Last week in the Middle East, Israeli warplanes struck Damascus International Airport and nearby areas in Syria. Israel was targeting the Syrian regime and Iranian Quds Force command centers in response to an incident involving the discovery of planted IEDs in the southern Golan Heights. Meanwhile, rocket fire from the Gaza strip was met with airstrikes from Israel during the historic visit to Israel by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo visited an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank in an unprecedented first by a top US official. In Iraq, rocket fire targeting Baghdad’s Green Zone resumed once again for the first time since late September.
In Syria, regime and allied forces clashed with opposition and Islamist factions along the frontlines in the greater Idleb area. There was no change in territorial control. Elsewhere, Israeli warplanes carried out several airstrikes on Damascus International Airport and nearby areas on 18 November. The strikes targeted command centers held by the Syrian regime and the Iranian Quds Force, which operates under the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Weapons and ammunition depots were also targeted, resulting in at least 10 fatalities. The attack came in response to the discovery of several IEDs planted near the border fence in the southern Golan Heights. Israel accused the Syrian regime and Iranians of planting the IEDs (The Jerusalem Post, 19 November 2020).
In Israel, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel was met with Israeli air raids in different areas in Gaza. The air raids reportedly targeted Hamas infrastructure and military posts; no injuries were reported on either side. The rocket fire, while still unclaimed, comes days after the anniversary of the reported assassination of senior Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu Al Ata, who was killed in an air strike in Gaza City around the same time last year (Al Jazeera, 15 November 2020).
Amid heightened tensions, on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a visit to a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. This was the first such visit by a top US official. The visit reinforced the Trump administration’s position that the settlements are legal and do not undermine international law, contradicting the previously long-held US position on the issue (BBC, 20 November 2020). Palestinian landowners near the settlement briefly protested by waving Palestinian flags in rejection of Pompeo’s visit. Palestinian leaders had condemned the visit, but were powerless to stop it (CNN, 19 November 2020). Another outcome of the visit was that the US State Department declared the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to be anti-Semitic (Haaretz, 19 November 2020). The BDS movement campaigns for the complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards Palestinians. These actions by the Trump administration in its last days stand in stark contrast to long-held US positions and UN resolutions related to the Israel-Palestine issue. This will make it harder for the incoming US administration to navigate the conflict and further destabilizes an already volatile relationship between Israel and Palestine.
In Iraq, seven rockets were fired at Baghdad’s Green Zone over the last week by the Iranian backed armed group Ashab Al Kahf, killing a child and wounding five other civilians. These were the first rocket attacks following the US threat to shut down its embassy two months ago (VOA, 19 November 2020). Across Iraq, demonstrations by government employees continued against the backdrop of delayed monthly wages. With no end in sight to the government’s liquidity crisis, demonstrations are likely to continue in the coming weeks. Elsewhere, Iraqi Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) launched a two-day anti-Islamic State (IS) operation in the Wadi Zaghaytun area of Kirkuk. Backed by the Global Coalition’s aerial support, the operation led to the deaths of at least 16 IS fighters.
In Yemen, media reports indicate that Houthi forces were able to capture the Mas Military Camp from pro-Hadi forces, with Houthi forces posting a video in front of the camp (Twitter, 22 November 2020). Fighting over the camp continued this past week, with fatalities inflicted on both sides. The fighting surrounding the camp has been fierce in recent weeks, and the loss of the camp’s strategic position northwest of Marib city represents a significant setback for pro-Hadi military forces.
As well, fighting has intensified in the Abyan governorate between pro-STC and pro-Hadi forces. While Saudi Arabia had sought to diplomatically intervene and broker a truce between the two sides two weeks ago, armed clashes between the two groups increased throughout last week, with the At Tariyah and Ash Shaykh Salim fronts being particularly active. Pro-Hadi forces reportedly advanced on At Tariyah front, gaining control over hills overlooking Jaar. Pro-STC forces advanced on the coastal Ash Shaykh Salim front.
Meanwhile, the Houthi-led government in Sanaa appointed a new ambassador to Syria last week. Syria remains one of the few countries that recognize the Sanaa-based government, alongside Iran (Middle East Monitor, 12 November 2020).
Lastly, this past week, Saudi Arabia claimed to intercept a booby-trapped drone, though it did not specify whether the drone was intercepted in Yemen or had penetrated Saudi airspace. The single interception represents a drastic decrease from the previous week when Saudi Arabia was forced to intercept numerous drones and faced threats from boats rigged with explosives.
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