Iran Summary – August 2023

Author: Anna Schaftel; JINSA Programs & Outreach Associate

August 2023 Summary: The Biden administration announced a hostage deal with Iran that would see five U.S. hostages released in exchange for five Iranian prisoners and $6 billion of frozen Iranian funds. Tehran continued to assist Moscow with its efforts to mass-produce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in Russia. In response to reported U.S. plans to deploy Marines to protect commercial shipping vessels in the Middle East, Iran threatened to seize U.S. ships. Iran targeted its Baluch and Bahai minorities with mass arrests and executions. Germany and New Zealand warned their Iranian communities and dissidents that they were being targeted by cyberespionage campaigns carried out by the Islamic Republic.

Russia/China Ties: Working closely with Tehran, Moscow continued its efforts to build domestic production capabilities to mass-manufacture and improve the capabilities of Iran-designed UAVs. China indicated it wanted to deepen its defense cooperation with Iran and Russia at the Moscow Conference on International Security.

  • On August 15, the Deputy Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces,Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, claimed the United States is to blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “we believe that were it not for the dominance and excessive demands of the West spearheaded by the United States, this ruinous war would not have happened in Ukraine.”
  • On August 15, during the Moscow Conference on International Security, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu said, “we will continue to strengthen the mechanism of security cooperation within the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization], actively deepen defense collaboration with the organization’s newest member Iran, as well as Belarus, which will soon become an SCO member.”
  • On August 17, The Washington Post released a report detailing Russia’s progress in building in-country manufacturing capabilities to mass-produce Iranian-designed drones with the help of the Islamic Republic, to be used in its invasion of Ukraine. This report noted that, despite extensive Western sanctions, much of the electronic components in the Iranian drones Russia has used come from Western companies, including those in the United States.

Regional and Nuclear Aggression: Iran vowed to seize U.S. ships in retaliation for U.S. plans to deploy Marines as protection for commercial ships whose regional operations are threatened by Iran.

  • On August 2, Iran announced it had conducted military drills on and around the contested Abu Masa Island adjacent to the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping chokepoint. The island is claimed by the UAE but is currently under Iranian control.
  • On August 7, in response to U.S. plans to deploy Marines to protect commercial shipping vessels in the Middle East, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) spokesman Gen. Ramezan Sharif threatened, “the Islamic Republic is capable of reciprocating any mischief by the Americans … including through seizure of their vessels in reciprocation.”
  • On August 7, Iran International reported that Iran had arrested an Iranian-American woman known for her non-governmental organization (NGO) work in Afghanistan. Her identity was not released.
  • On August 11, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had significantly slowed the pace at which it was accumulating near-weapons-grade enriched uranium and had diluted a small amount of its stockpile of 60% enriched uranium.
  • On August 22, Iran unveiled a new drone, the “Mohajer-10,” which it claimed to have a range of 2,000 kilometers and the ability to fly for up to 24 hours at 7,000 meters.
  • On August 27, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) revealed that it had foiled an attempt to smuggle Iranian-made explosives into Israel from Jordan.

Domestic/Human Rights: The Islamic Republic carried out mass arrests and executions targeting its Baluch and Bahai minority communities.

  • Oslo-based Iran Human Rights reported, as of July 31, that Iran had executed at least 419 people in 2023.
  • On August 2, Iran Human Rights reported that Iran hanged 11 members of the country’s Baluch minority within 48 hours, on alleged drug-related charges.
  • On August 10, the Biden administration announced a hostage deal with Iran that would see five U.S. hostages released in exchange for five Iranian prisoners and $6 billion of frozen Iranian funds. Iran released the four hostages that were being held in prison to house arrest as efforts to finalize the deal remain ongoing.
  • On August 13, Iran arrested nine members of the country’s Baha’i minority; the same day, authorities arrested Jamaluddin Khanjani, a former leader of the Baha’i community in Iran, and his daughter, Maria Khanjani.
  • On August 15, local media reported that a court in Iran had sentenced filmmaker Saeed Roustayi to six months in prison for screening his film Leila’s Brothers at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. His charges were “contributing to propaganda of the opposition against the Islamic system.”
  • On August 26, Iranian authorities banned Iranian weightlifter Mostafa Rajai from all sporting facilities in the country for life after he shook hands with an Israeli competitor.
  • On August 29, the trial for Mahsa Amini’s lawyer began. Amini was a 22-year-old Kurdish woman whose murder at the hands of the regime’s morality police in September of 2022 triggered nationwide protests. Her lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, was charged with “propaganda against the system” for having spoken to local and foreign media.

Cyber: German and New Zealand authorities reported cyberespionage incidents as Iran continues to target its diaspora and dissident communities across the world.

  • On August 10, the German government warned Iranian dissidents living in Germany that they may be targeted by the Iran-backed hacking group, Charming Kitten.
  • On August 11, New Zealand’s intelligence service reported that Iran had been monitoring and reporting on Iranian communities and dissident groups in New Zealand.
  • On August 15, a hacker group aligned with Iran-backed militias in Iraq claimed responsibility for a cyberattack on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website.

Recent JINSA Publications on Iran: