Iran Update, April 2, 2024

April 2, 2024 - ISW Press

A prominent Iranian-backed Iraqi militia threatened to create and arm a new Iranian proxy in Jordan, which may reflect a greater, more confrontational, shift in the Iranian strategy vis-a-vis Jordan. Kataib Hezbollah military spokesperson Hussein Moanes, also known as Abu Ali al Askari, said on April 1 that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which is a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, has prepared to “equip” 12,000 “Islamic Resistance in Jordan” fighters with a significant supply of weapons.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 2, 2024

April 2, 2024 - ISW Press

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law on April 2 that lowers the Ukrainian military’s mobilization age from 27 to 25 years of age. The Verkhovna Rada approved the law in May 2023, and the law will come into force on April 3, 2024. Lowering the mobilization age is one of many measures that Ukraine has been considering in an ongoing effort to create a sustainable wartime force-generation apparatus. Lowering the mobilization age from 27 to 25 years of age will support the Ukrainian military’s ability to restore and reconstitute existing units and to create new units. Ukraine will need to equip any newly mobilized military personnel with weapons, and prolonged US debates about military aid to Ukraine and delays in Western aid may impact the speed at which Ukraine can restore degraded and stand up new units. ISW continues to assess that Western-provided materiel continues to be the greatest deciding factor for the Ukrainian military’s ability to restore and augment its combat power.

Iran Update, April 1, 2024

April 1, 2024 - ISW Press

Israel killed one of Iran’s senior-most military commanders in Syria in an airstrike on April 1. Israel struck a building directly adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, killing Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi and some of his top subordinates. Zahedi was a highly influential and well-connected individual within the Iranian security establishment, having held several key positions throughout his career. Zahedi most recently commanded the IRGC Quds Force unit responsible for overseeing operations in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian Territories. Zahedi almost certainly therefore played a prominent role in managing how Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” have escalated against the United States and Israel since the Israel-Hamas war began. Zahedi beforehand commanded the IRGC’s ground and air services and served as the operations deputy at the IRGC’s joint staff. He was also part of an extraordinarily influential and tightly knit circle of senior IRGC officers who met one another during the Iran-Iraq War and have periodically come together in the intervening decades to interfere in Iranian domestic politics. Other members of this informal fraternity include Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who the United States killed in January 2020, and his successor and current Quds Force Commander Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 1, 2024

April 1, 2024 - ISW Press

A joint investigation by 60 Minutes, the Insider, and Der Spiegel strongly suggests that the Kremlin has waged a sustained kinetic campaign directly targeting US government personnel both in the United States and internationally for a decade, with the likely objective of physically incapacitating US government personnel. The investigation, which the outlets published on March 31, indicates that the infamous Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) Unit 29155 (the same unit whose operatives attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal with the Novichok nerve agent in the United Kingdom in 2018) may be using nonlethal directed energy or acoustic weapons to target a large number of US government personnel, each of whom has reported experiencing an “anomalous health incident” (also called “Havana Syndrome”) of varying severity between 2014 and as recently as 2023.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 31, 2024

March 31, 2024 - ISW Press

The Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP) reportedly directed all its clergy to change their liturgy to include pro-war prayers in support of Russia’s war of conquest against Ukraine and is likely threatening to defrock ROC MP clergy who do not support the war. A Russian Telegram channel with insider sources within the ROC MP amplified on March 31 a document dated March 29, in which Head of the ROC MP Affairs, Metropolitan Gregoriy of Voskresensk, instructed clergy to read a prayer — the “Prayer for Holy Rus” — on a daily basis during Lent. Metropolitan Gregoriy of Voskresensk also called on the clergy to read the “Prayer for Holy Rus” at home and to offer to read this prayer to parishioners. The “Prayer for Holy Rus” is a new prayer that the ROC MP officially introduced in September 2022. This prayer is a highly politicized and pro-war and pro-Kremlin prayer filled with Kremlin talking points and other false Russian narratives. The prayer asks God to “to help [Russian] people and grant [Russia] victory” against “those who want to fight [and] have taken up arms against Holy Rus, eager to divide and destroy her one people.”

Iran Update, March 31, 2024

March 31, 2024 - ISW Press

The IDF said on March 31 that its Air Force conducted a drone strike targeting a PIJ command-and-control center in the al Aqsa Hospital complex in Deir al Balah. PIJ fighters were present at the center, according to the IDF. A spokesperson for the hospital said that the drone strike killed at least two people and wounded over a dozen. The IDF said that the hospital is still functioning and that the drone strike hit the area precisely to reduce harm to civilians. The al Aqsa Hosptial is the last functioning hospital in Deir al Balah.

Iran Update, March 30, 2024

March 30, 2024 - ISW Press

US and Israeli officials may discuss a possible Israeli clearing operation into Rafah in a high-level meeting in Washington, DC, as soon as April 1, according to unspecified US officials. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans for a clearing operation into Rafah on March 15. Axios reported on March 27 that Netanyahu is expected to send Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to Washington for the high-level meeting with US officials.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 30, 2024

March 30, 2024 - ISW Press

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that delays in American security assistance have forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative and that these delays continue to threaten Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. The Washington Post published excerpts of an interview with Zelensky on March 29 in which Zelensky stated that Ukraine will not be able to defend its territory without American support, as Ukraine currently relies on air defense systems and missiles, electronic warfare jammers, and 155mm artillery shells from the United States. Zelensky stated that continued materiel shortages will force the Ukrainian military to cede more Ukrainian territory and people “step by step” since a smaller but more stable frontline is preferable to a larger but unstable front that Russian forces could exploit to achieve a breakthrough. Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces are “trying to find some way not to retreat” from unspecified frontline areas and noted that Ukrainian forces have stabilized the front near Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast.

The Russian Orthodox Church Declares “Holy War” Against Ukraine and Articulates Tenets of Russia’s Emerging Official Nationalist Ideology

March 30, 2024 - ISW Press

The Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), a Kremlin-controlled organization and a known tool within the Russian hybrid warfare toolkit, held the World Russian People’s Council in Moscow on March 27 and 28 and approved an ideological and policy document tying several Kremlin ideological narratives together in an apparent effort to form a wider nationalist ideology around the war in Ukraine and Russia’s expansionist future. The ROC MP intensified Kremlin rhetoric about Russia’s war in Ukraine and cast it as an existential and civilizational “holy war,” a significant inflection for Russian authorities who have so far carefully avoided officially framing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as any kind of “war."

Iran Update, March 29, 2024

March 29, 2024 - ISW Press

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri met with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh in Tehran on March 29.