April 07, 2023

Iran Update, April 7, 2023

April 7, 2023, 8:00 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.

Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) have indicated that they seek to contain and deescalate their recent flareup with Israel—at least for the moment—after Hamas conducted a large-scale rocket attack from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on April 6.[i] This suggests that Hamas and LH seek to avoid the current cycle of violence from becoming a larger conflict. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded to the rocket attack by conducting airstrikes on three Hamas military sites in southern Lebanon and multiple sites in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on April 6.[ii] Hamas conducted a small-scale rocket attack into Israel on April 7 in response to the Israeli airstrikes.[iii] This attack came from the Gaza Strip—rather than southern Lebanon—and was significantly smaller than the rocket barrage on April 6. LH officials and media separately asserted that LH had not been involved in the April 6 rocket attack.[iv]

Iran, Hamas, and LH do not appear to be conflating the attacks with the larger-scale conflict that has taken place in Syria during the last few weeks. Iranian state media and its proxies have framed the recent flareup around Israel’s raid on the al-Aqsa mosque.[v] The Iranian regime has not linked Israeli attacks on Hamas to Israel’s campaign against Iranian and Iranian-backed militants across Syria in recent weeks.[vi]

The Israel-Hamas conflict may at least temporarily decelerate the Israel-Iran escalation cycle in Syria that has progressed in recent weeks. Israel killed two IRGC officers during airstrikes in Damascus on March 30, as CTP previously reported.[vii] Iranian leaders have acknowledged the deaths and publicly vowed to retaliate, which may have created an expectation among regime supporters that Iran will attack Israel in some way.[viii]

The escalation pattern between Iran and Israel in Syria is very likely to resume eventually, however, given that the principal drivers of armed conflict between the two remain present. Iran still seeks to entrench itself militarily in Syria by transferring precision-guided munitions, drones, and air defense systems to the country. Iran also relies on its proxy forces to secure positions along lines of communication in Syria and is aims to increase its influence over components of the Syrian Arab Army. Israel remains opposed to Iran’s military presence in Syria and views some of Iran’s actions, such as efforts to establish missile and air defense capabilities in Syria, as red lines. The targets of Israeli airstrikes since early January, which are shown on the map below, reveal Israel has given priority to disrupting Iranian arms convoys to Syria, as well as degrading military production and air defense capabilities in the country.

Regime officials are trying to unite Muslim countries to condemn Israel for its recent arrests and raids around the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, possibly to impede the warming relations between Israel and Gulf states and Turkey. President Ebrahim Raisi called for an emergency Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting to discuss how “to defend the oppressed nation of Palestine and confront the crimes of the Zionist regime” during a phone call with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on April 6.[ix] Raisi separately emphasized “the need for the convergence of Islamic countries” to confront Israel during phone calls with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on April 7.[x] Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian additionally called for an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers from OIC member states to discuss Israeli arrests and raids during a phone call with OIC Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha on April 7.[xi] Taha announced during the same phone call that an OIC meeting will be held at the executive council level to discuss the Israeli actions on April 8.[xii] The regime’s appeal to the OIC suggests that it seeks to use the Al Aqsa Mosque raid as well as the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) strikes on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon on April 6 to unite Muslim countries against Israel.

Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid—who has inspired weekly Friday anti-regime protests in Zahedan since September 2022—may be losing momentum. CTP assesses with low confidence that a small silent protest occurred in Zahedan on April 7—marking the first time since September 2022 that CTP has had such uncertainty that Friday protests occurred in Zahedan.[xiii] The regime reportedly disrupted internet services in Zahedan on April 7, which could explain the relative absence of evidence of Friday protests.[xiv] Videos of Friday protests have surfaced during previous regime censorship, however. Ramadan fasting continues which could also have decreased protester turnout.

Abdol Hamid has reiterated the key points of his highly critical anti-regime rhetoric during the past few weeks, possibly normalizing his rhetoric such that it is a less persuasive call to protest. He repeated many of his familiar criticisms during his April 7 sermon, ranging from the demand to release political prisoners to calls for an inclusive political system.[xv] Abdol Hamid has sustained his criticism without calling for revolution, as CTP previously assessed.[xvi] He may be seeking to carve out a permanent political space for himself and his movement without instigating a violent regime crackdown. However, the normalization of what was once controversial and inspiring in his criticisms reduces the impetus for protests. Furthermore, sustained criticism, however controversial, can become uninspiring if it does not lead to tangible results. Abdol Hamid also echoed some unpopular regime rhetoric during his April 7 sermon by stating that he would be in favor of “intelligently” enforcing mandatory veiling. This remark could have had an adverse impact on protest turnout today.

