Hudson Institute

The View from Tehran | May 2024

Research Fellow
The View From Tehran A model of Iran's first-ever hypersonic missile, the Fattah, next to a mosque in Tehran, Iran, on April 15, 2024. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A model of Iran's first-ever hypersonic missile, the Fattah, next to a mosque in Tehran, Iran, on April 15, 2024. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto 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 Iran’s proxy network in the Middle East.

Iran Equips Surrogates with Its Latest Technologies

Iran’s investment in a robust military industrial complex is paying off. The Islamic Republic’s proxy wars are increasingly tech-savvy and decreasingly labor-intensive for Tehran.

At the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition (DIMDEX), Iran showcased naval weapons and full-sized models of unmanned aerial vehicles, including one named “Gaza.” Additionally, the Houthis claim to have a hypersonic cruise missile.

Why it matters. The United States and its allies’ reluctance to retaliate to Iran’s attacks has emboldened Tehran and validated its strategy of maintaining plausible deniability while arming proxies with increasingly sophisticated weapons.

Hajji Washington

Developments in Iran-US relations.

Iran Exports “Death to America” Chants

Thanks to Iran’s information warfare, Chicagoans do not need to leave home to hear “death to America and death to Israel” chants. A group of purported anti-war activists chanted this slogan in Farsi at the Teamsters Union’s Chicago headquarters, led by an organizer whom the Daily Caller identified as Shabbir Rizvi.

Why it matters. Shabbir Rizvi is an Iranian regime supporter and Hamas sympathizer who poses as a peace activist. He has appeared on Iran’s English-language television network, Press TV, as a political analyst and has published numerous anti-Israel op-eds.

Middle Easterners view people chanting anti-American slogans on US soil as a sign of America’s weakness. Though the Iranian government is a pariah in the West, these protests demonstrate that Tehran has managed to expand its network of influence.

Love Triangle

On the alliance among Ali Khamenei’s Iran, Xi Jinping’s China, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Iran, Russia, and China’s Joint Naval Drill

China, Iran, and Russia held a joint naval drill, Marine Security Belt 2024, in the Gulf of Oman, a crucial waterway near the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Why it matters. US Central Command leader General Michael Kurilla sounded the alarm to lawmakers about Iran’s tightening of its ties with Russia and China. He told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that “Iran is reliant on China, and Russia is reliant on Iran.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also warned in April that autocratic regimes are forming an “axis of evil” to challenge Western democracies.

Iran and Israel

The latest on the shadow war between the Islamic Republic and the Jewish state.

Iran Is Paranoid about Mossad’s Involvement in Baluchistan

As Iran struggles to control its eastern borders, conspiracy theories about Mossad’s involvement in ethnic riots are spreading in Tehran.

Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan Province is the most impoverished region in the country, mostly because the Baluch people are Sunni and non-Persian. Iran’s systemic discrimination against the Baluch has given rise to numerous militant separatist groups in the province.

Jaish al-Adl, one Baluch separatist group, occasionally attacks Iran’s security forces. On April 4, the Iranian media reported a series of attacks. The militants claimed they targeted six regime outposts. During these clashes, dozens of Iranian Army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops were killed.

Why it matters. Iran has succeeded in expanding its influence in the region but still cannot stabilize its borders. Tehran labels Sunni Baluch separatist groups as “Zionist conspirators” and describes the Baluch as “foreign nationals” and “non-Iranians.”

Even Iranian opposition groups have unfavorable views of the Baluch. US-based former political prisoner and Milton Friedman Prize winner Akbar Ganji claimed that the Baluch militants who engaged in clashes with Iranian forces are Mossad mercenaries.

Iran vs. Aniran

Tehran’s relations with non-Iranian peoples in and around the Islamic Republic.

Iranians Claim That Israel’s Embassy in Azerbaijan Is a Legitimate Target

Iran promised a response to a suspected Israeli missile attack that destroyed Iran’s consulate in the Syrian capital of Damascus and killed seven people, including a top IRGC commander. In the aftermath of the attack, Iran-affiliated social media accounts advocated striking Israel’s diplomatic missions in the region, including in Azerbaijan.

Member of Iranian Parliament Rashidi Kuchi suggested that Iran should “openly and directly target one of the diplomatic centers of the Zionists in one of the countries of the region, preferably Azerbaijan.”

Why it matters. Iran is suspicious of its neighbors who maintain cordial ties with Israel. October 7 was, among other things, a move to stop normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Iran is alarmed by the Azerbaijan-Israel friendship and wants nothing more than to sabotage it. But Tehran is also concerned about potential backlash from Iranian Azerbaijanis if the IRGC fires missiles at Baku. An Azerbaijani activist warned that an attack on the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan would exacerbate tensions between Azerbaijani Turks and Persians in Iran.

In Iran’s political literature, and among Persian nationalists in particular, a “Turk-o-Fars war”—a confrontation between Azerbaijani Turks and Persians—is a taboo term and a situation that the regime needs to avoid at all costs.

The Streets of Tehran

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

The Iran-Israel Aerial Confrontation Changed the Equation

Iranians hold differing opinions about the significance of Iran-Israel strikes and counterstrikes. Alam Saleh, a professor of political science at the Australian National University, believes that Iran’s daring strike shows that Tehran is a nuclear threshold country. Iran’s attack suggests that the decision to build nuclear weapons is political, not a matter of Tehran’s technical capability, Saleh argued.

Hooshang Amirahmadi of Rutgers University said that Iran must take an “eye for an eye” approach: Iran must hit an Israeli consulate as a proportional response. He also said that “Iran should not worry about the US reaction. The US cannot do a damn thing.”

US-based political activist Mehdi Jalali argued that the attack revealed that Israel’s military might is a myth. He claimed that Israel’s weak and insufficient retaliation dealt an even bigger blow to Israel’s deterrence.

Why it matters. Perception and deterrence matter. Though Iran failed to inflict major pain on Israel with hundreds of drones and missiles on April 13, many Iranians believe that Israel’s air superiority and near-invincibility are no longer certain.

Beyt Update

News from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office and official residence.

Smash the Head of the Snake!

Reactions to Israel’s retaliation to Iran’s strike were mixed. Some Iranians welcomed an Israeli counterattack, posting messages like, “Israel! Smash the snake’s head!” Others urged Israel to “strike at the Beyt!” One user said Iranians need “to launch a massive online campaign and urge Israel to directly strike the supreme leader’s office.” A graffiti artist wrote, “Israel! Attack Iran and we will pour into the streets!” Another asked Israel to return the historic favor: “Cyrus the Great saved the Jews [in Babylon] and now it is time for Israel [to return the favor by striking the Mullah regime in Iran].”

There were rumors that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and senior IRGC commanders had gone into hiding in expectation of Israel’s retaliation. Kayhan London stated that Khamenei had fallen into an Israeli trap, implying that the supreme leader was anxious about the response to his attack.

Why it matters. Despite the regime’s antisemitic propaganda, Iranians are distrustful of their government’s anti-Israel rhetoric. Some Iranians are among the most pro-Israel people in the region. Public expression of pro-Israeli sentiments is dangerous, but many managed to break their silence on anonymous social media accounts.

Domestic dissent in the face of a potential war with Israel scares the mullahs. Citing a source in Iran, the US-based Persian-language website IranWire revealed that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence recently held special meetings aimed at studying the likelihood of “riots” in the event of a potential Israeli attack on Iran.

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