April 18, 2023

Iran Update, April 18, 2023

April 18, 2023, 5:00 pm ET

The Iran 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). To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf met with several key regime powerbrokers on April 18, possibly to promote a pragmatic hardliner political agenda in Iran.[i] Ghalibaf held an iftar dinner with Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, Ali Larijani, and Gholam Ali Haddad Adel—all of whom were previously parliament speakers at various points. Nategh Nouri is a moderate politician affiliated with former President Hassan Rouhani.[ii] Rouhani’s former chief of staff--Mahmoud Vaezi--described Rouhani and Nouri as having a “very good relationship” and stated that “they see each other all the time” during an interview in January 2023.[iii] Ali Larijani comes from the wealthy and historically influential Larijani family, which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has politically marginalized in recent years.[iv] Larijani frequently cooperated with Rouhani when they were both in power to promote a moderate agenda. Haddad Adel is a hardline politician and the father-in-law of Mojtaba Khamenei--the son of Ali Khamenei. All the individuals in the meeting represent important factions across the Iranian political spectrum.

Ghalibaf may seek to form a political coalition with these powerbrokers to advance his pragmatic hardliner agenda. Ghalibaf has repeatedly called for political and economic reforms to address popular grievances following the Mahsa Amini protest movement.[v] He has also stated that he is trying to reach a consensus within the political establishment to “modernize regime governance” and solve economic issues.[vi] The iftar dinner may be part of his consensus-building efforts.

A political coalition between these factions (formal or otherwise) could push back on more ideological, less pragmatic hardliners, such as President Ebrahim Raisi, who they may view as an obstacle to serious political and economic reforms. Ghalibaf has increasingly criticized the performance of the Raisi administration in recent months, particularly its economic policy.[vii] Nategh Nouri and Larijani have historically opposed Raisi as well. It is less obvious whether Haddad Adel and his supporters would back a concerted political effort against Raisi, however. Both Raisi and Mojtaba Khamenei are considered top contenders to succeed Ali Khamenei as supreme leader. Haddad Adel could support political efforts to undermine Raisi if he seeks to bolster Mojtaba’s chances of becoming supreme leader.

Key Takeaways

  • Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf met with several key regime powerbrokers, possibly to promote a pragmatic hardliner political agenda in Iran.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • CTP recorded poisonings in seven cities across six provinces, primarily concentrated in the northwestern provinces of Iran.
  • Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah met with senior Iraqi political officials in Baghdad.
  • The IRGC and its proxies are reportedly strengthening their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities around al Mayadin, Deir ez Zor Province, likely as part of the Iranian effort to secure the Abu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route in eastern Syria

Internal Security and Protest Activity

At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces on April 18. CTP assesses with moderate to high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Tehran City, Tehran Province[viii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: School employees

Dehloran, Ilam Province[ix]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Individuals demanding the release of four political prisoners

Iranian state media continued on April 18 to deny the significance of the ongoing student poisonings across Iran. IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency attributed the cause of student poisonings to “teenage mischief” and reported that only 20 percent of poisoned students admitted to the hospital exhibited “real symptoms.”[x] The true percentage of students with poisoning symptoms is likely much higher than Fars News Agency reported. Given the standard wait times associated with medical triage and the ephemeral nature of the chemical substance used in the attacks, it is quite possible that the effects of the chemical wear off before poisoning victims are triaged and treated.

CTP recorded poisonings in seven cities across six provinces on April 18, primarily concentrated in the northwestern provinces of Iran.[xi]

Domestic Politics

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi expressed his openness to a diverse parliamentary election in a meeting with political party leaders on April 18.[xii] Vahidi stated that he would “welcome the viewpoints of various parties, including fundamentalists, reformists, and independents” and emphasized the importance of high participation in the March 2024 parliamentary elections. The Interior Ministry is the governmental body charged with supervising elections in Iran.

Raisi administration spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi rejected rumors that President Ebrahim Raisi will dismiss Industry, Mines, and Trade Minister Reza Fatemi Amin.[xiii] Jahromi defended Amin‘s record and performance, rejecting claims that he is responsible for the significant increase in car prices in Iran. Bahadori’s statement follows a parliamentary motion to interpellate Amin on April 17, which CTP previously reported.[xiv] Jahromi was echoing similar remarks by Government Information Council head Sepehr Khalaji, who similarly denied rumors about Amin‘s dismissal and argued that Amin is not responsible for recent issues in Iran’s automobile market.[xv] IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported on April 13 that President Ebrahim Raisi may soon dismiss Amin.[xvi]

Economic Affairs

The Iranian rial continued to depreciate on April 18, from 516,000 rials to one US dollar on April 17 to 517,500 rials to one US dollar on April 18.[xvii]

Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi made an urgent request to President Ebrahim Raisi for further cooperation between relevant government agencies to reduce custom duties on basic goods.[xviii] Khandouzi emphasized the need for these relevant agencies to produce a list of medical equipment, medicines, industrial and agricultural production machinery, and raw materials that should be subject to reduced import tariffs. Khandouzi argued that delaying this action could cause major economic problems for Iran.