The regime’s muted security posture in Zahedan may reflect the regime’s calculation that Abdol Hamid’s momentum is diminishing, rendering further securitization unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive as it could instigate a popular backlash. The regime has decreased its security presence in Zahedan in recent weeks, as CTP previously reported.[xvii] The regime did not noticeably increase its security presence in Zahedan on April 7. Several regime security officials recently threatened to send additional security forces to the province but none of these threats have materialized.[xviii]

Key Takeaways

  • Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) have indicated that they seek to contain and deescalate their recent flareup with Israel—at least for the moment—after Hamas conducted a large-scale rocket attack from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
  • Regime officials are trying to cohere Muslim countries together to condemn Israel for its recent arrests and raids around the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid—who has inspired weekly Friday anti-regime protests in Zahedan since September 2022—may be losing momentum.
  • Armenian media reported on April 7 that Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan will travel to Tehran on April 9 to meet with Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Admiral Ali Shamkhani.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.

Internal Security and Protest Activity

At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces on April 7. CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Galikash, Golestan Province[xix]

  • Size: Small

Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[xx]

  • Size: Small

Economic Affairs

The Iranian rial appreciated slightly from 507,000 rials to one US dollar on April 6 to 505,500 rials to one US dollar on April 7.[xxi]

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna in Beijing on April 7. Iranian state media reported that Abdollahian and Colonna discussed “regional and international issues of joint interest.”[xxii] However, the foreign ministers likely mainly discussed nuclear negotiations. The regime has consistently sought to prevent the United Kingdom, France, and Germany (the E3) from joining calls for a hardline stance on Iran’s nuclear program, as CTP previously reported.[xxiii] Abdollahian’s discussion with Colonna on April 7 was thus likely a continuation of this regime effort.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Beijing on April 7. Abdollahian and Gang discussed energy, banking, and commercial cooperation. Abdollahian additionally called on the Iran-China Joint Economic Cooperation Commission to hold a meeting soon.[xxiv] Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce head Majid Reza Hariri separately announced on April 7 the opening of a logistics park in Sarakhs, Khorasan Razavi Province as part of the development of the East-West Corridor.[xxv]

Armenian media reported on April 7 that Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan will travel to Tehran on April 9 to meet with Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani.[xxvi]

External Security and Military Affairs

An unidentified actor conducted a drone airstrike on Sulaymaniyah International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan on April 7.[xxvii] Unverified reports claimed that the airstrike targeted Syrian Democratic Forces Commander Mazloum Abdi.[xxviii] An unidentified Kurdistan Democratic Party official claimed that Abdi was on a three-day trip to Sulaymaniyah, according to a report from independent Iraqi media outlet Nas News.[xxix] Iraqi Kurdistan Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani condemned the airstrike as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty in a statement to Nas News.[xxx] The Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Ambassador Tanju Bilgic announced on April 5 that Turkey closed its airspace to all flights to and from Sulaymaniyah International Airport until July 3, 2023, due to PKK infiltration of the airport.[xxxi] Sulaymaniyah airport Director Handren Hiwa Mufti rejected these Turkish claims.[xxxii]

Regime officials hinted that they intend to use diplomatic means to impede normalization between Israel and Azerbaijan, which is unlikely to make Azerbaijan rethink its relationship with Israel. Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani stated on April 7 that Iran feels obliged to confront countries that seek to improve their relations with Israel and that Iran will respond to the expulsion of four of its embassy employees from Baku on April 6 with “reciprocal diplomatic actions.”[xxxiii] 210 Iranian parliamentarians similarly warned Azerbaijan on April 5 that opening its embassy in Tel Aviv will result in “negative political consequences,” as CTP previously reported.[xxxiv] These statements suggest that Iran may use political and diplomatic pressure—as opposed to force—to try to influence Azerbaijan’s relationship with Israel.

