OE Watch Issue # 01, 2024

OE Watch, Vol 14, Issue 01, 2024; click image to download magazine

(Click image to download magazine.)


CHINA

China Celebrates New Turbofan Engine Design as Giving It a Strategic Advantage
By Cindy Hurst

Chinese and Vietnamese Leaders Meet Over Tensions in South China Sea
By Alpha Ngo

Chinese Media Defends PLA Navy in Maritime Dispute With the Philippines
By Jacob Zenn

China Nears Completion of Large Port in Peru With Dual-Use Capabilities
By Ryan Berg


RUSSIA

Russian Military Working To Respond to U.S. “Multi-Domain Operations”
By Chuck Bartles

Russia Details Plan To Overcome Military Drone Deficiencies
By Dodge Billingsley

Russia’s Federal Budget Puts Economy on War Footing
By Dodge Billingsley

Russian Arctic Naval Activity and Capability Continue To Expand
By Les Grau

Russia Denies that North Korea Is Supplying It With Weapons for Use in Ukraine
By Lionel Beehner


IRAN

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Seeks Dominant Role in Maritime Development
By Michael Rubin

Iran’s Supreme Leader Announces Maritime Development Strategy
By Michael Rubin

Iran Seeks To Assert Global Leadership in Determining International Cyber Policy
By Michael Rubin

Belarus and Iran Form Alliance Against the West
By Paris Gordon


TERRORISM AND TRANSNATIONAL CRIME

Drug Trafficking a Prime Source of Financing for Venezuela’s Maduro Regime
By Ryan Berg

Syrian Regime, Opposition Wary of Hamas Despite Support for 7 October Attacks on Israel
By Lucas Winter

Fears of Gaza Violence Prompt Egypt To Reinforce the Sinai Border
By Lucas Winter

Pakistan Deporting Approximately 1.7 Million Undocumented Afghanis in Response to Terrorist Attacks
By Christopher Betts

Malian Coup Leader Faces Challenges Reconquering Kidal
By Jacob Zenn


GLOBAL OPERATIONAL ENVIRONMENT

Israel’s Operation in Gaza Compounding Logistical Delays for India’s Armed Forces
By Matthew Stein

Azerbaijan’s Joint Exercise With Turkey Sends Familiar Warning Message to Armenia
By Matthew Stein

African Government Support for Palestinian Territories Spreads
By Jason Warner

Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive in Sudan and Across Africa To Minimize Russian Influence
By Jason Warner


Iran Seeks To Assert Global Leadership in Determining International Cyber Policy

Mostafa Izadi, the Iranian Armed Forces’ commander for cyber threats, speaks at a conference in Gilan, 8-9 November 2023. Izadi is now making the case for Iran’s leadership in cyber and AI technology.


“If we can dominate the field, we can influence the whole world.”


Iran has sought leadership roles at the UN and other international organizations on issues relating to human rights and crime prevention, and now it seeks to shape international cyber policy. The Iranian regime has looked at internet and cyber access as its Achilles’ heel through which Western powers could influence and corrupt Iranian youth. However, Iranian officials appear ready to go on the offensive as regime confidence grows following the suppression of the 2022-2023 “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement and the expiration of some sanctions associated with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.[i]

According to the excerpted article from the government-affiliated Iranian Students’ News Agency,Mostafa Izadi, a previous IRGC ground forces general who heads a new headquarters to address cyber threats, argued that Iran should lead cyber policy to increase its influence in the world rather than seek to isolate itself from the internet.[ii] His comments may signal the abandonment of Iran’s effort to cut itself off from the world, and a belief that it should instead seek to sway audiences abroad.[iii] Izadi cites the information operations accompanying the 7 October 2023 Hamas attack on Israel to underline the power of the internet when harnessed in Iran’s favor. Subsequent demonstrations in favor of Hamas against Israel and the West not only in the Global South but also in Europe and the West seem to have given Izadi confidence. Izadi’s argument conforms to a historical pattern in which Iranian leaders, after trying and failing to suppress new communication technologies, instead seek to co-opt them. Today Iran translates Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s website into ten languages ranging from Hindi to Russian to Spanish while state-owned and operated English-language PressTV pushes Iranian propaganda globally. Izadi’s discussion of artificial intelligence (AI) is also worth noting. While AI is a topic within regime rhetoric, Izadi’s discussion of its role in the fight for hearts and minds and his new role focusing on countering cyber and new threats suggests that the IRGC now actively seeks to utilize AI to counter liberalism and advance Iran’s line at home and abroad.


Sources:

“Izadi: Hakmiyat bar Fezaye Sybari Ya’ani Tasirgozari bar kol Jihad” (Izadi: Sovereignty over cyber space means influencing the whole world),” Iranian Students’ News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus), 9 November 2023. https://www.isna.ir/news/1402081813261

The commander for cyber and new threats at the central headquarters for Khatam al-Anbiya of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, referring to the creation of new intellectual space in the field of cyber governance, said, “To fight the enemy’s artificial intelligence and cognitive warfare, it is necessary to address the needs of the day.” Major-General Mostafa Izadi, commander of the new command for cyber and new threats, said at the conclusion at the conclusion of the national conference on emerging maritime opportunities and threats in Gilan, stated that the country’s scientific progress in various fields has led to the strengthening of the holy system of the Islamic Republic, and stated, “Physical, informational and artificial intelligence issues have entered a new space in the world, and America has launched a cognitive war to penetrate different countries.”

