Iran Summary – March 2023

JINSA Iran Talks Status Page


Anna Schaftel – JINSA Programs & Outreach Associate

March 2023 Summary: Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by China. Russia began providing Iran with advanced digital surveillance and offensive capabilities. Poison attacks continue targeting schoolgirls across Iran, while Amnesty International reported that Iranian security forces have tortured, raped, and sexually violated children detained during the ongoing protests. An Iran-aligned militia carried out a drone attack in Syria which killed one American contractor and injured six more. The attack was one of six against U.S. troops in Syria in March. The Hill published an open letter organized by JINSA and signed by 44 U.S. retired military leaders calling on the United States to immediately provide Israel with the advanced weapons it needs to deter and prevent a nuclear Iran, including KC-46A aerial refueling tankers, F-15Is, F-35s, and precision-guided munitions, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).

Iran–Saudi Deal: After seven years of estrangement, on March 10, China brokered a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  • Both countries pledged to reopen their respective embassies and diplomatic missions within two months, and Iran agreed to halt attacks on Saudi Arabia, including from its proxy Houthi forces in Yemen.
  • JINSA’s Randi & Charles Wax Senior Fellow John Hannah called the deal “a significant blow both to U.S. efforts to isolate and contain Iran, but perhaps more importantly to Washington’s larger great-power competition with a rising China determined to undermine the U.S.-led order—not just in East Asia but across key regions of the world, especially the Middle East.”
  • JINSA Gemunder Center fellow Gabriel Noronha said the deal was “a damning indictment of Biden’s Middle East policy: we abandoned the region and China swooped right in. Because the United States refused to stand up against Iran, Saudi Arabia felt compelled to repair ties. And so goes Saudi, so goes the region. That means Iran can devote more of its energy to attacking Israel, Europe, and the United States and our interests. And they will.”
  • On March 16, on the heels of the Iran-Saudi deal, senior Iranian officials visited neighboring UAE after the two countries restored their own diplomatic relations last year.
  • On March 19, the king of Saudi Arabia invited the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, to visit.
  • On March 27, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Iranian and the Saudi ministers of foreign affairs, respectively, agreed to meet before the end of Ramadan to implement the bilateral reconciliation deal.

Russia Ties: Russia began providing Iran advanced cyber capabilities, including internet-censorship software. Iran, Russia, and China conducted a four-day joint naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman.

  • On March 5, Fox News reported Tehran and Moscow had negotiated a secret deal that, in the event of a failure to renew the JCPOA nuclear deal, Russia would return Iranian enriched uranium stored in Russia under the terms of the original 2015 agreement.
  • On March 15, Iran, Russia, and China began four days of joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman.
  • On March 21, the Iranian minister of the economy, Ehsan Khandouzi, told Russia’s RIA state news agency that Tehran sought to expand energy sector cooperation with Moscow, “including peaceful nuclear energy.” A month earlier, the Biden administration waived sanctions on nuclear cooperation between Iran and Russia.
  • On March 27, The Wall Street Journal reported that Moscow had begun providing Tehran with advanced digital-offensive and surveillance capabilities, including Russia’s PROTEI Ltd, an internet-censorship software.
  • On March 28, Iranian and Turkish officials announced that the deputy ministers of foreign affairs of Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey would meet in Moscow in April to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Domestic/Human Rights: Poisoning attacks continue to target schoolgirls across Iran, while sporadic protests continue tobreak out across Iran. Amnesty International reported that Iranian security forces have tortured, raped, and sexually violated children detained during the protests.

  • Amnesty International reported that Iran executed 94 people between January 1 and March 2. It also accused the Islamic Republic regime of targeting the country’s ethnic minority groups and claimed that 14 Kurds and 13 Baluchis had been executed after “grossly unfair trials.”
  • On March 10, Iranian security forces arrested five teenage girls and forced them to apologize after posting a TikTok video dancing with their hair uncovered.
  • Iran’s deputy minister of health, Saeed Karimi, said that, as of March 12, 13,000 students had been treated for symptoms from ongoing poison attacks targeting schoolgirls across the country. Reports have confirmed 230 schools across 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces as targets.
  • On March 14, renewed protests broke out in Tehran and several cities across Iran ahead of Chaharshanbeh Suri, Iran’s traditional festival of fire.
  • On March 16, Amnesty International reported Iranian security forces have tortured children detained during ongoing anti-regime protests. According to the report, security forces used beatings, flogging, electric shocks, rape, and sexual violence against children as young as 12.

