Iran Warns United States Against Attacking Ships in Red Sea

“The Story of the Behshad’s Mission for Maritime Security,” Telegram video screenshot.

“Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes, security, and assume global responsibility for potential future international risks.”

Iran has warned the United States against targeting cargo ships that the United States and others believe to be Iranian support ships feeding intelligence to Houthi rebels in Yemen. “Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes, security, and assume global responsibility for potential future international risks,” the Iranian Army declared in an English-language video recently posted on its Telegram channel Aja Media, clips of which are included in the first excerpted post. The Behshad is a cargo vessel widely believed by Western intelligence officials to be a spy ship operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is said to be passing electronic intelligence to Yemen’s Houthi rebels—armed with drones and ballistic missiles—to spot and target ships passing in the Red Sea region in reaction to the ongoing Gaza war.[i]

In the video, the narrator describes Behshad and other cargo ships like it—including the Saviz and Behzad—as “floating armories” stationed in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to prevent the hijacking of Iranian ships by pirates—a problem that began in the 1980s. According to the video, 93 squadrons have been dispatched to the region and thwarted 183 piracy attempts against Iranian ships. To maintain the ship’s innocence and its respect for international law, the video goes as far as to cite the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, claiming the ships are storage and support centers offshore.[ii] Very little information is available on the Behshad and other cargo ships in Iranian state media coverage. However, as per the second excerpted article, in April 2021, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that the Saviz had been the target of a limpet mine attack allegedly by Israel because it was believed to be “Iran’s naval base” for the Houthi rebels.[iii] The third excerpted article published by the Iranian daily newspaper Hamshari reported that the United States and UK media coverage of the cargo ships in recent weeks were adopting “more hostile positions” because the media wanted to provoke the United States into a war with Iran.


“رسانه ارتش جمهوری اسلامی ایران ‘آجامدیا’ (Media of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army ‘Aja Media’),” “The Story of the Behshad’s Mission for Maritime Security,” Telegram video post, 4 February 2024.

Since the late 1980s, with the rise of piracy in the Bab el-Mandeb region, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea leading to the hijacking of several Iranian ships by pirates, the Iranian military, like many other countries, decided to deploy squadrons to this area in order to protect its commercial vessels and ensure the security of its shipping crew and commercial cargo. To date, ninety-three squadrons of the Iranian navy have been dispatched to this region and have prevented 183 piracy attempts against Iranian ships before the pirates could reach them… Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes, security, and assume global responsibility for potential future international risks.

“گزارش تسنیم| مأموریت کشتی ساویز در دریای سرخ چه بود؟ (Tasnim Report: What was the Saviz ship’s mission in the Red Sea?),” Tasnim News Agency (IRGC-affiliated news source), 7 April 2021.

This ship was the Iranian ship Saviz that was in the region for a long time already, and while some sources reported that it might have been hit by a missile or torpedo, a Tasnim reporter informed that likely this scenario is because of the explosion of magnetic and sticky mines on the body of the ship. After the publication of this news, there were different discussion s about the Saviz ship’s mission in the Red Sea, and some incorrectly—or on purpose—considered it to be Iran’s naval base to support the resistance of Yemen.

“واکنش سخنگوی وزارت دفاع آمریکا به کلیپ رسانه ارتش ایران در خصوص شناور بهشاد (The reaction of the U.S. Defense Department spokesperson to the media clip of the Iranian Army regarding the Behshad float),” Akharin Khabar (News aggregator with Telegram account), 12 February 2024.

The Pentagon spokesperson regarding the Behshad vessel: We have heard things about the mission of this vessel, but it is Iran’s right to have a vessel in the Red Sea and conduct operations. We are not looking for a naval confrontation with Iran.

A journalist told him during a press conference: Iran has issued a warning and told America that you are not allowed to target this ship. Iran has announced that it is an anti-piracy ship.

“ایران درباره کشتی بهشاد و ساویز به آمریکا هشدار داد؟ (Iran warned America about Behshad and Saviz ships?),” Hamshahri (Iran daily newspaper), 4 February 2024.

