April 20, 2023

Iran Update, April 20, 2023

April 20, 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.

The IRGC is conducting a media campaign against former President Hassan Rouhani likely to alienate him further from the political establishment. IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency published an article on April 20 asserting that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech on April 18 was directed at Rouhani, which is consistent with the assessment that CTP previously published on the speech.[i] Khamenei stated during the speech that “the issues of the country cannot be solved by a referendum.”[ii] Khamenei was responding to repeated calls from Rouhani in recent weeks for a referendum on the regime’s domestic, economic, and foreign policies.[iii] The Tasnim News Agency article emphasized Khamenei’s disapproval of Rouhani and stated that audience members “made fun of Rouhani” during the speech. Tasnim News Agency has also published articles criticizing the idea of a referendum in recent days.[iv]

The IRGC may be responding to indications that Rouhani is trying to reestablish himself and his supporters in the domestic political arena. CTP first assessed that Rouhani was positioning himself to do so on February 14.[v] Tasnim News Agency reported on April 11 that Rouhani will promote the election of moderate candidates in the parliamentary elections in 2024.[vi] Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf separately met with Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri—a political ally of Rouhani—on April 18, as CTP previously reported.[vii] The repeated attacks from Tasnim News Agency on Rouhani suggest that IRGC leaders may be concerned that he will succeed in reinserting himself into the political space to some degree.

The IRGC may be emphasizing Khamenei’s disapproval of Rouhani to discourage some domestic political blocs from cooperating with Rouhani. The IRGC may be particularly concerned that pragmatic hardliners, such as Ghalibaf, could provide the political space for Rouhani and his supporters to reestablish themselves in the coming legislative elections. Ghalibaf and Rouhani have historically been staunch political rivals, but they appear to agree at least on limiting the role of parastatal entities in the Iranian economy.[viii] That common ground could be enough to foster political cooperation, especially given the increasingly dire state of the economy.

The repeated IRGC media attacks on Rouhani are inadvertently keeping domestic discourse focused on political reform. This media attention may have the unintended effect of precipitating—instead of preventing—further calls among citizens and politicians for reform. This effect could become particularly pronounced in hardline circles, given the attention that IRGC media is dedicating to the issue.

Key Takeaways

  • The IRGC is conducting a media campaign against former President Hassan Rouhani likely to alienate him further from the political establishment.
  • At least three protests occurred in three cities across three provinces.
  • The Iranian regime is trying to prevent independent reporting on the ongoing student poisonings throughout Iran.
  • Iranian-backed militias are bolstering air defense capabilities in Deir ez Zor Province, demonstrating the continued IRGC commitment to consolidating its position along the Abu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route.

Internal Security and Protest Activity

At least three protests occurred in three cities across three provinces on April 20. CTP assesses with high confidence that one protest occurred in the following location:

Tehran City, Tehran Province[ix]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Individuals who lost money in the fake online trading platform “King Money”[x]

CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Bandar Abbas, Hormozgan Province[xi]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Truck drivers

Divandarreh, Kurdistan Province[xii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Individuals gathered by the graves of killed protesters

The Iranian regime is trying to prevent independent reporting on the ongoing student poisonings throughout Iran. Ghazvin Public Revolutionary Prosecutor Hossein Rajabi announced on April 20 the arrest of a woman for “publishing and sending pictures of student poisonings to hostile media.”[xiii] Rajabi stated that Iranian authorities identified the women using CCTV cameras—once again underscoring that the regime should have the surveillance equipment necessary to identify the perpetrators of the recent student poisonings. Iranian authorities appear more focused on using this equipment against individuals whom they perceive as a threat to the regime rather than against those who are a threat to its citizens. Rajabi added that the woman was officially charged with “spreading lies and propaganda against the system.” Iranian social media users previously circulated uncorroborated reports that the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry advised Iranian state-owned and state-affiliated media to avoid covering poisonings and poisoning-related incidents on April 10, as CTP previously reported.[xiv]

CTP did not record any student poisoning incidents on April 20.

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated that Islamic countries must band together to confront Israel during a meeting with the ambassadors and charge d’affaires of several unidentified Muslim countries on April 20. Raisi stated that “simply condemning and expressing disgust” toward Israeli actions is insufficient and that Muslim countries must take “pragmatic action” against Israel.[xv] The regime has sought to use the Israeli raids on the al Aqsa Mosque between April 6-10 to isolate Israel from Muslim countries inside and outside of the region in recent weeks, as CTP previously reported.[xvi]

External Security and Military Affairs

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh defended the PMF’s role in providing civil and security services for the government in a television interview on April 17. Fayyadh claimed that the PMF’s Muhandis General Company was a legal entity and won its contract to plant palm trees on two million acres of land fairly.[xvii] The Muhandis General Company is modeled after the IRGC Khatam ol Anbia Construction Headquarters, which is a civil engineering and construction firm that dominates large swaths of the Iranian economy.[xviii] Fayyadh emphasized that the PMF is distinct from the IRGC during the interview, likely to preempt such comparisons between the Muhandis General Company and the Khatam ol Anbia Construction Headquarters.

