Iran Watch Newsletter: April 2023

April 28, 2023

Publication Type: 

  • Newsletters

This month’s newsletter features updates to a timeline of milestones in Iran’s nuclear program. Since the last update in May 2022, efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal have come to a halt and Iran has begun, continued, or completed the construction of several new nuclear-related facilities. Additionally, the newsletter features remarks by Wisconsin Project Executive Director Valerie Lincy at a recent event on Iran's drone program hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The newsletter also includes profiles of organizations involved in Iran’s space program, as well as news about Iran funneling military equipment to Syria disguised as earthquake relief, a secret Iranian effort to purchase a rocket propellant ingredient from Russia and China, and Iran's transfer of artillery and small arms ammunition to Russia via the Caspian Sea. Additions to the Iran Watch library include official documents and statements relating to Iran’s overseas military procurement and human rights abuses.

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The inauguration ceremony for a new uranium mine at Narigan. (Credit: Tasnim News Agency)

Timeline | Iran Nuclear Milestones: 1967-2023

Over the last year, efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal have come to a halt and an IAEA investigation into the presence of uranium at undeclared sites in Iran has stalled. Meanwhile, Iran has expanded its enrichment capacity and increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Iran also began construction on a nuclear power station at Darkhovin, continued work at the Bushehr power plant's second unit, and inaugurated a new uranium mine at Narigan. A related table tracks the status of Iran's nuclear-related facilities.

Iranian drones at the Eghtedar 40 defense exhibition. (Credit: Tasnim News Agency)

Speeches and Testimony | Iran's Military Drone Program

On April 20, Wisconsin Project Executive Director Valerie Lincy took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the security implications of Iran's drone program and policy responses to it, together with former CENTCOM commander Gen. (Ret.) Kenneth McKenzie Jr. and Damien Spleeters of Conflict Armament Research. In her remarks, Ms. Lincy shared findings from a recent Iran Watch roundtable report, "Clipping Tehran's Wings: How Supply-Side Controls Can Impede the Iranian Drone Program."




Iran's civilian space program has long been the cause of international concern because of the dual-use nature of its research and development activities: space launch vehicles (SLVs) make use of similar technologies to those applied in ballistic missiles.

Iranian Space Agency

Oversees Iran's space-related initiatives; reportedly cooperates with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force (IRGC-ASF) and Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) on satellite launches; owns the Khayyam satellite built and launched by Russia in 2022.

Iran Space Research Center

A research institute under the Iranian Space Agency; conducts research and development on space launch vehicle technologies that have applications in ballistic missiles; has worked with Shahid Hemat Industrial Group (SHIG).

Materials and Energy Research Institute

Conducts research related to satellites and other space systems, particularly energy generation and storage; subordinate to the Iran Space Research Center; has designed and supplied parts to Mobarakeh Steel Company.




A Boeing 747 cargo plane operated by Qeshm Fars Air, reportedly in Syria. (Credit: Abu Ali Express)

Iran Ships Ammunition to Russia by Caspian Sea to Aid Invasion of Ukraine | Wall Street Journal

April 24, 2023: Over the past six months, Russian ships have transported more than 300,000 artillery shells and a million rounds of ammunition from Iran to Russia through the Caspian Sea. According to officials in the Middle East, the most recent such shipment included 1,000 containers with 2,000 artillery shells on board the Rasul Gamzatov, a Russian cargo ship owned by the shipping company MG-FLOT, formerly known as TransMorFlot LLC. Publicly available shipping data showed that the vessel transited from Bandar Amirabad, Iran, to Astrakhan, Russia, between March 8 and March 14, and then made another trip in late March.

Exclusive: Iran Exploits Earthquake Relief Mission to Fly Weapons to Syria | Reuters

April 12, 2023: Iran funneled military equipment into Syria disguised as humanitarian aid shipments following the February earthquake in Syria and Turkey, according to Syrian, Iranian, Israeli, and Western sources. The supplies included communications equipment, radar batteries, and spare parts to upgrade Syria's air defense system. An Israeli defense official said the shipments were organized by a unit of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force and delivered to the Aleppo airport. Iran denied the claims.

Iran in Secret Talks with China, Russia to Acquire Sanctioned Missile Fuel | Politico

April 12, 2023: Iran has held secret talks with Russia and China to acquire large quantities of ammonium perchlorate, according to diplomats familiar with the matter. Ammonium perchlorate is an ingredient in solid missile propellant. Sajjad Ahadzadeh, Iran's "technology counselor" in China, has led the talks, which have also included Russian chemical maker FKP Anozit, according to the diplomats.




The U.S. government continued its prosecutorial and sanctions efforts to disrupt Iran's military-related procurement.

  • Two U.S. residents were sentenced for their involvement in a 2015 scheme to sell Russian-made tank helmets to Iran - March 27.
  • The Commerce Department issued a 20-year denial order to Scott Communications for allegedly attempting to export communications equipment to Iran through Jordan - March 30.
  • Two companies, Taiwan-based DES International Co. Ltd. and Brunei-based Soltech Industry Co. Ltd., admitted to working together to procure U.S.-origin goods on behalf of an Iranian research center and were fined and sentenced to corporate probation by a U.S. district court - April 18.
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned a network supplying Iran with electronic components for its military programs, including drones - April 19.
  • The Justice Department filed a forfeiture action for more than one million rounds of ammunition seized en route from Iran to Yemen in December – March 31.

Western countries sought to further punish Iran for human rights violations.

  • U.S. resident Nellie Bahadorifar was sentenced to four years in prison for supporting an Iranian government plot to kidnap an Iranian human rights activist living in New York - April 7.
  • The European Union, United Kingdom, and United States announced sanctions against Iranian officials for censorship and the violent suppression of protests in Iran - April 24.
  • Canada also imposed sanctions on Iranian security officials involved in repression, as well as on individuals tied to Iran's drone program – March 27.