Iran Project

Iran Update, June 2, 2023

1). Iran is training its militias in Syria to use a range of improvised and advanced weapons to attack US personnel in Syria. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq may conduct attacks against US forces in Syria.

2). Iran likely calculates that it has achieved strategic depth and using militias in Iraq and Syria to attack US forces will keep conflict confined to Syria.

3). Iranian media circulated reports of an IRGC-conducted a drone strike targeting Kurdish Iranian separatist groups in the Iraqi Kurdistan region on June 2.

4). The Iranian regime is pursuing increased gas swaps with Turkmenistan, likely to preempt electricity shortages in the summer that could fuel internal unrest.

Iran Update, May 31, 2023

Iran has bolstered its defensive position in eastern Syria since the end of the escalation cycle that occurred in March, likely to facilitate the transfer of advanced conventional weapons into Syria. 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. Iran has been transferring conventional air defense weapons to eastern Syria, training forces in Syria to use the weapons, and improving operational security in Deir ez Zor Province since mid-March. Israel has not conducted drone strikes in eastern Syria since March 23.

Iran Update, May 30, 2023

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted airstrikes on at least two joint Syrian Arab Army-Lebanese Hezbollah positions in southwestern Syria on May 28, which is unlikely to prompt an Iranian-directed attack on US forces in Syria.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is preparing to launch artillery into Iraqi Kurdistan, likely as part of a short-term military conflict against perceived Israeli threats from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

Iranian and Afghan border guards engaged in a brief and lethal clash near the Malik-Zaranj border crossing on May 27, which Iran is unlikely to escalate to a larger armed conflict.

Iran Update, May 26, 2023

1. Saudi media reported Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) is preparing to target US forces in Syria, which likely misrepresents the threat LH poses.

2. Iran has increasingly engaged in prisoner exchanges with Western countries in recent weeks, likely to signal its willingness to resume nuclear negotiations. Iran could be signaling its interest in nuclear diplomacy to preempt US or Israeli military action against its nuclear facilities.

Iran Update, May 25, 2023

1. Axis of Resistance news sources coordinated a disinformation campaign that claimed the United States will establish a new base in Iraq, likely to reignite domestic US pressure on policymakers to withdraw forces from the Middle East.
2. The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) stands to gain a significant increase in funds from Iraq’s 2023 budget, which very likely would position the group to improve its status as a parallel security institution in Iraq to state security forces.
3. Syrian regime military security coordinated with the IRGC Quds Force in Albu Kamal to monitor civilians, which may advance Iranian efforts to secure the Albu Kamal-Deir ez Zor City land route in eastern Syria.
4. An Iranian-backed militia leader stressed the need for secrecy around headquarters in Deir ez Zor City, likely to secure advanced weapons and IRGC Quds Force commanders from Israeli targeting.

Iran Update, May 24, 2023

Key Takeaways

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.

Iran Update, May 23, 2023

1. Iran and Iranian-backed militias facilitated the travel of Iranian religious pilgrims into Syria, possibly to expand Iranian influence in Syria.
2. Anti-regime protests organized by Iranian university students have increased in recent weeks, demonstrating the regime’s failure to suppress a key demographic of the Mahsa Amini movement.

Iran Update, May 22, 2023

Syrian state media released the final communique of the Arab League Summit in Jeddah on May 19, which highlighted Arab state unity and uncharacteristically rejected external support for non-state militias. Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani expressed dissatisfaction with the resolution. Bashar al Assad met with Saudi and Emirati leaders in Jeddah to strengthen economic and bilateral ties, demonstrating Assad’s increased opportunities for economic engagement with neighboring countries. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have not indicated willingness or capacity to collaborate militarily with Syria, leaving Iran as one of Assad’s key security partners. Saudi Arabia normalized relations with Iran on March 10 and the United Arab Emirates is funding key infrastructure projects in Iran, demonstrating Arab League states’ mixed policy toward Iran.

Iran Update, May 19, 2023

The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are consolidating their footprint in northern Iraq, which will likely increase the risk of sectarian conflict there. A PMF footprint could help Iran secure a new arms shipment route into Syria.

The IRGC Navy conducted unprofessional and unsafe maneuvers near a US naval ship in the Persian Gulf, which risks accidental collisions and miscalculations.

Anti-regime protests have flared up in Iran in response to increased state executions, demonstrating that many protesters remain undeterred from further protest despite the brutal regime crackdown during the Mahsa Amini movement.

Iran Update, May 18, 2023

Iran is trying to expand its economic cooperation, especially energy ties, with Syria to reinforce Iranian influence over Damascus, as Assad pursues improved ties with the Arab states. Deepening Iranian economic influence in Syria will help Iranian leaders revitalize their own economy, especially if Arab states begin to send investment and reconstruction funds to Syria.

The Raisi administration issued veiled threats toward the Afghan Taliban, calling on the group to release more water from the Helmand River from Afghanistan into Iran. The Raisi administration is likely concerned that water shortages in the coming summer months could fuel protests across the country, especially in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.