Iran Update – August 2021
About the Iran Update: The Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) Gemunder Center has started a monthly tracker providing timely information and graphics illustrating Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing activities.
August 2021 Summary: Hardliner Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office on August 5 and soon after appointed a cabinet that included an anti-Western foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. An even more extreme Iranian government under Raisi significantly decreases the likelihood that the Biden administration will successfully negotiate a U.S. reentry to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement and increases the prospects for further destabilizing Iranian-backed aggression across the Middle East.
Nuclear: While some analysts and government officials expected the nuclear negotiations to resume once Raisi had taken office, there have been no talks since June. In the meantime, Iran continues to expand its nuclear program.
- Iranian officials confirmed an IAEA report obtained by Reuters, “that Iran had used 257 g of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235 in the form of UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) to produce 200 g of uranium metal enriched up to 20% U-235.” Iran has claimed that the metal would be used in the Tehran Research Reactor, but it could possibly use the material to produce a dirty bomb.
- S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded that “Iran has no credible need to produce uranium metal, which has direct relevance to nuclear weapons development.”
- On August 17, the IAEA informed member states that Iran implemented a second cascade to enrich uranium up to 60 percent at the above-ground plant at Natanz.
Regional Aggression: In early August, Iran continued its aggressive naval activities that have significantly raised tensions in the Arab Gulf. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Hamas have resumed exchanging blows with Israel, likely to routinize their periodic attacks and test the new Israeli government. Iranian-backed groups have increasingly turned to drones as they target American service members and partners.
- On August 3, Iranian gunmen seized the MV Asphalt Princess offshore of the United Arab Emirates and held the ship for one day. The capture occurred shortly after an Iranian drone attack on the MT Mercer Street offshore of Oman on July 29.
- The Lebanon-Israel border saw its most significant escalation of violence in years during August, extending what had already been a significant uptick during July.
- On August 4, Palestinian militants in Lebanon fired three rockets into Israel, with two landing inside Israeli territory and another failing to cross the border. Israel responded with artillery fire, and on August 5, airstrikes.
- On August 6, Hezbollah fired nineteen Katyusha rockets into Israel, with sixteen reaching Israel and three landing in Lebanon. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepted ten rockets. There were no reported casualties.
- The IDF downed a small rotary Hezbollah drone in Israeli airspace on August 11.
- Iranian-backed Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed their incendiary balloon, rocket, and drone attacks on Israel. The rocket and drone attacks were the first such incidents since the eleven-day war in May. Despite both sides reaching an agreement for Qatari funds to enter Gaza, Hamas has chosen to escalate tensions.
- On August 6, Israeli aircraft struck Hamas targets in reaction to incendiary balloons released into Israel.
- Israel downed a small Hamas drone on August 11, the same day it intercepted a similar Hezbollah drone, and the Iron Dome intercepted two rockets from Gaza on August 16.
- The IDF struck Hamas targets on August 20 after violent protests injured IDF soldiers and Palestinians, on August 24 in response to incendiary balloons, and on August 29 following riots at the border.
- On August 21, a US Air Force F-15E shot down an Iranian Shaheed-129 drone in Syria after it flew too close to American forces at al-Tanf.
Immigration/Human Rights: Iran hosts roughly three million Afghans, including more than one million refugees and around two million undocumented migrants. This number could increase as Afghans flee Taliban rule.
- Iran announced on August 15 it was preparing temporary refugee camps in the three provinces on Iran’s border with Afghanistan to provide refuge to Afghans fleeing the Taliban insurgents entering Kabul. On August 18, however, Iranian authorities instructed the three provinces to deny entry to Afghans, citing recent developments and coronavirus restrictions.
- Cyberhackers released gruesome footage showing an attempted suicide and guards beating inmates at the notorious Evin prison, where Iran houses its political prisoners. The video garnered a rare apology from the head of Iranian prisons on August 24.