Parliamentary Energy Committee member Ramazan Ali Sang Davini denied rumors that the Raisi administration intends to raise fuel prices. Davini attributed the rumors to “Iran’s enemies,” who he argued are motivated by creating “despair within Iranian society.”[xix] A sudden rise in fuel prices was the primary driver of the Bloody Aban protest wave that erupted throughout Iran in November 2019.[xx]

External Security and Military Affairs

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah met with senior Iraqi political officials in Baghdad on April 15 and 16. Nakhalah met with Iranian proxy Asaib Ahl al Haq Secretary General Qais al Khazali on April 15 to discuss enhancing communication and cooperation against Israel.[xxi] Nakhalah also met with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi on April 16 to similarly discuss the Palestinian resistance against Israel and the security situation in the West Bank.[xxii] CTP previously reported that Nakhalah—the leader of a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization—met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani and Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid on April 13.[xxiii]

The al Sayyad Company, which is a Syrian private security company affiliated with Russian private military company Wagner Group, recruited several hundred Syrian fighters on April 16-17. Approximately 1,200-2,000 Syrians arrived in Al Sayyed, Homs Province to register to join the al Sayyad Company.[xxiv] The al Sayyad Company reportedly offered potential recruits a monthly salary of $700-1,000.[xxv] The EU sanctioned the al Sayyad Company in 2022 for its connection to the Wagner-supervised ISIS Hunters’ recruitment of Syrian mercenaries to fight in Ukraine.[xxvi] ISW previously reported on April 10 that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin urged the Kremlin to reinvigorate Russia’s global military presence via his organization.[xxvii] A sufficiently large recruitment drive could allow Russia to offset its force requirements in Syria and redirect military resources to Ukraine. Alternatively, the influx of new recruits could allow Russia to strengthen its military presence in Syria and regain some of the military positions and influence with the Assad regime that it partially ceded to Iran in 2022 after the invasion of Ukraine.[xxviii]

The IRGC and its proxies are reportedly strengthening their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities around al Mayadin, Deir ez Zor Province, likely as part of the Iranian effort to secure the Abu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route in eastern Syria. Local anti-Assad media sources reported that IRGC Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) technical experts transported communications and surveillance equipment to an IRGC military depot and surveillance headquarters at al Rahba castle near al Mayadin on April 17.[xxix] Syrian media reported that the Quds Force personnel specialize in intelligence collection and that the LH personnel belong to Unit 217. The exact function of Unit 217 is unclear. The Syrian reporting may have meant to refer to LH’s Unit 127, which is responsible for ISR drone operations in the central Syrian desert.[xxx] CTP previously assessed that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces have reinforced key positions along the Abu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City route to protect Iranian military shipments from ISIS attacks.[xxxi]

The Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army 5th Corps reinforced positions in Tabiya Jazira, Deir ez Zor Province on April 17. Local Syrian media reported that the 5th Corps increased its military presence at several checkpoints and closed a smuggling corridor that connects Tabiya Jazira to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory.[xxxii] CTP previously reported that the 5th Corps and SDF clashed likely due to a smuggling-related dispute near Tabiya Jazira on April 13.[xxxiii] The 5th Corps’ focus on restraining smuggling activity in Tabiya Jazira suggests that it is reacting to the April 13 incident rather than initiating a wider confrontation with the SDF.

Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Faisal bin Farhan discussed reestablished diplomatic ties with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus on April 18.[xxxiv] Farhan’s visit marks Saudi Arabia’s first high-level diplomatic engagement with the Assad regime since it severed ties in 2011.[xxxv] Western news outlets previously reported that Farhan would invite Assad to attend an upcoming Arab League summit in Riyadh, but official Syrian and Saudi government readouts made no mention of Assad attending the summit.[xxxvi] The Assad regime has advanced its efforts to normalize relations with Arab countries in recent weeks. Jordan proposed a plan to reincorporate Syria into the Arab League on April 14, and Tunisia formally restored diplomatic ties with the Assad regime on April 12.[xxxvii] The Assad regime will benefit from expanded investment from the Arab states that normalize relations. Russia and Iran could attempt to launder money through these new financial flows to circumvent international sanction

[i] https://www dot khabaronline.ir/news/1755714/%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AF-%DB%8C%D8%A7-%D9%87%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B2%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%81-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%82-%D9%86%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C

[ii] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-alireza-akbari-curious-case-insider-accused-spying

[iii] https://www dot eghtesadnews.com/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D9%87%D8%A7-61/549043-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B8%DB%8C-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%82-%D9%86%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%85-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%86-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AF%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D8%B4-%D8%B1%D9%88-%D9%87%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C%D9%85

[iv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/US-must-be-wary-as-irans-parliament-veers-hard-right

[v] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-february-23-2023

[vi] https://www dot entekhab.ir/fa/news/709021/%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%81-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%85%E2%80%8C%DA%AF%DB%8C%D8%B1%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%85-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D9%88%D8%B2%D9%87-%D9%86%D9%88%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%AD%DA%A9%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D9%87%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%84%D9%88%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA

