Iran Watch Newsletter: November 2023

November 29, 2023

Publication Type: 

  • Newsletters

This month’s newsletter features an in-depth report on the private companies involved in Iran’s military drone program. While state-owned companies and the armed forces play leading roles in designing and building Iranian drones, privately-owned companies are making a valuable but largely overlooked contribution as well, and their role continues to grow.

The newsletter also includes profiles of several entities positioning themselves to profit from Iran’s drone industry, as well as news about renewed U.S. concerns that Iran may send ballistic missiles to Russia, the unveiling of a new Iranian hypersonic missile, and an Iranian official’s claim about the country’s growing volume of arms exports. Additions to the Iran Watch library include documents from the November International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors meeting, official statements about clashes between Iran-backed militia groups and U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and recent sanctions targeting members of Iranian proxies and aligned groups.

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Drone components made by privately-owned Iranian companies. (Credit: Wisconsin Project compilation)

Report | The Private Companies Propelling Iran’s Drone Industry

Iran’s drone industry appears to be booming, driven partially by the growth of drone warfare globally in recent years. While state-owned companies and the armed forces play leading roles in this ecosystem, privately-owned companies are making a valuable but largely overlooked contribution as well.

This report reviews the most notable examples of private, knowledge-based companies working on Iranian drones that have been identified in open sources. Their roles usually include manufacturing components or offering research and development services. Many have ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), but these are usually not overt. Evidence of new entrants points to an expanding role for private companies in the future.




Abdollah Mehrabi, a brigadier general in the IRGC and a key figure in Iran's military drone program, has connections to several entities who appear to be positioning themselves for market share in the drone industry.

Bonyan Danesh Shargh

An Iran-based company involved in Iran's space program; reportedly operates the Khayyam remote-sensing satellite developed in partnership with Russian companies; issued a public notice in July 2023 changing its stated company activities to include the production of UAVs and their components.

Abbas Abdi Asjerd

Managing director and deputy chairman of the board of directors of Bonyan Danesh Shargh; with Seyed Mohsen Vahabzadeh Moghadam and Abdollah Mehrabi, has held shares in Baran Sazan Caspian Company; has served on the board of directors of three other Iran-based drone companies.

Seyed Mohsen Vahabzadeh Moghadam

Chairman of the board of directors of Bonyan Danesh Shargh; has held shares in Baran Sazan Caspian Company; has served on the board of directors of three other Iran-based drone companies.




Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei views a cutaway model of the Fattah-2 missile's re-entry vehicle. (Credit: Tasnim News Agency)

U.S. Warns Iran is Weighing Sending Short Range Missiles to Russia | Wall Street Journal

November 21, 2023: The United States expressed concern that Iran may provide Russia with Ababil and Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles to use in Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had viewed displays of the missiles during a visit to Tehran in September. U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that, in return, Iran wants to purchase combat aircraft, radars, and attack helicopters from Russia. He added that Russia has already helped Iran on its space program and has offered cooperation on missiles, military electronics, and air defense.

Iran Unveils Fattah-2 Hypersonic Cruise Missile | Janes

November 21, 2023: Iran unveiled the Fattah-2 missile during a visit of the Supreme Leader to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force museum. The missile had a primary rocket motor similar in appearance to that of the earlier Fattah missile, unveiled in June, but it differed in its wedge-shaped re-entry vehicle apparently powered by a liquid-propellant engine. Iranian media stated that the missile's maximum range was 1,500 kilometers.

Iran’s Annual Arms Exports Total $1 Billion | Tasnim News Agency

November 13, 2023: Iran's Deputy Defense Minister Mahdi Farahi said that his country's arms exports totaled about $1 billion in the year ending March 2023. Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani had said in June that exports of items developed by Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) had tripled in the Iranian calendar year ending in March, compared to earlier years.




At its quarterly meeting, the IAEA board of governors discussed Iran's ongoing non-compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as well as the Agency’s lack of progress in resolving several outstanding safeguards issues.

  • Ahead of the meeting, the IAEA director general circulated two reports on JCPOA implementation and NPT Safeguards – November 15.
  • In his introductory statement, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi renewed his condemnation of Iran’s decision to withdraw credentials for several Agency inspectors – November 22.
  • France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a joint statement criticizing Iran's slow progress in resolving several outstanding safeguards issues, stating that “Iran cannot continue its lack of cooperation Board [meeting] after Board [meeting] without bearing consequences” – November 23.


Iran-backed non-state groups have carried out numerous attacks against U.S. forces in the Middle East since Hamas's October 7 terrorist attack against Israel, prompting U.S. forces to retaliate.

  • U.S. forces conducted several rounds of strikes against facilities used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and “Iran-affiliated groups” in Syria – November 8 and 12.
  • Later in the month, U.S. forces attacked militants in Iraq who had launched close-range ballistic missiles at Ain Al-Asad Airbase – November 21.
  • The United States sanctioned six members of the Iraq-based Kata'ib Hizballah as well as the group Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and its leader – November 17.


The United States and United Kingdom announced new sanctions against Iranian proxies and aligned groups.

  • The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Muhjat AlQuds Foundation in Gaza, an organization run by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad but funded by Iran, as well as a Lebanon-based money exchange company that Iran uses as a conduit to transfer funds to Hamas – November 14.
  • In a coordinated action on the same day, the United Kingdom placed targeted sanctions on four senior Hamas leaders and two of the group's financiers – November 14.