The Middle East and trouble are no strangers, but the last three months of 2023 saw an increase in turmoil and hot spots to the point of boiling over. The most obvious is the bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israel, after the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7 killed 1,200, according to Israel’s foreign ministry. Gaza’s health ministry estimates that 22,185 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7. Houthi rebels based out of Yemen have been attacking ships attempting to navigate the Red Sea for the better part of two months, carrying out 20 attacks since Nov. 19, according to U.S. deputy ambassador Christopher Lu. In both cases, be it Hamas in Gaza or Houthis in Yemen, you see the words “Iran” and “backed” with implications that range from outright coordination to funding only.
If you stand to close to the fire, you are liable to get burned; and this week Iran did. Twin blasts near the burial site of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed four years ago in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad, killed 84 people in southern Iran and injured many more. The blasts took place during a gathering of mourners on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. Initially in Iranian circles there was wanting to point fingers at either Israel or the United States as being responsible for the blasts, but even the most hardcore of haters would have had a hard time believing that. ISIS claimed responsibility just over 24 hours later.
ISIS? Somewhere in the triangle between ISIS, Iran and the U.S., the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been forgotten. But if it is to be remembered, you would suspect it is bad news for ISIS and perhaps an opportunity for the U.S. and Iran to cool some heads. If not, further escalation from here will probably start to make more than just headline ripples inside and outside the marketplace. For now, crude oil futures held steady this week after volatile back-and-forth trade remaining in a sideways-to-lower trend since September. February crude oil futures were trading near $74/brl as of late Friday morning.
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