August 25, 2023
Iran Update, August 25, 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.
- Syrian opposition media reported that the Bashar al Assad regime ordered all Syrian Arab Army officers and troops to refrain from taking leave until further notice.
- The Iranian regime is continuing to take preemptive measures to deter and prevent protests ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 16.
- Anti-regime protests occurred in at least three cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province—a slight uptick from the usual protest activity that occurs each Friday in the province.
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.
Syrian opposition media reported that the Bashar al Assad regime ordered all Syrian Arab Army (SAA) officers and troops to refrain from taking leave until further notice.[i] The opposition reports did not specify how sweeping this directive is, and ISW cannot corroborate the claim. The Syrian Defense Ministry appeared to deny the claim, stating that internet sources are “trying to sow chaos and affect the morale of our valiant army and our proud people by spreading false news and misinformation related to our armed forces.”[ii] ISW previously reported that Syrian regime forces are failing to protect pro-regime forces from militant attacks in eastern Syria and that the regime’s failure to secure urban areas is emblematic of poor morale and discipline.[iii] A local journalist in Deir ez Zor furthermore reported that the rate of desertions from regime forces has increased dramatically in August 2023.[iv] The Syrian regime brought a large reinforcement to eastern Syria from Homs Province, deploying these reinforcements alongside Iranian-backed militias, on August 24, suggesting that the regime is attempting to address security threats there.[v] Iran maintains a sizeable force in eastern Syria and benefits from the regime forces securing military positions and pro-regime forces from threats, such as armed opposition groups.
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.
The Iranian regime is continuing to conduct preemptive measures to counter protests ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 16. Iranian officials have expressed concern about the resumption of anti-regime protests and are thus trying to deter and prevent anti-regime activity.[vi]
- The Intelligence and Security Ministry is arresting protest activists and pressuring known protesters to commit to abstaining from future demonstrations, according to Western and Iranian diaspora outlets.[vii] This reporting follows the ministry arresting twelve women’s rights activists, who participated in the Mahsa Amini movement, on August 17.[viii] The ministry accused them of planning to “incite chaos and vandalism."
- Social media reports have furthermore indicated that regime security forces deployed helicopters to Boukan and Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province on August 24.[ix] These claims follow social media reports that security forces deployed to Boukan on August 18.[x] This security activity around northwestern Iran is unsurprising given how the Mahsa Amini movement concentrated heavily in this area.
Anti-regime protests occurred in at least three cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on August 24—a slight uptick from the usual protest activity that occurs each Friday in the province. Residents in Khash, Rask, and Zahedan demonstrated against the arrest of Moulana Abdol Ghaffar Naghshbandi—the Sunni Friday prayer leader for Rask and an outspoken regime critic.[xi] The regime likely arrested Naghshbandi in March 2023 but did not announce the arrest until August 20. The regime accused Naghshbandi of inciting riots and of taking “provocative” positions in his sermons.[xii] His office previously called for mass protests in response to regime protest suppression in Zahedan in February 2023, as CTP reported at the time.[xiii] Zahedan residents have protested every Friday since September 30, 2022, when security forces violently suppressed protesters in an event that became known as “Bloody Friday.”[xiv] CTP has contrastingly not recorded protests in Khash and Rask since June 2023.
The regime may have announced Naghshbandi’s arrest on August 20 to warn prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid to refrain from stoking protests. Abdol Hamid’s fiery sermons have sparked anti-regime protests every Friday in Zahedan since September 2022. The regime has, moreover, continued ignore the grievances of the Iranian Baloch protesters in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. As noted above, Iranian authorities are taking various measures to deter anti-regime protest activity ahead of the one-year anniversaries of Mahsa Amini’s death and the Bloody Friday incident on September 16 and 30, respectively.
[vi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-august-18-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-28-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-25-2023
[vii] https://www.wsj.com/world/middle-east/iran-cracks-down-on-activists-ahead-of-anniversary-of-mahsa-aminis-death-cbc9e9a1 ; https://www.niacouncil.org/news/08-25-23/?ms=230825_iu_c3&emci=5796be18-4d43-ee11-a3f1-00224832eb73&emdi=ad7e2b55-6143-ee11-a3f1-00224832eb73&ceid=5277474#2anchor
[viii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/26/2942428
[ix] https://twitter.com/HengawO/status/1694692803798794393 ; https://twitter.com/HengawO/status/1694605358411509896
[xii] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/738655