August 14, 2023
Iran Update, August 14, 2023
The Iran Update aims to inform national security policy by providing timely, relevant, and independent open-source analysis of developments pertaining to Iran and its Axis of Resistance. This update covers political, military, and economic events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. It also provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates Monday through Friday. To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with support from the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute launched an interactive map of Iran and the Middle East. The map depicts events in Iran that affect the stability of the Iranian regime, namely anti-regime protests and reported poisoning incidents. It also shows developments in Syria that jeopardize regional stability and pose threats to US forces and interests, including Iranian and Iranian-backed militia positions.
- An Iranian-backed Syrian militia claimed to attack US forces at three separate bases in eastern Syria. CTP has not observed any evidence from reputable sources verifying this claim.
- Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Ashab al Kahf claimed responsibility for an IED attack near Baghdad targeting an Iraqi-operated logistics convoy supporting US military operations
- A gunman opened fire at the Shah Cheragh Shrine in Shiraz, killing one individual and wounding eight. Iranian state media and officials attributed the attack to the Islamic State.
- Officials from the Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry showcased Iranian-made defense products at a Russian military exposition in Moscow.
- IRGC-affiliated media praised Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for the prisoner exchange agreement with the United States and defended him against possible criticisms related to the deal.
Iranian Activities in the Levant
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant especially in Syria. This section examines some of the many campaigns that Iran is pursuing to achieve this strategic objective. CTP will update and refine our assessments of these campaigns over time and in future updates.
An Iranian-backed militia—named the Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region—claimed to attack US forces at three separate bases in eastern Syria on August 12.i CTP has not observed any evidence from reputable sources verifying this claim. Media outlets affiliated with the Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regimes circulated this attack claim. Russian state media has previously reported false attack claims on US positions in Syria.ii Neither the United States nor local Syrian outlets have indicated that the attacks occurred.
The Popular Resistance in the Eastern Region has repeatedly made unverifiable claims of attacking US forces and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) since its inception in 2018.iii The group has reportedly operated out of Raqqa in SDF-controlled territory and has the stated intention of liberating Deir ez Zor Province from Syrian opposition control.iv The Washington Institute for Near East Policy assessed in April 2018 that the militia may be an Iranian front group based on its similarities to the Iranian-backed Baqir Brigade.v The Baqir Brigade has reportedly trained the Popular Resistance group and participated with them in demonstrations opposing SDF-control.vi The iconography of the groups’ logo is consistent with other Axis of Resistance groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The Popular Resistance group claiming attacks on US forces is consistent with the recent Iranian information operation to frame the United States as an imminent threat to local Syrians. CTP previously assessed that Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime are amplifying this information operation as part of a campaign to coerce US forces to leave Syria. Part of this information operation has involved blaming the United States for recent ISIS activity.vii Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime seek to provoke animosity toward the United States among the local population, which could motivate locals in eastern Syria to attack US or SDF targets.
Iranian Activities in Iraq
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout Iraq. This section examines some of the many campaigns that Iran is pursuing to achieve this strategic objective. CTP will update and refine our assessments of these campaigns over time and in future updates.
Iranian-backed militia Ashab al Kahf claimed responsibility on August 13 for an IED attack near Baghdad targeting an Iraqi-operated logistics convoy supporting US military operations.[i] The group released a video purportedly showing the attack. CTP cannot verify the attack, however, given the poor video quality and visual effects. This IED attack is the fourth that Ashab al Kahf has claimed targeting logistics convoys supporting the US military presence in Iraq since July 2023.[ii]
Ashab al Kahf has consistently been the most publicly aggressive of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in recent months. The group has called for protests outside the US embassy in Baghdad twice in recent months, for instance.[iii] CTP previously assessed that this rhetoric and IED attack campaign is meant to present Ashab al Kahf as ideologically committed to resisting and expelling US forces from Iraq and thereby maintain support among its base.[iv]
Iranian Domestic and Political Affairs
This section covers factors and trends affecting regime decision-making and stability. CTP will cover domestic politics, significant protest activity, and related issues here.
