June 20, 2023
Iran Update, June 20, 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 IRGC-affiliated news outlet tracked a US-Iraqi logistics convoy, possibly to signal Iranian intent to direct an attack on US interests in Iraq.
- Iranian leaders met with senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas officials in Tehran, likely to signal Iran will provide greater support to the groups to combat Israel. Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ahmadian meeting with senior PIJ and Hamas officials likely reflects his effort to integrate himself into Iranian policymaking vis-à-vis Israel.
- The IRGC Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO) chief framed threats to Iran in a domestic context, which indicates the organization is prioritizing internal security over external threats. Kazemi’s interview represents a continuation of the IRGC Intelligence Organization’s shift away from external threats toward internal security.
- Iran is attempting to expand economic relations with Uzbekistan, likely to improve the Iranian economy.
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.
Iranian leaders met with senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas officials in Tehran, likely to signal Iran will provide greater support to the groups to combat Israel. PIJ Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah met several Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian, on June 17-20.[i] A Hamas delegation led by Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh similarly visited Tehran and met with Raisi and Ahmadian on June 19-20.[ii] Iranian leaders discussed counter-Israel efforts in these meetings with officials from PIJ and Hamas, both of which are US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).[iii] These meetings follow increasingly frequent Iranian calls for armed resistance against Israel in the West Bank and a concurrent increase in kinetic activity in the West Bank, as CTP previously reported.[iv] Tasnim News Agency published a report on June 20 criticizing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ground forces capabilities, suggesting Iranian intention to exploit this perceived weakness.[v] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami previously described in August 2022 plans to stoke civil unrest in the West Bank and conduct ground operations against Israeli security forces.[vi] In addition to using Palestinian militias to impose military pressure on Israel, CTP previously assessed that Iran used its influence over these militias to distract Israel from IRGC military transports in eastern Syria.[vii]
Ahmadian meeting with senior PIJ and Hamas officials likely reflects his effort to integrate himself into Iranian policymaking vis-à-vis Israel. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Ahmadian as SNSC secretary in May 2023, replacing Ali Shamkhani, who held the position for a decade.[viii] Ahmadian was primarily a military strategist with no political experience prior to his appointment.[ix] Ahmadian stated in his meetings that the expansion of Palestinian resistance is vital to destroying Israel.[x]
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.
An IRGC-affiliated news outlet tracked a US-Iraqi logistics convoy, possibly to signal Iranian intent to direct an attack on US interests in Iraq. The IRGC-affiliated Sabreen News released two videos on June 20 showing a US-contracted Iraqi logistics convoy transporting military equipment to the joint US-Iraqi Ain al Assad Air Base in central Iraq.[xi] Monitoring US and US-affiliated facilities and force movements are one of several indications that the militias are preparing to attack. Iranian-backed militias have targeted such convoys in 2023 when the Iraqi prime minister voiced support for the US presence in Iraq.[xii] Iraqis, rather than US servicemembers, operate US-contracted Iraqi convoys, however.[xiii] CTP previously assessed that Iraqi proxies may have redirected their anti-US messaging toward a domestic Iraqi audience to pressure the Iraqi government to expel US forces.[xiv]
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.
The IRGC Intelligence Organization chief framed threats to Iran in a domestic context, which indicates the organization is prioritizing internal security over external threats. IRGC Intelligence Organization Chief Brigadier General Mohammad Kazemi gave an interview about the Mahsa Amini protest movement with the supreme leader’s website on June 19. He accused 18 countries—including Saudi Arabia and the UAE—of abetting the Mahsa Amini movement. Kazemi’s criticism of Saudi Arabia and the UAE is noteworthy given the normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia on March 10 and attempts to improve relations between Iran and the UAE in recent months.[xv] He mainly discussed Israel and the United States in the context of their role in stoking the Mahsa Amini movement, not regarding their regional activities. Kazemi separately suggested that Iran’s foreign enemies may seek to interfere in Iran’s March 2024 parliamentary elections, signaling that the regime may expect low voter participation and are preliminarily seeking to blame low turnout on its enemies. The Supreme Leader’s website infrequently publishes interviews with senior Iranian officials, moreover, indicating that Khamenei’s office endorses the IRGC Intelligence Organization’s prioritization of internal security.
Kazemi’s interview represents a continuation of the IRGC Intelligence Organization’s shift away from external threats toward internal security. Kazemi replaced Hossein Taeb, who largely gave priority to external security, as IRGC Intelligence Organization chief in June 2023. [xvi] Taeb's dismissal additionally followed the killing of several IRGC members in Iranian territory, suggesting he was removed due to his failure to ensure Iranian internal security. Kazemi’s interview marks his first media appearance since becoming IRGC Intelligence Organization chief in June 2022.[xvii]
Iran is attempting to expand economic relations with Uzbekistan, likely to improve the Iranian economy. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei discussed reviving Iranian-Uzbek economic relations with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on June 18 in his first meeting with an Uzbek president since 1992.[xviii] President Ebrahim Raisi and Mirziyoyev separately signed a preferential trade agreement to increase bilateral trade from roughly one to three billion US dollars annually.[xix] Other Iranian and Uzbek officials signed an additional 10 agreements on pharmaceutical, insurance, agricultural, and technological cooperation.[xx] Iran and Uzbekistan have previously attempted to increase their trade volume but failed to do so due to inadequate transit routes.[xxi] Uzbekistan is capable of eventually establishing direct Iranian access to other Central Asian as well as Russian and Chinese markets, although Iranian and Uzbek officials did not discuss doing so during Mirziyoyev’s June 18 visit. Iran has increased its economic diplomacy efforts with regional and extra-regional states, including other countries in Central Asia, such as Turkmenistan.[xxii]
[i] https://president dot ir/fa/144907; https://mfa dot ir/portal/NewsView/722490; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/03/27/2912178
[ii] https://hamas dot ps/ar/p/17508; https://president dot ir/fa/144920; https://www.isna dot ir/news/1402032918632
[iii] https://www.haaretz dot com/middle-east-news/2021-08-06/ty-article/premium/hamas-leader-haniyeh-meets-with-irans-hardline-president-raisi/0000017f-f337-d5bd-a17f-f73fe0660000; https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/
[v] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/03/30/2913508
[vi] https://farsi dot khamenei.ir/others-dialog?id=50786
[ix] https://nournews dot ir/Fa/News/140248 ; https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/08/the-irgc-strategic-brain-trust-part-2-ahmadian-hejazi-and-jafari.html; https://www.aljazeera dot com/news/2023/5/23/what-to-expect-after-change-of-iran-top-security-official
[x] https://www.timesofisrael dot com/iran-praises-palestinian-resistance-in-meetings-with-hamas-islamic-jihad-leaders/; https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/fa/news/1402/03/27/2912178
[xiii] https://en dot mehrnews.com/news/177087/US-military-logistics-convoy-was-targeted-in-Nasiriyah-Iraq
[xv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-10-2023 ;
[xviii] https://www.leader dot ir/fa/content/767 ; https://www.leader dot ir/fa/content/26549
[xix] https://www.leader dot ir/fa/content/767 ; https://www.leader dot ir/fa/content/26549
[xx] https://president dot ir/fa/144889 ; https://en.irna dot ir/news/85144447 ; https://iranpress dot com/content/78588/iran-uzbekistan-bolster-trade-ties
[xxi] https://www.iess dot ir/en/analysis/3493/
[xxii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-updates-may-3-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-17-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-2-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-16-2023