Referring to the creation of a new intellectual space in the field of cyber governance, he said, “Governance in cyber space presents an opportunity for our country to achieve great success across a variety of fields….” Emphasizing the need to pay attention to the enemy’s cognitive warfare across politics, the economy, and culture, he stated, “But piety is the secret to our success.”Izadi added, “Today, our country is facing a hybrid war, and cyber, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and cyberspace have created a special situation that affects time, place and borders. If we can dominate the field, we can influence the whole world.


Notes:

[i] The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, is the agreement reached in summer 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus the European Union restricting Iran’s nuclear program. For more information on the JCPOA see: “What is the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Council on Foreign Relations, last updated 27 October 2023. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal

[ii] The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and security forces initially sought to regulate the internet in Iran, banning VPNs, slowing access, and demanding all social media operators maintain servers inside Iran. For an overview of Iranian strategies toward the internet, see: Michael Rubin, “Evolution of Iranian Surveillance Strategies Toward the Internet and Social Media” in Munir Khasru and Riasat Noor, eds. The Digital Age, Cyber Space, and Social Media: The Challenges of Security & Radicalization. Dhaka: Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance, 2019. https://www.aei.org/articles/evolution-of-iranian-surveillance-strategies-toward-the-internet-and-social-media/

[iii] The IRGC later offered to operate a national intranet, firewalling Iran from the outside world. For background on the national intranet project, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran- Armed Forces Ready to Take Over National Intranet Project” OE Watch, October 2019. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-singular-format/329811


Image Information:

Image: Mostafa Izadi, the Iranian Armed Forces’ commander for cyber threats, speaks at a conference in Gilan, 8-9 November 2023. Izadi is now making the case for Iran’s leadership in cyber and AI technology.
Source: https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1402/08/18/14020818000284_Test_PhotoN.jpg
Attribution: Fars News Agency


Iran’s Supreme Leader Announces Maritime Development Strategy

Iran’s rugged but underdeveloped Makran coast littoral is pictured. Iran’s Supreme Leader has recently articulated a maritime development plan.


“It is necessary to make use of the coasts, offshore areas, and the seas effectively.”


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently announced a new, multi-decade approach to develop Iran’s coasts. While it is unclear if and how fast Iran might reconfigure or reorient its economy towards a maritime development strategy, the ambition of the maritime plan and its announcement by Khamenei set it apart from previous Iranian economic strategies and proposals.[i]

As per the excerpted article from the official web portal of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Khamenei called for a whole-of-government approach in his nine-point directive, with the formation of new bodies and government reorganization to accomplish the ambitious plan. Khamenei does not describe where Iran will acquire the billions of dollars needed to actualize this plan. Regardless, he provides the clearest indication to date that Iran seeks to develop the Makran Coast beyond the port of Chabahar, and that Khamenei envisions greater ties to Pakistan and Azerbaijan, two traditional rivals.[ii] Khamenei’s statement also provides diplomatic endorsement for ambitious north-south and east-west commercial corridor schemes involving trade across Iran to Russia through Azerbaijan and from China through Pakistan.[iii] Though his call to defend maritime resources from exploitation from other countries may signal a subtle warning about China, a country with whom Iran has developed warm diplomatic relations.[iv] Among Indian Ocean littoral states, China has a record of overfishing and illegally exploiting other country’s maritime resources. While Khamenei signals that Iran seeks to become a regional hub for commerce, his emphasis that any development should conform to Islamic-Iranian values might undercut the attractiveness of foreign investment, especially among Iran’s non-Persian, non-Islamic neighbors. Still, Iran’s attempts to reorient its economy bear watching and, if even partly successful, this regional economic integration can have great impact on the operational environment.


Sources:

“Ablagh-e Siyasatha-ye Kali Tawse’ah-e Darya Mahavar” (Communicating Sea-Oriented Development Policies),” Khamenei.ir (official web portal of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), 7 November 2023.

The oceans are divine gifts with rich reserves and resources for the development of science and technology, for achieving job growth and increased wealth, for the provision of vital needs, and for increasing the country’s strength. Since Iran has a privileged geographical position and is located between two seas with thousands of kilometers of beaches as well as islands, many of which remain untouched, it is necessary to make use of the coasts, offshore areas, and the seas effectively…. Accordingly, we have determined General Sea-based Development Policies as follows:

 1. The establishment of an integrated policy for sea-based affairs, for the division of work at the national level, and for an active, efficient management of the sea in order to make maximum use of the sea’s capacities to attain a fitting global position and to reach a top position in the region.

