The Iran Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shut down growing calls for a referendum on substantial political reform from within and outside the regime during a meeting with student activists on April 18. Khamenei stated that “the issues of the country are not subject to referendum,” following weeks of statements referencing referendums from prominent officials and leaders across Iran’s political spectrum.[i] Former President Hassan Rouhani called for a referendum on the regime’s domestic, economic, and foreign policies during a meeting with former members of his administration on April 4, as CTP previously reported.[ii] Rouhani’s website subsequently published a video and analysis of Rouhani’s April 4 statements on April 9 and 17, respectively.[iii] Although Rouhani claims that the referendum he proposes is compatible with Iran’s current constitution, reforming Iran’s domestic, economic, and foreign policies would fundamentally alter the Islamic Republic that Khamenei has built since becoming supreme leader in 1989.[iv] Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has also issued calls for limited governmental change.[v] Ghalibaf met with Nategh Nouri, an associate of Rouhani, on April 18, as CTP previously reported, which indicates he may seek to cooperate with the former president.[vi] Khamenei previously dismissed reformist politician Mir Hossein Mousavi’s calls for “foundational change” in his March 21 Nowrouz address, claiming that Iran’s enemies seek to transform Iran by “changing the constitution or the structure of the regime.”[vii]
Khamenei’s explicit rejection of referenda on April 18, weeks after he shut down intra-regime debates on constitutional and structural change, indicates that Khamenei perceives that some elements of the regime continue to hold unacceptable discussions about political change. Regime news outlets echoed Khamenei’s criticisms of referenda on April 19, moreover.[viii] These outlets’ recirculation of Khamenei’s statements keeps the discourse of political reform alive and may have the unintended effect of precipitating—instead of preventing—further calls among citizens and politicians for a referendum.
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shut down growing calls for a referendum on substantial political reform during a meeting with student activists.
- Information and Communications Technology Minister Issa Zareh Pour announced that the National Information Network (NIN) is 60 percent complete.
- President Ebrahim Raisi is continuing to use the recent Israeli raids on Al Aqsa Mosque to try to unite Muslim countries against Israel.
- CTP recorded student poisonings in four cities across four provinces.
- The IRGC and the Artesh are publicly demonstrating cohesion following Artesh Day.
Internal Security and Protest Activity
At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces on April 19. CTP assesses with high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:
Esfahan City, Esfahan Province[ix]
- Size: Small
- Demographic: Farmers
Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province[x]
- Size: Small
- Demographic: Retirees
Information and Communications Technology Minister Issa Zareh Pour announced on April 19 that the National Information Network (NIN) is 60 percent complete.[xi] The NIN is a longstanding regime effort to develop a secure and stable national intranet in Iran. The regime seeks to use the intranet to impose greater control over the domestic information space and more effectively censor foreign internet influence in Iran.[xii]
CTP recorded student poisonings in four cities across four provinces on April 19.
