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An Introduction to Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List
An Introduction to Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Introducing Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Introducing Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Commentary / Global

An Introduction to Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List

The risks of a direct, indirect, deliberate or inadvertent clash between Iran and the U.S. are rising to new highs. Our Iran-U.S. Trigger List is a unique interactive map and early warning tool that monitors and analyses the many flashpoints between the two countries, and shows how they are linked to the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran, as well as between Iran and Saudi Arabia, are reaching a critical level, as are risks of a deliberate or accidental confrontation among these parties. Nearly two years after entering into force, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1 (permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) is in jeopardy. Simultaneously, regional dynamics across the Middle East are trending in a worrisome direction. Friction between Iran and the U.S. is growing in Iraq and Syria as the strength of their common foe, the Islamic State (ISIS), diminishes. In Lebanon, Yemen and the Persian Gulf, Israel, the U.S. and a more assertive Saudi leadership see an emboldened Iran they are determined to cut down to size.

Escalation on one front could provoke escalation on another: U.S. efforts to undermine the JCPOA could prompt Iran to respond asymmetrically by targeting U.S. forces in Iraq or Syria; Iranian actions in the region could push the U.S. executive or legislative branches to take action jeopardising the nuclear deal; another Huthi missile launch against Saudi Arabia could result in U.S. or Saudi retaliation against Iran; an Israeli strike against a target in Syria could trigger a Hizbollah response, in turn engulfing Lebanon. In short, these intersecting crises significantly increase the possibility of an intentional or inadvertent, direct or indirect confrontation between Tehran and Washington, the consequences of which could be catastrophic. Yet missing from this picture is any hint of diplomacy among principal stakeholders.

To understand the interconnected dynamics, alert officials and non-officials about potential risks, and propose concrete steps to mitigate them, the International Crisis Group is launching the Iran-U.S. Trigger List. It is an interactive early-warning platform aimed at monitoring, analysing and providing regular updates on the key and increasingly tense flashpoints between Iran and the U.S. or between their respective allies. Based on our evaluation of these developments both individually and collectively, we will measure the likelihood of confrontation, based on a five-level, colour-coded risk assessment: low, moderate, substantial, severe or critical. We also will identify opportunities stemming from potential positive developments in these various areas (eg, a prisoner release, a ceasefire agreement in Syria or Yemen, or a high-level meeting between Iranian and U.S. officials). Finally, we will propose concrete measures to avert the most dangerous outcomes.

Introducing Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List

Our Iran-U.S. Trigger List is a unique interactive map and early warning tool that monitors and analyses the many flashpoints between the two countries. CRISIS GROUP

Measuring the likelihood of a confrontation is an inexact science given on the one hand the apparent collective reluctance to go to war and, on the other, the potential for miscalculation in the absence of dialogue or diplomacy. Our goal will be to neither underplay nor overestimate risks of conflict, avoiding complacency as well as Cassandra-like predictions. Some potential flashpoints – such as re-imposition of U.S. sanctions; a successful Huthi missile strike on a Saudi or Emirati city; a U.S. attack on an Islamic Revolutionary Guards facility in Iran; an Iraqi Shiite militia targeting of a U.S. soldier; or an Israeli pre-emptive attack against Hizbollah – are more likely than others to escalate and destabilise the region. That said, as Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann has written, “conflicts’ long-term trends (‘causes’) are often clear enough, but not the proximate causes, or triggers. What precipitates a conflict may be a sudden, unforeseen event: an accident, misreading or miscalculation, or a temperamental leader’s flash of hubris”. As a result, and as noted in a recent Crisis Group special report, the Trigger List will consider both long-term structural factors that create fertile ground for conflict as well as more short-term, immediate triggers.

Armed with years of field research and a vast network in the region and beyond, Crisis Group will seek to analyse the two sets of factors and assess the thinking of various, oftentimes hard-to-predict actors. With this backdrop, the Trigger List will identify developments that make a crisis more or less likely, assess political fault lines that may be aggravated as conditions on the ground shift, estimate how actions of various actors affect the likelihood of violent escalation, and provide suggestions regarding how to de-escalate tensions.

The webpage will be updated regularly. It is run by Ali Vaez, Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director, and Naysan Rafati, Crisis Group’s Iran Analyst.

Video

Introducing Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List

The risks of a direct, indirect, deliberate or inadvertent clash between Iran and the U.S. are rising to new highs. Our Iran-U.S. Trigger List is a unique interactive map and early warning tool that monitors and analyses the many flashpoints between the two countries, and shows how they are linked to the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Introducing Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List

Our Iran-U.S. Trigger List is a unique interactive map and early warning tool that monitors and analyses the many flashpoints between the two countries. CRISIS GROUP