attacks in the West Bank in recent weeks, but these calls have not previously generated increased attacks or demonstrations.[38]

West Bank residents held two anti-Israel demonstrations in Qalqilya and Hebron on December 11.[39]

Israeli sources are framing the West Bank as a supporting effort for the IDF’s main effort in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF will reduce its forces guarding settlements in the West Bank by at least a quarter “soon,” citing an unspecified source.[40] The Israeli Army Radio said that an IDF spokesperson responded to the report and said that Israel is working to ”preserve the longevity and competence” of the IDF over time.[41] The Israeli defense minister added separately that IDF operations in the West Bank are secondary to the Gaza Strip, but that Israel is taking steps to ”prevent an escalation” in the West Bank.[42]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and other Iranian-backed militias attacked nine Israeli towns and military positions on December 11. LH claimed seven attacks on Israeli military positions in northern Israel.[43]  Israeli and Palestinian media reported two other attacks that hit civilian targets in northern Israel, including the non-evacuated town of Maalot Tarshiha.[44] LH fired anti-tank guided munitions at Israeli forces in Metulla.[45] LH said that the attack was in retaliation for IDF shelling that LH claimed killed a southern Lebanese mayor.[46] LH fired Burkan rockets at one Israeli military site.[47] The warheads for Burkan rockets range from 300 to 500 kilograms, making them a more lethal weapon system than the smaller rockets LH usually employs.[48]

Top Israeli security and military officials discussed how to deal with the threats on Israel’s northern border on December 11. Israeli war cabinet minister and former defense minister Benny Gantz discussed security in northern Israel in a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.[49] Gantz said he conveyed that LH’s heightened aggression and attacks mean that Israel must “remove” the threat from northern Israel.[50] Gantz’s statement singled out the Lebanese state, not just LH, and called for international pressure on Lebanon to stop attacks on its southern border.[51] Gantz’s statement is likely a request for Lebanon to hold LH to UNSC Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War and created a demilitarized zone in Lebanon between the Blue Line and the Litani River.[52] Israeli officials have called for Lebanon to enforce the UNSC Resolution in recent days through either diplomatic or military means.[53] Separately, the Israeli defense minister said that he is making every effort to prevent an escalation in northern Israel.[54]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Israel conducted an airstrike targeting IRGC headquarters in Sayyida Zainab, Damascus, and Damascus International Airport on December 10.[55] IDF airstrikes killed two IRGC general officers in Sayyida Zainab on December 2.[56] Iranian-backed militia groups and the IRGC maintain a headquarters in Sayyida Zainab and use it to facilitate Iranian lines of effort elsewhere in Syria.[57] Syrian opposition news outlet Eye of Euphrates reported on October 30 that the senior-most IRGC commander in Syria has coordinated all attacks on US forces in Syria through a joint operations room based in Sayyida Zainab.[58]

Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba’s (HHN) Political Council published a statement on December 11 calling for simultaneous political and military actions to expel the United States from Iraq.[59] The statement is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are conducting a campaign to expel the United States from Iraq using military and political pressure.[60] The council called on the Iraqi parliament, central government, and unspecified “political forces” to pursue this objective. HHN called for the Iraqi government to implement the non-binding January 2020 parliamentary resolution to expel “all foreign forces” from Iraq. The council also called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani to stop the “US guardianship” over Iraq. The prime minister is the only Iraqi official who can order the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by rescinding the 2014 executive agreement between Iraq and the United States that allows US forces to combat ISIS in Iraq.[61] The council also called for “military resistance” to “oust the occupation.”

HHN is a member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that have attacked US positions in Iraq and Syria almost daily since October 18. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated on December 8 that HHN and Kataib Hezbollah (KH)—both of which are US-designated terrorist organizations—have conducted most Iranian-backed attacks on coalition personnel since the Israel-Hamas war began.[62]

US officials are continuing to pressure the Iraqi central government to protect US personnel in Iraq. Iranian-backed Iraqi militants conducted a rocket and mortar attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad and conducted at least 10 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 8.[63] These attacks marked a significant escalation in the Iranian-backed campaign to expel the United States from Iraq. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani after the attacks that the United States expects the Iraqi central government to take “more action” to prevent similar attacks, according to an anonymous US official.[64] CIA Director William Burns similarly warned that the Iraqi central government will face “harsh consequences” if it fails to stop attacks on US personnel in Iraq during a recent meeting with Sudani, according to an anonymous Iraqi official.[65]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks on US positions in Iraq and Syria on December 11. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single rocket attack targeting US forces at al Shaddadi, Hasakah Province, Syria.[66] The group has claimed nine attacks on al Shaddadi since October 18. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed two one-way drone attacks on Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq.[67] The group has claimed more than 20 attacks on Ain al Asad Airbase since October 18.  

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq resumed its attacks on US forces on December 3, two days after the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip ended on December 1.[68] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq escalated its attack campaign on December 8, claiming responsibility for attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.[69]

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Faylaq al Wa’ad al Sadiq (The Truthful Promise Corps) announced its opposition to targeting diplomatic missions in a statement on December 11.[70] The group wrote that diplomatic missions are “not responsible for the behavior of the political regimes to which they belong.” The statement follows Iranian-backed Iraqi militias’ rocket and mortar attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 8.[71] Faylaq al Wa’ad al Sadiq is part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias that has attacked US positions in Iraq and Syria almost daily since October 18. The group has unconfirmed ties to Iranian-backed Iraqi militias Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) and proclaims its adherence to the concept of Wilayat al Faqih.[72] Wilayat al Faqih refers to a governing system in which a supreme clerical leader provides guardianship over the state.[73] The group’s statement is inconsistent with other Islamic Resistance in Iraq statements that advocate for attacking diplomatic missions. Kataib Hezbollah Spokesperson Abu Ali al Askari claimed on December 9 that the US Embassy in Baghdad was a base for planning military and security operations disguised as a diplomatic mission, for example.[74] CTP-ISW assessed that KH is setting informational conditions to justify attacks on the embassy by framing it as a military target.[75]

The IRGC Ground Forces conducted a military exercise in Qasr-e Shirin, Kermanshah Province, Iran, on December 11.[76] The IRGC regional headquarters for Hamedan, Ilam, and Kermanshah provinces, the Najaf-e Ashraf Operational Base, conducted the exercise.[77] The 29th Nabi Akram Operational Division operates under the Najaf-e Ashraf Operational Base.[78] The exercise involved electronic warfare drills, testing of radar and communications systems, and reconnaissance missions.

Senior Iranian military officials emphasized on December 11 that the purpose of the exercise was to prepare Iranian forces to be able to confront any potential threats emanating from ISIS in Iraq. IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pak Pour stated that ISIS elements are still active in Diyala Province, Iraq, and that Iranian forces must be able to counter threats from this group.[79] Khatam ol Anbia Central Headquarters Deputy Coordinator Brigadier General Ali Shadmani separately stated that Iran faces security threats in the country’s western regions, where “counter-revolutionary, opposition, and terrorist” elements can enter Iran.[80] Shadmani additionally claimed that the United States “keeps ISIS under its control.” The Iranian regime has historically claimed that the United States created ISIS and provides intelligence, security, and logistical support to the group.[81] IRGC-affiliated media additionally claimed on December 11 that ISIS is aiding Israel in its war against Hamas.[82] Fars News Agency claimed that a large-scale propaganda campaign is underway, led by Israel and the United States, to try to equate Hamas with ISIS. The outlet also claimed that the resumption of ISIS operations in Syria since around the start of the Israel-Hamas war is part of a larger plot to “divert” the Axis of Resistance’s operations.

The inability of Iran and its allies to slow ISIS’s growth in central Syria is due in part to Iran’s prioritization of the Israel-Hamas War over countering ISIS.[83] Iran routinely prioritizes other objectives over countering ISIS’s growth in central Syria. ISIS seized gas fields in south central Syria in October and held these areas until early November.[84] Iranian proxies are conducting attacks against US forces in Syria, which limits their ability to support their Syrian regime allies against ISIS. The claim that the United States is using ISIS in Syria to “divert” the Axis of Resistance’s operations is part of an information effort that aims to obfuscate Iran’s inability to limit ISIS’s growth. Iran chose to focus on forcing US forces from the region by using its proxies to attack US forces in Syria, rather than defeating ISIS.

There are several other possible explanations for why the IRGC Ground Forces specifically conducted the military exercise in Kermanshah Province. The Iranian regime is wary of Kurdish opposition groups operating in Iraqi border regions and it has repeatedly called on the Iraqi central government to completely disarm and relocate Kurdish opposition groups away from the Iranian border.[85] The regime has previously accused Kurdish opposition groups of helping Israel smuggle military equipment into Iran to conduct operations against regime facilities.[86] The regime also accused Kurdish opposition groups of supporting Mahsa Amini protesters in late 2022.[87] Kermanshah Province recorded one of the highest rates of Mahsa Amini protests between September and December 2022.[88] 

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas War with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh on December 8. Iranian media reported that Haniyeh said that Palestinian militias have the capability to fight for several years and that the fighting has “practically spread to other regions”.[89] Abdollahian reiterated that "resistance groups“ in the region are acting based on their own interests, and not at the direction of Tehran.[90] The support, guidance, and direction that Iran gives to its proxies and partners throughout the Middle East is well-documented. US Deputy National Security Adviser John Finer said on December 7 that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is integral in planning and executing the Houthi’s drone strikes and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea, for example.[91]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian parroted a Russian information operation claiming that Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas can acquire weapons “in Ukraine via illicit purchases” at the international Doha Forum on December 11.[92] Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev and several Russian state-controlled media outlets made similar claims shortly after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023.[93] US Department of Defense Inspector General Robert Storch stated in February 2023 that his office has not found evidence that “any of the billions of dollars in weapons and aid to Ukraine has been lost to corruption or diverted into the wrong hands,” indicating that Iranian officials are likely amplifying a longstanding Russian information operation.[94]

Iran Update, December 10, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Amin Soltani, Andie Parry, Riley Bailey, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli forces on the Israeli forward line of advance in Khan Younis.
  2. Palestinian militias attacked Israeli military vehicles in Jabalia city as Israeli forces advanced east of the city.
  3. Israeli forces killed the Hamas Shujaiya Battalion commander during clearing operations in the neighborhood.
  4. Israel moved elements of its Artillery Corps into the Gaza Strip for the first time since the war began.
  5. The Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF has killed between 6,000 and 7,000 Palestinian militia fighters since the war began.
  6. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for greater coordination among Palestinian militias against Israel.
  7. Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted two indirect fire attacks into Israel.
  8. Al Qassem Brigades spokesperson Abu Obeida threatened that Hamas would conduct additional terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
  9. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in five towns across West Bank.
  10. Lebanese Hezbollah conducted a one-way drone attack that injured Israeli soldiers in northern Israel. LH claimed seven other attacks on Israeli military positions in northern Israel.
  11. Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali reiterated his commitment to expelling US forces from Iraq in a social media statement.
  12. Unspecified militants conducted two one-way drone attacks on US forces in eastern Syria, according to a US journalist.
  13. The French FREMM Multi-Mission Frigate Languedoc intercepted two incoming Houthi drones off the Yemeni coast while patrolling the Red Sea.
  14. Senior Iranian officials discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous in Tehran.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli forces on the Israeli forward line of advance in Khan Younis on December 10. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued targeting Palestinian militia sites in Khan Younis, Jabalia, Shujaiya, and Beit Hanoun. Israeli forces attacked underground tunnels in Khan Younis and conducted airstrikes to support ground maneuvers.[1] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed that its fighters detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli forces northeast of Khan Younis.[2] The militia claimed to kill 13 Israeli soldiers in the EFP attack and two more soldiers with small arms afterward the initial explosion. EFPs are particularly lethal improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate armored vehicles, such as main battle tanks.[3] This attack is consistent with the shift of Hamas and other Palestinian militias using increasingly sophisticated tactics since the humanitarian pause expired on December 1.

The al Qassem Brigades claimed several other attacks on Israeli soldiers and armored vehicles using anti-personnel munitions, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), anti-tank rockets, and mortars. The militia claimed that it targeted an Israeli field command post with anti-personnel shells in one of the attacks.[4] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—conducted a complex attack on Israeli forces in a building northeast of Khan Younis using anti-personnel munitions and small arms. The militia also claimed three mortar attacks on Israeli soldiers advancing on east of Khan Younis.[5] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP—claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli soldiers and vehicles east of al Bureij in the central Gaza Strip and Khan Younis.[6] A local resident captured footage of Israeli tanks operating on the Osama Elnajjar Road in Khan Younis on December 10.[7]

Palestinian militias attacked Israeli military vehicles in Jabalia city as Israeli forces advanced east of the city on December 10. Most of the attacks claimed by Palestinian militias across the Gaza Strip occurred around Jabalia. Fighting between Israeli forces and militia fighters concentrated in eastern Jabalia city near Jabalia refugee camp and in western Jabalia city adjacent to the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. The al Qassem Brigades claimed several attacks on Israeli Merkava tanks and armored bulldozers using the al Yassin anti-tank munition west of Jabalia refugee camp.[8] The militia claimed attacks using anti-personnel munitions, grenades, and small arms against Israeli forces in the same area.[9] The militia also claimed that its fighters conducted two house-borne improvised explosive device (HBIED) attacks on Israeli forces west of Jabalia.[10] The al Quds Brigades and al Qassem Brigades claimed to fire RPGs, including tandem-charged RPGs, at Israeli military vehicles and soldiers as they advanced on al Fallujah Road.[11] A Palestinian journalist in Jabalia refugee camp reported that Israeli tanks advanced toward a UN Relief and Works Agency clinic.[12] Several other local journalists commented on Israeli forces operating around the camp.[13]

Israeli forces killed the Hamas Shujaiya Battalion commander during clearing operations in the neighborhood. The Shujaiya Battalion is a combat effective battalion under active and intense IDF pressure as Israeli forces advance into Shujaiya neighborhood.[14] Israeli forces killed the former commander of the battalion on December 2.[15] The IDF announced on December 10 that it killed the new battalion commander, Amad Abdullah Ali Qariqa.[16] Qariqa had served as the deputy commander of the battalion since 2019 and trained anti-tank operatives in Hamas’ Gaza City Brigade.[17] The IDF said on December 2 that it has “significantly damaged” the battalion’s capabilities.[18]

The IDF provided details on three units’ operations in Shujaiya neighborhood on December 10. The 282nd Fire Brigade attacked over 20 targets, including weapons storage facilities, booby-trapped houses, and other Hamas-affiliated military infrastructure.[19] The Golani Brigade has uncovered 15 tunnel shafts, located ammunition, and killed Palestinian fighters since the start of fighting in the neighborhood.[20] The 188th Brigade Combat Team raided a Hamas military headquarters and found various weapons.[21]

The al Quds Brigades claimed on December 10 that one it its "martyrdom” fighters blew up a house of 13 Israeli soldiers, who were searching for a tunnel entrance in Shujaiya.[22] The attack is one of few Palestinian militia claims of ”martyrdom” operations since the Israel-Hamas war began.[23] An Israeli Army Radio journalist on the ground noted that Israeli forces had encountered a compound of booby-trapped houses while clearing Shujaiya and after Palestinian militia fighters attempted to lure the forces into a trap.[24] The al Quds Brigades separately claimed to destroy an Israeli tank using an EFP in Shujaiya.[25] The National Resistance Brigades claimed on December 10 that two of its fighters, including a commander, died during clashes in Shujaiya.[26]

Israel moved elements of its Artillery Corps into the Gaza Strip for the first time since the war began. The Artillery Corps has been using fire to support ground maneuver and for shaping operations in the Gaza Strip since the war began.[27]

The al Qassem Brigades military spokesperson, Abu Obeida, boasted about Hamas’ alleged battlefield success in the Gaza Strip in a speech on December 10. Abu Obeida claimed that the al Qassem Brigades have destroyed Israeli vehicles in several neighborhoods around the northern Gaza Strip and Khan Younis.[28] Obeida referenced a failed Israeli operation to rescue a hostage on December 8 to say that neither Israel nor the United States is capable of freeing Hamas-held Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip.[29]

The Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF has killed between 6,000 and 7,000 Palestinian militia fighters since the war began.[30] The outlet stated that the IDF has killed 800 militia fighters since the resumption of fighting after the humanitarian pause expired on December 1.[31] The number of wounded of Hamas fighters is twice as high as the number of fatalities, between 12,000 to 14,000, since the beginning of the war began, according to the outlet.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) called for greater coordination among Palestinian militias against Israel. The PFLP called for the formation of a unified Palestinian emergency command to confront Israeli military operations.[32] Some Palestinian militias have claimed combined operations since the war began, although such claims are infrequent.[33] CTP-ISW previously reported that the IDF faces a loose coalition of Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip—not just Hamas.[34]

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted two indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 10. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades separately fired rockets at an Israeli military site adjacent to the Gaza Strip.[35] An unspecified senior military source told Israeli Army Radio that Hamas has hundreds of medium- and long-range rockets left in its arsenal and noted that 2024 will be a continuous year of fighting.[36]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Al Qassem Brigades spokesperson Abu Obeida threatened on December 10 that Hamas would conduct additional terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Obeida referenced a shooting attack conducted by two Hamas gunmen on a bus stop in Jerusalem on November 30, saying “what is coming is worse and greater.”[37] That shooting attack killed three Israeli civilians hours before the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip expired.[38] The spokesperson also acknowledged that Hamas has a military presence in the West Bank and mockingly asked if Israel is “able to eliminate [Hamas] in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.”[39]

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in five towns across West Bank on December 10. Palestinian fighters used small arms against Israeli forces in three towns around Nablus.[40] The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed that it shot at an Israeli military checkpoint in one of the Nablus clashes.[41] Palestinian fighters also engaged Israeli forces in Tubas and Hebron.[42] CTP-ISW did not record any IED attacks on Israeli forces in the West Bank on December 10. Israeli forces arrested 21 Palestinians and confiscated small arms, weapons components, and explosives in West Bank raids on December 10.[43]

Hamas and several other Palestinian groups called for a global strike, especially in the West Bank, on December 11. Hamas’ West Bank Telegram channel distributed flyers for the strike.[44] Hamas called on West Bank residents to fight Israeli forces and demonstrate against Israel on December 11.[45] The National and Islamic Forces—a coalition the major Palestinian political factions— announced that its parties would participate in the global strike as a show of unity.[46]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted a one-way drone attack that injured Israeli soldiers in northern Israel on December 10. LH claimed that it launched several one-way attack drones at an Israeli command headquarters at the Yara barracks in northern Israel.[47] The IDF said that the attack moderately injured two soldiers and lightly injured others.[48] Israeli air defenses intercepted two of the several drones that entered Israel from Lebanon.[49] LH has only claimed seven drone attacks on Israeli positions along the Lebanese border since the Israel-Hamas war began, although the IDF frequently intercepts ”suspicious” aerial targets originating from Lebanon.[50] LH last claimed a drone attack on Israeli forces on November 20.[51]

LH claimed seven other attacks on Israeli military positions in northern Israel on December 10.[52] LH fired Burkan rockets at three Israeli military sites.[53] The al Qassem Brigades' Lebanon branch separately launched rockets at northwestern Israeli towns on December 10.[54] The al Qassem Brigades last claimed an attack from Lebanon on November 12.[55]

Top Israeli security and military officials discussed publicly on December 10 the threat that LH poses to Israel. Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hangebi told Israeli media that Israel can no longer accept the presence of LH’s elite Radwan forces along its northern border and that the situation in the north must change.[56] Hangebi added that Israel will pursue a diplomatic solution but otherwise would “have to act.” IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that Israel emphasized similar sentiments about the need to address the LH threat, while visiting Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.[57] Halevi said that Israel can deter LH but can also achieve security through war. Halevi specified that war is not the preferred option. These statements follow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning on December 7 that “if Hezbollah makes a mistake, the IDF will turn Beirut and South Lebanon into Gaza and Khan Younis.”[58]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) Secretary General Qais al Khazali reiterated his commitment to expelling US forces from Iraq in a social media statement on December 10.[59] Khazali’s statement follows recent indications of a division between AAH and other Iranian-backed Iraqi militant groups over attacks on US forces. Kataib Hezbollah (KH) has implicitly criticized the lack of AAH attacks on US positions since the Israel-Hamas war began.[60] AAH members also notably did not attend the December 5 funeral ceremony for five Iraqi militants killed during recent US self-defense strikes, though many other Iranian-backed Iraqi groups were present.[61] Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to try to expel US forces from Iraq, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[62]

Unspecified militants conducted two one-way drone attacks on US forces in eastern Syria on December 10, according to a US journalist.[63] The militants targeted the US positions at Conoco Mission Support Site and al Omar oil field. US forces intercepted three drones used in the attacks. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—has not claimed responsibility nor has any other actor for the attacks at the time of writing. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq previously claimed attacks on US positions at al Omar oil field on December 4 and Conoco Mission Support Site on December 8.[64]

The French FREMM Multi-Mission Frigate Languedoc intercepted two incoming Houthi drones off the Yemeni coast while patrolling the Red Sea on December 9.[65] The Houthi drone attack comes after the Houthi military spokesperson announced on December 9 that the Houthis will expand their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea.[66] The New York Times also reported on December 8 that Iran’s so-called “Axis of Resistance” plans to increase attacks on US and allied assets in the Middle East, including Houthi attacks on American-owned vessels operating in the Red Sea.[67] The Houthis have unsuccessfully targeted US naval vessels in the Red Sea with drones on multiple occasions, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[68] US Deputy National Security Adviser John Finer stated on December 7 that the IRGC is involved in planning and executing the Houthis’ drone and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea.[69]

Senior Iranian officials discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous in Tehran on December 10. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi boasted that the war has increased the global influence of Iran’s so-called “Axis of Resistance.”[70] Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian praised the unity of the Axis of Resistance against Israel.[71] Arnous met with Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf on December 9.[72]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian called on Europe to take “effective action” to facilitate a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in a letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on December 10.[73] Abdollahian also called for the observance of international law and the provision of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Abdollahian warned of the possibility of the “deep” expansion of the conflict if Israel continues its military operations in the Gaza Strip during a phone call with Borrell on December 3.[74] Iranian officials have tried to pressure international actors to pursue a ceasefire by repeatedly suggested that the war could evolve into a regional conflict, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[75]

Cypriot security forces arrested two Iranians on December 10 for allegedly plotting to assassinate prominent Israelis inside Cyprus.[76] Israel stated that it aided the operation to identify and arrest these individuals.[77] Cypriot and Greek authorities have previously arrested Iranian-backed individuals plotting to conduct similar attacks against Israelis in Cyprus and Greece.[78]

The PFLP said that attacks on US bases and interests in addition to removing US and Israeli forces from the region must remain a goal of the Palestinian resistance.[79] The PFLP criticized the United States for vetoing a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war at the UN Security Council on December 8.[80] Iranian-backed militias in the regional have attacked dozens of US positions in Iraq and Syria since the war began.[81]

The Kremlin continues to express an increasing anti-Israel position in the Israel-Hamas war despite feigning interest in being a neutral arbitrator in the conflict. NOTE: A version of this text appears in ISW December 10 Russia Offensive Campaign AssessmentRussian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a telephone conversation on December 10, which reportedly lasted for 50 minutes and heavily focused on the Israel-Hamas war.[82] Putin reportedly noted that there is a “disastrous humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip” and stressed that avoiding consequences for the civilian population while countering terrorist threats is just as important as rejecting and condemning terrorism.[83] Putin’s comments are noteworthy in light of the devastation the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought to the civilian population there and Russia’s deliberate efforts to inflict suffering on Ukrainian civilians by attacking energy infrastructure going into winter. Putin reportedly reiterated the Kremlin’s initial rhetorical position on the Israel-Hamas war by claiming that Russia is ready to alleviate civilian suffering and deescalate the conflict.[84] Putin has increasingly shifted away from this more neutral rhetoric to a much more anti-Israel position in recent weeks, notably claiming that the war is leading to the ”extermination of the civilian population in Palestine.”[85] Netanyahu reportedly expressed dissatisfaction with Russian positions towards Israel that Russian officials have articulated at the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral organizations.[86] Netanyahu also reportedly criticized Russia for its ”dangerous cooperation” with Iran, notably following Putin’s meeting with Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Moscow on December 7.[87] Putin likely aimed to assuage Israeli concerns about Russian support for Hamas and the deepening Russian-Iranian security partnership, but Israeli and Russian rhetoric surrounding the conversation suggests that Putin likely failed to do so.[88] The Kremlin’s increasingly non-neutral framing of the Isarel-Hamas war signals potential increasing support for Iranian interests in the region and increased willingness to antagonize Israel.[89]

Iran Update, December 9, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis as Palestinian militias attempt to resist Israeli advances. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed several attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles in the southern Gaza Strip.
  2. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias in Shujaiya neighborhood and Jabalia city as Israeli forces advanced in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel reported that Hamas is stealing supplies from civilians in Shujaiya neighborhood.
  3. Palestinian militia fighters are continuing their attacks against the IDF behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations.
  4. The IDF spokesperson for Arab media posted specific evacuation orders covering areas of Khan Younis on X (Twitter).
  5. Palestinian militias conducted at least five indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.
  6. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least seven times in the West Bank.
  7. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias conducted 16 attacks into northern Israel from Lebanon.
  8. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it conducted 11 “operations” against US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 8. Kataib Hezbollah later stated it plans to increase the scope of its attacks on US targets in Iraq.
  9. Houthi military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Sarea announced that the Houthis will expand their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea to include all vessels traveling to Israel, regardless of their national affiliation.
  10. Senior Iranian officials discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous in Tehran.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Khan Younis as Palestinian militias attempt to resist Israeli advances. Israeli forces located several tunnel shafts and a Hamas military headquarters as they advanced in Khan Younis.[1] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) engaged three Palestinian fighters as they emerged from a tunnel in central Khan Younis and fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).[2] Hamas maintains an extensive tunnel system across the Gaza Strip, which Israeli forces have destroyed as they have advanced. Israeli forces also raided a mosque from which Hamas fighters were operating. The IDF said the Hamas fighters detonated an IED near Israeli forces.[3]

The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed several attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles in the southern Gaza Strip on December 9. The militia fighters primarily used RPGs, tandem charge anti-tank rockets, IEDs, and small arms to engage Israeli forces and vehicles.[4] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed to target nine military vehicles, two armored personnel carriers, and a bulldozer across the entire Gaza Strip, including around Deir al Balah and Khan Younis.[5] The al Quds Brigades also claimed to trap Israeli forces in a building and then fire RPGs at them.[6]

Palestinian militias continued conducting mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli forces in the southern Gaza Strip. The al Quds Brigades fired mortars and rockets at Israeli forces in Khan Younis city and along the Israeli forward line of advance in eastern Khan Younis.[7] The al Qassem Brigades separately claimed three successive mortar attacks on Israeli forces.[8]

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias in Shujaiya neighborhood and Jabalia city as Israeli forces advanced in the northern Gaza Strip.

  • Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias near a school in Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza city.[9] The forces uncovered small arms, grenades, and ammunition inside the classrooms, which is consistent with the IDF’s repeated reports that Hamas uses civilian infrastructure for military activity.[10] The al Quds Brigades claimed to use an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) to destroy an IDF tank in Shujaiya.[11] Hamas and other Palestinian militias have increasingly used EFPs, which are particularly lethal improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate armored vehicles, since the humanitarian pause ended on December 1.[12] The use of EFPs is part of a larger shift in which Hamas and PIJ are using increasingly sophisticated tactics against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.[13] The al Quds Brigades separately claimed to target three tanks with tandem-charged anti-tank rockets in the same neighborhood.[14] The al Qassem brigades claimed that it conducted two house-borne improvised explosive device (HBIED) attacks targeting Israeli forces southwest of Shujaiya in Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza city.[15] The Palestinian militia attacks are consistent with Israeli media reporting that Hamas members have not fled and are fighting fiercely in Shujaiya neighborhood.[16]
  • Israeli forces raided a series of buildings in Jabalia containing Hamas fighters and weapons and advanced to al Sheikh Radwan Pool southwest of Jabalia city.[17] The Israeli forces called in a drone strike to support their maneuvers in the city.[18] The al Quds Brigades and al Qassem Brigades claimed various attacks using mortars, RPGs, and anti-tank munitions against Israeli forces west of Jabalia.[19] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—claimed that its fighters clashed with Israeli forces on the outskirts of the Jabalia refugee camp.[20]

An IDF spokesperson reported on December 9 that Palestinian fighters in Shujaiya and Jabalia surrendered to the IDF and handed over their weapons and equipment.[21] Israeli media aired footage of several Palestinian men surrendering in front of Israeli forces.[22] The IDF spokesperson accused the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, of being out of touch with the reality of the situation in the field.[23]

Israel reported that Hamas is stealing supplies from civilians in Shujaiya neighborhood. The IDF spokesperson for Arab media published drone footage of Hamas personnel beating residents and stealing food and humanitarian supplies in the neighborhood.[24]

Palestinian militia fighters are continuing their attacks against the IDF behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. Palestinian militia fighters fired at Israeli forces from civilian infrastructure in Beit Hanoun.[25] The al Quds Brigades claimed to fire RPGs at two military vehicles in Beit Hanoun on December 9.[26] Fighting behind the Israeli forward line of advance is consistent with the doctrinal definition of "clear,” which is a tactical task that "requires the commander to remove all enemy forces and eliminate organized resistance within an assigned area.”

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson posted evacuation orders covering specific areas in Khan Younis on X (Twitter) at 08:57 EST on December 9. The orders highlight specific blocks and neighborhoods in al Katiba, al Mahatta, and the city center of Khan Younis.[27] The evacuation notices called for civilians to go to “known shelters” west of Khan Younis.[28] The IDF previously published a map covering the same areas in Khan Younis on December 4.[29]

Palestinian militias conducted at least five indirect fire attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. The al Quds Brigades claimed on December 8 to fire rockets at Israeli towns in southern Israel without specifying the locations.[30] The al Qassem Brigades conducted three rocket attacks into southern Israel.[31] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—conducted a rocket attack on an Israeli town near the Gaza Strip.[32] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—conducted one rocket attack into southern Israel.[33] An IDF spokesperson reported on December 9 that Hamas has continued to fire rockets from the Israel-declared humanitarian zone west of Khan Younis.[34] The spokesperson referenced two rocket attacks on December 8, which fell short of Israeli territory.[35]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters at least seven times in the West Bank on December 9. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed three simultaneous shootings on Israeli forces at the Deir Sharaf and Awarta checkpoints and Hatmar Shomron.[36] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades also clashed with Israeli forces around Jericho and Kafr Rai.[37] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades threw an IED at Israeli forces in the clashes near Jericho.[38]

A funeral was held in Tubas on December 9 for a Palestinian fighter that died in clashes with Israel forces. At least 100 individuals attended the funeral, some of whom wore Hamas and PIJ headbands and carried the militias’ flags.[39] The funeral procession chanted ”sword against sword, we are Mohammad Deif’s men,” referring to the commander of the al Qassem Brigades.[40] The presence of PIJ personnel is noteworthy in that context. The Lions’ Den—a West Bank-based militia—has similarly expressed allegiance to Mohammad Deif in recent weeks, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[41]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and other Iranian-backed militias conducted 16 attacks into northern Israel from Lebanon on December 9.[42] This rate of attacks is consistent with the daily average. LH claimed 11 of the attacks on Israeli forces.[43] Unidentified Iranian-backed fighters separately claimed five rocket attacks.[44]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed that it conducted 11 “operations” against US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 8.[45] Western media previously reported that unspecified militants conducted nine attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria and one attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 8, marking 10 attacks in total.[46] It is unclear why the Islamic Resistance in Iraq reported one ”operation” more than the number of attacks that Western media reported. It is possible that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is using the term ”operation” more broadly than to refer to just attacks.

Kataib Hezbollah (KH) stated that it plans to increase the scope of its attacks on US targets in Iraq on December 9.[47] KH spokesperson Abu Ali al Askari congratulated the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, of which KH is a member, on its attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 8 and warned that the attack marked a new standard for attacks against the United States in Iraq.[48] Askari claimed that the US Embassy in Baghdad was a base for planning military and security operations disguised as a diplomatic mission.[49] By referring to the US embassy as a military target, KH is setting informational conditions to justify attacks on the embassy. Askari’s statement comes after the Islamic Resistance in Iraq escalated significantly its attack campaign, conducting around 10 attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria on December 8. Askari also said that KH will consider Iraqi security forces that cooperate with the United States as accomplices to US “crimes,” suggesting that KH may attack these Iraqi security personnel as well. Unidentified militants conducted a rocket attack on the Iraqi National Security Service (NSS) headquarters on December 8, damaging the facility, according to the NSS spokesperson.[50]

Askari claimed that its attacks are meant to expel US forces from Iraq.[51] This framing is consistent with CTP-ISW's assessment that Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are conducting a campaign to expel the United States from Iraq with military and political pressure.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reaffirmed that the United States has the right to retaliate against Iranian-backed terror organizations for attacks on US personnel during a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani on December 9.[52] Austin’s call with Sudani comes after the Islamic Resistance in Iraq escalated its attack campaign on December 8. Austin stated that the US-designated terrorist organizations KH and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) have conducted the majority of attacks on coalition personnel since the Israel-Hamas war began.[53] Austin and Sudani also discussed the Iraqi central government’s obligation to ensure the security of US and coalition personnel, advisers, and facilities.[54]

Sudani ordered the establishment of a working group to investigate the December 8 rocket attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad and NSS headquarters.[55] Sudani granted the team “broad powers” to confront any threats to the security of diplomatic missions in Iraq.[56] Iraqi military spokesperson Yahya Rasoul claimed that the team will work with local authorities to identify and arrest individuals responsible for the attacks.[57]

Houthi military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Sarea announced on December 9 that the Houthis will expand their attacks on maritime traffic around the Red Sea to include all vessels traveling to Israel, regardless of their national affiliation.[58] Sarea said that ”if Gaza does not receive the food and medicine it needs, all ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces."[59] The United Nations reported on December 8 the delivery of food, medical supplies, and water, among other aid shipments, to the Gaza Strip.[60] It is therefore unclear on what exactly Sarae is conditioning the end of Houthi attacks and whether he is calling for more aid to go to the Gaza Strip. Sarae’s announcement follows several Houthi attacks against Israeli-owned ships and US naval vessels around the Bab al Mandeb in recent weeks.[61]

Sarea’s announcement is consistent with recent Western media reporting that the Houthis—with Iranian support—plan to expand their attacks on maritime traffic around YemenThe New York Times reported on December 8 that Iran’s so-called “Axis of Resistance” plans to increase attacks on US and Israeli assets in the Middle East, including Houthi attacks on American-owned vessels operating in the Red Sea.[62] The New York Times also reported that Iran operates an intelligence gathering ship in the Red Sea that helps the Houthis identify vessels to attack. This report is probably referring to the Behshad, which is a military vessel that Iran operates off the Dahlak archipelago.[63] US Deputy National Security Adviser John Finer similarly stated on December 7 that the IRGC is involved in planning and executing the Houthis’ drone and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea.[64]

Senior Iranian officials discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous in Tehran on December 9. Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber called for an end to American and Israeli “crimes” in the Gaza Strip and criticized international institutions for their inaction during his meeting with Arnous.[65] Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf praised Hamas’ October 7 attack as major turning point for Iran’s so-called ”Axis of Resistance” during his meeting with Arnous.[66] Arnous will later meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian during his visit to Tehran.[67]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call with German Foreign Affairs Minister Alena Burbok on December 9.[68] Abdollahian emphasized the need for finding an immediate political solution to the conflict.

Iran is continuing to pressure the United States and Israel into establishing a permanent ceasefire by warning that failing to do so will precipitate an escalation of the Israel-Hamas war. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned that war would likely expand and the “region could explode out of hand” if the United States and Israel continue to support the military operation into the Gaza Strip during a phone call with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on December 9. Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri similarly warned Israel against continuing its “crimes” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on December 9. These statements are consistent with previous Iranian rhetoric surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, which CTP-ISW has previously reported.[69]


Iran Update, December 8, 2023

Click to read the full report with maps 

Andie Parry, Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, and Peter Mills

 

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:


  1. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conducted an indirect fire attack targeting the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 8 for the first time since 2021, marking a notable escalation in Iranian efforts to expel US forces from Iraq.
  2. Iranian-backed Iraqi actors' current campaign to remove US forces draws remarkable similarities to the 2021 campaign to force a US troop withdrawal from Iraq.
  3. Israeli forces are destroying Hamas infrastructure in Khan Younis as Palestinian militias attempt to resist their advances.
  4. Israeli forces are operating to dismantle Hamas in Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip. Israeli forces also clashed with Palestinian fighters eight times across the West Bank.
  5. Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 10 indirect fire attacks into Israel.
  6. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias claimed 13 attacks into northern Israel.
  7. The IDF conducted multiple strikes on unspecified Iranian-backed targets in southern Syria on December 8 in retaliation for rocket strikes into the Golan Heights the day prior.
  8. Unspecified militants conducted 9 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria, according to a US journalist.

Iranian-backed Iraqi militias conducted an indirect fire attack targeting the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 8 for the first time since 2021, marking a notable escalation in Iranian efforts to expel US forces from Iraq. An unidentified US military official reported that unidentified militants fired multiple rockets at the US Embassy in Baghdad and Forward Operating Base (FOB) Union III, landing near the embassy’s gates and in the river nearby.[1] An unidentified US embassy spokesperson confirmed that the perpetrators launched two salvos of rockets toward the US Embassy compound at approximately 0415 local time.[2] An anonymous US military official separately told Western media that seven mortar rounds landed in the US Embassy compound, causing minor damage but no casualties.[3] An anonymous Iraqi security official claimed that three Katyusha rockets were fired at the embassy but fell in the vicinity of the Green Zone.[4]  No group has claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of writing.

Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council President Faiq Zaidan met with US Ambassador Alina Romanowski on December 8, likely to discuss Iranian-backed Iraqi actors’ efforts to use legal and political pressure to try to expel the United States from Iraq. Iraqi media reported that Zaidan and Romanowski discussed the constitutional and legal foundations “for addressing all the problems that Iraq and the region are going through.”[5] Zaidan and Romanowski’s meeting follows the Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee’s December 6 announcement that is has drafted a resolution to expel US forces from Iraq.[6] Zaidan is a close political ally of Tehran.[7] He recently met with Romanowski on November 17 to discuss the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s decision to remove former Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Halbousi from office and the necessity of an independent judiciary.[8] CTP-ISW previously hypothesized that Halbousi was removed from his post as part of political efforts to reduce the US presence in Iraq.[9]

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors' current campaign to remove US forces draws remarkable similarities to the 2021 campaign to force a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are pursuing political and military means to force US forces to withdraw from Iraq. The Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee presented a draft resolution to expel US forces, arguing that the United States' recent strikes in Iraq were a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.[10] CTP-ISW previously assessed that the current attack campaign is meant to impose a cost on the United States for supporting Israel while also eroding American willingness to remain militarily in Iraq and Syria.[11] Iraq’s Council of Representatives similarly passed a non-binding resolution in January 2020 to remove US forces from Iraq following IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani’s death.[12] Iranian-backed Iraqi proxies intensified their attack campaign on US forces in frequency and expanded geographically in from 2020 to 2021 to pressure former Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi to force US forces to withdraw from Iraq.[13] Kadhimi and US President Joe Biden signed an agreement in July 2021 agreeing to a troop drawdown that allowed for 2,500 military advisors to remain in Iraq to support Iraqi Security Forces under Operation Inherent Resolve.[14] 

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces are destroying Hamas infrastructure in Khan Younis as Palestinian militias attempt to resist their advances. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on December 8 that its ground, air, and naval forces continued the offensive in Khan Younis, which it claims is a main stronghold for Hamas.[15] Israeli forces are clashing with Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade in targeted raids while seizing various weapon systems and intelligence materials.[16] The IDF 7th Brigade engaged in a multi-hour complex attack on Palestinian militias, some of whom were preparing to fire rockets at Israel.[17] Commercially available satellite imagery captured on December 8 shows recently flattened terrain in areas between the two Israeli advances toward Khan Younis, which suggests that the IDF have linked up. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed to target Israeli forces with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at a school in between the two Israeli advances.[18] 

The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device (HBIED) targeting Israeli forces east of Khan Younis on December 8.[19] The use of more sophisticated tactics, such as rigging a house to explode, is consistent with Hamas’ shift from less sophisticated to more sophisticated tactics after the end of the humanitarian pause.[20] The al Qassem Brigades claimed seven attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles in the southern Gaza Strip using RPGs, including anti-tank RPGs, mortars, and small arms.[21] Other Palestinian militias allied with Hamas also attacked the IDF near Khan Younis. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—mortared Israeli forces on the Israeli line of advance east of Khan Younis.[22] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—claimed that its militia fighters fired mortars at Israeli vehicles and clashed with Israeli forces northeast of Khan Younis.[23] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—fired mortars and anti-tank munitions at Israeli forces on the eastern Israeli line of advance into Khan Younis.[24]

Israeli forces are attempting to dismantle Hamas in Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip. The 7th Brigade began an offensive to break through Hamas’ defensive lines in the central and southern Gaza Strip, which included raiding a Deir al Balah Battalion position.[25] Israeli naval forces struck Hamas observation posts and weapons storage facilities in the central Gaza Strip.[26] The Deir al Balah Battalion, which is part of Hamas’ Central Brigade, released a training video prior to October 7 of its militia fighters practicing close-quarters combat in urban environments.[27] The al Quds Brigades claimed that its militia fighters clashed with Israeli forces using anti-tank RPGs and small arms on the axes of Israeli advances east of Deir al Balah.[28] Palestinian militias have claimed attacks on Israeli forces in Deir al Balah since December 3.[29]

Israeli forces initially advanced into the southern Gaza Strip along the intersection of two of Hamas’ battalions’—the Central and Khan Younis Battalions—area of operations.[30] The IDF declared the Salah al Din Road between southern Deir al Balah and Khan Younis a combat zone on December 2 and moved eastward to secure the Salah al Din Road south of Deir al Balah on or before December 3.[31] The Israeli presence along the seam of two Hamas battalions could create operational challenges for Hamas to coordinate a defense of Khan Younis.

Israeli media reported that Hamas is defending Shujaiya neighborhood in Gaza city. A Lebanese Hezbollah telegram channel reposted Israeli news site Yedioth Ahronoth’s claim that Hamas members have not fled and are fighting fiercely in the Shujaiya neighborhood.[32] An Israeli commander operating in Shujaiya noted that Hamas military infrastructure, such as tunnel shafts, is in most homes and schoosl in the neighborhood.[33] Shujaiya is one of the most densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip.[34] Hamas militia fighters and Israeli forces engaged in a multi-day battle in Shujaiya in 2014 where the IDF took 16 casualties.[35]

The IDF continued clearing operations in Shujaiya neighborhood on December 8 as Palestinian militias claimed attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles. The IDF said on December 8 that the 188th Brigade and Counter-Terrorism Unit forces operated at the heart of Shujaiya and defended against an attempted al Qassem Brigades ambush.[36] The al Qassem Brigades used anti-tank RPGs on six Israeli military vehicles in Sheikh Radwan and al Zaytoun neighborhoods in Gaza city.[37] The al Quds Brigades fighters claimed two tandem-charged RPG and grenade attacks on Israeli forces on advancing axes in the Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods.[38] An unspecified Israeli source quoted by Palestinian media said that the al Qassem Brigades are continuing to launch rockets targeting Tel Aviv from Shujaiya and Jabalia neighborhoods.[39]

The IDF acknowledged its forces failed to extract a hostage from Hamas custody in the Gaza Strip on December 8. The IDF said that two of its soldiers were injured during the operation and no hostages were rescued.[40] The IDF did not say if the hostage was killed and accused Hamas of attempting psychological warfare against Israel.[41] The al Qassem Brigades said hostage Sa’ar Baruch died during a clash with Israeli forces on December 8 as fighters thwarted the attempt to rescue Baruch.[42] The al Qassem Brigades also claimed an unspecified number of hostages died in Israeli airstrikes.[43]

Palestinian militias are using more sophisticated tactics to confront the IDF’s advance into Jabalia and have had some success. The IDF confirmed that Israeli war cabinet minister Gadi Eizenkot’s son died while fighting in the northern Gaza Strip on December 7.[44]  The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters killed the soldier when they detonated an IED on a tunnel door on the eastward line of advance into Jabalia.[45] The al Quds Brigades claimed an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attack on the western Israeli line of advance into Jabalia on December 8.[46] This is consistent with Palestinian militias' use of increasingly sophisticated tactics against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip after the end of the humanitarian pause.[47] Hamas and other Palestinian militias have used EFPs six times since December 1 and are increasingly rigging houses and tunnel infrastructure with explosives.[48]

Israeli forces continued to uncover Hamas military infrastructure in cleared areas on December 8. The IDF 749th Reserve Engineering Battalion destroyed Hamas military infrastructure, located kilometer-long tunnel routes, and seized EPFs, rocket parts, and launchers at al Azhar University in northern Gaza city’s Rimal neighborhood.[49] The IDF 14th Brigade raided a Hamas observation room containing hundreds of radios, dozens of cameras, magazines, a combat shaft, grenades, and other unspecified military equipment around the al Shati medical center.[50]

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 10 indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 8. This is consistent with the weekly average after a decline on December 7.[51] The al Qassem Brigades conducted five rocket attacks, including three salvos targeting Tel Aviv.[52] The al Qassem Brigades published a video of their forces using long-range M-90 rockets to target Tel Aviv.[53] The al Quds Brigades conducted four rocket attacks.[54] One rocket attack went unclaimed.[55]

West Bank

Correction Note: CTP-ISW incorrectly reported on December 8 that the Lions' Den said that the West Bank is "nothing but a sword and a shield" for Mohammed Deif and Saleh al Arouri. The Lions' Den made this statement on November 8, not December 8. CTP-ISW has removed the Lions' Den statement from the section below.

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:
  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there 

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters eight times across the West Bank on December 8.[56] Palestinian fighters engaged Israeli forces in small arms clashes eight times near major cities in the West Bank, including Hebron and Ramallah. Palestinian militants clashed with Israeli forces during Israeli raids in the Fara refugee camp in the northern West Bank.[57] Hamas announced that six of its fighters died during raids in the Fara camp on December 8.[58]

West Bank residents held four anti-Israel demonstrations in the West Bank on December 8.[59]

Palestinian militias called for an escalation in attacks and demonstrations in the West Bank on December 8. Hamas called on fighters in the West Bank to avenge the deaths of fighters killed in the West Bank “by all possible means.”[60] The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said that Israeli forces plan to increase operations in the West Bank and that ”a response will inevitably come.”[61] The Lions’ Den—a West Bank-based Palestinian militia—claimed that it conducted 14 attacks across the West Bank during an unspecified period and called for further attacks.[62] The Lion’s Den last called for mobilization against Israeli forces in the West Bank on November 9.[63]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and other Iranian-backed militias claimed 13 attacks into northern Israel on December 8. LH claimed ten attacks, all of which targeted Israeli military facilities along the Lebanese border.[66] IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari reported that Israel’s air defense system intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” that entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon.[67] Unidentified militants launched two separate rocket attacks on Israeli forces at Shtula and Maalot Tarshiha injuring two IDF soldiers.[68]

The IDF conducted multiple strikes on unspecified Iranian-backed targets in southern Syria on December 8 in retaliation for rocket strikes into the Golan Heights the day prior.[69] LH-affiliated al Mayadeen claimed that the Israeli strike killed four Iranian-backed militants near al Baath and al Hamidiya, Quneitra Province.[70] Iran and Iranian-backed militias have deployed militants to Quneitra Province since October 9 to support Axis of Resistance efforts to threaten Israel on multiple fronts, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[71]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Unspecified militants conducted 5 attacks on US forces in Iraq on December 8, according to a US journalist.[72] Unspecified militants conducted two attacks on Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for one of the attacks, which it conducted using rockets.[73] An Iraqi OSINT X (Twitter) account claimed that the second attack was also a rocket attack.[74] CTP-ISW cannot verify this claim. Unspecified militants conducted two attacks on Erbil Airport in northern Iraq and one attack on al Harir Airbase in Erbil Province, Iraq.

Unspecified militants conducted 4 attacks on US forces in Syria on December 8, according to the same US journalist.[75] Unspecified militants conducted two attacks on the Rumalyn Landing Zone in Hasakah Province, Syria. Unspecified militants conducted an attack on the US base Conoco Mission Support Site in northeastern Syria. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for this attack, which it carried out using rockets.[76] Unspecified militants conducted an attack targeting US forces stationed at al Shaddadi, Hasakah Province, Syria.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war in a phone call with PIJ Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah on December 8.[77] Abdollahian described Iranian diplomatic efforts to support Palestinians, including President Ebrahim Raisi’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on December 7. Nakhalah presented a report on the most recent developments in the war and on Palestinian resistance groups’ “complete readiness” to confront Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and to defend Gazans.

Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous traveled to Tehran on December 8 to attend a meeting on bilateral economic cooperation.[78] Arnous will meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Akbar Ahmadian, and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf during his three-day visit to Iran.[79]

US Deputy National Security Adviser John Finer stated that the IRGC is involved in planning and executing the Houthis’ drone and missile attacks on Israel and ships in the Red Sea.[80] The New York Times reported that Iran operates an intelligence gathering ship in the Red Sea, which helps the Houthis identify Israeli-owned vessels to attack.[81] Unspecified IRGC-affiliated Iranian sources stated that Iran’s so-called Axis of Resistance plans to increase attacks on US and Israeli facilities in the Middle East, including Houthi attacks on American-owned vessels operating in the Red Sea.[82] The US Treasury sanctioned an IRGC-QF financier Sa’id al Jamal on December 7 for facilitating tens of millions of dollars in Iranian financial support for the Houthi movement.[83]  US officials linked this continued Iranian financial support to Houthi attacks on commercial shipping and international trade.[84]

 


Iran Update, December 7, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, Alexandra Braverman, Brian Carter, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to try to expel US forces from Iraq. They are using military, legal, and political pressure to drive out the United States.
  2. Israeli forces continued clearing and targeting operations in Khan Younis. Palestinian militias claimed at least 18 attacks along the northern and eastern lines of Israeli advance in Khan Younis.
  3. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Jabalia. The IDF advanced further into the Shujaiya and Tuffah neighborhoods of eastern Gaza city.
  4. Palestinian militias conducted one indirect fire attack into southern Israel.
  5. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters 15 times across the West Bank.
  6. Top Israeli officials are outlining Israel’s post-October 7 policy toward Lebanon and attempting to deter further Lebanese Hezbollah military escalation against Israel.
  7. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias conducted thirteen attacks targeting northern Israel, including one attack that killed an Israeli civilian.
  8. Unspecified Iranian-backed militias fired two rockets from Syria towards Buqata, Israel, in the Golan Heights.
  9. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba political chief Sheikh Ali al Asadi warned the United States to withdraw its forces from the Middle East during an interview with Newsweek.
  10. Senior Iranian officials met with the International Liaison Department head of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Jianchao, in Tehran.
  11. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian spoke on the phone with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammad al Thani.
  12. Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed developing Russian-Iranian economic relations with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow.

