September 06, 2023
Iran Update, September 6, 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 an 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.
- Russia directed local tribes to attack the US-led International Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria likely part of a coordinated effort with Iran and the Syrian regime to expel the United States from Syria.
- Iranian-backed militias relocated personnel and military equipment to southern Syria from Deir ez Zor on September 4, possibly to secure the Syrian regime as anti-regime protests continue.
- Iranian protest organizations are planning demonstrations to commemorate the regime’s killing of Mahsa Amini on September 16 and may generate protest turnout across Iran. The regime is taking steps to preempt protests that commemorate the death of Mahsa Amini and will likely crack down on demonstrations that occur.
- Senior Iranian officials outlined the regime’s policy perspective on Iran-Turkey bilateral relations during their meetings with Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Hakan Fidan in Tehran on September 3.
Iranian Activities in the Levant
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant 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.
Russia directed local tribes to attack the US-led International Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria likely part of a coordinated effort with Iran and the Syrian regime to expel the United States from Syria.[i] Arab tribes in Deir ez Zor Province have been clashing with the US-backed SDF since August 17 in response to long-running local grievances against the SDF.[ii] Deputy Commander of Russian Forces in Syria General Igor Smoly met with a local pro-regime sheikh and an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force-affiliated sheikh in Hatla near Deir ez Zor City on September 2.[iii] The attendees directed Arab tribal leaders at the meeting to attack the US-led International Coalition for its sponsorship of the SDF.[iv] Iran, Russia, and Syria tried to provoke animosity within the local population against the United States in July and August 2023 to motivate them to attack US and SDF forces. Cultivating an anti-US grassroots resistance movement is one component of the coordinated campaign to expel the United States from Syria that CTP and ISW have been tracking since June 2023.[v] CTP previously reported that Iran and the Syrian regime are using the current security situation to create an increasingly hostile operating environment for US forces in eastern Syria.[vi]
Iranian-backed militias relocated personnel and military equipment to southern Syria from Deir ez Zor on September 4, possibly to secure the Syrian regime as anti-regime protests continue.[vii] Suwayda Province in southern Syria has become the well-organized center of the anti-regime protest movement as organizers demonstrate greater ability to direct and sustain constant demonstrations and issue new demands. [viii] CTP previously reported that Iran sent Afghan, Iranian, and Iraqi snipers to Damascus from Iraq on August 27 and 31, possibly to quash potential protests.[ix] Iran has a long history of using violence to impose social control.[x]
The more recent deployment demonstrates the priority Iran has given to securing the Syrian regime relative to its campaign to expel the United States from Syria. The personnel and equipment arrived in Deir ez Zor Province in July 2023 following rumors of a US-led International Coalition attack into regime-held territory, according to local Syrian opposition media. Iran gave priority to military reinforcements to eastern Syria throughout July and August 2023 while framing the United States was an imminent threat to locals.[xi] The massive deployment of forces to the area reinforced that narrative and was consistent with cultivating an anti-US grassroots resistance movement.[xii] Iran is currently taking advantage of clashes between the Arab tribes in eastern Syria and the US-backed SDF to create a hostile environment for US forces, as CTP previously assessed.[xiii]
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.
