GroundBrief: Qasem Soleimani visits Iraq, the March of Return and clashes in Northwest Syria.


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Curator: Joe Truzman

Iraq

Last week, the commander of Iran's Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani, visited Iraq. Soleimani is seen in a selfie with the commander of the al-Imam Ali Brigades (Hezbollah in Iraq), Haj Shibal Zaydi, and the commander of the Popular Mobilization Committees (closely tied to Hezbollah) in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

The image of the three can be interpreted as a signal from Iran to the United States as tensions rise between the two countries.

The U.S. recently deployed a number of military assets in the region after intelligence, allegedly produced by the Mossad, was shared with the U.S. detailing threats against American interests by Iran.

Recent reports state that Iran is arming boats with short-range ballistic and cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf. In 2015, Iran conducted the Noble Prophet 9 exercise in the Straits of Hormuz. A mock aircraft carrier was constructed and attacked with anti ship missiles.


Gaza

Friday's March of Return was largely uneventful compared to past rioting at the fence. Hamas deployed border guards at the March of Return camps to ensure calm was maintained. A small group of Palestinians successfully reached the security fence and attacked it, though they were unsuccessful in breaching it.

One Palestinian was killed by IDF gunfire east of Rafah. It is suspected he had close ties or was associated with the military wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades. Observing certain details of his funeral, Abdullah Abdel was buried with a bandana on his forehead and a flag of the al-Qassam Brigades.

Under the terms of a ceasefire agreement that was reached to end last weekend's conflict, Israel will allow Qatari money to enter Gaza, the border crossings to reopen, extension of the fishing zone and additional goods to enter the Gaza Strip. In return, Hamas will ensure quiet at the border.

This understanding isn't new, in fact, it's identical to previous understandings reached between the two after conflict has arisen. Due to the failure of previous agreements, it is likely the ceasefire will collapse.

The money is due to arrive by Monday in the Gaza Strip with Qatari Ambassador el-Emadi. With this part of the agreement fulfilled, I expect Wednesday's Nakba Day at the Gaza border to be mostly restrained as it was during April's one year anniversary of the March of Return.

This is all likely to be temporary. On Quds Day, which is at the end of the month, violence is likely to erupt at the Gaza border.


Northwest Syria

A fighter from the Syrian National Army, a rebel group fighting pro-Assad forces states; “We target the positions of the criminal regime and the Iranian militias in the cities of Nabel as well as Zahra with Grad rockets. It is in response to the bombing of our civilians in Idlib and the countryside of Hama.”

Fighting between rebel groups and pro-Assad forces has escalated in the Northwest province of Idlib and surrounding areas. These areas are mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda offshoot.

There are also foreign fighters among rebel groups. This recent video was shows German fighters repelling an attack from the Syrian Arab Army in northeast Latakia.

Despite successes by rebel groups at repelling some attacks, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies are retaking territory lost during the Syrian Civil war. It is difficult to say if a major ground offensive will be launched to remove the rebels in Idlib due to the major humanitarian crisis it could cause for Syria and Turkey.