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Use of UAVs by non-state actors to grow in scope, potentially pose greater risk to civilian infrastructure in coming year: MENA Analysis

MENA Analysis: Use of UAVs by non-state actors to grow in scope, potentially pose greater risk to civilian infrastructure in coming year

Executive Summary:

  • As part of a global phenomenon, there has been a recent increase in the scope and frequency of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks by non-state actors in the Middle East. This trend has most manifestly been spearheaded by Iran, which has strategically developed UAV technologies and transferred arms and knowledge to its regional allies and proxies.
  • UAV capabilities will continue to be disseminated to Iran-backed groups in the region, particularly in territories with strong Iranian influence and/or weak governance, such as Iraq, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Yemen. This poses an increased threat towards Iran’s regional adversaries, including US allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, which may extend to civilian and commercial infrastructure as well as military assets.
  • To combat this threat, prominent Western states, including the US and its allies, will prioritize the investment and development of more sophisticated air defense systems that can mitigate the risk posed by UAVs. This is particularly because these devices boast various advantages, such as being relatively inexpensive and flying at low altitudes, which challenge aerial defense systems.
  • Other regional militant groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and jihadist organizations, will continue to engage in efforts to locally develop improvised UAV capabilities. These efforts are likely to remain limited in scope, in part due to these groups’ diminished capabilities and their lack of prominent supporters at the state level.
  • Those operating at strategic civilian infrastructure and military bases in the MENA region are advised to review security protocols and ensure the provision of suitable shelters that can sustain the impact of combat UAV attacks. Conduct awareness training for employees on the risks and threats of UAV attacks. Consult with us at operations@maxsecurity.com.

Saudi Arabia & Yemen

Houthi forces in Yemen have been using combat UAVs to launch cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia in a growing capacity over recent years. This project is directly supported by Iran, as widely established by international actors and by the resemblance of some of the Houthi UAVs to Iranian-made UAVs. The most commonly used Houthi UAV, the “Qasef-2k”, resembles the Iranian “Ababil-T”. Direct Iranian support to the Houthis also enables the Yemen-based movement to periodically exhibit new types of UAVs. On the most recent occasion, on March 11, 2021, Houthi forces introduced for the first time the “Waid”, a suicide UAV with an alleged range of 2500 km, far greater than the declared ranges of the rest of the Houthi fleet. They also introduced the “Samad 4”, the first UAV in the Houthi arsenal that would be used as a UCAV, namely a bomb-dropping aircraft, which can be used for repeated attacks, as opposed to suicide UAVs. At the same event, the Houthis also introduced the “Rujum”, a mortar-dropping multi-copter.


The use of explosive-laden UAVs against US-linked interests in Iraq has been an emerging trend since April. On April 14, an explosive-laden UAV targeted the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Erbil International Airport, reportedly damaging a CIA-linked hangar at the site. On April 15, explosive-laden UAVs targeted Anbar Province’s Ain al-Asad airbase, which hosts US troops and private security firms. On June 21, UAVs targeted the Victory Military Complex base, a cluster of US military installations in and around Baghdad International Airport. On June 26, explosive-laden UAVs hit a civilian area in relative proximity to the new US Consulate compound in Erbil. This prompted the US to launch airstrikes against Iran-backed Shiite militias stationed on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border. Washington maintained that these Iran-backed militias were engaged in “UAV attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.” During the night hours of July 5, the US Embassy in Baghdad activated its aerial defense system, the counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) system, and eliminated an “airborne threat.” The following day, a UAV attack targeted Erbil International Airport and on July 7, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops stated they had foiled a UAV attack targeting US-led coalition forces near al-Omar Oil Field in Syria’s Deir Ezzor.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) factions, some of which are financed and armed by Iran as well as taking orders from Tehran, held two different military parades in June during which they presented various UAVs that are either Iranian-made or resemble Iranian drones. This indicates that these have become part of the PMU’s inventory. Most notably, images published from the parade on June 26 showed an Iranian “Qods Mohajer-6” UCAV, which can carry up to two air-to-ground precision-guided munitions, particularly Iran’s “Qaem” missiles. Some UAVs also resembled the Houthis’ “Samad” series of combat UAVs, some of which have a reported range of between 1500-2000 km. This underscores that Iran is the architect of a wider project likely involving the transfer of knowledge and drone technology, which is being exported to its various regional proxies and replicated for use in the specific arenas in which they operate.


Israel & Palestinian Territories

Gaza Strip: Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), both of which are also supported by Iran to varying degrees, have dedicated efforts to establishing combat UAV capabilities over recent years. The latest conflict between Israel and the Gaza-based militant factions during May highlighted that Hamas seeks to enhance its UAV capabilities with assistance from Iran. This included the introduction of the “Shehab”, which also bears resemblance to the Iranian “Ababil” series, and by extension, to the Houthis’ “Qasef-2k”. Hamas attempted to target Israel’s “Tamar” offshore natural gas platform with the aircraft before it was downed by the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Hamas launched additional UAVs towards Israeli territory in the immediate vicinity of the Gaza Strip during the 11-day conflict.

Northern Israel: During this conflict, on May 18, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that it had downed a UAV that crossed the Jordanian border area into Israel’s Emek HaMaayanot. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the UAV was launched by Iranian forces from either Iraq or Syria.


On May 18-19, two “model planes” targeting southeastern Turkey’s Diyarbakir Airport were downed by Turkish air defense systems. In the subsequent days, the authorities announced the closure of the airport for a month-long repair period, indicating that the UAV attack caused damage to the facility. Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) military sites were also targeted with such devices in Batman and Sirnak provinces on May 19-20. On May 11, a “model plane” was downed by TSK forces in northern Iraq’s Metina region. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) occasionally claims and publishes video footage of similar attempted attacks, particularly in northern Iraq and Turkey’s southeastern provinces. Most of these attacks include explosives-dropping multicopters.


Other global examples:

All of the abovementioned incidents and trends point towards a growing willingness by non-state actors to acquire and bolster UAV capabilities. This is a global phenomenon, which is not limited to the MENA region. For example, in Mexico, on April 21, members of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) reportedly attacked a police convoy with an “aerial-borne explosive” in the town of El Aguaje, highlighting the diversification of cartels’ techniques to attack security forces. In India, on June 27, multiple UAVs targeted the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Jammu Air Force Station in Jammu & Kashmir, constituting the first such use of UAVs against Indian military assets. In the Lake Chad Basin region, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) has utilized UAVs for the purposes of surveillance and reconnaissance, particularly to gather intelligence on the Nigerian Army’s movements. However, this report will focus on the proliferation of UAVs in the MENA region, the impact and future outlook of which will now be explored.

