Iran Update, September 5, 2023

September 5, 2023 - ISW Press

Syrian regime forces are financially exploiting the displacement of civilians amid clashes in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory.

The deteriorating economic and security situation in eastern Syria may fuel anti-Syrian regime sentiment.

Russia provided at least two Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft to Iran, which could presage the delivery of more advanced, Russian-made Su-35s to Iran. The acquisition of Su-35s may enable Iran to more readily and independently project air power.

The Ebrahim Raisi administration closed a major reformist outlet, silencing a prominent critic of him and his foreign policy of expanding cooperation with Russia. This move will further reinforce the dominance of hardline voices over the Iranian information space.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 5, 2023

September 5, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continue to advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Geolocated footage posted on September 5 shows Russian forces striking Ukrainian positions northwest and west of Robotyne, indicating that Ukrainian forces have advanced into an area near the settlement that Russian forces previously claimed to control. Additional geolocated footage posted on September 5 shows that Ukrainian forces have also advanced south of Robotyne and northwest of Verbove (about 10km east of Robotyne). Geolocated evidence of Ukrainian forces northwest of Verbove suggests that Ukrainian forces are advancing along the line of Russian fortifications that runs into the settlement. Ukrainian military sources also confirmed that Ukrainian forces have been successful in the Robotyne—Novoprokopivka directions south of Orikhiv, and further reported that Ukrainian forces are pursuing successful offensive operations south of Bakhmut.

Syria: Anti-Regime Protests Risk Crackdown

September 5, 2023 - ISW Press

Anti-regime protests are gaining traction in Syria with demonstrators calling for the overthrow of the regime, and the protests could expand during the coming weeks. Syrians began demonstrating on August 17 after the Assad regime raised fuel prices, which exacerbated the economic crisis that the country already faced. Protest demands quickly escalated from economic grievances to call for the removal of Bashar al Assad from power. The Syrian regime has taken steps to crackdown on the protests that have not deterred the demonstrators. The regime also has not prevented the protests from spreading through security force deployments, limiting travel to protest areas, and arresting demonstrators. High temperatures did not stop the spread of the demonstrations. Protesters have gathered in squares in August despite temperatures over 100 degrees.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 4, 2023

September 4, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian light infantry has advanced to positions beyond anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles that comprise the current Russian defensive layer ahead of the Ukrainian advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and Ukrainian forces likely intend to hold those positions. ISW is not prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have breached this Russian defensive layer in the absence of observed Ukrainian heavy equipment in these areas. Geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced to tree-line positions that are east of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles that are a part of a tri-layered defense immediately west of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv). Geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian light infantry has also advanced further into a series of prepared Russian defensive positions along the road that runs northwest into Verbove. Other geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces have advanced up to Russian defensive positions between Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv). Ukrainian forces are widening the breach they have already made in one Russian defensive layer and are reportedly maneuvering more equipment and personnel into tactical rear areas of this layer. Ukrainian forces appear to be making gains in the immediate vicinity of the not-yet-breached Russian defensive layer that runs northwest of Verbove to north of Solodka Balka (20km south of Orikhiv) with infantry assaults and heavy artillery fire on Russian positions further into and south of this layer. The deployment of Ukrainian heavy equipment and more substantial forces to these areas than ISW has so far observed would indicate both a breach of this Russian defensive layer and an effort to widen that breach.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 3, 2023

September 3, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian military officers offered notably frank and direct commentary about the prospects of further Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast and indicated that the series of prepared Russian defensive positions immediately ahead and further south of the Ukrainian advance may be less challenging to Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who commands the Ukrainian grouping in southern Ukraine, discussed Ukraine’s counteroffensive in an interview with The Guardian on September 2. Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces have decisively breached Russian forces’ “first line of defense” and that he expects faster Ukrainian gains as Ukrainian forces press on a weaker “second line” of defense. Ukrainian forces have advanced up to the next series of prepared Russian defensive positions in certain areas in the Robotyne area in western Zaporizhia Oblast, although many Russian sources assert that these positions are the first, not the second, defensive layer in a multi-echeloned Russian defense in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials and Russian milbloggers are using different terminology to describe the same positions. Russian sources characterize the first series of positions that Ukrainian forces have previously breached as a forward line without giving it an ordinal number, and the series Ukrainian forces are currently approaching as the first main line of defenses — while Ukrainian forces characterize these positions as Russia’s second line of defenses.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 2, 2023