Some American and British media continue to create a media space to provoke the United States to attack Iran… Iran issued a warning to the United States on Sunday about the potential targeting of two ships in the Middle East long suspected of serving as operations bases for Iranian commandos… It seems that Iran’s statement about the Behshad and Saviz shows Tehran’s growing concern that the American attacks in the past days in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen that targeted militias supported by the Islamic Republic.


[i] Keir Simmons, Mo Abbas, Dan De Luce, and Matthew Mulligan, “Iran goes public with stark warning over suspected spy ship as U.S. refuses to rule out more strikes,” NBC News, 6 February 2024.

[ii] The vessels were sanctioned by the previous U.S. Administration in 2018. See: “Non-Proliferation Designations; Iran-related Designations Updates,” Office of Foreign Assets Control, 8 June 2020.

[iii] According to Western media reports, the attack was apparently by Israel in retaliation for Iranian strikes on a Liberian-flagged ship owned by an Israeli shipping billionaire. See: Oren Liebermann, “U.S. watching as Iran quietly replaces Red Sea spy ship damaged in April attack” CNN, 6 August 2021.

Image Information:

Image: “The Story of the Behshad’s Mission for Maritime Security,” Telegram video screenshot
Attribution: CCA-SA 4.0 Intl.

Iran Rationalizes Russia’s Pro-Arab Position on Disputed Islands

Iranian graphic depicting the strategic location and Iranian control over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands.

“Russia seems to take for granted its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Despite official warmth, Iran has reason to be suspicious of Russia, given Russia’s historic willingness to interfere in Iranian politics and/or infringe on Iranian sovereignty.[i] The excerpted opinion piece from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated news outlet, highlights that one of the most sensitive sovereignty issues for Iran today revolves around three islands—Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands—occupied by Iranian forces in 1971 to prevent the UK from transferring their control to the UAE. While international law sides with the UAE, Iran has been unwilling to return the islands due to their strategic importance overseeing the shipping lanes on the Persian Gulf side of the Strait of Hormuz. Indeed, Abu Musa has become home to a major IRGC base.[ii] The excerpted article seeks to rationalize Russia’s decision to side with the UAE over Iran on questions about the islands’ sovereignty. It argues the UAE is an important outlet for the Russian economy in an era of isolation and sanctions. Russian officials may also believe Tehran has become so dependent on Moscow that Iran has little choice but to accept Russia’s pro-UAE position on the matter. Regardless, short of civil war distracting Iran during any transition following Khamenei’s death, there is little possibility that the UAE could liberate its occupied territories or that Russia could compel Iran to abandon the three islands. Still, Iranians have long memories and are unlikely to forgive the Kremlin for what they see as a betrayal. Iran may tilt more toward China in the future or simply bide its time and lick it wounds. But, when Iranians feel the moment is right, they will use the Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonbs episode to justify a future betrayal of Russia.


“Cherayi Mawzehgiri Russiyeh dar Khasus Jazair She Ganeh” (What Explains Russia’s Position with Regard to the Three Islands?),” (nominally independent web portal close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 31 December 2023.

Russia is a country that does not make treaty of friendship with anyone but rather pursues only its own interests. To put it simply, from the Russian perspective, there are no strategic enemies or strategic friends. Russians… do not see everything as zero sum game. For example, Russia is now at odds with the West, but it has also maintained cooperation on some issues, openly or covertly.

With this brief preamble, we return to recent Russian behavior with regard to the three islands. First, we need to look at things globally. Everyone knows well that America’s power in the world, if not weak is waning. On the other hand, China, with its strong economic backing and lack of arrogance in the style of the West – now has a positive image in the world. By mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China somehow announced its presence in the region, though it had been in place for many years as an emerging power in the world that is transforming from bipolar to multipolar….Perhaps one of the main reasons for Russia’s recent stance is the oil dollars of Arab countries, which have caught the eye of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia under sanctions. Moscow is under severe pressure due to Western sanctions, so it seems that with full cooperation with Arabs on the issue of the three Persian Gulf islands, it intends on one hand to influence the circle of America’s Arab allies and on the other hand, take a realistic view of its national and financial interests…. Russia seems to take for granted its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since the West has no place in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kremlin officials have sided with Arab countries without worrying about Iranian reactions.


[i] For an earlier discussion of Iran’s the history and development of Iran-Russia relations, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Influence Extends to the Mediterranean,” OE Watch, September 2018.

