Talos Regional Snapshot – 30 September 2022

Sep 30, 2022



Protests in Iran continue despite internet restrictions
Demonstrations sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after being detained by the Iranian Morality Police, continued this week, with gatherings now reported in most of Iran’s 31 provinces. The Iranian government imposed significant internet and communications restrictions in response to the protests, banning access to social media and other communication services utilized to organize the demonstrations. The government also accused several western countries of instigating the “riots”. Further details and context are provided in the regional featured report.

IAEA and Iran resume dialogue over uranium particles
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) initiated discussions this week with Iranian officials regarding the presence of uranium particles detected at undeclared nuclear sites across the country. In a statement on 26 September, Director-General Raphael Grossi said the dialogue pertains to “clarification of outstanding safeguard issues” and that he met with officials from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).

In a report earlier this month, the IAEA reiterated that Iran failed to provide “satisfactory” answers regarding the particles and that further clarification is required to determine that the current program is peaceful under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Although separate from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has conditioned a revival of the agreement on the IAEA concluding its investigation into the undeclared sites, citing long-standing conspiratorial claims that the IAEA is influenced by Israel and that the investigation is used as a pretext for espionage and sabotage operations.

No details of the discussions this week were provided and while AEOI Head Mohammed Eslami said Iran “facilitates” the IAEA investigation, there were no indications that Iran is willing to change its position when it comes to the JCPOA.

No progress during latest JCPOA talks during UNGA meetings
In a related development, progress to restore the JCPOA remains deadlocked and a US State Department official said “nothing particularly positive” was heard from Iranian officials during the UN General Assembly meeting last week. To recall, Iranian and European officials held meetings on the sidelines of the meeting in New York to discuss the agreement, however, both sides remain committed to their previous positions. The outlook for related hostilities involving Iranian-backed groups targeting US interests across the region remains elevated and forms a standing consideration as long as the JCPOA negotiations remain stalled.


Iran, Russia, and Turkey met on the sidelines of UNGA summit
The Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, to discuss developments in Syria as part of the Astana peace process. The meeting was also attended by UN Envoy Geir Pedersen. No significant progress or details were noted, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosuglu noted that the three sides will continue to discuss ways to promote the Syrian peace process. The meeting also follows recent reports of steps towards normalization between Syria and Turkey – a process likely to be facilitated and furthered under the Astana framework.

Syria Health Ministry reports 29 cholera deaths
On 26 September, the Syrian Ministry of Health announced that the death toll from the ongoing cholera epidemic reached 29 and the total number of confirmed cases stood at 338. The first case was reported in August and the UN has since warned that the current outbreak is the worst to affect the country for several years.  The World Health Organization this week announced the provision of additional emergency equipment, medical supplies, and water purifying tablets to mitigate the challenges linked to contaminated water.


Israeli President warns of violence ahead of elections
On 28 September, Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned of the potential for an increase in violence ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1 November. The elections are the fifth to be held in four years and are slated to take place amidst heightened political tensions and deep political polarization in the country. Reports in recent weeks highlight multiple altercations and an increase in demonstrations organized by party supporters. In his speech, Herzog cited a rise in “verbal” and “physical violence”, and called on citizens to remain calm ahead of the polls.


PKK claims responsibility for attack on Turkish police building earlier this week
On 29 September, the People’s Defence Forces (HPG) – the armed wing of the PKK – claimed responsibility for an attack targeting a building housing Turkish police forces in the Mzitli district, Mersin province, southern Turkey on 26 September. The statement released via a PKK-affiliated media channel said two of its members carried out a “self-sacrificing” action against “enemy forces” in response to what the statement described as “the repression in the prisons, the massacres and the use of chemical weapons against the guerillas.”

One police officer was killed and another injured in the attack, which was followed by several arrest operations targeting suspected PKK members in its immediate aftermath. The PKK was widely suspected of involvement and Turkish officials already identified the group as responsible, with the claim of responsibility unlikely to have a significant immediate impact.

Turkish banks suspend use of Russian payment system
On 29 September, Turkey’s Minister of Finance Nureddin Nebati announced that three state banks suspended the use of the Russian payment system Mir. The system is partially set up to evade international sanctions and Turkey’s decision follows efforts by the US to target countries and institutions involved in facilitating the circumvention of sanctions imposed on Russia. Having previously adopted a defiant stance against the sanctions threat, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey would need to take steps away from the Mir system, “whether we like it or not.”

Saudi Crown Prince received Turkish officials
In a further sign of Turkey-Saudi rapprochement, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received Turkey’s Presidential spokesperson Dr. Ibrahim Kalin and the Minister of Finance Nebati in Jeddah. Details were limited, but according to official readouts, the two sides discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation in several areas – echoing sentiments previously expressed by President Erdogan during his visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. Kalin and Nebati also conveyed “warm greetings” from Erdogan. The visit follows earlier discussed reports regarding Saudi intent to purchase Turkish-made UAVs.


The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) resumed cross-border operations
Beginning on 24 September, the Iranian military conducted a series of strikes targeting Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah provinces. These incidents corresponded with a spike in tensions between the KRG and the Iranian government linked to the above-discussed surge in civil unrest in Iran.

The impact was initially limited and confined to remote border environments. The situation escalated however as strikes continued, expanding to environments deep within the KR-I, with a number of casualties resulting on 28 September. See the full report (available to subscribers).

