April 24, 2023

Iran Update, April 24, 2023

April 24, 2023, 4:30 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.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei briefly lost control of his audience during a speech to Basij students on April 18, indicating the degree to which dissatisfaction has spread among parts of the Iranian regime’s most loyal factions.[i] Western Persian-language outlets circulated leaked footage of the speech on April 22. The footage showed a Basij university student in the audience interrupting Khamenei’s speech, shouting “[regime officials] do not listen to the people’s voice.” Khamenei appeared to dismiss the student, leading the other audience members to reportedly protest Khamenei’s response. These audience members called on Khamenei to respond to the student’s grievances, after which Khamenei abruptly ended the speech.[ii] The outbursts from the audience are remarkable given that the regime likely vetted each participant thoroughly beforehand, permitting only individuals who ardently support the regime to attend the speech.

It is similarly remarkable that an actor with access to the supreme leader’s office leaked the footage, indicating further frustrations among some regime elements. The circumstances of the leak suggest that someone with access to the footage sought to undermine Khamenei by publishing it. The Office of the Supreme Leader omitted the exchange in an edited recording of the speech published on Khamenei’s website on April 18.[iii] 

Social media users have speculated that the regime or some other actor planted the Basij university student in the audience to interrupt Khamenei, but a much simpler explanation is that Iran’s worsening domestic conditions are spreading frustration even among the regime’s most loyal supporters. This explanation is consistent with CTP’s previous assessments about widespread dissatisfaction within the regime. CTP observed on October 30, 2022, that the regime appeared concerned about the morale of its security forces during the Mahsa Amini protest wave.[iv] IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency reported on October 19, 2022, that two percent of detained protesters were government employees.[v]

IRGC Coordination Deputy Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi tried to downplay the possibility of dissent within the regime in a televised interview on April 23. Naghdi emphasized the respect that the security forces’ personnel held for Khamenei.[vi] Naghdi described Khamenei as among the “most outstanding” world leaders whose loyal soldiers always “accept his word as superior.” It is noteworthy that Naghdi, in particular, made these remarks. Naghdi has held several prominent roles in which he has been responsible for the Basij Organization and the indoctrination of armed forces personnel. Naghdi was the Basij commander from 2009-16 and the IRGC deputy for cultural and social affairs from 2016-19.

Strike activity among Iranian petrochemical, copper, and steel industry workers increased significantly between April 22 and 24 in response to worsening economic conditions. Social media users reported 58 industrial worker strikes throughout central and southern Iran between April 22-24. Industrial workers are challenging the Supreme Labor Council’s decision to increase the minimum wage by 27 percent on March 19, which some strike participants argue is insufficient to offset Iran’s high inflation rate.[vii] Central Bank of Iran Governor Mohammad Reza Farzin previously announced on March 26 that Iran’s inflation rate was 46.5 percent.[viii] Some regime officials have indicated that inflation has increased further in recent weeks. Parliamentarian Jalal Mahmoud Zadeh stated on April 22 that the price of many basic goods increased by 50 percent in the first month of the current Persian calendar year (March 20-April 20).[ix] He added that chicken currently costs approximately 850,000 rials or 20 US dollars. Some workers participating in the strikes have called for a 79 percent wage increase to offset inflation.[x] It is unclear, however, whether the regime has the resources or will to fulfill this demand.

CTP has not verified the reported strike activity between April 22-24. The following map illustrates all reported strike activity and its locations within this time range.

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei briefly lost control of his audience during a speech to Basij students, indicating the degree to which dissatisfaction has spread among parts of the Iranian regime’s most loyal factions.
  • Strike activity among Iranian petrochemical, copper, and steel industry workers increased significantly in response to worsening economic conditions.
  • At least 14 protests occurred in 13 cities across 12 provinces.
  • The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on April 24 that Russian ships are ferrying Iranian ammunition across the Caspian Sea to resupply Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani is trying to remove four provincial governors from office, likely to sideline political opposition, especially Iraqi Sunnis.

