Iran Project

Iran Crisis Update, January 30, 2023

Israeli combat aircraft conducted three airstrikes against likely Iran-backed militants in eastern Syria on January 29 and January 30. Israeli combat aircraft targeted and destroyed six trucks traveling through al-Hiri, Deir ez-Zour Province shortly after the convoy crossed into Syria from the Iraqi al-Qaim border crossing on January 29. Iranian proxy social media channels posted footage depicting a large fire in al-Hari immediately after the airstrike occurred, indicating that the attack may have detonated precision-guided munitions (PGMs) that Iran-backed militants attempted to conceal in what Iranian state media claimed to be a humanitarian convoy. Iranian state-run Islamic Republic News Agency denied reports that the attack resulted in casualties among IRGC personnel.

Iran Crisis Update, January 26, 2023

Ongoing disruptions to Iran’s energy supplies may be generating severe air pollution. Semi-official ISNA reported on January 26 that the city of Tehran has introduced “emergency ambulance buses” to transport citizens affected by dangerous air pollution levels. Iranian media outlets have also reported school closures in various cities due to air pollution in recent days. This pollution may be caused by power plants burning low-grade fuel due to shortages of more refined products. Iran’s ongoing energy crisis could both impede and trigger further protests. An unusually harsh winter and high air pollution levels may explain why protest turnout has decreased in recent weeks. This crisis may increase frustration among the population and precipitate new unrest, on the other hand. The first known protest inspired by natural gas shortages during the Mahsa Amini protest wave occurred in Torbat-e Jam on January 16, as CTP previously reported. Petrochemical workers across Iran have also protested against poor living conditions in recent days. The regime’s inability to resolve this crisis may drive frustrated citizens to challenge the regime despite harsh natural conditions. Iranian officials had hoped to benefit from a harsh winter in Europe and a mild winter in Iran, but have instead suffered from the inverse weather pattern.

Iran Crisis Update, January 19, 2023

The Iranian regime is likely escalating against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid. Social media users continued to document a heightened security presence in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province ahead of Abdol Hamid’s weekly Friday prayer sermon and protests throughout the city. Security personnel within the past several days have reportedly blocked all roads leading to Zahedan, established new checkpoints restricting movement into the city, and detained custodians of the mosque where Abdol Hamid delivers his sermons . Social media users have additionally reported mass arrests and internet restrictions. Uncorroborated reports claim that the regime also deployed to the Zahedan airport security forces not normally assigned to the airport, alleging that Iranian officials had lost confidence in the local Basij members formerly entrusted with securing the airport. CTP cannot verify this report. An advisor to Abdol Hamid attributed the intensified security environment in Zahedan to LEC Commander Ali Reza Radan, whom Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed on January 7. CTP previously assessed that Khamenei likely appointed Radan, a hardline member of the IRGC with extensive experience in crushing political dissent, as law enforcement commander partly due to dissatisfaction with the LEC’s response to the Mahsa Amini protest movement.

Iran Crisis Update, January 16, 2023

Ongoing gas shortages have sparked protests in northeastern Iran. Protesters gathered in front of the local governor’s office and lit a fire in the streets in Torbat-e Jam, Khorasan Razavi Province on January 16. Protesters were responding to the Iranian regime cutting gas services for thousands of customers in the city in recent days. Citizens have struggled to keep warm in the winter conditions. Some locals have claimed that the regime has cut electricity to the city as well. These energy shortages could stoke further protests throughout Iran, especially in its northern and eastern provinces in the coming days. Iranian officials have increasingly warned of a national “gas crisis” in recent days and briefly closed banks, public facilities, and universities in some provinces to reduce gas consumption.

Iran Crisis Update, January 15, 2023

Iranian protest organizers circulated calls on January 15 for the international community, and especially European parties, to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. Many well-known protest groups—even those who occasionally seem to disagree with one another—circulated these calls in unison. The protest groups published these calls in Persian and English. This external messaging is consistent with and may reflect the priorities some protest organizers have set in recent days. The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union emphasized its focus on expanding external outreach to the international community on January 13.

Iran Crisis Update, January 13, 2023

Some protest organizers in Iran are trying to push the protest movement into a new phase—one that could include more militant activity against the Iranian regime. The Karaj Neighborhood Youth has argued in recent days that the movement has entered a “new phase” and “second wave” as protest turnout has continued to decline. The Karaj group has described this new period as featuring greater centralization and cohesion within the movement, external outreach, and insurgent activity. The Karaj group stated on January 4 that the movement has “intensified” its coordination and is making unified decisions regarding “approaches, fighting methods, assistance, etc.” The Karaj group rebranded entirely on January 13, labeling itself as the international communications wing of the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU)—a coalition of protest groups that formed in December 2022.[3] The Karaj group under its new name announced that the INYU is pursuing two efforts: “1. Building cohesion and cooperation among militant groups inside Iran [and] 2. Connecting with the international community (individuals, organizations, and media).” The group added that the first effort "is currently underway, and soon most militant groups in the field will gather together.” It is unclear how much real influence the INYU has over the protest movement and to what extent its efforts will succeed, especially given the challenges that it has had in generating protest turnout previously. Infighting over leadership within the protest movement could seriously hinder these efforts. It is also unclear to what extent the INYU will continue trying to coordinate overt acts of political defiance, such as demonstrations and strikes.

Iran Crisis Update, January 12, 2023

CTP recorded no protests in Iran for the second consecutive day on January 12, 2023. Some protest organizers called for demonstrations to commemorate executed protesters, but CTP did not record indications that these demonstrations materialized. Regular expressions of anti-regime sentiment are continuing throughout Iran, however. Protest groups have also called for demonstrations on January 19—20, which coincide with scheduled university exams. Gathering students in-person to take the tests could catalyze demonstrations. Regime officials have discussed issuing localized or possibly countrywide internet shutdowns on these dates ostensibly to prevent cheating on the exams, as CTP previously reported, and could use such measures to facilitate protest suppression.

Iran Crisis Update, January 9, 2023

Protest coordinators and organizations may have successfully deterred the judiciary from executing two arrested protesters in Iran on January 9. Social media accounts reported that the judiciary transferred these two protesters to solitary confinement at the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj with imminent plans to execute them. Citizens gathered outside the prison in the early morning hours of January 9 after protest organizers called for snap demonstrations there. The regime later denied that it planned to execute the protesters on January 9 but defended the death sentences. Persian-language social media accounts asserted that the snap demonstrations prevented the regime from conducting the executions. CTP cannot confirm whether the snap demonstrations actually delayed the executions, but their perceived success may encourage protest groups to organize additional gatherings outside prisons where arrested protesters are held.

Iran Crisis Update, January 8, 2023

Protest activity increased significantly on January 8—in line with the calls from protest organizers for countrywide demonstrations to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down of a Ukrainian civilian airplane. These protests are the most that CTP has reported in a single day since December 5, 2022. Protests have seen reduced turnout in recent weeks, likely in part due to the discordant messaging and internal fissures within the protest movement. But protest coordinators and organizations aligned at least in their calls for countrywide demonstrations on January 8, demonstrating that they can still generate substantial turnout, especially when their messaging is coherent and consistent.