Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Iran Update, July 19, 2023

Amin Soltani, Ashka Jhaveri, and Annika Ganzeveld 

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 a new 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.

Key Takeaways

  1. Iran and Russia are amplifying rumors of International Coalition attacks into Syrian regime territory likely as part of a campaign to expel US forces from Syria.
  2. The British Secret Intelligence Service revealed on July 19 that Iran seeks to acquire cash from Russia in return for Iranian drones.
  3. The IRGC Ground Forces conducted a military exercise near Iran’s border with Azerbaijan on July 19. Iranian officials have articulated a series of demands against Azerbaijan, which largely focus on Baku halting its anti-Iran cooperation with Israel and Turkey.


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

Iran and Russia are amplifying rumors of International Coalition attacks into Syrian regime territory likely as part of a campaign to expel US forces from Syria. A rumor spread in eastern Syria in late June that the US-led International Coalition is going launch an attack into regime-controlled territory. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) deployed to lines of contact with the Assad regime on July 7 which triggered Iran and the Syrian regime to surge fighters to the province.[1] The SDF told the Syrian regime and Russian officials that it does not intend to take control over regime-controlled territory following the surge of activity.[2] Iran and Russia continued to deploy forces to eastern Syria and frame the International Coalition as an imminent threat despite the SDF’s claims.[3] Their framing of US forces as an imminent threat is consistent with classified documents leaked on the Discord messaging platform which highlighted US opponent plan to stoke popular resistance and support grass-roots movement to carry out attacks against Americans in Syria.[4] The report noted the construction of an Iranian-Russian “coordination center” in Syria to direct the new campaign in Syria. A US senior defense official said on July 14 that the United States is increasingly concerned about growing ties between Iran, Russia, and Syria.[5]

Examples of the steps Iran and Russia have taken to amplify the rumors include:

  • Iranian-backed militants have conducted multiple military parades in major populated locations of Deir ez Zor province in late June and throughout July.[6] Iranian state media has emphasized the narrative that the United States and its affiliated Kurdish militias are fortifying its positioning in eastern Syria to prepare for an attack into Syrian regime territory.[7]
  • CTP previously reported that Russian Troops of Radiological, Chemical, and Biological Defense and the Syrian Arab Army specialists organized a military exercise between July 16-18 simulating a US-ordered chemical attack in the Syrian desert.[8]
  • Iranian state media has reported throughout July on the deployments of US forces to eastern Syria on its Persian, Arabic, and English websites which suggests that the targeted audience is both domestic and foreign.[9]

Timeline sources[10]

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.

The British Secret Intelligence Service revealed on July 19 that Iran seeks to acquire cash from Russia in return for Iranian drones.[11] The information is consistent with previous Iranian diaspora media reporting that Russia has paid Iran nearly 900 million US dollars for Iranian drone technology.[12] Diaspora media also reported that Iran only accepted US dollars—not Russian rubles or gold—for its drones. It is unclear whether Iran has always demanded cash for its military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Western media previously speculated that Iran could receive Russian military equipment, including Su-35 fighter jets, in return for supplying Russia with drones.[13]

The IRGC Ground Forces conducted a military exercise near Iran’s border with Azerbaijan on July 19.[14] Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri stated on the sidelines of the exercise that Iran’s armed forces are prepared to take “powerful” actions if Azerbaijan does not address Iran’s security concerns.[15] Bagheri and other senior military officials also assessed the combat readiness of Iranian forces on the border between July 17 and 19.[16] Artesh Commander Major General Abdol Rahim Mousavi similarly stated on July 17 that Iran is aware of all threats emanating from anti-regime enemies and has “a plan for them.”[17] Iran has conducted annual military exercises on the border with Azerbaijan starting in 2021 after tensions increased between Tehran and Baku over the latter’s ties to Turkey and Israel.[18] The IRGC separately deployed equipment and troops near the border in October 2021 after Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan conducted a military exercise in Baku.[19] This year’s July 19 exercise was conducted earlier than expected as these exercises have historically occurred in October.

Iranian officials have articulated a series of demands against Azerbaijan, which largely focus on Baku halting its anti-Iran cooperation with Israel and Turkey. Regime officials have frequently accused Baku of allowing Israel to use Azerbaijani territory to launch operations against Iran.[20] The regime additionally opposes Azerbaijan and Turkey’s efforts to establish a corridor between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in Armenia. Such a corridor would directly connect Azerbaijan to eastern Turkey and hamper Iranian economic access to European and Russian markets.[21] Turkey and Azerbaijan have also stalled Iranian efforts to feed its gas into the existing pipelines built by the Azerbaijanis that travel through Turkish territory before arriving in Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC).[22] Iranian officials and media previously accused Israel of using Azerbaijan as an intelligence base to instigate protests during the Mahsa Amini movement.[23]