A gunman opened fire at the Shah Cheragh Shrine in Shiraz, Fars Province on August 13, killing one individual and wounding eight.[v] This attack marks the second on the Shah Cheragh Shrine—a prominent Shia site—in less than a year. The Afghan branch of the Islamic State—named Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)—previously conducted an attack on the location in October 2022, killing 15 individuals.[vi] Iranian authorities reportedly arrested ten foreign nationals in connection to the August 13 attack but did not specify their nationality.[vii]
Iranian state media and officials attributed the August 13 attack to the Islamic State, although the group has not claimed responsibility at the time of this writing.[viii] The pattern of ISKP activity in Iran and the background of the attacker suggests that ISKP specifically is responsible. There is furthermore precedent for such an attack given ISKP’s involvement in the October 2022 attack.[ix] Continued Iranian operations against ISKP in Sistan and Baluchistan and Fars provinces in May and August 2023 indicate ISKP cells continue to operate in Iran.[x] Iranian state media reported the attacker was a Tajik national from northeastern Afghanistan, which also suggests ISKP involvement.[xi] ISKP has expanded recruitment of Tajiks through its propaganda output in Tajik since early 2022, and CTP has assessed previously that ISKP has sufficient ground lines of communication between Iran and northern Afghanistan to facilitate an attack in Iran.[xii]
The August 13 attack will likely exacerbate tensions between the Iranian regime and the Afghan Taliban. Iranian officials have not explicitly linked the attack to Afghanistan, although Parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Fada Hossein Maleki stated on August 14 that Iranian security services are identifying Afghan migrants in Iran with the “potential” to join the Islamic State.[xiii] The regime has frequently pressured the Taliban to adopt stronger counterterrorism measures and has held numerous meetings with neighboring countries in recent months to discuss security concerns emanating from Afghanistan.[xiv] The August 13 attack compounds existing Iranian grievances toward the Taliban, moreover. Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the Taliban of depriving Iran of Helmand River water in recent months. Tensions over water rights reached a high point in May 2023, with Iranian and Afghan border guards engaging in a brief and lethal clash near the Milak-Zaranj border.[xv] The confluence of security threats facing Iran places the regime in a difficult position as it attempts to balance its fragile relationship with the Taliban while simultaneously ensuring domestic stability.
Officials from the Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry showcased Iranian-made defense products at a Russian military exposition in Moscow on August 14.[xvi] The Iranian officials displayed miniature replicas of a variety of Iranian air defense systems, drones, and missiles, among other munitions and platforms. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the Iranian stand. Russian military bloggers highlighted the Balaban guided glide bomb and Sadid-365 anti-tank guided munition, claiming that Russian Su-25 aircraft could carry these weapons.[xvii]
CTP presents below the basic capabilities of the drones showcased in Moscow:
- Role: Multirole
- Range: 1,000-2,000 km
- Launch system: JATO launcher
- Unknown, could include up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of explosives[xviii]
- Role: Multirole
- Range: 200-2,000 km
- Launch system: runway
- Almas guided anti-tank missiles
- Ghaem guided glide bombs[xix]
- Role: Multirole
- Range: 800-1,000 km
- Launch system: pneumatic catapult
- Azarakhsh guided missiles
- Balaban guided bombs
- GBU-12 laser-guided general-purpose bombs
- Kowsar medium-range guided anti-ship cruise missiles
- Shafagh laser-guided missiles
- Simorgh cluster bombs
- Yasin long-range guided glide bombs
- 500-pound laser guided MK-82 bombs[xx]
IRGC-affiliated media praised Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for the prisoner exchange agreement with the United States and defended him against possible criticisms related to the deal. The agreement involves Iran releasing five US nationals in exchange for the United States allowing the release of $6 billion of frozen Iranian financial assets in South Korea.[xxiii] Tasnim News Agency published on August 14 an article touting Raisi’s success in securing the release of these financial assets.[xxiv] The article also criticized his predecessor and political rival, Hassan Rouhani, for failing to do so. Fars News Agency separately rejected Western media reports that Iran had has significantly slowed its enrichment of 60 percent uranium and diluted part of its highly enriched uranium stockpile as part of the prisoner exchange deal.[xxv] This framing from IRGC-affiliated media is consistent with the political support that many senior IRGC officers have given Raisi in recent years and especially since he became president in August 2021.
[i] https://t.me/aishab_alkahf/48 ; https://t.me/aishab_alkahf/53 ; https://twitter.com/Tammuz_Intel/status/1690885500331003904?s=20
[vii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/23/2940595
[viii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/23/2940699 ;
https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/23/2940699
[x] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85195062/%D8%B9%D8%B6%D9%88-%DA%AF%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%87%DA%A9-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%DA%AF%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%B4%D8%AF; https://twitter.com/khorasandiary/status/1658386030779830272?s=20; https://twitter.com/Tasnimnews_Fa/status/1658189358837424165?s=20
[xi] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85198754; https://twitter.com/Tasnimnews_Fa/status/1691022883017912320
[xii] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/salafi-jihadi-movement-weekly-update-june-7-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/salafi-jihadi-movement-weekly-update-april-12-2023; https://jamestown.org/program/iskp-expands-its-focus-toward-central-asia/; https://eurasianet.org/islamic-state-launches-new-tajik-propaganda-network
[xiii] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/737725
https://www.irna dot ir/news/85024167
[xvi] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/23/2940692 ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85198896
[xvii] https://t dot me/m0sc0wcalling/29171
[xviii] https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.php?aircraft_id=2522#specifications ; https://en.defence-ua.com/analysis/iranian_arash_2_kamikaze_drones_capabilities_and_specifications-4555.html ; https://www.eurasiantimes.com/deadlier-than-shahed-136-ukraine-says-iran-planning-to-sell-2000/ ; https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2023/mar/02/roster-iran%E2%80%99s-drones
[xxiv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/23/2940698
[xxv] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/737309 ; https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-slows-buildup-of-near-weapons-grade-enriched-uranium-492df473