🌍 Why did Iran just bomb three of its neighbours?

Plus: A flag with a hat

Hi Intriguer. A spy once told me that there are no true friends in this world, just shared aims. I bet he’s real fun at parties.

Still, his comment sticks with me today as we lead with an update on why Iran just bombed three of its neighbours, and how a bewildering web of alliances, rivalries, and grievances is now roiling the region.

- Jeremy Dicker, Managing Editor

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TODAY’S NEWS

Fighting intensifies in southern Gaza. Some 7,000 Palestinians sheltering near the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the biggest in southern Gaza, could be forced to flee as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies in and around the city. The Israeli military is shifting its core offensive to central and southern Gaza, and says it detected mortar fire coming from the medical facility.

Ecuador prosecutor shot dead. The prosecutor tasked with investigating last week’s brazen armed gang attack on a TV station was killed yesterday (Wednesday). It’s the latest incident in a surge of gang violence in the country, which has led President Noboa to declare a 60-day state of emergency.

Corruption case rocks Singapore. Singapore’s transport minister has resigned after being charged with 27 offences, including corruption and obstruction of justice. The minister reportedly accepted gifts from a property tycoon, including theatre and football tickets. The case is rocking Singapore, long known for its rigorous governance.

Iowa sues TikTok. Iowa’s attorney-general has launched a lawsuit against social media platform TikTok, alleging the app is deceiving parents about how difficult it is for children to access inappropriate content. The short video app, whose parent company is China-based, is facing lawsuits from Utah, Arkansas, and Indiana for similar reasons.

TOP STORY

Why did Iran just bomb three of its neighbours?

Source: Institute for the Study of War

Iran has hit targets in three neighbouring countries this week.

First on Monday, it claimed a hit on an Israeli intelligence site in Erbil (the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) in retaliation for recent Israeli strikes on Iranian interests.

There’ve been reports of Israeli intelligence operations in the area, though local leaders rejected Iran's claims, and the casualties were a Kurdish real estate tycoon and his family.

This wasn't Iran's first attack on Iraqi Kurdistan. Heck, it wasn’t even Iran’s first attack on a tycoon's villa in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Second, and hours later, Iran says it hit ISIS targets in Syria's last opposition stronghold (Idlib) in retaliation for suicide bombings that killed 94 Iranians (who were marking the US assassination of an Iranian general in 2020).

Again, this wasn't Iran's first attack on ISIS targets in Syria.

Then finally on Tuesday, Iran used rockets and drones to hit two Jaish al-Adl strongholds over the border in Pakistan, reportedly killing two children.

In a rare instance of common ground, both the US and Iran consider Jaish al-Adl, or the 'Army of Justice', a terrorist group. It's a Sunni ethnic Baluch militia that operates along the Iran-Pakistan border, seeking an independent Baluchistan.

And again, this wasn't the first time Iran has gone after Jaish targets in Pakistan, but it’s Iran’s first such strike with missiles, and its deepest push into Pakistani turf yet.

So what's Iran up to? 

Iran's foreign minister made a controversial appearance at Davos yesterday (Wednesday), arguing Iran has good relations with its neighbours and was just eliminating common enemies. But Iran likely had other objectives, including to:

  • show strength domestically after several recent security failures

  • show strength regionally after Israel hit an Iranian general in Syria, and

  • do it all in a way that avoids blowback (eg, targeting "common enemies").

Syria hasn’t commented yet, and Iraq realistically can't do much beyond lodging diplomatic protests. So that leaves nuclear-armed Pakistan.

And Pakistan was left with a choice between a) looking weak, or b) retaliating and risking a broader conflict. With Pakistan’s powerful military establishment clearly embarrassed, it opted for option b overnight, launching reciprocal strikes on Baluch targets in Iran.

Iran seems to be getting some blowback after all.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

Attack one neighbour on Monday, hit another two on Tuesday, then chill at Davos on Wednesday. It's like a weird cover of that Craig David song.

