July 07, 2023

Iran Update, July 7, 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. Iran instructed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) to achieve total hegemony in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria in May 2023.
  2. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani appointed six individuals to senior Iraqi security service positions between July 5 and July 7. Three of the six individuals appointed are affiliated with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Force (PMF).
  3. The IRGC Navy seized the Emirati-owned, Tanzanian-flagged oil tanker Nada II in the Persian Gulf on July 6.
  4. Iran is negotiating a barter agreement with China wherein Iran provides oil in exchange for Chinese infrastructure support, which is unlikely to result in immediate Chinese assistance.
  5. Iranian UN Ambassador Saeed Ervani objected to the UK’s decision to invite the Ukrainian UN ambassador to the biannual UNSCR 2231 implementation review meeting on July 6.
  6. Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan residents participated in anti-regime protests for the 40th consecutive week on July 7.

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.

Iran instructed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) to achieve total hegemony in Deir ez Zor Province, Syria in May 2023. Local  anti-Syrian regime media Eye of Euphrates reported that IRGC QF Albu Kamal Commander Hajj Askar met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Damascus on May 3 and 4.[i] Hajj Aksar met with Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) leaders in Deir ez Zor Province afterward, as CTP previously reported.[ii] Eye of Euphrates reported on July 6 that Hajj Askar, who is now the IRGC coordinator between Damascus and Deir ez Zor, directed the Iranian and LH leaders to establish “hegemony” in Deir ez Zor province at the meeting.[iii]

Iran and Iranian-backed militias use their control over territory and infrastructure in eastern Syria to facilitate the transfer of weapons from Iran and Iraq to Iranian-backed forces in Syria and Lebanon, as well as deploy militants to the Levant.[iv] Iranian-backed militias also extract revenue from oil fields and from smuggling routes in eastern Syria.[v] Iran faces several obstacles to achieving hegemony over Deir ez Zor Province, however. Iranian locations, personnel, and convoys have occasionally been the targets of Israeli attacks.[vi] Syrian militia members have also leaked information about Iranian positions and activities, which undermines Iran’s operational security.[vii] The presence of US forces in Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled territory also is a barrier to Iranian efforts to expand operations in eastern Syria.[viii]

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.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani appointed six individuals to senior Iraqi security service positions between July 5 and July 7.[ix] Sudani appointed:

  1. Abu Ali al Basri the head of the Iraqi National Security Service (INSS)
  2. Muthanna al Obeidi the deputy head of the Iraqi National Security Service (INSS)
  3. Ali Shamran Khazal the director general of the Iraqi National Security Service (INSS) Governorate Security Department
  4. Waqas Muhammad Hussein al Hadithi the deputy head of the Iraq National Intelligence Service (INIS)
  5. Hamid al Shatri a national security adviser to Prime Minister Sudani
  6. Majed al Dulaimi a national security adviser to Prime Minister Sudani

Three of the six individuals appointed are affiliated with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Force (PMF). National Security Advisor Hamid al Shatri, also known as Abdul Karim Abd Fadel, is the former administrative adviser to PMF Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh.[x] National Security Advisor Majed al Dulaimi is the former leader of the Popular Mobilization Committee in Anbar.[xi] Head of the INSS Abu Ali al Basri has unspecified ties the PMF.[xii] Iraq’s National Security Service (INSS) and the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) are intelligence organizations responsible for topics including counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and counter-narcotics.[xiii] The heads of the organizations report directly to the Iraqi prime minister.[xiv]

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 IRGC Navy seized the Emirati-owned, Tanzanian-flagged oil tanker Nada II in the Persian Gulf on July 6. Iranian media reported that an Iranian court had ordered the IRGC Navy to seize the vessel, claiming that it was carrying 900 tons of smuggled fuel.[xv] The US Fifth Fleet reported that it had closely monitored the situation and assessed that it did not warrant a response from the US Navy. This suggests that the seizure was an anti-smuggling operation.[xvi]

