Iran Summary – February 2023
Anna Schaftel – JINSA Programs & Outreach Associate
February 2023 Summary: Iran and Russia further increased cooperation to evade Western sanctions and support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Protests in Iran largely “dwindled,” although sporadic protests continued to break out across the country. Despite reports Iran had enriched uranium to 84 percent, its highest level ever and just short of the threshold for weapons-grade fissile material, U.S. officials continued to equivocate as to whether a nuclear deal with Iran is possible. The Jewish Chronicle reported Iran had been “mapping” the Jewish diaspora to carry out “an assassination campaign” if Israel struck its nuclear facilities. U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone flying over “a base housing American troops” in northeast Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed Iran for an attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker in the Arabian Sea.
Russia Ties: Russia and Iran worked together to evade western sanctions and bolster military cooperation. Moscow and Tehran moved ahead with “plans to build a new factory in Russia” that could produce thousands of Iranian-designed drones, and Russia began a renewed aerial assault against Ukraine using Iranian drones. CIA Director William Burns alleged that in return for supplying military aid to Russia, Iran was receiving help with its missile program.
- On February 5, The Wall Street Journal reported that Moscow and Tehran were “moving ahead with plans to build a new factory in Russia that could make at least 6,000 Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine.”
- On February 7, Iran’s Air Force broadcast footage of an underground airbase for the first time, in which they reported possessing Russian Su-24 warplanes armed with Asef missiles.
- On February 7, the Financial Times reported that many of the oil tankers Iran had previously used to evade western sanctions were now being used by Russia for the same purpose.
- On February 8, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, met with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Moscow. The two discussed “speeding up key joint projects including those in the fields of transit, oil and natural gas.…”
- On February 9, CNN reported that Iran was “modifying the attack drones it’s providing to Russia so that the explosive warheads can inflict maximum damage on infrastructure targets inside Ukraine,” in advance of Russia’s February 26 resumption of drone attacks on Ukraine.
- On February 26, CIA Director William Burns alleged Russia was offering Iran “help” on its missile program in exchange for military aid for its invasion of Ukraine.
- On February 28, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dana Stroul told reporters, “We are now at a point where Iranian threats are no longer specific to the Middle East, but a global challenge,” and called for “a global coalition to push back on the malign cooperation between Iran and Russia.”
Domestic/Human Rights: The protests that began last September had “dwindled,” though sporadic protests continued on February 16 with organized demonstrations marking 40 days since the regime executed two protesters. Dozens of schoolgirls were hospitalized after a poison attack, one of at least 30 schools that reported similar attacks since November, ostensibly intended to dissuade girls from attending school. Iran’s currency, the rial, fell to new lows.
- On February 10, Iran’s Karaj Revolutionary Court sentenced 11 members of the Baha’i minority to prison for a cumulative 36 years for “educational activities for children.”
- On February 10, Iranian-French national Fariba Adelkhah was released from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, nearly four years after she was unjustly detained.
- Protests took place across Iran on February 16, after “seeming to have dwindled in recent weeks,” to mark 40 days since the regime executed two protesters.
- In response to its crackdown on protesters and support for Russia, Iran was not invited to the Munich Security Conference, which instead invited “prominent Iranian dissident figures.”
- On February 21, the regime sentenced Iranian-German dual national and U.S. resident Jahmshid Sharmahd to death for allegedly heading a “terrorist” group. In response, Germany expelled two Iranian diplomats and demanded Iran revoke the death sentence.
- On February 23, the Austrian foreign ministry revealed that an Austrian national had been sentenced to seven and half years of prison in Iran on charges of “espionage.”
- On February 26, the rial, Iran’s currency, “fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market,” to about half the value it held before protests began in September 2022.
- On February 28, dozens of schoolgirls in Iran were hospitalized after being poisoned. The attack represented one of at least 30 schools in four cities that reported similar incidents since last November. Iran’s deputy health minister said it, “became evident that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed down.”
Nuclear: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered Iran had enriched uranium to 84 percent, “just shy” of the 90 percent threshold for weapons-grade fissile material. Despite this revelation, U.S. officials continued to waver about continuing to pursue diplomacy.
- On February 7, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi said that while efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran are “not at its best point,” he hopes to “re-set, restore, reinforce” talks.
- On February 14, during Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China would continue to “participate constructively” in efforts to renew a nuclear deal with Iran. Raisi’s visit to China was the first by an Iranian president in 20 years.