[ii] For background on the island dispute, see: Michael Rubin, “Revolutionary Guard Chief Exacerbates UAE-Iran Island Dispute,” OE Watch, June 2012,

Image Information:

Image: Iranian graphic depicting the strategic location and Iranian control over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonb Islands.

Iran Hints It Will Supply Air Defense Weaponry to Palestinians

Iraj Masjedi, a Qods Force commander and former Iranian ambassador to Iraq, meets with Qassem Soleimani, the late leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force.

“A day will come when… [Palestinians] will obtain air defense weapons.”

The advisor to the commander of the Qods Force, Iraj Masjedi, used the 3 January anniversary of the 2020 death of former Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani to deride both the United States and Israel. The anniversary has become an annual commemoration in Iran.[i] Multiple Iranian politicians and military officers give speeches lionizing Soleimani and condemning the United States. While the Iranian population is inured to such bombast, the speech by Masjedi was noteworthy for its specificity about providing anti-air defenses to the Palestinians. In practice, support for Palestinians means support for Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hamas, both of which act as proxies for Iran.[ii] “A day will come when they [the Palestinians] will not allow bombardments by the Zionists and they will obtain air defense weapons,” he promised. Masjedi’s resume enhances the importance of his words. He was a former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general, Soleimani’s top advisor, and a former Ambassador to Iraq who today serves as a supreme advisor to the IRGC-Qods Force. If Iran can smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, Hamas could target Israeli aircraft engaging in the Gaza fight and endanger commercial traffic servicing Ben Gurion Airport, with approach and departure routes over the West Bank.


“Sardar Masjedi: Filistiniha beh Salah Pedafandi Dast Miyaband” (General Masjedi: Palestinians to Get Defensive Weapons),” (nominally independent web portal close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 8 January 2024.

The supreme advisor to the commander of the Qods Force [Iraj Masjedi] said that the strength of the Islamic Resistance is increasing daily. He said, “The Palestinians are fighting with rockets today, but a day will come when they will not allow bombardments by the Zionists and they will obtain air defense weapons,” he added.

Referring to America’s evils in the region, Masjedi said, “What is the commander of CENTCOM doing in Israel?” American planes are regularly sending weapons and bombs to Israel. The United States claim to stand for human rights when in fact they are the parents of terrorism.

The Americans have the largest army in the world but I tell you, they do not base one division of it in the United States itself, and instead it is spread out in the world. What are U.S. bases doing in the region? By what right are they based all over the world? Armies are responsible for maintaining their own territorial security. Where in the world do the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Army have military bases? In this situation, the Americans tell others that Iran is interfering in the world, but this is very shameful.

He also referred to the weakness of the Israeli army in confronting the Palestinian resistance, saying that the Israelis have a special force called the Golani Brigade, which is considered to be a special force to deal with the Palestinians, but this brigade was so badly hit by the resistance forces that it was ordered to withdraw and the other five brigades of the Israel Defense Forces were forced to withdraw.The Supreme Advisor to the commander of the Qods Force also emphasized that the regional resistance forces with the support of the Iranian resistance force will break the hands of the enemies.


[i] Against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war, this year’s commemorations of Soleimani’s death stretched on for a week with senior political and military  officials including, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, making statements testifying to Soleimani’s embodiment of the revolutionary values Iran seeks to espouse.

[ii] Iran initially embraced late Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization, the Iranian regime began to shift its support to Hamas following Arafat’s decision to begin negotiating with Israel at the end of the Reagan administration and largely broke with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority it dominated following the Oslo Accords. For an earlier discussion of Iran’s concept of strategic boundaries extending to its west, see: Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Speaks On Necessity Of Palestinian ‘Resistance,’” OE Watch, 06-2022.

Image Information:

Image: Iraj Masjedi, a Qods Force commander and former Iranian ambassador to Iraq, meets with Qassem Soleimani, the late leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force. Source:

Spotlight on Vatanpour, Iran’s “Most Active” Airbase

Shahid [Martyr] Vatanpour Air Base, Isfahan

“If the army helicopters were not present, the costs in blood and treasure…would have been far greater.”

When the Iranian Air Force makes news, it is often for bad reasons, such as when its aging jets crash.[i] The excerpted article from Iranian news outlet features the Shahid Vatanpour Army Air Base south of Isfahan, providing some previously under-reported detail on the fact that it is a logistics and training base.[ii] The article also provides insight into activity and flight hours flown at Vatanpour and other air bases. For instance, the 168-fold difference in hours flown between Vatanpour and the Tehran Army Air Base is striking (366,477 vs. 2,177 hours). As a training base, it makes sense that there would be many flight hours logged at Vatanpour. However, delegation may be part of the enormous number of hours flown out of the base with Vatanpour being more central, less congested, and better suited as a logistical hub. Additionally, the metrics may be somewhat skewed because Iran stations certain F-14s at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport rather than at the Army Air Base, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operates airliners for military transport and logistics under the guise of passenger and cargo planes.

The aircraft themselves also tell a story. The short number of flight hours for the Chinooks stationed at Vatanpour may reflect, both the small number of Chinooks that remain in service and their poor condition.[iii] The inventory of Bell Helicopters has likewise shrunk, though the smaller platform and easier access to spare parts enables greater flight time.[iv] The excerpted article itself may serve another purpose as well. While the IRGC can rely on its many business interests to increase its official budget by more than an order of magnitude,[v] the regular Army has no such recourse. Even with the end of many international sanctions, funding remains limited. By highlighting the importance of Vatanpour, the IRGC may be seeking to protect the base should the Army’s top brass be considering an Iranian equivalent of a base realignment commission.


“Paygah-e Isfahan: Fa’altarin Paygah-e Havaniroz Artesh” (Isfahan Base: The Army’s Most Active Air Force Base),” (official news agency of Iran’s defense ministry), 14 January 2024.

The Army Ground Forces are among the most influential forces that comprise the armed forces of our country. Within the ground forces is the Islamic Republic of Iran Army Aviation, colloquially known as “Havaniruz,” that has performed many missions in its existence, especially since the victory of the Islamic Revolution when it participated prominently in battle, security, and relief operations. In many cases, if the army helicopters were not present, the costs in blood and treasure we may have paid would have been far greater. The pilots of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army Aviation carry out both helicopter and fixed wing missions. The Chinook pilots have the least numbers of flights, and the [Bell] 209 [Cobra], [Bell] 205, [Bell] 206, and [Bell] 214 pilots the most flight hours. The fixed-wing pilots also fly with [Dassault] Falcons, [Fokker F-27] Friendships and [Rockwell 690] Turbo Commander jets from Iran Army airbases in Tehran, Mashhad, Abyek [Qazvin], Masjid Suleiman, Khuzestan, Kerman, Kermanshah and the general support group and Vatanpour training center in Isfahan…. In the fixed-wing sector, Falcon jet pilots have the lowest number of flights and Turbo Commander pilots have the highest number of flights.In addition, the pilots assigned to the Islamic Republic of Iran Army Air Force base in Tehran recorded the least flight time with 2,177 hours, while the pilots assigned to the Shahid Vatanpour base in Isfahan recorded the highest amount, with 366,477 hours.


[i] For previous discussion of Iranian fighter jet crashes, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian F-14 Crash Highlights Iran’s Need for New Fighter Contract” OE Watch, 08-2022.

[ii] The Iranian air forces are often subordinate to other branches of the Iranian military. Within both the regular Army and in the IRGC, the ground forces and navy are more prominent. In 2008, the Air Defense Force split from the Army’s Air Force to become its own distinct military branch focused on anti-aircraft capabilities. The IRGC, meanwhile, folds the role of its air force into the strategic missile and space forces, both of which outshine Iran’s aging jetfighters and other military aircraft. While Tehran spotlights its satellite launches and precision missiles, the bulk of its manned air force dates from prerevolutionary days with most aircraft more than a half century old.

[iii] Prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s Chinooks numbered more than 100. They were once a workhorse for the Iranian Army. Famously, less than a year before the Islamic Revolution, four Iranian Chinooks strayed into Soviet airspace during a training mission, leading to the downing of two, with eight fatalities. Today, the Iranian Army Air Force may have at most two in service, the rest destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War, through attrition, or cannibalized for spare parts.

[iv] For background into Iran’s efforts to keep its helicopter fleet flying, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Reconstruction and Overhaul of Helicopters” OE Watch, March 2021.

[v] For background about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ economic interests, see: Michael Rubin, “The IRGC Wins Multibillion Dollar Economic Projects” OE Watch, August 2018.

Image Information:

Image: Shahid [Martyr] Vatanpour Air Base, Isfahan

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.


“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.

[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.


[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.

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.
Attribution: Islamic Republic News Agency

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.


“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.

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.


[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.

Image Information:

Image: View of an Iranian medical examination room in July 2023.
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, 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.


“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),” (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.


[i] For previous discussion of demography and fertility, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: We Have Five Years to Grow the Population” OE Watch, December 2020.; and Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Speaks on Demography” OE Watch, December 2013.

[ii] For previous discussion of revolutionary fervor, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Speaks on Martyrdom” OE Watch, December 2021.; and Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Warns Veterans of Declining Revolutionary Fervor” OE Watch, February 2020.

Image Information:

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


Requirements for Desirable Iranian Oil Ministry Jobs Revealed

Perspective employees take an exam to qualify for jobs in Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum.

“The children of martyred veteran’s quota will be 25 percent.”

While oil accounts for approximately 20 percent of Iran’s GDP, it funds 30 percent of the government’s official budget, and accounts for far more if oil smuggling by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is included. In Iran, the Ministry of Petroleum is considered more prestigious than the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Energy, and the Ministry of Industry. The Petroleum Ministry’s staffing requirements have been long been opaque. The current Petroleum Minister Javad Owji has a background in oil engineering and subsequently led the National Iranian Gas Company, but he is the exception: many previous petroleum ministers have been IRGC officers.[i]

The excerpted article from a semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency sheds light on the ministry’s hiring process, to include necessary exam scores and required documents for the interview phase. A quota system illustrates the segments of society the government seeks to favor, promote, or reward. The importance of the military in Iranian society is clear: candidates should demonstrate military service, be it through conscription or in more elite units like the Revolutionary Guards. There are also specific set-asides—almost one-third of the available positions—for those who are children of Iranian soldiers or paramilitary “volunteers” who died in the Iran-Iraq War or other military operations. This reflects the promotion of the culture of martyrdom and sacrifice that continues to permeate Iranian ideology.[ii] While the Iranian government is notoriously poor at veterans’ services, the high quota for children of those killed in service signals the government’s desire to take care of their posterity.

The need to photocopy both sides of the national identity card likely is part of a loyalty test. The Iranian regime uses periodic elections to prove its legitimacy through popular participation at the ballot box. Outside of the major cities and especially in regions with large ethnic or sectarian minorities, access to civil service jobs and various social services requires demonstrating proof of participation in such elections. Accordingly, Iranians in these areas often ask election workers to stamp their identity cards. (Those who do not wish to endorse the regime then spoil their ballots).[iii] Finally, the requirement to prove residence for a decade reflects a distrust of the Iranian diaspora whose departure is seen as evidence of an unwillingness to sacrifice, or insufficient loyalty, to the Islamic Revolution’s principles. This distrust also explains in part the purpose for the more subjective psychological interviews.


“Karnameh va Barnameh-e Da’vat beh Mosahebeh Estikhodami Azmun Viarat-e Naft ‘Alam Shod” (Exam Scores and the Invitation to Interview for Oil Ministry Employment Announced),” Iranian Students’ News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency close to Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus), 23 July 2023.

The country’s education testing organization announced the schedule for the invitation to job interviews with the Ministry of Petroleum in 2022. Candidates can access their records via the / address. The first candidates of the recruitment test for the subsidiaries of the Ministry of Oil for 2022 must carry out the interview process with the following documents….

1) Original and legible image of all birth certificate pages.

2) Original and scanned image of national ID card (front and back)

3) The original and legible copy of both sides of the conscription card or permanent legal exemption or valid certificate showing elite service.

4) Principle and legible image of the required valid educational degree (with mention of grade, major, grade point average and date of graduation)

5) An original and legible copy of self-sacrifice [martyrdom] documents for those seeking qualification to the [children of] martyred veteran’s quota of 25 percent or the martyred volunteer [Basij] quota of five percent. 6) Original and legible image of valid disability certificate with the type of disability (only for candidates participating in the quota of three percent for disabled people)7) The original and legible copy of all pages of the birth certificate of the child or children for those seeking to benefit from the youth law.8) The original completed and verified residence declaration form stamped with the seal of the post office or local police station (for candidates who have resided for 10 years at their residence in Iran)9) The original certificate of education from elementary, middle and high school or the first or second year of high school with the approval of the education department of the relevant province or city with regard to the ten-year history of residence, on the condition of providing a local certificate of the person’s current residence in the province or city where the application is made. 10) Dissertation (only for participants with a master’s degree)The schedule cannot be changed/extended and failure to attend in the assigned time will be considered as a definite withdrawal. A valid invitation is necessary when attending the interview. The supplemental assessment consists of two sections of technical-specialized and psychological interviews, and the participation of volunteers in both sections is mandatory….


[i] The Petroleum Ministry’s vital role makes it an important partner for the IRGC whose economic wing, Khatam al-Anbiya, regularly receives no-bid, single-source contracts from the Petroleum Ministry. The United States has sanctioned the government-owned National Iranian Oil Company used by the Ministry of Petroleum to distribute Iranian oil for its IRGC links.

[ii] See: Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Warns Veterans of Declining Revolutionary Fervor” OE Watch, February 2020.

[iii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Explains Spoilt Ballots” OE Watch, August 2021.

Image Information:

Image: Perspective employees take an exam to qualify for jobs in Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum.
Attribution: Iranian Students’ News Agency

Iran Claims Development of Cruise Missiles Guided by Artificial Intelligence

Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps- Navy, and regular Navy Commander Shahram Irani at a ceremony unveiling the Abu Mahdi cruise missile.

“This system is strategic and, in fact, we can say it has no equal.”

The excerpted article from Iran’s Fars News Agency claims that Iran is developing a cruise missile guided by artificial intelligence (AI). While Iran has a long history of claims that never materialize, these announcements do reflect the emphases of Iranian military thinking and the trajectory of Iranian military investment. Frequent announcements about drones and precision missiles, for example, reflect the growing arsenal of both, even though capabilities fall short of Tehran’s claims.

Iran’s desire to expand the capabilities of its cruise missile arsenal poses a real and growing threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf and northern Indian Ocean. Still, when Iranian military leaders first announced that they would field the Abu Mahdi cruise missile on naval vessels three years ago, they made no mention of AI.[i] Likewise, a claim by the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Navy that the Abu Mahdi cruise missile can turn “American aircraft carriers into metal scrap” is almost certainly bluster. Nevertheless, the announcement of AI-guided cruise missiles and the targeting of American shipping reflect both the hostility and ambition of the Iranian military industry. The name “Abu Mahdi” also reflects anti-American sentiment, given the United States was responsible for the death of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Unit commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the same 3 January 2020 strike that killed Iranian Qods Force Chief Qassem Soleimani. As AI technologies become more accessible, it is inevitable that the Iranian military will try to incorporate elements of autonomous decision-making into targeting. Iranian military industries will likely be able to incorporate AI rapidly because so much AI remains open source and Iran has a large diaspora studying computer science and engineering in India, Russia, and Europe.. The greatest impact on the operational environment may be in allowing Iran’s missile arsenal to more broadly evade anti-aircraft defenses or strike targets of opportunity in dense maritime or urban settings.


“Behregiri Mushak-e Kruz Abu Mahdi a Hush-e Mosnava’i” (Abu Mahdi Cruise Missile Uses Artificial Intelligence),” Fars News Agency (news agency closely affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 25 July 2023.

Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, participated this morning transferring the Abu Mahdi cruise missile to both the regular Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Navy. He said, “By the grace of God, and in line with the defense doctrine of the Islamic Republic of Iran to improve missile power for defense, today we are witnessing the ceremony for the Abu Mahdi long-range cruise missile joining the arsenal. This system is strategic and, in fact, we can say it has no equal. He added, “This system has special features, including a range of 1,000 kilometers [621 miles] which will increase the range of our naval defense several times. It is a very important point.”

Referring to other aspects of the Abu Mahdi missile, the Minister of Defense said, “Other features include pinpoint accuracy, high destructive power, the ability to maneuver around geographic obstacles, and cruising at a very low altitude.” He added, “The Abu Mahdi cruise missile can confront electronic warfare, evades radar systems and has utilized artificial intelligence to chart its optimal flight path.Ashtiani said, “We will be able to produce Abu Mahdi missiles.”


[i] For previous mention of the Abu Mahdi cruise missile, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Navy Soon to Field Abu Mahdi Cruise Missile” OE Watch, November 2020.

Image Information:

Image: Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps- Navy, and regular Navy Commander Shahram Irani at a ceremony unveiling the Abu Mahdi cruise missile.

Iran Unveils New Thermobaric Warhead

An Iranian Fajr-5 rocket launch, February 6, 2017

An Iranian Fajr-5 rocket launch, February 6, 2017.

“Fajr-5 missiles…are now equipped with a new warhead with greater destructive power.”

Iran has long been an indigenously equipped military power,[i] and the Iranian press seemingly announces new weapons every few weeks. However, these announcements are often exaggerations As not every prototype makes it into the arsenals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or the regular army. Those that do are apparent on the battlefield and across the broader region: Mohajer[GRLCUT(1]  and Ababil [GRLCUT(2] drones,[ii] Moudge-class destroyers, and Fateh-110 [RG3] and Fajr-5 missiles, for example. The Fajr-5 missile is an IRGC staple, which[iii] Tehran has acknowledged giving to U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups. In 2012, a Fajr-5 fired by Hamas hit on an apartment building just outside Tel Aviv.  It is against this backdrop that reports like the accompanying article from IRGC news affiliate Tasnim News Agency, about a new, upgraded warhead for the Fajr-5 are notable. While Iranian press discussion focuses on the thermobaric warhead’s potential for Iran’s own counterterror fight, presumably against Kurdish and Baluchi separatists (respectively located in the country’s rugged northwest and southeast border regions), regional states and actors should assume that the IRGC will not limit a new thermobaric warhead solely to use in its domestic arsenal. Discussion of warhead stability also implies safer shipping and handling by groups less well-trained than the Iranian military. Should reports about the thermobaric warhead be accurate, a greater blast radius like that produced by the new thermobaric warhead, especially when fired against urban targets, will increase damage and lower the threshold for retaliation.


“Roketha-ye Fajr-5 Sepah Termobaric Shod (Revolutionary Guards’ Fajr-5 Rockets are now Thermobaric),” Tasnim News Agency (news agency affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 8 May 2023.

…The test of the new type of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s Fajr-5 rocket equipped with thermobaric warhead has been successfully completed. The IRGC’s 333-mm Fajr-5 missiles, which had previously been delivered to the force as the Fajr-5C rocket, are now equipped with a new warhead with greater destructive power. This new warhead, produced by specialists of the IRGC’s Ground Force’s Self-Sufficiency Research and Jihad, has an explosive power of 1.5 times that of TNT, resulting in a greater radius of destruction and thermal effects. In addition, its lower sensitivity compared with TNT makes it safer to use than conventional warheads.

…When this type of ammunition explodes in the indoor space of underground bunkers or trenches, its destructive pressure stays in the shelter’s enclosed space for longer and causes more destruction, and thus is an efficient weapon for clearing fortifications and trenches….This new type of combat head for these rockets, due to their specific type of performance, is also a suitable weapon to deal with terrorist groups, especially in mountainous and difficult areas because these groups create shelters and strongholds in these areas using natural effects or engineering measures.


[i] While many of Iran’s neighbors purchase off-the-shelf platforms and weaponry from the global arms market, the isolation Iran suffered during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War changed Iran’s strategic doctrine to favor production rather than acquisition of armaments. For more information, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Domestic Weapons Production Up 69 Percent,” OE Watch, March 2017.

[ii] For previous reporting on Fajr-5 development, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: IRGC Debuts New Explosive Plant,” OE Watch, July 2016.

[iii] For background, see: Michael Rubin, “A Short History of the Iranian Drone Program,” American Enterprise Institute, 26 August 2020.

Image Information:

Image: An Iranian Fajr-5 rocket launch, February 6, 2017
Attribution: Tasnim News Agency