US citizen killed in cross-border strikes
On 29 September, the US Department of State confirmed that a US citizen was killed in the missile strikes on 28 September. Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel added that no further details could be provided due to “privacy considerations.” Sabereen News earlier reported the killing of a US “military trainer” of Iranian origin, with copies of the alleged victim’s passport circulating on social media.

The killing of a US citizen understandably sets conditions for a further increase in US-Iranian tensions however any US retaliatory activity is unlikely. The fatality is also set to galvanize the political backlash against the strikes amidst already strong condemnation. The Government of Iraq (GoI) condemned the activity and summoned the Iranian Ambassador to deliver a strongly worded protest note. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also issued a statement strongly condemning the attack, as did multiple countries in the region including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and several other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Renewal of political unrest in Baghdad as Sadrists resumed protest
A session of parliament intended to vote on the speaker’s resignation request was accompanied by a spike in tensions between the Sadrist Movement and opposing political actors.  Sadr supporters predictably attempted to disrupt the vote through the threat of civil unrest, though well-prepared ISF effectively mitigated associated threats.  Against Sadrist interests, the session transpired with a vote against the resignation.  Sadrist responses included a set of rocket attacks against GoI facilities in the Green Zone and further civil unrest nearby.  A number of non-lethal casualties reportedly resulted. See the full report (available to subscribers).

Saudi Arabia

Mohammed bin Salman appointed Prime Minister in cabinet reshuffle
In a royal decree published by official state media on 27 September, de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was appointed Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia. The appointment came as part of a cabinet reshuffle ordered by King Salman and, while changing little in practice, formalizes bin Salman’s position as the leader of the Kingdom.

While acting as the de-facto leader of the country, Bin Salman previously served as Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister – a position now formally assumed by his younger brother Khalid bin Salman. Otherwise, the decree reaffirmed the current senior positions in the current cabinet. A full list of the cabinet can be found here.


Opposition won majority of seats in national assembly
On 29 September, polls to elect candidates to the National Assembly were held in Kuwait. The elections were organized to resolve the political deadlock between the legislative and executive branches following months of impasse. Opposition-aligned candidates won a majority (28) of the 50-seat assembly, while 20 former MPs lost their seats. Among those elected were several opposition candidates who previously boycotted parliamentary proceedings in protest of the alleged interference by the executive.


Pope Francis set to visit Bahrain in November
On 29 September, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will visit Bahrain between 3 and 6 November. The statement said the Pope will visit Manama and Awali, and attend the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Existence. The visit follows previous regional visits to Iraq (in 2021) and the UAE (2019).


UAE to purchase air defense systems from Israel
According to a report by Reuters, Israel agreed to sell the Rafael Spyder mobile air defense system to the UAE. The agreement has not been officially confirmed but the report follows weeks of unconfirmed reporting circulating regarding Abu Dhabi’s efforts to enhance air defense systems utilizing Israeli technology. According to unnamed security sources, Israel approved the UAE request in the middle of this summer yet further details were not provided given the sensitivities involved.

The reported purchase follows Houthi-linked UAV and ballistic missile strikes targeting Abu Dhabi in early 2022 and is primarily assessed as defensive amidst understandable intent to enhance missile interception capabilities. The agreement would constitute a significant step towards deepening military and security ties between Israel and the UAE, which have previously been confined to financial and trade cooperation. This sets conditions for an increase in Iranian-UAE tensions amidst standing and explicit Iranian concerns about an expanded Israeli footprint in the Gulf states and countries neighboring Iran.


TotalEnergies signs agreement with Qatar
On 23 September, French energy company TotalEnergies announced an investment agreement with Qatar Energy to purchase a stake in the North Field South gas project. Total will reportedly have a 9.3 percent share of the field and is the first European partner in that section of the field. The agreement has been rumored for several months following extensive meetings with Qatari and French officials and underscores European intent to diversify and reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas.

Relatedly, German Energy Company RWE signed an agreement this week with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ABNOC) regarding the delivery of liquified natural gas (LNG) by the end of December. The agreement was signed during a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the UAE and amounts to a Memorandum of Understanding for multi-year supplies.


UN Envoy warns of resumption of hostilities following truce expiration
On 28 September, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg warned that the threat of renewed hostilities in Yemen is “real”, as efforts to extend the current truce in the country remain unsuccessful. The statement followed separate meetings held with the head of the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized President Council in Riyadh, and the lead negotiator of the Houthi Movement in Oman a day earlier. On both occasions, Grundberg discussed the UN-led proposal to extend and expand the terms of the truce which is set to expire on 1 October.

Details of the discussions were not provided, but the Houthi Movement recently conditioned an extension on the implementation of “humanitarian issues”, including the permanent opening of the Sanaa International Airport and the Port of Hodeidah. To recall, a limited lifting of restrictions has been implemented as part of the current truce, yet Houthi calls for more permanent reopening face resistance amidst concerns the sites will be utilized for arms smuggling. Meanwhile, the movement rejects calls for a reopening of roads and other access restrictions around the city of Taiz, which remains under siege.

Despite a significant lull in activity, ceasefire violations continue to be reported and low-level hostilities persist. The UN said more than 15 people were killed last week in the city of Hodeidah while battlefield casualties continue to be reported on a weekly basis near the frontlines of Marib and near Taiz.

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