Two Americans detained by IDF in Gaza, family says

TOPSHOT - Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2024 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

TOPSHOT – Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2024 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by Mahmud Hams / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images) Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Two American citizens were detained by the Israel Defense Forces during a raid of a home in Gaza early Thursday morning local time, according to a family member in the United States.

Hashem Alagha, 20, and Borak Alagha, 18, were among a group of roughly 20 men detained by IDF soldiers during the incident, according to Yasmeen Elagha, who identified herself as their cousin. She said both men are American citizens, born in the suburbs of Chicago and raised there in their early childhood. She also said their father, who is a Canadian citizen, was detained.

Elagha tells CNN that she spoke over the phone with Hashem’s mother – her aunt – who was present during the incident and claimed the IDF forces broke through a door while the group was sleeping, tied up the women and children inside the home and took all the men into custody.

They do not know where the men have been taken at this point.

Elagha says the home belongs to her uncle and her family has no ties to Hamas.

CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment.

The US is aware of reports that the Israeli military has detained two American citizens in Gaza, according to a State Department spokesperson.

We are aware of these reports and we are currently seeking additional information, but I don’t have any additional information to share and would not be able to at this point, given privacy considerations,” said State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel at a press briefing.

The news comes at a sensitive moment in US-Israeli relations. On Wednesday, US efforts to pressure the Israeli government toward a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza received a blow when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed a counterproposal from Hamas as “delusional.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who visited Israel on Wednesday said negotiations toward an agreement would continue.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza launched after the Hamas attack four months ago has taken an immense humanitarian toll on the strip, with tens of thousands dead and the population of Gaza on the brink of famine.

Patel said they believe “the vast majority” of US citizens seeking to leave Gaza have reached out to the State Department.

“Our expectation continues to be that we expect the number of American citizens, LPR’s [legal permanent residents] and eligible family members who are able to depart, we expect that number to continue to grow as long as the crossing remains open,” said Patel, referring to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Patel said that since October 7, the US has “assisted nearly 1,600 individuals, including US citizens, lawful permanent residents and other eligible family members with entry into Egypt from Gaza… from the Rafah border crossing.”

Russia and Ukraine exchange hundreds of prisoners

A still image from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry on February 8 shows what it said were freed Russian service personnel in a bus following the latest prisoner exchange.

A still image from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry on February 8 shows what it said were freed Russian service personnel in a bus following the latest prisoner exchange. Russian Defense Ministry/Handout/ReutersCNN — 

Russia and Ukraine exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war on Thursday.

One hundred Russian service members were exchanged for 100 members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) following negotiations that were mediated by the United Arab Emirates, the Russian Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

The ministry said its freed servicemen would be flown back by the Russian Air Force and given medical and psychological assistance.

The released Ukrainians included 49 soldiers, 25 border guards and some servicemen from the territorial defense forces, according to Ukraine’s Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War (KSHPPV).

The eldest was 62-years-old and the youngest was 20, KSHPPV said.

TOPSHOT - Smoke billows after a Russian attack on the Retroville shopping mall abd residential district of Kyiv on March 21, 2022. - At least six people were killed in the overnight bombing of a shopping centre in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, an AFP journalist said, with rescuers combing the wreckage for other victims. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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All of the rescued soldiers are privates and sergeants. 84 of the rescued soldiers defended Mariupol (including 82 defenders of Azovstal), the rest performed combat missions in the Donetsk and Luhansk sectors,” KSHPPV said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram that the released prisoners had returned to Ukraine. “All of them are ours, all of them are back on their native land,” Zelensky said.

“We are working on each and every one of them and will not stop until we bring them back!” He added.

CNN cannot independently verify the claims made by either side.

Last week, Ukraine and Russia exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war in what the Ukrainian government called the “second major exchange after a long break.”

It was the first exchange since the mysterious crash of a Russian IL-76 plane on January 24 in Russia’s Belgorod region, which neighbors eastern Ukraine.

Moscow claimed the plane was transporting dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, while Kyiv said it was carrying Russian missiles to be used in further strikes on Ukraine.

Zelensky said 207 Ukrainian service members were returned on Wednesday, while the Russian Defense Ministry said 195 Russian military personnel had been received.

New problem found on Boeing 737 Max planes

Boeing's headquarters seen on February 2, 2024, in Arlington, Virginia

Boeing’s headquarters seen on February 2, 2024, in Arlington, Virginia Samuel Corum/Sipa USA/APNew YorkCNN — 

A new problem has been found during the production of 737 Max jets that will force Boeing to rework about 50 planes that have not yet been delivered.

The problem was disclosed in a memo sent to Boeing (BA) employees Sunday by Stan Deal, the head of the company’s commercial aircraft unit. An employee at Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselages of the 737 Max jets, notified the plane maker that two holes may not have been drilled exactly to Boeing’s requirements, according to Deal’s memo.

“While this potential condition is not an immediate flight safety issue and all 737’s can continue operating safely, we currently believe we will have to perform rework on about 50 undelivered airplanes,” it said.

Spirit AeroSystems confirmed in a statement that it mis-drilled the holes.

“A member of our team identified an issue that does not conform to engineering standards,” Spirit AeroSystems spokesman Joe Buccino said. “Once notified, we began immediate actions to identify and implement appropriate repair solutions. We are in close communication with Boeing on this matter.”

The news about the mis-drilled holes is just the latest blow to Boeing’s reputation, which has been battered repeatedly over the last five years, most recently by a terrifying accident aboard a 737 Max 9 flight on January 5. And in the wake of that incident, the FAA now says it will be changing the way it oversees Boeing’s manufacturing processes.