Assessments & Forecast:

Iranian effort to equip regional allies, proxies with attack UAV capabilities to increase

  1. Iran has dedicated significant efforts in recent years to investing in and developing UAV technology, underscoring that this dimension constitutes a strategic priority for Tehran. This is illustrated by Iran’s January 5 unprecedented military drill, which was dedicated to UAVs, wherein military forces presented 154 UAVs of varying models. In a testimony delivered to the US House Committee on Armed Services in April, General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command, stated that due to Iran’s development and use of small- and medium-sized UAVs “for the first time since the Korean War, we are operating without complete air superiority.” This highlights the level of concern within the US’s security establishment pertaining to the threat posed by these types of arms and indicates that the US military upper echelons have identified gaps with regards to US troops’ ability to mitigate this threat. FORECAST: Such assessments are likely to embolden Iran and its proxies to invest further in this field, as part of the prolonged effort to diminish the military superiority of the US and its allies in the Middle East and bolster Tehran’s influence in the region. This is particularly because UAVs pose multiple challenges to established militaries and defense systems that can partially change the balance of power:

  1. The emerging security situation in Iraq in particular highlights that Tehran is actively engaged in transferring domestically-made UAVs to its backed forces and providing them with the knowledge to manufacture similar devices independently, many of which resemble original Iranian models. The Iraqi arena serves as an example of the wider threat posed in areas in which Iran has proxies or influence. The proliferation of UAVs to its proxies, as well as the transfer of technology and knowledge required to independently construct them, meets several objectives for Iran. As well as bolstering its allies and proxies to become a greater threat to the US and its allies in terms of military capabilities, it empowers them to proactively launch attacks and advance common interests with Iran. In Iraq, for instance, this is primarily to force the US to completely withdraw its troops from the country, which would allow Iran to increase its foothold in the country. In Israel and Saudi Arabia, both traditional US allies, this includes asymmetric warfare aimed at overcoming sophisticated air defense systems and attacking strategic infrastructure such as energy installations, which would constitute a symbolic blow to these countries.
  2. On a geopolitical level, the ability to partially challenge US interests militarily can potentially grant Iran some leverage over Washington and force it to make concessions, particularly amid ongoing indirect talks to revive the nuclear agreement. Furthermore, should Iran seek to order or encourage attacks without being held directly responsible for their consequences, the empowerment of proxies also enables Tehran to adhere to a policy of plausible deniability. This allows Iran to distance itself from attacks by insisting they were conducted by autonomous military actors, which can reduce the likelihood of international actors successfully holding Iran as culpable for perceived acts of aggression and thus retaliating in kind.
  3. FORECASTIran will thus invest further in expanding UAV capabilities to its regional allies, particularly in the Gaza Strip, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, where governance is weak and/or the ruling authorities (or some of them) are either receptive to Iranian support or actively seek it. All of these territories also share borders with countries that are Iran’s foes or that have considerable ties with the US and the West. By enhancing the capabilities of the US’s adversaries, Tehran can undermine the interests of Washington’s allies in the region, one of the primary motivations for this elevated UAV capacity. This is especially due to the ability of non-state military actors, such as the Houthis and some PMU factions, to vastly increase the range of their UAV attacks, as shown by the increasing number of incidents where these devices have successfully penetrated enemy airspace for a significant time and distance. The quality and number of combat UAVs in the region will likely increase over the coming year in these countries. This will pose a growing threat to US forces and their allies in the broader region, given that areas within Syria, Iran, and Lebanon, may be used as launching pads for UAV attacks into other states, such as Gulf countries where the US has strong ties, especially military ones. This could include the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, although Iran will tread cautiously with such actions as it seeks to refrain from increasing broader regional tensions that can exacerbate its economic crisis.
  4. FORECAST: The expansion of UAV technology to additional non-state actors, which reduces the level of accountability attributed to the producer of arms, is liable to also increase the risk posed to strategic civilian infrastructure. This may potentially expose firms that operate in the region to damage and casualties. This is given that members of the Iran-led “axis of resistance” have targeted such installations in the territories of their adversaries. This was most notably demonstrated by the September 14, 2019 attack against a Saudi state-owned oil distribution facility in Saudi’s Eastern Province’s Buqayq, which involved a swarm of at least 18 GPS-guided UAVs. The attack was claimed by the Yemen-based Houthis, who periodically claim attacks against civilian and government-linked infrastructure within Saudi territory. However, international actors accused Iran of responsibility for the largely unprecedented attack.
  5. Regardless, the extension of UAV capabilities to both well-established Iran-backed militias and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF)-linked elements as well as less known and emerging Iran-affiliated front groups across the region, increases the risk to commercial entities, infrastructure, assets, and personnel. This could include airports, especially those that have a dual civilian and military purpose, military bases that host the personnel of security forces, oil and gas infrastructure, seaports and maritime activities, logistical hubs, embassies/diplomatic missions, and communication hubs. Furthermore, the launching of UAVs towards strategic areas, such as airports, can cause significant disruptions to aerial activity and lead to considerable economic damage. Lastly, it cannot be ruled out that organized criminal groups with ties to militants and militias within these countries will try to acquire and operate UAVs against their rivals. This could also pose a risk to commercial and civil infrastructure.
  6. FORECAST: In the context of all the countries that are broadly at risk of UAV operations by the Iran-led axis, Saudi Arabia will continue to be the most vulnerable to such attacks. This is partially given its proximity to Iran and its prominent allies, ongoing leading role in the campaign against the Iran-backed Houthis, and its vast territory, which is difficult to cover by radars and aerial defense systems. Israel will be the most suitable to successfully respond to the challenge, given that the country is small and is extensively covered by radars and aerial defense systems. In addition, Israel is currently pioneering anti-UAV technology that is already being implemented on the ground and internalized in several operational systems. In Iraq, where Iran-backed forces have started to more extensively launch UAV attacks against US-linked sites, the US military establishment will possibly try to deter the militias by conducting more extensive strikes than those previously recorded.

