May 08, 2023
Iran Update, May 8, 2023
May 8, 2023, 5:00 pm ET
The Iran Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.
Note: CTP will not publish an Iran Update between May 9 and 12. CTP will resume publishing Iran Updates on May 15.
Contributors: Andie Parry
Iran is maneuvering to economically benefit from Syria’s reintegration into the region, which may enable Iran to circumvent US and international sanctions, as well as support Iranian-backed militias operating in Syria.[i] Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed 15 cooperative agreements with Syria on May 3 in a push to be the primary provider of reconstruction projects in Syria.[ii] CTP previously assessed that Iran may use the Iranian para-statal organization Khatam al Anbia or Iranian-backed proxy companies to oversee such reconstruction projects. Iranian Free Trade, Industrial, and Special Economic Zones Supreme Council Secretary Hojatollah Abdol Maleki stated on May 6 that plans to establish a free trade zone between Iran, Iraq, and Syria have entered a “technical and implementation stage.”[iii] Maleki suggested the free trade zone may extend to the Latakia port and the Al Qaim Iraq-Syria border crossing. A free trade zone through Syria, Iraq, and Iran would allow Iran to move materiel across borders without oversight that would normally enforce sanctions on trade with Syria and Iran. The Arab League voted on May 7 to readmit Syria, after which an unidentified Jordanian official claimed that the Arab League will lobby to lift Western sanctions on Syria if the Assad regime agrees to a political solution to end the crisis.[iv] The end of sanctions on Syria with the establishment of a free trade zone and Iranian reconstruction projects would enable Iran to circumvent Western sanctions on Iran.
- Iran is maneuvering to economically benefit from Syria’s reintegration into the region, which may enable Iran to circumvent US and international sanctions, as well as support Iranian-backed militias operating in Syria.
- The Iranian regime is pressuring the relevant parties to resume nuclear negotiations, likely to preempt the reimposition of nuclear sanctions amid a deteriorating internal economic situation.
- Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force Commander of Albu Kamal Hajj Askar met in Sayyida Zainab on May 3 and 4, according to a report from Syrian opposition outlet Eye of Euphrates.
Internal Security and Protest Activity
At least five protests occurred in five cities across four provinces on May 6.
At least five protests occurred in five cities across five provinces on May 7.
At least fifteen protests occurred in fifteen cities across fifteen provinces on May 8.
CTP recorded student poisoning incidents in 2 provinces on May 6 and 1 province on May 7. CTP did not record any student poisoning incidents on May 8.
Iranian media reported a new attack on a cleric in Markazi Province on May 7, marking a sustained increase in such incidents within the past month.[v] The May 7 attack is the fifth of such attacks, a five-fold increase in violence against religious figures compared to January, February, and March 2023. CTP previously assessed that attacks on Iranian clerics may reflect broader public antipathy to the regime's sociocultural and economic policies and forecasted that continued attacks could create fissures between the clerical establishment and the regime.[vi]
Iranian authorities have continued to increase the pace of state executions in recent days.[vii] The Judiciary executed a Swedish-Iranian dissident on May 6 and two individuals who purportedly had purportedly insulted Islam on May 8, marking roughly 45 executions within the past several days. This uptick could presage further repression or, conversely, signal the regime’s confidence in preempting and suppressing unrest, as executions generated significant unrest throughout the Mahsa Amini protest movement.[viii]
Iranian hardliners seek to intensify indoctrination efforts in Iranian schools to preempt anti-regime activity among Iranian youth. Hardline officials and media outlets have advocated for measures that would restrict ideological plurality in Iranian schools in recent days.[ix] Such measures include selecting schoolteachers based on their devotion to revolutionary ideals and connecting schools to local mosques, the latter of which will be implemented in Tehran on an unspecified date. Regime officials have repeatedly stressed the need to indoctrinate Iranian schoolchildren, who spearheaded acts of anti-regime defiance throughout the Mahsa Amini protest movement.
Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
Iranian officials met with several of their Omani counterparts on May 8 to discuss expanding economic, military, and intelligence cooperation between the two countries. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri met with his Omani counterparts Admiral Abdollah bin Khamis al Raisi and Shahab bin Tariq al Saeed in Muscat to discuss joint military and intelligence cooperation and arms sales.[x] Central Bank of Iran Governor Mohammad Reza Farzin and Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi met with Omani Trade, Industry, and Investment Promotion Minister and Iran-Oman Joint Economic Commission head Qais bin Mohammad al Yousef in Tehran to discuss expanding bilateral economic and commercial relations.[xi]
The Iranian regime is pressuring the relevant parties to resume nuclear negotiations, likely to preempt the reimposition of nuclear sanctions amid a deteriorating internal economic situation. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Mohammad Eslami reported on May 4 that the organization has made a series of nuclear advancements in the first phase of its domestic nuclear fuel cycle, significantly expanding its uranium mining and milling activities.[xii] A senior Iranian nuclear official stated on May 5 that Iran would leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the nuclear deal parties were to reimpose UN sanctions.[xiii] Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held a phone call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell on May 8 to discuss Iran’s greater cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).[xiv] Abdollahian referenced Iran’s May 2 reinstallation of IAEA monitoring equipment to assuage European concerns about monitoring Iran‘s nuclear program.[xv] EU3 countries have considered triggering the nuclear deal’s “snapback” mechanism for reimposing UN Security Council sanctions.[xvi] Regime officials have expressed concern over the state of the Iranian economy for several months and the regime’s economic policies have failed to address Iran’s economic problems, as CTP previously assessed.[xvii] The reimposition of UN sanctions would exacerbate Iran’s economic crisis.
External Security and Military Affairs
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force Commander of Albu Kamal Hajj Askar met in Sayyida Zainab on May 3 and 4, according to a report from Syrian opposition outlet Eye of Euphrates.[xviii] Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated outlet Al Manar reported Raisi visited Sayyida Zainab for religious services on May 4.[xix] Raisi met with senior Palestinian militia officials in Damascus on May 4 to discuss cohesion across the Axis of Resistance and support for Palestinian resistance groups as CTP previously reported.[xx] It is highly unusual for senior Iranian political leadership to meet with IRGC Quds Force commanders and Iranian-backed militias outside of Iran.
[iii] https://www.imna dot ir/news/659485
[iv] https://apnews.com/article/syria-arab-egypt-saudi-qatar-jordan-f0298c40488470eb28274b2ffb859396 ;
[v] https://www.mizanonline dot ir/fa/news/4711331/
[vii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-65523996 ; https://www.rferl.org/a/sewdish-iranian-disssident-chaab-executed/32399477.html ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-may-5-2023
[ix] https://t dot co/FnAFZI9XsR ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85102078/ ; https://president dot ir/fa/143829 ; https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020218000396/
[x] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/587689 ; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/587792 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/02/18/2891666
[xi] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85104959 ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85105299
[xii] https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020214000680
[xiv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/02/18/2891647 ; https://www.mizanonline dot ir/fa/news/4711624