May 26, 2023
Iran Update, May 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.
[Correction: A previous version of yesterday’s text incorrectly stated the Popular Mobilization Forces' (PMF's) total budget would increase by about 458 billion USD. The correct text is that the PMF's total budget would increase by about 458 million USD. We have updated the text to fix this error.]
- Saudi media reported Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) is preparing to target US forces in Syria, which likely misrepresents the threat LH poses.
- Iran has increasingly engaged in prisoner exchanges with Western countries in recent weeks, likely to signal its willingness to resume nuclear negotiations. Iran could be signaling its interest in nuclear diplomacy to preempt US or Israeli military action against its nuclear facilities.
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.
Saudi media reported Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) is preparing to target US forces in Syria, which likely misrepresents the threat LH poses. Al Hadath Media reported on May 24 that LH’s special forces Golan Unit conducted a military exercise near Al Dumayr, Damascus in preparation to attack US forces in Syria.[i]Al Hadath Media reported the Golan Unit trained with tanks and medium arms, suggesting they would conduct a ground attack on US forces. Such an attack runs counter to the Golan Unit’s covert objectives. The Golan Unit operates in the Golan Heights and not in the vicinity of US forces in Syria. Al Hadath correctly mentioned that Musa Ali Daqduq, who is a US Specially Designated Global Terrorist, heads the Golan Unit.[ii] Daqduq planned numerous attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq and was responsible for forming and arming militias loyal to Iran in Iraq, such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which suggests he is responsible for proxy development rather than commanding mechanized forces.[iii] Neither Iranian nor Iranian-affiliated media outlets have reported on the Golan Unit military exercise near Damascus. Iranian and LH media have covered similar exercises, however. Iranian and LH media extensively covered LH’s recent military exercise in southern Lebanon on May 21.[iv] US forces were able to defeat a Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group mechanized ground attack in 2018, which demonstrates US capabilities to counter such an attack.[v]
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 has increasingly engaged in prisoner exchanges with Western countries in recent weeks, likely to signal its willingness to resume nuclear negotiations. Iran exchanged four prisoners with Belgium, France, and Ireland between May 12 to May 26, for the first time since 2019.[vi] Iran previously engaged in prisoner exchanges with Western countries in 2016 and 2019 to encourage nuclear negotiations. Recent prisoner exchanges coincided with other recent acts that signal Iran’s willingness to resume negotiations, including rhetorical messaging, diplomatic meetings, and pressure tactics.[vii]
Iran could be signaling its interest in nuclear diplomacy to preempt US or Israeli military action against its nuclear facilities. Axios reported on May 17 that the US and Israel are discussing joint military planning for taking action against Iran’s nuclear program.[viii] Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi warned on May 23 that Israel would strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.[ix] Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi separately stated that Israel is capable of attacking Iran’s underground nuclear facilities on May 23.[x] Tehran has historically sought to prevent a consensus from emerging between the US and allies on taking military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.
[iv] https://www.almayadeen (dot) net/news/politics/%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87:-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%85-%D8%A3%D8%B9%D8%B8%D9%85; https://almanar (dot) com.lb/10644218
https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/02/22/2893593
https://www.irna dot ir/news/85109166
https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020303000973
https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/03/04/2900919