September 28, 2022

Iran Crisis Updates

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). CTP and ISW began publishing daily updates in September 2022 covering key events related to supreme leader succession, the Mahsa Amini protests, and regional developments. 

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Recent Iran Crisis Updates

Iran Crisis Update, January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023 | 5:00 pm ET

Iranian officials have threatened Ukraine and unnamed regional states for allegedly cooperating with Israel in response to the reported Israeli drone strike on a military munitions factory in Esfahan on January 28.[i] An unidentified source told Nour News Agency, which is affiliated with the Supreme National Security Council, on January 31 that Tehran may reevaluate its relationship with Kiev and changes its ostensibly neutral policy toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[ii] The source was responding to Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak suggesting that the Israeli strike was retaliation for Iranian military support to Russia.[iii] Nour News Agency characterized Podolyak’s statements as tantamount to an admission of responsibility for the attack. There is no evidence that Ukraine was informed of or complicit in the attack. CTP does not assess that Tehran will escalate against Ukraine for Podolyak’s comments but rather that Iran will continue to provide military support to Russia.

Iranian policy toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been characterized by unequivocal military material support in the form of hundreds of kamikaze drones that Tehran has blithely denied providing. The Iranian regime could use the Israeli strike and Podolyak’s comments to bring its public position closer to its actual policy, attempting to justify ex post facto the provision of weapons Russia has used to target Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in a manner widely regarded as contravening international law.[iv] It is unclear why Iran has been vainly attempting to obfuscate its involvement in Russia’s war against Ukraine to this point, however, and it is possible that Tehran will simply continue to do so.

Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib separately on January 30 warned unnamed neighboring states to avoid cooperation with Israel “to maintain their own security”—likely referencing Iranian allegations that Israeli intelligence services use Azerbaijan and Iraqi Kurdistan to organize and support covert operations in Iran.[v]

Iran Crisis Update, January 30, 2023

January 30, 2023 | 6:00 pm ET

Israeli combat aircraft conducted three airstrikes against likely Iran-backed militants in eastern Syria on January 29 and January 30. Israeli combat aircraft targeted and destroyed six trucks traveling through al-Hiri, Deir ez-Zour Province shortly after the convoy crossed into Syria from the Iraqi al-Qaim border crossing on January 29. Iranian proxy social media channels posted footage depicting a large fire in al-Hari immediately after the airstrike occurred, indicating that the attack may have detonated precision-guided munitions (PGMs) that Iran-backed militants attempted to conceal in what Iranian state media claimed to be a humanitarian convoy. Iranian state-run Islamic Republic News Agency denied reports that the attack resulted in casualties among IRGC personnel.

Israeli combat aircraft conducted two additional airstrikes against Iran-backed militants in al-Hiri and Suwayyah, Deir ez-Zour Province on January 30. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the first January 30 airstrike targeted and killed a local Iran-backed militia commander whom had arrived to inspect damage from the January 29 attack. CTP is unable to corroborate this claim. The second January 30 strike targeted a convoy transporting likely PGMs after it entered Syria through the al-Qaim crossing. The January 29 and January 30 airstrikes reportedly killed at least 10 Iran-backed militia or IRGC Quds Force personnel in total. Israeli airstrike activity within the past 24 hours marks a significant increase from the baseline level of activity and may be a response to a parallel uptick in Iranian PGM shipments into Syria.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei implicitly criticized the Raisi administration’s economic performance in a speech on January 30. Khamenei’s address detailed his support for government-backed private sector growth. Khamenei stated that he would guide government officials’ economic strategy and suggested that he would adopt a more direct role in managing the Iranian economy, an implicit criticism of the Raisi administration’s failure to do so well. President Ebrahim Raisi separately invoked Khamenei’s support for increased government-backed privatization on January 29. Khamenei may increasingly seek to use Raisi administration members as scapegoats for Raisi as the Iranian economy enters a period of potentially significant disruption. Khamenei described First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as bearing a specific responsibility for the Iranian economy in his address, possibly signaling that Khamenei intends to use Mokhber as a scapegoat for Raisi’s failure to cohere a successful economic strategy.

Some Iranian parliamentarians and important regime organs endorsed a legislative proposal that would significantly limit freedom of speech within Iran. The proposal targets prominent Iranian political, military, scientific, and cultural actors, specifically those with large social media followings. The legislation would allow Iranian authorities to sentence well-known Iranians who circulate content critical of the regime to 10 to 15 years in prison and would ban them from the profession for which they are renowned for five to ten years. A hardline parliamentarian who endorsed the proposal attempted to defend criticisms of the legislation by stating in a rather Orwellian fashion that: “no one can be punished for having an opinion, but expressing that opinion in a free manner is not allowed.” National Cyberspace Center Cultural and Social Deputy Ghassem Khalidi announced on January 29 that the Supreme Cyberspace Council and Ministry of Islamic Guidance—both of which are responsible for crafting and implementing some of the regime’s censorship policies—endorsed the proposal. It is unclear if parliament will pass the bill, however. Only 24 of Iran’s 290 parliamentarians have currently endorsed the plan, and the proposal has received widespread criticism in recent days.

Key Takeaways

  • Israeli combat aircraft conducted three airstrikes against likely Iran-backed militants in eastern Syria.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei implicitly criticized the Raisi administration’s economic performance in a speech.
  • Some Iranian parliamentarians and important regime organs endorsed a legislative proposal that would significantly limit freedom of speech within Iran.
  • At least one protest occurred in one city across one province on January 29 and at least 18 protests occurred in 13 cities across 13 provinces on January 30. CTP did not record protests that met its reporting thresholds on January 28.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi held a telephone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
  • Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned Ukraine’s charge d’affaires over Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak’s comments on the January 28 Israeli drone attack in Esfahan City, Esfahan Province.
  • Iran and Russia established direct financial communication channels between Iranian banks and more than 800 Russian banks.
  • Artesh Navy Deputy Commander Admiral Hamzeh Ali Kaviani announced on January 28 that the Artesh Navy entered Latin American waters.
  • Law Enforcement Commander Ahmad Reza Radan appointed Gholam Reza Rezaian as Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Intelligence Chief.
  • Internet watchdog organizations and social media users recorded significant internet disruptions in Kurdistan, Mazandaran, and Sistan and Baluchistan Provinces.
  • Iranian authorities arrested Sunni cleric Moulavi Abdol Majid Mouradzahi on January 30 in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • Iranian authorities sealed two businesses for failing to observe laws that restrict women’s role in the public sphere.
  • Parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Shahriar Heidari announced that committee members would travel to Esfahan and visit the target of the January 28 Israeli drone strike.
Iran Crisis Update, January 29, 2023

January 29, 2023, 3:00 pm ET

Key Takeaways from January 28 and 29. CTP will report on these items fully in our next regular update on January 30.

  • CTP recorded no protest activity in Iran on January 28. At least one protest may have occurred in Iran—specifically in Tehran City—on January 29.[x]
  • Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan continued to reshuffle senior officers in the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) on January 29. Radan appointed new officers to the positions of LEC Intelligence Organization chief and LEC cultural and social deputy (who is also the LEC official spokesperson).[xi]
  • Central Bank Governor Mohammad Reza Farzin announced on January 29 the “establishment of direct communication between Iranian and Russian banks.” Farzin characterized this communication as a financial channel between Iran and Russia.[xii]
  • President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on January 29. Raisi stated that Baku and Tehran will not allow “ill-wishers” to damage their bilateral ties.[xiii]
Iran Crisis Update, January 27, 2023

January 27, 2023 | 4:30 pm ET

The Critical Threats Project will not be collecting on or publishing updates about protest activity in Iran on January 28 or 29.  Updates will resume on January 30.