Internal Security and Protest Activity

At least 14 protests occurred in 13 cities across 12 provinces on April 24. CTP did not record protest activity on April 22-23. CTP assesses with moderate to high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations on April 24:

Karaj, Alborz Province[xi]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Esfahan City, Esfahan Province[xii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province[xiii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province[xiv]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Shoush, Khuzestan Province[xv]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province[xvi]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Nurses and medical staff

Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province[xvii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Hamoun-e Helman, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[xviii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Individuals calling on the regime to pursue Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River
  • Notes: Iranian news outlets described this protest as “legal.”[xix]

Tehran City, Tehran Province[xx]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

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

Ardebil City, Ardebil Province[xxi]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Shahr-e Kord, Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari Province[xxii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Shiraz, Fars Province[xxiii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Rasht, Gilan Province[xxiv]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

Khorramabad, Lorestan Province[xxv]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers

CTP recorded at least three reported poisonings in three cities in three provinces on April 24. CTP did not record reported poisonings on April 22-23.

Iranian social media users and anti-regime outlets claimed that regime loyalists engaged in a lethal physical confrontation with individuals opposed to mandatory veiling in Mahan, Kerman Province on April 23. Reports suggest that several regime loyalists warned an unspecified number of women to adhere to mandatory veiling laws, which resulted in a physical confrontation with individuals who opposed mandatory veiling enforcement.[xxvi] Some anti-regime actors alleged that regime loyalists killed a woman in the confrontation.[xxvii] Other outlets separately reported that the incident caused a woman to suffer and eventually die from cardiac arrest.[xxviii] Iranian officials and IRGC-affiliated outlets confirmed the confrontation and death of the woman but did not report that mandatory veiling sparked the dispute.[xxix] CTP previously assessed that the regime’s reinforcement of its mandatory veiling laws could exacerbate tensions between the Islamic Republic and the Iranian population.[xxx]

Israeli media outlets and social media accounts circulated unverified footage of purported anti-aircraft activity in the vicinity of an unspecified Artesh Ground Forces Aviation base in Esfahan Province on April 23.[xxxi]

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

NOTE: Portions of the following text are included in the Institute for the Study of War’s April 24, 2023, Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on April 24 that Russian ships are ferrying Iranian ammunition across the Caspian Sea to resupply Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.xxiv WSJ, citing unnamed Middle Eastern officials, stated that cargo ships have carried over 300,000 artillery shells and a million ammunition rounds from Iran to Russia via the Caspian Sea over the past six months. The unnamed officials reportedly said that the last known shipment left Iran for Astrakhan in early March and carried 1,000 containers with 2,000 artillery shells. WSJ noted that the Iranian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has a contract with Russian state-owned joint stock company Rosoboronexport for the sale of 74,000 artillery shells at a price of $1.7 million. A prominent Russian milblogger responded to the report and claimed that he has not yet seen the arrival of this ammunition on the front despite continued Russian-Iranian defense cooperation.xxv Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali separately stated that Iran and Russia are entering a phase of “close cooperation” during a Persian-language and literature event in Moscow on April 24.[xxxii] Jalali added that Russia and Iran have “similar approaches” to solving regional and international problems.

The US, UK, and EU announced sanctions on senior Iranian security officials on April 24. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office announced that they had sanctioned eight senior regime officials within the Law Enforcement Command (LEC), IRGC, and Supreme Cyberspace Council—which crafts policies on Iranian internet censorship—for their role in suppressing the Mahsa Amini protest movement.[xxxiii] The EU separately announced sanctions on the same eight individuals as well as Ariantel —a regime-affiliated mobile service provider that helped suppress anti-regime activity during the Mahsa Amini movement.[xxxiv]