2. The development of sea-based-economic activities and the creation of advancied sea-based development centers to speed growth on the coasts, islands, and hinterlands in such a way that sea-based economy will always be at least twice the country’s economic growth rate over the next ten years.

3. The facilitation and development of domestic and foreign investments and partnerships by creating the necessary legal, economic, and security frameworks.

4. The formulation of a comprehensive sea-based development plan that includes zoning of the sea, the coast, and the backshore… with emphasis on an Iranian-Islamic identity….

5. Maximum, optimal utilization of the capacities, resources, and reserves of the marine ecosystem by preventing the destruction of the marine environment, especially by other countries.

6. The provision and advancement of committed, efficient human capital and management….

7. The expansion of economic and commercial cooperation…with neighboring and other countries….

8. Increasing the country’s share in sea-based transport and transit by establishing and strengthening a combined transport network.9. Supporting native and local investors in development projects… and also backing small and medium enterprises in local communities in various areas including fishing, agriculture, industry, and tourism.


Notes:

[i] Across the Middle East, populations settled and cities grew alongside coastlines and rivers. See: Baghdad, Beirut, Benghazi, Cairo, Casablanca, Tel Aviv, Tunis, and Tripoli for example. Iran has been the exception. Cities developed across the Iranian plateau, separated from the Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea and Indian Ocean by mountain ranges or inhospitable badlands. While the 20th century oil boom brought some development to the Persian Gulf coast, nine of Iran’s top ten cities by population are landlocked, with Ahvaz connected to the Persian Gulf by the Karun, Iran’s only navigable river.

[ii] For previous discussion of Chabahar development, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Construction Begins on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway” OE Watch, December 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/379863

[iii] For background into Iran’s developing ties with Azerbaijan, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Agrees To Gas Swap with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan” OE Watch, 01-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/403778

[iv] For background about Iran-China economic ties, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Trade With China Is Up, but So Is Political Risk” OE Watch, 08-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/42208


Image Information:

Image: Iran’s rugged but underdeveloped Makran coast littoral is pictured. Iran’s Supreme Leader has recently articulated a maritime development plan.
Source: https://www.ibena.ir/files/fa/news/1401/9/27/24702_342.jpg
Attribution: Ibena.ir


Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Seeks Dominant Role in Maritime Development

Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaks about Iran’s new maritime strategy on the sidelines of a conference in Gilan on 8 November 2023.


“This scientific work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Navy will be important for other organizations involved in the maritime sector.”


In November 2023, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced a new maritime development plan to jumpstart Iran’s “sea-based economy.” The next day, according to the excerpted article from the Iranian Ministry of Defense’s Holy Defense News Agency, former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander and senior advisor to the Supreme Leader, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, expressed at a maritime conference the value of Iran’s coastline and sea resources. His comments reflect how the IRGC will likely seek a central, organizing role in the implementation of the maritime scheme.[i] Safavi understands that government contracts to build ports, lay highways and railroads, and erect apartment blocks will funnel tens of billions of dollars into IRGC coffers. The participation of both civilian and military universities at the conference highlights academia’s close cooperation with the IRGC, which includes collaboration on Iran’s ballistic missile and unmanned aerial vehicle programs.[ii] Safavi also noted that the IRGC Navy (IRCGN) would play an increased role in offshore scientific missions, conducting operations in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, where Iran’s oil and gas interests lie. The regular Iranian Navy, in contrast, focused on blue water operations in the northern Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, and further afield. For the IRGCN to take the lead on scientific missions gives it a reason to encroach on the regular Navy’s traditional area of operation in a way that may complicate the operational environment for other navies in the region. After all, the regular Iranian Navy tends to maintain professional relations, even with ships from countries with which Iran has no diplomatic relations.


Sources:

“Major-General Safavi: ‘Eghtesad-e Daryamahavar’ az bistarha-ye Tahaval-e Navin-e Eghtesad ast” (Commander Safavi: The ‘Sea-Oriented Economy’ is One of the Foundations of the New Evolution of Iran’s Economy),” Holy Defense News Agency (official news agency of the Iranian Ministry of Defense), 8 November 2023. https://defapress.ir/fa/news/629041

Major General Sayyid Yahya Safavi, senior advisor to the Supreme Leader, stated shortly before noon on Wednesday [8 November 2023], on the sidelines of the national conference on “Emerging Maritime Opportunities and Threats,” told journalists, “This conference has been organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy with the cooperation of several civilian and military universities and will continue for two days in Gilan. It is the culmination of a year of scientific study and research. About 300 papers were submitted from public universities and both military and governmental organizations, of which 30 were selected.

General Safavi, with reference to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic’s emphasis on maritime policies, stated, “Iran is blessed with a coastline of 2,700 kilometers [1,680miles] in the south and along the Caspian Sea. There are 20 islands, and these islands provide a great opportunity for economic development, paying attention to the maritime economy, resolving economic bottlenecks, and solving the problems of the water crisis and producing renewable energy….”