An armed individual shot and killed the security chief of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran and injured two guards on January 27. The gunman penetrated the embassy building and opened fire on personnel with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Iranian officials have since arrested the attacker and identified him as 53-year-old Yasin Hossein Zadeh. Iranian media described the event as an “armed attack” and reported that Hossein Zadeh was motivated by “personal and family problems,” citing a dispute between embassy personnel and Hossein Zadeh’s wife in March or April 2022. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the incident a “terrorist attack” and accused Iranian officials of failing to take action against prior threats made against Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran. The Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Minister Jeyhun Bayramov announced the evacuation of the embassy on January 27. President Ebrahim Raisi called for a comprehensive investigation into the attack, and Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani warned Iranian media outlets against circulating speculative reports of the attack. Supreme National Security Council-affiliated Nour News separately published a tweet stating that the attack should not damage ties between Baku and Tehran.

Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan appointed a new commander for the LEC Tehran provincial unit several hours after the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy. Radan seemingly demoted Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi, who has held the role since 2017, and replaced him with Brigadier General Abbas Ali Mohammadian, who served as the LEC Tehran city intelligence chief from 2008-2018 and the LEC Alborz provincial commander since 2017. The UK sanctioned Mohammadian in November 2022 for his role in violently suppressing anti-regime protests in Karaj, Alborz Province. It is not clear whether the embassy attack prompted Mohammadian’s appointment. Radan may have replaced Rahimi regardless of the embassy attack as Radan installs trusted officers to key security positions. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Radan as law enforcement commander on January 7.

Protest organizations and coordinators have blamed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy, although there is currently no evidence to corroborate these claims. Protest groups may be circulating this narrative to support their efforts to persuade the international community to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) released a statement on January 26 emphasizing the importance of external outreach and using legal frameworks to present the crimes of the regime to the international community, as CTP previously reported.

The US Justice Department announced on January 27 the arrest of three individuals in connection with a plot to assassinate prominent Iranian-American journalist and regime critic Masih Alinejad. The three arrested individuals face murder-for-hire and money laundering charges and are members of an Eastern European crime organization. The US Justice Department claimed that an unidentified individual in Iran directed the group. Iranian agents previously tried to kidnap Alinejad in 2021.

Key Takeaways.

  • An armed individual shot and killed the security chief of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran and injured two guards on January 27.
  • Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan appointed a new commander for the LEC Tehran provincial unit several hours after the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy.
  • Protest organizations and coordinators have blamed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy, although there is currently no evidence to corroborate these claims.
  • The US Justice Department announced on January 27 the arrest of three individuals in connection with a plot to assassinate prominent Iranian-American journalist and regime critic Masih Alinejad.
  • At least three protests occurred in three cities across two provinces.
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid inspired protests during his Friday sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 27 as he has done weekly since September 2022.
  • Protest coordinators published recruitment messages on social media on January 27.
Iran Crisis Update, January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023 | 4:30 pm ET

Ongoing disruptions to Iran’s energy supplies may be generating severe air pollution. Semi-official ISNA reported on January 26 that the city of Tehran has introduced “emergency ambulance buses” to transport citizens affected by dangerous air pollution levels.[i] Iranian media outlets have also reported school closures in various cities due to air pollution in recent days.[ii] This pollution may be caused by power plants burning low grade fuel due to shortages of more refined product.

Iran’s ongoing energy crisis could both impede and trigger further protests. An usually harsh winter and high air pollution levels may explain why protest turnout has decreased in recent weeks. This crisis may increase frustration among the population and precipitate new unrest, on the other hand. The first known protest inspired by natural gas shortages during the Mahsa Amini protest wave occurred in Torbat-e Jam on January 16, as CTP previously reported.[iii] Petrochemical workers across Iran have also protested against poor living conditions in recent days.[iv] The regime’s inability to resolve this crisis may drive frustrated citizens to challenge the regime despite harsh natural conditions.

Iranian officials had hoped to benefit from a harsh winter in Europe and a mild winter in Iran, but have instead suffered from the inverse weather pattern.[v]

Key Takeaways

  • Ongoing disruptions to Iranian energy supplies may be generating severe air pollution.
  • The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) is apparently trying to cooperate with foreign governments and possibly the Iranian diaspora to internationally isolate the regime.
  • Security forces have reportedly maintained their heightened presence around Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, likely in preparation for the weekly Friday sermon from prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • Shiraz City Governor Lotfollah Shibani announced January 26 that local merchants are required to deny services to unveiled women.
  • Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi blamed the Mahsa Amini protest movement on a cultural schism between Iranian youth and the values of the Islamic Republic on January 26.
  • Iranian media circulated a survey demonstrating limited domestic engagement with regime-endorsed social media outlets on January 26.
  • Protesters gathered outside the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, and Diwaniyah to protest ongoing economic crises.
Iran Crisis Update, January 25, 2023

January 25, 2023, 6:00 pm ET

Grievances related to deteriorating economic conditions and essential service provision have generated most protest activity in Iran in recent days. Petrochemical and telecommunication workers and retirees have held several small-scale demonstrations throughout Iran since January 22, as CTP has previously reported.[i] CTP has also documented electricity cuts and natural gas shortages across the country.[ii] The regime, particularly the Raisi administration, has appeared unable to meaningfully address these issues thus far.

Iran Crisis Update, January 24, 2023

Syrian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ali Mahmoud Abbas discussed deepening military cooperation with senior Iranian officials in Tehran on January 24. Abbas met with President Ebrahim Raisi, Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami. Salami stressed the importance of strengthening Iranian-Syrian military cooperation and stated that the IRGC is prepared to provide the Syrian armed forces with unspecified cyber, information, and electronic warfare capabilities. Abbas stated that Syria should play a more active role in the so-called “Axis of Resistance” and endorsed greater cooperation during his meetings. Abbas previously discussed improving bilateral economic and defense ties in a meeting with Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri on January 24, at which Bagheri called for joint military exercises between Iran and Syria. Salami’s meeting with Abbas suggests that the IRGC may participate in such exercises.

Iran likely seeks to consolidate its military influence in Syria, especially as Russia reportedly decreases its military footprint there. The Kremlin has reportedly drawn down its forces in Syria within the past year to send reinforcements to Ukraine, leaving a vacuum for Iranian and Iranian-backed forces to fill. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in May 2022, allegedly to discuss transferring Russian positions to Iran and its proxies. The regime may seek to further leverage a decreased Russian military presence in Syria by offering the Assad regime equipment and support that Russia cannot provide due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Parliamentarian Ahmad Alireza Beygi suggested impeaching Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi for the Law Enforcement Command’s (LEC) brutal suppression of protests in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province in September 2022. Iranian authorities violently cracked down on anti-regime demonstrations in Zahedan on September 30, 2022, killing over 80 protesters. Beygi implied that Khamenei wants the Raisi administration to remove Vahidi, although his comments more likely reflect his own opinion. Beygi previously criticized the LEC’s crackdown in Zahedan in October 2022 and accused the LEC of generating mistrust. Beygi had also called on the Armed Forces General Staff to “reconsider the management and structure of the LEC” on a later date in October 2022. It is unclear whether any of Beygi’s calls will generate traction among other lawmakers.

Beygi previously served as the law enforcement commander for Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, and Esfahan provinces from 1994 to 2004 and Fars province from 2004 to 2006, although he has previously criticized the regime’s protest suppression. Beygi additionally called to impeach former Interior Minister Abdol Reza Rahmani Fazli under the Rouhani administration in April 2021, stating that Fazli’s hands were “stained in blood” due to his involvement in suppressing the 2019 Aban protests.

