Hudson Institute

The View from Tehran | March 2024

Research Fellow
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024.  (Photo by Atta KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot during the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024. (Photo by Atta KENARE / AFP via Getty Images)

In this newsletter from Hudson’s Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East, Research Fellow Ahmad Hashemi gives a look beyond the mainstream discourse on Iran. For the latest important and revealing developments from the country, subscribe here.

Resistance Axis

News about the Iran-led proxy network in the Middle East that Tehran calls the “Resistance Axis.”

Cheap Houthi Drones Challenge America

Tehran-affiliated Kavosh Media highlighted that Houthi drones and missiles—built using technologies from Iran, Russia, and China for as little as $2,000 per munition—continue to cause the United States to expend million-dollar interceptors.

Why it matters. As the US spends millions unsuccessfully trying to counter the Houthis, America’s status as a global superpower erodes and the status of Iran’s proxy groups rises.

President Joe Biden has admitted that the airstrikes he authorized will not stop the Houthi attacks. But instead of deterring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Biden administration held secret talks with Iranian leaders in Oman.

Critics say that the administration, which delisted the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization in February 2021, is emboldening the Houthis and appeasing Iran.

Hajji Washington

Developments in Iran-US relations. In 1889, Iran appointed Hajji Hossein-Gholi Khan Noori, also known as Hajji Washington, to be its first ambassador to the United States.

Iran Meddles in US Politics

Iran has joined Russia and China in celebrating the chaos on America’s southern border. Iranian media is discussing a possible civil war, the secession of Texas, and the large number of foreign nationals entering the US illegally.

  • Semiofficial Mehr News asked, “Will Texas Secede? The Shadow of the Civil War in America.”
  • IRGC-affiliated Fars News used the headline “Crisis in Texas: Civil War Has Frightened Americans.”
  • Islamic Republic News Agency used a similar title: “Texas Official Does Not Rule Out the Possibility of a ‘Civil War’ over Immigration Disputes.” 
  • Iranian Students’ News Agency implied civil war is imminent: “Texas vs. Biden: Is a Civil War in the Making?”

Why it matters. Iran is deeply concerned about separatist tendencies among its oppressed non-Persian population but welcomes such movements elsewhere.

When Tehran sees rifts in its enemies’ domestic politics, it does not hesitate to engage in espionage, sabotage, and disinformation, as it did during the 2020 US presidential election.

Love Triangle

Issues pertaining to the alliance of convenience among Ali Khamenei’s Iran, Xi Jinping’s China, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The Taliban and the Triangle Alliance

Iranian, Chinese, and Russian initiatives to improve relations with the Taliban are entering a new phase, argues pro-regime news organization Iranian Diplomacy.

The article observes that chaos in the wake of America’s withdrawal pushed Afghanistan further under the influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a development that also serves Moscow and Tehran.

Why it matters. America’s three archenemies are filling the vacuum in resource-rich Afghanistan.

Iran vs. Aniran

Developments in Tehran’s relations with Aniran, the ethnolinguistic slur Iranians use to describe non-Iranian peoples—mainly Turks and Arabs—who live in and around the Islamic Republic.

Turkey Chokes Iran

Turkey poses a multi-pronged threat to Iran according to the International Peace Studies Center (IPSC),a private Iranian think tank.

A new report from the think tank observes that Turkey’s trade with Israel tops $7 billion annually and that Turkey is Azerbaijan’s main route to supply Israel with energy. The report alleges that Ankara is trying to unify the Turkic world and separate Iranian Azerbaijan from Tehran. Additionally, the author sees Turkey’s aspirations to create a corridor between itself and Azerbaijan as a nefarious anti-Iranian plot.

“Turkey is the source of Iran’s geopolitical suffocation,” the report explains.

Why it matters. Iran sees Turkey and Azerbaijan as its greatest adversaries. If the US was more aware of Tehran’s fears, it could contain Iran without having to commit troops or resources in the region by empowering Ankara and Baku.

The Streets of Tehran

The most debated news, issues, and topics of amusement among Iranians. 

Record Low Voter Turnout in Iranian Election

Iran’s March 1 parliamentary elections had a record low voter turnout. Many Iranians boycotted the vote, the first such election since the Mahsa Amini uprising in 2022. 

In a statement after the election, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lauded the 41 percent turnout as “epic.” But social media users shared a 2001 video in which Khamenei calls Western nations’ low turnout rates “a cause of shame” and alleges that Western citizens do not trust their political systems.

Why it matters. Regime critics viewed this election as a referendum on the future of the Islamic Republic. Low turnout, they say, demonstrates the supreme leader’s illegitimacy.

In the event of 84-year-old Khamenei’s death, this perception of illegitimacy will be important. Observers should expect a substantial change in the domestic political landscape and Iranian foreign policy. With the regime’s popularity at an all-time low, the selection of a new undemocratic and authoritarian leader could cause a regime collapse.

Beyt Update

News about the Beyt, the Arabic word for house, which refers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office and official residence.

The Next Leader’s Name Is Confidential for Fear of Assassination. 

A regime representative stated on February 26 that the next supreme leader has already been determined, but added that the name of the future leader is “confidential.” Another official added that “if we reveal the identity of the next leader, he will be assassinated.”

Why it matters. Statements like this show that succession is on the agenda in Iran. But this senior Iranian official also admits that Israeli agents can operate inside the Islamic Republic.

Israel has reportedly eliminated key figures including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the father of Iran’s nuclear and missile program, and Abu Muhammad al-Masri, a senior al Qaeda official residing in Tehran.

Iran’s paranoia toward Israel and the Mossad has only grown since October 7. The regime reportedly executed a 24-year-old law student and advisor to the supreme leader’s office named Mohsen Saravani on charges of spying for Israel.

Iran and Israel

The latest on the ongoing 40-year shadow war between the Islamic Republic and the Jewish state.

Anti-Israel Adult Actress Travels to Iran

American adult film actress Whitney Wright visited Iran in early February. Although she could have been sentenced to death for her profession, Wright’s anti-Israel views qualified her for an Iranian tourist visa. Wright has been accused of promoting propaganda for Iran.

Why it matters. The Iranian regime is ideological. But it is also pragmatic. It will issue a visa for an adult film star as long as she is also an anti-Israeli propagandist.

Wright is not the first adult film actress to visit Iran. But she is the first since the 2022 Woman, Life, Freedom protests against police brutality and misogyny in Iran.

Though the clerics turned a blind eye, many Iranians believe that Wright was the Iranian government’s guest.

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