IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

European leaders have vowed to try to salvage the Iran nuclear deal if US President Donald J. Trump carries out his threat to withdraw later this week. But unlike the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would have great difficulty surviving without US participation.

The United States’ European and Asian allies would strenuously complain and seek ways to protect oil imports and other trade and investment with Iran if Trump refuses to renew sanctions waivers by May 12. But many companies would be unlikely to risk the hefty fines that violating US sanctions could entail. Already, major multinational firms are putting Iran plans on hold.

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The dominant view in Washington since the 1979 Islamic revolution – with brief interruptions especially under the Clinton and Obama administrations – has been that Iran represents an irreconcilable challenge to US interests in the Middle East and must be countered with all tools of power, including sanctions and threats of war.

Influencing the debates over Iran’s nuclear program, regional influence, ballistic missile program and other Iranian policies are members of the US Congress and traditional US allies in Europe as well as regional powers such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel and Mohammad bin Salman’s government in Saudi Arabia.

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The best-selling novel “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng provides an apt title for the next book in the long-running non-fiction history of Middle East conflicts—that which will come after US President Donald J. Trump moves to modify or nullify the Iran nuclear agreement. Those fires, not so little for those directly affected, are burning in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza.  The challenges for US policy in the coming months will not be directly related to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s nuclear program poses no short-term threat. Iran will not have a nuclear weapons capability in the near future regardless of the president’s decision.  It will be the “little fires” that require more attention than ever.

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Victory in war often brings with it unforeseen challenges and obligations.  Russia is now learning that to sustain its victory in Syria’s civil war it must play a role as an arbiter or honest broker between Iran and Israel lest their rivalry explodes into large-scale combat, engulfs the entire region, and undermines Russia’s newly-acquired position there.  Such a war would utterly confound Russia’s interest in stabilizing a post-civil war Syria under Bashar al-Assad and retaining the bases and lucrative contracts it has won as well as its regional status as a key superpower without whom nothing can be accomplished.  

Apart from the destruction it would wreak, an Iran-Israeli war would consume Syria, bring the United States back to the Middle East in a big way, and force Russia to choose between the two states against its own preferences.  In other words, this war could wipe out all of Russia’s recent gains from its intervention in Syria.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 provided a twenty-minute PowerPoint presentation of secret Iranian nuclear documents, acquired by Israeli intelligence. The information revealed will be unlikely to change many minds about the wisdom of the nuclear deal with Iran, but it is significant. It shows that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was concluded under false pretenses and that Iran may currently be in violation of the accord.

To understand the significance of the information acquired for the nuclear deal, however, we must first review the steps necessary to build nuclear weapons. For Iran to go nuclear, it must complete three steps: (1) enrich significant quantities of uranium to weapons-grade levels; (2) develop a functioning nuclear warhead; (3) and possess a ballistic missile or other means to deliver the device to an enemy. Step 1 is the most difficult technical hurdle and the subject of the most contentious debates on the Iran nuclear deal. But all of the revelations in Netanyahu’s presentation were about Step 2.

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As a journalist and researcher, I very much appreciate a spirited debate about controversial issues. So I welcome the article written recently by a PhD graduate student about my issue brief on Iran’s Sunnis.

I agree with the student’s concerns about the map, with which I was not totally comfortable. However, on the more important issue of whether Iran’s Sunnis face systemic discrimination, I disagree with the student’s arguments, many of which echo the Islamic Republic’s official line.

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Less than two weeks before US President Donald J. Trump is due to decide on the future of US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that his country has found proof Iran lied about the extent of its nuclear program. 

In a speech delivered on April 30, Netanyahu said Israel has collected more than 100,000 files and roughly 180 CDs worth of evidence to show that Iran had nuclear capabilities beyond those revealed in negotiations to establish the nuclear deal. The material was reportedly obtained by Israeli intelligence from a secret storage facility in Tehran. 

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Much of the discourse on the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran, has centered broadly on two issue sets. The first comprises the issues between Iran and the six powers; the second, perhaps more widely-discussed are dynamics between the United States and the other five powers.

However, any significant change to the agreement is bound to affect another front: the already strained Israeli-Iranian relationship. Indeed, the current debate around the JCPOA unfolds during the tensest period ever in Israeli-Iranian bilateral relations. On April 20, Hussein Salami, Vice Head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), stated that “hands are on the trigger and missiles are ready…north and west of Israel are at the intersection of fire.” Directly addressing Israelis, he further stated, “You will not escape. You live in the dragon’s mouth.”

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Appointed by President Hassan Rouhani as the new head of Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE), Isa Kalantari knew that this chronically mismanaged organization desperately needed new blood.

Facing myriad environmental challenges including growing water shortages, Kalantari, who previously served as minister of agriculture and whose policies had been harshly criticized, decided to reach out for help and to recruit a young “outsider” with impressive credentials.

Kaveh Madani, a 36-year-old Iranian scholar based at Imperial College in the United Kingdom, seemed like the perfect candidate. He had already won international recognition, including the Huber Engineering Research Prize “for groundbreaking research in developing methods for the allocation of scarce water resources merging conflict-resolution and game-theoretic concepts for application to complex water resources systems.”

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The US Senate on April 26 confirmed former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mike Pompeo as the new US Secretary of State. 

US President Donald J. Trump picked Pompeo, a known foreign policy hawk on issues from Russia to Iran to North Korea, to replace Rex Tillerson at the State Department on March 13.

Atlantic Council analysts and experts weighed in on the confirmation, including its implications for US-Iranian relations.

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