An Alaska Airlines flight had a door plug blow out that day, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane. While the exact cause of the incident is not yet known, Boeing CEO David Calhoun told investors on Wednesday: “We caused the problem, and we understand that.”

“Whatever conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened. Whatever the specific cause of the accident might turn out to be, an event like this simply must not happen on an airplane that leaves one of our factories,” he continued. “We simply must be better.”

Deal’s Sunday memo said Boeing’s 737 Max factory in Renton, Washington would “dedicate several days … this week to focus on this important work, reflecting the premium we place on quality, safety and, ultimately, stability in our factories.”

Quality problems

In a cost-cutting move, Boeing has been increasingly depending on suppliers in recent years to assemble key parts of its aircraft. Spirit AeroSystems, for example, builds its fuselages and in some cases its cockpits, leaving Boeing with only final assembly of the planes that carry its name.

But this is not the only supplier delivering products to Boeing that does not meet its standards, according to Deal. He also acknowledged there are problems with planes at Boeing’s own production facilities.

During a recent day on which Boeing halted production of the 737 Max to hold a staff meeting to stress the importance of quality control, “many employees voiced frustration with … how unfinished jobs – either from our suppliers or within our factories – can ripple through the production line,” Deal wrote in the memo.

“These employees are absolutely right. We need to perform jobs at their assigned position,” he said. “We have to maintain this discipline within our four walls and we are going to hold our suppliers to the same standard.”

“We recently instructed a major supplier to hold shipments until all jobs have been completed to specification,” he said. “While this delay in shipment will affect our production schedule, it will improve overall quality and stability.”

Boeing has halted delivery on a number of occasions over the last few years involving both the Max and the 787 Dreamliner because the planes had not been built according to specifications.

The suspensions caused problems for airline customers that had been counting on the planes and also led to ongoing losses at Boeing. The company reported last week that it lost $2.2 billion in 2023, bringing losses over the last five years to $26.7 billion.

Two major customers, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, said last month they were no longer counting on receiving their orders of new versions of the 737 Max they had been promised by Boeing.

Southwest had been expecting the 737 Max 7, while United had ordered the Max 10. Neither plane has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to carry passengers.

United CEO Scott Kirby said the incident on the Alaska Air flight was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” in terms of the airline moving forward with plans to take deliveries of the Max 10 later this year as previously planned.

The most serious problem for Boeing was a design flaw in the 737 Max that led to two fatal crashes, one in October 2018 and one in March 2019, that killed a total of 346 people and led to a 20-month grounding of the aircraft.

‘Re-imagined oversight’

The mis-drilled holes are on the planes’ window frames, Jodi Baker, a FAA official in its aviation safety office, told reporters on Monday.

“We’ll ensure that those airplanes meet all safety standards before we can approve them for delivery,” she said.

The FAA has started developing a plan for “re-imagined oversight” and is asking how it “can do this job differently going forward,” said Baker.  She said the plan will extend to all US aircraft manufacturers – although Boeing is the largest US plane maker and has experienced a series of quality lapses in recent years.

“We want to step up more interaction and more direct observation of the work that’s being accomplished,” she said. “Surveillance is that boots on the floor.”

Agency officials are currently determining how they would conduct this work, and Baker said in the meantime they are performing “nose to tail, wingtip to wingtip” inspections of work on Boeing’s 737 Max assembly line in Renton, Washington.

Baker said that nearly all of the 737 Max 9s grounded in the wake of the January 5 incident aboard an Alaska Airlines-operated flight are back in the air.  There are eight Max 9s still parked at Alaska Airlines and one parked at United Airlines, she said.

Illicit Iranian programs targeted by sanctions and criminal charges, US says

Iranians stand under an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Shahed-136, during a rally to mark the 44th anniversary of the Victory of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, at Azadi (Freedom) Square in the west of Tehran on February 11, 2023.

Iranians stand under an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Shahed-136, during a rally to mark the 44th anniversary of the Victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, at Azadi (Freedom) Square in the west of Tehran on February 11, 2023. Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Getty Images/FileWashingtonCNN — 

The US announced a number of measures including sanctions and criminal charges targeting a range of malicious Iranian initiatives, including their cyberwarfare and drone programs, as well as Iran’s alleged illegal oil trafficking to fund foreign terrorist organizations.

The actions come as the Biden administration vowed to carry out a “multi-tiered” response to a drone strike by Iran-backed militants on a US military outpost in Jordan on Sunday, which killed three US service members and wounded more than 40 others.

The Justice Department announced charges Friday against four Iranian nationals, including a “senior official” in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and three Turkish nationals for allegedly participating in a “long-running scheme” to facilitate the “black-market sales of Iranian crude oil and other petroleum products” according to the indictment. The seven defendants face charges including supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

In a separate case announced Friday, prosecutors also charged a Chinese individual and an Omani individual with sanctions evasion and money laundering allegedly connected to “the trafficking and selling of Iranian oil to Chinese government-owned refineries,” according to a news release.

“The Justice Department will continue to use every authority we have to cut off the illegal financing and enabling of Iran’s malicious activities, which have become even more evident in recent months,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement.

DOJ also charged a Chinese individual and an Omani individual in Washington, DC with sanctions evasion and money laundering allegedly connected to “the trafficking and selling of Iranian oil to Chinese government-owned refineries,” according to a press release.

The Justice Department also announced the seizure of more than $108 million, and efforts to seize an additional $8.5 million and 500,000 barrels of fuel in connection with Iran’s alleged oil trafficking.

