Iran Update, May 4, 2023

May 4, 2023 - Press ISW

The Iranian regime is seeking to take advantage of political and economic developments in Syria and Iraq to improve the Iranian economy and advance its strategic goals in the region. Various Raisi administration ministers met with Syrian officials on May 4. Economic and Financial Affairs Minister Ehsan Khandouzi announced the “removal of obstacles” to Iranian export companies operating in Syria following a meeting with several Syrian economic officials. Information and Communications Technology Minister Issa Zare Pour separately signed a cooperation agreement with his Syrian counterpart, Iyad al Khatib, to facilitate Iranian involvement in modernizing Syria’s telecommunications infrastructure. Zare Pour additionally emphasized Iranian satellites’ ability to produce high-resolution images that Syrian officials can use in agriculture, infrastructure, and construction. Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani and Roads and Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash also accompanied Raisi to Damascus. Ashtiani likely sought to secure weapons sales while Bazrpash likely discussed plans with Syrian officials to establish a rail link between Iran and Syria.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 4, 2023

May 4, 2023 - Press ISW

Russia conducted another Shahed-131/136 strike against Ukraine on May 4. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched 24 Shahed-131/136s at Ukraine from the direction of Bryansk Oblast and the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and that Ukrainian air defense destroyed 18 of the drones above northern, central, and southern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command noted that Russian forces launched 15 of the Shaheds at Odesa Oblast, 3 of which struck an educational institution. Russian milbloggers claimed that the drones struck military facilities throughout Ukraine. The Kyiv City Military Administration reported that Russian forces attacked Kyiv overnight with Shaheds and unidentified missiles for the third time in the last four days, noting that Kyiv has not experienced such a high intensity of air attacks since the beginning of 2023.

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, May 4, 2023

May 4, 2023 - Press ISW

Iraq and Syria. The Turkish raid on an alleged ISIS safe house in northwestern Syria on April 28 likely killed an ISIS leader, but not the “caliph.” The US Defense Department said it “could not corroborate” Turkey’s claims that the raid killed the “caliph.” The continued targeting of ISIS leadership is helpful, but it fails to address the group’s ability to embed itself within local populations. ISIS could leverage opportunities in US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled areas to cultivate relationships with local tribes opposed to SDF governance. The SDF approach to governance is counterproductive and causes resentment among local tribes.

Sudan. The al Qaeda and Islamic State networks in Africa will likely seek to use the Sudan conflict to improve their position on the continent. Numerous inmates escaped from a prison in Khartoum city beginning on April 22 amid clashes between Sudan’s two warring factions. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have previously used conflicts elsewhere in Africa to improve their position on the continent.

Pakistan. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants based in Afghanistan continue to direct TTP activities in Pakistani cities far outside of TTP’s recent attack zones. Police arrested two TTP militants for extortion in Karachi on April 26. Police said that TTP leadership in Afghanistan directed the militants to extort Pashtun traders. Pakistan will be unable to counter the TTP as TTP leadership continues to provide support from Afghanistan. Pakistan will also be unable to weaken the TTP in Pakistan as the TTP grows its attack capabilities and Islamabad cuts its military expenses.

Afghanistan. A former Taliban official close to Taliban Minister of Interior and Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani called on Taliban supporters in Europe and America to kill critics of the Taliban government. This official claimed the Taliban already had volunteers in Europe and America who could be organized to carry out assassinations of Taliban critics. A stated intent to establish networks to facilitate Taliban-ordered assassinations abroad presents a direct threat to critics of the Taliban—including US and European citizens.

Iran Update, May 3, 2023

May 3, 2023 - Press ISW

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed 15 cooperation agreements with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus, Syria on May 3, which could improve the Iranian economy and increase regime stability. Raisi signed these agreements on the first of his two-day trip to Syria, the first trip an Iranian president has made to Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and Arab Spring. Raisi and Assad signed several memorandums of understanding covering oil, energy, transportation, reconstruction, and communications technology. Raisi also asserted that Iranian companies are prepared to be the primary providers of reconstruction projects in Syria during an interview with Lebanese Hezbollah-run Al Mayadeen on May 2. The head of the Iran-Syria Joint Economic Commission and Iran’s Roads and Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash separately announced on May 3 that the commission established a joint Iranian-Syrian bank to facilitate business transactions between the two countries. The commissioner’s announcement of the joint bank while Iran and Syria signed economic cooperation agreements suggests the bank will have a role in funding Iranian reconstruction projects in Syria and transferring payments to Iran. These payments would increase capital inflow to Iran, which would help reinvigorate Iran’s deteriorating economy. The role of Iranian para-statal organizations in generating revenue through Syria’s reconstruction would not alleviate Iran’s high inflation and unstable currency, although the regime may attempt to frame it as such to the Iranian people. Such para-statal organizations include the Khatam al Anbia Construction Headquarters, which is the IRGC’s engineering and development firm that oversees large-scale civil-military construction projects and helps the regime circumvent sanctions.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 3, 2023

May 3, 2023 - Press ISW

Russia accused Ukraine of conducting a drone strike against the Kremlin on May 3. Social media footage circulated on May 3 shows a drone detonating near a flagpole on top of the Kremlin Senate Palace building in Moscow as two unidentified people climbed up the dome of the building. The Kremlin accused Ukraine of orchestrating “a planned terrorist attack” with the intent of assassinating Russian President Vladimir Putin and clarified that Putin was not at the Kremlin at the time of the attack and was therefore unharmed. Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, stressed that Ukraine did not conduct the attack.

