June 08, 2023
Iran Update, June 8, 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.
- An IRGC Quds Force-affiliated recruitment center in Deir ez Zor City is recruiting Syrians for counter-US operations in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) territory. This reporting supports CTP’s assessment that Iran may be preparing to direct proxy attacks against US forces in Syria.
- CTP previously reported that Iranian and Russian military officials met to discuss expelling the United States from Syria, which may indicate Russia’s intent to facilitate Iranian-backed attacks on US forces. CTP is considering several hypotheses about how Russia would interact with an Iranian-backed campaign against US forces in Syria.
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 IRGC Quds Force-affiliated recruitment center in Deir ez Zor City is recruiting Syrians for counter-US operations in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) territory. This reporting supports CTP’s assessment that Iran may be preparing to direct proxy attacks against US forces in Syria. The head of the Iranian Nasr Center in Deir ez Zor City asked local militia leaders to recruit informants to collect intelligence on US forces and SDF leaders on June 8, according to local anti-Syrian regime outlet Eye of Euphrates.[i] He also indicated that the recruits would conduct unspecified military operations against US and SDF forces.[ii] The Nasr Center is offering new recruits between 700,000 and one million Syrian Pounds (SYPs).[iii] CTP previously reported on an Iranian-backed Syrian militia leader offering 300,000 SYPs to locals in Deir ez Zor Province to target US patrols with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).[iv]
This reporting is consistent with previous reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed leaders have trained local Syrians to attack US forces with IEDs and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs).[v] High-ranking Iranian officials frequent the Nasr Center for meetings, which indicates that it is linked to the Iranian regime and IRGC. IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani visited the center in 2021, for instance.[vi]
CTP previously reported that Iranian and Russian military officials met to discuss expelling the United States from Syria, which may indicate Russia’s intent to facilitate Iranian-backed attacks on US forces.[vii] CTP is considering several hypotheses about how Russia would interact with an Iranian-backed campaign against US forces in Syria. The hypotheses are listed in order of least to greatest Russian involvement in the campaign. The list does not, however, cover all the potential avenues for Russo-Iranian cooperation against the United States in Syria.
- Russia withholds support for Iranian-backed attacks on US forces. Russia would either play no role in an Iranian attack campaign or only conduct information operations to support Iran. The latter could include statements and media that frame the US military presence in Syria as permanent and expanding or condemn the presence of US forces in Syria. This is plausible given Russian information operations to date. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for example, claimed that the United States would create a new Free Syrian Army in Raqqa Province on May 10.[viii] Avoiding direct support for Iran while propagating information operations would present the least risk of escalation between the United States and Russia in Syria.
- Iran and Russia coordinate on when and where Iranian-backed forces attack, but Russia does not directly support them. Iran and Russia agreed to establish a coordination center in Syria in November 2022 to coordinate efforts to attack Americans in eastern and northeastern Syria.[ix] Russia could use such coordination mechanisms to ensure its forces are not collocated with Iranian forces or Iranian-backed militias. Keeping Russian forces out of a conflict between the United States and Iran would reduce the risk of a confrontation between the United States and Russia.
- Iran and Russia share intelligence to support Iranian-backed attacks on US forces. Iran and Russia previously shared intelligence during the fight against ISIS in 2015, which demonstrates there is a precedent for intelligence sharing.[x] Jusoor Studies—a Syria-focused think tank based in Turkey—recirculated reports that Russia assisted Iran in targeting US forces by sharing intelligence during the most recent March 2023 escalation cycle.[xi] CTP is unable to verify the claims Jusoor cites. Russian intelligence sharing with Iran would present a low risk of Russia getting involved in an escalation cycle while potentially making Iranian attacks more deadly for US forces.
CTP presents here an updated graphic illustrating the observed and unobserved indicators that we are using to understand whether Iran will resume its attack campaigns in Iraq and Syria to expel US forces. We will update and refine this list and our related assessments in future updates.
[i] https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2023/06/08/8769
[ii] https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2023/06/08/8769
[iii] https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/06/08/8769
[iv] 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/
[vi] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/qaani-is-in-deir-ezzor/