Key Takeaways

  • Syrian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ali Mahmoud Abbas discussed deepening military cooperation with senior Iranian officials in Tehran. Iran likely seeks to consolidate its military influence in Syria, especially as Russia reportedly decreases its military footprint there.
  • Parliamentarian Ahmad Alireza Beygi suggested impeaching Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi for the Law Enforcement Command’s (LEC) brutal suppression of protests in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province in September 2022.
  • At least three protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • Unidentified individuals shot and killed two LEC officers and wounded a third in Bampour, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 24.
  • Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei criticized on January 24 regime-imposed internet restrictions aimed at preventing cheating on the national university entrance exam.
  • Parliamentarian Abbas Moghtadaei criticized Information Communications and Technology (ICT) Minister Isah Zareh Pour over Iran Telecommunications Company employee benefits in an open-parliament session.
  • The Iranian Supreme Court appeared to reverse a decision to grant clemency to arrested protester Mohammad Ghobadlou.
Iran Crisis Update, January 23, 2023

Protest activity in Iran increased on January 23, particularly among current petrochemical employees and retired education and telecommunications workers, suggesting some degree of coordination among workers. This protest activity is the most that CTP has recorded since January 8.[i] Protesters reportedly gathered to demonstrate against delayed payments, benefits, and the impact of mounting inflation. CTP previously observed seven protests among a similar demographic—currently employed petrochemical employees—on January 17.[ii] The worker-led demonstrations on January 17 and 23 suggest that these groups have the networks required to generate protests despite the regime’s continued crackdown on protest groups throughout the past several months. These worker groups could play an increasingly prominent role in coordinating protests as economic conditions in Iran worsen.[iii] The Iranian rial reached a record low--selling for as much as 447,500 rials for one US dollar—on January 23.[iv]

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity in Iran increased on January 23, particularly among current petrochemical employees and retired education and telecommunications workers, suggesting some degree of coordination among workers.
  • Parliament approved the outlines of the annual budget bill on January 22, allocating greater funds to the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) to improve efforts to impose social control.
  • An IRGC-affiliated news outlet speculated that Iran may receive advanced Russian attack helicopters under an Iranian-Russo military co-production agreement.
  • Information and Communications Technology Minister Isah Zareh Pour announced on January 21 that the regime will soon lift internet restrictions on some foreign platforms.
  • Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas met with Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri in Tehran to discuss bilateral economic and military cooperation.
Iran Crisis Update, January 22, 2023

CTP is publishing an abbreviated version of our daily updates on Saturdays and Sundays. We will revert to publishing full updates on Saturdays and Sundays if the situation in Iran changes significantly enough to warrant more comprehensive coverage. We will continue to document and map protest activity throughout Iran daily in these updates.

At least four protests occurred in three cities across two provinces in Iran on January 22.

Iran Crisis Update, January 21, 2023
January 21, 2023, 5:00 pm ET

CTP found no indications of protest activity meeting its reporting thresholds today, January 21, 2023. We will therefore not be posting a map or an update. CTP will be monitoring the situation again on Sunday, January 22, 2023 and will either post a map and abbreviated update or report again that there was no protest activity meeting its thresholds.  CTP will resume publication of its updates on Monday, January 23, 2023 regardless of protest activity.

Iran Crisis Update, January 20, 2023

January 20, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

The protest movement that began with the Iranian regime killing of Mahsa Amini has likely culminated for the most part. Protest activity has gradually decreased since December 2022, and protester organizers again failed to generate turnout on January 20 despite their heavily circulated calls for countrywide demonstrations. American military doctrine defines culmination as the “point at which a force no longer has the capability to continue its form of operations, offensive or defensive,” and “when a force cannot continue the attack and must assume a defensive posture or execute an operational pause.”[i] CTP analogizes that definition to the protest movement, using the term “culminated” rather than “ended” to reflect its assessment that conditions for a strong and vibrant anti-regime movement remain and that protests or other forms of anti-regime activity will likely resume at some point within the coming months.

Iran Crisis Update, January 19, 2023

January 19, 2023, 7:00 pm ET

The Iranian regime is likely escalating against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid. Social media users continued to document a heightened security presence in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province ahead of Abdol Hamid’s weekly Friday prayer sermon and protests throughout the city. Security personnel within the past several days have reportedly blocked all roads leading to Zahedan, established new checkpoints restricting movement into the city, and detained custodians of the mosque where Abdol Hamid delivers his sermons. Social media users have additionally reported mass arrests and internet restrictions. Uncorroborated reports claim that the regime also deployed to the Zahedan airport security forces not normally assigned to the airport, alleging that Iranian officials had lost confidence in the local Basij members formerly entrusted with securing the airport. CTP cannot verify this report. An advisor to Abdol Hamid attributed the intensified security environment in Zahedan to LEC Commander Ali Reza Radan, whom Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed on January 7. CTP previously assessed that Khamenei likely appointed Radan, a hardline member of the IRGC with extensive experience in crushing political dissent, as law enforcement commander partly due to dissatisfaction with the LEC’s response to the Mahsa Amini protest movement.

A provincial Sistan and Baluchistan intelligence unit separately announced on January 19 that it had dismantled two Islamic State-affiliated groups within the province. It is possible that the regime may seek to coopt reports of extremism in Sistan and Baluchistan in attempt to justify the violent suppression of acts of anti-regime defiance throughout the province.

Protest organizations and coordinators seemingly failed to increase protest activity on January 19. Protest groups had widely issued calls for nation-wide demonstrations on January 19 and 20, as CTP previously reported. CTP recorded no significant upticks in anti-regime protests on January 19, however. Protest activity may still surge on January 20 in a pattern similar to January 8, wherein anti-regime demonstrations notably increased in scale and size on the final day of a three-day call to protest. This pattern may suggest that protest organizations intentionally failed to generate turnout on January 19 in attempt to obfuscate their organizational efforts and confuse security personnel. Calls for protests are also likely straining the bandwidth of security forces regardless of protest turnout. The regime reportedly deployed the Law Enforcement Command (LEC)’s Special Forces Unit—which is chiefly tasked with suppressing unrest—in Tehran in attempt to discourage protests on January 19, and security personnel have heavily securitized Zahedan in anticipation of unrest on January 20, as discussed in the preceding paragraph.

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian regime is likely escalating against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid.
  • Protest organizations and coordinators seemingly failed to increase protest activity on January 19.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • The European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the European Union (EU) and EU member states to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization on January 19.
  • Netblocks and social media users reported mobile internet disruptions in a manner consistent with announced preventative measures aimed at preventing cheating on the Iranian university entrance exam.
  • Tehran universities threatened and took disciplinary action against unveiled students.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • A Katai’b Hezbollah-affiliated group claimed that it targeted a US logistics convoy using improvised explosive devices.
Iran Crisis Update, January 18, 2023

January 18, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

Protest activity in Iran may increase on January 19-20. Protest organizers have issued widespread calls for demonstrations on these days.[i] These organizers have failed occasionally to generate significant increases in protest activity in response to their calls, possibly due to discordant messaging and internal fissures within the protest movement.[ii] But protest groups are extraordinarily unified in their calls for demonstrations on January 19-20. Most major protest groups and umbrella organizations have urged citizens to take to the streets on these days.

