News Digest: Week of July 3

July 3 

Domestic: The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group reported that Iran had executed at least 354 people in the first six months of 2023. Some 36 percent more people were executed compared to the same period in 2022. Nearly 20 percent of all executions were members of the Baluch, a Sunni ethnic minority.      

International: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that a recent operation against militants in the West Bank Jenin refugee camp was aimed at Iranian proxy groups. “We don’t have a fight with the Palestinians, actually, our fight is with the proxies of Iran in our region, which is mainly with the Hamas and the (Palestinian) Islamic Jihad, both terrorist organizations financed by Iran,” Cohen said. He added that anti-Israel actions by the groups were “of course under the directives of (Supreme Leader Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei.”  

International: Chairman of the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce Yahya Al-e Es'haq  announced that all of Iraq’s $10 billion in energy debts to Iran had been unfrozen via a U.S. sanctions waiver and would soon be released. He added that trade with Iran had the potential to double in the next year, from $10 billion to $20 billion, and emphasized the role of the private sector in meeting that goal. 


July 4

Domestic: Iran executed three men convicted of raping women they had lured into a fake beauty salon in Hormozgan province. The men were found guilty in 12 cases of sexual assault in 2021. They were hanged in Bandar Abbas prison.  

International: Iran was formally admitted as the ninth member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security and economic organization led by China and Russia, during an online summit hosted by India. President Ebrahim Raisi joined the proceedings with leaders from other member states, including India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. 

In a joint declaration, the SCO called for a “multi-polar world order” and rejected ideological blocs in world politics. The statement condemned the “unilateral and unlimited expansion of global missile defense systems” and stressed the need to “establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the participation of representatives of all ethnic, religious and political groups in Afghan society.” The SCO also proposed a 2030 Economic Development Strategy and endorsed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, although India opposed the latter move.   

Military: A special report from independent Russian news agencies Protokol and Razvorot detailed the Kremlin’s strategy to assemble Iranian drones using Russian Special Economic Zones in Tatarstan. The report cited internal planning documents signed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and forwarded to President Vladimir Putin.

International: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special assistant, Igor Levitin, met with Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Akbar Ahmadian, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran. Ahmadian stressed the need to implement joint infrastructure projects contracted as part of the North-South Transport Corridor, a trade route from Russia through Iran to India that could cut travel costs by up to a third and shipping time by nearly a half.

Transportation officials signed an agreement for the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway. The 100 mile-long railway along the Caspian Sea coast was an essential link of the International North-South Transport Corridor connecting Iran, Russia, India, and Azerbaijan. Construction on the project could begin immediately, according to Iran’s transportation ministry.


July 5

International: The governments of Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and Britain requested that the International Court of Justice begin proceedings against Iran for the IRGC’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in 2020 that killed all 176 passengers. The complaint alleged that Iran violated international obligations securing civilian air travel and failed to conduct an impartial investigation after the incident.   

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in Baku during a two-day ministerial meeting of the Non-Alignment Movement Coordinating Bureau. “Due to the diversity of member countries, NAM has a special capacity to strengthen multilateralism and common thinking to solve new global challenges. In addition, the trip will be an opportunity to pursue and develop the neighborliness policy in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian said on social media.  

Military: The Iranian Navy attempted to seize two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran aborted the attempt on the TRF Moss, a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, after the U.S. Fifth Fleet sent the destroyer USS McFaul, a surveillance aircraft, and a drone to the area. A different Iranian ship later attempted to seize the Richmond Voyager, a Bahamian-flagged tanker managed by Chevron. It fired on the tanker and left the area as the U.S. Navy arrived. The following day, Iran claimed that the Richmond Voyager had hit an Iranian ship and injured five people. Tehran said it had a court order to seize the tanker. 

International: Since November 2022, Iran had sentenced at least 26 people to death in connection to the 2022 protests, according to a report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran for the U.N. Human Rights Council. The mission’s chair, Sara Hossain, said that Iran had pardoned 22,000 protesters but added that conditions of the pardons were concerning “in that protesters were reportedly made to express remorse and to effectively admit guilt.”

Economy: Iran’s oil exports hit a five year high in mid-2023, The Wall Street Journal reported. Iranian exports helped reduce global prices. Iranian oil shipments averaged about 1.6 million barrels per day in June and May. China, long Iran’s largest customer, imported an estimated 359,000 barrels per day in May.  

Sanctions: Britain’s Foreign Ministry announced a new and expanded framework for sanctions against Iran. Under the new criteria, the London would be able to sanction entities and individuals in Iran for: undermining stability in the region; the use and spread of weapons or weapons technologies; undermining democracy or rule of law; and other hostile activities toward Britain and its allies. The foreign ministry cited both human rights violations and over a dozen credible threats against British or U.K.-based individuals by Iran. 

