Global SITREP for Monday, 29 January 2024 – Forward Observer

Global SITREP for Monday, 29 January 2024

Good morning, and welcome to the Global Situation Report for Monday, 29 January 2024. 

InFocus: Middle East Sees Two Attacks, U.S. Retaliation Promised

Over the weekend, the United States suffered two attacks against its armed forces in the Middle East.

  • Iran-backed militants killed three and wounded 25 military personnel stationed in Jordan near the border with Syria in a drone attack, according to the Biden administration.
    • President Biden promised retaliation “at a time and manner of our choosing.”
    • Iran’s permanent mission to the U.N. denied any role in the attack, claiming the conflict is between the U.S. and “resistance groups in the region” that Iran cannot control.
    • Iran-backed Iraqi militia Khataib Hezbollah (KH) is responsible for the deadly attack, according to media reports citing U.S. officials. KH has targeted and killed U.S. personnel with improvised rocket-assisted munitions, rockets, and drones since at least 2008. While it’s true that Iran does not control groups like KH and that these groups are even known to attack each other, attacks against U.S. personnel in the region have received a green light from Tehran since the Iraqi Civil War (2006-2008). This most recent attack is likely a response to U.S. strikes against KH on or about 20 January, which U.S. Central Command described as “[targeting] KH headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.” – M.S.
  • In the second event, Houthi forces announced that the USS Lewis B Puller was targeted as part of an attack on the U.S. Navy.
    • U.S. Central Command and the Navy have not responded to the claims as of  1025ET.
    • The Puller is permanently stationed overseas in Bahrain to provide logistics support for other units in the theater. Its last published operation was the Navy SEAL interdiction of an Iranian weapon shipment to the Houthis that resulted in two dead Sailors. The Puller has no point-defense weapons.
  • Why It MattersThe United States is facing a strategic dilemma that it’s unlikely to win.
    • The U.S. goal is to deter further attacks to preserve American lives and bolster its reputation as the guardian of international shipping lanes. The dilemma comes as the U.S. has already engaged in limited strikes against both Houthis and Iran-backed militants with limited to no deterrent effect. 
    • The Biden administration desires something beyond limited strikes but something below the threshold that ignites a broader regional conflict. An overwhelming military response against the Houthis and/or Iran-backed militants could temporarily degrade the capabilities to continue attacks but is unlikely to deter attacks altogether. Further, an overwhelming military response, especially one that includes overt boots on the ground, could ignite the undeclared war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and/or create conditions for a full-scale war with Iran. 
    • Without an end to the Red Sea attacks, the United States will continue to shed its reputation as the guardian of international shipping lanes, which will continue to undermine U.S. influence and legitimacy as the world’s superpower.
    • All U.S. military actions risk asymmetric escalation in the Strait of Hormuz, which will further disrupt global trade and could cripple Middle Eastern oil exports – at the same time, the Biden administration continues to wage war against the U.S. oil and gas industry.
    • The most dangerous course of action is that the U.S. skips the middleman and attacks Iran directly, an act of war supported by some U.S. Senators. This course of action could legitimately devolve into World War III.
    • Further, we believe that an unsuccessful response from the Biden administration will lead to an increase in calls for Biden to step aside in the 2024 presidential campaign, similar to how then-President Lyndon B. Johnson quit his 1968 re-election campaign over the mishandling of the Vietnam conflict. – M.S. and J.V.

  1. PHILIPPINES RESUPPLY GOES AERIAL: The Philippines armed forces resupplied the grounded BRP Sierra Madre on the Second Thomas Shoal with airdropped supplies on the 21st.
  • Chinese defense experts are openly mulling sending People’s Liberation Army warplanes to intercept air-dropped supplies.

Why It Matters: The Philippines are testing a new way to resupply their base that bypasses the maritime security forces and ups the ante for interception. China openly acknowledges that fixed-wing air intercepts are inherently more accident-prone and risk raising tensions, likely considering the Hainan Island incident 23 years ago. Tensions between the Philippines and China are considerably higher than U.S.-China tensions back then, and a deliberate intercept resulting in a plane crash would likely lead to armed escorts and even higher tensions. – J.V.

  1. CHINA COAST GUARD “DRIVES OFF” JAPANESE FROM SENKAKUS: As part of its 365 days of patrol in the Senkakus, the Chinese Coast Guard claims to have driven off Japanese fishermen and patrol vessels from the Japan-controlled islands.

Why It Matters: China is solidifying its claim on another set of islands. However, China tends to claim success in “driving off” or “deterring” other nations when those other forces are already leaving after completing their mission. China’s claim is likely false but will be used as propaganda to claim further sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. – J.V.

THAT’S A WRAP: This does it for today’s edition. Thank you for reading. If you know folks who would also like to receive this email, would you please forward it to them? We appreciate you spreading the word. – M.S.

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