The regime could use planned internet disruptions to suppress the upcoming demonstrations. Senior Iranian officials have discussed in recent weeks implementing a countrywide internet shutdown for several hours on January 19-20 to prevent cheating on scheduled university entrance exams.[iii] Information and Communications Technology Minister Isah Zareh Pour insisted on January 18 that the regime would only impose localized disruptions in ”exam areas,” although it is far from clear whether the regime possesses such technical capabilities.[iv]

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity in Iran may increase on January 19-20.
  • Iran faces worsening domestic conditions amid the ongoing natural gas shortage throughout the country.
  • At least one protest occurred in one city across one province.
  • The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth tweeted declaring its support for and loyalty to Reza Pahlavi.
  • Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi denied that Ali Shamkhani will leave his position as Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) secretary.
  • Social media users reported a heightened security presence throughout Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • The European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the EU to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
  • Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al Jubier made a blanket statement calling on Iran to end its nuclear program during an interview with CNBC.
Iran Crisis Update, January 17, 2023

January 17, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

Protest activity among petrochemical workers increased significantly on January 17, suggesting protest coordination among some labor groups. Workers protested and went on strike in at least six different locations in five provinces in response to labor-related grievances. CTP has not observed calls for such actions in recent days, suggesting that workers used their own local networks to coordinate this activity. If workers did, indeed, rely on separate labor networks to organize these protests, that could indicate that Tehran confronts yet another source of organization and energy for anti-regime activities.

The timing of this protest activity is particularly noteworthy given the severe natural gas shortages in Iran. Iranian officials have increasingly warned of a national “gas crisis” in recent days.[i] The regime has cut gas service to some locations and closed banks, public facilities, and universities in some provinces to reduce gas consumption.[ii] Protest coordinators may have intentionally organized the demonstrations and strikes to apply greater economic pressure on the regime.

Iran Crisis Update, January 16, 2023

January 16, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

Ongoing gas shortages have sparked protests in northeastern Iran. Protesters gathered in front of the local governor’s office and lit a fire in the streets in Torbat-e Jam, Khorasan Razavi Province on January 16.[i] Protesters were responding to the Iranian regime cutting gas services for thousands of customers in the city in recent days. Citizens have struggled to keep warm in the winter conditions. Some locals have claimed that the regime has cut electricity to the city as well.[ii] These energy shortages could stoke further protests throughout Iran, especially in its northern and eastern provinces in the coming days. Iranian officials have increasingly warned of a national “gas crisis” in recent days and briefly closed banks, public facilities, and universities in some provinces to reduce gas consumption.[iii]

The regime could escalate significantly against protesters in Torbat-e Jam if the demonstrations expand meaningfully. The Artesh Ground Forces 38th Mohammad Rasoul Ollah Armored Brigade is headquartered in the city. The regime is likely particularly sensitive to instability in this location because of this armored division, upon which the regime relies in its efforts to secure the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Protest organizers seemingly failed to generate pro-Pahlavi demonstrations on January 16. The Iranian Neighborhood United Front released a statement with another group named the Voice of the People Coalition calling for such demonstrations to commemorate the anniversary of the Shah leaving Iran in 1979.[iv] CTP recorded no significant uptick in protest activity on January 16. The protests that did occur seemed related to domestic issues, such as gas shortages and political suppression, rather than about the Shah leaving Iran.

Key Takeaways

  • Ongoing gas shortages have sparked protests in northeastern Iran.
  • Protest organizers seemingly failed to generate pro-Pahlavi demonstrations.
  • At least four protests occurred in four cities across four provinces.
  • IRGC Deputy Commander Brigadier General Ali Fadavi stated that 60 security officers have died and over 5,000 were injured in the protests.
Iran Crisis Update, January 15, 2023

January 15, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

Iranian protest organizers circulated calls on January 15 for the international community, and especially European parties, to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. Many well-known protest groups—even those who occasionally seem to disagree with one another—circulated these calls in unison.[i] The protest groups published these calls in Persian and English. This external messaging is consistent with and may reflect the priorities some protest organizers have set in recent days. The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union emphasized its focus on expanding external outreach to the international community on January 13.[ii]

Parliamentarian Shahryar Heydari stated on January 15 that Iran will receive an unspecified number of Su-35 fighter jets from Russia early in the next Persian calendar year (March 2023—March 2024).[iii] Heydari added that Iran is also purchasing air defense systems, helicopters, and missiles. Heydari is a lawmaker on the Parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. Acquiring Su-35s would advance Iranian leaders’ efforts to field an increasingly modern air force that is capable of conducting “offensive” operations and projecting strength abroad.[iv]

Key Takeaways

  • Iranian protest organizers circulated calls for the international community, and especially European parties, to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
  • Parliamentarian Shahryar Heydari stated that Iran will receive an unspecified number of Su-35 fighter jets from Russia early in the next Persian calendar year (March 2023—March 2024).
  • At least four protests occurred in four cities across four provinces.
  • Parliamentarian Shahryar Heydari stated that the state security services have seized approximately as many illegal arms in the past three months as they would ordinarily over two years.
Iran Crisis Update, January 14, 2023

January 14, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

The Iranian judiciary announced on January 14 the execution of Alireza Akbari—a former deputy defense minister and British-Iranian dual national. The judiciary previously announced on January 11 that it had sentenced Akbari to death for espionage charges. Iranian officials and media have accused Akbari of providing information to British intelligence services. CTP has previously assessed that some elements of the security establishment are coopting Akbari’s case to force Ali Shamkhani from his position as Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) secretary. CTP is not prepared to assess the likelihood of Shamkhani’s departure, however.

The potential replacement of Shamkhani could have profound implications for the development and implementation of Iranian security policy domestically and abroad. The SNSC is the highest defense and foreign policy body within the regime. The council, under Khamenei, also dictates and oversees all efforts to quash protests. Its members are senior Iranian political and security figures, including the president, parliament speaker, judiciary chief, and the commanding officers responsible for the Armed Forces General Staff, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Artesh, and Law Enforcement Command (LEC). The supreme leader sends personal representatives to the council on his behalf to articulate his parameters and preferences. Shamkhani dual hats as the SNSC secretary and one of Khamenei’s two representatives to the council. Then-President Hassan Rouhani appointed Shamkhani as SNSC secretary in 2013.

Some protest organizers have called for pro-Pahlavi demonstrations on January 16 to commemorate the anniversary of the Shah leaving Iran in 1979. The Iranian Neighborhood United Front released a statement with another group named the Voice of the People Coalition calling for such demonstrations. CTP has no assessment of the degree to which this pro-Pahlavi sentiment represents any part of the protest movement. The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union—the other major umbrella organization for protest groups—has not acknowledged these calls for demonstrations at the time of this writing.

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian judiciary announced the execution of Alireza Akbari—a former deputy defense minister and British-Iranian dual national.
  • The potential replacement of Ali Shamkhani as SNSC secretary could have profound implications for the development and implementation of Iranian security policy domestically and abroad.
  • Some protest organizers have called for pro-Pahlavi demonstrations on January 16 to commemorate the anniversary of the Shah leaving Iran in 1979.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • An LEC officer died in a hospital due to injuries he sustained in a clash with armed smugglers in Markazi Province days prior.
Iran Crisis Update, January 13, 2023

January 13, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

Some protest organizers in Iran are trying to push the protest movement into a new phase—one that could include more militant activity against the Iranian regime. The Karaj Neighborhood Youth has argued in recent days that the movement has entered a “new phase” and “second wave” as protest turnout has continued to decline.[1] The Karaj group has described this new period as featuring greater centralization and cohesion within the movement, external outreach, and insurgent activity. The Karaj group stated on January 4 that the movement has “intensified” its coordination and is making unified decisions regarding “approaches, fighting methods, assistance, etc.”[2] The Karaj group rebranded entirely on January 13, labeling itself as the international communications wing of the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU)—a coalition of protest groups that formed in December 2022.[3] The Karaj group under its new name announced that that the INYU is pursuing two efforts: “1. Building cohesion and cooperation among militant groups inside Iran [and] 2. connecting with the international community (individuals, organizations, media).”[4] The group added that the first effort "is currently underway, and soon most militant groups in the field will gather together.” It is unclear how much real influence the INYU has over the protest movement and to what extent its efforts will succeed, especially given the challenges that it has had in generating protest turnout previously.[5] Infighting over leadership within the protest movement could seriously hinder these efforts. It is also unclear to what extent the INYU will continue trying to coordinate overt acts of political defiance, such as demonstrations and strikes.

