April 28, 2023

Iran Update, April 28, 2023

April 28, 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.  

President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Damascus on May 3 to initiate several economic projects, possibly to reinvigorate Iran’s economy by securing resources outside of Iran. Reuters reported on April 28 that Raisi will visit Syria on May 3 for a two-day trip, citing an informed source.[i] An Iranian president has not visited Syria since 2011, when the Syrian civil war commenced. The source stated that the recent Iran-Saudi rapprochement and dialogue between Syria and other Arab states prompted the visit. The Lebanese Hezbollah (LH)-affiliated news outlet Al Akhbar reported that Raisi’s two-day visit would result in several economic agreements.[ii] An unidentified source cited by Al Akhbar claimed that Raisi’s visit is a part of a larger effort to broaden the Axis of Resistance’s activities beyond its current military activity. Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazarpash  announced on April 25 that Iran intends to connect trade through Iran, Iraq, and Syria via a rail link to reduce tariffs and facilitate banking exchanges during a multi-day visit to Damascus.[iii] Bazarpash reported on April 26 that the Iranian-Syrian Joint Economic Forum established eight new committees focused on Iranian investment, energy, and electricity.[iv] Iran has cancelled previous economic projects in Syria, including the construction of two power stations on March 13, because the Assad regime sought to pay for the project in raw phosphate.[v]

CTP previously assessed that Iranian leadership may capitalize on financial resources gained through regional normalization with the Assad regime.[vi] Iranian leadership may grant construction contracts to proxies for possibly energy infrastructure projects in Syria as a means for Iran and its proxies to reap additional profits from the economic deals. Construction contracts would also open the opportunity for Iranian-backed proxies to establish or strengthen militia positions across Syria similarly to the PMF’s deployment to northern Syria under the guise of earthquake humanitarian relief.[vii]

Economic projects in Syria would provide Iran with sources of revenue to address the domestic economic problems it has not been able to resolve internally. Regime officials have expressed concern over the state of the Iranian economy for several months and the regime’s economic policies have not restored the value of the national currency.[viii] Regime officials continued to express alarm on April 28. Qom City Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Hosseini Boushehri stated that the Raisi administration’s inconsistent monetary policies disincentivized investment and created an unpredictable market.[ix] Tehran Interim Friday Prayer Leader Hojjat ol Eslam Mohammad Hasan Abou Tarabifard similarly argued that the Raisi administration and parliament had contributed.[x] Former Rouhani administration First Vice President Esghagh Jahangiri warned of the economic ramifications of closing facilities that violated the mandatory veiling laws.[xi] Former Central Bank of Iran Head under President Rouhani Abdol Nasser Hemati separately warned against removing the US dollar from all Iranian business transactions and blamed the Raisi administration for the rising inflation rate.[xii]

Protesters in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province called for a referendum following prominent Sunni cleric Abdol Hamid’s weekly Friday prayer sermon on April 28, underscoring the extent to which the idea of referenda has permeated the Iranian political discourse.[xiii] Zahedan residents chanted “referendum, referendum” following Abdol Hamid’s sermon, in which he endorsed holding a political referendum.[xiv]  CTP has not previously observed protesters in any part of Iran using chants referencing referenda. The protesters’ call for a referendum on April 28 thus reflects how this topic has gained traction in the Iranian political sphere and among some segments of the population. Iranian news outlets and officials from across the political spectrum have increasingly discussed referenda in recent days following Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s explicit rejection of referenda during a meeting with student activists on April 18, as CTP previously reported. [xv] The Zahedan protesters' call for a referendum also highlights Abdol Hamid’s influence on his congregation. Abdol Hamid has given anti-regime sermons since the “Bloody Friday” massacre in September 2022.

The regime’s refusal to grant political or sociocultural concessions to its population may increase the appeal of a referendum among Iranian citizens. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri’s office initially called for a referendum in November 2022 at the height of the Mahsa Amini protest movement.[xvi] It was not until reformist politician Mir Hossein Mousavi called for a referendum in February 2023 and Khamenei rejected referenda in April 2023 that Iranian officials and media began fervently discussing this issue, however. That Mousavi and Khamenei’s remarks—which followed the culmination of the Mahsa Amini protest movement in January 2022—have gained traction indicates some citizens are dissatisfied with the regime’s failure to grant protesters meaningful concessions.

