June 05, 2023
Iran Update, June 5, 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 is launching 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.
- Iranian leaders in Syria met in Damascus to plan for a potential US attack and recruited locals to target US forces in Deir ez Zor Province with IEDs. This supports CTP’s assessment that Iran may be preparing to direct proxy attacks against US forces in Syria.
- A new Iranian-backed militia in Iraq signaled its readiness to attack US forces in Iraq. The Iranian-backed militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HAN) also plans to attack US forces in Baghdad.
- The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is continuing to deploy artillery and other materiel to Iran’s northwest border with Iraq. This raises CTP’s confidence that the IRGC may engage in a short-term military conflict to confront perceived Israeli threats in Iraqi Kurdistan.
- Iran is likely attempting to capitalize on perceived tensions between the United States and the UAE to weaken the US-led multinational maritime security partnership in the Persian Gulf.
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 in Syria met in Damascus to plan for a potential US attack and recruited locals to target US forces in Deir ez Zor Province with IEDs. This supports CTP’s assessment that Iran may be preparing to direct proxy attacks against US forces in Syria. Unspecified Iranian leaders from Deir ez Zor Province met in Damascus City on June 5 to discuss US force movements in Syria and develop plans to repel a potential US attack.[i] CTP cannot independently verify what the Iranians discussed at the meeting. The United States has attacked Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in retaliation for attacks on US positions, however. An Iranian-backed Syrian militia leader also recruited locals in Deir ez Zor Province to target US patrols with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Syrian Democratic Forces territory, according to local anti-Assad regime media outlet Nahr Media on June 3.[ii] The report comes after the Washington Post reported on June 1 that Iran has been training forces to construct and use explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) against US forces in Syria.[iii] The IRGC Quds Force maintains several command centers and weapons storage installations in the vicinity of Damascus in addition to frequently using it as meeting place to discuss operational developments in Syria, however.[iv]
Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) Unit 127 drone specialists also conducted a drone exercise for an unspecified delegation in Palmyra, approximately 120 kilometers from the US Al Tanf Garrison, on June 3.[v] Iranian-backed militias have previously conducted intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights over US positions and targeted US bases in Syria with attack drones. This suggests the exercise in Palmyra is in preparation to use drones against US forces.[vi]
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.
A new Iranian-backed militia in Iraq signaled its readiness to attack US forces in Iraq. Kataib Karbala announced its formation and its intent to target US forces in Iraq on June 3.[vii] This follows the formation of a separate Iranian-backed militia, Kataib al Sabreen, that declared its intent to attack US forces in Iraq on June 1, as CTP previously reported.[viii] Kataib Hezbollah (KH)-backed Telegram channel Tura News circulated both announcements, which suggests that the groups may be affiliated with KH.[ix]
The Iranian-backed militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba (HAN) also plans to attack US forces in Baghdad, Iraq. HAN announced on May 29 that it redeployed its rocket unit from Mosul to Baghdad to target US forces at Camp Victory and the US Embassy.[x] The move was HAN’s response to a statement from the US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski, who said the United States will target HAN leadership, starting with HAN Secretary General Akram Kaabi, if the group threatens US interests in Iraq.[xi] HAN formed in 2013 as an offshoot from Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) and is closely affiliated with the IRGC Quds Force.[xii] Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq derive legitimacy from opposing the US presence in Iraq and amplifying threats from and against the United States in Iraq.
The IRGC is continuing to deploy artillery and other materiel to Iran’s northwest border with Iraq. This raises CTP’s confidence that the IRGC may engage in a short-term military conflict to confront perceived Israeli threats in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw circulated videos of Iranian forces transporting military equipment to Oshnavieh, West Azerbaijan Province, Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province, and Eslamabad-e Gharb, Kermanshah Province and near Boukan, West Azerbaijan Province on June 3-4.[xiii]
The Iranian regime is likely attempting to coerce the Iraqi government to confront Kurdish opposition groups, which it accuses of working with Israel to threaten Iran’s national security.[xiv] The recent artillery movements signal Iran’s willingness to use military force against Iraq if the Iraqi government does not accede to Iran’s demand for increased border security.
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.
Iran is attempting to capitalize on perceived tensions between the United States and the UAE to weaken the US-led multinational maritime security partnership in the Persian Gulf. Artesh Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani stated on June 2 that the regional states will be able to establish security for themselves without the presence of any “unjustified force,” referring to the United States.[xv] Iranian media also reported on June 2 that China is overseeing negotiations between Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, India, and Pakistan to form a joint maritime security force in the Persian Gulf.[xvi] The Emirati Foreign Affairs Ministry stated on May 31 that the UAE suspended participation in the US-led Combined Maritime Force, a multinational naval partnership dedicated to ensuring freedom of navigation, over two months ago.[xvii] Iran is undermining security in the Persian Gulf, however. Iran has seized or harassed commercial and naval vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz over the past month. IRGC fast attack craft, for example, came dangerously close to the Marshall Islands-flagged and Greek managed bulk carrier Venture as it departed from the UAE and transited the Strait of Hormuz as recently as June 5.[xviii]
Iran is likely mischaracterizing its reports on a regional naval alliance, however. Iranian officials and Iran-affiliated media are the only sources among the other supposed alliance members who have publicly discussed this development. Iranian media and officials have furthermore claimed that Iran is seeking to build a coalition (etelaaf), not an alliance (etehaad) as some Western outlets have reported, wherein member states would be obligated to mutual defense.[xix] Iran previously failed to establish maritime security cooperation with the Persian Gulf states when the Rouhani administration proposed it as part of the Hormuz Peace Endeavor in 2019.
[ii] https://nahermedia (dot) net/%d9%85%d8%b5%d8%a7%d8%af%d8%b1-%d8%ae%d8%a7%d8%b5%d8%a9-%d9%84%d9%80%d9%86%d9%87%d8%b1-%d9%85%d9%8a%d8%af%d9%8a%d8%a7-%d8%aa%d9%83%d8%b4%d9%81-%d8%aa%d8%ac%d9%86%d9%8a%d8%af-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ab/
[iv] https://twitter.com/IntelliTimes/status/1627072760861315075?s=20; https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/05/06/8431
[vi] https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/3339691/us-conducts-airstrikes-in-syria-in-response-to-deadly-uav-attack/; https://twitter.com/CENTCOM/status/1625676190877876225
[xi] https://t.me/Tura313/41163 ; https://t.me/sabreenS1/77371
[xiii] https://twitter.com/HengawO/status/1665025292069380097 ;
[xiv] https://nournews dot ir/Fa/News/127294/%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%DA%A9%D8%AA-%D8%B6%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%82%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%A8-%DA%A9%D9%8F%D8%B1%D8%AF%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%B9-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%DA%AF%D8%A7%D9%87%DB%8C-%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AF%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%B5%D9%81%D9%87%D8%A7%D9%86
[xv] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/593832
[xvi] https://nournews dot ir/Fa/news/140738 ; https://t dot co/vbCI9yWiaq ; https://t dot co/5S0d83UzQB
[xvii] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/31/world/middleeast/uae-us-iran-maritime-security.html ; https://wam dot ae/ar/details/1395303163664
[xix] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-says-form-naval-alliance-with-gulf-states-ensure-regional-stability-2023-06-03/ ; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/593832