Locally initiated channels of development in UAV capacity, mainly in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, to remain limited in scope compared to state-sponsored channels

  1. The PKK in southeastern Turkey has attempted to use UAVs, mainly commercially available ones, in attacks against Turkish authorities as early as 2017. Thus far, the PKK’s use of these devices has been limited in scope and did not lead to an increase in the militants’ ability to inflict casualties and damage on Turkish targets. This is indicative of the limitations that militant groups are facing while attempting to develop such a capacity when they do not receive technical support from a state actor. The years-long phenomenon, however, highlights the manner in which commercially available UAVs are acquired and then modified to be used for military purposes, as was once done by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. For instance, IS used improvised UCAVs frequently in the battle over northern Iraq’s Mosul in 2017 and established a unit called “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen”. In general, militants use multicopters and fixed-wing model planes, which are strapped with mortar shells or IEDs, and are occasionally reinforced by scrap metal and nails to form shrapnel. The latest attacks in southeastern Turkey, including against the main airport in Diyarbakir, which is used for both civilian and military purposes, indicate that the PKK is trying to develop its ability to use this modus operandi. This will increase the risk of collateral damage to civilians in some parts of southeastern Turkey.
  2. The PKK’s strategic decision to resort to the use of UAVs will also be compounded by another years-long trend, which is the TSK’s greater ability to target militant hideouts in southeastern Turkey, including through the use of Ankara’s own growing fleet of sophisticated UCAVs. These operations have significantly diminished the PKK’s ranks and have led to a marked decrease in the threat that the group poses within Turkey, as illustrated by the persistent downtick in PKK-perpetrated attacks in the country.

Over the past year particularly, Turkey has extended its operation against Kurdish militants through air operations and ground incursions into northern Iraq’s border areas. This also exacerbated tensions between the PKK and the KRG in northern Iraq, which has further constricted the PKK’s freedom of movement across the region. FORECAST: With the aim of preserving its ranks, the use of explosive-laden UAVs may allow the PKK to carry out long-range attacks without forcing its operatives to gather in large groups and exposing themselves to either direct confrontations with the TSK or surveillance operations by Turkish UAVs. This in order to preserve their ranks. By extension, the militants may use UAVs in order to target civilian infrastructure in the region. The main one is the 970 km-long Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline exporting crude oil from the KRG into Turkey, which was already attacked by the PKK on October 30, 2020.

  1. FORECAST: However, the pressure on the PKK by both Turkey and KRG authorities will continue to inflict casualties upon the militants. In addition, amid tensions with the KRG, the PKK will face challenges in establishing secure channels for the acquisition of civilian UAVs to be converted, given that militants likely need to import some of the devices from abroad and then smuggle them into their areas of operation. For these reasons, and as the PKK does not enjoy direct support from a state actor, the PKK’s UAV capacity will remain limited in scope over the coming months.



  1. Those operating at strategic civilian infrastructure and military bases that host US personnel in the MENA region are advised to review security protocols and ensure the provision of suitable shelters that can sustain the impact of munition-dropping and/or explosive-laden UAVs.
  2. Conduct awareness training for employees on the risks and threats of UAV attacks.
  3. Western companies, particularly US firms with a military/security orientation, are advised to refrain from exposing the specific coordinates of the facilities they operate in to unknown figures due to the potential that such sites could be attacked by GPS-guided UAVs.
  4. In general, in the event that an explosion is heard or if sirens are sounded, immediately seek cover. Remain cognizant that even if a UAV is intercepted, falling debris constitutes a significant risk. If a designated shelter exists, immediately go there. If not, go to a room, preferably on the lowest level of the building, with as few external walls, windows, and openings as possible. Close all openings, sit on the floor below the window line and near an internal wall. In an open area, seek cover in a robust structure. If impossible, lay down on the ground and cover your head with your hands. When driving, safely pull over and follow the above instructions.
  5. Remain in position for at least ten minutes unless instructed otherwise. UAV attacks may be carried out using multiple swarms of several devices to overwhelm aerial defense systems.
  6. Following attacks, stay away from any debris and remnants of UAVs as they may entail unexploded ordnance which may be triggered upon contact.

Heightened unrest and disruptions at protests to outlast COVID-19 restrictions as groups increase activity across the region : Europe Analysis

Executive Summary

  • 2020 witnessed a surge in large-scale protest movements, despite the imposition of lockdowns.
  • The implementation of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, including demonstrations, led to a surge in anti-government and anti-police sentiment, increasing the associated risk at demonstrations, as well as the prevalence of more extremist activists at protests.
  • While these restrictions are being lifted regionwide, the potential for unrest at protests is expected to remain elevated.
  • Controversial protest groups are expected to capitalize on heightened anti-government sentiments, increasing the potential for more violent protests regionwide.
  • With that, governments have become increasingly interested in enacting legislation prescribing demonstrations.
  • Those operating or residing in Europe are advised to maintain vigilance in the vicinity of public gatherings due to the potential for unrest.
  • Organizations are advised to monitor protest groups within their sector due to increased direct targeting of companies.

Current Situation

  • 2020 saw a surge in anti-government protest movements related to the implementation of restrictions on gatherings, including demonstrations, in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. Large-scale anti-lockdown protests have been recorded regionwide, with protests in Germany and the UK attracting turnouts in the tens of thousands. These protests have witnessed high levels of unrest, including clashes between protesters and police and subsequent arrests for breaching COVID-19-related restrictions.
  • Anti-lockdown protests have been attended by numerous groups, including far-right, neo-Nazi, anti-vaxxer, far-left, anti-fascist, and other anti-establishment groups. These protests have contributed to an increase in far-right extremist activity regionwide, with Germany recording a four percent increase in the number of far-right extremists in the country in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, USA, in May 2020, large-scale protests were recorded across Europe in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, with many witnessing clashes with police and counter-demonstrators. Protests on the same issue in 2016 were significantly smaller and largely peaceful. For example, in London, the 2016 protests saw attendance in the high-hundreds to low-thousands and transpired peacefully. In 2020, protests regionwide saw attendance in the high-thousands and lasted for several weeks. As these protests were staged during the pandemic, they violated restrictions on gatherings, resulting in significant levels of unrest and hundreds of arrests.
  • While environmentalist groups initially slowed their protest actions in the first half of 2020, groups such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) became increasingly active in the second half of the year. In September 2020, thousands of XR activists participated in the group’s “Week of Action” in the UK. Additionally, XR offshoots, namely Animal Rebellion, Money Rebellion, and Ocean Rebellion, became active in 2021. In April 2021, Money Rebellion launched a campaign targeting banking, causing disruptions in London and Paris. In June, XR and its offshoots Animal Rebellion and Ocean Rebellion launched multiple protest actions targeting the G7 Summit held in Cornwall, UK.

