Iran Summary – July 2023

Author: Anna Schaftel; JINSA Programs & Outreach Associate

July 2023 Summary: Iran joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), bolstering its ties with Russia and China. Iran continued to increase its aggression at sea by harassing and attempting to seize commercial oil tankers operating near the Strait of Hormuz, conducted an air exercise involving roughly 100 fighter aircraft, bombers, and drones, and unveiled a new anti-ship cruise missile, the Abu Mahdi, which it claimed has a range of 1,000 km. Iran’s morality police announced it would be resuming street patrols to enforce mandatory hijab, and the Islamic Republic shut down the office of the country’s largest e-commerce company, Digkala, after it posted pictures online of unveiled female employees. Iran’s oil exports hit a five-year high.

Russia Ties: Iran continued to forge closer ties with Russia and China, joining the SCO and aiding the construction of a new drone manufacturing facility in Russia.

  • On July 4, BNN Bloomberg reported that Iran joined the SCO, a political/security-focused regional organization formed in 2001 by China and Russia.
  • On July 19, when asked about the status of Russia’s sale of Sukhoi-35 fighter jets to Iran, Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani said, “At some point, we made a deal for the purchase, but we came to the conclusion that we have the ability to produce (fighter jets) in the country.” The current status of the sale is unclear.
  • On July 21, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) told reporters that the new drone-manufacturing facility Russia is constructing in-country with the help of Iran would provide Russia with a drone stockpile “orders of magnitude larger” than it has to date.

Regional Aggression: Iran continued to increase its maritime aggression by attempting to seize two commercial oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz and successfully seizing a commercial vessel. Israel’s Foreign Ministry blamed Iran for a foiled terror attack on its embassy in Baku.

  • On July 5, Iran’s Navy attempted and failed to seize two commercial oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, opening fire at one of the vessels before the U.S. Navy dispatched a destroyer and surveillance aircraft to the scene.
  • On July 5, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral student at Princeton University and Israeli-Russian national who went missing in Iraq in March, was being held captive by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia linked to Iran.
  • On July 6, Iran seized a commercial vessel that may have been engaged in smuggling, according to the U.S. Navy.
  • On July 11, Indonesia’s coast guard interdicted an Iran-flagged tanker suspected of smuggling crude oil off its coast.
  • On July 12, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Iran was responsible for a failed terrorist attack on its embassy in Baku.
  • On July 12, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah of the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah threatened a response if Israel attacked or removed the tents Hezbollah operatives erected on Israeli territory in June and claimed, “Israel won’t dare to take one step in the territory against the tent because it knows what will happen.”
  • On July 21, Semafor reported that Iran had detained another American citizen. The article did not disclose the identity of the detained American.
  • On July 22, Iranian officials threatened reprisals after protestors desecrated the Quran during a series of small-scale protests in Sweden. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted, “It is the opinion of all Islamic scholars that those who have insulted the Holy Quran deserve the severest punishment.”
  • On July 23, Iran began air force drills in the central part of the country, dubbed “Devotees of the Supreme Leader-11,” which involved nearly 100 fighter aircraft bombers and drones.
  • On July 25, the Iranian Navy and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N) unveiled a new anti-ship cruise missile, the Abu Mahdi, which it claims has a range of 1,000 km.

Domestic/Human Rights/Sanctions:  Nearly a year after protests erupted across the country after Iran’s morality police killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in their custody, it announced it would resume street patrols to enforce the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hijab laws.

  • Oslo-based Iran Human Rights reported, as of July 3, that Iran had executed at least 354 people in 2023.
  • On July 6, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran’s oil exports had hit a five-year high, averaging about 1.6 million barrels a day in May and June.
  • On July 16, Iranian police spokesman Saeed Montazerul-Mahdi said that Iran’s morality police planned to resume patrols to enforce the regime’s mandatory hijab laws.
  • On July 18, The Wall Street Journal reported that 800,000 barrels of seized Iranian oil sitting in a Greek tanker off the coast of Texas had been stuck there for months because U.S. oil companies feared retribution from Iran if they distributed it. The oil was seized earlier this year after the U.S. charged the tanker’s owners with sanctions evasion.
  • On July 24, Iran’s morality police shut down one of the offices of the country’s largest e-commerce company, Digkala, after it posted pictures online showing female employees not wearing the mandatory hijab.

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