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced on April 24 that he will meet with his Iranian, Russian, and Syrian counterparts in Moscow on April 25.[xxxv] Akar added that these countries’ intelligence chiefs will attend the meeting in Moscow as well. It is unclear which Iranian official will represent the regime’s intelligence apparatus at the meeting, however. Foreign Affairs Ministry Senior Adviser Ali Asghar Khaji previously discussed normalizing ties between Damascus and Ankara during a quadrilateral meeting with his Russian, Turkish, and Syrian counterparts in Moscow on April 3, as CTP previously reported.[xxxvi]

External Security and Military Affairs

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani is trying to remove four provincial governors from office, likely to sideline political opposition, especially Iraqi Sunnis. An unidentified Iraqi government source claimed on April 22 that Sudani requested Parliament remove the governors for Anbar, Babil, Dhi Qar, and Ninewa from office.[xxxvii] The Dhi Qar governor—Mohammad al Ghazi—is a Shia affiliated with former Prime Minister Mostafa al Kadhimi.[xxxviii] The governors for Anbar, Babil, and Ninewa—Ali Farhan, Wissam Aslan al Jabouri, respectively—are Sunnis who support Kadhimi and current Parliament Speaker Mohammad al Halbousi.[xxxix] The removal of these governors would provide Sudani an opportunity to replace these pro-Western governors with politicians potentially less friendly to the United States.

The potential removal of the Sunni governors would be part of the growing marginalization of Iraqi Sunnis, which could create conditions for the resurgence of ISIS in Iraq. The Sudani administration’s proposed 2023-2025 budget, if passed, will reallocate funds away from provincial governments to central government ministries.[xl] Sunni political parties have contrastingly called for increases to provincial government budgets to support reconstruction projects in formerly ISIS-controlled areas.[xli]

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for Islamic unity against Israel in a meeting with unspecified officials and ambassadors of Islamic countries on April 22.[xlii]  Khamenei urged officials to capitalize on the “accelerated” decline of Israel and claimed that Israeli deterrence power had significantly decreased. President Ebrahim Raisi previously similarly stated 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.[xliii]

[i] https://www.instagram.com/p/CrWk0OTvckS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link ; https://www.instagram.com/p/CrWEGnOhBJs/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link ; https://www.instagram.com/reel/CrVSGzmNA44/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link ;

[ii] https://twitter.com/arash_tehran/status/1650151952007798786?s=20

[iii] https://www.leader dot ir/fa/media/play/32152?year=1402&type=4

[iv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-october-30

[v] https://twitter.com/IranIntlbrk/status/1582721192275824640?s=20

[vi] https://t dot co/acTNWFreVg

[vii] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/720371/%D8%B9%D8%B6%D9%88-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%DA%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%B2%D8%AF-%DB%B1%DB%B4%DB%B0%DB%B2-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D9%82%D8%A8%D9%84-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%86%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%A8%D9%84-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%87-%D9%86%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D9%88-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%87%D9%85-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%82-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%86%D8%AF-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%AD%D8%AB-%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%B9%DB%8C%D8%B4%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D8%B4-%DA%A9%D8%B4%DB%8C%D8%AF-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B9%D8%A7-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AF-%D9%85%D8%A8%D9%84%D8%BA-%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D8%AC%D8%B2%D9%88-%D8%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%AA%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%DA%AF%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%B1-%DA%AF%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%AA ;

https://en dot irna.ir/news/85062137/Iran-increases-monthly-minimum-wage-by-27#:~:text=Tehran%2C%20IRNA%20%E2%80%93%20Iran%20has%20increased,more%20than%2080%20million%20rials.