The advisor to the Supreme Leader added, “We hope that by announcing the policies with a ten to 20-year plan, we can better focus on augmenting the private sector, encourage academic study, and adjust foreign policy to better attract investment in Iran. By having a codified plan to use the scientific capacities of the country, we can solve people’s problems according to the values and natural blessings of our country.Emphasizing the necessity of maximizing capacity of the North-South and East-West transit corridors through Iran, he added, “Producing renewable energy and bringing fresh water from the shores of the Oman Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea to the central plateau of Iran are other goals that will be pursued. This scientific work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps- Navy will be important for other organizations involved in the maritime sector.”


Notes:

[i] IRGC firms dominate Iran’s construction industry, road building, and port operations. For discussion about the IRGC’s economic work, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Proposal To Build Railroads and Housing in Syria Could Enrich IRGC” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/429284

[ii] For background on other aspects of IRGC-university partnerships, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Preparing for Zafar III Satellite Launch” OE Watch, July 2019. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-singular-format/312353


Image Information:

Image: Maj.-Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaks about Iran’s new maritime strategy on the sidelines of a conference in Gilan on 8 November 2023.
Source: https://defapress.ir/files/fa/news/1402/8/17/2245434_929.jpeg
Attribution: Defapress.ir


Iran Demands Disarmament Of Kurdish Dissidents In Iraq

Mohammad Bagheri, chief-of-staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, speaks by phone with Türkiye’s Minister of Defense Yaşar Güler with regard to events in the Gaza Strip, 20 October 2023.


“The main agreement was not their displacement but rather their complete disarmament.”


Kurdish separatist groups in Iran and neighboring countries have been a scourge to Iran for decades.[i] However, over the past two years, the Iranian government has become much more assertive in demanding that Iraqi Kurdish authorities dismantle Iranian Kurdish bases inside Iraqi Kurdistan.[ii] In a series of recent meetings, Iranian officials have demanded that Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish authorities completely disarm and relocate Iranian Kurdish separatist groups away from the Iranian border. In the excerpted article from the Mehr News Agency, Mohammad Bagheri, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general who serves as the Iranian military’s chief-of-staff, argues  for  a complete elimination of Kurdish safe havens inside Iraq. Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish authorities suggest that Turkey’s establishment of a de facto buffer zone against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) along the Iraq-Turkish frontier, combined with Turkey’s frequent bombing of alleged PKK targets in both Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish territory, motivated Iran to request similar privileges along Iraq’s eastern frontier. It is unclear if Iraq will act on Iran’s demands, but the possible creation of dual Turkish and Iranian buffer zones raises the prospect of the two countries fighting by proxy inside Iraq.


Sources:

“Bagheri: Iraq Bayad Tajziyeh Taliban ra Tabegh Tavafegh ba Iran Haleh Saleh Konad” (Bagheri: Iraq Should Disarm the Separatists According to its Agreement with Iran),” Mehr News Agency (semi-official news agency owned by Iranian government’s Islamic Development Organization), 7 October 2023. https://www.mehrnews.com/news/5904819

[Mohammad] Bagheri [chief-of-staff of the Iranian Armed Forces] continued, “The countries of Southwest Asia, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran, are exceptional and unique due to having strategic and political geography, sitting astride the world’s communication highway and the strategic strait [of Hormuz]. They have rich mineral resources and fossil fuel resources, are home to the great heavenly religions, including the existence of the Qibla [in Mecca] and the shrine of the holy Imams of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and various other factors.”

He emphasized that the rich resources of the West Asian region and the special place of this region have always been coveted by the powers; our region is constantly witnessing foreign interference and discord among nations and governments.

He said, “We see that the enemies are always trying to create differences between countries in the region between ethnicities, tribes and religions and by weakening the legal sovereignty of countries, they constantly engage the region so that they can justify their aggressive presence due to the they create. A clear example of this was the creation of the Islamic State, which even to the leaders of the oppressive American state admitted was created by them….”He said, “The problem of the borders of Iran and our neighbors and the insecurities we have on our borders is an investigative and extremely important issue.” Referring to the movements of terrorists from across the borders of Sistan and Baluchestan [with Pakistan] and the [Iraqi] Kurdistan Region, Bagheri said, “What does it mean for Iranian separatist groups to be based in Iraqi Kurdistan and carry out all kinds of terrorist acts in our country? And we have to keep a lot of forces at the border. Iraqi officials also confirm that this issue must be resolved definitively. Last month, an agreement was reached between the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and the national security advisor of Iraq to complete disarmament within six months. In recent weeks, the Iraqi government and all the dear officials who are trying there have made some efforts. They have moved these groups from bases near our border, The main agreement was not their displacement of separatist forces but rather their complete disarmament.


Notes:

[i] Iranian Kurdish insurgency predates Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Kurdish tribal revolts spanned the Ottoman-Persian frontier in the late 19th century. In the wake of both World War I and World War II, Iranian Kurds sought to assert local autonomy to fill the vacuum left by weak central government. This culminated in the 1946 establishment of the Mahabad Republic. In the years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, Kurds again rose in revolt, upset not only by traditional Persian ethnic condescension, but also by the Shi’ite Islamist regime’s new layer of sectarian discrimination against the largely Sunni minority. For background into these Kurdish tribal revolts, movements, and secessionist groups, see: Michael Rubin, Kurdistan Rising? Washington: AEI Press, 2016.