[i] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-6-2023

[ii] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-intercepts-rocket-fired-lebanon-military-sources-2023-04-06/

[iii] https://t.me/AymanGouda/4917https://www.timesofisrael dot com/liveblog_entry/idf-confirms-failed-launch-at-israel-from-gaza/

[iv] https://al-akhbar dot com/Palestine/361026/%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%AB%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%81%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B7%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%84%D9%85-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D9%88%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%AF%D8%A9; https://www.axios.com/2023/04/07/israel-strikes-lebanon-hamas-hezbollah-gaza 

[v] https://mfa dot ir/portal/NewsView/716527; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85075769/%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-%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%B3%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B6%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%87%D9%85%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%B4%D8%AF

[vi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-31-2023

[vii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-3-2023; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-31-2023

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

[ix] https://www dot isna dot ir/news/1402011707749/%D8%B1%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B2%D9%87-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%B1%DA%98%DB%8C%D9%85-%D8%B5%D9%87%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%BA%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%BA%DB%8C%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B4%D8%A7%DA%A9%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%AA

[x] https://www dot farsnews dot ir/news/14020118000529/%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B3-%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%81%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%B1%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D8%AC%D9%86%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%AE%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%B1%DA%98%DB%8C%D9%85-%D8%B5%D9%87%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C- ;

https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85076277/%DA%AF%D9%81%D8%AA-%D9%88%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%81%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A2%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%B1%DB%8C%DB%8C%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%B1%DB%8C%DB%8C%D8%B3-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D8%B1%DA%A9%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%88%D9%86

[xi] https://mfa dot ir/portal/NewsView/716527

[xii] https://www.oic-oci.org/topic/?t_id=38770&t_ref=26349&lan=en

[xiii] https://twitter.com/IranIntl/status/1644297718381285382?s=20 ;

https://twitter.com/indypersian/status/1644450698443227137

[xiv] https://twitter.com/netblocks/status/1644258352807960576?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet

[xv]https://abdolhamid dot net/persian/2023/04/07/13627/ ; https://youtu.be/3MF0AcDv1cI ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-17-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-31-2023

[xvi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-31-2023

[xvii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-24-2023

[xviii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-28-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-6-2023

[xix] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1644339704685363200?cxt=HHwWgIC8vfqP79EtAAAA

[xx] https://twitter.com/IranIntl/status/1644297718381285382?s=20 ;

https://twitter.com/indypersian/status/1644450698443227137

[xxi] https://bonbast dot com/

[xxii] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85075993/%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%87-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88-%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%BE%DA%A9%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%A7%DA%A9%DB%8C%D8%AF-%D8%AF%D9%88-%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%A8%D8%B1-%D8%B6%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AA

[xxiii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-22-2023#_edn6eb794795f089b5d6a166ea9da579d89dcd0d12f268fcf635f645ea940f450ceref22

[xxiv] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85075656/%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%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-%D9%88-%D9%88%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AC%D9%87-%DA%86%DB%8C%D9%86

[xxv] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85057937/%D8%B9%D8%B2%D9%85-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88-%DA%86%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%87-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D9%88-%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%B9-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B9-%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D9%BE%D8%A7%D8%B1%DA%A9

[xxvi] https://www dot farsnews dot ir/news/14020118000149/%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%B3-%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%B1

[xxvii] https://t.me/sabreenS1/73688 ;

https://t.me/sabreenS1/73687 ;

https://twitter.com/Tammuz_Intel/status/1644364102255476737?t=IaDZZI2S0_HrSCiXOmzP4Q&s=19

[xxviii] https://twitter.com/vvanwilgenburg/status/1644382024130494467 ;

https://twitter.com/vvanwilgenburg/status/1644382024130494467

[xxix] https://www.nasnews dot com/view.php?cat=105211

[xxx] https://www.nasnews dot com/view.php?cat=105211

[xxxi] https://twitter.com/ragipsoylu/status/1643256533109571585?s=20 ;

https://www.mfa dot gov.tr/sc_-6_-turk-hava-sahasinin-suleymaniye-ucuslari-icin-kapatilmasi-hk-sc.en.mfa ;

https://t.me/wa3ediq/67142 ;

https://apnews.com/article/turkey-closes-airspace-northern-iraq-fed60161ca136e59bb5f5c038e4d14e9

[xxxii] https://twitter.com/The_NewArab/status/1644266300896624646

[xxxiii] https://mfa dot ir/portal/NewsView/716611

[xxxiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-5-2023?mkt_tok=NDc1LVBCUS05NzEAAAGK8w0frBMND7JWDv34AKy9syqaaejGgMOkPGDaykC9TulWoa_kyUNG8rfEZQpWL5Y09Y4xxHJt9cEc1Mju8VgNYmseDQJwbTbpC6sKEI6zvl6-qAWR