Iran Update, September 8, 2023
Iran Update, September 8, 2023
Andie Parry, 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.
- The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) redeployed “hundreds” of Iranian-backed militants from eastern Syria to northwestern Syria in response to mounting tensions with Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) and other anti-regime militias.
- An IRGC-affiliated commercial airliner flew to Russian-occupied Crimea on September 7, possibly to transfer military materials and/or personnel to Russian forces there.
- Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, launched a money transfer system with Iran on September 7, which may help Iran and Russia circumvent Western 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.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) redeployed “hundreds” of Iranian-backed militants from eastern Syria to northwestern Syria in response to mounting tensions with Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) and other anti-regime militias. These militants came from the Fatemiyoun Division, which is an IRGC-controlled Afghan Shia militia that has fought extensively throughout Syria. The IRGC sent the Fatemiyoun fighters to Syrian Arab Army (SAA) positions in Aleppo, Homs, and Latakia provinces, according to Syrian opposition media. These deployments occurred as fighting between HTS and pro-regime forces has intensified in recent weeks. Recent HTS attacks against the SAA have caused an unusually high number of casualties compared to previous attacks.
The Fatemiyoun militants could support pro-regime operations against HTS military targets. The SAA and Russian forces have conducted strikes into HTS-territory in recent days. The Fatemiyoun Division operates several different Iranian-made combat and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance drones, which would be capable of supporting such operations against HTS. CTP previously reported that Lebanese Hezbollah provided drone training to Fatemiyoun militants in Deir ez Zor Province on August 2 as well.
The IRGC decision to send Fatemiyoun militants from eastern Syria to northwestern Syria is consistent with Iran’s prioritization of stabilizing the Syrian regime relative to the Iranian campaign to expel the United States from Syria. Iran, Russia, and the Syrian regime amassed forces around the line of contact with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir ez Zor Province in July and August 2023, likely as part of an effort to coerce the United States to withdraw its forces from Syria. The IRGC has since then pulled forces away from the line of contact for different reasons all meant to stabilize the Syrian regime and secure its hold on power. CTP previously reported that Iranian-backed militants relocated from Deir ez Zor Province to southern Syria on September 4, possibly to deter and prevent anti-Syrian regime protests in southern Syria.
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.
An IRGC-affiliated commercial airliner flew to Russian-occupied Crimea on September 7, possibly to transfer military materials and/or personnel to Russian positions there. The airliner is operated by Pouya Air, which the United States and European Union have sanctioned for transferring military materials throughout the Middle East on behalf of the IRGC. Pouya Air denied that the airliner was in Crimea and was “helping Russian forces.” The Ukrainian military has accused Russia of using the Chauba training ground in Crimea to launch Iranian Shahed-131 and -136 drones against Ukrainian targets. The flight to Crimea is particularly noteworthy given that Israeli and Ukrainian media have reported that Russia has experienced “logistical problems” in transporting Iranian drones from the Middle East to the frontlines in Ukraine. Iran is helping construct a drone-manufacturing factory in Russia to resolve this problem, but the factory is not expected to be completed until at least early 2024. The Pouya Air flight to Crimea comes after the IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah trained Russian forces in Syria on how to operate Iranian drones on August 31, which CTP previously reported.
Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, launched a money transfer system with Iran on September 7, which may help Iran and Russia circumvent Western sanctions. Sberbank announced that Russian businesses and citizens can now transfer money to Iran’s Pasargad Bank. This announcement is part of a larger trend of growing financial cooperation between Iran and Russia. Russia’s second largest bank, VTB, similarly launched its own money transfer system with Iran in December 2022. Iran and Russia additionally established direct financial communication channels between Iranian banks and over 800 Russian banks in January 2023. Central Bank of Iran Deputy Governor Mohsen Karimi emphasized at the time that Iranian and Russian banks no longer need SWIFT for financial transactions because they rely on “national systems.” SWIFT is a Belgium-based financial messaging platform that conducts most international money and security transfers. CTP previously reported that Iran has sought an alternative to SWIFT ever since SWIFT disconnected Iran from its platform in 2018.
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