[ii] For previous discussion of Iranian impatience with Iraqi Kurdistan providing a safe-haven for Iranian Kurdish dissidents, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Vows Action Against Iraqi Kurdistan-Based Insurgents,” OE Watch, November 2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/397213/download


Image Information:

Image: Mohammad Bagheri, chief-of-staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, speaks by phone with Türkiye’s Minister of Defense Yaşar Güler with regard to events in the Gaza Strip, 20 October 2023.
Source: https://img9.irna.ir/d/r2/2023/10/20/4/170678817.jpg?ts=1697791786262
Attribution: Islamic Republic News Agency


Iran Equips Drones With Heat-Seeking Missiles

Launch of a Karrar drone modified to carry the Majid heat-seeking missile on 21 October 2023.


“The Karrar UAV is equipped with a heat-seeking missile.”


Iran’s growing drone fleet is a pillar of its weapons arsenal and military strategy. In recent years, the Iranian military as a whole has expanded both the number of drone models and capabilities at its disposal.[i] In the excerpted article from the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, Brigadier General Alireza Sabahi-Fard, commander of the regular Iranian Army’s Air Force, announced the successful upgrade of the Karrar platform[ii] to carry short-range heat-seeking missiles that he claimed had been used successfully to shoot down other UAVs in tests.[iii] General Sabahi-Fard noted that the modified Majid surface-to-air missile is now used on its Karrar [RG1] drone platform. While the Majid missile’s five-mile range is not impressive, the Karrar/Majid combination gives Iran a relatively inexpensive counter-drone capability as Iran looks for less expensive alternatives to surface-to-air missiles to engage enemy drones. Finally, General Sabahi-Fard highlighted Iran’s increasing role as a drone-exporting power, implying that Iran will continue to encourage the proliferation of its drones for both economic profit and to tilt the battlespace and operational environment to its advantage.


Sources:

“Tajiz-e Karrar beh Mushak-e Majid ba Bared 8 Kilometr baraye ahdaf-e havaye” (Equipping Karrar [drone] with Majid [missile] with an 8 kilometer range for aerial targets),” Tasnim News Agency (news agency affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 22 October 2023. https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1402/07/30/2976015

[Brigadier General Alireza] Sabahi-Fard continued, “The Rasul [Prophet] UAV project has followed nine stages of field and operational tests and extensive and sensitive flights, which is one of the most important points in conducting various flight tests, deep and effective cooperation of all sectors.

The commander of the Army Air Defense Force added, “In this plan, using UAVs upgraded to carry indigenous air-to-air missiles with the ability to track and engage against any hostile aerial targets in the operational range has been achieved….Sabahi-Fard said that in this project, the Karrar UAV is equipped with a heat-seeking missile with a range of eight kilometers, adding, “After over a year and a half of extensive research and field tests to determine which missiles to install on the Karrar UAV, we finally the Majid’ surface-to-air missile after we made technical changes in in order to enable it to fire from the air.”


Notes:

[i] For background on Iranian drone developments and strategies, see: Michael Rubin, “A Short History of the Iranian Drone Program,” American Enterprise Institute, August 2020. https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/A-short-history-of-the-Iranian-drone-program.pdf?x91208

[ii] In 2009 the Iranian Defense Ministry unveiled the Karrar (Striker) prototype. Within a year, it was mass-producing the model that it claimed to have a 600-mile range. Press accounts at the time said that Iranian forces could configure the Karrar to either launch two C-705 cruise missiles or carry 500-pound guided bombs. Shortly after, Hezbollah used a Karrar as a kamikaze drone. For previous discussion of the Karrar UAV, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Combat Drones Fitted with Missiles” OE Watch, September 2012. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195613/download

[iii] For previous mention of Alireza Sabahi-Fard, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Unveils New Bahman Radar System,” OE Watch, April 2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/374628/download


Image Information:

Image: Launch of a Karrar drone modified to carry the Majid heat-seeking missile on 21 October 2023.
Source: https://newsmedia.tasnimnews.com/Tasnim/Uploaded/Image/1402/07/13/1402071309480492128494654.jpg
Attribution: Tasnimnews.com


Iran Announces Integration Of Artificial Intelligence Into Drone Fleet

Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, describes new military capabilities of supposed artificial intelligence-directed drones during a 4 October 2023 conference of medical students.


“Anyone who wants to harm our country… will be eliminated.”