Raisi administration spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi denied rumors on April 19 that state security services arrested former Agricultural Jihad Minister Javad Sadati Nejad.[xiii] President Ebrahim Raisi dismissed Sadati Nejad on April 11, which CTP previously reported.[xiv] Sadati Nejad’s removal preceded a trend over the past few days of several Raisi administration officials being fired or facing impeachment, including Program and Budgeting Organization Chief Massoud Mir Kazemi, Innovation and Prosperity Fund President Ali Vahdat, and Industry, Mines, and Trade Minister Reza Fatemi Amin.[xv]
Hardline Parliamentarian Ali Asghar Ana Bastani called on Industry, Mines, and Trade Minister Reza Fatemi Amin to resign in advance of his scheduled impeachment hearings.[xvi] Ana Bastani stated that Amin had failed to keep his promises as minister. Raisi administration spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi rejected rumors that President Ebrahim Raisi will dismiss Amin and defended his performance on April 18, which CTP previously reported.[xvii] Forty parliamentarians filed a motion to interpellate Amin on April 17.[xviii] IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported on April 13 that President Ebrahim Raisi may soon dismiss Amin.[xix]
The Iranian rial remained valued at 517,500 rials to one US dollar on April 19.[xx]
Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
President Ebrahim Raisi is continuing to use the recent Israeli raids on Al Aqsa Mosque to try to unite Muslim countries against Israel, likely to prevent the further expansion of the Abraham Accords. President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the need for Islamic countries to form a united front against Israel in a phone call with Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al Said on April 19.[xxi] Numerous regime officials, including Raisi, called on Muslim countries to condemn the recent Israeli raids on Al Aqsa Mosque between April 6-10 and to cooperate with one another against Israel, which CTP previously reported.[xxii] Regime attempts to unite the region against Israel coincide with an ongoing escalation cycle between Iran and Israel, as CTP previously reported.[xxiii]
External Security and Military Affairs
The IRGC and the Artesh are publicly demonstrating cohesion following Artesh Day on April 18. Artesh Commander Major General Abdol Rahim Mousavi announced approval of joint operational plans between the IRGC and the Artesh in the fields of defense, land, air, and sea operations on April 19.[xxiv] Mousavi also stated that Iran’s enemies have been trying to create divisions between the two branches of the armed forces. IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour and Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari signed a cooperation agreement for advancements in the field of hardware and software on April 18.[xxv] IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami praised the Artesh for its significant achievements during the Artesh Day parade and in a separate meeting with Artesh commanders on April 18.[xxvi] Much of this rhetoric is to be expected around Artesh Day and throughout the year to promote unity after decades of competition between the two branches.
Independent Iraqi media reported on April 19 that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani will replace up to 10 Iraqi Cabinet ministers in coordination with the Shia Coordination Framework.[xxvii] An unidentified source claimed that Sudani will remove:
- Oil Minister Hayyan Abdul Ghani
- Higher Education Minister Naim Abed Yasser
- Labor Minister Ahmed Jassim Sayer
- Agriculture Minister Abbas Jabr Ubadah
- Transportation Minister Razek Muhaibes Ajimi
These ministers are members of several Shia Coordination Framework parties, including former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, Asaib Ahl al Haq, and the Fatah bloc. An unidentified Coordination Framework-affiliated source threatened to remove Sudani from office if he tries to prevent any Framework-directed ministerial replacements. Sudani rejected claims that he will remove ministers based on directions from the Coordination Framework during a television interview on April 19.[xxviii]
Senior Hamas and Palestinian Authority leadership traveled to Saudi Arabia on April 19.[xxix] An unidentified Palestinian source cited by Al Jazeera claimed that a Hamas delegation will stay in Saudi Arabia for several days to discuss the Saudi-Palestinian relationship as well as issues relating to Palestinian resistance against Israel.[xxx] Al Monitor reported that a senior Hamas delegation performed Umrah in Mecca on April 19.[xxxi] Saudi Arabia approved visas for the Hamas delegation following rumored reporting that the visas had been denied.[xxxii] Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Saudi Crown Prime Mohammed bin Slaman in Jeddah on April 19 ostensibly to discuss support for Palestinian resistance against Israel.[xxxiii] The Palestinian leaders may use this trip to highlight their ties with Riyadh and thereby discourage the expansion of bilateral ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Iran may seize on Israel’s focus in southern Syria as an opportunity to increase its efforts to move air defense and precision guided munitions through northeastern Syria. Israel Defense Forces conducted an artillery strike on possible joint-Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and Syrian Arab Army (SAA) positions in the vicinity of Tal Kudana base, Quneitra, south-eastern Syria on April 18 according to Israeli and Syrian media outlets.[xxxiv] Israel Defense Forces dropped leaflets onto the targeted territory warning that Israel will continue strikes on Tal Kudana if the SAA continues to allow LH to utilize it military facilities.[xxxv] Iranian-backed militants attempted and failed to launch a surveillance drone from Syrian territory along the Golan Heights into Israeli territory according to anti-Assad regime media outlet Ayn al Sham. [xxxvi] CTP cannot verify the claim at this time. Iran has been moving air defense systems and equipment into Syria as of the February 6 earthquake in Syria, CTP previously reported.[xxxvii]