News Digest: Week of May 29

May 29 

Military: Fourteen people allegedly linked to an Israeli “terrorist team” had been detained for plotting to assassinate people in Iran, the Judiciary announced.

Domestic: Elaheh Mohammadi, who reported on Masha Amini’s funeral in September 2022, began her trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court for allegedly collaborating with the United States and “assembly and collusion against national security.” One of her lawyers, Shahab Mirlohi, alleged that she was mistreated during her time in prison, which included long periods of solitary confinement. He argued that her case should be heard in a criminal court with a jury rather than in the revolutionary court. If convicted, Mohammadi could face the death penalty under Islamic law. 

Military: The Israel Defense Forces began a two-week drill in Israel called “Firm Hand” to simulate combat on multiple fronts at one time. The exercise included land, sea, air, and cyber components and reportedly consisted of tens of thousands of soldiers.

Military: Iran had successfully tested a new hypersonic missile “able to breach all the systems of anti-missile defense,” General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Unit, claimed. He added that, “the hypersonic missile has a high speed and can maneuver both in and out of the Earth’s atmosphere.” Iran announced the missile project in November 2022. 


May 30 

Domestic: Niloufar Hamedi, who was among the first to report on Masha Amini’s death under police custody in September 2022, began her trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court for allegedly collaborating with the United States and “assembly and collusion against national security.” The opening session “ended in less than two hours while her lawyers did not get a chance to defend her and her family members were not allowed to attend the court,” according to Hamedi's husband, Mohammad Hossein Ajorlou. She denied all the charges against her. Hamedi’s lawyer was not allowed to defend her.

International: The United States and South Korea discussed unfreezing the $7 billion of Iranian assets held in Korean banks, Iranian media reported citing government sources in Seoul.

Nuclear: The U.N. nuclear watchdog concluded two investigations related to Iran’s nuclear program, Iranian state media reported. Investigations regarding traces of uranium found at the Marivan facility and Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 83.7% at Fordo had both been closed.

Domestic/Human Rights: People sentenced to death for protesting in demonstrations that erupted in September 2022 would be executed “without any delay,” judiciary chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said. He also said that security forces would continue to detain women accused of rejecting hijab requirements. He added that Iran’s judiciary had “legal standards” and principles of “justice and fairness” despite international outcry.

Military: Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, arrived in Israel and observed an Israeli war exercise simulating escalating conflict with Iran and its allies. Kurilla was scheduled for a three-day visit. 

Diplomacy: President Ebrahim Raisi had instructed the Foreign Ministry to restore diplomatic ties with Egypt, Iranian government spokesperson Ali Bahadari Jahormi said. The announcement came one day after Supreme Leader Khameini backed rapprochement with Egypt during a meeting with Omani Sultan Haytham bin Tareq Al Said.


May 31 

Military: Iran was prepared to increase exports of military technology to “friendly countries” in coming months, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri said. "The Iranian Armed Forces are fully prepared to upgrade the level of ties in various fields, including the wholesale export of defense and military equipment as well as training, exercises and the practical transfer of experience," he said in a press conference.

Nuclear: Tehran’s stockpile of 60-percent enriched uranium had grown to 114.1 kilograms (251 pounds), a 25-percent increase since February 2023, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report. The uranium could be enriched to 90 percent, or weapons grade, quickly if Iran made the political decision to produce a bomb. 

But Tehran also expanded cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog by granting permission for it to install cameras at the centrifuge production facility in Isfahan, according to a second report. Centrifuges are cylindrical machines that enrich uranium by spinning at high speeds. Iran also allowed the installation of monitoring equipment at Fordo, a uranium enrichment facility buried under the mountains near Qom, and Natanz, another enrichment site. The IAEA also closed two probes. It had no further questions about uranium particles enriched to 83.7 percent that were discovered in January 2023. The IAEA also stopped its investigation into uranium traces found at Marivan, a site 325 miles southwest of Tehran allegedly connected to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear weapons program.

International: The United Arab Emirates announced that it would no longer take part in the Combined Maritime Forces, a U.S.-led task force on Persian Gulf shipping security. The announcement followed a Wall Street Journal report that detailed tensions between the two countries over continued tanker seizures by Iran.  


June 1

Domestic/ Human Rights: Iran executed at least 142 people in May, the most in one month since 2015, according to Iran Human Rights (IHR), based in Norway. The report elaborated that Iran had executed at least 307 people to date in 2023, a 75% rise compared to the first half of 2022. "The purpose of the Islamic Republic's intensification of arbitrary executions is to spread societal fear to prevent protests and prolong its rule," said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, IHR’s director.

