Iran Summary – May 2023
Anna Schaftel – JINSA Programs & Outreach Associate
May 2023 Summary: Iran continued to provide Russia with drones to be used against Ukraine. Iran executed 142 people last month, and at least 307 people thus far in 2023. Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) launched more than 100 rockets at Israel, sparking renewed hostilities. In response to rocket fire from Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza, Israel launched the five-day Operation Shield and Arrow to deter and degrade PIJ’s ability to launch further attacks. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began reinstalling the cameras and monitoring equipment Iran removed last year, as Iran reportedly began constructing a new nuclear facility deep underground near its existing Natanz enrichment plant.
Russia Ties: Russia continues to import drones from Iran and use them against Ukraine, as the two countries build closer ties.
- On May 8, Russia launched drone strikes against Ukraine, using Iranian-made Shahed drones, 35 of which Ukrainian air defenses around Kyiv shot down.
- On May 10, the ministers of foreign affairs of Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey met in Moscow for the highest-level talks since the onset of Syrian Civil War in 2011.
- On May 15, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Russia sought to purchase additional drones from Iran for use against Ukraine.
- On May 17, Iran and Russia signed a deal to finance and build an Iranian railway line as part of an international North–South Transport Corridor intended to connect Iran, Russia, India, and Azerbaijan among other countries.
Domestic/Human Rights: Iran executed 142 people in May. An Amnesty International report blamed Iran for the spike in global executions in 2022 after the regime put 576 people to death last year alone. A separate report counted 2023 executions to 307. . UK police placed Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad under 24-hour protection after credible threats to her life, and
- On May 2, an explosion killed two people at a Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) base on the outskirts of Damghan. The circumstances of the explosion are unclear, but Iranian state news said it took place during a “movement of ammunition.”
- On May 6, Iran executed Swedish–Iranian dual citizen Habib Chaab for allegedly leading an Arab separatist group inside Iran. In response, Sweden summoned the Iranian ambassador, and the Swedish parliament passed a resolution that endorses designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
- On May 8, Iran executed two men convicted of blasphemy for allegedly running anti-Islam groups and channels online.
- The Guardian reported on May 11 that the UK police had put Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad under 24-hour protection after credible threats to her life.
- On May 16, Amnesty International released a report blaming Iran for the spike in global executions in 2022, the highest number in five years. According to the report, Iran executed 576 people last year, the highest figure of any country worldwide after
- Iran executed three more people on May 19 in connection to the recent anti-regime protests.
- On May 21, vandals shattered the gravestone of Mahsa Amini, the young woman whose murder in police custody last year sparked nationwide anti-regime protests.
- The Islamic Republic publicly executed a man in Maragheh on May 25 in front of large crowds and the media. According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR), this was the 278th execution the regime carried out this year.
Regional Aggression: Iran seized a Panama-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, six days after seizing a Marshall-Islands-flagged tanker transiting the Gulf of Oman. Iran-backed PIJ launched hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel. German prosecutors charged a German-Iranian national for an attempted arson attack on a synagogue.
- On May 2, the Iran-backed PIJ terror group launched over 100 rockets at Israel from Gaza, in response to the death of PIJ official Khader Adnan after an eighty-seven-day hunger strike in prison.
- On May 9, Israel responded with strikes on PIJ rocket launch sites in Gaza, weapons manufacturing, and military facilities in Operation Shield and Arrow.
- According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the PIJ launched 1,468 rockets, mortars, and anti-tank missiles at Israel between May 9 and May 13, when Egypt negotiated a ceasefire.
- On May 3, the IRGC Navy seized the Niovi, a Panama-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
- On May 11, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said Iran has continued to supply weapons and drugs to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels despite the regime’s recent restoration of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.
- On May 12, Iran seized the Purity, a Panama-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
- German prosecutors charged a German-Iranian dual national with attempting to carry out an arson attack on a Synagogue in Dortmund on behalf of the Islamic Republic in November 2022.
- On May 16, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a Chinese national with attempting to provide Iran with materials for its ballistic missile program. Xiangjiang Qiao used transactions that went through the U.S. financial system to fund his scheme.
- On May 24, Iran unveiled a new long range ballistic missile, the Khorramshahr-4, which Iranian officials claim has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) – capable of reaching almost anywhere in the Middle East – with a 1,500 kg (3,300 pound) warhead.
- On May 1, IAEA head Rafael Grossi told reporters the agency had begun reinstalling the cameras and online monitoring systems Iran had removed last year.
- On May 3, Iran International reported that Iran was importing phosphates from Syria to extract uranium.
- On May 22, the Associated Press reported that Iran was constructing a new underground nuclear facility deep within the mountains near its Natanz nuclear site, supposedly impervious to even the most powerful U.S.-made bunker-buster munitions.
Recent JINSA Publications on Iran:
- May 22: “Iran and Russia Won Syria’s Civil War (and the U.S. Lost It),” The Daily Beast, Shay Khatiri
- May 17: “Israel’s Operation Shield and Arrow Recap,” Jonathan Ruhe and Ari Cicurel
- May 12: “Israel’s Multifront Escalation,” Real Clear Defense, GEN James D. Thurman, USA (ret.), Jonathan Ruhe, and Ari Cicurel
- May 11: “Israel’s Operation Shield and Arrow,” Jonathan Ruhe and Ari Cicurel
- May 4: “Now is the Time to Integrate Mideast Air Defense,” Defense News, John Hannah and Lt Gen Joseph Guastella, USAF (ret.) and LTG David Mann, USA (ret.)
- May 2: “Were There Clues Foreshadowing Saudi Arabia’s Diplomatic Shift?” The Jerusalem Post, John Hannah
- May 2: “U.S. Must Expedite Delivery of KC-46A Aerial Refueling Tanker to Israel,” Washington Times, Michael Makovsky, PhD and Rep. August Pfluger and Rep. Rob Wittman and Rep. Chris Stewart