REGIONAL INCIDENT AND NEWS SUMMARY
UAV strike targeted military research facility in Iran. According to a report published by the New York Times, a UAV strike likely conducted by Israel targeted a sensitive military complex inside Iran earlier this week. Citing unnamed Iranian and US sources, the report says the Parchin military complex – a sensitive research site located approximately 60 kilometers southeast of Tehran – was targeted by several so-called “suicide quadcopter drones” on 25 May, killing at least one engineer employed at the site. Israeli officials characteristically refrained from commenting on the attack which was reportedly launched from within Iranian territory. The incident follows the assassination of a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Tehran on 22 May, which was likewise suspected of having been carried out by Israel.
Iran unveils new underground storage site for UAVs and is set to launch new naval support vessel. Separately, on 28 May, Iranian state-linked media unveiled a new underground military base located in the Zagros mountain range in western Iran that is used to store “more than a hundred” combat and reconnaissance UAVs. The base was unveiled during a visit by the Chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammed Bagheri and the Commander of the Iranian Army Abdolrahim Mousavi both of whom praised advancements made in the domestic production of long-range UAV capabilities.
In a related development, the IRGC is reportedly in the advanced stages of constructing a new, large-scale support vessel to expand its naval footprint in the Strait of Hormuz. According to a report published by AP News, citing satellite images obtained, the vessel appears to be a repurposed cargo ship and is likely to be used to as a base from which to dispatch smaller vessels when patrolling waters near the Iranian coast.
Nationwide protests linked to rising food prices. Large-scale demonstrations over rising food and commodity prices broke out nationwide in mid-May. The protests denounced a government decision to cut subsidies on key commodities such as cooking oil, bread and dairy products. While gatherings have predominantly been concentrated in the rural and impoverished areas of the southern and southwestern provinces, large-scale gatherings have been recorded across the country, including in Tehran. In response, security forces launched violent crackdowns using tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds. Casualty rates remain subject to conflicting accounts between state-linked and social media sources, however at least five fatalities have been credibly verified since the start of the protests.
Russian forces reportedly employ S-300 missiles against Israeli aircraft. According to reports disseminated by Israeli media, Russian forces employed S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to target Israeli aircraft in northwestern Syria earlier this month – potentially signaling a significant shift in Moscow’s posture towards Israel. The incident occurred on 13 May when Israeli airstrikes targeted sites in the vicinity of Masyaf in northwestern Syria, killing five people. The event marks the first documented employment of the S-300 system which, unlike other weapons systems utilized by the Syrian government forces is operated by Russian military personnel.
Casualties by Turkish UAV strike in north-eastern Syria. On 30 May, a Turkish UAV strike targeted a vehicle transporting suspected members of the YPG in Qamishi city, northeastern Syria. One individual was killed and three others injured according to reports citing local security officials. The target of the strike remains unconfirmed as of writing, with Kurdish sources alleging the strike targeted “civilians” while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “military personnel” were affected. Such operations are not unprecedented but occur amidst reports of another Turkish operation against the PKK-linked elements in northern Syria.
Unconfirmed reports of rocket attack targeting coalition base in eastern Syria: On 28 May, according to a single-source report issued by Sabereen News, the primary social media outlet for Iranian-backed groups, several rockets reportedly targeted coalition forces near al-Omar Oilfield in eastern Syria. Two separate statements were issued by the outlet claiming as many as 12 122mm (Grad) rockets targeted the base with no details released regarding casualties or damages. Responsive media outlets, including Iranian state-linked media, reiterated the claim by Sabereen News however no official statements were issued and the incident has not been discussed by more credible reporting channels.
US urges Turkey to refrain from escalation in northern Syria. In a phone call with the Spokesperson for the Turkish President Ibrahim Kalin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan urged the Turkish government to refrain from conducting additional military operations in northern Syria. According to a statement released by the White House on 30 May, Sullivan “reiterated the importance of refraining from escalation”, amidst reports of an impending Turkish operation against PKK-linked elements in the country.
Earlier that day, the Turkish presidency said plans for another cross-border operation were discussed between President Tayyip Recep Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call. In statements made to Turkish state-linked media, President Erdogan has hinted on multiple occasions that a new operation may commence “at any time”, and that Turkey will not await US permission to renew cross-border incursions.
Israel warns citizens against Iranian attacks in the region. The Israeli National Security Council published a threat warning on 30 May cautioning Israeli nationals against all non-essential travel to Turkey and other regional countries, citing elevated Iranian intent to conduct attacks against Israeli citizens. While specifically referencing Turkey, the threat warning also cites an elevated threat in other countries bordering Iran, in a possible reference to the UAE and Bahrain where Israeli nationals now operate in greater numbers since the 2020 normalization.
The threat warning is plausibly linked to concerns over retaliatory action following the killing of a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Tehran earlier this month, and suspected Israeli involvement in a UAV strike targeting a military research facility in the country. While directed against Israel, associated atmospherics remain a consideration for US-linked interests in the region as well.
Iraqi Oil Minister visiting France. In an assessed bid to improve Iraqi-French investment ties, Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar embarked on a multi-day visit to Paris to meet official counterparts. A statement released by the minister earlier in the week said the visit aims to attract investments by French companies as part of an ongoing effort to meet oil production targets over the coming years. After meeting with Abdul-Jabbar, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna reportedly emphasized France’s interest in continuing to support the Iraqi oil and gas industry.
Coinciding with the visit, President of France Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone with former KRG President Massoud Barzani on 27 May, with a brief statement saying the two sides discussed the “political and security situations in Iraq and the KRG.” To recall, President Macron visited Iraq and the KRG in August 2021 while presiding over a regional summit involving nine regional countries. In September of that year, French Oil Company Total also signed a long-term investment agreement with the federal government.
Israel and US reject expansion of anti-normalization law in Iraq. The Israeli Foreign Ministry condemned a new law passed by the Iraqi Parliament on 26 May that significantly expands legislation criminalizing relations with Israel. In a tweet on 27 May, Israeli Foreign Minister Lior Haiat said the law “puts Iraq and the Iraqi people on the wrong side of history” and that Israel “condemns the decision by the Iraqi parliament”. For their part, the US State Department said it was “deeply disturbed” by the passing of the law while adding concerns that it will jeopardize freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, in a phone call with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on 29 May, President Raisi of Iran praised the new legislation as a testament to Iraqi support for the Palestinian people. Iranian-aligned factions also expressed support for the vote in statements released during the week while gatherings were recorded in Baghdad to celebrate the new law which is set for ratification by the Iraqi President.
Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
Crown Prince Bin Salman to embark on a regional tour. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly scheduled to embark on a regional tour during June, with visits to Egypt, Algeria, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. The tour has not been officially confirmed by the Saudi government but reports by Qatari state-linked media, citing unnamed Saudi officials, claimed the purpose of the tour is to enhance relations with European and North African partners. Earlier in May, President Erdogan was quoted saying the Crown Prince had been invited to Turkey in the near future but no further details were provided. Separate, unconfirmed reports also indicate a possible visit by US President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia to meet Bin Salman.
UAE and Israel sign first Free Trade Agreement. On 31 May, Israel and the UAE announced the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – the first-ever between Israel and an Arab state. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the agreement “historic” while UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohammed al-Khaja declared it an “unprecedented achievement.” The president of the UAE-Israeli Business Council said bilateral trade is expected to increase to $5 billion in the coming five years as a result of the agreement.