The rhetoric from the Karaj group highlights the long-term challenge that the regime may face vis-a-vis this movement even if daily protests subside. Even limited success organizing anti-regime militancy will strain the state security apparatus. The regime already faces long-existing insurgencies in the southwestern, southeastern, and northwestern provinces of the country. Iranian Arab, Baloch, and Kurdish militants have leveraged economic and political frustrations among marginalized minorities in the border regions to fuel these groups’ anti-regime agendas for decades. These groups, which include the Kurdistan Free Life Party and Jaish al Adl, have historically conducted attacks into Iran and clash with security forces regularly in the border regions, where they are based. Increasing militant attacks against the regime would compound this pressure.

Protest activity increased on January 13, primarily in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, after a two-day period of no recorded protests in Iran. This uptick in protests is unsurprising given that CTP has recorded increased protests in Sistan and Baluchistan Province every Friday for several months.[6] Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid continues to use his weekly Friday sermons to inspire protests criticizing regime discrimination against Baloch and Sunni citizens. He criticized Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei directly in his speech on January 13, stating that dialogue with poets and religious speakers will not solve the country's problems.[7] Abdol Hamid was likely referencing Khamenei’s meeting with eulogists and poets on January 12.[8]

Key Takeaways

  • Some protest organizers in Iran are trying to push the protest movement into a new phase—one that could include more militant activity against the Iranian regime.
  • Protest activity increased, primarily in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, after a two-day period of no recorded protests in Iran. At least five protests occurred in five cities across two provinces.
  • Nour News Agency published an article denying speculation that Ali Shamkhani will leave his position as Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) secretary.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi argued that women who do not fully wear the hijab could still support the regime and revolution.
Iran Crisis Update, January 12, 2023

January 12, 2023 | 5:30 pm ET

CTP recorded no protests in Iran for the second consecutive day on January 12, 2023. Some protest organizers called for demonstrations to commemorate executed protesters, but CTP did not record indications that these demonstrations materialized.[i] Regular expressions of anti-regime sentiment are continuing throughout Iran, however.[ii] Protest groups have also called for demonstrations on January 1920, which coincide with scheduled university exams. Gathering students in-person to take the tests could catalyze demonstrations. Regime officials have discussed issuing localized or possibly countrywide internet shutdowns on these dates ostensibly to prevent cheating on the exams, as CTP previously reported, and could use such measures to facilitate protest suppression.[iii]

Iran Crisis Update, January 11, 2023

January 11, 2023, 6:00 pm ET

CTP recorded no protests in Iran on January 11, 2023 for the first time since September 16, 2022. Protest turnout has steadily declined since December 2022. It is possible, however, that some protests occurred on January 11 that CTP did not record. The information space has become increasingly muddy since the beginning of the protest movement, partly due to expanding regime censorship. Protesters have increasingly taken to the streets without their cellphones in recent weeks as well, which may be limiting the amount of information available in the open-source environment.[1]

The movement that began with the regime killing Mahsa Amini is not yet over despite the declining protest turnout. Protest coordinators and organizations have called for more demonstrations in the coming days (detailed below). CTP will continue to monitor the situation and report on the extent to which those planned demonstrations materialize. The protest movement has furthermore begun to set conditions, developing the necessary infrastructure and networks, to sustain a protracted struggle against the regime, and citizens continue to attack regime forces. An individual threw an improvised explosive into a Basij base in Shiraz, Fars Province on January 11, for instance.[2]

Regime plans to execute a former senior official may be related to infighting within the Iranian political and security establishments. The judiciary announced on January 11 that it sentenced Alireza Akbari to death on espionage charges.[3] Akbari was a deputy defense minister under the reformist Khatami administration and is a British-Iranian dual national. The Intelligence and Security Ministry accused Akbari of providing information to British intelligence services, and the regime reportedly arrested him in 2019.[4] UK-based outlets Amwaj Media and Iran International separately reported that Iranian state security services are targeting Akbari to politically damage Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani, although CTP cannot verify these reports. Akbari was a deputy to Shamkhani when the latter was defense minister from 1997 to 2005. Rumors have circulated in recent months claiming that some regime hardliners have sought to replace Shamkhani with their preferred candidates, as CTP previously reported.[5] One Iranian journalist, Saeed Aganji, has made uncorroborated claims in recent days that candidates to replace Shamkhani include:[6]

  • Khatam ol Anbia Central Headquarters Commander Major General Gholam Ali Rashid;
  • Supreme Leader Representative to the SNSC Saeed Jalili;
  • Interior Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi; and
  • Former Defense Minister and Interior Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar.

President Ebrahim Raisi submitted his proposed budget to Parliament on January 11, allocating significantly more funds to the military and security services and propaganda bodies.[7] The regime could use these greater funds to monitor its people, suppress protests, and promote disinformation more effectively. Radio Farda reported the following budget increases:[8]

  • Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) funding by 28 percent;
  • Artesh funding by 36 percent;
  • Law Enforcement Command funding by 44 percent;
  • Intelligence and Security Ministry funding by 52 percent;
  • State Prisons Organization by 55.5 percent;
  • Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting by 42 percent; and
  • Islamic Propaganda Organization funding by 53 percent.

It is unclear to what these changes amount in real purchasing power, however, given the high rate of inflation in Iran. The Statistical Center of Iran estimated that the average inflation rate for the first nine months of the Persian calendar year (March 2022-March 2023) hit 45 percent overall.[9] Such a sharp increase in the prices of certain goods, in addition to the continued depreciation of the Iranian rial against other currencies, may negate the impact of some of the budgetary increases. Parliament will likely amend the budget before approving it as well, meaning these allocations could still change significantly.

Key Takeaways

  • CTP recorded no protests in Iran for the first time since September 16, 2022. The movement that began with the regime killing Mahsa Amini is not yet over despite the declining protest turnout, however.
  • Regime plans to execute a former senior official may be related to infighting within the Iranian political and security establishments.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi submitted his proposed budget to Parliament, allocating significantly more funds to the military and security services and propaganda bodies.
  • The Hamedan and Karaj neighborhood youth groups criticized on January 11 the regime mismanagement of the energy sector that has caused natural gas shortages in Iran.
  • The Iranian Supreme Court suspended the death sentence of 19-year-old protester Mohammad Broghani.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Iran Crisis Update, January 10, 2023

January 10, 2023 | 5:30 pm ET

The Iranian regime is refocusing on enforcing widespread adherence to the mandatory hijab law after briefly and informally relaxing such restrictions in previous months. Women in Iran have increasingly gone out in public without a hijab in recent months, according to some media reports. But the regime has taken several actions in recent days indicating preparations to resume mass enforcement. Iranian state media reported on January 10 that Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has ordered the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) to impose the hijab requirement “decisively.” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan—an architect of the morality patrol—as the new law enforcement commander on January 7. The LEC resumed using surveillance cameras to identify women not properly adhering to the hijab requirement in their cars on January 2 as well. Regime officials may see an opportunity to again enforce the hijab requirement as protest turnout has decreased in recent weeks and security personnel have likely regained some bandwidth. Iranian authorities may be particularly eager to resume widespread adherence to the mandatory hijab law to promote to the public the impression that the unrest has receded.

