July 25, 2023
Iran Update, July 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 a new 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.
- Iranian media and officials highlighted the addition of the Abu Mahdi land attack cruise missile to Iran’s naval arsenal to signal Iran’s longer-range naval capabilities.
- Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian called on BRICS to include Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela in this organization as part of its effort to establish a parallel international order that challenges Western “dominance.”
- Iranian students are planning protests in early September in commemoration of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 18, 2022. Iranian leadership has voiced concerns about the resumption of anti-regime protests in recent weeks.
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 media and officials highlighted the addition of the Abu Mahdi land attack cruise missile (LACM) to Iran’s naval arsenal to signal Iran’s longer-range naval capabilities. IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that the Abu Mahdi LACM has reached mass production after three years and has been added to the IRGC and Artesh naval arsenals.[i] IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri stated that the addition of the Abu Mahdi LACM will “render enemy aircraft carriers ineffective” and keep the enemy away from Iran’s shores due to its long range.[ii] Iran uses its LACM arsenal as an integral part of its anti-access/area denial strategy to prevent adversaries from entering or operating in essential areas.[iii] LACMs provide a precision-strike capability that could complicate missile defenses, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.[iv] Iranian media and officials have stated that the Abu Mahdi has a range of up to 1,000 kilometers and can be mounted on a vessel or fired from coastal platforms.[v] Officials have further emphasized that the Abu Mahdi will allow Iran to attack targets from multiple directions deep within Iranian territory and is difficult to detect as it has a low-flight ceiling. CTP cannot verify whether the Abu Mahdi has the capabilities that Iran claims it does.
Iran announced the production and delivery of the Abu Mahdi LACM to the IRGC and Artesh navies as the United States strengthens its naval presence in the region. Iran seized three international vessels in the Strait of Hormuz between April 27 and May 12, after which the US Department of Defense announced that it would bolster the Fifth Fleet’s defensive posture in the Persian Gulf.[vi] The IRGC Navy then conducted unprofessional and unsafe maneuvers near a US naval ship in the Persian Gulf on May 19.[vii] The Artesh Navy attempted to seize two commercial tankers in the Strait of Hormuz on July 5 and the IRGC Navy seized another in the Persian Gulf on July 6.[viii] The United States similarly deployed several F-16 and F-35 fighter jets and the guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner to the Persian Gulf between July 14 and 17 to deter further Iranian tanker seizures.[ix] IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri threatened that Iran will hold the United States and US companies responsible for confiscating and unloading Iranian oil.[x]
Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian called on BRICS to include Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela in this organization as part of its effort to establish a parallel international order that challenges Western “dominance.”[xi] Ahmadian stated that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela’s accession into BRICS would increase this organization’s share of world energy reserves during a Friends of BRICS National Security Advisors meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 24. BRICS is an economic and political organization composed of Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa.[xii] Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela’s inclusion in BRICS would integrate major energy exporters and importers. Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela are major energy exporters, while China and India are among the world’s largest energy importers.[xiii] China is additionally the largest importer of Iranian oil.[xiv] Ahmadian’s call for Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to be included in BRICS is consistent with previous Iranian efforts to incorporate these countries into Iran's parallel world order. Iranian officials and media framed the March 10 Iran-Saudi Arabia rapprochement as “a big failure” for Israel and the United States.[xv] Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi separately stressed Iran and Venezuela’s common struggle against “imperialism and domination” during his trip to Latin America between June 12-16.[xvi]
Iranian students are planning protests in early September in commemoration of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 18, 2022. The Guardian interviewed an Iranian student in a July 24 article who claimed that some Iranian students have planned “huge protests” in the weeks leading up to September 18. The student added that “whether or not the regime wants to accept it, we will hit the streets again and there’s no going back (…) There will be more arrests or worse. These are scare tactics and we won’t fall for this.”[xvii] CTP previously observed that demonstrations commemorating the death of killed protesters frequently generated higher turnout rates than non-commemoration protests throughout the Mahsa Amini movement.[xviii] The protest marking 40 days since the killing of Mahsa Amini in Saghez, Kurdistan Province included participation from roughly 10,000 demonstrators, for example, the largest turnout CTP observed throughout the movement.[xix]
Iranian leadership has voiced concerns about the resumption of anti-regime protests in recent weeks. IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami warned on July 13 that the IRGC would take “decisive action” against individuals who threaten Iranian national security and stated that Iran was enduring “its most sensitive time ever,” suggesting that he does not believe the regime has eradicated the risk of anti-regime activity resuming.[xx] Several other senior Iranian officials, including IRGC Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, warned of Iran’s enemies’ plans to destabilize the regime in recent weeks.[xxi] Iranian authorities have separately taken steps to purge Iranian universities of professors who hold anti-regime views in recent weeks.[xxii] Universities became a major site of unrest throughout the Mahsa Amini movement as students largely spearheaded the movement.[xxiii]
NOTE: Portions of the following text appeared in the Institute for the Study of War’s July 25, 2023 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.
