July 28, 2023

Iran Update, July 28, 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.

Key Takeaways

  1. Iranian-backed militias deployed to the Syrian desert near the Al Tanf Deconfliction Zone throughout July, possibly as part of a coercive campaign to expel the United States from Syria. Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime may be setting conditions to attack US forces at the Al Tanf Garrison.
  2. Regime officials are making preparations in anticipation of future protests commemorating Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 18, 2022.

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.

Iranian-backed militias deployed to the Syrian desert near the Al Tanf Deconfliction Zone throughout July, possibly as part of a coercive campaign to expel the United States from Syria. Iranian-backed militias initially deployed to lines of control with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) between July 7 and July 20.[i] The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) also ordered militias to deploy to several points in the desert between July 11 and July 26. The Syrian Arab Army 47th Regiment and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) deployed on July 11 to military points, including one approximately 35 kilometers from the 55-kilometer exclusion zone around the Al Tanf Garrison.[ii] Militias deployed to the T-2 Pumping Station where Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) stores Iranian drones.[iii] Fatemiyoun deployed to Talila Camp on July 16, south of Palmyra.[iv] LH and Fatemiyoun simulated a battle using Iranian-made rockets, drones, and artillery at the Talila Camp on June 10.[v] Iranian-backed militias withdrew from positions on July 26 in Deir ez Zor and moved towards the desert ostensibly following concerns from Russian that the United States would conduct an attack in Deir ez Zor Province. Ther are no indications that the United States or SDF or are planning an incursion into regime-controlled territory.

Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime may be setting conditions to attack US forces at the Al Tanf Garrison. An unspecified US DoD official told Pentagon reporters that a Russian aircraft was collecting intelligence on the Al Tanf garrison during flyovers, most recently on July 14.[vi] The official noted that Russian military activity stems from growing coordination between Moscow, Tehran, and the Syrian regime to pressure the United States to leave Syria. Russian forces also are conducting an information operation that falsely presents the United States as an imminent threat to Syria. Russia forces, for example, organized a military exercise for the Syrian Arab Army from July 16 to July 18 that simulated a US chemical weapons attack and accused the United States of transporting chemical weapons into Al Tanf to prepare for false flag attacks.[vii] The Russian framing of the United States as an aggressor and evidence of intelligence sharing with Iran suggests Russia and Iran are creating optimal conditions to attack. Iranian-backed militias have several military facilities in the desert surrounding the exclusion zone with capabilities to surveil and attack the Al Tanf Garrison.[viii]

Iranian-backed militias withdrew from unspecified positions in Deir ez Zor Province and redeployed to the Syrian desert near the Iraq-Syria border on July 26.[ix]

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.

Regime officials are making preparations in anticipation of future protests commemorating Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 18, 2022. The regime is preparing for potential future protests in two ways, namely imposing further control over universities and monitoring cyberspace. IRGC Commander Adviser and former IRGC Intelligence Organization head Hossein Taeb warned on July 20 that universities will be the source of future anti-regime activities.[x] IRGC Political Deputy Yadollah Javani similarly warned on July 21 that universities will be the source of future “disturbance” and that the IRGC will “securitize” universities in the near future.[xi] IRGC Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi met with university administrators and professors in Markazi Province on July 27 to emphasize the importance of universities in promoting Islamic and revolutionary values as enemies seek to undermine the authority of the Islamic revolution.[xii] Iranian authorities have also targeted universities in recent weeks, purging anti-regime university professors, limiting the activities of student organizations, and imposing penalties on students engaged in civic activities.[xiii] Universities became a major site of unrest throughout the Mahsa Amini movement and previous unrest which students largely spearheaded.[xiv] Iranian students are, furthermore, planning protests in early September in commemoration of Mahsa Amini’s killing, as CTP previously reported.[xv] The Supreme National Security Council has also approved measures as of July 27 for the Intelligence and Security Ministry to monitor cyberspace to establish “psychological security.”[xvi] Regime officials have repeatedly accused protesters of causing “psychological insecurity.”[xvii] Iranian leadership has, furthermore, voiced concerns about the resumption of anti-regime protests in recent weeks and threatened to take “decisive action” against individuals who threaten Iranian national security as Iran endures “its most sensitive time ever.”[xviii]