“Iran presents a constant threat to the United States – trying to murder Americans right here within our borders, conducting a cyber-attack on a children’s hospital, supporting terrorists around the world, and more. … And the FBI will remain committed to enforcing U.S. sanctions that keep money out of its coffers,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against several Iran- and Hong Kong-based companies for allegedly supporting Iran’s drone program and missile production. The three alleged front companies in Hong Kong and an Iranian subsidiary allegedly obtained components, such as engines and carburetors, for Iran’s drone program.

We will not hesitate to leverage our full suite of tools to disrupt the illicit procurement networks that supply the components for these weapons systems, as well as hold accountable those who seek to export these weapons to terrorist proxy groups,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson in a statement.

Treasury also announced sanctions targeting the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Cyber–Electronic Command and five other senior officials for alleged cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in the US and other countries.

Iran allegedly hacked into “programmable logic controllers” used in critical infrastructure “to display an anti-Israel message” on their interfaces, according to State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller.

That’s a reference to a series of hacks that defaced computers at multiple water utilities in the US in November. While the hacks didn’t cause damage to the facilities or affect drinking water, they alarmed US officials for their brazenness.

“The ultimate purpose of these hacks is to scare us and attack our trust in our own basic safety. Unfortunately, they can be effective even when they fail to disrupt the services they target, which this actor knows,” John Hultquist, chief analyst at Google-owned cybersecurity firm Mandiant, told CNN.

US officials have long seen Iran’s considerable cyber capabilities as an unpredictable and potentially destabilizing variable in the US-Iranian rivalry.  US government blamed Iran for an attempted cyberattack on Boston Children’s Hospital in 2021 in what FBI Director Christopher Wray called “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve ever seen.” (Tehran denied the allegations.)

“Although [the recent hacks at water facilities] did not disrupt any critical services, unauthorized access to critical infrastructure systems can enable actions that harm the public and cause devastating humanitarian consequences,” the Treasury Department said in a statement on Friday.

The Beatles created a painting together while on tour in Japan. It sold at auction for $1.7 million

The Beatles, 1966, Images of a Woman

The Beatles’ 1966 painting, “Images of a Woman,” will be up for sale at Christie’s auction house in early 2024. Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023CNN — 

It was the summer of 1966.

The Beatles were in the middle of a tour that had them play five shows in just three days at Japan’s famed Nippon Budokan arena — but when they weren’t performing, they were holed up in the presidential suite of the Tokyo Hilton creating a work of art that came to be known as “Images of a Woman.”

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That painting, believed by some experts to be the only artwork jointly made by all four Beatles (or at least signed by all four), was sold at Christie’s auction house in New York on February 1.

“Images of a Woman” was estimated to fetch somewhere in the realm of $400,000 to $600,000 and “crystallizes a magic moment in Beatles history,” said Christie’s specialist Casey Rogers during a phone interview. Its final sale price was nearly three times the high end of that estimate — $1,744,000.

“It’s such a rarity to have a work on paper outside of their music catalog that is (a) physical relic, this tangible object with contributions from all four of The Beatles,” Rogers said of the 21.5- by 31-inch painting.

“It’s memorabilia, it’s a work of art, it appeals to probably a much larger cross-section of collectors… It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling.”

How ‘Images of a Woman’ was created

As the story goes, the Fab Four spent about 100 hours in Japan during their 1966 tour.

Outside of performing (and aside from two instances where Paul McCartney and John Lennon each slipped out with members of their entourage for sightseeing adventures in Tokyo), the group stayed put in their hotel room at the behest of local authorities who were concerned about their safety. The band’s visit to the country drew adoring fans and protesters alike — there were reports of threats from Japanese nationalists, including some angry about a Western rock band playing an arena considered a spiritual home for martial arts.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY: The Beatles arrive at Tokyo airport for their japanese tour in July 1966 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Beatles arrive at Tokyo’s airport for their brief tour of Japan in 1966. Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images/File

A visitor gifted them some art supplies, according to Christie’s press release; the band soon wound up around a table, with a blank sheet of Japanese art paper in the middle and a lamp roughly centered on top of it. Each Beatle sat at a corner, painting something different. Recordings for the album that would become “Revolver” played in the background.

Photographer Robert Whitaker, who was represented by the band’s manager Brian Epstein, was on hand to capture the group at work. “I never saw them calmer or more contented than at this time,” he observed, according to Christie’s release.

The Beatles were no strangers to visual art. Lennon attended art school and McCartney had studied the subject, too. Both George Harrison and Ringo Starr drew “often and with plenty of talent,” the Christie’s press release added.

Each corner of the painting reflects a personal touch, with plenty of variety in shapes, colors and even the paints used. Harrison’s portion, which uses darker and angrier-looking brush strokes, seems to sprawl out the most from his corner, while Starr’s area is smaller and cartoonish. Both Lennon and McCartney worked primarily in acrylic, Christie’s noted, while Harrison and Starr relied more on watercolor.

And then at the center, where the lamp once sat, are the signatures.

The Beatles never gave their painting an official title, but it became known as “Images of a Woman” in the late 1980s when “a Japanese journalist thought he could see female genitals in Paul’s quadrant,” according to Christie’s.

“It’s all very much in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?” said Rogers. “It wasn’t the intention, necessarily, of the painting as it was being done. I think it was more fluid, it was more freeform and just the members expressing themselves.”

“It’s really interesting that it’s had other interpretations over time and probably will carry on having other interpretations.”

