October 27, 2023

Iran Updates, August 2023

Iran Update, September 29, 2023

  1. Pro-regime forces are helping the Arab tribes sustain their fight against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which may facilitate the expulsion of the SDF from parts of their territory.

Iran Update, September 27, 2023

  1. Iran deployed 50 reconnaissance officers to eastern Syria that could support Iranian efforts to prolong conflict between the SDF and Arab tribes and Operational security for Iranian and Iranian-backed forces, convoys, and positions.
  2. Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister Jalil Salari announced on September 25 that Iran, Syria, and Venezuela had signed a memorandum of understanding to build a new oil refinery in Syria, likely to aid the Iranian economy and further solidify Iran’s economic influence over the Syrian regime.
  3. Senior Iranian and Russian military officials reviewed Iranian advanced conventional weapons in Moscow and Tehran in August and September 2023, and may conclude a drone and missile sale agreement following the expiration of UN missile restrictions on October 18.

Iran Update, August 31, 2023

  1. Iranian-backed militias have continued to deploy into territory held by the US-backed SDF in northeastern Syria to conduct assassinations and fuel tribal disputes. These efforts support the Iranian campaign to expel the United States from Syria.
  2. Iranian-backed militias have reportedly deployed from Iraq to Damascus for protest suppression. These deployments highlight the capacity of the IRGC to manage multiple efforts in Syria simultaneously.
  3. The Iranian foreign affairs minister affirmed Tehran's intent to maintain a long-term military presence in Syria.
  4. A senior Iranian nuclear official downplayed the threat of the Iranian nuclear program during an Arabic-language interview with Al Jazeera, possibly to assuage Saudi concerns about Iranian nuclear activities and discourage Saudi leaders from building their own program.

Iran Update, August 30, 2023

  1. The Iranian foreign minister traveled to Damascus, where he discussed economic cooperation and political stability with Syrian officials. The trip comes two weeks after the start of daily anti-regime demonstrations that protest the Assad regime raising fuel prices.
  2. Iranian officials are signaling that the regime will pursue nuclear negotiations, probably with the aim to achieve a comprehensive agreement.
  3. Russia has begun transporting consumer goods to Saudi Arabia via Iran. The transit of Russian goods to Saudi Arabia via Iran is consistent with Iran’s efforts to become a regional and international “transit hub.”

Iran Update, August 29, 2023

  1. Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah blamed the United States for the ongoing protests in Syria and called on demonstrators to show leniency toward the Bashar al Assad regime. Nasrallah is the first Axis of Resistance leader to publicly acknowledge the protests.
  2. Iranian-backed militants raised their readiness levels around Deir ez Zor City amid ongoing clashes between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the Deir ez Zor Military Council in eastern Syria.
  3. IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani suggested that Iran would take unspecified military action if the Iraqi central government does not disarm and relocate anti-Iranian regime Kurdish militias in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iran Update, August 28, 2023

  1. Iranian-backed militants deployed to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory to conduct sabotage attacks amidst clashes between two US-backed groups in eastern Syria. The deployment of Iranian-backed militants likely supports pro-regime campaign objectives to expel the United States from Syria.
  2. Iran threatened to take action against Kurdish anti-regime groups in Iraq and may conduct attacks in Iraq in the next month.
  3. Iran finalized a barter agreement with China wherein Iran provides oil in exchange for Chinese development of the Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran. This is consistent with the overall trend of Sino-Iranian oil-for-infrastructure agreements.

Iran Update, August 25, 2023

  1. Syrian opposition media reported that the Bashar al Assad regime ordered all Syrian Arab Army officers and troops to refrain from taking leave until further notice.
  2. The Iranian regime is continuing to take preemptive measures to deter and prevent protests ahead of the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 16.
  3. Anti-regime protests occurred in at least three cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province—a slight uptick from the usual protest activity that occurs each Friday in the province.

Iran Update, August 24, 2023

  1. Anti-regime protests continued and expanded to additional provinces in Syria. The expansion of protests to Deir ez Zor Province, albeit limited, suggests that Syrian protest groups may have successfully planned and organized the demonstrations.
  2. BRICS invited Iran to become a full member state. Iranian state media boasted that membership will help the regime undermine Western sanctions and support major infrastructure projects.