Assessments & Forecast

Anti-police sentiments surged in 2020, resulting in clashes between security forces and protesters being a latent risk

  1. The enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, including protests, has resulted in an increase in anti-government sentiment across Europe. With regard to demonstrations, protest movements that have previously been peaceful, have witnessed instances of unrest at demonstrations due to the enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions and subsequent breaking up of gatherings.
  2. The emergence of the BLM protests in Europe attracted turnouts in the high thousands and frequent instances of unrest in the summer of 2020. This included the controversial destruction of monuments associated with European countries’ colonial past, including the defacement of a Winston Churchill statue in London’s Parliament Square. Consequently, while not related to COVID-19, the BLM protest movement intensified the already growing frustrations towards law enforcement, particularly in Western Europe, increasing the risk of clashes at other protests.
  3. The alleged crackdown on protest movements has intensified anti-police and anti-authority sentiments, as evidenced in France, where protests against the National Assembly’s decision to pass a controversial amendment to France’s global security bill, which intends to make it an offense to show the face or identity of a police officer on duty online, witnessed significant levels of unrest. On November 28, 2020, a protest against the bill in Paris, attended by 46,000 people, resulted in protesters throwing projectiles at police and setting fire to multiple cars. Police responded by firing tear gas at demonstrators.
  4. This trend of heightened unrest reiterates the fact that perceived heavy-handed police enforcement generally results in more unrest, due to heightened feelings of disaffection and, consequently, violent reactions. FORECAST: Given that more protests have witnessed instances of unrest, including vandalism and clashes, countries are liable to deploy more police at future protests, even as restrictions on gatherings are lifted. This, in turn, is likely to increase a sense of uneasiness and tensions among protesters, thereby increasing the potential for unrest due to heightened anti-police sentiments, even at unrelated demonstrations.

COVID-19 anti-lockdown protests served as a platform for different types of protest groups to mix

  1. Considering that anti-lockdown protests across the region were attended by activists from various groups, they have resulted in an unprecedented intertwining of ideologies and consequent breeding ground for extremism. In Germany, protests organized by the far-right Querdenken group were attended by COVID-19 deniers, neo-Nazis, far-right activists, as well as anti-Vaxxers and more moderate groups focused on the economic impact of the restrictions. The increase in anti-government sentiment regionwide has resulted in more moderate individuals who normally would choose not to attend protests, joining demonstrations alongside groups holding extreme or anti-establishment sentiments.
  2. These protests, coupled with the widespread dispersion of misinformation, have allowed more extreme groups to mix with more centrist and mainstream groups, allowing them to gain supporters who otherwise would likely not have been involved. Germany’s federal intelligence agency, the Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV), found that the number of far-right extremists in 2020 was numbered at 33,300, a four percent increase from 2019. This increase has been primarily attributed to anti-lockdown protests, citing that protesters generally did not distance themselves from far-right extremists. As such, the anti-restriction protests have provided an unprecedented recruiting opportunity for protest movements who otherwise would have difficulties projecting their message beyond a niche target audience.
  3. In addition to an increase in extremist activity, the anti-lockdown protests have resulted in activists from more traditional protest backgrounds adopting the tactics of more extreme groups, including throwing projectiles at police, violating bans on protests, protesting without permits, and carrying out acts of vandalism.
  4. FORECAST: In light of this, traditionally mainstream protest groups are liable to continue utilizing more extreme tactics in the near-to-medium-term, as they have become normalized, increasing the likelihood of unrest at protests that would have previously transpired without incident. With that, the risk posed to bystanders in the vicinity of demonstrations is liable to remain heightened in the coming months, even as protest issues begin to diversify again.

Authorities likely to seek further legislation governing protests

  1. The level of unrest witnessed at protests regionwide may push countries to enact legislation restricting protests, citing disruption and risk posed to the general public. This is supported by the UK Parliament’s expected enactment of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will provide police with more powers regarding protests. The bill follows severe disruptions in London resulting from the Extinction Rebellion protests carried out in 2019, with XR’s two-week-long campaign of civil disobedience in October costing London approximately 21 million GBP in policing and disruptions, on top of 16 million GBP spent on policing the group earlier in 2019. If passed, the legislation is liable to exacerbate anti-government sentiments, as evidenced by large-scale nationwide Kill the Bill protests in recent months.
  2. Given that countries already passed temporary laws restricting protests due to the pandemic, the potential for further restrictive legislation remains. In particular, countries in Central and Eastern Europe where governments are already restricting freedom of expression, notably Hungary and Poland, are more likely to pass stringent laws on protests in the near-to-medium-term, under the premise of avoiding unrest and disruption at protests.
  3. Considering that several NGOs, including Amnesty International, have claimed that governments acted beyond the permissible bounds for limiting rights during health emergencies, with blanket bans resulting in arrests and fines, the enactment of such legislation is liable to result in significant backlash.
  4. FORECAST: Considering that potential legislation is likely to provide police with more powers with regard to demonstrations, police may be more likely to utilize forcible dispersal methods, including tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and mass arrests. This would not only increase the risk of clashes between protesters and police as well as associated violence at protests but also raise the risk posed to bystanders who are in the vicinity of protest locations, as the abovementioned dispersal methods could inadvertently harm bystanders.

Groups that have been largely dormant during the pandemic will return through 2021

  1. While the start of the pandemic saw controversial protest groups reduce their public activity, including the French Yellow Vest movement, Germany’s Patriotische Europaer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (PEGIDA), Spain’s Catalan independence movement, and Extinction Rebellion (XR), these groups have begun to resurface as restrictions are eased.
  2. Considering that anti-government sentiment has increased regionwide, particularly in France, Germany, and the UK, groups like XR and the Yellow Vest movement are expected to capitalize on this. In France specifically, the Yellow Vest movement is likely to regain traction ahead of the 2022 elections, with future protests liable to witness high levels of unrest, as evidenced by the ten fatalities and thousands of injuries linked to the protests in 2018.
  3. Moreover, as discussed above, groups previously viewed as fringe are entering the mainstream. With groups like Querdenken 711 becoming more visible, the presence of even more extreme groups, such as neo-Nazis, is also growing. That 800 people attended a neo-Nazi protest in Milan, Italy in April 2021 supports this. While previous protests organized by far-right extremists in recent months have focused on the lockdown and pandemic, the protest in Milan was held in commemoration of the death of a member of the fascist Fronte della Gioventu, in 1978. With that, the protest in Milan highlights how far-right movements are now reverting to more traditional issues, rather than focusing on COVID-19. This trend is expected to be echoed by other groups and protest movements from across the political spectrum “returning” to their traditional issues.

Anti-government, environmentalist groups to increasingly shift to smaller-scale, more disruptive tactics

  1. While large-scale protests are likely to renew regionwide, groups are expected to adopt small-scale, more disruptive tactics, particularly if legislation restricting larger protests is adopted.
  2. Such civil disobedience tactics are already at the forefront of groups like XR and Greenpeace’s strategies. While these protests are generally small, they can be extremely disruptive, with activists blocking entrances to major roads and buildings, such as banks, factories, and distribution centers. That XR frequently blocks access to means of public transportation and uses mass arrests as a tactic, with over 1,100 arrests during XR’s action in April 2019, is reflective of the deliberately disruptive nature of the group.
  3. As lockdowns are eased and groups like XR restart activities, the potential for “offshoots” is likely to increase, with new groups adopting similar tactics. This is supported by XR offshoots, such as Animal Rebellion, Money Rebellion, and Ocean Rebellion. Most notably, Money Rebellion carried out disruptive protests in April 2021, outside banks regionwide under the banner ‘Global Money Rebellion Wave,’ resulting in multiple cases of vandalism, particularly in London. In May 2021, 50 protesters belonging to Animal Rebellion blockaded four UK distribution centers of a major fast-food chain, affecting over 1,300 restaurants and 3.5 million customers.  In June 2021, XR staged protests in Cornwall, where the G7 summit was held. Also in June, Animal Rebellion activists held sit-ins at multiple of the chain’s branches. Activists occupied all seats in the restaurants, stopping other patrons from entering due to COVID-19 restrictions. These sit-ins have been organized on a weekly basis and highlight the alternative methods used by such groups to disrupt operations.
  4. That these groups purposely carry out multiple small actions and organize in closed local groups makes it difficult for authorities to monitor. Considering that activists remain highly disruptive despite protesting in small numbers suggests similar actions will continue going forward.
  5. FORECAST: Anti-government and environmental protest groups are expected to carry out further civil disobedience campaigns in the coming months, consisting of numerous smaller-scale protests over extended periods of time. Such campaigns are liable to target businesses viewed as detrimental to the environment and society, including oil corporations and, as witnessed in April 2021, banks and other sectors. With that, these protests will continue to impact the public, in addition to targeted businesses, as widespread disruptions can be expected in major cities. Indeed, XR is planning major protest activities in multiple countries, including Germany and the UK, throughout August 2021.
  6. FORECAST: Given the media attention attained by these types of protests, as well as the abovementioned increased willingness to adopt more extreme protest methods, other groups, and protest movements may attempt to replicate these tactics. Therefore, the potential targets and subsequent disruptions are likely to increase going forward, as these small-scale but high-impact demonstrations become increasingly popular.


  1. Those operating or residing in Europe are advised to maintain vigilance in the vicinity of all large gatherings due to the potential for unrest at protests.
  2. Companies are advised to monitor protest groups related to their sector, as businesses are liable to be targeted through protest actions.
  3. Contact Max Security for coverage of upcoming protests in Europe.

Threat of militancy in North Sinai Governorate to gradually diminish in coming months as Wilayat Sinai loses ranks, capabilities – Egypt Analysis

Executive Summary

  • There has been a gradual decrease in the number of attacks conducted by Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai in the North Sinai Governorate in 2021. This indicates that the Sunni jihadist militant group is coming under increasing pressure, both in terms of its ranks and capabilities.
  • There has been a gradual shift in Wilayat Sinai’s targeting of local Bedouin tribesmen perceived to be collaborating with the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) in North Sinai in 2021. This is liable to further alienate the local population and diminish the militant group’s recruitment base.
  • As Wilayat Sinai comes under increasing pressure, it will attempt to regroup and may launch a symbolic attack in the region in order to garner media attention and project that it still poses a major threat to Egypt. Such an attack could either be more sophisticated in terms of its planning and execution or it could be relatively small-scale but attack a target of a higher value.
  • The anticipated decrease in threat of militancy in the North Sinai Governorate will allow the Egyptian government to redeploy troops to mainland Egypt and project President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s policies as effective. Sisi will use this to gain international recognition of his legitimacy as the ruler of Egypt, especially considering recent concerns regarding human rights in the country.
  • Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate due to the persistent risk of militancy, kidnappings, and general lawlessness in the region. If conducting essential business in the region, it is advised to travel in armored vehicles with trained security personnel.

Latest Trends

  • There has been a gradual decrease in the number of attacks conducted by Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai in the North Sinai Governorate in 2021. The militant group conducted 17 attacks in January, nine in February, six in March, eight in April, and seven in May. In contrast, in 2020 between ten and 18 attacks were recorded per month, with the exception of October when only six attacks occurred.

  • There has been a gradual increase in Wilayat Sinai’s focus of operations targeting local Bedouin tribesmen perceived to be collaborating with the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) in the North Sinai Governorate in 2021, at the expense of attacks against the EAAF itself. About six percent of attacks in January targeted such individuals, followed by about 22 percent in February, 33 percent in March, 38 percent in April, and 57 percent in May.

  • There was a slight uptick in attacks around al-Arish beginning from the end of April up until the end of May. Wilayat Sinai conducted no attacks in the al-Arish area between January and March. One attack was recorded near the al-Arish Airport, located south of al-Arish, on April 30. This was followed by three attacks in areas located either west or east of al-Arish in May. These attacks took place at the expense of other Wilayat Sinai strongholds, primarily Bir al-Abd and Rafah.

Notable IS Media Publications

  • On January 9, IS released a video that started off by deriding the Egyptian government for its inability to defeat Wilayat Sinai in the North Sinai Governorate. The rest of the video focused on three main themes: IED and sniper attacks, locally-made weapons, and the kidnapping and execution of EAAF soldiers and their collaborators.

  • On April 18, IS released a 13-minute long video titled, “Epic Makers 2”. The video depicted the militants carrying locally-made shoulder-launched electrically-fired rockets as well as planting pressure-plate IEDs along roads in the North Sinai Governorate. Most notably, it depicted the execution of civilian prisoners, two of whom belonged to a local tribe and were abducted on Central Sinai District’s Mount Maghara in February. One of the victims was a Coptic Christian who was abducted from Bir al-Abd in November 2020.