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to try to expel US forces from Iraq. Forcing the removal of the US military is one of Iran’s most important strategic objectives in the Middle East. CTP-ISW previously assessed that the dozens of Iranian-backed militia attacks on US military positions in recent weeks have been meant to impose a cost on the United States for supporting Israel while also eroding American willingness to remain militarily in Iraq and Syria.[1] Iranian and Axis of Resistance leaders are operating on the theory that relatively low levels of militant pressure gradually diminish the willingness of the US political establishment to sustain deployments in the Middle East.

Iranian-backed Iraqi actors are also using legal and political pressure to drive out US forces. The Iraqi Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee announced on December 6 a draft resolution to expel US forces from Iraq in response to US self-defense strikes on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias.[2] A member of the committee framed the strikes as violations of Iraqi territorial integrity and stated that the committee would submit the resolution to the Iraqi parliament speaker.[3] This committee is headed by parliamentarian Abbas Shuail Odeh Thajil al Zamili, who is a member of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization.[4] It is unclear whether Parliament has any legal authority to force the US military to leave Iraq or whether the resolution would be non-binding.

The fact that the committee will submit the resolution to the parliament speaker at this time is particularly noteworthy given recent changes to the position. The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court removed Mohammad al Halbousi from the position on November 14.[5] An Iraqi parliamentarian claimed that Halbousi tried before his ouster to block a parliamentary effort to expel the US ambassador to Iraq, suggesting that Halbousi was removed at least partly for that reason.[6] The expulsion of Halbousi from Parliament may therefore remove an obstacle to advancing anti-US legislation and resolutions. Parliamentarian Mohsen al Mandalawi succeeded Halbousi as the interim parliament speaker. Mandalawi is a member of the Shia Coordination Framework, which is an umbrella organization for Iranian-backed political parties.[7] Mandalawi previously met with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber to discuss the Israel-Hamas war in Tehran on December 4, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[8]

The Iraqi parliament has previously passed non-binding resolutions to expel US forces. The parliament passed a resolution to this end in January 2020, for instance, in response to the US strike that killed Qassem Soleimani and his top Iraqi deputy, Abu Mehdi al Muhandis, at Baghdad International Airport.[9] That resolution was meant to impose political pressure on the prime minister to advance negotiations to remove US forces even though the resolution was non-binding. The resolution called on the Iraqi central government to “revoke its request for [military] assistance from the international coalition.”[10] The 2020 parliamentary resolution argued that US forces should leave because military operations against ISIS were over. The United States later reached an agreement with then-Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi in 2021 to end the US combat mission in Iraq and transition the forces there to an advisory mission.[11]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces continued clearing and targeting operations in Khan Younis. The IDF 98th Paratrooper Division destroyed dozens of Hamas tunnel shafts in Khan Younis while conducting clearing operations moving from the north and east.[12]  IDF ground forces used drones to identify and call in strikes on Palestinian militants exiting tunnels with RPGs in Khan Younis.[13] Commercially available satellite imagery captured on December 6 shows recently flattened terrain in areas around Khan Younis and Bani Suhaila, where the IDF and Palestinian militias have reported advances and clashes.[14] The satellite footage also indicates that Israeli forces conducted their assault on Khan Younis from two directions—one from the Kissufim road crossing and the other from agricultural land west of Ein HaShlosha.

The IDF Air Force announced on December 7 that it conducted an airstrike targeting two senior Hamas intelligence officials several days beforehand.[15] The airstrike killed a “reconnaissance operative” in Hamas’ al Qarara Battalion and a senior Hamas military intelligence officer responsible for planning the October 7 attack. The strike hit a Hamas intelligence unit that was building a comprehensive assessment of the operational environment in the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF Arabic-language spokesperson.[16] The spokesperson assessed that the destruction of the unit and the operatives' deaths caused “severe damage to Hamas’ fighting system.“[17]

Palestinian militias claimed at least 18 attacks along the northern and eastern lines of Israeli advance in Khan Younis.[18] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed 13 of the direct and indirect fire attacks and used anti-tank rocket propelled grenades (RPG), anti-tank grenades, small arms, and mortars against Israeli forces moving westward and southward.[19] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that it mortared Israeli forces in three areas of Khan Younis and Bani Suhaila on December 7.[20] The al Quds Brigades and al Qassem Brigades also conducted two combined mortar attacks on Israeli forces.[21] The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—claimed unspecified attacks on Israeli forces on the Israeli eastern line of advance.[22]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Jabalia December 7. The IDF 460th Brigade raided an outpost for Hamas’ Central Jabalia Battalion in the al Bisan area of Jabalia on December 7.[23] Israeli forces killed several fighters and located a network of underground tunnels, a training complex, and a weapons warehouse near the Hamas battalion’s post.[24] The IDF said that Palestinian fighters fired anti-tank missiles targeting Nahal Brigade soldiers in Jabalia.[25] Al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades fighters attacked Israeli dismounted infantry, tanks, and armored personnel carriers on their southward line of advance into Jabalia from Beit Lahia.[26] The al Qassem Brigades claimed that its fighters detonated an IED in a tunnel opening after luring Israeli forces into the entrance on the eastward line of advance into Jabalia.[27] The al Qassam Brigades claimed that the attack killed Israeli soldiers.

The IDF advanced further into the Shujaiya and Tuffah neighborhoods of eastern Gaza city. The IDF fought Palestinian militants in a school in eastern Shujauya and located tunnel shafts in the school and weapons warehouses nearby.[28] The commander of the IDF 74th Battalion, which is part of the 188th Armored Brigade, said that the tunnel reaches deep into the Gaza Strip.[29] The IDF uncovered six other tunnel shafts in Shujaiya.[30] Al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades fighters used small arms, mortars, anti-tank grenades, and tandem shells in attempts to stop the advance of Israeli tanks and soldiers.[31] Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades fighters clashed with Israeli forces in the Shujaiya and Tuffah neighborhoods using unspecified weapons.[32]

The UN continued delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip on December 7. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that eighty trucks carrying humanitarian aid and fuel entered the Gaza Strip.[33] OCHA released a joint statement with other UN and non-governmental organizations calling for increased relief efforts through additional access points, including the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel.[34] An unspecified Israeli official told the Times of Israel that Israel will open the Kerem Shalom crossing for inspections of humanitarian aid trucks.[35] The UN aid chief said on December 7 that the crossing could be opened for humanitarian aid ”soon” but that negotiations are ongoing.[36]

Palestinian militias conducted one indirect fire attack into southern Israel on December 7. The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—claimed one rocket attack targeting a city near the Gaza Strip.[37] The al Quds Brigades and al Qassem Brigades did not claim indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 7. Palestinian militias previously reduced indirect fire attacks during periods of heavy fighting before the temporary pause began on November 24, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[38]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters 15 times across the West Bank on December 7.[39] This level of violence is consistent with the daily average rate of clashes in the West Bank over the last seven days. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades clashed with Israeli forces and detonated IEDs targeting these forces six times in Tulkarm and Nablus on December 7.[40] Palestinian fighters separately conducted small arms and IED attacks on Israeli forces during Israeli raids in Ramallah and near Jenin in Araba.[41] Israeli forces arrested 21 wanted individuals, including four Hamas fighters, in the West Bank during overnight raids.[42]

 West Bank residents held one anti-Israel demonstration in Nablus on December 7.[43]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Top Israeli officials are outlining Israel’s post-October 7 policy toward Lebanon and attempting to deter further Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) military escalation against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on December 7 while visiting the IDF Northern Command that aimed to deter LH from escalating against Israel. Netanyahu warned that “if Hezbollah makes a mistake, the IDF will turn Beirut and South Lebanon into Gaza and Khan Younis.”[44] This statement is separate from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s comments on December 6, in which Gallant outlined Israel’s post-October 7 security requirements in southern Lebanon. Gallant said that Israel seeks a diplomatic solution that pushes LH’s military forces north of the Litani River, in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1701.[45] UNSC Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War.[46] Gallant added that Israel will resort to military force if diplomatic efforts fail.[47]

LH and other Iranian-backed militias conducted thirteen attacks targeting northern Israel on December 7, including one attack that killed an Israeli civilian.[48] LH claimed ten attacks targeting Israeli military positions along the border.[49] The IDF said that an anti-tank guided missile attack killed one Israeli civilian near Mattat, Israel, on December 7.[50] LH claimed that attack.[51]

Unspecified Iranian-backed militias fired two rockets from Syria towards Buqata, Israel, in the Golan Heights.[52] The IDF reported the rockets caused no damage or injuries.[53] IDF artillery targeted unspecified Iranian-backed militia positions in Hadar, Syria, in response to the rocket attack.[54]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) political chief Sheikh Ali al Asadi warned the United States to withdraw its forces from the Middle East during an interview with Newsweek on December 7.[55] Asadi stated that HHN and the broader Axis of Resistance have created an “escalation schedule” for the Israel-Hamas war and that “there will be surprises that America did not expect from the Axis of Resistance.” Asadi added that the Axis of Resistance is prepared for a long-term battle. HHN is a member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed militias that has attacked US forces in Iraq and Syria over 80 times since the beginning of the war.[56] Other HHN officials have previously issued similar warnings and threats to the United States. HHN Secretary General Akram al Kaabi recently threatened on December 4 to retaliate against US forces for an airstrike that killed five Iraqi militants on December 3, for example.[57]

Unspecified gunmen assassinated Iraqi al Dai Party founder Fadel al Marsoumi in Baghdad on December 7.[58] Marsoumi founded the party in 2008, and one of its main objectives is to dissolve “all armed formations outside the framework of the state and the law.”[59] The party also prioritizes establishing an independent judiciary, according to its statements. The al Dai Party launched an election campaign for the upcoming December 18 provincial council elections with the slogan “nationalists offering a referendum.”[60] Iraqi outlets have reported that Marsoumi’s supporters are running in the Diyala provincial council elections under the “Nationalists” electoral list.[61]

Senior Iranian officials met with the International Liaison Department head of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Jianchao, in Tehran on December 7. Strategic Foreign Relations Council Chairman Kamal Kharazi emphasized in their meeting the importance of cooperation between Iran, China and Russia in forming a “new world order.” Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber also attended the meeting, which focused on bilateral cooperation and the Israel-Hamas war. The Iranian and Chinese officials reaffirmed their support for the Palestinian people. Liu stated that China always supports the Palestinian people and stands by Arab and Islamic countries.[62] Mokhber separately stressed Iran’s readiness for increased economic cooperation with China, specifically regarding joint investments in Iran’s oil and gas fields.[63]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian spoke on the phone with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammad al Thani on December 7. The two discussed bilateral relations and the Israel-Hamas war, according to Iranian readouts.[64]

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed developing Russian-Iranian economic relations with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on December 7. Putin stated that trade between Russia and Iran grew by 20 percent in 2023 and reached over five billion dollars.[65] Putin reported that Russia and Iran are constructing a railway line along an unspecified section of the North-South Corridor (a planned railway route that will connect Russia to the Indian Ocean via Iran).[66] Putin also announced that he and Raisi intend to sign an agreement establishing a free trade zone between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) at the end of December 2023.[67] The continued progress on the North-South Corridor and the planned establishment of an EAEU-Iranian free trade zone are likely part of continued Russian efforts to procure Iranian materiel support for Russian operations in Ukraine while facilitating both Russian and Iranian sanctions evasion efforts. Putin also noted the ”importance [for him and Raisi] to exchange views on the situation in the region, especially in Palestine” and commended Iranian-Russian energy and education cooperation.[68] Putin met with Omani Crown Prince and Minister of Culture, Sports, and Youth Theyazin bin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said on December 7 on the sidelines of the “Russia Calling!” investment forum in Moscow, likely a continuation of bilateral meetings with Persian Gulf State leaders after Putin’s December 6 meetings in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.[69]


Iran Update, December 6, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Kathryn Tyson, Annika Ganzeveld, Peter Mills, Amin Soltani, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli forces are operating in Khan Younis as part of the Israel Defense Force (IDF)’s effort to target senior Hamas commanders. Palestinian militias claimed several attacks along Israeli lines of advance in Khan Younis.
  2. Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Jabalia and the Shujaiya neighborhood of eastern Gaza City.
  3. Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters engaged in 15 clashes across the West Bank.
  4. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel is pursuing diplomacy to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Lebanese Hezbollah from positioning military forces south of the Litani River.
  5. Lebanese Hezbollah claimed 10 attacks into Israeli territory from Lebanon.
  6. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Iraq on December 5 and 6.
  7. The Houthi movement said that it launched several ballistic missiles targeting Eilat in southern Israel on December 6.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces are operating in Khan Younis as part of the Israel Defense Force (IDF)’s effort to target senior Hamas commanders. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on December 6 that the Israeli military had encircled Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar’s house in Khan Younis.[1] Residents in the area told Reuters that Israeli tanks neared his home.[2] IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that Sinwar is likely underground in Hamas’ extensive tunnel network.[3] Israel has claimed repeatedly that senior political and military Hamas leadership, including Sinwar and Hamas’ military chief Mohammed Deif, are hiding in Khan Younis.[4]

The IDF 98th Paratrooper Division led the attack on Khan Younis to target Hamas’ ”centers of gravity,” which is presumably a reference to Hamas’ critical command node in the city.[5] The IDF said that its forces encircled the city after it broke through Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade’s defenses. The IDF reported that it began conducting targeted raids within the city.[6] The IDF issued urgent warnings to residents in the Khan Younis area against traveling on the Salah al Din Road as Israeli forces are operating on parts of the road.[7] The Israeli Air Force attacked 250 targets across the Gaza Strip on December 6, targeting weapons, tunnels, IEDs, and other military infrastructure.[8] Hagari stated that the four IDF divisions operating across the Gaza Strip are fighting with a high intensity as they break down defensive lines.[9]

Palestinian militias claimed several attacks along Israeli lines of advance in Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed that its fighters detonated a house-borne improvised device (HBIED) targeting Israeli forces east of Khan Younis on December 6.[10] The use of more sophisticated tactics, such as rigging a house to explode, is consistent with Hamas’ shift from less sophisticated to more sophisticated tactics after the end of the humanitarian pause.[11] The al Qassem Brigades claimed several other indirect and direct fire attacks using anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), small arms, and mortars.[12] Other Palestinian militias allied with Hamas also attacked the IDF near Khan Younis. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that it used a high-explosive fragmentation grenade and mortars to attack Israeli forces, east of Khan Younis.[13] Bani Suheila residents reported on December 6 that Israeli forces reached Bani Suheila.[14] The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Resistance Committees —claimed that its fighters fought Israeli forces advancing in Khan Younis.[15] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade—a self-affiliated militant wing of Fatah—claimed that its fighters targeted an Israeli tank with an anti-tank munition east of Khan Younis.[16]

Israeli forces continued clearing operations in Jabalia on December 6. The IDF stated its Nahal Brigade fought Palestinian fighters in Jabalia on December 6.[17] The IDF announced it had “encircled” the neighborhood and was operating at its “core” on December 5.[18] Geolocated footage posted on December 5 shows armed clashes between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops that occurred near Kamal Idwan Hospital on the northern border of Jabalia.[19] The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reported Israeli tanks fired at the hospital’s main generator on December 5, indicating Israeli forces advanced into Jabalia.[20] The IDF said its fighters operating in Jabalia recovered one of the largest stockpiles of weapons in the Gaza Strip, consisting of hundreds of missiles and launchers, long-range rockets, RPGs, drones, and explosively formed penetrators.[21]

The al Qassem Brigades attacked Israeli military vehicles along the Israeli line of advance in the Beit Lahia Project area, just north of Jabalia.[22] The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades said that its fighters fought field coordination with the al Qassem Brigades and the al Quds Brigades in neighborhoods near Jabalia camp including Tal al Zaatar, Kamal Adwan, and al Fallujah.[23] The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades is a loose group of local militias and the third largest armed group in the Gaza Strip.[24]

The IDF also continued clearing operations in the Shujaiya neighborhood of eastern Gaza City. The IDF said on December 5 that it was in the “core” of Shujaiya on December 5.[25] The al Quds Brigades attacked Israeli forces on the lines of advance into Shujaiya with IEDs, RPGs, and anti-armor shells.[26] The al Quds Brigades also fired anti-tank rockets at Israeli forces advancing into Shujaiya from the al Tuffah neighborhood, northwest of Shujaiya.[27] The al Qassem Brigades posted a video of its fighters attacking Israeli military vehicles with anti-tank rockets in the Shujaiya neighborhood on December 5.[28] The video included a burning Israeli Merkava tank in Shujaiya.[29]

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted seven indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 6. The al Qassem Brigades conducted six rocket attacks targeting southern Israel.[30] The al Quds Brigades conducted one rocket attack.[31] 

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters engaged in 15 clashes across the West Bank on December 6. This level of violence is consistent with the daily average rate of clashes in the West Bank over the last seven days. Palestinian fighters, including al Qassem Brigades fighters, engaged Israeli forces in two small arms clashes and detonated at least two IEDs targeting Israeli vehicles as Israeli units conducted raids in Jenin.[32] Palestinian fighters also detonated five other IEDs targeting Israeli forces and engaged Israeli forces in seven other small arms clashes elsewhere in the West Bank.[33] Palestinians demonstrated against Israeli operations in Gaza in Ramallah and Tulkarm on December 6.[34]

The IDF said that its forces arrested 16 wanted persons, three of whom were affiliated with Hamas, in the West Bank on December 6.[35]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel is pursuing diplomacy to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) from positioning military forces south of the Litani River.[36] Gallant met with mayors and local council heads in Nahariya, northern Israel, on December 6.[37] Israel evacuated thousands of northern Israelis from their homes after the October 7 attacks.[38] Gallant “promised” that northern Israelis will not return to their homes before Lebanese Hezbollah military forces are north of the Litani River. Gallant said that the “best option” is for a diplomatic agreement in which unspecified actors would enforce UN Security Resolution 1701. The resolution, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War, created a demilitarized zone between the Blue Line and the Litani.[39] Gallant said that if diplomatic measures fail Israel will use its military to force LH north of the river, according to the Times of Israel.

Lebanese Hezbollah claimed 10 attacks into Israeli territory from Lebanon on December 6.[40] This rate of attacks is consistent with the daily average. Unspecified fighters conducted three additional attacks into northern Israel, including a 16-rocket salvo targeting Matat, northern Israel.[41]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for three attacks targeting US positions in Iraq on December 5 and 6. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq resumed its attacks on US forces on December 3, two days after the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip ended on December 1. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq and its affiliated groups have claimed 81 attacks against US forces in the Middle East since October 18.

  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed two separate one-way drone attacks targeting US forces at Ain al Asad Airbase in Anbar province, Iraq, on December 5 and 6.[42] The group has claimed 24 attacks on Ain Asad Airbase since October 18.
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack targeting US forces at al Harir Airbase in Erbil province, Iraq, on December 6.[43] The group last claimed an attack on al Harir Airbase on November 22.[44]

The Houthi movement said that it launched several ballistic missiles targeting Eilat in southern Israel on December 6.[45] The IDF reported that it intercepted a surface-to-surface missile over the Red Sea and said that the missile did not cross into Israeli territory.[46] The Houthi military spokesperson said that the Houthis will continue to target Israel until the end of the Israel-Hamas War.[47]

The USS Carney shot down a likely Houthi drone over the southern Red Sea on December 6.[48] An unspecified US official told the Navy Times that the drone originated from Houthi-controlled territory. There were no injuries to US personnel or damage to the ship and it was not clear what the drone was targeting. The UK Maritime Trade Operations agency also reported a drone incident west of the Houthi-controlled Hudaydah port in the southern Red Sea on December 6.[49] It is not clear if these are the same incidents.

Two unspecified sources “familiar with Saudi thinking” told Reuters that Saudi Arabia urged the United States to show restraint amid Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[50] The sources said that Saudi Arabia is “pleased” with the United States’ handling of the situation and wishes to avoid further escalation. Saudi Arabia is negotiating a bilateral peace agreement with the Houthis that seeks to secure Saudi Arabia’s exit from the war in Yemen.[51] Saudi efforts to encourage US restraint vis-a-vis the Houthis aim to protect this truce. The Houthis view the United States and Saudi Arabia as belligerents in the war against the Houthis.[52] The Houthis would likely therefore view a US retaliation against the Houthis as a violation of the Saudi-Houthi informal truce that began in April 2022.[53]

An unspecified “Iran-aligned” source based in Tehran told Reuters that Houthi representatives discussed their attacks with Iranian officials in November, demonstrating continuing Houthi-Iranian coordination.[54] The source may have been referencing a meeting between the Houthi Ambassador to Iran Ibrahim al Daylami and Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Tehran on November 30.[55] The source said that the Houthi and Iranian representatives agreed that the Houthis would carry out attacks in a “controlled” way that would help force the end to the Israel-Hamas war. Another "Iran-aligned” source told Reuters that Iran does not want to become directly involved in an “all-out war in the region.”

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Chinese Communist Party International Liaison Department head Liu Jianchao on December 6 in Tehran.[56] The two officials emphasized further cooperation between their countries to end the war.

Iranian First Vice President Mohammed Mokhber discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Omani Trade, Industry, and Development Minister Qais bin Mohammad al Youssef on December 6.[57] Mokhber thanked al Youssef for Oman’s stance against Israeli “crimes” and criticized international institutions for not taking “serious” action to halt Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip.

Iran Update, December 5, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Brian Carter, Johanna Moore, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Annika Ganzeveld, Alexandra Braverman, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Contributor: Khaled Maalouf

Key Takeaways:

  1. Palestinian militia fighters continued to use more sophisticated tactics to target Israeli forces throughout the Gaza Strip.
  2. Israeli forces moved eastward and secured the Salah al Din Road south of Deir al Balah on or before December 3.
  3. Israeli forces entered urban areas in Khan Younis and Bani Suheila. Palestinian militia forces, including the al Qassem Brigades and the al Quds Brigades, are attempting to resist the Israeli advance into Khan Younis governorate.
  4. Israeli forces continued their advance into Jabalia and Shujaiya.
  5. Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted nine indirect fire attacks into Israel.
  6. Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters clashed in nine towns across the West Bank.
  7. Lebanese Hezbollah claimed 15 attacks into Israeli territory from Lebanon.
  8. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps held a funeral ceremony in Tehran for two IRGC Quds Force general officers killed in Syria.
  9. US CENTCOM reported that unspecified actors launched 15 122mm rockets from Iraq at the US forces at the Rumalyn Landing Zone in Syria on December 3.
  10. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to cooperate toward undermining international sanctions.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militia fighters continued to use more sophisticated tactics to target Israeli forces throughout the Gaza Strip on December 5. This is consistent with the tactical shift CTP-ISW has observed since the end of the humanitarian pause.[1] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed that its fighters detonated a house-borne improvised explosive device (HBIED) targeting Israeli forces east of Khan Younis on December 5.[2] The HBIED collapsed the building. The group claimed that it detonated multiple claymore-type, anti-personnel mines in an ambush east of Khan Younis on December 5.[3] The al Qassem Brigades also targeted an Israeli tank with an EFP north of Khan Younis on December 4.[4] Al Qassem Brigades fighters inside an Israeli cantonment filmed Israeli soldiers relaxing inside the position near Juhor ad Dik.[5] The group claimed that they filled a tunnel under the cantonment with explosives and detonated it "among 60 Israeli soldiers.”[6]

Israeli forces moved eastward and secured the Salah al Din Road south of Deir al Balah on or before December 3. Satellite imagery published by the New York Times shows Israeli armor that moved east to west across Salah al Din Road before establishing cantonments on the west side of the road.[7] Israeli forces fought Palestinian fighters south of this area near Khan Younis on December 3 and 4, according to local witnesses, Israeli sources, and Palestinian media.[8] The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson declared the Salah al Din Road between southern Deir al Balah and Khan Younis a combat zone on December 2, which is consistent with Palestinian reports that Israeli forces were moving along the Salah al Din Road on December 3 and 4.[9] These reports suggest that Israeli forces moved south along the road toward Khan Younis.

