The Northern Arena and The Shiite Axis – Weekly Review of Events and Key Data (February 26 – March 03 2024)

Key insights:

The United States is pressing for a ceasefire on both the northern and southern fronts. On the other hand, it seems that neither Hezbollah nor Hamas are interested in moving forward in the negotiations: Hezbollah is in no hurry to create a political settlement with Israel, and Hamas is in no hurry to reach a deal for the release of the hostages. This allows Israel to continue to achieve limited military achievements in southern Lebanon, while, it is delaying the planned Israeli operation in Rafah. Despite all this, the American envoy to the talks, Amos Hochstein, is now visiting Beirut.

Yesterday, Israel’s Channel 11 broadcast reports from Lebanon regarding an outline proposed by US Ambassador Hochstein for a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon. According to reports, the outline will include three stages: 

The first is “a ceasefire in Gaza that will lead to a ceasefire in Lebanon and allow residents on both sides of the border to return to their homes.”

The second is “increased deployment of the Lebanese army in the border area and the halt of all overt Hezbollah military activity south of the Litani River.”

The third is negotiations regarding the land border between the countries.

February 2024 summary: 214 attacks were carried out against Israel from Lebanese territory. 51 civilian targets were attacked. No responsibility was claimed for 18 attacks. Most of the attacks (134) were carried out by high-trajectory fire (mainly Grad/Falk/Burkan rockets).

The Lebanese arena:

War data:

In Israel, the government evacuated 43 communities located up to five kilometers from the Lebanese border. A total of about 61,000 citizens. To them were added several thousand more who decided to evacuate independently. Some of the evacuees in the voluntary communities and a small portion of those evacuated in communities evacuated by government order have begun returning in recent weeks. However, most of the evacuated communities do not have conditions to resume daily life, such as business and community activities and an education system for children. The Israeli government has extended the evacuation period until the summer of 2024 (July/August 2024).

It should be noted that not all Israeli communities have been totally evacuated, and there is still a civilian presence. This is because these communities rely on tourism and agriculture. Farmers come to work on the land, in the orchards, tending to cow and goat herds. Furthermore, some of the communities’ industrial plants are still operational and employ workers from non-evacuated areas. Hezbollah has killed five Israeli citizens thus far.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for 49 launching and firing incidents against Israel during the last week, using Grads/Falk/Burkan, anti-tank missiles, UAVs, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Nine attacks (Hezbollah claimed credit for six) were launched and fired at civilian targets in Shtula, Ayalon, Goren, Maayan Baruch, Metula, and Manara.

It should be emphasized that no culpability was claimed for the two intercepted UAV launches (one over Haifa on February 29 and the second over Hula Valley on March 3).

In addition, last night (March 3), Hezbollah claimed to have detonated an IED against an IDF force that had penetrated Lebanese territory near the village of Ramish.

Prominent launching and shooting incidents against Israel:

(February 26) – An anti-tank missile was fired at a chicken coop in the community of Shtula. A civilian was wounded.

(February 26) – 60 rockets fired toward the Golan Heights.

(February 27) – 35 rockets fired at an IDF base on Mount Meron.

(February 27) – Rockets fired at a major road in the Western Galilee.

(February 28) – Rockets fired at Kiryat Shmona with directly hitting a house without casualties. Hamas-Lebanon claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

(February 29) – Grad barrage at Kibbutz Eilon (14:00) and Falk rocket fire at Goren (18:00). According to Hezbollah’s report, this was in response to the killing of two Lebanese civilians in the town of Kafra as a result of IDF attacks.

Hezbollah casualties:

Over the past week Hezbollah announced 14 Hezbollah operatives killed (including the three operatives of the Imam Hussein militia, which were originally Lebanese Hezbollah operatives).

As of October 8, 2023, a total of 229 Hezbollah operatives have been killed. Most of the operatives killed lived south of the Litani River (148 of the operatives killed, constitute 65% of all the operatives killed). Many Hezbollah operatives and their families live in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel. They operate in southern Lebanon as part of Hezbollah’s geographical units (Nasser / Aziz) and Hezbollah’s designated units (Radwan), while assimilating into the civilian population (human shield tactics).

Prominent attacks in Lebanon:

On February 26, an attack was carried out against several Hezbollah air defense systems in Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley. This was the farthest attack from Israel’s border to date (approximately 100 kilometers). The attack was carried out in response to the downing of an Israeli UAV north of Nabatiyeh. The attack in the Bekaa Valley, which is Hezbollah’s logistical and operational hinterland, preserves the equation according to which Hezbollah’s defense system activity against IDF planes will be answered by an attack against its air defense arrays.

Hezbollah operates an air defense system that includes batteries. It is very likely its arsenal includes SA17, SA22, SA8. It also has shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles of various types. During the current conflict, Hezbollah began operating an Iranian anti-aircraft missile called “358”. We don’t know what kind of missile hit the Israeli UAV and shot it down.

On February 26, Hussein Muhammad Salami (“Mahmoud”), originally from Khirbet Salem, was killed in an airstrike on his car while driving in the village of Majdal. Salami served as a regional commander in the Nasser unit. The geographic units (Nasser and Aziz) operate in southern Lebanon under one headquarters under the command of Ali Karki, Hezbollah’s commander in southern Lebanon. They have independent capabilities of combat engineering, rocket launches (mainly short range), anti-tank, mortars, light anti-aircraft (shoulder-fired missiles), medicine, logistics and communications. Most of the operatives of the geographic units come from southern Lebanon. Since October 2023, operatives of these units have been carrying out extensive activity against Israel, and many of Hezbollah’s fatalities come from withing these units.