The Sari Revolutionary Court sentenced protester Javad Rouhi to death on January 10. The court convicted Rouhi of “corruption on Earth” and “waging war against God.” The Iranian Supreme Court can appeal these sentences.

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian regime is refocusing on enforcing widespread adherence to the mandatory hijab law after briefly and informally relaxing such restrictions in previous months.
  • The Sari Revolutionary Court sentenced protester Javad Rouhi to death.
  • At least three protests occurred in three cities across three provinces in Iran.
  • Social media accounts have claimed in recent days that the regime has arrested and sentenced an unidentified former senior official on espionage charges.
  • The Parliamentary Legal and Judicial Committee reviewed and approved articles of the draft legislation to establish a police force for adolescents and children.
Iran Crisis Update, January 9, 2023

Protest coordinators and organizations may have successfully deterred the judiciary from executing two arrested protesters in Iran on January 9. Social media accounts reported that the judiciary transferred these two protesters to solitary confinement at the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj with imminent plans to execute them.[i] Citizens gathered outside the prison in the early morning hours of January 9 after protest organizers called for snap demonstrations there.[ii] The regime later denied that it planned to execute the protesters on January 9 but defended the death sentences.[iii] Persian-language social media accounts asserted that the snap demonstrations prevented the regime from conducting the executions.[iv] CTP cannot confirm whether the snap demonstrations actually delayed the executions, but their perceived success may encourage protest groups to organize additional gatherings outside prisons where arrested protesters are held.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to use rhetoric that suggests he is not amenable to any meaningful political or social reform in Iran. Khamenei denied that the regime was responsible for the protests and instead blamed the West exclusively in a speech in Qom on January 9.[v] He repeated his accusation that the US and European countries use information operations and propaganda to incite unrest. Khamenei acknowledged that the regime faces economic challenges but alleged that protesters used economic and political grievances as excuses to try to “destroy the strength of the country.” His rhetoric in this speech was particularly harsh compared to other recent speeches. Khamenei has previously drawn a rhetorical line between peaceful protesters and “rioters.”[vi] Khamenei did not repeat this rhetorical dichotomy in his most recent speech and only stated that all rioters are “treasonous.” CTP has previously argued that Khamenei and his inner circle continue to misdiagnose the core problems driving the protests.[vii] They have defined the unrest as a sociocultural and religious issue and seem to believe that the solution is trying to further ideologize the population. Khamenei reiterated his endorsement for this approach in his speech on January 9.

The regime is having tone-deaf conversations on women’s rights with itself, highlighting that many officials have not internalized core protester grievances. Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei and Saeid Jalili—a senior adviser to Khamenei—separately argued on January 9 that the regime is a strong proponent of gender equality and women’s rights.[viii] Ejei asserted that the mandatory hijab law empowers women. Jalili stated that the regime should promote its version of these values in its foreign policy. Another senior judicial official claimed at a ceremony honoring women’s achievements on January 9 that the West has conspired to raise marriage ages and thus reduce how many children women have as part of an effort to depress population growth in Iran.[ix] Kayhan—a hardline media outlet—finally argued on January 8 that women refusing to wear hijabs would lead to infidelity from their partners and thus damage families.[x] These statements underscore how many regime officials largely view the role of women in Iranian society through the lens of marriage and motherhood rather than as individuals with an inherent right to the personal freedoms and liberties for which the protesters have been calling.

Khamenei likely dismissed Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari as law enforcement commander due to Khamenei’s dissatisfaction with the performance of the Law Enforcement Command in responding to the protests. Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan to replace Ashtari as law enforcement commander on January 7.[xi] Ashtari stated on January 9 that he “apologize[s] to the people and supreme leader for all shortcomings.”[xii] Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri stated on January 9 that Ashtari will now serve as his personal adviser for security and law enforcement affairs.[xiii]

Key Takeaways

  • Protest coordinators and organizations may have successfully deterred the judiciary from executing two arrested protesters in Iran.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to use rhetoric that suggests he is not amenable to any meaningful political or social reform in Iran.
  • The regime is having tone-deaf conversations on women’s rights with itself, highlighting that many officials have not internalized core protester grievances.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei likely dismissed Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari as law enforcement commander due to Khamenei’s dissatisfaction with the performance of the Law Enforcement Command in responding to the protests.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces in Iran.
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid tweeted criticizing how the judiciary has handled the legal cases of arrested protesters.
  • The judiciary sentenced three protesters to death.
Iran Crisis Update, January 8, 2023

January 8, 2023 | 6:00 pm ET

Protest activity increased significantly on January 8—in line with the calls from protest organizers for countrywide demonstrations to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down of a Ukrainian civilian airplane. These protests are the most that CTP has reported in a single day since December 5, 2022.[i] Protests have seen reduced turnout in recent weeks, likely in part due to the discordant messaging and internal fissures within the protest movement.[ii] But protest coordinators and organizations aligned at least in their calls for countrywide demonstrations on January 8, demonstrating that they can still generate substantial turnout, especially when their messaging is coherent and consistent.

Iran Crisis Update, January 7, 2023

January 7, 2023 |  5:00 pm ET

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to empower hardline security figures to enforce his uncompromising position toward the protests and mandatory hijab law. Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan as law enforcement commander on January 7. Radan will thus head the Law Enforcement Command (LEC)—Iran’s national police force and first line of defense against protests. Khamenei called on Radan to provide public security, improve LEC capabilities, properly compensate LEC employees, and train specialized police units for different security missions.

Radan is a hardline member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and has extensive experience crushing political dissent and protests. Radan joined the Basij and IRGC as a teenager to fight in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. He transferred to the LEC after the war, where he held several key positions, including commanding the police units responsible for Kurdistan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Khorasan, and Tehran provinces. Radan likely acquired experience quashing anti-regime dissent and militancy while overseeing police forces in the restive border provinces. Radan served as law enforcement deputy commander from 2008 to 2014, during which time he played critical roles in cracking down on the 2009 Green Movement and suppressing protests in Syria. Radan traveled to Damascus in 2011 to meet with Syrian security services and support their crackdown against the Syrian people. He finally headed the LEC Strategic Studies Center from 2014 to 2023, where he likely developed new concepts and doctrine that he could introduce to the LEC.

Radan will likely adopt a hard line on enforcing the mandatory hijab law. Radan was an architect of the morality patrol program while he was law enforcement deputy commander. He is an aggressive supporter of the hijab requirement and of penalizing citizens for attire that the regime deems inappropriate. CTP has previously argued that the regime may end or reduce the morality patrol but will likely use other means to enforce the mandatory hijab law, such as facial recognition and surveillance cameras.

Khamenei likely appointed Radan as law enforcement commander partly due to dissatisfaction with the performance of the incumbent in responding to the protests. Radan replaced Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari, who had held the position since 2015. The dismissal of Ashtari is particularly noteworthy given Khamenei’s apparent trust in him historically. Khamenei shuffled and replaced many senior officers responsible for internal security after previous major protest waves in Iran. But Khamenei kept Ashtari as law enforcement commander—even after the 2017-18 Dey protests and 2019 Aban protests—likely reflecting Khamenei’s confidence in him at the time. Ashtari may have since lost that confidence. It is unclear what position he will hold next.

