Talos Regional Snapshot – 16 September 2022

Sep 16, 2022



UK, France, and Germany express doubts over Iranian JCPOA intentions
In a joint statement released on 10 September, the UK, Germany, and France (E3) said the latest demands issued by Iran raised “serious doubts” about its commitment to restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The statement said Iran’s position “contradicts its legally binding obligations and jeopardizes prospects for restoring” the agreement. The evident frustrations expressed by the E3 follow previously discussed demands by Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concludes its investigation into three undeclared nuclear sites – an issue not covered by the JCPOA and that would circumvent Iran’s obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Days later, on 12 September, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he does not expect an agreement to be concluded in the near future, compounding the low expectations of a successful outcome.

For their part, Iran again rejected the E3 statement as “unconstructive” and urged the three countries to play “a more constructive role” to resolve outstanding issues. At the same time, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani reiterated the longstanding accusation that the IAEA is working “under pressure from Israel” to pursue the investigation into the undeclared sites. This is consistent with previous statements by Iranian officials, including those implicating the IAEA in Israeli-led sabotage operations against sensitive sites in the country.

Israel and Iran escalate threat rhetoric amidst JCPOA stalemate
Meanwhile, Iranian and Israeli leaders continue to exchange threatening rhetoric as the JCPOA stalemate continues. On 12 September, Mossad Director David Barnea said a renewed JCPOA will not afford Iran “immunity” from Israeli operations. “I make it clear to the Iranian regime: There will be no room for deniability. The Mossad and its partners will continue to expose those responsible for terrorist attacks and they will have no immunity,” Barnea said.  The remarks formed a rare but implicit admission of widely suspected Israeli involvement in operations against Iran, including sabotage operations against nuclear facilities or assassinations of senior military officials or individuals involved in the nuclear program.

In response, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani said that Iran expects “nothing but terrorism” from Israel. On the same day, the Iranian Armed Forces unveiled a new combat UAV “designed to target the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv.” In remarks made shortly after a military exercise showcasing various UAV capabilities, Brigadier General Kiomars Heidari said the Arash-2 variant has “unique capabilities” and is ready to be deployed for operations against Israel. Such threat rhetoric is not unprecedented at times of tension yet marks an assessed escalation in light of current dynamics driven by the JCPOA and other regional threat triggers, including the assessed intensification in Israeli airstrikes targeting suspected Iran-linked facilities in Syria.

Fire damaged oil well in southwestern Iran
On 13 September, a large fire broke out inside an oil well in Khuzestan province, southwestern Iran. Local officials said unknown individuals deliberately set fire to the well, which is located inside the Shadegan field and operated by the state-owned Marun Oil and Gas Production Company. The fire was reportedly quickly brought under control. The identity and motivation behind the sabotage operation were not specified amidst limited details, however, this is the second significant incident affecting oil industry assets in the country this month. On 2 September, an explosion was reported inside an oil refinery in Abadan, with officials describing the event as accidental. While accidents are relatively common due to poor maintenance and other issues, the suspected involvement of Israeli sabotage operations is frequently discussed as a plausible cause.

Russia appoints new ambassador to Iran
On 9 September, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the appointment of Alexey Dedov as the new Ambassador to Iran. Dedov will replace Levan Dzhagaryan, who is one of Russia’s longest-serving ambassadors to the country. The appointment comes amidst signs of growing military and political cooperation between Iran and Russia and coincides with reports that Ukrainian forces downed an Iranian-made UAV employed by Russian forces in Ukraine.


Aleppo International Airport resumes operations following Israeli missile strike
On 9 September, the Syrian Ministry of Transportation announced that operations resumed at Aleppo International Airport, following a suspension caused by an Israeli missile strike on the evening of 6 September. As discussed in the full report, the missile strikes targeted and severely damaged the airport runway, with images circulated by international media outlets showing three large craters on the single runway. According to various reports, the strikes form part of a deliberate effort by Israel to disrupt Iranian arms and ammunition supplies to affiliated groups in the country and followed earlier strikes targeting the same airport as well as Damascus International Airport.

Israeli Defense Minister unveils map of purported Iranian weapons facilities in Syria
Relatedly, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Iran is currently utilizing at least ten facilities across Syria for the manufacturing of advanced missile systems and other weaponry for loyal factions based in the country and neighboring Lebanon. Gantz added that this includes both mid-to-long-range weaponry provided to Hezbollah and other Syria-based factions. The Defense Minister provided details of the locations on a map presented during a conference in New York organized by the Jerusalem Post.

UN Warns of cholera outbreak in Syria
On 13 September, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Imran Riza, said a current outbreak of cholera in the country represents a “serious threat to the people in the country and the region.” The statement followed reports of more than twenty cases and five deaths in different provinces over the previous week. A preliminary assessment attributed the cause of the outbreak to civilians drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, causing food contamination.