Iran Update, May 2, 2023

May 2, 2023 - Press ISW

Iranian officials and members of the clerical establishment have expressed increased concern over the safety of religious figures in recent days. Former Intelligence and Security Minister and Shia cleric Hojjat ol Eslam Ali Fallahian called on Friday prayer leaders to learn self-defense during an interview with reformist news outlet Entekhab on May 2. The Islamic Propaganda Coordination Council—a regime body responsible for organizing official ceremonies and public events—separately issued a statement on May 2 urging law enforcement and security services to decisively confront "thugs." The council issued this statement in response to the killing of Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleimani on April 26. The council chairman—Mohammad Hossein Musa Pour—is a cleric and former governor of Qom City, Qom Province. Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan additionally discussed Soleimani’s murder with Qom Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Mohammad Saedi on April 29, possibly to discuss measures to protect clerics.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 2, 2023

May 2, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is increasing its production of precision missiles for use against Ukraine. Shoigu highlighted the state-owned Tactical Missiles Corporation as a model defense enterprise, stating that is successfully beginning mass production of missiles and will develop plans to double its current production output in the near term. Shoigu’s focus on precision missile production aligns with a shift in Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)’s rhetoric focusing on Russia‘s use of precision missiles to strike military infrastructure targets in Ukrainian rear areas, likely aiming to similarly appear proactive and demonstrative positive Russian actions amid growing concerns in the Russian information space about a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Iran Update, May 1, 2023

May 1, 2023 - Press ISW

Iranian leadership dismissed several economic officials and emphasized fighting corruption between April 27 and May 1 to improve Iran’s economy, which is very unlikely to precipitate the meaningful economic change necessary to curb inflation and stabilize the Iranian rial. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on parliament and the Raisi administration to fight economic corruption during a meeting with workers, labor organization members, and Raisi administration officials on April 29. President Ebrahim Raisi has engaged in numerous symbolic economic engagements in recent days. Raisi dismissed 15 unspecified managers in Khuzestan Province to demonstrate his administration’s “intolerance” of corruption during a two-day trip to this province on April 27-28. Raisi additionally ordered the formation of a working group on April 30 to “follow up on the issues” raised by Khamenei in his April 29 meeting with workers without providing further details. Raisi called on his administration to address the needs of contract workers and retirees—who have organized widespread strikes and protests in recent weeks—during a MAPNA Company event for International Workers’ Day on May 1.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, May 1, 2023

May 1, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian forces conducted another large-scale missile strike against Ukraine on the night of April 30 to May 1. Ukrainian sources reported that nine Tu-95 and two Tu-160 strategic bombers took off from Murmansk Oblast and near the Caspian Sea and launched 18 Kh-101/555 cruise missiles at Ukraine. Ukrainian air defense shot down 15 of the missiles. Geolocated footage from Pavlohrad, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, shows that one of the missiles struck the Pavlohrad Chemical Plant and caused a massive explosion on impact. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on May 1 that the strikes targeted Ukrainian military-industrial objects and successfully disrupted the production of military resources. The Russian MoD has recently shifted its rhetoric and is actively describing strike campaigns, likely in an effort to portray a proactive approach to growing concerns in the Russian information space regarding a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russian milbloggers claimed that the missiles struck Ukrainian air defense systems and a transportation hub in Pavlohrad. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat noted that the fact that both the Tu-95 and Tu-160s carried far fewer missiles than their maximum load suggests that Russia continues to struggle with adequate production of such munitions.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 30, 2023

April 30, 2023 - Press ISW

ISW is publishing a special edition campaign assessment today, April 30. This report details changes in the Russian military command since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine without a clear and doctrinal command structure and his reluctance to appoint an overall theater commander have had lasting effects on the structure of the Russian command in Ukraine. Putin’s regular command changes have led to an increasingly factionalized Russian military and disorganized command structures that are degrading the Russian military’s ability to conduct a cohesive campaign in Ukraine. Factions are not a phenomenon particular to the Russian military, although their current dynamics within the Russian military are shaping decision making to an unusual degree. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Kremlin have been deliberately vague about most of these command changes. ISW’s timeline of the changes is based on official Russian statements as well as analysis of unconfirmed claims and reports from Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources. The exact dates of command changes are based on the first reporting of a change and may not correspond with the formal date on which a change occurred. These command changes were likely not discrete events resulting from decisions made suddenly but were instead drawn-out bureaucratic affairs.