This seizure follows a pattern of Iranian attempts to challenge the US naval presence in the Persian Gulf. The Artesh Navy attempted but failed to seize two US oil tankers in the Strait on July 5 after the Fifth Fleet deployed the USS McFaul destroyer, an MQ-9 Reaper drone, and a P-8 Poseidon patrol plane to prevent the seizures.[xvii] The US Navy announced on April 8 that it deployed the USS Florida guided-missile submarine to the Middle East.[xviii] The US Department of Defense also announced on May 12 that it would bolster the Fifth Fleet’s defensive posture in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized three international vessels in the Strait of Hormuz between April 27 and May 12.[xix] The IRGC Navy conducted unprofessional and unsafe maneuvers near a US naval ship in the Persian Gulf on May 19.[xx] CTP is not currently prepared to assess that the IRGC Navy’s seizure on July 6 falls into the above pattern.

Iran is negotiating a barter agreement with China wherein Iran provides oil in exchange for Chinese infrastructure support, which is unlikely to result in immediate Chinese assistance.[xxi] Freeway Executive Affairs Office Director General Mahmoud Melazinel stated on July 8 that Iran was conducting preliminary negotiations with China to construct the Tehran-North freeway in exchange for Iranian oil. The Tehran-North freeway is an incomplete infrastructure project aimed at expanding the roads connecting Tehran to the Caspian Sea. Melazinel’s comments coincide with reports that a Xinjian Province CCP Deputy Secretary Lee Yi Fei and a 40-member delegation traveled Tehran on July 7 to attend an unspecified Sino-Iranian economic conference on July 8.[xxii]  Xinjian Province is a province wherein the CCP has arbitrarily detained more than a million Muslim residents since 2017.[xxiii] Azerbaijan, Iran, and Russia previously signed a 16-point memorandum of understanding in January 2023 to facilitate work on the North-South Transport Corridor and Russia agreed to partially finance Iranian construction of the Rasht-Astara railway on May 17.[xxiv]

Iranian UN Ambassador Saeed Ervani objected to the UK’s decision to invite the Ukrainian UN ambassador to the biannual UNSCR 2231 implementation review meeting on July 6.[xxv] UNSCR 2231 is the UN Security Council resolution that endorses the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement between Iran and the P5+1 to reverse Tehran’s nuclear advancements in return for sanctions relief.[xxvi] The P5+1 is composed of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. The UK currently chairs the UN Security Council and therefore has the power to invite the Ukrainian ambassador. Ervani objected on the grounds that Ukraine is not a party to the JCPOA.

The British and wider European insistence on drawing attention to Iran’s assistance to Russia could undermine Iran’s efforts to negotiate a new nuclear agreement. The UK and its E3 partners have been adamant that Iran halts all military assistance to Russia.[xxvii] Iran’s recent nuclear negotiations with the United States and Europe has in part been unsuccessful due to its supply of drones for the Russian war effort in Ukraine.[xxviii] The reports that Iran had provided drones to Russia similarly strained efforts in late 2022 to revive nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West.[xxix]

Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan residents participated in anti-regime protests for the 40th consecutive week on July 7.[xxx] Zahedan residents have consistently used weekly Friday protests to commemorate an incident on September 30, 2022 wherein Iranian security forces killed at least 80 anti-regime protesters.[xxxi] Senior Iranian clerics separately stressed the need to enforce mandatory veiling in sermons on July 7, which demonstrates the extent to which the regime is reinforcing grievances that drove the Masha Amini protest movement.[xxxii]


View Citations

[i] https://eyeofeuphrates.com/ar/news/2023/07/06/9052

[ii] https://eyeofeuphrates [dot] com/ar/news/2023/05/06/8431; https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/05/06/8431; https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-arrival-of-a-lebanese-hezbollah-militia-commander-to-deir-ezzor/; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-8-2023

[iii] https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/06/9052

[iv] https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/05/16/8529; https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/06/29/8987

[v] https://euphratespost[dot]net/%d9%85%d8%b5%d8%af%d8%b1-%d9%85%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%8a-%d8%ac%d8%af%d9%8a%d8%af-%d9%84%d9%85%d9%8a%d9%84%d9%8a%d8%b4%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ad%d8%b1%d8%b3-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ab%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a-%d8%a7/