[viii] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/720288/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%DA%A9-%D9%85%D8%B1%DA%A9%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%85-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%81%D9%86%D8%AF-%DB%B4%DB%B6%DB%B5-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B5%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%AF

[ix] https://t dot co/R24UfMwXs1

[x] https://www.voanews.com/a/oil-workers-on-strike-across-iran-/7062683.html

[xi] https://twitter.com/indypersian/status/1650573464686714886?s=20 ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650498149809631235?s=20 ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650477404593291269?s=20

[xii] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650473030236217344 ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650491087121793025 ; https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1650469151243395072

[xiii] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650459236395040769 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650482293956386818 ;


[xiv] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650453728950902784 ;

https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1650469151243395072 ;


[xv] https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1650442072107941888 ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650512316440498178 ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650405787317989378

[xvi] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650428105666838529 ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650410170273390593 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650452532089454597 ;

https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1650429060210630657 ;

https://twitter.com/HengawO/status/1650429002744569857 ;


[xvii] https://twitter.com/HengawO/status/1650426508215824387 ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650451757837742084 ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650455178728882177 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650464559449161729 ;


[xviii] https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1650466140462936064 ;


[xix] https://twitter dot com/Entekhab_News/status/1650196490608861184?s=20

[xx] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650458975844876289 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650484675779887104 ;


[xxi] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650458724530548736 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650464559449161729 ;


[xxii] https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650472070474608643 ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650473326093955073 ; https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1650469151243395072?s=20

[xxiii] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650470489406447618 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650472070474608643 ;


[xxiv] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650472087654481926

[xxv] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1650476140799115265?s=20 ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1650472070474608643?s=20 ; https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1650469151243395072

[xxvi] https://iranwire.com/en/news/115871-iranian-woman-dies-after-fight-over-forced-hijab-rules/

[xxvii] https://twitter.com/AlinejadMasih/status/1650418579479691264

[xxviii] https://iranwire.com/en/news/115871-iranian-woman-dies-after-fight-over-forced-hijab-rules/

[xxix] https://twitter.com/Entekhab_News/status/1650458770537959426?s=20 ; https://iranwire.com/en/news/115871-iranian-woman-dies-after-fight-over-forced-hijab-rules/

[xxx] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-3-2023

[xxxi] https://twitter.com/no_itsmyturn/status/1650258514990751744 ; https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-said-to-shell-observation-post-of-hezbolllah-backed-militia-in-syria/

[xxxii] https://www dot tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1402/02/04/2884145/جلالی-روابط-ایران-و-روسیه-در-حال-رسیدن-به-سطح-جدیدی-است

[xxxiii] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-international-partners-announce-new-sanctions-on-iranian-regime

[xxxiv] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2023/04/24/iran-council-sanctions-eight-additional-individuals-and-one-entity-over-human-rights-violations/

[xxxv] https://www dot isna.ir/news/1402020401158/%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%DA%86%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%DB%8C%D9%87-%D8%AA%D8%B1%DA%A9%DB%8C%D9%87-%D9%88-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87 ;


[xxxvi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-3-2023

[xxxvii] https://shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%B7%D9%84%D8%A8-%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A9-4-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%8A%D8%AF

[xxxviii] https://www.ina dot iq/150210--.html ;

https://twitter.com/raad_arabi/status/1604847495334559744 ;


[xxxix] https://www.thenationalnews dot com/world/mena/mosul-appoints-new-governor-amid-acrimony-as-predecessor-refuses-to-step-down-1.953827 ;

https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2019/12/nineveh-mosul-najm-jabouri.html ;

https://twitter.com/YasserEljuboori/status/1616863661632389120 ;

https://twitter.com/hamadisaleh5/status/1615082087337394190 ;

https://t.me/wa3ediq/67236 ;

https://takadum-news dot com/archives/147070 ;


[xl] https://shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%86%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B3-%D8%B3%D9%87%D9%84%D8%A7-%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%87%D8%A7

[xli] https://shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%86%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B3-%D8%B3%D9%87%D9%84%D8%A7-%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%87%D8%A7 ;

https://www.ninanews dot com/Website/News/Details?Key=1047941

[xlii] https://t dot co/jtJrCMklHI

[xliii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-20-2023?mkt_tok=NDc1LVBCUS05NzEAAAGLP_R8t9kOE_gUZZHz1s4vLHrrbmzsrwKMurMgoLID1-Gt0HHtOPp_nWnAmZ_T4vg8IvvtbtA525TsnWzymKHu1-jncMal6aTf4JfpdLXGOOrAhAuy

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