Israeli forces entered urban areas in Khan Younis and Bani Suheila on December 5. The commander of the IDF Southern Command said on December 5 that the IDF is operating in the “core” of Khan Younis.[10] A Palestinian journalist reported that Israeli vehicles reached Muhatta and Municipality Park in northern Khan Younis on December 5.[11] The same source added that Israeli forces also moved to Rabea Road in eastern Bani Suheila.[12]

Palestinian militia forces, including the al Qassem Brigades and the al Quds Brigades, are attempting to resist the Israeli advance into Khan Younis governorate. The al Qassem Brigades detonated an EFP targeting Israeli armor north of Khan Younis city on December 4.[13] The al Qassem Brigades and the al Quds Brigades also claimed at least eighteen other attacks targeting Israeli forces along the Israeli "line of advance” north and east of the city on December 4 and 5.[14]

Israeli forces continued their advance into Jabalia and Shujaiya on December 5. The commander of the IDF Southern Command said on December 5 that the IDF is operating in the “core” of Shujaiya and Jabalia—similarly to how he announced Israeli operations in the “core” of Khan Younis.[15] The IDF also reported that its forces are operating in the Jabalia neighborhood after they encircled the area.[16] This is consistent with Palestinian militia claims. The al Quds Brigades reported that its forces fired tandem rockets at IDF vehicles near the Sanafour Roundabout and on Mushtaha Street in Shujaiya neighborhood on December 5. Geolocated footage posted on December 5 also showed IDF armor moving south through northern Jabalia.[17] The al Quds Brigades also targeted Israeli forces moving through the al Fallujah area, west of Jabalia.[18]

Palestinian militia fighters continued attacks targeting Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. A Gaza Strip-based news outlet reported fighting in Juhor ad Dik, Beit Hanoun, Shati Camp, Beit Lahia, Tal al Hawa, and Zaytoun on December 5.[19]

The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel is preparing a system of pumps to flood Hamas’ tunnel system with seawater.[20] The report said that Israel informed the United States in early November that it was considering the tactic and that Israel assembled at least five pumps north of Shati Camp in mid-November.[21] The Wall Street Journal said that US officials held "mixed” opinions regarding the plan, with some officials expressing concern over the plan and others supporting Israeli efforts to disable the tunnels. US officials told the outlet that they did not know when Israel would execute the plan but that Israel had not yet made a final decision to use the pumps.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power arrived in Egypt to meet with Egyptian officials and humanitarian organizations.[22] Power arrived alongside 36,000 pounds of US-provided food assistance and medical supplies. USAID said that Power will highlight the US commitment to protecting civilians and the “absolute necessity” for the levels of humanitarian assistance reaching the Gaza Strip to “continue at, and exceed, the levels reached during the humanitarian pause.”

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted nine indirect fire attacks into Israel on December 5. The al Qassem Brigades conducted six rocket attacks targeting Israel, including one rocket salvo targeting Tel Aviv.[23] The al Quds Brigades conducted two rocket attacks targeting southern Israel.[24]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters clashed in nine towns across the West Bank on December 5.[25] This level of violence is consistent with the daily average rate of clashes in the West Bank over the last seven days. Palestinian fighters clashed twice with Israeli forces conducting large-scale raids in Jenin.[26] Israel informed the Palestinian Authority that Israeli forces’ activity in Jenin would last up to 72 hours, according to a Palestinian journalist.[27] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—conducted two IED attacks during the Jenin raids.[28] The group claimed four of the nine clashes on December 5.[29] The group also announced the death of one of its commanders in the clashes with Israeli forces. [30] Palestinian fighters conducted two IED attacks against Israeli forces in other areas of the West Bank as well.[31]

The IDF said that its forces arrested 21 wanted persons in the West Bank on December 5.[32] The Palestinian Prisoners’ and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs Authority, which is part of the Palestinian Authority, said Israel arrested 40 Palestinians.[33]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed 15 attacks into Israeli territory from Lebanon on December 5.[34] This rate of attacks is consistent with the daily average. LH exclusively targeted Israeli military sites along the Lebanese border. The IDF reported that a “hostile aircraft” crossed into Israeli airspace and was recovered by the IDF near Margaliot.[35] Unidentified militants conducted two separate rocket attacks into Israel toward Zerait and Kiryat Shemona.[36]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) held a funeral ceremony in Tehran on December 5 for two IRGC Quds Force general officers killed in Syria.[37] Israel conducted airstrikes into southern Syria on December 2, killing two members of the IRGC Quds Force Unit 340.[38] This branch of the Quds Force is responsible for transferring technical military capabilities to members of the Axis of Resistance. Current and former high-ranking IRGC officials attended the funeral ceremony for the two general officers killed, including:

  • IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami;
  • Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani;
  • Sarallah Operational Headquarters Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hossein Nejat;
  • Former Ambassador to Iraq and Quds Force officer Brigadier General Eraj Masjidi; and
  • IRGC Commander Adviser and former IRGC Intelligence Organization Director Hossein Taeb.[39]

It is normal for IRGC leaders to attend the funeral ceremonies for IRGC officers killed in Syria. The IRGC confirmed on December 2 that Israel killed the two general officers.[40]

US CENTCOM reported that unspecified actors launched 15 122mm rockets from Iraq at the US forces at the Rumalyn Landing Zone in Syria on December 3.[41] The Islamic Resistance of Iraq nor has any other actor claimed responsibility for the attack at the time of writing. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq previously claimed that it launched two one-way drones toward US positions around Rumalyn on November 11.[42]

Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada Secretary General Abu Alaa al Walai condemned in a post on X (Twitter) on December 5 the US self-defense strike against Iranian-backed Iraqi militants on December 3.[43] US CENTCOM confirmed that the United States conducted a self-defense strike against five Iraqi militants planning a one-way drone attack on US forces near Kirkuk, Iraq, on December 3.[44] Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) acknowledged that the killed individuals were members of the militia.[45] HHN Secretary General Akram al Kaabi threatened on December 4 to retaliate against US forces for the airstrike.[46]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—circulated videos of the funeral ceremony for the five fighters on December 5.[47] The publication of these videos by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is unsurprising given that HHN is one of its constituent militias. Several other members of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq broadcasted their presences at the funeral as well, showing solidarity with HHN. A large number of individuals at the ceremony carried the flags of Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Kataib Seyyed ol Shohada. Asaib Ahl al Haq (AHH) flags were noticeably absent among the crowd, which is noteworthy given that KH has implicitly criticized the lack of AAH attacks on US positions since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to cooperate toward undermining international sanctions on December 5. The agreement is meant to promote cooperation between Iran and Russia to mitigate the negative economic effects of "unilateral coercive measures,” including sanctions, according to Iranian state media.[48] Abdollahian and Lavrov made the agreement during an annual meeting of the foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states in Moscow. The meeting comes two days ahead of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s scheduled trip to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterparts and discuss economic relations and the Israel-Hamas war. Abdollahian separately repeated the regime’s calls for a goods and energy embargo against Israel in the presence of the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

Artesh Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Erani traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan, on December 4 to discuss expanding defense and maritime cooperation with senior Azerbaijani defense and military officials.[49] Erani met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vice Admiral Subhan Bakirov, and Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Zakir Hasanov. Erani called for increasing combined training, exercises, and sea patrols between the Artesh and Azerbaijani navies.[50] Erani and Bakirov also emphasized the need for security in the Caspian Sea to increase trade and transit between the five Caspian littoral states. Erani visited several Azerbaijani Navy units and training centers. Tensions have flared between Tehran and Baku over several different issues in recent years, including Iranian leaders’ accusation that Azerbaijan allows Israeli intelligence agents to operate in its territory.[51] Some Iranian leaders have softened their criticisms toward Azerbaijan in recent weeks, however. Artesh Coordination Deputy Brigadier General Habibollah Sayyari claimed on November 30 that Israel has withdrawn its forces from the Caucasus amid the Israel-Hamas war.[52]

Houthi President Mehdi al Mashat stated that the Houthi movement will continue to target Israel until it stops its attacks into the Gaza Strip.[53] Mashat previously stated on November 29 that US military pressure against the Houthi movement would not change its policies toward the Israel-Hamas conflict.[54]

Iran Update, December 4, 2023

click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Amin Soltani, and Brian Carter

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israel continued conducting clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip to encircle Hamas in Shujaiya neighborhood and Jabalia city.
  2. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militias in the central and southern Gaza Strip along the Salah al Din Road.
  3. Israel continued clearing operations in Beit Hanoun to destroy Palestinian militia infrastructure.
  4. Palestinian fighters conducted ten attacks targeting Israeli forces across the West Bank. Lebanese Hezbollah claimed 11 attacks into northern Israel targeting Israeli forces and civilians.
  5. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for two attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 3.
  6. US Central Command confirmed that the US military conducted a self-defense strike against five Iraqi militants planning a one-way drone attack on US forces near Kirkuk, Iraq, on December 3.
  7. Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri discussed expanding intelligence cooperation with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) during a meeting with PMF Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh in Baghdad on December 4.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israel continued to conduct clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip to encircle Hamas in Shujaiya neighborhood and Jabalia city. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant observed Israeli forces in Shujaiya and Jabalia on December 4 and noted that the forces have returned there to “close the circle.”[1] The Wall Street Journal reported that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have cornered Hamas fighters in the last two strongholds in the northern Gaza Strip.[2] An IDF spokesperson issued a warning to Hamas commanders in Shujaiya that they are targets and that Israel will use extreme force in the neighborhood to dismantle Hamas military infrastructure on December 3.[3]

Palestinian militias claimed several attacks along Israeli lines of advance along the al Fallujah Road in Jabalia. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—targeted Israeli forces and military vehicles near the al Fallujah Road with rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), including tandem-charged RPGs and small arms.[4] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—fired tandem-charged RPGs and an anti-armor grenade.[5] Hamas- and PIJ-affiliated media reported that the al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades—the militant wing of the Palestinian Resistance Committees (PRC)—engaged in clashes with Israeli forces in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood southwest of Jabalia.[6] The PRC is a loose grouping of armed factions in the Gaza Strip that is strong allies with Hamas and PIJ.[7]

Hamas and PIJ-affiliated media reported clashes between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces in Shujaiya neighborhood.[8] A Palestinian journalist noted that Israeli forces are advancing into Shujaiya neighborhood from several axes.[9]

Israel forces clashed with Palestinian militias in the central and southern Gaza Strip along the Salah al Din Road. Israel announced on December 2 that it is resuming and expanding ground operations gains Hamas’ strongholds across the whole Gaza Strip and confirmed that ground forces are operating north of Khan Younis.[10] Witnesses told AFP that dozens of Israeli tanks entered the southern part of the Gaza Strip and are operating on the Salah al Din Road.[11] The IDF Arab media spokesperson announced on December 2 civilians cannot use the Salah al Din Road north and east of Khan Younis due to Israeli military operations in the area.[12]

A Palestinian journalist said local rescue teams advised residents to avoid windows, balconies, and exterior building walls in Deir al Balah where Israeli forces are present.[13] Hamas- and PIJ-affiliated media reported that Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Deir al Balah on December 4, which is the second consecutive day of fighting in the area.[14] The al Quds Brigades mortared groups of Israeli soldiers in Deir al Balah.[15] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—clashed with Israeli forces in al Qarar northeast of Khan Younis.[16] CTP-ISW is not expanding map layers given that the Israeli direction of advance is unspecified, as is the extent of their advance.

Israel continued clearing operations in Beit Hanoun to destroy Palestinian militia infrastructure. Israeli forces found two tunnel shafts in a school including a booby-trapped one as well as an IED and weapons in Beit Hanoun.[17] The IDF attacked 200 Hamas-affiliated targets across the Gaza Strip on December 4, including anti-tank weapons, tunnels, and personnel.[18] Israeli ground forces directed airstrikes to destroy infrastructure used for anti-tank ambushes and a weapons depot.[19] The al Qassem Brigades targeted Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance in Beit Hanoun, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The militants used tunnels to ambush Israeli forces and used anti-personnel munitions and small arms in four separate attacks.[20] The al Qassem Brigades also claimed to use a Shawaz explosively formed penetrators (EFP) to target an IDF tank.[21] Hamas and other Palestinian militias have used EFPs six times since December 1.[22] This is consistent with Hamas’ use of increasingly sophisticated tactics against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip after the end of the humanitarian pause.[23] The al Qassem Brigades claimed four attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles east of Beit Lahiya using RPGs and anti-personnel munitions.[24]

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson did not post any new specific evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip on December 4. The IDF Arab media spokesperson repeated evacuation orders covering areas of the northern Gaza Strip including al Mahatta, al Katiba, Hamad, al Satar, Bani Suheila, and Maan.[25] The spokesperson directed residents in the Khan Younis area to use the coastal road to avoid Israeli military operations.[26] The IDF temporarily suspended military activity in the Rafah camp area for humanitarian purposes.[27]

The entire Gaza Strip is experiencing a near-total internet blackout. Palestine-based communications companies announced a blackout of services in Gaza City and the Northern Gaza Strip on December 4.[28] NetBlocks later confirmed that most residents will experience a total loss of communications.[29] The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it has lost contact with its teams in the Gaza Strip due to the blackout.[30]

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 18 rocket and mortar attacks into Israel on December 4. The al Qassem Brigades claimed responsibility for 10 rocket attacks.[31] The al Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for six rocket attacks.[32] The National Resistance Brigades claimed one rocket attack into southern Israel.[33] The al Nasser Salah al Din Brigades fired mortars at Kissufim.[34]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters conducted ten attacks targeting Israeli forces across the West Bank on December 4. Palestinian fighters engaged Israeli forces in five small arms clashes and detonated five IEDs targeting Israeli forces.[35] The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said on December 4 that it would escalate attacks in response to Israeli forces killing Palestinian fighters in Qalqilya on the same day.[36] The PFLP has repeatedly incited attacks and demonstrations in response to Israeli actions in the West Bank in recent weeks, but these calls have not generated increased attacks or demonstrations.[37]

Iranian state media claimed on December 4 that that Palestinian fighters “control” part of a town in the West Bank, which is an information operation. Iranian state media outlets al Alam and IRIB News said that a new Palestinian militia group called the Biddya Brigades have “taken control” over Biddya in northern West Bank.[38] Al Alam said that the Biddya Brigades recently announced its establishment and seeks to ”repel the attacks of the Israeli occupation.” Pro-Hamas and Iranian social media pages said that the Biddya Brigades reshared a video of an alleged Biddya Brigades fighter ”roaming the streets” in Biddya.[39] LH-affiliated outlet al Mayadeen said on December 3 that the Biddya Brigades "paraded through the streets” in Biddya.[40] The IDF has not commented on the Biddya Brigades or the groups’ presence in Biddya. CTP-ISW has not observed evidence that support the Iranian claims that the Biddya Brigades ”control” the town.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
 
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed 11 attacks into northern Israel on December 4, targeting Israeli forces and civilians.[41] Unspecified fighters conducted three other attacks into northern Israel.[42] The IDF acknowledged two of these attacks.[43]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
 
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed responsibility for two attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria on December 3. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq resumed its attacks on US forces on December 3, two days after the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip ended on December 1.[44] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq and its affiliated groups have claimed 78 attacks against US forces in the Middle East since October 18.

  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single one-way drone attack targeting US forces at Green Village in northeastern Syria on December 3.[45] The group has claimed eight attacks on Green Village since October 18.
 
  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a single one-way drone attack targeting US forces at Ain Asad Airbase on December 3.[46] The group has claimed 22 attacks on Ain Asad Airbase since October 18.

Unspecified actors are conducting an information operation to obfuscate Russian assistance to Iran and its proxies in an effort to prevent Israel from escalating in Syria. Anonymous unspecified diplomatic sources told Syrian-regime opposition media that Russia is attempting to avoid any escalation with Israel inside Syria by attempting to limit Iranian influence in southwestern Syria and by limiting Russian weapons transfers to Iran and Iranian-backed groups. These sources claimed that Russia, the Assad regime, and the United Arab Emirates seek to remove Iranian-backed militias from the Syrian border with the Golan Heights.[47] The anonymous sources also said that Russia decided not to transfer military equipment to Iran and Iranian-backed groups.

Russia has provided support to Iran and Iranian-backed forces in Syria during the Israel-Hamas War, however. An IRGC-linked Mahan Air flight purportedly transporting shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles landed at the Russian Hmeimim military airport in northern Syria from Tehran on November 2.[48] Multiple US officials told Western media on November 3 that the Wagner Group planned to transfer air defense systems to Lebanese Hezbollah.[49] The White House declassified intelligence on November 21 that corroborated these reports.[50]

Russia and Israel have a complex relationship in Syria, as Israel has historically relied on Russia to curb Iranian activities in Syria.[51] Israel has stopped giving Russian forces advanced warning of its strikes into Israel, however.[52]

US Central Command confirmed on December 4 that the US military conducted a self-defense strike against five Iraqi militants planning a one-way drone attack on US forces near Kirkuk, Iraq, on December 3.[53] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed militias—announced that five of its fighters died in battle on December 3. Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN), which is a member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, said specifically that the fighters were HHN members.[54] HHN Secretary General Akram al Kaabi threatened on December 4 to retaliate against US forces for the airstrike.[55] Kaabi stated that the deaths of the fighters “kindles the flame of revenge in our hearts” and warned the United States that it “will pay a heavy price for [its] crime.”

Iranian officials warned that Israeli attacks on Iranian interests in Syria “will not go unanswered” on December 4.[56] Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani stated that Iran will respond to any attacks on its interests, particularly its “advisory forces” in Syria during one of his regular press conferences on December 4. Strategic Foreign Relations Council Chairman Kamal Kharrazi echoed Kanani, saying that Israeli attacks on Iranian bases in Syria will “never remain unanswered” during an interview with Al Jazeera. Kharrazi is a foreign policy advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Both officials were referring to a purported Israeli airstrike on Iranian positions in Syria that killed two IRGC general officers on December 2.[57]

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Cuban President Miguel Diaz Ganel on December 4 in Tehran.[58] Khamenei emphasized the need for a united global front against Western and Israeli oppression of Palestinians. President Ebrahim Raisi and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf echoed Khamenei’s remarks during their separate meetings with Canel.[59]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with his Omani counterpart Sayyid Badr al Busaidi on December 4 in Tehran to discuss the Israel-Hamas war.[60] The two officials emphasized the need for ending Israeli action in the Gaza Strip. Abdollahian previously discussed the Israel-Hamas war with al Busaidi on December 1.[61]

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri discussed expanding intelligence cooperation with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) during a meeting with PMF Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh in Baghdad on December 4.[62] The PMF is an umbrella security organization largely composed of Shia militias.[63] The US Department of the Treasury sanctioned Fayyadh in January 2021 for serious human rights abuses.[64] Greater intelligence cooperation between Iran and the PMF would likely grant Iran increased access to intelligence on US forces on Iraq, which would increase threats to US forces in Iraq. Bagheri and Fayyadh also discussed combatting terrorism and strengthening bilateral security cooperation. Former Kataib Hezbollah Secretary General and PMF Chief of Staff Abdul Aziz al Mohammadawi (also known as Abu Fadak) also attended the meeting. Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan recently met with Fayyadh in Baghdad on November 13.[65] Bagheri separately met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid on December 4.[66]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Iraqi interim Parliamentary Speaker Mohsen al Mandalawi in Tehran on December 4.[67] Abdollahian called for greater cooperation between Iran and Iraq to facilitate “peace and stability” in the region. Mokhber praised the Iraqi government for approving a law that “criminalizes relations with Israel.”

  • Mandalawi is a member of the Shia Coordination Framework—a loosely aligned coalition of pro-Iranian political parties—and was appointed as deputy parliamentary speaker in September 2022.[68] He has been serving as acting parliament speaker since the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling to remove former Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed al Halbousi from parliament on November 14.[69] Mandalawi is a Feyli Shia Kurd from Diyala Province in northeastern Iraq.[70] Mandalawi is a member of the Independent Iraq Alliance, which is headed by Iraqi MP Abdul Hadi al Hasnawi.[71] Mandalawi has previously met with Axis of Resistance officials such as former Kataib Hezbollah Secretary General and PMF Chief of Staff Abdul Aziz al Muhammadawi and Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais Khazali.[72]
  • Halbousi, an important Sunni politician and the leader of the Taqqadum Movement, claimed that the Federal Supreme Court’s November 14 ruling was unconstitutional and that the ruling was a move by unspecified parties to create political divisions within society.[73] CTP-ISW previously hypothesized that Halbousi was removed from his post as part of political efforts to reduce the US presence in Iraq.[74]

Iran Update, December 3, 2023

click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Nicholas Carl, Andie Parry, Ashka Jhaveri, and Amin Soltani

Information Cutoff: 5:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Hamas has used increasingly sophisticated tactics against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip since the humanitarian pause ended on December 1.
  2. Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to support their objective of expelling US forces from the Middle East.
  3. The Houthi movement likely attacked three commercial vessels and possibly a US Navy vessel around the Bab al Mandeb.
  4. Israeli forces began ground operations into the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces along Israeli lines of advance in the southern Gaza Strip using direct and indirect fire.
  5. The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson posted specific evacuation orders covering areas of Khan Younis.
  6. Israel recalled its negotiators from Qatar after reaching a “dead end” in ceasefire talks.
  7. Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 21 rocket attacks into Israel.
  8. Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in seven towns across the West Bank.
  9. Lebanese Hezbollah claimed seven attacks into northern Israel, targeting Israeli forces, including one attack that wounded 11 Israeli soldiers and civilians.
  10. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq resumed its attacks on US forces after the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip ended on December 1. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq said that five of its fighters died in battle.
  11. The two IRGC general officers killed in Israeli airstrikes in Syria on December 2 were members of the IRGC Quds Force Unit 340, according to Israeli media.

 

Hamas has used increasingly sophisticated tactics against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip since the humanitarian pause ended on December 1. Hamas and other Palestinian militias have used explosively formed penetrators (EFP) five times since December 1.[1] These attacks mark a noteworthy increase in the use of EFPs in the Israel-Hamas war. Hamas claimed that it used EFPs only twice prior to December 1, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) claimed no EFP attacks prior to December 2.[2] Hamas separately conducted a complex ambush targeting Israeli forces northeast of Khan Younis on December 3 (see below). Hamas also released a video on December 2 showing its force launching three one-way attack drones targeting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip.[3] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not confirmed that Hamas is employing these systems or tactics against its forces.

 

CTP-ISW is considering two possible hypotheses to explain this shift in tactics. Neither of these hypotheses are mutually exclusive.

 

  1. Hamas and the other Palestinian militias have shifted from conducting a delaying operation to conducting a deliberate defense meant to attrit and degrade the Israeli will to continue the ground operation into the Gaza Strip. CTP-ISW previously assessed on November 14 that Hamas and other Palestinian militias were conducting a delaying operation in the northern Gaza Strip.[4] Hamas likely sought to avoid a decisive defeat by preparing for a ”long war” that Hamas hoped would compel Israel to agree to a permanent ceasefire and thereby preserve Hamas as a governing body and military force.[5] The delaying operation was also likely meant to provide Hamas time to move its leaders and military materiel from the northern Gaza strip to the southern part of the strip. A delaying operation intentionally does not involve committing forces decisively to fighting. The shift in tactics suggests that Hamas and Palestinian militias are preparing to become decisively committed to defending against the Israeli ground operation. Israeli officials emphasized during the humanitarian pause that they would continue pursuing the destruction of Hamas.[6]
  2. Hamas and the other Palestinian militias are using new tactics based on lessons learned during the past month of fighting in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces are not using main roads when advancing, instead opting to create new avenues of movement.[7] Hamas and the other Palestinian militias could have learned how to more effectively counter this Israeli approach, for instance.

 

Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to support their objective of expelling US forces from the Middle East. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—has conducted dozens of attacks on US positions in Iraq and Syria since the war began.[8] The group includes several militias that are deeply loyal to Tehran and responsive to its instruction, such as Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has primarily used drones and rockets to conduct these attacks but also used a close-range ballistic missile for the first time against US forces on November 20 as part of a carefully calibrated escalation.[9] These attacks are meant to impose a cost on the United States for supporting Israel and also erode American willingness to remain militarily in Iraq and Syria. Iranian and Axis of Resistance leaders are operating on the theory that relatively low levels of militant pressure gradually diminish the willingness of the US political establishment to sustain deployments in the Middle East.[10] The US withdrawals from Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2021 reinforced this long-standing expectation. Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi political factions could furthermore try to exploit US self-defense strikes against Iraqi militia targets to generate domestic political support to expel US forces.

 

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri implied during meetings in Baghdad on December 3 that Iran could become directly involved in this escalation with the United States to support the effort to expel US forces. Bagheri declared the readiness of the Iranian armed forces to respond to any threats to “the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Iraq” during a meeting with Iraqi Army Chief of Staff General Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah.[11] Bagheri was referring to the recent US self-defense airstrikes against Iraqi militia targets, which Iraqi central government officials have framed as violations of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.[12] This threat is particularly noteworthy given that Bagheri is Iran’s most senior military official and responsible, in his capacity as AFGS chief, for military policy and strategic guidance for the Iranian armed forces.[13]

 

Bagheri separately discussed expanding military cooperation between Iran and Iraq with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani, Defense Minister Mohammad Thabit Saeed al Abasi, and Interior Minister Abdul Amir al Shammari.[14] Bagheri specifically proposed establishing a joint Iranian-Iraqi border force, holding joint exercises, and conducting personnel exchanges. Iran could exploit this expanding cooperation to support its long-standing effort to infiltrate and ultimately control elements of the Iraqi security sector.