Iran Update, August 23, 2023

  1. At least 16 anti-regime protests occurred in the southern Syrian provinces of Suwayda and Daraa on August 23. The protests have gained popular support and activists are circulating calls for protests in Deir ez Zor Province on Thursday, August 24, and in all Syrian provinces on Friday, August 25.
  2. Armed groups assassinated four pro-regime personnel, two of whom were from Iranian-backed groups, in eastern Syria between August 10 and August 22. Syrian regime forces refused to complete patrols in Mayadin City on August 23 following the assassinations.
  3. The Supreme Leader’s office showcased the Iranian regime’s sponsorship of Palestinian resistance groups on August 22 after Israeli officials blamed Iran for kinetic activity in the West Bank.
  4. Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari traveled to Moscow between August 20-23. Heydari’s visit to the border surveillance equipment center and comment about “terrorism” indicate that Iran seeks Russian assistance in enhancing its border security.

Iran Update, August 22, 2023

  1. At least 21 anti-regime protests occurred in southern Syria. The Syrian regime is trying to prevent protests from spreading further.
  2. The Iranian regime used its annual National Defense Industry Day holiday to highlight new military capabilities. The regime directed this messaging at foreign enemies and potential international buyers of Iranian defense products.
  3. Iranian oil exports continue to surge, nearing pre-sanctions levels. Growing Iranian oil exports are part of Tehran’s ongoing effort to circumvent and undermine US sanctions.

Iran Update, August 21, 2023

  1. Anti-regime protests have continued to expand in southern Syria, despite the beginning of the work week. The Syrian regime is trying to redirect frustrations toward external actors and local elements.
  2. The United States reportedly unloaded Iranian oil off a tanker after seizing it in April 2023. Iran may further seize commercial vessels and/or threaten US ships in response.
  3. The Artesh Ground Forces commander traveled to Moscow to discuss military cooperation. This visit is part of the evolving military and security partnership between Iran and Russia.
  4. The Iranian regime is working behind closed doors to pass an oppressive law that would expand the mandatory hijab requirement. These measures could further aggravate frustrations throughout Iran.

Iran Update, August 18, 2023

  1. Protests against the Syrian regime expanded across three southern Syrian provinces. This expansion is unsurprising given that it is a Friday—the first day of the weekend in Syria.
  2. Iranian-backed political actors in Iraq are spreading disinformation framing the United States as dangerous and hostile. This disinformation is similar to the narrative that Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime have amplified in eastern Syria since June 2023.
  3. The Iranian regime is trying to deter and preempt protests ahead of the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death on September 16. These actions highlight the regime’s enduring commitment to repression.
  4. The Iranian regime officially connected a recent terror attack in central Iran to the Afghan branch of the Islamic State. The attack will likely exacerbate mounting tensions between Iran and the Afghan Taliban.
  5. The Ebrahim Raisi administration is continuing its diplomatic campaign to convince BRICS countries to admit Iran ahead of the 15th annual BRICS summit in South Africa on August 22-24. Iran faces significant diplomatic hurdles to joining BRICS, however.

Iran Update, August 17, 2023

  1. Syrians demonstrated against worsening economic conditions and the Syrian regime’s mismanagement of the economy across the country.
  2. Iran’s supreme leader emphasized internal security threats to the IRGC on August 17. He urged the IRGC combat enemy attempts to stoke unrest stemming from popular frustration over mandatory veiling and during the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections.
  3. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on August 17, marking the first official visit of an Iranian foreign affairs minister to Saudi Arabia in more than eight years.
  4. Russian efforts to ramp up the domestic production of Iranian Shahed-136/-131 drones indicate that Russia aims to develop the long-term capability to conduct large strikes series in Ukraine. The Washington Post report indicates that Russia is struggling to produce its own variants of the Shahed drones at the pace and quality it desires. Russia is likely dissatisfied with the quality of Shahed 131 and 136 drones it sources from Iran but likely seeks to retain Iran as a long-term strategic defense partner.

