June 26, 2023

Iran Update, June 26, 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 is framing the US-led international coalition in Syria as an imminent security threat to local Syrians, possibly to incite and sustain local support to expel US forces from Syria. Iran maintains the capability to attack US forces in the Middle East via its proxies but has restrained them from conducting attacks.
  2. Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan will soon travel to Russia to increase security cooperation with Moscow. Iran may seek Russian security assistance to crack down more forcefully on Iranian anti-regime activity.
  3. The IRGC appointed two new northwest regional commanders on June 26, indicating the regime’s focus on security threats in the area.

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.

Iran is framing the US-led international coalition in Syria as an imminent security threat to local Syrians, possibly to incite and sustain local support to expel US forces from Syria. The coalition conducts counter-ISIS operations in Syria and is occasionally the target of Iranian-backed militia attacks.[i] Iranian-backed militias held a military parade in Mayadin City on June 24 to respond to a rumor that the US-led international coalition was preparing to liberate Albu Kamal and Mayadin cities from the Syrian regime.[ii] The military parade suggests that Iran is attempting to frame its military presence in Syria to locals as necessary to counter US attacks. Iran has attempted to recruit local Syrians to create a grassroots resistance to expel the United States from Syria.[iii] Iranian state media also reported that US forces brought a convoy of weapons and logistical supplies on June 25 to positions along the Euphrates River in Syrian Democratic Forces-held territory.[iv] IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency and Iranian state-run Al Alam circulated the report on their Arabic-language Twitter accounts, which suggests Iran sought to reach regional audiences.

Iran maintains the capability to attack US forces in the Middle East via its proxies but has restrained them from conducting attacks. Iranian-backed militias have the necessary capabilities to conduct an attack on US forces, as CTP showed in a list of indicators for an Iranian-directed attack on US forces.[v] CTP has not observed indications since May 18 that Iran is preparing to direct an imminent attack on US forces, however. Iranian-backed militias threatened to attack US forces in Iraq from June 1 to June 8, but stopped issuing the threats after IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on June 8.[vi] That the militias stopped threatening to attack US forces suggests Ghaani directed the Iranian proxies to tone down their rhetoric and deescalate vis-à-vis the United States. This timeline of events is inconsistent with what CTP would expect to see following orders from Iranian leadership to conduct an attack.

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.

Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan will soon travel to Russia to increase security cooperation with Moscow. Iranian media reported on June 26 that Radan will travel to Russia on an unspecified date to observe the Russian police’s methods for confronting organized crime.[vii] Radan will also sign a memorandum of understanding with Russian security officials to increase Russo-Iranian cooperation in combatting terrorism and human and drug trafficking. Iranian law enforcement commanders rarely travel abroad, and Radan has not traveled abroad since becoming Law Enforcement Commander in January 2023. Former Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari only made one foreign trip to Iraq during his eight-year tenure, for example.[viii] The announcement of Radan’s trip follows Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s June 23-24 armed rebellion against the Russian Ministry of Defense.[ix] The timing of this announcement suggests that Radan is traveling to Russia to help Russian President Vladimir Putin maintain internal security. Radan previously traveled to Damascus, Syria as law enforcement deputy commander in 2011 to support Syrian security services’ crackdown against the Syrian people.[x]

Iran may seek Russian security assistance to crack down more forcefully on Iranian anti-regime activity. Radan stated on June 26 that the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) will “forcefully” confront “norm breakers,” a term Iranian security officials frequently use to describe individuals who participate in acts of anti-regime defiance, including unveiled women.[xi] President Ebrahim Raisi separately stated on June 25 that the regime's efforts to “reduce social harms” have been “insufficient.”[xii] The regime recently began implementing a “smart” approach for enforcing mandatory veiling in mid-April.[xiii] This approach uses advanced technologies, such as facial-recognizing cameras, to identify unveiled women without physically confronting them. Several Iranians recently told the BBC that these smart technologies are inaccurate, however, with several long-haired men reporting that they received hijab warning messages after traffic cameras mistook them for unveiled women.[xiv] The Wall Street Journal reported on March 27 that Russia is providing Iran with advanced surveillance software.[xv]