 

The Houthi movement likely attacked three commercial vessels and possibly a US Navy vessel around the Bab al Mandeb on December 3. Houthi military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Sarea said that the group launched anti-ship missiles and naval drones targeting two vessels around the Bab al Mandeb. Sarea claimed that the two vessels had unspecified links to Israel.[15] US CENTCOM later said that the Houthis attacked three ships and engaged a US navy destroyer over several hours.[16] CENTCOM reported that the US destroyer USS Carney intercepted three drones flying toward the ship but that the Carney could not confirm the drone’s target. CENTCOM said that "the United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners.” Al Arabiya reported that Israel would send naval vessels and a submarine to the Red Sea in response to the Houthi attacks.[17]

 

  • The Houthi movement claimed that it fired an anti-ship ballistic missile at the cargo ship Unity Explorer.[18] CENTCOM reported two missiles were fired at the ship and caused minor damage.[19] The ship is Bahamian-flagged and Israeli-owned.[20] The Houthis have targeted Israeli-owned ships in previous attacks in recent weeks, as CTP-ISW has previously reported.[21]
  • The Houthi movement claimed that it launched a naval drone at the cargo ship German-owned Number Nine.[22] CENTCOM said that the Houthis fired one missile targeting the ship—not a naval drone.[23]

 

  • CENTCOM stated the Panamanian-flagged SOPHIE II reported that it was struck by a missile in a distress call. The Houthi movement did not claim responsibility for the attack, but the Houthis were probably responsible given the location and timing of the attack.
  • CENTCOM reported the US destroyer USS Carney shot down three drones coming from the direction of Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen while the Carney responded to the three ships’ distress calls. CENTCOM said that the target of the drones was unclear and that CENTCOM is not able to assess whether the USS Carney was a target.[24] The Houthi movement did not claim that it targeted the USS Carney in its statement on December 3. The USS Carney previously shot down Houthi drones and missiles launched from Yemen on November 29 and October 18.[25]

 

Gaza Strip

 

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

 

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

 

Israeli forces began ground operations into the southern Gaza Strip. IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari stated on December 3 that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “is resuming and expanding the ground operation against Hamas’ strongholds across the whole Gaza Strip."[26] Israeli Army Radio confirmed on December 3 that IDF ground forces, including armored elements, are attacking Hamas-affiliated targets north of Khan Younis.[27] The IDF Air Force struck Palestinian fighter military headquarters, tunnels, and weapons depots across the Gaza Strip. Israel has identified Khan Younis and Rafah as Hamas strongholds given the presence of Hamas leadership and military infrastructure there.[28] Local Palestinian journalists recorded Israeli tanks operating around Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip.[29]

 

Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces along Israeli lines of advance in the southern Gaza Strip using direct and indirect fire. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed a complex ambush on Israeli forces northeast of Khan Younis on December 3. The militia fighters claimed to detonate a “minefield” near eight Israeli soldiers before firing small arms at them.[30] The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed a separate complex attack in the same area using mortars and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).[31] The al Quds Brigades mortared Israeli forces that were nearing a junction in Deir al Balah where an independent analyst on X (Twitter) geolocated a photo of an Israeli tank.[32]

 

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson posted specific evacuation orders covering areas of Khan Younis on X (Twitter) at 23:36 EST on December 2 and 09:12 EST on December 3. The orders highlight specific blocks and neighborhoods in al Mahatta, al Katiba, Hamad, al Satar, Bani Suheila, and Maan. The evacuation notices called for civilians to go to “known IDP shelters.”[33] The spokesperson repeated evacuation orders covering areas of the northern Gaza Strip and called for residents to go to Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods of Gaza city.[34]

 

PIJ fighters claimed to detonate two EFPs targeting Israeli armored vehicles on December 2 and 3. The al Quds Brigades claimed that it detonated an EFP targeting an Israeli tank in al Mughraqa south of Gaza City on December 3.[35] The al Quds Brigades also detonated an EFP targeting an Israeli tank in Sheikh Radwan on December 2.[36] EFPs are particularly lethal improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate armored vehicles, such as main battle tanks.[37]

 

Hamas and other Palestinian militias conducted attacks against the IDF behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The al Qassem Brigades and al Quds Brigades claimed separate attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles in Beit Hanoun using RPGs.[38]

 

The al Qassem Brigades claimed to detonate a booby-trapped tunnel opening after luring Israeli forces into the entrance east of the city.[39] The IDF has located over 800 underground Hamas tunnel shafts and destroyed 500 of them since the ground operations began.[40] The al Qassem Brigades claimed three other attacks on Israeli tanks using RPGs around Beit Lahia.[41]

 

Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces north of Gaza city where Israel has been expanding operations since November 18.[42] The al Qassem Brigades claimed to conduct a complex attack on Israeli forces by detonating a booby-trapped tunnel entrance followed by mortar fire in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza city. The al Quds Brigades claimed three attacks on Israeli forces and vehicles in Sheikh Radwan using small arms and RPGs, including tandem-charged RPGs.[43]

 

Israel said it killed Hamas battalion commanders in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli forces conducted airstrikes to kill the commanders of Hamas’ Shati Battalion and Shujaiya Battalion. The commanders led fighting against Israeli forces in their respective areas of operations.[44]  An IDF spokesperson issued a warning to Hamas commanders in Shujaiya that they are targets and that Israel will use extreme force in the neighborhood to dismantle Hamas military infrastructure.[45]

 

Israel recalled its negotiators from Qatar on December 2 after reaching a “dead end” in ceasefire talks.[46] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Hamas did not fulfil its part of the agreement.[47] US National Security spokesperson John Kirby said Hamas failed to provide a list of women and children before the truce broke down.[48] Kirby affirmed that the United States is trying to restart the hostage/prisoner swap.[49]

 

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 21 rocket attacks into Israel on December 3. The al Qassem Brigades claimed responsibility for seven rocket attacks.[50] The al Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for 13 rocket attacks.[51] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—claimed one rocket attack.[52] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—published a video compilation of its forces launching rocket salvoes into Israel from the Gaza Strip.[53]

 

West Bank

 

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

 

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

 

Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in seven towns across the West Bank on December 3.[54]Four of the clashes were complex attacks, as Palestinian fighters detonated IEDs and fired small arms at Israeli forces.[55] Fighters fired small arms at Israeli military checkpoints near West Bank settlements in two instances.[56] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—claimed three of the attacks and said one of its fighters was killed by Israeli forces conducting a raid in Qalaqiya.[57] Israel forces arrested 34 people, including eight Hamas-affiliated individuals, in overnight raids of West Bank towns.[58]

 

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

 

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

 

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

 

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed seven attacks into northern Israel on December 3, targeting Israeli forces, including one attack that wounded 11 Israeli soldiers and civilians.[59] LH claimed that it fired one anti-tank missile targeting an Israeli military base in Beit Hillel.[60] Israeli Army Radio reported that the attack injured eight Israeli soldiers and three civilians.[61] The IDF separately said that unspecified Palestinian fighters fired one anti-tank guided missile targeting Yiftah.[62]

 

The IDF reported that unspecified militants conducted two rocket attacks from the Golan Heights into northern Israel.[63] One rocket landed in an open area near Keshet in the Golan Heights.[64]

 

Iran and Axis of Resistance

 

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

 

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

 

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq resumed its attacks on US forces on December 3 after the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip ended on December 1. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for two attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.[65] The group said that it launched a drone at US forces in Erbil and that it fired a rocket salvo at US forces in Hasakah. These are the first attacks the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed that it conducted since November 23.[66] The group had stated on November 30 that it would escalate against the United States inside and outside Iraq if Israel resumes operations in the Gaza Strip, which Israel did after the humanitarian pause expired.[67]

 

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq said that five of its fighters died in battle on December 3. The statement did not specify a cause or location nor did it blame any actor.[68]An Iraqi social media source claimed that five militants from Iranian-backed militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HHN) died as they attempted to conduct a one-way drone attack on US forces in Kirkuk.[69] The drone exploded prior to its launch, according to the social media account. The source also claimed that HHN fighters participated in drone attack claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq on US forces at al Harir airbase several hours beforehand.[70] An unspecified US military official contrastingly told the Time of Israel said the US conducted a “self-defense strike” at a staging site for a drone attack near Kirkuk.[71]  Other sources, citing Iraqi security officials, attributed the explosion to a US airstrike on a militia position as Iranian-backed militants prepared to launch projectiles at US forces.[72] An Iranian-backed militia Telegram channel mourned “a group of Islamic Resistance in Iraq fighters” and claimed that they died from an US airstrike.[73] CENTCOM has not commented on the explosion. CTP-ISW cannot corroborate or verify these reports at this time.

 

The two IRGC general officers killed in Israeli airstrikes in Syria on December 2 were members of the IRGC Quds Force Unit 340, according to Israeli media.[74] Israel conducted airstrikes around southern Syria, including near Sayyidah Zeynab, where the IRGC has high-level headquarters, on December 2, as CTP-ISW previously reported. Unit 340 is responsible for providing technical military support and training to members of the Axis of Resistance.[75] The IRGC announced that Israel killed these general officers in Syria, creating the expectation within the Iranian domestic information space that Iran will retaliate.[76]

 

The Iranian armed forces conducted a threatening drone flight near US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf on December 2.[77] US Central Command reported that the Eisenhower Carrier Air Wing intercepted the Iranian drone during aircraft carrier flight operations, marking the second such instance in recent days. The Iranian armed forces conducted a similarly threatening drone flight near the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 28, as CTP-ISW reported.[78] IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri called on the US Navy to “behave rationally” in the Persian Gulf in an interview with Iranian state television on November 26.[79]

 

Iran is continuing to pressure the United States and Israel into establishing a permanent ceasefire by warning that failing to do so will precipitate an escalation of the war. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned of the possibility of the “deep” expansion of the conflict if Israel continues its military operations in the Gaza Strip during a phone call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on December 3.[80] This statement is consistent with previous Iranian rhetoric surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[81]

 

President Ebrahim Raisi discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on December 2.[82] Raisi condemned Israeli action in the Gaza Strip and criticized the international community’s inaction in halting Israeli “crimes.”


Iran Update: December 2, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson released on X (Twitter) specific evacuation orders covering Jabalia, Gaza city, and eastern Rafah and Khan Younis governorates.
  2. Hamas Political Bureau Deputy Chairman Saleh al Arouri said that Hamas would not agree to further hostage-for-prisoner exchanges until the end of Israel’s ground operation and a “comprehensive ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip.
  3. Palestinian fighters continued to resist Israeli forces’ eastward advance toward Jabalia. Hamas fighters detonated an explosively formed penetrator targeting an Israeli vehicle for the second consecutive day.
  4. Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 25 rocket and mortar attacks into Israel.
  5. Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in five towns across the West Bank. This count is half the weekly average.
  6. Lebanese Hezbollah claimed 12 attacks into northern Israel, primarily on Israeli military targets.
  7. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps announced that Israel killed two of its general officers in Syria.
  8. Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri traveled to Baghdad.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson released on X (Twitter) at 0222 ET on December 2 specific evacuation orders covering Jabalia, Gaza city, and eastern Rafah and Khan Younis governorates.[1] The orders highlight specific blocks and neighborhoods in these areas. The evacuation notices called for civilians to go to “known shelters.”

Hamas Political Bureau Deputy Chairman Saleh al Arouri said that Hamas would not agree to further hostage-for-prisoner exchanges until the end of Israel’s ground operation and a “comprehensive ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip.[2] Arouri said that there are no ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas regarding the truce.

Palestinian fighters continued to resist Israeli forces’ eastward advance toward Jabalia. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—said that its fighters engaged IDF elements advancing through Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.[3] Palestinian media reported engagements between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters along al Ayoun Street in Sheikh Radwan.[4]

Hamas fighters detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting an Israeli vehicle for the second consecutive day on December 2. Hamas claimed attacks in the Gaza Strip using EFPs on October 31, November 17, and December 1.[5] Explosively formed penetrators are particularly lethal improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate armored vehicles, such as main battle tanks.[6]

Hamas also claimed that it launched three one-way attack drones targeting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip.[7] Hamas released a video showing its fighters launching the drones, but the video did not show the drones’ impacts or targets.

The IDF released a video showing a significant Palestinian fighter weapons cache in the northern Gaza Strip on December 2.[8] The IDF showed UNRWA boxes among the weapons and other military materiel in the cache. The cache featured a significant number of 122mm Grad rockets.

Palestinian fighters continued targeting Israeli forces behind the Israeli forward line of advance, which is consistent with the nature of clearing operations. The al Qassem Brigades—Hamas' militant wing—claimed that it targeted an Israeli command and control position east of Beit Hanoun on December 2.[9] The al Qassem Brigades also released a video on December 2 showing its fighters targeting Israeli forces in Beit Hanoun with rocket propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.[10] The group also fired a rocket propelled grenade targeting an Israeli bulldozer near Juhor ad Dik.[11]

Al Qassem Brigades fighters conducted a complex attack targeting an Israeli outpost in al Tawam, northwestern Gaza Strip, on December 2.[12] The al Qassem Brigades said that it detonated anti-personnel improvised explosive devices and heavy machine guns targeting an Israeli infantry unit “stationed” in a building.

Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip conducted 25 rocket and mortar attacks into Israel on December 2. The al Qassem Brigades claimed responsibility for seven rocket attacks.[13] The al Quds Brigades claimed responsibility for 12 rocket attacks, including one rocket attack targeting Jerusalem and another rocket attack targeting Tel Aviv.[14] The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—conducted one mortar attack targeting Sufa, southern Israel.[15] The Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—conducted five rocket attacks targeting southern Israel.[16]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in five towns across the West Bank on December 2.[17] This count is half the weekly average. The IDF reported that unidentified militants fired small arms and detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces during an Israeli raid in Nablus overnight on December 1.[18] Palestinian media posted footage that it claimed showed fighters detonating IEDs targeting Israeli forces in Askar refugee camp, Nablus, during the Israeli operation.[19] CTP-ISW cannot independently verify this footage. Local outlets claimed that Palestinian fighters detonated IEDs targeting Israeli forces in al Yamoun, northwest of Jenin.[20] A Jenin-focused outlet separately claimed that Palestinian fighters damaged an Israeli military vehicle in Jalbun, east of Jenin, but the outlet did not provide any visual evidence.[21]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) claimed 12 attacks into northern Israel on December 2, primarily on Israeli military targets.[22] This rate of LH attacks into northern Israel is consistent with the rate of attacks recorded before the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip began on November 24. The IDF separately reported that unidentified fighters in southern Lebanon launched mortars toward northern Israel.[23] Israeli Army Radio also reported that unidentified fighters fired an anti-tank missile targeting Moshav Dov. The missile hit a civilian building in the town.[24]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced on December 2 that Israel killed two of its general officers in Syria.[25] IRGC-affiliated media published images of the two in their military uniforms with insignias matching the rank of brigadier general second class.[26] The Iranian regime explicitly blaming Israel for killing the two officers generates the expectation within the Iranian domestic information space that Iran will retaliate. The announcement comes after social media accounts reported that the IDF Air Force conducted airstrikes on IRGC targets in southern Syria, including the IRGC headquarters near Sayyida Zainab, on December 2.[27]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Iranian-backed threats to US forces in Iraq during a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani on December 1.[28] Blinken called on the Iraqi central government to protect US personnel in Iraq and to pursue the perpetrators of recent attacks against US forces. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—claimed 74 attacks on US positions in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began. The group threatened on November 30 to escalate against the United States inside and outside Iraq if Israel resumes operations in the Gaza Strip, which Israel did after the humanitarian pause ended on December 1.[29] Sudani emphasized the Iraqi central government’s commitment to protecting international coalition advisers stationed in Iraq.[30] Iranian state media highlighted Sudani’s condemnation of the November 22 US airstrikes on Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah sites in Jurf al Sakhr, Babil Province, which he described as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”[31]

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri traveled to Baghdad on December 2.[32] Bagheri will meet with senior Iraqi military and political officials, including Sudani and President Abdul Latif Rashid, during his visit.[33] Iranian state media reported that Bagheri will discuss “fighting terrorism, developments in the region, bilateral defense cooperation, and border cooperation” with these officials. Bagheri is Iran’s most senior military official. He oversees the AFGS, which is responsible for military policy and strategic guidance, among other duties, for the Iranian armed forces.[34] The AFGS, along with the Khatam ol Anbia Central Headquarters, additionally commands, controls, coordinates, and supports Iran’s conventional army, the IRGC, and the Law Enforcement Command under the supreme leader.[35]

Bagheri’s visit to Baghdad notably follows Sudani’s phone call with Blinken. The Iraqi central government has previously coordinated with the Iranian regime following meetings with US officials. Sudani recently met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran on November 6 after meeting with Blinken in Baghdad on November 5, for example.[36] Bagheri’s visit is also noteworthy given how rarely he travels abroad.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held a phone call with his Omani counterpart Badr al Busaidi on December 1.[37] Abdollahian stated that Axis of Resistance leaders told him that they will give a “more regrettable and harsher” response to Israel if it resumes operations in the Gaza Strip during his visit to Beirut on November 22. Abdollahian met with the deputy chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip, Khalil al Haya, PIJ Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah, and LH Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah during his visit to Beirut.[38]

Artesh Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Erani announced that Iran, China, and Russia will hold a naval exercise during the 2024 Maritime Security Belt naval war game.[39] The three countries last held a naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman in March 2023 as part of the trilateral Maritime Security Belt they established in 2019.[40]

Iran Update: December 1, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ashka Jhaveri, Johanna Moore, Angelica Evans, Peter Mills, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, and Fredrick W. Kaga

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Contributor: Sydney White 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Fighting resumed in the Gaza Strip after negotiations between Israel and Hamas broke down. Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces along Israeli lines of advance north and south of Gaza city. Palestinian militias resumed indirect fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel after the truce ended. 
  • The IDF published a map dividing the entire Gaza Strip into blocks to facilitate civilian evacuations.  
  • The Israel government reportedly informed Arab states that it wants to establish a buffer zone in a post-war Gaza Strip. 
  • Palestinian fighters conducted seven attacks targeting Israeli forces in the West Bank. Hamas called for anti-Israel demonstrations across the West Bank. 
  • Lebanese Hezbollah conducted five attacks into northern Israel.  
  • An Iraqi social media account reported that the 30th Brigade of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces blocked a convoy of Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and US forces in Iraq. 

Gaza Strip 

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:  

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip 
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip. 

Fighting resumed in the Gaza Strip after negotiations between Israel and Hamas broke down. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported one hour before the truce was set to end that it intercepted an aerial object fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.[1] The IDF stated that Hamas violated the agreement and renewed military operations in the Gaza Strip.[2] Hamas stated that Israel is responsible for the reignition of hostilities and blamed Israel for rejecting multiple offers to amend the swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held prisoners.[3] Hamas Political Bureau member and representative of Gaza city Khalil al Hayya said on December 1 that Hamas will resume hostilities.[4] The Israeli Air Force and various combat elements attacked over 200 militant targets in the Gaza Strip, including in Khan Younis and Rafah.[5] Ground forces directed airstrikes and cleared destroyed areas booby-trapped with IEDs, tunnel shafts, rocket launching positions, and a Hamas military headquarters.[6] The IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said the war is entering a second phase.[7] Several Palestinian militias claimed to clash with Israeli forces across the northern Gaza Strip, the area that Israel has declared a ”war zone.”[8]

  • The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed several attacks on Israeli forces using indirect fire, tandem charge anti-tank rockets, and anti-personnel munitions.[9] The al Qassem Brigades also claimed to use a Shawaz explosively formed penetrators (EFP) to target an IDF tank.[10] Hamas has manufactured and used EPFs in the Gaza Strip since 2007.[11] The IDF seized Shawaz EFPs during a raid on November 16.[12]
  • The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed several attacks on Israeli forces north and south of Gaza city.[13] The al Quds Brigades shot down an Israeli Skylark drone in the central area of the Gaza Strip.[14]
  • Other Palestinian militias also resumed attacks on Israeli forces. The National Resistance Brigades—the militant wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—sniped an Israeli soldier north of the Martyr’s junction in Gaza city and mortared groups of Israeli soldiers west of Gaza city.[15] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—clashed with Israeli forces in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.[16]

Palestinian militias targeted Israeli forces along Israeli lines of advance north and south of Gaza city. The IDF stated that its forces were engaged in battles against militants to defeat the Hamas Zaytoun Battalion, operating in the Zaytoun neighborhood prior to the truce.[17] The al Quds Brigades mortared Israeli soldiers stationed near the Netzarim junction on the Salah al Din Road south of Zaytoun neighborhood.[18] Axis of Resistance-affiliated media said unspecified Palestinian fighters ambushed Israeli forces in the Tal al Hawa neighborhood west of Zaytoun.[19] The IDF stated on November 18 that it is expanding offensive operations toward Jabalia city in the northern Gaza Strip.[20] Local Palestinian media said that Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces engaged in fierce clashes southwest of Jabalia.[21]

Palestinian militias resumed indirect fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel after the truce ended. The al Qassem Brigades fired nine rocket salvoes into Israel, including at Tel Aviv.[22] The Times of Israel reported that Hamas expanded the range of its rocket fire as sirens went off in several cities of central Israel.[23] The al Quds Brigades fired five rocket salvoes at targets in southern Israel, including Nir Am, where Israeli Army Radio reported five Israeli injuries.[24] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—fired two rocket salvoes into southern Israel in response to Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip.[25] The National Resistance Brigades fired rockets at unspecified Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip.[26]

The IDF published a map dividing the entire Gaza Strip into blocks to facilitate civilian evacuations. The IDF said the map is in preparation for the next stages of the war and is designed to allow residents of the Gaza Strip to understand instructions to leave certain areas.[27] Senior Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister Mark Regev told BBC that Israel shared its plans with US Secretary Blinken to show the United States that Israel is making “every effort to see civilians safely evacuate areas of combat.”[28] The AP reported on December 1 that the IDF dropped leaflets over an area east of Khan Younis urging residents to leave for their safety and declaring the Khan Younis a “dangerous battle zone.”[29] The IDF did not confirm that it advised people to leave, as it has done in the past, however.[30]

The Israel government reportedly informed Arab states that it wants to establish a buffer zone in a post-war Gaza Strip. Egyptian and regional sources told Reuters that Israel relayed its plans to Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.[31] One of the sources said that Israel wants to prevent any future infiltration attack by Hamas or other militia infiltration attack.[32] An Israeli Prime Minister foreign policy adviser said the buffer zone plan is part of a "three-tier process" that includes destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza, and deradicalizing the enclave.[33]

PIJ Deputy Secretary General Muhammad al Hindi told Al Jazeera about PIJ’s coordination with Hamas on the battlefield and during the humanitarian pause.[34] Al Hindi said that PIJ played an important role “behind Hamas” in imposing truces and completing the hostage/prisoner swap with Israel.[35] CTP-ISW previously reported on November 28 that PIJ fighters accompanied hostages through the Gaza Strip as they were released.[36] Al Hindi also said the Hamas and PIJ militant wings are coordinating in the field and working together.[37] The al Quds Brigades and the al Qassem Brigades have claimed joint operations during the Israel-Hamas War.[38] Al Hindi has previously commented on growing coordination with Hamas. He publicly claimed that there was consensus between PIJ and Hamas in confronting Israel in May 2023 and said PIJ enters battles with Hamas ”side by side” in August 2022.[39] Al Hindi was elected to the PIJ political bureau in March 2023 and subsequently reportedly became the Political Bureau’s head.[40]

Anonymous Israeli officials told the Wall Street Journal that Israel plans to target Hamas leaders abroad after the war ends.[41] The report claims Israel has already started the preparation for targeted killings abroad. Several members of Hamas’ leadership live in Lebanon, Qatar, and Turkey.[42]

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that a second group of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip arrived in Chechnya on December 1, possibly partially funded by his daughter’s ”Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization. (NOTE: This text also appeared in the Institute for the Study of War’s December 1 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment) Kadyrov published footage claiming to show 116 Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip, including 60 children, arriving in Chechnya and claimed that it is Chechnya’s ”moral duty” to help the civilians of the Gaza Strip.[43] Kadyrov claimed that his daughter and head of the Grozny City Hall Preschool Education Department, Khadizhat Kadyrova, provided the children gifts through the ”Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization. Kadyrov announced Kadyrova‘s patronage of the organization in a Telegram post on November 11, encouraging his followers to purchase crafts made by Chechen preschoolers to fund humanitarian aid for Palestinian Muslims.[44] Regional outlet Caucasian Knot reported on November 15 that the organization raised more than 68 million rubles to purchase aid for Palestinians.[45] Caucasian Knot reported on November 16, citing unnamed Chechen government officials, that Kadyrov pressured Chechen officials to spend up to a third of their monthly salaries buying crafts from the ”Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization.[46] Chechnya’s Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Development stated on November 18 that fundraisers for the organization are taking place ”in all corners” of Chechnya.[47] ISW cannot independently verify this footage or any of Kadyrov’s claims, however. But if true, Kadyrov may be using the funds from this organization to at least partially finance the relocation of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip, an effort that could help Kadyrov in his quest to balance his desire to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin with the need to appeal to his own Chechen constituency.[48] Kadyrov posted footage on November 29 purportedly showing an initial group of 50 Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip arriving in Chechnya.[49] Kadyrov’s claims and the alleged work of the ”Children of Chechnya-Children of Palestine” organization reflect the Kremlin’s shift to a much more anti-Israel positions in the Israel-Hamas war.[50]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters conducted seven attacks targeting Israeli forces in the West Bank on December 1. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—engaged Israeli forces in a small arms clash near Nablus and detonated an IED targeting Israeli forces near Jenin.[51] Unspecified Palestinian fighters conducted three small arms attacks against Israeli forces across the West Bank and detonated two IEDs targeting Israeli forces near Jenin.[52] The IDF reported that it detained 15 wanted persons and seized weapons, explosives, and unspecified military equipment across the West Bank.[53] 

Hamas called for anti-Israel demonstrations across the West Bank. Hamas branches in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Jenin, Hebron, Qalqilya called for protests on December 1 against the resumption of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip.[54] CTP-ISW did not observe any demonstrations in the West Bank on December 1, however.