Iranian drone development could threaten the blue water navies of its adversaries at extended ranges. According to a statement by General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), published by the state-run Fars News Agency, Iran has successfully integrated artificial intelligence into its drone fleet.[i] While the statement appears aspirational, Iranian tactics have indeed evolved from the pinpoint use of drones to the use of drone swarms.[ii] Simultaneously, Iran has increased drone range by switching from line-of-sight to global positioning system navigation. Iranian strategists realize adversaries will likely apply the same long-range swarming tactics the IRGC now utilizes. In response, the IRGC is seeking a way to counter this innovation by having drones “decide” which enemy drones and other targets to destroy without human input. Given technological advances, and the global proliferation of artificial intelligence applications, it is only a matter of time until Iranian aspirations about artificial intelligence-infused drones become fully realized. When this happens, it will change the maritime operational environment in the region. While the Iranian Navy has invested in new ships, its blue water capacity remains limited.[iii] For their part, long-range, autonomous drones will be able to leapfrog over this naval deficit to project power hundreds of miles offshore where more advanced navies can operate but Iranian power is minimal. As such, artificial intelligence-infused drone operations could ultimately rectify a major Iranian capability gap.


Sources:

“Sardar Salami: Pehpadha-ye ma Qadarand dar Fasleh Chand Hazar Miley Shanavarha ra Hadef Qarar Dehand (General Salami: Our Drones are Capable of Targeting Vessels Several Thousand Miles Away),” Fars News Agency (news agency closely affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 4 October 2023. https://www.farsnews.ir/news/14020712000483

“Our country is progressing, but our enemies don’t want us to build the future of our country with the blossoming minds of our youth.” Today, our country is equipped with new technologies, artificial intelligence and a variety of emerging phenomena in biochemistry, biophysics, and genetics and so on. We have something to say and we are growing…. Many people tell us that the enemy is just an illusion of the mind, but it is not an illusion; it is reality. Our youth must build the future of our country, Western countries have no rights in our country. Anyone who wants to harm our country and our youth will be eliminated….”The Commander-in-Chief [of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Hossein Salami] continued, “In the unmanned arena, you see that with the help of Artificial Intelligence, today we have the capability that our drones can target any moving vessel a few thousand miles away and even assess the extent of destruction.”


Notes:

[i] For previous discussion of the Iranian military claiming to enhance its arsenal with artificial intelligence, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Claims Development Of Cruise Missiles Guided By Artificial Intelligence” OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/iran-claims-development-of-cruise-missiles-guided-by-artificial-intelligence/

[ii] For background on Iranian drone developments and strategies, see: Michael Rubin, “A Short History of the Iranian Drone Program,” American Enterprise Institute, August 2020. https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/A-short-history-of-the-Iranian-drone-program.pdf?x91208

[iii] For background into the Iranian Navy’s problems operating in the open ocean, see: Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Orders Investigation into Naval Accident” OE Watch, June 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/336632/download


Image Information:

Image: Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, describes new military capabilities of supposed artificial intelligence-directed drones during a 4 October 2023 conference of medical students.
Source: https://media.farsnews.ir/Uploaded/Files/Images/1402/07/06/14020706000363_Test_PhotoN.JPG
Attribution: FarsNews.ir


Iran’s Supreme Leader Accuses West of Ukraine War Conspiracy

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran, July 19, 2022.


“The Ukrainians fight and get killed so that weapons can be sold.”


When Russia invaded Ukraine, Iran initially professed neutrality; however, this official neutrality did not last long.[i] In July 2022, Putin visited Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran. Khamenei unequivocally endorsed Russia’s invasion stating, “If you [Russia] had not taken the helm, the other side would have done so and initiated a war.” In the below-excerpted speech featured on Khamenei’s website, Khamenei.ir, the Supreme Leader provided more insight into his thinking about Ukraine. Khamenei sees the Ukraine war within the context of his own worldview in which all evils originate in the West. Specifically, he embraces the belief the military-industrial complex shapes all policy in Washington, stating: “The Ukrainians fight and get killed so that [American] weapons can be sold, so that Europe is forced to buy their [American] weapons, so the arms-producing companies can produce and sell weapons and fill their pockets.” Interestingly, his embrace of Russia weakens a main pillar of the Islamic Revolution during the Cold War, which is that Iran would rely on “neither East nor West,” both of which revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini believed to be equally exploitive. Instead, the tenet holds that Iran is best served by an independent foreign policy.[ii] Additionally, Khamenei asserted that the United States seeks to steal Syrian oil. He claimed: “A government like that of the United States is stealing oil from Syria and is doing it openly in plain view of everybody.” This assertion shows his embrace of another conspiracy theory and suggests that Iran could be an impediment to any reconciliation between the Syrian regime and the predominantly Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in whose territory the United States bases a small force. AANES currently controls many of Syria’s oil fields.


Sources:

“Biyanat dar Didar Mobleghin va Talab-e Hawzehha-ye ‘Ilmeah Saresar Keshvar” (Statement to a gathering of seminary students and missionaries from across the country),” Khamenei.ir (official website of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), 12 July 2023.