The Iranian regime may also seek Russian security assistance to confront potential unrest related to the March 2024 parliamentary elections. Regime officials have expressed increased concern over the potential for the upcoming elections to generate unrest in recent weeks. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated that Iran’s enemies have “already launched their artillery to destroy” the March 2024 elections during a speech commemorating former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini on June 4.[xvi] Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib separately called on the IRGC Intelligence Organization and Intelligence and Security Ministry to develop joint strategies to ensure participation, competition, health, and security in the upcoming elections on June 15.[xvii]

IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami appointed two new regional IRGC commanders in Iran’s northwestern provinces on June 26, indicating the regime’s focus on security threats in the area. Salami appointed Brigadier General Ali Akbar Pourjamshidian as Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shohada Operational Base Commander.[xviii] The Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shohada Operational Base is based in Ouroumiyeh, West Azerbaijan province and is responsible for the West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces. The base regularly deploys forces to suppress internal unrest and conduct operations against anti-regime militants inside Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan Region.[xix] Pourjamshidian replaced Brigadier General Mohammad Taghi Ossanlou, who had held the position since 2011.[xx] Pourjamshidian is a suitable successor to Ossanlou and has held several IRGC staff and command positions prior to his appointment, most recently as IRGC Ground Forces Deputy Coordinator, a role he’s held since 2016. Salami also appointed Brigadier General Amanullah Gashtasbi as the 22nd Beyt ol Moghhadas Operational Division Commander. The Beyt ol Moghhadas Operational Division is based in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province, where it has quelled unrest and attacked Kurdish anti-regime militants.

These IRGC command changes coincide with recent regime concern over Kurdish anti-regime militancy in the West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces and Israeli threats the regime perceives in Iraqi Kurdistan. Salami stated during Pourjamshidian’s appointment ceremony that Israel is promoting Kurdish separatism inside Iran.[xxi] The IRGC deployed the Seyyed ol Shohada and Beyt ol Moghhadas forces to conduct operations against anti-regime Kurdish militant as recently as May 30 to June 16.[xxii] Senior IRGC Ground Forces commanders and security officials previously threatened to confront anti-regime actors and “terrorists” along Iran’s western border with Iraq in recent weeks.[xxiii] Iranian officials routinely use the term ”terrorist” to refer to Kurdish separatist groups in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian media reported that Kurdish groups in Iraq had supplied and transported drone components for an Israeli attack on a Defense Ministry facility in Esfahan.[xxiv] Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib also claimed in January that state security services arrested those who had attempted to engage in destabilizing activities inside Iran.[xxv]

[i] https://www.inherentresolve.mil/WHO-WE-ARE/; https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3341127/us-responds-to-attack-that-killed-us-contractor-in-syria/   

[ii] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-iranian-revolutionary-guard-militia-holds-a-military-parade-east-of-deir-ezzor/; https://twitter.com/Sada_AlSharqieh/status/1672617881178185728  

[iii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/06/01/discord-leaks-iran-russia-syria/

[iv] https://twitter.com/Tasnim_Arabic/status/1673026725054414848; https://twitter.com/alalam_arabic/status/1673026593998905346

[v] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-9-2023

[vi] https://t.me/Tura313/41163 ; https://t.me/sabreenS1/77511

[vii] https://donya-e-eqtesad.com/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%B3%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-62/3979801-%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AA-%D8%B1%D8%B3%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%DB%8C%D9%87-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86

[viii] https://donya-e-eqtesad dot com/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%B3%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-62/3560573-%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%81%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%87-%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%88%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1-%DA%A9%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82

[ix] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-23-2023

[x] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-7-2023

[xi] https://t dot co/8IklCoKLqo

[xii] https://president dot ir/fa/145059

[xiii] https://www.entekhab dot ir/fa/news/722677


[xv] https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-supplies-iran-with-cyber-weapons-as-military-cooperation-grows-b14b94cd

[xvi] https://www.leader dot ir/fa/content/26528

[xvii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-22-2023

[xviii] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/599389 ; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/599219

[xix] https://www.criticalthreats.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/20200121-Report-Iran%E2%80%99s-Reserve-of-Last-Resort.pdf

[xx] https://www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com/sanctioned-person/osanloo-mohammad-taghi

[xxi] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/05/2916785

[xxii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-30-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-2-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-5-2023 ; https://twitter.com/KurdistanHRN/status/1669606076705021953?s=20 ; https://twitter.com/KurdistanHRN_En/status/1669341177634758657?s=20

[xxiii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-30-2023

[xxiv] https://www.mehrnews dot com/news/5697889/

[xxv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/en/news/2023/01/26/2843177

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