Iran Update, September 15, 2023

Iran Update, September 15, 2023

Ashka Jhaveri, Andie Parry, and Amin Soltani

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.

Key Takeaways

  1. Iran is forming a tribal militia in eastern Syria likely to advance its campaign to expel the United States from Syria.
  2. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps transported advanced weapons and weapons development experts to Damascus airport, likely to replenish Iran’s military development and defense capacity in Syria after frequent Israeli interdictions.
  3. The Iranian regime is preparing to confront protests in northwestern Iran on September 16.

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.

Iran is forming a tribal militia in eastern Syria likely to advance its campaign to expel the United States from Syria. The coalition between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Arab tribes in Deir ez Zor Province is fracturing amid clashes over long-standing grievances.[1] Pro-regime forces launched attacks and conducted sabotage in SDF-controlled territory in late August and early September.[2] They also directed tribal leaders to attack the US-led international coalition.[3] These actions are consistent with the coordinated campaign that Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime began forming in November 2022 to expel the United States from Syria.[4] Iran has long sought to build connections with Arab tribes in eastern Syria to form militias and acquire leverage against the United States and the SDF.[5]

  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force established the “Hashemite Tribes Regiment” with local militia commanders including Quds Force-affiliated Nawaf al Bashir, according to a local report on September 13.[6] Bashir held meetings with unspecified Russian officials to create the militia and the Syrian regime supported its development, according to an Israeli think tank.[7] The tribe’s purpose is to fight Kurdish forces and strengthen the Arab tribes’ control of SDF-controlled territory.[8]
  • People belonging to Arab tribes are fleeing SDF-controlled territory and settling in regime-controlled territory following the clashes.[9] The IRGC appointed a former Syrian regime general with ties to tribal sheikhs to recruiting tribesmen from regime and SDF-controlled territory, according to a report from a UK-based opposition outlet on September 10.[10] Iran has historically helped form militias from disenfranchised groups to pursue foreign policy objectives and exert influence over political establishments.[11]
  • Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime have been coordinating to expel the United States from Syria. Cultivating an anti-US grassroots resistance movement that conducts attacks on US forces is one component of Iran’s campaign.[12] Iran has demonstrated an interest in using forces in SDF territory to further its campaign. The IRGC Quds Force recruited Syrians to establish “sleeper cells” in SDF-controlled territory to attack US forces in June 2023 and tasked them to monitor US positions, plant explosive devices, and spread clan strife in the SDF region.[13]

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps transported advanced weapons and weapons development experts to Damascus airport, likely to replenish Iran’s military development and defense capacity in Syria after frequent Israeli interdictions. An IRGC-affiliated civilian aircraft flew several types of anti-tank guided missiles, military development specialists, and IRGC special forces to Damascus from Iran on September 13, according to Political Keys.[14] CTP is unable to independently verify this report, although it is consistent with Iranian objectives and previous actions in Syria.

  • Israeli Air Force airstrikes destroyed shared Iranian and Syria weapons caches, development centers, and air defenses in Hama and Tartus Province hours after the IRGC weapons shipment arrived in Damascus.[15]
  • Israel’s airstrike campaign in March and April 2023 hit over 30 air defense and advanced conventional weapons related targets.[16] The campaign has continued since April, at a rate of roughly two airstrikes a month.[17] The IRGC has needed to continually replenish weapons destroyed in the campaign.
  • Lebanese Hezbollah transferred two air defense systems capable of downing drones to Rif Dimashq province on September 13.[18] Iran transfers conventional air defense weapons to Syria to bolster its military entrenchment and defensive capabilities. The IRGC, Iranian-backed militias, and the Syrian regime continually rebuild their air defense coverage after Israeli airstrikes.

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 is preparing to confront protests in northwestern Iran on September 16. Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib stated on September 15 that Iran’s foreign enemies are arming ethnic separatists and attempting to create insecurity ahead of anticipated unrest on Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary on September 16.[19] Iranian state media similarly claimed that intelligence and security officials have arrested individuals in possession of firearms, hand grenades, and other explosives in northwestern Iran between September 14 and 15.[20] Other regime officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about the resumption of anti-regime demonstrations and border-area Kurdish separatists in northwestern Iran in recent weeks.[21] The regime deployed security forces, helicopters, and heavy military equipment to multiple cities in Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, and East Azerbaijan Provinces between September 14 and 15, reinforcing previous deployments to these areas in recent days.[22] Iranian state media claimed on September 15 that intelligence and security forces patrols are “ensuring the comfort and security of the people.”[23]

The regime similarly deployed military vehicles with heavily armed troops to the northwest during the 2022 Mahsa Amini protest movement.[24] The IRGC announced that it was “strengthening” its presence in the area and similarly emphasized its commitment to “protecting the security of the people.” Approximately 21 percent of the anti-regime protests between September and December 2022 occurred in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces. Around 21 percent of protester deaths also occurred in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces, as CTP previously reported.[25]


[2] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-assad-regime-and-iranian-militias-are-planting-cells-in-the-countryside-of-deir-ezzor

[3] https://npasyria (dot) com/en/103799/; https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-tribes-have-held-a-meeting-in-hatlah-town-northeast-of-deir-ezzor-under-the-partnership-of-russia/



[6] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/iran-is-seeking-to-establish-a-tribal-militia-in-deir-ezzor/

[7] https://israel-alma (dot) org/2023/09/15/iran-is-taking-advantage-of-the-fighting-in-eastern-syrias-deir-ez-zur-to-improve-positions-toward-aleppo/

[8] https://israel-alma (dot) org/2023/09/15/iran-is-taking-advantage-of-the-fighting-in-eastern-syrias-deir-ez-zur-to-improve-positions-toward-aleppo/

[9] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/members-of-the-qarbat-tribe-are-fleeing-from-sdf-held-areas-towards-regime-held-territory-in-deir-ezzor/




[13] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-iranian-revolutionary-guard-militia-is-planting-and-operating-cells-in-sdf-held-areas/

[14] https://politicalkeys dot net/?p=12027

[15]; https://israel-alma dot org/2023/09/14/assessment-on-september-13-project-99-precision-ballisitc-missiles-of-the-cers-center-was-attacked/ ;[0]=AZU2s9SlOK7J9b6J4t7ckB1nas2NDJ4QF4eBHrVu3xY04iRDCSoULJytEyPHOPd7a7g5RrscKAM_xy43YlgNwk8so65izkMf3TqBun8-jxzlqUnKtfflkA5UG3JWlHzYyk2N-TPJuERsp9gBJOinbsAKWXzQYXbjK5-NuC6PbuWDLfVLuxPbGkg3m-iii5gS8dQ&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

[16] CTP data available upon request.


[18] https://politicalkeys dot net/?p=12154 ; https://orient-news dot net/ar/news_show/205580

[19] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/23/2956345

[20] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/24/2956629 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/24/2956638 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/24/2956608

[21] ; ; ;

[22] ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;

[23] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/24/2956608

[24] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/09/04/2811628 ;; ;




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