[vi] https://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-hits-suspected-iran-weapons-convy-in-syria-with-airstrikes-11668010435; https://eyeofeuphrates.com/ar/news/2023/03/23/8044

[vii] https://www.syriahr.com/%d8%a8%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%aa%d9%80-%d9%80%d9%87%d9%80-%d9%80%d9%85%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%a9-%d8%aa%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%b3%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%b1%d9%8a%d9%80-%d9%80%d8%a8-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b9%d9%84%d9%88%d9%85/593808/; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-22-2023#_ednbb9267af971bf1fe733c1b989ac6353bdc09354508ab9375cfe72c31b7377abb33

[viii] https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/3339691/us-conducts-airstrikes-in-syria-in-response-to-deadly-uav-attack/

[ix] https://www dot ninanews.com/Website/News/Details?key=1063187

[x] https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/iraq/2022/11/17/iraqs-pm-picks-former-intelligence-officer-to-lead-new-anti-corruption-security-team/ ; https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/exposing-and-sanctioning-human-rights-violations-iraqi-militias

[xi] https://alhashed.into/nhttps://alghadpress.com/ar/news/47866/

[xii] https://almadapaper dot net/view.php?cat=293670 ; https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraq-sudani-shakes-intelligence-and-security-services-political-power-play ; https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/exposing-and-sanctioning-human-rights-violations-by-iraqi-militias

[xiii] https://web.archive.org/web/20040701202620/http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/20040401_CPAORD69_Delegation_of_Authority_to_Establish_the_Iraqi_National_Intelligence_Service_with_Annex.pdf ; https://www dot nss.gov.iq/

[xiv] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/22/iraq-intelligence-agency-admits-holding-hundreds-despite-previous-denials

[xv] https://defapress dot ir fa/news/601976

[xvi] https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/06/politics/iran-smuggling-ship-arabian-gulf/index.htmlhttps://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/7/6/us-navy-says-iran-seized-commercial-ship-in-gulf ; https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-oil-tankers-shots-fired-united-states-navy/32490465.html#:~:text=The%20Islamic%20Revolutionary%20Guards%20Corps,possibly%20involved%20in%20smuggling%20activity.

[xvii] 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

[xviii] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/08/world/middleeast/us-submarine-middle-east-iran.html

[xix] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/12/us-to-bolster-defensive-posture-in-gulf-white-house

[xx] https://apnews.com/article/iran-us-navy-strait-of-hormuz-persian-gulf-tensions-63ac622781b97d7fa578f440bd074f64

[xxi] https://www.asriran dot com/fa/news/896961/%D9%85%D8%B0%D8%A7%DA%A9%D8%B1%D9%87-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%DA%86%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AE%D8%AA-%D8%A2%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%87-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%82%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AA%D8%B1-%D9%86%D9%81%D8%AA

[xxii] https://mfa dot ir/portal/NewsView/724213

[xxiii] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-xinjiang-uyghurs-muslims-repression-genocide-human-rights

[xxiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-17-2023

[xxv] https://www.radiofarda.com/a/32492860.html

[xxvi] https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/JCPOA-at-a-glance

[xxvii] https://www.reuters.com/world/e3-seeks-un-probe-russias-alleged-use-iranian-drones-2022-10-21/ ; https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/iran-news/article-748865 ; https://www.iranintl dot com/en/202307077496

[xxviii] https://www.axios.com/2023/06/09/iran-us-indirect-talks-oman-nuclear-advances ; https://twitter.com/JasonMBrodsky/status/1667242511272648709?s=20

[xxix] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/28/us/politics/iran-drones-russia-ukraine.html

[xxx] https://www.iranintl.com/202307071426

[xxxi] https://www.wsj.com/articles/irans-protesters-mark-bloody-friday-deaths-11668183010

[xxxii] https://t dot co/wgbCk4Yn3I ; https://t dot co/R3ypFC0tbZ