On March 2 a vehicle was attacked in the coastal area in the morning hours in Ras Bayada, north of Naqoura: three operatives belonging to the Imam Hossein militia, an Iranian Shiite militia deployed in Syria, were in the vehicle. Some of the militia operatives (as well as its headquarters – Dhu al-Faqar Hinnawi) are originally Lebanese Hezbollah operatives. At the beginning of the war, some Lebanese militia operatives were transferred back to Lebanon to reinforce Hezbollah. According to the IDF’s announcement, the three operatives killed in the vehicle were involved in firing rockets toward Israeli territory.

Hezbollah – General:

(February 28-29) Hezbollah heightened its security alert in the southern suburb area of Beirut– as a result, three separate incidents occurred involving UNIFIL and diplomats (Dutch and Spanish) who arrived in the area and were detained:

– Soldiers from the Dutch Special Forces (armed with diplomatic passports) were detained by Hezbollah. According to the Dutch, they were practiced rescuing Dutch citizens in case of escalation.

– UNIFIL soldiers from the Malaysian Battalion were detained by Hezbollah after entering the area by mistake. They were released in coordination with the Lebanese army. The deputy director of UNIFIL’s information office, Candice Erdell, said in a statement that “a peacekeeping mission vehicle on a routine logistical trip to Beirut passed through an unplanned route where members of the force were detained for a while and then released.”

– A Spanish diplomat, that apparently got lost, was arrested while taking a photo to explain his location.

Lebanon – General:

On February 28, Lebanese Defense Minister Morris Salim said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Lebanese army was unfit to fight. He explained that the soldiers are in financial distress because of the low wages and most of them have to work during their vacations to support their families: “We have informed all the international officials we have met with that we urgently need equipment and means to train the soldiers and establishing new combat units if we want to increase the number of soldiers in southern Lebanon.”

Above: A demonstration in Beirut (March 2) in support of the resistance and the Palestinians and “condemnation of Zionist and American aggression”

The Syrian arena:

Prominent airstrikes in Syria:

On February 28 an airstrike was carried out in southern Damascus in the area of Saida Zaynab and Hujayra. The target apparently being a building on Ali al-Wahsh Street in northern Saida Zaynab and a target at a military base in the Hujayra area.

Above: Smoke rises from the site of the attack in Saida Zaynab.

On February 29, a vehicle was attacked in the area of Qusayr near the village called Al-Nahariya. According to various unverifiable Syrian opposition reports, a senior Hezbollah operative named Mahmoud Ali Hamoud Medina, who served as a commander in the area, was killed in the attack.

On March 1, a building was attacked in the city of Banias, in an area called Tarya, east of the city. According to an official Iranian announcement, an IRGC naval officer with the rank of colonel named Reza Zarei was killed. According to various reports, two Hezbollah operatives were also killed in the attack.

Syria – General:

On February 26 as we have noted in the past, the Russians have once again shown a presence in southern Syria. This comes not without risks., their joint patrol with the Syrian army was attacked by a roadside bomb. At least three soldiers were wounded.

On February 27, Syria submitted an official protest to Lebanon against the observation towers erected with British support on the Lebanon-Syria border in recent years (it should be noted that these observation towers began to be erected during the civil war in Syria in light of the threat posed by ISIS at the time).

February 27, a Syrian officer with the rank of Aqid (colonel) from the 112th Brigade was killed. His death sparked much speculation. The officer, Ramadan Dawa, commander of the 271st Battalion of the 112th Brigade, was killed by a roadside bomb planted on the road he was traveling. The 112th Brigade is one of two brigades responsible for ongoing security in the Golan Heights sector near the border with Israel (the second brigade is the 90th Brigade). According to Syrian reports, the IED (camouflaged in the form of a rock – a shape and method familiar from all over the Middle East) was planted by locals who were directed and operated by Israel to eliminate Dawa, who was a Hezbollah collaborator. Dawa’s assassination occurred a few days after warning leaflets were scattered in the area of Al-Azbah (the 112th Brigade’s area of responsibility) aimed against a local Golan Heights File operative and against collaboration with Hezbollah.

Syrian soldiers operating near the Israeli border have constant communication with Hezbollah’s Southern Command unit, which coordinates Hezbollah’s efforts in southern Syria. The Southern Command provides professional training to Syrian personnel in a variety of military specialties. At the same time, the Southern Command utilizes Syrian military infrastructure, soldiers, and officers to support Hezbollah’s operations in southern Syria. It should be highlighted that the assassination of Syrian officers and soldiers in the Golan Heights is not an isolated incident. Almost every week, there are reports of attacks on military forces by locals who oppose the regime for ideological reasons, local conflict, and so on. In addition, ISIS cells continue to operate in the area, with their primary goal of attacking military soldiers.

Above: Akid Ramadan Dawa

Syrian security forces shot two civilians on February 28, following a long period of largely peaceful anti-Assad demonstrations in Sweida. One of them is in serious condition.  The incident sparked rioting and resulted in the vandalism of Assad portrays near the hospital where the injured were being treated.

On March 2, a Russian security delegation was reported to have arrived in Sweida to examine the city’s security situation and demonstrations with regime forces.

Shiite Axis – General:

During the past week, no airstrikes were carried out against the American bases in Iraq and Syria. The last attack took place on February 20.

Since October 2023, there have been more than 160 firing incidents at U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, mostly in eastern Syria.

Yemen – Houthi-land:

During the past week, coalition forces managed to hit 7 UAVs and 8 missiles launched or intended to be launched by the Houthis.

Since October 2023, there have been 74 Houthi shooting incidents against ships and the like.

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Tal Beeri

Tal Beeri

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