Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made his first public appearance since September 21. He spoke at a military officer graduation ceremony alongside the regime’s most senior military leaders. Khamenei appeared in stable condition during his speech. Khamenei condemned the ongoing, anti-regime protests during his speech—his first public acknowledgment of the protests. Khamenei accused the US and Israel of stoking the protests and said that the greatest victims were the state security services “and the Iranian nation.” Khamenei honored the security personnel killed in the protests.
The continued public absence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may be hindering regime officials’ efforts to develop a coherent response to the ongoing, anti-regime protests. Khamenei has not addressed the protests nor made a public appearance since September 21, possibly due to his reportedly worsening health. An unidentified Iranian official told Reuters that intra-regime disagreements over supreme leader succession and protest management are dividing the regime elite. This division suggests that Khamenei is not playing his usual role of cohering the regime during a crisis.
Iranian protesters successfully planned anti-regime demonstrations in at least 21 Iranian cities in 17 provinces on October 1 despite regime censorship. Protestors had announced plans over the past few days for protests on October 1 as CTP has previously reported. The successful coordination of these demonstrations despite internet restrictions suggests that protesters—specifically university students—have found ways to organize. These protests pose a serious and increasing threat to the regime as their grievances resonate across a growing range of Iranians. These protests now include many marginalized minorities, merchants, students, and the urban elite.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is at least temporarily unable to perform his normal duties. Khamenei has been unusually absent in recent days amidst countrywide, anti-regime protests, which began on September 16. Rumors have circulated that Khamenei’s health has deteriorated significantly since early September. CTP cannot verify these rumors about Khamenei’s health, and such reports should be treated with skepticism. There are indications that Khamenei is ill or incapacitated, however. Regime power centers are behaving as if succession is either imminent or underway. President Ebrahim Raisi—a prominent frontrunner to succeed Khamenei—is positioning himself to become the next supreme leader with support from senior officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Russia and Iran have expanded their strategic partnership since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Senior Russian and Iranian officials have met frequently in recent months to boost cooperation and sign economic and military agreements. Moscow and Tehran have long cooperated when their interests have aligned, especially in opposing the US in the Middle East, but their recent engagements highlight more concerted efforts to strengthen their partnership. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge US and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.
Iran may direct its proxies to attack American and partner targets in the Middle East in the coming weeks. Iranian proxy group Ashab al Kahf accused NATO, the UK, and the US of stoking political tensions in Iraq on August 1 and vowed to attack their embassies and military bases in Iraq, Syria, and possibly Jordan. Ashab al Kahf is likely a front group for Iranian proxy Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) and possibly other Iranian-backed militias. AAH has likely claimed attacks on US and Turkish military bases under the name Ashab al Kahf since 2019 to generate deniability for its actions. Iranian proxies in Iraq frequently claim attacks under such front groups to complicate attribution and obfuscate their responsibility.
American forces conducted a missile strike in Syria against the Bashar al-Assad regime on April 6, 2017.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is neither sovereign nor a viable U.S. partner against ISIS and al-Qaeda. Russia and Iran have penetrated the Syrian Arab Army’s command-and-control authorities at all levels and propped up the force by providing the bulk of its offensive combat power. The pro-regime coalition cannot secure all of Syria and primarily serves as a vehicle for Moscow and Tehran’s regional power projection.
The U.S. cannot drive a wedge between Russia and Iran in the near term. Tehran and Moscow share regional and global interests across the Middle East, North Africa, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Their common interests and overarching objective of expelling the U.S. from the Middle East will likely bind Iran and Russia together into an enduring partnership.
Iranian military cooperation with Russia in Syria is dramatically increasing Tehran’s ability to plan and conduct complex conventional operations.