Iran Update, May 24, 2023
Iran Update, May 24, 2023
Andie Parry, Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Annika Ganzeveld, and Kitaneh Fitzpatrick
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.
1. Iran has transferred unsophisticated air defense weapons to Syria, possibly to protect advanced weapons shipments and IRGC Quds Force commanders from Israeli drone strikes.
2. The Raisi administration is pursuing greater economic cooperation with Indonesia, which could help Iran evade sanctions by transporting oil to China via Indonesia.
3. Media reports discussing former Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani may reflect an intra-regime struggle over Shamkhani’s future political trajectory.
Iranian Activities in the Levant
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant and 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.
Iran has transferred unsophisticated air defense weapons to Syria, possibly to protect advanced weapons shipments and IRGC Quds Force commanders from Israeli drone strikes. Iranian shipments of advanced air defense equipment and precision guided munitions that arrived in Syria through the Albu Kamal border crossing in Deir ez Zor Province were the targets of Israeli drone strikes in February and March, as CTP previously reported. Israeli drone strikes also killed IRGC Quds Force Commanders in Damascus and Deir ez Zor. Iran and Iranian-backed militias delivered man portable air defense systems (MANPADs) to Al Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor Province in April 20, as CTP also reported. Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) also reinforced areas around the Albu Kamal border area with 12.7 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns on May 23. MANPADs and anti-aircraft machine guns are less capable of defending Iranian positions in Syria than the surface-to-air missile systems Iran seeks to transfer to Syria, but are suitable for use against drones. Iran’s transfer of MANPADs and anti-aircraft machine guns has not prompted Israeli airstrikes or drone strikes against Iranian convoys or positions in Deir ez Zor.
Iranian Domestic 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 Raisi administration is pursuing greater economic cooperation with Indonesia, which could help Iran evade sanctions by transporting oil to China via Indonesia. President Ebrahim Raisi headed a delegation to Jakarta, Indonesia on May 23, marking the first official visit of an Iranian president to Indonesia since 2006. Raisi emphasized Iran’s readiness to increase energy, oil and gas, and petrochemical cooperation with Indonesia during a meeting with reporters on May 22. High-ranking Raisi administration and Indonesian officials separately signed 11 energy, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and technology cooperation agreements in Jakarta on May 23. Indonesia’s location between the Indian and Pacific Oceans makes it an advantageous partner for Iran to transport oil to China, the main destination of Iranian oil exports. Raisi’s trip to Indonesia follows the conclusion of 15 cooperation agreements between Syria and Iran on May 3 and Russia's agreement to partially finance the construction of Iran’s Rasht-Astara railway on May 17.
Media reports discussing former Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani may reflect an intra-regime struggle over Shamkhani’s future political trajectory. The UK-based outlet Middle East Eye reported that Shamkhani sought to finalize a nuclear agreement prior to his departure to boost his popularity as a future presidential candidate, citing hardline sources. CTP cannot verify this report, and such claims should be viewed with skepticism. Hardline, Iran-based outlet Kayhan contrastingly claimed that Shamkhani opposed finalizing a nuclear deal as recently as 2020, which suggests it seeks to prevent spreading the impression that senior regime officials are enthusiastic about reviving the nuclear deal. Shamkhani’s experience as SNSC secretary positions him to run for high political office, as all former SNSC secretaries have previously done. Ali Larijani was the parliament speaker from 2008 to 2020 and Hassan Rouhani was Iran’s president from 2013 to 2020. Not all SNSC secretaries have been successful, however. Saeed Jalili ran for president in 2013 and 2021 but was not elected.
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