August 09, 2023
Iran Update, August 9, 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.
- IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani met with LH Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut on August 6 according to Israeli and Arab media.
- The IRGC Quds Force is pressuring local Syrians to join Iranian-backed militias by only providing medical services to families tied to these militias. Increased recruitment into Iranian-backed militias could provide the IRGC Quds Force additional manpower for counter-US and counter-ISIS missions in eastern Syria.
- Iranian state media claimed on August 9 that Iran has developed supersonic cruise missile technology. Iran possibly developed this technology with Russian assistance.
- Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian traveled to Pretoria, South Africa on August 9, likely as part of the Raisi administration’s ongoing efforts to convince BRICS members to accept its request to join this organization.
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.
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani met with Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut on August 6, according to Israeli and Arab media.[i] This visit comes after Ghaani traveled to Deir ez Zor Province, Syria on August 3 reportedly to inspect the combat readiness of Iranian-backed militants.[ii] Ghaani, as commander of the IRGC Quds Force, is responsible for covert operations and cooperation with Iranian proxy and partner militias abroad. Ghaani‘s travel often includes discussions to coordinate the Axis of Resistance‘s campaigns and lines of effort, such as attacks into Israel and weapons shipments around the Levant.[iii]
It is unclear what Ghaani discussed with Nasrallah, but CTP outlines below significant regional activity that they may have covered. These topics are not mutually exclusive.
- LH forces are operating around the line of contact with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria. Tensions have flared with the SDF since June 2023, as Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regime actors have accused the US-led International Coalition of planning to conduct attacks into territory held by the Syrian regime. CTP has assessed that Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime are amplifying these rumors and deploying forces to the line of contact, among other actions, to coerce—or possibly compel—US forces to leave Syria.[iv] LH military commanders in Syria have reportedly met to discuss attacking US forces in eastern Syria in the event of an escalation at multiple meetings since August 7.[v]
- LH is dealing with several immediate domestic issues, including tensions with Israel on the border. LH has mounted a concerted campaign to challenge the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel since June 2023.[vi] Israeli and LH officials have both noted publicly the increased risk of conflict over these disputed areas.[vii] Palestinian militant groups have separately clashed in the Ain al Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon, killing several and injuring dozens since late July 2023.[viii]
- Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Zayed Nakhleh disclosed in July 2023 that LH has coordinated with Palestinian militant groups to provide arms and intelligence to groups in the West Bank.[ix] CTP previously assessed that Palestinian militants in the West Bank would likely receive Iranian assistance to rebuild the military capabilities that the Israel Defense Force tried to degrade in July 2023.[x] Iran and the broader Axis of Resistance have repeatedly messaged the importance of arming militants in the West Bank against Israel.[xi]
The IRGC Quds Force is pressuring local Syrians to join Iranian-backed militias by only providing medical services to families tied to these militias.[xii] The Iranian al Shifa Center—a clinic in Hatla, Deir ez Zor Province—announced on July 19 that it will stop providing free examinations to individuals not affiliated with the Iranian-backed militias. Locals rely heavily on IRGC-provided medical services as corruption and the devaluation of the Syrian Pound has dramatically increased the cost of medicines in Deir ez Zor Province. Families have begun to register their children in Iranian-backed militias to get access to medical services, according to local Syrian media.[xiii] These outlets also reported on August 7 that the IRGC Quds Force appointed one of its officers—Hajj Reza—to direct the Iranian al Shifa Center, demonstrating the control of the IRGC Quds Force over the clinic.[xiv] Increased recruitment into Iranian-backed militias could provide the IRGC Quds Force additional manpower for counter-US and counter-ISIS missions in eastern Syria.
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.
Iranian state media claimed on August 9 that Iran has developed supersonic cruise missile technology. Iran possibly developed this technology with Russian assistance. IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that Iranian defense industry experts have “attained the technology to design and construct supersonic cruise missiles.”[xv] Tasnim added that Iran is currently “testing” a supersonic cruise missile. Senior military commanders have previously expressed the regime’s interest in developing supersonic missiles. IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami expressed such an interest in February 2023, for example.[xvi] Supersonic missiles travel at speeds between 1 and 5 Mach.[xvii] CIA Director William Burns revealed on July 20 that Russian technicians are assisting Iran with its Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) and missile program.[xviii] The technologies associated with SLVs are more relevant to the development of ballistic missiles rather than cruise missiles, as CTP previously noted.[xix] Russia possesses supersonic cruise missiles, however, making it plausible that Russia could be helping Iran with the technology necessary to produce such weapons in addition to the Russian support to the SLV program.[xx]
Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian traveled to Pretoria, South Africa on August 9, likely as part of the Raisi administration’s ongoing efforts to convince BRICS members to accept its request to join this organization.[xxi] Abdollahian plans to attend an Iran-South Africa Joint Economic Cooperation Commission meeting during his visit. South Africa will host the 15th annual BRICS Summit in Johannesburg between August 22-24. Iran hosted an ‘Iran and BRICS: Prospects for Partnership and Cooperation’ conference in Tehran on August 8. Abdollahian framed Iran as an important intermediary between BRICS members, stating that Iran can connect China to Brazil and South Africa.[xxii] Abdollahian added that Iran is a “reliable and effective” partner due to its “geostrategic position.”
[i] https://twitter.com/arabfile/status/1688278474962710528 ; https://www[dot]i24news.tv/en/news/middle-east/levant-turkey/1691542210-iran-s-quds-force-heads-arrives-in-beirut-to-meet-with-nasrallah
[iii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-is-recruiting-militant-allies-to-launch-attacks-against-israel-c40f369f ; https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-exploits-quake-relief-mission-fly-weapons-syria-sources-2023-04-12/
[v] https://www.syriahr.com/en/306972/ ; https://www.syriahr.com/%d9%82%d9%8a%d8%a7%d8%af%d9%8a-%d9%81%d9%8a-%d8%ad%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%b2%d8%a8-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%84%d9%87-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%84%d8%a8%d9%86%d8%a7%d9%86%d9%8a-%d9%8a%d8%b9%d8%b7%d9%8a-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b6%d9%88/673327/
[vi] https://twitter.com/idfonline/status/1676875448855277568 ; https://almanar[dot]com.lb/10755582 ; https://israel-alma.org/2023/07/12/hezbollah-a-clear-pattern-of-escalation-in-the-disputed-areas-in-the-blue-line/
[xii] https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/index.php/ar/news/2023/08/06/9348
[xv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/18/2938092
[xvi] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85040054
[xvii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/18/2938092
[xx] https://www.kyivpost dot com/post/19661
[xxi] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85194242
[xxii] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85193219