This photo taken on June 29, 1966 shows members of the British band The Beatles, (L to R) Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, holding a press conference in Tokyo at the start of their tour. A group of Japanese Beatles fans on October 30, 2018 have lost their bid to get police to hand over historic footage of the band's legendary 1966 Japan visit. (Photo by JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT (Photo by JIJI PRESS/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

This photo taken on June 29, 1966 shows The Beatles, (left to right) Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, holding a press conference in Tokyo. While not playing the Nippon Budokan arena, the group spent most of their time in their hotel room where they worked on a painting. Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images/File

After its completion, the painting was acquired by Tetsusaburo Shimoyama, an entertainment industry executive who was then the chairman of Tokyo’s Beatles fan club. In 1989, it was purchased by record store owner Takao Nishino, The Atlantic reported in 2012, when Nishino in turn put “Images of a Woman” up for auction. (Nishino had, for some years, stored the piece under a bed, the magazine noted.)

After Nishino had decided to part ways with the painting, he told The Atlantic: “Originally, I thought it might be best kept as a piece of Japan’s cultural heritage; it has never left Japanese soil in 46 years. But the Beatles phenomenon was and remains a global one.”

The Beatles’ enduring appeal

Beatlemania has continued in the decades since the band broke up, and as Rogers noted, “they’re never out of the headlines.” Interest in the band’s music, its members’ lives and their contributions to pop culture play a large part in their “perennial” appeal, she said.

“We’re even seeing them in the news as recently as (last month) with the help of AI,” she said, nodding to the release of “Now and Then,” a long-unfinished song now completed using artificial intelligence.

“Images of a Woman” was part of Christie’s “Exceptional Sale,” a yearly auction event held in New York, London and Paris.

“These are masterpiece level, often one-of-a-kind rare objects with historical importance,” said Rogers, who noted that The Beatles’ painting was up for auction alongside other rock and roll memorabilia, as well as fine works of art, sports-related artifacts and more.

This photo taken on June 30, 1966 shows British band The Beatles, (L to R) Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon, performing during their concert at the Budokan in Tokyo. - A group of Japanese Beatles fans on October 30, 2018 have lost their bid to get police to hand over historic footage of the band's legendary 1966 Japan visit. (Photo by JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT        (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

The Beatles perform during a concert at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo in 1966. By August of that year, the band made the decision to stop touring and shifted their attention to their studio recordings. Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images/File

Though not widely celebrated, or even known, “Images of a Woman” was the unique result of a particular moment in the band’s career. By the end of August 1966, less than two months after leaving Japan, The Beatles had played their last concert — one 1969 rooftop performance notwithstanding — at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, putting an end to rigorous touring and shifting their focus to studio work.

“I think (‘Images of a Woman’) is really reflective of those 100 hours that they spent together… probably one of the last times to sit together, to reflect, to not have schedules that required them anywhere else but Budokan for their concerts,” said Rogers.

“And maybe, at the same time, it was a release during this lockdown,” she noted. “Just this great creative outlet for them.”

Ex-Trump Org. CFO in talks to plead guilty to perjury charge tied to civil fraud investigation

In this August 2022 photo, Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization CFO, exits New York State Supreme Court.

In this August 2022 photo, Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization CFO, exits New York State Supreme Court. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/FileCNN — 

The former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization is in talks to potentially plead guilty to a perjury charge related to a civil investigation into the real estate company’s finances, people familiar with the matter said.

Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO, is in negotiations with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but the talks are in the early stages and a deal has not been finalized, the people said. The potential charges relate to testimony Weisselberg gave in an interview with the New York attorney general’s office and at the related civil fraud trial of former President Donald Trump last year, one of the people said.

The talks could fall apart without a deal being reached.

If Weisselberg does reach a deal to plead guilty, it would be the second plea from Trump’s former longtime lieutenant, who in 2022 pleaded guilty to 15 criminal charges related to tax fraud and served 100 days in New York City’s Rikers Island jail. He testified at the criminal tax fraud trial of two Trump Organization entities, which were convicted and fined.

As part of the current deal under negotiation, the people said, Weisselberg is not cooperating against his former boss and is not expected to be called as a witness in the criminal trial scheduled to start next month.

Trump was indicted on 34 counts of felony counts of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to reimburse his former attorney for making payments to bury allegations of an affair before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied the affair and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. A number of Trump associates were called before the grand jury to give testimony, but Weisselberg was not among them.

Weisselberg’s attorney, Seth Rosenberg, could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, declined to comment.

The New York Times first reported that Weisselberg was in talks with prosecutors to resolve the investigation.

The district attorney’s office has pressured Weisselberg for months about potential charges related to insurance fraud and perjury.

It isn’t clear which statements Weisselberg would agree were false testimony. Weisselberg, who is also a defendant in the civil fraud lawsuit, was called as a witness by the New York attorney general’s office and testified at the trial last year. He was grilled over how the Trump Organization’s financial statements were composed and how they derived values for Trump’s properties.

The New York attorney general’s office is seeking more than $370 million in disgorgement from Trump as well as a ban from doing business in the state. A judge is expected to issue his findings this month.

Man who stole and leaked Trump tax records sentenced to 5 years in prison

Charles Littlejohn walks out of United States District Court in Washington, DC, on Thursday, October 12.

Charles Littlejohn walks out of United States District Court in Washington, DC, on Thursday, October 12.CNNCNN — 

The man who stole and leaked former President Donald Trump and thousands of others’ tax records has been sentenced to five years in prison.

In October, Charles Littlejohn, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized disclosures of income tax returns. According to his plea agreement, he stole Trump’s tax returns along with the tax data of “thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people,” while working for a consulting firm with contracts with the Internal Revenue Service.

Littlejohn leaked the information to two news outlets and deleted the documents from his IRS-assigned laptop before returning it and covered the rest of his digital tracks by deleting places where he initially stored the information.

Judge Ana Reyes highlighted the gravity of the crime, saying multiple times that it amounted to an attack against the US and its legal foundation.

“What you did in attacking the sitting president of the United States was an attack on our constitutional democracy,” Reyes said. “We’re talking about someone who … pulled off the biggest heist in IRS history.”