Today, they are willing to push the poor, helpless nation of Ukraine forward to fill the pockets of American arms-producing companies. That is what is happening. That is the case in Ukraine. The Ukrainians fight and get killed so that weapons can be sold, so that Europe is forced to buy their weapons, so the arms-producing companies can produce and sell weapons and fill their pockets. They are the same. They want to steal Syria’s oil and they are stealing it. People imagine a thief to be an inferior, lowly person. A government like that of the United States is stealing oil from Syria and is doing it openly in plain view of everybody! They are the same, they have not changed.


Notes:

[i] For an earlier discussion of Iran’s history and the development of Iran-Russia relations, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Influence Extends to the Mediterranean,” OE Watch, September 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-singular-format/267904

[ii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Will Iran Pivot to the East?” OE Watch, September 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-singular-format/268252


Image Information:

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran, July 19, 2022.
Source : http://english.khamenei.ir/d/2022/07/19/4/28594.jpg ?ts=1669631151000
Attribution: Khamenei.ir


Iran Promoting Medical Tourism To Generate Hard Currency

View of an Iranian medical examination room in July 2023.


“The quality of Iran’s medical education … has led to the discussion of increasing medical tourism in the country.”


Iran is facing a hard currency crunch. The excerpted article from Iranian Students’ News Agency focuses on the Iranian government’s desire to promote medical tourism to raise new hard currency.[i]. Over the past year alone, the Iranian government says the industry has netted $1 billion for the Iranian economy. On 3 July 2023, Mahdi Safari, Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy, said the Foreign Ministry hoped to attract 6 million medical tourists to Iran annually. Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said Iran expected 240 hospitals to accept medical tourists. The lack of international accreditation for Iranian hospitals, however, puts Iran at a disadvantage in comparison to Turkey and India, its two nearest competitors in the field. Nevertheless, as the regime looks for more hard currency, it seeks to overcome such challenges. On 22 July 2023, for example, Einollahi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami gathered to discuss the industry jointly in a roundtable with parliamentarians. Advertisements by medical tourism companies promise not only visa services, but also interpreters and hotel bookings, all of which require coordination between ministries. There are also security and military aspects to the development of the medical tourism industry. First, while Iran’s foreign ministry officially issues visas, the intelligence ministry must approve visa applications. Although Iranian medical tourism companies claim that the foreign ministry will allow Americans, British, and Canadians to purchase medical tourism packages, it is unclear the extent to which Iranian security services will view this as a backdoor for Iranian adversaries to access the country. Given the long history of Iranian hostage-taking, Western tourists might become prime targets. Second, it remains unclear how the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will address the issue. Khatam al-Anbiya, the IRGC’s economic wing, controls up to 40 percent of the Iranian economy and tends to focus its energy on industries that allow it to access hard currency.[ii] While it will be difficult for the IRGC to involve itself in medical tourism, the potential growth of the sector into a multi-billion dollar income stream means it will either find a creative way or, as money often equates to power, find a way to shut down the industry to preserve its own privileged position.


Sources:

“Kifiyat-e Amuzesh-e Pezeshki Iran Movajeb Tawseah-e Turizm Darmani Shodeh Ast” (The Quality of Medical Education in Iran has led to the Development of Medical Tourism),” Iranian Students’ News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus), 8 July 2023. https://www.isna.ir/news/1402041710168

The deputy minister of health for education announced the call for 3,000 staff members and said, the call will be made in several stages in different regions, each according to its need. Dr. Abulfazl Bagheri Fard, in a meeting with faculty members of Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences this morning, pointed out the increase in the number of available residency slots in this year’s exam, and the improvement in their pay, he noted, in the 13th government [led by President Ebrahim Raisi], a plan was presented to the Planning and Budget to increase the salaries of medical residents so that they would receive the same salary as general practitioners… He noted, “The quality of Iran’s medical education is both a source of pride and has led to the discussion of increasing medical tourism in the country. Training should be dynamic and up-to-date, and regulations should be revised based on conditions. For example, this topic was used to increase the number of available fellowships in 2022 based on structured interviews. He mentioned the inclusion of cardiac and thoracic surgery in the residency exam, and the ability to participate in the emergency medicine and anesthesiology residency exam without submitting a [broader] plan….The Deputy Minister of Health for education referred to the review of the regulations on the promotion of faculty members based on their performance and impact in training and strengthening the position of the university, and added that the launch of the disciplines was also decided based on the needs of the country and with the advice of the board members.


Notes:

[i] While Iranian officials often blame their country’s dire financial situation on sanctions, structural problems within the Iranian economy take a greater toll. The IRGC dominates certain industries, for example, and often refuses to subject itself to basic laws and regulations. The lack of commercial law and interference by an ever-shifting array of power centers hampers foreign direct investment. For these reasons, many contracts go unfulfilled. Rampant inflation and continued subsidies for bread, electricity, and gasoline hemorrhage hard currency. The opacity of spending, especially by the IRGC, and the arbitrariness of figures published by the Central Bank increases uncertainty about Iran’s hard currency reserves at any given time.

