News Digest: Week of May 15

May 15 

Military: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had reportedly built an underground drone base in the Zagros mountains in southwestern Shiraz, Farz province, according to Alma, an Israel think tank. The base reportedly consisted of five drone launch sites and could deploy the Shahed-series suicide attack drones. The base “threatens the entire Middle East at any given moment,” Alma said. 

International: Russia intended to purchase additional drones from Iran, John Kirby of the National Security Council said. The two countries had forged a “full-scale defense partnership,” and Iran was Russia’s “top military backer,” Kirby warned. “Since August, Iran has provided Russia with more than 400 UAVs primarily of the Shahed variety,” Kirby told reporters. “Russia has expended most of these UAVs, using them to target Ukrainian critical infrastructure inside Ukraine. By providing Russia with these UAVs, Iran has been directly enabling Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.” He added that the White House would impose additional sanctions against both countries to disrupt the flow of weapons.

Military/International: Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, commander of the Iranian Navy, and Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, commander of the Russian Navy, vowed to strengthen bilateral naval cooperation in a meeting in Tehran. The two emphasized the importance of secure international trade, information exchange, and fighting piracy and terrorism. They also stressed the importance of bilateral naval drills in addition to trilateral exercises with China.


May 16

International: Azerbaijan arrested at least nine Azeris accused of collaborating with Iran and planning assassinations. Azerbaijan’s interior ministry accused the group of plotting a “violent overthrow of the government and the assassinations of prominent personalities and senior officials.”

International: U.S. senators received a classified briefing on Iran from senior State Department and intelligence officials.The first such meeting of the Biden administration came as increased tensions in the region and Iran’s nuclear developments caused concern in Congress.

International: The Justice Department charged a Chinese national for attempting to steal U.S. ballistic missile technology on behalf of Iran. “These charges demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries, including Russia, China, and Iran,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen told reporters. The Justice Department also charged five other people, including three Russians, for plots linked to Russia and China. 

Human Rights: Iran executed at least 576 people in 2022, according to Amnesty International. Iran ranked second–behind China–in executions. The vast majority of executions took place in China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.