Key Takeaways

  • President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Damascus on May 3 to initiate several economic projects, possibly to reinvigorate Iran’s economy by securing resources outside of Iran.
  • Protesters in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province called for a referendum following prominent Sunni cleric Abdol Hamid’s weekly Friday prayer sermon on April 28, underscoring the extent to which the idea of referenda has permeated the Iranian political discourse.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across one province on April 28.
  • Western Persian-language media reported that pro-regime actors have been issuing hijab observance warnings to women across Tehran, citing eyewitness accounts.
  • The Intelligence and Security Ministry (MOIS) downplayed ongoing poisoning attacks in Iranian schools in a report published on April 28.
  • Pars Special Economic Energy Zone CEO Sakhavat Asadi threatened to dismiss workers who participate in strikes on April 28.
  • Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian stated that Iran and the US concluded a prisoner exchange agreement 13 months ago during a press conference in Beirut on April 28.
  • The US military is equipping A-10 Warthog aircraft in the Middle East with 250-pound “bunker busting” bombs to deter Iran.
  • Several Shia Coordination Framework party leaderships held separate meetings with a Kurdistan Workers Party (PUK) delegation, likely to negotiate Kurdish support for the proposed 2023-2025 budget.

Internal Security and Protest Activity

At least two protests occurred in two cities across one province on April 28. CTP assesses with high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Fanouj, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[xvii]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Individuals protesting the death of a 16-year-old boy whom LEC officers reportedly ran over on April 25[xviii]

Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[xix]

  • Size: Medium
  • Demographic: Zahedan residents protesting after prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid’s Friday sermon
  • Notes: Protesters chanted “referendum, referendum.”

CTP did not record poisoning incidents on April 28.

Western Persian-language media reported that pro-regime actors have been issuing hijab observance warnings to women across Tehran, citing eyewitness accounts.[xx] Social media users circulated footage on April 27 of pro-regime actors entering shopping centers and theaters in Tehran to enforce mandatory veiling. These users reported that the pro-regime actors were plainclothes officers, contradicting the regime’s prior statements committing to a nonconfrontational veiling enforcement.

The Intelligence and Security Ministry (MOIS) downplayed ongoing poisoning attacks in Iranian schools in a report published on April 28.[xxi] The MOIS blamed ”mischievous” students using pepper spray, tear gas, stink bombs, and other non-toxic substances for the “malaise” students experienced and emphasized that reported poisoning incidents did not involve poisonous materials. The MOIS also blamed foreign outlets for spreading mass hysteria by reporting school incidents as poisonings reported poisonings on foreign actors. The regime has continuously failed to halt school poisoning attacks, demonstrating that it is either incapable of protecting students or that it is tolerating these attacks, as CTP has previously assessed.[xxii]

Economic Affairs

Pars Special Economic Energy Zone CEO Sakhavat Asadi threatened to dismiss workers who participate in strikes on April 28.[xxiii] Industrial workers across central and southern Iran have organized strikes to protest insufficient wages in recent days, as CTP previously reported.[xxiv]

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian stated during a press conference in Beirut on April 28 that Iran and the US concluded a prisoner exchange agreement 13 months ago.[xxv] Amir Abdollahian stated that “considerations from the American side” prevented the agreement’s implementation and emphasized that Iran considers prisoner exchanges a “fundamental issue.”

External Security and Military Affairs

The US military is equipping A-10 Warthog aircraft in the Middle East with 250-pound “bunker busting” bombs to deter Iran.[xxvi] Unidentified American officials stated that the bombs will enable pilots to destroy ammunition bunkers and other unspecified entrenched targets in Iraq and Syria. The US military’s decision to equip A-10 Warthog aircraft with these bombs coincides with heightened tensions between Iran and the US in recent weeks. The US navy previously announced on April 7 that it had deployed a guided-missile submarine to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking commercial ships.[xxvii] The Artesh Navy separately seized a Chinese-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged tanker transporting oil to the US in the Gulf of Oman on April 27, as CTP previously reported.[xxviii]   