Iran Update, August 16, 2023

  1. Qatar-based Al Araby reported that IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani ordered Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to suspend attacks against US targets. He specifically called for an end to an IED campaign that an Iranian-backed militia has waged against Iraqi-operated convoys supporting the US military presence in Iraq.
  2. Iranian oil exports to China have increased by over 60 percent in August 2023. This growing energy cooperation is part of a broader deepening of Sino-Iranian ties, especially regarding economic relations and infrastructure development.
  3. Iranian state media blamed the Afghan branch of the Islamic State—named Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)--for a recent terror attack in central Iran. This reporting from Iranian state media is the most explicit connection it has drawn yet between the attack and ISKP.
  4. Armed Forces General Staff spokesperson Brigadier General Abol Fazl Shekarchi described the purpose of a recent Iranian military exercise in the Persian Gulf, affirming CTP’s previous assessment of its intent.

Iran Update, August 15, 2023

  1. Iran and the Syrian regime shifted their state-run information operation from the false claim that US forces will imminently attack Syrian-regime controlled territory and are instead alleging that United States supported recent ISIS attacks. Axis of Resistance media, however, continue to falsely accuse the United States of preparing to attack Syrian-regime controlled territory.
  2. IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani met with Shia Coordination Framework leadership in Baghdad on August 15. Ghaani’s stop in Baghdad was the latest in a series of meetings with members of Iran’s Axis of Resistance in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.
  3. Iranian state media signaled the regime’s frustration with the Taliban on the two-year anniversary of the group’s takeover of Afghanistan. This is a change from the conciliatory tone Iranian officials have recently adopted toward the Taliban.
  4. Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi appointed Qom Provincial Governor Mohammad Taghi Shah Cheraghi as Interior Ministry Political Deputy and head of Iran’s Election Headquarters on August 15. Shah Cheraghi could play a role in formulating the regime’s responses to anticipated security threats in the coming months.

Iran Update, August 11, 2023

  1. Armed militant groups, including ISIS, have claimed attacks against pro-Syrian regime forces in eastern Syria on August 10, which may place pressure on Iranian campaigns and lines of effort there.
  2. Syrian President Bashar al Assad indicated on August 9 that he will not seriously address the Arab states’ concerns in Syria, despite their revived bilateral ties. Assad’s rhetoric suggests that he pursued normalization with the Arab states to boost his international legitimacy but does not assign much urgency to further improving ties with them.
  3. Iranian officials insisted that they can spend freely the $6 billion received as part of the recent prisoner swap agreement with the United States, rebuffing Western reports that Iran can only use the funds for humanitarian purposes. Iranian state media focused predominantly on celebrating the agreement with the United States and framing it as a victory for Iran on August 11.

Iran Update, August 10, 2023

  1. Syrian President Bashar al Assad downplayed the importance of relations with the Arab states while stressing relations with Iran and Russia during an interview with the UAE-based Sky News Arabic on August 9.
  2. Iran’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is continuing its diplomatic campaign to convince BRICS countries to admit Iran as a BRICS member ahead of the organization’s 15th annual summit in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 22-24.
  3. Iran and the United States reached an agreement on August 10 for the release of five US nationals detained in Iran. The United States will release six billion dollars of frozen Iranian assets and release several Iranian prisoners as part of the agreement. The release of six billion dollars would be a significant boost for Iran’s struggling economy.

Iran Update, August 9, 2023

  1. IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani met with LH Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut on August 6 according to Israeli and Arab media.
  2. The IRGC Quds Force is pressuring local Syrians to join Iranian-backed militias by only providing medical services to families tied to these militias. Increased recruitment into Iranian-backed militias could provide the IRGC Quds Force additional manpower for counter-US and counter-ISIS missions in eastern Syria.
  3. Iranian state media claimed on August 9 that Iran has developed supersonic cruise missile technology. Iran possibly developed this technology with Russian assistance.
  4. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian traveled to Pretoria, South Africa on August 9, likely as part of the Raisi administration’s ongoing efforts to convince BRICS members to accept its request to join this organization.