The judge compared Littlejohn’s actions to those of the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack, noting that, “your actions were also a threat to our democracy.”

“It engenders the same fear that January 6 does,” Reyes added.

Prosecutors said Littlejohn went through great lengths to steal the tax records undetected, exploiting system loopholes, downloading data to an Apple iPod and uploading the information on a private website he later deleted.

Reyes was also critical of the Justice Department’s decision to only bring one count against Littlejohn.

“The fact that he did what he did and he’s facing one felony count, I have no words for,” the judge said. Prosecutors argued that the one count covers the multitude of Littlejohn’s thefts and leaks.

A free press and public engagement with the media are critical to any healthy democracy, but stealing and leaking private, personal tax information strips individuals of the legal protection of their most sensitive data,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing recommending Littlejohn be sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison.

“I acted out of a sincere misguided belief,” Littlejohn said in court Monday, adding that he was serving the country and that people had a right to the tax information.

“We as a country make the best decisions when we are all properly informed,” Littlejohn said.

Littlejohn added that he was “aware of the potential consequences” of his actions and knew he would one day be here, in federal court, facing those consequences.

“My actions undermine the fragile faith,” in government institutions in the US, Littlejohn said.

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas begins legal case against swimming’s world governing body

University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas speaks to her coach after winning the 500 meter freestyle during an NCAA college swimming meet with Harvard, Jan. 22, 2022, at Harvard University in Cambridge.

University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas speaks to her coach after winning the 500 meter freestyle during an NCAA college swimming meet with Harvard on January 22, 2022.Josh Reynolds/APCNN — 

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has begun legal proceedings against World Aquatics, swimming’s governing body, after it voted to restrict transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s aquatics competitions, according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The swimmer is challenging certain parts of the World Aquatics’ gender inclusion policy, which went into effect on June 20, 2022, according to the international court body.

Thomas’ legal focus aims to overturn the policy that dictates male-to-female transgender athletes would only be eligible to compete in the women’s categories if they transition before the age of 12 or before they reach stage two of the puberty Tanner Stages.

“Ms Thomas accepts that fair competition is a legitimate sporting objective and that some regulation of transgender women in swimming is appropriate,” the court stated Friday in a news release.

“However, Ms Thomas submits that the Challenged Provisions are invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against her contrary to the Olympic Charter, the World Aquatics Constitution, and Swiss law including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” the release said. “… and that such discrimination cannot be justified as necessary, reasonable, or proportionate to achieve a legitimate sporting objective.”

World Aquatics oversees aquatic competitions in swimming, water polo, diving, artistic swimming, open water swimming and high diving.

CNN has reached out to World Aquatics for comment.

The policy also says athletes who have previously used testosterone as part of female-to-male gender-affirming hormone treatment would only be eligible to compete in women’s competitions if the testosterone was used for less than a year in total, the treatment didn’t take place during puberty and testosterone levels in serum are back to pretreatment levels.

At the time, the governing body promised to establish a new working group in order to develop open category events for athletes who do not meet the criteria for men’s or women’s categories.

In August, World Aquatics created an open category for transgender athletes at a World Cup event in Berlin in October for “all sex and gender identities.”

“For this inaugural event, the emphasis is on gaining further experience for future development and celebrating diversity,” according to swimming’s international governing body.

CNN has reached out to Thomas for comment through her lawyer.

When asked Friday about Thomas’ case against World Aquatics, Danne Diamond, director of policy and programs for Athlete Ally, an advocacy group which works to end homophobia and transphobia in sports, told CNN: “World Aquatics’ transgender policy causes profound harm to trans women, who are particularly vulnerable in society and suffer from high rates of violence, abuse, and harassment in society and in sport.”

“The ban is not a fair, proper, or reasonable balancing of rights,” said Diamond. “It is grossly disproportionate and has the effect of excluding virtually all trans women athletes from international aquatics.”

The court said a hearing date for Thomas’ legal challenge has yet to be set.

Thomas became first trans athlete to win an NCAA Division I title

The debate on transgender women in swimming, which led to the new gender inclusion policy and open category, came under a spotlight when Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who started on the school’s men’s swimming team in 2017, eventually joined the UPenn women’s team in 2020.

At the time of her transition in 2019, the NCAA required transgender athletes to have one year of hormone replacement therapy to be cleared to compete.

In February 2022, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team sent a letter to the university and the Ivy League asking them to not challenge the NCAA’s new transgender athlete participation policies which would prevent Thomas and other transgender athletes to compete.

In the letter, they argued Thomas had an “unfair advantage,” and said they supported her gender transition out of the pool but not necessarily in it.

Despite the backlash, Penn Athletics and the Ivy League maintained their support for the transgender swimmer, and over 300 current and former swimmers signed their names to an open letter defending her ability to compete.

As a swimmer on the women’s team, Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle event in March 2022.

Advocates of banning transgender women from women’s sport have argued transgender women have a physical advantage over cisgender women in sports.

But the mainstream science does not support that conclusion. A 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine which reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say the bans add to the discrimination trans people face.

Trump faces two-front fight as Biden and Haley hit campaign trail

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Rochester, New Hampshire, on Sunday.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Rochester, New Hampshire, on January 21, 2024.Charles Krupa/APCNN — 

Donald Trump was pulling up to his plane at LaGuardia Airport, set to travel to Nevada for a campaign rally Saturday, when the news came: A Manhattan jury said the former president should pay the writer E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million for defaming her.

Friday’s verdict capped off a week in which Trump had finished his sweep of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and wanted to shift his focus to President Joe Biden.

