Iran Update, February 22, 2024

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.[i] Abdulmalik added that the group would introduce “submarine weapons,” likely referring to unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), but gave no further details.[ii] CENTCOM reported that the Houthis used a UUV for the first time to threaten shipping around the Red Sea on February 17.[iii] 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.[iv] US naval vessels have regularly intercepted Houthi munitions targeting civilian and military vessels off the coast of Yemen. These Houthi attacks provide Iran and the Houthis opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of different strike packages to understand how they can evade and overwhelm US defenses more effectively.

Key Takeaways:

  • Yemen: 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.
  • Northern Gaza Strip: The Israel Defense Forces 162nd Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza City.
  • Southern Gaza Strip: Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis.
  • Political Negotiations: Hamas said that there may be progress in negotiations with Israel over a prisoner-for-hostage deal.
  • Iraq: Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi discussed the US military presence in Iraq with US Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons and US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski.
  • Iran: Iranian Strategic Foreign Relations Council Chairman Kamal Kharazi met with senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials 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.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 162nd Division continued to conduct clearing operations in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza City, on February 22.[v] Israeli forces launched new, “division-wide” clearing operation in Zaytoun on February 20.[vi] Israeli forces killed approximately 20 fighters and directed airstrikes to attack over 10 unspecified targets. Palestinian militias, including Hamas, clashed with Israeli forces in Zaytoun using small arms and anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).[vii]

Palestinian militias used mortars and rockets in most of their attacks targeting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip on February 22.[viii] CTP-ISW cannot determine the point of origin of any of the indirect fire attacks. The militias targeted Israeli positions in Zaytoun as well as in the northeastern Gaza Strip.[ix] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement mortared an IDF “dispatch site” east of Beit Hanoun.[x] The Palestinian Mujahideen Movement is a Palestinian faction aligned with Hamas that has expressed close ties with Iran.

The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) located and destroyed rocket launchers during clearing operations in the central Gaza Strip on February 22.[xi] Palestinian fighters had rigged the launchers to explode, according to the IDF.

Israeli forces continued to conduct clearing operations in western Khan Younis on February 22. The IDF Givati Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) used sniper fire to ambush a Palestinian fighter cell in western Khan Younis.[xii] The IDF 89th Commando Brigade (assigned to the 98th Division) located weapons and documents affiliated with Hamas during clearing operations in the area.[xiii] The Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry reported on February 22 that Israeli forces raided Nasser Hospital in western Khan Younis shortly after withdrawing from it.[xiv] Nasser Hospital had been the largest functioning hospital in the Gaza Strip until Israeli forces raided it on February 15.[xv] Israel received “credible intelligence” that Hamas-held hostages were in the hospital and detained ”hundreds” of Hamas fighters there.[xvi]

West Bank

Axis of Resistance campaign objectives:

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

Israeli forces have clashed with Palestinian fighters at least four times in the West Bank since CTP-ISW’s last data cutoff on February 21.[xxx]

Three Palestinian attackers fired small arms at Israeli civilian vehicles at an Israeli checkpoint outside of Jerusalem on February 22.[xxxi] The attackers killed one Israeli civilian and injured at least eleven others before Israeli police killed all three attackers at the checkpoint.[xxxii] Several Palestinian militia groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, praised the attack.[xxxiii]

This map is not an exhaustive depiction of clashes and demonstrations in the West Bank.

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 has conducted at least 12 attacks from southern Lebanon into northern Israel since CTP-ISW’s last data cutoff on February 21.[xxxiv]

Recorded reports of attacks; CTP-ISW cannot independently verify impact.

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

Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi discussed the US military presence in Iraq with US Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons and US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on February 22.[xxxv] Halbousi, Coons, and Romanowski discussed the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad about the status of the US-led coalition mission to defeat ISIS. The United States and Iraq began these negotiations in late January 2024.[xxxvi] Halbousi described the negotiations as important for creating a “sustainable bilateral partnership” between the United States and Iraq.[xxxvii] Halbousi, Coons, and Romanowski also emphasized the need to “maintain security cooperation” between the United States and Baghdad to root out the “remnants of terrorism.” Iran and its Iraqi proxy and partner militias have intensified their campaign to expel the United States from Iraq since October 2023.[xxxviii] Halbousi previously released a statement on February 14 warning “war merchants and seditionists from the Islamist parties” against “tampering with the stability of Anbar [Province],” implying that Halbousi might oppose Iranian-backed efforts to expel the United States from Iraq.[xxxix]

Unspecified individuals unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate State of Law Coalition parliamentarian Bagher Kadhim Naser al Saadi in al Jadriyah, Baghdad, on February 22.[xl] Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki heads the State of Law Coalition. This assassination attempt comes amid an uptick in likely politically motivated killings between competing Shia factions in Baghdad and southern Iraq in recent weeks.[xli]

The Houthis claimed attacks targeting Israel, a commercial ship, and a US warship on February 22. The group launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles that hit the UK-owned, Palau-flagged MV Islander in the Gulf of Aden.[xlii] The Houthis separately claimed an attack targeting an unspecified US destroyer in the Red Sea.[xliii] US CENTCOM stated that it intercepted six Houthi one-way attack drones in the Red Sea.[xliv] The Houthi military spokesperson claimed the group launched drones and missiles targeting unspecified targets in Eilat, Israel.[xlv] Israel intercepted a surface-to-surface missile south of Eilat on February 21.[xlvi]

Iranian Strategic Foreign Relations Council Chairman Kamal Kharazi met with senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in Tehran on February 22.[xlvii] Kharazi claimed that “resistance” is the only way for Palestinians to achieve their goals and confront Israel during a meeting with senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan and PIJ Political Bureau member Ali Abu Shahin.[xlviii] Hamdan and Shahin explained the “latest state” of the war in the Gaza Strip and thanked the Iranian regime for supporting Palestinian militias. Hamdan and Shahin are both based in Lebanon. Kharazi is a senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[xlix]

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei repeated his criticism of unspecified Muslim countries for failing to sever political and economic ties with Israel during a meeting with Quran reciters on February 22.[l] Khamenei has, even before the Israel-Hamas war began, repeatedly called on Muslim countries to isolate Israel.[li]

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