Iran Update, August 22, 2023
Iran Update, August 22, 2023
Andie Parry, Amin Soltani, Annika Ganzeveld, and Nicholas Carl
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.
- At least 21 anti-regime protests occurred in southern Syria. The Syrian regime is trying to prevent protests from spreading further.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
At least 21 anti-regime protests occurred in the southern Syrian province of Suwayda on August 22. Local media reported higher numbers—around 35 protests—but CTP could only verify 21. These protests initially erupted on August 16 after Syrian President Bashar al Assad adjusted bus prices and cut fuel subsidies. The largest protest on August 22—consisting of several hundred people—occurred in Suwayda City. Suwayda locals furthermore have continued to strike and block roads with burning tires for the third consecutive day. The protests are explicitly anti-regime and shut down government offices and Baath party headquarters. Disaffected Syrians in other provinces, such as Homs, Latakia, and Tartous, have expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.
Syrian state security services and pro-regime forces are trying to prevent the protests from spreading to additional provinces. Syrian regime personnel clashed with protesters in Daraa Provine on August 20 and 21 and are preparing to disperse protests in Deir ez Zor Province. The regime personnel in Deir ez Zor City constructed dirt barriers around their headquarters and began patrols on main streets on August 22. Pro-regime militias furthermore deployed to previous protest locations in Rif Dimashq Province on August 21. CTP has previously reported on how worsening conditions in eastern Syrian have driven local unrest.
Iran has supported crackdowns on anti-Assad protests in Syria previously and could intervene if protests continue to expand and threaten the Assad regime. Iranian state security services deployed to Syria in 2011 to suppress the popular uprising against Assad. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointing Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan as the top Iranian law enforcement commander in January 2023 is noteworthy in this context. Radan is a career Iranian security officer with a long history of violently suppressing internal dissent. Radan, moreover, was part of the Iranian delegations that traveled to Damascus in 2011 to assist Assad in cracking down on the Syrian people. The current protests in Syria have not yet expanded to a level that seriously threatens the stability of the Syrian regime. CTP is nevertheless monitoring the situation for indications that the protests will grow more severe or that Iran will intervene.
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.
The Iranian regime used its annual National Defense Industry Day holiday to highlight new military capabilities. The Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry unveiled the Mohajer-10 attack drone, Sina kamikaze drone, and Arman-1 glide bomb during the holiday ceremony on August 22. Iranian state media reported that the Mohajer-10 can carry a greater diversity of weapons and has a longer range and double the payload capacity than the Mohajer-6, which is the previous variant of this platform. The defense ministry also transferred Haj Ghassem and Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missiles to the IRGC Aerospace Force. Iranian leaders have used this occasion and its leadup to boast about their growing military capabilities, which is consistent with the kind of regime rhetoric that is common around this holiday.
The regime sought to use the holiday to send messages to both adversaries and potential partners.
- The regime used the holiday to signal its capability to attack enemy targets, particularly Israeli positions. Iranian state media published a threatening video of the drone with Persian- and Hebrew-laguage messages that read “prepare your bunkers.” Iranian state media boasted that Western and Israeli media are closely monitoring the recent unveiling of new Iranian platforms.
- The regime used the holiday to showcase its defense industry to potential international buyers. Iranian military leaders frequently express their desire for Iran to become a prominent arms seller and boast that many countries are interested in buying Iranian defense products. Regime officials recently showcased Iranian-made air defense equipment, drones, and missiles, among other defense products, at a military exhibition in Moscow on August 14. Iranian leaders seek to leverage arms sales to generate much-needed revenue for their worsening economy.
Iranian oil exports continue to surge, nearing pre-sanctions levels. Iran has exported approximately 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) thus far in August 2023. These exports have primarily gone to China, which tends to import more Iranian oil during the summer months. Iran previously exported around 2.5 million bpd in April 2018—one month before the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iranian oil exports fell dramatically in the following years but began to slowly increase beginning in 2020, when Iran was only exporting around 400,000 bpd. The growing Iranian oil exports are part of Tehran’s ongoing effort to circumvent and undermine US sanctions. Iranian leaders will likely use their growing oil revenues to stimulate their economy and develop domestic transportation infrastructure, as CTP previously argued.
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