There are clearly local drivers at play: the Baluchs resent Iranian and Pakistani rule; ISIS hates Shiite-majority Iran; the Houthis want to consolidate their hold on power in Yemen; and Iran wants to expand its regional sway.

But zooming out, it’s so connected regionally - the US and others see Iran as the common thread, while Iran and its proxies say it's all the US and Israel.

And zooming out further, it’s connected globally. Russia is invading Ukraine with the help of both Iran (the two are about to sign a treaty) and North Korea (which just ramped up tensions with its own neighbour).

These days, everything’s connected.

Also worth noting:

  • The Saudi foreign minister told Davos, “we agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that can only happen through peace for Palestinians through a Palestinian state.”

  • The US, which just re-designated the Houthis as terrorists, says it hit 14 Houthi pre-launch ballistic missiles overnight, while the Houthis hit a US civilian ship in the Gulf of Aden.

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MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇨🇳 China: China’s top cyber watchdog is reportedly investigating Chinese fast-fashion giant Shein’s data handling practices ahead of the company’s US listing. The Cyberspace Administration of China wants to ensure Shein can avoid Chinese data leaking overseas.

  2. 🇸🇰 Slovakia: The Slovak parliament has empowered the defence ministry to approve arms export, in theory paving the way for arms deals with Ukraine. Prime Minister Fico, who was sworn into office last October, was elected promising to halt weapon flows to Ukraine. 

  3. 🇻🇳 Vietnam: Vietnam Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong attended a session of the National Assembly earlier this week after rumours about his health had emerged. At 79, he’s held the country’s top job since 2011. 

  4. 🇧🇷 Brazil: Talks to approve Brazilian plans to obtain a nuclear submarine could wrap up in the next five years (🇧🇷), according to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But Brasilia must first agree to routine inspections, something it’s historically opposed. 

  5. 🇸🇴 Somalia: Search and rescue operations are ongoing off the coast of Somalia for two US Navy SEALs lost at sea. The operatives were part of a mission to intercept the shipment of Iranian weapons to Houthis last week.

EXTRA INTRIGUE

Here’s what people around the world were googling yesterday 

  • 🇷🇺 Russians googled ‘Фаиль Алсынов’ (Fail Alsynov), an ethnic Bashkir activist who was condemned to four years in prison for inciting ethnic hatred (he denies the charges).

  • 🇰🇪 Kenyan fans searched for where to watch the ‘DR Congo vs Zambia’ Africa Cup of Nations soccer match (it was a draw).  

  • 🇹🇼 And folks in Taiwan looked up ‘新潮流’ (New Tide) after newly elected President William Lai announced he was leaving the New Tide faction of his Democratic Progressive Party, out of respect for the presidential office. 

FLAG OF THE DAY

Lesotho has the world’s only national flag featuring a hat. Sitting elegantly on a horizontal blue, white, and green tricolour (representing the sky, peace and prosperity), you’ll find a traditional mokorotlo hat of the Basotho people. The landlocked kingdom (encircled by South Africa) adopted the flag in 2006.  

Intrigue rating: 9.3/10

DAILY POLL

If given the chance, would you redesign your country's flag?

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Yesterday’s poll: Forecasting is notoriously tricky business, but it's fun. When do you think the Fed will start cutting interest rates?

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🟢 Q1 2024 (2%)

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🟡 Q2 2024 (21%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🟠 Q3 2024 (39%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🔴 Q4 2024 (14%)

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🔵 Nah, it's gonna be in 2025 (23%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (1%)

Your two cents:

  • 🟡 F.M: ““It should be Q2, way before the US presidential election to avoid any accusation of partisanship."

  • 🟠 H.W: “Spending is still too wild and out of control.”

  • 🔵 M.D: “It took 20 years to beat inflation on the 1970 and 80s. It will end when the government reins in its budget and that's not happening anytime soon.”

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