  • IS released three series of photographs between May 4-15 that depicted Wilayat Sinai militants during the Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr period. The photographs showcased the militants engaged in prayers as well as preparing and partaking meals in a camp in an open desert area in the North Sinai Governorate in broad daylight. One set of photographs also showed militants carrying automatic weapons and RPGs.

  • The IS-linked media agency also released several other photographs over the course of March and April which depicted the execution of local Bedouin tribesmen, primarily from the Maghara and Tarabin tribes, in the North Sinai Governorate for collaborating with the EAAF.

Assessments & Forecast

Wilayat Sinai’s declining ranks, capabilities in North Sinai Governorate to prompt it to conduct more symbolic attacks to raise morale of fighters, attract support

The overall trend of a gradual decrease in Wilayat Sinai-perpetrated attacks in the North Sinai Governorate in 2021 indicates that the Sunni jihadist militant group is coming under increasing pressure in the region, both in terms of its ranks and capabilities. This is underscored by several factors:

  1. The majority of Wilayat Sinai attacks in the North Sinai Governorate have primarily involved the use of roadside IEDs and sniper fire. This type of modus operandi allows Wilayat Sinai to inflict casualties upon targets without engaging in direct confrontations, thus reducing the risk of losing its own fighters and weaponry during battle. This indicates that Wilayat Sinai’s ranks are likely currently limited and, therefore, while it wants to maintain the pace of its attacks, it cannot afford to suffer losses to its personnel.
  2. Wilayat Sinai’s recent shift in its focus of operations away from the EAAF and towards local Bedouin tribesmen indicates that the group is prioritizing softer targets as this increases the possibility of success of their attacks without unnecessarily risking their fighters’ lives. Such attacks also serve to deter cooperation between local Bedouin tribesmen and the EAAF, thus diminishing the effectiveness of the latter’s counter-militancy campaign.
  3. The time lag between Wilayat Sinai attacks and the date of release of IS claims has been increasing in recent weeks and months. The most prominent example of this is the IS claim that was released on May 6, in which IS took responsibility for large-scale clashes with the EAAF in El Gorah, located south of Sheikh Zuweid, over a three-day period between April 29-May 1. In the past, the militant group used to almost immediately release claims for its attacks in the North Sinai Governorate, sometimes even within hours of the attack itself. This indicates that Wilayat Sinai militants may be deliberately refraining from using electronic communication devices immediately following an attack as this makes them vulnerable to detection by the EAAF through the use of signals intelligence (SIGINT) techniques. This is likely part of an overall effort to maintain a low profile in order to avoid detection by security forces and preserve its ranks.
  4. A report from an independent local media outlet indicates that the Egyptian government launched an initiative towards the end of 2020 according to which it would grant amnesty to militants who turned themselves into the EAAF, although they would be subject to extensive interrogation by security forces. This reportedly prompted a significant number of militants to voluntarily surrender in December 2020. This was partially corroborated by the EAAF Spokesperson on March 9, when he released a video titled, “Sirat Shaheed”, which featured confessions of three Wilayat Sinai militants who surrendered to security forces in Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah after they found themselves besieged by the EAAF and short on food. If confirmed, this policy would also partially explain the significant downtick in Wilayat Sinai attacks in the North Sinai Governorate in 2021 as compared to 2020.
  5. Wilayat Sinai was once known to be in possession of more sophisticated weaponry, including Kornet anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs). Therefore, the fact that the militant group focused its April 18 video on locally-made shoulder-launched electrically-fired rockets indicates that the group is facing supply line constraints, which is compelling it to become increasingly reliant on modifications of existing weaponry. While this shows that at least some of the militants within the group’s ranks have a high knowledge and technical expertise of weapons systems, it is indicative of the current pressure on the group in terms of rebuilding its capabilities. This is further underscored by the fact that Wilayat Sinai has recently not conducted any attacks using relatively sophisticated modi operandi, such as vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), which were once commonly used by the militant group in the region. Moreover, the last claimed use of an ATGM by the group was in December 2017, when the group targeted a helicopter at the al-Arish Airport. This may indicate that Wilayat Sinai is either no longer in possession of such weapons or that it does not have fighters who have the technical capabilities to use such sophisticated weaponry. The militants could also be saving their limited arsenal of such weapons for future attacks against more high-profile targets.


Increasing focus of attacks against civilians to further alienate local Bedouin tribes, reduce Wilayat Sinai’s base of recruitment

  1. The trend of an increase in the focus of operations against civilians perceived to be cooperating with the EAAF is not only based on Wilayat Sinai’s local operating constraints but is also part of a larger strategy of intimidating the local population of the North Sinai Governorate. This is because the increasing collaboration between the EAAF and local Bedouin tribesmen, primarily those from the Tarabin and Maghara tribes, has likely diminished Wilayat Sinai’s ability to operate freely in the region. Local Bedouin tribesmen are more familiar with the local terrain and population of the North Sinai Governorate and thus likely provide valuable information to the EAAF regarding the location of militant hideouts in the region.
  2. Furthermore, some of these tribesmen are actively engaged in counter-militancy operations along with the EAAF, which has led to major losses within the militant group’s ranks. For example, on March 21, the Sinai Tribal Federation, which is a group of local Sinai tribesmen involved in anti-IS operations, reported that it had killed a local Wilayat Sinai Emir in a joint operation with the EAAF in an unspecified area of the North Sinai Governorate. Therefore, through its attacks against such local tribesmen, Wilayat Sinai aims to deter locals from cooperating with the authorities by conveying the message that this would make them legitimate targets for attacks. This threat carries some weight as the militant group does not indiscriminately target civilians in the North Sinai Governorate.
  3. This assessment is supported by the fact that almost all of IS’s publications that have been released since the beginning of 2021 have focused on the kidnapping and execution of tribesmen working against the militant group. Aside from this, almost every time that IS has released a claim of responsibility for killing a civilian in recent months, it has released pictures depicting the execution itself. This is meant to create a strong psychological impact upon the local population of the region and bolster Wilayat Sinai’s message.
  4. FORECAST: However, based on precedent, this strategy is likely to backfire as it will further turn the local population against Wilayat Sinai and increase their determination to completely dislodge the militant group from the region. This is also because the decade-long militant campaign, which started off as a local insurgency in 2011, has led to wide-scale destruction of infrastructure and private property in the North Sinai Governorate. The EAAF’s consequent counter-militancy campaign to secure the region has severely restricted the locals’ civil liberties and freedom of movement, which has negatively impacted their livelihoods and standards of living. For instance, up until mid-March 2021, the city of Sheikh Zuweid had reportedly been under a complete lockdown since July 2015 with fortified army checkpoints that controlled all movement.
  5. FORECAST: As more and more tribesmen join the EAAF in its counter-militancy campaign, Wilayat Sinai’s ability to operate within the North Sinai Governorate will diminish significantly. This will reduce the group’s profile, and with it, its ability to attract recruits from among the local population. Locals who may be sympathetic towards the militant group may also be deterred from lending support to it as this could put them at risk of detention by security forces. A decline in Wilayat Sinai’s image may also incentivize demoralized militants to voluntarily turn themselves in to the authorities under the reported amnesty program. This would trigger a vicious cycle by impacting Wilayat Sinai’s overall capabilities and ability to recruit fighters.
  6. That said, Wilayat Sinai has shown the ability to adapt to the changing security landscape of the North Sinai Governorate on several occasions in the past few years. FORECAST: Therefore, the militant group is unlikely to completely cease to exist in the coming months. It is more likely to reduce the pace of its attacks in certain areas during certain periods to maintain a low profile, which would allow it to regroup and resume its activity at a time when the security environment is more favorable. This strategy is underscored by the significant decline in Wilayat Sinai attacks in the Bir al-Abd area from January to May. Bir al-Abd had become one of Wilayat Sinai’s primary areas of operations towards the second half of 2020. Between January and May 2021, the militant group shifted its operations slightly eastward towards al-Arish, possibly to increase the EAAF’s perception of the threat of militancy in this area and compel it to divert resources away from Bir al-Abd. This would relieve some of the pressure on Wilayat Sinai’s fighters in Bir al-Abd and allow them to regroup. Overall, Wilayat Sinai’s ability to evolve according to the dynamic security environment of the North Sinai Governorate will enable it to remain entrenched in the region in the coming months.


