Talos Regional Snapshot – 25 August 2022

Aug 25, 2022



US responds to Iranian demands over JCPOA
On 24 August, the Biden administration submitted a formal response to Iran’s requests for amendments to the latest draft of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). To recall, Iran responded last week to what EU officials described as a “final draft” of the agreement, by reportedly requesting additional demands and amendments before a deal can be finalized. According to various reports, this included requests to lift the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO); limits on IAEA monitoring activities; and guarantees that future US administrations will not abandon the agreement.

In remarks on 24 August, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that a review of the Iranian demands had been concluded and that a response was submitted to the EU for further deliberations. The content of the Iranian and US responses has not been publicly disclosed, but the latest increase in diplomatic exchanges has been interpreted as a sign that an agreement is near completion. Further discussions around technical details and another meeting by the joint commission for oversees  negotiations are now expected in the coming days.

President Raisi denies making concessions
The rhetoric on both sides remains marked by cautious optimism. US officials cited anonymously, confirmed that a “deal is closer than ever” yet acknowledged that key hurdles remain. For their part, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani said Iran continues to show “flexibility” yet expressed frustrations over the lack of a US response during his weekly press conference on 22 August.

President Ibrahim Raisi also denied that Iran agreed to make any concessions in recent negotiations and attributed such reports to propaganda spread by Iran’s enemies. In a speech in Tehran on 21 August, Raisi added that the government was able to “get a considerable amount of its key demands met”, but that the “lives of the people” would not be tied to “foreign factors.” The statement may be seen as a sign of continued Iranian defiance yet also signals intent to prepare the domestic audience for a return to the agreement which is likely to be subjected to intense criticism by hardline factions if announced.

Iranian military commence large-scale UAV exercise
On 23 August, Iranian state-linked channels announced the start of a large-scale military exercise involving the participation of “multiple” forces of the Iranian Armed Forces. The statement added that the exercise will last two days and involve 150 UAVs to show off “Iranian power” in this field. According to the Deputy Coordinator of the Armed Forces, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, this is the first joint UAV exercise conducted at the level of the “four forces” of the Islamic Republic. In July, US officials alleged the existence of Iranian plans to deliver “hundreds” of UAVs to Russia to assist the war in Ukraine which, alongside the exercise this week, underscores the evolving importance of Iranian UAV capabilities in its national security doctrine and defense industry.

Iran notes progress on Iran-Saudi dialogue
On 22 August, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani noted that “very good steps” have been taken on the Iran-Saudi dialogue. In his weekly press conference, Kanaani remarked that the progress of the negotiations was positive despite a difference in opinion on “complex issues.” As widely reported, the dialogue tentatively aims to restore diplomatic relations between the two sides, which were severed in 2016 and has been mediated by Iraq under Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhmi’s initiative. While progress remains primarily rhetorical and marked by positive statements on both sides, cautious optimism remains in effect that progress on the talks will translate into a more tangible reduction in regional tensions involving the two adversaries.


US airstrikes target Iran-linked sites in eastern Syria
On 24 August, the US Central Command announced in a statement that precision airstrikes were conducted against sites affiliated with the IRGC in eastern Deir Ez Zour province, Syria. The statement said the airstrikes were conducted earlier on 23 August at President Biden’s discretion to “defend and protect US forces from attacks like the ones on August 15 against US personnel”. Any casualties or damages resulting from the strikes were not specified.

The strikes follow the discussed 15 August attacks when separate rocket and UAV strikes targeted CF-linked sites in eastern Homs and Deir Ez Zour province of Syria. This week, limited reports indicated the impact of one rocket in the vicinity of Green Village, a large US base in the Omar oil field, eastern Syria, with no casualties reported.  Sabereen News, the primary media outlet for Iranian-backed militias, said the attack involved the employment of two 107mm rockets against the US base.

Russian FM condemns Israeli airstrike during meeting with Syrian counterpart
In a further sign of Russia-Israeli diplomatic tensions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strongly denounced Israeli airstrikes in Syria and called on Tel Aviv to “respect” the resolutions of the UN Security Council. The remarks follow Israeli airstrikes the previous week that reportedly targeted sites located in relative proximity to Russian assets in eastern Syria. Traditionally reluctant to comment on Israeli activities, Russian rhetoric has notably changed since the start of the war in Ukraine, with officials frequently and openly condemning Israeli activities in the country.


Sadrist protesters gather near Supreme Judicial Council in Baghdad
The political impasse in Iraq continues unabated amidst unsuccessful efforts to forge meaningful dialogue and Muqtada al-Sadr’s persisting reliance on street action to exercise political pressure. In an assessed response to the Judiciary’s earlier refusal to meet Sadr’s demands to dissolve parliament, hundreds of Sadrist supporters assembled outside the Supreme Judicial Council building inside the Green Zone, central Baghdad city, on 23 August.  Protesters reiterated calls for the dissolution of the Iraqi parliament in order to hold new elections, and demanded the non-politicization of the judiciary.  The Supreme Judicial Council, along with the Federal Supreme Court, reported the suspension of court sessions after they had received “threats over the phone” to pressure them to dissolve parliament.  A statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s office warned that the suspension of the judiciary could push the country into “grave dangers”.