Ukraine: Russia had stockpiled enough Iranian Shahed drones “to attack Ukraine daily,” Ukraine's Air Force Spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said in an address on Ukrainian state television. 

Sanctions: The United States sanctioned five Iranian men and a Turkish airline for plotting terrorist attacks and assassinations targeting former U.S. officials, U.S.-Iranian citizens, dissidents, and journalists. Three of the men were affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF), which is responsible for external operations. Two were linked to the IRGC Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO). The designations demonstrated that Washington “will continue to expose and disrupt the regime’s terrorist activities and its efforts to silence opposing voices,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “We reiterate our resolve to protect and defend U.S. citizens.”

Domestic/ Human Rights: Students and professors across Iran have been subject to intensifying scrutiny for their involvement in the 2022 anti-government protests, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. The organization reported that over 720 students had been arbitrarily detained since September 2022, while others had been expelled from their universities. “University officials and committees are operating as extensions of the Islamic Republic’s system of repression to crush the peaceful activism on campuses that has surged ever since the protests of the ‘Woman Life Freedom’ movement,” explained Hadi Ghaemi, the Center’s executive director.

Military: Iran was reportedly arming groups in Syria for renewed attacks against U.S. personnel in the country, according to The Washington Post. The report, which was compiled using documents leaked on Discord in late 2022, cites intercepted exchanges between Syrian and Lebanese groups linked to Iran. 

Domestic: Religious attendance in Iran was declining, according to Mohammad Abolghassem Doulabi, President Raisi’s representative for clerical affairs. Doulabi, a high-ranking cleric and member of the Assembly of Experts, claimed that around 50,000 of Iran’s 75,000 mosques had closed due to dwindling attendance. He added that “the humiliation of people in the name of religion” as well as “falsification of religious concepts and teachings” and “depriving people of a decent life and creating poverty in the name of religion,” were among the reasons for the decline.

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, traveled to South Africa for a June 2 meeting of high-level delegations from BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.


June 2 

International: Iran freed one Danish and two Austrian citizens as part of a prisoner swap, according to Danish and Austrian officials. Denmark’s Foreign Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, thanked Belgium and Oman for their role in facilitating the release, while Iranian media did not immediately release a statement or explain what had been granted in return.  

Sanctions: The United States sanctioned Arvan Cloud, two of its executives, and an affiliated technology company for developing an alternative to the Internet that would allow the government to control or censor content available inside Iran. The technology also restricted Iranians from getting access to the global Internet. The Arvan Cloud network has closely cooperated with two powerful government agencies–the Ministry of Intelligence and Security as well as the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. The Islamic Republic took even stricter measures to restrict internet access after four months of protests erupted in September 2022.

Military: Iran was set to form a naval alliance with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Iraq, according to Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, the commander of Iran’s navy. A later report added that long-term adversaries India and Pakistan may also join the alliance. “Almost all the countries of the North Indian Ocean region have come to the understanding that they should stand by the Islamic Republic of Iran and jointly establish security with significant synergy,” said Irani during a televised address. 

The United States was skeptical. “It defies reason that Iran, the number one cause of regional instability, claims it wants to form a naval security alliance to protect the very waters it threatens,” said Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces spokesperson.

Negotiations: U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley had held several meetings with Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Amir Saeid Iravani, according to a report from the Financial Times. Citing anonymous diplomats and analysts, the report explained that the talks, held in New York, may have been the first contact between American and Iranian officials since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. The report also observed that recent prisoner swaps could support a renewed effort to enter negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.


June 3

Domestic: In highly unusual criticism, former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2013-2021) blasted the Iranian government for its inflexible and unrealistic policies that failed at diplomacy. “Throughout history, we have set our goals based on our desires and ignored our abilities,” Zarif said in an Instagram post on June 3. “National resources have been destroyed” and “development has not been achieved” because of “wishful thinking” and the rejection of diplomatic compromise.


June 4

International: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of lying to international arms inspectors and gathered a cabinet war drill. The Israeli Prime Minister also accused the IAEA of lax oversight in Iran. “The IAEA’s ineffectual conduct in the face of these weak excuses conveys a message to Iran’s rulers that they need not pay any price whatsoever for their violations, and that they can continue deceiving the international community with their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told his cabinet during a televised address. 

Domestic: Iran’s leaders blasted the United States in defiant speeches commemorating the anniversary of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death in 1989. In a televised speech on June 4, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Khomeini’s successor – warned that Western powers were trying to infiltrate the country and undermine the Islamic Republic.