September 2, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced on September 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. Russian milbloggers who have recently maintained that Russian forces hold positions in the southern part of Robotyne claimed that Russian forces withdrew from the southern outskirts of the settlement to unspecified positions further south. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated on September 1 that Ukrainian forces have overcome the Russian “first line of defense” in some areas of the Zaporizhia direction, but that the situation remains difficult due to additional Russian concrete fortifications and dense minefields.

Iran Update, September 1, 2023

September 1, 2023 - ISW Press

Key Takeaways

Iran and the Syrian regime are exploiting instability in eastern Syria to pose a greater threat to US forces there.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) trained Russian forces in Syria to operate Iranian-made drones.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed anti-Israel operations with leaders from the Axis of Resistance in Beirut.

The Ebrahim Raisi administration is continuing to set conditions to resume nuclear negotiations with the West to achieve a comprehensive deal.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 1, 2023

September 1, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov reported that the Russian military deployed elements of a newly created “reserve army” (the 25th CAA) to enable units currently on the frontline in Luhansk Oblast to laterally redeploy to defend against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. Budanov stated on August 31 that the Russian military deployed elements of the newly formed 25th Combined Arms Army (reportedly formed under the Eastern Military District) to replace elements of the 41st Combined Arms Army (Central Military District) in the Kupyansk direction, and that these elements of the 41st Combined Arms Army (CAA) began a “slow” redeployment to an unspecified area in southern Ukraine. Elements of the 41st CAA’s 35th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade and 90th Tank Division participated in the failed Russian winter 2023 offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast and have continued limited offensive activity along the Svatove-Kreminna line through now. These units are likely degraded and have been operating without brigade and regiment level rotations like many frontline Russian units throughout the theater. ISW previously assessed that a lack of operational reserves would force the Russian command to conduct further lateral redeployments and make tough decisions about what sectors of the front to prioritize.The Russian military command appears to have deployed elements of the newly formed and likely low quality or understrength 25th CAA to Luhansk Oblast to free up the relatively more effective 41st CAA elements for southern Ukraine. Budanov added that elements of the 25th CAA are already participating in hostilities in Luhansk Oblast.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 31, 2023

September 1, 2023 - ISW Press

Key Takeaways

Foxconn founder Guo Taiming (Terry Gou) announced his campaign for president of the Republic of China (ROC) as an independent candidate. His entrance will likely further divide non-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voters, thereby increasing the chance of the DPP candidate Lai Ching-te (William Lai) winning the race.

The Central American Parliament expelled the ROC as an observer. This advances a CCP coercion campaign to politically control Taiwan.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began employing new flight patterns on August 24 in the Republic of China (Taiwan) air defense identification zone (ADIZ) likely to complicate and reduce Taiwan’s decision response timeline.

Iran Update, August 31, 2023

August 31, 2023 - ISW Press

Key Takeaways

Iranian-backed militias have continued to deploy into territory held by the US-backed SDF in northeastern Syria to conduct assassinations and fuel tribal disputes. These efforts support the Iranian campaign to expel the United States from Syria.

Iranian-backed militias have reportedly deployed from Iraq to Damascus for protest suppression. These deployments highlight the capacity of the IRGC to manage multiple efforts in Syria simultaneously.

The Iranian foreign affairs minister affirmed Tehran's intent to maintain a long-term military presence in Syria.

A senior Iranian nuclear official downplayed the threat of the Iranian nuclear program during an Arabic-language interview with Al Jazeera, possibly to assuage Saudi concerns about Iranian nuclear activities and discourage Saudi leaders from building their own program.