The regime also uses internet disruptions, security service deployments, and mandatory veiling enforcement to crack down on protests. The regime repeatedly employed internet disruptions as a security measure during the 2022 Mahsa Amini protests and senior regime officials have often discussed implementing countrywide internet shutdowns in anticipation of further unrest even after the Mahsa Amini movement culminated.[xix] The regime not only increased security service deployments throughout the 2022 protests but also did so in anticipation of unrest around the Chahar Shanbeh Souri and Nowrouz national holidays in March 2023.[xx] The Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) resumed the country-wide deployment of its morality patrol officers to enforce mandatory veiling on July 16.[xxi] The morality patrol enforces dress codes that adhere the regime’s standards and is the unit responsible for arresting and killing Mahsa Amini in September 2022.[xxii] The regime seeks to address noncompliance with the hijab law because it views violations as a threat to regime stability.[xxiii]

[i] https://eyeofeuphrates(dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/12/9105; https://twitter.com/baznewz/status/1679099135260082176; https://twitter.com/DeirEzzore/status/1678857520184537088; https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/08/9071; https://eyeofeuphrates.com/ar/news/2023/07/20/9181; https://www.syriahr.com/en/303779/; https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/11/9094; https://twitter.com/Sharqya_reporte/status/1679226202693812224; https://twitter.com/DeirEzzore/status/1677278853734051846; https://twitter.com/DeirEzzore/status/1677279431654531074; https://www.syriahr.com/en/304467/; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-20-2023-64b9d7...

[ii] https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/index.php/ar/news/2023/07/11/9102

[iii] https://twitter.com/thiqanewsagency/status/1540979640466116610

[iv] https://qasioun-news (dot) com/ar/articles/264520

[v] https://halabtodaytv (dot) net/archives/250806; https://qasioun-news (dot) com/ar/articles/263448

[vi] https://apnews.com/article/iran-russia-syria-military-fighter-jets-449a4c6fc9ab90981914c77e2d290f7f

[vii] https://t.me/SAM_Syria0/5139; https://t.me/jharnous/989; https://t.me/jharnous/997

[viii] https://twitter.com/thiqanewsagency/status/1618240228430614529; https://deirezzor24.net/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a8%d8%b4%d9%8a%d8%b1-%d9%8a%d8%aa%d9%82%d8%b1%d8%a8-%d9%85%d9%86-%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%af%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ad%d8%b1%d8%b3-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ab%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a-%d8%a8%d8%af%d9%8a/; https://twitter.com/thiqanewsagency/status/1618240228430614529; https://www.syriahr.com/%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%89-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b1%d8%ba%d9%85-%d9%85%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a5%d9%82%d8%b5%d8%a7%d8%a1-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a5%d8%b9%d9%84%d8%a7%d9%85%d9%8a-%d8%b6%d8%a8%d8%a7%d8%b7-%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3/568712/; https://twitter.com/GregoryPWaters/status/1627712761860956160?s=20

[ix] https://www.syriahr.com/%D8%A8%D8%B4%D9%83%D9%84-%D9%85%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%A6-%D9%88%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%80-%D9%80%D8%AA%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%87%D9%80-%D9%80%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%80-%D9%80%D9%87/661680/

[x] https://t dot co/9fU6B2mlsm

[xi] https://t dot co/lOkJeUbziu  

[xii] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/606435

[xiii] https://t dot co/o9K8wpdErb ; https://www.iranintl.com/202307188779 ; https://t.co/lOkJeUbziu

[xiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-23-2023  

[xv] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/jul/24/theres-no-other-option-but-to-fight-iranian-women-defiant-as-morality-police-return ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-25-2023

[xvi] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/606375

[xvii] https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14011216000971 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-7-2023  

[xviii] https://www.farsnews dot ir/khuzestan/news/14020422000586/

[xix] https://digiato dot com/article/2023/01/04/internet-cutoff-exam-security ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-4-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-18-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-15-2023 ; https://twitter.com/Entekhab_News/status/1635908849579196418?s=20  ; https://twitter.com/Digiato/status/1635904737231925248?s=20  

[xx] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-7-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-8-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-9-2023 ; https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/717882 ; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/577222 ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1633080241810821121?s=20

[xxi] ttps://time.com/6295238/iran-morality-police-return/

[xxii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-62984076  

[xxiii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-17-2023  

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