[vii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-february-27-2023

[viii] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1648353559593775104?cxt=HHwWgMCz_Ye1kOAtAAAA ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1648327457647509504?cxt=HHwWgIDSqd3FhOAtAAAA ;


[ix] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1648256061885825032?cxt=HHwWkIC2ufmJ5N8tAAAA ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1648314704576536576?cxt=HHwWgICzxbPf_t8tAAAA ;


[x] https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020129000353/%D8%A2%D8%AE%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%82%DB%8C%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B4-%D8%A2%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B3
















[xii] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85086771/%D9%88%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1-%DA%A9%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%DA%AF%D8%A7%D9%87-%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%85-%DA%AF%DB%8C%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%82%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%85%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D9%86%DB%8C%D9%85

[xiii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/29/2882075/بهادری-جهرمی-دولت-قصد-جابه-جایی-فاطمی-امین-را-ندارد

[xiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-17-2023#_edn4f55d621768de1a287bd6cf5ed008c35cb99e1b12d88b5d287d65d4d22863f2e41

[xv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-13-2023

[xvi] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/24/2879273

[xvii] https://bonbast dot com/

[xviii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/29/2882198/نامه-فوری-وزیر-اقتصاد-به-رئیس-جمهور-سازمان-برنامه-جهاد-کشاورزی-و-صمت-به-وظیفه-خود-عمل-کنند

[xix] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/723090/%D8%B9%D8%B6%D9%88-%DA%A9%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%B3%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B1%DA%98%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%B4%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B9%D9%87-%DA%AF%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D9%86%D8%B2%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%B3%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B4%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%85%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AD-%D9%85%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%AF-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AA-%D9%87%DB%8C%DA%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%87%E2%80%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B2%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B4-%D9%82%DB%8C%D9%85%D8%AA-%D9%86%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AF

[xx] https://www.criticalthreats.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Whatever-it-takes-to-end-it.pdf

[xxi] https://ahlualhaq dot com/2023/04/15/%d8%ae%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%84-%d8%a7%d8%b3%d8%aa%d9%82%d8%a8%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%87-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%86%d8%ae%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b4%d9%8a%d8%ae-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ae%d8%b2%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%8a-%d9%8a/

[xxii] https://www dot alquds.co.uk/%d9%88%d9%81%d8%af-%d9%82%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%af%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%87%d8%a7%d8%af-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a5%d8%b3%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%85%d9%8a-%d9%8a%d9%84%d8%aa%d9%82%d9%8a-%d8%a8%d8%b1%d8%a6%d9%8a%d8%b3/

[xxiii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-13-2023

[xxiv] https://suwayda24 dot com/?p=21087; https://qasioun-news dot com/ar/articles/262008

[xxv] https://suwayda24 dot com/?p=21087

[xxvi] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32022R1274; https://www.reuters.com/world/eu-sanctions-10-syrians-accused-enlisting-russia-mercenaries-2022-07-21/

[xxvii] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-10-2023

[xxviii] https://warontherocks.com/2023/01/ukraines-consequences-are-finally-spreading-to-syria/

[xxix] https://www.syriahr dot com/%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%84%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%8A%D9%80-%D9%80%D8%B4%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%8A%D8%A7/602556/; https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2023/04/18/8257 \; https://english.aawsat dot com//home/article/1435456/iran-intensifies-militia-presence-west-euphrates; https://www.syriahr dot com/en/228564/; https://www.syriahr dot com/%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%82%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%84%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%8A%D9%80-%D9%80%D8%B4%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%8A%D8%A7/602556/

[xxx] https://israel-alma dot org/2022/08/11/hezbollah-in-eastern-syria-uav-activity-implemented-by-the-aerial-unit-and-unit-127/

[xxxi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-12-2023

[xxxii] https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d9%85%d9%8a%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%b4%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%aa%d8%a7%d8%a8%d8%b9%d8%a9-%d9%84%d9%84%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%aa%d9%86%d8%b4%d8%b1-%d9%86%d9%82%d8%a7/; https://deirezzor24 dot net/%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%82%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%aa%d8%ba%d9%84%d9%82-%d9%85%d9%85%d8%b1-%d8%aa%d9%87%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%a8-%d8%b4%d8%b1%d9%82-%d8%af%d9%8a%d8%b1%d8%a7/; https://www.syriahr dot com/%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%ae%d9%84%d9%81%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a7%d8%b4%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%aa%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%a8%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%a7%d9%83%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a3%d8%ae%d9%8a%d8%b1/602443/

[xxxiii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-13-2023

[xxxiv] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/saudi-fm-land-syria-tuesday-first-visit-since-conflict-syrian-information-2023-04-18/

[xxxv] https://www.ft.com/content/a0c93014-1d82-48ef-a54c-5ccb5c199416

[xxxvi] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-invite-syrias-assad-arab-leaders-summit-sources-say-2023-04-02/; https://sana dot sy/?p=306344; https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=558482123095345&set=pcb.558483546428536

[xxxvii] https://sana dot sy/en/?p=306313; https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/04/jordan-proposes-syria-peace-plan-during-arab-fm-saudi-meeting

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