On March 8, the U.S. intelligence community warned that Iran is an escalating threat to the United States and its allies because of its advances in both conventional and unconventional capabilities, including cyber technology, ballistic and cruise missiles, arsenal of drones and nuclear potential. The Islamic republic has also been trying to establish a network of proxies inside the United States to add to its surrogates across the Middle East.
“Tehran will try to leverage diplomacy, its expanding nuclear program, its conventional, proxy, and partner forces, and its military sales and acquisitions to advance its goals, the report warned. “The Iranian regime sees itself as locked in an existential struggle with the United States and its regional allies, while it pursues its longstanding ambitions for regional leadership.”
Yet the annual global threat assessment, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, assessed that Iran is “not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device,” even though it has accelerated and expanded its nuclear program since the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. U.S. and Israeli experts report that Tehran is just a few days away from having enough highly enriched uranium, which is the fissile material used to fuel a bomb. Assembling a bomb requires other major steps and then marrying it all to a delivery system. The report warned, however, that Iran would “probably” consider further enriching uranium up to 90 percent, if it did get sanctions relief. The following is the excerpt on Iran from the report on global threats to the United States.
REGIONAL AND GLOBAL OBJECTIVES AND ACTIVITIES
Iran will continue to threaten U.S. interests as it tries to erode U.S. influence in the Middle East, entrench its influence and project power in neighboring states, and minimize threats to the regime.
Tehran will try to leverage diplomacy, its expanding nuclear program, its conventional, proxy, and partner forces, and its military sales and acquisitions to advance its goals. The Iranian regime sees itself as locked in an existential struggle with the United States and its regional allies, while it pursues its longstanding ambitions for regional leadership.
- The regime engaged in detailed talks throughout last year toward the renewal of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but Iran’s hardline officials’ distrust of Washington and doubts that the United States would deliver or sustain any benefits of a renewed JCPOA have stood in the way of finalizing a deal. In addition, Iran has demanded resolution of the “Safeguards” issue, which concerns unexplained nuclear activity at several additional Iranian sites, as a primary condition for renewing the nuclear agreement.
- In late 2022 and early 2023, the Iranian regime faced some of the most widespread and prolonged protests since the 1979 revolution. These protests were sparked by a cultural issue—rather than an economic or political one—but have since grown to encompass overall grievances with the Islamic Republic and have included a wide swath of society.
- Iranian officials are concerned about the protracted protests and perceive that foreign meddling is prolonging the unrest.
- Even if Iran has contained this round of protests through violence and intimidation, compounding crises in the coming year probably will further challenge the regime’s legitimacy and staying power. With Iran’s depreciating currency and annual inflation rates of almost 50 percent in late 2022, Tehran probably faces an economic downturn that the IC assesses could prolong or reignite unrest and result in greater instability.
Iran will continue to threaten U.S. persons directly and via proxy attacks, particularly in the Middle East. Iran also remains committed to developing surrogate networks inside the United States, an objective it has pursued for more than a decade. Iranian-supported proxies will seek to launch attacks against U.S. forces and persons in Iraq and Syria, and perhaps in other countries and regions. Iran has threatened to target former and current U.S. officials as retaliation for the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) Commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, and has previously attempted to conduct lethal operations in the United States.
Iran remains a threat to Israel, both directly through its missile and UAV forces and indirectly through its support of Lebanese Hizballah, and other partners and proxies.
Iran will remain a source of instability across the region with its backing of Iraqi Shia militias, which pose the primary threat to U.S. personnel in Iraq. Iran’s economic and military backing for the regime of Bashar al-Asad in Syria and support to the Huthis in Yemen—including provision of a range of advanced military systems—pose a threat to U.S. partners and interests, including Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s hybrid approach to warfare—using both conventional and unconventional capabilities—will pose a threat to U.S. interests in the region for the foreseeable future. The IRGC will remain central to Iran’s military power.
- Iran probably will seek to acquire new conventional weapon systems, such as advanced fighter aircraft, trainer aircraft, helicopters, air defense systems, para-naval patrol ships, and main battle tanks. However, budgetary constraints and fiscal shortfalls will slow the pace and breadth of acquiring these systems.
- Iran's missile, UAV, and naval capabilities will continue to threaten U.S. and partner commercial and military assets in the Middle East.
- Iran’s unconventional warfare operations and network of militant partners and proxies enable Tehran to try to advance its interests in the region and maintain strategic depth.
Iran’s ballistic missile programs, which already include the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, continue to pose a threat to countries across the Middle East. Iran has emphasized improving the accuracy, lethality, and reliability of its missiles. Iran’s work on space launch vehicles (SLVs)—including its Simorgh—shortens the timeline to an ICBM if it decided to develop one because SLVs and ICBMs use similar technologies.
Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device. Since the assassination in November 2020 of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran has accelerated the expansion of its nuclear program, stated that it is no longer constrained by any JCPOA limits, and undertaken research and development activities that would bring it closer to producing the fissile material for completing a nuclear device following a decision to do so. If Tehran does not receive sanctions relief, Iranian officials probably will consider further enriching uranium up to 90 percent.
- Iran consistently has cast its resumption of nuclear activities that exceed JCPOA limits as a reversible response to the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. Iran continues to message that it would return to full compliance if the United States provided sanctions relief and fulfilled its JCPOA commitments, and if the IAEA closed its safeguards investigations related to three undeclared nuclear sites.
- In 2021, the IAEA verified that Iran conducted research on uranium metal production and has produced small quantities of uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent. While Iran made this enriched uranium metal as part of its research and development for a new type of reactor fuel, the production of uranium metal was prohibited under the JCPOA as a key capability needed to produce nuclear weapons.
- Iran continues to increase the size and enrichment level of its uranium stockpile beyond JCPOA limits. Iran continues to exceed JCPOA restrictions on advanced centrifuge research and development, and continues uranium enrichment operations at the deeply buried Fordow facility, which was prohibited under the JCPOA. Iran has been enriching and accumulating uranium hexafluoride (UF6) up to 60 percent U-235 since April 2021, and continues to accumulate UF6 enriched up to 20 percent.
- Tehran has taken steps to put diplomatic pressure on the United States and other JCPOA signatories, and to try to build negotiating leverage.
CYBER AND MALIGN INFLUENCE OPERATIONS
Iran’s growing expertise and willingness to conduct aggressive cyber operations make it a major threat to the security of U.S. and allied networks and data. Iran’s opportunistic approach to cyber attacks makes critical infrastructure owners in the United States susceptible to being targeted by Tehran, particularly when Tehran believes that it must demonstrate it can push back against the United States in other domains. Recent attacks against Israeli targets show that Iran is more willing than before to target countries with stronger capabilities.
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