Wilayat Sinai likely to attempt to launch symbolic attack in North Sinai Governorate in coming months to project it still poses threat to Egypt

  1. As Wilayat Sinai continues to come under increasing pressure in the North Sinai Governorate, it will attempt to regroup and possibly launch a symbolic attack in the region in order to garner media attention and project that it still poses a major threat to Egypt. This would be partly motivated by an effort to elevate the morale of its remaining fighters and possibly even attract some support and recruits from among the more disenfranchised segments of the local population of the Sinai Peninsula.
  2. FORECAST: Such an attack could either be more sophisticated in terms of its planning and execution so as to inflict high casualties among the target or it could be relatively small-scale but target something of a higher value, such as an oil pipeline. Wilayat Sinai has attempted both types of attacks from time to time. For example, the militant group recently claimed large-scale clashes with the EAAF in El Gorah, located south of Sheikh Zuweid, over a period of three days between April 29-May 1. Although the exact number of EAAF casualties remains unspecified, IS claimed that several EAAF soldiers were killed and wounded and four EAAF vehicles were destroyed in the attack. IS also claimed IED detonations against oil pipelines near al-Arish on three separate occasions in 2020 (FebruaryNovemberDecember). These attacks did not cause extensive damage to the pipelines but were symbolic as they underscored the threat to strategic infrastructure in the North Sinai Governorate. Nevertheless, such attacks are liable to remain infrequent and become increasingly rare over the coming months as the militant group will be constrained by its declining ranks and capabilities.
  3. FORECAST: Wilayat Sinai may also attempt to conduct attacks in areas located on the western edges of the North Sinai Governorate. This is because an attack in this region would garner major media attention for the militant group due to the proximity of the Suez Canal. Although the militant group does not maintain a significant operational presence on the northwestern edges of the Sinai Peninsula, it has in the past demonstrated some ability to infiltrate this region. For instance, on December 13, 2020, IS released footage showcasing the execution of an alleged army “spy” in Sahl al-Tina, located approximately 35 km southeast of Port Said and about 25 km east of the Suez Canal. Prior to that, security forces arrested armed Wilayat Sinai militants in Gelbana on three occasions in 2019-20 (September 2019June 2020October 2020). Gelbana is administratively part of Ismailia Governorate but is geographically within the Sinai Peninsula and is located only about 12 km east of the Suez Canal. While Wilayat Sinai currently does not have the capabilities to launch a large-scale attack in areas located close to the Suez Canal as these are heavily fortified by the EAAF, even a small-scale attack of low sophistication in this region, such as the one in Sahl al-Tina, would be symbolic enough to raise the militant group’s profile. Therefore, as Wilayat Sinai’s overall capabilities in the North Sinai Governorate diminishes and the group becomes more desperate to preserve its image, the underlying risk of militancy in areas near the Suez Canal may increase slightly.
  4. FORECAST: The changing trends in jihadist militancy in the North Sinai Governorate are unlikely to have any impact upon the security environment in mainland Egypt. This is because while IS may maintain some sleeper cells in mainland Egypt, the capabilities of its fighters in this region have been significantly depleted as a result of the success of the Egyptian security forces’ years-long counter-militancy campaign. This is underscored by the fact that IS has not even attempted to conduct an attack in mainland Egypt since February 2019. Moreover, there have been no reported indications of attempts by IS to regroup and reestablish its operational presence in mainland Egypt over the past two years. However, this does not indicate that the underlying risk of IS militancy in mainland Egypt has been completely eradicated. It rather suggests that IS’s ability to operate in mainland Egypt is bound by the operational constraints of capabilities within the security environment of the region, especially considering that Wilayat Sinai has shown no interest in expanding its operations to areas beyond the Sinai Peninsula since its inception.