The Judiciary executed two additional protesters—Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini—on January 7. Iranian authorities tortured Karami and Hosseini and convicted them in sham trials for their alleged roles in killing a Basij member Ruhollah Ajamian in Karaj, Alborz Province on November 3. The regime may have timed these executions immediately before the planned protests on January 8 to intimidate citizens and reduce turnout. Karami and Hosseini mark the third and fourth individuals whom the regime has executed since protests began on September 16. Iranian human rights organizations and activists estimate that the judiciary has sentenced at least 14 other arrested protesters to death and that these individuals face imminent executions.

Protest organizers tied to the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union again failed to generate increased protest activity on January 7, despite their repeated calls for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on January 6-8. Protest groups affiliated with the Iranian Neighborhood United Front have contrastingly called for protests only on January 8. CTP has previously argued that discordant messaging and internal fissures within the protest movement may be one of the factors driving decreased turnout.

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to empower hardline security figures to enforce his uncompromising position toward the protests and mandatory hijab law.
  • The Judiciary executed two additional protesters—Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini.
  • Protest organizers tied to the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union again failed to generate increased protest activity, despite their repeated calls for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on January 6-8
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • Unknown gunmen shot and killed one person and injured two others at the Gachsaran Oil and Gas Company in Gachsaran, Kohgilouyeh and Boyer Ahmad Province.
  • State security services arrested reformist journalist Saeid Seyf Ali, according to his wife.
Iran Crisis Update, January 6, 2023

January 6, 2023 | 5:00 pm ET

The Iranian regime failed to suppress demonstrations in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 6. Protesters participated in anti-regime demonstrations in Zahedan after prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid continued to criticize the regime in his weekly Friday prayer sermon. Abdol Hamid condemned Iranian leadership for extracting forced confessions from protesters and suggested that some Iranian officials were unlawfully behaving as though they possessed supreme religious authority. Abdol Hamid additionally maintained that demonstrations would continue in spite of mass arrests.

Security forces reportedly increased their presence in Zahedan and carried out mass arrests in the days preceding Abdol Hamid’s January 6 sermon, as CTP previously reported. The regime’s increased security presence and arrest campaign – both of which likely intended to disrupt protest organization and intimidate participants – did not apparently impact protest activity, however. Protest turnout in Zahedan on January 6 largely resembled protest activity recorded on December 30. Abdol Hamid’s defiance and increasingly direct criticism of the regime is likely sustaining demonstrations in Zahedan, and the inability of security to prevent demonstrations from forming within mosques may be allowing protesters to organize more easily and readily in Sistan and Baluchistan than in other provinces. The regime could further escalate against protesters and Abdol Hamid in response, although taking direct action against Abdol Hamid risks inflaming the situation.

Confusing messaging from prominent protest organizations may risk further reducing protest activity. Several neighborhood youth groups circulated a poster commemorating the four-year anniversary of the Iranian-owned Sanchi oil tanker collision and tied the incident to the Mahsa Amini protest movement. The poster did not include calls for anti-regime demonstrations, as posters circulated by protester organizations typically do; it is unclear why protest groups circulated it. Protest coordinators have additionally issued discordant instructions on countrywide demonstrations and strikes on January 6-8, possibly signaling internal disagreements within the movement. Inconsistent and misleading messaging from protest leaders may continue to degrade the movement’s effectiveness.

It is not immediately apparent how protest organizations and coordinators are seeking to reinvigorate anti-regime demonstrations or to what they attribute decreased protest activity. CTP has recorded a sustained depression in anti-regime demonstrations since December 2022, although we have yet to record a day without at least one protest that meets our reporting threshold. Social media users have circulated detailed safety instructions ahead of protests scheduled for January 8, which could suggest the groups assess that fear or intimidation is preventing greater participation in demonstrations. Neighborhood youth groups and other prominent organizations would likely need to assuage such concerns by sharing their assessments on why protest activity has decreased and through establishing a robust, internal infrastructure that would guarantee protesters’ financial and physical safety, if safety concerns are, in fact, the primary driver of lower turnout. It is not obvious that they are, however, as protesters have continued to demonstrate in many parts of the country even after brutal suppression, regime killing of protesters, and mass arrests. Protest movements can also fade as would-be protesters conclude that they must turn their attention back to their ordinary lives and livelihoods, especially in the kinds of difficult economic circumstances that reportedly are taking hold in Iran. Protest organizers in such circumstances can be challenged to find ways of identifying and providing necessary economic support to would-be demonstrators.

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian regime failed to suppress demonstrations in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 6.
  • Confusing messaging from prominent protest organizations may risk further reducing protest activity.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • Several Friday Prayer Leaders stressed the importance of enforcing mandatory veiling laws on January 6.
  • The US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned seven individuals associated with Iranian drone and ballistic missile sales to Russia
Iran Crisis Update, January 5, 2023

January 5, 2023, 5:00 pm ET

Regime officials and entities are endorsing an expansive, collective-punishment model to implement mandatory veiling laws as anti-regime demonstrations enter their fourth consecutive month. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi stressed the importance of the hijab on January 5. Vahidi confirmed reports that the regime began issuing texts warning unveiled women drivers to adhere to hijab laws and described veiling as a “legal issue” and core component of the Islamic Republic’s religious values.[1] The judiciary has additionally submitted for review a draft bill that would replace Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code, which outlines the consequences for failing to adhere to the state-imposed hijab law,  within the past several days.

Key Takeaways

  • Regime officials and entities are endorsing an expansive, collective-punishment model to implement mandatory veiling laws as anti-regime demonstrations enter their fourth consecutive month.
  • The Iranian regime is likely escalating against Prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid in an attempt to quell ongoing demonstrations throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • At least three protests occurred in three cities across three provinces.
  • WhatsApp established a feature that allows Iranians to partially circumvent regime-imposed internet restrictions.
  • An Iranian court sentenced a detained protester to death on December 5 for purportedly leading anti-regime demonstration efforts in Mazandaran Province.
  • Anti-regime outlet Iran International claimed that the IRGC sanctioned the January 3 death of IRGC officer and Tehran Basij Commander Ghasem Fathollahi.
  • Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council may weaponize investigations into Soleimani’s death to target pro-Western entities in Iraq.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah Deputy Secretary Naim Qassem met with Supreme Leader Foreign Affairs Advisor Ali Akbar Velayati in Tehran on January 5.
Iran Crisis Update, January 4, 2023

January 4, 2023, 6:00 pm ET

Protester umbrella organizations appear to disagree on the timing of the upcoming planned protests. Protest coordinators from the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union have called for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on January 6-8 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down of a Ukrainian civilian airplane.[i] Other protest groups, such as those allegedly aligned with the Iranian Neighborhood United Front, have called for demonstrations only on January 8 (the Iranian Neighborhood United Front published a statement that it claimed its members signed, but not all members have confirmed their alignment with this umbrella organization thus far).[ii] This divergence suggests that the emergence of different umbrella organizations vying for the allegiance of local groups may have created a fault line within the protest movement. Such disunity could indicate that different protest leaders are competing for influence within the movement, as CTP previously argued.[iii]

This division may be one of the factors depressing protester turnout. CTP has recorded a sustained reduction in protest activity since December 2022.[iv] We have yet to record a day without at least one protest, but the inconsistent messaging is likely generating confusion and stoking mistrust among demonstrators. Protest leaders failing to resolve dissonant calls and messages may continue to degrade the movement’s effectiveness.

