Iran Summary – May 2022

About the Iran Summary: The Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) Gemunder Center produces a monthly tracker providing timely information and graphics illustrating Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing activities.

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May 2022 Summary: With nuclear talks indefinitely paused, Iran accumulated enough 60 percent enriched uranium to construct, with further enrichment, a single nuclear warhead, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While a ceasefire between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen has largely held, Iran and its regional proxies continued their Iran regional pressure campaign. Amid these developments, the Iranian regime faced growing protest movements to which it responded with brutal force.

Response to Ukraine Crisis: Iran continued to support Russian revisionist narratives and furnish weapons and supplies to heavily sanctioned Russia, hoping to exploit the crisis in Ukraine to degrade U.S. influence and circumvent U.S.-imposed economic sanctions.

  • On May 8, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated that Iran “believe[s] the crisis in Ukraine will be resolved politically” and offered to help establish a ceasefire.
  • Between mid-April and mid-May, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-controlled (IRGC) Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air flew at least seven trips to Moscow, likely to provide weapons and weapons parts for the Russian war effort.
  • On May 25, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak headed an economic delegation to Iran to discuss the potential for oil and gas swaps and increasing joint energy sector investment in order to offset the cost of international sanctions regimes on both countries.
  • On May 26, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Amir-Abdollahian offered for Iran to organize negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
  • On May 27, Iran announced that it was in negotiations with Moscow to supply Russia with car parts and fuel turbines in exchange for raw materials to allay the mounting effects of international sanctions on both regimes.

Nuclear: As the nuclear talks ground to a halt, Iran has continued to advance to the brink of the nuclear threshold. An IAEA report showed that Iran had finally amassed enough 60 percent enriched uranium to, with further enrichment, build a nuclear weapon and that Iran spied on international inspectors for decades in order to cover up its illicit nuclear development activities.

  • The Wall Street Journal published a report on May 25 revealing that Iran had illicitly accessed IAEA documents nearly 20 years ago and had been regularly using the information to help cover up efforts to build a nuclear weapon ahead of IAEA inspections.
  • An IAEA report released on May 30 revealed that Iran has accumulated sufficient high enriched uranium (HEU) to build a nuclear weapon.
  • A separate IAEA report also released on May 30 revealed that Iran had thus far failed to provide an acceptable explanation for man-made nuclear particles found at undeclared sites across the country.

Regional Aggression: Amid stalled nuclear talks, Iran has continued to employ its region-wide proxy forces to destabilize the Middle East, including multiple attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan, the illegal seizure of two Greek oil tankers, and continued flagrant violations of the international truce in Yemen. Iran also took significant steps to upgrade its naval and aerial power projection capabilities. While Iranian-backed groups throughout the region continued their aggression during May, there were no Houthi strikes on Saudi Arabia due to a ceasefire.

  • On May 1, Iran-backed militias launched six missiles at an oil refinery near Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan Region, causing a refinery tank fire.
  • The Iran-backed Houthi rebels conducted a drone strike near a children’s park in Taiz, Yemen, despite the ongoing truce between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition, reportedly causing numerous casualties.
  • On May 11, the IRGC carried out an artillery attack on Erbil, shelling areas it claimed were held by terrorist groups, launched artillery attacks against Barbazin Heights in Iraqi Kurdistan, and targeted the Similan Heights in Iraqi Kurdistan with four suicide drones.
  • The Houthi rebels launched a drone strike against Marib, Yemen, on May 15 despite the ongoing ceasefire, injuring three civilians.
  • On May 17, Iran announced the start of production of a new class of drone at a facility in Tajikistan.
  • The IRGC-affiliated Fars News reported on May 21 that Iran was converting a commercial container ship into a large military vessel that will be among Iran’s largest vessels and will be used as a forward base ship operating out of the port of Bandar Abbas.
  • On May 22, a group calling itself Ahrar Sinjar that may have ties to Iran claimed to strike a Turkish base east of Mosul with six kamikaze drones.
  • Jordan reported on May 23 that Iran-backed militias in Syria were escalating their ongoing campaign to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of narcotics across the Jordanian border to wealthy Gulf markets.
  • An explosive-laden drone, likely from an Iranian-backed Shia militia, struck near the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) at the Baghdad International Airport on May 24.
  • Iran seized two Greek-flagged oil tankers on May 27 while they were navigating the Persian Gulf.
  • On May 28, Iranian state media broadcast footage of an underground Iranian facility housing about 100 drones, some of which were fitted with missiles.
  • On May 30, Iran-backed militias fired five Katyusha rockets at the Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq, which hosts U.S. forces.

Cyber: Iran continued to wage its global cyberterrorism campaign, which seeks to extort illicit funds for the regime, destabilize its enemies, and steal information. Iran targeted sites across the Middle East, Europe, the U.S., and Australia, specifically bugging Jordanian diplomats and taking down a U.K. government website.

  • On May 11, it was revealed that the Iranian threat group APT34 (also known as Helix Kitten) had been conducting a spear phishing operation targeting Jordanian diplomatic targets.
  • On May 12, it was revealed that the Iranian threat group APT35 (also known as Charming Kitten) had been conducting ransomware operations targeting organizations across Israel, the U.S., Europe, and Australia.
  • On May 24, the Port of London authority’s website was taken offline by a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack launched by the pro-Iranian ALtahrea threat group.

Domestic/Human Rights: Anti-government protests intensified amid regime mismanagement of severe food shortages and the tragic collapse of a residential building in southwestern Iran, which protestors blamed on regime corruption. The regime responded with its usual playbook of police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and communications blackouts. Iran also took hostage several E.U.-Iranian dual citizens who had been visiting the country.

  • In early May, protests erupted across Iran due to severe price increases of staple food items—including flour and oil, some by more than ten-fold—following Tehran’s cutting of certain food subsidies, worsening drought, and supply shocks due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • On May 5 Iran arrested an Iranian-Swedish scientist who had been visiting the country, accusing him of spying for Israel and sentencing him to death.
  • On May 6, Iran arrested two French nationals who had allegedly taken part in an anti-government rally while visiting Iran.
  • On May 23, a residential building in the southwestern city of Abadan collapsed, killing at least 37 people and add fuel to the flames of ongoing nationwide anti-government protests.
  • Human rights groups widely condemned the Iranian regime’s brutal repression of the widespread protests, including mass arrests, extrajudicial killings, and internet and media blackouts.

Recent JINSA Publications on Iran:

JINSA’s Previous Iran Nuclear Talks Updates: