February 9, 2024

Iran’s Calculated Restraint: Navigating Regional Tensions Amid U.S. Strikes, Hackers Uncover Massive Iranian Drone Sale to Russia in Historic $1.8 Billion Deal, and more

Week of February 5, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran’s Calculated Restraint: Navigating Regional Tensions Amid U.S. Strikes

Iran’s tempered reaction to American strikes on Iraq and Syria further illustrates a desire to manage regional tensions. On February 2, U.S. bombers and drones reportedly targeted 85 positions of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria with 125 precision-guided munitions, impacting four areas in Iraq and three in Syria. These strikes followed and were retaliation for the death of three American soldiers on January 28 after a drone penetrated the air defenses of the “Tower 22” base in Jordan.

Ismail Qaani, upon visiting Baghdad after the Jordan attack, urged restraint among Iraqi groups aligned with Iran. This exhortation for restraint appeared to lead Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the militias with close ties to Iran deemed responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. bases in the region since October 17th, to announce a halt on their attacks on U.S. forces. 

This approach was again demonstrated in the aftermath of the February 2 strikes. The American strikes came with plenty of warning, and reports indicated that Iran had removed many of its senior commanders ahead of the military operation. The airstrikes reportedly did not injure any Iranian soldiers, though they resulted in fatalities among the Fatemiyoun fighters – Shia fighters recruited from Afghan refugees in Iran who have been deployed to Iran’s near abroad, in particular Syria. Iran limited its response to condemning the U.S. airstrikes through its Foreign Ministry spokesperson and a security official in Syria, denouncing them as clear violations of Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty, international law, and the UN charter. 

An Iranian security source in Syria also stated that the recent U.S. aggression in Iraq and Syria would provoke further reactions, forecasting severe consequences for the United States. Iran’s Foreign Minister, in a post on the “X” platform, strongly condemned the Saturday attacks and continued airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen. Amir Abdollahian stated “We strongly condemn the US and British military attacks on Yemen and the US aggression on Iraq and Syria. In my meeting with the UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, I clearly said, ‘Continuation of war is not the solution.’ [You] do not [want to] test the wrath of the region. We consider the security of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank) to be the security of the region.”

However, the February 2 airstrikes were not the end of U.S. reprisals. On February 7, a U.S.-launched drone attack in Baghdad killed a senior Kata’ib Hezbollah commander and two of his guards. The precision strike, coming in a busy neighborhood, did not produce any casualties outside of the car carrying the commander – Abu Baqir Saedi, aka Wissam Muhammad Sabir Al-Saadi – who the U.S. claimed was responsible for “directly planning and participating in attacks” on U.S. forces. 

The drone strike in Baghdad provoked a harsh reaction from the Iraqi government, including a declaration that the U.S. needs to withdraw its forces from the country. The Iraqi Prime Minister Sudani’s military spokesperson, Yahya Rasool, declared that the U.S.-led forces in the country, whose declared mission is to continue to counter ISIS, has become a source of instability in Iraq. Rasool stated that the repeated U.S. attacks on militia groups in Iraq are pushing Baghdad to terminate the mission of the U.S.-led coalition in the country. 

Rasool continued in his declaration that Baghdad is more determined to end the mission of these forces, marking the first time it has been emphasized that Iraqi security forces “cannot neglect their duties to protect citizens and the country’s national sovereignty.” The remark appeared to imply that continued U.S. attacks on Iraqi soil could lead to confrontations between Iraqi state forces and Americans, complicating the situation at a time when the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Sudani had managed to reach an agreement with “resistance axis” groups not to respond to a previous U.S. attack. 

Leaders and commanders associated with the Popular Mobilization Forces “axis” are now urging the government in their strongly worded statements either to take action and end the coalition forces’ mission themselves or to allow these groups to take matters into their own hands once again. Until now, the Iraqi government has emphasized that U.S. forces were invited by the government to fight ISIS, but now warns that this coalition has deviated from its assigned tasks and the agreed-upon boundaries.

Addiction Costs Iran Over 200 Trillion Tomans

Etemad newspaper has estimated the damages from drug consumption in Iran at 205 trillion Tomans, around 4 billion dollars, highlighting the significant economic impact of addiction. Given the lack of precise data on the number of drug addicts in Iran, Etemad’s research assumes a population of 2.8 million addicts consuming at least one gram of various substances daily, indicating a conservative estimate of the population and consumption levels.

The report reveals a shift in the addiction pattern in Iran, based on field research conducted across all 31 provinces in January. The findings indicate a substantial decrease in opium use, with heroin and methamphetamine becoming the most common substances among addicts. The research also points to a worrying trend of regular consumption of certain substances, including methadone syrup and pills, which are intended for addiction treatment but have found their way into the black market as daily drugs for addicts.

Heroin and methamphetamines are the most consumed substances in all provinces, with opium use drastically declining, even reaching zero in some areas. The regular use of methadone, labeled as an addiction treatment drug, is also widespread. According to therapists, the recent price hikes in heroin and opium have led many consumers to substitute these with black market methadone pills and syrup.

The report indicated that increased heroin use is partially driven by the addition of impurities and sedative pills, which shorten the duration of the high, causing users to increase their daily intake. The significant drop in opium consumption is attributed to a substantial increase in retail and wholesale prices, limiting its use mainly to the elderly. Therapists warn that the high retail price of opium may push this demographic towards cheaper substances like methamphetamines. The report also notes the presence of polydrug users across all provinces, who consume a combination of narcotics and psychotropic substances.