Additionally, Britain announced sanctions on 13 Iranian entities and individuals, including four regime prison directors, the leadership of the IRGC Cyber Defense Command, and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. “Today the UK has sent a clear message to the regime - we will not tolerate this malign behavior and we will hold you to account,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. “Our new sanctions regime will help to ensure there can be no hiding place for those who seek to do us harm.” 

Diplomacy: Oil Minister Javad Owji met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, on the sidelines of the OPEC conference in Vienna. The ministers discussed “bilateral issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia, including investment in the oil and gas industry and exploring the possibility of joint investments,” according to Iranian state media.    

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with his Sudanese counterpart, Ali al Sadiq Ali, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial in Azerbaijan. It was the first meeting between diplomats since Sudan severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2016. The meeting was aimed at “resolving misunderstandings between the two countries and strengthening the political and economic relations between Tehran and Khartoum,” according to Iranian state media.

Security: The Israeli Air Force reportedly hit warehouses containing advanced Iranian weapons outside Syria’s capital of Damascus late at night.  


July 6

Military: Russia had started producing reconnaissance drones at an Iran-supported facility in Tatarstan province, the Financial Times reported. A Russian agricultural technology company called Albatross manufactured some 50 drones for the war in Ukraine. The organization reportedly operated in Yelabuga—in mid-2023, the White House claimed that the site could host an operational Iran-Russia drone plant by early 2024.

International: The United States alleged that Iran’s transfers of drones to Russia was a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which prohibited Tehran from exporting certain missile-related technologies. “The U.N. secretariat should, without any further delay, send a team of investigators to Kyiv to examine the debris from these weapons used by Russia against Ukraine,” urged Ambassador Robert Wood, the representative for special political affairs, at a Security Council briefing on Iran nonproliferation.  

Domestic: Meta’s new social media platform Threads was blocked in Iran one day after its launch. This was done only after an account was created for President Raisi, which gained tens of thousands of followers within a few hours.  

Military: The U.S. Navy reported that Iran seized a commercial tanker accused of smuggling fuel in the Persian Gulf. The news came just one day after Iran attempted to seize two other commercial tankers in the Gulf, though the U.S. Navy specified that this instance “did not warrant further response” due to the alleged criminal activity aboard. The vessel was “possibly engaged in smuggling activity,” according to U.S. Navy Commander Tim Hawkins. The next day, Iranian state-affiliated media reported that the IRGC navy seized 900 tons of smuggled fuel from the ship under a court order.  


July 7

Military: The U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint to take control over thousands of illegal weapons seized by the U.S. Navy en route from Iran to Yemen. According to the complaint, the U.S. Navy seized over 9,000 rifles, 284 machine guns, 194 rocket launchers, 70 anti-tank guided missiles, and 700,000 rounds of ammunition during interceptions of four stateless vessels in 2021 and 2023. In previous forfeiture complaints, the United States has aimed to send seized weapons as aid to Ukraine. 


July 8

Domestic: Iran publicly hanged two men for their involvement in an attack on a shrine in southern Shiraz in 2022. The men, Mohammed Ramez Rashidi and Saeem Hasem Qatali, were believed to have provided arms to a gunman who killed 13 people in the attack, which ISIS claimed. 

Domestic: Jaish ul Adl, a militant Sunni and Baluch group, killed two police officers at a police station in Zahedan, the capital of southeast Sistan and Baluchistan province. The militants claimed the attack was in retaliation for the police station’s involvement in “Bloody Friday,” a massacre of protestors by security forces on Sept. 30, 2022. 

Economy: The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s 2023 World Investment Report estimated that Iran received some 0.1 percent of the world’s foreign investment in 2022 or $1.5 billion out of $1.3 trillion. 


July 9

International: The U.S. and Israeli air forces began a joint exercise called “Juniper Oak” to boost attack capabilities on “strategic targets in the depth” of an adversary’s territory. They also simulated “achieving aerial superiority” and “cyber defense against a variety of threats,” according to the the Israel Defense Forces. 

International: A U.S. district court judge ordered Iran to pay $3.3 million in damages to Iranian American activist Masih Alinejad for detaining her brother, Alireza Alinejad. Iran had “wrongfully arrest[ed]” Alireza to “pressure me to stop my campaigns against compulsory hijab and gender apartheid,” tweeted Alinejad. She was also awarded more than $3.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages. 

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani criticized the court ruling. Iran “does not accept the U.S. banditry against the assets of other countries.”

Economy: Iranian lawmaker Gholamreza Nouri Ghezeljeh claimed that Iran’s annual inflation rate was 120 percent, much higher than figures reported by other government officials. “Downplaying economic problems will add to people’s distrust of the government,” he said. 


Some of the information in this article was originally published on July 6, 2023.