Iran has also signaled that it is prepared to arm Azerbaijan’s adversaries if the former does not accede to Iran’s demands. Israel-based i24News claimed on July 16 that Armenia has used Iranian Shahed drones in several recent clashes with Azerbaijan.[24] This claim is consistent with former IRGC Commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi’s assertion in October 2022 that 22 countries, including Armenia, sought to buy Iranian drones.[25]

Iran’s military signaling follows senior Iranian security and foreign policy officials’ articulation of the regime’s comprehensive perspective on threats emanating from the Caucasus in recent days. Supreme Leader Military Affairs Advisor and former IRGC Commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi expressed concern on July 12 about Western attempts to sow discord in the Caucasus by making geopolitical changes in the region.[26] Supreme Leader Foreign Policy Advisor Ali Akbar Velayati similarly warned Russia on July 13 about possible NATO interference and aggression in the Caucasus.[27] Velayati argued that the change in Turkey’s policies vis-à-vis NATO, such as agreeing to approve Sweden’s NATO ascension, and Turkey’s links to Azerbaijan, raises the risk of conflict in the Caucus region. He highlighted that such conflict will lead to long-term tensions in the region that Iran’s adversaries—specifically the United States and Israel—will exploit to “undermine the security of the entire region.” Velayati furthermore warned Russia that Turkey’s pan-Turkic aspirations to connect areas where Turkic populations reside between Istanbul and Xinijang could create an area in which NATO influence spreads and geographically separates Iran and Russia. Both countries have been concerned since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War that pan-Turkic rhetoric will prompt Turkic secessionist movements in Iran and Russia.[28]


[2] https://sdf-press (dot) com/?p=40138




[6] https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-iranian-revolutionary-guard-militia-holds-a-military-parade-east-of-deir-ezzor/; (dot) net/%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%B6-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7/

[7] https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/fa/media/1402/04/25/2926706/%D8%A2%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B4-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D9%88-%D9%87%D9%85-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B4-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%85%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%A2%D8%AA%D8%B4-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87; https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/12/2924698/وقفة-احتجاجیة-لأهالی-عدد-من-البلدات-بریف-دیر-الزور-الشمالی-رفضاً-للاحتلال-الأمریکی; https://en.mehrnews (dot) com/202996/US-carries-out-suspicious-moves-in-eastern-syria;


[9] https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/fa/media/1402/04/25/2926706/%D8%A2%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B4-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D9%88-%D9%87%D9%85-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B4-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%85%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%A2%D8%AA%D8%B4-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87

https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/12/2924698/وقفة-احتجاجیة-لأهالی-عدد-من-البلدات-بریف-دیر-الزور-الشمالی-رفضاً-للاحتلال-الأمریکی; https://en.mehrnews (dot) com/202996/US-carries-out-suspicious-moves-in-eastern-syria

[10]; https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-iranian-revolutionary-guard-militia-holds-a-military-parade-east-of-deir-ezzor/; https://tass (dot) com/society/1641923; https://nahermedia (dot) net/%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AA%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%B6-%D9%82%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7/; https://english.almayadeen (dot) net/news/politics/sdf-sends-hundreds-of-armored-vehicles-to-northern-deir-ezzor; https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/iranian-militia-reinforcements-enter-al-bukamal-from-iraq/; https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/12/9105; https://en.mehrnews (dot) com/202996/US-carries-out-suspicious-moves-in-eastern-syria; https://sdf-press (dot) com/?p=40138; https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/ar/news/2023/07/12/2924698/وقفة-احتجاجیة-لأهالی-عدد-من-البلدات-بریف-دیر-الزور-الشمالی-رفضاً-للاحتلال-الأمریکی; https://en.mehrnews (dot) com/news/202310/US-transfers-military-equipment-to-its-bases-in-Syria; https://english.almayadeen (dot) net/news/politics/us-proxies-fortify-occupation-bases-in-syria:-sources-to-al; https://www.tasnimnews (dot) com/fa/media/1402/04/25/2926706/%D8%A2%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B4-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D9%88-%D9%87%D9%85-%D9%BE%DB%8C%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B4-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%85%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%A2%D8%AA%D8%B4-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%B1%DB%8C%DA%A9%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%82-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87;;;




[14] ; https:/...

[15] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/28/2928049 ; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/604613

[16] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/28/2928049 ; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/604613 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/26/2926822 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/26/2926989

[17] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/26/2926989

[18]'s%20government%20is%20increasingly%20flexing,a%20border%20region%20with%20Azerbaijan.&text=Iran's%20Islamic%20Revolutionary%20Guard%20Corps,tensions%20between%20the%20two%20countries. ;






[24] https://www.i24news dot tv/en/news/analysis-opinion/1689501192-gallant-s-visit-to-azerbaijan-underlines-iranian-threat-to-regional-security


[26] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/21/2924658

[27] https://www.tehrantimes dot com/news/486826/Velayati-urges-vigilance-in-face-of-NATO-plot

[28] ...