[ii] See: Michael Rubin, “IRGC Wins Multibillion Dollar Economic Projects” OE Watch, August 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/241432/download


Image Information:

Image: View of an Iranian medical examination room in July 2023.
Source: https://newsmedia.tasnimnews.com/Tasnim/Uploaded/Image/1402/04/03/1402040313545118927824543.jpg
Attribution: Tasnim News Agency


Iran’s Supreme Leader Warns of Declining Fervor of New Generation

Seminary students listen to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on 12 July 2023.


“One front is the Islamic system… The other front is the deceptive front that calls itself liberal democracy.”


Within the discourse of Iran’s top religious leadership, two interlinked themes regularly surface. First is concern about decreased fertility and second is unease with the younger generation’s declining fervor. In the excerpted speech published on his official website Khamenei.ir, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warns assembled Islamic seminary students and missionaries about declining fervor among the youth and the sources to which they turn for religious education.[i] While Khamenei has previously lamented the decline of the “culture of martyrdom” among Iran’s youth, the excerpted speech goes much further into his thinking about its cause.[ii] Khamenei recognizes that young Iranians learn more about religion from their parents than from the state. This is an acknowledgment that Iran’s earlier educational revolution as well as such organs as the Islamic Propagation Organization have failed. It also suggests that the problem is not only the youngest generation but their parents as well. While Khamenei continues to embrace the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and paramilitary Basij, his broader frustration at the youth signals a growing divergence between those with elite military service and the broader population whose experience might only be as conscripts fulfilling mandatory military service.

Khamenei further blames social media and apps for providing unvetted information. Ironically, he calls out Twitter (now ‘X’), a platform he himself uses. At issue for Khamenei is not just the fact that they might provide faulty information, but that they do so purposely. He suggests social media is not simply a platform upon which individuals might communicate organically, but rather that they are the tip of a vast conspiracy designed to wage ideological war on Iran. Such a belief conforms broadly with an intellectual trend that predates the Islamic Revolution. This is best encapsulated by the late Iranian novelist Jalal Al-e Ahmed who, in 1962, published Occidentosis: A Plague from the West that critiqued Western technology and its impact on Iran. Revolutionary Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself seemed to build on Occidentosis (sometimes translated from Gharbzadegi as ‘Westoxification’) by suggesting that the antidote must be his vision of Shia Islam. Khamenei’s speech provides further insight into the intellectual and cultural battle in which he believes Iran now finds itself. He defines two fronts: Western liberalism and the Islamic system, and argues liberalism is both hypocritical and corrupt. Given his position at the helm of the Iranian regime and above that of any elected official, his castigation of liberalism signals very limited tolerance for those seeking to reform or democratize the Iranian regime.


Source:

“Biyanat dar Didar Mobleghin va Talab-e Hawzehha-ye ‘Ilmeah Saresar Keshvar” (Statement to a gathering of seminary students and missionaries from across the country),” Khamenei.ir (official website of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), 12 July 2023.

Parents teach many things to their children. Many of our people, perhaps even the majority, have gained their information and knowledge about religion from the words and behavior of their parents. Their voices have become weak today. In the commotion caused by the media pluralism, this voice has been drowned out….

In the past, we would counsel the youth and warn them to stay away from bad friends and companions. Now such bad companions are there right inside their pockets! They have a screen of bad companions right before their eyes and everything is in it. If our Islamic propagation material and methods do not suit our audience’s situation, we will not succeed….

If this proactive approach is to be truly realized, it is necessary to know the situation. You must know who you are up against when you are confronted with a large number of doubts in the minds of young people. Who are we up against? Now suppose that a certain editorial writer, a certain columnist for some newspaper, or a certain Tweeter posts something on a social network. Who are we up against? Who is this? Is the person doing this him or herself? It is highly likely that this is not the case. It is highly probable that something is going on behind the scenes. Who is behind the scenes? We should know who they are….

Today, another confrontation exists, a confrontation between two fronts. If we know these two fronts, then we can determine if the phenomenon that has arisen against us is independent or dependent on the opposing front. What are these two fronts? One front is the front of the Islamic system, which I will speak about briefly. The other front is the deceptive face that calls itself “liberal democracy.” But, actually, it is neither liberal nor democratic! They are lying when they say they are a liberal democracy. If you are liberal, why did you colonize others whether through traditional colonialism, modern colonialism, or neocolonialism? What kind of liberals are you? What kind of freedom-seekers are you? And what kind of free-thinkers are you that you colonized a country such as India that had a population in the millions and took control of it for over a century? You siphoned off their assets and turned them into a poor nation.


Notes:

[i] For previous discussion of demography and fertility, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: We Have Five Years to Grow the Population” OE Watch, December 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/359394/download; and Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Speaks on Demography” OE Watch, December 2013. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195479

[ii] For previous discussion of revolutionary fervor, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Speaks on Martyrdom” OE Watch, December 2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/399678/download; and Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Warns Veterans of Declining Revolutionary Fervor” OE Watch, February 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/310925/download


Image Information:

Image: Seminary students listen to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on 12 July 2023.
Source: https://idc0-cdn0.khamenei.ir/ndata/news/53328/B/14020421_5753328.jpg
Attribution: Khamenei.ir


Source