A Palestinian think tank reported survey results showing that Palestinian support for Hamas and the formation of armed groups in the West Bank has increased due to the Israel-Hamas prisoner/hostage exchange deal and increasing Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian civilians. The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reported that support for Hamas in the West Bank has increased from 12 percent in September to 40 percent in November.[55] The director of the center reported that the recent hostage/prisoner release deal between Hamas and Israel was the most important factor increasing support for Hamas. The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reported in November that nearly half of Palestinians in the West Bank support the formation of armed groups in response to attacks by Israeli settlers, which it said have increased 40 percent from 2022 to 2023.[56] US Secretary of State Blinken notified Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States will begin announcing visa bans against Israeli settlers involved in attacks on Palestinian civilians.[57]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) conducted five attacks into northern Israel on December 1.[58] LH fired rockets at four Israeli military sites, hitting the al Marj site twice.[59] The IDF said that it intercepted a ”suspicious“ aerial target near HaGorshrim on December 1, although no militant group claimed responsibility for an attempted attack.[60] This is the first day that LH has conducted indirect fire attacks into Israel since November 23.[61] The IDF said that it conducted strikes on LH squads and positions in southern Lebanon.[62]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

An Iraqi social media account reported that the 30th Brigade of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) blocked a convoy of Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and US forces in Iraq on December 1.[63] A video from the account shows PMF vehicles blocking a road and preventing military vehicles from passing. An Axis of Resistance-affiliated Telegram channel claimed that the road blocking occurred near Nimrud in northwestern Iraq.[64] The PMF and Iraqi Army conducted a "joint security operation" in Ninewa Province on December 1, but it is unclear if the 30th Brigade participated.[65] The PMF is a state-affiliated umbrella organization of Iraqi militias that ostensibly report to the Iraqi prime minister but frequently subvert the official chain of command to report to their affiliated Iranian-backed proxies.[66] CTP-ISW cannot independently verify Iraqi media’s claim.

The 30th Brigade operates in Ninewa Province in northern Iraq and has strong ties to members of the Islamic Resistance of Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—including Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, and the Badr Organization.[67] The 30th PMF Brigade, also known as Hashd al Shabak, formed in 2014 under Waad Qado and is primarily made up of the Shabak ethnic group and Shia Turkmen.[68] The United States and locals from the Ninewa Plains have accused the 30th Brigade and Waad Qado of human rights violations, including extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings.[69] US-based al Monitor reported that the 30th Brigade has also been accused of targeting minority groups in the Ninewa Plains.[70] The 30th Brigade has previously harassed US forces in northern Iraq.[71]  The brigade has resisted orders from former Iraqi prime ministers to withdraw unauthorized checkpoints from Ninewa on multiple occasions.[72]

The 30th Brigade’s decision to block US and CTS forces comes shortly after Najm al Jubouri submitted his resignation as the governor of Ninewa on November 26.[73] The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) barred al Jubouri from running in the 2023 provincial elections based on corruption charges brought against him by the Accountability and Justice Commission.[74] The Shia Coordination Framework spearheaded a series of amendments to Iraq’s election laws in March 2023, one of which barred individuals charged with corruption from participating in elections.[75] Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani appointed PMF-affiliated Abdul Qadir al Dakhil as the acting governor of Ninewa on November 27.[76] Dakhil served as the head of the Supreme Committee for the Reconstruction of Mosul under al Jubouri but has been supported by the PMF and was seen being escorted in Ninewa Province after being appointed acting governor by Kataib Hezbollah members, according to locals.[77]

Senior Iranian clerics met with Iraqi PMF Doctrinal Guidance Director Mohammad al Heydari in Qom on December 1.[78] Prominent Iranian Shia cleric Hossein Nouri Hamedani praised the PMF and condemned Israeli conduct in the Gaza Strip during his meeting with Heydari. IRGC Quds Force officials have previously consulted Hamedani on Quds Force and Axis of Resistance activities, as CTP-ISW reported.[79] Iranian Assembly of Experts member and Interim Qom Friday Prayer Leader Hashem Hosseini Bushehri separately praised the united front between Iran and the PMF against enemy conspiracies during his meeting with Heydari.

IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri met with Omani Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Hamid bin Abdullah al Balushi in Bandar Abbas, Hormozgan Province, on December 1.[80] Tangsiri repeated long-standing Iranian regime rhetoric that regional countries must ensure the security of the Strait of Hormuz and that Western countries are present in the Persian Gulf to sow discord among Muslim countries. The Artesh and IRGC navies conducted a joint naval exercise with the Royal Navy of Oman in the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman on November 30.[81] Al Balushi also met with Law Enforcement Command Border Guard Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Ali Goudarzi in Tehran on November 29.[82] 


 

Iran Update, November 30, 2023

click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Annika Ganzeveld, Ashka Jhaveri, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 5:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Members of the Israeli policy community have expressed concerns in recent days that Iran’s so-called “Axis of Resistance” has built the capability to attack Israel from the West Bank and Lebanon in addition to the Gaza Strip. These concerns are consistent with Iranian leaders’ intent to threaten Israel and its population from multiple different directions simultaneously and thereby drive citizens away from living in Israel.
  2. Israel and Hamas extended the humanitarian pause agreement for an additional day, meaning that the pause is set to expire on December 1 at 0000 EST. Israel and Hamas completed the seventh swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners on November 30 in accordance with the humanitarian pause agreement.
  3. Israeli officials are emphasizing their continued commitment to destroying Hamas and their immediate military readiness. Hamas is signaling its preparedness for further fighting as well.
  4. Palestinian fighters conducted nine attacks targeting Israeli forces in the West Bank. Hamas conducted a shooting attack targeting Israeli civilians in Jerusalem as well.
  5. Members of the Axis of Resistance threatened to resume their regional attacks on US and Israeli targets if Israel resumes military operations in the Gaza Strip after the humanitarian pause ends.
  6. An explosion occurred at a Houthi military facility in Sanaa, Yemen. The Houthis have claimed responsibility for several attacks on Israel and Israeli-owned tankers in the Red Sea throughout the Israel-Hamas war.

Members of the Israeli policy community have expressed concerns in recent days that Iran’s so-called “Axis of Resistance” has built the capability to attack Israel from the West Bank and Lebanon in addition to the Gaza Strip. An Israeli think tank published an article on November 29 describing the risk of a Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) ground attack into northern Israel in a way similar to Hamas’ October 7 attack.[1] The article stated that LH “poses a significant challenge for the IDF and still poses a clear and present danger.” Mark Regev—a senior adviser to the Israeli prime minister—similarly warned on November 30 that Hamas seeks to attack Israeli targets inside and from the West Bank.[2] Regev expressed concern that Hamas could conduct an escalation from the West Bank into Israel similar to Hamas’ October 7 attack. CTP-ISW has reported extensively on how Iran has invested in building military capabilities and infrastructure in the West Bank in recent months.[3]

These concerns are consistent with Iranian leaders’ intent to threaten Israel and its population from multiple different directions simultaneously and thereby drive citizens away from living in Israel. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami advocated for LH and Palestinian militia ground attacks into Israel during an interview with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s website in August 2022.[4] Salami argued that such attacks would stoke internal chaos and facilitate migration away from Israel. Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani, more recently boasted on November 18 that Hamas’ October 7 attack has reduced migration to Israel by creating economic, political, and security crises for the country.[5]

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas extended the humanitarian pause agreement for an additional day, meaning that the pause is set to expire on December 1 at 0000 EST. Israel, Hamas, and Qatar confirmed the extension late on November 29.[6] The Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry stated the extension includes the same conditions as the previous pause agreement, which involve a cessation of all military activities and the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.[7] No further extension was announced at the time of this writing.

Israel and Hamas completed the seventh swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners on November 30 in accordance with the humanitarian pause agreement. Hamas released eight Israeli hostages to the Red Cross on November 30.[8] The agreement stipulates that Hamas must release ten hostages to extend the pause an additional day, but Israel agreed to count two of the hostages whom Hamas released yesterday as part of the most recent ten.[9] Hamas previously released 12 Israelis on November 29, including two dual Israeli-Russian citizens through a separate negotiation process with Russia.[10] The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas— said that it released the Russian citizens as a sign of appreciation for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for Palestine.[11] Israel released 22 Palestinian youth and eight Arab-Israel women from detention on November 30.[12]

Israeli officials are emphasizing their continued commitment to destroying Hamas and their immediate military readiness. Hamas is signaling its preparedness for further fighting as well. The IDF spokesperson stated on November 30 that the IDF is ready to resume the fighting and is prepared to attack at any hour, including the night of November 30, if the pause is not renewed for another day.[13] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that Israel will take as long as needed to win the war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas in a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.[14] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu similarly reiterated his oath to eliminate Hamas, saying that “nothing will stop us” after his meeting with Blinken.[15] Netanyahu also spoke to Blinken about the "next phase” of fighting.[16] The al Qassem Brigades issued on Telegram a warning to its fighters to be on high alert on the evening of November 29 before Israel and Hamas renewed the pause.[17] Hamas does not ordinarily issue orders to its fighters on this public channel, suggesting the statement was intended to message Hamas’ military readiness.

The United Nations confirmed that 10,500 liters of fuel reached two northern Gaza Strip hospitals on November 29.[18] The Palestinian Red Crescent Society and UNRWA delivered medical supplies and fuel to al Ahli hospital and al Sahaba hospital. This fuel will operate the hospitals' generators for about a week. The United Nations noted the lack of fuel in the northern Gaza Strip is disrupting water filtration plants, however. The Gazan Health Ministry director stated on November 30 that that fuel had not reached hospitals in Gaza city and the northern parts of the strip, which is preventing hospitals from resuming their full operations, according to Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated media.[19] 

The IDF reported that it intercepted a “suspicious target” outside the Gaza Strip over Netivot on November 30.[20] Israel frequently uses the term “suspicious target” to refer to direct and indirect fire attacks into Israeli territory. Israel has not confirmed from where the target originated and said that the event is under investigation. No group claimed the attack. Palestinian militias had not conducted indirect fire attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip since the humanitarian pause began on November 24.[21]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters conducted nine attacks targeting Israeli forces in the West Bank on November 30.[22] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—the self-proclaimed militant wing of Fatah—engaged Israeli forces in three small arms clashes in Qalaqiya, Tubas, and Tulkarm.[23] The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades also detonated an IED targeting Israeli forces during an Israeli raid in the Tulkarm refugee camp. The al Quds Brigades separately detonated an IED on Israeli forces in Tubas.[24]

Hamas conducted a shooting attack targeting Israeli civilians in Jerusalem on November 30.[25] Two Hamas gunmen fired on Israeli civilians at a bus stop near an entrance to the city before off-duty Israeli soldiers and an armed civilian killed the gunmen.[26] The Hamas attack killed three Israeli civilians and wounded at least eight others. The attack does not represent a technical violation of the humanitarian pause, which appears to apply only to the Gaza Strip based on statements made by Israel, Hamas, and Qatar. Hamas praised the attackers and said that the attack was in response to Israeli violations and ”massacres” in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners.[27] Hamas also called for an ”escalation of resistance” against Israel without specifying further. The al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, al Quds Brigades, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine celebrated the attack and reiterated the unity of their fighters with one another.[28]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

LH and other Iranian-backed militias did not claim any attacks into northern Israel on November 30. The IDF intercepted an unspecified “aerial target” that crossed from Lebanon into Israeli territory on November 30.[29] No group claimed responsibility for the unspecified ”aerial target”.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Members of the Axis of Resistance threatened on November 30 to resume their regional attacks on US and Israeli targets if Israel resumes military operations in the Gaza Strip after the humanitarian pause ends. The Axis of Resistance—likely under Iranian direction—has conducted dozens of attacks against US and Israeli targets across the Middle East since the war began but largely stopped these attacks since the pause began on November 24. The Axis of Resistance has continued to attack and seize Israeli-operated tankers in this period, however.

  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—stated that it will escalate against the United States inside and outside Iraq if Israel resumes operations in the Gaza Strip. This statement is consistent with the threats that its constituent militias have made against the United States in recent days.[30] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed 74 attacks on US positions in Iraq and Syria between October 18 and November 23. Neither the Islamic Resistance in Iraq nor any of its affiliated militias have claimed any attacks on US forces since the pause took effect in the Gaza Strip on November 24.[31]
  • The Houthi movement military spokesperson said on November 30 that the Houthis are ready to resume military operations against Israel if Israel resumes operations in the Gaza Strip.[32] Houthi Ambassador to Iran Ebrahim al Daylami said in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Tehran on November 30 that the decision to target Israel and Israeli assets in the Red Sea is meant to defend the people of the Gaza Strip.[33] The Houthis did not officially affirm its commitment to the Israel-Hamas truce.

An explosion occurred at a Houthi military facility in Sanaa, Yemen, on November 30. Local footage shows a large cloud of smoke in the Jabal Attan area of Sanaa.[34] An independent analyst on X (Twitter) geolocated the footage to a Houthi missile base.[35] Israeli media, citing unspecified Saudi media, reported that a missile strike cause an explosion at a Houthi missile depot located in a closed military zone.[36] A Houthi Political Bureau member claimed that the explosion was caused by an unexploded piece of ordinance in a mountainous area, without mentioning the military facility.[37] The US Department of Defense press secretary confirmed on November 30 that the US military did not target a Houthi base in Yemen.[38] The Houthis have claimed responsibility for several attacks on Israel and Israeli-owned tankers in the Red Sea throughout the Israel-Hamas war.

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri discussed expanding Iranian-Saudi military ties during a phone call with Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman al Saud on November 30.[39] They also discussed “important issues in the Islamic world,” possibly including the Israel-Hamas war. Bagheri has discussed the war with foreign defense officials on numerous occasions since the war began. Bagheri held separate phone calls with the Russian and Qatari defense ministers on October 19, for example.[40]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian criticized the Emirati government for hosting Israeli President Isaac Herzog during a phone call with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on November 30.[41] Abdollahian stated that Herzog’s presence at the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai warrants “serious consideration.” IRGC-affiliated media separately reported that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi did not attend the conference “in protest” against Herzog’s presence.[42] The Iranian regime has consistently pressured Arab and Muslim countries, especially ones that have normalized relations with Israel, since the Israel-Hamas war began to cut diplomatic and economic ties with Israel.

The Artesh and IRGC navies conducted a joint naval exercise with the Royal Navy of Oman in the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman on November 30.[43] Iranian media reported that the naval forces monitored maritime traffic as part of the exercise. Iran and Oman have regularly conducted joint exercises in recent years, such as in December 2021.[44]

Assembly of Experts member Rahim Tavakol revealed that an Assembly of Experts committee is discussing deputy supreme leader candidates during an interview with Iranian reformist-affiliated media on November 28.[45] The Assembly of Experts is an Iranian regime entity constitutionally responsible for monitoring the supreme leader and selecting his successor. The committee that Tavakol mentioned is the same three-person committee that is reportedly responsible for preparing a short list of potential candidates to succeed Ali Khamenei.[46] Tavakol confirmed that he is a member of the committee and did not deny when asked about reports that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Friday Prayer Leader Ahmad Khatami are the other members. Khatami is a staunch hardliner who entered the Assembly of Experts in 1999.[47] Any individual holding the position of deputy supreme leader would be an obvious candidate to replace current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when he dies.

Some Western observers have noted that the Assembly of Experts is discussing deputy supreme leader candidates amid rumors of Khamenei’s deteriorating health.[48] An equally if not more plausible explanation is that the officials are having this discussion in the context of the upcoming Assembly of Experts election in March 2024. Assembly of Experts members are elected every eight years, meaning that the next assembly will probably select the next supreme leader given that Khamenei is 84 years old.[49]

The Islamic Republic has had only one deputy supreme leader in its history thus far. The Assembly of Experts appointed Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in 1985 to the position under then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and designated him as Khomeini’s successor.[50] Khomeini dismissed Montazeri in 1989 for questioning regime policies, such as the regime’s mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.[51] The regime placed Montazeri under house arrest until 2003, and he died in 2009.[52]

Artesh Coordination Deputy Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari claimed on November 30 that Israel has withdrawn its forces from the Caucasus since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.[53] The Iranian regime has historically accused Baku of allowing Israel to use Azerbaijani territory to launch operations against Iran, as CTP-ISW has reported on numerous occasions.[54]


Iran Update, November 29, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, Brian Carter, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israeli officials and international mediators expect that the humanitarian pause with Hamas will be extended. The current pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas lasts until November 30.
  2. The New York Times reported on November 29 that international mediators are hoping that short-term pauses will pave the way for a longer-term cease-fire to end the war.
  3. Israel is insisting that it will continue operations in the Gaza Strip to eliminate Hamas, which is consistent with Israel’s stated objectives.
  4. Hamas and Israel completed the sixth swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners on November 29 in accordance with their humanitarian pause agreement.
  5. The US destroyer USS Carney shot down a Houthi drone launched from Yemen on November 29.
  6. An Iranian drone conducted “unsafe and unprofessional actions" near US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf on November 28.
  7. Saudi Arabia offered to increase investments in the Iranian economy if Iran reins in its proxies and prevents the Israel-Hamas war from turning into a regional conflict, according to Arab and Western officials.
  8. The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, al Quds Brigades, and unspecified Palestinian fighters conducted small arms clashes and IED attacks against Israeli forces during Israeli raids in Jenin.
  9. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel on November 29.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials and international mediators expect that the humanitarian pause with Hamas will be extended. The current pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas lasts until November 30. An anonymous senior Israeli official told the Washington Post that Israel expects the pause to continue for another two to three days after November 30.[1] The Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson told CNN on November 29 that they are “very optimistic” that an extension will be announced in the coming hours.[2] The New York Times reported that top officials from Qatar, Egypt, Israel, and the United States are discussing extending the pause to allow for further hostages/prisoner exchanges. Anonymous senior Egyptian officials told the Wall Street Journal that Hamas leaders said that Hamas would agree to an additional four-day extension of the truce, according to Egyptian and Qatari mediators.[3] An unnamed Israeli official said that Israel is willing to discuss the release of Israeli soldiers held hostage in the Gaza Strip when Hamas has released the remaining 27 women and children hostages.[4] Hamas said that it is open to releasing young male hostages in exchange for senior Palestinian prisoners as part of a longer-term ceasefire.[5] Participants at the negotiations said that Mossad Director David Barnea listened to a host of proposals—including a permanent cease-fire—without giving a firm no.[6] An anonymous “official familiar with the matter” told Israeli media that Israel is not willing to extend the current ceasefire beyond December 3, however.[7]

The New York Times reported on November 29 that international mediators are hoping that short-term pauses will pave the way for a longer-term cease-fire to end the war.[8] One of the mediators said the longer the pause lasts, the harder it will be for Israel to restart its offensive and extend it to the southern Gaza Strip.[9] A permanent ceasefire would prevent Israel from completing its stated objectives in the Israel-Hamas war, which are the destruction of Hamas’ military and governance capabilities.[10] The United States and European Union have also expressed support for these objectives, which a permanent ceasefire would block.[11]

Israel is insisting that it will continue operations in the Gaza Strip to eliminate Hamas, which is consistent with Israel’s stated objectives. The IDF Chief of Staff approved plans on November 29 for IDF combat operations in the Gaza Strip after the end of the truce agreement.[12] Israeli Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu said there is no scenario in which Israel does not resume fighting in the Gaza Strip.[13] Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s objectives in the Gaza Strip. He said that Israel aims to "eliminate Hamas, return all hostages to Israel, and ensure that Gaza will never again go back to being a threat to the state of Israel.”[14] Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israeli forces will continue ground operations “very soon.”[15] Senior Israeli army officials stressed that for Israel to complete its objective of defeating Hamas, Israeli forces must eliminate Hamas leadership and destroy Hamas infrastructure in Khan Younis and Rafah.[16] Israeli media reported that the IDF expects to use aggressive tactics in its assault on Khan Younis.[17]

Senior Israeli army officials told Israeli media that its forces have spent the past week investigating Hamas military capabilities.[18] The IDF has mapped Hamas’ underground infrastructure and collected intelligence from computers and communication systems in preparation for ground maneuvers in the center and south of the Gaza Strip.[19] The officials noted that the bulk of weapons smuggling to the Gaza Strip has occurred through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.[20]

Hamas and Israel completed the sixth swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners on November 29 in accordance with their humanitarian pause agreement. The IDF reported that the Red Cross said that 10 Israeli hostages and four Thai hostages are on their way to Israel.[21] CNN reported that Hamas released an Israeli American dual citizen.[22]

The al Qassem Brigadesthe militant wing of Hamasreleased two Russian citizens as a sign of appreciation for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for Palestine.[23] The al Qassem Brigades previously cited Putin’s support for Palestine as its reason for releasing a Russian citizen on November 26.[24] Hamas Political Bureau member Musa Abu Marzouk said that the release is not part of the hostage/prisoner swap agreement with Israel.[25] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that the two hostages were transferred to Israel on November 29.[26]

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov posted footage on November 29 purportedly showing 50 Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip arriving in Chechnya.[27] (NOTE: This text also appeared in the Institute for the Study of War’s November 29 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment) Kadyrov claimed that the Gazan refugees will stay at the "Gorny Klyuch” children’s health camp in Shalinsky Raion, Chechnya and that an additional 100 Gazan refugees will arrive in Chechnya on November 30.[28] Kadyrov’s claims reflect the Kremlin’s shift to a much more anti-Israel position in the Israel-Hamas war, as well as Kadyrov‘s desire to show unwavering support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.[29] ISW cannot independently verify the footage or any of Kadyrov’s claims, however.

The al Qassem Brigades said three Israeli hostages died due to Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.[30] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Hamas is responsible for the security of all hostages in the Gaza Strip.[31] Israel is examining the reliability of the al Qassem Brigades’ claim.[32]

Senior Israeli army officials said Israel controls 45% of the Gaza Strip.[33] CTP-ISW assesses that Israel has cleared 48% of the northern Gaza Strip north of Wadi Gaza. Israel has declared the area north of Wadi Gaza "a war zone.”[34] It is not clear that the Israeli officials are using the same doctrinal terms and definitions as does CTP-ISW.

China proposed a peace plan for the Middle East that is tantamount to Israeli defeat. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented a four-point plan for Middle East peace to the UN Security Council. The plan aims in part to revitalize the political prospects for the two-state solution.[35] Wang told the council that there needs to be a lasting cease-fire and that those held hostage should be released, although he offered no specifics.[36] Wang said Palestinians' right to statehood and "right to return” has long been ignored.[37] The Chinese proposal does not address the future governance of Gaza, specifically whether Hamas should be allowed to continue ruling the enclave, or the demilitarization of Gaza, nor does it address Israeli concerns about their own security against future attacks such as the October 7 assault.

The United States delivered humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and plans to continue similar shipments after the humanitarian pause ends. US Central Command confirmed on November 28 that it supported USAID efforts to increase the flow of assistance into the Gaza Strip.[38] Two US senior officials told reporters that the United States expects the increased levels of humanitarian aid and fuel entering the Gaza Strip will continue after the pause ends.[39] The United Nations continued to operate in the Gaza Strip, including in the northern Gaza Strip, on November 29.[40]

CTP-ISW did not record verifiable reports of kinetic activity inside the Gaza Strip or reports of attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on November 29.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters conducted 22 attacks against Israeli forces in the West Bank on November 29.[41] This attack rate is more than double the average daily attack rate since November 21. The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, al Quds Brigades, and unspecified Palestinian fighters fired small arms at Israeli forces at least 18 times in the West Bank.[42] Palestinian fighters also detonated four IEDs targeting Israeli forces across the West Bank.[43] West Bank residents participated in two anti-Israel demonstrations in Hebron and Nablus.[44]

The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, al Quds Brigades, and unspecified Palestinian fighters conducted small arms clashes and IED attacks against Israeli forces during Israeli raids in Jenin. The IDF said that it conducted a drone strike targeting Palestinian fighters who fired at Israeli forces in the Jenin refugee camp.[45] The IDF killed two Palestinian fighters, including a commander in the Jenin Battalion of the al Quds Brigades, during hours of fighting between the IDF and Palestinian fighters in the camp.[46] The IDF said the commander carried out shooting attacks, supplied vehicles for attacks, and "promoted" other attacks.[47] The IDF also said the commander killed two Israeli civilians and four IDF soldiers in attacks in May and June.[48] Hamas condemned the Israeli operations in Jenin and called on West Bank residents and fighters to escalate "all forms of resistance" in the West Bank.[49] The IDF separately arrested five Hamas fighters in Hebron.[50]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel on November 29.

Israeli forces fired warning shots at a “suspicious vehicle” approaching the Israel-Lebanon border near the Israeli town of Malikiyah on November 29, according to the IDF.[51] The Lebanese National News Agency said that Israeli forces fired small arms targeting a combined Lebanese Armed Forces-UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol near Houla, southern Lebanon.[52] UNIFIL told CNN that Israeli forces fired a “burst of machine gun fire” at a UNIFIL vehicle in the same area.[53]

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The US destroyer USS Carney shot down a Houthi drone launched from Yemen on November 29.[54] Houthi President Mahdi al Mashaat warned on November 29 that any US escalation towards the Houthis will not change the group’s position towards the Israel-Hamas war.[55]

Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada (KSS) Secretary General Abu Alaa al Walai praised Iraqi resistance groups’ support for Palestinians in a statement on November 29.[56] Walai published the statement in commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Walai praised Iraqi resistance groups for “confusing” supporters of Israel and “relieving the burden” on Palestinian militants. Walai reiterated KSS’s opposition to US and Israeli “arrogance” and “crimes” against Palestinians.

