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1. Several incidents yesterday signalled a ratcheting up of tensions between Israel and Hezbollah on the northern border and an escalation of military actions on both sides. First, Hezbollah shot down an Israeli Air Force Elbit Hermes 450 drone over the area of Nabatieh, in southern Lebanon. In response, Israel struck Hezbollah targets in the north-east Lebanese city of Baalbek, a key Hezbollah stronghold located approximately 100 kilometres from Israel’s northern border. The strike is therefore the deepest inside Lebanon Israel has conducted in many years. The IDF also confirmed it had killed Hassan Hussein Salami, a senior Hezbollah commander, in an airstrike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, in turn, fired a barrage of 60 Katyusha rockets at the Golan Heights. There were no reports of injuries. This morning, Hezbollah fired over 40 rockets at the Upper Galilee, with sirens sounding in Zivon, Sassa, Safsufa, and Dovev. Hezbollah announced that these rockets were targeted at the Mount Meron base. Also this morning, Lebanese media report strikes on several southern Lebanese towns, some as far as 30 kilometres from the border.

2. President Biden said yesterday that he hoped a ceasefire in Gaza would be reached by next Monday. An Israeli delegation arrived in Qatar last night to continue hostage/ceasefire negotiations, but Israeli officials briefed the media in less optimistic terms. The proposals on the table would see an initial pause in fighting of a month and a half, during which some 40 of the remaining hostages would be released. In parallel, a number of Palestinian security prisoners would be released from Israeli jails. Israeli media reports today have suggested that this initial pause leading to a longer-term ceasefire should not be ruled out, but that Hamas was balking at a prerequisite for such an arrangement: that its foothold in Gaza end and the Strip be demilitarised. The Israeli War Cabinet yesterday discussed for the first time the details of a potential ground operation in Rafah, Hamas’s last remaining Gazan stronghold.

3. Israel’s Channel 14 violated a Military Censors Office gag order on Sunday evening in order to level further allegations that Israel’s security establishment missed warning signs over October 7thThe report alleged that at midnight on the night before Hamas began its massacre, information that Hamas terrorists had activated Israeli phone SIM cards was received by Israeli intelligence officials. The IDF acknowledges that such intelligence was received, but says that the channel’s claim of 1,000 SIM cards activated simultaneously is “false and far from reality.” The practice of installing Israeli SIMs was common to previous Hamas training drills, including in the months prior. In the context of the prevailing assessment that Hamas was deterred from large-scale conflict, it was not thought of huge significance on this occasion. 

4. Voting in municipal Israeli elections began at 7.00 this morning. The ballot had been delayed four months because of the war, and will be delayed another nine months in 11 local authorities whose citizens have been evacuated. Turnout is expected to be low, with voters’ minds concentrated on the war. With a significant portion of the electorate voting by absentee ballot due to military service, the final results could come as late as March 3rd. Jerusalem Mayor Leon is expected to comfortably retain his position, while long-time Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai is also expected to prevail.

5. In a move linked to US demands that it reform, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Shtayyeh yesterday submitted his resignation to President Abbas. The Biden Administration, which has pushed for a reformed PA to play a leading role in a post-Hamas Gaza, called it a “positive and important step toward achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.” In his remarks to the PA cabinet, Shtayyeh said the immediate future would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.” In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.” Abbas is thought likely to ask Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, to serve as the next prime minister, though the US, Emirati, and Saudi preference is thought to be former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who previously initiated a reformist agenda.

6. Responding to petitions, the High Court yesterday ordered the government to explain why it should not annul its resolution of June 2023 instructing the IDF not to draft ultra-Orthodox men into military service. The case is being heard against the backdrop of the IDF’s plan to extend the service time of conscripts and reservists, in the light of the demands placed on the army by fighting on multiple fronts.The IDF recently announced that over the last year, 66,000 young ultra-Orthodox men had received a deferral from service – a record high. Some 540 of these opted to enlist in the wake of October 7th and the war in Gaza. Ministers Gantz and Eisenkot yesterday presented a plan calling for all segments of Israeli society to serve. “All the people of Israel, all parts of society should take part in the right to serve our country. The challenges are enormous, and you cannot look those who are serving in the eyes and tell them that things will go on as they have,” Gantz said.


Episode 227 | US Middle East Policy

In this episode, Jack Omer-Jackaman speaks to Jonathan Paris about the latest US thinking on Israel’s war in Gaza and its regional implications. They discuss the US position on a potential operation in Rafah, President Biden’s push for a two-state solution, and the likely impact of Middle East policy on the next US election. Paris is a London-based analyst, a former Middle East Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and an advisor to the Chertoff Group in Washington.

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Fathom Articles

Post-Bibi: Aligning two-state hopes with Israeli fears after 7 October – Read here

Opinion | Saudi normalisation now. A Palestinian state later – Read here

The West Bank in the Shadow of October 7

This BICOM research paper identifies dangerous trends in the West Bank, and maps Israel’s challenges in this arena in the post-October 7 context.

Download BICOM’s briefing here.

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