Iran File

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

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

Key Takeaway: Iranian proxies may attack or threaten American military assets, such as drones, in Iraq to deter future Israeli strikes against Iran there.

Iranian proxy and Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC) Deputy Chairman Abu Mahdi al Muhandis on August 21 accused the US of facilitating Israeli strikes against Iranian and Iranian-backed positions in Iraq. He also threatened to shoot down foreign drones operating near their headquarters. Al Muhandis was responding to an Israeli air campaign to degrade Iran and its proxies’ military capabilities in Iraq and their capacity to threaten Israel with missiles. The Iranian regime and its proxies may seek to demonstrate their capability to target US forces and assets in Iraq in response to the Israeli strikes. Iran views Iraq as a key theater for ensuring its national security and strategic depth. 


REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS & DIPLOMACY

Iranian proxies in Iraq threaten to attack foreign drones in response to Israeli strikes. PMC Deputy Chairman Abu Mahdi al Muhandis on August 21 *accused the US of facilitating Israeli strikes against Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Iraq. He also threatened to shoot down foreign drones operating near their headquarters. Al Muhandis added that the PMC does not differentiate between American and Israeli actions. The PMC later *shot at an unidentified actor’s drone near the Popular Mobilization Forces 12th Harakat al Nujaba Brigade headquarters on August 22. The brigade’s leadership maintains close ties to Tehran and recently *met with senior regime officials, including Supreme Leader Senior Military Adviser IRGC Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi on August 4. Safavi *stated that the “defense of Baghdad is like the defense of Tehran” during the meeting.

Previously detained Iranian oil tanker leaves Gibraltar, setting sail for Greece. Gibraltar released Grace 1, an Iranian oil tanker, on August 18 after the UK seized the vessel for violating EU sanctions on July 4. The UK accused the vessel of illegally transporting oil to Syria. Grace 1 was renamed Adrian Darya 1 and began sailing to Kalamata, Greece. Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis stated that Greece cannot accommodate the tanker due to its size and will not facilitate the illegal transfer of oil to Syria. Adrian Darya 1 will reportedly arrive in Kalamata on August 26. Judiciary Chief Hojjat ol Eslam Ebrahim Raisi *responded to Adrian Darya 1’s release, saying that Iran should seek recompense from Gibraltar for the vessel’s detainment.

Supreme Leader Khamenei meets with the al Houthi movement, possibly highlighting the group’s growing prominence in Iran’s strategic depth and regional calculus. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei *held his first formal meeting with an al Houthi delegation in Tehran on August 13. Khamenei emphasized his support for al Houthi movement and criticized Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s roles in Yemen. The delegation included the al Houthi spokesperson Mohamed Abdul Salam, Political Office member Abdul Malik al Ajri, and Ibrahim Mohamed al Daylami, general director of the al Houthi-affiliated Beirut-based al Masirah media network. The al Houthi movement later appointed al Daylami as its ambassador to Tehran. The delegation also met with Foreign Affairs Minister *Mohammad Javad Zarif and his assistant for special political affairs, *Ali Asghar Khaji, in Tehran. Zarif and Khaji discussed political solutions to the conflict in Yemen during their meetings.


MILITARY & SECURITY

IRGC Navy Commander Tangsiri warns Gulf States could die of thirst if an incident occurs in the Persian Gulf. IRGC Navy Commander Rear Adm. Alireza Tangsiri *warned on August 18 that the southern Persian Gulf States would “die of thirst” if US-led Operation Sentinel vessels, “which use nuclear fuel, have a problem in the region.” Tangsiri noted that the Gulf States rely on water desalination plants and an incident with the ships would create problems for the region. He accused the US and UK of stoking instability in the Persian Gulf. He may have implicitly threatened to target Gulf State water infrastructure. The regime launched a cyberattack against Bahrain’s infrastructure, including its Electricity and Water Authority, on July 25. The Iranian hackers shut down several government systems during the attack.


DOMESTIC POLITICS

Supreme Leader Khamenei discusses resolving Iran’s economic problems in meeting with Rouhani administration officials. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei *met with President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet on August 21 to discuss Iran’s economic problems. Khamenei stated that domestic production is the “primary key” to resolving these issues. Khamenei expounded that the Rouhani administration should prioritize reducing Iran’s dependency on oil exports and leveraging other sectors, such as housing, agriculture, and automobile markets, to grow the economy. Khamenei added that the government should “change its view of manufacturers.” He lauded domestic producers as “warriors of the economic war” against the US and called for the removal of “redundant regulations” to production. Khamenei expressed that US sanctions can be an economic opportunity for Iran. He separately emphasized the need to counter the perceived US soft-power cultural war against Iran.

Intra-clergy dispute erupts between Expediency Discernment Council (EDC) Chairman Amoli Larijani and Guardian Council member Yazdi. EDC Chairman Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani and Guardian Council member Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi exchanged open letters in a public dispute, challenging one another’s credentials and character. Unconfirmed reports claimed that Larijani threatened to move to Najaf, Iraq, in a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The threat was reportedly in response to the Judiciary’s arrest of his former deputy, Akbar Tabari, on corruption charges on July 16. Yazdi *published a letter, criticizing Larijani for the alleged threat, to which Larijani *responded with his own public letter to Yazdi. Senior Iranian clerics, including senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani, *intervened to mediate tensions between the two.

TIMELINE
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Aug '19