An Iranian drone conducted “unsafe and unprofessional actions" near US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf on November 28.[57] US Naval Forces Central Command reported that the drone came within 1,500 yards of the Eisenhower and that Iran ignored multiple hails and warnings. IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri called on the US Navy to “behave rationally” in the Persian Gulf in an interview with Iranian state TV on November 26.[58] CTP-ISW recently assessed that the IRGC may have conducted a one-way drone attack on an Israeli-owned, Malta-flagged freighter in the Persian Gulf on November 24.[59]

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei discussed the Israel-Hamas war with Basij members in Tehran on November 29.[60] Khamenei claimed that Hamas’ October 7 attack into Israel created a “new political geography” in the Middle East and diminished US power and influence in the region. Khamenei also discussed “American failures” in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria in recent years. Khamenei falsely claimed, for example, that the United States previously tried to destroy LH, but that LH became “more than ten times stronger” after the 2006 Lebanon war with Israel.

Saudi Arabia offered to increase investments in the Iranian economy if Iran reins in its proxies and prevents the Israel-Hamas war from turning into a regional conflict, according to Arab and Western officials.[61] The officials told Bloomberg that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman discussed “the possibility of deeper engagement” during their meeting on the sidelines of the joint Arab League-Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in Jeddah on November 11. Bloomberg reported that Saudi Arabia is simultaneously working with the United States to prevent Iran from exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to strengthen its Axis of Resistance.

Iran Update, November 28, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Brian Carter, Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Johanna Moore, Kathryn Tyson, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Contributor: James Cary

Key Takeaways:

  1. Israel and Hamas both reported at least one violation of the temporary truce agreement in the Gaza Strip, but neither side escalated the situation to more general fighting across the strip. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Israel completed the fifth swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners in accordance with their humanitarian pause agreement.
  2. Hamas’ governance capacity appears to be breaking down in the Gaza Strip, even in the southern part, which will complexify Israeli clearing operations.
  3. The Wall Street Journal reported that Egypt and Qatar are trying to negotiate a “long-term ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip.
  4. Hamas fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Tubas and assisted a Hamas member to evade Israeli arrest. Clashes continued between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in at least three other locations in the West Bank.
  5. LH and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel.
  6. Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Ashab al Kahf implicitly threatened to conduct further drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East in the coming months.
  7. Russo-Iranian military cooperation has continued to deepen, especially in recent weeks.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas both reported at least one violation of the temporary truce agreement in the Gaza Strip on November 28, but neither side escalated the situation to more general fighting across the strip. Both parties claimed that the other bore responsibility for the violations. Neither side indicated an intention to resume hostilities as a result of the violations, however. Israeli Army Radio reported that Palestinian fighters detonated three improvised explosive devices (IED) targeting Israeli forces in two separate attacks.[1] Palestinian fighters detonated two remotely detonated IEDs targeting IDF soldiers boarding armored vehicles near Rantisi Hospital, which is along the agreed truce line, in one attack.[2] Palestinian fighters also detonated one IED and fired small arms at Israeli forces in an unspecified location, according to Israeli Army Radio.[3] Israel said the two attacks “slightly” wounded five Israeli soldiers.[4] Hamas’ military spokesperson said that there was “field friction” in the northern Gaza Strip that was part of a “clear violation by [the IDF] of the truce agreement.”[5] The spokesperson said Hamas remains committed to the pause in fighting.[6]

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Israel completed the fifth swap of hostages in the Gaza Strip for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners on November 28 in accordance with their humanitarian pause agreement.[7] Hamas released 10 Israeli hostages and two Thai nationals.[8] Israel released 30 Palestinian women and minors in exchange.[9] PIJ fighters accompanied the hostages through the Gaza Strip as they were released, marking the first time that PIJ has publicly engaged with the hostage release protocol.[10] The reported violations of the pause agreement did not disrupt the hostage-prisoner swap, as the exchange occurred after the attacks in the Gaza Strip and Israel and Hamas accused one another of violations.

Confrontations erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinians waiting for the release of the fourth round of Palestinian prisoners outside Ofer Prison on November 27. Israeli forces shot and killed one Palestinian and fired tear gas near the prison.[11] Confrontations also broke out the night of the first prisoner release, injuring several Palestinians.[12] Hamas called for Palestinians to gather in front of Ofer Prison ahead of the fifth prisoner release on November 28.[13] Palestinian media reported that Israeli security forces have forbidden the families of released Palestinian prisoners from celebrating.[14]

Hamas’ governance capacity appears to be breaking down in the Gaza Strip, even in the southern part, which may complexify Israeli clearing operations. The policy lead at Oxfam—an anti-poverty non-profit—called the situation in the Gaza Strip “absolute chaos” and without the “rule of law.”[15] These claims are consistent with previous reports about the status of Hamas governance in the southern Gaza Strip.[16] The Associated Press reported on November 12 that Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip are “openly challenging” Hamas’ authority, for instance. A UN spokesperson similarly said that the Gaza Strip’s social fabric was ”fraying” amid widespread violence among local civilians.[17] These reports suggest that the Hamas local governance structure in the Gaza Strip is breaking down, which may complexify Israeli clearing operations by making it more difficult for Israel to coordinate temporary population evacuations ahead of military operations, although it is not clear that Hamas would have cooperated with such Israeli activities.[18]

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 28 that Egypt and Qatar are trying to negotiate a “long-term ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip.[19] Egyptian and Qatari officials told the Wall Street Journal that the long-term ceasefire “would likely require” major concessions, such as Hamas demilitarizing and releasing all IDF soldiers held hostage in return for Israel ending military operations in the Gaza Strip and releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners. This reporting indicates that negotiations over the release of IDF soldiers could be more fraught than negotiations over civilians. The Egyptian and Qatari officials offered no explanation of or detailed system for how Hamas’ demilitarization would take place. Hamas seeks the total destruction of the Israeli state, which Hamas has historically pursued through military means. Hamas furthermore has military capabilities and infrastructure outside of the Gaza Strip, such as in the West Bank and southern Lebanon. Hamas Political Bureau member Ghazi Hamed said on November 1 that Hamas will repeat its brutal October 7 attack “a second, a third, [and] a fourth” time and that “anything [Hamas does] is justified.”[20] The deal outlined by Egyptian and Qatari officials furthermore includes no measure to remove Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip, according to the Wall Street Journal report. The United States, European Union, and Israel have all demanded and continue to seek the removal of Hamas as the governing authority responsible for the Gaza Strip.[21]

The Wall Street Journal also said that CIA Director William Burns and Israeli Mossad chief David Barnea met with Qatari officials in Doha on November 28 to “build on the progress” of the current truce and “initiate discussions about. . . a potential longer-term ceasefire deal.”[22]

Several Palestinian sources reported that fuel imported during the humanitarian pause is not reaching the northern Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) claimed that Israeli forces prevented a fuel truck from entering the northern Gaza Strip on November 28.[23] The fuel was intended for PRCS ambulances in the northern Gaza Strip. The PRCS did confirm that 31 humanitarian aid trucks entered the northern Gaza Strip.[24] Lebanese Hezbollah outlet al Manar claimed that Israeli forces are actively preventing fuel from reaching hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip, citing the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry.[25]

The director of the Government Media Office in Gaza similarly claimed that Israel is obstructing the delivery of fuel, especially to the Gaza and North Gaza governorates, which have not had fuel deliveries for 50 days.[26] The director of the Government Media Office in Gaza is on the board of directors for two Hamas-affiliated news outlets and attended the Islamic University of Gaza, which Hamas controls and from which many senior Hamas leaders graduated.[27] The Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry also called for a nonstop line of humanitarian aid to reach the northern Gaza Strip on November 28 The ministry clarified that the amount of aid reaching the Gaza Strip, ”especially the northern region,” is increasing, however.[28]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Hamas fighters clashed with Israeli forces in Tubas and assisted a Hamas member to evade Israeli arrest on November 28.[29] Hamas fighters used IEDs and small arms fire against Israeli soldiers.[30] Israeli forces assaulted a building in which a Hamas member was barricaded before escaping.[31] The al Qassem Brigades Tubas wing said that it is continuing to resist Israel and that the confrontation will be a long fight.[32]

Clashes continued between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in at least three other locations in the West Bank on November 28. Unidentified Palestinian fighters separately targeted Israeli forces with IEDs in Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem and fired small arms at Israeli forces in three other towns.[33] The IDF furthermore said on November 28 that Israeli forces conducted overnight raids and arrested 13 individuals throughout the West Bank.[34] The IDF stated that its forces confiscated small arms, knives, incendiary materials, and military equipment in Hebron.[35]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

LH and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel on November 28.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Ashab al Kahf (AK) implicitly threatened to conduct further drone and rocket attacks targeting US forces in the Middle East in the coming months.[36] This statement comes as other Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have similarly messaged that they will resume attacks on US forces after the humanitarian pause in the Israel-Hamas war ends. Abu Alaa al Walai—the secretary general of Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada—indicated that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq would stop its attacks during the pause.[37] The secretary general of Kataib Hezbollah (KH), Abu Hussein al Hamidawi, similarly announced on November 25 that KH would reduce the pace of attacks against US forces in the Middle East and Israel for the duration of the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip.[38] Neither the Islamic Resistance in Iraq nor any of its affiliated militias, such as AK, KSS, and KH, have claimed any attacks on US forces since the humanitarian pause took effect in the Gaza Strip on November 24.[39]

Russo-Iranian military cooperation is continuing to deepen and seemingly at an accelerated rate in recent weeks. Iran’s deputy defense minister, Mehdi Farhi, announced on November 28 that Moscow has agreed to sell Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters, and Yak-130 combat trainer jets to Iran.[40] Iranian leaders have long sought to acquire advanced aircraft from Russia and have appeared to face repeated delays throughout the process.[41] Russian officials have not yet confirmed the deal at this time.

Iran’s announcement is the latest indication of several in recent weeks that Iran and Russia are further expanding their military cooperation. US officials warned on November 21 that Iran may be preparing to supply advanced short-range ballistic missiles to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[42] This warning is consistent with CTP-ISW’s previous assessment that Iran and Russia could conclude a drone and/or missile agreement after UN restrictions on Iran expired in October 2023.[43] US officials separately warned on November 2 that Russian Wagner forces plan to transfer air defense systems to Lebanese Hezbollah.[44]

The transfer of Russian advanced aircraft to Iran could still take months or even longer to complete. Iranian leaders have repeatedly indicated since late 2022 that they would soon receive advanced aircraft from Russia without receiving anything yet.[45] Russia similarly agreed to sell S-300 air defense systems in 2007 but did not complete the delivery until 2016.[46]

Russia’s military support to Iran and the Axis of Resistance comes as Moscow and Tehran have tried to coordinate politically vis-à-vis the Israel-Hamas war.[47] Iranian and Russian officials have engaged one another repeatedly in recent weeks to discuss the war and cooperate in advocating for a ceasefire.

Iran is continuing to pressure the United States and Israel into extending the pause in fighting by warning that failing to extend it will precipitate an escalation of the war. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned that the United States and Israel will face “harsh consequences” if they fail to establish a permanent ceasefire during an interview with al Jazeera on November 28.[48] This statement is consistent with prior Iranian talking points surrounding the pause in fighting, as CTP-ISW previously reported.[49]

Abdollahian discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call with his Swiss counterpart on November 28. [50] The two officials discussed efforts to extend the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the Israel-Hamas war during a phone call on November 26.[51] They emphasized the need for maximal cooperation between their countries vis-a-vis the war. Raisi’s planned visit to Ankara on November 28 was canceled due to unspecified reasons. IRGC-affiliated media reported that Raisi is now scheduled to visit Ankara at the beginning of December.[52]

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with senior Artesh Navy commanders on National Artesh Navy Day on November 28.[53]

Iran Update, November 27, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Andie Parry, Ashka Jhaveri, Kathryn Tyson, Peter Mills, Brian Carter, Amin Soltani, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

1. Hamas and Israel completed the fourth swap of Hamas-held hostages for Israeli-held prisoners  in accordance with their humanitarian pause agreement. Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the pause in fighting an additional two days to last until November 30.

2. Israel said that Hamas violated the terms of the humanitarian pause on November 25 by releasing a child without their parent in the prisoner swap.

3. Israel identified the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahiya as a location that Hamas uses for military activity prior to Israeli forces clearing the hospital, which contradicts claims that Israel raided the hospital without a stated reason.

4. Al Araby reported that Hamas is preparing to resume fighting with Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

5. Human Rights Watch reported that a rocket misfire likely caused the explosion at al Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip on October 17.

6. Palestinian fighters attacked Israeli forces seven times in the West Bank.

7. Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel.

8. The Houthi movement launched two ballistic missiles targeting the Israeli-owned MV Central Park tanker after the US Navy destroyer USS Mason disrupted an attempt to hijack the tanker in the Gulf of Aden.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Israel completed the fourth swap of Hamas-held hostages for Israeli-held prisoners on November 27 in accordance with their humanitarian pause agreement.[1] Hamas released 11 Israeli hostages.[2] Israel is set to release three women and 30 others, including minors, in exchange.[3] Palestinian media sources, including Hamas-affiliated outlets, reported that Israel released some of the prisoners at the time of writing.[4] The parties had delayed the exchange briefly, as Israel and Hamas disagreed on which hostages Hamas would release.[5] Hamas had sent a list of hostages to be released to Israel on November 26 that Israel renegotiated on November 27, causing the delay.[6]

Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the pause in fighting an additional two days to last until November 30. Hamas announced that it would extend the pause by two days under the same terms as those of the original agreement, implying that Israel and Hamas would continue to exchange hostages/prisoners, humanitarian aid would continue entering the Gaza Strip, and Israel would continue to refrain from flying aircraft over the strip.[7] The Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry similarly said that Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the pause by another two days.[8] A senior adviser to the Israeli prime minister acknowledged that the extension would occur once Hamas released the fourth round of hostages on November 27, which happened later in the day as reported above.[9] Israel has not made an official statement on the pause extension at the time of writing, however.[10]  The White House confirmed the agreement to extend the pause.[11] The US National Security Council spokesperson said that Hamas agreed to release another 20 women and children over the next two days.[12] Senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) official Daoud Shehab acknowledged on November 27 before the two-day extension announcement that PIJ was “evaluating” the possible extension.[13] This statement suggests that PIJ leadership intends to continue observing the pause in fighting.

Hamas, Qatar, and the United States expressed a desire to extend the pause even further. Hamas Political Bureau member Khalil al Hayya stated that Hamas was able to find enough females and youth held hostage to extend the truce for two additional days but hoped to extend it for a longer period.[14] Hayya also said that Hamas seeks to enter a new deal that releases hostages other than women and children.[15] Senior PIJ official Daoud Shehab indicated that the release of Israeli soldiers would have an unspecified price, however.[16] The Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson similarly stated that Qatar hopes the pause will lead to a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.[17] US President Joe Biden lastly stated that he is working to extend the pause beyond the additional two days.[18] Israel has remained adamant that it will continue fighting to eradicate Hamas after the pause.[19]

Israel said that Hamas violated the terms of the humanitarian pause on November 25 by releasing a child without their parent in the prisoner swap. Two Israeli officials told CNN that there was a dispute on November 25 after Hamas released Hila Rotem—one of the child hostages—without her mother.[20] Hamas was holding Hila Rotem and her mother Raaya Rotem but claimed that it could not find the mother prior to the hostage release.[21] Hila Rotem said her mother was with her the entire time they were captive, and that Hamas separated them two days before the hostage release.[22]

The United Nations confirmed on November 27 that clean water and medical aid reached the northern Gaza Strip.[23] Hamas Political Bureau member Khalil al Hayya said in an interview with al Jazeera on November 26 that the United Nations is not doing the work required to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip.[24] Hamas leadership previously criticized the humanitarian aid flow to the northern Gaza Strip on November 24.[25] The Hamas-run Health Ministry and Qatar confirmed on November 26 that humanitarian aid is reaching the northern Gaza Strip.[26] Israel said on November 26 that Hamas established a checkpoint on the Salah al Din road to prevent aid from reaching northern Gaza Strip residents.[27] The Hamas, Qatari, and Israeli statements regarding the humanitarian aid flow to the northern Gaza Strip are consistent with the hypothesis that Hamas is redirecting aid before it gets there.

Israel identified the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahiya as a location that Hamas uses for military activity prior to Israeli forces clearing the hospital, which contradicts claims that Israel raided the hospital without a stated reason. A Palestinian journalist stated on November 27 that Israel did not claim that the Indonesian Hospital was a Hamas militant base before raiding it.[28] Israel published a video on November 6 explaining how the Indonesian Hospital was built above Hamas tunnels, however.[29] The hospital is furthermore directly adjacent to a Hamas tunnel entrance, according to a 2014 map published by the Wall Street Journal.[30] Israel has repeatedly claimed that Hamas uses hospitals for military activity. The IDF published a report on November 21 describing how its forces operating in the northern Gaza Strip uncovered weapons and access routes to underground infrastructure in and around hospitals.[31] The report includes a map of Hamas infrastructure in hospitals, including the Indonesian Hospital.[32] Palestinian journalists and local media reported that Israeli forces cleared the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahiya on November 23.[33]

Al Araby reported that Hamas is preparing to resume fighting with Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.[34] The report said that Hamas is studying the movement of Israeli deployments on the ground and planning to use fresh units that it has not yet committed to combat.[35] Unspecified experts told al Araby that Hamas’ uncommitted forces constitute more than 75 percent of Hamas’ forces.[36] Israel estimates that it has killed between 1,000 and 2,000 Hamas fighters out of its military force of 40,000.[37]

Human Rights Watch reported that a rocket misfire likely caused the explosion at al Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip on October 17.[38] A munition hit a paved area inside the hospital compound, killing hundreds. The Human Rights Watch said that “the sound preceding the explosion, the fireball that accompanied it, the size of the resulting crater, the type of splatter adjoining it, and the type and pattern of fragmentation visible around the crater are all consistent with the impact of a rocket.”[39] The evidence makes the possibility of an Israeli-dropped bomb on the hospital highly unlikely, according to the report.[40] Israeli officials claimed that PIJ militants conducted a rocket attack that failed and hit the active hospital at the time.[41] Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemned the Human Rights Watch report.[42]

Israel said Elon Musk has preliminarily agreed not to activate the Starlink satellite system in the Gaza Strip unless Israel permits him to do so.[43] The Israeli Communications Minister said that the understanding is vital in Israel’s fight against Hamas.[44]  Elon Musk traveled to Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on November 27.[45] 

CTP-ISW did not record verifiable reports of kinetic activity inside the Gaza Strip or reports of attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on November 27. 

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Palestinian fighters attacked Israeli forces seven times in the West Bank on November 27. Palestinian fighters engaged Israeli forces in an hours-long clash and detonated an IED targeting Israeli forces in Jaba village near Jenin.[46] Palestinian fighters also engaged Israeli forces with small arms fire and IEDs in four refugee camps near Hebron, Jericho, and Nablus.[47] The IDF said on November 27 that it conducted overnight raids and arrested 20 individuals throughout the West Bank, including 15 Hamas fighters.[48] The IDF also claimed to have seized "five illegal vehicles” during the raids.[49] The IDF did not specify why the vehicles were illegal.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

LH and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel on November 27. The IDF did not conduct any airstrikes into Lebanon or Syria on November 27.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

The Houthi movement launched two ballistic missiles targeting the Israeli-owned MV Central Park tanker on November 27 after the US Navy destroyer USS Mason disrupted an attempt to hijack the tanker in the Gulf of Aden. The USS Mason responded to a distress call from the Central Park on November 26 as unspecified hijackers boarded the tanker.[50] The Mason apprehended five hijackers.[51] US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on November 27 that “two ballistic missiles were fired” from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen targeting the USS Mason.[52] The US Defense Department later amended this statement, assessing that it was ”more likely” that the Houthis targeted the Central Park than the Mason.[53] Senior Houthi official Mohammed al Bukhaiti implied the Houthis’ responsibility for the missile launch, claiming that the missiles targeting the Mason either "made impact [with the ship] or were intercepted,” because the missiles’ capabilities mean that a margin of error of ten miles is impossible.[54] The missiles landed ten nautical miles from the Mason in the Gulf of Aden.[55] The Houthis previously fired on a US Navy vessel in 2016, when Houthi fighters fired two ballistic missiles targeting the USS Mason.[56]

It remains uncertain who was responsible for the hijacking of the MV Central Park in the Gulf of Aden on November 26. Pentagon Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that the attempted hijacking of the Central Park “appeared” to have been carried out by Somali pirates and not the Houthis, though he added that the US military is “continuing to assess” the identity of the hijackers.[57] An unspecified senior US official told Fox News that the US Navy “pursued [the hijackers] towards Yemen” after the hijackers attempted to escape from the Central Park.[58] Senior Houthi official Mohammed al Bukhaiti claimed that the US Navy “fabricated” the rescue of the Central Park, despite implying Houthi responsibility for the ballistic missile launches.[59] Bukhaiti reiterated that the Houthis will only target ships belonging to Israel.[60] It remains possible that Somalis attacked the Central Park, given the presence of smuggling routes between Somalia and Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.[61] A retreat toward Yemen by Somali pirates would be consistent with Somali pirates familiar with smuggling routes and networks in Yemen.

Senior Iranian military officials presided over the annual Artesh Navy Day ceremony in Bandar-e Anzali on November 27.[62] The Artesh is Iran’s conventional military. The Iranian Armed Forces General Staff chief and the Artesh Navy commander reiterated Iran’s steadfast commitment to maintaining maritime security in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea.

The Iranian foreign affairs minister discussed the Israel-Hamas war with his Indian counterpart in Tehran on November 27.[63] The two officials emphasized the need for continued provision of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

Iranian officials are continuing attempts to pressure Israel into extending the pause in fighting by warning that Israel’s failure to extend it will precipitate an escalation of the war. An Iranian Expediency Discernment Council member and former IRGC commander warned of “harsh revenge” if Israel continues operations in the Gaza Strip.[64] The Iranian defense minister added that the United States and Israel will pay “a much heavier price” if Israeli operations resume.[65] The Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson emphasized Iran’s desire for a “lasting ceasefire” during his regular press briefing.[66] These statements are consistent with prior Iranian talking points surrounding the pause in fighting, as CTP-ISW previously reported.


Iran Update, November 26, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Andie Parry, Johanna Moore, Brian Carter, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Neither Israel nor Hamas claimed violations of the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip as they completed the third swap of Hamas-held hostages for Israeli-held prisoners. CTP-ISW did not record verifiable reports of kinetic activity inside the Gaza Strip or reports of attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
  2. Israel said that Hamas established a checkpoint on the Salah al Din road to prevent aid from reaching northern Gaza Strip residents.
  3. Israeli forces arrested 21 individuals in several raids across the West Bank. Palestinian militia fighters clashed with Israeli forces for nine hours in the Jenin refugee camp.
  4. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel.
  5. Israeli aircraft conducted an airstrike on Damascus International Airport and possibly a second airstrike on Mezzeh Military Airport near Damascus, damaging both facilities.
  6. Unspecified fighters attempted to seize the Israeli-owned, Liberian-flagged Central Park oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden and may have successfully held the tanker for some short period of time.
  7. An IDF fighter jet intercepted a drone flying toward Israel over the Red Sea.
  8. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—did not claim any attacks against US forces in Iraq or Syria.
  9. Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah announced that it will reduce its rate of attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria and halt attacks against Israel until the end of the Israel-Hamas humanitarian pause.
  10. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed efforts to extend the Israel-Hamas pause in fighting during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan.
  11. Iranian Artesh Commander Major General Abdol Rahim Mousavi stated that the Artesh is prepared to deploy “near” the Gaza Strip to provide medical aid to Palestinians.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip

Neither Israel nor Hamas claimed violations of the humanitarian pause in the Gaza Strip as they completed the third swap of Hamas-held hostages for Israeli-held prisoners on November 26. Israel and Hamas confirmed that Hamas released 17 hostages held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israel releasing 39 Palestinian prisoners.[1] The hostages included the first American whom Hamas has released since the war began.[2] Hamas also released a Russian citizen whom they claimed that they released because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for the Palestinian cause.[3] Russia hosted Hamas leadership in Moscow on October 26.[4] Hamas separately said on November 26 that it seeks to extend the pause after the four-day period ends on November 27.[5] Israeli Army Radio reported that there are efforts to extend the pause by an additional four days in return for Hamas releasing 40 hostages.[6] This report is consistent with previous reports saying that Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the pause for 24 hours for every 10 hostages released by Hamas.[7]

An Israeli official said that Israel did not violate the terms of the humanitarian pause on November 25 after Hamas accused Israel of releasing Palestinian prisoners out of order. The Wall Street Journal reported on November 26 that an unidentified Israeli official denied that Israel had broken any terms of the hostage exchange and that Israel was not aware of any stipulation regarding the order of prisoners.[8] Hamas publicly released on November 22 what it claimed were the details of its agreement with Israel.[9] The agreement that Hamas released did not include stipulations covering the order in which Israel must release Palestinian prisoners.[10]

Israel said on November 26 that Hamas established a checkpoint on the Salah al Din road to prevent aid from reaching northern Gaza Strip residents.[11] The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Arab media spokesperson published an image that has been geolocated in support of its assertion.[12] The location of the checkpoint—based on a geolocated image—is 1.3 kilometers from a Hamas tunnel entrance, according to a 2014 map published by the Wall Street Journal.[13] Hamas media adviser Taher al Nunu claimed that Israel is violating the pause agreement by failing to supply sufficient aid to the northern Gaza Strip on November 25, but the director general of the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry said that Israel has allowed some fuel and medical aid to enter the northern Gaza Strip.[14] Qatar similarly confirmed on November 26 that humanitarian aid is reaching the northern Gaza Strip.[15] Israel also confirmed that humanitarian aid is reaching the northern Gaza Strip.[16] The mayor of Gaza city contrastingly said on November 26 that no fuel has reached Gaza city.[17] Israel said the UN manages some of the aid flows.[18] The Hamas and Israeli statements regarding humanitarian aid flow to the northern Gaza Strip are consistent with the hypothesis that Hamas is redirecting aid before it gets to the northern Gaza Strip.

