Talos Regional Snapshot – 2 February 2022

Feb 2, 2023



Increase in Iran-linked tensions following Israeli UAV strikes in Iran and Syria
On 28 January, at least three quadcopter UAVs targeted a military munitions facility in the vicinity of Isfahan city in Tehran. The facility was reportedly used to manufacture and store ballistic missiles and UAVs. The outcome of the strike was subject to conflicting reporting, with US and Israeli media reports, citing unknown officials, describing the strike as “very successful” while Iranian state-linked sources referred to an “unsuccessful” attack intercepted by air defense systems. A statement by the Iranian Ministry of Defense added that the impact only caused minor damage to the roof of the building.

Two additional strikes against Iran-linked targets followed in eastern Syria on 29 and 30 January respectively. On 29 January, a large convoy of vehicles was targeted by a UAV strike in al-Bukamal district, eastern Deir Ez Zour province in Syria, shortly after the convoy crossed the border from Iraq. Israeli involvement is strongly suspected although some reports suggested the likely involvement of coalition forces. The next day, another airstrike was conducted in the same area, with local reports claiming the commander of an Iranian-backed militia group was killed alongside two non-Syrian companions. Uncorroborated reports claim the commander was inspecting the site of the initial strike on 29 January and that the strike targeted a four-wheeled vehicle. View full report here.

Iran and Russia connecting banking systems
In an effort to enhance trade and financial cooperation, Iranian officials announced that Iran and Russia have connected their banking systems and that Iranian banks no longer need to use SWIFT to make transactions with Russian counterparts. To recall, Iranian banks were expelled from the SWIFT system in 2018 after the US exited the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) while a partial ban on some Russian banks was imposed last year in response to the war in Ukraine. This week, the Deputy Governor of the Iranian Central Bank – Mohsen Karimi – confirmed that a partnership agreement was signed on 29 January which connects some 700 Russian banks to the new system.

The latest step forms part of an explicit plan by both countries to challenge and evade international sanctions, with Russian officials recently discussing plans to introduce a gold-backed cryptocurrency to challenge the primacy of the US dollar in international trade. Similarly, since joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2021, Iranian officials have expressed support for similar efforts within the organization to create alternative trade mechanisms that would reduce the impact of US-based sanctions.

Azerbaijan blames Iran for fatal attack at its embassy in Tehran
On 27 January an attack by a lone gunman at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran left the Azeri embassy security chief dead and two more wounded. In response, Baku officials have blamed Iran for security failures alongside other harsh criticism on Saturday, including claims that Tehran did not take security threats seriously. In response, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry decided to withdraw its diplomatic post.

One individual was detained by Iranian officials in Tehran following the incident, with initial claims stating that a personal rather than political or ideological motive was involved. However, video footage later showed members of the security forces apparently inactive and doing nothing to prevent the assailant, prompting suspicions of more nefarious conditions. The Chief of Police in Tehran was let go from his position as a result. Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have increased due to the Iranian treatment of their Azeri minority. Azerbaijan’s recent appointment of its first ambassador to Israel also generated strong criticism in Tehran, prompting what Azerbaijani officials describe as a “media campaign” against Baku.


Syria denounces OPCW report regarding chemical weapons attack
A report released this week by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded “reasonable grounds to believe” that the Syrian Air Force used chemical weapons during an attack in Douma city in April 2018. The attack reportedly killed 43 people and the OPCW said it involved two cylinders containing chlorine gas, essentially reiterating a previous assessment by the organization. The Syrian Government predictably dismissed the report as lacking “scientific proof” and having “false conclusions.” Like Russia, Syria claims the attack was staged by opposition groups to discredit the Assad government, however these allegations have been dismissed by the OPCW.

15 wounded in roadside IED detonation in southern Syria
On 30 January, according to state-linked sources, a roadside IED targeted a convoy of the Syrian police forces in Daraa province while traveling towards Damascus. A statement by the Ministry of Interior claimed 15 members were injured in the explosion that took place near the Khurbut Ghazale bridge. The statement refrained from attributing responsibility however the Syrian Government has repeatedly blamed IS for similar attacks in the past.


Erdogan announces that elections will be held on 14 May 2023
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on 14 May 2023. The date was announced during a speech by Erdogan during a conference, however the president will reportedly formally call the elections on 10 March. In a related development, Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected a request by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to delay the implementation of a ban on funding until after the elections. To recall, earlier this month, the same court suspended funding for the party and froze its bank accounts over alleged ties to the PKK.

The party is scheduled to deliver its defense against the court decision on 14 March and a request for an additional two months to prepare the defense was rejected this week. It remains unclear when the court will deliver its final ruling on the issue which could permanently close down the party. With several polls indicating Erdogan may lose the election, especially if the HDP decides to cooperate with the main opposition alliance, the court case is understandably significant for the outcome of the elections.

Turkey suspends NATO meeting with Sweden over Quran burning
Turkey reportedly suspended a meeting with Swedish officials and threatened to only approve Finland’s request to join NATO as fallout over the burning of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm continues. To recall, the event organized by Danish-Swedish far-right activist Rasmus Paludan provoked strong reactions from Turkey and, in addition to accusing Sweden of harboring PKK “terrorists”, officials this week accused Sweden of being “complicit” in the burning of the Quran.

Relatedly, protests were reported in several countries – including Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan – as crowds denounced the incident by congregating near the Swedish Embassies while several countries, including the Gulf states, demanded action from the Swedish government. The Danish government was likewise accused of complicity with the Danish envoy summoned by Ankara. The Swedish Embassy in Ankara called on its citizens to avoid large crowds and demonstrations.


Federal Supreme Court rules against transfer of funds to KRG
On 25 January, the Federal Supreme Court reportedly ruled that the monthly payment of financial entitlements to the KRG violates the 2021 Iraq Budget Law. To recall, in their failure to reach an understanding over the KRG’s share of the national budget, an agreement was reached between the Federal Government (GoI) and the KRG which stipulated a monthly payment of 200 billion IQD. Prime Minister Muhammed Shia al-Sudani recently approved the latest payment of 400 billion IQD for the months of November and December, however legality of the payment was appealed by MP Mustafa Sanad and the Governor of Wasit whose complaint was approved by the Supreme Court on 25 January. MP Sanad – technically an Independent but with strong links to Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the PMF –  celebrated the decision as the victory for “the righteous” in an effort to “stop the bleeding” of resources from Baghdad.  

Protest outside Iraq Central Bank in Baghdad city over currency devaluation
On 25 January, protesters assembled near the Iraq Central Bank amidst a heavy security presence in central Baghdad, following calls for a demonstration to denounce the devaluation of the Iraqi Dinar (IQD) against the US dollar (USD). Between 800 to a thousand were reported to have attended the demonstration which was largely organized by October Movement activists to demand additional government measures to stabilize the currency which has declined significantly in recent months. Government measures to tackle the issue – including a politically controversial decision to reappoint Ali al-Alaq as the Governor of the Central Bank – have not been effective and protests related to the issue remain likely over the near term in Baghdad and the southern region. See the full report for further context.


US calls for de-escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence
On his two-day visit to Israel this week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken appealed for calm and urged both sides to de-escalate the situation following the recent increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence. The visit came amidst a significant uptick in violence affecting the West Bank and East Jerusalem where, on 27 January, a Palestinian assailant killed seven people outside a synagogue.  The gunman acted alone and has no known links to militant groups. The incident was preceded by an Israeli Air Force operation in Jenin on 26 January that reportedly killed ten Palestinians and was followed by intense Israeli operations targeting militant factions in the West Bank.

Meeting separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Blinken reportedly urged both leaders to take concrete steps to reduce the violence and ordered Envoys Barbara Leaf and Hady Amr to remain in the region to defuse tensions. As of 31 January however, no such steps were announced, with both sides continuing to blame escalation on each other.

Blinken also reiterated the US’s long-standing support for a two-state solution while simultaneously expressing its “iron-clad” support for Israel – comments that provoked reactions by the Palestinian side. At the same time, Israeli government officials reacted negatively to comments by Blinken implicitly criticizing plans to overhaul the judicial system, including by emphasizing US support for “core democratic principles and institutions.” As such, the visit underscored the enduring challenges facing the Biden administration in managing relations with both sides which are likely to intensify under the new Israeli government.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and Russia signal intent to maintain oil policy
In a phone call on 30 January, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and President Vladimir Putin discussed oil and energy market cooperation and reportedly agreed on the need to maintain “price stability”. The phone call took place two days prior to a planned meeting within the so-called Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee of the OPEC+ on 1 February which is expected to make recommendations regarding future price policies. The readout of the phone call was subject to limited details but is widely perceived as an indication that the two countries will retain their current policy and resist pressure by the US to increase production levels to reduce prices.


Saudi coalition denies cross-border shelling in Yemen
The Saudi-led coalition denied reports of cross-border artillery strikes conducted near the Yemen-Saudi border in southern Saudi Arabia. According to reports initially provided by Houthi-linked sources, Saudi forces targeted civilian and military positions in the Monabibih and Shada districts earlier in the week, killing several civilians. A spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition dismissed the reports – which were not independently verified – as Houthi propaganda.

Overall, the situation in Yemen remains relatively stable amidst previously discussed efforts to resume peace negotiations and Houthi-linked attacks against the Saudi mainland remain absent. While cross-border tensions cannot be discounted, the Saudi coalition also continues to exercise restraint and has largely refrained from conducting operations that may provoke a Houthi response.

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