Iranian-backed militias are bolstering air defense capabilities in Deir ez Zor Province, demonstrating the continued IRGC commitment to consolidating its position along the Abu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route. Local anti-Iran media outlet Euphrates Post reported on April 20 that a Lebanese Hezbollah commander trained Iranian-backed militants in operating Misagh-1 anti-aircraft missiles in the vicinity of Al Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor Province.[xix] CTP cannot confirm the accuracy of this report. CTP previously reported that Iranian-backed militias distributed over 140 Misagh-1 anti-aircraft missiles to Fatemiyoun Division and Kataib Hezbollah forces in Abu Kamal and Al Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor Province on April 11.[xx]Iran relies on the Abu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route to transport advanced weapons from Iraq deeper into Syria and likely seeks to secure this route from potential Israeli airstrikes.[xxi]

The Artesh added over 200 drones—including Ababil-4, Ababil-5, Arash, Karrar, Akhgar, 10th Shahrivar, Switchblade, and Homa drones—to its inventory on April 20.[xxii] The Artesh received these drones from the Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry. These drones are capable of conducting combat and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Artesh Commander Major General Abdol Rahim Mousavi lauded the Artesh’s growing drone capabilities during the unveiling ceremony of this equipment on April 20.[xxiii]

Artesh Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani claimed that an Iranian Fateh-class submarine forced the U.S.S. Florida to surface as it allegedly attempted to traverse the Strait of Hormuz on April 20.[xxiv] Irani added that the U.S.S. Florida neared Iranian waters and was forced to change course after the Artesh Navy detected its presence in the strait. The US Fifth Fleet denied Irani’s claims, calling them “disinformation” in a tweet on April 20.[xxv] This incident follows the US Navy’s announcement on April 8 that it deployed a guided-missile submarine to the Middle East.[xxvi]

[i] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/31/2883187; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-19-2023

[ii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-19-2023

[iii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-4-2023

[iv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/30/2882864; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/30/2882605; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/30/2882879

[v] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-february-14-2023

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

[vii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-18-2023

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

[ix] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1649010812663611393?cxt=HHwWgoC--Zymu-ItAAAA ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1648995159055450114?cxt=HHwWhIC2vYiXtOItAAAA ;


[x] https://en.mehrnews dot com/news/179211/Several-people-arrested-in-Iran-over-crypto-currency-scam

[xi] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1648963486829928449?cxt=HHwWgoCzgcDjpeItAAAA

[xii] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1649129419938603009?cxt=HHwWgoCxgYqe8eItAAAA ;


[xiii] https://www dot hra-news.org/2023/hranews/a-40686/

[xiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-10-2023

[xv] https://president dot ir/fa/143362

[xvi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-19-2023

[xvii] https://al-hashed dot gov.iq/archives/169549

[xviii] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/muhandis-company-iraqs-khatam-al-anbia

[xix] https://euphratespost dot net/%d9%85%d8%af%d8%b1%d8%a8-%d8%b5%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%ae-%d9%85%d9%8a%d8%ab%d8%a7%d9%82-1-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d8%af%d9%8a%d8%b1-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b2%d9%88%d8%b1-%d8%aa%d8%ad%d8%aa-%d9%85%d8%b1%d9%85/

[xx] https://euphratespost dot net/%d8%b5%d9%80-%d9%80%d9%88%d8%a7%d8%b1%d9%8a%d8%ae-%d9%85%d9%8a%d8%ab%d8%a7%d9%82-1-%d8%aa%d9%88%d8%b2%d8%b9-%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d9%8a%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%b4%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7/

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

[xxii] http://www dot defapress.ir/fa/news/584517

[xxiii] http://www dot defapress.ir/fa/news/584517

[xxiv] https://www dot irna.ir/news/85088750/%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%B4-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D9%87%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%86%DA%AF%D9%87-%D9%87%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%B2-%D9%87%D8%B4%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1

[xxv] https://twitter.com/US5thFleet/status/1649008046931079168?s=20

[xxvi] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/08/world/middleeast/us-submarine-middle-east-iran.html

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