Six coalition-backed SDF members killed by IS in eastern Syria
On 11 September, IS captured and killed six members of the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the village of Ruwaished, Deir Ez Zour province. The killings were detailed in a video released by IS via the Amaq news agency in which the group claimed the attack took place in retaliation for an ongoing operation inside the al-Hol Camp where the SDF reportedly arrested dozens of IS militants last week. The operation has been ongoing for three weeks with the intent to dislodge a major IS network inside the camp.


Biden-Erdogan meeting under discussion
According to Turkish government officials cited anonymously by several media outlets, a possible meeting between President Tayyip Recep Erdogan and President Joe Biden is under discussion between the two sides. While nothing is confirmed, the meeting will possibly take place later in September and follows an earlier meeting between the two leaders in June. Aside from the Russia-Ukraine war and Turkey’s mediating role, officials said a meeting would likely focus on the threat of US sanctions, Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program, and the situation in Syria, amidst recent signs of possible Tukey-Syria normalization.


Turkish airstrikes continue in northern Iraq, despite previous diplomatic tensions
On 11 September, a Turkish UAV strike targeted members of the PKK-linked Sinjar Defense Units in Sinjar district, northern Iraq. The strikes followed a previously coordinated attack in Sinjar and the Makhmour Refugee Camp in Nineveh province, likewise targeting suspected PKK elements. These operations comprise the first airstrikes inside federally administered areas of Iraq since the 20 July artillery strike in Duhok province that killed nine civilians and sparked a significant increase in diplomatic tension. Combined with continued Turkish operations in northern Syria, these developments underscore persistent Turkish intent to conduct cross-border operations.

Turkish Head of Intelligence visits Iraq
Related to the above, the Head of the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT), Hakan Fidan, paid a visit to Iraq this week to meet with senior Iraqi government officials, including Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi, and Barham Salih. Details were limited, but according to various reports, Fidan reiterated Turkey’s intent to continue cross-border operations as long as the PKK remains present in Iraqi territory.

Coordination Framework stands by Prime Minister candidate
The Iran-linked Coordination Framework (CF) announced this week that it stands by its nomination of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani for the Prime Minister position. A statement released by the alliance on 12 September stressed that no other candidates have been discussed, denouncing media reports that the coalition was prepared to consider alternative candidates following the recent escalation by Sadrist protesters. To recall, Sudani is viewed by Muqtada al-Sadr as a proxy for former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his nomination in July set conditions for the subsequent uptick in Sadrist-led street protests. The CF’s enduring support for Sudani understandably raises the outlook for further protest activity after the conclusion of Arba’een.

Saudi Arabia

GCC pledge cooperation against Iran and other regional issues during ministerial meeting
On 8 September, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held its 153rd ministerial meeting in Riyadh, with representatives from each member state attending to discuss current regional issues. A joint statement stressed the need for continued cooperation within the council against Iran’s “destabilizing behavior” in the region, citing Tehran’s “sponsorship of terrorism and sectarian militias, missile program, and threats to international shipping and oil facilities.” The GCC also condemned recent activities by the Iran-backed Houthi Movement near Taiz, accusing it of jeopardizing the existing UN-led truce. The strongly worded statement is noteworthy given current efforts by individual member states, like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar, to improve relations with Tehran.

Iran calls on Saudi Arabia to adopt “constructive approach” in Iran-Saudi dialogue
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani indirectly criticized Saudi Arabia for adopting “unprincipled” and “unconstructive” positions that may jeopardize further Iran-Saudi dialogue. In remarks on 12 September, Kanaani reiterated that Iran remains committed to dialogue and “friendly relations” with neighboring countries, but that recent positions adopted by the Kingdom have not been helpful to further negotiations. The remarks follow Saudi Arabia’s recent expression of support for the Albanian government which severed ties with Iran following an Iran-linked cyberattack earlier this month. Moreover, Saudi authorities recently arrested an Iranian pilgrim attending Hajj in Mecca, potentially raising bilateral tensions between the two sides.


Bahrain to hold elections on 12 November
State-linked media in Bahrain announced this week that elections to the 40-seat legislative council will be held in the country on 12 November. The decree issued by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said a second round of voting will be held, if necessary, on 19 November. The previous election in 2018 was marked by sectarian tensions amidst a significant government crackdown on dissent and calls for a boycott by two Shia-dominated opposition groups.


Ambassador to Iran resumed duties after six years
On 13 September, newly appointed UAE Ambassador to Iran, Saif Mohammed al-Zaabi, formally assumed his position in Tehran where he met with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. Alongside Kuwait, the UAE reinstated ambassadorial ties six years after severing relations following the 2016 storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. In his meeting with Amirabdollahian, both sides stressed intent to expand relations, with al-Zaabi reportedly emphasizing economic and commercial ties which remain relatively close despite geopolitical and security-related tensions.

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