Anticipated decrease in threat of militancy to allow government to redeploy troops to mainland Egypt, project President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s policies as effective

  1. The Egyptian government has heavily invested in its counter-militancy campaign in the North Sinai Governorate over the past five to six years. This investment increased drastically upon the launch of Operation Martyrs’ Right in 2015. The fourth phase of this operation, which was launched in mid-2017, was the most extensive. It included the creation of a buffer zone along the Sinai-Gaza border, deployment of combat troops to Egypt’s borders with Libya and Sudan, deployment of naval assets to the Mediterranean Sea north of the Sinai Peninsula, and an increase in security protocols along the Shahid Ahmed al-Hamdi tunnel that links mainland Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula. This was aside from the counter-militancy measures undertaken within the North Sinai Governorate. With the launch of Operation Sinai 2018 in February 2018, the Egyptian government further increased its investment in the counter-militancy campaign in the North Sinai Governorate by authorizing the EAAF to engage in construction and development projects in the region. While the Executive Sinai Reconstruction Agency is the main authority responsible for overseeing development projects in the Sinai Peninsula, the EAAF is also known to either have a stake in or completely own several construction companies engaged in development projects in the country.
  2. FORECAST: With a decrease in the threat of militancy in the North Sinai Governorate, the Egyptian government will be able to at least partially redeploy forces from the Sinai Peninsula to mainland Egypt. This will also allow the government to invest some of the resources that had earlier gone into its counter-militancy campaign towards the redevelopment of the North Sinai Governorate. The Egyptian government has already reportedly allocated 275 billion Egyptian pounds (approximately 15.3 billion USD) towards development projects in the Sinai Peninsula until 2022. This includes road expansion projects in al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid to improve transport connectivity between mainland Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.
  3. FORECAST: A decline in the risk of militancy in the North Sinai Governorate will moreover allow President al-Sisi to project himself and his administration to the domestic populace as well as all international stakeholders as the only viable option for a safe and secure Egypt. Sisi will likely capitalize upon this to reinforce his position as an important Western ally in the fight against jihadist militancy in the Middle East and North Africa in order to gain access to advanced military technology, as he has often done in the past. He will also use this to gain international recognition of his legitimacy as the ruler of Egypt. This is especially considering recent concerns among Cairo’s Western allies, primarily the US, regarding the poor human rights record of the al-Sisi-led administration. This will allow the current Egyptian administration to continue to clamp down on opposition activists and political leaders in the country under the guise of national security without the risk of any major international censure. The government’s strict control over both social media platforms and local traditional media outlets will allow it to censor any criticism of its policies, particularly those pertaining to civil liberties, and thus control the narrative presented to the international community.


  1. Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.
  2. Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate due to the persistent risk of militancy, kidnappings, and general lawlessness in the region. If conducting essential business in the region, it is advised to travel in armored vehicles with trained security personnel. Furthermore, take prior permission from the Egyptian authorities as several parts of the governorate are currently under complete lockdown.
  3. It is advised to keep identification and travel documents on your person at all times due to the prevalence of military checkpoints across the North Sinai Governorate. When coming in contact with a security checkpoint, comply with the instructions of security personnel and avoid behavior that may be viewed as threatening. Photographing military sites and checkpoints is prohibited and may lead to arrest.
  4. As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government and other strategic energy installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have come under attack by militants.
  5. Avoid making any statements critical of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, government policies, and ongoing trials as legal measures, including deportation and detention, have been taken regardless of nationality. This applies both to public spaces and online social media platforms.

Homs Province’s Tiyas Military Air Base targeted with guided missile strikes during early morning hours of April 9 – Syria & Israel Alert

Please be advised

Reports indicate that Homs Province’s Tiyas Military Air Base was targeted with missile strikes during the early morning hours of April 9. According to Syrian pro-government sources, its Air Defense System intercepted five of the total eight guided missiles that were used.

According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), at least 14 pro-government soldiers were killed, including an unspecified number of Iranian forces.

While Syrian state media initially described the incident as “American aggression”, Pentagon officials have reportedly denied any US involvement.

According to a Russian state news agency, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out the strikes from Lebanese airspace with two F-15 fighter jets.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not issued any comment regarding the development.

Assessments & Forecast

The development comes amidst a marked increase of tensions between Syrian pro-government forces and Israel over the past months. This is highlighted by the February 10 launch of an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into Israel from Tiyas Military Air Base. While the IAF retaliated by conducting strikes against four pro-government bases in Syria, the downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet with Syrian anti-aircraft fire during this action marked an achievement for the Syrian pro-government forces unprecedented in recent years. As these developments highlight the growing willingness of Iran and Syrian pro-government forces to challenge Israel, we assess that the aforementioned reports ascribing the current missile strike to the IDF are highly credible.

The operation follows the February statement by Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah, who praised the aforementioned downing of the F-16 fighter jet as “beginning of a new strategic era which puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territory”. Thus, the targeting of Tiyas Military Air Base, which lies deep within Syrian territory, serves to reassert Israel’s deterrence and the countries’ adherence to its well-established policy of targeting any pro-government facilities which are liable to threaten Israel’s military and technological edge. More significantly, in light of Israeli concerns about the growing fortification of Iranian operational bases in Syria, the current missiles strikes demonstrate Israel’s increased resolve to target military installations used by Iranian forces.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry statement holding Israel responsible is unprecedented, and thus highly notable. While Israel has carried out multiple airstrikes in Syria over the past years, since September 2015, Israel and Russia have coordinated such strikes through a bilateral deconfliction mechanism in order to mitigate the risk of conflicts between their armed forces. While the maintenance of this channel was hitherto regarded as tacit Russian approval of IDF action in Syria, the current statement indicates Moscow renunciation of this policy. FORECAST: Such a development would reduce Russia’s ability to function as a diplomatic backchannel to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Iran. Furthermore, it decreases the likelihood that Russia will pressure Iran to desist from expanding its presence near the Syrian-Israeli border. As a result, Israel will likely consider more robust military measures in order to contain this threat. Thus, over the coming months, the IDF is liable to increase airstrikes against Syrian pro-government targets across Syria, including Iranian bases.

FORECAST: Moreover, while Iran and its proxy forces are likely not interested in a broad escalation of hostilities with Israel at this point, the fact that Russia openly named Israel as the perpetrator of the current missiles strikes may pressure them to conduct retaliatory measures. While we assess that any such action will likely remain localized, more sophisticated attacks, such as IED detonations or RPG attacks targeting IDF soldiers positioned along the border cannot be entirely excluded. Should such a scenario materialize, both parties may be forced to react with increasing force to perceived transgressions of the other party in order to reassert their deterrence. Thus, while broad conflict between the parties remains unlikely to erupt over the coming months, a gradual increase of hostilities alongside the Syrian-Israeli border cannot be ruled out.


Recommendations: Syria

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for a further deterioration in the security situation. Avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy.

Recommendations: Israel

Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross-border violence.

Those residing or operating in Israel are advised to monitor the situation in the vicinity of the border areas regarding incidents of cross-border hostilities and possible rocket attacks. Remain cognizant of the situation along the Lebanese and Syrian border areas, and continue adhering to all safety precautions regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.