It was a vivid reminder that with a third consecutive Republican nomination within reach, Trump is fighting battles on several other fronts — including federal and state courtrooms, and an increasingly bitter Republican primary race against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Both Trump and Biden are treating this weekend as the opening salvo of the general election, traveling to states where they are assured of winning their parties’ early-February nominating contests — Trump in Nevada, Biden in South Carolina — as they move closer to a rematch of their 2020 race.

Haley is also in South Carolina, where she’ll hold a pair of weekend events as she mounts a monthlong stand as Trump’s lone remaining Republican primary rival ahead of the Palmetto State’s February 24 primary.

Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley holds a rally on January 24, 2024 in North Charleston, South Carolina.  

RELATED ARTICLEHaley remains defiant as Trump ratchets up attacks on last-standing 2024 GOP rival

Trump spent the week trying to turn the courtroom into a campaign space — appearing in person several times even though he was not required to do so; taking the stand for only a few minutes; and leaving before a verdict was announced, allowing his lawyer, Alina Habba, to speak to the news cameras gathered there on his behalf.

“Our Legal System is out of control, and being used as a Political Weapon. They have taken away all First Amendment Rights. THIS IS NOT AMERICA!” Trump said Friday on his social media network Truth Social.

Through the 2024 Republican primary, Trump’s legal challenges — including federal and state charges stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election — have largely rallied conservatives to his side.

Haley, though, has infuriated the former president in recent days, as she has insisted on remaining in the GOP race despite finishing 11 points behind Trump in New Hampshire.

“Donald Trump wants to be the presumptive Republican nominee and we’re talking about $83 million in damages,” Haley said Friday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, following news of the Carroll verdict. “We’re not talking about fixing the border. We’re not talking about tackling inflation. America can do better than Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

After nearly a year of largely avoiding direct confrontation with Trump, Haley has increasingly seized on Trump’s legal battles and his public remarks — including an angry speech Tuesday night after his win in New Hampshire — to make the case that he would lose in November.

With her two-for-one message attacking the ages of Trump (who will be 78 on Election Day) and Biden (who will be 81), and her questioning of Trump’s mental acuity, Haley has become a vessel for the weaknesses of both men.

Her barbs at the former president have escalated in recent days — and she is leveling them in front of conservative audiences that have rallied behind him in the wake of the civil trials and criminal charges he has faced.

In a Fox News interview Friday, Haley called Trump “totally unhinged” and said he has alienated the moderates and independents the party will need to defeat Biden.

“I will win Republicans, but also guess who else I win? I win moderates and independents, which he doesn’t. That’s why he lost in 2018. That’s why he lost 2020. That’s why he lost 2022,” she said, referring to the GOP’s disappointing recent midterm performances and Trump’s loss to Biden.

‘Nikki Haley is in this fight’

Haley, whom Trump tapped as his US ambassador to the United Nations, remains a long shot to win the GOP nomination — with polls showing her trailing far behind Trump in her home state, and some donors increasingly reluctant to give to her efforts after Trump declared on Truth Social that they would be exiled from his political movement for doing so.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during his New Hampshire presidential primary election night watch party, in Nashua, New Hampshire, U.S., January 23, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Segar

RELATED ARTICLEAs Trump dominates nomination race, major GOP donors who backed Haley shift focus to Congress

However, Haley is channeling the frustrations of a segment of the Republican Party — highlighting the political costs the party has paid in recent elections for its allegiance to Trump.

“We need to make sure that we’re challenging him and working to defeat him at every step of the way. And right now, Nikki Haley is in this fight, and I think she ought to stay in it,” former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted from her House seat by a Trump-backed challenger in a 2022 primary, said Thursday on the liberal “Pod Save America” podcast.

Haley has two weekend rallies planned in her home state: one Saturday in Mauldin and one Sunday in Conway.

Then, she is set to begin an important week of fundraising, with multiple fundraisers scheduled for New York on Monday followed by events in Palm Beach and Miami on Wednesday. Over the course of the next three and a half weeks, Haley’s campaign has planned at least 13 fundraisers in five states: New York, Florida, California, South Carolina and Texas.

Her campaign has touted bringing in $2.6 million in donations since the polls closed in New Hampshire, but there are also real questions about her ability to keep donors on her side with questions about her campaign’s path ahead.

SFA Fund, the main super PAC supporting Haley’s presidential campaign, has begun booking airtime in South Carolina, another signal that the fight for the GOP presidential nomination could drag on.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event before the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., January 24, 2024. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in North Charleston on January 24, 2024.Randall Hill/Reuters

According to AdImpact data, on Friday, SFA Fund began booking TV airtime over the next week in the Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Charlotte media markets. So far, the group has spent just about $6,700, but in a memo announcing its haul of $50 million during the second half of last year, the group said it planned to spend $1 million on its initial South Carolina ad buy — a clear indication much more spending is likely to come soon.

Haley’s campaign, meanwhile, says it will spend up to $4 million on its first major ad buy in the state, while another outside group backing her, Americans For Prosperity Action, has already spent more than $3 million advertising there in support of Haley.

Trump’s trip to a Western swing state

Nevada is actually the next state to vote in the GOP nominating process — with caucuses scheduled for February 8. But Trump is virtually assured of sweeping the state’s 26 delegates, because Haley won’t be on the ballot.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Reno, Nevada, U.S. December 17, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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That’s because two days earlier, Nevada is also holding a state-run primary — a requirement under a 2021 state law. Haley and several other former Republican presidential contenders will appear on the primary ballot. However, the state GOP, which is controlled by Trump loyalists, opted to award its delegates through state party-run caucuses, instead.