The regime continues to adopt more overtly authoritarian language and policies. Senior Iranian officials have discussed implementing a countrywide internet shutdown for several hours on January 19-20 to prevent cheating on a scheduled university entrance exam. An education official, Hassan Morovati, announced these plans on January 4.[v] Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mohammad Ali Zolfi Gol denied Morovati’s claim that there will be a countrywide shutdown and asserted that the regime will only cut internet in the locations where the test is administered.[vi] Information and Communications Technology Minister Isah Zareh Pour separately stated that the State Security Council is reviewing the motion to block the internet and has not yet made a decision.[vii] This inconsistent and mixed messaging suggests that the Raisi administration has not yet reached a consensus on the potential internet shutdown. But regime officials openly discussing such extreme measures to prevent cheating on a standardized test reflects how the regime is normalizing such oppressive behavior. The regime could be considering the potential internet shutdown to expand censorship and suppress dissent rather than prevent cheating.

Key Takeaways

  • Protester umbrella organizations appear to disagree on the timing of the upcoming planned protests. This division may be one of the factors depressing protester turnout.
  • The regime continues to adopt more overtly authoritarian language and policies.
  • At least one protest occurred in one city across one province.
  • Iranian media reported that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has dismissed Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari as law enforcement commander.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated the mandatory hijab requirement during a meeting with female leaders.
  • Likely Iranian proxies launched two rockets at US forces stationed at the Conoco International Coalition base in eastern Syria.
Iran Crisis Update, January 3, 2023

January 3, 2023, 7:00 pm ET

The organizational structure of the protest movement is continuing to evolve and morph as its leaders try to cohere the movement. Several different umbrella organizations for the smaller protest groups have emerged in recent months. These umbrella organizations include the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) and the similarly named Iranian Neighborhood United Front (INUF), among others. The INYU and INUF have both circulated lists of their members in recent days, highlighting how some protest groups belong to both umbrella organizations, and other protest groups belong to only one.[i] This apparent disunity may indicate that different protest leaders are vying for influence within the movement. This possibly internal struggle is a somewhat natural consequence of the growing cohesion within the protest movement. It does not mean that the protest movement is irrevocably divided but is a challenge protest leaders must overcome.

Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei have both expressed concern about the Iranian economy in recent days, possibly indicating their doubts that President Ebrahim Raisi can improve the economic situation. Ghalibaf stated that he is trying to reach a consensus within the regime on “modernizing regime governance” to solve economic issues.[ii] Ghalibaf praised Raisi for replacing the Central Bank of Iran governor on December 29 but added that further “structural, policymaking, and managerial reforms” are necessary. Ejei similarly stated that the regime does not have a coherent economic plan.[iii] The Iranian rial has depreciated significantly in recent months, and social media users have claimed that some Iranian banks do not have enough hard currency for cash withdrawals.[iv] Ghalibaf’s and Ejei’s comments follow previous reports of frustration with the Raisi administration. The Fars News Agency bulletin that leaked in November 2022 reported that Ghalibaf told Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the Raisi administration is indecisive and unorganized.[v]

Unidentified individuals shot and killed an IRGC member outside his home in Tehran Province on January 3.[vi] The IRGC commanded local Basij members in his neighborhood. Around 73 security personnel have died since the protests began in September 2022.[vii]

Key Takeaways

  • The organizational structure of the protest movement is continuing to evolve and morph as its leaders try to cohere the movement.
  • Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei have both expressed concern about the Iranian economy in recent days, possibly indicating their doubts that President Ebrahim Raisi can improve the economic situation.
  • Unidentified individuals shot and killed an IRGC member outside his home in Tehran Province.
  • At least two protests took place in two cities across two provinces.
  • The LEC clashed with an armed “terrorist team” in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • The IRGC Intelligence Organization seized 700 kilograms of explosive materials in Gharchak, Tehran Province.

Iran Crisis Update, January 2, 2023

January 2, 2023, 5:00 pm ET

The Iranian state security services have intensified their protest crackdown and social oppression in recent days. Security forces have substantially increased their presence in some cities, such as Javanroud and Semirom, according to social media users, after significant protests occurred there on December 31.[1] The Khuzestan Neighborhood Youth similarly reported that security forces disrupted electricity and telephone lines and shot at citizens in Izeh on January 1.[2] The regime has escalated efforts to reimpose social control as well. Security forces have arrested two reformist journalists in recent days and resumed using surveillance cameras to identify women not properly adhering to the mandatory hijab law in cars.[3]

The regime is likely escalating out of concern that protests are reigniting. Demonstrations saw a relative spike from December 29-31 compared to recent weeks.[4] Protest coordinators and organizations furthermore have called for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on January 6-8 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down a Ukrainian civil airplane.[5]

This regime escalation could tire security forces ahead of the planned protests and strikes on January 6-8. The regime is seemingly strugging to secure small towns, such as Izeh, Javanroud, and Semirom, and has deployed a large number of security forces to these locations. One social media account claimed, for instance, that 1,000 officers from the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Special Units deployed to Semirom, although this number could be an exxageration.[6] The regime commonly shuffles its security forces around Iran to wherever they are needed most—typically major cities and the restive border regions--because it does not have enough forces to cover the entire country.[7] The regime will likely redeploy some—if not most—of the security personnel in Izeh, Javanroud, and Semirom to other locations ahead of the planned January 6-8 protests and strikes, likely tiring these forces in the process and possibly straining their morale. LEC Tehran Provincial Commander Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi denied that police personnel are experiencing fatigue or low morale on January 2—comments which suggest that the security forces are indeed facing these issues, occasioning Rahimi’s denial.[8]

One IRGC member died and three other members were injured during protests in Semirom, Esfahan Province on December 31.[9] Protesters gathered in front of a local government building and lit fires in the street in Semirom on December 31, as CTP previously reported.[10] Around 72 security officers have died since the protests began in September 2022.[11]

The IRGC or its foreign proxies could attack US positions in Iraq and Syria in the days surrounding the three-year anniversary of the US killing Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mehdi al Muhandis. The IRGC and its proxies have organized attacks during the previous anniversaries in recent years. The IRGC released a statement on January 2 reiterating its pledge to avenge Soleimani.[12] Other senior Iranian military officers and proxy outlets echoed these threats on January 2.[13] Iraqi protesters gathered in Baghdad to commemorate the anniversary as well.[14] Social media users reported that Iranian proxies in Iraq planned to coordinate protests in front of the US Embassy in Baghdad, although CTP cannot corroborate these reports at the time of this writing.[15]

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian state security services have intensified their protest crackdown and social oppression in recent days. The regime is likely escalating out of concern that protests are reigniting. This regime escalation could exhaust security forces ahead of the planned protests and strikes on January 6-8.
  • One IRGC member died and three other members were injured during protests in Semirom, Esfahan Province.
  • The IRGC and/or its foreign proxies could attack US positions in Iraq and Syria in the days surrounding the three-year anniversary of the US killing Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mehdi al Muhandis.
  • At least one protest occurred on January 1, and three protests occurred in two cities across two provinces on January 2.
  • A telecommunications union chief, Mehdi Mohebi, stated that around 800 Starlink devices are active in Iran.
  • The Sari Revolutionary Court sentenced 18-year-old protester Mehdi Mohammadi Fard to death, according to a HRANA report.
  • Some Iranian banks are prohibiting cash withdrawals, according to social media users.

Note: CTP did not publish a daily Iran Crisis Update on January 1, 2023, for the New Year’s holiday.

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