Iranian protest organizations are planning demonstrations to commemorate the regime’s killing of Mahsa Amini on September 16 and may generate protest turnout across Iran. The organizations are based in various Iranian cities and have called for protests on September 16.[xiv] They have not provided times or locations for the demonstrations, however. The organizations have also published videos with safety tips for protesters and promoted creative ways to spread the word about protests, such as by writing protest information on paper currency.[xv] The organizations have demonstrated a low level of coordination by republishing each other’s content and using similar protest slogans on social media. CTP previously reported that other demographics—such as Iranian students—are also planning protests.[xvi]
The regime is taking steps to preempt protests that commemorate the death of Mahsa Amini and will likely crack down on demonstrations that occur. It has arrested numerous women’s rights activists and family members of protesters killed during last year’s Mahsa Amini movement.[xvii] The regime has additionally intensified its crackdown on dissident voices in universities, dismissing at least 10 professors on August 29 alone.[xviii] The regime is targeting universities because university students largely spearheaded last year’s Mahsa Amini movement. The regime has also established checkpoints at the entrances of various cities in Kurdistan Province and deployed security forces and helicopters to Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces.[xix] Around 21 percent of the anti-regime protests between September 16 and December 22, 2022, occurred in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces, as CTP previously reported.[xx]
Senior Iranian officials outlined the regime’s policy perspective on Iran-Turkey bilateral relations during their meetings with Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Hakan Fidan in Tehran on September 3. President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with Fidan during his visit to Tehran.[xxi] All three Iranian officials echoed previous rhetoric about Iran’s opposition to foreign interference in the Caucasus. They further emphasized pursuing diplomatic efforts to address these concerns, including the extant 3+3 format, which would involve Iran, Turkey, Russia, and the states in the Caucasus. Iran perceives a threat emanating from the growing Turkish and Israeli influence in the region and Iranian officials have previously stated their desire to diplomatically manage their concerns.[xxii] Raisi and Abdollahian similarly endorsed respect for Syria’s national sovereignty and achieving a diplomatic solution to Turkey’s concerns in Syria. This is consistent with Iran’s recent participation in the Astana diplomatic process to resolve tensions between Turkey and the Syrian regime and eventuate a Turkish withdrawal from Syria.[xxiii] All three Iranian officials finally reiterated Iran’s commitment to reach the bilateral trade goal of $30 billion with Turkey, which Iranian officials first articulated in 2021.[xxiv] The Raisi administration has engaged in economic diplomacy with a slew of regional and extra-regional countries in recent months to generate revenue for the Iranian economy and secure regime stability.[xxv]
[i] https://npasyria dot com/en/103799/; https://deirezzor24 dot net/en/the-tribes-have-held-a-meeting-in-hatlah-town-northeast-of-deir-ezzor-under-the-partnership-of-russia/
[iii] https://npasyria dot com/en/103799/; https://deirezzor24 dot net/en/the-tribes-have-held-a-meeting-in-hatlah-town-northeast-of-deir-ezzor-under-the-partnership-of-russia/
[iv] https://npasyria dot com/en/103799/; https://deirezzor24 dot net/en/the-tribes-have-held-a-meeting-in-hatlah-town-northeast-of-deir-ezzor-under-the-partnership-of-russia/
[vii] https://deirezzor24 dot net/en/the-iranian-revolutionary-guard-militia-relocates-a-huge-number-of-its-elements-outside-deir-ezzor/
[ix] https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2023/08/28/9537 ; https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2023/08/31/9557
[xii] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/iran-russia-and-syrian-regime-are-coordinating-expel-us-forces-syria; https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/06/01/discord-leaks-iran-russia-syria/
[xiv] Sources available upon request.
[xv] Sources available upon request.
[xvii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/05/26/2942428 ;
[xviii] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/01/world/middleeast/anniversary-iran-crackdown-dissent.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur ;
[xix] https://twitter.com/HengawO/status/1694692803798794393 ;
[xxi] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85219411 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/en/news/2023/09/04/2951633/iran-opposes-foreign-presence-in-caucasus ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/en/news/2023/09/03/2951466/iran-sets-30-billion-target-in-annual-trade-with-turkey-fm ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/en/news/2023/09/04/2951654
[xxii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-7-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-14-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-14-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-24-2023 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/21/2924658 ; https://www.tehrantimes dot com/news/486826/Velayati-urges-vigilance-in-face-of-NATO-plot
[xxiii] https://sana dot sy/?p=1918441 ; https://sana dot sy/?p=1919436 ; https://sana dot sy/?p=1919264 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-23-2023
[xxiv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/en/news/2023/09/03/2951466/ ; https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/irans-official-says-trade-volume-with-turkey-to-reach-30b-2021-4-30-0/
[xxv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-22-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-23-2023