Israel said its forces killed five Hamas commanders in airstrikes in the Gaza Strip prior to the beginning of the humanitarian pause on November 24.[19] The al Qassem Brigadesthe militant wing of Hamasannounced the death of several commanders responsible for Hamas’ military operations in the northern Gaza Strip.[20] The commanders included the Northern Gaza Strip Brigade Commander Ahmed Ghandour, who directed all Hamas activity in the northern Gaza Strip. Ghandour also coordinated militia activity in the West Bank. The airstrikes also killed the head of Hamas’ Tulkarm Committee Farsan Khalifa. Khalifa developed cells of fighters in the Nur al Shams refugee camp near Tulkarm in the West Bank.[21] Hamas has been rebuilding ties with militia groups in the West Bank and seeking to attract support, according to a 2023 Reuters report.[22] The IDF has worked to eliminate Hamas operatives and commanders at the field and senior levels since October 7.[23]

CTP-ISW did not record verifiable reports of kinetic activity inside the Gaza Strip or reports of attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on November 26.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

Israeli forces arrested 21 individuals in several raids across the West Bank on November 26.[24] These individuals included a Hamas member, who killed two Israelis in a terror attack in Huwara in August 2023, according to the IDF and the co-founder of the West Bank branch of the al Qassem Brigades, Abdel Hakim Hanini.[25]

Palestinian militia fighters clashed with Israeli forces for nine hours in the Jenin refugee camp on November 26.[26] The Jenin Battalion of the al Quds Brigades claimed that its fighters ambushed and fired on Israeli forces and detonated IEDs against Israeli military vehicles in the al Damj neighborhood of Jenin during an Israeli raid.[27] The Jenin Battalion of the al Quds Brigades claimed five fighters died in the clashes with Israeli forces.[28]Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades fighters similarly used small arms and IEDs in clashes with Israeli forces in Jenin.[29] The IDF said that it destroyed a facility used for making IEDs and conducted a drone strike in Jenin.[30] Co-founder of the West Bank branch of the al Qassem Brigades Abdel Hakim Hanini threatened that Palestinian militias would conduct an “appropriate” response to the “scale of the crime” in the Jenin camp.[31] Palestinian militias announced a general strike in response to their fighter deaths in the Jenin raid.[32] Palestinian militants separately clashed with Israeli forces in three other areas of the West Bank on November 26.[33]

CTP-ISW recorded one demonstration in the West Bank on November 26. Palestinians demonstrated in support of imprisoned and recently released Palestinians in Ramallah.[34]

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and other Iranian-backed militias did not conduct any attacks into northern Israel on November 26.

Israeli aircraft conducted an airstrike on Damascus International Airport and possibly a second airstrike on Mezzeh Military Airport near Damascus on November 26, damaging both facilities. The Syrian Defense Ministry reported that an Israeli airstrike targeted Damascus International Airport and damaged its runway.[35] Iranian state media posted footage after the airstrike, showing smoke plumes over the runway.[36] Israel previously conducted an airstrike on Damascus International Airport on November 22.[37] The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that Israeli aircraft targeted an air defense system located at Mezzeh Military Airport on November 26.[38] CTP-ISW cannot independently verify this claim from SOHR. The airstrike on Damascus International Airport disrupts a transportation node through which the IRGC has historically tried to transfer military materiel and personnel to Syria and Lebanon. Israel has conducted similar strikes at the Damascus International Airport to prevent Iranian weapons deliveries.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Unspecified fighters attempted to seize the Israeli-owned, Liberian-flagged Central Park oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden and may have successfully held the tanker for some short period of time on November 26.[39] The UK Maritime Trade Operations reported that “unauthorized persons” boarded a vessel southwest of Aden, Yemen, on November 26.[40] An unidentified US official confirmed the seizure to Western media.[41] A US Navy warship responded to Central Park’s distress signal, and unspecified US officials stated that the ship is now “safe and free,” according to Reuters.[42]

No group claimed responsibility for the attempted seizure, although the most likely perpetrators are either the Houthis or Somali pirates.

  • A Yemeni journalist reported on November 26 that the fighters who boarded the ship are likely members of the Houthi movement.[43] IRGC-affiliated outlet Tasnim News Agency separately reported that the seizure would mark the fourth seizure or attack on Israeli ships by the Axis of Resistance since October 7.[44] Houthi fighters previously hijacked an Israeli-owned freighter transiting the Red Sea on November 19. CTP-ISW also assessed that the IRGC may have conducted a one-way drone attack on an Israeli-owned freighter in the Persian Gulf on November 24 and that the Houthis likely seized an Israeli-owned freighter transiting the Red Sea on November 25.[45]
  • Western media noted on November 26 that Somali pirates do not typically operate in the area off the coast of northwestern Somalia where the tanker was seized.[46] Somali pirates last seized a commercial vessel on November 22, when they hijacked an Iranian fishing vessel off the coast of Somalia’s autonomous Puntland region.[47] Somali pirates’ most recent attempted hijacking before the November 22 incident occurred in 2018.[48]

An IDF fighter jet intercepted a drone flying toward Israel over the Red Sea on November 25.[49] The IDF reported that the drone failed to enter Israeli airspace. The Houthi movement has repeatedly attempted to conduct drone and missile attacks against Israel since October 19.[50] The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has also claimed attacks on Israeli territory since November 3.[51]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—did not claim any attacks against US forces in Iraq or Syria on November 26. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has not claimed any attacks since the Israel-Hamas pause in fighting went into effect. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq and its affiliated groups claimed 74 attacks against US forces in the Middle East between October 18 and November 23.[52]

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah (KH) announced on November 25 that it will reduce its rate of attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria and halt attacks against Israel until the end of the Israel-Hamas humanitarian pause.[53] The statement added that KH will resume attacks against US forces after the pause until they leave Iraq. KH is a member of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which conducted attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria almost daily between October 18 and November 23.[54] Emirati media reported on November 23 that Tehran ordered its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to abide by the temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas.[55]

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed efforts to extend the Israel-Hamas pause in fighting during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan on November 25.[56] Abdollahian stressed the need to “completely stop Israeli crimes” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Fidan emphasized Turkey’s determination to extend the current humanitarian pause. Abdollahian called on Turkey, along with other Muslim countries, to take “stronger actions” to support Palestinians. This call is consistent with CTP-ISW's previous assessment that Iran is attempting to exploit the Israel-Hamas war to undermine Turkish-Israeli rapprochement.[57] Abdollahian met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fidan in Ankara on November 1 as part of his second regional diplomatic tour since October 7.[58]

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara thanked Iran for its efforts to facilitate the release of Thai hostages from Hamas during a meeting with Iranian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Bagheri Kani in Bangkok on November 23.[59] Hamas released 14 Thai nationals between November 24-25.[60] Bagheri Kani also met with the Thai deputy foreign affairs minister, national security council head, and parliamentary president during his visit to Bangkok. He discussed increasing Iran’s economic and security ties with Thailand during his meetings with these officials.

Iranian Artesh Commander Major General Abdol Rahim Mousavi stated that the Artesh is prepared to deploy “near” the Gaza Strip to provide medical aid to Palestinians.[61] The Artesh is Iran’s conventional military. Mousavi made this statement during a meeting with nursing students from the Artesh University of Medical Sciences in Tehran on November 26. Mousavi claimed that Hamas, which he referred to as “one of the branches” of the Axis of Resistance, “defeated” Israel. Mousavi repeated previous Iranian rhetoric that Israel failed to achieve any military successes in the Gaza Strip and was therefore “forced” to accept Hamas’ terms in the four-day humanitarian pause. CTP-ISW has not observed any Artesh forces deploy to or near the Gaza Strip.

Iran Update, November 25, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Andie Parry, Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, and Nicholas Carl

Information Cutoff: 2:00 pm EST

Key Takeaways:

  1. Hamas released a second round of hostages after Hamas accused Israel of violating the humanitarian pause agreement and threatened to delay the hostages’ release.
  2. CTP-ISW did not record verifiable reports of kinetic activity inside the Gaza Strip or reports of attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
  3. CTP-ISW recorded nine small arms clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank.
  4. Palestinian militias are trying to exert greater control over the Palestinian population in the West Bank to facilitate further militia operations against Israeli targets.
  5. Israeli and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) media suggested that LH conducted 2-3 attacks into northern Israel.
  6. Iranian-backed Iraqi factions are trying to exploit the Israel-Hamas war to erode US military and political influence in Iraq.
  7. Iran and its Axis of Resistance appear to be continuing to threaten Israeli-affiliated commercial shipping.
  8. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—did not claim any attacks against US forces in Iraq or Syria.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip

NOTE: The IDF has said that its forces are stationed along ceasefire lines across the Gaza Strip during the pause in fighting. CTP-ISW's map of Israeli clearing operations shows reported Israeli clearing operations and the claimed furthest Israeli advances. CTP-ISW will not be mapping the shift in Israeli operating areas during the humanitarian pause.

Hamas released a second round of hostages on November 25 after Hamas accused Israel of violating the humanitarian pause agreement and threatened to delay the hostages’ release. Hamas and the IDF confirmed that 13 Israeli hostages and four foreign nationals left the Gaza Strip at around 1600 EST on November 25.[1] Their releases come after Hamas media adviser Taher al Nunu accused Israel of violating the pause agreement by failing to supply sufficient aid to the northern Gaza Strip, operating surveillance drones in the closed airspace above the Gaza Strip, shooting and killing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and releasing Palestinian prisoners in the wrong order from Israeli prisons.[2] Osama Hamdan—Hamas’ senior representative to Lebanon—echoed al Nunu’s complaints of alleged Israeli violations during a press conference in Beirut.[3] Nunu and Hamdan did not threaten to withdraw from the pause agreement, however. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—announced earlier in the day that it would delay the release of the second batch of hostages until Israel adhered to the terms of the deal.[4] Iranian state media separately claimed that the IDF violated the agreement by “attacking” Gazan civilians on November 24.[5] Israeli officials have not responded to these allegations, nor have they accused Hamas of violating the deal at the time of this writing.

Hamas remains the only party that has publicly released what it claims are the details of its agreement with Israel.[6] Israel and Qatar both reported that they reached an agreement with Hamas but did not provide the same level of detail on the terms. CTP-ISW cannot therefore assess whether the parties involved have properly executed the terms of the agreement or whether any changes were made to the agreement during engagements with US, Egyptian, and Qatari mediators on November 25.[7] The official spokesperson for the Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry stated that 39 Palestinian prisoners, 13 Israeli hostages, and seven other unspecified foreign nationals would be exchanged in accordance with the agreement on the evening of November 25 after talks with both parties.[8] The al Qassem Brigades similarly said that it released seven foreign nationals but later revised its statement to say that it only released four.[9]

Hamas claimed that the agreement stipulates that 200 aid trucks will enter all areas of the Gaza Strip daily.[10] The IDF Arabic-language spokesperson detailed the quantity, destination, and contents of aid trucks that entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt on November 24 and 25.[11] He stated that 50 of the 200 trucks transported food, water, humanitarian shelter supplies, and medical equipment aid to the northern Gaza Strip on November 25.[12] The IDF said another 200 trucks arrived at unspecified locations in the Gaza Strip on November 24.[13] The Palestinian Red Cresent contrastingly said that it only received 196 trucks and transported 61 to the northern Gaza Strip on November 24.[14] The northern Gaza Strip is the focus of Israeli clearing operations against Hamas at this time. The US Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues said on November 4 that between 350,000 to 400,000 people remained in the northern Gaza Strip.[15]

CTP-ISW did not record verifiable reports of kinetic activity inside the Gaza Strip or reports of attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel on November 25.

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward the West Bank and fix them there

CTP-ISW recorded nine small arms clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank on November 25. Palestinian media reported that Israeli forces conducted several raids across the West Bank. The Jenin Battalion of the al Quds Brigade claimed an attack on Israeli forces conducting a raid on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp.[16] The group claimed that its fighters fired on the Israeli forces and threw IEDs at them.[17] Local West Bank media warned locals prior to the raid of an imminent Israeli operation and instructed civilians to avoid cellphone use and open areas.[18] Unspecified Palestinian fighters separately shot down an Israeli drone over Qabatiya during clashes with Israeli forces.[19] Palestinian fighters in Qabatiya fired on and threw IEDs at Israeli forces.[20] Israel did not report on any Israeli raids in the West Bank on November 25, which is contrary to its normal practice.

Palestinian militias are trying to exert greater control over the Palestinian population in the West Bank to facilitate further militia operations against Israeli targets. The Hornets’ Nest—a subordinate unit of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades—issued a statement on November 25 warning West Bank residents that Israel is trying to recruit local informants.[21] The statement added that Israel offered money to locals for information on the militia.[22] The al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades also released videos purportedly showing two men confessing to providing Israel with information in exchange for money.[23] Both men were publicly executed in Tulkarm on November 24.[24] The fact that the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades felt that it needed to release these statements and videos suggests that the group is concerned about the extent to which it controls the population.

Southern Lebanon and Golan Heights

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Draw IDF assets and resources toward northern Israel and fix them there
  • Set conditions for successive campaigns into northern Israel

Israeli and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) media suggested that LH conducted 2-3 attacks into northern Israel on November 25. LH media, citing Israeli reports, claimed that LH fired anti-armor guided missiles and drones at unspecified locations in northern Israel. The IDF separately intercepted a drone and surface-to-air missile entering Israeli territory from Lebanon.[25]  The IDF reported that it intercepted the missile over the Galilee panhandle, as the missile targeted an Israeli drone.[26] The IDF conducted an airstrike on LH infrastructure in southern Lebanon in retaliation for the attempted attack on the Israeli drone.[27] No group has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks into Israeli territory on November 25 at the time of publication. The al Qassem Brigades announced on November 23 that LH would observe the pause in fighting brokered between Israel and Hamas.[28] The likely LH attacks into northern Israel on November 25 suggest that the al Qassem Brigades either intentionally or unintentionally did not accurately portray LH‘s position or LH changed its calculus regarding the pause.

Iran and Axis of Resistance

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Demonstrate the capability and willingness of Iran and the Axis of Resistance to escalate against the United States and Israel on multiple fronts
  • Set conditions to fight a regional war on multiple fronts

Iranian-backed Iraqi factions are trying to exploit the Israel-Hamas war to erode US military and political influence in Iraq. Iranian leaders routinely assert that one of their greatest strategic objectives is expelling the United States and its influence from the Middle East. Iranian leaders appear to assign particular priority to removing the United States from Iraq given how important they consider Iraq to the security of the Iranian regime.

  • Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba Secretary General Akram al Kaabi released a statement on November 23 calling for a “declaration of war” against the United States and its expulsion from Iraq.[29] Kaabi released the statement in response to US fighter jets striking KH sites in Jurf al Saqr, Babil Province, Iraq, on November 22. The United States conducted these strikes in response to repeated KH attacks against US servicemembers in recent weeks. Kaabi described the presence of US combat forces, advisers, and technicians in Iraq as “hostile.”
  • Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali separately stated that US forces have no intention of leaving Iraq and are justifying their presence under the pretext of fighting ISIS during an interview with LH-controlled outlet al Ahed on November 24.[30] Khazali stated that US attacks on Iraqi security forces and especially the Popular Mobilization Forces are “unacceptable.” Iranian-backed militias have tried to highlight KH’s membership in the PMF in recent days to portray the US airstrikes on KH positions as attacks against a state-affiliated security organization rather than members of the US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that is KH. Khazali also emphasized Iraqi resistance groups’ support for Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war.
  • Iraqi parliamentarian Alaa al Rikabi claimed on November 25 that former Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi blocked an extraordinary parliamentary session to expel US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski before he was dismissed on November 14.[31] The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling to remove Halbousi from parliament on November 14.[32] Halbousi, an important Sunni politician and the leader of the Taqqadum Movement, claimed that the Federal Supreme Court’s ruling was unconstitutional and was a move by unspecified parties to create political divisions within society.[33] Rikabi’s November 25 claim supports CTP-ISW's hypothesis that Halbousi was removed from his post as part of political efforts to reduce the US presence in Iraq.

Iran and its Axis of Resistance appear to be continuing to threaten Israeli-affiliated commercial shipping.

  • Likely Houthi fighters seized an Israeli-owned, Malta-flagged freighter transiting the Red Sea on November 25. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported that “Yemeni authorities” forced a ship near al Hudaydah, Yemen, to “alter course” on November 25.[34] The ship is believed to be the Israeli-owned, Malta-flagged Zim Luanda. The Houthi movement has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack. Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree wrote “ZIM” in a one-word post on X (Twitter) on November 25, however.[35] Houthi members have used one-word posts to indicate their responsibility for attacks on Israeli targets in recent weeks, however. Houthi Political Bureau member Hizam al Asad previously wrote the Israeli city “Eilat” in a post on X on October 27the same day that the Houthi movement conducted a drone attack targeting southern Israel.[36] At least two unspecified drones originating from the “Red Sea area” struck Egyptian territory near Taba, a resort town adjacent to Eilat, on October 27.[37] The November 25 seizure follows the Houthi’s November 23 warning that it will continue attacks against Israeli ships and interests until Israel’s “aggression against Gaza stops.”[38] The seizure also follows Emirati reporting on November 23 that Tehran ordered its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to abide by the temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas.[39] Houthi Naval Forces Chief of Staff Mansur al Saadi has received extensive training from Iran, and the US Treasury Department sanctioned him in March 2021 for planning attacks against international shipping in the Red Sea.[40]
  • The IRGC may have conducted a one-way drone attack on an Israeli-owned, Malta-flagged freighter in the Persian Gulf on November 24. A suspected Iranian Shahed-136 one-way attack drone struck the CMA CGM Symi.[41] The Associated Press reported on November 25 that US officials suspect the IRGC of conducting the attack. LH-affiliated al Mayadeen, citing informed sources, reported the attack on November 25.[42] Iranian state media recirculated al Mayadeen’s reporting of the attack.[43] Iranian officials and media have not denied Iranian involvement in the attack at the time of writing.
  • Houthi fighters recently hijacked an Israeli-owned, Japanese-operated freighter transiting the Red Sea on November 19.[44] Houthi fighters fast-roped onto the deck of the Galaxy Leader from a helicopter and took 25 crew members hostage.[45] The Israeli government said that the Houthis hijacked the ship under Iranian "guidance.”[46]
 
Iranian Deputy Parliament Speaker Mojtaba Zonnour warned on November 25 that Iran can inspect and stop ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz if they jeopardize Iranian national security.[47] It is unclear whether Zonnour made this warning in response to the suspected IRGC attack on the Israeli-owned freighter in the Persian Gulf on November 24. Zonnour previously served as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s deputy representative to the IRGC between 2008-2011.[48]

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq—a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—did not claim any attacks against US forces in Iraq or Syria on November 25. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has not claimed any attacks since the Israel-Hamas pause in fighting went into effect. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq and its affiliated groups claimed 74 attacks against US forces in the Middle East between October 18 and November 23.[49]

Iranian Tourism and Cultural Heritage Minister and former IRGC official Ezzatollah Zarghami stated that he previously visited Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip and taught Hamas fighters how to use the Iranian-made Fajr-3 rocket during an interview with Iranian state television on November 20.[50] Zarghami stated that he traveled to the Gaza Strip as a “production manager” of the Fajr-3 rocket. Zarghami was a member of the IRGC in the 1980s and served as the IRGC Radio Program head between 1982 and 1986.[51] He served as the president of the state-controlled outlet IRIB between 2004 and 2014 and has served as Iran’s tourism minister since August 2021.[52] 

Iran Update, November 24, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps.

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, Peter Mills, and Annika Ganzeveld

Information Cutoff: 2:00pm EST

Note: This update covers the 48 hours of activity from 2:00pm EST November 22 to 2:00pm EST November 24. CTP-ISW did not publish an update on Thursday, November 23, for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The Israel–Hamas four-day humanitarian pause went into effect on November 24. Israeli forces and Hamas have not claimed attacks in the Gaza Strip in accordance with the pause.
  2. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad said it would adhere to the cessation of military activity in the Gaza Strip.
  3. CTP-ISW has not verified reports of clashes or militia attacks in the West Bank since the Gaza Israel–Hamas pause in fighting went into effect.
  4. Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, have not conducted attacks into northern Israel since the pause in fighting went into effect. LH did not claim any attacks on November 24, nor did the IDF announce any launches from southern Lebanon into Israel.
  5. The secretary general of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Seyyed ol Shohada released statements that suggest the Islamic Resistance in Iraq will refrain from attacks on US forces during the Hamas-Israel pause in fighting. He also called upon the group to monitor the implementation of the pause in fighting and to act accordingly to support the Palestinian resistance.

Gaza Strip

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

  • Erode the will of the Israeli political establishment and public to launch and sustain a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip
  • Degrade IDF material and morale around the Gaza Strip

The Israel–Hamas four-day humanitarian pause went into effect on November 24. Israeli forces and Hamas have not claimed attacks in the Gaza Strip in accordance with the pause. Israel and Hamas agreed to a prisoner/hostage swap but characterized it with different levels of detail on November 22.[1] The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on November 24 that 24 hostages were freed from the Gaza Strip, including 13 Israeli citizens, 10 Thai citizens, and one Filipino citizen.[2] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on November 22 that the deal allows Red Cross representatives to visit hostages in the Gaza Strip and deliver medicine.[3] Qatar confirmed that Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison in return during the first stage of the swap.[4]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson for Arab media said that Israeli forces will relocate during the temporary suspension of fire to sparsely populated areas inside the Gaza Strip.[5] The Israeli Southern Command commander approved plans for operational preparations at the ceasefire lines.[6] Israeli forces will continue administrative and logistical movements on the Netzarim axis and coastal road in the northern Gaza Strip.[7] The IDF spokesperson emphasized that “the war is not over yet” and warned civilians against returning to the northern Gaza Strip.[8] The Israeli Army Radio said Israel intercepted a rocket shortly after the ceasefire went into effect on November 24.[9] A Times of Israel military correspondent commented that a rocket launch after a truce begins is “tradition.”[10] Neither Hamas nor Israel has commented on any violations of the agreement since then.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) said it would adhere to the cessation of military activity in the Gaza Strip. The military spokesperson of the al Quds Brigades—the military wing of PIJ—said on November 23 that the militia is committed to the pause during the period of humanitarian truce.[11] The spokesperson said that the militia would release an unspecified number of its hostages.[12] The al Quds Brigades claimed that an Israeli hostage died due to Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip while in the militia’s custody on November 21.[13] The same Israeli hostage was part of the first 24 hostages Hamas released to Israel on November 24, however.[14] CTP-ISW has previously reported that Hamas and its allies attempted to prepare the information environment to blame Israel for the possible deaths of hostages in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and PIJ thanked several Iranian-backed militias operating in the region for their support and attacks during the Israel–Hamas War. PIJ Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhaleh thanked Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) for its attacks on the northern Israeli border.[15] Nakhaleh also commended militias in Iraq for attacks on US bases in the region and the Houthis in Yemen for attacks into Israel.[16] Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh similarly thanked LH, Iraqi militias, and the Houthis for their solidarity with Palestine.[17]

Israeli forces conducted clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip before the pause in fighting began on November 24. The IDF said on November 23 that its forces operated on the outskirts of Jabalia and uncovered underground infrastructure.[18] Palestinian journalists and local media reported that Israeli forces cleared the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahiya on the night of November 23 after surrounding it.[19] Israel has repeatedly claimed that Hamas uses hospitals and civilian infrastructure for military activity such as hiding, including the Indonesian Hospital.[20] Israeli forces arrested the director of the al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on the grounds of allowing Hamas to use the hospital as a command headquarters.[21] Israel said that the director allowed Hamas to use the hospital’s electricity to strengthen the underground tunnel network.[22] The IDF destroyed a tunnel at al Shifa Hospital and shafts in the area of the medical complex.[23]

Palestinian militias attacked Israeli forces on the Israeli lines of advance across the northern Gaza Strip prior to the pause in fighting. The military spokesperson for al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed on November 23 that its forces operated in Jabalia, Beit Hanoun, Sheikh Radwan, and Zaytoun neighborhoods, where Israeli forces have begun their stated advance into Gaza City.[24] The al Quds Brigades claimed it destroyed Israeli military vehicles in an unspecified location.[25] The militia fighters used tandem charge anti-tank rockets, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), and anti-personnel weapons to attack Israeli forces and vehicles.[26] The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades—the militant wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—claimed to fire mortars and rockets at Israeli forces on November 23.[27] CTP-ISW previously reported that the IDF faces a loose coalition of Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip—not just Hamas.

Israeli forces conducted an airstrike on a Hamas naval force commander in Khan Younis on November 23. The IDF said that it conducted the airstrike with military and naval intelligence as well as Shin Bet guidance.[28] The IDF also destroyed the naval arm’s weapons depot, tunneling sit