The Iranian-aligned Coordination Framework (CF) denounced the action as a flagrant aggression against Iraq’s judicial institution.  The CF emphasized that it “rejects receiving any message from the Sadrist Movement or any call for direct dialogue until it [Sadrist Movement] announces its withdrawal from invading the state’s constitutional establishments.” In an apparent response to significant criticisms, Muqtada al-Sadr’s minister Saleh Muhammad al-Iraqi later called on Sadr supporters to conclude the protest, while keeping their tents at the site in a symbolic display.  The Supreme Judicial Council subsequently announced the resumption of normal functions beginning on 24 August. Further details are provided in the full report.


Turkey open to dialogue with Syrian government
Further to recent signs of Syria-Turkey normalization, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu implied willingness to initiate dialogue with the Syrian government but stressed that any discussions must be “goals oriented.” In his remarks on 23 August, Cavusoglu added that Turkey has no “preconditions” for dialogue with Syria, adding that any such talks should focus on security issues along the Turkish-Syrian border, and the need to clear the region of “terrorism.”

Recent remarks by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including support for enhanced intelligence cooperation between Turkish and Syrian forces, and calls for “reconciliation” between the Syrian government and opposition factions, have been widely interpreted as a small step toward normalizing the relationship. The issue was reportedly discussed between Erdogan and counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi earlier this month, with Russian officials seemingly supportive of promoting normalization. This week, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov likewise urged both sides to “negotiate through diplomatic channels” on the basis of “political principles that previously existed in relations between Turkey and Syria.”


Israel warns Hezbollah against attacking natural gas assets
In a continuation of the Israeli-Lebanon territorial dispute, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz warned Lebanese Hezbollah that any attack on Israeli gas interests would amount to an act of war. The statement was issued in response to remarks by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatening to “cut off the hands of anyone who threatens Lebanese resources.” The rhetoric comes amidst efforts to resolve an ongoing territorial dispute over maritime borders after Israel recommenced offshore operations at the Karish gas field, located inside a disputed area. In July, Israeli Defense Forces also intercepted three UAVs launched toward the site without any damage.


UAE announced return of ambassador to Iran
The UAE Foreign Ministry announced that ambassador Saif Mohammed al-Zaabi will return to his position as ambassador to Iran. The statement released on 21 August said the position will be resumed in the “coming days “to “continue pushing bilateral relations forward to achieve the common interests of the two neighbors and the region.” The move is consistent with attempts across the Gulf region to improve diplomatic ties with Iran following years of tension and follows the above-discussed progress on the Iraq-mediated Iran-Saudi dialogue.


Iraq-based militia group claims UAV strike against Ali al-Salem airbase
In a video released via Shia-militia-linked Sabereen News on 18 August, an Iraq-based ‘resistance’ faction called al-Warentheen claimed responsibility for a purported UAV strike against Ali al-Salem airbase in Kuwait on 12 August. The base is located approximately 37km from the Iraq-Kuwait border and hosts coalition forces. The statement and video by al-Warentheen claimed a one-way, explosive-laden UAV was launched from Basra province, however there was no discussion of casualties or damages.

On 20 August, the US Airforce released a statement denying the incident and claiming it was subjected to a “propaganda attack.” “The misinformation falsely stated an Iranian militia group used [drones] to carry out an attack on the base,” the statement said while adding that “no such attack occurred.” Sources cited by Kuwaiti channels likewise denied the veracity of the attack claim, and Kuwaiti and Iraqi officials refrained from commenting on the incident in an assessed effort to downplay intended propaganda effects. Further to assessed JCPOA-related tensions, the timing of the purported attack claim is notable given Kuwait’s announcement earlier in the week, regarding the restoration of ambassadorial ties with Iran. While speculative, the rare attack claim may represent an expression of opposition from some factions to the normalization.


UAE-backed STC launch military campaign in southern Yemen
On 23 August, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) announced the start of a “military campaign” in Abyan province, southern Yemen, with the expressed view to “cleanse the province of terrorist organizations.” An infographic released by the UAE-backed faction specified the key objective of the operation as targeting Al-Qaeda-linked groups as well as securing key roads between Aden and other southern provinces.

The offensive follows gains made earlier this month by the UAE-backed Giant Brigades in the Shabwa province, where the group reportedly seized control over the provincial capital of Ataq as well as strategic oil and gas fields. The fields were previously controlled by rival forces, including the Islah Party and other minor factions also loyal to the internationally recognized government.

The campaign launched this week is set to further consolidate STC control over southern Yemen, while associated developments in Shabwa underscore existing, deep-seated divisions amongst forces broadly backed by the Saudi-led coalition. The instability in the south is also set to jeopardize the UN-mediated truce and complicates related efforts to establish a more permanent ceasefire. So far, the developments in Abyan and Shabwa have not affected the broader truce involving the Houthi Movement and Saudi-backed government forces.

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