Nuclear: During his visit to Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Grossi said Tehran pledged to restore IAEA surveillance cameras and other equipment at the Fordo facility where the agency recently detected near-weapons-grade uranium, only to walk back these comments two days later. On March 20, JINSA issued an open letter, signed by 44 retired U.S. generals and admirals, asking the White House and Congress to immediately provide Israel with advanced weapons to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

  • On March 3, Grossi visited Iran ahead of the IAEA’s first quarterly Board of Governors meeting of 2023. During the visit, Grossi said that Tehran pledgedto restore the IAEA surveillance and monitoring equipment it had removed last summer, in violation of its safeguards agreements, and to allow more inspections at the deeply-buried Fordo facility where the IAEA recently discovered 84 percent near-weapons-grade enriched uranium.
    • On March 4, Iran and the IAEA released a joint statement that said Iran “on a voluntary basis will allow the IAEA to implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities.”
    • A March 6 IAEA press conference retracted the statement and clarified that Iran had not agreedto provide the IAEA access to specific sites, facilities, or related materials, and that any such progress would be contingent on follow-up talks.
  • On March 9, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, said, “We continue to believe diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
  • On March 29, Amir-Abdollahian said, “The window of the talks to return to the JCPOA won’t remain open forever.”

Regional Aggression: JINSA’s Projectile Tracker recorded that Iran-backed proxies recently launched six attacks against U.S. forces and military facilities, including five drone and thirteen rocket strikes. One such attack killed one and wounded six other American contractors. U.S. CENTCOM commander General Michael Kurilla testified before the House Armed Services Committee that, as of March 23, there had been seventy-eight Iranian attacks on U.S. troops since the Biden took office. Two further attacks against U.S. troops on March 24 and 25 raised the number to at least eighty attacks against U.S. troops within this period.

  • On March 2, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) announced that it had conducted a joint operation with the U.K. Royal Marines to interdict an Iranian shipment of anti-tank guided missiles and missile components likely en route to the Houthis in Yemen.
  • On March 5, The Jerusalem Post reported that Iran may be behind an anonymous “Mapping Project” website that pinpoints the locations of Jewish and Zionist organizations, including Jewish schools, in the Boston area.
    • In June 2022, Iranian-regime-owned PressTV reported, “It is perfectly legitimate to target Jewish groups that support Zionist crimes, just as it is to target Christian groups that do the same. The Mapping Project, to its credit, is already doing that.”
  • On March 12, Amir-Abdollahian claimed that the United States and Iran had reached a prisoner swap agreement. U.S. officials immediately denied these claims, most notably the spokesperson for the Department of State Ned Price saying, “Statements from Iranian officials that a deal regarding the exchange of prisoners has been reached are another especially cruel lie that only adds to the suffering of their families.”
  • On March 13, two rockets landed near U.S. coalition forces at Mission Support Site Green Village in Syria. No casualties occurred. Gen. Kurilla indicated that an Iran-aligned militia carried out the attack.
  • On March 15, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet claimed Iran-backed Hezbollah was behind a March 13 roadside bombing in northern Israel that injured one man.
  • An Iran-linked drone attack in Syria killed one American contractor and wounded six other Americans, including five service members, on March 23.
    • The U.S. responded the next day with airstrikes against the facilities of the Iran-backed militia responsible for the attack, reportedly killing eight fighters.
  • After the U.S. airstrikes on March 24, Iran’s proxy forces launched three separate attacks that day on two U.S. facilities in Syria, involving twelve rocket and three drone strikes, and another drone strike on March 25. The attacks injured three American servicemembers.
  • On March 28, Greek police arrested two men involved in an Iranian plot to carry out mass-casualty terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Greece.
  • On March 31, Iran alleged that an Israeli strike in Damascus killed an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer and vowed to seek revenge.

Recent JINSA Publications on Iran:

Recent JINSA Iran Nuclear Talks Update: