Talos Regional Snapshot – 20 August 2022

Aug 21, 2022



Iran responds to EU-mediated JCPOA draft
This week, Iran submitted a written response to a draft version of the JCPOA, described last week by EU officials as the “final text.” US officials and other signatories of the agreement said they were willing to quickly conclude the agreement based on the terms outlined in the draft, however, the Iranian response submitted on 16 August reportedly contained requests for additional amendments. While details have not been revealed, various sources claim Iranian demands continue to revolve around lifting the FTO designation of the IRGC, IAEA inspections, and guarantees that the agreement will outlast the current US administration. See full report.

President Raisi to address UN General Assembly despite US sanctions
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi is reportedly planning to visit the US in September to address the UN General Assembly meeting scheduled between 13 and 27 September in New York. The Iranian government confirmed that a visa application has been submitted for the president who would be the first Iranian president to address the assembly while under US sanctions. To recall, in November 2019, the Trump administration sanctioned Raisi alongside other Iranian officials for his role in the so-called ‘death commission’ that oversaw the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. Earlier this month, several Republican senators submitted a letter to President Biden urging him to deny Raisi’s visa request.

Iran denies plot to assassinate John Bolton and involvement in Rushdie assassination attempt
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani categorically dismissed US accusations that a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) plotted to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton as retaliation for the assassination of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani. On 10 August, the US Department of Justice announced that Shahram Poursafi, a member of the IRGC, was charged with a plot to assassinate Bolton, claiming Pousafi worked on behalf of the organization to hire one or several persons to conduct the assassination inside the US. The Iranian official called the accusation “fictitious” and “politically motivated.”

The Iranian government also denied involvement in the attempted assassination of Indian-born, British-American novelist Salman Rushdie, the author of the controversial book The Satanic Verses, who was attacked and stabbed multiple times by a single individual in New York this week. In 1989, then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei issued a fatwa demanding the author’s death which has since been renewed by current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In remarks this week, the spokesperson Kanani denied Iran’s involvement but held “Rushdie and his supporters” responsible for the incident.


UAV and rocket attacks target Coalition Bases in eastern Syria
On 15 August, suspected Iranian-aligned militia groups conducted two separate attacks targeting military sites with Coalition presence in eastern Syria. In the morning, multiple UAVs were launched towards the al-Tanf garrison in eastern Homs Province, with one impact confirmed inside a compound utilized by Maghawir al-Thawra, a CF-backed, Syrian opposition faction based at the site. A statement by the coalition said one UAV was successfully intercepted, and other strikes were “unsuccessful”. Later in the evening, multiple rockets targeted the Green Village military site, near al-Omar Oilfield in eastern Deir Ez Zour province. The CF said several rockets targeted the base without casualties or damage. Further details are provided in the full report.

Israeli airstrikes target Syrian government targets in western Syria
On 14 August, according to Syrian state-linked sources, Israeli airstrikes targeted several military sites in the vicinity of Tartus and Damascus. At least three soldiers were killed and three others wounded, according to a statement released by the Syrian Arab Army which added the airstrikes were conducted from Lebanese airspace. Separate reports claimed the strikes targeted sites affiliated with Iranian presence and occurred in relative proximity to Russian forces. As usual, Israeli military officials refrained from commenting on the operation.

Syrian opposition groups stage protests against Turkish foreign minister’s remarks
On 11 August, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for reconciliation between the Syrian Government and opposition groups “for the sake of peace”. In remarks viewed as a sign of appeasement towards the Syrian government, the foreign minister warned that there would be “no lasting peace” without reconciliation. In response, multiple protests were reported across opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria the next day, including areas controlled by Turkish-backed forces by protesters who viewed the remarks as a shift away from Turkey’s long-standing support for the opposition groups.

Further signs of Turkey-Syria normalization
Cavusoglu’s comments followed a revelation that the foreign minister also met with Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Serbia last year – the latest sign of intent on both sides to normalize relations. Last week, Turkish state-linked media discussed the possibility of a phone call between President Assad and Erdogan, while the latter expressed support for enhanced intelligence cooperation between the two sides after meeting President Putin in Sochi earlier this month.


Turkey resumes off-shore gas exploration in eastern Mediterranean
On 9 August, Turkey reportedly resumed drilling and surveying operations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea following a two-year hiatus. The government confirmed that a vessel set off from the port of Mersin to conduct drilling operations “within our sovereign territory”, however, the explorations are set to reignite regional tensions amidst Turkey’s long-standing territorial dispute with Greece and Cyprus.


Rocket attack targeting Camp Zilkan without casualties
On 15 August, at least two rockets were launched against Camp Zilkan, a Turkish military base located northeast of Mosul city. The KRG Counter-Terrorism Directorate confirmed the impact of two rockets, including one inside the base and the other near a village located in the vicinity. An obscure militia faction, Ahrar al-Iraqi Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement disseminated via Iran-linked social media channels. The incident coincided with UAV strikes targeting coalition bases in eastern Syria on the same day and is the first significant Iran-linked attack targeting Turkish military sites in Iraq since late July. Further context and details are provided in the full report.

Judiciary denies authority to dissolve Parliament
In an assessed response to Muqtada al-Sadr’s call for the Iraqi judiciary to intervene and dissolve the Iraqi parliament, the Supreme Judicial Council released a statement denying that it has the authority to do so. The statement also called on all political parties to refrain from politicizing the judiciary. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called all political parties to a meeting in his office on 17 August to resolve the political stalemate. The meeting was boycotted by Sadr or other Sadrist representatives, yet concluded with a statement that tacitly endorsed Sadr’s request for new elections. A day prior to the meeting, al-Sadr also cancelled calls for a million-man march planned this week in Baghdad.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and US commenced naval exercise in the Red Sea
On 13 August, Saudi state-linked sources announced the start of a military exercise involving US and Saudi naval forces in the Yanbu region of the Red Sea. The exercise, named “Native Fury 22” is scheduled to last a month and involves “combined tactics, interoperability, and logistical operations” according to Saudi military officials. The start of the exercise follows the US decision to restart the sale of “defensive weapons”, including air defense missile capabilities, to Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier this month.

Saudi investment conglomerate made large-scale investment in Russian energy sector after start of Ukraine war
According to regulatory filings revealed on 14 August, the Saudi-based Kingdom Holding Company – which is owned by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal – made a series of investments worth more than $500 million in three Russian energy companies, including Gazprom, Rosneft, and Lukoil. The files show that the investments were made between February and March – after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and despite the imposition of international sanctions on Russian energy firms. The disclosures further underscore the recent expansion in Saudi-Russian energy ties, amidst unsuccessful US-led efforts to disrupt Saudi-Russian cooperation.


Kuwait appoints ambassador to Iran
On 14 August, Kuwait appointed its first ambassador to Iran in more than six years, according to statements published by both governments. Ambassador Bader Abdullah al-Munaikh submitted his credentials to the Iranian Foreign Ministry the day before, in a move consistent with assessed intent by several Gulf states to engage in diplomatic ties with Iran. Although maintaining cordial ties, Kuwait downgraded diplomatic relations by withdrawing its ambassador to Tehran in 2016 after the storming of the Saudi embassy.


UN envoy calls for expansion of truce agreement
Addressing the UN Security Council on 15 August, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said the UN is intensifying efforts to expand the current truce agreement, achieve a permanent ceasefire, and set conditions for a resumption in the political process. Grundberg affirmed that the current agreement continues to “broadly hold in military terms”, pointing to a lack of large-scale military confrontations, cross-border operations, or frontline changes. The envoy added that current efforts aim to get both sides to agree to an expanded agreement by 2 October.

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