Iran File

The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Iran File: Tehran increases local security and strengthens ties to Venezuela amid economic crisis

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

To receive the Iran File via email, please subscribe here

Iran’s mounting economic crisis is pushing the Islamic Republic to take aggressive actions abroad and domestically. The Iranian rial reached record lows this week, having lost over half its value in 2020. The Iranian regime fears protests in response to the recession and has injected billions of dollars into the economy to stabilize the rial. Iran’s most recent major protest waves—the Dey Protests of 2017–2018 and the gasoline riots in November 2019—started with economic triggers but soon adopted anti-regime tones.

Iranian leaders are pursuing more trade with Venezuela to bolster remaining currency reserves in preparation for another intervention in the currency market. Iran agreed in April to exchange fuel and technical expertise needed to restart energy infrastructure for $500 million of Venezuelan gold. Thirteen Iranian fuel tankers have sailed to Venezuela since May, but the US confiscated the cargo of four of them in August. Tehran also likely offered to help Caracas mobilize paramilitary supporters and take greater control of its information space. This technical assistance is harder for the US to interdict than Iran’s fuel shipments. The Islamic Republic could also try to sell Venezuela military hardware, particularly after the UN arms embargo on Iran expires.

Iran’s security forces are expanding their local presence to deter public displays of dissent. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) deployed Basij patrol teams in Tehran and the historically restive Arab-majority Khuzestan province to preempt public gatherings. The Basij Organization is a paramilitary body under the IRGC that recruits regime supporters, indoctrinates members, produces state propaganda, suppresses political dissent, and cracks down on protests. The patrols are part of an expanding neighborhood security strategy to increase local force presence and surveillance capabilities.

Recent Critical Threats Project publications:


Iran’s security forces beef up local presence to deter dissent

The IRGC provincial guard deployed new Basij patrol teams in Tehran and the historically restive Arab-majority Khuzestan province to preempt public gatherings in mid-September. The provincial guard units, under the command and control of the IRGC Ground Forces, oversee conventional military units and a wide range of sociocultural efforts. The deployment followed the Iranian rial’s continued collapse and the controversial execution of famous Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari for participating in nationwide protests. Expanded local-level security is part of a shift in the regime’s strategy to confront social unrest with preventative intimidation.

Read the full article by Kyra Rauschenbach here.


The growing Iranian threat around the Strait of Hormuz

The Islamic Republic is laying the groundwork for greater Iranian influence around the Strait of Hormuz by expanding its military footprint and building key infrastructure. Iran’s armed forces are adapting their force posture, structure, and capabilities around the strait. The regime is meanwhile constructing an oil pipeline bypassing the strait to add credibility to Iran’s repeated threat to close the passage. These efforts reflect contingency planning for a potential conflict with the US and its Gulf partners since tensions have spiked in recent months. This threat could grow after the UN arms embargo on Iran expires. The Iranian buildup around the strait poses a relatively limited threat to the US, which has the necessary resources to overcome it, but could pose a more serious threat to American regional allies on which US regional strategy increasingly relies.

Read the full article by Nicholas Carl here.


Iran looks abroad to handle currency crisis

Iran’s mounting economic crisis is pushing the Islamic Republic to take riskier actions that will raise tensions with the US and its allies. The Iranian rial has reached record lows, and the regime fears protests in response to economic grievances. Tehran is seeking to bolster its hard currency reserves to mitigate its economic decline. The regime is risking an escalation with the US to expand economic ties with Venezuela. Iran is also leveraging jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to pressure the UK to pay a long-standing debt of around $470 million. Regime infighting has stalled efforts to acquire hard currency internally.

Read the full article by Nicholas Carl here.


Iran-Venezuela cooperation expands to security realm

Iran offered to help Venezuela expand its military and internal security capabilities. The two regimes began economic cooperation in April and recently discussed security cooperation. Iranian leaders have likely offered Nicolás Maduro help mobilizing paramilitary supporters and increasing control over Venezuela’s information space. Tehran is seeking alternative ways to trade with Caracas to mitigate Iran’s economic crisis. Iran could next offer conventional military and domestic surveillance capabilities—particularly after the UN arms embargo expires—for more financial assistance. The US announced that it has “snapped back” the UN sanctions lifted by the Iran nuclear deal, but the UN and other parties to the nuclear deal have not recognized that “snapback.”

Read the full article by Nicholas Carl here.


TIMELINE
Arrow down red
Oct '20
Sep '20