The latest national survey in 2016 showed a continuous use of drugs, stimulants, or psychotropic substances by 2.8 million people. This included a majority of opium users, followed by significant numbers of heroin and methamphetamine consumers. Etemad highlights that if the addiction prevalence rate of 4.5% among the population aged 15 to 64 has not increased over the past seven years, it certainly has not decreased either. The newspaper also provides different prevalence rates for various substances in 2016, indicating a majority of opium users, followed by regular consumers of marijuana, hash, grass, heroin, and methamphetamines. The report indicates that the emergence of new synthetic drugs poses far more destructive effects on consumers compared to more natural narcotics.

RIB Receives a 24 Trillion Toman Boost in the 1403 Budget

Davood Manzoor, the head of the Planning and Budget Organization, announced a 58% increase in the budget for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) in the 1403 fiscal year. This hike has, alongside the judiciary’s budget increase, added a financial burden of 37 trillion tomans on the government beyond what was initially proposed by the government.

Over the past decade, IRIB’s budget has skyrocketed from 967 billion to 24 trillion tomans, marking an increase of approximately 2380%. This significant boost can be attributed to the efforts of Peyman Jebelli, who, after two years, secured a 58% budget increase for the organization and its employees.

A large part of IRIB’s expenses goes to personnel rather than production. During Ahmadinejad’s presidency and thereafter, IRIB hired many employees whose contracts are still active. Unlike other organizations that underwent staff reductions, not only did IRIB not downsize, but it also increased its workforce without clear criteria on what these additional employees produce or the services they offer.

Furthermore, a few months ago, ISPA published a survey showing a decline in IRIB’s popularity as a news source among the public. While in 2004 IRIB was securing a 70% viewership rating, it had dropped to 45% last year and 38% this year, even though the organization was allocated about 8 trillion tomans last year.

Peyman Jebelli defended the tripling of the organization’s budget, asking rhetorically if they were the ones who set the budget. He also described the organization’s responsibilities as extending beyond the 24 trillion toman budget of 1403, considering annual inflation, stating that IRIB cannot be expected to produce high-cost series and TV productions without financial support.

Despite the low quality of productions and a significant drop in viewership under Jebelli’s three-year leadership, the budget has seen a 700% increase. This official, appointed by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, stated that the current stagnation in IRIB’s audience is part of a “global process” and similar to the situation in other media.

Jebelli added that producing content for 160 domestic channels and now 200 electoral channels, especially under inflationary conditions, requires a higher budget. The head of Iran’s national radio and television emphasized that his main duties include paying employee wages based on inflation and maintaining infrastructure, including technical and satellite operations.


Hackers Uncover Massive Iranian Drone Sale to Russia in Historic $1.8 Billion Deal

The “Prana Network” hacker group has reportedly extracted around 10 gigabytes of data from “Sahara Thunder,” a company engaged in various sectors, including significant activity in the sale of Iranian oil and facilitating drone sales from Iran to Russia. The Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, produced in Iran, have reportedly played a pivotal role on the Russian-Ukrainian battlefield since Iran began supplying them. These drones, specifically the models ranging from Shahed 131 to Shahed 136 have a range between 500 to 900 miles, and are believed to be developed and produced by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center.  

Reports had indicated a relatively inexpensive cost for the Shahed kamikaze drone, of roughly $20,000 USD. Nonetheless, the Prana Network’s release of internal documents from this Iranian firm suggests that this cost estimation significantly understates the actual production cost, which is about $375,000 USD per drone. According to the documents, this led to negotiations between Iran and Russia over the price for bulk orders. 

For a large-scale purchase of 6,000 drones, a unit price of $193,000 was set, while a deal for 2,000 drones was proposed at $290,000 per unit. Ultimately, the two sides agreed on the larger contract, enabling Iran to secure $1.8 billion from the sale, inclusive of the costs for production licensing within Russia. Russia has announced its initiative to develop a more cost-effective variant of the Shahed named “Hawk,” anticipated to have a range of approximately 217 miles (350 kilometers) and the capability to carry substantial explosive payloads weighing 35 pounds (16 kilograms). 

The development and flight testing of the Hawk are slated for completion in the first half of 2024. Forbes highlighted that if the Prana Network’s data regarding the specifications and costs of the Shahed drones is accurate, it reveals that the actual prices are far greater than previously assumed. Based on the Prana Network’s reported information, it would appear that Iran has made the largest trade in military equipment in its history and one of the biggest trades in non-oil products in recent years.

Widening Protests Against Capital Punishment in Iran; An Open Letter from 430 Activists

The recent wave of sudden executions in Iran has sparked widespread protests nationally and internationally. These protests are not just against the sentences that have been carried out or are pending but increasingly represent opposition to the very principle of capital punishment.

A statement titled “The Death Knell in the Dawn of Iran,” signed by over 430 political and civil activists mostly based in Iran, declared: “The term ‘dawn’ has become a frightening keyword in Iranian prison literature. Death sentences find their way into young people’s cases in a manner more akin to vengeance, who, even if they have committed acts of violence, their actions are the result and manifestation of increased violence imposed upon them in various forms daily.”

The statement continues: “What seems to have occurred is more of a clear act of vengeance, intimidation, and show of power rather than the execution of the law. Indeed, if these young individuals truly deserved execution, why were their trials not conducted publicly? Reviewing these actions reveals that the authorities have yet to grasp the depth of the situation unfolding. History has shown that such coercive measures will not silence or suppress a dynamic society but widen the existing divide.

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