US intelligence officials warned on July 25 that Russia’s drone supply will dramatically increase as a result of continued bilateral Russo-Iranian cooperation. Analysts from the US Defense Intelligence Agency told reporters that after the completion of the Shahed drone manufacturing facility in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia will likely have a stockpile of drones “orders of magnitude larger” than what Russia has been able to procure from Iran to date.[xxiv]
CTP has observed numerous ways in which Russia could compensate Iran for its military support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Western media speculated in late 2022 that Iran might receive Russian Su-35 fighter jets in return for supplying Russia with drones.[xxv] Iranian military officials have increasingly expressed skepticism at receiving Su-35s in recent months, however.[xxvi] Western media reported in March that Russia provided Iran with advanced surveillance software and cyber weapons in exchange for drones.[xxvii] A high-ranking Israeli military official separately expressed concern in June that Russia is providing Iran with Western weapons captured in Ukraine.[xxviii] The British Secret Intelligence Service additionally revealed in July that Iran seeks to acquire cash from Russia in return for Iranian drones.[xxix]
[i] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/03/2931095
[ii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/03/2931051
[v] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/03/2931095 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/03/2931051
[vi] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/12/us-to-bolster-defensive-posture-in-gulf-white-house ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/12/us-to-bolster-defensive-posture-in-gulf-white-house
[viii] https://apnews.com/article/gulf-iran-us-tensions-shipping-oil-127f8b77aa7e41dcd8266b6fbe5800dc ; https://apnews.com/article/gulf-iran-us-tensions-shipping-oil-127f8b77aa7e41dcd8266b6fbe5800dc ; https://www.voanews.com/a/us-navy-says-it-prevented-iran-from-seizing-tankers-in-gulf-/7168071.html ; https://www.voanews.com/a/us-navy-says-it-prevented-iran-from-seizing-tankers-in-gulf-/7168071.html
[ix] https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-deploys-advanced-f-35-jets-destroyer-to-middle-east-to-brush-back-iranian-forces-7d9a92cf ; https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/07/us-sends-f-35s-navy-destroyer-middle-east-amid-aggressive-moves-russia-iran#ixzz87kMqHIH ; https://twitter.com/US5thFleet/status/1680506926692442112?s=20 ; https://apnews.com/article/iran-russia-syria-military-fighter-jets-449a4c6fc9ab90981914c77e2d290f7f
[x] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/29/2928597 ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85175663
[xi] https://nournews dot ir/Fa/News/145828 ;
https://www.irna dot ir/news/84859472
[xiii] https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/where-our-oil-comes-from.php ;
[xv] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85052826
[xix] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/data-analysis-of-the-mahsa-amini-protest-movement ; www.isna dot ir/news/1401080402843
[xx] https://www.farsnews dot ir/khuzestan/news/14020422000586/
[xxi] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/603521/ ; https://t.co/lOkJeUbziu ; https://t.co/vV6IIWnaPk
[xxii] https://t dot co/o9K8wpdErb ; https://www.iranintl.com/202307188779 ; https://t.co/lOkJeUbziu