Iran and the Houthis are likely using their attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to test and refine their approach to striking naval targets. Houthi leader Abdulmalik al Houthi stated on February 22 that the group will “escalate” its operations targeting shipping around the Red Sea. Abdulmalik added that the group would introduce "submarine weapons,” likely referring to unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), but gave no further details. CENTCOM reported that the Houthis used a UUV for the first time to threaten shipping around the Red Sea on February 17. The Houthis — enabled directly by Iran — have used combinations of cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aerial, surface, and underwater drones to attack civilian and military vessels around the Red Sea since November 2023. Iranian military advisers are providing targeting intelligence to support the Houthis’ attacks targeting US naval vessels.
Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January. The three unspecified Iranian sources said that Iran provided roughly 400 SRBMs to Russia, including the Fateh-110 and the Zolfaghar. The sources said that Iran has sent at least four SRBM shipments to Russia since Iran and Russia concluded a missile sale agreement in late 2023.
Russia may be setting conditions to supplant the United States as a security partner in Iraq in anticipation of the United States possibly reducing its military presence there. Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev has met with several senior Iraqi political and military officials to discuss security cooperation since late January 2024. Kutrashev met with:
The Houthi movement launched an anti-ship ballistic missile that struck and disabled the UK-owned, Belize-flagged Rubymar cargo ship in the Bab al Mandeb strait on February 18. The Rubymar’s Lebanon-based management company said that the vessel took on water after the missile struck the vessel’s engine room. The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the cargo vessel had completely sunk about 22 hours after the attack occurred. Neither the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) nor CENTCOM has said that the Rubymar sunk.... This incident marks the first time that a crew has had to abandon ship after a Houthi attack since Houthi attacks began during this round of escalation on November 19. The Houthi military spokesperson falsely claimed that the Houthis “made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”
Reuters reported on February 18 that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani directed Iranian-backed Iraqi groups to “pause” attacks on US forces during a January 29 meeting in Baghdad. Ghaani met with the leaders of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups less than 48 hours after the Iranian-backed drone attack on January 28 that killed three US servicemembers in Jordan. Kataib Hezbollah responded to Iranian directives from Ghaani by announcing that it would “suspend attacks” on January 30. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba did not “initially agree” to Ghaani’s directive. The group said that it would continue attacks targeting US forces on February 2, after Ghaani’s visit. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed three attacks targeting US forces after Ghaani’s visit. It has not claimed any attacks after February 4.
Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian fighters in the northern and central Gaza Strip on February 17. The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades–the self-proclaimed military wing of Fatah–fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades targeting Israeli forces east of Gaza City. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Nahal Brigade and 215th Artillery Brigade (both assigned to the 162nd Division) directed an airstrike on February 17 that targeted Hamas fighters in an unspecified area of the central Gaza Strip.
The Israel Defense Forces continued targeting Hamas commanders and fighters in the northern Gaza Strip on February 16. The IDF 215th Artillery Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) killed an aide to the Sabra Battalion commander in Hamas’ Gaza City Brigade. Israeli forces killed the previous Sabra Battalion commander in November 2023.
Russian Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov paid an official visit to Iran, likely to discuss Russo-Iranian defense industrial and military cooperation. Minnikhanov visited unspecified “large industries and industrial towns” in Esfahan Province and met with the provincial governor on February 14. Several prominent defense industrial and military sites, including some operated by the IRGC and Defense Ministry for aerospace work, are in Esfahan Province. These sites include the Kashan airfield, for instance, which Russian delegations visited in June and July 2022 to examine Iranian Shahed drones.
The number of Palestinian militia attacks in the northern Gaza Strip dropped from a daily average of 5 attacks between January 31 and February 6 to a daily average of 2.7 attacks between February 7 and February 13. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters mortared Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip on February 14, but CTP-ISW cannot confirm the point of origin. The IDF conducted a two-week, division-sized clearing operation in early February that targeted Hamas underground infrastructure and fighters. The IDF degraded Hamas units during previous clearing operations in the northern Gaza Strip earlier in the war, but Hamas “took advantage” of the IDF’s withdrawal in late December to reconstitute some of its military units. Hamas will likely continue to appoint new commanders in the aftermath of the latest clearing operation and learn from its mistakes to better protect its new leaders from future Israeli operations. Hamas retains many experienced commanders—including the Gaza City Brigade commander—who will continue to rebuild the organization between Israeli clearing operations.
Palestinian militias did not claim any attacks targeting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the northern Gaza Strip on February 13. IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that the IDF would continue to operate in the northern Gaza Strip. He added that the northern Gaza Strip remains “isolated” from the remainder of the Strip because the IDF does not want civilians to reenter areas where Palestinian militia fighters are continuing to operate. The al Quds Brigades posted footage of the group’s previous targeting of Israeli forces in western Gaza City but did not claim new attacks.