Iran Update, September 5, 2023
Iran Update, September 5, 2023
Ashka Jhaveri, 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.
- Syrian regime forces are financially exploiting the displacement of civilians amid clashes in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory.
- The deteriorating economic and security situation in eastern Syria may fuel anti-Syrian regime sentiment.
- Russia provided at least two Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft to Iran, which could presage the delivery of more advanced, Russian-made Su-35s to Iran. The acquisition of Su-35s may enable Iran to more readily and independently project air power.
- The Ebrahim Raisi administration closed a major reformist outlet, silencing a prominent critic of him and his foreign policy of expanding cooperation with Russia. This move will further reinforce the dominance of hardline voices over the Iranian information space.
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.
Syrian regime forces are financially exploiting the displacement of civilians amid clashes in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory. Clashes between the US-backed SDF and local tribal forces have continued in eastern Syria as of September 5, generating significant internal displacement. Local Syrian opposition media reported that the regime is taking advantage of the numerous civilians fleeing to regime-controlled territory amid these clashes, such as by imposing royalties on civilians trying to fly out of Deir ez Zor City airport. They have prevented civilians from SDF-controlled territory from using the airport unless they page “huge sums of money,” according to these reports. Regime forces have also charged families for ground transportation to Damascus and within eastern Syria. This activity is consistent with the long-standing trend of regime forces extorting civilians for financial gain and to fund further military activities.
The deteriorating economic and security situation in eastern Syria may fuel anti-Syrian regime sentiment. The ongoing clashes between the SDF and local tribal forces have disrupted fuel smuggling in the area, which has caused fuel prices in regime-controlled territory to rise significantly in recent days. The price of a liter of diesel has risen from 3,000 Syrian pounds to 8,000. These reports are consistent with other reports that the regime is concerned that the clashes could exacerbate the already poor economic conditions in Syria. The rising price of fuel comes as anti-regime protests have fluctuated throughout Syria due to economic grievances since mid-August 2023 Syrian President Bashar al Assad rising bus and fuel prices on August 15 was the initial catalyst for this protest wave.
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.
Russia provided at least two Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft to Iran on September 2, which could presage the delivery of more advanced, Russian-made Su-35s to Iran. The Yak-130 is a light combat and training aircraft that is capable of carrying various kinds of guided and unguided munitions. The aircraft arrived at the Shahid Babaei Air Base in Esfahan Province. The Artesh Air Force announced that the aircraft are primarily meant to train Iranian pilots to operate fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets. Iranian state media framed the acquisition of Yak-130s as a “necessary prelude” to obtaining Su-35s.Western media separately speculated that Russia may have supplied the Yak-130s to Iran because Iranian-made aircraft cannot sufficiently train pilots on operating Su-35s.
This military exchange is part of the deepening Russo-Iranian military and security relationship that CTP has covered extensively. The expansion of these ties accelerated especially after Iran began providing military support to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The acquisition of Russian Su-35s may enable Iran to more readily and independently project air power. Iran requested Russian intervention in 2015 in the Syrian civil war to help defend the Bashar al Assad regime. Iran lacked a modern air force capable of supporting its military operations in Syria and instead benefited from Russian air power. Russia has militarily deprioritized Syria since it invaded Ukraine, leaving Iran with less military air support in Syria. Obtaining Su-35s would help Iran build a modern air force for use in theaters abroad, such as in Syria.
The Ebrahim Raisi administration closed a major reformist outlet on September 4, silencing a prominent critic of him and his foreign policy of expanding cooperation with Russia. The Press Supervisory Board, which operates under the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, shut down reformist-affiliated Entekhab News for publishing on August 22 a video criticizing Raisi’s “eastern- and Russia-oriented” foreign policy. The Board accused Entekhab of publishing material “contrary to Iranian national interests.” CTP has extensively covered the Raisi administration’s efforts to increase economic, energy, and security cooperation with China and Russia in recent months.
Closing Entekhab will further reinforce the dominance of hardline voices over the Iranian information space. Entekhab served as a platform through which pro-regime moderates and reformists could criticize government economic and social policies. This closure is especially noteworthy in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s killing on September 16 and the parliamentary elections in March 2024. The closure is also part of a broader effort by Raisi to silence reformist media. The Press Supervisory Board previously shut down reformist-affiliated Sazandegi Newspaper in February 2023 for lamenting Iran’s poor economic conditions.
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