On Monday, just days after it was reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had premiered the domestically-produced Khorramshahr ballistic missile in a military parade, the Associated Press reported that the IRGC also put the Russian-made S-300 missile defense system on public display in central Tehran. Both ceremonies were presented as part of Defense Week, the annual commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, which doubles as an annual outlet for anti-Western propaganda.
The IRGC’s showcase of newly acquired weapons systems has been easily linked in the global media to a period of growing tensions between the Iranian regime and the US government under the leadership of President Donald Trump. Trump delivered an address to the United Nations General Assembly last week in which he reiterated his opposition to the nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor, but also underscored his hardline position on the Iranian regime as a whole, rebuking it for its regionally destabilizing activities and illicit missile tests, and stating that a time will come when the Iranian people “face a choice” to throw off that regime.
Trump’s Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani maintained a more peaceful tone in his speech to the same gathering the following day, stating that Tehran was committed to upholding the nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But this tone was undermined later in the week when Rouhani spoke before the military parade that included the unveiling of the Khorramshahr missile. As he has done on several other occasions, the Iranian president, who is regarded by some Western leaders as a relative moderate, promised that the Islamic Republic would continue its missile development and military buildup and would not seek “permission” from any other country.
According to Iranian military and paramilitary officials, the Khorramshahr missile is capable of covering a distance of 1,250 miles and carrying multiple warheads, although the officials were not specific about what types of warheads they were referring to. Nevertheless, the overall category of weapon is typically designed to be capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, and is described accordingly in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which was passed alongside the implementation of the JCPOA and called upon Iran to avoid work on ballistic missiles.
Nonetheless, by some accounts the regime and specifically the IRGC have carried out more than a dozen launches of those weapons since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations. And as Fox News has reported, on Friday the regime’s state media outlets broadcast images that allegedly depicted the successful launch of the Khorramshahr missile, perhaps the most advanced weapon of that type to be manufactured inside the Islamic Republic.
The state media broadcast and the public display of the S-300 missile system suggest that the intended audiences for related propaganda are domestic as well as foreign. Such actions could be viewed as a means of presenting a strong domestic image and intimidating pro-democracy activists who are by some reports becoming more active in spite of recent security crackdowns. Last week, Iranian expatriate groups led protests against Rouhani’s presence at the UN General Assembly and used the event to call attention to more than 10,000 protests that are known to have taken place throughout the Islamic Republic over the past year.
On the other hand, it is also possible to view the recent propaganda displays as efforts to rile up a hardline base. Indeed, this is essentially the purpose of Defense Week, although the factor of intimidation is very likely a contributing motivator for the regime. Rouhani has actively contributed to the rhetoric of Iranian hardliners on multiple issues. In his speech at Friday’s military parade, he reaffirmed not only Iran’s commitment to ballistic missile development but also its exertion of strength and influence in the broader Middle East.
“Whether you like it or not we are going to help Syria, Yemen and Palestine, and we will strengthen our missiles,” linking the two issues in what may have been an advance reference to a strike that would subsequently be carried out in Syria near the Iraqi border. The Associated Press reported upon that strike on Sunday, once again drawing upon Iranian state television, which claimed that the strike had been carried out by an IRGC drone, destroying bases and vehicles belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in Deir el-Zour Province.
As the Syrian Civil War has seemingly been winding down, this province has been widely described as a likely focal point of Iran-US tensions as different parties compete for influence within the countries that effectively link the Islamic Republic to the Mediterranean. Deir el-Zour is reportedly a major junction for a planned supply route leading from Tehran through Baghdad, to Damascus and Beirut, the home of the Hezbollah paramilitary group that is controlled and largely financed by the Iranian regime.
The Iranian strike in this area may have served legitimate strategic aims, but it is generally recognized that these aims are at odds with Western interests in the same region and in the Middle East as a whole. As such, by calling attention to the strike and to Tehran’s supposed commitment to a long-term presence in Syria, the regime is also highlighting its declared role as an obstacle to American influence. In this sense, the strike further underscores the familiar propaganda purposes of Defense Week.
But also, in the wake of the JCPOA and the wind-down of the Syrian Civil War, this year’s Defense Week may also be seen as an opportunity for Tehran to boast of its supposed economic and political influence, as well as its claimed military strength. With this in mind, it is worth noting that the New York Times quoted Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh as saying on Monday that he approved of other oil-producing nations’ efforts to collectively reduce output, but he expected more to be done in the future.
Such input is especially significant the efforts Zanganeh was referring to were part of an agreement, negotiated among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus Russia and several other oil-producing countries, which specifically excluded Iran from being subject to the defined production limits. The negotiating process was stymied for months by Iran’s insistence on being exempted from cuts until it restored the output levels it had enjoyed before the imposition of US-led sanctions, which were alleviated under the JCPOA. Saudi Arabia, a fellow OPEC member and chief regional rival of the Islamic Republic, objected to this condition for some time before ultimately relenting.
Since the output cuts have been in effect, Iran has drawn close to its self-declared pre-sanctions market share, but its self-reported totals have never exceeded the roughly four million barrels per day that the Iranian oil industry set as a target. There was evidently nothing in Zanganeh’s latest comments to suggest that Iran is prepared to begin contributing to the limits. Regional rivals are likely to be annoyed by fact that this ongoing lack of commitment has been paired with Zanganeh’s demands for even greater effort from the rest of OPEC. This annoyance may be further amplified by the oil minister’s statement that the oil cartel should consider demanding cuts from Nigeria and Libya, both of which were exempted alongside Iran in the original agreement.
At roughly the same time that the Oil Ministry was dictating to the rest of OPEC, the state-run National Iranian Oil Company gave the impression that it was continuing to expand production, according to Bloomberg. NIOC’s latest public statements specifies plans to increase its total output of crude oil and condensate by the end of the year, from its current declared exports of roughly 2.6 million barrels per day. The statements also describe the development of new oil fields, which will presumably bring new heavy-grade crude to the market and thereby partly counteract the output cuts being pursued by fellow OPEC countries.
The Bloomberg report specifically links the NIOC statements to the increasingly assertive Iran policy of the US government, as well as the American president’s UN speech and his possible intention to undermine the nuclear deal. This is to say that the report suggests the Islamic Republic is boasting about its economic plans in order to convey the impression that it is unaffected by Western pressure, thereby adding an economic dimensions to a week of notably heightened rhetoric against Iran’s regional and global adversaries.