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: Iranian leaders seek to capitalize on the expiration of the arms embargo

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Revenues from arms sales may help the Iranian regime finance its domestic security measures. Iranian officials will aim to make a net profit from weapons sales now that the UN arms embargo has expired. The Iranian government faces unprecedented economic challenges while struggling to contain a persistent anti-regime protest movement and instability in key Iran-friendly states Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Iranian officials have recently negotiated new defense deals abroad, likely preparing to sell weapons in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Mauritania among other countries. Venezuela may also seek to buy long-range missiles from Iran.

Iran faces a new level of insecurity within and along its borders. The effects from the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict has spilled into Iran. Mortar fire and drones have fallen into Iranian territory, and limited pro-Azeri protests broke out in Iran’s northwestern provinces at the beginning of October. Iranian Azeris, a quarter of Iran’s population, are dissatisfied with the regime’s tacit support for Armenia over the years.

Iranian leaders ultimately are unlikely to increase open support for Azerbaijan to placate to these relatively rare displays of Azeri nationalism due to geopolitical realities. Iran’s top military commanders are *increasingly concerned about potential extremist fighters among Turkish-backed militant groups deployed to Azerbaijan that could increase the threat of terrorism within Iran’s borders. The regime risks igniting further anti-regime sentiment in Azeri-majority northwestern provinces if it stays neutral in the conflict or if it more openly condemns Turkish-Azerbaijani forces for initiating a conflict that destabilizes the border.

Recent Critical Threats Project publications:


The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict challenges Iran

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh challenges the Iranian regime because of the sensitive role played by Iran’s Azeri community. Iranian Azeris have taken to the streets to protest Iran’s tacit support for Armenia over the years and to call for Iran to support Azerbaijan in its effort to regain control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

Azeri nationalism in Iran poses a unique challenge as the regime faces a persisting threat of anti-regime protests. Azeris are not a marginalized community in Iran; they make up a quarter of the population and are deeply assimilated into the regime and the clerical establishment. Realpolitik drives the Iranian regime toward Armenia and Russia in this conflict, however. Iranian leaders also fear cross-border attacks by Turkish-backed militants sent to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Read the full article by Kyra Rauschenbach here.


Iran’s expanding tool kit for internal suppression

Iranian officials are increasingly willing to disrupt domestic telecommunications to counter or preempt protests. The regime disrupted internet service in Tehran on October 8 in response to peaceful demonstrations mourning the death of a popular Iranian dissident singer. The regime has lowered its threshold for blocking internet and mobile services since the November 2019 protests. The regime is prioritizing building a domestic intranet to reduce public reliance on foreign internet services. The intranet would allow the regime to monitor and censor communications without hindering most network functionality. The regime recognizes the high likelihood of future protests and is adopting increasingly authoritarian measures to secure itself.

Read the full article by Nicholas Carl here.


Iranian weapons exports will have lasting effects on regional dynamics

The Iranian regime’s exportation of weapons may have a larger effect on regional dynamics than its military procurement following the expiration of the UN arms embargo. Iran’s economic and ideological constraints may limit what military hardware Iran is willing and able to buy from abroad even as negotiations with Russia and China advance. Past problems procuring Russian air defense systems could sour future deals and has incentivized the regime to boost domestic arms production, which is also a point of national pride and source of resilience against sanctions.

Iranian officials will try to capitalize on the expanding domestic defense industry to profit from arms exports. Iran has renewed diplomatic efforts in several potential customer states leading up to the expiration of the UN arms embargo. Iran stands to gain regional prestige, battlefield testing of its systems, and profits from weapons exports.

Read the full article by Kyra Rauschenbach here.


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