For Trump, the Nevada visit may be geared more toward the general election. Nevada, with six Electoral College votes, is expected to be a presidential battleground this fall. Democrats have won every presidential race in the Silver State since 2008 and made large inroads down-ballot in 2018 by flipping a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion. But Republicans won back the governorship in 2022, and Democrats face a tough fight defending that Senate seat this fall.

On Friday night, as he prepared to travel to Nevada, Trump railed against the verdict on Truth Social, saying, “Our Judicial System is Broken and Unfair!”

The criminal charges he has faced – including over alleged hush money payments in New York; his actions after the 2020 election in Georgia; and his alleged hoarding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort and his efforts to subvert the 2020 election – have largely served to rally Republicans to the former president’s defense through the GOP primary.

However, as the general election approaches, it’s not clear whether moderates and independents will similarly see those court battles as politically motivated attacks on conservatives.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Earth Rider Brewery, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Superior, Wis. Biden is returning to the swing state of Wisconsin to announce $5 billion in federal funding for upgrading the Blatnik Bridge and for dozens of similar infrastructure projects nationwide. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Superior, Wisconsin, on January 25, 2024.Alex Brandon/AP

Biden visits Democrats’ new primary opener

Biden’s South Carolina trip — his second this month — comes a week before the state’s February 3 primary officially kicks off the Democratic nominating process, with early voting already underway.

It’s the state’s first time in that role, after the Democratic National Committee overhauled its primary schedule with Biden’s backing to elevate the Palmetto State — in part because its much larger Black population makes it more representative of the party’s diverse base than Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that for decades have voted first. (New Hampshire scheduled its primary first anyway, prompting the DNC to strip the state of its delegates. Biden still won via write-in votes.)

South Carolina is also the state where Biden, backed by influential Rep. Jim Clyburn, notched his first victory of the 2020 Democratic primary and began his march to the party’s nomination.

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 8, 2024.

RELATED ARTICLEBiden returns to South Carolina, hoping the state can save him again

Biden is set to celebrate the state’s first-in-the-nation status at a party dinner Saturday evening in Columbia.

“It’s because of this congregation and the Black community of South Carolina – and it’s not an exaggeration – and Jim Clyburn – that I stand here today as your president. And I’ve done my best to honor your trust,” the president said earlier this month at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Though the state isn’t expected to be competitive in November, South Carolina’s primary will pose a key early test of whether Biden has maintained his strength with Black voters, a key coalition that propelled him to victory in 2020.

And while he’s celebrating the first contest of the Democratic primary season Saturday night, Biden’s team is already looking ahead to the general election rematch with Trump, going on the offensive on issues such as reproductive rights and the economy in battleground states this week as it seeks to draw a contrast with Biden’s predecessor.

Biden will “drive home the stark choice – particularly for communities of color – voters will face this November between his record of delivering for working families and Donald Trump’s extreme, chaotic and divisive record that was a disaster for Black communities,” a Biden campaign official said.

The Biden campaign has long been preparing for Trump to win the nomination, but it is acutely aware of polling reflecting Haley’s strength over Biden in a one-on-one matchup.

And behind closed doors, the Biden campaign is cheering Haley’s decision to stay in the race as they monitor Trump lashing out at the former South Carolina governor. It has been welcome news for the president’s reelection team to see Haley prolong the Republican contest and force the Trump campaign to use its resources and time to attack her.

“Go forth and prosper,” one Biden campaign official said, describing the team’s delight in seeing the Trump-Haley feud continue.

The US and Iran are dangerously close to confrontation in the Middle East. Here’s where they both operate

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the U.S. strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (AP Photo)

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in Gaza and against the US strikes on Yemen, outside the capital Sanaa on January 22.AP

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.Abu Dhabi, UAECNN — 

The war between Israel and Hamas has already spilled over to the wider Middle East, with prospects of a confrontation between regional and world powers becoming ever more likely.

Across the region, the fighting has largely been confined to tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed militias on one side and the US, Israel and its allies on the other. But the direct intervention of both Iran and the US in recent weeks has heightened fears that the proxy conflict between the two could turn into a direct one.

So far, the US and Iran have avoided directly confronting each other. The US has attacked Iranian-backed groups in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, while Iran-linked groups have targeted American personnel in Iraq and Syria. Tehran has also struck what it said were anti-Iran groups in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan. Pakistan responded with retaliatory strikes.

FILE PHOTO: Armed men stand on the beach as the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, is anchored off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

RELATED ARTICLEWho are the Houthis and why are they attacking ships in the Red Sea?

The Islamic Republic, which has long opposed the presence of US forces in what it considers to be its backyard, has spent the past few decades building a network of Islamist, anti-Western and anti-Israel militias that it trains, funds and arms. Those groups have become more belligerent of late, especially Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have disrupted a vital international waterway, wreaking havoc on global trade and prompting Western states to intervene. And it has built ties with and helped fund Hamas, which launched its war on Israel on October 7.

The US, having been trying to pivot away from the Middle East for years, finds itself drawn back into the region. It already had a sizeable military footprint in the region before the war, with over 30,000 troops.

Since the war began, however, Washington has significantly strengthened its military posture in the region, having moved roughly 1,200 US service members, alongside thousands of others aboard Navy carrier strike groups and a Marine Expeditionary Unit roughly 2,000 people strong.

And in some places, including Iraq and Syria, the US military presence overlaps that of Iran and its allies.

As tensions across the region rise, here is where Iran or its allies are present, where US forces are stationed and where both sides have conducted military operations since the start of the Israel-Hamas war


Lebanon is home to the most powerful paramilitary force in the Middle East: Iran-backed Hezbollah, one of the Islamic Republic’s most effective regional proxies.

The group has its main base on the Israel-Lebanon border and has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began. The movement is close to Hamas in Gaza.

