A decade of diplomacy, sanctions and nuclear brinkmanship involving Iran and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (plus Germany) led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This accord enshrined a core compromise that Crisis Group had advocated since 2003: acceptance of a limited, tightly monitored uranium enrichment program in Iran in return for that country’s reintegration into the global economy. Despite the JCPOA’s successful first years, the U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018, putting it at risk of collapse while raising the danger of conflict between Tehran, Washington and their respective allies. Through field research and high-level advocacy, Crisis Group focuses on salvaging the JCPOA and preventing regional tensions from boiling over.
Terrible as the Gaza war’s toll has already been, it would get worse if sustained fighting were to erupt between the U.S. and Iran or its Middle East allies. Crisis Group experts Brian Finucane, Lahib Higel, Naysan Rafati and Ali Vaez lay out the dangers.
Islamic State (ISIS) killed 80 in deadliest bombing in decades, while Iran struck Syria, Iraq and Pakistan in sign of increasingly assertive regional posture amid escalation on multiple fronts fuelled by Gaza war.
ISIS killed scores at ceremony for slain commander. ISIS 3 Jan conducted dual bombings at commemoration ceremony for Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Kerman city (south east), which killed over 80 and injured more than 200, marking deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since 1979 revolution. Tehran struck out at foes both east and west. IRGC 15 Jan announced it had launched ballistic missiles into Syria’s Idlib purportedly aimed at ISIS, and northern Iraq at sites it claimed were linked to Israeli intelligence. Iranian forces next day launched strikes on village in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, claiming to target “strongholds” of Jaish al-Adl – anti-Iranian Baloch militant group that 15 Dec conducted deadly attack in Iran’s Balochistan province; Pakistan condemned strike and claimed it killed two children. Pakistan 18 Jan launched strikes on village near Iranian border city of Saravan (south east), claiming to target Pakistani Baloch militants; pair took steps to de-escalate late Jan (see Pakistan). Unidentified gunmen 27 Jan killed nine Pakistani workers in Saravan.Iran-aligned groups continued attacks across region amid Gaza war. Amid Houthi attacks in Red Sea and U.S.-UK retaliatory airstrikes (see Yemen), Iran 15 Jan disavowed involvement. Iran 21 Jan confirmed deaths of five IRGC members in alleged Israeli strikes in Syrian capital Damascus, as President Raisi pledged revenge. Attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Syria by Iran-aligned groups continued, exceeding 160 incidents from mid Oct to late Jan (see Iraq and Syria). In significant escalation, drone strike 28 Jan, attributed by U.S. to Iran-backed militants, killed three U.S. service members in Jordan; U.S. pledged retaliation (see Jordan).Iran expanded nuclear activities. After International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late Dec announced Iran increased three-fold its production of uranium enriched up to 60%, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi 18 Jan stressed need for urgent diplomacy; nuclear expansion, hampered cooperation with IAEA and limited diplomacy with West bode ill for swift resolution of simmering nuclear crisis.
While there is no political space in Washington for engagement with Iran in an election year, diplomacy is the only approach that has reined Iran in.
Regaining an ally in Sudan, especially along the Red Sea, would be a major win for Iran but will spook other regional and Western powers.
There are so many points of tension [between the Houthis and Iran]. The longer the [Gaza] war goes on, the bigger the risk of tensions getting completely out of control.
There is a limit to how far Iran and Saudi Arabia can go in de-escalating tensions between themselves if the entire region is ablaze because of the war in Gaza.
For nearly four decades, Iran’s forward defense policy has protected its own soil against foreign attacks. The conflict in Gaza is [now] testing the limits of that policy...
The Iranians seem reluctant to give away most of their leverage to restore the nuclear deal not knowing who the next U.S. president will be.
The Conflict Has Empowered Tehran—but Also Fueled Its Sense of Vulnerability
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director Ali Vaez, to discuss how Iran sees the Gaza war, the danger of a region-wide confrontation and Tehran’s nuclear calculations.
Washington and Tehran have reached an accord bringing U.S. hostages home from Iran and unfreezing Iranian assets. The agreement has much to recommend it, despite what critics say.
Episodes of unrest in Iran often unfold similarly: the government nods to public concerns, but then resorts to repression, setting the stage for another confrontation between state and society. The pattern is clearest in peripheral provinces like Khuzestan, where a pressing grievance is water scarcity.
Tehran’s crackdown on anti-government protests and deepening military cooperation with Russia have put relations between Iran and Europe in a downward spiral. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023 – Spring Update, Crisis Group urges the EU to reinvigorate its efforts to de-escalate tensions.
A Regional Agreement Could Succeed Where Washington Failed
On 10 March, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore diplomatic relations as part of a Chinese-sponsored initiative that appears aimed at reducing tensions across the Middle East. Crisis Group experts offer a 360-degree view of the implications for the region’s many flashpoints.
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