Several Shia Coordination Framework party leaderships held separate meetings with a Kurdistan Workers Party (PUK) delegation, likely to negotiate Kurdish support for the proposed 2023-2025 budget. State of Law Coalition Secretary General and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki met with the head of the PUK Political Bureau Refaat Abdullah and his accompanying delegation to discuss points of friction between Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government that may be slowing down approving the 2023-2025 Iraqi budget.[xxix] National Wisdom Movement Secretary General Ammar al Hakim met separately with the delegation to discuss approving the proposed budget, counterterrorism, and farmers rights.[xxx] Al Fatah Secretary General Hadi al Ameri also met with the delegation to discuss allocation of funds across the provinces and to various demographics.[xxxi] CTP previously reported that Coordination Framework parties are reallocating funds from Iraqi provinces to ministries to consolidate government resources.[xxxii] Parties from the Shia Coordination Framework may be attempting to court the PUK’s votes in order to pass the proposed budget.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian hosted 16 Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and ostensibly LH-friendly members of Lebanese Parliament to the Iranian Embassy on April 28 to discuss breaking political deadlock within Lebanon’s parliament.[xxxiii] Abdollahian invited 25 members of parliament, however 9 boycotted the meeting. A member of parliament who attended the meeting claimed that the Iran-Saudi normalization has created conditions that are favorable for breaking the deadlock and electing a president in Lebanon.[xxxiv] Abdollahian also met with LH Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to discuss Iran-Saudi rapprochement.[xxxv] He also held a phone call with Hamas political leader Yahya Sinwar to discuss Iranian support for Palestinian resistance groups and invite senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to Tehran.[xxxvi]


[i] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iranian-president-visit-syria-next-week-senior-source-2023-04-28/ 

https://www.al-akhbar dot com/Home_Page/361702/%D8%B1%D8%A6%D9%8A%D8%B3%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AF%D9%85%D8%B4%D9%82-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B9%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%B4%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9

[ii] https://www.al-akhbar dot com/Home_Page/361702/%D8%B1%D8%A6%D9%8A%D8%B3%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AF%D9%85%D8%B4%D9%82-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B9%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%B4%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AA%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9

[iii] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85092186/%DA%AF%D9%81%D8%AA%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%DA%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%B4-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D8%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%84%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%DA%A9%DB%8C-%D9%88-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%B4

[iv] https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020206001102 ;

https://www.enabbaladi dot net/archives/639584 ;

http://alwatan dot sy/archives/343476

[v] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-29-2023

[vi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-25-202

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

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

[ix] https://t dot co/vVlxU59Nb5

[x] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85095073

[xi] https://t dot co/dKPHk3fQ3j

[xii] https://t dot co/PC6PEisJID

[xiii] https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1651914656254947328

[xiv] https://abdolhamid dot net/persian/2023/04/28/13719/

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

[xvi] https://iranwire dot com/fa/news-1/110311

[xvii] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1651906759596933120 ;

https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1651914607596806144 ;
https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1651909507461545985

[xviii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-26-2023

[xix] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1651914731794440200 ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1651898983214661634 ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1651899453635280899 ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1651900332849479680 ;

https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1651914656254947328

[xx] https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-plainclothes-agents-enforcing-hijab-law-tehran/32382364.html

[xxi] https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020208000518/

[xxii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-1-2023

[xxiii] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1651930331350532097

[xxiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-24-2023

[xxv] https://www.jamaran dot news/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%B1-59/1592680-%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86-%DA%86%DA%AF%D9%88%D9%86%DA%AF%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%84-%D8%B2%D9%86%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D9%86-%D9%86%D9%85%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%87-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B4%D9%86%DA%AF%D8%AA%D9%86-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B6%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AF%D9%84%DB%8C%D9%84-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%AE%DB%8C-%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%B8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87-%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D9%88%DB%8C%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%AF

[xxvi] https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-arms-warplanes-with-bunker-busting-bombs-in-message-to-iran-ba1ecb08

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

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-arms-warplanes-with-bunker-busting-bombs-in-message-to-iran-ba1ecb08

[xxviii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-27-2023

[xxix] https://www.ina dot iq/183817--.html

[xxx] https://www.ninanews dot com/Website/News/Details?key=1049774

[xxxi] https://www.ninanews dot com/Website/News/Details?key=1049705

[xxxii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-26-2023?mkt_tok=NDc1LVBCUS05NzEAAAGLXwk5wrGgUDibGfqqh_nyoG4qdMN5oYxGQ4moBOLyN1SM9VbAhp0tBKF8FU5ugZb5lBfEtunt2oknlbS0wzbd0IllMjh8f-9-FxIW6q_Ez0MRnnel#_edn000f75ce01a900d05c075ae37e38aef4754904231f5093025cf4fb7531bb123127

[xxxiii] https://naharnet dot com/stories/en/297161-abdollahian-dismayed-by-boycott-says-iran-has-no-candidate

[xxxiv] https://naharnet dot com/stories/en/297161-abdollahian-dismayed-by-boycott-says-iran-has-no-candidate

[xxxv] https://www.al-akhbar dot com/Politics/361714/%D9%86%D8%B5%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%82%D8%A8%D9%84-%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87%D9%8A%D8%A7

[xxxvi] https://t.me/hamasps/14867

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