Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security

  • Saudi Arabia and Iran Are Adapting to Perpetual Conflict

    When rogue intelligence officers at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, an official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) voiced concern over the surge of US media onslaught on Saudi Arabia. Echoing Iran’s conspiratorial views of the United States, the IRGC official questioned if Washington was planning to undermine Riyadh. He then insisted that Tehran would denounce such moves. 

    Iran is charged with interfering in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, but Tehran appears to want Riyadh to keep a firm hold on power. The rapid deterioration of regional security has muted Iran’s desire to watch rival Arab states collapse. There is a realization that the potential rise of jihadists in Saudi Arabia, if the kingdom were to fall, could also destabilize Iran. In a similar vein, in Riyadh—per conversations this author has had—there is concern that the kingdom would have to pay a heavy price if a war erupted with...

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  • Crossing the Cyber Rubicon: Views from Both Sides of the River

    On the weekend of May 5, a month after a truce was agreed between Israel and Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, violence again rose to levels not seen since 2014. Reports indicate that over 600 rockets were fired into Israel by Palestinian militants and were met by Israeli airstrikes on more than 300 targets. Upwards of twenty-three Palestinians and four Israelis were killed.

    But the headlines from the weekend—at least in cybersecurity circles—focused on a single strike by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against an office building in Hamas territory. According to a May 5 tweet from the IDF, after successfully preventing an alleged Hamas cyberattack against

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  • Dial 911: Trump’s Telecommunications National Emergency

    US President Donald J. Trump on May 15 declared a “national emergency” that gives his administration the power to prevent US companies from doing business with foreign suppliers, including, potentially, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. The decision is likely to exacerbate tensions with China with which the United States is currently engaged in a trade war marked by tit-for-tat tariffs.


    In an executive order, Trump wrote: “foreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology and services… in order to commit

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  • On Iran, Justified US Fury Without an Endgame

    We’ve been here before. The Trump administration, like every US administration since Jimmy Carter was president, is dealing with a hostile Iran bent on undermining US and regional security interests across the Middle East and beyond. We had a brief three-year respite from Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, thanks to the Obama administration, but the Trump administration has put that period of relief in grave doubt. 
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  • A Week of Looming Conflict Between the United States and Iran

    May 8 was the first anniversary of US President Donald Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Islamic Republic marked the occasion by announcing that it would defy the JCPOA’s limits on the amounts of enriched uranium and heavy water in its inventory. 

    Iranian President Rouhani issued an ultimatum to the European signatories of the JCPOA to assist Tehran with exporting its oil and normalizing its access to the global banking system within sixty days, or else Iran would take further actions. On the same day, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that Tehran could dismiss the...

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  • On Iran, Europeans Caught Between Multilateral and Transatlantic Realities

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on May 8 that Iran may reduce its compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if the non-US parties to the deal don’t find a way to provide Tehran with promised economic benefits.

    In response, the European Union and foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany expressed their continued support for the JCPOA but warned Iran not to carry out its ultimatum to disregard selected limitations to its nuclear program.

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  • Former State Broadcaster Head Does Tell-All Interview About the IRGC

    While growing US-led pressure on Iran is helping unify the Iranian polity around the flag of nationalism, it is also exposing fault lines among the ruling elite as they search for the key causes of the Islamic Republic’s failures forty years after its birth. 

    In a rare hour-long interview on May 1, the former head of Iran’s state broadcaster Mohammad Sarafraz spoke publicly about his time at the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). He was appointed director general of IRIB by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2014, after serving as the head of its 24-hour English-language network PressTV for several years, until he was prematurely replaced in 2016. Sarafraz’s short-lived tenure at IRIB contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor who directed the state broadcaster for a decade.

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  • Iran Withdraws From Certain Aspects of the Nuclear Agreement

    A year after the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and six months after it re-imposed sanctions, Iran has said it would reduce its compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement in sixty days unless the remaining parties take concrete steps to continue trade with Iran. The decision was announced by President Hassan Rouhani in a televised speech on May 8. Rouhani said, “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective … This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”

    The Iranian president warned that Europe has sixty days to prevent US sanctions from impacting Iran’s banking and oil sectors. The news was formally relayed to the remaining signatories of JCPOA: Britain,...

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  • Are Iranians Turning Away From the ‘Resistance Front’?

    In Iran, public opinion about foreign policy has become extremely divided. Even recent flooding provided ground for opposing parties to promote their stances, especially in regard to Iran’s backing of foreign militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. 

    A video went viral of a local man approaching the governor of Iran’s southern Khuzestan province amid the flooding and asking him why the government spends lavishly on the Syrian and Lebanese people but not on its own. US and Israeli officials—as well as the Iranian opposition in exile—also saw an opportunity to ride the waves of Iranians discontented with their current dire economic situation. 

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  • Mixed Reactions in Iran to Trump’s Maximum Pressure Policy

    Harsh measures by the Trump administration against Iran have largely united Iranian political factions against the United States but have triggered a variety of reactions from ordinary Iranians.

    Some have expressed hope for a more open environment as the government seeks to shore up popularity despite rising prices and diminished economic opportunity. Others believe Iran should stand up to US “bullying” despite the costs.

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