News Digest: Week of March 20

March 20 

International: The European Union sanctioned eight men and one organization, and Britain designated seven men for human rights abuses, particularly during the nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022. The designations reflected growing international disgust over the Islamic Republic’s rights violations. In a statement, the European Union called on Tehran to “end the practice of imposing and carrying out death sentences against protesters, reverse the death penalty sentences pronounces, as well as provide due process to all detainees.” 

The list issued by the European Union—a bloc of 27 nations including some of the world’s largest economies—included judiciary officials, a member of parliament, and the Friday prayer imam in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city. It also designated the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which forms policies on science, education, religion, and research. Britain targeted financiers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

International: President Joe Biden expressed his continued support for the “brave women and all the citizens of Iran,” during the inaugural White House Nowruz reception. “This year, Nowruz comes at a difficult time for many families, when hope is needed more than ever — including for the women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Biden.  


March 21

Domestic: Iran’s leaders marked Nowruz, the Persian New Year and the first day of spring, by declaring victory over the protesters but acknowledging economic difficulties. Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi blamed months of “riots” on Western powers. American and European countries “openly offered weapons, and financial and security support to rioters to at least weaken the Islamic Republic,” Khamenei claimed during a speech in Mashhad.

Supreme Leader Khamenei at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad

International: The United States sanctioned three men and four organizations that procured equipment for Iran’s drone and weapons programs. The network, based in Iran and Turkey, had links to the Ministry of Defense. One firm was owned by the ministry. Two of the men tried to acquire European-made engines that could propel unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and surface-to-air missiles. The United States will “expose foreign procurement networks in any jurisdiction” that support Iran’s military, said Under Secretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson.

On March 21, The Justice Department unsealed indictments against five people, including the three sanctioned men, Murat Bukey, Amanallah Paidar, and Asghar Mahmoudi. They had attempted to export U.S. technology to Iran between 2005 and 2013. The items included a device that tests fuel cell power and a high-speed camera that can be used in nuclear and missile testing systems. Bukey was extradited to the United States from Spain in July 2022. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison in March 2023. Paidar and Mahmoudi were charged along with two other men, all of whom remained at large.


March 22 

International: Israel reportedly struck an Iranian arms depot at the Aleppo airport in Syria. The missile attack marked the third round of strikes against the airport in six months.


March 23

International: An Iran-made suicide drone struck a coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria. One U.S. contractor was killed. Five U.S. troops and another contractor were wounded. The air defense system was reportedly down at the time. Four other service members were subsequently diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.

International: The United States launched two airstrikes on two facilities used by Iran-backed militias in northeastern Syria. The exact death toll was unclear. Eleven fighters were reportedly killed including six in Deir Ezzor, two near Mayadeen and three more near Abu Kamal along the border with Iraq, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Pentagon said that eight militants were killed.

Nuclear: Iran would only need "several months" to produce a nuclear weapon if it made the political decision to do so, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned members of Congress. Arms control experts have estimated that Iran could produce a crude nuclear weapon in as little as six months. But it could need a year or longer to fabricate a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a ballistic missile.  

Economic: Russia was Iran’s largest foreign investor, Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi said. Russia had invested $2.76 billion in Iran during the financial year that ended in March 2023. Investments were largely in the industrial, mining, and transport sectors.“We define our relations with Russia as strategic and we are working together in many aspects, especially economic relations,” Khandouzi said. “China and Russia are our two main economic partners [and] Iran is going to expand its relations with them through implementing strategic agreements.” 

International: Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed willingness to meet and arrange the establishment of embassies in a phone call marking the beginning of Ramadan.


March 24

International: Militants linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fired 10 rockets at the Green Village base in northeast Syria. Two U.S. personnel were subsequently diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. U.S. equipment and facilities were not damaged. But one stray rocket hit a civilian home and injured two women and two children.

International: Rockets were reportedly launched at the Conoco base in eastern Syria. One U.S. soldier was injured.

International: Several drones were reportedly launched at the Green Village base. All but one were downed. No injuries were reported.

International: President Joe Biden warned Iran against attacking American soldiers and interests. “Make no mistake, the United States does not, does not, I emphasize, seek conflict with Iran,” he said at a press conference in Canada. “But be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people.”

International: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London to discuss issues including the threat from Iran. “Military attacks on nuclear facilities in Iran are not the only solution for Israel, and this country is considering other solutions to stop Iran,” Natanyahu told Sunak.

Domestic: Dozens of people were injured in a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in West Azerbaijan province. The earthquake also damaged buildings in Khoy and Salmas.


March 25

Domestic: Iranian police had to increase its capacity to deal with protests and “sedition,” Gen. Hassan Karami, commander of the police special forces, said in an interview.


March 26

International: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani condemned U.S. “terrorist” airstrikes against Iran-backed groups in Syria. The United States “claims that it is present in Syria to fight Daesh [ISIS] that itself had a major role in creating is just an excuse to continue its occupation and loot Syria’s national wealth,” he said.

Military: The British Defense Ministry reported that Iran had started sending “regular resupplies” of Shahed one-way attack drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine. It estimated that Russia launched at least 71 drones against Ukraine in March 2023.




Some of the information in this article was originally published on March 22, 2023.