Iran Watch Newsletter: December 2023

December 22, 2023

Publication Type: 

  • Newsletters

This month’s newsletter features a report on the history of Iran’s nuclear program, containing an overview of nuclear infrastructure, undeclared sites, key institutions and personnel, and the foreign assistance Iran has received, as well as international sanctions and export controls targeting the nuclear program.

The newsletter also includes profiles of several entities that were recently removed from the U.N. sanctions list but are still involved in proliferation-related activities, as well as news about Iran's launch of a biocapsule and the U.S.-led effort to defend ships transiting the Red Sea against Houthi attacks. Additions to the Iran Watch library include U.N. documents related to the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 as well as sanctions announcements by the European Union, United Kingdom, and United States.

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The entrance to Iran's Fordow nuclear facility
Entrance to the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. (Credit: Islamic Republic News Agency)

Background Report | A History of Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran is a nuclear threshold state. Although it has long maintained that its nuclear program is benign and authorized by its membership as a non-nuclear weapon state in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the country has undertaken decades of nuclear work in secret, in violation of its NPT obligations.

This background report provides an overview of Iran's nuclear history, including its past weaponization efforts. It also includes information on Iran's nuclear-related infrastructure, undeclared sites, key institutions and personnel, the foreign assistance it has received, and the international sanctions and export controls targeting Iran's nuclear program.




In October, targeted U.N. sanctions against 84 Iranian individuals and entities expired, in accordance with the provisions of Security Council resolution 2231. The list includes prominent entities that are still involved in proliferation-related activities.

Qods Aviation Industries

An Iranian company that designs and manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); has reportedly supplied UAVs to all branches of the Iranian military and buyers in Africa and Latin America.

Pars Aviation Services

An Iranian aircraft supply and repair company; reportedly owned by Bonyad Taavon Sepah on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force; subsidiaries have included Pouya Air (Yas Air).

Malek Ashtar University

An Iranian university subordinate to the Defense Technology and Science Research Center (DTSRC); supports the education and research and development needs of the Iranian Ministry of Defense Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL); faculty members have conducted research relevant to missiles and nuclear power.




The launch of a biocapsule into spaceThe Salman rocket, derived from a Shahab-2 missile, equipped with a biocapsule. (Credit: Project Meshkat via X)

U.S. Launches Red Sea Force as Ships Reroute to Avoid Attacks | Reuters

December 19, 2023: The United States launched a multilateral task force to safeguard commerce in the Red Sea in the face of repeated attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Countries joining the U.S.-led operation included Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The Houthis have threatened to target Israeli ships as well as those heading to Israeli ports. The attacks have prompted oil companies such as BP and Frontline as well as shipping firms such as Maersk to divert shipments around the Red Sea.

Iranian Bioscience Capsule Successfully Launched by Indigenous Salman Launcher | Tasnim News Agency

December 6, 2023: Iran launched a 500-kilogram biocapsule, developed by the Aerospace Research Institute, into space. The capsule, which reached an altitude of 130 kilometers before returning to Earth, was carried by a rocket called Salman, produced by the Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO).




The U.N. Security Council held a biannual meeting to review the implementation of resolution 2231.

  • The U.N. secretary general issued his sixteenth six-month report on 2231 implementation, which gave particular attention to Iran's proliferation of missile and drone technologies to Russia and Yemen – December 15.
  • France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement reiterating their determination that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon – December 18.


The United States and European Union adopted new restrictive measures targeting Iran's UAV program.

  • The European Union sanctioned six individuals and five entities that make or procure components for Iranian UAVs. These were the first listings under a new framework adopted in July in view of Iran's military support for Russia – December 11.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a procurement network of 10 entities and four individuals based in Iran, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia, led by Hossein Hatefi Ardakani – December 19.
  • The U.S. Justice Department also unsealed an indictment charging Ardakani and co-defendant Gary Lam with crimes related to the procurement of U.S.-manufactured dual-use microelectronics for the IRGC – December 19.


The United Kingdom and United States announced new sanctions directed at Iran's support for proxy groups in the region.

  • A new U.K. sanction regime for Iran came into force, and the first designations included members of the IRGC Qods Force and its operations in Gaza – December 14.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions aimed at disrupting a network of exchange houses in Lebanon, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen facilitating financial support for the Houthis – December 7.