June 15, 2023
Iran Update, June 15, 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.
- An unidentified high-ranking Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commander told Newsweek that Israel is concerned about Russia transferring Western weapons captured in Ukraine to Iran. Iran will likely attempt to reverse engineer the Western weapons systems to upgrade its own conventional capabilities or develop new ones to use in future conflicts.
- Western media reported on June 14 that the US and Iran are negotiating an informal nuclear agreement in Oman, citing US, Israeli, and Iranian sources.
Iranian Activities in the Levant
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant and 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.
An unidentified high-ranking Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commander told Newsweek that Israel is concerned about Russia transferring Western weapons captured in Ukraine to Iran.[i] The IDF officer expressed concerns that Iran is researching Western weapons technology and sending the weapons to its client militias in Lebanon and Palestine.[ii] The IDF officer’s claims are consistent with previous Western reports. CNN previously reported that Russian forces have been capturing US- and NATO-provided weapons and equipment in Ukraine and sending these materials to Iran, notably Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft systems.[iii] A Russian military aircraft transported those same systems and a British NLAW anti-tank missile to Tehran on August 20, 2022, according to Sky News.[iv] This Iranian and Russian defense cooperation is part of a broader and evolving partnership evident in several different fields between Tehran and Moscow, as CTP has previously reported.[v]
Iran will likely attempt to reverse engineer the Western weapons systems to upgrade its own conventional capabilities or develop new ones to use in future conflicts. Iran developed the Touphan anti-tank missile, which is a copy of the American BGM-71 TOW missile, in the 1970s. This demonstrates Iran’s interest in using Western military technology to advance its defense industry.[vi] Anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems’ technology would enhance the combat effectiveness of Iranian and Iranian-backed ground forces.
Iranian Domestic 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.
Western media reported on June 14 that the US and Iran are negotiating an informal nuclear agreement in Oman, citing US, Israeli, and Iranian sources.[vii] Iran would reportedly halt production of highly enriched uranium, release Americans held inside Iran, increase its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and refrain from selling ballistic missiles to Russia, according to the reports. The US would, in return, unfreeze Iranian financial assets abroad and refrain from imposing additional sanctions on Iran. Western media claimed that United States has furthermore asked Iran to refrain from attacking US forces in Iraq and Syria. CTP has observed several indicators in recent weeks that Iran may be preparing to resume its attack campaigns in Iraq and Syria to expel US forces.[viii]
CTP is considering several hypotheses about how Tehran views the nuclear negotiations and its regional activities.
- Iran is threatening attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria to build leverage in the nuclear negotiations. This hypothesis is plausible because Iranian-backed militias in Iraq stopped signaling their intent to attack US forces after IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani visited Iraq on June 8.[ix] That his visit was unplanned suggests that he sought to restrain the militias from escalating against US forces in Iraq. Western media reports that the United States has asked Iran to refrain from attacking US forces in the context of nuclear negotiations also indicates the connection between these efforts. Iran has previously received concessions from the West for nuclear negotiations solely by advancing its nuclear program.[x] This is a counter-indicator for the hypothesis. Regime officials threatening that Iran will attack US forces if the United States does not lift nuclear-related sanctions and Iranian proxies resuming their threats to attack US forces should negotiations stall or fail would support this hypothesis.
- Iran is threatening attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria as part of its campaign to expel US forces and not to gain leverage in nuclear negotiations. This hypothesis is plausible because Iranian leaders routinely emphasize the importance of forcing US troops from the Middle East. Iran has not ordered attacks on US forces in Syria despite accelerating efforts to build proxy capabilities to do so since last year, however. This is a counter-indicator for this hypothesis. Statements from regime officials that Iran is giving priority to expelling the United States from the Middle East along with indications that Iran is directing proxy attacks would support this hypothesis. CTP is unlikely to observe some of the indicators in the open-source environment, such as Iran’s supreme leader approving attacks and the IRGC Quds Force commander ordering Iranian-backed militias to conduct the attacks.
Iranian and Iranian-backed forces have the capability to attack US forces in Iraq and Syria regardless of whether Iranian leaders plan to conduct an imminent campaign. Whether the Iranian regime orders an attack on US forces, therefore, is dependent on the regime’s intentions rather than its capabilities.
[x] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal; https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/nuclear-agreement-%E2%80%93-jcpoa_en