- On February 19, the IAEA “reportedly discovered uranium enriched to 84 percent, above the 60 percent enriched uranium Tehran has been producing since April 2021 and just short of the 90 percent threshold for weapons-grade fissile material.”
- On February 21, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “we’ve also been clear that the Iran nuclear deal, the so-called JCPOA, is not now on the table…” before saying, “the door is always open to diplomacy going forward, but a lot depends on what Iran says and does….”
Regional Aggression: The Jewish Chronicle reported Iran had been “mapping” the Jewish diaspora for a targeted assassination campaign if Israel targeted its nuclear facilities. The United States shot down an Iranian drone surveilling a base housing U.S. forces in Syria. Israel blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker operating in the Arabian Sea. Meanwhile, Iran’s proxies continue to destabilize the region, as the United Kingdom presented evidence to the United Nations (UN) that Iran had been supplying “advanced weapons” to the Houthis in Yemen.
- On February 2, the French Navy seized “thousands of assault rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles in the Gulf of Oman” en route from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen.
- On February 13, Britain presented evidence to the UN of Iran supplying “advanced weapons” to the Houthis, including “surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles.”
- On February 14, Australia revealed that it had shut down an Iranian surveillance operation targeting a dual Iranian-Australian national connected to the Australian protests in response to the death of Mahsa Amini.
- On February 14, U.S. forces shot down an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone flying over “a base housing American troops” in northeast Syria.
- On February 15, NBC News reported that the United States and Iran were holding indirect talks to negotiate a prisoner swap, with Qatar and Britain serving as intermediaries, “in a bid to secure the release of American citizens imprisoned in Iran.”
- Days after U.S. forces shot down an Iranian-made drone flying over a base where U.S. troops were stationed, on February 18, a rocket attack targeted the same site.
- On February 19, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed Iran for a February 10 attack on a Liberian-flagged tanker in the Arabian Sea, linked to Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer.
- The Jewish Chronicle reported on February 16 that Iran had been “mapping” the Jewish diaspora for “an assassination campaign” that would be triggered if Israel attacked its nuclear facilities. Iran planned to identify “all the prominent NGOs run by Jews, who was doing what in each business sector, the important rabbis,” and “figure out their influence and where they lived with their families in order to target them.”
- On February 25, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it had developed a cruise missile with a range of 1,025 miles. The head of the IRGC’s aerospace force, Amirali Hajizadeh, also threatened, “we are looking to kill [former U.S. President Donald] Trump.”
- On February 26, The Jerusalem Post reported Israeli intelligence had foiled a scheme in which Hezbollah smuggled gold from South America to Tehran to fund its terrorist activities.
Cyber: On February 3, security researchers at Microsoft alleged that “an Iranian government-backed hacking team” was behind the early January cyberattack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The attack occurred after the magazine published a series of caricatures of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in support of the ongoing anti-regime protests.
Recent JINSA Publications on Iran:
- February 28: “America Should Follow Israel’s Lead on Iran,” National Interest, VADM Mark Fox, USN (ret.), Andrew Ghalili, Ari Cicurel
- February 28: “Iran’s Nuclear Advances While U.S. Diplomacy Dithers,” Jonathan Ruhe
- February 27: “One Year into the War in Ukraine: Israel’s Preparedness for the Changing Aerial Threat,” Institute for National Security Studies, MG Amikam Norkin and Liran Antebi
- February 23: Infographic: Iran Nuclear Deal: Out of Time, Dead, or Alive?
- February 17: Infographic: The IRGC’s Dangerous Campaign in Europe Map
- February 8: “End America’s Complicity in Iraq’s Sanctions Busting,” Washington Examiner, John Hannah and Joel Rayburn
- February 7: “Biden Needs a New Iran strategy: A Successful Revolution,” Roll Call, Michael Makovsky, PhD and Rep. Pat Fallon
- February 7: Infographic: Biden’s Missed Opportunities on Iran
- February 7: “Biden Hasn’t Given an Iran Speech, State of the Union is His Opportunity” Ari Cicurel
- February 2: “U.S.-Israel Exercises Signal Capabilities to Iran, Not U.S. Willingness to Strike,” Ari Cicurel
- February 1: “Israel Degrades Iranian Capabilities, Protects International Security,” Ari Cicurel and Andrew Ghalili