Interfor International‘s Weekly Security Digest - April 2, 2024

Interfor International‘s Weekly Security Digest – April 2, 2024

Interfor’s Weekly Digest | Global Security and Policy Insights – April 2, 2024 

Global Security Matters


  • ISIS called on its followers to attack Jews and Christians before Ramadan ends early next week. Emboldened by its affiliate ISIS-K’s attack on Moscow this month which killed over 130 and injured dozens more, the terrorist organization is using its moment of publicity to declare Ramadan the “month of jihad.” Nonbelievers — Jews and Christians — are the primary targets. In an address on Telegram, ISIS spokesperson Abu Hudhayfah al-Ansari extended the threat to American servicemembers in Iraq and claimed any US presence would lead to more attacks. This address and the recent Moscow attack align with the 10-year anniversary of the terror organization’s rise in Iraq and Syria, 


  • The Iranian consulate in Damascus was hit by an aerial strike on Monday. Iranian officials have vowed to retaliate against Israel and the United States, both of which they hold responsible. Eight were killed in the attack, including General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who was the highest ranking commander of the Iranian Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016, along with his deputy, and a Hezbollah member. It is currently unclear if a response would come directly from Iran or from one of its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, or elsewhere. To date, Israel (as is their policy) has not claimed the attack or issued a comment to any foreign press. A representative from the Iranian Foreign Ministry delivered a message to the US through a Swiss envoy, calling for a meeting of the UNSC. Iran or its proxies may yet choose to retaliate against Israel or the US as tensions rise across the region.
    • Interfor Analysis: Iran took a somewhat more conciliatory posture, particularly toward the US, after an Iraqi militia they support killed three US troops in Jordan with a drone strike in January. Yesterday’s strike revives the prospect of regional war and brings Iran and the US back into high-risk confrontation. The US is likely communicating through back-channels to discourage more significant escalatory actions from either Iran or Israel. For the moment, all eyes are on an Iranian response.

      A measured response from Iran, one that would indicate a somewhat conciliatory posture vis-a-vis broader regional conflict and war with the US, would focus on limited proxy actions, such as increased Houthi activity in the Red Sea, more or less mirroring previous activities with slightly greater intensity and/or visibility. A more severe, but not unlikely response from Iran could include targeting Israeli diplomats and other Israeli assets abroad. Iran could argue such activities do not represent an Iranian escalation, given that Israel already struck an Iranian diplomatic facility.

      Another possibility is that Iran could push Hezbollah specifically to intensify attacks on Israel. Of all of Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah is best positioned to directly damage Israel due both to proximity and military capabilities. Moreover, Iran’s other client organizations typically target US and European interests as a proxy for Israel. By using Hezbollah, Iran can hit Israel and theoretically avoid directly antagonizing the US(though, obviously, the US will be displeased). That said, broader war between Israel and Hezbollah would be highly costly for Hezbollah and Iran, and both have expressed hesitation regarding a larger war with Israel in recent months. 
  • Today, Israel took responsibility for the tragic deaths of 7 World Central Kitchen aid workers. On Monday, the IDF mistakenly stuck a naval shipment of aid coming into Gaza from Cyrus. Netanyahu affirmed the military will launch a full probe into the incident. This tragic incident comes after months of accusations lobbed against Israel that it is withholding aid from Gaza. The aid group had been traveling in a “de-conflicted” area in two armored cars with the WCK logo. IDF troops believed they identified armed figures riding on the aid trucks and fired three missiles at the convoy. A full report of the incident has not yet been issued by the IDF. WCK is one of the largest aid organizations in Gaza and its partial or complete withdrawal could make an already dire situation worse. The international community, as well, may push Israel to alter their on-the-ground operations as the situation further develops. 
  • The IDF withdrew from al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, Monday morning after a two-week raid. Al-Shifa was revealed to be a site for Hamas operations after an IDF operation in November 2023 uncovered a network of Hamas tunnels underneath the hospital. Since, the use of the hospital as a front for terrorism and a site of military operations have been hotly contested due to humanitarian complications. Over the last two weeks, the latest al-Shifa operation has been considered a major battlefield victory for Israel, resulting in approximately 200 militants killed and 900 detained. The intelligence that the IDF stands to gain from militants captured in al-Shifa, a known base of operations for Hamas, is potentially pivotal. The IDF claims it also seized over $3 million is foreign currencies and caches of weapons. However, the al-Shifa raid has again drawn much international criticism due to humanitarian concerns in the largely isolated northern region of Gaza, where residents have less access to aid deliveries as their counterparts in the south. 
  • Major political demonstrations took place in Israel this weekend, protesting Netanyahu’s handling of the negotiations and pushing for new efforts to rescue the remaining hostages. These demonstrations are reminiscent of the weekly anti-government protests that dominated 2023, until October 7. Now, they demand a new round of elections after months of frustration with the government’s lack of progress in negotiations with Hamas and international interlocutors. Most recently, talks broke down between Israel and Hamas in Qatar following the UN Security Council vote last week which called for an end to hostilities between the two parties. Netanyahu has since authorized a delegation to Cairo, though demands on both sides remain the same. As domestic politics heat up in Israel, Netanyahu will continue to face growing pressure to accept a deal that safeguards the return of as many Israeli hostages as possible. 

International Affairs

  • Russia struck Kharkiv with aerial bombs for the first time since 2022. The attack caused widespread damage to residential buildings, emergency services, and energy infrastructure in an apparent retaliation for Ukrainian attacks on the border region of Belgorod. After nearly three years of war, Ukraine’s army is running low on personnel and ammunition as they attempt to cover the over 620 miles of borderlands with Russia. The use of such large-scale guided bombs is unusual for this area of Ukraine and indicates that this attack, landing on residential and medical buildings, was meant to target civilians. Moscow has denied these allegations. It has also issued public statements asserting its right to attack Western-supplied weapons, including American F-16 fighter jets, should they be used by Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet this week in Paris to discuss countering Russian aggression, among other pressing security concerns for NATO.
  • Turkish President Erdogan’s main opposition cinched a surprising electoral victory in this week’s local elections, representing large-scale discontent with the Turkish economy. Istanbul, which accounts for 30% of Turkey’s GDP, chose the incumbent Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu to again oversee the city’s operations. Erdogan was the mayor of Istanbul prior to his ascension to national office and has tried to reclaim the city for his party since coming to office. Imamoglu’s party, CHP, took the largest share of the total vote nationwide for the first since the 1970s, leading in 36 provinces. Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) took just 23 provinces, losing even some conservative rural districts to the opposition. Erdogan has long been criticized for his handling of the economy, which has driven millions of Turkish citizens closer to poverty while inflation soars. This election may be a watershed moment for Erdogan if CHP is seen as gaining a popular mandate to push Erdogan and his allies out of government. 
  • Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered the implementation of stronger maritime security measures to counter the threat from China. The move comes after a Chinese water cannon disrupted a Philippine resupply mission to soldiers guarding a warship in the South China Sea. Marcos Jr. has vowed to expand and reorganize his government’s maritime council. New members of the task force now include: the national security adviser, solicitor general, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency chief, and leaders of the country’s existing South China Sea task force. China has long laid claim to the South China Sea, which is a conduit for over $3 trillion in annual maritime commerce. However, ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, and their supporters in the US have pushed back on China’s attempt to unilaterally control the region, lest Beijing gain a powerful foothold in international maritime trade. 

Election Tampering

  • Chinese social media accounts are masquerading as Trump supporters to peddle conspiracy theories and stoke domestic instability ahead of the November US election. Identified accounts appear to be weaponizing partisan divisions to undermine Biden’s policies. Rather than aiming to generally sow chaos into the American political arena, the partisan activities of these accounts mark a tactical shift for Chinese influence operations. US government officials have already sounded alarms that these online tactics may be strong enough to sideline critics of China in American politics. Newer accounts are more difficult to spot because they have pivoted to building organic followings and some at least appear controlled by humans rather than automated bots. Such misinformation tactics are reminiscent of Russian attacks on the 2016 US election and raise serious concerns regarding the security of the 2024 US elections.

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