While the exact size of the Shiite Islamist group’s arsenal is unknown, experts have estimated it has between 150,000 and 200,000 missiles, as well as rockets and mortars. Hundreds of those missiles “are of high precision and highly destructive,” according to the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah claims the group has 100,000 fighters, including active soldiers and reservists. Iran is believed to be Hezbollah’s main arms supplier.


Tehran wields significant influence on several Shiite militias closely tied to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). These include Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat al-Nujaba, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

Experts say that some of the groups, like Kataib Hezbollah, are more answerable to the authorities in Tehran than to the government in Baghdad. The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence believes it has up to 10,000 members. Iraq is also home to the IRGC-founded Badr Organization as well as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq.

Iran-backed groups have carried out dozens of attacks against US forces in Iraq since the Gaza war started, to which the US has retaliated with airstrikes. Over the weekend, US personnel were injured in a ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. It appeared to be the second time ballistic missiles were used to target US and coalition forces in the country since October 7.

Until 2008, at the height of the Iraq war, the US had up to 160,000 troops in the country. Today, some 2,500 forces are deployed at several bases, including Erbil AB, Al-Asad AB, and the JOC-I (Union III) base in Baghdad.

Wary of his country becoming a staging ground for a regional war, Iraq’s prime minister this month said that Baghdad is seeking an exit of the US-led coalition. The US has stressed that its military is present in the country at the invitation of the government.


Iran has a direct presence in Syria, where its Quds Force, an elite unit of the IRGC that handles overseas operations, deployed after the 2011 uprising to back the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Its personnel served as military advisers and fought on the frontlines for Assad, alongside Iranian-backed militias.

Syria also hosts the Zainabiyoun and Fatemiyoun Brigades, Shiite militias linked to the IRGC who are believed to recruit Afghan and Pakistani fighters.

The US has 800 forces in Syria as part of an ongoing mission to defeat ISIS. Most US forces are stationed in what military officials call “the Eastern Syria Security Area,” where the US supports the anti-regime Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the country’s northeast. There is also some US troop presence in Syria’s southeast, where the US supports the Syrian Free Army, which also opposes the Syrian regime. The regime considers the US to be an invader.

US troops in Syria have increasingly come under attack by Iran-backed groups in recent weeks, to which the US has responded with airstrikes.


At the heart of today’s proxy conflict between Iran and the US are Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been stepping up their strikes on ships in the Red Sea, saying they are revenge against Israel for its war in Gaza.

The group is currently in control of northern Yemen, and was engaged in nearly eight years of fighting with a US-backed and Saudi-led coalition before a halt in fighting last year.

Home-grown Houthi weapons were largely assembled with Iranian components smuggled into Yemen in pieces. But the group later made progressive modifications that have added up to big overall improvements, an official familiar with US intelligence told CNN previously.

The US military stations warships in the Red Sea, off Yemen’s coast, from which it has been striking Houthi targets. In December, the US assembled a coalition of more than 20 countries to safeguard commercial traffic against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

The Gaza Strip and Israel

The besieged Gaza Strip is home to the Hamas militant group, which Israel believes to have had around 30,000 fighters before the war. An Islamist organization with a military wing, Hamas was established in 1987, and on October 7 launched an attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 people and took 253 others hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

Iran has built closer ties with the group in recent years; unlike all of Tehran’s other allies in the region, Hamas is a Sunni Muslim organization, rather than a Shiite one.

This image taken by the U.S. Air Force shows U.S. Army troops from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 163rd Cavalry Regiment, board a C-17 Globemaster III during an exercise at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, Aug. 10, 2022. The U.S. Air Force said Saturday, Aug. 20, it was the subject of a "propaganda attack" by a previously unheard-of Iraqi militant group that falsely claimed it had launched a drone attack targeting American troops at an air base in Kuwait. (Staff Sgt. Dalton Willians/U.S. Air Force, via AP)

An image taken by the US Air Force shows US Army troops from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 163rd Cavalry Regiment, board a C-17 Globemaster III during an exercise at Ali Al Salem Air Base, in Kuwait on August 10, 2022.Staff Sgt. Dalton Williams/U.S. Air Force/AP

There is no evidence that Iran knew in advance about the October 7 attacks and Iran is not believed to have as much influence on Hamas as its other allies in the region. But the US believes that Iran has historically provided up to $100 million annually in combined support to Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), another Gaza-based militant group.

On the other side of the border, Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, with Washington having contributed more than $130 billion in assistance since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948.

Gulf Arab states and Turkey

While the Israel-Hamas war has not yet spilled into the Gulf Arab states, some of those nations feel vulnerable as they have been targeted by Iran-linked groups before. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were attacked by the Houthis in 2019 and 2022, respectively.

The US-allied Gulf states are also home to some of the biggest deployments of US troops in the world.

The US has around 13,500 US forces in Kuwait, the largest American military presence in the region. Only Germany, Japan, and South Korea host more US forces than Kuwait.

The US’ second-largest military presence in the region is in Qatar, which hosts around 10,000 US forces at Al-Udeid Air Base, the largest US military base in the Middle East that is also home to the US Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Centre. The US this month quietly reached an agreement that extends its military presence for another 10 years at the base.

Qatar maintains relations with Hamas, having hosted its political office in the capital Doha since 2012.

More than 2,700 US forces are stationed at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, while the UAE hosts 3,500 US military personnel at Al Dhafra Air Base, which is home to the Gulf Air Warfare Center.

Other hubs for US military presence include Bahrain, which hosts the US Naval Forces Central Command and is home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Jordan, which hosts around 3,000 US troops. Turkey hosts 1,465 military members at Incirlik airbase.