Iran Update, August 8, 2023

  1. Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah continued to circulate false claims that the US-led International Coalition is preparing to attack Syrian regime-controlled territory in eastern Syria. Their messaging is part of a coordinated Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regime coercion campaign to expel US forces from Syria.
  2. Iran secured a majority stake in a major Syrian telecommunications company. Iran’s assistance could enable the Syrian regime to restrict the Syrian information space through the new telecommunications company.
  3. Iran is trying to convince BRICS members to accept its request to join this organization ahead of the 15th annual BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 22-24. Becoming a BRICS member could help Iran mitigate the impact of Western sanctions.
  4. The Iranian regime has detained a fifth US national. Iran possibly detained the US national to gain leverage against the United States in its efforts to release frozen Iranian assets in Iraq and South Korea.

Iran Update, August 7, 2023

  1. Iranian-backed militia Ashab al Kahf called on August 5 for protests outside the US embassy in Baghdad. These calls come as Ashab al Kahf has conducted an IED campaign against Iraqi-operated logistics convoys servicing US military positions.
  2. Iran and Russia continued discussions on cooperating to jointly produce and repair airplanes and helicopters. Iran could use domestically produced aircraft and helicopters for both civilian and military purposes.
  3. Iran’s worsening water crisis is increasing the risk of conflict between Iran and its neighbors. Western media reported on August 7 that the Afghan Taliban sent “thousands” of troops and “hundreds” of suicide bombers to the Iran-Afghanistan border in late May 2023.

Iran Update, August 4, 2023

  1. Local Syrian leaders met with Iranian military leaders in Deir ez Zor City to inform them that the US-led International Coalition will not attack Syrian regime-controlled territory. These assurances will not likely stop the buildup of Iranian-backed forces in eastern Syria.
  2. Iran could pursue several courses of action in response to increasing US military deployments in the Persian Gulf. The most likely scenario is that Iran will further harass and threaten US forces.
  3. Prominent Iranian Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid did not give a Friday sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on August 4 for the first time since the Mahsa Amini protests began in September 2022.
  4. Iranian state media confirmed on August 4 that Iran and Venezuela signed an agreement for Iran to export gasoline and oil products to Venezuela during President Ebrahim Raisi’s June 2023 trip to Latin America.

Iran Update, August 3, 2023

  1. Iran is training militants to use attack drones in eastern Syria, likely part of a campaign to expel US forces.
  2. President Ebrahim Raisi invited Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on August 3 to visit Tehran as part of Iran’s continued effort to manage a stable and predictable relationship with the Gulf Arab states.
  3. Iran and Syria are continuing negotiations over the establishment of a free trade zone. It is unclear whether these negotiations will lead to the establishment of a free trade zone between Iran and Syria in the near future, however.

Iran Update, August 2, 2023

  1. Iranian-backed militias have prepared a runway in eastern Syria to support drone operations. These operations could include attacking and surveilling nearby US forces deployed to fight ISIS.
  2. The IRGC used its annual naval exercise to message to the United States, Russia, China, and the Gulf states.
  3. Iranian media reported new details on the discussions between Iran and Belarus to expand bilateral military cooperation. Iranian and Belarusian officials have discussed conducting joint exercises and establishing military attachés in both countries.
  4. Iran will send a low-level economic delegation to Brazil between late September and October 2023, possibly as part of an effort to facilitate Iran joining BRICS.
  5. Iran’s economic and environmental conditions continue to worsen, which will likely intensify anti-regime sentiments among parts of the population. Iranian leaders are publicly discussing approaches to more effectively confront social unrest in response to anti-regime frustrations.

Iran Update, August 1, 2023

  1. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet announced it thwarted the smuggling of “anomalous” weapons from northern Jordan into Israel during the early morning of July 25, a day after judicial reform prompted significant unrest in Israel.
  2. Iranian state media and officials are falsely claiming that the United States has resumed its campaign to destabilize Syria by sponsoring terrorist groups. The claims are consistent with recent Russo-Iranian information operations to support their coercive campaign to expel US forces from Syria.
  3. Iran is pursuing the construction of drone factories in Belarus and Russia, which will help Russia acquire Iranian drones more readily and provide Iran with numerous economic and military benefits.